Thought For The Day: I – Earth History


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smiling-planet-earth-cartoon-2-thumI was just reading that Sylvia Allen, Tea Party stalwart and all round oddball who first became a state senator in Arizona (and a national embarrassment) in 2008, has been made chairwoman of the Senate committee handling education legislation. The Phoenix New Times calls her a “professional fruitcake.”

Allen is known for a string of bizarre and racist remarks as well as an attachment to conspiracy theories. For example, she believes the Earth is just 6,000 years old, a view held by some fundamentalist Christians but rejected by scientists and many Bible scholars. It also means that she is now in charge of disseminating such beliefs through the Arizona State education system. A bit of a worry.

It also reminded me of an observation made by those eminent wordsmiths and arch story tellers Mssrs. Pratchet and Gaimen. If as Allen believes the earth was created on October 22, 4004 BC (using Julian calendar) a theory first put forward by Bishop Usher, then the earth is indeed a Libra. Maybe next year we get it a cake.


Writes and Wrongs: – I. Ravings and Writhing Desks


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tumblr_lw5jveIt5d1qzv4mho1_500“Have you guessed the riddle yet?” the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.

“No, I give it up,” Alice replied. “What’s the answer?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatt


Thirty-odd years after he composed his two Alice books, Lewis Carroll was prompted by the public’s curiosity to offer a solution to the Mad Hatter’s riddle, “Why is a raven like a writing-desk ?”

In his Preface to the 1896 Edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the revered author (who in his other life was a noted logician) wrote :

Enquiries have been so often addressed to me, as to whether any answer to the Hatter’s Riddle can be imagined, that I may as well put on record here what seems to me to be a fairly appropriate answer, viz. :  `Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat ;  and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front !`  This, however, is merely an afterthought. The Riddle, as originally invented, had no answer at all.

Over the years, in many a homely parlour and scholarly symposium, other answers have been given, and solutions devised. Here is a handful of them, including an ingenious “scientific” explanation wherein one Fernando Soto, a member of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, has gaily hung some yellow bunting over the proceedings. But to commence, consider two Q responses to the Mad Hatter :

Because with some skill it will emerge from the wood.

Because it supported that noble effort, To Kill A Mockingbird.


Because Poe wrote on both.

.   – Sam Loyd, Cyclopedia of Puzzles (1914)

Because there is a b in both, and because there is an n in neither.

.   – Aldous Huxley, “Ravens and Writing Desks”, Vanity Fair, September 1928

Because it bodes ill for owed bills.

.   – Francis Huxley, The Raven and the Writing Desk (1976)

Because without them both Brave New World could not have been written.

.   – Roy Davenport

Because one has flapping fits and the other has fitting flaps.

.   – Peter Veale

Because they both have a flap in oak.

.   – J. Tebbutt

Because one is good for writing books and the other better for biting rooks.

.   – George Simmers

Because a writing desk is a rest for pens and a raven is a pest for wrens.

.   – Tony Weston

Because they are both used to carri – on de – composition.

.   – Noel Petty

Because they both stand on their legs, conceal their steels (steals), and ought to be made to shut up.

.   – Sam Loyd, op. cit.

It can be found in a class with a Writing Master.

.   – Fernando J. Soto


nevar is “raven” spelled backwards ; but as Dennis Crutch of Jabberwockyjournal has pointed out, the editors made a supposed correction to the author’s original statement and wrongly altered the word to “never”

As reported in The Annotated Alice (Martin Gardner, ed.), the solutions offered by Messrs. Davenport, Veale, Simmers, Weston and Petty were entries submitted in a competition held by The Spectator magazine in the Summer of 1991

Brave New World : […rave N…]

flapping fits : Doubtless there were eight of them and they were agonising

Because they both stand &c... : This answer shows a high-handed and aggressive persistence worthy of the Duchess herself

steels : steels are the pair of metal supports that prop up the flap of the desk when required

Writing Master : i. e. the Yellowhammer or Yellow Bunting (Emberiza citrinella), also known as the Master Scribbler or Scribbling Lark. The Webster’s Dictionary of 1913 has this entry : “Writing lark (Zoöl.), the European yellow-hammer ; — so called from the curious irregular lines on its eggs. [Prov. Eng.]”

