Snippets. Snatches of memory.

I was reading an article discussing the archiving of the internet.

Once it was an ambition of several organisations to archive the content of everything we put online. This, however, is fanciful. Content changes continually and rapidly. Content is generated to be different for each viewer. Databases and algorithms and sales metrics alter and change what is now a very plastic medium. It is not an internet of published texts which can be indexed easily.

However, people try. And in the spirit of remembering I may write short pieces about people or events. They may be archived. They most likely will not. The internet is full of scraps and junk so these snippets are unlikely to matter to many people. They matter to me.

I would like to write about my maternal Grandmother. I never knew my father but I was close to mum’s parents and spent many years growing up living with them. Their names were Charles Lamb and Helen Lamb (nee Pennycook).

My nan was always called “Ella”. She was very short in height and quite stout. That was when I knew her. In her youth she was very petite. Her wedding dress is testament to how slender she was. A waist equivalent to my thigh.

As a young woman she danced ballet. I only know because she told me – almost whispering – on a couple of occasions. Talking about yourself and doing what I am doing here – discussing it – was to be frowned upon and treated with suspicion. It was a different time and different values.

Her brother Jim had a dance band which practiced in the attic of their large house. She came from a reasonably affluent family. Sometimes dances were arranged in the attic. This would have been in the late 1920’s through to the 1940’s. It must have been wonderful.

Sadly, Jim drank too much and had a short life. He had two sons – Ronnie and Brian – my mum’s cousins. Jim’s decline was reflected in the decline of the family’s fortunes and by the time I knew my grandmother she was living in a small flat in a tenement basement. With my “Pa”. The family business had gone and the family had drifted apart.

Nan had three children. My Uncle Bill was the eldest and he died in 1969. My Auntie Eileen did not live long, either. They all had children. My cousins still all live within 30 miles of me but we have little contact. It happens.

Perhaps the reason I reminisce on this family history is that a piano store based in Joppa, where I grew up as a young boy, is in the news today. It is selling all of it’s 300 pianos. From £300 to £40,000.

My nan played piano. Rarely, by the time I knew her. We had a small, iron framed upright piano which was kept in her bedroom. I recall her playing Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky. Especially Tchaikovsky. And she played it beautifully. However, she did not play it often and when she did I could sense loss and some sadness. Even as a very small boy I could sense this in the music.

Which was not how it made me feel. It brought me great joy and great pride. To this day I feel emotional when I hear a performance of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1. And for that reason I am providing a link to one of my favourite pianists performing the piece – a woman of enormous talent – Martha Argerich. As I type this tiny recollection I am struggling not to shed a tear. I still miss her very much:

Martha Argerich and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, 1975

Perhaps, some time in the future, an archive will be read and it will be noted that Ella Lamb played Tchaikovsky on the piano, with some gusto in spite of her diminutive size and it brought tremendous pleasure to those who heard her play.

What’s in a name?

Unaccustomed as I am to making speeches – I recognise there are certain ‘tricks’ to assist me if I ever was called upon.

A common ruse is the ‘best man’ method – trying to make humour of an embarrasing or humorous anecdote. Being relevant would be nice.

Another common technique is the Dictionary ploy. It follows the line of “Marriage – I looked marriage up in the dictionary – and guess what I found!’.

Using the dictionary technique I decided to look up Trump. There was little of surprise – it can be noun or verb.

  1. (n) Cards: A card from a suit which outranks other suits
  2. (n) To outdo
  3. (v) To take a suit at cards

Then there was the verb phrase:

The accusations against his political adversaries were little more than trumped up scaremongering.

The addition of the word “up” makes the rather conceited word “trump” into a far more interesting collection of letters.

I visited and discovered these:

bogus, concocted, cooked-up, deceitful, devised, dishonest, fabricated, fake, false, falsified, fictitious, fishy, framed, fraudulent, imaginary, incorrect, invalid, invented, lying, made up, misleading, phony, sham, unfounded, unsound, untrue

Such a small addition to a word illustrates how careful we have to be with the things we say. The phrase can become so dangerous – even when constructed of such seemingly innocent words. A word which initially seems strong and righteous suddenly becomes deceitful and mischievous.

Words are also sounds. The word Trump is very close to the word trumpet. As in “blow your own”. The dictionary also defines this. Another section on “trump” states:

  1. (n) a trumpet.
  2. (n) its sound.
  3. (v) to blow a trumpet.

1250-1300; (noun) Middle English trompe < Old French < Old High German trumpa, variant of trumba trumpet; (v.) Middle English trompen < Old French tromper, derivative of trompe

Suddenly “trump” is not only deceitful it is also suggestive of “blowing your own trumpet”. A triumphalist squawk of a noise.

One of the most immediately recognisable and evocative pieces of music played by a member of the Trumpet family is the “Last Post”.

All of this made me consider other words. Unfortunately “Donald” is a proper noun and so I do not like to try and consider meaning and derivations of it. All I associate with Donald are:

  • a Duck
  • “where’s yer troosers”

What does it mean when the Prime Minister says: “The UK will ‘Do it’s duty’…”?

One consequence of 24 hour news coverage is that there only ever appears to be enough time for one story.

We have lurched from relentless Labour leadership coverage to Refugee crisis. Seamlessly. The television news channels and their press siblings are presently acting as a de-facto conscience prodding our Political masters into action.

