Sunday, October 26, 2008


How important is it to be able to spell correctly?

I suspect the answer you give to that will depend upon a) your age, b) how important precision and detail are in your life, and possibly c) how important language, its flow, nuances and cadences is to you.

You probably won’t take too long to decide on which side of that fence I sit. My answers to the three questions are – a) Very, b) A lot and c) A lot.

As a counter argument, it’s a reasonable point that the sole, or at least the major purpose of language is communication. How you do it is immaterial. If you get your message across, then surely it’s Job Done. And anyway, language is organic, it lives from century to century. Most of us cannot understand the 13th Century English of Chaucer. We struggle manfully (or is it personfully?) with some of the flow and words of Shakespeare, wonder when the sentences of Jane Austin and Thomas Hardy will ever end. We even fail to pick up some of the meanings and subtleties of the elegantly chosen and beautifully crafted 1930s words of PG Wodehouse. And don’t even go anywhere near James Joyce’s Ulysses. Do you know anyone who has got anywhere close to finishing it? Me neither.

With something like Ian Fleming's James Bond however, we can all make sense of it. He broadly speaks the language, and uses the same words we use today. Well, mostly, anyway. If you asked some of our younger brethren, however, what they thought of it they might say it was “gr8”, which, in turn, gives us a clue where language may well be going in the future.
I can understand that “gr8” has 3 components and “great” has 5, and that “great” can sound like “grate”, which potentially could cause confusion. “gr8” (no capital letter – what’s the point of a wasted keystroke?) is therefore arguably more efficient, and presumably therefore it must be better, goes the logic. But it gr8s on me at least.

The human eye/mind combination is a fascinating combination. Read the following, for instance.

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I aulaclty cluod uesdnatnrd waht I was rdgnieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid -- aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are pelacd, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteers be in the rghit pclaes. ?The rset can be a taotl mses and you sitll can raed it wouthit a porblem.

Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. ?Amzanig huh? ?Yaeh, and I awlyas thohugt slpeling was imtorpant? Just geos to sohw?

The blaze of red, squiggly underlining that now sits on my screen is almost blinding me, as Mr Gates’ spellchecker overheats and throws every one of its toys out of the pram at once. It seems that as long as the first and the last letters of each word are in the right place, the mind can crack it relatively easily, as you did. But you (or at least I) really don’t want what I read to look like that. I need to know how it should be written in the first place to know how to unravel the deliberate jumbling up. If I couldn’t spell properly, it would simply be a code.

Now in the wider field, the fact that I don’t like it is neither here nor there. Except of course for me, it is here. So, when I used to receive CVs from job applicants at work, the misspelled ones were put straightaway very low down in the pile. They had an immediate hill to climb which others did not. That may be a bit unfair, but that was the way it was. If you don't know or can’t be bothered to spell correctly, and can’t handle or operate the necessary rigidity of the underlying Byzantine rules of spelling, then where else do you cut corners in a job. And by the way, please don’t say Dyslexia to me – I understand those issues only too well, and take them into account.

To my undoubtedly biased mind, accurate spelling does aid understanding. It is simply better to do it correctly and it looks and feels so much better. There’s enough ugliness in the world without people being unable to spell correctly.

Try “supersede”. Now don’t tell me you thought it had a “c” in it. Immediately, we’re 50 years back in Rev. Drake Brockman’s Latin class now. "Gerund or Gerundive, Cable? Dative or Ablative, anyone? Anyone??" Cue the speedy arrival of a badly but strongly thrown Board Rubber.

You know, the rectangular wooden ones with sharp edges, that hurt.

So, “Super” meaning “above”, and “sedeo” meaning “I sit”. Result “supersede” – “I sit above”. Where’s the difficulty there? But bet your friends a £ each to spell it correctly, and you’ll make money. You might lose a few friends, but then perhaps you shouldn’t be consorting with illiterates!

So rightly or wrongly, there we are.

