Cups of tea in February: 263 (average of 9.4 per day)
Online meetings in February: 58
(average of 2.07 per day, or 2.9 per weekday - there were none at weekends. It felt like more.)
The moon as I left for a brief stroll this morning
Aeons ago (ok, in 1993), when I sat on the Environmental Health Committee of Lewes District Council (when councils still had committees), every meeting would end with an agenda item about reports of notifiable diseases and zoonoses.
There never were any. Happy days.
Cups of tea so far this February: 253
Online meetings so far this February: 58
To remind me that I am a boater. Belt on the shelf above it. Brought them home when I thought I'd be going out with the Chesterfield Trust trip boats.
Cups of tea so far this February: 226
Online meetings so far this February: 51
Bonus W - the funniest thing I've seen for months (just don't ask me why)
Having said that, I don't have many; only two in fact that are genuine souvenirs that I have bought myself. But never let it be said that I am shy about exposing my life to the view of the internet: tonight I am going to talk about all my tea towels. And even the drawer where I keep them.
In the drawer you see my two Wilko sub-Kath Kidson floral tea towels. There was a third in the set, with a pink gingham design, but I took that to Newhaven at Christmas and donated it to Jim. Other people always seem to be short of tea towels; I'm not quite sure why. Nor why other people's tea towels so often mysteriously smell of sour milk. But I digress.day we went up the tower of the featured church, and looked down upon the marketplace. Sadly, I posted about it using Blogpress, eater of photos. Nonetheless, the blog tells me that this tea towel will be ten years old in August. What excellent value that represents!day trip to Hebden Bridge in 2014.
And I would have finished there, but I remembered that I have one last souvenir tea towel, which actually does duty as the hand towel in the downstairs loo, where it complements the (genuine) BR mirror, one of my few, and probably my best, Ebay purchases. The towel also serves as a reminder of the trips I made to York whilst externalling there (I still do, but I fear my term will be up before they spring for any more trips to the Railway Museum).
Cups of tea so far this February: 198
Online meetings so far this February: 45
But not only is it a lovely object, beautifully crafted and historically significant, it also serves as a book stand on my dining table, holding my book for me to read while I eat.
Cups of tea so far this February: 190
Online meetings so far this February: 45
But not these rabbits, bearing their leafy fruit bowl. I love them as much now as when I first saw them. I love the whole object - it makes me smile - but most of all I love the depth of the colour of the green majolica glaze.
This brings with it memories, of course, of buying it from Captain Ahab at Alvecote in 2019 (it was a while before I opened it), and, thinking of the Richmond maids of honour I might yet make with it, takes me back to 2016 as well.
Cups of tea so far this February: 172
Online meetings so far this February: 43
The adverts are fascinating (and a surprising number of them feature women, unrolling the new miracle fibre glass loft insulation (yes, it's expensive at £6 to do the whole house, but so worth it to be warm!) or laying Marley flooring. This is just a random selection. (I've kept the photos relatively high-res so that you can zoom in.)
Cups of tea so far this February: 162
Online meetings so far this February: 40
Anyway, I'm frankly delighted to have found anything starting with 'O' - I thought I might just have to post about an orange pen or something.
Cups of tea so far this February: 153
Online meetings so far this February: 36
This is Little Red Monkey. Yes, if you looked at his Beanie Baby label, it would have said he was Schweetheart the orangutan, but he's been Little Red Monkey since I first picked him up in the Chemist's shop in Newhaven twenty-odd years ago, around the time I got my first full time academic job. He's been my work mascot ever since, sometimes staying at the office, but more often watching me work at home. At the moment he sits behind me and photobombs all my video meetings (except for a couple of really important serious ones, when I quietly moved him down a shelf). He featured in the online student handbook I created last summer, and one of the questions in the quiz I devised to get students to actually read the handbook was to find which page he was on. When Sebastian and I play Cards Against Humanity, we deal in Little Red Monkey, and even though his selections are random, he always wins. There's something very cheering about Little Red Monkey. I'm very fond of him.
Cups of tea so far this February: 132
Online meetings so far this February: 30
Yes, I know what you're going to say: I'm meant to be cheering you up, and yesterday we had dead kittens, today the maestro of misery. But part of the reason for this is to dispel that caricature, or at least to challenge it, as it was immediately blown apart for me when I first properly took an interest in his work.
