Sunday, December 11, 2016


Came back to our snug and warm abode after a wet afternoon at Barnstaple market yesterday and revelled in its sheer, unadulterated cosiness. Fifi, Fafa and I agreed that despite the many merits of life in our Far Place, the word 'cosy' means little in its context. Here it means everything.

I'm cosily writing this in a warm kitchen on a cold morning, having just been handed my crumpets. Bye!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Strange Times

On the way down to Devon I bought a copy of the Times Literary Supplement when we stopped off at one of the services between Birmingham and Bristol. In previous visits to the UK I've generally purchased magazines and newspapers quite freely and, as a result, found myself with too much to read. This time round I brought with me on the trip the recent copy of The New York Review of Books I picked up in Holland Village and only half read, and an untouched issue of Philosophy Now, with the idea that I'd only start buying new stuff when I'd got one of these out of the way. (Buying The Big Issue I count as a necessary exception.) Since I completed the NYRB issue the other day I now feel free to get hold of some new stuff. Mind you I'm still a bit wary of buying one of the thick Sunday newspapers here with all the various enticing supplements. Much as I've enjoyed these in the past they take quite a bit of reading, leaving little time for actual books. (I'm moving on in Daniel Deronda at the moment, but progress is slow what with having so much to do over here.) Indeed, it took me a couple of days to do justice to a unexceptional mid-week copy of The Guardian such is the depth of coverage provided by the quality papers.

Finishing the issue of the NYRB proved to be quite a melancholy experience, by the way. It was the 'Election Issue', printed before the results of the presidential election became a surreal, bitter reality. It featured a number of commentaries by the great and good and sensible, only one or two of whom took at all seriously the possibility of the result which we actually got. That result is dominating the news here, along with the bewildering puzzle of how the equally irrational Brexit is to be achieved. Strange times.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Christmas Spirit

We're now down in Devon, in John & Jeanette's lovely little house in Northam, near Bideford. We drove down in the late afternoon and evening yesterday generally to the accompaniment of Radio 2, taking in an entire live concert by Robbie Williams. Not exactly my cup of tea, but it served to pass the time on a rather boring drive. I'm sure we passed through some scenic countryside, but that's meaningless in the dark.

However, we did start the journey to the strains of Dylan's Christmas album,  Christmas in the Heart, which I bought from the HMV in York along with the first eponymous album from The Imagined Village. The Dylan album was released when we were last in the UK in December (of 2009, I think) but I'd hesitated to buy it then since the critics seemed to deem it a bit of an incongruous novelty, and I'm not really that keen on Christmas songs these days, overplayed as they are at this time of year and, sadly, incongruously, even earlier. Funnily enough I remember a short interview featuring the Bobster being published in The Big Issue when the Christmas album was released in which the great man sounded very convincing as to the real value of the project. Anyway, it turns out that Dylan was right and the critics wrong, as is ever the case, of course - well, to these ears, that is.

All I can say is that I totally, entirely, wholly loved every moment of Christmas in the Heart, which is titled with unerring accuracy. It's a gloriously warm, funny, charming evocation of the sound of Christmas as would have been experienced by the young Robert Zimmerman, a mythological Christmas that I'm aware of from songs from my own childhood and films and tv programmes from the States. Dylan's gloriously raddled voice and the rock solid band he selected, with their perfect arrangements of the old songs, add the necessary edge that somehow adds to the sweetness of the songs. (Pedal steel from Donnie Heron to die for, as on the later albums of standards.)

For the first time in years I felt in my old heart the Christmas Past that I thought I'd lost.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Painful Issue

Bought a copy of The Big Issue yesterday in York. I was beginning to wonder whether the magazine was still being sold since I hadn't seen any vendors previously. In a way I'm glad it's still going, providing those who sell it some much-needed financial support; but at the same time it's sad there's any need at all for a publication supporting the cause of the homeless.
Actually I've got an uneasy feeling that I'm seeing a lot more people begging on the streets here - and not always begging, but just seeming to be finding places to sit and get themselves warm. It's frightening to imagine the difficulties faced by the down-and-out, especially in weather as cold as this, and it's good to know that folks like those behind The Big Issue are doing something of practical value with regard to all this.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


As we were walking around the Shambles in York yesterday I was telling Fifi about the bookshops dealing in second hand books you used to be able to find in the area in the early 1980s or thereabouts. They'd disappeared by the late 1980s, so they've been long gone. Indeed, that was generally true of such bookshops throughout the country, or the parts of the country I got around to, at least. I reckon that well over half the books I bought at university and in the years immediately following came second hand, from such establishments.

Which makes me wonder where old discarded books go to in our brave new world. There are lots of charity shops around nowadays, and they invariably have a shelf or two of old paperbacks, but this is nothing like the space the old bookshops offered for unwanted books. It's a pity to think they may just be thrown away.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


We're now in York, staying for a couple of days at Ann's place. Drove over to the sounds of the latest Van Der Graaf album, Do Not Disturb. Not exactly instantly attractive with its sudden changes of style, tempo and mood, but clearly offering lots of engrossing possibilities and sounding amazingly young for a trio who are, well let's face it, old. At times that's inspirational in itself - a reminder to get out there and get things done in whatever time you're given.

So we'll be trying to pack plenty of York into the next few hours, despite the cold, which is still with us.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Sounding Good

There are, unsurprisingly, fewer big record stores around Manchester than in days of yore. My old favourite, the big HMV opposite the Arndale Centre has gone, but there's a branch inside the centre with a fair range of stuff - though the classical selection is very poor.

I picked up some CDs by King Crimson, Steven Wilson and Van Der Graaf Generator, which has saved me the trouble of ordering them on-line. So far I've only been able to listen to the Crimson set, featuring the seven-headed version of the beast Live in Toronto, in the car - but what a set to listen to. All right-thinking musos need to acquire this. Trust me. Genius.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Something To Remember

Had a very good time just pottering about around Romiley and Ashton yesterday, followed by a curry nosh-up at a restaurant near John & Jeanette's. Paul & Joy and Sam were in attendance, with Sam back home for the moment from his mountaineering exploits in the alps. Much laughter, for no particular reason, which is always the best kind. The evening concluded with John serenading us with Jingle Bells played on his new accordion. Definitely unforgettable.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Out And About

Yesterday's quote of the day came courtesy of the Missus, following a discussion as to whether we were going to find somewhere to eat in the early evening: I'm hungry and it's my birthday! I think you might be able to guess who got her way. Her birthday burger at an eatery in Longsight, where it's very easy to find halal food, was most palatable.

We'd spent the afternoon down Manchester, checking out the German Market around the town hall. All very Christmassy in a good way, as opposed to the false cheer of the malls in Singapore. Generally the city seems to be in a positive place, looking a bit less run-down than the last time we were here, but these are early days to be trying to take the pulse of the nation.

Friday, December 2, 2016


Fifi summed it up nicely when we were in Hyde town centre yesterday looking for somewhere to eat: I'd forgotten just how cold it was over here. I hadn't really forgotten, but that doesn't make dealing with the big chill any easier.

Fortunately we've got the warmth of John & Jeanette's welcome to help us adjust.