In the same vein, or is it vain, or even vane, I read an article last week where some of our best known authors submitted themselves rather bravely to a spelling test. The point of the piece was to show that if the authors were not word perfect, then why did it matter? Predictably, they did not all cover themselves with glory. One word seemed to get them all stumped.

So, now a spelling test. How about “dessicate”? As in Coconut, and Air Drying.

You try. Now you might think it’s possible, of course, that there could conceivably be a clue in Sentence 2 of the last paragraph. But I might, again of course, have deliberately misspelled it to put you off the scent.

Or is it “sent”?



Saturday, October 25, 2008


I have worked in the Car Industry for most of my adult working life, and trust me, that’s a long time. It is a totally fascinating environment – very fast moving, very complicated and very satisfying. The human relationship with the Motor Car is not just one of Man v Metal. These things take on an almost human form, and we love them, fawn over them and spend far more money on them than makes even the slightest bit of sense - sometimes it spills over into mechanical lust.

On the other hand, the “tree-huggers” seem to be saying that the motor car, almost single-handedly is destroying the planet. That’s why the perception of what these mechanical monsters are, what they stand for, and how they explain so much about you, is so important. If all we wanted was a set of wheels to go from A to B, we’d all be driving around in a well, you fill in that blank. If only it was as simple as that.

I’ve watched enthusiastically for 40 years as styles and manufacturers rose and fell, came and went, ebbed and flowed, or just disappeared off the scene. I can still recall the day I first read about and saw pictures of the E Type Jaguar in 1965 – the pleasure was almost orgasmic. It did 150 mph, looked like a rocket ship, and cost the equivalent of $3,000.


Since then, some amazing machines have come along, each in their own way moving the face of motoring style for ever –

- Rover 2000 (yes really, look it up), 4 seat exec saloon with De Dion Rear suspension which made a new niche for the small, high quality car.

- NSU Ro80, Wankel engine, futuristic space age styling – a car 20 years ahead of its time. What guts the manufacturers had launching that onto the market.

- Mini. What do you say? 10 feet long, fitting four adults in it. Front wheel drive, transverse engine, handled like a roller skate. Huge fun to drive. We went on holiday with a couple of grown up friends in one. Luggage everywhere in it, and we drove 1000 miles in a few days, but it worked. Unbelievable intellect of Alec Issigonis whose idea it was. A car which would never get off the drawing board today, more’s the pity.

- Golf GTI, a piece of marketing genius which, at a stroke, made most sports cars look 10 years out of date. It went like a bomb, was refined and comfortable and seated 4 people, yet ran rings round the 2 seaters of the day. A car where you could definitely have your cake and eat it. You still see the originals around today.

- The original Range Rover. The first SUV, and a work of someone (Spen King) who was one of the great innovative thinkers in the European Motor Industry. I went to Land Rover for a job at the time of its launch (I was offered the job), and as part of the interview was driven round Land Rover’s then brand new off-road Test track by Spen King in his new baby. He scared the s*** out of me, by taking it to within a millimetre of falling over on its side and its end.

- Citroen DS – a great car. Just look at it today, and it still looks modern. Hydraulic suspension which made you feel that someone had just resurfaced every road you drove along. Lots of innovation - a single spoke steering wheel for instance. A remarkable car with tons of room in it. If it was released today, you'd think it was really advanced. It actually came out in 1957!

- Renault 16 (if you don’t know why, look this one up as well) The first truly modern hatchback, with space beyond its size. It had a rear door which lifted up all the way. Common today, but this was around the first to do it. It looks nothing special today, but put it back in its time, when it was the first of its kind, and you have one of the most revolutionary cars ever designed.

- BMW 2002 series – the car which turned the ailing Isetta Bubble Car manufacturer into a world force. A pocket rocket which started the small sporty exec saloon market niche all on its own. BMW would not be here were it not for that car.

But where are we now?