The Raven and Writing Master are both in the biological class of Aves ; and a writing-desk may be said to furnish a class of “Aves” (Latin, “Hellos”) in the greetings of the letters composed on it.

These are “Lessons In Interface Consistency and Analogical Reasoning From Two Cognitive Architectures”, as someone once said (and it wasn’t the Gryphon nor the Mock Turtle).

Gig XIII – A Busmans Holiday? Anton Barbeau und The Corner Laughers @ The Beehive, Swindon, 13th November ’15


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12249966_10153073299221574_4057443580067097536_nSo a rare night off, Ed is covering our punk-pop show at The Locomotive) and what do I chose to do? That’s right….go to a gig. It is nice to just go to a gig as a punter for a change though rather than be the one worrying about sound checks and stage times, having to fend off the usual “how long is our set,” “was I supposed to bring drum breakables,” ” am I facing the right way,” etc.

Anton has played Swindon many times, normally at The Beehive, although I did once manage to book him and his then band Three Minute Tease (featuring ex-Soft Boys Morris Windsor and Andy Metcalfe) at The Victoria when the local support band 8 Minutes Later did the usual after gig trick of leave the room taking the bulk of the audience with them and only reappear at the end of the night when the money was being handed out. The last time I saw Anton was in Berlin. I was visiting my friend Rich who after a day in Templehof park had taken their over tired son Bob home leaving myself, travel companion Paj and the lovely Gabi to go for a wander and a beer. On walking through a flea market I saw a dishevelled guy in a Canadian maple leaf hat looking at his phone and it could be no-one else. Random encounters rule, but Berlin is like that.

This time he had fellow Californians, The Corner Laughers joining him on stage as their own tour coincided with his and Swindon seemed the place for a bit of a knees up. I’d spoken to lead singer/uke player Karla a few times after she sent be their brilliant sun kissed, soulful, folk-pop future classic The Matilda Effect, so it was great to finally meet them in person.

So a fantastic night of uke-pop and acid laced underground vibes was had by all. The world does seem a small place when you look at the networks we build up and follow. Sacramento -Berlin -Swindon…who’dathoughtit?



Gig XII: It’s All About The Bass…Grant Sharkey @The Roaring Donkey, Swindon – 7th November ’15


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12186533_506360019522341_7831615255499723448_oGrant is an interesting cultural polymath: a musician with a background in  stand up comedy, a well-read composer of silly songs, a clever subversive who tries to engage you gently rather than bombard you with arguments, a cabaret act playing unsuitable pubs and an all round nice guy.

His booking represents this idea I have in my brain that Swindon could actually develop a music scene beyond the rowdy Saturday night tribute bands and the Elvis impersonators, an idea I think I may be deluding myself with. Still you have to try.

And so here we have it, a man with an upright bass which is alternately strummed, bowed, plucked, tapped, bashed and thrashed as he sings songs about the worries of over population and climate change, ethics and attitudes with wonderful titles such as “I’m Sorry To Hear You’re a Racist,” alongside fairly tale fantasy’s  of diving bells and sailing away on a clutch of balloons.

The turn out is better than expected though not everyone gets it and one particular group who represent his subject matter rather than his target audience are oblivious that they are actually becoming part of the show. Even when he stops a song mid way through to help one of the girls who is struggling with trying to get her glass of wine in here selfie they still don’t twig. It makes the songs all the more poignant, a sort of “see what I mean” moment that requires no clarification on the part of the artist or audience.

Being on tour, Grant stays at my house and it is great to get to know this intelligent and erudite chap. We both share a love of books (his day job is selling them) history, culture and just the joy of conversation and the next morning he is on his way, smart-car full to the brim with bass and amp and trappings of a man on the road.

Gig XI: Still Shining On – Pete Fij and Terry Bickers @The Locomotive, 7th November ’15


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320793_117329211709659_1448593624_nAnother high profile booking and again I am wondering why I put myself through the ordeal of putting such great acts on in such a indecorous place as The Locomotive. Don’t get me wrong, the venue is fine, good staff, decent stage and PA and an owner who is trying something new by allowing us to bring a bit of what we do elsewhere to the nightclub part of town. But as far as the average punter goes, he would probably be happy with Oasis on the juke box, or possibly even Skrewdriver… and a good fight. Hardly conducive to what we were bringing them tonight.

