shopping

A Gig, and the astonishing price of beer

I went to see a band at Cheltenham Jazz Festival last weekend. I went on my own – on my Jack, so to speak – as my wife was holidaying with old school chums, their annual get-together.

Cheltenham is just up the road and I know it well enough to park for nothing, despite the crowds, and walk the ten minutes to the gig. Still, it felt weird going to a gig all on my lonesome, for the first time, I thought, until I remembered this is what I did when I arrived in Sydney, Aus. I found out the Opera House hosted free concerts some days and encouraged by this, I even went to a few paid events. Anyway, that was years back and it felt strange all the same.

I went to hear the relatively new Scandinavian trio, Rymden. While I’m not familiar with pianist and composer, Bugge Wesseltoft, I knew of the other two, Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström – double bass and drums, respectively – from their time in the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, or e.s.t., as they became. I had planned to see this band sometime but, sadly, Esbjörn Svensson drowned in a tragic accident whilst scuba-diving. The two remaining members went their separate ways, I thought, until I saw this gig advertised. So, there I was! It was a good gig; I enjoyed it.

Magnus Öström handled the introductions and mentioned their was a CD out, but he also said it was available on Spotify, but if you listen to it on Spotify, he joked, you have to listen to it a lot of times!

This obviously implies that certain artists get a lean deal with the streaming platforms and perhaps buying a recording is better. I have said that buying records isn’t necessary now – the ownership argument notwithstanding – as everything is usually on the internet somewhere, and CDs aren’t cheap – and vinyl is, I see, even more expensive!

It’s not like I’m paying for Spotify either – I find I can bear the ads – but now I must admit I’m feeling a bit guilty. Or am I looking for an excuse to buy?


Whilst on the subject of shelling out, do you know what the average price of a beer is in pubs and bars in the UK?

I’m here to tell you it’s £4.40 – and that is 60p more than the average Brit expects to pay! These figures are from 2018, the latest I could find, and I had to look it up as I’m one of those people who doesn’t check the price of everyday items. I’d be perfect for interviews as a Home Secretary or Minister for Food.

However, my suspicions were up at the festival bar when I saw – unless my eyes deceived me – a pint of beer costing between £5.50 and £6.00, depending on brand. The daft thing is that Cheltenham isn’t a remote festival where you are a captive audience. It is slap bang in town, surrounded by numerous pubs and bars. They were even serving it up in plastic “glasses”. There are some things beyond the pale.

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Official: I am not middle class

Here’s a bit of fun from the Daily Mirror. How “Posh” are you?

Well, I didn’t think being middle class was posh, more aspiring posh, I think. However, an expert in etiquette, William Hanson, claims there are 16 tell-tale household possessions which can determine how middle class you are.

And, surprisingly, I score a fat zero.

Okay, hands up, I have owned one or two in the past but, of this precise moment, I don’t. Here they are, listed in order of popularity,

Smart TV. I have thought about it but telly is a bit crap, so I’m putting it off.

Dyson Vacuum Cleaner. Have had two in the past. Expensive crap, both fell apart. Bought German design instead.

Barbecue. No, much prefer proper cooking.

Vinyl Record Collection. Gone to charity.

iMac Computers. Never considered it. Does an iPad count?

Nutribullet. Have teeth, prefer chewing.

Samsonite Wheelie Suitcase. What’s wrong with a couple of carrier bags?

Wood Burning Stove. Previously had one a couple of houses ago. With the state of the world, might need one again soon.

Spiralizer. What the hell is that? Sounds like the name of a 90’s Indie band.

Mulberry Bags. What, like for carrying your mulberries home in? What?

Matching Coasters. The coffee cup marks on the table provide evidence to the contrary.

Boiling Water Taps. Had these at work once. Don’t actually boil water. Horrible tasting tea.

Hot Tub. I very much doubt this is in any way “posh” but, nope, just wouldn’t.

Aga Cooker. Have used one before but – see same for barbecue above.

Smeg Fridge. Sounds obscene: something they store samples in at a sperm bank, perhaps? A fridge is a fridge, isn’t it?

Brompton Folding Bicycle. Never had a car I couldn’t easily throw an ordinary bike into, so, no thanks.

Ha, what larks! Are you middle-class? Want to be? Buy all of the above.


