Monday, 2 March 2020

The Name Of This Band Is...

A couple of months ago I read the inside story of (80s synth pop legends) New Order, as written and extensively researched by former bassist Peter Hook (aka Hooky)

I'd read his inside-story of Joy Division (the band they were previously) and thoroughly enjoyed that, but knew that rough times were ahead.

For those unaware of Manchester in the 80s and 90s it was a city knee deep in drugs, dance and guns - where the new rave culture was in control of the local nightlife and a small nightclub was being run incredibly badly by a bunch of people who had no idea what they were doing (look up the Hacienda nightclub if you want to know more)

Anyway - as expected the book centered largely on Hook's own battles with drugs, drink and demons and his slowly deteriorating relationship with singer Bernard (Barney) Sumner - leading to the inevitable split in a rock n roll tale that has been told time after time.

And today I was watching a video of them at their height and thinking what a shame it is when people who have previously been friends can barely stand to be in the same room as one another and it got me thinking:

Joy Division were formed in 1976 - Hooky left New Order in 2007.  That's 30 years.

And I realised that the longest i'd ever worked with any one person was around 7 years

And that's the nature of working in the world - you may stay or leave but the people around you will be constantly changing.  In a band you're pretty much seeing the same people day in, day out for the whole of your career.  Bands like the Rolling Stones have been working together since the 60s with only a few changes of personnel and none recently

I've always said that the creative tension that makes any band great will only last so long - Hooky himself has said that the arguments over the songs were necessary to make the songs better, but sooner or later they can turn into bitterness.  Add to that the strange working hours, long journeys and access to the seedier sides of life and its no wonder that the pressure cooker blows

And for those of us sitting on the sidelines forever hoping that Morrissey and Marr, or Byrne/Franz/Weymouth/Harrison (insert favourite split band of choice) will sort out their differences and get back together maybe we need to just let those people move on to the new, better job - where they can, presumably, fall out with someone entirely new?

NB: I've seen the Talking Heads Hall Of Fame induction performance....and it would have been better to have just let the memories alone

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

I Walk The Line

There's been a lot of talk on social media recently about self-service checkouts.

Possibly not the most vital subject in the world, certainly further down the chain of importance than achieving world peace, stopping climate change and free asparagus for the under 5s (you know it makes sense), but contentious nonetheless.

The main gist of this talk has fallen into two categories:
#1 - it's putting people out of jobs so you should use the manned kiosk instead
#2 - I'm not paid to work here - you should pay someone to do this for me

Of the two above arguments I suspect that what's behind door number two is a bit more truthful.  Let's face it - I've been getting cash out of a hole in the wall for a good thirty or so years and have not been into my local branch for at least 15 years (other than to steal one of those pens-on-a-chain they always have), thus putting many a potential cashier out of a job and now, increasingly, I am paying for things with a jaunty little tap or a swipe of my card and, by dint of doing so, presumably putting the people who fill the holes in the walls jobs into jeopardy as well.

This is, of course, because cash out of a hole in a wall, or even better magical cash produced with a swipe, is less of a hassle for us than going into a queue, filling in a slip, handing it over to a person, having to make idle chit-chat about the weather whilst the lady with a life-savings worth of two pence pieces chooses peak time to deposit them...and this is why i suspect that reason two is the truth because of course having to swipe and bag our own purchases is less convenient to us so why should we have to do it, right? (What do we want? More shop assistants, when do we want them?  At sensible shopping times in accordance with our working and leisure needs!)

But none of the above is my problem with the machines - it's that because of their placement we British are losing our ability to queue.

There are many things that are, despite all the evidence to the contrary, known internationally about the British: We're all cockneys and talk like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins (caw bloimey Muuury PoppIns, ows yer father, let's have a sing around the owld pianna), we wear bowler hats and carry umbrellas everywhere and look like Jacob Rees-Mogg, we're awfully polite and drink tea and we can queue like there's no tomorrow with nerry a sigh or complaint

But the positioning in shops of these new-fangled gadgets is spoiling this because they are usually placed in a corner that is near, but not inline with, the regular tills.

