Sunday, October 14, 2018

Berlin

I visited Berlin for work reasons this week.  I had never visited before so I was interested in seeing as much of the place as I could.  Work kept me busy but I was able to see a bit of the place.

I was seeing beside the zoo.  During the second world war there was a large anti-aircraft gun in the zoo and it was heavily bombed.  Around 80 animals survived but were then promptly eaten after the Russians arrived in the city.  The zoo has subsequently been developed into one of the best in the world.  It is visited by millions of people every year and houses more than 1300 species.

Berlin has a population over 3.7 million people but seems fairly quiet.  The streets are not as busy as London, Birmingham, Edinburgh or Glasgow.  I was getting the S-Bahn every day and it was not crowded.  One morning the train was filled with children communicating in sign language.  The area around Zoo Station was busy but again not as busy as many other large cities.

I tried a currywurst from one of the vendors beside Zoo Station.  It's a grilled sausage with a ketchup and curry sauce, served with chips.  I heard that this local delicacy only came into existence after the war when the only ingredients available were tomato ketchup and curry powder.  I enjoyed the experience but I wouldn't make it a regular feature in my diet.

I took the S-Bahn over the the east of the city to visit the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag.  The area was full of tourists but again not overcrowded.  I then spent some time walking along Friedrichstrasse and looking around a rather nice German music and book shop.  We don't really have shops like this in the UK as much now.

One evening we were taken for dinner in a restaurant on Gendarmenmarkt.  It was lit up for a festival of lights in the city and I took some photos of the French church, the German church and the Konzerthaus.  I didn't get time to explore further.

I walked down Kurfurstendamm  or K-Dam a couple of times, window shopping with the Happy Mondays song Kuff Dam stuck in my head.  To block it out I listened to the new Cypress Hill record on my iPod.  It's a big, wide street.  It reminded me of streets in Poland.  I didn't buy anything but I sat and had a beer with a colleague outside a bar on the avenue and I ate a nice meal in a restaurant on the street.  They do beef well in Berlin.

With another colleague and his wife we stood and admired the remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm church beside Budapester Strasse.  It was well lit and it still has bullet holes from the war.  It was badly damaged by bombing in 1943.  The square around the church now has crash barriers everywhere after the actions of a nutter with a truck two years ago.

I didn't see much of the city and I would have liked the chance to explore more.  Sadly that is not always and option due to work commitments.  I may return at some point but there are a lot of other places to see and sadly time is not always available.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Second World War by Anthony Beevor

Men of my fathers' generation spent a lot of time thinking about the second world war.  My dad was born a few days after the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed almost 200,000 people.  His father saw service only as part of the home guard but a cousin died on the River Kwai in Burma, a victim of the Japanese.  The war loomed large in my dads perception of the world.

As a child I read the Battle comic and the Commando comics that were prevalent in the UK.  I saw the war films which old of a heroic war, where we got rid of nasty Mr Hitler and his Nazi chums and the 'cruel' Japanese.  As a child my dad took me to the old battlefields where ruined tanks still lay.  He also took me to visit Dachau.  War is not fun.

This book, by Anthony Beevor is a detailed account of the conflict that covered most of the world for about six years and resulted in the death of at least 60 million people.  A lot of bad things were done.  Human lives were discarded like used tissues, people were exposed to unbelievable cruelty and murdered.  War crimes and genocide were widespread. Caniballism, most notably by Japanese soldiers, was not uncommon.  Rape was used as a weapon of war.

The Second World War was not a good war.  It was one of the worst things that humanity has ever done to itself.  Sadly, many people in the UK, who did not live through this era seem to regard it with rose-tinted glasses.  It seems to be used as an excuse for Brexit, among many others.  The war is a warning from history, a warning against racism and fascism.  The war is a warning about 'strong men' leaders like Hitler.  It is a warning that too many of us ignore.

This book is long but worth reading.  Something to reflect upon.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government by David Talbot

This is an unflattering biography of a man I had never heard of; Allen Dulles.  He was an influential figure in American intelligence and subsequently the head of the CIA.  According to this book, he did a lot of bad stuff.  He was fond of Nazi's, very anti-communist and at one point he apparently tried to arrange the assassination of Charles De Gaulle.

Dulles may have helped arrange the assassination of John F Kennedy.  Dulles was certainly influential on the Warren Commission which investigated the JFK assassination.  The Warren Commission should perhaps have been called the Dulles Commission.

This is a good read.

The land of your forefathers

I'm lucky in that I grew up with a strong sense of identity.  My parents told me about my family history, I knew my grandfather well and I spent time at the places that were important in the family history.  I spent time in the wilds of the west of Scotland enjoying the rain and the wildlife.

My partner has some non-Scottish heritage and she had never been able to visit the place in Italy where her family came from.  Sadly, her father never got the chance to take her and her mother had never been.  Last week we were, as a family, on holiday about 60 kilometres from the village and we decided to go there.  I'm really glad we did.  It was amazing.

