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October 2013

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This is the second week of the fortnight’s respite that pupils at the School are granted during which to recover from the rigours of the first half of the autumn term, preparatory to the increasingly intense run up to Christmas. In true public school tradition this break is not known as ‘half term’, but rather – oddly, though quite appositely – as ‘Remedy’.

Having much to do I was in the office during the first week of the break, but I have taken all bar one day this week as my very own ‘remedy’ – to try to catch up on some sleep and on other pursuits for which there has been little time of late.

I had intended to get out and about with the Fuji x10 to take some snaps of the autumn colours – much as I did on this very day last year. This time around – however – autumn is late! The mild weather has persisted and the leaves have stubbornly refused to turn. Pehaps like us – having finally enjoyed a summer worthy of the name – they are reluctant to let go of it. Even Sunday night’s much heralded storm (named for St Jude’s Day – the patron saint for the hopeless and the despaired!) failed to strip the trees of their frondescence.

Here instead are some autumnal textures:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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SoI do not believe that I have ever been – or could ever be – a party to a serious relationship with anyone who was not an admirer of the most excellent Mr Peter Gabriel. Those with whom I have shared such accord will undoubtedly testify to my continuing enthusiasm for the man and his works over an extended period.

The Kickass Canada Girl and I – naturally – established early on that we were mutual admirers, the chief difference between us being that whereas I have genuinely lost count of the number of times that I have seen Mr G perform live in the flesh, she had not – to the point at which we met – had that opportunity at all. In common with many other UK artists the Canadian leg of Mr G’s previous world tours had rarely extended further west than Montreal or Toronto. My worry was that – given that none of us is exactly young any more (Mr G being some four years older than I) – opportunities so to do might prove somewhat scarce.

So it was – back in the summer of 2007 – that the Girl and I found ourselves huddled close together under the pouring rain in the grounds of a stately home in Norfolk. We had trekked all the way up there to catch one of a small number of dates that Gabriel was playing as a warm-up to that year’s WOMAD festival, which itself was unfortunately coincidental with our being out of the country on holiday. Mr. G played a fine set of (mostly) older numbers which we enjoyed hugely – if somewhat damply – but I found myself regretting slightly that the Girl was not getting to see the full ‘show’.

We had the chance to see Mr G again in early 2010. This time he was touring in the wake of the release of his album of covers of other performers’ songs – ‘Scratch my Back’ – with a full orchestra instead of his usual band. Once again a splendid evening was had by all – but it still wasn’t quite the live PG performance by which I had been so captivated on previous occasions.

Finally – this year – came the news that, at the age of 63, Gabriel was touring once more – this time in celebration of the twenty fifth anniversary of the release of his biggest selling album – ‘So’. Gabriel was to be joined on the road by the members of the band that toured the album back in 1986/87 – David Rhodes, David Sancious, the excellent Manu Katché and of course the ever-present Mr Bass, Tony Levin! The show was to climax with ‘So’ performed in its entirety.

The tour reached London this week – sojourning for two nights at the in-feasibly remote ‘O2’ – and the Girl finally got to see what I had observed many times previously. She was suitably blown away!

Who knows how many more tours Mr G has in him? Given his incredible contribution to the arts (as well as to many humanitarian causes) through more than five decades I for one would not blame him for wanting to take life easy from now on. His voice – it must be said – sounds almost better than I have ever heard it, so it may be that he has no thoughts of retiring just yet. We can but hope!

Needless to say – should you ever get the chance to catch him live I most strongly urge you so to do.


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20131019_162714To the Ashmolean in Oxford yester-eve to attend a black tie function in support of the charity by which the Kickass Canada Girl is gainfully employed.

I feel sure that you can imagine the form that such events take. The great and the good are seduced by the notion of being lavishly entertained and wined and dined in some splendour whilst contemporaneously doing good service in a worthy cause. This latter comprises not only shelling out their hard-earned for tickets to said function, but also submitting to an evening of much persuasion – through raffles, auctions both silent and (surprisingly) noisy and blandishments plain and simple in an entirely justified attempt to pull in as much of the folding stuff as possible whilst keeping everyone in a good humour.

The particular focus of this event was the charitable service of which the Girl is the manager – which explains why we were both fully togged up and on our best behaviour. A short film extolling the good works of the service had been shot for the event – which presentation extensively featured the Girl herself. Impossible not to feel lump-in-the-throat proud of her. Not only does she look gorgeous on-screen (as in real-life of course!) but she comes over as a complete natural on film – speaking from the heart in a manner that carried the floor with ease.

