Word Up  

Funk is a musical genre that has been interpreted in many ways by numerous artists and bands over the years. From James Brown’s ‘Make it Funky’, Tom Browne’s ‘Funkin For Jamaica’ and rock band Wild Cherry’s ‘Play That Funky Music White Boy’, it has been an enduring theme for over forty years. In 1986, American vocal group Cameo released this song, which seemed to sum up the whole thing, in just four and a half minutes.

This was also the age of MTV, and the pop video was often as important as the song. Cameo’s front man, Larry Blackmon, obviously had this in mind when he chose his outfit. Dressed in a skin-tight black leotard, with a red plastic heart worn between his legs, we all knew that this was going to make Cameo stand out from the crowd. Fortunately, the song was as memorable as the outfit, and is still as good today, as it was twenty-eight years ago. Recently revived in the UK, thanks to its use on a prominent TV commercial, a new generation can now enjoy the feel-good funk provided by this group. Although still performing today, their international fame was short-lived, and it is unlikely that they will ever better this. Try to keep still. I dare you.


As I mentioned in my previous post, we had put an offer on some office furniture, around the same time as buying the new chair.  We had thought that it would be relatively easy, getting a small company to collect these items, and deliver them to us in Beetley. There are lots of people advertising such services, mostly under the catchy title of ‘Man and A Van’. They supply the vehicle, and someone with some experience in the field, and you have to be the helper. The other alternative is to hire a self-drive van, get some help, and do the job yourself. In reality, neither are that easy to arrange, and both options come at a price.

When you have saved a huge amount of money searching out a used bargain, it goes against the grain somewhat, to have to pay top dollar for delivery. Some of the prices quoted for the ubiquitous Man plus Van would not have been out of place for moving a grand piano two hundred miles. I had some bookcases, and a desk, admittedly both large, and a round trip of under fifty miles. It looked as if I was going to have to go down the self-drive route. For a one day hire, the van seemed reasonable, at under £70. But then I had to get to the van place, arrange a helper, who might justifiably expect some financial remuneration, and get back home again after dropping the vehicle off. Add the extra collision insurance, the taxi fares to and from the van base, (buses are sparse here) and the gratuity to my helper, and we are talking almost as much as some of the quotes.

Julie kept trawling the Internet small ads, and eventually turned up someone who could do it reasonably cheaply. But they couldn’t do it when we needed it done, so that was out. I resorted to a local Internet community forum, called StreetLife. It allows you to raise any issue, seek or give recommendations for trades and services, or just have a general moan about things. Naturally, I am a regular. The downside is that it covers a very small area, so my message requesting a Man and Van at reasonable prices only went out to a potential audience of less than four hundred people. I have to confess, I didn’t hold out a lot of hope, but then I am naturally pessimistic. I was pleasantly surprised to receive an offer of help from a local man, within an hour of posting the request. He was not in the business of light removals, but owned a suitable vehicle, and lived nearby. We agreed a reasonable price, and arranged for him to collect me that afternoon.

He was very personable, and his van was clean, and just sufficiently large to take the required load. We travelled over in pleasant weather, and arrived in good time.  I had realised that the units we had bought were substantial, but I was unaware just how heavy they were. As we began to move them, it was immediately apparent that we were not going to be able to manage them. What strength I once possessed, seems to have diminished alarmingly, and even with the help of a fit young man in his early 20s, it was not going to happen. Luckily, a middle-aged neighbour there offered to assist. With the help of a folding trolley, two on the heavy end, and one inside the vehicle, we got everything in. It was not without considerable effort on the part of all involved though, and I was aware that I had really stretched myself.

Arriving home, we asked for help from our own next-door neighbour. He was happy to assist, but the narrow hallway would only allow two of us to manage each unit into the house. At least having three of us available made getting it out of the van easier, and allowed us to get it all in without any damage being caused. We are also fortunate to have a large living room, as we have to store all this stuff at one end of it, until we get around to painting the small room next week. We got it all arranged without any disruption to our normal living arrangements, other than the sight of it all piled at one end.

I made a new contact, and will use the helpful young man again, should I have any need to move things in the future. I also got a serious warning about my physical limitations, and aching muscles today reminded me that I am not as young, or as strong, as I used to be.


