Monday, 24 December 2007

The Melancholy

Happiness is an overrated emotion. Advertisements in magazines and on billboards and television screens tell us that our lives are incomplete unless we pay out for their merchandise, that the ownership of shiny consumer goods and cosmetic products can rescue us from the futile existences that we are told we lead. These goods alone, in other words, can bring us happiness, and this demonstrates why we should at least be sceptical of that particular condition. It is empty. At its worst it is anti-productive and anti-intellectual. What’s the point of doing anything if you’re happy as you are? And contemplation is to be avoided at all costs if one is happy. Thinking for too long about anything is a sure-fire route to doubt and dread and fear and loathing.

Well, that’s a cheery Christmas Eve opening paragraph, isn’t it? I don’t really have a problem with happiness, though. I wish bucketfuls of it to everyone I know and also to everyone I don’t know. It’s nice thing to feel. What I really want to do here is write in praise of sadness.

Many people won’t understand my extolling sadness and may even find the idea quite disgusting. These are the kind of people for whom Coldplay songs articulate their deepest and innermost feelings, who believe that The Shawshank Redemption is cinema’s crowning achievement. These people will never understand why I, for example, love listening to Taillights Fade by Buffalo Tom despite it being the musical equivalent of proposing to your girlfriend only for her to tell you that she’s not really interested in you because you’re a bit of a loser actually. It’s a song that wrenches the heart from your chest and throws it against the wall and this is why I adore it so. I like feeling like this. It feels alive.

The reason I’m feeling like this today is that last night I watched Lost In Translation and fell in love with it. It made me ache with sadness and I wanted to watch it again immediately because of this (instead, I watched the Father Ted Christmas Special and laughed myself stupid). I had a feeling, though, that it might be a film that polarised opinion, that many people might not see its attraction at all and I was right. A quick visit to Amazon shows that the second most popular customer review, behind 5 stars, is 1 star. Lots of people just don’t get it and I pity them. They will never understand that melancholy is beautiful. Their life is emptier for this.

Those of us with melancholy in our hearts feel the world more acutely than others, both sorrow and happiness. We long to fall in love because we know no other way, even though we are aware that when it ends, which is inevitable with us, we will be feeling the pain forever. We like autumn. We smile when we see elderly couples holding hands. We see beauty in everything because we are the true romantics.

I’m happy right now. I’m not seeing my family this Christmas and have been adopted for the day by friends and I’m looking forward to it immensely. I’m going to have a really fun few days with people I love and when I return home I can watch Lost In Translation again on my own and feel a different kind of happiness, that exquisite happiness that only us chosen ones, the melancholy ones, are allowed to feel. Happy Christmas to us all!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

The Day Phil Spector Saved My Saturday

Praising Phil Spector isn’t a particularly fashionable occupation these days. His contribution to popular music is undisputed but you don’t find too many commentators sticking up for him lest they be found guilty of eulogising a, erm, murderer, should he be found guilty. No-one really knows whether he did it, though. His only real crime might be the wearing of the worst hairpieces in Hollywood. Today, though, I love Phil Spector. I really, really love him and here is why:

I had a really crap day. I set off this morning to old London town in order to buy as many Christmas presents as I could for my loved ones. I know from experience that unless I have a pretty good idea of what I intend to buy I’m quite likely to come home with nothing, I am a man after all, so it might seem foolish that I had little idea of what I was going to get today. But, I reasoned, I’m going to London where everything in the world is sold so this won’t be an issue. Covent Garden! Soho! The entire West End! How could I possibly fail?

I failed miserably. Really miserably. After standing on a crowded Underground train for the entire hour of my journey into town I sustained a bad back that was to last the rest of the day. I walked miles around the busy streets of central London, often retracing my steps to return to shops just so I could decide not to buy whatever it was that I’d already decided not to buy in the first place. I really tried. I entered more shops than I ever have in one day and looked at more crap on shelves than ever before but just couldn’t find anything suitable and ended up buying just one measly present. And the amount of people! I shouldn’t whinge about the streets and shops being horribly crowded since this is only to be expected on the penultimate Saturday before Christmas in the West End and I may as well spend my time complaining that water is sometimes a bit too wet for my liking. But I’m going to whinge anyway. It was fucking horrible. And also very lonely.

As it became apparent that my expedition was to end in failure, I became more and more angry. I hated everyone in my path and, even more, I hated myself for lacking the wit and imagination to be able to buy gifts for those I care about. I ended up taking the weight off my feet in a pub (a pint of lager with a chaser of self-loathing please!), which only made me feel like I was wasting even more of everyone’s time. I felt like crap.

So, I wasn’t in a good mood as I took the train home but at least I had the knowledge that at the other end of the line was a pub where I could sit and watch the football. A Fulham win and beer would make everything okay. Well, that idea failed too. The match was dire and Fulham lost to the only goal after conceding a last minute penalty. Brilliant.

Outside the temperature hovered around freezing and I walked the mile and a half home into a biting wind whilst wishing that I’d worn more clothes and also not had most of my hair cut off the day before. I bought a takeaway and I’d just about have enough time to eat it when I got home before my friend Darren came round. What I really needed was someone to whom I could have a moan, someone with whom I could set the world to rights over a few more beers. Just as I finished a quite satisfying fish and chips Darren phoned. He was working late and couldn’t make it. I was quite disconsolate and seriously considered going straight to bed, anything to be rid of this wretched day.

