I have just completed a survey, sent to me by You Gov. This is one of the big survey companies in Britain, and I get paid (very little) for completing ‘targeted surveys’. Generally, they are mainly for marketing purposes of course, but this one was a little different.

It asked lots of questions about identity, and how we perceive that in ourselves. I suddenly had to think carefully about my answers, and which options I was clicking on. Those answers say a lot about me, and reveal things that I don’t normally spend too much time thinking about these days.

Do I consider myself to be British, for example. I ticked that I consider myself to be English, not British. Foreigners often refer to this country as Britain, or call us all ‘Brits’, perhaps not realising that there are many of us who feel little or no connection with Britain as a whole. Personally, I regard Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as other countries. Countries that just happen to be governed centrally. I feel no great connection to those countries, other than to enjoy visiting them, and being aware of some differences in culture, accents, and history.

But the next section wanted to know more. Was I totally English, or did I just regard myself as coming from a specific place, or part of England? That was easy, I am a Londoner. I was born in that city, and lived there for sixty years. I may live in rural Norfolk now, but that is not where I am from, or what I am. It’s just where I have chosen to live in later life. My accent, demeanour, life experience, and attitude is all about being a Londoner. And being perceived to be one by others too. They didn’t have a section about the perception of others in the survey though.

That wasn’t enough for the survey company. Did I see myself as being from that city, or just from a specific area or part of it? That was also easy. I am from South London, and a particular part of that area, on the banks of the River Thames, Rotherhithe. Although I lived in many parts of the capital over the years, I was brought up in that district, and returned to live there when I was older. A borough that you could walk the length of, in fifteen minutes, and know intimately, given a full day.

I started the survey as British, later deciding I was actually English. But being English didn’t last too long, when I concluded that I was really a Londoner. Shortly after that, I came to realise that I was not even a Londoner, as I only identified with a small part of that huge city.

Just goes to show how well they constructed that survey, and how perceptions of identity are indeed fascinating.

Just been watching…(13)

Intruders (2011)

I decided to record this film from the TV. Clive Owen, Kerry Fox, and an additional great Spanish cast gave me the feeling that it would be worth watching.

And it was.

***No spoilers***

The film plays out in two countries. Starting in Spain, we see a young boy writing a story about a character he calls ‘Hollow face’. His mother warns him about having nightmares about monsters, but he does anyway. ‘Hollow face’ appears in his bedroom at night, trying to steal the boy away from home, so that he can use the child’s face to interact with the world. In his dreams, young Juan sees his mother desperately trying to save him from the grasp of the monster. When he wakes up terrified, his mother soothes his fears, but we get the feeling that she is worried. She goes as far as to consult the local priest, asking him to rid her child of the night-time demon.

Change the scene to England. A young girl called Mia looks into an old tree, and finds a box containing the story of ‘Hollow face’. She cribs the tale for her school project, and soon becomes immersed in what might have happened. She too begins to have nightmares about the monster being in her room, and turns to her father for consolation and reassurance. He tells her not to worry, but the nightmares continue, and become more and more intense.

Back to Spain again. The boy cannot sleep. He writes about the monster constantly, and gives his mother grave cause for concern. The priest is worried too, and attempts to give the family some solace in religion, to no avail. Night after night, ‘Hollow face’ gets closer to the boy, who has to be constantly rescued by his increasingly concerned mother. The strain begins to tell, and she wonders what to do next.

In England, ‘Hollow face’ eventually gets into Mia’s bedroom, causing her to scream, and alert her father, who fights and struggles with the monster in the room. After this incident, Mia is so traumatised, she can no longer speak, and is referred to a psychiatrist. She decides that Mia must be separated from her father, as his version of events is suspect, and they may be experiencing a joint hallucination.

What follows is a real twist, one that I didn’t get at all for a change. A compelling film with a great cast. Not depending on special effects for the shocks, which are nicely built up during the course of the action. A very good script and plot leave us guessing until close to the end, and every character is completely believable and convincing. Can’t ask for much more than that, in my book. One of the best of the genre that I have seen in a long time.

If you have seen it, let me know what you think. If not, see it.

Sultry nights

I am loath to mention any complaint about good weather, but the last few nights have been on the borders of unbearable. Sleep has been difficult, even with a fan in the bedroom, and we have both had unsettled nights; disturbed by the fan, or the cold around dawn.