You are posh if you own one of these 16 items says etiquette expert (Daily Mirror)

If Our Books Disappear

As a Kindle shopper, I hadn’t been aware of the fate of Microsoft’s ebook store. Apparently, the company have decided to pull the plug on it due to its lack of profitability. If and when this happens, any books purchased through this shop will disappear. It’ll be like a virtual book burning session and there’s nothing those customers can do.

It’s worth some consideration, if you’re an ebook buyer, or whether you buy any virtual product, that what you are actually buying is not an object to own, in perpetuity, but a licence or permit to use that thing, maybe for an unspecified period. As long as you know this, I can’t see much wrong with it; you pay your money and you take your choice.

In the UK, at least, ownership of anything and everything is a relatively new social concept. I remember as a small boy, almost everyone rented their TV and music systems, a lot of household stuff was on hire-purchase (colloquially referred to as the never never because you paid but never owned it). My parents were the first in our extended family to own their home – through a 25 year mortgage deal, mind – and everyone thought they were odd, or even mad. Renting and hiring was the norm.

Getting back to books – and thinking about music, too – there is this idea of owning a collection, something which I had mindlessly fallen into as well. I think the craziness of it first surfaced when a colleague explained how he had fallen out with his partner after commandeering the second bedroom of their small, two-bed apartment and had installed wall to wall, floor to ceiling shelving to house his record collection. He had amassed many thousands, apparently. I asked if he actually listened to them all regularly and he said, of course! I doubted that: knowing my own habits and then doing the maths, there hardly seemed enough hours left in a lifetime to indulge in that level of listening, and that supposes that we won’t be seduced by any later offerings by artists and the industry.

It’s exactly so with books but worse. Reading a book is a lot more demanding, intensive and time consuming than listening to a record. While a favourite album might be on repeat playlist for a year, how many books do we return to that often? Of all the books I have reread, probably fewer than six had retained the impression of the first read. Quite a number had felt diminished, knowing the plot, the characters and the ideas within.

Not wishing to decorate my home with expansive shelves of records and books – I much prefer paintings and other images; and space! Let’s hear it for a clutter free existence – we found most of our unread books and unheard music had been confined to packing boxes under the beds or in closets, out of sight, out of mind. We took the step to cull most of it, offering them to charity shops and other collectors, keeping back a small number which we considered having special qualities, but even these rarely get looked at or listened to.

With music, it’s more convenient to pick something from an online platform, I never feel I have to own it to enjoy it. With books, I often find good literature on offer for less than a couple of quid each. There seems to be no end to these offers and I am in danger of collecting a virtual library of more books than I have time left to read. I’m not expecting it to disappear before I do but if it does, I think I’ve had my money’s worth. Owning stuff is not so important to me now, as long as I have access to books, music and art some other way, that’s fine. I understand the deal.


When this ebook store closes, your books disappear too (BBC News)

We went for a tall boy and returned with a frame

I am aware of a new thing – furniture banks.

Trying to fit your old things into a new home can be like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle with pieces from a different set. In our old house, I had built a wardrobe across the width of the bedroom at its far end. In our new house, we have only a small cupboard and so, as a stop gap, we googled places were we might pick up a cheap chest of drawers, ideally a “tall boy”.

A tall boy is a chest of drawers with a small footprint, usually about five to seven drawers, ideal for a spare corner of the room.

We found there was a furniture bank in a town nearby. This is a charity organisation which takes in good unwanted furniture, makes repairs and offers them to folk setting up home but unable to afford furniture. This is a great scheme but like all ventures, it needs funding – warehouse, workshop, tools, vans etc. – so the funding is acquired by selecting special pieces deemed “unsuitable” for their clients and offering these for sale to the general public.

So, we set off for the shop to see if they have a tall boy. They didn’t but it was interesting to see what they did have. Had I been in the “antiques” business, I would have been in my element. Or a curator for a furniture museum, there were pieces from all decades of style. I checked out a couple of dressing tables with drawers on both ends with a view to reconstructing it as a tall boy but, in all honesty, I don’t have the time; it would defeat the purpose of finding a stop gap in the first place.

Hanging in the entrance to the vast warehouse was a framed print with a price tag of £15, discounted to £12.50 for the week. The picture was jolly in its way but the frame was a beautiful thing. I’m not good at identifying timber; it may be cherry or a type of mahogany, I really don’t know – maybe someone knowledgable can help. In the sunlight, it glowed a warm russet hue. With the glass front and a sound backing – even a good hanging cord – it was a snip. Needless to say, I bought it.

