Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Through a 21st Century Lens

Hands up! Who sings in the shower?

Thanks. Nice to know I am in such august company.

I have been singing, both in and out of the shower, for many years. So many, in fact, that I am actually beginning to bore myself with my repetitious repertoire. And in order to add new material, I have to stretch my memory back to the songs of my youth, rather than try updating my act, because “All My Friends” by Snakehips and Chance The Rapper or “Light It Up” by Major Lazer, Fuse Odg & Nyla don't really cut it as shower-song material.

My childhood songs, however, are from the likes of Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins and Johnny Horton. Now, I didn't grow up in the 50's, but my parents did, and lacking an Internet connection, cable TV or even a my own personal radio, I made use of what I had.

I can hear the Y2K Gens gasping, “No Internet...how did you survive?”

Well, with records. More to the point, my parent's records and the family phonograph.

I now find myself in the odd position of not having to explain a phonograph to the youngsters, as this anachronistic method of musical entertainment seems to be making an unexpected, though robust, comeback.

But during my childhood, this was not a retro-novelty, it was state-of-the art. Our phonograph had a spindle that could hold up to five 33 rpm records, with an automatically retracting arm, and a little brush that swept the dust from the record just ahead of the needle. It was sweet.

And so, on many a lazy afternoon, I would sit on the floor in front of the phonograph and listen to Johnny Horton sink the Bismark, or Marty Robbins lament about his terminally unrequited love for a Mexican waitress who worked in Rose’s Cantina in the little town of El Paso, or Ed Brown and his sisters, Bonnie and Maxine, waiting patiently for bluebirds.

This was the Johnny Horton album I listened to.
Sink the Bismark is at 21.20

These are the songs I now turn to when looking for fresh material to warble as I wash. Though, I have to admit, “Gimme di’ thing and mek’ me rock inna’ di’ dance, Mash it up, hot step inna’ di’ dance…” a la Major Lazer does have appeal.

Now, I have dragged you through that rambling preamble simply so I can introduce you to my latest shower song, a ditty by Johnny Cash, from his humbly named 1958 album, “The Fabulous Johnny Cash,” which tells the story of a young cowboy named Billy Joe.

The Marty Robbins album, one of my favorites.
El Paso is at 18:00

According to the song, Billy Joe was “a boy filled with wanderlust who really meant no harm.” But being bored with the farm, Billy spiffs himself up and heads into town to celebrate his entry into manhood. As he leaves, his mom begs him to leave his guns at home.

Naturally, Billy does not heed his mother’s advice and, when he gets into town and orders a whisky at the bar, someone laughs at him and, with malice a forethought, Billy draws his gun. Unfortunately for Billy, the “dusty cowpoke” he is challenging out-shoots him. As Billy lays dying, he repeats his mothers refrain: Don’t take you guns to town.

The Bluebirds Sing,by the Browns.
Yeah, this is what I listened to as a child,
because I didn't have a choice.

Now, back in the day, it was just a song about a romantic past that Americans love to reminisce about but which never actually happened (sort of the way Brits feel about the Victorians) as well as, one must hope, an object lesson (don’t be like Billy).

In reprising it in the shower, however, certain previously unasked question came to mind:

When was it acceptable, indeed, expected, behaviour to shoot someone for laughing?

Does the description of Billy as “really meaning no harm” match up with the fact of him attempting to commit murder over a minor slight ?

Does Billy, perhaps, have some anger management issues?

Shouldn’t his mother, instead of pleading with him to leave his guns home, maybe have arranged an intervention?

And what about his victim, the poor cowpoke, who was merely forced to defend himself? Is he going to be offered some counselling?

A high school video of Don't Take Your Guns to Town.
Amusing because I recognized my colt cap pistol as the gun Billy uses.

These unanswerable questions make it difficult to enjoy the song as I did as a young lad, so maybe turning to “Gimme di’ thing and mek’ me rock inna’ di’ dance, Mash it up, hot step inna’ di’ dance…” is the right thing to do.

I can’t have any existential questions about that; I have no idea what it means.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


The thieves have won.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the saga of Bike Number 1, Bike Number 2, and the acquisition and temporary disposition of Bike Number 3, you can go here for the full story. I’ll wait.

Back? Okay, I will now remind you of what I said a few posts ago concerning this bike:

“My newest replacement bike is in the hallway, leaning against the wall, 68 steps, two hallways and a catwalk from street level. Its tires have never touched pavement. I may like the balance we have negotiated, but I am not giving them another bike.”

That bike has now been stolen.

This is as perplexing as it is disappointing and frustrating.

First off, I have been looking at my stationary bike every day for the past few months wondering what I was going to do with it. Now that I am retired again, I thought it might be nice to get some use out of it, but having had two bikes stolen from the “secure” garage, and knowing I was way too lazy to actually carry the bike up and down stairs every time I wanted to use it, I was at a loss.

But then I figured it wasn't doing me any good sitting there so I resolved to buy a massive, chain-link lock and a can of orange day-glo paint so I could lock the bike up and spray paint my name and the serial number on the frame. I would look like a pillock riding it, but at least it would be me who was riding it.

So on Friday, I resolved to purchase the necessary items and move the bike the the garage over the weekend, hopefully in a state that would make it undesirable for thieves.

