Saturday 23 January 2010

Bedding Plants For Sale - Slight Sawdust Damage...

Southend Council no doubt have a similar outlook to yours... their rule of thumb seems to be ignore what the local residents want (you know, us plebs that pay the Council Tax), and do the things that they don't want.

The latest tragic example of this is the commencement of 15 months of work converting the main roundabout into town (Victoria Circus) into yet more concrete and a traffic light system (at a cost of a mere £25 million!!!!). The current roundabout is nothing special, but it's been there for almost 50 years and does the job - allowing traffic to flow reasonably well in and out of town. But what IS special (erm, make that 'WAS' special) were the 100 year old trees that this huge traffic island was originally constructed around back in the early 1960's.

As luck would have it, I took this photo of the roundabout on Thursday 7th January. Obviously I took the picture just to capture the snowfall, I had no idea of what was about to happen...

Coming in to work on Monday 11th January I was shocked to see the decimated roundabout. All but one of the trees had been cut down, and all the plant beds dug up... the aftermath looked like a World War I battlefield. The council had made no notification that this work was to commence (no doubt intentionally), and a local group of protesters even had a meeting booked with the council on Tuesday 12th to discuss if there was any way the trees could be incorporated into the new development. The council agreed to meet the protesters... then cut the lot down on Sunday 10th.

Here's the same view less than a week after my first photo...

I am however delighted to see the townsfolk rising up to display their disgust at this needless expenditure and destruction of such distinguished trees, as ever since, the railings at the side of the roundabout have turned into an 'RIP' shrine.... It's much like you see on the roads these days at the scene of a tragic accident, however a closer inspection of the cards, flowers and wreaths shows that the deceased they are paying their respects to are none other than the 22 culled trees! Also great to see that the art of sarcasm is alive and well in Southend... In amongst the tributes are 3 lovely bogus ads:



and my personal favourite:


I do hope that the phone numbers attached to these ads weren't all direct lines to the decision makers over at the Council...

I brought my camera in just too late... hours before I took these photos there were dozens of floral tributes, cards and messages on and around the railings. The council had removed the whole lot by the time I went out to lunch, and all that remained were these few messages. 30 minutes later as I returned from lunch, all of these had been removed too!!!! If only the council were this diligent and efficient during our month of scandalously icy roads and pavements... maybe my 78 year old dad wouldn't have fallen over in the treacherous conditions, and perhaps his Christmas wouldn't have been ruined.

The council of course will take no notice of the locals and their show of disgust... we only live here for goodness sake, why would we be interested in what happens to our town? But I'm pleased that people feel strongly enough to make their point.

And what IS the point of digging up the roundabout anyway?? John Lamb (our Tory councillor responsible for tourism and regeneration) said "the works will help boost trade and tourism in the town"... I can hear the tills ringing with anticipation already John, nothing like a new set of traffic lights to get peoples wallets out... Anna Waite (Southend Councils executive councillor for transport and planning) said "we are extremal proud of this scheme, which will transform the entrance to Southend Town Centre"... bloody hell Anna, I thought we were in a recession love?! You couldn't quite manage to scrape up a few quid to get some grit out on the roads (which in turn meant I risked my life every morning travelling to work and you didn't collect my rubbish for nearly THREE weeks), but you can find £25 million to "transform the entrance to Southend Town Centre"??! Great... at least people will now have to wait until they get through the "entrance" before they realise the town is a shit-hole these days.... The blame for which I also lay at the feet of this council after years of neglect. The once thriving 'office' area of Southend is now 90% vacant derelict buildings, the shopping centre is full of empty shops, and the whole place is grubby and depressing.

Yet the one asset that Southend has that might (just might) bring in a few tourists, we've been waiting THIRTY FOUR years for you to mend!!! Yes, the pier-head of the longest pier in the world (1.3 miles) was all but destroyed by fire in 1976, with further fires in 1995 and 2005... and we are STILL waiting for Southend council to repair it!

I don't know anyone who thinks that this £25 million pound development is wanted or needed.... and to my mind, the introduction of a weedy set of traffic lights at such an incredibly busy junction seems woefully naive.

Oh, and just one final thing.... either side of the roundabout the council have hastily erected two lovely hoardings showing an 'artists impression' of what this fabulous improvement will look like. I had to do a double take, as surely I'd made a mistake, but no, quite clearly there it was in the exact position where the roundabout currently sits.... guess what?? yup that's right, a dozen or so trees... Wankers.