We decided to club together and get a taxi to take us on the drive to the village and wait for us as we did some sightseeing.  Initially we went to the local tourist office and picked up a bunch of maps and leaflets.  We didn't know much about the area but it turns out that it's an alpine ski resort that is very busy in the winter.  We then managed to find the church where her grandparents were married.  It was a beautiful building in the middle of town and we were able to go in and look around.

We had an address for the building where her nona (gran) had lived as a child.  Thankfully the village was small so we managed to find it.  I also managed to find a bunch of really cool wee lizards which is always enough to keep me happy.  My partners' aunt had managed to give us the phone number for a second cousin, who as luck would have it, had the day off.  After a quick phone call distant cousins were introduced and we had a guide for the next hour or so.

The Italian cousin drove us to another, older church, decorated with a fresco of the danse macabre, that stood within the village graveyard.  It was beautiful, well kempt, with family gravestones adorning the walls of the graveyard.  We found one of the family stones and it had a photograph of nona, beside her siblings.  Sadly, the stone for nono's (grandad's) family had been moved and we couldn't find it.

Outside the graveyard was a war memorial.  On it was the name of my partners great uncle who had died during the first world war.  He was 21.  I was reading a kindle book on world war 2 history which has been driving home the insanity of war and this brought some life to it.  I was also reminded of my dads cousin who died during the second world war in Burma.  In the beautiful alpine surroundings of this village at the foot of the dolomites why would anyone want to leave and die for rich men?

Tourist season had just ended and we sat down to eat a late lunch in a local bar.  I had some cheese and cured beef with bread.  It was a hot day.  Unfortunately we had to get a taxi back to the resort but we were ecstatic with this brief look into family history.  We will go back at some point and stay for a week.

I know how I feel when I stand on a certain beach in Kintyre and watch the seals with the wind blowing so loud I can't hear.  I wish I could stay there, in that old house above the stables, beside the sea, but that is not my house and I cannot have that life.  The choices I have made have given me a different life.  I also know how I feel when I stand at the top of the hill at the croft on the island in argyll and I wish I could be there too but my life is in the city and the populated areas but I know where part of me came from and I know that it was not perfect.  I hope my partner felt that way when we were in the alpine village and we will go back and explore it more.


Thursday, September 06, 2018

Homebuilding

I've not updated the blog too much over the past month or so.  I've been busy doing domestic stuff.  We bought a house a few months ago and I've been busy trying to sort out things related to that.  I'm not a practical person.  I'm actually fairly clumsy and I can mess up any DIY project, no matter how small it is.  For that reason we've been getting in tradesmen to do most things.  Thankfully, through friends, family and contacts we have been able to get most stuff done.

I know I'm a lucky man and I'm happy.  Life has challenges but for the most part things have worked out for me.  I've worked hard over the years but I have almost everything I want in life and I have everything I really need.  It's important to remember that not everyone is as lucky as me and life is harder for most people.

I'm lucky that I was born and grew up in Scotland.  I'm lucky that I got an education and managed not to fuck up much along the way.  I'm lucky that I've got a job that pays the bills.  I'm lucky that I met a woman who is willing to put up with me.  I've had good friends who sadly have had different paths in life.  I read books, I watch TV and I think about things.  Most of the rest of the world has problems we don't have in the UK.  Living on an insignificant island at the edge of Europe has some advantages.

Around the new house I've seen foxes, squirrels, frogs, grasshoppers and about a million wasps.  I lived in a slightly dodgy part of the city before this so the wildlife makes me happy.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Danzig - 30 years - Live at the Glasgow Barrowlands

Danzig wrote some of the first punk music I heard.  As an 11 or 12 year old primary school kid in the late '80s I heard the metallica version of last caress and I loved it.  I didn't understand the words but I loved the tune.  A year or so later I got a tape with Bullet on it and again I loved it. I then obtained a copy of the misfits album (collection 1) and heard some of their other stuff (earth ad/the album with rollins singing we are 138).

I became aware of samhain and Danzig (the band).  Danzig were actively making music and thankfully, due to a lack of MTV, I never saw the videos.  I only heard the tunes on the first couple of albums and again I loved it.

Danzig stopped writing good music in 1995 when he went industrial but the first 4 albums were good.  I essentially gave up on his new music at that point.  There may be some good stuff in there but I haven't heard it.  Glenn Danzig is probably the last of the classic punk singers that I hadn't seen live (apart from HR who wasn't with the Bad Brains when I saw them).  I couldn't wait to see him live.

It was what I expected.  The live mix wasn't great with the vocals a bit too quiet but for a 63 year old man Danzig still has some moves.  He ran about the stage and interacted with the crowd.  He had a rant about how he was actually singing and how the band were really playing.  He played some hits.

The band came on at about 9:40 PM and we got the set that has been punted around Europe a lot recently.  Sadly he only did a two song encore suggesting that he wasn't too into it himself.  The set included Twist of Cain, Not of this world, Am I Demon, Tired of being alive and Mother as well as She Rides in the encore.

I don't think he'll play Scotland again but I'm glad I saw him.  Childhood dream fulfilled.  Just a shame there wasn't a decent sound engineer

Friday, August 03, 2018

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall

This book is fascinating.  We often arrogantly think that human beings shape the history of the world but this book argues that geography shapes human history.  Throughout (and before) recorded history people have been shaped by the land they live in.  Nations have been separated by mountains, trade has developed in flat lands with deep rivers, wars have been fought to protect key approaches to nations.

