Monday, 24 December 2007

Fox Caught Cat Napping

As an animal lover, I was surprised and enormously cheered to find a lovely fox curled up asleep in the middle of my urban garden at lunchtime on Saturday…and unfortunately, this delight led to a bit of embarrassment on the train this morning. I didn’t accidentally take the fox to work with me—nothing like that.

On Saturday, I had just come back from the vets (got all my shots!) and felt somewhat shaken from the journey there at the hands of a truly psycho minicab driver, so it was a diverting surprise to see my new furry friend honouring my neglected--nay ignored-- garden with its snoozy presence. Anyone who read my first posting about how a pigeon’s nest outside my window lifted my spirits for a month can imagine I might get positively feverish at the sight of a fox so near for so long. Usually, they are just fleeting glimpses of scarlet in the moonlight, dodging the bullying neighbourhood cats as they search for food often in atrocious conditions, nights I would have hoped they’d stay huddled safe in their den somewhere, but I suppose they must go out in horrid weather as they can’t ring Domino’s for delivery.

Here in broad daylight, in the middle of a small square shabby garden that was long ago concreted over and just barely decorated with errant vines straying from the neighbours’ garden with no respect for the boundary, and on the other side of the fence, with numerous noisy Christmas shoppers chatting and slamming car doors just a few feet away in the car park so near the main shopping centre in town….lay a snoozing fox, rather exposed.

It seemed so surprising that I started to worry that the fox must be injured and could crawl no further so stopped where it landed. Fortunately its chest was rising and falling with comforting regularity, and surely any broken limbs would not manage to curl into such a tight red ball. I also feared that it might be disturbed and run into the path of danger, and I hoped it would at least sleep ‘til dark, which would be in a few hours at 3.30pm.

So I kept an eye on him, took a few photos from a distance as I did not dare go down into the garden for fear of terrifying him. I eventually got out my old-fashioned camcorder and filmed him, and just as the sky grew a bit darker, he picked up his head, looked back (coincidentally in my direction) revealing his gorgeous fox face and wonderful ebony ears, had a bit of a chew on his probably mangy skin, and gave his ear a scratch with a back foot as a dog would. He was lovely, and he seemed to be well.

He then hit nature’s snooze button and curled up for another brief visit to noddytown, then after a bit lifted his head, stood and straightened out by lunging forward then backward, stretching his legs. He raised his head to assess the situation but didn’t look at all surprised about where he was so it must have been a conscious choice to nap there. After a bit, he moved to the edge of my garden to the path that led to the front, cautiously gazed down it and seemed to decide that direction was unsafe, thought he’d go through the small picket fence to my neighbour’s garden and cutely tried to put his big furry head through the fence only to find—fortunately before it got stuck—that it was way too big to fit. So he looked up and leapt over the fence, ran through my neighbour’s garden and disappeared….though he would have had a lot of concrete and pavement to cross before he got anywhere remotely secluded.

Pleased to get some footage of such cuteness unravelling before my eyes, I transferred it to my computer that night and left it (and a few other clips) burning onto a DVD whilst I slept. In the morning, eager to see how it turned out, I grabbed the newly burned DVD to watch on my laptop on the train. Comfortably seated on a busy train carriage, having put my MP3 player headphones in my ears, I turned on the laptop and carefully checked that the sound was, as always, muted so the DVD would not be heard by everyone in the carriage. The DVD would contain no fox noises (which I’ve often thought to sound a bit like someone slowly strangling or crushing a screeching bird of prey—horrible in the night) as I had filmed through a closed window. What it did contain, I’m ashamed to admit, was a running commentary from yours truly that comes naturally when I see cute animals. It’s scary; I talk out loud and in a thoroughly shameful goopy voice.

So I watched the DVD on the crowded Christmas Eve train, and lots of people looked over at me and my laptop, which often happens; I think it’s rude and surprising that people are so unaccustomed to seeing someone use a laptop on the train that they stare. When the fox footage ended, the DVD moved straight to a slideshow I’d done of photos of my father throughout his life to Warren Zevon’s Keep Me in Your Heart. Such a fitting tune, but I did not expect to hear it absolutely blasting out of my laptop today on the train. It took me a moment to realise I was the one to blame for the powerful noise, as my ears were otherwise engaged listening to music, remember. I ripped out my headphones to confirm, with great alarm, that my laptop volume was not muted after all and in fact was horribly loud. The speaker volume was set to mute, yes, but apparently the DVD-playing software overrode that setting. I immediately shut down the software and opened the DVD-tray in a panic to stop the noise that everyone in the busy train carriage was hearing.