My New Chair

Yesterday, my wife Julie bought me a new chair. We went over to Toftwood, and purchased it second-hand, from a nice young woman. It had been her son’s cherished computer chair, but they were moving, and needed the space. It was in excellent condition, looking almost as good as new. It has a mesh back panel, and everything on it is adjustable. A lumbar support and variable neck cushion will be most welcome, and there is good resistance at the back, to keep me sitting straight. The wheeled base moves easily, allowing me to scoot around the small room that we use as a sort of office. There are generous arms on the chair too, which is nice if I want to sit back, and contemplate my next blog post. The seat cushion is large and roomy, putting no pressure on the back of my legs, but offering a firm perch during the hours spent at the computer. It was a great gift.

‘So what?’ I can imagine you might well be wondering this, and why I have bothered to take your time (and mine) writing a post about something as mundane as an office chair. How can I get so excited about something that most bloggers take for granted? There is a very good reason. I use a PC, so cannot sprawl on a sofa or comfy armchair, as I tap away at a laptop, or tablet. For the last two years, I have sat on a dressing table stool. This has served well-enough. It is solid wood, built by Ercol, with a decent black vinyl padded seat. It was an expensive item in its day, and is still serving its intended purpose well. But it is low, and has no back, sides, or arms. After a few hours at the computer, typing away, it can play havoc with my back and legs.

So, I have finally graduated to a chair, something I considered well-worth writing about. We have also put an offer on some office furniture; book-cases, and a large desk. If we can arrange collection of those, we will be on our way to finally having a real office. It never ceases to amaze me what I can get excited about these days. But I am. Honest.

Happy Holiday!

Today is a public holiday in England, the last one before Christmas. Unless you work in entertainment, retail, public services, the care industry, or run your own business, you don’t have to go to work today. The schools are still on their summer break, so it is a rare chance for working parents to spend some weekday time with their children. The long weekend has given people the chance to visit relatives, welcome visitors at home, or take a short break away, somewhere nice.

The leisure industry has pulled out all the stops, providing many attractions to make the most of this last holiday of 2014. There are air shows, summer fetes and fairs, music festivals, dog shows, outdoor exhibitions, and assorted extra events being staged at existing static venues. Shops have sold out of barbecue food, and the coals to cook it on. Beers have been stockpiled, and sunshades erected over outside tables. Pubs and restaurants have live music, hog roasts, children’s entertainers, and open air festivities planned.

So naturally, it is raining. It has been pouring down since the early hours, over most of the country. Few places have been spared the deluge, which has prompted a safety warning from the government. Along with the relentless water, we have cold winds from the north, and will be lucky to see 12 degrees where we live. Walking Ollie today necessitated dusting off my wellington boots, and breaking out some warm walking trousers, stored away until winter. My hands got cold holding my large umbrella as I walked. Silly me, not bothering to take my thermal gloves in August. After ninety minutes of that, I had become sick of looking at rain and featureless grey skies, and trudged home. I went to the supermarket, to stock up for the week. It was packed with shoppers; one of the few places where you could go, and stay dry. Something to do, on a bleak and unwelcoming day.

It is almost 6.30pm, and the sky is the same colour that it was at 8.30am. And it is still raining.

I know, I am unhealthily obsessed with the weather. But I ask you, is it any wonder?

The Man With The Child In His Eyes

Kate Bush arrived on the British music scene in 1978, with the quirky ‘Wuthering Heights’. Like or or love her, you had to realise that there had never been anyone like her; before, or since. Combining unusual song writing, dance, mime, drama, and an incredible vocal range, she was once heard, never forgotten.

Her career has been mostly marked by her absences. She has never really sought the limelight, and her public has been privy to very little information about her, or her personal life.  She has changed her style of music, much in the same way as more mainstream recording artists, such as Madonna, or Prince. But she has never changed herself. Her own attractive appearance, lisping vocals, and exaggerated facial expressions, have all endured until today.

She is very English, both in delivery and style. Drawing from literature, art, poetry, and classical dance, she has carved out something unique in the music business. One note of her song, or a few seconds of video, and it is instantly recognisable as Kate Bush. Her disappearances from the scene have only served to fuel the sense of enigma that surrounds her, leaving her fans to anticipate her next incarnation, and the sounds that will accompany it.

This is not necessarily my favourite song from her large body of work. I might prefer ‘Cloudbusting’, Hounds Of Love’, or ‘Running Up That Hill. This is the woman that brought us ‘Army Dreamers’, ‘Don’t Give Up’, and so many others. The reason for choosing this song, is that she wrote it when she was thirteen years old. I will type that again, for emphasis. Thirteen years old.