Coincidentally - or who knows, maybe not - having never knowingly listened to a single Leonard Cohen track, I decided to investigate at just the point in my life, around fifteen years ago, when I was exactly ready to appreciate it. I bought a CD of the 1975 Best of... compilation, in an HMV shop, and put it on in the car. The opening track is Suzanne, which I had previously only known from the Neil Diamond cover (and I liked it well enough then). I was immediately, inescapably, hooked. That expression is so over-used now as not to do justice to the way it grabbed hold of me, heart and guts, and wouldn't, still hasn't, let go.
When I got out of the shower in November 2016 and heard Suzanne being played on Radio 4 at six thirty in the morning, I knew he'd died.
After that Best of... I went on to buy every other studio album that was released in the UK - I think (I haven't become an obsessive completist collector in this case; this time it really is just about the songs) - catching up over the course of a few months, and then getting the last three (but one, I notice - there, I said I wasn't obsessive), I think, as they came out. I have mislaid that original compilation, which is a shame, and have consigned Death of a Ladies' Man to the oubliette along with Scott Walker's later oeuvre (as an aside, I have never taken any illegal drugs, let alone really bad quality ones, but I have listened to twenty minutes of Tilt by way of recompense). Occasionally a track will return to haunt me because I can't quite bring myself to delete it from Amazon Music, but it isn't going to feature in any top ten.
And that is kind of the purpose of today's post. I have often wondered whether this or that track, or this or that album, is my absolute favourite, and today I am going to work my way through the lot, picking my favourite track from each album, then ranking them. There are of course, caveats: my favourite track today might not have been my favourite track five, or ten, or fifteen years ago, although in fact my preferences have remained remarkably stable. The most fitting track for any moment depends of course upon one's mood, and one's life at the time but again, I'm not sure that affects which ones I love the most. Finally, of course, it's like an election in a first past the post system - some albums contain three tracks that could be in any top ten, others none. So I'll note this as I go along. The aim, by tonight, is to have three lists: best track on each album, ranked; ten best tracks overall, and albums ranked. I'll keep coming back and updating throughout today (and maybe tomorrow). Let the Lenfest begin.
Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)
Straight away I'm seeing that it might not be that simple. I knew this album is loaded with great tracks; I thought it was going to be a difficult choice between Suzanne, Sisters of Mercy and So Long Marianne. The latter two are great tracks, and So Long Marianne was the first one that got me singing along this morning, but I was ambushed by Master Song, which I had almost overlooked. Master Song goes on what I would call my 'bitter list' (of which more later); it has a certain nastiness to it, whereas Suzanne is just beautiful and poignant. Both, however, are packed full of imagery, Master Song much more densely. You never forget that Cohen was a poet long before he was a singer. Two songs, describing, maybe, two relationships, remembered in two very different ways. Both use their verbal-visual images to conjure fragments of feelings in impressions rather than descriptions. Master Song encapsulates everything I think is great about how Cohen does this for the ambiguous and negative side of things, but I think Suzanne (which also has its elements of ambiguity) edges it because of the tune and the accompaniment, which complements the words so well in creating the sense of ... I hesitated a long time there trying out different words, and the best I have so far is ... impossibility.
Songs from a Room (1969)
If your first or only experience of Cohen was this quintessential difficult second album, you could see how he acqired a reputation for being depressing. It's not the content of the songs, but the tunes, arrangements and delivery that make this one of my least favourite albums. Bird on the Wire is one of those songs everyone has heard of, and it sounds like a dirge, and the imagery feels laboured. Story of Isaac is probably my favourite of Cohen's songs on this album, but it is very much a story (even if an allegorical one) rather than a poem. The first album was all metaphor and impression; this from the title track onwards is more simile, allegory, and (relatively) straight narrative. One song actually stands out for me, and it's the one Cohen didn't write: The Partisan.
