Archive for June 2015

Baltic Gems

June 23, 2015

Kaliningrad Oblast. Not a normal starting point for ten, or a blog, but we like our variety at Whizz from Bizz.

The Oblast is the westernmost part of Russia and its administrative centre is Kaliningrad, which was previously Konigsberg. Names change all the time, don’t they? Cannae keep up with them. My interest in Kaliningrad was Gerard Piqued by Martin Cruz Smith’s novel Tatiana. With his crime thriller wanting me to learn more of this strange district I studied up on the joint.

This exclave has been round the block a bit. Once ruled by Teutonic Knights in more recent times it was Prussian before becoming Russian. Crushing as that is, it also has to share a Spit with Lithuania in the Curonian lagoon. Furthermore, you can’t travel the whole spit. The road ends at Lithuania’s Smiltyne where you need to take a ferry to mainland Klaipeda to continue your Baltic trek. Still with me?

Anyway, back to Kaliningrad. Not only is it the birthplace of the philosopher, Immanuel Kant, it is famous for being the world’s leading producer of Amber. There will be no more fancy ge-fography names mentioned. Amber is where this blog has finally arrived at. It will receive its due.

Amber has never been forefront in my thoughts before and I wasn’t much taken with her. She likes to play tricks on me when I’m driving. Cliff might still be searching for his green light but I find them easily and about to saunter on through them when Amber jumps out the box and gives me a flash. The distance between me and the other side is always a fine line. With a traffic light camera at the junction I have no option but to stop, and to kill time, have a chat with the red light. Red is amber’s upstairs neighbour and red doesn’t like amber either.

Putting my driving woes in low gear I researched the history of the amber gem. I did not know that certain pieces of amber from antiquity have enclosed insect fossil matter. The amber minefields are a mini Jurassic park. The following excerpt is from the Gemstone Sheriff.

Numerous extinct genera and species of plants and animals have been discovered and scientifically described from inclusions in Baltic amber. Baltic amber includes the most species-rich fossil insect fauna discovered to date.

Viewing the images makes me want to start a collection. I considered making my own home-made fossil stones but it’s hard to catch a fly without squashing it and where on earth would I get the amber from (try Kaliningrad, you fool – sub-editor comment)? I hummied and hawed with the idea of screwing off one of the amber lights at the crossing and taking it home. That rugged sentinel, the all-knowing traffic camera put me off. One night I may go incognito with a ladder to the lights and stuff a toy gonk in the amber light. That would look terrific when lit.

Another property of amber is its healing power. It imbues the body with life and can draw impurities from  your cells. It can drain your pain, it can positive your negative. It cures your liver problem, Hannibal. It fills your lungs with so much air you can float. It strengthens your memory’s muscles to such a degree that you can name all the Village People costumes.  It can put hairs on your chest, it can put chairs in your vests. Amber is aspirin and El Dorado rolled into one.

Amber colored tonic

Coming from the same neck of the woods as Kant, It’s clear that Amber doesn’t adhere to his philosophy. While Kant can’t, Amber can.

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Part Works should get it in the neck

June 13, 2015

My mother loves jigsaws. She will spend hours on a 1,000 piece carefully assembling the picture on the box. Strategically, she does the ends first; a classical enveloping manoeuvre. I must admit that on occasion I have entered onto the battle field and helped out with the odd piece or two. Yet, I feel it is a bit of a waste of time. Proof of this can be seen after the checkmate. Once my mum has conquered the jigsaw she doesn’t stand on ceremony or savour the spoils of war, she simply breaks up the puzzle, puts it back in the box and delivers it to the nearest charity shop. She will start a new campaign against a new foe.

While jigsaws are a waste of time “Part-work” publications are a waste of money. You will probably have seen the adverts on the TV for these type of publications. They usually come in the form of a magazine that has a particular topic and a piece of building that will eventually complete a complex model of some kind. The most recent advert I saw was for a model of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. Usually, the first issue is sold at the enticing price of £1.99 but thereafter it rises to six or seven squid. The final cost can reach a few hundred pounds.*

One of the many problems encountered with these works are missing issues. After the first few weeks newsagents don’t stock them and you have to subscribe. There’s always something that can go wrong on the subscription front. Transit problems, for instance or lost in the post or a damaged issue with the piece of the work mangled. Subscriptions for magazines is a John Major bone of contention for me. I am still missing I don’t like Tractors, I love them monthly magazine issue 1872. (need to check out e-bay and join the bidding war)

Christopher Lee

Many, many part works ago in a household far, far away I was beguiled by a particular “part-works” publication. It cost me a pretty Penny Race when complete. Thankfully, considering the content there was no particular model to build. It was just a magazine that was sold weekly. I had to subscribe. There are a few issues missing. The mag was called, faint hearts can look away now,…Murder Casebook. This had all the notorious badmen and madmen in history; an infamous women or two were also included. It had rippers, stranglers, gangsters, cannibals, kingslayers laying waste on every page. It was a gothic horror fest.

While we’re on the subject of cold-blooded murderers I would like to pay my respects to the late Sir Christopher Lee, one of my all-time cold-blooded heroes of celluloid. Those old Hammer Horror films of his can still chill the bones. The music adds to the menace as the vampire is about to strike. And nobody played Dracula liked Sir Lee.

Christopher found a new latter-day audience with his roles in the Lord of the Rings films and the Star Wars prequels. Not many people know this but he also made heavy metal albums and was regularly featured in the headbanger’s bible, Metal Hammer magazine. Subscribe, if you dare.

