4 Jun 2017


That's Finnish for the great crested grebe. I've hardly ever seen these birds, in my whole lifetime, but a few days ago I saw this pair only a short distance from my house. You see, I've taken to doing a short daily walk, just for a breath of fresh air really, because I realised I was spending too many days hardly going outside at all. Until I get back into a proper cycling habit, this is unhealthy. This walk couldn't be more local. Just a few metres outside my house, there's a route going up through my nearest new housing estate (a lot of these in my area), which used to be fairly wild but also scraggy and not very attractive to be honest, so I don't really mind these new houses. Especially when a few metres further on, they've preserved another shady and quite pretty path up through the trees next to a stream. The only downside of that is that it's muddy after rain. At the top of the hill, next to a few new industrial buildings and a service area which includes a MacDonalds, is a medium sized pond. Normally you only see ducks, just mallards to be specific. But then there were these. So I began to take my camera with me.

Yes, I was excited to see the bird, because although the walk is a pleasant half hour or so, it now had special purpose. They're beautiful birds, with a striking crest as the English name suggests; and as the Finnish name suggests - silk grebe - a kind of delicacy which you don't get in ducks. I haven't spotted anyone else taking an interest in them, which is probably good; but maybe unless you know about birds you just think they're another kind of duck.

They do behave differently from ducks. Ducks will often come towards you, expecting to be fed. But these grebes, if you wander along the pondside path nearer them, will drift away towards the middle.  They keep themselves to themselves and don't interact with the ducks. Or coots and moorhens, which you can also spot on the pond. The second picture is much like my first view of them, obviously a male and female pair. Since it's the time of year it is, it was only natural to wonder if there was a nest somewhere.

I've cropped these pictures carefully, and maybe I shouldn't have, because I can't emphasise enough how close the pond is to not only that MacDonalds, but a new housing estate, the busy A59 dual carriageway, and a building site. Worse, there is a path going right round the pond, and it's used by dog walkers - and kids, this half term week. Loath though I am to compliment MacDonalds, I have to mention that some very necessary waste bins have been installed around the pond as well as around the whole service area, and paid for my MacDonalds it seems. If only they were properly used.

And so a couple of days ago I saw the nest, with one of the birds sitting on it. It's at the far end of the pond, but only a few metres from the path and really not very concealed at all. I've been crossing my fingers but the prospects for their efforts aren't promising. Apart from the general location, and the presence of dogs and humans, I've seen herons here, and much more threateningly, seagulls, including the dreaded and highly predatory black backed gulls. Of the lesser variety. I saw one of those turn up shortly after I took this picture below.

The next day, the nest was empty and I didn't see the birds. It's bad being habitually pessimistic but this story did seem to have an unfortunate ending. I mean, the grebes have to my mind a very unwise habit, of swimming away from the nest, if danger approaches. I can see the idea behind that tactic, but it's not the best when the egg is bright white and not hidden in any way. Anyway, I'm pleased and very surprised to report that one of them was around yesterday, and on the nest! And when it saw me, it duly swam away, and there, I think, was an egg; I'll keep my distance from now on, while there's any chance of nesting success, crossing all the body parts I can cross. Any good news, I'll add it here. If I don't add anything, you'll know how the story ended.

21 Mar 2017


So, I sometimes find I bring interesting things back from a trip. This particular lot is a nicely eclectic collection, even more noteworthy because of the industrial action at Helsinki-Vantaa airport which forced me to take only carry-on luggage. And I'd paid extra to check it in. The original plan, as per normal for trips to Finland, was to fill another bag with sweets and stuff for the suomikoulu to sell from the school's shop. Frustrating. I threw a lot of things out in my room at Hotel Helka the day before the flight. On top of the nearly finished toothpaste, shaving gel and shampoo, out went a variety of oddments like nail clippers and assorted foodstuffs. Unimportant, but wasteful.

