Wednesday, July 25, 2007

1972 - the year I've been leading up to

On this day 35 years ago (25 July 1972), I bought a copy of Richard Thompson's first solo album, "Henry the human fly", from a record shop on Kilburn High Street. I know this for a fact, because I wrote the date on the record sleeve, but that's not what's important. What is important is why was I on the Kilburn High Street at that time.

In the summer of 1972, I made my first visit to Israel, along with most of my peer group from Habonim. I had gone up to London a few days beforehand, and I spent those days helping out here and there. I spent I-Day minus 2 with my friend M. in Stanmore, passing a pleasant day together, but realising that our paths were divulging as she wasn't interested in what Israel represented. That summer was really the make or break year for most of our age group in the youth movement; after this summer, things would start getting serious, and we would change from the being led to becoming leaders (albeit junior) ourselves.

From her house, I went to a park in Willesden (if memory serves correctly) and met up with the group for a social evening. After getting reaquainted, we ran around the park and played all kinds of social games, of which we knew a large number. That evening we all slept in the Habonim main building in Finchley Road.

The next day we had a 'seminar', preparing us for what was to come in the next month (presumably I skipped out to Kilburn to buy the record during a break). Although 90% of the people attending had been attending Habonim camps for years and so had built a strong social fabric (there were several whom I had first met in 1967), there were also a few new people. One of them was a girl, G, with whom I fell in love at first sight.

The first few days in Israel were spent naturally in Jerusalem, at a seminar centre in the far south of the city, just off the Hebron road. After that, we went on a three day trip to the Negev, centred around Be'er Sheva, and that's where I connected with G. I have a memory of us sitting on railings around a basketball court (maybe a school?), speaking French to a Moroccan girl. G spoke very good French (her mother's tongue), and mine wasn't bad at the time, although in subsequent years I forgot all of it as I learnt Hebrew. C'est la vie.

After that, we returned to Jerusalem for a free weekend. I had nowhere to go, so I stayed at the seminar centre with a few others like me. On the Shabbat, we probably walked into the Old City. That's something which I would not do now. First of all, I haven't been in the Old City (or rather the market) since the first Intifada, which was in 1990. Secondly, it's quite a long walk (maybe three kilometres), and there's no way that I would walk that distance in the heat that we have now - say 35 degrees centigrade. Obviously the heat affected me less then. I was also younger.

On the Sunday, we all collected in the cafeteria. This was my 16th birthday, and I felt like I was holding court. After lunch, we travelled to Kibbutz Mevo Chama, which is on the Golan Heights, overlooking the Sea of Galilee: a magical view. In the evening, we had a short "get to meet the kibbutz and its people" as well as a birthday party for me. A wonderful evening.

We spent a week on the kibbutz, although now I don't remember very much about what we did. I know that on that first night I slept on a badly crumpled mattress, which caused me dizziness every time I turned. In the morning when they woke us for to go to work, I threw up, and so was excused work that day.

We were divided up into pairs in order to visit members of the kibbutz, who became our "kibbutz parents", a common concept of the time. By chance, G and I were together, and we visited a nice couple H&T, who had a young daughter. We had some pleasant afternoons together, talking about the kibbutz and Israel, as well as learning Steeleye Span's "The Blacksmith". I seem to recall that we spent one evening baby sitting. Although we weren't to know it at the time, H was to die within the coming year.

On the penultimate day of our stay, I arranged for us to go and see the Army entertainment troupe who were appearing not far away. In those far off days, these troupes were the best entertainment in Israel, and we saw the best of those troupes, in one of its best line ups. Not that we understood a word of what they said! But the songs were great.

