Bits & Bobs – 2

A Compilation of Musings and Notes Forever Increasing and With Nowhere Else To Go….

“THE ROPE WAS BELFAST LINEN….”

My grandmother swore by Irish linen. She wouldn’t have any other bed linen in her house. She used to say, “You only ever have to buy your Irish linen once, it’ll last you a lifetime.” She was right. My mother is eighty-two, but she still has some of Grandma’s Irish linen bed sheets in her closet to this day.

When I was younger, I lusted after an Audi motor car. The German Audi saloon looked so sleek and elegant. Every time one passed by I would stare hypnotically and drool with envy. Years later, I had the opportunity to own an Audi. Grinning with eager anticipation, I slid into plush seats ready for the thrill of the test drive. On returning to the showroom, I said, “Sorry, no thanks” to the salesman and walked disappointedly away. I know German industry took a bashing after WW2, but that was no reason, as I saw, to build their suspensions out of old, cast-iron, railway tracks. Maybe they didn’t – but that’s what it felt like.

Not that I have anything against the Germans, you understand. Well, ok, – tales of Major Pete “Hun-hunter” Madison single-handedly casting dread into the Third Reich and seeing off half the German army with much “Achtung –ing” and “Donner und Blitzen-ing” to accompany their downfall, was prevalent in British comics when I was a boy, and I guess such indoctrinal nonsense may have penetrated my psyche just a little, but overall I have no axe to grind with the German people.

Neither did I totally believe the rumor, circulated around Spanish seaside resorts in the mid-seventies by the British, that German tourists, still in their night attire, sneaked from their hotel rooms before dawn to lay beach towels on the sand nearest to the bathing areas, with the sole intention of keeping us Brits from acquiring the best spots. Though I have to admit, finding the only vacant bit of sand on three miles of beach to be only feet away from the main Barcelona highway, where getting a tan meant risking asphyxiation from diesel fumes, didn’t do much for Anglo-Gallic entente cordiale.

Trekking half a mile to the sea, across a beach packed with guttural-sounding, sweaty German bodies toasting in the hot, Mediterranean sun was not normally my idea of heaven; but the consolation for me, as a young man on holiday and vainly seeking sexual adventure, was in the glorious views of young German womanhood basking on the sand about me. Trends on certain Spanish beaches in the seventies allowed for woman to discard their bikini tops without fear of arrest. Even where laws didn’t permit such activities, the smaller villages usually sported only one policeman; an archetypical bloated, heavily mustached, macho cop married to a middle-aged and overweight Spanish matron with half a dozen kids at home, who happily spent official duty time sat in his car on the edge of the sand, binoculars raised, and scanning the mammary-littered beach with obvious sexual relish.

The German female is typically big and blond, with breasts to match. Stepping lightly between and around such a boob-fest oft resulted in me stumbling onto the bodies of German males, my eyes riveted on their girl-friend’s anatomy and not looking where I was going. Causing discomfort to the glorious female’s mate was simply an additional bonus, so long as he wasn’t too big of course, in which case a hasty apology and rapid retreat were the orders of the day.

A few months ago my ten year old, British electric razor groaned its last. Not wishing to return to those primitive times when we sloshed lather over our faces and scraped, I took a trip to Wal-Mart intent on researching the latest in razor technology. The home brands looked a bit cheap and nasty, and while the Japanese are renowned for their electronics I somehow didn’t fancy my electric shaver having ‘Panasonic’ stamped on it – for reasons even I couldn’t quite determine – so I eventually selected an expensive, sleek and powerful-looking model manufactured by Braun.

Once home with my new acquisition, I eagerly unpacked the gleaming monster from its preformed plastic housing, determined on a test drive without delay. Alas – it was the Audi motor car all over again. I knew Braun was a German company even before I bought the razor – but hey! – how long are these people going to continue using old, cast-iron, railway tracks to build their products? This is the 21st century for goodness sake!

Just like the motor car, their shaver looks good, but doesn’t feel good. The ride it gave my face was as hard and uncomfortable as the jolting their motor car delivered to my backside. And the razor doesn’t shave properly. It is heavy, causing my hand to ache long before I am finished shaving, and leaves an unacceptable stubble. I even spent further money replacing the foil and cutters, in a vain attempt to make it work.

