Posts Tagged ‘The Box Ticked’

Stony Words 2015QI on the telly Friday night and in the general ignorance round there’s mention of a musical instrument I’ve never heard of.  Saturday night (a while back now, Jan 24) I get to see and hear one played.  The theorbo is a bass lute.  Given that people were smaller back then, it’s a bit of a monster.  Along with the viol, Mr Simpson’s Little Consort put it to good use in the delivery of their sacred, profane and bawdy repertoire.

pepys-gifford-1-300x292Ayres and graces

Now in its 11th year, StonyWords! – Stony Stratford’s literary festival – kicked off with Ayres and Graces at York House – John Alexander in full drag reading selections from the diaries of Samuel Pepys, interspersed with music of the Restoration period courtesy of aforesaid four-piece Consort; or music from the period interspersed with readings from … you get the picture.  It was a game of two halves, the first richly populated with the bits Mr Knox, our history master, had taken joy in hinting at back then (the complete unexpurgated edition hadn’t wasn’t published til a decade later) – Pepys as recidivist philanderer and whorer (never again, he says … again), Pepys the chronicler of his bowels and more.  In the moving second half the wig came off and we were living matter of factly through the sights and fears and practicalities of life in the Plague year of 1665 – the parallels with ebola impossible to put to one side, it was that vivid – and witnessing the progress of the Great Fire of London a year later.  A fine evening of edifying entertainment.



The Rainborowes

Back to the 17th century the next Monday to the Library to see Adrian Tinniswood talking with engaging enthusiasm about his latest book,  The Rainborowes: pirates, Puritans and a family’s quest for the Promised Land (Cape , 2013).  Quite a bunch, indeed, crisscrossing the Atlantic (no, really), with a particularly sad tale of one of the much-married women failing to find happiness in the New World.  Standout, however, has to be Thomas –



seaman, English Civil War siege-master and radical – a leading Republican soldier in Cromwell’s New Model Army and a significant contributor to the Putney Debates – the post-victory OK-what-are-we-gonna-do-now discussions forced on the Grandees by the more radically democratic Levellers.  Fascinating stuff.

Interesting discussion at the end as to the respective merits of the hardback and paperback covers, with author and small minority at the meeting holding out for the hardback (that’s King Charles’s head coming off) as opposed to the author’s agent, paperback publisher and the majority favouring the historical genre design in the shops.

Bardic trials 2015The Bardic Trials

A new tradition instituted in this, the fifth of the annual Bardic Trials.  Grey Rod, bedecked in academic gown, ceremonially knocking three times to gain entrance.  Regardless of the rod not actually being grey [but see Comments below], it would appear the position also bears some responsibility as returning officer for the casting and  counting of the popular vote, this year to be done with cheap metal washers as opposed to the traditional post-it note.  Given that Grey Rod was Stephen Hobbs, this rather scuppered the redoubtable Antipoet‘s passionate rendering, in the course of another wondrous set, this time featuring some new material – of their tuneful rousing bit of music hall chantery (composed, tis said, on Christmas day) Stephen Hobbs for Bard.

The Bardic Pencil is passed on.  (Photo credit due if I knew whose it was.)

The Bardic Pencil is passed on. (Photo credit due if I knew whose it was.)

At the end of the day it was Pat “the Hat” Nicholson who won out over storyteller Red Phoenix  by a single metal washer after the initial field of four had been whittled down for the penalty shoot-out.  It was a full house and the crowd was vocal throughout – another grand night.  Let us now hail the new Bard.  His Autobiographical ode to Stony Stratford, recalling his family’s Saturday shopping trips to Stony from Whaddon when he was 6 and lorries hurtled down the A5, for the High Street was still a trunk road back then, was the outstanding competition piece on the night.  He’ll be a worthy Bard, and I hope some of his Bardic duties at least will be accomplished in song with the more familiar guitar in hand; nothing in the rules against it.