I'm not too sure of our itinerary after that, but I recall that we spent a few days in Tiveria (Tiberias) and a week in a field school near a kibbutz called Ma'agan Michael. The one thing which I do remember clearly was that G broke up with me and I consoled myself by singing Peter Hammill's "Lost" (following are the words to the second part) ...
I wore my moods like different sets of clothes but the right one was never around and as you left I heard my body ring and my mind began to howl. It was far to late to contemplate the meaning of it all; You know that I need you, but somehow I don't think you see my love at all. At some point I lost you, I don't know quite how that was. The wonderland lay in a coat of white, chilling frost; I looked around and I found I was truly lost... without your hand in mine I am dead. Reality is unreal and games I've tried just aren't the same: without your smile there's nowhere to hide and deep inside I know I've never cried as I'm about to ... If I could just frame the words that would make your fire burn all this water now around me could be the love that should surround me. Looking out through the tears that blind me my heart bleeds that you may find me or at least that I can forget and be numb, but I can't stop, the words still come: I love you.
From Ma'agan Michael, we had a free weekend which I spent with some people my parents had met in Netanya. Whilst I was there, I managed to buy the 'soundtrack' album of the Army entertainment troupe's show, which was to occupy my attention for many years to come.

I returned from Netanya to Jerusalem in a taxi, squashed up with several other people. My hosts had given me a bag of guavas for the trip to share with my friends, but this is the most evil smelling of fruits, and so I ditched that bag as soon as I could after I arrived in Jerusalem.

The final few days were a bit of a blur; we seemed to spend most of them going to the Old City again, after I had made up with G. We bought fancy embroidered cotton shirts - mine was in a virulent shade of pink, for some reason. I think that the shirt lasted one wash and was then thrown out.

So that was my first visit to Israel which lasted a month, in which we saw a vast amount of the country as well as spending time in several cities and settlements. I was entranced, and on my return to Britain, I vowed that I would be returning as soon as possible.

Life is stranger than art

I went on a "flag flying" mission to two of the sites where our company has set up temporary production spaces. Whilst approaching the first, I noticed a group of women walking towards the small industrial area; I was about to ask aloud where they were walking to when I noticed the name of the closest building - "Shagmor Ltd".

Who could ask for more?

When I started telling this to one of our workers (before I mentioned the name of the building), he said that they were working in a brothel - although I don't know how serious he was. He found the name of the building entirely appropriate.

In the interests of decency, I should point out that "Shagmor" is probably a contraction of two names, "Avishag" (a biblical character) and "Mor" (which is an incense), and so has a completely different meaning in Hebrew than it does in English.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Favourite films

The thought struck me the other day that I ought to make a list of my favourite films; these are ones that I can watch over and over again, and still find new things to enjoy. My top 10 films ought to roll off the tip of my tongue, otherwise they can't be that good. Let's see what I come up with (in no real sense of order)....