Now what should happen in a fair and just society is that everyone would join a single queue - and when either a machine or a cashier becomes free then you should go to that accordingly - however, because the line of approach is not consistent or clear you find people suddenly pushing past you and moving to form seperate sub-queues.

Being British, no one complains or even raises an eyebrow - there might be a slight "tsk" of disapproval but even that is stretching things to the limit.

I mention this in passing because just this week, for the first time in 20 years, I had occasion to fly somewhere from a plane station (and why are they called Airports when train stations aren't called train ports that's what i'd like to know).  It was an economy flight - one of those in a rotor-blade plane with Amelia Earheart behind the wheel - the type where everything, including your seat, is extra.  The flight was only an hour but as we taxied down at the next air station (I'm sticking with it, it's a thing OK?) and people began walking along the concourse we turned a corner and there, under the signs for Arrivals, was a nice, orderly queue of people.  The type of queue that makes one nostalgic for days gone by.

And so, being British, I joined it and politely stood in line for a good five minutes as a few of the other passengers continued past and around a corner - assuming that they had paid some additional fast-pass exit fee that i knew my company would have not paid (That Pixie can stand and queue, my boss would have said, twirling his hipster moustache)

It was a full five minutes before the queue started moving and, at that point, i realised what i was actually standing in was the queue to board a plane back to where i had just come from

Quietly, and with as much dignity as i could salvage, i made my excuses to the man in front of me and stepped out of the queue and around the corner.  I didn't look back to see if anyone else would follow me

Sunday, 17 November 2019

The Greatest Show, Man!

It is awfully remiss of modern day planners to build new Cinemas on public rights of way.

At least: I assume that's what's happening.  There seriously can't be any other reason for the constant march up and down the stairs during every single bloody screening.  Honestly, if a small train of donkeys came through heavily laden with baggage and led by Shirpa Tensing I would barely bat an eyelid.

Cinema is not how I remember it as a kid: and since the temporary hiatus of my favourite cinema (a small screen at a local university where they show what I like to call FROMAGE films - that's Foreign Road Movies About the Grimness of Existence), where you get a very cine-literate clientele who arrive before the adverts, ensure their snacks are finished before the main event and refrain from talking, snap-chatting or whispering plot-points to each other, I have been forced to go to screenings at (shudder) the multiplex.

Things were very different back in the stoneage when I was briefly young (I was old at a very early age) - there were three main cinemas in our local city centre: the ABC (one big screen, one tiny screen - queueing was down the flight of stairs outside, often in the rain, and down the street all the way to the flag-post and if you were beyond that you might as well go home), the Odeon (former theatre, a shocking three and later six screens) and the Theatre One (known locally as The Flea Pit, two screens - both slightly smaller than the ABC equivalent, with no leg space aside from those who were able to take them off and store them under their seat) - there had also briefly been the Paris (but that closed down) and another on the outside of town that I forget the name of as we only ever went there once before it was a casino....

Things started to change when the ABC was taken over by a big chain that subsequently over-stretched itself and closed down.  This was the cinema where I saw E.T., Back To The Future, Top Gun and all those Buster Keaton that I improbably also claim to have seen when first released(and that one about the moon having a face - pretty impressive when it first came out)

Then the Odeon first expanded and then moved to another location with 9-10 screens and suddenly the idea of queuing for a ticket became a thing of the past - you could book on-line (shudder).  Of the several cinemas in the area this is now the only remaining one.

These days I tend to go mid-week to see films - just because Fridays and Saturdays are still full of the aforementioned clan of wondering locals, out for a brief foray across the fens, stopping for a meal in the middle of the cinema and apparently unable to sit still for more than two reels of a movie - but I do think that cinema has lost a certain something - and it wasn't until my cat was ill that I realised what it was....

And yes, you read that right about the cat.

In the early spring of 2018 Mr Giles suddenly started going what is known in the cat world as "cracker-cat" - he was eating 3-4 times his usual amount of food, dashing about with too much energy and suddenly launching himself at me and biting - something he hadn't done previously.  This was Concerning.