Obviously, I had to check on the print. It was a French street scene in the naive style by a French painter, Michel Delacroix. Sadly, no apparent relation to the famous Eugene Delacroix. According to his biography, he was born in 1933 and although producing work fairly prolifically in this century, his signature theme is Paris during the nazi occupation. Possibly, I think, slightly before the occupation as I can’t see any evidence of it in his paintings.

It’s quite jolly, it reminds me of L.S. Lowry’s Salford street scenes. It’s the sort of thing which should hang in doctors’ surgery waiting rooms. I am in two minds what to do with it. There’s no rush until I find an alternative subject for its frame but I think it may end up in the paper recycling bin.


image: “Fête Forain” by Michel Delacroix (click on pic to embiggen)

Bakery Fakery

Amongst my news feed is a finding that from 19 supermarket loaves marketed as “sourdough”, only 4 were identified as genuine. The rest contained yeast which, as anyone who knows sourdough, is like putting feathers on a pig and calling it chicken.

But is anyone surprised about the loaf fakery? To be honest, if a loaf looks good, feels good and proves to be tasty, they can call it what they like as far as I’m concerned. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and when they said, once you’ve tried sourdough, there’s no going back, they were wrong. As fabulous as sourdough is, and it is, variety still remains the spice of life and other breads are just as exciting.

So, yes, a slap on the wrists of all those naughty, cynical supermarkets but come on people, teach yourselves discernment.

Thinking about it, bread is probably my favourite food of all time. You know those restaurants which give you a basket of bread samples while you wait for your order. With luck, there might be sun-dried tomato bread, some bread infused with herby flavours, or seeded bread and even fruity breads. I eat the lot. When the waiter comes for the order, I sometimes feel like saying, forget the starters, just bring me another plate of those fine breads, my good fellow! (because that’s how we speak in England, in restaurants, don’t you know?)

Thinking some more, I used to have a go at baking my own. Maybe I ought to get back into that too.


image by Helena Yankovska via Unsplash.com

The Great British Fake-off

Old Fart Lek Redux

After what I posted previously about joggers, I’m going to eat my words. With time on my hands now, I thought I might try running again. This idea came after reading an article aimed at runners in different age groups and advice on running shoes.

The last pair of running shoes I bought weren’t that brilliant, since relegated to gardening shoes, but the pair before those were a dream, so I’ve been a bit cagey about shelling out for new ones, and I don’t like wearing trainers as everyday shoes. The article recommended a company called Brook’s which allows a 30 day trial with a full refund if not satisfied. So I did something which I wouldn’t do normally with shoes – I bought them unseen, online.

Well, I did see an online picture, for what it was worth. There’s a funny little questionnaire to go through before they recommend one of their products. This involves peculiarities like balancing on one foot, putting a hand between your knees and squatting down, and watching your toes whilst walking to notice whether they point out, or in, or move straight ahead. Then it basically asks you in seven further questions,

What are you trying to achieve?

I like these guys! As you can see from the photo, the shoes for me are the Cascadia 13. Just two days shipping from Germany, I’m already impressed. Trying them on, I was worried they felt a bit snug – I have wide feet – but, hey, 30 days satisfaction guaranteed, what’s to lose? On and out the door.

On the track, the snugness didn’t seem obvious. Not as obvious as my out-of-condition body. It was tough going. Wheeze. Then I remembered that the joys of running come at the end, when the feelgood hormones rise within you and you’re having a refreshing shower. It’s probably called the smug factor. Me, run? Yes, of course. Don’t you?

Anyway, I guess they’re not getting their shoes back now, or for a while at least. I don’t usually do endorsements and so I won’t be providing a link.

I have a theme…

I’m doing a little speculative shopping on WordPress and it’s as bad as real life shopping. I know what the trouble is: I know precisely what I want and it’s not out there.

The worst thing, I know to my cost, is going shopping for a particular thing, knowing beforehand exactly what you want. 99 times in 100, it won’t exist. It’s utterly, utterly pointless setting forth with your hard-earned, expecting to track down, say, a new blouson jacket, in deep burgundy, with straight hem cuffs not elasticated, a trim, upright one-inch collar, and an inside zipped pocket for a wallet. Simply doesn’t exist. Only in your imagination, dumb dumb. You won’t even come close.

You read about my current problem finding shoes? Like I was after gilded slippers with diamond crusted soles, not ordinary (and classic) unadorned derby style shoes with laces. I cannot believe they can’t be had right now.