  • "Play it again, Sam" - Woody Allen. In my school years, I very rarely went to the cinema nor watched films on TV, so the weekly film on the kibbutz where I spent the year 1973/4 was quite an eye opener. I have no recollection when I saw this film during that year, only the recognition of a fellow soul. After coming back from Israel and living in London, I used to scour "Time Out" every week to see where it was playing. I remember one time in Jan/Feb 1975 going with my girlfriend to see a double bill of 'Casablanca' and 'PIAS' at one of the London University colleges. The screening started at maybe 10pm and finished somewhere around 2am. As the idea of coming home by taxi never entered my mind, we walked all the way from Euston to Swiss Cottage.
  • "Annie Hall" - also Woody Allen. I have always considered this to be the 'son of PIAS'. It has the same main three actors, a similar plot, and similar visual devices. PIAS is probably funnier and is more personal to me, but AH is smoother and would appeal to more people. Considering Allen's dislike of California (as portrayed in this film and the fact that almost all of his films are set in New York), does anyone consider it strange that PIAS is set in San Francisco? [Update from IMDB: "Originally to be shot in Manhattan and Long Island but moved to San Francisco when New York film workers went on strike in the summer of 1971."]
  • "Still Crazy" - a wonderful mock-documentary that leaves the better known "Spinal Tap" in the starting blocks. Great music and great acting. This was the first time that I saw Bill Nighy in a film, but now I seem to see him in something different every week.
  • "The Big Chill". I wish that my college friends and I could meet up in a house for a weekend and talk about old times.
  • "Local hero". This film is probably better known for its soundtrack. A lovely little film set in a lovely little Scottish village.
  • "You've got mail" - Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Yes, the film is sometimes too sweet, and yes, it's an update of an update of an update, but I still love it. Maybe this film speaks more to someone who uses email to correspond with people all over the world than to someone who uses the telephone to speak with friends. Strange, though, isn't it how two people meet via the Internet and they live within a few blocks of each other; not only that, but they're also in the same business. Stretches coincidence a bit too far.
  • "Life as a house" - Kevin Kline again (The Big Chill), the most chameleon actor I've ever seen. This film probably isn't as well known as the others in my list, which is a shame. This is the latest addition to my favourites list so there isn't too much that I can write about it.
That's really about it. I suppose I could add an amalgam of Hugh Grant movies ("About a boy", "Notting Hill" and "Love actually") which I enjoy watching but are definitely lightweight. It's a shame that Nick Hornby's "High fidelity" was moved across the ocean to Chicago, because it was just as much a book about North London as it was about Rob (whatever his surname was).

A few weeks ago I decided to update from VHS and ordered AH and LH on DVD (sorry about the acronyms [a word which was only coined in the 20th century]), each just under 10 pounds sterling from British Amazon. Whilst browsing there the other day, I noticed that they are having yet another DVD blowout with prices under 5 pounds. Imagine my surprise when I snagged PIAS, LAAH and SC for about 4 pounds each. I already have TBC on DVD (bought whilst in Los Angeles two years ago), so all I have to do now is replace my almost worn out video copy of YGM and I'll be set for the next ten years until we change format again.

Friday, July 20, 2007

1971 was when the music came together

Some time in November or December 1970, I began to be very interested in a pair of albums that my then friend Tony S. had, which had been recorded by the sci-fi sounding Van der Graaf Generator. Not all of the tracks resounded within me, but I developed a strong liking for the second song on the first side of both albums - "Refugees" and "House with no door". Little did I know then what those songs would lead to....

In January 1971, I saw Yes (opening for the forgettable Iron Butterfly), playing music from their yet unreleased "Yes Album". This was a real eye-opener (ear opener, I suppose), and I was first in the queue to buy the record when it came out shortly later.

The other concert which I attended in January 1971 was Van der Graaf, an unforgettable night (so much so that I don't recall most of the songs that they played). By this time, I had developed a preference for sitting in the back row of the stalls in Bristol's Colston Hall. This was for several reasons: the seats were cheaper but had almost the same view as nearer seats, and one could stand up without blocking the view of anyone behind. The wall also gave support. So that evening, myself and a few friends were sitting in the back row of the Colston Hall; the music so involved us that soon we were standing, then rocking back and forth. I don't know exactly how it happened, but we also managed to detach some of the seats from the wall in our enthusiasm. A few years later, I was in correspondence with Peter Hammill, and I asked why they didn't come back to the CH. He explained that the hall manager (the uncle of drummer Guy Evans' then girlfriend) had banned the group after the damage that the fans had done. Oops. This incident is also detailed in "The Book".

Another view of my emerging musical tastes can be found in the following piece which I wrote a few years ago, when I used to write online reviews for The Greenman Review: '1971 found me as a dewy-eyed teenager sitting agog at the Bristol Troubadour. I had just discovered that my adopted home city had a strong "folk scene," and that good music was always to be found in that musky room in the Clifton district. Of the many musicians that I saw there, the strongest impression was made by a guitarist and singer called Dave Evans. It always seemed that he had several hands playing the guitar at the same time, and his performances used to hold me spellbound. One Sunday evening at a concert (at the appropriately named Newman Hall, actually not far from my house), Dave introduced an instrumental as "a number which I recorded this afternoon for a forthcoming album". I waited a few weeks, then went round to the local record company's headquarters and purchased my copy of The Words In Between. It would seem that the review is no longer online, although I do have a hard copy at home.