Tuesday 19 January 2010

The Best of 2009

The last couple of January's I've blogged my 'best albums' of the previous year. This year I'm doing it slightly different and it also ties in with the 'annual Christmas lads meet up' (oh ok, piss up!)... and what a great turn out this year I might add, as well as the regular 'locals' we managed to get Paul T down from London, John F down from Brighton and Terry H down from Leicester! Top work!

Each year this event has some sort of theme (don't ask me why, I can't actually remember anymore!! It just does OK!), we've had top ten films, desert island discs, top 10 debut albums etc etc. This year, E. F Rice hit on the genius idea that we all create a CD made up of your favourite tunes from the last 12 months, burn enough copies for everyone and then dish em out. The rules were simple, all of the tracks had to either:

a) be taken from an album released in 2009; or

b) from an album you bought in 2009

Either way, the CD was to contain songs that had shaped 2009 for you. I was pleased with part 'b' of the rules, as at my age, I seem to be delving more and more into the back catalogue. It also meant I was able to bend the rules slightly and apply them to albums I already owned pre-2009, but for one reason or another, purchased again during the last year... thus every single Beatles album was in contention, as were the double CD re-releases of the Damned's late 1980's albums. Banned though was adding a track from an album purchased prior to 2009... no matter how much you may have listened to it recently!! The final part of the rules was a ban on track-listings... initially at least. The idea was to avoid any preconceptions and fast forwarding of tracks you'd already made up your mind on before hearing! So here is the run-down of Pileys Spicy New Year Revolutions 2009!

1. Marc Almond - Day And Night
Taken from 'Orpheus In Exile - The Songs Of Vadim Kozin' (released September 2009)

Marc released his second album of Russian folk songs last year (the first being 2003's 'Heart On Snow'), and just like the first one it's a real treat. His intense style of performance suits these songs perfectly... they could almost have been written especially for him! The orchestration and production is just stunning. 'Day and Night' is set to a unwilting marching tempo, and captures the excruciating hell of being in the Russian army....

2. Lady GaGa - Again Again
Taken from 'The Fame' (released January 2009)

Yes really! I warmed to the bonkers one over the year and in particular found the coverage of her Glastonbury performance extremely entertaining. The biggest shock was discovering that this gal can actually sing too! 'The Fame' is a cracking little album with more of a nod to electro-glam and Bowie than you might initially expect. This little gem is tucked away right at the end of the album (if you're lucky... it doesn't even appear on some re-issues) but beats everything else on there for my money.

3 Martin Gordon - Interesting Times
Taken from 'Time Gentlemen Please!' (released July 2009)

I think my love of this album has been pretty well documented on the blog already (check out the Dec 09 archives if you missed it!). Insanely catchy, intelligent tunes, that deserve far more exposure than they probably get.

4 Jace Everett – Bad Things
Taken from 'Jace Everett' (released March 2006)

2009 was the year of the vampire series True Blood. I loved everything about it, and that included the gloriously trashy country\rockabilly twang of the theme tune. I googled it immediately, and by the 3rd episode I had this album! It's OK, although there's nothing else on there to match this. Just love the subtle organ sound that's in there too.

5 Seasick Steve - Never Go West
Taken from 'Man From Another Time' (released October 2009)

This guy has grown on me over the last 2 or 3 years. I always thought he sounded OK, but nothing particularly revolutionary or different. This new album has a polish to it that is not on any of the previous ones, and it benefits tremendously from it.

6 The Caper Story - I Wish I Did
Bit of a cheat this one, as The Caper Story don't actually have a record deal. However, based on the demo of theirs I was passed during the last year, it won't be too long before they have one! I Wish I Did is the band at their psychedelic, Mod-tastic best!

7 Martin Gordon - You Can't See Me
Taken from 'Time Gentlemen Please!' (released July 2009)

Martin Gordon in Pink Floyd shocker!! Amazing song! See number 3 above!

8 Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Zero
Taken from 'It's Blitz' (released April 2009)

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs just get better and better. The first two albums are both belters, but this is their best yet. There is a maturity to the sound of this one, and Karen O's vocals are just incredible!