It was then that I noticed some mail with my name on. One was a Christmas card and the other looked like a cd. I didn’t remember buying a cd. I opened the package and found to my utter delight that it was the Phil Spector Best Of and Christmas album double set that I’d ordered (for the princely sum of £5!) two weeks previously. I rushed to my room knowing exactly what I wanted to hear. Cd in, track 2, volume up loud, sprawl out on my bed and….boom, boom boom, BANG, boom, boom boom, BANG….The Ronettes’ Be My Baby starts and I’ve already forgotten that I’m supposed to be in a rotten mood. More than that, I have the sound of one of Pop’s all time great moments washing all over me and it felt beautiful. I lay on my back staring at the ceiling with a huge grin plastered all over my stupid face. And there was more to come.

Has there ever been a song more aptly titled than River Deep Mountain High? Tina Turner’s vocal is, for me, the greatest ever recorded and never was Spector’s Wall Of Sound production more effective. It does exactly what it says on the tin with a song that is almost elemental in its power. Here is music that could halt the flow of rivers and move mountains and, more importantly, make me feel triumphant on a Saturday night that would otherwise have been heading nowhere. Phil Spector had saved my Saturday.

Phil, putting aside this Lana Clarkson business, you know you’ve been quite beastly in the past to a number of people. But you’ve also created moments of transcendent beauty that the world can cherish long after you and your silly wig collection have left us and for that I am forever grateful.

Thursday, 6 December 2007


I need a haircut. I don’t think I’ve had a haircut since summer and, while I like the effect of my hair framing my face, I really need to shear some of it off as I look a little too much like Charlie Brown wearing his pumpkin crash helmet. But I’m a bit scared of going to the hairdresser’s. It’s one of those fears that I’ve had since I was a kid and have never really grown out of. And it’s not confined to hairdresser’s shops either. It’s anyplace where I’ll have no option but to talk to someone I don’t know. Pathetic, isn’t it?

A similar fear in both its nature and its feebleness is my fear of phoning people I don’t know. Worse is that I, to a lesser extent, don’t even like phoning people I know. I normally have to psyche myself up to phone anyone apart from my immediate family and one or two others. What if they’re doing something and I interrupt them? No, I can’t be comfortable with that. The sad thing is that this stupid fear has actually cost me a very close friend who probably thought I was ignoring her on purpose but it was really because I was scared to phone her in case I woke her newborn daughter. And I still haven’t learnt, I still find it really hard to phone people. That’s unless it’s something important or necessary and then I seem to find it easy. I have no problem at all at work either. I have to phone unfamiliar people all of the time and it never bothers me. Sometimes I wonder why this is. And then I stop wondering why and get on with reading or surfing the web or doing anything rather than face my fear.

In the interests of balance, here are some things I’m not afraid of: Spiders, heights, my dad, the dark, death, public speaking, sex, open spaces, getting old, clowns and making fun of myself. That’s not a bad list and there are loads of other common fears that I have no problem with. And all I’m really scared of is two things: Rejection and failure. It’s just a shame that those two things are quite pervasive as far as life is concerned. They're probably at the root of my every unsuccessful episode.

Maybe I have Avoidant Personality Disorder. I can certainly identify with some of the symptoms. Or maybe I'm just a very weak man. Or, one more maybe, I could just be a normal human being. Aren't we all scared of something? Would I not be a complete freak if there was nothing in this big bad world that caused me to irrationally feel fear? I like that conclusion! I am only a little bit pathetic which makes me pretty much perfect! This is excellent. Now if I can just summon up the courage to go to the hairdresser's my life would be complete...

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Everything Needs Rearranging is One Year Old!

Happy First Birthday to Everything Needs Rearranging! I feel it has developed a little since birth and its initial baby steps have matured into slightly more grown up steps. Not yet adult strides but there's plenty of time for that yet.

I still sometimes find myself struggling for ideas when sitting down to write entries here. Occasionally there'll be a news story that jumps out but, most of the time, I'm writing about my own life. This is all very well since I think my life is interesting enough to ensure that I have plenty to write about but I find that so much of it is unsuitable for publication (One pleasing development in this blog is that I'm not nearly as afraid as I was to regard my life as interesting enough to document. When I started I was writing almost solely about events as I observed them rather than events that I participated in). I don't want to embarrass or offend anyone (which is why I started another blog a while back although this has been mothballed for the time being). I'm very uncomfortable about writing things that might make me appear immodest. And I'm very wary of mentioning any romantic encounters. That's not to say that I have a massive catalogue of dalliances that I've kept secret. I haven't.

It is nice, though, to actually have something to do with my abundant spare time. I don't have kids or anything else that might take up a significant amount of this. It's something to put in the "Interests" section of my CV as well, along with reading and playing football and all those other interests that people always put. My sister puts "Bonsai" and "Scuba Diving" in hers which makes me quite jealous. I've also had some really pleasing feedback lately about my writing which is something I really need. So thanks for that, you know who you are.

I wish I had a funny birthday anecdote to put here but I don't. In the absence of a story, here is some other stuff:

- Christmas is on the horizon and I've just bought a couple of t-shirts for friends from my new favourite website. I might be spending Christmas on my own or just with my sister and her partner since my parents are miles away and I have no car.

- I am almost a full-time smoker again but haven't had a cigarette for two days now and I might try to continue not to have any. In fact that's what I'll definitely do.

- I received two of my best ever compliments last Friday night from two beautiful Polish girls who work in the mail room. I am "a really good looking guy" and also the possessor of "a really great arse" that they enjoy checking out whenever I'm around. I was so proud! No-one's ever told me I have a nice arse before! I know this seems to fall within the boundaries of stuff I don't write about as it may be construed as immodest but I can use it for two reasons - It's not my opinion and, more importantly, it really needs to be documented as it could be the pivotal point when my self-esteem took a turn for the better. It should also be understood just how good looking these girls are. One of them is probably the most beautiful girl I've ever been acquainted with. I literally went weak at the knees when she told me I was really good looking. I had to sit down for a minute to recover.