Tonight is supposedly the last night of an uncomfortably hot spell. We have been enduring high night-time temperatures, in excess of 20 C. There are heavy storms predicted for later, after 2am, with the chance of torrential rain, hailstones, and localised flooding. Of course, this is situation normal for many parts of the world, but a rare occurrence here.

After a few days of very humid conditions, problems sleeping, and uncomfortable days, the change should be welcome. However, in a very English way, we almost resent the arrival of rain, necessary or otherwise, and cling on desperately to those rare summer days, whatever the dangers of precipitation, and lack of sleep.

It’s a very English thing. We always want the weather we haven’t got. Then when we get it, we wish we had something else instead. I can see how this might be contrary, but I am English, so consider it perfectly normal.

Significant Songs (77)

Another Nail In My Heart

Let’s face it, I was always going to like Squeeze. This cheerful group were from the same area of London as me, and almost the same age too. They arrived at a time of Punk and dire pop, with a retro feel to both their style and music, making them look and feel more like a band from ten years earlier. All their songs were original, and written by members of the band. They sung them in a London accent, using slang on occasion, and they had a sound like nobody else, instantly recognisable. What’s more, they could play their instruments, and play them well too.

Glen Tilbrook was an accomplished guitarist, rarely getting credit for the quality of some of his solos. Jools Holland could play any keyboard, and Gilson Lavis provided crisp drums. With vocals by both Tilbrook and co-writer Chris Difford, they really did have it all going for them, at least in the UK. Success in America was never to happen for them though, and they became a popular British band, somewhat trapped by their very English style. from 1977 until 1982, they had a string of hit albums and singles, and made regular appearances on TV and radio shows.

Late in 1982, they split up, with band members embarking on their own projects until the band reformed in 1985. But it would never be the same. The line-up went through changes, and the new songs failed to capture the imagination of both old fans and new listeners alike. Jools Holland became a successful presenter of music shows on TV, and formed a large touring band, still doing both to this day, with Gilson Lavis as its percussionist. Difford and Tilbrook worked as a duo with limited success, later touring as Squeeze again from 2007, playing all the old hits.

This song will give you a flavour of their unique sound, and it also features a great guitar solo from Tilbrook. As the words are sung quite fast, and with a real London accent, here are the lyrics for your information, as they are often misheard.

The case was pulled from under the bed
She made a call to a sympathetic friend
And made arrangements
The door was closed there was a note
I couldn’t be bothered, maybe I’ll choke
No more engagements

With where have you been’s
And faraway frowns
Trying to be good
By not being ’round

And here in the bar
The piano man’s found
Another nail for my heart
And here in the bar
The piano man’s found
Another nail for my heart

That stupid old bug
That kills only love
I want to be good
Is that not enough

So play me the song
That makes it so tough
Another nail for my heart
Then play me that song
That makes it so tough
Another nail for my heart

I had excuses, those little boy lies
That she computed by watching my eyes
And told me firmly
She couldn’t stand it, I’m bad on her heart
She dropped her makeup and I found the bar
Now it concerns me

I’ve had a bad time
Now love is resigned
I’ve been such a fool
I’ve loved and goodbyed

So here in the bar
The piano man’s found
Another nail for my heart
And here in the bar
The piano man’s found
Another nail for my heart
And here in the bar
The piano man’s found
Another nail for my heart
And here in the bar
The piano man’s found
Another nail for my heart
And here in the bar
The piano man’s found
Another nail for my heart


Published by
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

And here is the original video, courtesy of You Tube.

Significant Songs (72)

Spill The Wine

I had always admired Eric Burdon as a singer and performer, since his arrival on the scene as the lead singer of The Animals in the early 1960s. The band included Chas Chandler, and Alan Price, who both went on to have successful individual careers later. I had enjoyed the bluesey sound of the band, and Burdon’s gravelly vocals. They had huge hits with what were mainly cover versions, including ‘The House of The Rising Sun’, and ‘Paint It Black’.
By 1969, Burdon had left the band and departed for America where he still resides, now aged 73. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, he teamed up with a band of black musicians called ‘War’, and released albums of experimental funky music. I was entranced by this unusual sound, and bought them eagerly, lapping up their output.
This track is from the 1970 release, ‘Eric Burdon Declares War’. It was a little self-indulgent, and some tracks went on for too long. However, there was nothing to compare with it at the time, and Burdon’s English tones, backed by the west coast funk, have rarely been bettered.