Here's the Finnish cultural loot from my March 2017 trip. You might want to click on the picture to embiggen it. Somehow, I gathered rather more than I'd expected. You'll quickly spot the biggest challenge as far as the cabin bag is concerned. That's right, an actual vinyl lp. Although I did get a new record deck a while ago, because I didn't want to get rid of my lp collection, I never imagined I'd ever actually buy a new lp. It's Adrian by The Hearing, which is Ringa out of Pintandwefall - that's her in the pic - who I saw singing Life On Mars at that David Bowie tribute concert last year. I have her first album, Dorian, a cd, so I thought, why not ask about the new one (the title is almost an anagram, isn't it? Makes one speculate what she'll call her next album, mixing up the letters...) ?  I was told at Record Shop X that it was only available as an lp, and there was a copy in their Hakaniemi branch. So the next morning I walked up there, which was pleasant anyway, and also I knew that the indoor market there is one of the better ones and I could have a nice simple lunch. The mission was duly accomplished, but then I had to face up to packing. Well, the disk did fit, barely. Would it survive the inevitable process of squashing, and then transport? Yes it would, it did, and I can tell you that while it might not be earth shattering the record is a very nice one and I will play it again a few times. Its saviour is visible in the picture, the Sillage BD (ask a French person)(yes - it's translated from French to Finnish) which I packed right next to it and kept it flat.

For what it's worth, even a Finnish person would find all of these things a bit obscure, except for the Sonata Arctica cd, their latest, The Ninth Hour. And while I like that band - I've seen them twice - and I don't mind the purchase, creatively it was the least interesting. It definitely has their 'sound' - you'd easily recognise them as the authors - there are no really strong new songs, it feels like they're just noodling, really. Mira Luoti I kinda like as previously the 'rockier' one from out of PMMP, and it's not a bad effort. And in Finnish, so it'll definitely get more play, in my car on the way to school. The CD-R is a Mokoma album, run off for me by Paul on this trip. They're one of his favourite bands so I was intrigued to sample them. I need to listen more - not my usual thing, but my impression was of proper quality metal. Last, and definitely not least, see Red and Blue Baby by the totally estimable Pintandwefall. I picked this up in Record Shop X in Kuopio, and the girl there turned out to be as familiar with them as I was, and she memorably said, 'This was certainly a surprise' regarding how long it's been since the band did anything much. My guess is that some of them have been having a 'family break', so to speak. The record's great. I will play it a lot.

The books! Ah, well I've been looking for the little red one for several trips now. I first wandered into the Akateeminen Kirjakauppa, the huge bookshop next to Stockmann, used to be part of it but no longer, and which has been a little disappointing since. Without much hope of finding Datura; but I did spot a new edition of Antoine de St. Exupéry's first book, Courrier Sud - that's roughly what Postilento etelään means. I think it dates back to the 1920's, and I can't think why it's suddenly been translated now, it seems so random. But I have a small collection of his books, in French as well as English, and it appeals to me to read this one - it's only short - in triplicate, in three languages all at once :) He's one of the greats by the way, his prose is very poetic at times. He's best known for The Little Prince. I latched on to him way back, when my aunt told me that he was my uncle's favourite writer. My uncle was in the Fleet Air Arm and died when the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious was sunk off Norway in 1940.

Datura is by the highly regarded writer Leena Krohn, whose thing is a kind of alternative realism or verging into fantasy... I'll get back to you on that. I have it in English, it's not too long, and I thought it would also be good to read in parallel with the original Finnish. But I could not find it anywhere, and I tried in bookshops in Helsinki and elsewhere, and online. This time, the penny dropped. It's out of print, and what I should have been doing is going into those second hand bookshops I've been walking by and ignoring all this time, and inquiring. I found it at the second time of asking, and it's in good condition. A very good score indeed, I felt a whole lot better from the cold I'd been suffering from after that.

Last but not least - Myydään 3h + k. Which is: For sale 3 rooms + kitchen. It's not the thing itself because it's only the programme, but definitely part of my cultural loot. I knew Maarit from the Liverpool School was in Helsinki visiting her sister the last weekend I was there; she got in touch and asked if I wanted to go to a play. It wouldn't have crossed my mind, by myself, but this was a good choice and worked out very well. It wasn't far away and I met them in front of the Aleksanterin teatteri, it was a very cold night... The play was something not unlike what you might see in standard rep theatre back home, a story of a couple clearing the female partner's mother's house, with all the memories, partly supplied by the mother who actually appears. I realised she wasn't a ghost, she's a memory, there for her daughter to talk to, and the others can't see her. There are various little twists as things are found, but it wasn't complicated. I'd be lying if I said I followed much of the Finnish, but I did roughly get the gist, and it was well performed, and there were some laughs, despite the rather ominous (knowing the Finns) title of 'tragicomedy'. It certainly helped to go with people who could fill in the gaps during breaks! I don't think theatre going in Finland will become a habit, but I'm glad I did it.