Geography and geology have guided human behaviour.  When people have tried to create nations by drawing lines on maps they have caused problems by forcing together groups who would prefer separate lives.

After reading this book I felt I had a better understanding of geopolitics and why some countries make some decisions.  I feel I understand the world a wee bit better.  Interesting and an easy read.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Migraine Aura

A visual migraine aura can be an intense experience.  Last night I was using my laptop and watching channel 4 news when my vision began to change on the left side.  Things started to blur and then an irregular oval shape appeared in the left side of my vision.  The rim of this shape was made up of small flashing triangles that were silver and multi-coloured.  This was clearly a migraine aura but much more intense than normal.

It had been a hot day and a thunder storm was forecast.  I tend to get headaches when atmospheric pressure changes and this was a big change.  I realised that half my vision was blurred behind the scintillating scotoma as I looked at myself in the mirror.  I tried to check my physiological blind spot but I couldn't find it.  I took some aspirin and some paracetamol and I put on my sunglasses which helped.

The aura peaked for about 10 to 15 minutes then gradually faded.  I only developed a mild headache, probably because of my early use of aspirin.  I was tired and I went to my bed early.  In my bed, the lightening storm intermittently illuminated the room.  With the overlay of the residual migraine everything felt a bit otherworldly, a bit like an episode of Twin Peaks.  Eventually I fell asleep and I felt a lot better when I woke up this morning.

Most migraines are boring, painful and annoying but this one was fascinating.  I can see how someone experiencing that, not knowing what it was, would be freaked out.  I enjoyed it although I did feel a bit 'disconnected'.  I'm glad I was in my own house and not travelling or working.

Recently, geneticists have suggested that the tendency to migraine may be associated with an ability to sense when the weather is becoming stronger.  That certainly could explain the trigger of some of my headaches.

Lying in bed afterwards I felt like my hearing was heightened and that I could hear all of the individual drops of rain falling.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Paul Simon - Live at the Glasgow Hydro

On Radio 4 on Saturday morning they have a section called 'Inheritance tracks' where people talk about music they have been given by their parents.  When I was a kid I didn't think my parents listened to much music but they had Johnny Cash albums, Bob Dylan stuff, the Beatles and Paul Simon.  When Graceland came out, my dad had the cassette and I essentially stole it.  I just listened to it constantly and I loved the words.  I would have been 9.  It's still a favourite.

Later on I went for the Simon & Garfunkel stuff.  As a teenager I got into them as I was listening to Dylan.  I liked the melodies and the words.  I taught myself how to play the Sound of Silence.

Every now and then I reach for some Paul Simon but I'd never seen him.  When I saw that he was playing a farewell tour I bought tickets with some trepidation.  However it's better to regret something you have done than something you haven't done.

We had good seats near the front and we got in about 15 minutes before he came on.  He does look like he has had some botox at some point.  He opened with America and played about 26 songs over two and a half hours.  He had rearranged a few songs and he did a fairly unique version of Bridge Over Troubled Water, in a key more suited to his voice.  Even though it was a big venue he managed to make it seem intimate.  He did a great version of Rene and Georgette Magritte with their dog after the war.  I think he may have played a couple of new songs and some of the arrangements sounded a bit like Lazarus era Bowie.

All of the Graceland era hits were aired as well as some stuff from Rhythm of the Saints.He spoke about E.O. Wilson, his favourite scientist and his book Half Earth.  He spoke a bit about retiring to do other stuff.

We played The Sounds of Silence at my dads funeral so I was happy that Simon closed the night with this song, by himself, with his acoustic guitar.  My dad wasn't a man for concerts but he may have enjoyed the music tonight.  I'm glad I went.


Saturday, July 07, 2018

RIP Steve Ditko

Spiderman always existed in my life.  The cartoons were on the TV when I was a kid.  The dodgy live action TV series from the seventies was still on rotation.  The comic books were about.  It's hard to believe that anyone actually designed and created Spiderman.  But Steve Ditko did create Spiderman.

I think I first read some the early Ditko comics reprinted in UK hardcover Spiderman annuals and the piles of old paper Marvel UK comics that they had in the cupboards at my primary school. The drawings were primitive and nervy.  The character did not look too heroic or cool.  He looked like a misfit teenager, a proper target for bullies.

Ditko also created the weird psychedelic visuals of Dr Strange.  This was a bit at odds with what I understand about his personality.  Ditko was the anti-hippy, a devotee of Ayn Rand.  Eventually he fell out with Stan Lee and moved onto new work.

He did work for DC but he also created the remarkable Mr A, a judge, jury and executioner type who took a hard line on crime.  Alan Moore borrowed heavily from Mr A for Rorschach and even wrote a song about the character with the Emperors of Ice Cream.

I've picked up a few Mr A books over the years and I'd love to see a proper collection.  Ditko kept himself to himself and avoided fame and publicity.  He was probably ripped off by Marvel and never got the money he deserved.

He was an interesting man and we will probably never know much about him.