Jigsaw, the protagonist in the Saw franchise traps his victims in a series of tests and subjects them to psychological torture. All good and motherwell, Jiggy boy, Dracula just liked a bite to eat. Fangtastic.

*After a good day at the bookmakers and after watching the advert, a friend told me that he was going to buy two issues a week and have two full Millennium Falcon models to exhibit. Needless to say it was all bluster and after the first £1.99 issue, he gave up.

Never met the Twain

June 7, 2015

When a pop artist announces that their next tour will be their last you can never believe them. The coming out of retirement option, usually just for monetary reasons, is always available. The news that Shania Twain is on her last legs of touring caused a stir. She has not performed live since 2004. She was already retired, wasn’t she? Wasn’t she? Her final tour began in Key arena, Seattle on June 5th.

Twain’s career has utilised the “leave them begging for more” maxim. The minimum is what the Canadian singer gives us. Her thirty year’s in the service has produced a miserly four studio albums. Shania should be court martialled for her constant AWOL’ing. As punishment she should be forced to listen to the complete works of Nana Mouskouri. Nana has made over 100 albums singing in 15 different languages. Now, there’s a trooper!

With sightings of Shania as rare as Sasquatch as you may have guessed I have never seen Twain in the flesh. With the final tour only having American dates it seems unlikely that my East will go West. Still, I can listen to her music on CD and hey, get this, she has recorded a new album that is waiting release! Shania is definitely going into overdrive.

Although this little article seems critical of  the artiste’s attitude that work is a necessary evil to be avoided, I like her music. Hopefully, by stating that she won’t clobber me if she ever met me…in the flesh. I don’t want the mark of Twain on me.

Things were simple when we were Kings and Queens

June 3, 2015

FOREVER SUMMER

Summer lasted forever, forever

Forever playing with melted tar
Baking on the pavement
Making our own sticky hieroglyphics
Without a care or an engagement
Watching Borg backhand Connors time after time
Wooden bats and drinks under the high chair
Then our own slice of centre court
In the roads of a carless empire

Forever,
Forever running through the washing
That hung like angels from the line
Feeling the wetness on our faces
The bedraggled clothing clotheslined
The radio was blaring from a tenement window
While the ice-cream van beat out a merry tune
And much as a scoop hit the spot
Heaven, and longer fun, was a simple balloon

 

 

Forever kicking the ball off a wall
With dreams of scoring the winner
High hopes and dreams momentarily scuppered
With the call to come in for dinner
It was when we swapped cards in the playground
The smell of bubble gum
Kola cubes, pear drops, sherbet lemons
The choice was chewing or sucking ’em

Forever,
Forever thinking of your face
The first kiss is the sweetest
We’re dancing in the summer rain
Not caring if the cold gets us
Grease is the word
And we’re high on Saturday night fever
Bringing on the dancing horses
Our figures caught in the spotlight forever

Forever, Summers lasted forever
But those days are long gone
Yet there is a constant hum
That has outlived Kampuchea and Ceylon
There is one constant consonant
That is a natural wonder
The summer bee, summer bee
Forever summer

 

The evil that chairs do

June 3, 2015

There was a war within a war at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) today at Westminster. While the leading heavyweight figures sluggishly went through the motions- ducking, swaying, evading, holding- the sideshow or you could call it the undercard had more bite. The hacks were billing it The Immovable Object meets The Irresistible Force.

The SNP (Scottish National Party), the third biggest in parliament, have demanded to sit on the front seats to the left of the opposition front bench. Unfortunately, in the red corner this is the domain of the Bolshoi balletmeister socialist supreme, Dennis Skinner. Skinner has sat here since Lenin was a boy. A new Cold War was blowing in and something had to give. Realising they were ready salted, the nationalists lost their nerve and Skinner won a technical knockout by retaining his privileged place. Like a good old pug he showed his disdain for the irn-bruiserlosers by ignoring them.

 

Dennis isn’t listening

The Skinner saga exists in plenty of establishments around the world. In my area the local public houses have their regulars with regular seating arrangements. Be careful where you park your behind. On the home front my father had a favourite chair in the house that no one else was allowed to sit on. This would be the chair next to the coal fire. Yes, I’m going back a bit to when the coalfields were burning. The glory days of Dennis. 

Over the years the seat had taken on the contours of my father’s body so much so that when any of us tried to have a fly nest on it when he wasn’t in the house, the experience was uncomfortable. We didn’t fit. The chair was rejecting us as if we were foreigners. Yet when dad sat on it or stood up it let off a satisfied swooshing noise. The chair was inanimate but definitely inhuman. A diabolically badness emanated from it.

Thankfully, when we upgraded the seating it was out with the old. Dad was distraught. He pleaded for it to be retained in one of the rooms. Mum relented and it survived the cull much to me and my sisters’ horror. We had reached Tales of the Unexpected territory as we vowed never to enter the room that housed the chair of doom. Inevitably, fate stepped in. One day Mum asked one of us to fetch a towel that was in the haunted room’s window ledge. I lost the round robin game of paper, scissors and rock.

With goosebumps on my goosebumps, that’s horripilation by 2 for you, I opened the room door slowly. There was no creak; that was  a good start. I stuck a hand round the corner and put the light on. The chair was situated at the window. Not a coal fire in sight. Don’t look so tough now, do you, I said to the chair. It never answered. I approached the silent, sinister seat and lifted the towel from the window ledge. Then I put the towel on the seat, sat down on it and heard a comforting swoosh. That’s when I knew I was turning into my dad.