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All posts for the month March, 2007

Tommy Womack – we’ve seen Tommy several times in Huntsville, AL. Usually solo, but Thursday before last he was there with his band, and the release of a new professionally produced CD “There, I said it”. Tommy’s a poet; he plays ‘em country-blues-rock style, but every song an autobiographical social-comment story, linked by more stories between numbers. Plenty of words and word-play, and every one enunciated discernibly through his tortured croaky voice – the words about his life-lessons and family matter. This time with his band – good to hear Tommy on electric guitar (Keith Richards maybe – read his style / influences on his web site); plus a tight comfortable rhythm section – and the wonderful additional voice of Lisa Gray (puts me in mind of The Beautiful South’s Alison Wheeler.) Good luck with the CD Tommy – I’m playing it to death in the car at the moment.

Love of Diagrams – caught this Melbourne trio at the ArtRocker in Highbury, London last Tuesday. Glad I did. Bassist / lead-vocalist somewhere between the Slits and Siouxsie, and a great bassist to boot; female drummer too, probably the distinctive feature of the band – really tight on a very sparse kit – excellent. Interesting manic noises and vocals added by the token male guitarist. Interesting, if not more so. (Must look out for their southern US gigs in the next few weeks.)

The Hamsters do the “Jimi gets his bus-pass” tour – one of relatively few all-Hendrix gigs The Hamsters do these days, seen at The Brook, Southampton on Thursday. The 65th birthday tribute involved two long sets, not quite the full repertoire – technically really well done by Slim with as much feedback as anyone can reasonably control and then some, as we have come to expect, but somehow a little low-key due to below-par audience participation I’d guess.

Oh, and how could I forget – bumped into Frank McAvennie in the car park – of Southampton Airport, station just before the gig.

I mentioned before that I’d had some dreadful air-travel experiences since moving to the US. Well I’m having one now sitting at Chicago Logan [doh! Boston I mean] posting from my Blackjack for the first time.

Left Huntsville mid-afternoon Friday bound for Gatwick via Atlanta on Delta58. All like clockwork until an hour or so into the Atlantic near Nova Scotia. Diaper blockage in the plumbing puts all the restrooms out of action ?!?

So, back to Boston; Attempted plumbing maintenance at 2am. Lots of standing in line and attempts at sleeping on the floor until fixed aircraft and fresh crew ready to go, Without food and up against Gatwick ops curfew at 11.45am saturday. about 1pm still idling on the tarmac with a new cockpit warning light. Back to the gate. Beboot the entire 767 by powering down.

Watch this space. (Update Sunday pm) Yep, diaper confirmed. Makes a change from Tornados and Thunderstorms I guess.

The second fault was some pressurisation valve problem – quickly fixed. Anyway underway around 2pm Saturday from Boston, arriving post-curfew around 2am Gatwick Sunday, and getting to the London hotel around 4am eventually.

The ground ops at Chicago will no doubt be getting plenty of letters of complaint – most of the individual staff you could sympathize with – but who was in charge, did anyone have a plan ?

Myself amongst several passengers pointing out the real issues long before they were acknowledged. Never mind the plumbing – that was a stratighforward problem – what about the expiring crew, what about catering; if we were going to be spending the night, how long was it going to take to organise hotels (or anything, given that the airport terminal was completely closed). Once we were re-scheduled for 11am the following morning – starting to organise hotels around 3 am when they would need us back at the airport by 9ish – there was several hours of booking and checking in before anyone could think of sleeping in a hotel bed. By this time two nights of sleep deprivation meant I was nauseous simply attempting to stand in line – and these lines were a shambles. (Must be an American politeness thing, but why will desk staff not turn away people who walk up to the front desk with “questions” whilst there are hundreds waiting in line. Why do they let such “questions” turn into system queries and processing of bookings !! Grr. There are only two polite answers to such questions “Yes, please stand in line”, or “No, please stand in line”.)