Companies have come and gone – try looking back over the British motor industry for the last 40 years or so, for an almost unending list of extinct names. Collaborations progress, and mergers abound. Money drives much of life, but in the car industry, it now drives almost everything, resulting in the strangest alliances. Ten years ago, could you imagine Fiat and BMW doing a collaborative engine deal? What price BMW and Mercedes developing a small car together?

I find the ups and downs of the various companies in the business over a longish period fascinating, so I decided to put these muses down to see if I could discern any patterns. Here goes. I can only look at them from a British viewpoint – the subtleties of how a company is viewed in the American MidWest, or South Africa is simply not clear to me.

Alfa Romeo – A company with a great name and a great past. In all sorts of a mess a few years ago, with patchy quality, and a Dealer Network with the lousiest reputation of any company in the UK. But someone (Fiat) is spending a load of money on them, and they produce today the most attractive mainstream range of cars in the world. Every model, you lust after. The only problem is it takes years to get round the rust image, the perceived reliability issues and the crappy dealer network image. Great to drool over, but I wouldn’t touch one for a few years. Let’s see how the Marketing men set about changing my mind.



Audi – Alright, I own one, so I’m a bit biased. They have a great image in the market place, which they look after very diligently. One of the major judgements any car maker has to make is exactly when and how to move the image along, and rip up what’s currently working well for them, in order to safeguard the future.

Some have made a huge mess of this (see Peugeot if I ever get that far!), but Audi have done in recently in copybook style. A brave and dramatic change to the Corporate front end style of all the range has worked brilliantly. They’ve combined class leading modern design with just the right touch of old Audi heritage. Look up the style of the 1930s Audi racing machines if you want to see where the design clues came from.

However, they still don’t seem to appreciate that it’s almost impossible to get a car to handle well if you stick the engine way out in front of the front axle like they do. But, perhaps in the end, it’s not the most important thing in the world. For them, it’s all about image, and quality both perceived and actual. They make the best interiors of any car on the market.

They play for quiet understatement in their approach, just to give an alternative to the brash, pushy image which BMW, deservedly or otherwise, have.

Good on them.

BMW – I’ve never owned a BMW, mainly because I don’t want to be seen driving around in one. Everyone in the UK dislikes the drivers just because they’re driving a Beemer, no one lets them in from side-roads, and most of the time when some bright spark blasts up behind you threateningly on a Motorway, it’ll be a BMW.

And their styling. A guy named Chris Bangle conceived something he called Flame Surfacing, and a whole range of ugly cars was spawned. The 7 series was a mess – they should have designed the boot (trunk for the USA) at the same time as the rest of the car. The 5 series was little better, although the Estate was better. The 1 series is in my Top Ten Ugliest cars ever. The X3 was a gawky, unconnected disaster. The Z4, well would you want one? And only the 3 series, which is the bedrock on which their sales rely very heavily took some account of what the customers actually liked, and was toned down in looks. That one just looks nondescript.

But, if you look past the prejudice (and I’m not sure I can), if you want a judgement on which company has made the biggest improvement in Emissions and engine performance in an age where the environment has now taken centre stage, the winner is BMW.

They have made stunning improvements in their engines, to the point where they stand today head and shoulders above any other manufacturer today. And they’ve done it without compromising the performance edge which has always been their hallmark. Just look at their new 3 litre diesel engine in a 3-series. 241 BHP, which makes it go like a rocket, a fuel consumption as near 50 mpg as makes no difference, and an emission level of 152 g/km, which is less than a 70 BHP Nissan Micra. Is that good or what?

But I still don’t want one – the power of image at work. Now if they only sold their engine designs and VW bought them, I’d be OK. But, pigs may fly……. – das Fliegende Schwein.

Cadillac/Chevrolet/Chrysler/Dodge – Yes, I know they’re not connected but they’re all American manufacturers, with massive brand presences in the USA. And they’ve all launched themselves recently in the UK market.

And all failing dismally.