We took him to the vet and they diagnosed him as having a thyroid problem - apparently something that is quite common in cats.  There were three potential options for treatment. 1) Operation - slightly risky, medium chance of success, 2) pills for the rest of his life - less risky, more upsetting for him and us and also ongoing, 3) radiation treatment - most effective, most expensive.  After a few moments of wondering what kind of super powers one might expect to get when bitten by a radioactive cat and who one's arch-nemesis might be, we went with option 3

This meant Mr Giles had to be away from us for several weeks whilst he was in almost total isolation and then, once he came home, we were to only spend up to one hour a day with him for the next 10 days.

To be honest this was quite upsetting for all three of us - Mr Giles wanted to be around us and to re-build the bonds and we wanted the same.  It also meant locking him out of most of the house - or else vacating the property for several hours.

Over the weekend was going to be the worst bit - I could go into the office the rest of the time and Herself could work around it - but I had a whole Sunday to fill - and so I went to see Avengers: Infinity War.

I have to say - I have not been following the series and there were several previous films I hadn't seen - but at 3.5 hours it filled an otherwise difficult activity shaped hole in my life...and as part one of a two part film it left me with a problem of having to see another film that I hadn't really intended to see twelve months later.

And so, this year, and with cat duly fully recovered and back to usual levels of sanity (for a cat) I found myself needing to go and see how it all ended.

As it happened: I had some training to do in London and an evening to look forward to sitting on my own in a hotel room - and so I booked a ticket for a screening of Avengers: Endgame and went along

It was the first sold-out screening I have been to in around 30 years (with the possible exception of Vampire$, which doesn't count because it only got sold out because The Blair Witch project had already sold out and people had bought tickets rather than go home (don't bother, it's terrible))

And this is where I come back to my feeling that I started off with

The problem with the multiplex, as opposed to the old fashioned ones I remember, is that they show 20-30+ screenings of the latest film per day on their 12-20 screens.  This inevitably means that most of the time the screen is half empty  (more recent example - I went to see Doctor Sleep and there was only me and one other person in the screening) - and the thing that you get from a full screen just isn't there.

Seeing films like Back To The Future, Blair Witch, Terminator - whatever, in a full screen means that you laugh harder, jump higher, cry more than you do when its half empty - and as I sat in a sold-out screening of Endgame with fans whooping, cheering and clapping in a non-code-compliant but nonetheless appropriate manner, I remembered what going to the cinema was supposed to feel like

Cinema is a great medium.  You can see all sorts of films there and I like to try and see something different from time to time (a recent trip to see a black and white film about Cornish fishermen for instance....which I still don't know whether I enjoyed or not) - but I do think that by treating it in the same casual way that we treat something on the telly, or our Ipad (other pads are available) we forget to let ourselves go for that moment and enjoy the magic.

So next time you go to the cinema get your snacks early.  Go and see the terrible adverts for over-priced snacks and films you will never see.  Don't leave until after the final credits - even when they DO bring the lights up

And if you really do feel the need to go for a walk: get it out of the way before you start....

"Oooooh I love to go a wandering...along the mountain track..."

Monday, 10 December 2018

The Bells Are Ringing Out

From around mid-November my radio-dial on my car/home stereo/non fruit-based hand-held internet device of choice remains firmly switched to anything but commercial radio.

As anyone will know Christmas advertising is pretty much fair-game from September onwards when the kids go back to school (though I heard my first Christmas 2018 advert back in January - a saving scheme for Christmas), but it's from mid-November that the war of attrition really starts.

You see, it used to be A Thing, for UK music acts of a certain era to release a Christmas song to try and reach that all-important Festive No 1 slot.  It still happens from time to time, but here are a few of the more well known ones:

Merry Christmas Everyone - Shakin' Stevens (how someone doing a fifties rockabilly act at the height of the Punk movement had any hits is a mystery)

Merry Xmas Everyone - Slade.  The ultimate in Glam Rock and bad spelling.  This one would be quite good if it wasn't on in Every Single Place You Go

Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time - Paul McCartney.  Some of you may be aware that in
James Joyce's book Ulysses he describes the seven levels of hell.  Well listening to this piece of bubblegum pap is worse than any of them.