The next morning, the bike was gone. It's as if the thieves can read my mind (or, perhaps, they just read this blog).

I must admit a grudging respect for them, though. To steal this bike, they not only had to negotiate the aforementioned obstacles, they also had to pass by three other bicycles, similarly parked, on other levels. They somehow resisted that temptation, pressed on and stole mine. And then they had to carry it down, so it's not as if they didn't work for it.

I did report it to the police, not that I thought it would do any good, but it was nice to have someone to bitch to and I got the satisfaction of being told to my face that there wasn't much they could do about it.

So I am without a bike. Again. I will not buy another one this time. I realise this is letting the thieves win, but buying another bike will only add to the money I have already thrown away and result in four people, instead of three, riding around Horsham on bikes that belong to me.

This is an enemy I cannot defeat. They have more resources, determination, tenacity, spare time and low cunning than I can effectively counter. Think of it as a tactical retreat.

This is what my current bike looks like.
But it is frustrating to know that I am not able to do something I want to do because there is no way (and, apparently, no police force) to keep what is lawfully mine from being taken away. Frustrating and disappointing.

If you’ll excuse me now I have a few items I need to take to the tip. Usually I leave them in the garage for them to steal but apparently now I can just put them outside my door.

Does that qualify as an improvement?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Toilet Troubles

I'm having problems with my toilet. This is how it started:

The extractor fan in the en suite bathroom began making a grinding noise and then stopped. And so, like any right-thinking individual would, I stood on the toilet seat to have a look at it, failing to take into account that household fixtures, appliances and pretty much anything else these days, are not made with the same care and quality of construction that was common in my day. Consequently, the toilet seat broke.

Fortunately, it merely cracked in two while remaining gamely in place, instead of allowing my foot to go through into the toilet and me to fall backward against the sink. Had that been the case, I would be writing a different sort of post (or perhaps dictating it to a kindly nurse as she fed me through a tube).

Happily, I am merely left with an extractor fan that does not work (though, in a windowless bathroom too small to raise veal in, this is something of an issue) and a toilet with a cracked seat.

As a renter, I have the good fortune to not have to fix things myself. So I called the letting agent and explained the situation. She said she would send someone out to fix the fan but the toilet seat would be my responsibility. I knew it was unlikely she would accept the notion that, since I was standing on it only to check their defective fan, it was really their fault, so I agreed to pay for it, assuming they would fix it.

“Oh no,” she said, “you can fix it yourself. We don't have to do it.”

She said this in a way that made me believe she thought I would prefer it that way. I tried to help her out.

“Are you sure,” I enquired, “that you want me, a wrench and your toilet in close proximity to one another?”

She assured me this was so, and I hung up with the sinking feeling that my tiny—and heretofore tidy—bathroom would never be the same again.

I am not, you see, a plumber, nor have I anything more than a passing interest (except when I'm, you know, passing) in plumbing fixtures. Additionally, this particular toilet, when I did bother to look at it, seemed a complete mystery to me. First of all, it was one solid piece of porcelain, fitting flush against the wall and the floor without a wing-nut or hex-bolt in sight, and the seat fit tight to the toilet with no way to get at whatever it was that kept it from falling off. I was, in a word, flummoxed.

Schematic for a proper toilet

Schematic for my toilet

However, encouraged by the woman's misplaced optimism, I had a closer look and discovered two, tiny, inset screws that—with the requisite, tiny allen wrench—could be removed. I had no idea what might happen if I unscrewed them, but lacking any other option, I tried that one and, sure enough, I was then able to remove the toilet seat.

The electrician, by the way, had already come and gone by this time. He arrived promptly, looked at the inert extractor fan, took a photo of it with his phone and left, promising to return by the end of the week to install a new one. (NOTE: That was a month ago; I have not see him since.) I thought his idea of taking a photo so he could find the right part was a good one, so I figured taking the actual toilet seat with me would be an even better idea. And so, Armed with the broken seat, I went to Homebase. They had lots of toilet seats, but none that resembled mine. The store clerk I impressed into service helped me fine one that was close, but it was obviously not the right one.

“That comes as part of a unit,” she informed me. “You’re gong to have to buy a new toilet.”

I left the store with visions of my previous toilet debacle—the one where, for want of a proper-sized washer, the entire toilet had to be replaced—dancing in my head, and determined to find the correct one on-line.

After searching toilet seat sites for a day or so, I finally found one that appeared to be the same. (I also found that my Facebook and Outlook pages are, even now, filled with ads for toilet seats.) I ordered one for a not insignificant price and waited.

When the seat arrived, it was not the one I wanted. I also found it did not fit. So I returned it.

Sometime later I spied what I thought to be a good compromise in a local hardware store. It was definitely not the right seat, but it looked like it would fit, which by now was all I really cared about. I brought it home. It didn’t fit. I took it back.

Feeling that my busy life did not have time for this new hobby of buying toilet seats, bringing them home and then taking them back, I returned to the hardware store and bought a tube of super glue and some clear packing tape.

Yeah, it looks a little wonky, but it is the right seat. And it fits. Now if I can get the electrician to stand on the toilet when he works on the fan, I might be able to convince the landlord to hire a proper plumber to fix it.