Troubadour Reunion

 And so, back to York House on Friday for Ian Entwistle on acoustic guitar accompanied by, and on occasion featuring individually, the voices of 4 natural women (with a touch of recorder now and then), celebrating the singer-songwriters of the early ’70s – James Taylor, Carole King, Neil Young, Cat Stephens to the fore.  Quality performances ensured the sell-out crowd had a great evening that was testament to the emotional power of those great songs on people the first time around, back then.  There were moist eyes in every direction, and I for one had never quite realised what James Taylor meant to women of that generation; it was Neil Young’s Old man that did it for me.

That finished early enough for us to catch a bit of Speakeasy’s From Bard to verse evening down the road in The Bull.  Just in time to catch the new Bard – still sans guitar – strutting his stuff, declaiming from the centre of the floor as if to the manor born.

The Box Ticked at the Crauford

TBT at CraufordSaturday, eschewing StonyWords! for the nevertheless highly literate charms of the “quirkessentially British power pop” that is The Box Ticked in the bar at the Crauford Arms in neighbouring Wolverton.  This was the opening gig of the bands’ winter tour of Milton Keynes.  Two full and very fine sets with some shaping up nicely new stuff.  You can read all about it here, on their very own blog and website.  I suppose a satire warning is warranted before you go there; this, for instance from the blog, about the second gig of the tour:

Having found a place to crash for the night with people we know, the weary but excited Box Ticked made their way from Wolverton over towards Stony Stratford for the mid-way point of their tour of Milton Keynes.

And this from their report of the third gig on the tour:

There was a huge cheer at one point, which I’m happy to accept was a direct response to the chorus of Musical Differences, but may have been something to do with the rugby.

For the uninitiated Musical differences chronicles the supposed, um, musical differences of the two writers in the band, opposing the Carpenters with the Pistols; the point being … and it was the England-Wales Six Nations game.  But back to the slightly cavernous Crauford, where the words of the excellent Plugging away

The room is cold and quiet
And well below capacity

were delivered with a certain ironic edge.  Not that there weren’t people there (there were, but it was cold), just that the cool kids who knew the band were all sitting to the side.  Was a pleasure to be there.  And those very lyrics would ring out with a very different cadence to a packed crowd very soon in the future.

Pride and another Gathering

PrideSunday and Stony Scala Film Club is showing Pride (2014) at The Cock.  Another sell-out crowd.  Great British film about the travails of lesbian and gay group from London who set out to adopt a pit and end up in South Wales, a true story no less.  Roller coaster of emotions as they achieve a certain acceptance from most of the mining village but become an embarrassment to the local NUM, all this as AIDS/HIV is rearing its head.  Lots of great little cameos and nice little touches reflecting the times.  It brought back memories of what was a horrible time for the left in Britain, and my only criticism was its giving full rein to a sentimentality that failed to address the question of Scargill’s disastrous leadership of the miners at all.  (Slightly disturbing to discover Sherlock‘s Moriarty running Gay’s the Word bookshop.)  And so, full of sadness and gladness …

Scribal Fox… over the road and up a bit to the installation of the Scribal Gathering expansion pack in full swing at The Fox & Hounds.  The room is full, the energy high, new faces on the stage and in the audience along with the usual suspects.  A fine short quirkessential set this time from those Box Tickers again.

Literary Quiz 

Last event of StonyWords! 11 was the literary quiz.  I was on the Evil Y-nots team, amerry band of brothers.  Honour saved, we came second last.  But the teasing out of Bladerunner as an answer was worth a high-5, and this may well be the last time in my life it will ever be useful to know that Anne McCaffrey wrote the Dragonsingers of Pern sequence of SF novels.  And apparently ‘Oh, fuck off’ was not one of the houses at Hogwarts.  Innovatory new format this year – each team brings along a set of questions for one round – to overcome the handicap of actually winning (not that …), which used to be you had to set next year’s quiz.  Worked well, set a decent precedent.