1971 also saw the re-emergence of King Crimson after two years of being a virtual group, existing in the studio. By 1991, such behaviour would have been normal, but not then. I was to see KC three times during 1971, the first time being in May, one of the first dates in their first British tour. The set from a gig a few days earlier at Plymouth has been preserved as the KC Collectors Club issue 14.

In July I went off to summer camp, this time with my regular peer group. We spent a few weeks in the Lake district, and as usual, the scenery took a backdrop to the more serious business of friendship. The theme of the camp was "Revolution", and we learnt about various revolutions which had occurred over the ages. The camp itself started with a kind of revolution, when we were thrown into bivouac tents and treated roughly by the staff; this was engineered by them to produce an outcry, from us, the children.

At the same time, a different kind of revolution was in the air: it was the time of the OZ obscenity trial, which I, at least, was following closely. At the end of the camp, a few friends and I created a 'satirical' magazine called ZO, which was an extremely pale and innocent version of OZ. At least I had been reading underground magazines, specifically IT (International Times, not Information Technology) which was on sale in Bristol, presumably for the university undergraduates (my school nestled next to the university) as well as Richard Neville's "Play Power".

In fact, I had been reading all kinds of weird for the time stuff, such as a book by Timothy Leary, one by George Melly (who died a few weeks ago). Around this time, I was also introduced to the works of Hermann Hesse who quickly became my favourite author; I was to read all of his books over the next few years, although now I find them very hard going.

At the camp, I met a girl M with whom I was very friendly, but not in a romantic sense. In the autumn of that year, I went to stay with her and her family for a few days; that visit was an introduction to all kinds of interesting things. I remember hearing The Doors sing about "Love Street", a song which for me has become inseparable from that visit and from the sunny weather. I found and bought Tom Wolfe's "Electric Kool Aid Acid Test", which might have been the biggest eye-opener of all (maybe this was the source for the Hesse books). We went to Kenwood House and saw an art exhibition, after having dinner at an Italian restaurant. Later I invited her to stay with me for a few days in December; I had an interesting cultural programme planned, but her father nixed that idea.

A few weeks after the summer camp, came knocking at my door Simon from my first Habonim camp (not the one with laryngitis). He too had been at the Lake district camp where we had renewed our friendship, and now he was hitchhiking around Britain. It didn't take much persuading for me to join him - I probably envisioned a kind of youthful "On The Road". We went from Bristol to Birmingham to London to somewhere on the South Coast (Brighton? - I remember that there was a horse racetrack nearby) then back to London and thence to the finale of the trip - the Weeley Music Festival. My attendance there was terminated abruptly after a telephone conversation with my parents (who didn't know officially where I was, although they may have guessed) who informed me that my O-level results were not very good, and that I had an appointment at school with the Headmaster to discuss my academic future. I lost control for a while, as much as a result of this shock as well as my growing hunger and sleep loss. I went to the medical tent, had my first Valium (which put me in a very interesting place where I was aware of my problems but couldn't feel any emotion regarding them), found Simon and obtained my train ticket back to London.

Winter camp 1971 was with the "big boys"; I was the youngest attendee but it was an interesting experience. I formed a short-lived trio with M and J; I don't think we ever played in front of people although we did rehearse. I even have a picture of the three of us.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

What I did at work today

Many people don't understand what I do at work, so today I thought that I would explain in simple language some of the things which I did today.

At work, we used to have a thermal printer which printed sticky labels; we would place these underneath the seats of the chairs that we produce, so that we (and the customer) would always know what kind of chair s/he had and when it was produced. The printer came with software which could print labels, but we didn't use this much. The main reason was that the software couldn't connect to our ERP program and thus was useless in printing labels directly from work orders. The second reason was that every few months, the program would deliberately mix letters up when printing, causing us to renew the license (free, but still a chore).

