Hogmanay

And so we click over to the final day of the year and also my fortieth birthday. Soundtrack for today: Clare Grogan (fworrr) and Altered Images with “Happy Birthday”, Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” (“got a baby’s brain and an old man’s heart… I’m a man and I’m a boy…”), The Cure’s “In-Between Days” (“yesterdayI got so old, I felt like I could die, yesterday I got so old it made me want to cry”), Queen’s “Who Wants To Live Forever?” and then nothing to do with age or birthdays I’m sticking on my namesake the jazz musician Joe Gordon.

Here lies Joe Gordon; no, he’s not dead, just full of champagne… Born at the height of the Swinging Sixties and the Space Age; unsurprisingly he has a soft spot for the Beatles and still at 40 harbours a great desire to be an astronaut when he grows up. 1967. Britain wasn’t even on the decimal system back then – I don’t remember the old money as it changed when I was very small, but I still have my first bank savings book, opened by relatives when I was born, and the entries are all in pounds, shilling and pence which I don’t actually understand. According to a card my mum and dad gave me in 1967 a pack of crisps would cost 1 shilling and 3 pence (about 6p modern style), a gallon of petrol 5 shillings and 5 pence, around 27 p modern (now the old money and the gallon are gone) and a pint of Guinness would have set you back 2 shillings and sixpence, or around 12 and 1/2 pence modern (and the half pence is long gone now too, of course).

Sandie Shaw won the Eurovision Song Contest in ’67 with “Puppet on a String”, the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released (still one of my favourite albums of all time and also one of the best cover designs ever), “In the Heat of the Night” won an Oscar (“they call me Mister Tibbs”), Elvis married Priscilla, Francis Chichester completed the first solo voyage around the globe and the QEII was launched. Louis Leakey announced the finding of ancient, pre-human fossils in Kenya, still one of the great sources of knowledge painfully peiced together on the very earliest days of humans and the species which lead to us back in the dawn days (there’s nothing like reading about a 600, 000 year old proto-human fossil to make you feel younger on your 40th). Jimi Hendrix releases “Are You Experienced?” Yes, Jimi, I am and thanks for giving me my theme tune, “hey, Joe, where you goin’ with that blog in yore hand?”

The Russians postured, telling their allied (actually controlled) states not to have full diplomatic links to what we used to call West Germany, while Israel went into the Six Days War and the US was embroiled in Vietnam. Of course aggression in the Middle East, Russian leaders posturing against the West and Americans getting themselves into the quagmire of an unwinnable war in a country that has nothing to do with them for dodgy political ideology are all mistakes we have learned from in 2007 and would never allow to happen today… Oh, hold on… Martin Luther King denounces the war (and of course he gets villified an killed) and Muhammad Ali refuses the military draft. They villify him too, but today who remembers the politicians who postured about, calling him names? But they remember Ali. Che Guevara meets his end but in doing so becomes immortal.

Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions was published, collecting some brilliant writing by Philip K Dick, Samuel Delany, Fritz Leiber and others. Ah, the days when Harlan was pioneering some great writing; sadly in 2007 he seems to be mentioned more regularly in connections with legal cases… The first colour broadcasts began in the UK (on some BBC2 programmes); I’m old enough to remember TV’s used to have little badges on them proudly proclaiming ‘colour’ (usually each letter in different colours in case you were especially thick and didn’t quite get it) and so did station idents. Today they all say ‘HD’ instead. Plus ca change.

The Summer Of Love year was also an apex in humanity’s drive to the stars – both NASA and the Soviet Union (another name gone since I was younger) were sending probes to Venus and the magnificently daring Apollo programme was literally going ‘where no man has gone before’. Jocelyn Bell and her colleagues using a new-fangled radio telescope discover a regular extra-terrestrial signal from the depths of space. Regular signal? Artificial? Alien life? Sadly it wasn’t ET calling but it was the discovery of the bizarre stellar phenomenon of the Pulsar. Her colleagues later shared a Nobel Prize (the discovery was written up in 68) but not Bell, a controversial move. She is now a Dame. The drive to the stars seems to have faded away and I’m looking at another year where I am unlikely to have a holiday on the Moon, dammit. In other scientific advances ’67 also saw Barnard perform the first heart transplant and the gloriously beautiful Concorde took her bow. Same age as me, but she’s gone from the skies; luckily I am still flying, albeit rather more slowly and with a much smaller nose. Moves to have me preserved for the nation in a museum have so far come to nothing.

