Not Enough Cardboard!

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Poor America. Such a tough choice of who to vote for today: a lying, misogynist, racist, dangerous, unpredictable narcissist who can’t even be trusted with his own Twitter access let alone the nuclear codes, or a woman who might as well be reading her top-level-security emails off the jumbotron at Yankee Stadium?

 

It’s little wonder they are pissed at everything and not enough cardboard to list their many complaints, as the photo shows. And no, we are not taking you back…hell, as if we haven’t enough problems of our own right now trying to fathom out the self-inflicted mess we voted ourselves into with Brexit.

 

It all reminds me a little too much of Paddy Chayefsky’s wickedly wonderful 1976 satirical/black comedy Network that I recently watched for the umpteenth time, as TV news anchor Howard Beale (fantastically played by Peter Finch, in a true Oscar-winning performance, albeit posthumously), takes a nervous breakdown live on air, ignores the teleprompter and lets out all of his frustrations of the world in which he lives before ranting “I’M AS MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” and then urges all the viewers to open their windows and do the same.

 

It’s all getting to be strangely prophetic – where’s Wolf Blitzer when you need him most of all?  

 

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No matter what Wizzard catchily sang in my youth, we have ruined Christmas by allowing capitalism to tell us we should be buying ourselves into an orgy of goodwill and glamour. What am I talking about, you might be asking yourselves? It is, in fact, the sad news this week that Selfridges’ in London have already dedicated its fourth floor into a festive winter wonderland – and here we are in the first week of August!

 

Yes, that’s right, with some 140 shopping days before the big day, they got Santa out of his hibernation sleep early to launch their Christmas shop – and typically, the shop’s first customers were Americans visiting London on holiday. I say ‘typically’, because – although I do really like them – I blame Americans more than anyone for the blatant over-commercialisation of Christmas.

 

Last year the TUC published a study that showed the average British adult borrowed £685 over the festive period, grinding them into a debt that would take until June to pay off – hey, just in time for the opening of Selfridges’ Christmas shop! We have ruined Christmas, without even trying. Perhaps, if we really do want to spread comfort and joy this year, we should accept it for what it is; a day. Just a day. Whatever Roy Wood or Selfridges tells us.

 

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It’s not just the 45 rpm vinyl single that turned 60 this year. It seems that one of the most iconic instruments in producing most of those wonderful vinyl singles, the Fender Stratocaster, beloved the world over by rock stars, bluesmen and garage bands alike, also turns 60 this year.

 

Some of the most famous (and infamous) guitarists have embraces the American cultural icon, that’s become best known in the biz as a “Strat”. The first Strat, a 1954 Fender Stratocaster, serial number 0001, is owned by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. They can sell from anywhere between $800 and $24,000 – a mere bagatelle compared to the estimated $2m the Seattle Seahawks owner and former Microsoft squillionaire Paul Allen paid for Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Stratocaster used during his legendary Woodstock gig of 1969.

 

And I suppose this gives me yet another lame excuse to show a close-up photo from the legendary Hendrix bronze statue by local Seattle artist Daryl Smith, which sits pride of place outside the Blick Arts Materials building on Broadway and E Pine.

 

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Beginning with the ancient civilisations  – sans the red, white and blue striped pole that spins round and round – of Greece, Rome, and Egypt, barber shops have historically been a place where men have gathered for not only a haircut, but often to shoot the breeze about local happenings, politics, news, weather, sporting events, and anything else under the sun.

 

There’s also the time-honoured tradition of a boys first barber shop cut; and invariably taken by their father. I remember this follicle rite of passage when I was about 4ish, while back home in sunny Springburn, where barbers didn’t take any prisoners. Father had his traditional trim with a good dollop of Brylcreem on top for good measure, while I happily played with a plastic stacking ring clown that was obviously brought along to lull me into a false sense of security. Then when he finished, the dreaded plank was quickly placed across the arms of the chair, as I was hoiked into position to discover the hard way that the first cut was definitely the deepest. Ah, happy days.

