Posts filed under 'Personal'

Review of the last year

Add comment August 11th, 2014

I started writing this in Amsterdam (sweltering in mid-summer heat) and just returned from 12 days in Slovenia before heading home. Having a chance to look at my various sites fro the first time for ages I see I’ve been neglecting this blog badly – the last year has been a constant round of major changes and only work and finance/property has had a look-in. So let’s catch up.

The continued resolving of my aunt’s estate

I spoke in my last post about tying up loose ends of my auntie Jean’s house in March 2013 – that proved to be far too optimistic. Legal and estate agent matters do not resolve themselves as easily as we simple souls would like and it would be a few months more and a lot of correspondence before we got the will dealt with and the house put on the market. I should say that this was no fault of the lawyers, Cartmell and Shepherd of Carlisle, who were excellent throughout and did everything they could to help us. The various monetary legacies of the will were eventually distributed and the house became mine; it was then a case of putting it on the market, dealing with the estate agent and awaiting viewings.

Letting Dad’s house

We successfully let dad’s house in Chesser with the assistance of Help for Letting, a local agency run by Lucy Petrie who has proved true to her ethical intentions. The first tenants have been excellent and at time of writing are just about to move out to their first house of their own having seen an offer they couldn’t refuse. We wish them well – especially as they plan to get married soon.

Back to Slovenia – and with a mission!

In the meantime dad and I made plans for another trip to Slovenia in the Autumn, and this time we wanted to look at houses there – the Carlisle house would provide enough to finance a reasonable place there if we could find the right one – houses tend to take a long time to sell in Slovenia so turnover is fairly low, particularly in the recent EU economic difficulties.

I had for many months (indeed years) been poring over online estate agency listings – seeing many that were too expensive and many that looked too far gone to consider restoring. I got down to a shortlist of about 15, although one that I liked the look of sold just before we set off.

The agency we used, Think Slovenia, proved very accommodating in organising our viewings. First from the Bohinj area where we stayed the first week at the Hotel Krystal (the first time we’d stayed there and a very friendly family run hotel), and then from the Kobarid area where we as usual stayed at the excellent Hotel Hvala. I must say thank you to them again for the lovely birthday present they gave dad, who had just celebrated his 90th birthday. They gave us the new luxury suite for the same price as a normal room. This included a jacuzzi bath which dad had never experienced before and it proved to have a very beneficial effect on the shoulder he’d injured some months before as well as being very relaxing. I half expected him to have one put into his new house in Lanark!

Think Slovenia took us round all the houses by car, despite it being a couple of hours drive from Ljubljana. Some were immediately rejected when we saw how much work they would need or were not in places that made the best of the scenery. We boiled it down to three or four. One was a spacious house in a suburb area a few miles from Bled, but it was probably too big. Another was a wooden chalet-style house in a picturesque valley just north of the main motorway. It even had a sauna and was looking a good bet until we realised that there was no immediate chance of getting an internet line put in. It also appears that it is often snowed in in the winter. A third came in for serious consideration – high in the hills above Tolmin with views down to the Italian plains. But the last house was in a special place that dad and I had discovered on an earlier trip. Dreznica sits high in a valley above Kobarid and is one of the most beautiful places in the Soca area. Behind it towers Mount Krn and the bright white village church against the backdrop of the mountain makes it magnet for landscape photographers like me. The house we were to see was situated in a hamlet just beyond the main village and was a little above my intended price range, but in that glorious setting we had to see it. The view from outside the house was enough to convince us – though perhaps in retrospect we were a little over-hasty. I’ll go into that more in the next post but I think that it’s ok despite needing a lot of work.

While we were over there we heard that the payment had come through on the Carlisle house so we put in an offer and it was accepted.

Two more trips

A couple of months later in November I had to fly back over to Ljubljana for the signing of the various legal papers. The city had changed quite a bit since I was last there – more pedestrian areas in the centre and delightful to walk along by the river. Then in February this year I got the keys and the final handover – this time flying to Venice and hiring a car from there. I was surprised how mild it was and how lovely the carpets of wild crocuses were.