Oh, and there was the History Mystery: a charter in time creative chronicling competition.  Procrasturbation meant I didn’t manage to get an entry in in time.  I did have an idea, though.  The thing is, as well as this year’s 800 years of Magna Carta, it was 1215 when King John visited Stony Stratford, and, hearsay has it, giving Stony its own charter granting township status.  Except nobody’s ever seen said piece of parchment.  There’s no documentation.  So the competition was to speculate what might have happened to it.  My idea – and it won’t be the only one, I’m sure – was time traveling mischief.  This is what the judges were spared:

        “Oh bloody hell, Wells.  Not you again.”  Finding himself on the banks of a river, coming round from yet another crack on the head, Herbert George Wells, author of the purportedly fictional book The time machine, was the last person Samuel Clemens wanted to see.  His own book, published under the pseudonym of Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, was another traveller’s tale marketed as fiction to keep the reality of time travel secret.  “We must stop meeting like this.”
“Twain, you old bastard,” responded the pompous little philanderer, whose friends may have called him HG [must look that up],  “Happened again, has it?  You really ought to wear something to protect that soft head of yours.”
Anyway, at some stage along comes King John, who autographs the Charter, and one way or another – maybe the two authors end up fighting over the Charter for some reason, ripping it asunder, the pieces falling into the river; or one of them, suddenly excited by inspiration, the prospect of another masterpiece, uses the back of it to take notes on; or, indeed, for some other less savoury use (do I have to spell it out?)

Charter or no, the Stony of StonyWords! 11 – and I haven’t covered it all at all – was a good place to be.

Shadows in the nightBob Dylan

While all this was going on Mr Dylan released a new platter for our entertainment and enjoyment.  In case you haven’t heard, it’s an unlikely 10-song strong collection of popular songs from the Great American Songbook which have been previously recorded by Frank Sinatra.  It only takes up, no – fills, 40 minutes a go – good old vinyl LP length – of your time.  Amazingly enough, it works.  Singing sweetly (or as sweetly as, you know, but still sweetly), accompanied by his sparingly augmented touring band, slow-paced, with the pedal steel player in a crucial role, it’s rather wonderful.  You’ll never hear the songs quite the same again.  Yearning, regret, acceptance they’re all in there in abundance.  The man owns Some enchanted evening, (“Fools give you reasons / Wise men never try“) and That lucky old sun, the closer, just rolls around heaven all day.  It’s lovely.


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Report of an Inquiry into the adequacy, efficacy and perspicacity of Have you heard the one about … The Box Ticked, a CD from The Box Ticked on Big Money records

Executive summary: It’s chuffing great.


1.i. FIRST TIME I saw The Box Ticked performing Daydreaming it came as a pleasant surprise.  No, it was more than that, it was like meeting an old friend; you know, one you actually wanted to meet again.  Because, Yes, I’ve been daydreaming daily (if not actually daily) about my Desert Island Discs (DID) – the narrative vehicle of the song – for some time now.  It strikes me as being one of the few tangible and desirable outcomes that fame or celebrity can bring; to whit, being invited to share (and/or inflict) your immaculate and unique musical taste with/or on 3 million faithful listeners for 45 minutes.  I love that programme, am distressed when they do stupid things like have Ant and Dec or both those skaters on at the same time.

Box ticked inner sirens

The Box Ticked’s CD inner boasts a photo of the finest pbk cover to ever grace ‘The sirens of Titan’. Frankly, I’m jealous.

The sort of rubbish cover art literate SF used to have to put up with.

The sort of rubbish cover art literate SF used to have to put up with.

1.i.i. BUT THERE had to be more than just a tuneful verse, a catchy chorus and an elegant middle eight to engender this much warmth of recognition.  And that was the line, “And my book is The sirens of Titan.

1.i.ii.  NOW, Kurt Vonnegut‘s The sirens of Titan, written in 1959, is the book that over the decades I have bought more copies of than any other, either as a present or to replace copies enthusiastically loaned and not, somehow, returned.  I’d go so far as to say that a house is not a home without one, or at least any house I’m living in.  Quite simply, the world would be a better place if more people read Vonnegut, and in particular The sirens of Titan.  It is funny, incredibly inventive and like all his work, deadly serious in the matter of how to live well.