1967, seems worlds away now, doesn’t it? And yet it was full of events still influencing 2007. Let’s hope 2008 gets more of the better influences from the past and not the negative. Sadly my birthday didn’t begin with me waking up sandwhiched between Monica Belluci and Winona Ryder, waiting for Nigella Lawson, clad only in a maid’s apron, to bring us breakfast in bed. Then again I did wake up knowing my family are healthy and with me, I’ve got friends and a decent roof over my head while there’s still millions who can’t say that. That injustice infuriated me as a kid and a younger man and it really makes me incandescent that in 2007 we still spend more killing people than we do trying to help those who need it. I dearly wish some of our so-called leaders would read more history and learn from it. 2008 will probably bring more mistakes repeated from the past, but let’s hope – let’s hope it gets better. Happy New Year to you all and Peace Out, y’all.

One hour to go

One single hour to go before I am no longer a thirtysomething. End of the year and end of my thirties, hello being a funky fortysomething. Thank goodness for my creamy Celtic complexion and youthful exuberance – with those most folks think I look only 39 and a bit… Nah, that’s not true, it seems to surprise a lot of folks who didn’t think I was that age yet, although of course they may all just be being polite, but frankly I’m taking it the positive way. Bottle of champers chilling nicely for the birthday breakfast as we speak, any excuse… Anyway, champagne for breakfast is something everyone should indulge themselves in from time to time and if you can’t do it on your birthday then when the hell can you? First time I ever had champagne at breakfast was way back in the mid 1980s in a hotel in Aachen in Germany and its kind of become a birthday ritual these days and why not? Got to live a little, especially at my age 🙂

Dad continues to be on the mend – he seems a bit more tired than before, but that’s pretty understandable between the lethargy having to spend several days in a hospital bed can impart and the shock to the old system. He’s pretty upbeat and the final scans were clear (although he will go back in sometime in the next month or two for some routine further checks to make sure) but I think it has rattled him a little more than he lets on. We had a good Christmas together, the pair of us took every excuse to sit and watch the Wallace and Gromit repeats on the BBC while my mum tutted at us about enjoy cartoons at ‘our ages’, although by the time they were halfway through we heard barely suppressed sniggers coming from her direction, then out and out laughs from the woman who claims animation is for kids and not funny… Mind you that’s not bad going, it took us from the early video days (Betamax no less) to just a few years back to persuade her that Blazing Saddles was a comedy masterpiece (she finally gets it).

Ton of food was guzzled of course, all homemade – can’t beat yer mum’s cooking! My veggie main course this year was a delicious herb-stuffed pinenut roast in red wine sauce (again homemade). Mum’s meringue nests, cream, fresh fruit and some ice cream from the bloody excellent Equi’s (one of the best ice cream emporiums in Scotland) for dessert (although my cousins opted for the traditional Christmas pudding instead), all washed down with a bottle of Saint Joe. My mum couldn’t resist buying this bottle when she saw the name on it, although I don’t actually answer to that name to anyone except her and a couple of family members as I have hated my full name for as long as I can remember and prefer just Joe; anyone else using the full name will find themselves being ignored…


(Saint Joseph, the patron saint of mixing good chocolate and red wine)

As ever we all collapsed after dinner feeling as if we had swallowed a (delicious) cannonball, full, full, full… I always look forward to enjoying mum’s cooking at Christmas, but getting dad home on Christmas Eve made it particularly special. I could see him through a window as I was walking up to the house and boy was that a nice sight. We’re still trying to get him to take it easy, but mum and dad have been out a bit in the last few days and in fact they took me out for an early birthday treat lunch this weekend, which was good, off to the Bridge Inn at Ratho, which is a spot I first found years back when I used to cycle a lot and Brendan and I cycled out the canal towpath several miles out of Edinburgh, saw the village, the old humpbacked bridge and the canalside pub and thought we had earned a pint, found out they did food and that was it (incidentally Brendan’s 40th was a couple of weeks back – the party had a loose theme of dead rock stars and one guy came as Kurt Cobain; when he turned round he had fake blood and brains on the back of his head).

The menu was a bit disappointing – the veggie options were extremely poor which was annoying as we’ve eaten there many times and they usually had a number of options (I once had gorgeous hot peppers stuffed with fresh cream cheese from one of the local farms, shame they don’t do it anymore) so it was irritating to see a new menu that was so limited on the veggie front – most places tend to add more vegetarian options rather than reducing them. Still, I picked out a couple of simple items and enjoyed them with a decent beer from the Atlas brewery and it meant having more time to spend with the folks which is never bad.