Keeping up appearances

Someone visited the site using a Netscape 4.7 browser. I know this looks hideous; unusable actually. It feels like meeting a friend in Sainsbury’s on a Saturday morning, when you’re unshaven and with greasy hair. Actually it’s worse than that. It’s like being unshaven, greasy, and incoherent from drink.

Should I work on a stylesheet that passes muster under NN4?

Then again, I still don’t shave on Saturday mornings.

One Morning

Before Christmas, Dervala and I discovered a shared relish for Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball album. It’s a quiet masterpiece, Daniel Lanois’ luminous production cradling a clutch of fine songs from a generation of great writers: Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams and more. Dervala kindly sent me a compilation featuring some of Emmylou’s influences—along with a challenge to write something about these performers.

Hell Among the YearlingsGillian Welch is an odd one. As a student in Santa Cruz in the 80s, she was a devotee of the alternative rock scene. Camper Van Beethoven and The Pixies held sway on her turntable. But bizarrely, she began to develop a passion for old-timey and bluegrass music. The Clinch Mountain Boys elbowed out The Breeders, and Gillian, together with her writing and performing partner David Rawlings, adopted this archaic medium as her own. She can share a stage with a veteran like Ralph Stanley, but the real marvel is that Welch and Rawlings are able to escape pastiche and tackle thoroughly modern topics. For heaven’s sake, Everything Is Free is about illegal music downloads!

But the song that left the deepest mark on me portrays a historical, yet timeless scene. It’s deeply cinematic, vividly conjuring weather and landscape. In performance, it’s spacious, the frailed banjo refrains providing pause to absorb each stanza. Yet, unusually, I think it retains some power as poetry.

One morning, one morning as work I begun,

What did I see riding out of the sun,

On the road from Lexington’

One rider, one rider beating the breeze,

Down on his saddle, low to his knees,

Coming through my willow trees.

Now closer the terrible work of the gun,

Was stiffened and black where his blood all had run,

But I knew my wayward son.

One morning, one morning the boy of my breast,

Came to my door unable to rest,

Even in the arms of death.

On Hyndford Street

Walking out, gloved and hatted against the chill January darkness, leaving behind the Golden Mile, Belfast’s cosmopolitan, Victorian-yet-modern commercial heart, still lit with Christmas decorations. Crossing the Albert Bridge by the Central Railway Station, heading east and turning right on Castlereagh Street. Now this is East Belfast. This is working people’s land, unimproved. Loyalist; tattered Ulster and Union Flags flap limply from poles. Windowless bookie shops, eyes averted in shame from the street-corner Christian Outreach Mission.

Left now on Beersbridge Road, Magee’s Corner Coffee House a scant concession to the Cappuccino generation. Otherwise the scene seems little changed in forty years. Small engineering workshops, Chinese and Chips. A wee boy speeds past in a Formula One pedal car, pristine, The Green Machine — a treasured Christmas present, no doubt — and hops into the paper shop proffering pennies. For what’ ‘Barnbracks, Wagon Wheels’‘ Passing the site of the Elmgrove Primary School on the right, now demolished, graffiti reinforces my anxiety: Muggins is not acceptable in East Belfast; is it a misspelling, or is Muggins me’

Now right, on Hyndford Street, hallowed ground. Narrow road, narrow pavements, the odd-numbered side crammed with squat, flat-fronted terraces, the even-numbered, first workshops, then terraces with a downstairs bay; no doubt an important status elevator in this humble place. Staring rudely at doorways on the odd-numbered side, finally here it is. 125 Hyndford Street, the brass plaque proudly polished. Singer Songwriter Van Morrison lived here 1945-1961. I pause, but only for seconds, not wishing to draw attention to myself, and consider how this simple landscape gave rise to the epic grandeur of Astral Weeks. Continuing, teenagers on the corner send a radio-controlled car shuttling in my direction ‘Walter and John, Katie and Ron used to hang out by the corner lamp light’. Left on Dunraven Avenue the flags are now of the UVF, reminding that the troubles, though dormant, are not ended, still less forgotten.

But we’re moving up-market now, crossing avenues, first Martinez, broader, tree-lined. Solid semis, drives housing Mondeo and Avensis. And then — passing the rectangular heft of Bloomfield Presbyterian Church — Cyprus Avenue. ‘The clicking-clacking of the high-heeled shoe’. Astral Weeks is playing continuously in my head, burned-in by innumerable repeats in my own teens. Pavements broader still, two men could lie end-to-end across these. The trees, pollarded, providing summer shade. These are Victorian merchants’ houses, the drives deep and curving, nestling today’s luxury carriages: SUV, Mercedes, BMW. Vermilion walls and picture rails glimpsed through broad double bays. This is where Van came to spy on his fourteen-year-old princess, ‘rainbow ribbons in her hair’. A bare half-mile from Hyndford Street. The avenue, lofty from the start, climbs steadily to the grandest of the grand houses, ‘way up on the avenue of trees’. Was it simply the verdant space that fired Van’s poetic imagination, or did he also dream of privilege and upward mobility’ Music was, no doubt, his inescapable passion, but it’s hard not to conclude it was also his one-way ticket from Hyndford Street.

