Category Archives: Editorial

Editorial

Editorial: December 2022

It’s that grey time of year, that stay under the duvet time between autumn with its romantic golden leaves and winter with its Bing Crosby snow. There’s nothing to like about this time of year – and this year, blimey. 

Every time you open the front door it’s like some outtake from a post-apocalyptic “Day After Tomorrow” type film. Turn on the telly and there’s David Attenborough looking at a forlorn polar bear standing on a lump of ice, a lump of ice which was once a block of ice but which would now find employment in a large vodka and tonic.

Turn on the news and somewhere else is under water. Last night on the news there was a story about a town on a small Italian island that had been swept away by a tidal wave of mud created by the most rain since whenever it was that records began. No one knows when records actually began, but it was a long time ago. There’s the cost of living crisis. Recession. Inflation. More rain than there’s rain, all that. 

Back in the old days I’d say to My Fine Wife “Come on, let’s just get away” and a couple of hours later we’d be at Gatwick holding a ticket that said “Somewhere sunny”. And in truth there’s a part of me where that impulse still lives. When friends say “Oh we’re off to Morocco”…  there’s a part of me that reaches for my new post-Brexit blue passport (which has still got blimmin foreign writing on it – really, was Brexit for nothing?) because here it’s dark and cold and it’s wetter than ever since records began – I mean really, how much rain? – and Morocco’s nice, but I don’t know, you can’t really do that anymore, can you? Can you? No you can’t. Not when there are small Italian towns being swept away. 

But it’s tempting, isn’t it. When you’re living in difficult times, what you need is something to cheer you up, something to make you smile, something to fill you with joy, with wonder, with awe. Something that would make you feel life was just better. 

That was the train of thought when I turned round and looked at Pickle. Pickle is our new puppy dog, our new 12-year-old rescue, and without wanting to cast doubt on his previous owners, safe to say Pickle’s life has taken a turn for the better. 

There are small clues. For example, we take him for walks. To you this may be a small thing, being taken for a walk. But to Pickle, this is a revelation. Similarly, playing with a ball. Not sure Pickle had ever seen a ball before. He still doesn’t quite know what to do with it, but Mum and Dad say it’s fun and that’s good enough for Pickle. 

As antidotes to the grey go, Pickle is perfect. How can we sprinkle a bit of Pickle’s joy over the grey? Not by going to Gatwick. Not when there are small Italian towns getting swept away. 

But why are we talking about this? We should be talking about Christmas and with due respect to Sam’s column on page 7, we like Christmas. Drinks, chocolates, that song by The Waitresses… Baileys on your cornflakes. Another bottle of Old Spice. Eat, drink and be merry. Or eat, drink and fall asleep. Maybe play charades or that one where you stick a piece of paper on your head and people have to guess who you are. Whatever you do, be more Pickle and have a ball. And remember, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.

Editorial: October 2022

We don’t fly these days. Flying is, well, the planet you know. It’s My Fine Wife’s doing really – she’s more principled than me – but I agree with her, so we just don’t do it. But sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, and so a few weeks ago, I found myself sitting in row 5, seat A listening to someone telling me the exits are here, here and here. In Spanish. 

I haven’t been in a plane for years, since long before Covid, and I’d been unashamedly excited. We live, objectively speaking of course, in the best place in the UK, but there’s still something exciting and romantic about travel. When I was young, I used to go to Heathrow and just hang around, watching the planes fly off, wondering where they were going, fantasing about the adventures, wondering what it was like the other side of the “Departures” sign.  

I’ve been on a few planes since then, but there’s still something curiously glam about flying, still something a bit jet set. It’s kinda like still thinking a sun tan and smoking still look cool. But then again… they do still look cool. They shouldn’t, but they do. 

There’s nothing cool about row 5, seat A. I’m not sure Danny Wilde and Lord Brett Sinclair ever travelled Economy, and even if The Terrible Thing did happen I’m not sure I could get to the exits that are aquí, aquí y aquí because, as my new best friend, the guy sitting next to me, said “It’s cosy here, isn’t it”.  

It’s quick and it’s cheap and I suppose that’s good in a sense, but really. Think about it. Anything that sells itself on being quick and cheap… it’s probably not going to be a great experience. 

“Come and eat at our restaurant – it’s really quick and cheap”. It’s not where you’re going to go on your hot first date. On the other hand, I’ve just described the global fast food industry so maybe that’s not the best example.

The whole flying experience is  a bit odd. Before squeezing yourself into row 5, seat A you spend an hour and a half wandering around a faceless soulless shopping mall full of shops selling a variety of men’s clothes, women’s clothes, posh bags, shops that don’t exist anywhere else, shops that are completely empty. I walked into a men’s clothes shop, the t-shirts were all neatly folded into squares and the shirts were hanging up. I said “Hello” to the woman behind the till. She shuffled uncomfortably, like she didn’t quite know what to do. 

