Cover Me, I’m Going In.

Driving along the other day, I was listening to one of those shows which cover the old charts. The Top 20 of 1968, ’78, and ’88 – you know the sort of thing. These crop up, usually on old gits channels – like BBC Radio 2,¬† Smooth FM, or Magic. Not the sort of thing the under 30s listen to, but then again, no-one under 30 reads this, so who gives a monkeys? Back in the slagheaps of my youth, these were the sort of shows hosted by Ed “Stewpot” Stewart, Tony “Smug and Annoying” Blackburn or, of course Jimmy “Dodgy Bastard implicated¬† in child abuse, and protection rackets now inexplicably a National Treasure” Savile. He’s gone now, bless him, to jingle-jangle his way around the childrens’ wards of the afterlife. Owsaboutthatthen?

But that’s another story.

One of the chosen highlights of the 1978 chart was the lamentably unforgettable Arthur Mullard and Hylda Baker‘s cringe-worthy version of You’re the One that I Want, originally from Grease and sung by Elton John and Vincent Vega. We’d have never have thought there was a worse version than the original. Hilda and Arthur proved us wrong.

It led my mind to wander down many avenues and alleyways: Was Arthur the worst actor this country has produced ? Probably, (though it was a title cruelly taken from him by Mr and Mrs Law of Lewisham, south London, when they gave birth to their son Jude); should Hylda have been in the film instead of Stockard Channing ? She would have boosted the sex appeal of the movie; And of all the songs the radio station could have chosen to highlight from the top 20 of 1978, why did they decided to choose that one?

Having said that, I’ve always taken an interest in cover versions and the thought behind them. Whoever thought that it’s be a good idea for Bauhaus to cover David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust needs both their head and ears testing, as it is basically the same song, just a different sticker on the vinyl (as it was back then).

A lot depends on the listener. When I was a kid I thought Blondie‘s “Denis Denis” was a wonderfully odd new number, until I discovered the original “Denise” by the beautifully named Randy and the Rainbows. I know kids that think Rolf Harris wrote Stairway to Heaven (even though it’s nowhere near the classic that is Jake the Peg) and got very upset when I played them the original. Come to think of it, I get upset when I hear it too, overrated shite that it is.

I have little time for The Wurzels, but their version of Don’t Look back in Anger has me in stitches every time it’s played. I only wish I see the look of disgust in the pretentious, slap-inducing faces of the John Lennon impersonators who wrote the ‘original’ when they hear it. I use the word ‘original’ under caution. I wait patiently for The Wurzels’ cover of anything by Morrissey. I can die in peace then.

I could go on. The Fugees version of “Killing Me Softly” stands up very well indeed against the Roberta Flack original, whereas Whitney Houston singing George Benson’s “Greatest Love of All” sounds like someone trying to machete to death a wounded ferret. It seems to these old ears that less and less of this sort of thing goes on. I often hear about sampling, rather than covering. I don’t know where one ends and another begins. I do know that “taking a sample” means something completely different now than it did to me when I was a kid. In the same way that whereas today Loverdose is a perfume, in my day it wasn’t something to give to your girlfriend, if you could possible help it.

So there you have it (for today at least). One man’s poison is another man’s Robert Plant classic is another man’s Rolf Glastonbury Anthem. One person’s sweet scent is another’s Loverdose. Ball or Aerosol ?

There’s a Tray of Bread Pudding in the Post

Remember getting letters through your door? I don’t mean fliers from double glazing companies, or threatening letters from the bank, or even new curry house menus (though they can be very exciting indeed), but letters. Real, genuine, hand-written letters. Someone three weeks previously had sat down in Kuala Lumpur or Ulaanbaatar and scribbled a off a note saying how much they missed you, how the weather had been and could you send them some money? Remember that warm glow you felt that someone, who may well have died in the 6 weeks the letter took to reach you, had taken time out from their gap year, or their 6 months on the run from the Rozzers to actually write, in their own hand, to you, on paper that they could have quite easily used for loo roll.

It took thought and kindness. It meant someone had put aside their own time to sit down and compose a note, when they could have quite easily been putting another shrimp on the barbie, then seeking out an envelope, a stamp and a post office , then walking unaided down to post it. Takes some commitment, that.

I remember the first parcel I ever received. Now that was exciting. It was 1974 and I’d been saving up for weeks (ok, who am I kidding? my mum gave me the money) to send off for my first calculator. We’d been given permission to use in class this revolution in arithmetic science, and my parents weren’t gonna let their little lad be the only one in school without one.

The wait seemed like an age. I think it took three weeks to arrive (though it could have been three days, ten year old boys finding the space-time-continuum concept something of a bugger to grasp), but when the postman finally arrived with it BOY what a feeling! I opened the parcel on the dining table and pulled out this brown and cream monument to modern technology: The Rockwell LED Calculator, 18R. If the 18R stood for ’18th attempt’, or probably ’18th Rockwell’ (WD40 standing for ‘Water Displacement, 40th attempt’), then Christ knows how basic the other 17 must have been.

