Later Alligator – Rich Pickings from the Pelican State

FVDD105 LATER ALLIGATOR Louisiana Rock’n’Roll

Yonder comes a pirogue…” Serving up a lip-smackin’ gumbo of rockin’ musicality, Later Alligator blends Cajun Country with New Orleans R&B and Blues to create the essence of bon temps Louisiana Rock’n’Roll .  From the fiddle-laden boogie of Harry Choates to the piano-pounding of Ferriday Fireball Jerry Lee Lewis, and flat-out rockers Hershel Almond and Tommy Strange, this tidy set also includes the cream of the Crescent City’s R&B greats among them Champion Jack Dupree, Chris Kenner and living legend Fats Domino.

Showcasing the big band sound of New Orleans pioneers Dave Bartholomew and Paul Gayten alongside the good time Country pickin’ of Rusty & Doug and Bill & Carroll, this 2-CD set samples the diverse delights of local labels Goldband, Jin, Ram, Ace and Vin, all of which helped define the regional sound.  With contributions from John Fred, Mickey Gilley and a thirteen year-old Dolly Parton, this nifty fifty also includes gems from Red Smiley, Al Terry, Clarence Garlow, Gene Wyatt and Rocket Morgan.

Carefully compiled in conjunction with the Wild Wax Show’s deejay “Jailhouse” John Alexander, Later Alligator offers an authentic selection sure to appeal to both avid collectors and those just beginning their journey of discovery.  This title completes Fantastic Voyage’s regional Rock’n’Roll series.

Available on Fantastic Voyage. Also available as a 32-track double vinyl LP.

The set vividly demonstates the range of styles prevalent in the early 1950s/60s and blends some very familiar classics with lesser-heard originals and obscurities appearing on CD for the first time. A rich and potent mix indeed and warmly recommended. Harry Dodds · Now Dig This

Archive label Fantastic Voyage’s state-by-state trawl of bygone American sounds serves up an especially spicy menu of not just rock’n’roll, but generous dollops of Cajun country, bayou swing and urban blues boogie. As with the label’s Lone Star state release earlier this summer, Texas Tornados, the breadth of musical styles on offer is impressive. Terry Staunton · Record Collector

Excellent compilationVintage Rock

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Texas Tornados

FVDD142 TEXAS TORNADOS Rock’n’Roll from the Lone Star State

True to its independent spirit, rarely has a place offered more musical originality and diversity than Texas.  From steel-laden Western Swing and dusty, downhome C&W, to flat out Rockabilly and proto-Tex Mex Rock, Texas Tornados – Rock’n’Roll from the Lone Star State presents a whirlwind of hot tamale talent whose wild waxings helped make the Lone Star state sparkle on Rock’n’Roll’s map.

Featuring  Rock’n’Roll pioneers The Crickets and Jape Richardson alongside honky tonkers Bill Mack and Bash Hofner, this 2-CD set also cherry picks the best from the Sarg, Starday and D labels to name but three, all of which helped define the regional sound.  With contributions from Ronnie Dawson, Jett Powers and Trini Lopez, this nifty fifty also includes gems from Doug Sahm, Thumper Jones and Bennie Hess.

Compiled in conjunction with the Wild Wax Show’s deejay “Jailhouse” John Alexander, Texas Tornados offers an authentic selection sure to appeal to both avid collectors and those just beginning their journey of discovery.

Available on Fantastic Voyage.  Also available as 32-track double vinyl LP.

If this doesn’t make you flat git it, then there’s just no hope for you at all.  A tip top collection of some of the finest rockin’sounds to ever emerge from the Lone Star state.  Even J.R. Ewing would doff his stetson to such a rich selection. Now Dig This

A sparkling compilation Hi-Fi World

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’Tis the season… yet again!

