Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Wednesday Morning, 4am

The shadows hang heavy on the ceiling, obscuring the surface. Outside the world is in darkness, silhouetted trees casting their forms across the curtains.

I lie with my back on the bed, staring straight up into the void and watching the shapes fracture and lose cohesion. My world feels darker than any of the shapes and just as empty.

The events of the past few days still wrap their hands around my brain and squeeze, making me feel slightly sick, making my head pulse till I know that I will have to take some pills when I get up - and yet still they refuse to leave me alone.

Entropy increases. It's a phrase I heard somewhere, one that seems more apt now than ever - the more you stare into the void the more you become the void. Today, at this precice moment, I feel like the last vestige of hope I had took the last fast car out of town and eloped with my dreams.

I think back to Tuesday evening as I sat in the classroom after work, listening to the teacher for my latest part-time adventure telling me of all the additional costs that come with learning cookery. She is nice, but tends to ramble on and we spend an hour passing spices around from person to person whilst she explains about the texture and the smell. I hold each to my nose in their little plastic petrie dish and inhale the aroma, hoping that each will revive me, longing for just one more cup of coffee. For a change I am not the only man in the group.

As I lie awake and stare at the ceiling I pause to smile through my moment of darkness that we will not be allowed to cook using oil due to Health & Safety issues, and that chopping knives will have to be signed in and out - wondering how the world came to this. I'm surprised we're even allowed to do any cooking at all. So it is that, with about half an hour to go, we gather and stand in awe as she demonstrates the magical ability to dry cook some seeds and grind them, silently making our lists of what we have to bring next week so that we can do the same without severing an artery.

My brain continues to buzz, so I sit up and reach for a glass of water from the window sill, only to find none there. I leave it for a while and turn over, hoping that sleep will find me in the darkness of the pillow. When it doesn't I push myself out of bed and walk through to the bathroom.

The frosted windows are closed, leaving me no view of the outside world and only adding to the moment of isolation. I take a sip of water from the tap and swirl it around my mouth, allowing the taste of the fluoride to coat my tonsils.

The house is cold, the sign of the fast encroaching winter - another reminder that everything feels like it is coming to an end. For a moment I am tempted to go downstairs and turn the newly-serviced boiler on, allowing the heat to circulate, but the journey seems unimportant at the moment, so instead I turn off the light and head back to bed.

I climb under the covers, laying my head on the pillow and prepare to be sleepless again, when a small bell sounds in the corridor and two pairs of tiny white feet jump onto the bed and walk across me. Tiny pokes her face into mine and I reach out and stroke her fur, calming her and giving her the attention she wants.

Purring with the noise of a gieger counter she pushes her small nose under the covers and into the bed, settling her small body in the space between my side and my arm, content just to be there in the darkness.

I put my free arm out to my partner. She is sound asleep and I can only hope that she will understand the gesture as a display of my love for her, of my appreciation of her support, and in the darkness of the bed a small cat settles down besides me and offers her own brand of support.

I am eternally grateful.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

On The Day Of Rockening

I suppose really it’s only a matter of time now before they release Guitar Hero: Punk.

Children and adults of 12+ will be able to hold pretend-y-wee guitars, basses and drums that contain no strings, only coloured pads, and attempt to hit the correct sequence of lights to reproduce “Pretty Vacant”, “Making Plans For Nigel”, “London Calling” et al.

Johnny Rotten will turn up and spit on a PS3 for effect, Captain Sensible (from The Damned) will do a quick rendition of “Snooker Loopy” (his theme tune for Snooker-related TV quiz Big Break), Billy Idol might even get a look in (though to be fair he was too late for punk). Someone will say what a great bloke Joe Strummer (and anyone who says "Who?" should kindly re-direct themselves forthwith to London Calling by The Clash) was and the one surviving member of the New York Dolls will be spending most of his time in a corner counting how many fingers he has.

However I suspect that “Orgasm Addict” by The Buzzcocks, “God Save The Queen” by The Sex Pistols and anything by The Slits will be noticeable by its absence.