Sometimes, I think it’s the wish being father to the thought, with some pushy CEO thinking he can make a name for himself by spreading the brand around the world in a couple of years. Even when the names have been around for a long time, you still face a massive task in getting a foothold in a newcar market. Look at Skoda, with all the might and money of VW behind them. It’s taken them nearly twenty years to get really going in the UK, and still there is a good degree of resistance. The last two times I’ve been in the market for a new car, I selected a Skoda on merit, and ended up with firstly a VW, and now an Audi. And I don’t think I’m alone. I want everyone else to have one on their drive, but not me, just at the moment, thank you. And that’s for a car I actually quite fancy.

As an alternative, look at how Infiniti, Lexus and Acura are doing it in the US. Ultra long term, gradual build up. Only one of these two approaches will work, and it’s not difficult to decide which it is.

And anyway, just look at the offerings of these four US contenders, and you do wonder why they think we’re going to reject what we already buy, and change to one of theirs. They’re all either ugly or bland, or both. They offer nothing that’s not already available, and if you listen to the guys who drive them for the magazines, they’re not even very well put together.

I’m struggling to understand the Business Case for any of them. But who am I to have a view. I’m only a customer.

Citroen – Now here’s a company with a massive heritage. Inventor of the 1934 “Traction Avant” Front wheel drive car, as well as the 2CV, the DS, the SM. And yet as the kid brother to Peugeot in the PSA Group, you had to wonder about them over the last 20 years. All the innovation seemed to have gone, the styling was anonymous, the quality was questionable, and, and, and…

But today, if there’s a car company in Europe with a more modern, positive view of the way forward for motor car styling, I don’t know who it is. Their new C5 is trying to out-German the Germans, and from a styling point of view at least, it’s a cracking looking machine which is as good as anything our German friends produce. The new C4 Picasso people carrier is an utterly modern looking thing, bristling with excitement and flair, and some of their concept cars show signs of real ingenuity, and amazingly clever design – just like 70 years ago. Quite how this is happening, when Peugeot, their “owners” have, over the same period, got themselves in such a mess from a design and styling viewpoint is totally beyond me.

Good on them.

Well, that’s got me from A to D, so I’m off to bed to think about Ferrari, Fiat and Ford. Sad, or what?


Thursday, October 23, 2008


This post is going to have a ripple of photographic geekyness flowing through it, so for the unbelievers among you, you have been warned.

I’ve been a keen photographer for much of my adult life (yes, that’s getting on for nearly 5 years, my wife has just pointed out). As with most interests, the one thing you collect as you ply your trade, is Equipment. Drawers full of the stuff. So you go out with your camera for a day looking like Quasimodo suffering from a slipped disc. Camera, lenses, tripods, filters, flashguns, film et-bloody-cetera.

Only you don’t go out with it all because, all up, it’s just too heavy and bulky. So you leave a couple of lenses behind. And which lenses do you find you need when you get snapping. You’ve got it – the ones sitting on the desk at home.

Being, supposedly, someone in the top 1% of the country’s intelligentsia, it only took me until about a year ago to realize the barking stupidity of all this. So I called for a serious, long term, fundamental strategic review with myself. And, as a result, out went three cameras, five lenses, the back-pack and a huge pile of associated photographic crap. A new regime of Camera-lite overtook the Cable household. If I can’t carry it all in one hand, it’s history.

Luckily, technology had got there at the same time when I did all this, and 1 new Nikon D300 camera, and a couple of light, versatile lenses, and a small bag I can throw over my shoulder later, my equipment portfolio has been totally transformed. And the result - I take a lot more pictures now because the camera is with me more often. And because the stuff I’ve now got is appropriate to what I want to take, the resultant pictures I take are way better than before.

A guy called Michael Reichmann, who writes a truly excellent website - The Luminous Landscape - puts it perfectly. “Most cameras are better than most photographers”. But you have to have them with you. So, once again, size is important (my dear wife also had something to say here), and at least, I’m a bit ahead of the game.