Significant Songs (70)

My Ever Changing Moods

I have always liked Paul Weller. He was the retro-Mod that I always wanted to be. Sharp-dressed, musically talented, and super cool. When he arrived on the fringe of the punk scene with The Jam, I ate up the output. ‘Going Underground’, ‘Eton Riles’, ‘That’s Entertainment’, and ‘A Town Called Malice’, were all part of the soundtrack of the late 1970s and early 1980s for me. He went on later, to a wonderful solo career with stand-alone CD releases of great import, including ‘Wildwood’, and ‘Stanley Road’. He was from South London, as I was, and although he was much younger than me, he managed to encompass the sounds of my youth; at least those that I still wanted to hear.

But from 1983-1989, he hit new heights, at least in my estimation. In collaboration with Mick Talbot, he formed the group Style Council. Never has an English band got it so right. They swept up the late Mod sound, then added Bossa-Nova beats, jazzy brass, and a wicked organ sound from Talbot. On-trend lyrics, catchy vocals, and meaningful songs, all made the mix irresistible. I was enthralled. It was my thing; almost like nothing before had ever been.

I was very upset when they split up, although Weller continues to perform with great success to this day, it was never the same. I appreciate that this is quite an ‘English’ thing, so I apologise, and ask for your indulgence in advance. I could pick almost any release from the six-year life of the group; so this is as good as any, to showcase the style.

Significant Songs (53)

Rather Be

A year ago, in January 2014, I heard a new hit record on the car radio. This was obviously English, and combined an interesting mix of classical instruments, with an electronic dance beat, accompanied by a clear strong vocal. I looked into the background of the group, Clean Bandit. Four young musicians from Cambridge, three men and a girl, they had been around for a few years, and had a previous hit record, that I didn’t recall hearing.

They used ‘guest vocalists’, something of a trend since the late 1990s, which gave them the opportunity to change styles, and to continue to sound fresh. One young woman they had collaborated with previously, Jess Glynne, had had some success with other groups as an occasional singer, but she was to be rightly elevated into the public eye by her lead vocal on this song. Clean Bandit obviously have some serious musical talent, as the instrumental version of the same track is also compelling. It is delivered with sufficient verve to have been used by many advertisers, to the extent that the opening strains of the violin, make it instantly recognisable, to anyone familiar with music in the UK at least.

If any modern dance track can be considered to be a ‘standard’ of the future, then this must surely be in consideration. The unlikely marriage of classical cello, violin, piano, and husky soul vocals lifts it straight above the crowd of similar offerings. And it gets my elderly feet tapping too!
I include both versions here, with singing on the first, and the instrumental second.

Coming down with something

When chatting to people anywhere, if the subject turns to feeling unwell, you will often hear the phrase “I think that I’m coming down with something.” I have said this myself, and hear others using it frequently. Until recently, I gave it little thought, but when I heard someone say it a few days ago, it struck me what a strange phrase it is. It has the feel of an old manner of speech, like the form of words you might find in the novels of Charles Dickens, or perhaps could even be spoken by one of the minor characters in a Shakespeare play. In that respect, it appeals to me greatly, and I am glad is has survived though the ages.

I am guessing that it would be hard to translate into a foreign language. I imagine perplexed German or French students studying English, trying to work out what this could mean. I am also wondering if Americans would get it, and if it has travelled across the Atlantic with the rest of our language, or remains uniquely British. I am trying to try to think of some other phrases like this, not regional, but understood by anyone in the UK. It doesn’t actually suggest illness, yet we all know instinctively what it means. Looked at in isolation, you could be forgiven for thinking that it is nonsensical. In similar uses, you could hear, “I am coming down with a friend”, and presume that the speaker was visiting you, in the company of someone else. If someone said “I am coming down with those things”, you would automatically assume that they are bringing things to the place where you happen to me. But when they say “I am coming down with something”, you never question the immediate idea that they are unwell.