So there's not a great deal going on in my life right now but I hope that might change in the early months of next year as I plan to relocate and finally sort my career out. It's all rather daunting but has to be done as soon as possible before my brain turns to mush through under use. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Trolley Cases, Drug of the Nation

I was introduced to my latest pet hate by my friend Alex but I’m being honest when I say I’d been feeling it on a subconscious level for a while. Alex just brought it into my consciousness and articulated it for me. I don’t feel guilty for appropriating his revulsion because I genuinely feel it myself. And so will anyone who has ever had to walk behind a particular type of person at a railway station or airport whilst hoping to move slightly more rapidly than a soporific Koala.

On Friday evening we were standing outside that pub that’s next to the platforms in Kings Cross Station when he pointed it out. Around every tenth person was pulling a suitcase behind them. A fine innovation in the field of hand luggage was the addition of wheels to a suitcase. Suitcases are often heavy and so this facility can be invaluable. These suitcases came first with a strap with which to pull them but the next innovation made the pulling easier and this was the retractable rigid handle.

The suitcases we saw at Kings Cross station were suitcases in form, sure, but they were mainly tiny. I've since discovered that they're called trolley cases and they're not a million miles removed from those bags that you see old women pulling behind them in the poorer parts of town, often decorated with a tartan of some description. The old women quite often smell of urine but that's neither here nor there right now. We’re talking about vessels that would struggle to house more than a couple of loaves of bread without having to really squeeze them and render them useless for sandwich making. They were generally smaller than the fairly dainty bag I was carrying on my shoulder, I swear people were pulling laptop-bag sized suitcases around behind them. Now I’m a live-and-let-live kinda guy and I believe people should be able to wear or carry whatever they please regardless of how stupid or pointless the accoutrement might be. It was only the next day, returning home after an enjoyable drunken night out, that I realised that these suitcases are an evil part of today’s society.

I disembarked from the underground train at Paddington Station and began the walk to the mainline train that would take me home. Ahead of me was a woman carrying, sorry, pulling a very small suitcase behind her. She headed towards the stairs. I followed and this is what happened:

She stopped at the foot of the stairs and pushed the retractable handle into the suitcase. She then picked up her suitcase and carried it up the stairs. At the top of the stairs she stopped, put her bag down, pulled out the handle and continued along the footbridge. At the end of the footbridge is the set of stairs that takes you back down to the other side of the platform. Before it she stopped, pushed the handle back in to the suitcase, picked the suitcase up and walked down the stairs towards the little horizontal walkway that comes before the stairs continue downwards. She went through the same sequence of actions a couple more times and each time she stopped the rage inside me built up a little further until I almost had to tell her at high volume and very close to her face exactly how anti-social her behaviour was. Which would have been ironic, I know.

I realised that this was something that had been making me angry for a few years but I was just putting it down to the bad mood that crowds of people in stations generally put you in. But it can all be avoided. What is wrong with us? Are we so lazy and pathetic and generally fucking useless that for many of us the effort of carrying a small bag is too great? And is it just a coincidence that many of these people are so self-absorbed that they don't even notice that they are getting in the way of other people going about their day? For me, these small suitcases are symptomatic of plenty that is wrong with modern life. They demonstrate that we are a bunch of lazy, selfish bastards.

It's at this point that I'd normally qualify my above statements by saying that I understand why people need to do this and sorry if I've offended anyone 'cos I'm a nice guy yadda yadda yadda, but this time I won't. I suggest that anyone reading this should take a few moments to consider whether they've ever held anyone up at the bottom of an escalator to pull the retractable handle from their tiny suitcase. If you have then could you please take stock of your life and your place on this planet?


I actually had a fantastic weekend, believe it or not! I saw Delays on Thursday and the mighty Arcade Fire on Saturday with a Friday night of drunkenness and fun with friends thrown in as well. Delays, I've decided, are the best guitar pop band in the country. Every song is a proper pop gem without any of the pretensions that indie pop bands generally have, such as a baffling preoccupation with haircuts and shoes and Oasis and Paul Weller. Delays are aware that how cool your musical and fashion influences are is irrelevant, it's only the song that matters. It helps that the singer sounds fantastic.

Of the four times I've seen Arcade Fire this year this was my least favourite but this is no fault of the band. I was too far from the stage and was tired and had probably not calmed down from trolley case rage earlier in the day. Most importantly this wasn't a landmark gig for me - it wasn't the first time I'd seen them and it wasn't somewhere exotic like New York or, erm, Glastonbury. They were still magnificent. It's just a shame that it's now going to be two years before I get to see them again but absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that...

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Man Rides Bike

A man was put on three months probation in Scotland yesterday having admitted a sexually aggravated breach of the peace after being caught fucking a bike. Well guys, if you're anything like me you're probably thinking "there but for the grace of God go I". Who among us has not found ourselves looking with lusty loin at a bike, probably dressed provocatively and asking for it, parked up against a wall, its handle bars splayed in a pleasing symmetry, the saddle almost whispering "Sit on me you bitch, I want to feel your arse all over me!"? The strong willed just walk on by but poor old Robert Stewart, 51, didn't. He'd had a few drinks and, well, you know the rest.....

So far, so ha-ha. But this raises a serious point or two. Stewart was in his bedroom in an Ayr hostel. He had the door shut and locked and if there hadn't been cleaners with a master key that wanted to enter the room then no-one would have known and no-one would have been hurt. Isn't what one does in the privacy of one's own room their business and no-one else's unless they harm someone or something? (You could say the same thing about drug use, I know, but behind a drug use conviction is the argument that the user is supporting an illegal trade. There was no illegal trade here. Unless Stewart bought the bike from someone who pimped bikes. If you pimp bikes does that mean you peddle their wares? Sorry.) If the cleaners had entered the room and discovered Stewart with a woman you can be sure that they would have apologised and left them to it. For some reason, if a man gets his kicks in an unusual but harmless way then it's suddenly a matter for the Police.