This was the first time I've had to push my carry on case into that sizing container they have at the airport. The case is an old one, and not as big as it could be in terms of volume, but unfortunately it does push out in one dimension even though it's short in others. And there are broken bearings in the trundling wheels, which makes me a noisy traveller at the airport. But I've come to the conclusion that an airport is the kind of place where it's a waste of time feeling shame about any aspect of your appearance.

17 Feb 2017

Bands Seen More Than Once

This relates to something pleasingly odd which happened last week, but bear with me for the moment.

Right - Ikara Colt in Preston, 2004

Like you and most people, I've seen some music acts more than once. I don't go to concerts so much now. Gigs. But I'd never rule out further outings. The melancholy truth is that it's less a matter of age, than that most acts have a short shelf life. At least two acts I saw quite a bit of were very open about it, saying things like, 'People shouldn't be playing rock music after 30' (That, frankly, is nonsense) or 'Five years and that's it'. I did a list some time ago on my old website, and this is how it totted up, by the end of the 2000s, with a few extras achieved since.

  • Ikara Colt      9 times, 2003-2004
  • The Raveonettes      5 times, 2003-2007
  • Sahara Hotnights      4 times, 2003
  • The Washdown      3 times, 2003
  • Jeff Beck      2 times, a few years apart
  • Bitch Alert      2 times one summer (sort of responsible for the whole Finnish thing)
  • The Duke Spirit      2 times
  • Tori Amos      2 times
  • The Kinks      2 times, in the 1980s
  • The Tubes      2 times, about twenty years after their 'prime time'...
  • Erja Lyytinen      2 times
  • Nightwish      2 times
  • Sonata Arctica      2 times, in Manchester and in Finland
  • Ringa Manner      2 times, once in Pintandwefall, once last year as The Hearing
  • Curved Air      2 times, over 40 years apart, which is some kind of extreme record

Yes, Ikara Colt was totally up my alley. Let me quote myself: 
I hadn't heard of this band before seeing them on that Sahara Hotnights tour in 2003. They had a five year lifespan, and it was already halfway through. Their early performances were legendary, spiky and provocative affairs; even when I latched on to them they still had a tendency to face up to difficult audiences, especially their lead singer Paul Resende. They came out of art school, and some might have thought this a variety of performance art; but I think it was down to the fact that so often they were supporting acts with an inbuilt constituency quite different from themselves. I mean, touring with Amen, they were never going to get an easy ride from their fans, were they? Frankly, what Ikara Colt was doing was so different - people generally called it 'art punk', if that makes any sense - they weren't an obvious fit with anyone else. But my suspicion was the band liked it that way. I miss them a lot; but have to agree that they were just about done when they did split. It was a few weeks after drummer Dom decided to quit. He was very much a distinctive part of the band's sound, so that was pretty much that. Two very individual albums, Chat and Business and Modern Apprentice, and a history of lively gigs which I am very glad to have seen some of.
There it is. I was very assiduous about going to see them if they were anywhere in the North West, because I could sense it wasn't going to last long, they just didn't fit into any neat category. I was into most of the other bands on the list, though some were collateral attendances, so to speak, eg. The Washdown. I'd happily go and see some of those bands again who are still active, especially eg. Jeff Beck, Sonata Arctica, and Pintandwefall, who I'm going to narrowly miss next week in Finland :(

So, last week. Last Wednesday I went down to the Cotswolds for my godfather's memorial service. I had only met him a couple of times; he and my Dad were in the same regiment, but as is so typical with Army life, their paths diverged and I only met him at all after my Mum died. So, I went down wanting to find out more about him, and also I guessed there'd be a few people there who might recall our parents.
Tony Hymas, on the left, with Jeff Beck and Terry Bozzio
And all that was so, and I'm glad I made the trip. It did require some application; I had some shirts ironed, and my black suit saw the light of day for the first time for some years. You should appreciate the kind of area I'm talking about, not just well to do, but an old school upper middle class England which has almost vanished. It's been a long time since I sang in church, 'He who would valiant be...' Anyway, I was glancing down the service sheet, and it happened to mention the vicar etc. And who do you think was the organist? A certain Tony Hymas; this was a familar name. I sought out the vicar, and yes indeed he had had a career as a rock musician. He was the keyboardist with Jeff Beck at the first of those concerts mentioned above.

I like this. I'm not sure it really entitles me to list him separately, but it tickles me to be able to say I've attended two gigs by him. After a fashion!