I wrote several programs to counter these shortcomings. The most important was one which connected directly to the ERP program (via a documented but difficult interface); the user would key in a work order number, the program would query the database and would then produce labels with the chair's part number, customer details, etc. The program was also equipped with a numerator: as we put one label underneath the seat and one on the plastic bag in which the chair was shipped, we needed to print two labels per chair, but count them identically. As I had full control of what was printed, this wasn't a problem. On the other hand, we also supply chairs in cartons; these have a special, generic label giving the part name along with a barcode; for these, we only needed to print one label. With a little bit of ingenuity, the program was able to handle both double and single quantities, printing the correct numbers on each label.

The generic barcodes were printed from a simple database program which I wrote. Instead of designing different labels, I realised that each label has exactly the same constituent parts: a title (eg Realto chair with adjustable armrests), a descriptor (Tahiti 200 blue upholstery) and its barcode. Once I had this, the design of the label was simple. The user would choose a chair from a database ordered by family (eg Realto) and then would key in how many labels to print. These programs have been working for about four or five years.

Unfortunately, we had a fire in the factory and the thermal printer was destroyed (and of course, the morning of the fire was when we had a new printer head installed at a cost of $500). A few days ago we obtained a new printer; it's not the same model and not from the same company. The reason why we chose this company is that they market a program which is supported by our new ERP program; the latter can output data from work orders to the former, which will then cause the labels to be printed.

Well, yes, in theory. In practice, it took the installer and myself a few hours to design a label and get all the relevant fields printed in the correct position. The most complicated part was the numerator, and even then we didn't get it right. I had told the ERP company that we needed two labels per chair, so the procedure which outputs the data doubled the amount. Correct, but the label program numerator interpreted this as is, which is wrong.

If the order was for five chairs, then there should be two labels numbered 1/5, two labeled 2/5, two labeled 3/5, etc. We were getting one label 1/10, one labeled 2/10, etc. Not good. The temporary solution was to halve in the ERP program the number of labels being printed, and then do two print runs, but this obviously was only a stop gap solution.

The label program comes with virtually no documentation, so it wasn't a question of RTFM. Today I had enough time to play a little with the program, and found to my pleasure that it was possible to add a little code - event handling. The numerator is really two fields: one a real numerator, and one the total number of labels to be printed. The latter was easy to fix: the field received the code "value = value / 2", and thus printed half the number of labels to be printed, which is of course the correct number of chairs. Encouraged by this, I had to think a little before I came up with a function for the numerator - value = (value - 1) / 2 + 1. When value is 1 or 2, the result will be 1; when it's 3 or 4, the result will be 2. Just what the doctor ordered.

Just to be safe, I kept the original label which we designed with its 'pure' numerator; this will be used when printing labels for chairs which are supplied in cartons, or for stacks of chairs (where each chair needs its own label, but they are supplied in stacks of ten).

At the moment, we're using labels which were supplied with the printer and aren't the same size as our original ones. Whilst this doesn't matter too much with labels printed with the external program, it made labels printed with my database program look bad. Early on, I realised that this was because there was a height problem: my program thought that the labels were (say) 4 cm in height whereas in fact they are 4 inches high. Although the printer came with a fair amount of documentation (on cd), I couldn't see where the label height was defined - until I remembered that it was defined in the printer setup dialog. Sure enough, I found the definition there. I'll change the current value when we get some rolls of "our" labels delivered.