Yes, folks… it’s that time of year again.  Like a film noir “spinning calendar” measuring out our days, with clockwork precision comes the joyless thud of yet another gift catalogue landing on the doormat and dreary ads for over-the-counter cold remedies; all that’s missing is the threat of impending industrial action (give it time).  Yep, the relentless march towards the Christmas festivities has begun and just to keep us on our mettle, the holiday season is prefaced by an oh-so tricky Mercury retrograde which kicks in on the 6th November – yes, that’s right, on the same day that America goes to the polls to elect the man who will serve as the leader of the free world for the next four years.  With that in mind, I’m reposting an article from last November with top tips for surviving and making the most of the challenging astrological climate – although whether it’ll help the candidates at this late stage is anyone’s guess!


Beware the Mercury retrograde "brain fog" - don't forget to vote!

In ancient times it would have been unthinkable for rulers to embark on any pivotal course of action without seeking the advice of the court astrologer.  Consequently it does give pause for thought that tomorrow’s election, which augers far-reaching repercussions not only for the US but for the wider world, should occur at the start of an astrological cycle synonymous with miscommunication, delays and back-tracking.  Wrapping my stargazy cloak about me and with my left eyebrow a few degrees short of perpendicular, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the ballot is hampered by low turn-out (perhaps as a result of more bad weather) and subject to recounts.  We already know the race is too close to call but it will be fascinating to see what effect this retrograde period will have as the process unfolds.  I’m sure playful Mercury has a few twists and turns in store over the coming weeks.  Fasten your safety belts…!

Be a Betty: plan ahead to avoid MRx stress

With party dresses already inducing sequin fatigue in the high street, it seems like a good time to flag the final Mercury retrograde of 2011.   Taking effect from the 22nd November until 13th December, Mercury will turn to forward motion just in time to usher in the New Year.  Falling as it does just prior to and during the festive period, this particular retrograde threatens to add more chaos than cheer to what is often already a stressful time, with the potential to throw travel plans and communication into disarray – and yes, that includes letters to Santa and arrangements over who was supposed to bake the mince pies and bring the extra chairs.  So, what can one do to minimise retrograde-related SNAFUs and above all, enjoy glad tidings?

In astrology the planet Mercury – just like the same-named winged messenger of the gods in Greek mythology – governs communication, travel and mechanical things.  During its retrograde period, when the planet appears to be moving backwards from our earthly perspective, we can expect these three areas to be adversely affected to some degree.  Those whose ruling planet is Mercury (typically Gemini and Virgo natives) often feel the retrograde effects more profoundly; some complain they can’t think straight compounded by a sense of treading water.  Although progress may be hampered and tempers short, thankfully Mercury’s influence is fairly benign; more mischievous sprite than malevolent meddler.

In light of this, astrologers routinely caution against initiating major projects, signing contracts or embarking on far-flung trips lest frustration and delay cause you to regret the decision and retrace your steps.  It may also prove difficult to make yourself understood, and you may find yourself at cross purposes with others leading to petty bickering and hurt feelings.  Typically emails will fail to arrive and cheques get stuck “in the post”.  Similarly, meetings might suddenly be cancelled or rescheduled and transportation may become unreliable and erratic.  Don’t be surprised if your car won’t start, your phone goes dead half-way through an important conversation and the TV decides to go on the blink, along with the DVD player and the toaster.  Commonplace objects such as keys and remote controls inexplicably go astray; it’s almost as if someone is playing a game with you – that someone being playful Mercury.

So aside from resigning yourself to Christmas cards that won’t arrive until January, what else can be done to minimise the impact?  As ever, the secret lies in being prepared:

  • Back up your work. If you use a computer regularly (and most of us do these days), ideally you should be saving your work to disc or to a separate drive as a matter of course, and during a Mercury retrograde it’s essential.  Make duplicate copies of important documents and keep them somewhere safe. Festive tip: make sure you’ve printed off your Christmas card list and address labels well in advance of the 9th, if only to ensure your cards and gifts arrive in good time.
  • Re-read all correspondence before sending it. Check for misspellings, ambiguities and tone (be on your guard for snarkiness masquerading as light-hearted banter; in-jokes and teasing are likely to fall flat at this time), and make sure the recipient’s address is correct before you drop the letter in the postbox or hit the send button. Festive tip: just as you would for your gift shopping, block off time for writing your Christmas cards and allow for lengthy queues at the post office.  Be sure to heed the post-by dates for overseas mail and parcels, and don’t be surprised if you later find little scamps have swapped around the gift tags on your presents.
  • Allow extra time for journeys and if possible, avoid longer trips. Even routine errands in your immediate locality can be subject to disruption so don’t bank on anything going to plan.   Road works may suddenly appear overnight with diversions that take you ’round the houses literally and metaphorically. Festive tip: if you’re travelling over Christmas, factor in extra time for heavy traffic, travel disruption and where practicable, formulate a contingency plan.  That last minute dash to the supermarket for cranberry sauce is likely to take longer than usual so aim to buy your non-perishables well in advance.  And don’t forget spare bulbs for the tree lights and batteries for toys!
  • Postpone complex discussions and the signing of contracts.  Decisions made during a retrograde will most likely be subject to costly or time-consuming revision later so, if you can, avoid committing yourself verbally or on paper until after Mercury changes to forward motion. Festive tip: Try to finalise family arrangements as soon as possible to reduce the likelihood of squabbles or misunderstandings.  Granted it’s a balancing act, but try to stay flexible as plans are virtually guaranteed to change.  So, keep it simple: rather than prepare a sit-down dinner on Christmas Eve, opt for a buffet with dishes than can be easily reheated for last minute stragglers or eked out to accommodate surprise guests.
  • Double-check your diary Some Mercurial types can find themselves suffering from dyscalculia during a retrograde, transposing the digits of phone numbers or writing down dates and times incorrectly, especially when listening to information over the phone.  Don’t be afraid to ask the caller to repeat themselves; better to flag your brain fog that than suffer the embarrassment of missing an important deadline or meeting. Festive tip: When you feel your diary starting to close in as you struggle to juggle the shopping, office parties, carol concerts and school plays, take care to ensure you haven’t doubled-booked yourself and don’t be afraid to say no to some invitations.  What’s the point of running yourself ragged only to wake up on Christmas morning with the ’flu?  Been there, done that and it’s no fun (not even with South Pacific providing the backdrop to one’s delirium).
  • Don’t start new projects Instead use the retrograde energy to take stock, complete outstanding admin, filing and generally tidy your desk in readiness for the shot-in-the-arm which invariably accompanies Mercury’s change to forward motion.  After spinning your wheels, when you get the green light you’ll want to be ready to roll. Festive tip: If you can get your preparations underway and completed early (aim for the 30th November but pat yourself on the back if you hit the 7th December), you may actually find you have the energy to enjoy Christmas rather than feeling it’s something to be endured through a haze of exhaustion.  If your favourite B&W movie is on TV, just think how much more you’ll enjoy it knowing your to-do list is all ticked off and tickety-boo.

Retrograde energy lends itself it to nostalgic musing so indulge that tendency by reminiscing with friends and family, and watching The Man Who Came To Dinner for the umpteenth time.  Although at times it may feel as if everything is conspiring, keep your cool, put the kettle on, make a list (be checking it twice) and you’ll have yourself a merry l’il Mercury retrograde!

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Three Months To Kill

FVDD113 THREE MONTHS TO KILL West Coast Rock’n’Roll

From the C&W honky-tonk circuit to the hit-making hubs of Hollywood and Bakersfield, Three Months To Kill charts the A-listers, the also-rans and the lesser-heard whose wild waxings helped put California on the musical map.  Combining the glitz’n’glamour of the world’s entertain epicentre with a freewheeling spirit that harks back to the pioneering days of old, the Golden State offers a host of rockin’ recordings as enduring as its endless summer image.

Carefully compiled in conjunction with the legendary Wild Wax Show’s “Jailhouse” John Alexander, this solid sixty offers a dazzling selection sure to appeal to both avid collectors and those just beginning their journey of discovery.