The one area where camera technology still leaves me wanting is the really pocket sized machine, the one you can ALWAYS have with you. I bought the best one I could find a couple of years ago, but I still couldn’t get on with it. It was OK, but I wanted more than OK. So that’s been sold as well.

Two photographic blogs today report developments which I think could lead to a seismic shift in The Art of Smallness. Up until now, you could have Small, but not Very Good, or you could have Large and Good. But not both. The Small and Good mix didn’t exist. But Canon have just brought out a new camera, the G10, which Michael Reichmann has just put through a few of its paces. He sat it alongside a Hassleblad H2 with a Phase One P45 Back (39 Megapixels and $40,000!) and took the same picture with both machines. He then printed both sets of images at a size of 13” x 19” and showed them to a dozen of his professional photographic colleagues, asking them to guess which camera had taken which picture. 60% of them got it right – and 50% would be the pure guess figure. So, what does that tell you? And anyway, how often do you produce a 13” x 19” print?

Now the Canon fits in my pocket, whereas I would need a manservant to carry the Hassleblad around for me. And if I had just shelled out the $40k to buy it, I then couldn’t afford the manservant. Just for comparison, the Canon’s list price is $499.99. That’s like putting a Veyron up against a Golf.

For yours truly at least, I don’t think the next move is very difficult.

On the same day, on another (extremely good) website - The Online Photographer – there is the first review of a brand new type of camera – the Micro Four Thirds. It’s a Panasonic DMC-G1 – a Digital SLR-like camera with interchangeable lenses, except it doesn’t have a mirror or an optical viewfinder. So, yes, it’s not a DSLR. But the sensor is the same size as my Nikon, and therefore should be capable of similar picture quality. And without all the gubbins they’ve got rid of, the body is about half the size and weight of the Nikon. And the size of the lenses are reduced in the same way. It uses a very high quality electronic viewfinder, and it all seems to work extremely well. The guy testing it had already seen the next iteration of this design, from Olympus, which he says is about the size of a bar of soap. And it records high quality video. And it fits in your pocket. The Times, they are A-Changing.

If you look at the camera world, it’s suffered from a massive degree of design conservatism over the last 50 years. Nikon’s top line camera in 1957 is recognizably similar to their top line model today. I know it’s now digital now, but the design hasn’t moved on a lot.

It’s about time someone stood back and went back to First principles here. Canon and Nikon, the world leaders, tend to be ultra-conservative in their thinking. They produce terrific cameras, but they don’t do ground breaking innovation. It seems to take the underdogs, who probably need to get ahead of the game to get a bigger toe in the water, if you can unravel the mixed metaphor there, to forge ahead with these developments. The issue here is that, if someone like Panasonic or Olympus gets it right, you could see major changes in the way camera development changes, and very quickly.

And the two giants could then be playing a game of catch up they don’t want.

We live in interesting times.



Tuesday, October 21, 2008


One of the great pleasures in my life is watching International Test Cricket. It raises passions, draws exceptional performances from those who play and, over a five day period, the ebbs and flows, ins and outs and the highs and lows of the game can result in a sporting experience unmatched in any other game. Even the current fetish with Twenty-Twenty and One Day Games, whilst they can be hugely exciting, can’t bring out the chess-like thrusts and parries which only a five day game can generate.

The number of national teams in the World which can compete at the highest level does not reach anywhere near double figures. As I write, the two best teams on the Planet, India and Australia, are locking horns in the second of a 4 match series in the sub-continent, so the TV is getting a fair amount of use.


It is not easy to identify many things in life where Australia lead the world, but sport in general is one where they have punched way above their weight for many years. Swimming, Athletics, Tennis and Golf come immediately to mind, but in the field of Cricket, they have been the World No. 1 team on average for the good part of 70 years. Yes, there have been times when England and the West Indies particularly, have had the upper hand, but it doesn’t seem to last for too long.