But to me it was the most exciting and exotic thing I’d ever seen. Weighing no more than a couple of pounds, it would fit into any schoolboy’s large satchel or GOLA bag. It had all of the number ‘1’-‘9’, with ‘0’ thrown in for free. Not only did it have buttons for ‘plus’, ‘minus’, ‘multiply’ (‘times’ in our house), ‘divide’ and ‘equals’, it ALSO had a ‘percentage’ button. WOW ! There were a couple of other buttons I never got to grips with, something about storage, but I didn’t care: 18 buttons were plenty for me to be getting on with. They all made a hi-tech ‘click when you pressed them and ,when dad wasn’t looking, you could turn the box upside down and write rude words with the number. You can see it left it’s mark on me.

35 year later and where are we? No one writes letters any more since we have the wonder of email (which still impresses me.) Friends write daily from New Zealand or San Diego and we pick up their missives instantly. I’m not saying a note from afar means less than one did all those years ago, it’s just that we get so many more of them they somehow don’t arrive with the same fanfare they once did. It doesn’t now have to be a fully composed letter either. Twitter has brought us the age of the 140 character letter. 140 characters ? I couldn’t write the alphabet in 140 characters ( you may have noticed), let alone ask how the weather was.

Parcels are two-a-penny. Amazon, Ebay and their like are emptying the shops and filling the bandwidths of the Web. Even this old luddite has for the last two Christmas seasons refused the pleasures of the high street or shopping mall and bought each and every present online. During November and December there’s a seemingly never-ending stream of parcels large and small arriving at my door. I’m never there, of course, but at least the thought is there. Twice a week I make my way to the local Post Office to claim my packets. Maybe this year will be different ? If I’m still in-between employers I may be at home to catch the postie as he arrives at the crack of 4pm to deliver my goods. On the other hand, if I’m still not picking up work by then, my pressie-buying activities will be severely curtailed.

Yesterday I made my way up to the village to collect a mystery parcel. I hadn’t ordered any books or movies online recently, and doubted that it would be that set of golf clubs I’d asked for as a leaving gift from The Times, but nevertheless the postman had left a card saying he’d tried to deliver a package to me on Thursday which was too big to fit thought the letter-box. As court summonses tend not to be that size, and hoping the National Lottery actually do pay-up in wads of cash, I took my little legs off to collect my prize from the good folk at the GPO.

Although I was disappointed not to be handed a suitcase with crisp oncers from Camelot, I was very happy and intrigued to take possession of a thick white jiffy bag addressed to:

Railway Cuttings


Angleterre‘! Written in ink! (or at least biro) How exciting! It really took me back. It was an unsolicited Red Cross parcel from ‘Plastered of Paris’, a good friend of these pages and one who appears regularly every time I feel the need to verbally attack drunk Welshman. Realising that I may be about to have some time on my hands, this giant of a man (no, he really is) took the trouble to bundle me up some comedy reading, Bill Bryson in fact, to help me while away those hours on the loo when I can’t get to my PS3 or watch the World Cup. What a very thoughtful gift ? Thanks Terv. Bill Bryson, a very talented journalist who took to writing about the places he’d lived, the countries he’d visited and the occasional mishap along the way with hilarious results. Bryson and I differ in just two key respects.

Anyway, I can’t sit here all day talking to you. I have two books to read, a letter to write (to the council again, Lewisham Council only deal in letters) and then I’m gonna go up onto the heath where the hot weather never fails to bring out a marvellous array of young lovelies and their talents. Or in Rockwell 18R calculator-speak BOOBIES

Heidi Unlikely

Well what to make of all that then? Certainly a lot better than when I retired to my bed last night. Quite, quite amazing. After 13 years and all the disasters that have befallen the Labour Party, the Tories STILL didn’t run away with it. And where did that Liberal surge disappear to??? Gives you some faith in your fellow citizen’s judgment- if indeed your fellow citizen actually managed to get a vote at all. What a fiasco that was. Sorry, I don’t mean fiasco, I mean heinous crime. I think I can imagine my reaction to being turned away at the ballot box. May have had a little word, as I know many did. Legal challenges to come, no doubt. Whatever way it takes the actual result, this surely hasn’t been a triumph for democracy and something has to be done.

Maybe we’ll get a re-run anyway because, as I write at 08.32, it’s still very unclear which way it’ll go. Personally, I think we’ve had a result. If in October/November last year you’d have given Gordon a whiff of a chance of a coalition he’s have bitten your arm off. And if it does go the other way, and Tory government being reigned in by the Liberals is surely more palatable than a huge Conservative majority as was looking to be the case just a few months ago.

Whether or not we have another election to either the polling station scandal, or to decide once-and-for-all who runs the country again, I suspect that Gordon Brown (texture like sun) has had his chips, with or without curry sauce. What prince Alan Johnson for next leader ?

News just in: Heidi Alexander has just held Lewisham East for Labour, so our little village of Blackheath sends another Labour MP to the commons (for now anyway). In the words of Joan Collins “WhooHoo”.

But let us not get too happy with ourselves. Let us spend a moment to think of all those who sadly will not be with us anymore, at least as far as this round of political shenanigans goes:

Peter Robinson DUP. (East Belfast)

Jaqui Smith, LAB (Blockbuster Video, North)

Charles Clarke, LAB (Backstabbers Union)

Limpet Optic, LIB (TV Studio Anywhere, South)

Nick Giffen, Waffen SS (Berchtesgaden, West)

Esther Rantzen, IND (Lala Land North)

As the sun goes down. We won’t remember them.

Good Riddance.