Saturday, 24 January 2015

God Save Queen

It's been a real mix of factors that prompted my post this week - and all of them good in one way or another.

Regular readers of my eclectic mix of posts will know that I recently received a number of boxes that were stored for me in my former home in Luxembourg. Among them were books by the hundred, clothing items by the score and a collection of CDs, vinyl records and cassette tapes of various types - the latter two being rather a surprise since I don't own anything to play them on. But, among the musical items, I've discovered a couple of 24-carat nuggets which have served to remind me of a particular group I followed avidly as a teen and beyond.

Couple that with a recent live televised performance by two of the remaining members of that group with a relatively new front-man, along with about a million Tweets and Facebook messages, and I just had to sit down and offer my own tuppence-worth (see last week's post for more information on ancient coinage -

The band in question are, of course, Queen, and many of the posts I've seen are bemoaning the fact that Brian May - a quite brilliant guitarist who still plays his own fireplace (check out the Red Special story - it's remarkable and fascinating - and Roger Taylor, a rock drummer par-excellence ( - have employed the services of a singer for their latest tour as Queen and Adam Lambert (

Queen were originally fronted by the incomparable Freddie Mercury of course, and some of the negative posts have complained that Brian and Roger are in some way trying to replace the irreplaceable. The more generous of the nay-sayers will grudgingly admit that Adam is a good performer but, they cry, it should be Freddie or no one. They say that Queen is not Queen without the great man.

What a load of bollocks.

For a start, Brian May and Roger Taylor are fantastic musicians and they simply want to perform. They aren't trying to replace anyone and even Freddie himself would appreciate the quite brilliant work that Adam Lambert does. Queen is not a collection of four people - Queen is a sound, an experience.

In Lambert, those two remaining members of the group (John Deacon, the bass guitarist, retired a long time ago and Todd Mathers provides a very decent set of opinions as to why that was - have found a performer who does justice to the complex vocals that the band's back-catalogue houses.

The tour's playlist scours more classic tracks than I can spare the space to list here and includes unforgettable masterpieces of complex rock. Those tracks - think Bohemian Rhapsody, Don't Stop Me Now and Somebody To Love, to name but three - are burned into our collective consciousnesses and they need to be performed. But as I say, these are complex and need a vocalist of tremendous talent to perform them well. Many Queen fans of a certain age will remember the 1992 tribute concert in Freddie's name when a lot of the classic numbers were covered, live, by leading vocalists - and if we're honest, very few of those star performers were able to do justice to the music they performed.

It is almost galling to admit that the only stand-out for me was by none other than former Wham front-man, George Michael.

My point, though, is that the immense talents of such vocalists as Roger Daltrey, Phil Collen, James Hetfield and Robert Plant (The Who, Def Leppard, Metallica and Lead Zeppelin, respectively) could not bring out the underlying magic of the tracks they performed. And as for Axl Rose and Elton John... oh dear.

But Adam Lambert can do justice to the incomparable music of the band. And when he performs on stage with Brian and Roger, it's as close to the real Queen experience as it is possible to get.

For many, many fans of the band's music, they are simply too young to remember Freddie Mercury performing live with the group - 1986 was a long, long time ago - and believe me, live is so much bigger and better than any recording (even of live shows). So anyone under the age of about 40 couldn't possibly know what they are talking about when they say that Queen are no longer Queen. I wouldn't be physically capable of attending a Queen concert now but if I were fit enough I would love to attend an event. Or four.

And for the doubters, perhaps they should know that Freddie's own mum (Jer) and his sister (Kashmira) attended the Queen and Adam Lambert concert in Nottingham just yesterday (the 24th January).

Queen is a sound and an experience. I saw the band in the 1970's and 1980's and those shows are, to me, unforgettable. I am sure that a similar experience now - Freddie or not, and we know it's 'not' unless we're into the very darkest side of voodoo - would be just as memorable.

Of course Adam Lambert is not Freddie Mercury. But that doesn't make him a poor substitute. Brian and Roger are deservedly replaying the Queen magic and they are touring as Queen AND Adam Lambert.

But that brings me back to my nuggets (so to speak). Among the twenty-nine boxes, one contained a case in which are 1990's re-mastered copies of all of the Queen albums on CD (eighteen up to that point, and also a couple of post-Freddie compilations) and another box contained many vinyl albums - but only one drew my hands to it. This is a copy of Night at the Opera, published in 1975, which many feel is the definitive Queen album (it includes Bohemian Rhapsody among many other classics) but it's rather special to me in one other way. It was the first imported album I ever bought (I was only just 15 then) - and it's pure white vinyl.

So, you see, I have been a Queen fan for a very, very, long time (I can still recall my parents moaning about me playing the Sheer Heart Attack album over and over - and 'rather' loudly), and I, for one, applaud the remaining band members for bringing the magical sounds to a whole new generation. Of course they can't do it with Freddie M there where he belonged - but the brilliant musical pair have found someone who can do justice to the Queen sound, and perhaps just as importantly, someone who can bring his own personality to the stage.