To my horror, it dawned on me that I’d just unwittingly treated said carriage full of people to about 15 minutes of the soundtrack of the fox footage. They would have heard a constant chorus of “Awwww, bless it! Look at the cuteness! Look at da fuzzy wuzzy ears! What adorableness! Please, please let it be okay! Awww, look at the fluffiness of da tail! It’s skitching its little ear, soooo sweeeet!” in an ultra-goopy voice of which I am not proud. I also seem to recall near the end as the fox made its getaway that I uttered an extremely rare-for-me expletive when I tried to film and photograph the fox at the same time and dropped one of the cameras. So that, after all the fuzzy goopy silly ‘adorableness’ constant narration, would have been blasted around my train carriage without my realising. For about 15 minutes. So maybe, just maybe, that was why everyone was staring at me! Including the many, many children on the train who must have been coming to London for some pantomime treats.

Oh dear. I just hope that those people are people who ride the train in only on Christmas Eve so I will never see them again. I’m sure that will be the case, if I wish really hard on the Christmas star I see tonight….

Friday, 21 December 2007

I've Tried Ringing You....

Typically, my best intentions to say lots have been scuppered by work commitments, but I should improve soon. For now, I thought I'd pass on part of an e-mail that nearly amused me from good ol' Virgin Media, formerly ntl, now "the UK's first quadplay provider" of digital TV , broadband, phone and mobile services. You would think that would mean they knew a bit about communications.

My Virgin landline phone service has been out for over a week now(!), which has been fun in the run up to Christmas. I first reported the fault by e-mail because the fault is that my phone line doesn't work. I realise that's a complicated concept, the fact that I can't use the phone when the phone is dead. Virgin's eventual response started, "I'm just writing in reply to an email you've sent us regarding the loss of your telephone service. I've tried ringing you for a chat about this but can't seem to get hold of you."

Aren't they sweet, if not very quick to grasp these technical matters. The message ended by asking me to telephone a number to make an appointment for a technician.

Yes, I know I could borrow a neighbour's phone, but in London many of us wouldn't impose on people we generally only nod to when we pass in the street, and working in London means my close friends are spread around the home counties and not easily accessible, nor would I want to run up someone's bill ringing Virgin's call centre on the other side of the world. And my old-fashioned love of a peaceful life with no desire for people to be able to reach me anywhere at any time means I only have a pay-as-you-go mobile (usually switched off) that needs topping up and could never afford to spend an hour listening to a recorded message of someone saying how much she values my call and that they're very busy but please hold.

When I finally got to my office, I was able to make the appointment only after said call centre spent an age (once I reached a human) politely trying to suggest the fault was mine until I swore on my great-aunt's grave and promised to hand over my first born if I were wrong, which I wasn't. So now my week of feeling like I was in one of those old horror films where the phone line to the house is cut before the scary villian breaks over. And I feel free and safe again.

Virgin's reaction, though friendly in their e-mail, opens a whole world of possibilities in customer service. Perhaps next we'll come across a motor insurer that refuses to honour your claim that your car was totalled when it flipped over a cliff and burst into flames....unless you drive it into their garage to be examined. Perhaps that's happened to you.....

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Another Day in the Life with Music on the Journey

Sorry for the lack of posts but I’m so often snowed under by work….I hope to post something shortly but in the interim, I shall do something boring, just let you know what my MP3 player played me (in random play mode) yesterday on the train. It was in an agreeable, peaceful mood, and led me to reminisce about my brief encounters with Pete Townshend and Bobby McFerrin (they weren't together).

1. Over My Head – Aztec Camera. I adore Roddy Frame’s work but this one’s a bit sickly; I’ve heard this track compared to Chet Baker-like jazz, and oddly the first time my Zen ever played a Chet Baker track, which it has held silently for over a year, is on the same day.

2. I Need Love – Luka Bloom. Christy Moore’s kid brother can do no wrong in my eyes, and though he’s an incredible songwriter, he does good covers, even getting away with this LL Cool J number. The day before yesterday, the Zen played the excellent and catchy Sam Phillips song of the same name.

3. One—Aimee Mann. Originally recorded for a Harry Nilsson tribute album (see below), it was reused on the Magnolia soundtrack album—a fine Paul Thomas Anderson film largely based around Mann’s music that everyone should see; it’s a great ensemble piece where even Tom Cruise doesn’t come out as ‘the star’, although it’s a bit long but worth it. Backing vocals on this track are provided by Squeeze’s Chris Difford and Neil Innes of the Rutles and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. I believe Innes was the one I saw open for legendary comic Bob Newhart a few years ago when Innes was painfully out of step with the audience, which remained largely silent, and the whole night was awful as the dreadful barely existent sound system (a single amp on stage) meant most of us heard nothing and much of the audience spent Newhart's set searching for theatre staff to kill.