1.i.ii.i.  SPEND SOME time with the fascinating Desert Island Discs web archive – you may well be talking days here – and you will find two other castaways have chosen a Kurt Vonnegut book.  Born again Christian and golfist Alice Cooper went for the irrepressible Breakfast of champions, while Tim Minchin plumped for Kurt’s greatest book, Slaughterhouse-5, which proves nothing, really, though I will say that greatest (and it is) doesn’t have to mean personal favourite.

1.i.ii.ii.  MORE generally, you can search the DID archive by castaway and music chosen, which opens all sorts of avenues, not least, for example, in creating a shitlist of everyone who selected My way and/or No regrets; not that you should hang the blame on Edith Piaf for that, I hasten to add.

1.ii.  THE THING about Desert Island Discs is that it’s about what happened in people’s lives and the music they choose, or chose at a point in their lives, to listen to and identify with.  And another thing about The sirens of Titan is Vonnegut introducing the concept of the “chrono-synclastic infundibulum” which is defined as “those places … where all the different kinds of truths fit together.”    As will be seen, both of these things have a lot to do with what The Box Ticked are sort of doing.

1.ii.i.  WHEN Kirsty Young (ex-Channel Five) replaced Sue Lawley on DID I initially mis-heard the announcement.  When I found out who it actually was, I thought they’d picked the wrong Scot called Kirsty.  I favoured the other, more serious one – Kirsty Wark, she of BBC2’s Newsnight and Newsnight Review.  I see now what a disaster that would have been, strangling the fetching chorus of Daydreaming at birth.  “Come, come, come along Kirsty Wark, Kirsty Wark” would never have made it off the drawing board.

1.iii.  Daydreaming is the first track on The Box Ticked‘s CD, Did you hear the one about … The Box Ticked, and is pretty close to pure pop perfection (for a certain demographic).  The 45rpm vinyl disc format needs to be brought out of preservation and restored to full working order to do it justice.  Add in to what has already been mentioned the relaxed idyll of the guitar interludes, the acapella coda and the way they finish by saying ‘Com-pan-eon’ and Ray Davies and Paul McCartney would be proud.  Brilliant.  Nor does the fact that this is the opener necessarily imply any drastic falling off of listening pleasures – albeit of other flavours – thereafter.

The album cover
The album cover


 2.i.  GIVEN THAT the album is basically a song cycle about a band called ‘The Box ticked’ there is always the danger of what a friend has described as (and I paraphrase) “disappearing up their own wordy arses.”  My kind of people, then.  I prefer to see it as one of those M.C.Escher drawings that people used to have on their walls – what they call on the official website ‘impossible constructions’ – that just go round and around and around and around … but with added colour and a celebratory irony. What if a song about failure was to be successful?  At the very least, artistically?

2.ii.  GIVEN AN album title of Did you hear the one about … The Box Ticked another superficial interpretation could be that this is all just a bit of a joke, a Rutles for the non-blues based post-Bowie and Indie rock scene?  Well, yes and no.

2.ii.i.  And the utterly irrelevant memories come flooding in.  Very early ’70s I’m late to a ‘party’ where everyone is sitting against the walls listening to a new record that would appear to have some sort of sacred status.  I hazard a guess:  “Is it The Rutles?”  Turns out it was The Electric Light Orchestra.

2.iii.  THE JANGLY Corbijn, about a band photo shoot, ticks all the boxes as far as – oh, come on; it had to happen at some stage – the striking the clichéd pose goes.  “Cos that’s what p-proper bands do, don’t they?”  Mystifyingly Alt-J get a name check.  The photographer fancies himself, too, as no less than the next Anton Corbijn.

