The Super Serendipity of Steely Dan

Italian Traffic Jam…soon to be ended by Rikki Don’t Lose That Number

Some time ago I met a geeky individual that totally impressed me, as geeky individuals often do, by way of their heartfelt passion. He had journeyed all around the Northern Hemisphere in a griddy old van, and was convinced that the power of his vehicle didn’t have anything to do with the engine, so much as the extraordinary collection of stickers that he had acquired as he journeyed across land and sea, hill and dale. It was these stick–on reminders of everywhere – from Ankara to Aberdyfi that explained (to him) how he had managed to cover thousands of miles merrily, merrily, without any mechanical problems of any kind.

A cleverer person than I would put this down to synchronicity, but I reckon intention and magic have much to explain in life, and there’s nothing quite like opening ones mind to possibilities to make thing happen.

Yesterday we set off for Cosgrove and Milton Keynes at 3.30 in the morning in an attempt to avoid the rush hour traffic. We hadn’t been driving very long on the M1 when not only gushing rain and screaming wind appeared from nowhere, but the mother of traffic jams slowed us and a zillion others to a complete and total halt. It was that kind of block that only happens with some kind of accident or another, causing us all to hope that nobody was hurt. No sooner had we stopped in that dark wet no-man’s land, the intrepid driver (not me) and our good passenger (not me) both settled down into a state of despair that goes with jams of this magnitude in places North of Watford. I won’t go there. I’m the eternal optimist that people sometimes hate in such moments, the chirpy twerpy who leaps to offer a solution to a traffic jam, without even being able to drive.

Before I even tell you what this solution is, let me tell you where we have overcome traffic jams with this glorious remedy – stoppages in Strasbourg, log jams in Lyon, blooming blocks in London not to mention motorway mayhem in France, the UK and Italy… all been resolved with this fabulous technique… which is… the music of Steely Dan.

I see your powers of belief are being stretched a bit, much like my partner, the driver of our car, who whenever I say ‘OK let’s put on Steely Dan’ sits in silent disbelief as seconds, and then minutes tick away to the tinkling tones of Pretzel Logic, Reelin’ in the Years or Rikki Don’t Lose that Number, as the once immoveable traffic starts up… and returns to normal. Our passenger was equally confounded, but better still, what better way to get your journey back to speed than to play some of the greatest pop music ever, music that must have been written on the move, and is so gutsy that it demands to be listened to as the internal combustion engine does its damnest to bugger up the environment; but hey ho, the car is here for now, and we have to live with it.

That said, why is Steely Dan so great? It’s road music, pure and simple. When I hear the opening chords Babylon Sister or The Caves of Altamira I can understand why the gods on Olympus say “Yea! So Shall it be… may the traffic move… so that we can hear that extravagant opening riff of Don’t Take Me Alive!”

I danced with a man, who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales

I lie, like a lying toad, but don’t let it worry you. I did once meet the Prince of Wales, very briefly, in 1997, and he seemed OK if you like that sort of thing, but thereby hangs another tale

quite… but welcome to my secret — for I am none other than ‘the aunt of the Voice of Siri’. You are impressed; I can hear your gasps and squeaks of delight from where I’m sitting.. This is all about name dropping, (uurgh) and knowing people but not

The problem with this claim to fame is that it depends on whether you use an Iphone, or a dented tin can with a bit of string attached. If you belong to the latter, Siri will mean nothing to you – zilcho – but for those of us with Iphones Siri is a wondrous thing, a voice that answers to such orders as ‘Give me the names of vegetarian restaurants in Brighton!” to “What time is it in Rome?” or just: “Call Mary.” The lovely voice of this robotic being planted deep in the heart of ones Iphone is none other than that of my nephew – Jon Briggs.