Stewart will now be on the Sex Offender's Register for three years. This is just a mockery. The register is there for people who are a danger to the public. This man got up to something pretty strange, sure, but it was in his own room and he was harming no-one. Let's face it: if the Police were to start bursting into people's bedroom's they'd soon have most of the country on the register. Poor old Robert Stewart could now find himself getting beaten up just because he has a penchant for mounting bikes.

I reckon he would have a case should he wish to appeal. His privacy has been breached and he's been labelled a sex-offender when he's done nothing wrong; surely the judgement would be overturned. On the other hand he might just want to dig a big hole and crawl into it and hope everyone and everything goes away and forgets about him for ever.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Fantasy Football

Today I became the proud part-owner and manager of a football club. A real football club. - Ebbsfleet United of the Blue Square Premier division. Naturally I'm over the moon with my new purchase. I'm gonna give 110% and hope that the boys can show the same levels of energy and commitment out on the pitch. Obviously, all they can do is take it one game at a time but as long as they can concentrate for 90 minutes, week-in week-out, then I won't be feeling as sick as a parrot. Etc etc etc etc........................

It's all true though, and it all happened through this website. 20000 of us have paid £35 each to have not just a share of the club but also a say in playing personnel and transfers. Quite how this will work, or even if it will work at all, I have no idea. It will be fun though. There are plenty of sceptics in the media and particularly among those who spend their days posting on football message boards. They think I'm being conned or that it will end in disaster and I understand this but I think they're missing the point which is that we don't know how these things will unravel until someone takes the plunge and finds out. It's only going to cost me £35 a year anyway which is comfortably less than it costs to buy a football shirt that's been produced for a fraction of the price. Who's the mug?

My motives for doing this stem from a dissatisfaction with the club I support, Fulham. I wasn't born a Fulham fan (but dad tried to get me to support Spurs or Brentford. It just didn't take. I don't know why), instead I chose them. I realised that supporting Liverpool whilst residing in London was wrong and, besides, Kenny Dalglish, the entire reason I started supporting Liverpool, retired in about 1985. So I needed a new team and my mate Steve's enthusiasm led me to Fulham. Who knows, if my dad had shown the same enthusiasm I could be a miserable Spurs fan like him.

I first realised I was a Fulham fan at some point in the mid 90s when I found myself showing enthusiasm for attending a home match against Cardiff City in the middle of winter when we hadn't won in about 14 matches and were second from bottom of the entire football league. We were shit. I mean really shit. But, for some reason, I found myself drawn to this hopeless band of cloggers. It rained hard that night on me and about 2000 other fans but Fulham won handsomely and that was it, I was hooked. There was something about the team's crapness that I found alluring. I think it may have been to do with the (wildly mistaken) belief that I could probably do as well as those on the pitch. They were like you and me. They made mistakes. Frequently. I liked the crapness and I liked the picturesque stadium by the Thames and I liked the fact that I could stand where I wanted and knew all the faces on my terrace.

Things have changed since then. We have a sugar-daddy who has paid for our route to the Premiership and one result of this is that I longer go to matches. It doesn't feel like the same club I started supporting. I love the fact that we're on TV all the time but that is also why I'm less interested. It used to feel like my little team and now I have to share it with millions of armchair fans, and newspaper and TV pundits. There are other factors, such as the vastly increased prices and having to sit where I would once stand but it all boils down to one thing: I no longer feel any great connection with the club. It's not as much fun any more.

I was thrilled, then, when this morning when I received an email saying that mine and everyone else's £35 had been invested in Ebbsfleet United. I'd never even heard of the club but spent a while on its website learning about the players and history and I'm now looking forward to attending matches. I haven't really looked forward to attending a match in years. There'll be loads of other people like me there, new supporters excited about doing something new and interesting which I hope will engender a real community spirit and that's what it comes down to for me. It will be fun again.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007


I'm really tired and I ache. I'm getting too old for all this. I've got by on very little sleep for two days and today really hurts. I've not been misbehaving though. I think I'm probably reacting to the exertions of the these last two days in a fairly normal way for someone my age. Let's see.

On Monday I played football. Or soccer, depending on your viewpoint. I'm not one of these English people who get all precious when others, normally Americans, refer to our beautiful game as soccer. I know we invented it but most of the rest of the world call it soccer and they're better than us at it so just deal with it. Anyway, I played two games in one night which would be enough to exhaust me at any time but when I've only just started playing again after a year out and am a long way from anything approaching match-fitness then it's gonna hurt more than usual. What also hurt was hitting the deck far too often as a result of A) flat-footed defenders hacking me down after being bamboozled by my fleet-footed ball trickery and B) tripping over myself. As a result I'm afflicted with a variety of grazes, bruises, bumps and strains.

Monday's matches were notable for the appearance in one of the opposition teams of a girl. A girl. This was a source of apprehension in our team, particularly among the younger members who started to giggle like schoolboys who had just discovered the lingerie section in their mum's catalogue. They all apologised in advance for any injuries they might cause or parts they might inadvertently grab during the match, as if this were some delicate flower they were dealing with. I knew better than that and suspected that this girl was probably a world beater, someone who could make fools of us all, and I was nearly right. She was good. We survived any real embarrassment though by each of us suddenly taking the game very seriously when she was on the ball. Being nutmegged by a girl would be impossible to live down and we all survived unscathed.