I remember the Rolling Stones drummer, Charlie Watts, in an interview about Jazz, saying he went out to look for a pale green dress shirt after the one worn by Miles Davis on the sleeve of his Milestones album. A simple plain green shirt. He scoured the whole of the West End, high street and back street, before finding what he wanted. How difficult could it be? I tried the same around 2010. I didn’t find a single green dress shirt. It was a pity, green is my colour.

So right now I’m looking at “Themes” in the WordPress shop. I know exactly what I want and it’s not there. I wish now that I’d kept up with my html/css coding lessons from an online tutorial. That’s not there now either, and it’s been so long so no point thinking I can just code my own blog. Like all good things, nothing lasts. Or just never existed in the first place.


Why am I looking at themes? I’m thinking of upgrading to a personal plan but before I pay, I’d like to combine my two blogs into one and make it look okay.

Audio

I hate shopping, even when I’m quite excited about the product. I’ve been considering replacing a pair of worn out speakers with one or two of those Wi-Fi jobs. The thinking is to rip the CD collection and with all the extra digital media I have, chuck it onto a NAS drive plugged into the Wi-Fi router. To tidy up the place. I am a minimalist at heart.

So I found myself browsing the audio section of an out-of-town Department Store the other day, where most of the speakers are powered and connected, ready to try. There were six options, songs with which to test the quality of speaker with. Unsurprisingly, none that I would normally listen to through choice. From memory, there was hip-hop, indie rock, indie folk, electronica, and something they called R&B which isn’t. It was Rag and Bone Man and the best approximation would be soul-rock crossover. Actually, I remember Rag and Bone men usually sang out Neeee-awl-iron, or alternatively, Raaaaaaaaaa-bow! But I let this pass.

Now I thought hearing diminished with age but no matter which channel I selected, the thing assaulted my ears with drum splitting intensity. Customers over in soft furnishings were looking alarmingly concerned. I swear shoppers in M&S Food Store, next door, had begun banging on the wall. Even the expected audio sanctuary of Indie-folk was made to sound like Motorhead.

Turning it down was no help. The next channel was just as loud, and going back to the one I’d just turned down, I found that the preset level had readjusted it to its previous hyper pain busting threshold.

Satisfied that volume wasn’t going to be an issue, I sidled away, noticing on a table to my left, a trial pair of Oculus goggles. Well, after the sonic assault, no way was I going to sample these. What would I experience? Being torn to shreds by a wild pack of Bengali tigers, or facing up to a Malaysian machine gun firing squad, I dare to wonder.

I left via the Kitchen Dept. where an assistant was demonstrating cook’s knives by frenziedly stabbing the spaces between a customers splayed out fingers.

Thinking about…

Indie Shops

My Twitter feed also informs me about #recordstoreday.

Despite there being just 365 days available, odd folk in strange committees can’t be dissuaded from assigning a special day for everything conceivable under the sun. Or so it seems.

(okay, they redeem themselves a little with the upcoming Star Wars Day, May the 4th.)

By “record store”, I’m assuming they mean so-called “indies”. Indies, we are shaped to think of as the contemporary Davids of commerce, standing in defiance of the chain Goliaths, those Philistines of the high street hell-bent on plundering our hard-earnt, in exchange for inferior services. I’m not so sure…

Of course, I’m no expert in any of this and all I’m about to say is just based on my experience as a shopper over the years, something I can’t say on balance I’ve enjoyed too much. But needs must.

Independent traders (actually, I have been one of these, albeit for a relatively short time in the past). Their priorities are, in order; profit, product, customer. I mean, it would be foolish to enter business if not to make money; independents usually care profoundly about the product they sell (think records or books, two good instances); the customer, well, they can be a bit of a nuisance can’t they, but where else is the money to come from?

Big retailers. Their priorities, in order, look more like; profit, customer, product. Profit first, obviously, but the love of product isn’t anywhere near as evident as the love of profit, so the customer, the source of all profit making sales, naturally comes second.

Not convinced? All I know is the many times I’ve returned goods, for good reasons, I’ve nearly always had a better experience with the big boys than the independents. It’s not that they like you, any more than the indie does. It’s because they’re not precious about the product, and so much so that they’re blind to business being essentially about numbers. The more, the more, the more…..etc.

The customer is always right and the no-quibble guarantee. Maybe a day for such as these.