9 The Rolling Stones – Rough Justice
Taken from 'A Bigger Bang' (released September 2005)

I was on a right royal Stones buzz back in September and October of 2009. So much so that I finally caved in on my 20 year old policy to stop buying their albums after Steel Wheels in 1989. A trawl round Amazon 'new and used' enabled me to pick up the last 20 years worth of albums for literally pennies (I paid 10p for this their most recent album, A Bigger Bang!). The biggest shock was that they weren't all completely shit! This track is an absolute stormer, sneak it on the end of Sticky Fingers or Exile on Main St, and many wouldn't bat an eyelid. Best Stones track in a quarter of a century!

10 Fleet Foxes – Sun It Rises
Taken from 'Fleet Foxes' (released June 2008)

Ok, Ok... so it came out in 2008!! But I didn't buy it until about March 2009. It's been a real grower too. Initially I just found the album quite pleasant, but the more I played it, the more I found their CSN\Beach Boys'y\Simon and Garfunkel'y sound strangely addictive. A truly beautiful album, and I can't wait for the follow up later this year.

11 The Bravery - Adored
Taken from 'Stir The Blood' (released December 2009)

I've loved this band right from the off, having seen their first UK show at the Metro Club in Oxford Street. I was blown away with their enthusiasm and sheer electric showmanship, and for a while they were the darlings of the music press, set to be the band that The Strokes never quite became. They disappeared from the radar of the music press pretty quickly, but I've always kept a keen eye on their career. Stir The Blood is the Bravery's third album, and much like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, there is a real maturity and sophistication to the sound on this outing. They are also experimenting a little more electronically, and the result is pure dynamite!

12. White Denim – Shake Shake Shake
Taken from 'Workout Holiday' (released June 2008)

A great little trio from Austin, Texas. This instrumental track has a real urgency about it, and quite a 60's garage feel. The album (again, I didn't get it until last year) is a cracker, fusing Blues, 60's garage and rock all in one go!

13 Marc Almond - My Fire
Taken from 'Orpheus In Exile - The Songs Of Vadim Kozin' (released September 2009)

See 1 above for full details!

14 The Baddies - Colin
Taken from 'Do The Job' (released September 2009)

Local boys done good, the Baddies produced one of the best debut albums of the year (not to mention one of my gigs of the year too). I honestly could have included just about any track of their high octane, new wavery... but 'Colin' is pretty much as good as it gets.

15 The Damned - Sanctum Sanctorum
Taken from 'Phantasmagoria' (originally released July 1985. Re-released Feb 2009)

Actually, the Damned album that I played the most last year was without a doubt 'So, Whos Paranoid?'. But as I did buy it in 2008 (and it made my 'best of 2008' post) I had to play by the rules. However, 2009 saw the re-release of my 2 least favourite Damned albums ('Phantasmagoria' and 'Anything'), so I was still able to shoehorn my favourite band in! The lure of an extra disc of bonus material on each of these albums was enough to tempt me to part with my hard earned on 'em once more, but giving them another spin after such a lengthy break, I was actually pleasantly surprised... I had certainly forgotten what a gothic gem Sanctum Sanctorum was, complete with it's delightfully OTT church organ fanfare and thunder-clap sound effects!

16 Adam Green - Morning After Midnight
Taken from 'Sixes and Sevens' (released March 2008)

Again, another pre-2009 release. I stumbled on it this year by picking up a pair of headphones on a listening booth in the Rough Trade shop in Green Street. It appealed to me instantly. Have now started to investigate his back catalogue and there is some amazing stuff there... this track is great fun though!

17 Red Light Company - With Lights Out
Taken from 'Fine Fascination' (released March 2009)

My good friend Keano tipped me off about these. There's nothing really original about them (I've been around indie-rock too long!!), but I love the mix they have here... it's a bit Suede, bit Radiohead, bit MGMT, bit Editors etc etc. It's even a bit Coldplay in places, but fortunately there's enough influence elsewhere for them to get away with that!!

18 Beatles - I Want You (She's So Heavy)
Taken from 'Abbey Road' (originally released September 1969. Re-released September 2009)

I bought more albums by the Beatles in 2009 than any other artist, having taken advantage of the re-mastered re-releases. I've never owned any Beatles on CD (all LP up to now), so thought this promotion was a good excuse to finally do so. The trouble with the Beatles is that they are just too good... Everyone knows pretty much all of their songs regardless if they are a 'single' or album track, so it's impossible to find a hidden gem like you can with other artists. So I went for this track as it's perhaps a lesser played one - and also clocks in as the longest ever released Beatles song... and thinking about it, that's probably why it's a lesser played track! It certainly isn't anything to do with the quality, and it's actually one of my favourite fabs songs. It's got more balls than a lot of their 'popier' tunes, and I find that I can get completely lost inside its hypnotically repetitive bluesy haze.