Available on Fantastic Voyage. Also available as a 32-track double vinyl LP.

This release is something of a corker, and one of the most consistently enjoyable compilations to come my way for a while… there are so many delights here from the crazy Chicano rock’n’roll of Chan Romero to the wild sounds of Big T. Tyler… this is indeed a fantastic voyage. Now Dig This

… a truly sparkling collection of various shades of quality rockin’ music. American Music Magazine

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Let’s Have A Party

LET’S HAVE A PARTY Girls Gone Rockin’ Vol. 2 (Fantastic Voyage FVTD106)

Following in the kitten-heeled footsteps of Girls Gone Rockin’, Fantastic Voyage is proud to reveal its star-studded twinset comprising seventy-five sparkling tracks that fly the flag for female Rock’n’Roll.   Like its predecessor, Let’s Have A Party offers solid gold hits and ultra-rare gems, chart-topping R&B mamas rubbing shoulders with Boogie Woogie country gals, and demure Pop princesses mingling with down-home Rockabilly fillies.  From sassy city slickers such as LaVern Baker and Etta James, to Southern songbirds like The Davis Sisters and Jackie DeShannon, this is as diverse a set of distaff rockers as one could hope to find.  Whether your listening pleasure be the sock-hoppin’ ‘Petticoat Baby’ or the risqué ‘Drill, Daddy, Drill’, it’s time to leave those ‘Dirty Dishes’ and get this party started!

Once again the folks at Fantastic Voyage have come up with a big value package which includes something for all tastes. Now Dig This

Overall, this is one heck of a compilation and has to be in the running for rock n roll release of the year. American Music Magazine

…each track is a reelin and rockin treasure…a set that is guaranteed to set your party alight. Real Blues Magazine

Lillian Briggs: tooting the horn for truckin’ trombonists everywhere.

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Daring to care

I awoke this morning with the image of a wartime propaganda poster in my mind’s eye; a picture in a book my sister had when we were growing up.  The poster depicts an efficient-looking nurse with starched bosom pouring water from a glass on to the floor in front of an injured POW as he languishes in pain, hand outstretched.  The slogan reads: “There is no woman in Britain who would do it.  There is no woman in Britain who will forget it”. Now, I’m not comparing what came to light last week with the unspeakable cruelties inflicted by warring factions, but the notion that people in our hospitals are dying for want of a drink provokes anger and shock that is off the Richter scale.  Or at least, it should. And whilst no-one is actually accusing nurses of deliberately ignoring something as basic as a patient’s unquenched thirst; that it’s been happening in the first place should alarm sentient beings everywhere.

Last week with mouths agape we learnt that lest nurses forget, vulnerable patients are to be prescribed drinking water to avoid them becoming dehydrated as they attempt to recuperate in hospital.  Surely being able to recognise and respond to so basic a human need as that for water is a fundamental part of nursing care, if not the most fundamental?  Whatever is going on (or not going on) with their training, clearly a massive disconnect has occurred.  And what exactly are nurses doing that might lead them to neglect those in their care, even inadvertently?  Assembling flat-pack furniture?  Rehearsing for the Bolshoi?  Or nipping to the vending machine for a Pepsi Max?  When I visited an elderly friend in hospital recently, the lady opposite was trying in vain to pour herself a glass of water from a jug that had been left just out of reach.  The ward sister was engrossed in conversation with a colleague, her back to the room so no matter how hard this patient tried to attract her attention, she failed.  Luckily I spotted what was happening (or not happening) and was able to help by a) noticing and b) reacting.

One doesn’t have to look very far to find similar examples; anecdotal evidence fills the tabloids, radio phone-ins and television news.  Almost everyone has a depressing story to tell, some more than one.  Last Christmas a friend was recovering from major abdominal surgery in an ICU and the only way he could get comfortable afterwards was to lie on his side supported by several pillows.  However, it fell to his distressed girlfriend to scour the hospital looking for additional bedding, even accosting a consultant (much to his annoyance) when nursing and cleaning staff proved elusive.  When similar instances arose during her boyfriend’s ten day hospitilisation, more often than not her requests were met with blank expressions; not exactly contempt more the quizzical look of someone to whom the concept of improving comfort was an alien construct.  Lucky for him he had her as a very vocal advocate.  But what of the many who don’t have anyone to fight their corner?  What IS going on?  Why is society seemingly so bereft of commonsense and kindness?