Dad continues in good form approaching 91

Dad has had a second cataract operation and can now see clearly with both eyes, which means he can drive again. He was over at Normandy again for the D-Day celebrations in June. This was the 70th and final official gathering – the Normandy Veterans Association is being wound up this year while there are still a few veterans left. But maybe, if he’s still fit enough, he might still make a private visit next year. Although most of the French Resistance members who used to welcome him are now gone he still gets a warm welcome from their families and indeed all the local people. It’s gratifying to see that their children are all taught about the sacrifices made to ensure they would be able to grow up free from tyranny, and that they are genuinely interested in the remaining veterans when they visit.

He’ll be 91 in August, and the last few years have been very precious. Let’s hope for a few more yet!

The Spirit of Music

Add comment October 1st, 2011

I’ve just been watching a documentary on BBC 4 called Troubadors, the name taken from the Los Angeles club of that name and largely centred around James Taylor and Carole King but also featuring other luminaries of the time like Jackson Browne, Graham Crosby, Bonnie Rait and the band of LA guys who played on many of their albums.

It was a touching and well-handled programme and if it’s available on iPlayer then I recommend it – especially if you’re of my vintage and remember Tapestry and Sweet Baby James from when they came out. It brought back many lovely memories of times with my old friends John Sampson, Gordon Dougal, and Colin Craig when we played many of the songs and wrote others that were often inspired by them.

It also reminded me of something I sometimes forget in the bustle of making a living – that music, and the connections with friends through music, has given me my very happiest times. Though I’m a poor player of various instruments I have the musician’s ear, the ability to hear the communications that pass between musicians as they play, the little jokes that make us smile and baffle those who can’t hear them.

I’m lucky that I work in a couple of subjects – web design and SEO – that are creative and challenging and which I enjoy very much. But my happiest years were as a sound engineer, working with some wonderful musicians and actors, and creating moments of magic, moments that reach people’s hearts and make them feel something that lifts them above the boredom of their working lives.

It’s always a shock to see someone whose youthful album cover pictures you grew up with looking kinda old. Reminds you that you own face in the mirror isn’t getting any younger. Carole King is now white haired and could be any American Jewish grandmother if you passed her in the street, while James Taylor is bald and angular and stooping. But when they talk to each other the light shines in their eyes, and when they sing, particularly together, the years roll away and the vitality of youth is still there in their faces and voices. And you see the love and musical connection that passes between them and you know that for all the special vibes and communication that they are sending out to the adoring fans, that they are also sharing a far deeper level of connection through the music that even those of us that speak a little of the language can only guess at. It was lovely to watch and to listen to. A big ‘well done’ to the director and cameraman of the documentary.

And from me a big thank you to the musicians and friends who shared those times with me over the years.

Tribute to Johnny Marr – a man who loved chess

5 comments May 20th, 2011

Yesterday I heard that an old friend had died.

I first met Johnny Marr when I was about 14, at the Edinburgh Chess Club which would be his second home for most of his life. A friendly affable man he was popular at the club and always had an encouraging word for the many juniors who were members back in the late 60s and early 70s. I knew his son Donald who at 15 was already a very strong player although he took time out from the game to study for exams. I remember a school trip to the Edinburgh Crystal Glass Works which was then down in Leith. Johnny worked there and recognizing me gave me a shot at blowing glass. He later came into the club with a hand made glass chess set which he had built which was absolutely gorgeous.

Johnny simply adored chess and, although he never pushed on to be a top player, through constant playing he developed a wily and imaginative style that could occasionally trip up the very best. Geoff Chandler probably played Johnny more times than anyone else and has written affectionately about him here and here. He was always around the club in the days when it was busy nearly every night and Geoff, who was caretaker for a few years, would often play him into the early hours.

I took 17 years away from the game then decided to go back to the club and see if I could still play. First person I saw when I walked in was Johnny! We shared some interesting games and he was always a tough nut to crack even when age started to reduce his playing standards. Even in his 80s he used to cycle up to the club from his home near Easter Road, and in his 90s he was still there, still playing remarkably well, and often winning tournaments only a little below his former standard. Whenever a team captain was short of a player Johnny would be happy to step in if it was legal to do so. Whenever a new player or a visitor to the city came into the club it was always Johnny that offered to play them first. He loved showing the bright young juniors that old folk could play a damn good game too, but always encouraged them to improve.