I returned home exhausted and looked forward to a night of deep sleep, my first in a while. I was to be disappointed. All through the night every subtle movement caused me to wake up in pain as if being prodded by a snooker cue. I didn't sleep well.

This fatigue endangered my plans for last night which was to go see my mate Jody's band, High Priests. The decision to go was made easier by my flatmate's declaration that he would drive me into London in his dad's Porsche. It's a fair bit better, and quicker, than the other option which involves getting a bus and two trains. I'm really glad I went, not just because High Priests are excellent but because Jody's a lovely man and I hadn't seen him for a few years. They released their debut album on Monday after years of hard work (My mate's for sale on Amazon!) and I felt really proud in that strange way that you can feel pride in something over which you had absolutely no influence. I also saw a few other people I hadn't seen for ages and was very glad I went.

I didn't get home until gone 1am and was again looking forward to a deep, if somewhat abbreviated, sleep. Once again though I was woken throughout the night pretty much every time I did so much as move a muscle. I could barely open my eyes in this morning.

So here I am. It's early afternoon and I don't feel too bad but I'm certainly tired. Am I getting too old for football one night and a night in London the next during the working week? I don't really care and it really doesn't matter. The point is that it's cool for me to still be playing football (and not letting myself down!) and it's even cooler to have a friend whose face is on the cover of an album that's for sale in all good online music stockists. And probably some rubbish ones too.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007


I spent last weekend in Dublin visiting my friend Lisa and had a great time. On saturday we visited various shops and bars and on sunday we saw Ian Brown play the Big Top in beautiful Phoenix Park. And what a big top the Big Top is! Certainly the biggest top I've ever seen, let alone been in. And what a lot of wankers there were in the Big Top! When you're standing near the back of any arena you're entitled to feel that you're unlikely to get jumped on or barged over by those young men whose idea of gig-etiquette involves throwing themselves at, and rubbing themselves against, each other in a very poorly concealed display of homosexual yearning. But that's what happened to us each time that Brown played one of their favourites. Any nearby women were pushed to the margins for fear of being struck by flailing limbs and this all affected the enjoyment of the evening, in my group at least.

You know what to expect from Ian Brown. He'll do that funny little dance where he jogs on the spot and points to the tambourine that he's shaking above his head. He'll play a few Stone Roses songs and each of these will be celebrated by the crowd in pretty much the same way that goals are celebrated on football terraces. He'll play F.E.A.R. and this will be as rapturously received as the Stone Roses songs. He'll play a bunch of other songs that are utterly pointless in comparison. He'll sing every song with what must surely be the worst voice in popular music. And he'll be worshipped by some of the most adoring fans there are. All of these things happened and, apart from during the Big Songs, I was pretty bored. I don't think I'll be seeing him again unless he goes on a nostalgia tour with the rest of the 'Roses some time in the 2020s.

The first unusual thing I noticed about Dublin was the amount of people out in the city centre when I arrived there on saturday afternoon. Grafton Street was full of more shoppers than I'd ever seen in one place. And these shoppers weren't picking up bargains, they were just desperate to buy stuff. There didn't appear to be any sales on. Every shop was packed, and each time you left a shop you were carried down the street by a ceaseless tide of people. There's clearly a lot of money in Dublin right now, a point further illustrated by the bar prices. It's an expensive city, probably even more so than London. It's also more fun than London and I met some lovely people.

There were, however, also some people who weren't as friendly. I'm talking about those who gave my friends and I the finger as we were driving around because we were in a car with British plates. It could be that they don't like Renault Clios or the French in general but I'm more inclined to the view that it was the number plates that were objectionable. There were also unfriendly bar staff to contend with. There seemed to be a generational correlation to these attitudes - the older you are the more likely you are to not serve a polite Englishman with a smile. The youngsters and the Polish, of which there are many, were also fine. But the older Irish bar staff were definitely less friendly to me than when they were when they were serving other Irish. I watched Liverpool V Arsenal on my own in a lovely pub on sunday afternoon but was actually scared to go to the bar, such were the looks I was getting from the staff when I ordered and betrayed my heritage with my guttural West London lilt. I took a record amount of time drinking each pint because of this. Eventually I decided that enough was enough. I marched to the bar and addressed the haughtier of the two men serving there:

"Listen, my friend. I'm really sorry about Bloody Sunday. And what we did during the Famine and whatever else your country has had to put up with from us lot over the centuries. But I had nothing to do with it and neither did anyone I know. Now, while I'm standing here paying five euros for the privilege of buying a pint of piss-weak lager from you could you please pull your bigoted head from your arse and serve me with something approaching common courtesy? Thank-you."

That's exactly what I said. In my head, anyway. In reality what happened was that I went to the bar and asked for what I wanted as clearly but also as quietly as I could so that I could slink back to my chair having brought as little attention to myself as possible. What a man I am, eh?

That last paragraph was going to be the last one but I don't want to end on a sour note. Dublin's lovely and I can't wait to go back. The End.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Something To Do

Last night, for the second time in a week, I got so drunk that I was unable to take the time to undress myself before I fell into unconsciousness on my bed. Should I be worried? No. Not yet anyway. I do, however, desperately need something to take the place of alcohol in my life. In the last couple of months I've been drinking quite a lot on my own. Not because I have a desire to get drunk or, more accurately, to lose sobriety, but because I have nothing better to do. I don't know what this says about me but whatever it is it isn't healthy. I need a project, something to occupy my free time. It will help when I finally get online at home but I feel that will only be taking away the symptoms of whatever my malaise is rather than addressing the underlying cause.