 

Obviously the barber I went to – and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he went by the name of ‘Mr S Todd’ – was not a patch on Sergio’s at Pike Place Market. With all those wonderful colourful magazines of scantily clad women on the table, the kid in the photo obviously liked the idea of becoming a regular at a man’s man barber shop. Mother doesn’t look too keen on it though, does she? I think she’s thinking ‘salon stylist’ here.

 

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The Greyhound Terminal that has shuffled folks in and out of Seattle for 86 years has moved to SoDo to make room for what was supposed to be a dual tower project consisting of an office tower and hotel. Developers Hedgreen, though, announced they’re dropping the controversial 500-foot office towers from their plans due to apparent challenges that could arise with city planners.

 

They are still, however, moving forward with “Ninth & Stewart,” a 43-story tower that will become Seattle’s biggest hotel and second biggest meeting & event location. The first six floors will be a podium that contains the lobby, affordable housing for workers, banquet space and meeting rooms. Above that, a 37-floor tower will contain 1,500 guest rooms and suites.

 

Demolition of the old ‘Dirty Dog’ terminal (shown above), with its superb late 1970s neon signage, will start in early March and is expected to be gone before the month ends, and the projected $400-$500M construction scheduled for completion by early 2017.

 

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In When Harry Met Sally, Billy Crystal’s baffled Harry wonders about Auld Lang Syne, “What does this song mean? My whole life, I don’t know what this song means. I mean, ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot?’ Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances. Or does it mean that if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot them?”

 

“Well, maybe it just means that we should remember that we forgot them or something,” Sally reasons. “Anyway, it’s about old friends.”

 

The old Scots song has turned into an international anthem, and so gracefully evokes a sense of nostalgia this time of the year, as millions of us begin the clock-watching vigil that ends around midnight as we raise our voices in song to ring in the new year.

 

The song has its roots in an old Scottish ballad about a disappointed lover and a popular dance tune that evoked a country wedding.

 It was Robert Burns (1759–1796), the great eighteenth-century Scottish bard, who transformed the old song for publication. He devoted the last ten years of his short life to collecting old verses, revising and “mending” as he saw fit, even composing poetry to accompany popular airs. When Burns turned his attention to Auld Lang Syne, he claimed – and this is the true measure of the man, who could well have claimed it as all his own original work – merely to have transcribed the words from hearing “an old man’s singing” on the street.

 

Yet despite its strong association with New Year’s Eve, Auld Lang Syne was never intended as a holiday song. We have to blame the Americans for this. Guy Lombardo is credited with popularising the song when his band used it as a segue between two radio programs during a live performance at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York in 1929. By coincidence, they played Auld Lang Syne just after the clock hit midnight, and thus a New Year’s tradition was born. And its holiday credentials was further reinforced by being played during the final scene of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life.

 

So, as you surround yourself with friends old and new tonight to welcome in 2014, sing on – but do try the original Burns version:

 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

and auld lang syne?

 

CHORUS:

For auld lang syne, my jo,

for auld lang syne,

well tak a cup o kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

And surely yell be your pint-stowp!

and surely Ill be mine!

And well tak a cup o kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

 

CHORUS

 

We twa hae run about the braes,

and pud the gowans fine;

But weve wanderd mony a weary fit,

sin auld lang syne.

 

CHORUS

 

We twa hae paidld i’ the burn,

frae morning sun till dine;

But seas between us braid hae roard

sin auld lang syne.

 

CHORUS

 

And theres a hand, my trusty fiere!

and gie’s a hand o thine!

And well tak a right gude-willy waught,

for auld lang syne.

 

CHORUS

 

 

A Happy New Year to All!

 

 

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If madly dashing around shops for last-minute festive shopping is all too familiar a scenario for you, then at least you’re in good company. A recent poll reveals that many of us who plan on exchanging gifts at Christmas haven’t even started the present hunt yet – and with not much time now before the big day!