Some years ago I had the honour of proposing he be made an honorary member of the club (passed unanimously and with acclamation) and more recently I presented the prizes at the Allegro Tournament we held in celebration of his 90th birthday.

He simply was a fixture at the club and a large part of its character. He was a gentleman and a sportsman and I count myself fortunate to have known him. We’ll all miss him dreadfully and he certainly won’t be forgotten. Farewell Johnny, and thank you.


Dave Hewitt has written an article about Johnny’s passing for the Caledonian Mercury.

Today was the funeral and there was a very large turnout, which showed perfectly how wide a circle of people had known and loved him. Far more than most such occasions the atmosphere was of a celebration of a life well lived and full, and we all had only good memories of him. I hope that was a comfort to his family.

He was mentioned again at the Chess Edinburgh AGM this evening –  everyone there had known him and most had played him. The next time any of us play a match I’m certain he’ll be in our thoughts.

Energy saving lightbulbs

Add comment April 3rd, 2011

Is it just me or does anyone else think that energy saving light bulbs are a scam?

Firstly there’s the equivalent ratings which are hopelessly optimistic and lead to you buying a second bulb cos the first one has all the brightness of a crusie lamp running out of oil. Then there’s the fact that they seem to be somewhat fragile – the first one I ever bought cracked when I turned it on.

But most damningly the advertised long life that is supposed to save us money and energy is just complete bollocks due to them getting dimmer and dimmer throughout their lives to the point of being unusable. One I put in a table lamp wore out in under 18 months and its replacement is getting noticeably dull after just 5 months.

I reckon we’ve been had. Kinda like carbon offsetting.

Voices of Angels – Judie Tzuke and her daughters

1 comment October 22nd, 2010

It’s been a trying few days, as you’ll see from the immediately preceding post, but on Sunday I had something to take my mind off  things – something I’d been looking forward to for ages. Not one, not two, but three lovely blonds with voices to die for. The Tzuke family was in town playing the Queens Hall.

Now I’ve had a few disappointments in the Queens Hall, as a former sound engineer I know the acoustics are a bit weird and not really suited for rock. So I was a bit worried when I saw the  tour schedule, and the first support did nothing to ease my fears – there was a nasty resonance in the low mid-range which obscured David Saw’s vocals a bit. A pity as he had a gentle humour to his songs that deserved a better platform. He certainly won over the audience when he described the experience of writing with Judie as having received a masterclass in songwriting.

I was sad to see that the hall wasn’t full – I remember when Judie could fill the 2000 seat Playhouse and she really deserves far wider support. Maybe all the intelligent fans have emigrated!

Happily the engineer had got a better handle on the acoustics by the time Bailey Tzuke came on with sister Tallulah and the band. Bailey has grown into a really confident performer and her voice is developing all the time. I can’t wait to hear her in a big concert hall with more open acoustics, as her dynamic range is just straining to be let loose. Her set was mainly rockier arrangements and, although I enjoyed it immensely, in some ways I’d have liked to hear some more of the gentler solo songs such as the lovely Mind of a Boy. However she did include Fish, which I was astonished to learn was the first song she ever wrote. An amazingly complex song for a first effort with a delightful background rhythm.

A quick word about Tallulah; if anything I do believe she may be growing to be the most attractive of the three – which for anyone who remembers Judie at her bonniest and has seen how stunning Bailey is now is quite a compliment. She has a lovely fine bone structure, the family hair, and though still a little shy she has a gorgeous smile. I don’t have children but she looks to be everything you’d like your daughter to be.

After the interval during which I had a brief chat with Jamie during which he said he’d never heard Judie singing better, we came to the main event. Judie came on looking more confident than I’ve seen her for ages. Maybe because she’s now so widely acclaimed as a songwriter, or maybe knowing that Bailey is growing into a star has taken the pressure off a little. Whatever the reason it was good to see and and, as we were to discover, it seemed to allow her to really let loose that wonderful voice. The band was a slight departure – the first time I can remember a line-up with two guitarists. And one of them plus the bassist sported the best quiffs I’ve seen since the 60’s!