Rare pic where drummer Stu is visible. (c) Jonathan JT Taylor

Rare pic where drummer Stu is visible. (c) Jonathan JT Taylor

2.iv.  BUT TAKING the piss is only a part of it.  It’s also a musical celebration of everything from Bowie back and on that the lads have wallowed in and lived by for decades (including a fair bit that I missed in the jazz/world music years).  All this with a rather large nod to an absurdity that’s impossible to escape.  And whereas Zappa would insert musics he admired and scorned I’m pretty sure they don’t bother with the latter.

2.iv.i.  THE LYRICS of the song Musical differences pit the Sex Pistols against the Carpenters, accompanied by some neat production shifts.  (I’m guessing at least one of them will acknowledge that the Carpenters do have a moment or two to savour).  Girl in, in which the band debates how they’ll go about the task of progressing the idea of the band, like maybe inviting a girl to join, theorizes, “The ensuing sexual tension / Will bring us decades’ worth of songs,” then the vocals go up the notes of a major7 chord, Twist and shout style.

2.iv.i.a.  THEY may well have debated getting a girl in, but I think it safe to say much of this is not strictly, literally, autobiographical.

2..iv.i.b. LOADS of beautiful touches.  Like the killer Mick Ronson guitar interlude in Muse killer.  The synth near the end of Plugging away.  Und so wieter.

2..iv.i.c.  New song is hilarious.  A word that in netspeak usually means vaguely amusing.  No, it’s pitch perfect hilarious.  Half Zappa, half Biscuit.


3.i.  THESE GUYS ARE classicists.  Or at least pick’n’mix classicists in as much as no-one seems to use the word postmodern any more.

3.i.i.  With 12 songs, coming in at only a couple of seconds over 39 minutes DYHTOATBT is classic vinyl LP length.  There’s even 4 songs clocking in at under 3 minutes.

3.i.ii. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you the immaculate “Come, come on!” at 1.08 and again at 2.40 (followed by the aforementioned delightful synth squawking), and the bastard son of a singular “Come on!” in between in Plugging away.

3.i.iii.  The song titles.  Two ways they could have gone.  They’ve eschewed the earlier fashion with brackets all over the place for the more recent, barely comprehensible on its own – save for when it’s scribbled on set lists – brevity.  So not (Shall we get a) Girl in – oh no, just Girl in.  Or (There’s a) New song (in the set), just New song.  More about Chew later.  Who started this title abbreviation thing, anyway?

3.i.iv.  The album title.  Band’s name an intrinsic part thereof.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the masterpiece that is The Kinks are The Village Preservation Society by The Kinks as the precedent.  There must be other examples down all the days of rock and roll.

Box ticked centrefold3.i.v.  Then there’s the inner sleeve.  Now, I know I should recognise where this stretched portrait style comes from.  Probably an album from the golden era of the gatefold sleeve.  Can someone please put me out of my misery?


4.i.  BUT WHAT do they actually sound like?  Those who are not family and friends are justified in asking this.  If my words haven’t already given you some idea, I can do no better than quote their own prospectus:

The Box Ticked are a quirkessential three-piece power pop thing specialising in idiosyncratic lyrics played to a tune of unremitting power drill chordage (not really, there are some quaint musical passages lovingly placed in there for the easily spooked).  There’s some nice harmonies thrown in for good measure plus a smattering of football style chantage for people to sing along to.


5.i. HOSTAGES to fortune, these guys.  The temptation of a “not so much Band on the run as Band standing still ” kind of thing, cos that’s what p-proper reviewers do. “We’re banking on your low expectations” is not the only open invitation on offer.  “We never set the world alight” is another one.   But I’m not going to do that, because, hey – I’d quite like them to just keep Plugging away (there goes another one).

5.ii.  In the matter of reviewing etiquette, it needs to be said that i). these people and/or their partners have been known to acknowledge your humble scribe Lillabullero across a crowded room, and ii).  I paid for my copy.  (I bought two, actually, but that’s another story).


6.i. LET US NOW consider the closing track, the pride and pathos of – the celebration of flawed aspiration that is – the valedictory Chew, in all its dolorous singalong glory.

6.i.i.  Ponder “We never bit off more than we could chew” as the signature line, a basso lamento worthy of Abba or REM.  Is this not a line to meditate on deep into the night?  A zen koan, profound and meaningless.