For the last 15 years or so however, they have been THE team to beat – except that almost no-one has managed to do it. England managed it in 2005, but only just. They’ve almost come to expect winning and domination as their right. But, over the last year, we’ve seen the major stars in a blindingly good Australian side depart the stage. Gilchrist, Gillespie, Warne and McGrath were all the best in the world at what they did, and they’ve all gone. Today, Hayden is on the wane, Ponting has had his share of injuries, and, all of a sudden, to me they look vulnerable, rather than dominating and all conquering.

India, as well, have been in a state of change. Many of their great stars are reaching the end of their careers, and they have started a wholesale “move to youth”. In the next year or two, we will see the end of great players like Kumble, Tendulkar, Gambir and Dravid, and time will herald a new order of Indian players. You can see it already with people like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra and the like who are well on the way to replacing these elder statesmen.

There must be something rather reprehensible in me where I get more pleasure than I should by seeing Australia under the cosh. In this match, they were not just beaten, they were utterly outplayed in every department of the game, with India registering their most emphatic Test win ever. I mean you just don't beat Australia by 320 runs.

But for once, the Aussies took it on the chin. Ponting recognised they had been thrashed and set out to move on, Be in no doubt, they’ll be back, but with no spinners in the team whom the captain trusts with the ball, Hayden playing most bizarrely, Brett Lee for once looking very ordinary, Ponting getting in all manner of difficulties facing Sharma, and only Clarke and Johnson showing any resistance in the Australian’s second innings, you wonder what’s going to happen to turn it all around for them in the next seven days.

It does beg the question as to whether we’re seeing the sunset performances of the Aussies for a couple of years. If you were Kevin Pietersen, you might be thinking that the stars are lining up in just about the right alignment for next year’s Ashes contest in England.

I, for one, can’t wait.


Friday, October 17, 2008


Most of us have not the slightest idea whatsoever about what it’s like to be at the sharp end in a war. We rely on our armies, navies and air forces to do it all for us, while we sleep safely in our beds. In this day and age, we can’t even rely on the politicians in this country to give our troops the best equipment available. And in spite of this disgrace, the British Army still has a reputation as a fighting machine second to none in the world. I’m not even sure most of us have the right to a meaningful opinion about the inner workings of the armed forces, unless we have ourselves been actively involved in them.

A few days ago, we read about a new book by a Regimental Sergeant Major, one Captain Doug Beattie of the 1st Batallion, the Royal Irish Regiment who was alongside the Regiment’s Colonel, Tim Collins when Colonel Collins gave one of the most remarkable speeches I have ever heard.

Captain Beattie apparently claimed that the speech, given to the regiment before they set off into battle in Iraq in 2003, demoralised rather than uplifted the men Colonel Collins was addressing. He saw “heads starting to go down”, and “more and more frowns on men’s faces”. It was, according to Captain Beattie, down to himself to kick the men “back to life”. Now the reality is that it’s almost unfair to comment on the “He said, I said” thing here. The only guys there were the guys there, and perhaps it would have been more appropriate for everyone to leave it all uncommented on. But then, Captain Beattie has a book to sell, so perhaps there are other demons at work.

Five years on, yesterday night, I re-read Tim Collins’ speech. I first read it in his book a couple of years ago, and at the time, it electrified me. I thought it stood alongside any “eve-of-battle” piece of oratory in history I’d heard in what he said, and the way in which he said it. Eloquent, rousing, thought provoking, honest, full of dignity and compassion, but with an underlying steeliness that read, from afar, as the words spoken by someone you’d follow to the ends of the earth. And I suppose that was what the speech was trying to do.

Here it is on Youtube. This is a re-creation of the event by Kenneth Brannagh, and bloody good it is too.

What a thrilling few minutes. He actually thought long and hard the previous night about it all, but it comes across as completely spontaneous. You can compare it to other great speeches here. Ben Macintyre quotes a few in the newspaper -

Shakespeare's “ … and gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here …”,

and Churchill’s “…we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

You may think they match it, but as a 21st Century take on it all, in my humble opinion, nothing else gets near.