Merry Christmas (War Is Over) - John Lennon.  Not content with Macca trying to burn in effergy any last vestige of credit The Beatles had by releasing his above mentioned Christmas missive Lennon brought out this with the annoying children's chorus at the end

Stay - East 17.  A song about a friend dying.  Doesn't mention Christmas once, but has some Christmassy bells

A Spaceman Came Travelling (At Christmas) - Chris DeBurgh - look, Chris, we all knew what the song was about - there was no need to add "at Christmas time at the end" other than to buy that Lady in red a new dress

Can You Stop The Cavalry - Jona Lewie.  In Lewie's defence this was never intended as a Christmas single and is about a bloke fighting in a war and wishing he was home.  The monotonous, repetitive tone makes me want to stick explosives in my ears and light the fuse

And then there is Fairytale Of New York

Fairytale stands alone as a piece of brilliance shining in a dark December night.  A song written by Irish wildboys and rockers The Pogues and featuring the vocal talents of the late, great Kirsty MacColl it's a song about two people living in the worst of conditions, coming to New York and getting lost - it's first line "It was Christmas eve babe/in the drunk-tank" tells you exactly where it's going.  It should be miserable, but it isn't.  Somehow the music and the lyrics transports you....

...but it's a song that's under threat.

In the middle of the song, written in the 1980s, the couple resort to name-calling singing:
You're a bum
You're a punk
You're an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it's our last

cheerful stuff, isn't it? And yet it's gone to the collective hearts of the nation and across the country you will hear people singing along

But in recent years that line about the cheap-lousy tinned sausage has caused controversy and there have been calls to ban the song because of the offence it could cause to the LGBTQ community.  As far as we know no actual offence has been caused.  Shane MacGowan, speaking from behind dark sunglasses and broken teeth, has declared that the line is Irish slang for something else and besides the characters in the story are clearly not nice people and the views and language of the song should reflect that.

But is it ok?

I've always argued that it is - because really if you ban this line of the song then you'd also have to ban most blues songs, any songs that objectify women.  Fairytale is not the only song under threat this year as some stations have refused to play Baby It's Cold Outside in the aftermath of the #metoo movement...

Very few people seem horrified by the line "you're an old slut on junk" (although both were bleeped out a few years ago) - but part of me does wonder if I would feel the same if a) I wasn't such a big Kirsty MacColl fan and b) if it was the "n" word or another minority insult

Sometimes I think there's too much political correctness, too many people worrying that group a, b or c might possibly be offended or even actively looking to be offended...

Anyway, here's the song - happy Christmas y'all

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Three Coins In The Fountain

There are only so many days of the week that you can stand in the local book/stationary shop looking at the motorbike magazines before they start to think you're casing the joint and ask you to either buy something or leave.

This, though, is the problem of lunchtime whilst at work: particularly if you want to save a fortune by bringing your own food: because you can't go and eat it anywhere that sells their own food and the benches in the shopping centres are designed to be just the right side of uncomfortable so as to stop people sitting on them for long and force them back into the shops.

So inevitably you end up eating your sandwiches (or whatever you brought in your Tupperware container today) and mooching between shops, looking at things you have no interest in (motorbike magazines being a prime example) and perusing the shelves of CDs in the hope of finding that rare imprint of Blind Wombat Jones's rare imported second album and coming out having somehow bought the thing that was playing on the tannoy when you went in.

My favourite record store posed exactly this problem: it was on the one hand a veritable Aladdin's cave of treasures and on the other a very dangerous cash black hole where money intended for replacing the fridge would somehow disappear.

I actually no longer work near to this particular shop (where I tell Herself that I am regularly marched into the shop by the assistant and forcibly made to buy something) but always enjoy going back.  I've made several wonderful discoveries there over the years...but then a few years ago the chain of shops ran into financial difficulties (because no one was buying music anymore in physical form) and was threatened with closure.  Somehow, with a change of name and corporate identity, it was able to continue and with the resurgence of interest in vinyl was actually looking very good for the future...