Just the other day I saw someone walking home across town holding a big box marked Rock Band: Beatles, presumably containing it’s standard issue plastic Hohner bass (do players have to play left handed, I wonder?) ready for some unsuspecting family to attempt to reproduce Hard Day’s Night in front of their Wii Station 3 (or whatever) along with simply oodles of other tracks that some corporate suit has decided are the absolute definitive Beatles tracks.

Quite possibly people playing Rock Band: The Beatles have the same argument that most bands end up having – who ends up being bassist (even McCartney never wanted to play it until they sacked Stuart Sutcliff), who gets to drive the tour van when they take on the neighbours and how the royalties are split.

Perhaps a few hours of fun will be spent trying to reproduce the same sequence that the games producer created (not, as you may realise, actually reproducing the original song structure – McCartney especially is famous for introducing tricky B major 9th chords to mangle your fingers)

Speaking as someone who plays guitar (note that I don’t call myself a musician – that would indicate some modicum of skill) I have to ask one obvious question:


I mean – yes, ok I’m sure that getting your mates/family around the telly and watching notes scroll down the screen towards you (presumably with animated Ringo Starr to pep things up) is hours of fun for all the family – but there’s a far more effective solution.

Go to your local music shop – buy yourself some instruments and form a band. Find yourself a tab site online (and there are hundreds) and you will now be able to play any song you want to.

Actually play it – not just hit three or four different coloured keys – you will have an instrument that you can enjoy for the rest of your life. You’ll never have to upgrade it or replace it when a new batch of pre-selected songs is released and sold at extortionate prices, you’ll never find that your fret board is suddenly out of date and you can no longer get the games.

Radical isn’t it? Go out there and actually think for yourself, “what songs do I want to play?”, “what bands do I like?”

Hell, you might even end up writing your own songs that some poor unsuspecting soul will end up buying on their games station ten years down the line.

As a simple example of the kind of thing you can do with a guitar and half an hour with nothing on telly I offer you the below song. Recently I mentioned that I had gone through a 2 year period where I hadn’t written any songs at all – the below song was the absolute last one I DID write during that period and sat, mostly unloved, on a cassette tape in my drawer for the entire time.

It’s quite Oasis influenced and you’ll have to imagine the guitar solo and forgive the whine – this wasn’t on the original video and seems to have been caused by compressing the file (Watercats – if you have any idea how to avoid this please let me know)


Tomorrow Came Too Late

I always had too many dreams, and now they’ve turned to silent screams
I wish there was a way to make things right
If I could turn the hands of time, I’d go back to my recent crimes
And make sure things went right for you and me

But it’s too late, my time has come
And now I’m looking at my future in the barrel of a loaded gun
It took too long, to realise
Tomorrow came too late for me, and yesterday is far away
But it’s too late, my time has come
And now I’m looking at my future in the barrel of a loaded gun
It took too long, to realise
Tomorrow came too late for me
Tomorrow came too late for me today

I always try too hard to please, I begged you on my bended knees
I didn’t know where I had got it wrong
And if I had the chance again, to find some way to make amends
Don’t you know it’s just what I would do?

I wish that I could make it right, time goes by, another night
Has left me stranded, sleepless on my own
I wish that I could make you see, you drive me too insanity
But still I want you back if there’s a way

PS: hands up anyone who believes there's even a modicum of truth that Ringo tried to play the game and couldn't get past stage three?

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Wordzzle and Eejit poem

Just because I am completely bloody minded I have decided to attempt two challenges for the price of one:

Firstly Raven’s Wordzzle:

The wordzzle was set by my friend Argent over at Delusions of Adequacy so it would be plain rude not to have a go. Meanwhile Total Fecking Eejit (people’s lost republic of Eejit) requires people to post a poem each Monday – this week the subject being Home (inspired by the legendary Bruce Springsteen and his song “My Hometown”). As today is Saturday and I can’t be in two places at once then I can only apologise to the Eejit for a pre-emptive strike!