The roots of the gig lie with the irrepressible David Rose, music uber-fan, music blogger and all round good egg who picked up on the fact that Pete and Terry were looking for places to host warm up shows and he managed to secure Swindon a place. Originally the gig was to be held at The Victoria but somewhere down the line they decided to bump our show in favour of something they felt would work better for them. So what would serve the venues needs better than two bonafide music legends, the people who brought you Polak, Levitation, Adorable and The House of Love? That’s right…an Abba tribute band. I know they have a business to run but surely there are ways of combining good music with fiscal security?

So here we were at The Locomotive instead and I have that usual feeling of embarrassment that this is the best we can offer as a venue. I need not have worried, Pete and Terry are two of the nicest, easy going and affable chaps you could ever hope to meet and work with.

Musically the gig was a great success, the supports, King in Mirrors and Familiars delivered great sets, both bands harking somewhat to Pete and Terry’s musical past and most of them clearly fans of the main act. (Familiars front man Steve later produced the whole set of Leviathan albums on vinyl for Terry to sign.)

Pete and Terry’s music is sublime and a testamant to what you can do with two guitars and two vocals. With Pete laying down the main song and vocal body Terry then adds wonderful detail, nuanced notes, harmonious backing vocal, additional textures and gossamer thin layers of beauty. Those there to experience the music were truly mesmerised. But that last sentence hints at the problem, “those there to experience the music.” Outside the support bands, the organisers and around half a dozen music fans the rest of the venue seems oblivious and occasionally disrespectful. I do find it odd that people with no interest in the sort of music we host think it is okay to come to the venue and moan about the band, the fact that the jukebox isn’t on, the fact that the band aren’t playing Freebird and just generally being loud and obnoxious. Something has got to give and I have a bad feeling that it might be me.

Gig X: Between a Rant and a Hard Place – Attila The Stockbroker and Charred Hearts @The Locomotive, Swindon – 30th October ’15


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12096066_1242712692421915_2891749228472957640_nThe frustrations of being the middle man stuck between the requirements of the artist and the failings of the venue you work in really came to the fore tonight. I sort of knew I had stepped out of my depth with this one way before I went down to set the gig up but some time you have to try. Discussions with Attila when we set the gig up already alerted me to the fact that he normally plays to attentive audiences who have paid and therefore listen, who have a penchant for literature and real ale. The Locomotive is not any of that, in fact if you had to design something diametrically opposed to that you couldn’t have done a better job. But the show worked logistically on his tour between dates in deepest Wales and Reading and a chance to catch up with his old friends Charred Hearts ticked enough boxes.

So from here on in we can make the gig work, right? Well the fact that there was no real ale on draught that night really didn’t help and actually resulted in Attila and a few of the Hearts heading to the Wetherspoons across the street so that they could get a decent pint. That’s saying something about the venue when you are gazumped by a cut price, drinking gulag.It also didn’t help that the bar staff spent so much time having a cigarette break outside that people actually left the venue to find a drink, fans who had travelled and some didn’t bother returning. Not good.

If Attila was not happy about this, I was fuming. I get to work with someone whom I had admired for 25 plus years and I feel like I am letting him down left, right and centre. Still his gig goes well, the audience is underwelming in numbers but diligent and enthusiastic. Trade mark social rants mixed silly stories, poignant prose cheek by jowl with amusing anecdotes, extracts from the recent Autobiography, politics, football and much more besides. Perfect.

Charred Hearts rock out the after gig set, tight as ever and the numbers swell a bit more to do with passing trade than deliberate planning. So where is everyone? I think the location of the venue doesn’t help and breaking peoples drinking habits is never an easy task but with last weeks poor turn out for The manic Shine and this weeks woefully empty room, I’m wondering if the venue can ever become what I would like it to become or should we just fill it full of cover bands and sit earn our money the easy way…just like every other venue in town.