...until around Christmas time it closed again, with practically no warning, and seemed to be gone for good.

This was sad in many ways: largely, of course, for the assistants who would now need new jobs.  For me also it was the end of an era and I found myself looking at my last two purchases there (U2: Songs Of Experience and Bjork: Loopy Bonkers (her album is actually called Utopia - but I think my title is more fitting)) and wondering if I could have done better.

So I'm sure you can imagine that it was with a certain bounce in my step that I dashed out of the house and towards my car when I heard that it had reopened again.  I say dashed, but at my age and state of mind it was more a leisurely stroll; but you get the idea.

I don't know how car parks work in the rest of the world but in England they can be anything from an abandoned patch of land that is rented out to permit holders with security being that if you hide your belonging well enough the local kids might not break your windows to multi-storey concrete edifices that were designed so that the ramps were just tight enough to scrape the paint off the sides of anything bigger than a mini metro.

There are also, generally speaking, two ways of paying when on site: firstly there is the barrier car-park where, as you go in, you get a ticket time-stamped with your arrival that you pay for when you return, thus charging you only for the time you actually stay.  This is my favourite type and is generally speaking a multi-storey park.

Secondly there is the "pay-on-arrival" type where you have to find a space, go to the little ticket machine and then take a guess at how long you think you are going to be so that you don't end up paying too much.  It was to this type of car-park that I was going on this day.

I arrived, parked up and went to the ticket machine: trying to figure out the tariffs.  50p for 1/2 hour - well that was clearly not going to be good enough to walk-past that compilation album three times saying "you don't need it" quietly before finally caving in.  £1 for an hour: well, I would probably be back within an hour: I don't like hanging around too long, but just in case I decided to pay £1.50 for 90 minutes.  Hardly going to break the bank.

And so I dutifully put 50p into the slot.

Nothing happened.  No light flashing, no bleep of acknowledgement.  Not even a clunk of the mechanism as my hard earned cash was swallowed.  And so I pressed the coin-return button

And out popped a £1 coin.

Blimey Charlie, I thought, not quite comprehending.  I stood there and thought for a second and eventually decided that maybe this was the reason my initial coin hadn't succeeded: because of a blockage somewhere.  And so I scrambled around in my wallet for another 50p coin

And this time I got a £2 coin back.

And at this point a person with less scruples with me would have continued to see how ahead of the game they could get.  I, however, meekly went and found another machine.

And so I sashayed forward (I didn't sashay, obviously; only people in Fred Astaire films actually sashay) and duly spent far more money than I should have in the newly-opened shop (an action which I defended as showing Support To A Struggling Venture)

Coming back to the car later I still felt bad about the money I'd somehow made at the car park.  There had, after all, been a parking attendant checking for tickets in windows at another part of the area and I could have offered it to him.

And so I did the only decent thing I could think of: I gave the £2 coin to a homeless person and wished him a good day.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Take Me To Church

I don't sing hymns in church.  Haven't done for nearly 20 years.

Not that the requirement to do so comes up very often - I tend to avoid going through the door at all in case the Heathen Alert goes off and I spontaneously combust.

There are, generally speaking only three times I ever go to church:
1) Christening for the child of a friend/relative
2) Marriage of a friend/relative
3) Funeral of a friend/relative

Of course: any of these can happen in any order, but in general, and as you get older, you start to get slightly more of what lies behind door number three

The last time I sang in church was actually at the funeral of my Nan, nearly 18 years ago.  Although generally speaking I have concerns around partaking in ceremonies that I don't believe in (I don't, for instance, believe that you should have a child christened just because it is a Nice And Expected Thing To Do, nor should you get married in a church because it's Traditional: only do either of the above if you are actually religious and go regularly) - my actual reason for stopping was more straightforward: I can't sing them properly.