“It’s quick and it’s cheap” – and as clunky links go, this is up there – made me think about this issue of Your Mighty Whistler. The reason we don’t fly isn’t because the experience is rubbish; it’s because the planet. And if you read “Gull About Town”, Feedback Special and the interview with Philip Lymbery, they’re all also because the planet. Everyone likes quick, everyone likes cheap, but we’re a little bit past that now. We’ve got to really start being a bit more careful and if Philip Lymbery is right and there are only 60 harvests left… quick and cheap won’t cut it anymore. As mother used to say, you get what you pay for. Maybe it’s time to stop doing quick and cheap. Maybe it’s time to take a bit more care, to take a bit more time and if it costs a bit more, well do it less often.   

The Whistler – December 2020

It’s officially winter. The nights have closed in, the straw hat is back in it box and coats are the season’s must-have accessory. Still, we’re out of lockdown and we’re allowed out. Remember that? Out? And if we’ve got to have a substantial meal, well that’s OK too. Lockdown’s had its moments. We’ve met people, well we’ve seen people on small screens, and as long as the West Hill quiz keeps going, so will we (even though we were robbed at the last quiz, positively robbed. Who knew what a Star bar looked like?). 

But remember, if things are hard, if you have trouble getting out and about, Lovely Vinod at Bright News is doing deliveries and helping those who need it. It’s what community’s for. 

Finally, a quick word about us going all 21st century – the website’s got a new look, there’s a new Instagram (@westhillwhistler) and Twitter (@WestHillWhistle) and a re-vamped Facbook page. You can probably guess what that’s called. It’s all very exciting.

And, as always, if you’ve got something to say, drop us a line. Join in. Life’s better that way. 

Merry Xmas / New Year. See you on the other side.

 XXX 

The great Eddie Thompson

Peter Batten pays tribute to one of the great British jazz pianists

One wet Friday evening in November 1961 I was about to leave my place of work, the Stevenage College of Further Education. As I came to the main entrance I met a bachelor colleague. Like me he was new to the College; we had both arrived in September.

“What are you doing this evening?” he asked. I explained that I was going to a jazz club run by one of my new neighbours. 

“May I join you?” he asked.

Later that evening he gave me a lift and we arrived at the club just as Eddie Thompson was about to play. His dog was already settled comfortably under the grand piano.

Eddie [1925-86] had long been recognised as one of our finest jazz pianists. Born blind, he attended the same school as the great George Shearing. Like some other people with his disability, he turned to piano tuning as his trade. However his talent for jazz soon began to shine through. He performed  solo and with bands in a variety of styles. That evening, although I had heard several of his recordings, I was to hear him in person for the first time. I fell in love with his playing. What I did not know was that his dog was about to retire. A few months later Eddie took a very brave decision to try his luck in the clubs of New York.

He was away for ten years. Although he won great respect in New York, he knew that the experience would enhance his ability to make a living in London. By the time he returned I was working at a new college in South London. He often appeared nearby at a pub called the Leather Bottle in Merton. One of my friends played bass with Eddie at his regular gig at the Playboy Club as well at Merton so I was introduced. At that time I was very fond of a great song by Tadd Dameron called “If You Could See Me Now.” Eddie played it superbly, so it became a regular request from me.

Then I decided to give myself a special treat. The music studio at the Sutton College was equipped with a small Bosendorfer grand piano, one of the world’s finest pianos. I arranged for Eddie to give a solo performance for an audience of about 50 people. He loved the piano. The result was an evening of outstanding jazz. I never heard him play better. And there was a bonus. Eddie had a very sharp wit and a stock of jokes, most of them unsuited for polite company. It was an “Evening with Eddie Thompson” to remember.

As we entered the 1980s he was playing better than ever. Sadly his years were limited. He was diagnosed with emphysema. Within 18 months he declined rapidly, was housebound, confined to bed and died, aged 61. He had been a very heavy smoker.     ]

If you want to know what a great player he was, call up some of his recordings on Youtube. I would particularly recommend “One Morning in May” by his trio with the great Martin Drew on drums.

At 87 years of age I have been shielding at home during Lockdown. That is my excuse for leading you back through my memories of a lovely, gifted man. One special evening comes to mind. It was August and very hot. I went to the Bull’s Head at Barnes, a famous jazz venue, to hear the great American saxophonist Johnny Griffin. To my delight Eddie was at the piano, with Martin Drew on drums. The music was fantastic, the room was packed, the sweat was pouring off us and even seemed to be running down the walls. Through it all I could see Eddie, exactly opposite me at the grand piano, a broad grin on his face, enjoying the chance to accompany such a great musician.

A final story. One of Eddie’s friends had given him a lift home from a gig. Eddie invited him to come in for a coffee. The curtains were drawn, the house was in total darkness and the friend began to collide with the furniture. “Sorry” said Eddie, “I’ll put the light on. I’d forgotten you could see”.