That isn’t just talent. That is sheer genius.

Back at the Hilton, we had time to reflect on how much we had enjoyed the cruise. It had seemed too short, and yet it had genuinely been relaxing and enjoyable; so perhaps after all it was just enough.

The next day, we had arranged to make the trip to see the Colossi of Memnon, opposite Luxor. This giant pair of statues is all that remains of the once-grand temple of Amenhotep III, and they are both representations of him, dating from around 1400 BC. They are quite damaged, and the features are worn away. Despite this, they are very impressive, towering sixty feet above the ground, the only things visible for any distance around them. The large bases have carvings in the stone, and one of the statues is known to have been rebuilt during Roman times, after being damaged by constant floods. It seemed to me that they must have been something very special at the time they were erected, as they still had tremendous power as I gazed at them that morning. That afternoon, we returned to the centre of Luxor for a better look around. It was as dusty and dirty as we remembered though, so we didn’t hang around very long. Besides, we had our trip to Abu Simbel to anticipate.

A taxi collected us the following morning, for the trip to the airport. We had paid extra to fly to Abu Simbel, to avoid the long drive in the heat, and to allow more time at the site. There was little or no procedure at the airport, as it was an internal flight. We just walked across the tarmac to the aircraft, and were met by a pleasant young man, who introduced himself as our guide for the day. There were no flight attendants, no safety briefings, and the pilot and co-pilot sat in a cockpit with no door. The plane was a relatively modern jet, and besides us, there were only a handful of other passengers. After take-off, we flew surprising low, and soon came in to land. The guide informed us that we were not there yet, just collecting more tourists from other airfields around the area. This happened twice more, before the half-full aircraft gained height, and headed for Abu Simbel, to the south-west. On the way, we flew over the Aswan Dam, and Lake Nasser. This was purely for touristic enjoyment, and the guide told us when these spectacles would appear,  and on which side of the aircraft we should look, to get the best view. As we approached our destination, we moved around to get the first view of the monument, and even from that height, it was duly impressive. A coach awaited our arrival at the airport, and took us the short distance to the site. We were then informed that we would have two hours to explore, before the flight back.

The present site of the statues of Ramesses II is a huge artificial mound, containing a cave-like exhibition within. The statues were moved here to avoid being lost to the floods, after the creation of the dam. Between 1964 and 1968, the blocks were all cut, and individually numbered. They were then moved over 200 metres away from the water, and elevated to almost 70 metres. This is acknowledged as one of the greatest modern feats of engineering. It is hard to comprehend the scale of these huge structures. The four statues of Ramesses II at the entrance are so large, that just one of the toes is as big as my head. As well as this, there is the Small Temple (not that small…) with six narrower sculptures around the door. Inside, the wonder continues, with carved columns, and the UNESCO-funded exhibition, showing how the massive feat of engineering to save the site was carried out. Two hours was not really enough to appreciate everything on offer, but it was very busy, with more tourists than we had seen anywhere else previously. I took lots of photos, but made the mistake of over-compensating with the polarising filter, due to the strong sunlight. I was still using film then, and when I got the results back eventually, I was devastated to see that I had almost turned the skies black. Nonetheless, it was a completely overwhelming experience, and well-worth the additional expense of the flights, which added around £120 to the overall cost of the holiday. We flew back to Luxor, and returned to the Hilton, with only one more day left. That evening, we dined well, eating all the most expensive items on the menu, before retiring to the gardens outside, to relax in the cool of the night air.

The following morning over breakfast,we considered the options for our last day. We decided to get a horse-taxi into Luxor, and to visit the temple on our own, taking more time, unencumbered by a tour party. The feeling of having to return to England in December, cold and wet, industrial action overshadowing my job, and Christmas a few days away, was hard to shake off. We haggled over a few trinkets, bought the last souvenirs, and enjoyed our wander around the impressive monuments for the final time. We returned to the hotel to start packing, leaving out only what we would need for the evening, and the trip home. We did not get away unscathed though. My wife had a bad stomach upset during the night, which resisted all medications, and continued into the following morning. Hanging around at the airport didn’t help, as the public conveniences left a lot to be desired, and toilet paper had to be purchased from an attendant. Once on the flight home, my wife was further embarrassed by being allotted her own personal toilet, in case she had anything contagious! Even on our return to England, this condition persisted long enough for her to have to see her doctor. I had to go back to picket duty on a strike, with an unseasonal tan.