In the Political world, however, the name of the game is now inaction. Given the tragic-comedy scenario which our current leaders have inherited inaction might have been considered a good thing. Cerberus was a terrifying, mythical three-headed beast. Bush, Cheney and Blair were three very real, very monstrous heads acting as one hellhound. Masquerading as guard dogs they were marauding and salivating attack animals. Their bite marks are to be found everywhere.

After cynically manipulating the September 11 attacks as justification for the Iraq invasion Bush pronounced the Iraq conflict as “over” years ago. “Job done” he proclaimed. His hubris allowed him to believe he was directing the show. History has not yet had a chance to mock his naivety. The reason being it is not yet history. It is ongoing. A long, tortuous final act – still running it’s course with no end in sight.

Put aside WMD, Dr Kelly and claims of self-defence. When it became clear that another story needed to be concocted to assuage critics of the invasion the stance was altered. Regime change became a valid enough reason for invasion and deconstruction of a sovereign state. Saddam was a tyrannical and sadistic leader with a gang of family and army accomplices carrying out his tortuous whims.

Indeed, he was. We all knew that. We all had for many years. He was only one in a long line of evil men suppressing the people they proclaimed themselves to be defending.

The tragedy is that our actions – our stated good intentions – have been so appallingly misjudged, misrepresented, duplicitous, mismanaged and self-serving that the West is now the shameful villain in this performance. If there was anything funny it would be farce.

So much has changed. Twenty years ago we were moral. By “we” I mean the Western alliance. By Western alliance the British meant “Britain” and “America”. The British largely perceived the West as the USA being led by wise, old Auntie Britain. We were there to whisper in the ear of our unruly charge if it was acting like a petulant teenager.

Then a sickness seems to have set in. America was humiliated and it wanted revenge. It needed to seek justice. The people who died in New York truly deserved justice. What followed was less justice and more reckless retribution. And we were part of the posse. American policy got sick and we contracted whatever it was. They got chickenpox and we got shingles.

Bush and Blair began covering their tracks. They claimed to be encouraging a rise of democracy in the East. The charade continued in the form of support for the “Arab Spring” with money, weapons and endless talk of righteousness. I stand by the word charade. Not because the Arab people do not deserve democracy but because “we” misled them. Our democracy was hard won, bloody and horrifying. It took centuries. We appeared to offer a shortcut. We would hold out our hand and lead them to democratic and free societies.

What we see now is the lie. We will not even accept terrified, displaced families. We shall watch them scream, splutter, weep, crawl, climb and swim to get to our borders and then we shall say No. Britain in the 21st Century still looks down imperiously on foreigners and – ultimately – to Britain you are not a refugee. You are foreign and all that entails.

The shame we should feel is beyond description.

And once again we fall short. Our defence is that, really, the people should be safe at “home”. Safe in their bombed, burnt homes. No food. No water. Rape, murder, torture and death. Death from the air and the streets around them. Back there is where they should be – where it is home for them.

Our defence is implausible. “We” did not start the war in Syria. “We” did not start the Libyan conflict. “We” did promise protection and did not delver it. Having raised the hopes and the aspirations of millions of people and starting wars to show that we were righteous we walked away. We left them to get on with it.

“We” can argue in a court that “we” did not start these conflicts. That is disingenuous at best. A lot of intellectual energy has gone into avoiding responsibility. Politicians have become so adept at self-deceit that they claim the vicissitudes of their policies as intentional outcomes. The Bush and Blair era was bereft of integrity. We cannot avoid “doing our duty”. There is no hiding that it was the cinders of a fire started by Western intervention which set the neighbourhood alight. We set a blaze in a dry land full of kindling.

Now we refuse to help them out of the burning wrecks we helped create and it seems we are not even prepared to piss on the flames to help extinguish them.

I live in Britain. That is why I write “we”. I am complicit in this. These decisions are being made by politicians we elected in Britain. This is a democracy and so I, by association, share that shame.

Since March 2003

Since March 2003 the Iraq invasion and subsequent “war” has cost us dear.

Many troops and seemingly inestimable civilians have died. We have moved from self defence to regime change as the justification.

It deflected discussion away from Saudi Arabia and also strengthened the distrust of the West. Afghanistan was left on the back burner.

What was the positive? If preserving life was the goal then it appears we failed. Epically. What have we secured and what precedent have we set?

Worth reflecting upon.

Some sun on Coll

I had a few days on Coll with Malcs last weekend. Friday was lovely weather – the other days not so good!

There was live music in the air from concerts at An Cridhe organised by the Tunnell Trust.


This snap shows the Manse and Loch Eatharna taken from An Cridhe – always such an enjoyable stay. Thanks to Malcolm and all the people on Coll.

The next snap is the meadow behind the Manse. I believe it used to house Angus’ sheep. Sadly, Angus passed away in January. R.I.P


T.S. Eliot going cheap

I popped into a second hand bookshop this afternoon to ask if they could recommend somewhere for poetry books.

They had received a pile of Eliot and Auden books and I left with 2 bags filled – including Faber and Faber imprints of Eliot’s poems with that lovely 1930’s, thick, uneven fibrous paper.

All for very little money. Oh, how I skipped up the road…*

(* actually, I waddled)

Sabeen Mahmud

I confess the original story passed me by. This conversation with the mother of Sabeen caught my eye, however. I found it very touching and quite inspiring.

Such a cruel thing.

The world seems full of “frightened”, extreme, people defending self-interest, tradition and ignorance. I wish they were a bit more frightened of killing and persecuting others.