The truth is we live in a society dominated by what psychiatrist Carl Jung described as Thinking types and The Bottom Line.  Institutions such as schools,  hospitals and care homes are not here to make a profit, they are here to provide a service – a vital one – and yet those in charge insist on running them as though they were profit-making ventures – it’s either black or it’s white, no room for grey in their cut and dried world.  To this end, kindness, caring and empathy – qualities which have no immediately discernable monetary value – are all-too often disregarded in the relentless pursuit of cheaper and quicker.  What a false economy it is.  Perversely, the people who display those “soft skills” and who are naturally suited to the “caring” professions are merely tolerated by those in charge of the purse strings.  Generally undervalued, they either crack under the strain of raging against the machine or give up trying to make a difference and move on to another environment, defeated and sad.   Ours is a society where survival of the fittest is paramount, where strength often means brute force, rather than gentle power.

This isn’t to say hospitals can’t be run much more efficiently; I’m not promoting some airy fairy utopia filled with unicorns and rainbows (although I don’t see why not).   A huge saving could be made by firing a legion of over-paid, self-important so-and-sos whose poor decision-making and short-sightedness causes enormous suffering to a great many people.  To me a good hospital manager is someone who rolls his or her sleeves up and wields a mop and bucket when required, not someone who circulates memos about it.  Efficiency and improved patient outcomes could come about if caring and kindness were valued as much as clinical expertise and advancing medical science.   And unlike the latter, caring and kindness don’t come with a price tag – but they do require an investment in one’s own personal development, and emotional intelligence on the part of those doing the hiring to recognise their importance.  The caring process has to begin at the very beginning; by teaching young children how to relate to others, to value themselves and to value others.

Never has there been a better time for The Conscious Feminine to emerge.  A woman who has devoted much of the last thirty years to creating a language and a framework for Feminine Values is Margi Ross.  In her latest book The Conscious Feminine Toolkit [The Conscious Feminine Press, © 2010] Ross explores the many benefits mankind could enjoy if these values were properly integrated into everyday life.  Her earlier publication Making the World a Kinder Place, offers an overview of the Jungian archetypes and in particular the Feeling type and function.  “Feelers order their lives according to the value of relationship”, writes Ross, adding “we live in a world which does not consciously include this way of ordering in everyday life, so we prevent its beauty and sanity from being in life and we injure the feeling type and that function”.  Jung saw Feeling as being just as valid and rational as thinking because it ordered; what Feelers offer is the ability to recognise the impact one’s actions (or inactions) have on others, on animals and the environment, to recognise and sustain relationship, in essence, to preserve and enhance life.

The world Margi Ross describes in her new book is attainable and begins with individuals taking small steps that could make a huge difference to millions of people.  More to the point, it’s essential for the next stage of human evolution and survival.  I’m excited by the prospect and feel it’s no coincidence that this particular episode has now come to light.  Slowly but surely people are finding their voices and speaking their truth, forsaking quiet desperation and talking openly about the sickening abuse and neglect that blights our care homes and hospitals.  The irony that the debate should have started over water will not be lost on Feelers as it’s the element that supports and sustains them both psychologically and spiritually.  Sadly it comes hard on the heels of another disturbing report that an ambulance was denied a police escort through central London while transporting a critically ill man who later died in theatre, despite the valiant efforts of the three-strong team who kept him alive en route from Bristol [].  Apparently it’s not Met policy to escort ambulances through built-up areas, even if it means a life might be saved.  “Use your lights and siren, mate.” Again, I ask why?  And why can’t the policy be changed?  I so hope we’re now witnessing the demise of complacency; it might scare some (those whose default setting is to turn a blind eye) but I for one dare to care!