6.i.ii. And then we’re left hanging with another of The Box Ticked’s unique lyrical flourishes and some wistful closing harmonies: “Complicated and a hassle.” And silence.


7.i. Have you heard the one about … The Box Ticked is a triumph.  Steve, Stuart, Mick – I salute you.

7.i.i.  Those of my readers not residing in the north MK towns of Wolverton and Stony can get it, complete with a trad crystal case, from http://theboxticked.com/ for just £6.99 (or a fiver at gigs).  Money well spent, I’d say.

7.ii.  How’s that for well-earned reciprocity?  (Self-indulgent in-joke: you’ll have to hear Plugging away to get it).

7.i.ii.  Expect at least a veiled reference to difficult second album syndrome on its successor.

Mick's turn to sit down. (c) Jonathan JT Taylor (noble Marathoneer of this parish)

Mick’s turn to sit down. (c) Jonathan JT Taylor (noble Marathoneer of this parish)

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Quick, before they recede any further …

Evie Ladin & Keith TerryA dozen days ago now Evie Laden and Keith Terry at York House.  World-class Americana for a fiver less than half a mile down the road – aint life grand?  Even if the beer ran out early.  She was a clawhammer banjo player and step dancer tutored in the south Appalachian tradition and he was a jazz drummer when they met; when they moved in together they found there wasn’t a single duplicate CD in their both extensive collections.  Not that there was much evidence of jazz in this show.  Tunes old and new, of the tradition, in the tradition, and some amazing hand-clapping body-slapping rhythmic routines.  Near the end a speeded up breakdown version of Ewan MacColl’s The first time ever I saw your face which worked beautifully and has revived the song for me.  A great night, for which much and many thanks, Ken.

And the next day I turned up too late for the usual suspects but did witness and survive Barney and accompanying cajónist’s singalong rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s I Scribal April 2014will survive in the closing stages of the AORTAS open mic night at The Old George.  No, really – it was great.  Glad I bothered.

Tuesday saw the launch of The Box Ticked‘s actual CD – which I might well be writing about in a separate post – at the April Scribal Gathering.  They delivered a nicely judged and hugely satisfying set of originals from the album and gave us an accomplished cover of Bowie’s Five days as a bonus.  And apparently the righteous Xanadu, previously mentioned favourably in despatches, are actually called In Xanadu, which isa slight improvement (though I still can’t get the image of Dave Dee, Dozy, Mick and Tich out of my skull).  Another varied evening’s entertainment chaired this month by that man Ken (again).

Oxford to BletchleyO to B ticketIt’s a bit specialist, is Oxford to Bletchley including Verney Junction to Banbury by Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith in the Middleton Press Country Railway Routes series (2006).  Not particularly well reproduced b&w photos (with detailed captions) of stations on one of the many routes that didn’t survive Beeching, by far the best and most interesting photo for me – though there’s a good one of Bletchley station back in the day at the end of this post – is the days-of-futures-past shot on the cover of the rather stylish diesel railcar, that was introduced with no great success on the route in 1938.  Still, good to nostalgise a bit (on tracks I never rode on) and to think this is one of the lines that might rise from the ashes again in the future.

MoranthologyI could quote endlessly from Moranthology (Ebury Press, 2012), Caitlin Moran‘s entertaining and wide-ranging collection of pieces from her Times interviews and columns.  I like her a lot.  She has me punching the air – wit and wisdom: yes! – on many topics, and her serious stuff (with a potential guffaw never far away) on, for instance, what it’s like to be poor, deserve wider currency and to be out there in the political arena:

We’re all just monkeys using sticks to get grubs out of logs, really.  However.  There is one, massive difference between being rich and being poor, and it is this: when you are poor, you feel heavy.  Heavy like your limbs are filled with water.  Perhaps it is rain water – there is a lot more rain in your life when you are poor.  Rain that can’t be escaped in a cab.  Rain that has to be stood in, until the bus comes.  […]
But the heaviness is not really, of course, from the rain.  The heaviness comes from the sclerosis of being broke.  Because when you’re poor, nothing ever changes.