It addresses the real issues in a war. Treat the enemy with the respect they deserve, go in hard, but fair, and in Tim Collins’ words “tread lightly there”. On a more sober side, he brings up things which today none of us like to hear – “There are some who are alive at this moment who will not be alive shortly. Those who do not wish to go on that journey, we will not send. As for the others, I expect you to rock their world..”

"Rock their world". What amazing language that is.

You can’t even imagine getting close to the powser of that if you spent ages honing the script for a film, with all the time in the world to get it right. But, out of the blue, a fictional connection came into my mind. Jack Nicholson in one of my favourite films “A Few Good Men”, was skewered by a similar conundrum - We want the troops in our armies to keep us safe, but we don’t want to know what they have to do, and how they have to do it. When we find out the realities, we don’t like it. That’s the paradox.

Sometimes it makes for a memorable film. In Tim Collins case, it made for a remarkable speech from a remarkable man.

I just wish Captain Beattie had remained silent.


Thursday, October 16, 2008


.... He's gonna give up the booze and the one night stands …..

Right, there’s a couple of clues to the answer to two questions which struck me tonight, as I rummaged around in my CD racks.

What’s the best song never to get to Number One? And, what song has got the best sax intro on it EVER?

For the life of me, I can’t think why Gerry Rafferty was not more widely recognised as a really great Scottish song writer and singer. In the late Seventies he came out with a couple of absolute pearlers. There are twenty songs on the Albums “City to City” and “Night Owl”, and all of them are excellent pieces of work. A slightly ruminative, plaintive style with intelligent, rueful lyrics pervade both these albums, which I’ve listened to with much renewed pleasure over the last two hours. I’d simply forgotten just how good they were.

He’s clearly a man who saw what Fame and High Living offered, and thought a second time about it all. You could call him a One Hit Wonder with "Baker Street", and, although he issued a few more albums over the last twenty years, none of them touched me in the way these two did.

The sax player on "Baker Street", who gets scant mention in the song's credits, was Raphael Ravenscroft. A fascinating article in the Scotsman a few months ago tells how 30 years ago, Ravenscroft was paid the princely sum of £27 for his efforts on the song. Apparently, even at £27, the cheque bounced and it is now framed on Ravencroft’s solicitor’s wall, which is rather nice.

Rafferty seemed to just get increasingly disillusioned and uncomfortable with the pressure of performing, and suffered a gradual decline into relative obscurity, with the Demon drink apparently having more involvement than it should. Since the end of the Seventies, he does not seem to have had a happy life, which, given the pleasure he’s given so many people, is really rather sad.

A few weeks ago, he popped up in the News, or at least, on the extreme margins of it. A short paragraph noted that he had trashed a hotel bedroom, and ended up in St Thomas’ Hospital in London, whereupon he apparently discharged himself. Apart from a rather forlorn posting from someone who claims to have seen him in a restaurant off Picadilly Circus, and helped him to his hotel, no-one has seen him for the last couple of months.

Whilst we’re not talking Paul McCartney here, you’d have thought a story like this would have got some eager newspaper reporter snuffling around for a column. So, has he done a Reggie Perrin, or what?

Anyway, his music deserves tons more recognition than it gets. If you haven’t listened to him, give it a go.

… This city desert makes me feel so cold
It's got so many people but it's got no soul
And it's taken you so long
To find out you were wrong
When you thought it held everything ….



Friday, October 10, 2008


I don’t watch a great deal of television, apart from devouring the cricket matches on Sky. The other night however, I recorded a repeat of a programme by Simon Schama, the Historian. It was part of a series he had done in 2006 on the Power of Art, and this hour long programme was about one painting – Picasso’s "Guernica". It's the artist's reponse to the Spanish Civil War, and an episode where the Nazi Air Force bombed a defenceless Spanish town one afternoon, destroying it and killing around 2,000 people - a massive painting which forces you to face the atrocities of war.