19 The Baddies - Pisces
Taken from 'Do The Job' (released September 2009)

Nope, I couldn't quite chose just one track from this album! See 14 above.

So there you go... 19 songs that helped to shape 2009 for me. My CD actually had 20 tracks on it, but the final song will be appearing in its own post in the next week or two.


Thursday 14 January 2010

S'no Contest!

Certain parts of the country got the snow rougher than others... Here in my part of deepest darkest Essex it was bad at times, but never particularly deep... I just got thoroughly bored of it being here for so long! Normally the white stuff has the good manners to turn up for a few days, ruin a few commuters journeys, trip up one or two old grannies, let the kids have some fun... and then pisses off sharpish again. But bar a little break around Christmas, I've not seen the pavements (or many of the roads come to think of it.... did Southend Council actually get ANY grit??! Grrr!) for a good month or so.

At the weekend Piley Junior had the time of his life running around the snow in the local park and golf course... With it hanging around so long it got me wondering if this is in fact the worst bout of snow in my lifetime, and assumed it probably must be....

Here's mini Piley getting to grips with the latest dollop of snow:

On Sunday evening I popped up in the loft to put all the Christmas decs back up, and whilst there couldn't resist a flick through some old photo albums - I've always been a bugger for taking photos, and what with inheriting my mums collection a few years back too, there unfortunately isn't any room downstairs to house them. The first album I pick up had pictures of the snow of 1987 and it all immediately came back to me!!

In my 43 years spent in the 'softy South', I'm pretty sure this was indeed our biggest snowfall... it all arrived in one lump over a very short space of time, and being old skool snow, did have the good grace to go again a few days later. Here are a few of the photos I found in the loft... worth a look if only to have a giggle at a Piley more than half a lifetime ago! (Eek! Where has it all gone??! I'm 20 in these photos, and I remember it as though it were about 7 or 8 years ago).

the trusty Leyland Mini that mum and I used to share:

I was a 10 hole Doc Martins kinda guy in them days, and the snow certainly looks to be higher than those! (apologies for those gloves... what was i thinking?!):

Am assuming that I'm crouching here, and the snow is not up to my waist! Up to the numberplate on that car behind me though:

For sheer awkwardness, skating rink pavements and general annoyance, 2010 wins hands down, but if it's a winter wonderland and sheer good old fashioned volume you're after, look no further than 1987!


Monday 4 January 2010

My Dad's Bigger Than Your Dad...

I do so love the fact that even after 43 years, you still find out new stuff from your parents!

Over Christmas my dad was telling some stories from a life pretty much spent on or around the sea. My father was with the Merchant Navy for around 16 years (from the age of 16 until 32), starting off as a galley boy. The Merchant Navy consisted of various private shipping companies, but my father worked pretty much exclusively for the Cunard line.

He rose up the ranks whilst working at Cunard, and by his mid-twenties had become a second steward. He had a number of men working for him at this point, one of whom was a gentleman by the name of 'Ted'. Ted was in his 50's, and my dad took a real shine to him. He was always keen to help out, and from the conversations they used to have, seemed like a very proud family man. My dad clearly remembers him talking about his sons, and in particular his twin boys who had recently started their own business. Ted would often remark to dad that he was the same age as his boys (about 27 or 28 at that time).

Anyway, during his time with Cunard, Ted was caught carrying out some misdemeanour or other, and my father was tasked with the job of having to let him go. This upset my dad, as he was genuinely very fond of him (and he was a terrific worker too!). But 'orders is orders' as they say, so he carried out the job. Still, the gentleman that he was, Ted took the news with grace, shook my fathers hand and bid him farewell.

My dad always wondered about old Ted and what happened to him, and a few years later he found out..... It transpired that 'Ted' was in fact a World War II deserter, and as such, even in the late 50's was still technically a wanted man. His real name was Charles David Kray, his wife was Violet Kray, his eldest boy was also called Charles, and those entrepreneurial twins? Yes, you guessed it, Ronald and Reginald Kray!
Looking back, I think my father was very grateful that old Ted took his dismissal so well!

Happy New Year!