Here follows a list of some of the things that I could do with my spare time:

- Charity work
- Get fit
- Write a book
- Build model airplanes
- Get a girlfriend
- Write a song

All worthy suggestions, yes? But even as I typed them I was thinking of reasons not to do the very things I was suggesting to myself. Some were good reasons. For example, it's pointless me trying to write a song as there are loads of other people out there doing it who are far better than me which kind of makes it a bit pointless from where I'm sitting. And I don't find model airplane building or DIY even remotely alluring.

These points ignore the main reason I have for not doing stuff and that reason is that doing stuff requires effort and application, two things that I lack. I just find it very difficult to convince myself that doing anything is a good idea. Why would I, for example, want to write a story when I have hundreds of other stories sitting on my bookshelves written by very talented people? What is the attraction in making something when I can buy that very same thing cheaply in a shop?

There seems to be, in people other than me, satisfaction to be had in just doing stuff. A sense of achievement when a project is followed through to its completion. A feeling of self-worth to be gained from applying the skills that have been learned in life to doing something that makes our environment that little bit more bearable. Not for me. I can't remember the last time I felt a sense of achievement after having challenged myself to do something, although I imagine it might be when I was about eight years old and had just managed a hundred keep ups, or something like that. I really doubt whether there is much out there that I could do that would make me feel happy with myself or with life in general. This doesn't include spending time with my friends and family or listening to music or reading a good book. These things make me very happy but they're just recreation. They're not things that present me with a problem that needs me to resolve it. They're not situations that require my intervention to make them better.

All this makes for quite depressing reading, doesn't it? Is it a problem just with me or do many people feel like this? I really have no idea. Maybe I should write a book about it. Now, that would be something. But I bet someone else has done it already.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007


My birthday celebrations were thoroughly enjoyable. Loads of people turned up to get drunk with me and Lucy and we all had an excellent time. It was also extremely gratifying to get as many cards and presents as I did, more than I've received since I was about half my current age. Maybe these things don't mean a great deal and maybe I'm just easily pleased but I felt quite humbled to see that so many people had gone to the trouble of going a little out of their way for me.

My impending descent into old age and obsolescence has caused a few minor changes in my life. I've started exercising again, playing football on mondays and doing a cursory workout when I get out of bed in the morning if I'm not too tired. I feel stronger already and haven't let myself down too badly at football either so that's all going quite well. I've counter-balanced this fitness regime with taking up smoking again when I'm drinking. I'm not proud but I'm blaming the stressful August that I had, which is when I started again. Only smoking when I drink wouldn't be so bad were it not for the fact that I'm doing a passable impression of someone attempting to break into the All-England Drinking Team. My weekends have, for the past couple of months, been disappearing into a cycle of drink-hangover-drink-hangover-drink-work/hangover. The weekend just gone was supposed to be when I broke the cycle since my social diary was free of drinking obligations. But on my own I actually drunk more than I normally would if I was in company. The next three weekends have the following in store: England football and rugby matches, a wedding, a weekend in Dublin....the drinking won't be slowing down for a while just yet.

In other news, I'm downloading Radiohead's new album tomorrow. I chose to pay £5 for it. I think that's a fair price. I could have paid a penny but I appreciate the gesture from the band and I also appreciate that they've provided me with much happiness over the years. My friend Alex thinks I'm an idiot for paying that much when I could have got it for nothing but then he doesn't ever pay for any music. I'm guessing that I've paid slightly above the mean average and I'll will be interested to see whether statistics back this up. I'll also be interested to see whether Radiohead will be touring again soon 'cos they're wonderful.

Thursday, 27 September 2007


Tomorrow I will be precisely halfway towards my allotted three score years and ten. It's probably routine behaviour to use a landmark birthday such as this to reflect on what's gone on so far in one's life, to take stock of one's achievements and get thoroughly depressed at the lack thereof. So, what is there for me to look back on? Not a great deal.

My list of achievements is quite pathetic. I'm alive, yes. I've actually made it this far without doing myself in. What else? God, I'm struggling to find something, I really am. I've had lots of fun but not as much as I could have. I've not slept with nearly enough women but I do have lots of friends and my circle of friends seems to be growing, which is very pleasing. I have a decent social life. I'm still quite good at football. None of these are achievements really, are they?

When it comes down to it I have to concede that I've achieved nothing. When my parents were my age they were bringing up two kids. My dad had a decent-paying-job (that he hated) in the City. They were halfway to paying of their mortgage. I can't even think about a mortgage as I have no money. I don't enjoy my job and I don't even have the consolation of being well paid.

I'm going to stop this now as I'm in danger of giving the impression that I pity myself or that I have a crap life. Any shortfalls in my life are entirely of my own creation, I know that. I have a great time and I'm a very lucky man. I'm just not very good at pursuing that which makes me happy or even working out what it is that might make me happy. Apart from this: Tomorrow night some friends and I will convene in a local pub where we will proceed to get drunk and have a good time in celebration of my birthday. On Saturday I'm having a joint birthday party in another pub where loads more people will turn up and I will enjoy myself further, as will everyone else. That fact that I can do this makes me happy. And that's that.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Ballardian Dystopia

Life in my village is definitely a little less genteel than I thought it might be. The two pubs nearest my home still look a little too threatening for me to want to enter, and on saturday morning I was greeted by the sight of a burnt out car as I left the flat. My flatmate reckons that the car might have had an electrical problem (common in Renaults, apparently) but I think he's in denial because he doesn't want to think of himself as living in an area that has burnt out cars. After all, it's his mortgage, not mine. I'm quite enamoured with the idea that the car was burnt deliberately as it lends a frisson of excitement to life in the area. Village life is dull.