Now until now, I’d spent 62 years never “getting” Picasso. I could admire his drawing and his draughtsmanship, but none of his paintings drilled their way into my soul the way many pieces of music have managed.

So I sat down the next evening while I ate my evening meal, and set the replay going. An hour later, my meal was stone cold and the glass of Sauvignon had warmed up horribly. I was quite transfixed by what I’d been watching, unable to take my eyes off it. And for the last day or so, I’ve been replaying bits of the programme in my mind, as the images and bits of commentary came back to me.


You wouldn’t think you could talk for an hour about one painting, but we got the history, the context, the view of the painting from inside Picasso’s mind, and an explosive exposition of why it was painted and what it meant to the world. The programme was named “The Power of Art”, and that’s exactly what it was. It insisted you look at it.

Schama’s previous series on “A History of Britain” had already shown me our own country’s history in a vivid and memorable way, a way that one wished had been around when one was at school. He put it in context, put the humanity into it and presented it in a way that brought the whole thing across alive and kicking. I’ve no doubt the academic fuddy-duddies would whinge about the way he did it all, but as one of the Great Unwashed in this area, I thought it was a remarkable achievement. But somehow or other I missed the follow up series on Art where he picked 8 paintings and gave us his view of each of them in 60 minute chunks.

Last night, his Picasso repeat was more of the same. It was a bit like the effect a Music Teacher, Ted Amos, had on me at school. I went into his class as a musical philistine, and after a couple of years he had totally converted me so that Music became a major part of my life. And he never ever knew what a huge change he’d made in me, which is rather sad. I read his obituary in "The Times" a few years ago, and wished I'd found a way to tell him of the change in me which he had personally brought about.

I sat last night watching a masterly exposition of somebody enthusing eloquently, knowledgably adn passionately about his subject, and as a result of what he said, and how he said it, I came out of it a bit different from an hour before. Not bad for 60 minutes television.

And I’ve now got something else to put down at the top of my Christmas list for Santa.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


This is a posting which I came across yesterday, on - I rather liked it. It's the Venus and Mars thing, but written in a way which gets you really thinking, and with a smile, which we all need in these uncertain days.

Men and women are known to have different emotional needs, thought patterns and communication style. Often an ordinary incident can unintentionally lead to two totally different reactions, evaluations and perceptions.


Tonight, I thought my husband was acting weird.We had made plans to meet at a bar to have a drink. I was shopping with my friends all day long, so I thought he was upset at the fact that I was a bit late, but he made no comment on it.Conversation wasn't flowing, so I suggested that we go somewhere quiet so we could talk. He agreed, but he didn't say much. I asked him what was wrong; he said, 'Nothing.' I asked him if it was my fault that he was upset. He said he wasn't upset, that it had nothing to do with me, and not to worry about it.On the way home, I told him that I loved him. He smiled slightly, and kept driving. I can't explain his behaviour. I don't know why he didn't say, 'I love you, too.'

When we got home, I felt as if I had lost him completely, as if he wanted nothing to do with me anymore. He just sat there quietly, and watched TV. He continued to seem distant and unresponsive!Finally, with silence all around us, I decided to go to bed. About 15 minutes later, he came to bed. To my surprise, he responded to my caress, and we made love. But I still felt that he was distracted, and his thoughts were somewhere else.He fell asleep and I cried. I don't know what to do. I'm almost sure that his thoughts are with someone else.

My life is a disaster.


The Harley wouldn't start today, but at least I got laid.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


A photographic friend of mine, Judy, pointed me in the direction of this clip.

It's not new, but it is amusing. if you've seen it before, watch it again. If you haven't seen it, watch it.

It purports to show an Australian politician. Senator Collins, defending the Australian national safety regulations after a tanker accident. The really scary thing is you think it's real - because we all know politicians who speak EXACTLY like this guy.

The good thing, or the bad thing (you choose) is that the two guys are an Antipodean version of John Bird and John Fortune.

Or maybe that's what they want us to think.