Songs of Love and Hate (1971)
And then it's my god, what's hit me? If the last album was one of despair and hopelessness, this one reels with and revels in anger, disappointment and frustration. This is an album for playing loud and howling at the moon. Dress Rehearsal Rag and Diamonds in the Mine make it onto the bitter list, easily. We're back to songs full of images that don't make sense, but they create such pictures. I don't understand what they mean, but I know how they make me feel, and they know how I feel. Probably the best known song on here is Famous Blue Raincoat, a beautiful evocation of loss and regret and it being too late. I love it. But there's one song on this album that is one of the few on any album that makes me stop what I'm doing, turn up the volume, and stand and listen: Sing Another Song Boys. What's it about? I have no idea. But it is so powerful, so menacing, so very bitter - and also rousing and exhiliarating. I can't imagine an album like this being made today.
New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974)
The pattern repeats itself; after the tour de force of Love and Hate this feels like a makeweight. Chelsea Hotel #2 is probably the best known track; for me it's one of the few that - I was going to say 'leave a nasty taste' - well, I will say it. If you twisted my arm for my favourite tracks on here I think I'd go for Who By Fire, for its oddness, or Lover Lover Lover for its plaintive refrain, but nothing from here is going to make the top ten of tracks. The best thing about this album is its cover, which is - and this isn't saying much - the least worst of all the Leonard Cohen albums I have, despite being surprisingly rude. It was apparently censored in various ways in some countries, including the UK when it was first released, but not on my CD. I say it's the least worst because it does at least look as if a bit of effort has gone into it; it is actually an illustration, and it looks as if a tiny bit of thought has gone into the design and layout. But, if the songs are as good as most of them are, who needs a fancy cover.
Recent Songs (1979)
So passing swifly over the aforementioned Death of a Ladies' Man we come next to Recent Songs. This feels like a more grown up record (and Cohen was forty five by now), with its strings and eastern influences. It's smoother, but there's still drama, particularly in The Gypsy Wife and Ballad of the Absent Mare, and the lusher arrangement actually seems to bring out the bleakness more in my favourite track on here, The Guests. Although this is an album I enjoy listening to, I find I don't have much more to say about it.
Various Positions (1984)
Strange to say, this is another album that's quite undemanding to listen to (despite the inspiration for at least some of the tracks) and one without anything that really leaps out at you - except for the fact that it includes Hallelujah, which must be his most covered song, so others have clearly seen a lot in it. And yes, it is my favourite on this album, and yes, this is the best version I have heard, but good as the whole thing is, relatively speaking, this still constitutes a bit of a doldrums.
I'm Your Man (1988)
I this was his most popular album to date, but I wouldn't put it among my favourites. I've always liked the swooping madness of First We Take Manhattan but it's pipped by the lush valediction of Take This Waltz.
The Future (1992)
To be honest, we might as well stop here. I won't keep you in suspense. Against some stiff competition this is my favourite album, and in an even tighter race, most days Closing Time just beats Sing Another Song Boys as my overall favourite track. It's the other one I will drop everything and stop to listen to, then skip back and listen to it again. It's a serious contender for Music To Be Played At My Funeral. It's raucous, and upbeat and chockfull of regret and thwartedness (there really should be a better noun for that). Other tracks I love on this album are Waiting for the Miracle, Democracy, and the closing instrumental Tacoma Trailer which is an inspired way to finish an album which was by far his most overtly political.
And that's as many as I managed to listen to today. What this exercise has made me realise is that it is all rather miserable (and angry, disappointed, frustrated &c. ...) but none the worse for that. We need soemone to express that for us sometimes and it is still my considered opinion that no one does it better.
Cups of tea so far this February: 123
Online meetings so far this February: 30
I've raided just a couple of photo albums from our most cat-intensive period (my mother indulged in a kind of pet shop retail therapy, and this was a tough time for her. Maybe buying kittens wasn't the most terrible response. (This is another 'remember when you could' ... just walk into a pet shop and buy a kitten?). I worked out a while back that I've had over thirty cats over my lifetime, so this really is a very small sample of terrible Instamatic (and in one exciting example, Polaroid) photos.
By the way, I grew up with that carpet, so it is hardly surprising if I am slightly disturbed. As if it wasn't bad enough in itself, it was cheap foam backed carpet that stretched after being put down ('laid' would imply too great a degree of professionalism) and thus had a ridge running down the middle of the room for fifteen years. And - the greatest crime of all - we had just moved into a brand new house with teak parquet floors and they put this on the top of it.