My block of flats is three storeys high and almost cube-shaped. It sits between two other identical blocks, and all three of these spread out in front of you as you approach from the road. There is litter and a bit of grass and plenty of concrete around and it looks like Poland does in my head. Now, I've no idea what Poland really looks like but I reckon it's probably a bit like where I live. And before anyone thinks that I'm being terribly stereotypical and unfair (which I am) because Poland, like most other countries, features a varied landscape of mountains and lakes and open spaces as well as urban areas, just ask yourself whether you understand what I mean. You know you do. This doesn't, of course, apply to any of my Polish friends or anyone who has actually been to Poland because they are far more knowledgeable and therefore less bigoted about Poland than I am.

My point is that where I live isn't very interesting and that burnt cars are. Living near a burnt out car also lends me an air of urban authenticity. I am Street! I may wear bookish (but very geek-chic) glasses and read The Guardian among many other things but I live in Urban Hell! I don't, however, destroy rock and roll (for any Manic Street Preachers fans out there). I even have a tattoo! I am Man, hear me roar!

The other thing I've noticed about my village in the eighteen days that I've lived there is that there aren't many teenagers. I've seen less than ten and even some of those may be repeat sightings because they all look the same when you get to my age. There is a corresponding lack of graffiti and intimidating groups on street corners that is quite welcome. But it feels a little wrong. The population here seems to be spread over two main groups: under-ten year olds and twenty-five to forty year olds. There don't appear to be many exceptions to this. Where is everyone? I've concluded that the old people don't want to live out their days under a flightpath and that the lack of teenagers is down to the fact that there isn't a school for them.

All of this demographic information is quite boring but I think about it quite a lot and for this I blame JG Ballard. I've read a few of his books lately and am looking at the world quite differently as a result. It helps that he generally writes about real towns and areas that I'm very familiar with and am able to picture accurately (unlike Poland). So, the very specific village demographic takes on a sinister air (I found out recently that the word sinister is derived from the Latin for left-handed. The world's against us...). Maybe there are older people but they retain a younger look by somehow assimilating the teenager's youth. Maybe they kill them or suck their blood or something. Also, in Ballardian society the burnt out car takes on a greater significance. His books often feature characters and communities that turn to violence and crime in general to escape or enervate their boring lives and it's probably this that I'm considering when I have a little smile to myself when walking past that ex-Renault Scenic.

Thursday, 6 September 2007


I've been waiting to write this post for some time. I just needed something to happen. Now that thing has happened I can now write:

I'm walking a few inches taller this morning. The deposit that I've been expecting back from my ex-flatmate had appeared in my bank account. I've been looking forward to this moment for nearly two months: I need never deal with that hateful, frigid bitch ever again and it feels fantastic.

Just in case anyone's wondering, I mean the word frigid not in the sense that she wouldn't sleep with me (perish the fucking thought!), rather that she exhibited absolutely no warmth of feeling ever and appeared to possess not even so much as a tiny bit of sensitivity to the feelings of other people. That's not to say, however, that she isn't sensitive. She's acutely sensitive when it comes to the treatment of those things that she owns. You best treat her things good Bubba or you is in trouble! God forbid you should use the wrong rings on the hob or fill the dishwasher incorrectly!

Here's an anecdote, my favourite from my time living with her, that illustrates pretty much all anyone needs to know:

I arrive home from work. I prepare and eat my evening meal. I wash the frying pan, saucepan, plate and cutlery whilst still chewing my last mouthful as I do every day because I'm scared of her seeing that I've left things out unwashed. She arrives home from work shortly afterwards and I tense up as normal - what will she find today? She goes into the kitchen:

- Oh my God! What's that on the cooker?!

I put my head in my hands - what could I have done? Did I leave a dead rat out? Maybe I inadvertently wiped my arse on a tea towel (An aside: I'm not allowed to use tea towels to dry things after washing up. They carry germs. WHY FUCKING HAVE THEM THEN?!). I walk to the kitchen to survey the carnage.

- What's up?

- There (points at cooker). What's that?

I look at the cooker. I see nothing untoward. Is the problem so big that I need to stand back in order to properly take in its awfulness?

- I can't see anything.

- There (points closer to cooker)!

Then I see it, the source of her outrage. Why, how could I have missed such a thing? There in the corner of the ceramic hob I see four or five dots of what looks like cooking oil. The kind of spots that spit out of the pan when you're cooking. I hadn't cleaned the hob. I only finished my meal fifteen minutes previously.

That is what I had to deal with, and what I was partly referring to in this previous post when I mentioned that this last month has been unhappy. I spent every day at work hoping that time would go more slowly so I could delay going home. I spent entire evenings on edge waiting to see for which particular transgression I'd be rebuked on that particular day. I rarely escaped. One evening I texted my girlfriend at about 10pm to tell her that I hadn't yet been told off. She told me to go to bed right away. That's what I did. I lay in bed and toasted my small victory. But the victory would have been short lived. I don't know what happened the next day but I would definitely have been told off for something. I didn't ever go two days without being told off. There are far worse horrors in the world than this but for someone who is always anxious and eager to please it was fucking terrible.

She's now out of my life forever. I might bump into her in town one day whilst out socialising but I doubt it. You see, she doesn't have many friends and doesn't get out much. The already small circle that she fraternises with is dwindling and will soon disappear. She knows the reason for this, of course. She told me. It's because those friends she loses are jealous of her. Of course! The woman's lack of self-awareness is quite astonishing, like those people who audition for X Factor yet display the musical talents of a drunk, tone-deaf banshee. She really has no idea of her awfulness. Maybe one day she'll learn and save herself from the sad, lonely dotage that surely awaits.

I'm happy right now. She's out of my life, my new flat is nice and so's my new flatmate. Life is good, once again, after a temporary glitch.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

The Mercury Music Prize

I thought Bat For Lashes or Maps or Amy Winehouse would win but this year it goes to the hugely over-rated Klaxons. Singer Jamie Reynolds told us why his band deserved to beat Winehouse to the prize:

(She made a) retro record and we've made the most forward-thinking record.