When I woke up yesterday, I wasn’t feeling my best. I couldn’t exactly describe any symptoms, although there was an ache in both my back and shoulders, and I felt cold inside my body. After getting unduly stressed about the leaks above the wood-burner, I went out with Ollie, for a long walk. The weather had changed, and though it was still damp, we walked in bright sunshine, in the company of a regular dog-walking friend. I got back when it was almost dark, feeling inordinately tired and cold. Unusually for me, I put the heating on early, and when Julie got home from work, we had a simple meal, that involved little preparation or cooking. By 8pm, I could feel myself getting sleepy. The backache persisted, and my hips also began to hurt. Walking around was reduced to a shuffle, and I couldn’t get comfortable on any of the furniture. I gave up, and went to bed at the unheard of time of 9.50pm.

I didn’t wake up this morning until almost 10.45. I had slept for over twelve hours. My aches are still there, though not painful enough to warrant pain-killer tablets being taken. I feel a bit shivery, and my head feels fuzzy.


I think I must be coming down with something.

Significant Songs (37)

Chasing Pavements

Following her arrival on the music scene in the UK in 2006, Adele Adkins has become a household name here, and an international star to boot. This singer-songwriter from a South London suburb is only 26 years old, and is already assured a place in the record books. She has won six Grammys, two Brit awards, and a host of other accolades and plaudits. She has sold millions of her recordings, either on CD or download, and has equalled or exceeded many statistical records, even those of The Beatles. She has even been awarded both a Golden Globe, and an Oscar, for her James Bond theme song ‘Skyfall’, and her career appears to be unstoppable.

Her talent is undeniable. She doesn’t trade on unusually good looks, or a slim figure, like so many of her contemporaries. Her success is based on a wonderful vocal range, and amazingly memorable songs, that appeal to all ages, and different groups of fans. If you live in the UK (or perhaps even the USA) you cannot fail to have heard one or other of her songs played on the radio. She has only released two albums so far, called ’19’, and ’21’, after the age she was at time of recording. The second CD contained the huge hits ‘Someone Like You’, ‘Rolling In The Deep’, and ‘Set Fire To The Rain’. Her style has been variously described as ‘Jazzy’, ‘Bluesy’, and even ‘Country’. Most of her songs are about heartbreak, failed relationships, and disappointments in life. Perhaps that is why everyone can relate to them, wherever they are from.

My selection is the second single release from her debut album. I heard it on the radio, saw the video on TV, and was immediately impressed by this talented newcomer, with her English accent, and ‘ordinary’ looks. I bought the CD the next day.

Blogging and Spam

I have been having a closer look at some of the spam that is filtered out by WordPress. It makes interesting, and sometimes, very amusing reading too. For fellow bloggers, I doubt it will hold any surprises, for the rest of you, it may be a diversion.The following comments are cut and pasted directly as they appear in my inbox.

1) “Wonderful work! That is the type of info that are meant to be shared around the internet. Shame on Google for not positioning this post upper! Come on over and talk over with my site . Thank you =)”

This seems to come from a stop smoking blog, yet was a reply to my post on cars. If you read it, the English on the blog is as expected, and not the strange construction of language that appears on this comment.

2) “Simply desire to say your article is as surprising. The clearness to your put up is just great and i can think you are an expert in this subject. Fine with your permission allow me to grasp your RSS feed to keep up to date with
impending post. Thanks 1,000,000 and please keep up the enjoyable work.”

This strange nonsense originates from a US website advertising dance studios, and is in reply to a serious post about two murdered Police Officers in Manchester.

3) “Great blog you have here, keep up the great function, enjoy studying your thoughts and want to follow you for a long time, i never thought I’d look for a great website such as this one, numerous websites are so bad that you simply simple simply waste materials your time reading all of them!”

This comment, again in reply to my post about cars, seems to be from an American blogger, who is writing about Payday Loans, though not selling them. Again, the language on the blog is completely normal, and bears no resemblance to the gobbledegook shown here.

I can only conclude that the actual sites are either being abused in some way, or are fronts for something entirely different, and presumably sinister, in some form. They are being generated with no logic, and have obviously not been proof-read, or corrected for language errors. Anyone can see that English is not the first language of the authors, probably not even the second, or third language either. Worryingly, they are not actually trying to get me to buy anything, join anything, or comment on anything. So what is the purpose of the blog spam? Does anyone know? Perhaps a spammer would like to tell me why they do it, that would be interesting.