4. Celtic New Year – Van Morrison. Fairly recent recording with an early Van feel.

5. Silver Lining – Steve Poltz. I deleted this mid-way; it was too country for starters and must have been a result of my thinking, when I first bought the Zen, that 30GB was an endless amount of space so I could slap on any old whole album. I’m astonished to learn this was a single. Steve's other stuff is enjoyable, but I must confess to learning about him at a Jewel concert when taking a friend as a birthday gift; he opened the show with a delightfully zany set and loads of confident talent in comedy and on guitar, then joined her on stage as part of her band. He was her ex-boyfriend and co-writer of her hit You Were Meant for Me, which got into the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest running single in the Billboard Top 100, and apparently it was he who first discovered her, asking the waitress to join him on stage, where she was spotted by talent hunters. He has a freaky MySpace site that, with typical wackiness, suggests that most of his songs are about wolves and that his genre is gospel/Chinese pop/death metal.

6. Bring Him Home/Vincent - Peter Corry/Brian Kennedy. From the George Best memorial service. Kennedy replaces the one mention of “Vincent” in Don MacLean’s lovely tribute to Vincent Van Gogh with “George”, and Corry gives a moving rendition of the gorgeous song from Les Miserables, which was recently so perfectly delivered by Alfie Boe at the Festival of Remembrance, as I mentioned in a previous post.

7. Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin. Cute, but I can’t really take his advice because he offers no solutions. If the verses were ‘here’s how to win the lottery’ or ‘give me your address, I will send you some of my vast wealth’, I would find it a lot easier not to worry and be happy. When you’re worried about not being able to pay your rent, I don’t see how it’s helpful to have someone warn you that frowning might bring everyone else down, as you really wouldn’t care. But it’s catchy. I once encountered McFerrin at the gourmet grocery/restaurant where I worked in North Carolina; he was a guest at the adjacent inn and had been in for breakfast, and I was working the till. He was so quiet, I took little notice until the couple behind him in the queue gushed after he’d left, as they had tickets to see him in concert that night. He’s very nice, very normal. Doesn’t walk around making sound effects, saves it for the show.

8. Words of Love – Mama Cass. Sublime. My father raised me as a big Mama Cass fan, and Dream a Little Dream of Me is one of my ‘default songs’, ie one I find myself singing around the house nearly all the time—along with Tim Finn’s Young Mountain. If I were to struggle to find a connection between some of the artists in this Zen-produced random playlist, I could point to the fact that it contains Aimee Mann’s cover of a Harry Nilsson song—one of a tribute album to which Ron Sexsmith also contributed--and that Mama Cass died (of heart failure—she didn’t choke on her own vomit as the story goes) in Harry Nilsson’s London flat when he was away, as did Keith Moon (not on the same night; a few years later of an overdose, when Nilsson was also away), and Nilsson then sold the flat to Moon’s bandmate (in The Who of course) Pete Townshend.

9. Baby This Night – Hawksley Workman. Quirky Workman, real name Ryan Corrigan, is a Juno award winner—the Canadian Grammies—for Best New Solo Artist. Known for great live shows with odd dances, but I've not yet had the privilege...

10. Under the Skin – Lindsay Buckingham. Title track from his first solo album in 15 years, largely acoustic with him playing almost all the instruments—as Joan Armatrading (see below) tends to do on her more recent albums.

On the train home after working late at the office:-

1. Come Rain or Come Shine – Peggy Lee. Nothing I can add to this splendour; it’s Peggy Lee.

2. Give Me My Rapture – Van Morrison. From Poetic Champions Compose….I can forgive the Zen playing Van more than once in a session as I have so very much Van on it.

3. Ferry Cross the Mersey – Gerry and the Pacemakers. I only recently learned that Frankie Goes to Hollywood recorded a cover of this, which I’ve lived happily without hearing, but I must have heard in 1989 the charity version recorded by Frankie’s Holly Johnson, Paul McCartney, the Christians and Gerry Marsden himself in aid of those affected by the Hillsborough disaster. I was in London most of that year, and I always remember my worried father ringing from the States to make sure I was safe when he’d heard the tragic news, and I cruelly acted like the thoughtless youngster I was by replying to his caring kindness with a sarky, “Why on earth would I be at a football match in Liverpool?!?’, which I so regretted saying.

4. Kare Kare – Crowded House. The Finns have been top favourites for decades, but I seem to be the only Finn fan who didn’t see as masterful this Youth-produced Together Alone album, which was recorded (after Tim Finn left following one album) at Karekare Beach as used in The Piano; I never took to it as much as their earlier albums, and though this near jam session is good, it feels a bit like Crowded House imitating Moody Blues. I can be that critical because they set the standard so high; even their lesser pieces are relatively outstanding.

