Living With Disappointment

The problem with people you respect or even treat as heroes is that there is always the chance they will let you down (as they of course are human and therefore have the same weaknesses as all of us). I do not just mean complete meltdown of someone you might have loved as a child turning out to be some kind of monster, although that can be bad enough. It can be a lot less dramatic than that and these days of so much coverage of pretty much everything the chance of someone being reported saying or doing something you disagree with is greater perhaps than in the past where people were able to control the image a lot better.

Sometimes you know the flaws anyway and put up with it as you might put up with a relative or friend – you ignore the views that you do not agree with because what else that person represents is important enough to make that worth doing. So you bite your lip and say nothing, or if the relationship is of the right kind enter regularly into full on arguments that both sides know that they are not going to resolve anything but allow the air to be cleared (for the moment) and then you can get back to all the things you do agree on.

One of the most difficult things can be when someone who previously you could rely on lets you down when you most want them to be there for you. For many years I had loyally followed former Ultravox lead singer Midge Ure around the concert circuit and was probably one of the few individuals that actually bought his solo albums. Why? Well because I was enjoying the brand of well written folk/rock that he was pushing out and the gigs were an entertaining mix of performance and genial good humour (admittedly with some swipes at the charts – a reference to 2Unlimited regarding ‘No limit’ as ‘No Lyrics’ sticks in my mind).

So I was fairly sure I was on safe ground taking the Lovely Wife to Shepherds Bush for a greatest hits gig.

It was terrible.

The sound was off, the place half full and no support band (just videos), so the atmosphere was pretty much zero. Worse, Mr. Ure had clearly come with his grumpy pants on that day and his mood deteriorated through the gig. They sorted the sound problems out, but considering they were recording for an anniversary release and therefore there was a bit more at stake than in a normal gig this must have added to the pressure.

I was gutted, and I filed my CDs away sadly, as no matter how much I protested how much this was out of character (as opposed to say, a band like Midnight Oil, who are the only act I have ever seen you deliberately seemed to want to antagonise their fans) there is nothing better to cement something than to actually experience it.

There is a happy ending. We are a big fan of The Stables at Milton Keynes as a venue, and Midge Ure was playing there as part of his ‘Breathe Again’ tour (an album I really liked at the time) and with a little coaxing the Lovely Wife agreed to give it a go. Maybe it was the venue, maybe the superb support band (who also provide the backing music during the headline set, the excellent India Electric Company, do look them up) but suddenly it was all smiles and jokes again, and some great live music. We agreed in the car back that the rehabilitation is complete.

Now all I have to do is get the Lovely Wife to come along to another Marillion concert – again not a happy experience last time, although nothing to do with the band. That’s another story.


Erratum: As rightly pointed out by a good friend of mine with a better sense of geography then I the Maharajah’s Well is not, in fact, in Berkshire as indicated but in South Oxfordshire. Hopefully no one is stuck wandering around Newbury trying to find it.


Entirely Appropriate?

Thank goodness that St Valentine’s nonsense is over with. Please say we can now get back to buying normally pricey rather than outrageously priced flowers for our loved ones and get back to working at the much harder challenge of loving each other throughout the year rather than focusing on one day.

You can probably guess that I’m a bit of Scrooge regarding February 14th but like poor old Ebenezer the reason is from bitter past experience. For me, not so much the entire lack of ever getting a Valentine’s card (even in jest) but the sublime experience of being dumped by the then object of my affections (by email of course) on that date. Basically she panicked – we had been going down to Dorset to see her parents and spend the weekend wandering around the local area but I guess she had already decided to put an end to it and the possibility I might get all romantic on her obviously was too much to bear. In the end I went anyway and it was a perfectly nice weekend – but then I had still months of obsessing over this one to go through (I know… I cannot believe I was so stupid, but many of us can attest that the delusion of love can make you completely unable to see sense).

So I have a personal little hatred for the thing. Thankfully, the Lovely Wife is not very keen either so I can largely ignore it without creating undue stress on our relationship.