Other bits and pieces were explaining to users how to get correct data from the ERP program, and altering a few reports in order to add ordering fields. As I term it, this is easy stuff for man, but hard stuff for mankind. The mantra is business is "keep the customer happy", and I do my best to keep my customers (ie other users) as happy as possible by giving them solutions as quickly as possible.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

More music to sleep by

A copy of "The Pearl" by Brian Eno and and Harold Budd came my way the other day. The editorial review says "This sublime, tranquil recording features 11 haunting ambient tone poems for treated piano. They are crafted from simple chords, arpeggios, or melodies that are frequently trailed by delicate electronic whispers to produce dreamy results" which is enough to sucker me into listening to the tracks.

Unfortunately my ears tell a different story; they heard meandering touches on the piano which didn't add up to anything. I probably will be passing my copy on to someone else who might appreciate it more. The only reason why I might keep it is as an antidote for insomnia, a complaint from which I am most certainly not suffering these days. As such it serves as a companion to the later "Equitorial Stars"; there too I was seduced by the description.

I wonder what my correspondents (see my previous post) would make of these cds.


I tried an experiment the other day: I posted a letter to the Fairport Convention mailing list asking people to listen to the two traditional songs ("Killarney Boys Of Pleasure" and "The Water Is Wide") which I have posted at Soundclick. I was interested to see what people would make of the tracks and even asked for suggestions what other traditional songs I might record.

I was slightly disappointed to see that only two people bothered to write to me, and neither of those people found the music interesting. This was the more illuminating comment about Killarney Boys: "I hear a lot of music and this must fall into the category of New Age but due to its mechanical construction (I assume you did most of this via computer), it sounds highly elevator-like. Less melodic than multi-layered with simple themes, it doesn't grab this listener. I praise it for its simplicity but that, in effect, is also its downfall. (referring to Killarney Boys of Pleasure - the title of which set me up for something remotely Celtic or trad sounding...)"

The last phrase is the most telling: there was no way in which I was going to perform a traditional Irish tune in a traditional Irish manner. Obviously the cross-genre arrangement wasn't startling enough.

An interesting side effect of my post was that my Soundclick page received many hits on the following days, along with a good ratio of plays and even downloads. As a result of this, "Killarney" jumped about 100 places in the Soundclick Irish chart and was placed at #23. This way, many more people are going to hear the track, probably people who are more used to eletronically produced music.

I listened to some other electronic tracks on that chart, and it seems that I didn't go far enough in electronifying the music. I really should have done a trance version based on the tune!

But ... in the end, I make music primarily for myself. I have to love the finished product, as well as make it as good as I can. If I am not true to myself and the music does not reflect this, then how do I expect anyone else to like it?

The bottom line of the experiment is that my music is still waiting to find its audience. I won't hold my breath during the process.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

1970 - Nice enough to eat/Habonim camps II

1970 was a personal turning point in many respects.

I went to my first rock concert in mid-December 1969, and I was slowly but surely entering the world of 'underground music'; a fair amount of what was to become known as 'progressive', but also large amounts of folk and acoustic material. That first concert was headlined by Ten Years After, supported by Blodwyn Pig and Stone The Crows. At the time, I thought that STC were bad, TYA were so-so, and BP were excellent. Quite on what basis I decided this, I'm not sure, as I wouldn't have heard much music to compare them by. As it happens, I never saw TYA nor BP again, although I saw STC two more times, and each time they seemed to improve, being very good at the end.

Sometime in February 1970 I bought my first rock lp, the excellent "Nice enough to eat", which cost the princely sum of 14/6 (about 72p) in those pre-decimal days. It played for about an hour and cost about a third of a normal lp, so buying it was a no-brainer, as we say these days. I imagine that I played the grooves off that lp, as did many a young lad then, and it also served Island records well, as I have owned at one time or another records by nearly all the groups featured here (not necessarily the records from which the songs were taken).

As it happens, I have recently downloaded this record from the Internet, although in the cd age, it is known as 'Nice enough to all join in': nine tracks from NETE, along with all twelve from the previous and less well known Island sampler, "You can all join in". I also own this record, although played it much less. The material from the earlier sampler tends more to the blues and rock end of the scale as opposed to the folk, jazz and progressive end, and found much less favour in my ears.

