Monday 22nd June 2009

Added on 22 June 2009

A Dementor At My Table

Following last week a couple of people removed their names from The Visigoths Are Back And This Time They’re A Washing-Up Liquid subscription list. However since they didn’t draft a denunciation letter in the way that people do when they cancel their subscription to Private Eye, I don’t know whether it was because they were Polish, dog lovers, or if they support Raith Rovers. Given that around 23% of the population of Britain is now Polish, and that 100% of Poles own a yappy little dog, and that of the fifty-seven people who support Raith Rovers some of them might be the above, it’s possible that they were all three.


I also had two Poles tell me the word for happy in Polish.


The word for happy in Polish is: szczesliwy


Under no circumstances should you try to pronounce this at home. You’ll only get hurt.


As a word it’s certainly not onomatopoeic, but it doesn’t have to be. The Poles only ever use it in sentences such as: Well you may be happy, but I’m not.

Heard William Hague on the television today stating that the President of Poland, a member of PiS, the Tories’ new partners in the European Parliament, was known for promoting diversity. How we all laughed.


A couple of weeks ago we were visiting some friends. Tea was being drunk, cake consumed in enormous quantities, children were plotting all sorts of Lord of the Flies scenarios, the men weren’t getting a word in, the usual kind of afternoon. Knowing that my hosts had a ukulele somewhere, I wandered off for half an hour in search of it, finally finding it hanging on a wall some three yards from where I’d been sitting. I strummed away for a few minutes. Then I’d like to say that I realised I was being rude, but actually I just ran out of things to play, because I can’t actually play a ukulele. 


This dramatic tale then shifts forwards a few days to the idyllic town of Glastonbury in Somerset. Home to King Arthur, the world’s most famous musical festival and a lot of mystical shops selling what can only be described as total crap. In its midst we stumbled across a music shop, the window of which was festooned with ukuleles in a hundred different colours. A bargain at £16.99. I cleared my impulse purchase with the family High Council, and left the shop five minutes later with another musical instrument under my arm. 


There are pros and cons to the ukulele. 


Pros: they’re portable and fun, easy to play, easy to learn. 


Cons: No one has ever heard a woman in a bar say: the ukulele player’s all mine. You won’t get a record deal playing the ukulele. If you claim it against your parliamentary expenses, you’ll only be able to claim £16.99. 


There was a label on the ukulele with a photo of Miss Hawaii 2008 in a bikini on one side. It’s not entirely clear whether Miss Hawaii can actually play the ukulele, but she does have lovely teeth. On the other side of the label are instructions on how to tune the instrument, four basic chord patterns and the legend: Don’t forget to ask your music store about more ways to enjoy your ukulele.


Since I didn’t read the label until I got home, it was too late to enquire of the woman in the music store what those other ways might be. One can imagine several, although most of these would be downright painful. I think I’m going to stick to playing it. 


I’ve had my ukulele for two weeks now. I’ve managed to expand my repertoire beyond the basic four chords on the label and have integrated a fifth chord into my act. Two days ago when the Wraggle Taggle Gypsies took to the stage for the first time, playing the trendy Tarabuk cafe in Warsaw, I decided that five chords and two week’s practice were more than enough in order to play an instrument in public.


The show was a triumph. The kids sang, the band played, the audience were held in thrall. Of course, although it was a public venue, the audience principally comprised of parents, who couldn’t really leave without taking their kid with them, but they clapped after every song, and no one was making them do that. I played the ukulele on two songs - the iconic calypso classic Mocking Bird, and the equally iconic Western Isles classic Marie’s Wedding.


The ukulele was a huge success, even if the playing was pedestrian. For some reason it makes more noise than its big brother, the guitar. Acoustically I don’t know why that it is. It will have something to do with physics, and I always struggled with physics. But there it is. In comparison with the guitar, it makes more noise, it’s more portable, it’s weirder, it’s more idiosyncratic, and Miss Hawaii of The Perfect Teeth can hold one without falling over.


Consequently I’ve decided to re-invent myself as a ukulele player, although straight from the off I’m determined never to learn how to play When I’m Cleaning Windows. Obviously I’ll need a really cool new name, something in keeping with the sheer majesty of the instrument. I’m thinking maybe The Incredible Ukulele Guy. Or Captain Small Stringed Instument. Or The Amazing Destructor. One of those. 


If you’re thinking that the ukulele is duller than a dull day in some dull town in the middle of Romania, then listen to these two things. The first features Paul, George & Ringo singing a brief version of the old song Ain’t She Sweet. The other is some fella sitting in Central Park playing George’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps. This is top-of-the-scale ukulele playing. The difference between this guy playing While My Guitar Gently Weeps on the ukulele and me strumming the chords to Mocking Bird is something in the region of 20,000 hours of practice, but that’s not so much.


Once I’ve given up everything else in life that I do, like going to the movies, writing books, eating toast and running after two kids, and devote myself full-time to ukulele practice, I should be hitting those Gently Weeps chords with panache, brio, verve and elan just before my hundred and seventh birthday. 


Next week, the mandolin. 


Barney Thomson Report


Things are progressing slowly in the gradual transformation of the Barney Thomson series, from low-selling series in the niche market of barbershop death junky novel, to worldwide Harry Potter-esque behemoth series, outselling the Twilight books three to one.


The Final Cut is undergoing final preparations for late summer release. The new cover is here, although it’s not up on any on-line sites yet. I’m not entirely sure whose eye that’s supposed to be. My cover designer likes eyes. Every second cover she presents for my approval has an eye staring out at the prospective buyer. This time I let her use the eye. Maybe it's Barney's eye. Maybe it's Satan.




Strange Case Update


Obviously we are going to have to go back into the studio and re-record all the songs with an added ukulele track. We’ll probably do this at the same time as the Jay-Z remixes. Uh-huh


Sandy Lyle Watch


(The continuing saga of the best golfer never to win three majors.)


At one point in the 1980’s, Meadowbank Thistle were sponsored by the Raj Indian restaurant. In some sort of way it was cool, and the fact that it gave everyone else another reason to laugh at us just made supporting Meadowbank even cooler. Not that those other useless teams in the First Division were sponsored by Samsung or Sony or some such, but their fans took some sort of superiority complex from the fact that they weren’t sponsored by the Indian takeaway at the bottom of the road.


I’m reminded of this by the title of this week’s upcoming tour event on the US Old Man’s Tour. The Dick’s Sporting Goods Open. Presumably Dick’s Sporting Goods is a chain, rather than an old geezer called Dick who opened up a shop selling fishing tackle out of the old Johnson place.


Sadly Sandy isn’t entered in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open. Hard to know why he’s missing out on such a prestigious event.


The Official World Golf Rankings don’t register Sandy has having a ranking this week. He must have dropped off the scale. Which is sad.


Next week:


The didgeridoo in 100 minutes.