About the only thing I do get out of Valentine’s Day is being amused at the music played on the radio under the mistaken premise that particular songs belong to the romantic style of love song, as opposed to those that are about lost love, obsession or worse.

We tend to start Sunday mornings with the BBC Radio 2 programme ‘Steve Wright’s Sunday Love Songs’, a couple of hours of slightly tongue in cheek romantic tosh. Well, that’s what it is supposed to be, if it were not for the fact most of what is played is wildly inappropriate (and please tell me that it is deliberate).

This last Sunday my particular highlights were James Blunt’s ‘You’re Beautiful’ a song of a delusional and drugged up man’s fantasy (he’s not ‘flying’ high on the album version, it’s another word beginning with ‘f’ which gives quite a different perspective on the song) about someone he had just seen and never even spoken to, with the video suggesting (in my reading at least) it will drive him to suicide. Lovely – could they top this? Oh yes, my friends they could. A few minutes later it is Hot Chocolate with ‘It started with a kiss’, a song underpinned right from the start by the line ‘You don’t remember me, do you?’.

Still, it could have been the Beach Head feel of ‘Emma’ so maybe I should be thankful.

Does anyone actually ever listen to these lyrics?

Pick up any ‘Greatest Love’ compilation and have a look at the track listing (and then put it back down with a shudder). I’m looking at one now. Let’s see… ‘I heard it through the grapevine’ – great song but hardly happy love-wise. ‘The Tracks of my Tears’… ‘Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)… It goes one and on. Goodness sake it’ll be the Police’s stalking record (‘Every Breath You Take’) or REMs dismissive ‘The One I Love’ next.

Actually the CD I’m looking at (given out free with the Daily Mail in 1996 if you must know) finishes with one of my favourite examples of the unhappy love song – Engelbert Humperdinck’s ‘The Last Waltz’, a song that leads you along in fluffy land until half way through the second verse before punching you in the guts – in much the way the object of Engelbert’s affection in the song does to him

Yes, there is nothing left but his tears and the orchestra playing. Happy belated Valentine’s Day everyone, personally I am more looking forward now to World Pangolin Day

Forward Planning

It is proving to be a stormy start to the year in year in the part of the universe I inhabit and not just that I am looking out frequently to see if our fences are still standing and keeping the fingers crossed that the roof will still be intact in the morning.

But so far so good, although I found the morning run a little more of a workout than normal thanks to a head wind that was strong enough even to be problems for my considerable bulk.

Ah. There I go again. Once more I see myself as a blubbering mass of flesh. My lovely Wife will be reading this and shaking her head again and will no doubt (rightly) tell me off.

But still as Lent approaches I always wonder whether I can use this as a self-control rocket launch pad to get myself out of bad habits and into good ones and get myself into a path that could be sustainable for future years.

As someone who will be forty five in a few weeks I am still able to ‘party’ reasonably hard and get (mostly) away with it, partly because I have a heavy exercise regime and partly I guess luck and blessings. But the reality is that I am losing the war. The weight has gone up a bit but is under control; nothing seems to have gone badly wrong in other areas – yet. But I drink too much and regularly. I know so do a lot of people but that is not really an excuse for having full recycling boxes. On the plate the portion sizes are still too big, I have not yet completely unlearned the terrible curse of ‘eating everything on our plate’ and I let pass my lips too frequently things that should never be classed as food (I am thinking here of one of my favourite bar snacks, that cursed things known as the pork scratching. Take fatty pig skin, deep fry it – because the natural fat content is clearly not sufficient – and then saturate it with salt – honestly, I am not sure how you could make the things less healthy. But with a nice pint of beer, and the bags are so small, usually so everything must be fine, surely? I kind of thought that until I realised just how much that salt was temporarily elevating my blood pressure…)

Exercise is essential but it is only one half of the story and I find the other half difficult to adjust – although progress is being made. The main thing I need to find is the motivation. Someone very close to me smoked for years and despite many entreaties never really wanted to, and so didn’t, give up. Then he worked out that if he was no longer paying through the nose for cigarettes that the books could be balanced so he could take early retirement. He stopped overnight.