Fortunately, I have the missing songs from NETE on cd, so making a complete replacement of this lp won't be a problem. While I'm at it, I intend to replace the opening song, 'Cajun woman' by Fairport Convention. I have never liked this song and don't see why I should put it on the collection. On the other hand, I'm not sure with which song I'll replace it from 'Unhalfbricking'; probably 'Genesis Hall', but I could change my mind.

About two months later, I went to see another triple bill: Fotheringay, John and Beverly Martin, Nick Drake. The case of ND is interesting: at the time, his name was well known in my circles, as he has a track on NETE, "Time has told me". But I have absolutely no memory of his appearance (neither what he looked like nor how or what he played); whilst this in itself doesn't mean anything (I went to concerts about once every two weeks and could hardly remember everyone), I did keep a record of all the concerts, and in one case annotated the listing of someone who was supposed to have played but didn't show up with the note "didn't play". As Nick doesn't have this note, I imagine that he did play. As it happens, a few days ago I was looking at one Nick Drake site (in preparation for his "new" cd), and someone was discussing the few concerts that he did perform. Included was the show that I attended. All three acts were signed to Joe Boyd's 'Witchseason' company and he produced their records.

There was a misunderstanding regarding which Habonim camp I was supposed to attend that summer, or maybe a misprint regarding the ages. Anyway, I went to a camp with teenagers in the year group above mine, and as a result knew hardly anybody. It didn't matter: I very quickly became friends with a few boys with remarkably similar backgrounds and tastes to mine, friendships which were very strong and which I thought would last forever (ten years would be more accurate).

We spent that summer rolling around the hills and valleys of Herefordshire. At every camp, we would pack up and go on a hike whose length depended on the campers' age: the young children went out for just one day, the next age group went out for three days (i.e. two nights spent out in bivouac tents which we had to carry), and at this camp we went out for five days. Although it might sound like a slog, these hikes were actually great fun, and a good way to get to know everybody.

The hike in 1970 started on my birthday, and I assumed that this year I was going to escape being tossed up in a blanket. Little did I know. After we arrived at our makeshift campsite, built a bonfire and had supper, someone reached into their rucksack and brought out ... a slightly battered birthday cake! I was very surprised and also very happy.

Another event which I had almost forgotten took place on the penultimate day of the hike. It must have been raining very hard for we spent the night in a village infants' school as opposed to camping in our tents. The evening's activity was based around readings from the poetry book "The Mersey Sound"; to quote from this book's wiki, "The book had a magical effect on many people who read it, opening their eyes from "dull" poetry to a world of accessible language and the evocative use of everyday symbolism". It certainly opened my eyes, and when I returned home, I bought the book and commenced writing poetry.

After the five day hike which took us through Hereford itself, we then settled down on the banks of the River Wye and learnt how to canoe: we had three days of canoeing down the river in front of us. The first morning I went out with a girl in a two person canoe (I don't remember how I came to be with her), and we capsized within a hour as we went over rapids. After lunch I decided to continue in one of the one person canoes. I must have found this very boring, as the next day found me sharing with another girl. I think that we must have switched partners twice a day, as I can remember sharing with quite a few girls. This was an excellent way to spend time, and also get to know the other person.

After the camp finished, two of my good friends from the previous year came to stay with me for a few days. They had been to the camp to which I was supposed to have gone, and took great pains to tell me how much I had missed (maybe I too was missed). I didn't feel disappointed at all, as I felt that I had had a wonderful two weeks and having spent them with older people, I felt more grown up and mature.

Winter camp though saw me back with my normal peer group. Another great time was had by all, especially by myself, receiving an eye-opening sexual initiation (although I was prepubescent at the time and so could only take advantage of what was offered me in a fairly innocent way).

Roll on 1971....