The opening number fairly rocked – a good loosener – but things really ramped up in the second and third songs. Under the Angels and Secret Agent are amongst my favourite albums and the two titles tracks amongst my favourite ever studio songs. They both have a testing range and phrasing which makes them ambitious songs to schedule so early in a gig unless you’re on top form. Judie was. Angels was one of those hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck moments – it soared, it vibrated with energy and the top notes were as pure as I’ve heard them and delivered with complete control and assurance. Secret Agent if anything was even better – it had a power and an emotion behind it, and midway through I realised that I had tears running down my cheeks. Maybe it was partly the emotions of my last couple of weeks coming out but it was an awful lot to do with the fearless openness that seemed to characterise Judie’s singing.

The bar had been set high, and it would have been easy to have dropped from that level of quality. In fact as anyone who has played gigs knows you have to balance the showstoppers with the simpler or less dramatic songs or everything becomes the same and you lose the contrasts and dynamic range. Faith maintained the quality while allowing some of that essential contrast and then Submarine Boy brought another aspect. Part-way through it there was a remarkable interplay between Judie and Bailey using their voices as instruments in a sort of call and response mode that was quite beautiful. I’m not sure if the idea was deliberate but it immediately reminded me of whale song.

Joan of Arc was next and was clearly a popular choice. I recall it being a highlight of a show a couple of tours ago in Glasgow, but here I felt it suffered slightly from being a little too similar to the early  brilliance – not that it was in any way bad or less than well-sung – just that a little more contrast might have been better.

Edinburgh audiences can be notoriously slow to respond but by this time things were really warming up and we were treated to a variety of new and old to hoots and hollers of enthusiasm despite a predominantly older audience – hey we old folks can still rock! The band were turning on the heat too, a good old fashioned guitar solo being well appreciated.

I didn’t manage to write down all the songs played and am probably missing a couple but it was all just turning into a feast of pleasure by then. Bring the Rain has long been a favourite and was a delight to hear again while Vivien was one that fairly raced along. It seems that Bailey has many favourites amongst the albums from before she was even born and it was interesting to see that in some of them she and Judie were almost singing twin lead. The looks of sheer fun that passed between the three girls were great to see.

Sukarita is another old favourite with many fans, then the inevitable Stay With Me Till Dawn (“my one hit”) and, praise be, Sportscar – my fave driving accompaniment – brought the audience to their feet as the set closed. Of course they weren’t getting away that easy and they soon returned for two of the high points of the night.

For You was always a special song – with the three of them singing together layers that Judie used to multitrack it brought more tears to the eyes. It must be a very special feeling for Judie to have her daughters with her for that, a family in genuine harmony. But there’s now another song to bring a lump to the throat – If – inspired by the Rudyard Kipling poem and with Judie and Bailey weaving in and out together effortlessly hitting perfect notes it was impossible not to feel a range of overpowering emotions.

One last encore -a joyous Choices You’ve Made,  apparently Bailey knows the words better than Judie! – and they were gone. But unlike the last tour when many of us worried we’d never see another one, this time we were promised more to come in the future. They seemed to be having so much fun, and although by the next time Bailey will surely be headlining her own shows and Tallulah may be pursuing her own career (in I believe film making) it would be wonderful for them and us if they were together again.

Thank you Judie, for a lifetime of glorious songs and wonderful singing, and for giving us the next generation of Angels to carry on the creativity. Come back soon.

A Difficult Week

2 comments October 22nd, 2010

On Wednesday last week my mum died at the age of 85, and a week later the funeral was held at Warriston Crematorium. The time in between was, as you may imagine, difficult.

On behalf of Dad and I I’d like to thank all the friends who contacted us to offer condolences and support, my clients who were universally understanding and patient, and all those people who came along to the funeral.

A special mention must also go to the carers – both at the care home where mum had been for the last couple of years, and those who used to come into the house to assist her while she was at home.

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