‘Black tie’ means for me – of course – an opportunity to dig out the tartan. The kilt is a fantastically versatile garment and may be worn on every conceivably occasion. It can feature in many combinations from rugger shirt and boots all the way up to the full monty, which in this case comprised – in addition to the full 8 yard kilt itself – the Prince Charlie jacket and ‘weskit’, dress shirt and bow tie (always the real thing – never a ‘clip-on’… one could never show one’s face in a public school again…!), sealskin sporran, cream hose and garters, sgian-dubh and ghillie-brogues.

These days one is rarely asked – in good company – what one is wearing beneath one’s kilt. Should the question ever be directed at me I simply repeat the apocryphal anecdote of the Scots Guards officer in full dress who is approached at a function by a lady. She enquires – somewhat cheekily and ‘always having been curious to know’ – what is worn beneath the kilt? Comes the enigmatic reply:

“Nothing, ma’am. It’s all in perfect working order!”

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Assorted images of the harvest season in Merrie England – as captured by the Fuji X10. The interminable drizzle and ashen skies give little in the way of encouragement to the casual photographer…

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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earth-upside-downYou must know that for those destined to dominate others the ordinary rules of life are turned upside down and duty acquires an entirely new meaning. Good and evil are carried off to a higher, different plane.

Pope Alexander VI to Lucrezia Borgia

I will be brief!

Chancellor Osbourne’s speech to the Tory party conference in the UK last week included one announcement that had not – contrary to what has somewhat sadly become widely accepted practice – been trailed to the media in advance. The gist of this statement was that – should the Tories be allowed another term in office – once the recovery had stabilised and the structural deficit been reduced the Tories would then focus on running a surplus on the nation’s budget.

This would appear at first glance to be a good thing. One should live within one’s means and it is – of course – good practice to put something aside during the ‘fat’ years to see us through the ‘lean’. What went unsaid was that this would of necessity be achieved by extending – apparently indefinitely – the current policy of austerity, with all that that implies as a brake on growth leading to the further erosion of living standards.

This bitter medicine – though difficult to swallow – might just be accepted as an essential part of the cure for our ills were it not for one glaring omission – one extremely large and utterly disregarded (by the Tories!) elephant in the room. This perpetual belt-tightening will clearly not apply to the Tories’ favoured sons – the one percent!

The bankers – the speculators – the masters of the universe… will all be free to carry on awarding themselves inflationary pay rises, exorbitant bonuses (apparently regardless of performance) and eye-watering severance packages. The stateless corporates will continue to play off nation against nation for their favours, effectively deciding for themselves what – if any – tax they will pay and to whom. Whilst the ‘ordinary’ man (and woman) must take in another notch in their belts and watch as their standard of living slowly dissolves – castles of sand washed away by the incoming tide – the rich aboard their hyper-yachts will simply sail off into the sunset, the income gap between us and them growing ever wider and wider as it has been doing since the 1970s.

I have never understood why it is that – whilst at one end of the spectrum workers are expected to ‘price’ themselves into a job – at the opposite extreme these ‘supermen’ – these Übermensch – are apparently incapable of carrying out the jobs (of which they have had their pick!) for which they are already extremely well paid unless they are further bribed so to do – for what are bonus and incentive schemes but bribery – plain and simple. I have nothing at all against those who enrich themselves through their honest toil and creativity – those who build something which is ultimately of the benefit to all. For far too many of the one percent – however – this is simply not the case.

These men must be truly exceptional to be rewarded as they are. They must indeed be exceptional to be feted so by those who represent us. They are also apparently exceptions to the rule by which the rest of us must live. I feel sure – however – that they will not give a fig that we take exception to them!

Which we do!

Flame off…

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World_upside_downThe modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

John Kenneth Galbraith

Many of us in the UK breath a hearty sigh of relief at this point of the year – for the party conference season has finally shuddered to a close. Those of like vintage can probably just about recall when party conferences actually meant something – when policies were proposed, debated and then voted upon according to whichever greater or lesser degree of democratic process the party in question espoused. It wasn’t perfect. It was very rarely pretty – but at least there was a feeling that the entire farrago had some sort of purpose.

Nowadays these annual gatherings in corners of the kingdom seldom otherwise visited by many of those in or on the fringes of power, are merely tightly choreographed PR exercises, the prime function of which is to garner headlines in the media and to ‘get the message across’. It is a particular bugbear of mine (one of many, you may have noticed!) that ‘getting the message across’ is now considered to be of such import that it is apparently perfectly acceptable to patronise horribly those of us who make up the great unwashed – presumably on the basis that we possess between us no intelligence whatsoever!

We are unfortunate in the UK currently to suffer what is fundamentally a Tory administration. From the Kickass Canada Girl’s pithy epithets on perusing the news from home I deduce that Canada finds itself in a similar position. Now – for the Tories the ‘message’ that must be ‘got across’ is that the entire global financial meltdown – as well as the subsequent and ongoing international credit crisis – was caused solely by the profligacy of the last Labour administration. (Strangely the inverse now applies – any current woes being the fault of those beyond these shores).