As it says on the last track on that white vinyl album - God Save the Queen.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Funny Weather

It's that time of year again for us Brits, isn't it?

Winter in Britain really does make our stereotype (always talking about the weather) into something of an untruth. It's strange but true. We might say 'oh, it's going to snow, you know?' or 'I'd better get my canoe out, they're predicting a light shower' but in truth it's the one season when we mention the climate a lot less than normal.

That it might snow in winter, or rain heavily for that matter, is hardly earth-shattering news, although if it were that severe then surely we would have started to evolve long furry coats and webbed-feet. Norfolk aside, that just isn't true.

I believe that what keeps us relatively quiet is the fact that all we can be moderately certain of is that winter will bring some cold, wet weather to our tiny shores. For the rest of the year we can look up uncertainly, and let's face it, weather forecasts tend to be no more accurate than horoscopes in the main. We're a nation that thrives on the lack of certainty about such things, and it's this that gets us talking about all matters climactic. Winter, therefore, is at a disadvantage.

The weather really does bring out the contradictory nature of us Brits. I've travelled around a fair bit and I have many friends (ok, acquaintances) from different parts of the globe - and in my experience, we have the oddest, most normally unpredictable climate of any nation. But that still doesn't explain why are quite happy to use the good old Imperial measurements for high heat - 'it's nearly one hundred degrees, you know' (Fahrenheit) and yet switch to the 'modern' system for cold - 'it's almost five below out there' (or 'in here' if you're 70+) (Celsius). Given that a great many of us - well, of you, anyway - grew up after we had 'switched over' to non-Imperial measurements, and given how many of the ancient - well, of my - generation - view the 'modern' systems with distrust, it's quite remarkable how we use both systems together.

Some of us poor ancients have even seen the 'new' system re-named in our lifetimes. For those blissfully unaware (or young enough, to put it another way) this 'Celsius' thing is to us 'Centigraders' a twist of an already unpalatable knife.

The even poorer sods of my generation were treated to various actual switchovers.

We had to learn how to count in pounds, shillings and pence and were then made to translate everything into pounds and 'new pence'. Two of the new pences replaced five of the old, for instance - and my Beano went up from a near-untranslatable four pennies old to the new two. Daylight robbery.

Our weight used to be measured in stones, pounds and ounces but was switched to kilograms, heights were feet and inches but became centimetres, and petrol was once bought by the gallon rather than the litre. At least we still call a pint a pint - but there again, we need them after all that change.

What was wrong with counting in bases twelve, fourteen, sixteen, twenty or one thousand seven hundred and sixty (or 1.609344 kilometres) - and all subdivided variously into such lovely measurements as farthings, rods, fractions, inches, yards, poles, perches and chains (one of the latter being the length of a cricket pitch, by the way)?

And they were 'pennies', not 'pence', 'new' or otherwise. Even pronunciations were gloriously Imperial - 'threpny' and 'hapeny' - or unique to that older, more colourful time - , 'tanner' and 'bob', 'florin', 'half-crown' and 'guinea'.

There again, I suppose that does all go some way to explaining why so many of the older generation can't actually count very well...

But the weather? Regardless of what some say - greenhouse effects, and so forth - the weather has always been there in all it's unpredictable British glory. In 1963 the sea froze and in 1976 (one year I can remember, especially as I was 15 and surrounded by overheated girls) we were treated to a summer heat-wave of tarmac-melting intensity.

It's winter, though, when predictability (1963 not withstanding) renders us very un-stereotypical. Yes, it's going to be cold whether the temperature actually drops to zero (or 32 in Fahrenheit) and yes, it's going to be wet even if the gopher wood. isn't needed just yet. But those facts leave us with very little to say about the weather for once.

Back in the nineties (at least years and months haven't been decimalised yet, although perhaps that would somehow convert my age into the teens) I spent some time in Scotland and was treated to British weather at its eccentric best. One day I drove through howling rain, a near gale, brilliant sunshine and then, of all things, snow. When I reached my destination I remarked to a local that the weird weather must be why some people refer to Scotland often experiencing 'four seasons in a day'. The weary resident just turned to me and shrugged. 'I just call it a normal April day for this place', he said.

Perhaps that's unpredictability taken to its extreme, but at least I got talking to one of the normally taciturn locals - thanks to the topic of weather. Had it been just a normal winter's day there, though - snow and ice were guaranteed - then there would have been nothing to remark on. And perhaps I still wouldn't be trying to translate some of the things the guy said.

So, here's hoping the winter isn't too cold for you. Or too warm.

Happy Season!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

New Year, New Smiles

Let's face it, a New Year only seems to bring new challenges and unlike our antipodean cousins (for those born and bred in Yorkshire and northwards, those are the real southerners) we are also facing the depths of winter in all its damp, cold, English guises. Or geysers, to judge by the rain this last week.

Then there's the return to work for many of us, the payment date for as yet unpaid taxes for the unfortunate few, and the prospect of the bills due to arrive shortly detailing our Christmas spend for pretty much all of us.

The 'bleak midwinter' as Christina Rosetti, the English poet, wrote about a century and a half ago. And that was before flexible friends.