Then, given the 11:45am re-scheduled departure – already getting into abnormal post-curfew ops for arrival at Gatwick – why were we letting ourselves slip to 1pm, whilst waiting for catering supplies for a 6 hour flight ? Most of the 250 waiting passengers were demanding we leave without food, long before the staff suggested it. The especially bright and breezy PR member of the new crew, in her bight red uniform and conspicuous red bow was the red rag to many impatient bulls – yes dear, we all thought of these issues hours ago – don’t expect a medal.

Earlier, the captain of the original crew hadn’t helped, though he tried, by coming up to the lounge periodically to give us updates – because his updates were not credible, nor even consistent with what the other staff seemed to know. If you don’t know the outcome to a problem, don’t guess the timings, just tell us what you’re doing.

After the debates about catering and the Gatwick curfew, having been raised in the lounge, and the ground staff assuring us an abnormal operation deal had been arranged, the first thing the replacement flight-deck announced when we had boarded was that we still had ground checks to complete and we might still miss the Gatwick curfew – if the curfew was still applicable we had already missed it surely – much confusion & consternation. Only much later in the flight was there any announcement that we had an abnormal slot arranged – which must have been the case all along – surely the flight deck would not have been given clearance without a flight plan ?

No idea what happened to those with onward connections – there didn’t seem to be any special arrangements awaiting at Gatwick, despite assurances.

Disruption one can accept – operational this time, not just weather as per usual – but surely an airline like Delta has plan B’s for these cases ? (Full marks to Gatwick for the immigration and baggage handling at 2am.)

Had the pleasure of spending yesterday with Henry Gurr and his son David (and Cinnamon, the dog) in and around Aiken, New Ellenton and Savannah River, South Carolina. (Thanks again Henry for the Carolina BBQ hospitality and local historical sightseeing.)

Most of us will know Henry through his passion (some might say obsession) for documenting and photographing details of the ZMM trip of Robert Pirsig for the benefit of future generations of Pirsig’s readers. Adding new detail and new photographs is continuous. Even the author has been heard to mutter “Not more questions Henry ?” The exercise says as much of course, about Pirsig’s writing process, as the extent to which detail of place is a natural mix of the literal and factual with added pastiche and invention. Henry’s work provides future generations of readers with the opportunities to experience that real sense of place, even as the locations are redeveloped over time.

Perhaps I / we should take a serious stab at the Lila boat trip project ;-)

Of course personal projects suffer from the “Too much to do, too little time” syndrome, as I have fequently bemoaned. And that of course is where you discover the real value of meeting a person like Henry in the flesh.

As well as the intense stimulating conversations with Henry and David, on all things physical, philosophical, psychological and evolutionary – I hadn’t come prepared for the friendly “grilling” or the need to take notes in case of questions later ;-) – one discovers that Henry’s interest in physics as a university professor goes well beyond the theory.

You get a hint from the fact that Henry’s on-line interest in the Aeolian harp (an interest shared with Own Barfield) led him to build his own, but what that doesn’t pepare you for is Henry’s other projects.

“Interested” in the idea of naturally stable two wheeled cars ? Make your own, and no toy either; a 1955 Chrysler V8 based prototype with serious engineering, welded fabrication and road-testing practicalities. (Practical and stable ? It relies on the natural balance between the “castoring” in the steered wheel, with the mechanical advantage in the steering mechanism whereby, as in high performance motrocycling, one applies a small outward steer and the vehicle of its own accord leans into the corner and follows that inward curve. Don’t believe it will work – try it yourself, Henry did. Spookily my own first real engineering experience was “shimmying” in nose-wheel steered aircraft, particularly the Harrier, with all its weight on the centreline.) Anyway, I’m left with the mental picture of Henry as Anthony Hopkins’ Burt Munro.

“Interested” in ecology ? Design, build and inhabit your own eco-friendly house. Henry did / does.

I’ll not embarrass Henry the engineer, by further suggesting he’s a “craftsman” in say the sense of the welder in ZMM, however when it comes to appreciating that the relationship between the conceptual and the material, is in their practical whole, Henry is the real deal. Quality in action.

(And a gent too, for not mentioning I’d kept him waiting over an hour, as I had failed to make the correction for losing the hour driving over into the Eastern time zone, an error I only noticed on the drive home – oops Sorry Henry and David.)