But I would go again, do it all again, because it was truly memorable. In less than two weeks, we had stepped back over three thousand years in history, and experienced somewhere totally different to anywhere that either of us had ever been. Despite the political changes in the region, and the fact that the cruises are now more popular than ever, I would urge anyone to visit this fascinating country.

The next day, we were collected for the short drive to the dock at Luxor. We had checked out of the hotel, and they had confirmed that we would be back in five days time. There were quite a few cruise ships lined up along the bank. Some were very old, and might have been plying the river at the time of Agatha Christie. One still had paddles at the sides for propulsion, but most were modern. Our boat was somewhere between the two, probably a hangover from the 1960s, with no exterior cabins like the old boats, but  it had a large open air covered deck at the rear, ideal for watching the river from. Our cabin was comfortable enough, with a double bed, private facilities, and a large window, almost at the water-line. Except for the outside spaces, air-conditioning was provided, and there was a comfortable bar and large restaurant. They had even managed to cram in a tiny shop in the reception area. Inside, the feel was suitably old-fashioned, exactly what we had hoped for.

Our bags were whisked away by friendly staff, and we were gathered to be given information about life on board. All meals would be provided, three times a day. Any extras, alcoholic drinks, extra coffee, and other drinks, would have to be paid for, naturally. But we could settle our room bill at the end of the cruise, and add gratuities if we wanted. This meant that we would not have to worry about any spending money all the time we were on board. They even gave an idea of the prices, which all seemed very reasonable. There would be a party on the last night, and we could dress up in fancy dress, with an Egyptian theme of course, if we wanted to. Any gifts or jewellery bought at the shop would have to be paid for separately, as it was a concession. Excursions would all start early, around 6.30am, because of the heat, and breakfast would be served early on those days. As it was between the busy summer season, and the even busier Christmas rush, there were only twenty-four passengers, well under half-full. Luckily, the same amount of staff would be retained, so we could be guaranteed excellent service at all times. Other than our group of sixteen, there were two small groups of Egyptian holidaymakers from Cairo. I was really happy. Not only did we have the prospect of five great days ahead, we would be spending them on a comparatively empty boat. They also explained that we would travel mostly at night, stopping early, ready to take our trips ashore. When we returned in the late afternoon, we would set off once again, heading for the next place on our itinerary. Our first day on board would start that afternoon, with the journey to our first point of call, during an early dinner.

Once the boat left Luxor, and began its slow journey to Aswan, the real magic happened. Travelling at little more than a walking pace, the feeling of stepping back in time really kicked in. At times, it felt as if the boat was standing still, and the scenery was moving past us, like the old canvas panoramas in early theatrical productions. Across the wide river, traditional feluccas, small sailing boats, carried goods, or fisherman casting nets into the water. The scene appeared unchanged for centuries, with only the modern river cruisers giving any indication of the age. The chugging of our boat engine, and the occasional smell of fuel, were the reminders that we were actually moving south. Otherwise, all was peace. Sitting on the rear deck, enjoying a cool beer, we gazed at the lush strips of fertile land lining both banks. Devoid of industry, splashes of green in a sandy backdrop made us realise why the Nile was so important to sustaining agriculture along its length. People queued for small ferries, donkeys and camels laden with crops or boxes. It could have been 1920, or even 500 BC. The sight of occasional lorries and cars on riverside roads brought us back to reality, momentarily puncturing the reverie that had set in. I could have sat there for hours on end (and I did) watching this scene unfold. I wasn’t reading a book, and only sometimes taking a photograph. Otherwise, I just experienced it. Something I had never seen or felt anywhere else. During the night, we passed through Esna Lock, a sudden burst of light and noise that jarred with the peace of the day. When we woke the next morning, we were at Edfu.

Although this is a large town on the west bank, we were only going to see one thing; The Temple Of Edfu, dedicated to the god Horus, the falcon-headed god.  This enormous structure was built from 237 BC, and was later buried under centuries of sand, prior to excavation during the 1860s. The building resembles a large fort, with a colonnaded courtyard within. The walls are covered in carved heiroglyphs, depicting various scenes, and a large statue of Horus stands at the entrance. We were told that it was lucky to touch the beak of the falcon head, so of course, we all strained to do this. I can imagine that it must be getting quite worn away by now, if this is still allowed. Like every structure of this type we saw there, it seemed appropriate to wander around on our own, feel the atmosphere, and try to imagine what it must have been like, brightly-painted, and bustling with worshippers and priests. I have heard other visitors to Egypt describe the experience as visiting lots of temples, each similar to the next, and tiring of looking at columns and sandstone walls. This was not how I saw it. I always felt as if I was privileged to get this small window into a fascinating past, and a civilisation so advanced, at a time when much of the world was undeveloped to any level.