5. Keep On Running – Spencer Davis Group. I must confess that my first real awareness of Stevie Winwood was the Higher Love video played endlessly on MTV. Thankfully I’ve gone backwards, and I love this and I’m a Man; they’re always strangely uplifting. I recently saw on TOTP2 an archive clip of Chicago of dreary If You Leave Me Now fame covering I’m a Man, but they were quite different from that Chicago; it was on their debut album in 1969 and they were called the Chicago Transit Authority then. Thinking of Jefferson Airplane (later Jefferson Starship and then just Starship), I wonder if transport was a popular theme in band names at the time; I’m sure more will occur to me later. Like, uh, Steve Winwood’s Traffic, for starters….

6. Angelou – Van Morrison. You see? Lots of Van to choose from. I’m always reminded when I hear Van sing this one that I’ve been pronouncing it wrong; he says it like some nativity scene proclamation: ‘Angel, Lo!’. I always thought of it as sounding more like Angela combined with toilet, more like: Ann-je-loo. Or if calling her name in Paris, as in the song, I might say Ahnzh-ih-loo. But maybe it’s the Belfast accent. I saw Holly Lerski’s excellent band called Angelou, which has been described as being the spiritual sister of Jeff Buckley, open at Ronnie Scotts once when Boo Hewerdine, whose label picked up Angelou’s first album, played—I think the time he performed with with Gary Clark of Danny Wilson, followed by Colin Vearncombe (ex-Black) and his tremendous voice. But I don’t recall how Angelou the band pronounced their name.

7. The Kids Are Alright – The Who. There used to be a guy in my junior high French class who wore a badge/button with Pete Townshend’s warped-looking 60s face on it every single day. It took me ages to understand this hero worship of such a weird looking guy. (Imagine if, as adults, we went around wearing badges every day of people we admired.) A few years later, I found myself staying in a large hotel in Florida where the Who were also staying, and I convinced the mater to park her car near where I was sure they’d exit the sprawling hotel en route to the concert so I could wait and watch discreetly. I seemed alone in my interest as everyone else at the hotel was there for a field hockey tournament. When they hadn’t appeared by the time I thought they were due to leave, I looked down and fumbled with the newspaper to find the concert listing to check the time, then looked up to find that I’d just missed seeing Roger Daltrey get into a white limo, which drove off. I was about to give up when I saw a single groupie set up camp nearby and I figured she knew something. Sure enough, I soon made my mother jump out of her skin when I surprised myself by shouting, ‘OHMIGOD THAT’S PETE TOWNSHEND!’ ‘Who’s Pete Townshend?’ she asked. ‘I thought you wanted to see The Who.’

This was long before the days of compact digital cameras and cameraphones, but I remembered as I jumped up that my mother, a realtor, kept a camera in her glovebox, which I grabbed as I ran out of the car the few yards to where Pete was reluctantly, grumpily pausing for a photo by the groupie. I muttered a sort of ‘me, too?’ request,
and he nodded vaguely but made it clear he was leaving in one minute. I pressed the shutter button, nothing happened, and as I helplessly examined the camera in panicked agony, Townshend turned and got into his limo and left. I was initially miserable until I realised that I had accomplished my original mission of just getting to see The Who—or one of them—close up. My lasting memory was that this older Townshend looked nothing like that warped figure on John from French Class’s badge. He was actually a fairly attractive man in person with beautiful blue eyes that seemed too gentle for a rock star who smashed precious musical instruments that had done him no harm.

So back to the MP3 list….

8. Love Will Tear Us Apart ’95 – Joy Division. The 1995 Permanent remix with added guitar. I look forward to finding the time to see finally the highly praised Anton Corbijn film of Ian Curtis’ life, Control.

9. Look for the Silver Lining – Chet Baker.
He always makes me think of watching Ewan McGregor from a front row seat in the stalls do an excellent job in his uncle (Local Hero etc actor) Denis Lawson’s revival of David Halliwell’s Little Malcolm and His Struggle against the Eunuchs, originally a 60s play and film with Beatles connections, which I seem to recall played a lot of Chet Baker to create the atmosphere, unless it was Dave Brubeck and I’m remembering wrong.

10. Idiot Boy – Ron Sexsmith. “God so loved the idiot boy / He gave him coffee grounds in a paper cup / And a reason everyday to keep getting up / In a world that drags you down”. Perhaps he’ll be next on the Starbucks label. Humble and very highly regarded by well-known fellow artists, but bizarrely underappreciated by the average record-buyer, this excellent Canadian singer/songwriter has, like Workman, won a Juno: Songwriter of the Year in 2005, having been nominated several times before and no doubt in future.

11. Everyday Boy – Joan Armatrading. Kinda interesting that the Zen chose two ‘adjective Boy’ songs. This one is also grand: “But you respect yourself / And you let it show / Some fade with guilt And the shame / The way you Tell your story / With no tears For yourself.” That's made me think of someone I've mentioned in posts here before but I've gone on about that enough.