So please find below my lyrics for a new song vaguely relating to home using the Wordzzle words: dangerous, engine, sullenly, bespoke, evergreen, bauble, medicine, freight, destined, tinsel, carbon, feelers, outright, ballet, fizzing

Apologies to all human kind as we know it for the result – and especially to Brucie, because I thought it would be fun to try and write in a kinda Thunder Road type of way.

NB: it is more or less obligatory to have one of the following in a Springsteen song:
* a girl called Mary or Janey, or Mary Janey,
* a dead-end town,
* some reference to cars,
* people from working class backgrounds,
* the sound of brakes screeching on the flipside of the American dream
* a vague whiff of hope
* If you can squeeze in a desperate sounding harmonica solo then you're fully there.

(I should probably mention that I really do like Springsteen, or BS as he’s known to his friends!)

Tommy sold double-glazing, for the Evergreen company
Got so tired of conservatories, felt like he would never be free
Spent his nights going nowhere, in a carbon-monoxide dream
Just another tiny bauble, spat right out of the corporate machine

He and Janey road the subway, made sweet music to the engine’s sound
Guess they knew it was dangerous, still they kept hanging around
Freight train crossing over, destined to never come their way again
Janey got herself pregnant, that was when they became more than friends

Oh Janey, take your medicine, you have to suffer if you want your dream
Keep dreaming of your life like a ballet, it might help to quell the scream
And I know we may never get there, I may not get us to the promised-land
But maybe we’ll build us a home here, if you will only just take my hand

Tommy kept on putting out feelers, to find somewhere just right
But still they would haunt their corridors, Janey barely slept each night
Sullenly she’d cling to him, till their love was nearly worn away
And when they were tired he’d sing to her, tell her outright it would be ok

“We’ll buy a bespoke dream dressed in tinsel, I know we’ll make it out sometime”
And he’d smile at the stars still fizzing, and know it wasn’t just a line
And one day soon they may wake up, and the world will lay at their command
But sometimes they still ride the subway, as they head into the promised land

Trapped in this dying town, falling deeper into sin
No matter what you done, home is where they have to let you in

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Summer Moved On

*click*Houston, we have a problem*click*

*tch-tch*Roger that Babylon 5, please state the nature of the problem *tch-tch*

*click*Yeah: Houston we’re encountering a high degree of interference from a highly reflective surface in sector twelve: seeking permission to use the Photon Ray Emitter to delete? *click*

*tch-tch*That’s a negative Babylon 5: it’s just the Hungry Pixie out on a bike ride*tch-tch*

Sunday morning and, unaware of the problems my day-glo cycling jacket are causing to astronauts, I’m out the door slightly later than the last couple of weeks.

Not, I hasten to add, because my advancing years have made it harder for me to get out of bed, but because the colder weather is now definitely setting in. Just two or three weeks ago I had to get out of the door by 7:30-8am to ensure that it wasn’t simply too hot. Now, despite the clear blue sky, there’s a chill wind that forces me to keep the offending jacket on throughout.

A few other cyclists are braving the weather and some of the old-guard of really serious cyclists still nod and say hello as they pass (although increasingly more don’t). Aware that my weeks of cycling before the winter are now numbered I take one of my favourite 22 mile routes through the country lanes, past dismembered windmills and empty fields. About 15-16 miles into the journey I start to feel quite tired and, aware that I have not managed to get anywhere near as fit as I would have liked this year, I head for home (making the journey in a respectable 1hr 56 mins)

Monday morning and I’m on the train to yet another interview. The job I’m going for pays shed loads (1) more money than my current one, but is about fifty miles away. Ironically the train journey takes roughly the same time as it takes me to get across town on the bus (only 6 miles)

On the train I pick up The Metro and have to stop myself from laughing out loud at one of the stories. The Metro – a free paper that contains three day old news and celebrity gossip – is a constant source of inspiration for paintings (via the photos) and of unintentional mirth. Laughing out loud at the newspaper on a crowded train is a clear sign of insanity and approaching dotage - but I can’t help myself.