Another peaceful cruise that afternoon, to our next port of call, Kom Ombo.

When we woke up, we could see the temple, raised above the river bank, just across from our boat. This temple is dedicated to the crocodile-headed god, Sobek. It was once destroyed by an earthquake, and damaged by Nile floods. It looks somewhat dilapidated, but impressive nonetheless, in a dominant location. Carvings inside show recognisable medical instruments, and there are some fascinating mummified crocodiles on display, once part of the worship rituals. Strange to think that they could have been there since 150 BC. There is also a carved calendar, showing the days of the ancient Egyptian month, which was explained by a guide. After the tour, we returned to the boat. We were to carry on to Aswan, where we would spend the last two days of our cruise. I was already regretting not choosing the longer cruise option, as I had completely fallen in love with this river, and the amazing sights near its banks.

Aswan is a large city, expanded in modern times and boasting a population approaching 300,000. I had not travelled to Egypt to see large cities. I had come from one of the largest, London, and sought peace and antiquity. There was little of that to be found in this bustling terminus of riverboats, tourists, and crowded markets. However, there were two good reasons to travel here; Elephantine Island, and The Temple of Philae, and we were going to see them both. It was an early start the next morning, for the drive of over sixty miles down to the islands at Philae. On arrival, a serene trip on a small felucca would take our small group to one of the two islands. The Temple buildings had been threatened with flooding after the Aswan Dam was built, and because of this, the temple was moved stone by stone, to its present location. I remember how peaceful it felt, arriving on the sailing boat, and touring the restored buildings with such a small group. On the return trip to Aswan, we stopped at an ancient quarry, where we could see rejected monoliths and carved statues still partly in the rock they had been carved from. If they cracked, or were damaged during carving, they were simply left in place. That night on the boat, they hosted the ‘theme’ party. We attended, but I have to tell you that we did not really enter into the full spirit of it, as we declined to dress in ancient Egyptian style clothing.

The next morning heralded our last night on board. We were taken across to Elephantine Island by boat, where we  decided to take the steep trip to the Aga Khan mausoleum. Unwisely, as it turned out, we agreed to pay a small fee to both go on the same camel. Jammed into a double saddle, with a hard wooden surround, we later suffered badly from being rocked back and forth for a considerable time on the back of this unfortunate animal. Days later, we still had extensive bruising from the pressure of the uncomfortable saddle. Later that evening, we ventured into the nearest market to the riverside. Aswan is known for fine quality cotton products, and we purchased a tablecloth and napkin set, with the minimum of haggling on that occasion. We watched the sun set behind Elephantine Island, with riverboats and feluccas silhouetted on the water. It was magnificent indeed. Our last night on the boat was something of an anti-climax though, as we were aching and tired from a long day, and went to bed early.

The next day, we packed after breakfast, and went to the small reception area, to settle our room bill. Despite all the extra teas and coffees, numerous beers, and some wine with dinner, our total for the whole cruise was less than £40, around £8 a day. I even got them to check it, as I thought it was not enough. They obviously thought I was complaining, and presented a meticulous drink-by-drink account. When I told them I thought it was too low, they just smiled. It must have seemed a lot of money to them. I added the difference, to make it the equivalent of £50, and considered it to be money well spent, including gratuities. We left the boat reluctantly, and I gazed enviously at the other river cruisers, still conveying tourists. The return trip by coach took just under four hours, including a short lunch break in a rather dubious roadside cafe. The distance from Luxor to Aswan was about 110 miles. It had taken four days on board, less than four hours by road. Back at the Hilton, we were surprised to get the same room we had left earlier that week. We still had a few days of our holiday left, including the much-anticipated trip to Abu Simbel.

Part Three will follow soon.


Freelance Cinematograhpher

Wonderful Cinema

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For the nth time, I wish I could put into words the thoughts burning in my mind. I feel that more than ever, I have expressed myself badly. I do not know how you could take interest in reading all these muddled thoughts.

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