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Feel Like Rockin’

Having loaded up the station wagon and filled the gas tank, Lucky Parker and Fantastic Voyage are all set to bring you an exciting new series of regional Rock’n’Roll, a musical travelogue charting some of the finest rockin’ recordings from across the US from the period 1953-1960.

FVDD093 FEEL LIKE ROCKIN’ Tennessee Rock’n’Roll

Let’s give old Tennessee credit for music
As they play it up in Nashville everyday…

First stop on the map sees Feel Like Rockin’ turn the spotlight on the “Volunteer State” of Tennessee, and specifically the music-making centres of Memphis and Nashville.  Drawing together the hit-makers, the also-rans and the lesser-heards, this compelling 2CD set offers a broad sampling of those artists whose recorded output was  – in  parts at least – quintessentially “Tennessee”.  From hardy perennials such as N.A. Stevenson’s ‘Boogie Woogie Country Girl’ to Ray Scott’s ‘Bopping Wig Wam Willie’ from 1957, dancers and deejays alike will appreciate this solid sixty as we hit the interstate.

From Tiptonville’s Carl Perkins and Memphis-born Johnny Burnette to those like Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Benny Joy and Charlie Feathers who flocked from all over the Southern states to cut the Big Beat at little indie labels such as Sun, Meteor and Dixie in Memphis, Feel Like Rockin’ also wends its way north-east to the nation’s Country music capital Nashville where Rockabilly fillies such as Brenda Lee and Janis Martin championed distaff Rock’n’Roll alongside Nudie-suited stars such as Webb Pierce and Bobby Helms.

Carefully compiled with assistance from the legendary Wild Wax Show’s deejay “Jailhouse” John Alexander, Feel Like Rockin’ offers a fine selection of tracks whose popularity has endured thanks to the thriving European Rock’n’Roll club scene – guaranteed to have toes tapping and quiffs a-flapping.

Available on Fantastic Voyage.  Also available a 36-track double vinyl LP.

The first in a projected series exploring regional rockin’ sounds – and it motors every step of the way.  A cracking collection of superb rockin’ sounds. Now Dig This

4/5 Mojo

4-stars Uncut

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Life is just…

… a bowl of cherries?

Something strange has been happening on the streets of South London.  Something I very much doubt George Gershwin had in mind when he penned his ode to lightening up and slowing down.  And yet, it is “too mysterious”.  In the wake of the demise of the neighbourhood greengrocer – once a stalwart of every shopping parade and high street in the land – convenience stores of the “unlock your mobile here” variety have taken to displaying their fruit and veg in opaque plastic bowls.  Why? Recently I’ve counted no less than five such emporia on Streatham High Road alone, and all of them dexterously decanting their wares into circular bowls that are then arranged pyramid style on trestle tables outside the shop.  I’m not sure why, but this seemingly pointless practice really puts me off…  I mean, what’s wrong with the box the fruit came in?

Is it perhaps a subliminal marketing trick based on the government’s “5 A Day” campaign?  Look, here are one, two, three, four, five (bingo!) Granny Smiths… in a bowl… buy them… and put them in your fruit bowl.   Logical?  -ish.  Organised?  Yes.  And yet, something about it just looks tacky and contrived.  Whilst the bowls may be clean and tidy, the romance of seeing a crate with an authentic label indicating the provenance of the produce is sadly lost.  No camel train laden with dates silhouetted against a starry sky as its drivers pause for refreshment at the oasis, no lush orange groves basking under the California sun, no shiny red apples ripe for the picking by a rosy-cheeked maid in a Kentish orchard.

Red Ball romance: who could fail to be enchanted?