The pitch is just wrong for my voice - I either have to come in very low, or slightly too high: and either way it sounds like I'm making fun of the service, which I'm really not (at my Nan's funeral I stopped because I was unintentionally making my brother laugh)

I say this because last Friday I went to a funeral -  a friend of my parents that they had jointly known for 50 years and whose kids we had grown up knowing - and of course I didn't sing.  The service itself was pleasant as it goes, but it reaffirmed my own feeling that instead of some stranger standing up and saying "I never got to meet..." I need to write out something to be said when I pop my clogs (hopefully in the very far away and distant future)

I managed to make it through an entire half-an-hour without anyone pointing at me and yelling "unbeliever!" and we moved on to the wake where it soon became clear that neither of her kids actually recognised me - no real surprise as it had been about 30 years since we last saw them

When I did introduce myself to her daughter she apologized for not having recognised me and said, "You've broadened out, haven't you?" - and then, realizing what she'd said, added, "Of course we all have..." she added - looking down at her stick-thin contours

The Son finally came over and it was an odd experience because he was larger and bald and tattooed he was exactly the same and pretty much how I imagined he would turn out.  When he finally smiled in recognition it was like the kid I had known peered out from behind older eyes

I don't really have a point to this post. If you are religious and enjoy singing hymns then I'm glad that you have that.  If you have recently met with someone who you used to know and find that, underneath all the exterior changes, there is still some of that person in you then think about what you have gained and not what you have lost.  As Paul Simon once said - after changes upon changes we are more or less the same

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Seasons Greetings

It barely seems five minutes ago, but it's now a couple of years since we moved out of hell.

We got lucky in the end: buying a small bungalow on a quiet road with little traffic.  No boy racers tearing up the street (if you don't count the local lads who seem to insist on pulling wheelies on their bikes all the way down the busy bypass two roads away), no 3-day parties with open door policies to everyone in a five mile radius and no 2am fights about who ate the last slice of pizza.

The house itself is not a bad size.  At some point in it's past it had an extension done in a uPVC build that is half-extension, half-conservatory.  There's a small bit of lawn at the back and a pull-in area at the end of the path for a few cars.  We even have a garage - though as it was built in the 60s it's too small for modern cars and has an asbestos roof (fine until you come to move it, so they tell me)

Prior to us the house only had two previous owners: someone who lived there from 1960-61 (approximately), followed by a family who only moved out when they moved into a retirement flat.

Which makes the random Christmas Card all the stranger.  It's to a Mr & Mrs R. White - and as far as we can tell no such person has ever lived here.  It's certainly not the names of our predecessors and none of our neighbours even recognise the name from nearby.  It's always inscribed to an Uncle and Aunt from a family of three and, of course, being a Christmas card there's no return address.

We've had this same card every year that we've lived here and, to be honest, it makes me rather sad.  Firstly it suggests that in the past few years that we've lived here these two sides of the same family have had little or no contact with one another - otherwise surely they would have the correct address.  Secondly because there's little or nothing I can do about it.  I would love to be able to re-unite these family members, if only by returning the card to its sender.

It makes me wonder: not just about the state of their family relationships but of mine as well.  How easy it is in this busy world to lose contact with family members and friends: whether by falling out or simply the process of getting on with the day to day things.  My cousin, for instance, who I love to bits; but it could be a good 15 months since I've seen her and her boys are growing up quickly.  My sister-in-law, that I'd like to be closer to, but who lives so far away.

I sometimes feel frustrated, as I suppose so many people do, that it always feels like it's me that has to make the effort to keep the relationships going: and that no one seems to do the same to me - I don't know how true that is, but I guess that at the end of the day it doesn't really matter as long as someone makes the effort.

There was a famous actor (famous in the UK anyway) who died recently.  Not long before his death he had tried to reach out, not for the first time, to his former acting partner from the sit-com they were both known from.  Back in the 70s Actor #1 had inadvertently told a story to the press about a minor occurrence in Actor #2s life (that, upon hearing his wife was pregnant, Actor #2 had swerved the car and nearly crashed).  Actor #2, who was deeply private, never forgave him and never spoke to him again.

It's simply not worth it.  Whatever has happened in your life, if it's at all possible: reach out and build that bridge before it's too late.

Last year we received a second random Christmas card, this time from Ireland, to a different family - who have also, so far as we can tell, never lived here.  We have not received a second one from them so far.  Let's hope they sorted it all out eh?