I have pleasant memories of an Irish folk group – the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem – who, back in the seventies, entertained audiences throughout the world with their songs and comic banter. One of my favorites was a song simply called, “William Bloat”. It tells the tale of a Protestant Irishman who suffers from a nagging wife. One day William determines to do away with her. He takes his razor and slits her throat, but then, in a fit of remorse decides to “hang himself from the pantry shelf”, using the bed sheets as a rope. After soundly cursing the Pope he leaps to his death, and the eternal fires of Hell, never realizing that his wife survives. The last line of the song finishes thus:

“He went to Hell for his wife as well – but she’s still alive and sinnin’
For the razor blade was German made – but the rope was Belfast linen”

Listen to “William Bloat” sung by the Clancy Brothers HERE.

“A SOUND OF MUSIC”

I remember it as though it were yesterday. The big, upstairs room above my uncle’s shop in downtown Birkenhead, England; the slightly worn beige carpet embossed with faded red roses; the Queen Anne furniture; high-backed chairs, sideboards, and clocks – multitudinous clocks: tall, stately Grandfather clocks; regal, elegant wall clocks; porcelain timepieces tiny enough to fit even within my four year old palm.

Not that I was allowed to handle them. They were much too precious to be played around with, as I was told sternly whenever I moved towards one of these venerable artifacts, with the gleam of anticipatory curiosity in my eye.

My uncle was a watchmaker and antique dealer. Consequently, the furniture and bric a brac changed constantly as pieces were sold and others acquired, making the old flat over the shop a veritable Aladdin’s Cave to a small boy alight with the excitement of inquisitiveness.

My mother liked to visit her sister once a week. We lived out of town, and to reach there meant a half hour ride on one of the local council’s big, blue, double-deck buses. My father worked as a bus driver so it added to the anticipation while waiting at the roadside, wondering whether it would be our bus that Father would be driving.

Once at the shop, we were quickly ushered upstairs and into the vast front room where all the curiosities were housed. My eyes burned with desire at the objects I saw around me and I soon identified which of them had been there on our last visit, and those more recently acquired.

Having glanced at the chiming clock on the sideboard with the little ballerina that whirled and danced on every quarter hour; the old oak cabinet with its secret drawers and brass binding that had kept me engrossed for hours during our previous stay, I was about to cast my roving eye towards an old “Imperial’ typewriter squatting among a bevy of trinkets and adornments on the ornate, marble, coffee table in the center of the floor, when my attention was riveted by a vision of magnificence standing tall and proud in a far corner of the room.

At first its identity remained elusive. Taller than I was, even tiptoes could not reveal the hinged top of highly polished wood I later learned was called mahogany. Two doors at the front suggested endless secrets housed within its vastness. Four squat, rounded, feet supported a square base. It gave nothing away, no hint of what might be its purpose, yet I felt a wild, trembling, excitement seize my vitals. Here, I knew instinctively, was something that held the capacity to change my life forever.

It was then that my uncle entered the room. He was a tall, portly man – exceedingly old, by my immature calculation – with a strange extra lens on his spectacles that could rotate up and down in front of one eye whenever he needed to examine small objects like watch parts or diamond rings.

His eyes twinkled with mischief when he saw what riveted my attention. Chuckling quietly to himself, he reached up and opened the top of the thing. My eyes widened still further as I watched him remove a small metal handle from inside and insert it into a hole in the object’s side. Then he clicked the two front doors ajar to reveal a series of polished wooden slats, spaced apart, but each inclined just far enough to conceal what lay behind. Kneeling and squinting, I vaguely discerned a loosely woven fabric material behind the slats, which prevented further examination of the interior.

Any idea of getting closer was rapidly negated by a loud hissing noise from within – like the sound from my mother’s chip pan when she fried potatoes – and I was bowled over backwards by a stentorian, baritone voice proclaiming, “Oh, Rose…Marie I Love You….I’m Always Dreaming Of You…oo…oo….” accompanied, it seemed, by a full symphony orchestra.

Amazed, I ran around the back expecting the invisible singer to materialize. Needless to say, he didn’t do so. My uncle chuckled again before lifting me onto a stool so I could see what was happening.

“It’s a gramophone,” he smiled, pointing to a black, bakelite disc spinning rapidly on a metal plate covered in green baize, “See – that’s the record, and this…” he pointed at an impressive silver arm with rotating head and a tiny sliver of metal that sat in the record’s groove, “…is the needle that picks up the sound and sends it down through a big horn at the front.”

I didn’t understand the technicalities, but it wasn’t important. What mesmerized me was that ebullient sound swaggering from the front of the cabinet. My uncle showed me a tall stack of records, presumably acquired with the machine, and how to wind the handle every once in a while when the powerful voice began to slow and slur, rapidly moving from baritone to quavering bass, then back again following further turns of the handle.