 

Just think of all that schlepping around the shops on Christmas Eve; getting into ugly rucks in department stores over the last scented candle; finally finishing high-speed drunken wrapping at four in the morning and collapsing into a pool of self-loathing and single malt Oban like some (ahem) others I wouldn’t care to mention here. It’s all enough to make you want to take a time out with a power nap or three among the rush, just like the guy in today’s photo.

 

 

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‘Tis the $eason to be anti-consumerist and agit-shop — especially as a camera crew follows the Reverend Billy across the USA the month before Christmas, as he preaches in malls against our shopping-hungry culture as families suffer from the rise of debt attributed to the Shopocalypse.

 

He is happy to throw himself on the floor in a fit of religious ecstasy, perform cash register exorcisms or go carolling with the 35 members of his Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, who sing anti-shopping and anti-corporate seasonal songs, such as Fill the Malls With Wealthy People, to the tune of Deck the Halls. He does all this and much, much more in the hilarious 2007 documentary, What Would Jesus Buy?

 

The film takes the viewer into the homes of families as they max out their credit cards to live up to the Consumer Ideal of Christmas, while also telling personal stories from those who remember the holidays as a simpler, less commercial, and more joyful time. Interviews with labor rights experts, historians, and spiritual leaders reveal how the consumerization of the holiday season over time taught Americans they can only show love for their children by purchasing toys made by other children in overseas sweatshops.

 

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As I recently walked past Nordstrom’s, Seattle landmark department store, they had their perennial festive frontage of one of the main window displays taken over with the arrival of Santa Claus and kids waiting to be photographed alongside the Big Man. It’s a time-honoured Seattle tradition: Grandparents and parents did this at Nordstrom’s when they were kids, and now they take their own kids – though times have changed, and along with getting the traditional photo, one of the parents can usually be seen taking their own instant family Santa selfie with the iPhone.

 

All of which led me to wonder what goes into someone wanting to be a Santa in the first place. Turns out I didn’t have much research to do, as I found a wonderful 2011 documentary streaming on Netflix called Becoming Santa, about a regular guy who decides he’s going to take on the role of Santa Claus for a season. Don’t be mistaken in thinking that this is some sort of dire Tim Allen festive frolic. But that’s almost what it is, minus the dire part and Tim Allen.

 

Instead, this festive crowd-pleaser is all about Jack Sanderson, a former producer’s assistant, writer and voice actor for Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place, who takes on the part of the Christmas mascot and finds out just exactly what it takes to represent him to the kids (sorry, I mean children – you need to watch the doc for this one). Sanderson gets his hair and beard dyed pure white and groomed much in the style of the Coca-Cola Santa; he then invests $600 on a made-to-measure Santa suit; and then enrols in Santa School. When he graduates, he’s given his certificate (which, if it were British, you could say he had three Ho! Levels – sorry, I couldn’t resist that pun) and then embarks on playing Santa for special events and charities.

 

But along the way, this is where the documentary comes into its own, as it sprinkles about the history of and facts on the said Big Man. Think you know all there is to know about the origins, controversies and cultural depictions of what was a very black Turkish monk called Saint Nicholas, aka Sinterklaas, aka Father Christmas? Believe me, there is much you’re unfamiliar with, particularly the bounty of info provided by a jolly old Civil War historian Santa, the racially controversial colonial holdover of the “blacking up” (think golliwogs and a certain brand of British marmalade here) of Black Pete in the Netherlands, and details of the first department store Santa.

 

Sanderson is hilarious, intelligent, honest and just sardonic enough to pull this off by being a perfect observer and participant in the whole affair without veering towards the Grinch/Scrooge territory. And it turned out not just to be a documentary one-off Santa experience for Sanderson – a year after the film was released, he ended up getting the best Santa gig in the world. No, not at the legendary Miracle On 34th Street Macy’s in New York. He became Santa for the Tiffany store in Hong Kong, earning himself $16,000 for working from Dec 1-24.

 

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