I may be a hopeless romantic but those images are as much a part of the pleasure of buying the fruit as eating it, evoking far-flung places and giving one pause to consider the breathtaking variety of produce we take for granted in this city.  As a child I use to peel the labels off satsumas and bananas and stick them on any suitable surface (much to my mother’s irritation).  The Maroc diamond was a particular favourite.  Years later whilst cutting my foodie chops in my brothers’ restaurant, I discovered a workmate with a similar predilection who’d absent-mindedly plastered the fridge and most of the underside of a shelf with them.  A routine visit by the environmental health officer put paid to the ever-expanding yet no doubt microbe-harbouring collage.  Maybe it’s akin to the appeal of a well-worn suitcase adorned with luggage labels or a passport full of stamps from exotic locations.  A reminder of places we long to visit, a connection to a country we may never get to see first hand but whose bounty we can sample as surely as a quarter of kumquats.

My inner conspiracy theorist has been working overtime in the hope of finding an explanation behind the banished boxes.  Maybe this is the result of some sinister EU directive which stipulates that, along with the consigning of Imperial measurements to the history books, wooden crates and cardboard boxes are unsightly, unhygienic and dangerous.  They might easily topple and cause injury or worse, give someone a splinter.  Yes, folks: fruit and veg crates are a health and safety time-bomb waiting to explode… or rather, slide onto the pavement with a low-key splat, noticed by no-one save a crafty Staffie as the lorries thunder by.  If life came with incidental music, this would be accompanied by a downbeat trombone wah-wah-wahing.  Yet in a burgeoning “trip or fall” compensation culture, who can blame the beleaguered shopkeeper for taking reasonable precautions?  Perhaps the fewer banana skins – or indeed bananas – left lying about, the better.  As the song goes, “life is just a bowl of … aw, nuts!  Don’t take it serious…”

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Blag City Bloggin’

I popped into PC world earlier to purchase a Kylie-style headset suitable for Skyping… figured I’d be able to pick one up for around £9.99, max. £14.99.  Turns out the cheapest was £19.55.  So after much humming and haring, I saunter over to the till, the assistant rings it up and demands £54.25!  “Hmm, I don’t think so”, comes my reply, as I coax Mr Congeniality from his Perspex booth and lead him over to the display stand.  Long story short, he takes the price ticket from the rack, scans the label and this time the SKU says £34.24 – admittedly better than £54.25 but still no cigar.

That moment of shock realisation preceding deployment of the Doris Day death ray.

His tone is less than conciliatory, so with hands on hips, I start spinning around in manner of Wonder Woman to reveal my Shopper’s Champion catsuit carefully concealed under my coat (“fighting for your rights, in my satin tights”).  At his suggestion I agree to speak to the manager but discover I’m expected to chase after him like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep.  I snare him with the Doris Day death ray on his way out to lunch and explain that while it might be inconvenient for PC World, I believe I’m within my rights to purchase the goods for sale at the price marked on the rack.  He agrees.  Result: I pay £19.56.  Total blag – er – saving: £34.69.

But the day gets better…

Remember the lovely dress I tried on in the Banbury branch of TK Maxx last month but didn’t purchase?  And then spent the entire weekend longing for, fantasising about the award ceremonies I’d never be able to wear it to?  Well, I spotted it in the Clapham Junction branch on Saturday reduced from the original £134.99 to £30.00, ostensibly because one of the diamanté clasps had snapped (I can whip that into Ells & Farrier for an inexpensive repair, no problem).  So, figuring this was couture karma, I decided to go for it.

However, I didn’t have time to queue up (there were forty or so people in front of me), so I hid it on a rail in another part of the store*, the plan being to return today which I did. Having checked the hiding place and finding it gone, I go back to ahem clearance and there it is… waiting for me.  At the till, I point out the damage and even though it had already been reduced from TK’s bargainous selling price of £49.99, I scoop a further £2 reduction netting a total blag of £21.99 (or £106.99 if you wanna be picky.)

BiBi: Blag lady with attitude!

*My sometime Westfield cohort, High Priestess of Wholesale, BiBi Blaganda recommends hiding finds in the little boys’ trainer dump bin – top tip!  So, if you see someone stuffing a La Perla bra into a Thomas the Tank Engine slipper, size 2, in the words of Jerry Lee, it’ll be me.  On second thoughts, better make it a size 4 to allow for the gel pads.