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Apres le feu

Since Monday morning, the office staff at work has been working out of our old offices. Miraculously, there was no damage done whatsoever to the building, and all the equipment contained within worked immediately without any problem. We don't have mains electricity yet - and probably won't have for some time, as the main line was cut on the night of the fire for safety reasons - and so all the electricity which we're using comes from a generator. This is being turned off every evening at 6pm and turned back on again at 7am the next morning in order to save money. Whilst nobody is in the building during those hours, there are machines which normally run all the time - fax machines and servers - and turning these off every evening is annoying. We give the fax machine a "follow me" instruction every evening so that the faxes go elsewhere, and backups (which normally run in the middle of the night) are now run first thing in the morning.

It seems that we won't be staying in this building much longer. Alternative temporary sites for production have been found, and one of those sites contains office space. So maybe in two weeks we'll be moving, until a permanent site is found. Once the insurance people have finished their work, I imagine that the factory building will be demolished and the area cleared. Then a new building, more modern and more suitable, can be built on the area.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Early days in Habonim

In late July 1966, just before my tenth birthday, my parents bundled me off on a long train journey, first stopping at Cardiff and then continuing to Ripon in Yorkshire. There a few other small children and I were taken to an open field with some tents. My introduction to the wonderful world of Habonim had begun.

Habonim (literally "the builders") is a Jewish youth movement which had been started in England in 1928 and was similar to the Scouts, bar a few crucial differences. The Scouts were all about scouting, had a quasi-military system of organisation, were quite fanatical in their pursuit of badges and were boys only. Habonim was a liberal hot-pot of ideology (the three main tenets being Judaism, Zionism and Socialism), was very relaxed and had both boys and girls.

I don't know if my parents knew at the time exactly where they were sending me, but my father had been a member of Habonim in Cardiff during the 1930s, so I imagine that they thought that the camp would be good for me.

I must have spent the first week of the two week camp wandering around in a mental state which could be described as "shell shocked". I knew nobody and could barely understand what was happening around me, which was not made any easier by the fact that pidgin Hebrew phrases were being bandied about all the time.

It probably rained a lot and I slept in a cavernous and dark tent. I remember that there was a boy called Simon who caught tonsillitis after a few days and disappeared, never to be seen again. He came from Birmingham, and was replaced by another boy called Simon who also came from Birmingham. No wonder I was confused.

On my tenth birthday, the entire camp got together in the huge marquee, and for the first time in my life I was tossed up in a blanket in order to celebrate - frightening at first but I quickly learnt how to adapt. We also played some games, the likes of which I had never seen before, whose main intent seemed to be making fun of some unfortunate soul. As it was my birthday, I was one of the 'lucky' children chosen, but as it happens, I was mentally agile enough to succeed at the game and so not be ridiculed.

Obviously I must have started wising up, for I came home full of enthusiasm for the camp and vowed to go again. Little did I know that the foundation had been laid/the seeds had been sown for most of my future life.

The next camp was over the new year at Horsham, Surrey. As this was wintertime, we were inside buildings instead of in tents. Again I knew nobody, but at least I knew a few words of pidgin Hebrew and was able to keep my head above water.

The next summer, I finally met some children for the second time and had a very good time. I have some pictures of myself at this camp: I look like a little imp. I also met some children with whom I would spend the next ten years.

There was a foot and mouth epidemic in the winter of 1967, so the winter camp had been cancelled. Instead I went to London for a week, stayed with someone whom I didn't know (and have never met since) in a flat - yet another first for me - and went on a whirlwind of activities, again mainly with children whom I had never met before.

The next few years showed a consolidation: I began to know more and more children, fitting in very well. I played my first chord on an acoustic guitar and began writing songs (although I only wrote lyrics at first). I learnt more and more Israeli folk dances and learnt more about Israeli history. In the summer camp of 1969, I felt "master of the game", and miraculously everyone that I knew was in the same group as I.