Whereas I can just about understand the Tories holding this view – and indeed trying to make political capital therefrom – it is abundantly clear that every single member of the administration that has been given permission to communicate through the media has been briefed to ram this point home at every conceivable opportunity. As a result there is no question to which the answer is free from this mantra – the recitation of the same hackneyed dogma – an endless repetition of the same trite phrases, presumably in the belief that if a thing is said frequently and loudly enough the rest of us will eventually accept it as the truth.

COME ON!! – for pity’s sake… This is the way that a child ‘communicates’ when it wants something that it can’t have. Show us at least some respect!

Lest anyone – at this point – accuse me of getting ‘party political’ I should make it clear that I consider all parties and pretty well all politicians to be equally guilty in this regard. It comes as little surprise to me that the electorate is increasingly and justifiably disenchanted with those who purport to represent us. The Tories – being currently in power – must inevitably, however, be the prime recipients of our disapprobation.

Oh dear! What was intended to be a brief but pithy commentary on the Chancellor – George Osbourne’s – conference speech, has morphed instead into two less than temperate virtual diatribes. I really shouldn’t let these things get to me, but I do find these preening popinjays so very irritating…

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Harwood ArmsYesterday afternoon found me in the heart of the City of London at St Paul’s Cathedral. The occasion was the School’s annual Founder’s Day service. Long term readers might recall that I posted on the subject at around this time last year. Newcomers may care to catch up here.

As ever I took a moment to stand under the very centre of the dome and offered up a silent prayer of thanks. The significance – for those that must know – is elucidated here.

On which subject – the Kickass Canada Girl was herself in town yesterday – ‘hot-desking’ in the London office. Once my mission to the Cathedral had been accomplished I collected her from Pimlico and lead her away to the mysterious wilds of Fulham – whereat we were to dine in celebration the previous day’s anniversary. She did not know where we were dining (I can’t resist surprises!) and was thus somewhat taken aback when we plunged into the maze of residential streets that lie behind Fulham Broadway.

Our destination was the utterly splendid Harwood Arms. Once a regular street corner ‘pub’ and now belonging more properly to the increasingly ubiquitous ‘gastro-‘ variety (in many cases to be treated with deepest suspicion) the Harwood Arms is a genuine delight. The excellent atmosphere in the dinning room is considerably enhanced by the knowledgeable and personable staff – but the true star of the show is, quite rightly, the food itself. Head Chef Barry Fitzgerald knows how to cook meat – game in particular – and when one gleans that the Harwood is the only pub in London to have been awarded a Michelin star one gets an idea of what to expect.

I haven’t mentioned the wine list. I should! Even if you do not feel able to stretch to the Romanée-Conti Grands Échezeaux (and frankly, who can?) there is a wealth of other wines from around the globe from which to choose. We particularly enjoyed the ‘Ten Minutes by Tractor 10X’ Pinot Noir (from that other Victoria down under) which went especially well with my grouse. If – incidentally – you should find yourself fascinated the wine’s designation you can ascertain its origin here.

On the subject of grouse I was delighted to discover – subsequent to our visit – that those behind the Harwood have also established The Harwood Game Company from which one can order wild game online. I challenge the gentle reader to visit their site and not to come away with mouth watering!

Our server from last night told us that he has a sister (married to a Canadian… sound familiar?) who now resides in Vancouver. He and the Girl spent some time comparing notes about life there and the highlight of my evening (some ask given that the epicurean delights on offer had already set the bar pretty high) was listening to her describing how her father used to take her grouse shooting on the roads of British Columbia.

But enough of this… Look up the Harwood Arms here, book yourself a table and head to Fulham for a serious treat.

I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed!

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Photo by Joey Gannon from Pittsburgh, PA…a year makes!

(With apologies for Stanley Adams for taking a liberty with his English lyrics to María Grever‘s Spanish original).

On this very day a year ago I was doing my best – by means remote – to help celebrate the Kickass Canada Girl’s birthday. She was – the gentle reader may recall – still living and working in Victoria at the time and our celebrations were thus limited to those which might be effected by the good offices of the InterWebNet – and in particular those services rendered by Skype, eCards, Amazon (CA) and the most helpful website of my favourite haven of relaxation – the Brentwood Bay Resort and Spa.

Matters have been greatly facilitated this time round by us both actually living on the same continent! Our merrymaking will – as a consequence – be unrestrained.

I do send commiserations to our dear friends in BC who sadly don’t get to share the Girl’s birthday this year. I trust that our presence at the celebrations in Canada for Christmas and the New Year will go some way to make up for that loss.

I feel sure that all those who are regular readers – as well as those who are only occasionally so – would want to join me in in wishing the Girl a very happy birthday!

Hip, hip hurrah!!


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