I spent hours sifting through the stack of records, familiarizing myself with such names as Deanna Durbin, Nelson Eddy, Enrico Caruso, the New York Sinfonia, and many more. The miracle that produced such melodics from a flat, spinning, black plate eluded me at the time, but like the white mongrel dog sitting with its head in the horn, that characterized HMV record labels of the day, I was content to squat in front of the machine, enthralled by the glorious sounds it produced.

My first impression had been correct. It was a life-altering experience. From that moment, music and audio reproduction has been a large factor in my life. Once old enough to handle such devices with some degree of safety, my bedroom filled with old tube radios, loudspeakers, countless varieties of record changers, and miles of haphazard wiring connecting everything together.

It was the start of a long search for the ultimate in sound reproduction. Unfortunately, like rainbows, such a pinnacle of perfection is elusive and unattainable, although always seeming possible with the addition of just one more vital piece of esoteric equipment.

Fortunately, I realized while still young that esoteric equipment was not the answer. If we only listen to music with our ears there is little pleasure to be gained, for we must hear it with our hearts.

Fifty years on, as I write these words, my highly expensive ‘audiophile’ high-fidelity stereo system is playing a Beethoven sonata, but it would not matter one iota if the music was still emanating from my uncle’s old mahogany gramophone.

For, indeed, in my heart, it is.

“CHINESE TAPS”

It’s the little things you cock-up that really miff you off. Take today, as an example. The water heater was twenty-five years old and past its best. Taking a shower was fine for five minutes, then the water ran cold and a delicate manipulation of the faucet was required to increase the hot water flow. Too little, you froze; too much, you were steamed.

Relenting to my wife’s insistence that I just hadn’t time to install a new one, a firm of plumbers was contacted; supply and installation, for a horrendous number of dollars, was agreed.

They did a good job. It was all over in three hours and they were on their way.

At this point, I turned on the kitchen tap, to be greeted by a rush of air followed by a dribble. Leave it an hour, I thought, while the new tank fills and heats up. It’ll be fine, then.

Two hours later, the kitchen faucet still only produced a dribble.

At this point I’d better explain that the kitchen tap was made in China. Not that I’ve anything against the Chinese, you understand. It’s just that everything I buy in America has “Made in China” stamped all over it, and invariably every item gives up the ghost just one day after the expiry of the twelve month, limited liability, guarantee – whatever that means.

The kitchen faucet was twelve months old – well, just over, probably by a day. I had bought and fitted it myself.

Now, in my native land, the only bit of a tap that wears is the washer. If any British faucet behaves in a less than satisfactory manner, you can be as sure as eggs is eggs the problem lies with the washer. The solution is simple: head down the hardware shop, pick up a pack of half-a-dozen washers for twenty pence, and Bob’s yer uncle. The problem’s solved.

Chinese faucets don’t have washers. They’re advertised as ‘washer-free’. No more problems with leaky washers, according to the blurb, instead we give you a nice, user friendly, cartridge. Guaranteed for a year and a day, the user-friendly cartridge, will serve you better than a washer, and in the unlikely event of failure it’s an easy-peasy two minutes to take out the old and pop in the new.

Convinced the cartridge in my kitchen tap was faulty, I set off in a snowstorm to my nearest Lowes hardware store, not ten miles distant, for a replacement. Three hours later, I’d made it back home after battling blizzards and white-outs that reduced traffic to a snarled up mess.

The salesman assured me that, though my original faucet cartridge was now obsolete, the universal Chinese replacement would do the job just fine. He would probably have been correct, had it fitted. Unfortunately, all the little plastic tabs and sticky-out bits were in the wrong place; the bit the metal handle fastens to was way too big, and it fell apart very quickly when I tried to botch things up in the hope it might just work if I filed a bit off here, and broke that bit of plastic off there…..

It was around this time I discovered the problem had not been due to the cartridge at all, but a load of metal filings that had clogged the little gauze spray filter on the faucet’s nozzle. A quick rinse and all would have been well, accept that now I had no working cartridge.

Another trip through the snow, to yet another hardware store, saw me the proud owner of another new kitchen faucet. After much back-breaking effort under the kitchen sink it was installed and working fine.

Aching from such unaccustomed physical exertion, I retired to the bathroom and a long, welcome, soak in the hot-tub, only to find the faucet only dribbled.

Not to be caught out twice, I quickly unscrewed the filter, rinsed it of its metallic clutter, and reinserted, before enjoying a long, and wonderfully hot and steamy, bath.

All items © Copyright R J Adams 2008

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