2004 music awards

It’s the time of year when thoughts turn to favourite music, at least for those afflicted (as I am) with Hornby’s Syndrome, an unhealthy desire to classify, evaluate and reduce great art to numbers and lists. I’ve not been on the ball this year, fROOTS has gone unread, I haven’t been hooked on any music lists. But still a few things seeped through to snag us. Not all 2004 releases, it takes me a while to catch up. Here are five:

Ojos de Brujo, Bari.

Album of the year in J-M land, these Catalans combine outrageously adept flamenco musicianship with hip-hop spirit to make music you can sing and dance to. Outstanding live; we missed them at WOMAD 2003 (though caught the TV coverage) but saw them at Glastonbury this summer. Should be due a new album soon, can it get as good as this’

Oi Va Voi, Laughter Through Tears.

Young Londoners take Jewish culture by the horns. 20-year-olds sound like octagenarian Rabbis as the Hebrew chants mix with beats, though in this case it’s only (real) drum and bass providing the rhythm.

Diana Krall, The Girl in the Other Room.

Always liked her voice, but a certain glibness turned me off at times. The tartness of songs co-written with Costello seems to be the missing ingredient. There’s real emotional depth here.

Jim White, Drill A Hole In That Substrate and Tell Me What You See.

How to describe this’ An ersatz Bob Dylan with a weedy voice and an obsession with the religiosity of Southern USA meets a swampy electro-blues soundtrack to produce some vivid sound pictures. Favourite track: Combing My Hair in a Brand New Style.

Damien Rice, O.

A dangerously populist choice, but D seems to be inhabited by a touch of the spirit of Van Morrison, while Lisa Hannigan’s voice and Vyvienne Long’s ‘cello are masterfully introduced.

Like Anne Robinson …

… has had a major face-lift. Now using a web log format built upon Movable Type, rather than the oh-so-tired 1999 photo navigator. The intention is to spur more spontaneous updates from the whole family. The old format was horrible to update, though Tom gamely overcame the limitations when his football pages were in full flight. Sadly, this effort has now slipped, along with Southampton’s league position.

I have moved across a couple of Clara’s early contributions to give a sense of history (handily using MT’s back-dating facility), but I’m hoping she will soon add some of her more recent stories and poems.

A few credits to those who catalysed this metamorphosis: Heather, whose various sites amused and amazed me, while revealing the meaning of “web log”; Simon and Dervala, whose fine writing absorbed more time pre-Christmas than I could possibly afford; Neil, who generously provided templates that I merely recoloured and fussed over for a few days; Dunstan, whose nifty link presentation I filched. Not so much standing on the shoulders of giants, but trailing in their wake. Thanks!

About (2004) is a non-profit organisation dedicated to exploiting leading-edge technology in pursuit of procrastination. Child-rearing is a core activity, though not necessarily a core competence. While the organisation is engaged in onerous labour for much of the year, we do take pride in our cultural programme, especially the annual summer festival season. Members of the organisation have plentiful opportunities for national and international travel, yet still seem to yearn for more.

TomTom Jordan
Wildlife specialist, noted for his expertise in African antelope. Football trivia maven. His passion for Southampton FC is understandably dampened this season. Burgeoning interest in music; names Maroon Five and Orchestra Baobab among his favourite bands. Professional ambition: Rock star until 40, then football manager.
ClaraClara Jordan
Bookworm, seldom far from a fantasy novel. A poet of disarming honesty. Her artistic talent is a constant mystery to the rest of the organisation, none of whom know which end to hold the pencil. Her elegance in a swimming pool is likewise envied by the denser male partners, who lack her natural buoyancy.
CarolineCaroline Maynard
Chief Executive. Once thought ill-matched to the organisation’s culture due to incorrigible planfulness and self-discipline, she has adapted well since discovering genealogy. Flautist. Understands plumbing. Thwarter of the Evil Empire.
RobRob Jordan
INTP. Edits digital photographs and digital video at a tectonic pace. Employee #1 of the organisation’s commercial arm. Ambition: To win the Tour de France King of the Mountains jersey. Realistically though, a training regime comprising watching the Tour on TV, reading cycling web sites, and salivating over pictures of lovely old lugged steel frames on Flickr, is not going to cut it!

Brother marks kindness of former enemy

CovEveningTelegraph800A story about Rob’s Dad…

A Coventry kid whose elder brother was killed when his ship was torpedoed in the Second World War is to put up his name on a brass plaque … alongside that of a Commander of a German U-boat.

Tony Jordan, who survived the Blitz in Coventry, was 11 years old when his big brother Ron, a Merchant Navy sailor, was killed aged just 19. He had been on board the oil tanker British Resource when it was torpedoed three times by the U-boat U124 off Cape Hatteras in March, 1942.

Coventry Evening Telegraph, February 2003.