And she knows because she was brought up there.  Her notion that being taxed is a signifier of personal success – “What a seriously grown-up thing to be doing“- needs to be stated more often.  Some of the pieces here fill in some of the gaps in her memoir, How to be a woman.  Hence her passionate defence of public libraries, where she ‘home’ educated herself after primary school (and didn’t we librarians do a good job?).  Her Celebrity Watch columns are up there with Charlie Brooker’s take on all the nonsense.  Hard to shake off, too, her description of David Cameron, three months before he became prime minister, as the potential winner of a  ‘C-3PO made of ham‘ fancy dress competition: “His resemblance to a slightly camp gammon robot is extraordinary.”  Her TV criticism is usually on the ball, with a big ‘Yay’ to Sherlock and a classy demolition of Downton (easy, I know, but she does it so well), though her championing of The hour did give me pause.  But her summing up of Doctor Who certainly hits the spot:

It is, despite being about a 900 year-old man with two hearts and a space-time taxi made of wood, still one of our very best projections of how to be human.

One last quote that, I think, epitomizes her take on life beautifully.  She’s describing in retrospect the event – “having gone mad after having smoked a massive bong in front of Later … with Jools Holland“- that led to her leaving behind any mind altering substances other than alcohol:

… it’s obviously unendingly amusing that I lost my mind whilst watching Jools Holland playing boogie-woogie piano with The Beautiful South on BBC2.  If there’s anything that proves I have managed to ascend the class ladder from ‘working class’ to ‘middle class’ it is, surely, this.  Well done me.

After LiffI’ve been dunning After Liff: the new dictionary of things there should be words for (Faber, 2013), John Lloyd and Jon Canter‘s sequel to The meaning of liff 30 years on.  They get the words needed for those “perfectly common things around us that have somehow escaped having names” by “recycling the ones on signposts.”  Hence Dunning (a small village in Perthshire) is a verb, present participle, meaning “happily reading  a book in the loo.”  Which is where my copy of After Liff has lain since  it was bought as a cheap offer makeweight to get free postage when buying another book altogether, and because a friend had raved more than once – “funniest book”etc – about its predecessor.  I’m on my fourth time through now and it just gets better with each reading – more pennies dropping every time as some sort of sense emerges.  They range from the pretty obvious, from bad puns through decent cryptic crossword clues, into words that somehow sound just right and then we enter a zen or even an Ivor Cutler universe of fetching nonsense; with mild filth and not a few duds on the way too, of course.  So, not entirely at random, how about Nantwich (noun: a snack where the filling drops out, leaving an empty husk),  Stockleigh Pomeroy (noun: the manhunt that takes place after a murder, to find a neighbour willing to say the line: ‘He kept himself to himself”) or just plain Malmö (adjective: happily tired) for starters?  It’s cumulative.  I’m on the look out for the words on a signpost that will fit that sinking feeling and frustration when you get half the hazelnuts or dates in a kilo bag of Jordan’s Natural muesli falling into just the one bowl on one morning.

InfamousFinally, if Derren Brown came out onto the stage to the strains of This charming man no justification would be necessary.  And he works so hard.  Derren always asks people not to reveal what happens in the show so as not to take the element of surprise away from those who haven’t seen it yet, so I’m not going to say much about Infamous except, par for the course, we came out going not so much WTF? as How?  Vastly entertaining and good-natured.  The usual mix of the aforementioned charm, illusion,  manipulation, mental tour-de-forces, wit and demystification, with some autobiography thrown in for spice and inspiration.  Undoubtedly a force for good; so pleased he’s on our side.

And here’s that photo.  Never let it be said I don’t keep my promises.  Most of the time:

Bletchley Station in days of yore, the Oxford train awaiting the off (or having just arrived).

Bletchley Station in days of yore, the Oxford train awaiting the off (or having just arrived).

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