The story itself is not especially funny: it’s about a woman who has an intense fear of knees. Apparently when she was 11 years old her father put his knee joint out and ever since she’s been unable to bear seeing them or having hers exposed in case someone touches them.

Now, on the brink of getting married, she is seeking counselling – she is unable to wear skirts or go to the beach as only her partner, close family and a select group of friends can safely touch it.

And it’s this last comment that makes me laugh out loud: exactly how did she decide on the select group of friends? Was it a process of trial and error? Was there a “touch my knee and see if I’m fine” evening to which her friends were invited and were special badges allocated stating “Hi: I’m John and I can touch knees”?

The interview itself is not too bad – it’s not one of those god-awful ones where they ask you to give examples of a time when you were king of the universe and you are expected to second-guess whoever set the questions as to which buzzwords they were looking for. However it does transpire that despite the job I’m applying for being exactly the same on paper as the one I’m currently doing I’m not qualified for it and can only be considered for a more junior role – the salary of which will probably not cover my travel expenses.

She assures me that this is because, as a newcomer to the company, she is trying to put a proper process in place and as such has built a team of young people who are hungry for success. The implication seems to be that, with my advancing years, I may not be quite as hungry (I fail to mention my status as the Hungry Pixie – it’s generally best left until you get to know someone)

Now I know that I’ve occasionally joked about my age on this site, but I’m not THAT old and would still like to think that I can have some kind of career – but apparently I’m now past such things and can look forward to a lifetime of mediocre jobs, followed by a part-time job in Tescos when I retire.

I take the journey home and am woken early on Tuesday morning by the cats. The sky outside is not promising and is still dark when I leave – again reminding me that the halcyon days of my summer are sadly behind me.

I arrive at work and see the latest poster for the end of contract party – advertising that in addition to the High School Musical theme there will be a chocolate fountain and candy-floss machine.

I take an amused moment to re-confirm that I am glad that I have decided not to go: I mean – how old do these people think I am? Twelve??


(1) Shed-loads. Euphemism for having a lot of something - not clear why it is particularly sheds, as sheds are often small, but there you go!

Monday, 7 September 2009

Canal Routes

The bus pulls up with a jolt and I disembark into the half-light of the terminus. Outside our kid (1) is already waiting under the jet-stream sky, his hair greyer than the last time I saw him.

We have The Conversation:
ME: So what do you want to do?
HIM: Dunno (2), what do you want to do?
ME: Dunno

I look up at the sky and the black storm clouds have lifted. Not half an hour ago when I set off it was looking like all the rain gods from mythology had got together for a party: now the sky looks as innocent as a young boy standing by a broken piece of glass with a slingshot in his pocket and a whistle on his lips.

We decide, after some standing around prevaricating, that we will catch the train to an area just outside of the nearest big city and take a four mile walk along the canal back into town: the thinking being that if the weather deteriorates we can make a run for it, or else buy a regional day-saver and just change our plans as required.

And so we walk across the town centre, slipping through the cracks inbetween the tourists, asking the usual standard questions about work, friends and life. Our kid has been working on some songs for a new album and I ask him if he is doing an instrumental cover-version of some popular tune using the pan-pipes sound on his keyboard. This has become something of a running joke between us since I suggested the possibility of Smells Like Teen Spirit the country-and-western years. He didn’t take me seriously on that – so far.

We buy a day-saver that leaves us with a ten minute wait for the first train of the day that we can use. Everything at the station seems to be military grey, with only a fresh red warning line across the safe-edge of the platform to show that anything has been changed since the 1970s. Power-lines trail overhead and the emotionless voice of the pre-recorded station announcer cuts regularly through the noise of the nearby traffic.

As we travel further away from home the sky changes again with the scenery, turning from city-scape to rural, clear to cloudy and back again until we are left with a grumbling sky that feels ready to shed its woes.