Anyway, I've been casting around for things to make me smile. Without a big freeze around here offering me opportunities to spot elderly neighbours taking up involuntary ice-skating, I've been forced to focus on my laptop (no, I mean my computer). So this week's post is a fairly appropriate collection of my favourite images from both past and present....

It's still party season, so first, I have a great idea for fancy-dress costume choice next time I get a say in how my grandkids will look at their next event... Appropriate in so many ways, yes? It made me Chucky... I mean chuckle.

And we all need a salutary reminder that to 'assume' something can make a cliche out of any of us...

It's the humble (as if) animal, though, who seems to take centre stage for me. Even if they didn't quite make it onto a certain boat...

We can learn a lot from our furry/feathered/scaly friend, though, where they did manage to hop, wander or crawl on board...

For example, given that a lot of us (well, a lot of me) could use a little dieting after the holiday pig-out-a-thon, it might be a good idea to take note of animal behaviour at this time of year...

But we must always remember that coffee is not necessarily a good substitute for other food stuffs - again, with the help of our animal friends...

We need to be fit enough to tackle any sudden downfalls of snow, and ready to meet the same with a positive attitude...

Above all, even if we've been educated at Hogwarts or on the Discworld, we must remember that we don't need artificial stimulants to help us through these cold months...

No matter that life is sometimes complicated, we should plan and build whatever is thrown up against us...

Above all else, though, let us all try to remember that this life has a happy moment tucked away around every corner. Sometimes we just need to search a little bit harder to find it.

Good luck with that. And, broomstick in the garage, cheers!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

2015 - At least I know it can't be worse than 2014

Quite some statement, isn't it, that title?

Well it's true, and one of the few certainties in my life these days. This is also a departure from my normal style of post so anyone looking for a silly photo or a cheap laugh at a poorly told old joke should probably turn away now.

Last year felt, on more than one occasion, that it was the worst possible time for me.

Many of the people who have read my posts since I started writing them back in May will know that I was hospitalised 'thanks' to the ravages of trigeminal neuralgia, a most horrifically painful side-effect of the whole MS thing for an extremely unfortunate few of us. That was at the tail end of July and to be fair, the procedure I underwent - involving a very long needle and a lot of painkillers - was a blissful end to months of suffering. But it still saw me helpless in a hospital bed for the first time in my life.

The months of suffering in themselves took up much of the first half of the year and when those pains re-start - which they will at some point within the next year or so - I will be booking myself back into the same hospital for more needle. I won't describe the pain again (read my earlier posts if you're feeling like a masochist) but it's safe to say that it was all so very bad, and I even ended up unable to swallow properly.

Dark days, to be sure, but they seemed almost sunny after last March.

I didn't mention this before, partly due to not wishing to depress anyone and partly because the normally loquacious me was lost for words. My father, my dad, had been suffering from a form of Parkinson's for a couple of years and was gradually becoming unaware of what was happening around him - although in the increasingly rare moments of clear thought you could see that he understood - and hated - what was becoming of him.

My mum looked after him in every respect - and 'respect' is an important word - but given that they were 82 (dad) and 79 (mum), it was arduous work for her, no matter that their love was her strength. When dad's condition - his general health - became markedly worse in March it was decided that a few days respite for her was long overdue, and a spell for my dad in a 'rest home' would enable physicians to review his condition and seek to make whatever improvements were left to them.

He was taken to a pleasant enough place on a Friday at the end of the first week of that month and mum stayed with him most of that day. My wife and I went with her to see dad on the Saturday and he was clearly confused but being well looked after. There was even a few moments when understanding and clarity returned for him and we were treated to one of his old Goon Show impressions - Eccles, I believe - as well as a flash of those sparkly eyes that had been the trademark of his 'cheeky' look throughout his life.

On the Monday I received an urgent email at work to say my dear dad had suffered a massive heart attack that morning. I took a taxi back from the office to the main hospital near my parents' home but by the time I reached there he had died.

My dad was never a demonstrative man, never one to wear his heart on his sleeve, but he never left me in any doubt that he loved me and adored - almost venerated - his wife of fifty-odd years.

We were never 'best buddy' types, always in each other's pockets, although we had at one time shared a few evenings in local pubs playing cards, darts or dominoes. What we did share consistently over the years was honesty and respect - at least respect from me for him (he was wise enough to know I could be a fool) - and he spent so much of his time trying to instill decent values in me. I learned of his life as a child and a teen, his time being conscripted into National Service (long story short - he chose the RAF because he hated the wide-open sea and was summarily shipped off to Singapore...), his days as a very accomplished sportsman, his love of music, his high regard for the truth and decency to others - many, many useful lessons.

I loved my dad with a deep-rooted passion and respect.

Yes, he'd had a 'good innings', and yes he hated the condition that was wrecking his health both physically and mentally - but he didn't deserve to die like that, if nothing else at least far too soon.

So, 2014? The worst ever.

And perhaps you can see why for me, MS or not, 2015 just has to be better than last year.

It seems almost churlish to wish all of you a Happy New Year after all of that, but I mean it. Dad would have wanted it for all of you as well.