For me it is probably the weight question. I was a hugely overweight child and have struggled all my life with weight and related self-esteem issues and still do. I was terribly disappointed when I gave up alcohol one year for Lent and lost no weight as a result (and I was deliberately trying not to overcompensate in other areas). Not sure why that was, but I think that for the alcohol intake fear of other issues (my poor liver) is probably the best incentive for intervention. I guess what concerns me most is not the moment, but the future – if I’m blessed enough to have a substantial number of years left I’d like to be in decent condition but time does take its toll and the possibility of (what for me would be a disastrous) running injury gets higher and higher with each year.

So what am I giving up for Lent this year? Well, with regret the pork scratchings are getting the push among other dark delights (see you in April, chips). My birthday falls within Lent and I find it hard to celebrate a landmark birthday without a tipple, so it’ll be more cutting down than cutting out.

Rather I think I will try and use the time to redesign some parts of my life that are under my control to build something I might actually maintain after Easter that can lead me to a place where I do not feel that I am just building myself up for trouble in the coming years.

Mining Landmarks

Sometimes the Lovely Wife and I like to go away for a bit of countryside and walking and this last weekend was another such mini adventure. At this time of year you have to take the weather as it comes and accept most things are closed, but at least it gives you a chance to get out on your own and away from people (sounds anti-social I know, but the biggest obstacle to connecting with the countryside is having to share it with a lot of other people). You can also get to stay in interesting places. This time we were renewing our longstanding love of Landmark Trust properties. Landmarks are a slightly weird and very British set of holiday homes, epitomised by the lack of providing even the most basic of communication devices – no TV, DVD player or Wi-Fi here – and in most cases providing accommodation in buildings that were never really meant to live in, even for short periods.

We have stayed in dozens of the things, but this was the first time we have stayed in an industrial mining building. Danescombe mine is the engine house of an old abandoned Victorian arsenic and copper mine down a track on the National Trust Cothele estate on the Cornish banks of the Tamar. As we cautiously approached (the pothole strewn track was somewhat perilous for our non 4×4 conveyance) it seemed to loom up out of the dark woods like some kind of Industrial cyclops (one big window left illuminated by the housekeeper).

Inside the rear of the building is filled with a massive metal staircase entirely in keeping with the original use of the building while the rest of the three floors are the comfortable if basic accommodation. About the only thing that made us slightly nervous was the car parking space was on a concrete platform above what the logbook described as a ‘small stream’ but which with current weather as a fast flowing torrent. On the Friday night, as the rain battered down on the roof seemingly all night, it is fair to say that it was with some relief that I looked out in the morning and saw that our car was not in fact washed halfway down the valley.

The appeal of these places to me is based on a number of things. First, the conservation part of me would rather see quirky buildings like this converted and used for something rather than have them disappear – the Trust specialises mostly in unloved buildings that are otherwise good examples of their type and are in danger. Sometimes they are more obviously historically important (e.g. Pugin’s The Grange in Ramsgate for example) but often just forgotten gems, such as the Music Room in Lancaster, where a tiny enclosed square in the centre of the town contains of all things an abandoned garden pavilion that somehow has avoided demolition as the rest of the town grew around it obliterating the house and garden in once belonged to.

The most exciting recent Trust acquisition is Belmont in Lyme Regis. It seems incredible to me that we were in danger of losing such an important little house. In more recent times it was the home of the novelist John Fowles but its most historically important owner was Eleanor Coade. The artificial stone that she perfected (Google ‘Coade stone’) and marketed dominates so many houses and monuments up and down the country that the (equally decorated) house of the person who invented it should fall into disrepair and be threatened with demolition is very sad, so it is nice to know that it has now been saved.

We love our Landmark stays and this one was no exception, even if the walking involved random hailstorms. Unfortunately returns to the real world are inevitable, but made easier having generated good memories.