Good day, sunshine… and the day gets even better.

TK Maxx: A bigger splash for less cash.

Once home I excitedly slip on my lovely new gown, envisioning all the glamorous occasions we’ll be going to.  Ripple dissolve and I’m poolside sipping Cuba libres against the Havana skyline, one hand resting on a white marble balustrade, next I’m leaning over the blackjack table in manner of high roller’s moll, then sashaying through the throng at an after-show bash before draping myself languorously against a white Steinway as the pianist catches my eye, winks and plays the opening bars to Stardust.

But, as I carefully step into my homage-to-Carmen Miranda, sequin-embellished chocolate suede wedges (eBay: £12.00), adjust the dress’s straps and gently begin to pull up the zipper it’s, it’s, it’s… too big!  Not only have I saved money, apparently I’ve dropped a dress size in the process.  With the item already relegated to “red label” status – effectively the knackers’ yard for bargains – finding another that fits is not going to be easy.

Mindful that I have only 14 days to find a replacement or be stuck with my purchase for richer or poorer, my shop hound’s instincts are razor sharp, the vein in my temple begins to twitch betraying a purposeful zeal rarely exhibited outside the run-up to Christmas.  The following week sees me sniff out numerous TK Maxxes (Maxi?); I draw a blank at Collier’s Wood, Kingston, Croydon, Purley Way, Ealing and Sutton but it is Epsom that delivers the goods, boasting not one but three size 8s, all in perfect nick, and all winking at me as I home in on my quarry.  Nanoseconds later I’m at the counter, the sales assistant carefully folding my prize purchase between layers of tissue paper, modom.

By way of a postscipt, I worked in nearby Chessington for years but it took this quest for me to return for a trip down memory lane.  And although it’s been many moons since I commuted to Reggie Perrin country on a daily basis, I’ve nonetheless retained a fondness for the Ashley Centre and its quaint environs, not least for the Good Life health food shop on Waterloo Road which I was delighted to discover is still alive and kicking.

Blag City Blaggin’ was originally posted on Bar Nothing in April 2009.  Samski  remains committed to sniffing out genuine bargains and singing the praises of those retailers that consistently hit the spot (or not).

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New Year’s resolution? Vive la différence!

Salt butter caramel sauce. Delicious spread on brioche, as a topping for ice cream or spooned straight from the jar!

While some  virtuous souls are pounding the post-Christmas cross-trainer with the kind of zeal previously accorded to lifting the lid on the Cadbury’s Roses,  in a chi-chi corner of NW3 I’m being plied with gourmet salt butter caramel sauce and melt-in-the-mouth tarte tatin – hardly the stuff of which New Year resolutions are made, but welcome nonetheless on a blustery January day.  In line with Janie Lee Grace’s ethos in Look Great Naturally, my feeling is that so long as it’s “real” food made with integrity, flair and above, all passion, then a little bit of what you eat, pray, love can surely be no bad thing… well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it, like Lycra on a hot day.

The creator of these delicacies is Bruno Breillet, a softly spoken French ex-pat whose  upbringing in Lyon and love of home-baking have instilled in him a deep respect for traditional cooking and top quality ingredients.  Everything he prepares is scratch-made without scrimping, from the sublime all-butter pastry in his dark chocolate tarts to his innovative savoury cakes, currently a popular choice for corporate buffets and trendy soirées alike.   His approach is instinctive and imaginative, matched only by a strong perfectionist streak that won’t allow him to resort to second-best for economy’s sake.  Not surprisingly, such delights don’t come cheap but as with the extra calories, one mouthful will convince you they’re more than worth it.

Ganache with panache! Dark chocolate lemon tart.

Visit Bruno’s French Bakes at Hampstead Community Market on Saturdays or for further information, take a virtual tour at  To request a brochure or place an order, please email

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