Spare a thought also for the children living in that house in the days before effective flea control.
Cups of tea so far this February: 113
Online meetings so far this February: 30
Remember when you could walk into a pub
No, I mean, remember when you could walk into a pub and there'd be a jug of water on the bar, to pour into your whisky?previously noted, I have always been a massive fan of tonic. In later years of course there has also been the annual Alvecote gin bar, but there I always feel as if I must, somehow, be at the theatre.
I have never drunk vodka. Somehow in my mind it's only one small step up from meths. Or the stuff we put in the Origo.
Anyway, I have a few water jugs.
Cups of tea so far this February: 105
Online meetings so far this February: 30
I am very lucky to have a house, and I love my house very much. The interesting thins (well, an interesting thing) is that this is, in at least one way, the house I always dreamed of, in that it has the staircase going crossways through the middle. There were a couple of houses in Haywards Heath when I was growing up that were like that - they had their 'front' doors in the side as well, and that was the sort of house that my adult self occupied in my childhood imagination.
My house, whilst being a largish example, is in layout a classic Sheffield byelaw terrace. This is in many respects different from a Sussex byelaw terrace. If you've not come across that term, well, neither had I until I moved to Sheffield, but as you might imagine, it was a delightful discovery.
The Public Health Act of 1875 required local authorities to bring in byelaws to regulate housebuilding. It stipulated what they were to achieve, but not the detail of how they were to achieve it. So, all new houses had to be built with an outside toilet. At first this would be an earth or 'pail' closet (which will need no explaining for boaters), and there had to be access for the night soil men to empty it.
Back in Sussex, the closet would be at the bottom of the garden; the terraces would be continuous and solid, and an alleyway would run all the way along the back of them. This sort of set up is pretty common in the north as well, I think, and you can place a person by what they call the alley (gennel, jinnel, etc.) In Sussex I don't recall it having a particular name; there is such a thing as a twitten, but that is a passageway between two (high) walls.
In Sheffield, however, the closet would be adjacent to the house, and accessed from the front, via a passageway every four houses - at a minimum. This meant that gardens or yards could back directly onto one another, with shared walls. My house is essentially part of a court, a square with terraces on all four sides facing outwards, and the gardens in the middle. On my street there's a passageway every two houses, which might be because it's on such a steep slope. A great benefit of that is that the gardens can be individually fenced off, whereas it's still very common here for byelaw terraces to have shared gardens, and for access to two of every four back doors to be across the neighbour's garden.The first floor flies over the passageway (I have a couple of lovely vaulted arches holding mine up) and each house gets half the space - so I have a massive front bedroom, while my next door neighbour's bigger room was at the back, which means they now have a more spacious bathroom than me.
When it was built, this house was a classic two up, two down, with a cellar (for coal), and attic, and an outside toilet. The front door opens directly into the front room - which is another difference from down south, where a separate hallway seems the norm, even though it results in a much smaller front room. Because the front door opens direct into your best room (and often, although not in my case, straight off the street) you don't use it. These days front doors are rarely used because the space is needed for furniture (or in my case, a giant rubber plant).
At some point, I assume in the 1960s, the council bought up a lot of the houses in my street. Most of them got sold again under Right to Buy in the 80s, although one remains as a council house. It was during that period though that the council put in indoor bathrooms, subdividing the upstairs back room, and built the kitchen extensions which are known as an 'offshot' (and which everywhere else seems to be called a tunnelback, although that might by definition be two storey). They also put Veluxes in the attic and possibly rerouted the attic stairs - I haven't quite got my head around that yet.
Cups of tea so far this February: 86
Online meetings so far this February: 21
Photographing it for, probably, the first time in its fifty-year existence, I notice that when looked at in close-up, there's something a bit odd about Scotcland:
The globe is held in its plastic frame (I bet that thing must have a name) by little plastic lugs. Or it was. Very early on, the lower lug broke off. This was repaired by my father using a technique he deployed in a variety of situations:
Cups of tea so far this February: 76
Online meetings so far this February: 17