Jon’s warblings aren’t just serving iphone users in the UK, his tones are heard across land and sea, while other stuff floats out mellifluously from behind the wheel of all sorts of car, on account of his vocal skills in the Satnav department. The fact is… my nephew’s vocal chords just get everywhere. He is known as ‘Daniel’ by Garmin, and when he sits down in his own Range Rover he has the pleasure of talking to himself, and even telling himself where to go, a habit not unknown to many of us. The difference is that when he talks to himself, he does it without moving his lips.

Jon reckons I have played a vital part in his career ever since I gave him a transistor radio in 1870 before his voice broke, and we used to invent hilarious radio programmes from the Planet Zogg, using an ancient tinny tape recorder and splicing the sounds together by pressing down the on/off switch. It was scientific stuff.

Later he did the Christmas slot on Radio Oxford. It was a morning pantomime that gained some of its inspiration from such classics as Captain Kremmen and the Krells, but might have outdone even that, with a host of characters and effects, and jokes of such sophistication as “what’s black and sticky…” the answer, of course, being “a stick”. I fear that such witticisms are no longer part of Jon’s repertoire.

This summer he had a nasty cold, but despite the snot he and my partner saw fit to take me to the local phone shop, and buy a replacement to my aged mobile, which I loved, but belonged to a bygone age, so that only 19th century people, and those from another time-space continuum could access me. When I explained to Mark, the charming shop assistant that the snotty geezer buying the phone was in fact “the voice of Siri”, Mark almost wept with emotion. Jon had to autograph several business cards, and let out noises better than snorts and sniffs to prove that he was indeed the real voice. I am certain that had I gone into the shop with the Prince of Wales, he would never have received such love and admiration as ‘the voice of Siri’.. which is why I am proud to say, “I am aunt of those famous and fabulous vocal chords.”

Unexpected things that pop up in the brain

On the way to Brighton and her 89th birthday, my partner’s mother fell ill, went a weird putty colour and slid down the seat of her daughter’s car, suspended by no more than good luck and the safety belt. The old sweetoleen ended up in Hayward’s Heath hospital, which turns out to be one of the best hospitals in the world, thus proving that the NHS is a wonderful thing, run by wonderful people with wonderful intentions.

After a spell in the hospital assessment unit (a strange medical no man’s land, from which people do return) she went into a ward for geriatrics and dementia patients. She was there for a month before going on to the next port of call, nursed by this band of angelic people, who prove that looking after old, incontinental missiles is not only good for those on the receiving end, it proves that being naturally lovely is not strictly the prerogative of holy people, social workers and erm… politicians, but is to be found amongst real people – truly great ones – nurses, mothers, doctors (some), carers and others.

I am totally humbled by those I see working in this kind of environment; one can sense just how naturally lovely they are, like the most beautiful plants and trees. These are the people who inspired me 15 years ago, when I was swimming around in a corporate business pond, alongside corporate business pond life whose purpose was so shallow and limited that even my allotment compost heap would reject them as unfit for purpose.

That said, one of the most interesting things about Marj, (my partner’s mum) is that her short-term memory is now completely shot, it was not great at the best of times, but now it just doesn’t seem to be there, however much you may search for it. With the loss of so much bad news she’s undergone some interesting changes in personality. There’s a newfound optimism there. All the people she once knew to be dead when her brain was in gear a month ago, she now reckons to be going strong, including the dog, and this idea has animated her no end.

All this is food for thought. If we all believed that those we loved and lost to this world were as accessible as somebody on the other end of a mobile phone would we too be incredibly jolly and a bit more interesting? There’s no doubt, there’s an element of fun in Marj today that wasn’t there when she remembered how old she was and recalled who was dead and who wasn’t. In her world today, everyone is still going strong; the news that the dog was dead came as a real downer. Thankfully she didn’t sustain the surprise for more than a nanosecond. I reckon that sometimes losing something – like a bit of memory – could bring the occasional bonus.

Unlike Marj, you and I are stuck in a place where we view the dead as a cause for grief and sorrow, on the basis we may never see them again… when in fact it’s just the illusion of reality and loss that stands between us and them.