At the new station everything is the same purple as a chocolate wrapper and the smells from the nearby factories hits us almost instantaneously. The canal runs directly alongside the train track and we turn straight out onto the towpath (3), ducking and diving to avoid the joggers, the cyclists and the puddles.

Our kid falls behind quite a bit, so I do my best to walk at his pace and to stop and take pictures with my camera phone (4) so that he can take a run and catch me up. Most people walk slower than I do and today I am no different, keeping my eye on the clouds ahead. They are still speaking to me of imminent rain, but we seem to be directly under a gap and I am keen to keep it that way.

The canal is mostly empty today, with only a few souls mad enough to risk the weather, but we pause and make way for a marauding gang of ducks and exchange polite hellos with the occasional cagouled figure who passes in the other direction. Unusually for a canal the route is fairly straight, sticking to the side of the train tracks as the bridges rise and fall in arks of brickwork.

You can still see the echoes of the industrial past that required this network, though most has been flattened or turned into luxury apartments. These days the canal is mostly used for leisure and there are signs by the power-lines warning that there is no fishing allowed here – not that you can imagine what kind of killer fish could survive in amongst the industrial murk and bicycle frames. Gaps in between the brick walls offer glimpses of a world of professions long since departed, concrete floors where skater-boys practice their tricks the only sign that any building was ever here.

The wind stirs and moves the clouds, exposing brief fragments of sunlight and rippling the water. The light catches on the waves and shatters. Our kid catches up again as I pause to take a picture and I point out the high tower of a nearby University. The clock strikes the hour just as we are plunged back out of the wilderness and into the built-up city. Here the ghosts of the past are replaced by the prosperity of the moment. Themed pubs and tourist attractions float by on either side as we walk and a builder wades out into the water to secure a temporary blockade.

It’s just past midday when we hit the city centre, so we decide to head across and get something to eat before embarking on another pilgrimage. This one is ten minutes away, but we approach with some trepidation as the last time I was nearby the location seemed to be closing down.

We head across the city and out again, crossing the endless streams of traffic. Underneath the arches of the train bridge we catch fragments of a forgotten world that seems to exist almost hidden amongst the neon lights and the grandeur, with small businesses existing almost against all hope and with each one that fails and displays only boarded-up windows I feel a little pang of sorrow for someone’s shattered dream.

So it is that with a sigh of relief we see the shop doors open and we head inside. Downstairs everything is in darkness and it takes us a moment for our eyes to adjust. The building stretches out at the back under the train arch, becoming cavernous at the back where the bass guitars lurk ominously, strings waiting to be tweaked. The wall of guitars is just as impressive as ever and we examine each, deciding that the ones with no price tag are clearly there to tell the casual viewer “if you have to ask: you can’t afford”

Someone is trying out a guitar, for once not playing Stairway To Heaven or anything by the Beatles, distort on with a sound that Eric Clapton would kill for. We head back up the stairs before anyone can ask us if we need help and we are forced to admit that we have no money and take a turn around the keyboard section, where our kid tries out a few of the sounds.

Out on the street the wind is gathering again and we stand outside the place where guitars go to die and have The Conversation again – should we call it a day or make some more use of our day ticket? I allow myself to be persuaded that we should catch another train, just for the sheer pleasure of travelling from a to b.

We arrive at the station just in time, the train doors nearly closing in my face as we attempt to board. The station master, much like the sky, seems to take pity on me and waves me onboard. I sit back in my seat and listen to the sound of the wheels.

1) our kid – northern slang term for younger sibling. Mostly used in areas like Manchester and Liverpool, but popularised since the advent of BritPop and Oasis in the 1990s.
2) Dunno – lazy way to say “I don’t know”
3) Towpath – when the canals were originally built the barges were still towed by horses. Most modern routes along canals follow the old towpaths which have been greatly improved and renovated in the last ten years.
4) The Fun Police here are making it very difficult to put pictures on the internet – but I will attempt to put a collection of canal photos on line soon (probably over at Houses In Motion).