So when, apart from in 1989, did sounding like Jesus Jones constitute "forward-thinking" music? I must have missed that announcement. Maybe I had my head up my own arse or something.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

XFM is 10 Years Old

"Kick Out The Jams Motherfuckers!"

So started XFM's first show ten years ago, where Gary Crowley introduced the MC5's garage rock beast to a city (London) of indie music lovers who were excited to finally get a music station that recognised their existence. The station had been applying for a license for years and had previously run licenses that lasted for just a month. I remember the excitement I felt when I knew that XFM was due to broadcast. I couldn't actually receive it at home so used to drive around London trying to get a reception, just on the off chance that I might actually get to hear songs by the likes of Jane's Addiction or Pavement or Blur on daytime radio. Oh, the joy!

We can probably thank the Britpop phenomenon for persuading the powers that be to grant a full-time broadcasting licence - guitar bands became cool. We can also partially lay the blame for XFM's current obsolescence at Britpop's doorstep: it was at this time that what was previously known as (and still is, I suppose) alternative music became mainstream, thus largely negating the need for a station that specialised in alternative music.

You see, XFM has never really been an alternative music station. It would never have survived. It doesn't have the edginess that it believes it has (and isn't the word "edgy" in this context really fucking annoying? It has been completely appropriated by those wishing to manufacture a veneer of cool where none really exists. Hi MTV2!). "Kick Out The Jams Motherfuckers!" didn't really waft over the airwaves. What was actually heard that day was "Kick Out The Jams (expletive deleted)!" Rock on.

I believe that XFM remains committed to the same ethos that it had when Sammy Jacobs was in charge all those years ago but so what? What's the point when the daytime playlist is pretty much indistinguishable from Virgin or Radio One? I like The Killers and Kasabian as much as the next fan of guitar-based-indie-rock but I get so disheartened when I turn on the radio (XFM remains my station of choice until I get a DAB and can listen to BBC6) and hear stuff like this when I want to be listening to something new. Oh, and by the way XFM, if it was up to me I'd have the power to revoke your licence if you ever played Snow Patrol or U2 again.

The evening schedule is far better. It's here that XFM actually does play alternative music. Those who defend the daytime schedule would say that this is the necessary trade-off that allows the station to remain true to its roots and be more eclectic in the evenings. This is a redundant argument. Back before XFM existed I got my music fix on Radio 1 from Mark Goodier's (succeeded by Jo Whiley's and Steve Lamacq's) Evening Session, John Peel and Annie Nightingale, plus Gary Crowley's show on GLR on a sunday afternoon. These were all shows that catered for niche markets and as such were broadcast during off-peak hours. XFM now does exactly the same as this. What's the point then?

For me, the point used to be the quality of the DJs. When Christian O'Connell was on the breakfast show I'd set my alarm early so I could lay in bed and listen to it before getting up to go to work. Same goes for Lauren Laverne. And the roster of other ex-DJs is excellent: Ricky Gervais, Zoe Ball, Dermot O'Leary, Zane Lowe and Shaun Keaveny are among many other DJs who have gone on to bigger things. Now, between the hours of 10am and 4pm we don't have DJs. We have "Radio to the Power of U" - music "selected" by the listeners via text, phone and the web. Strangely, the listeners always seem to want to vote for little other the the current mainstream indie acts. So that's basically the same playlists as before but without the entertaining banter between the songs. Terrific. Actually that's a bit unfair. I've heard The Pixies lately. But if I'm looking to give an alternative music station kudos just because they played one of the biggest alternative acts of all time then there really is something wrong.

Is there a conclusion after all of this really un-constructive criticism? I fear not. As previously stated, I still listen to XFM. I find that I'm likely to hear songs that I like here more often than anywhere else. I'm an indie boy at heart (although, worryingly, my next birthday puts me just out of the target age demographic. Eek!) and I'll always like bands playing pleasant rock and pop music with guitars. I don't really see a point for XFM's continued existence but I don't want it to go away either. I just wish it would stick its neck out and take a few risks occasionally. I wish it well.

Just one more thing though - please, please, please play less Kaiser Chiefs. They're fucking terrible.

Saturday, 1 September 2007


Home is really important to me. I get homesick very easily; even when at university just an hours drive away I often felt lost, desperately craving the familiarity of that place where I grew up. I've never liked the town I was brought up in but my attachment to that suburban hellhole is quite profound. I've lived in quite a few different places since then but none of those places has ever felt like my home.

So today is a huge day for me. Tonight I'll sleep in my hometown for the last time. I move into my new flat tomorrow and I'm looking forward to it. It's a nice flat and my flatmate seems like a really nice guy. More importantly, my parents will be moving house on monday. They're moving to Gloucestershire. This means that that place I've always regarded as my base will be no more, it will no longer hold anything for me and I'm finding it all hugely stressful. This month has been as unhappy a month as I can remember in recent years, largely, but not entirely, because of this. It's also had periods of utter life-affirming joy where I've been reminded of just how great my friends are but my disposition is one that would much rather deal with steadiness rather than ups and downs. I've not been happy lately.

I've spent today doing not a great deal, wandering from crappy home town pub to crappy home town pub, all the time being aware that whatever I did, wherever I was, I'd be doing it for the last time. I've passed up what would be a really enjoyable meal out with my parents and various other friends and relations because I don't think I'd be particularly good company and would rather sit at HOME typing this, my last ever entry from HOME. I'm in a bit of a pickle, truth be told. I need a new home. But where?

My new flat won't feel like home. It will be nice, of that I'm sure. I'm moving to a much nicer area to the one I was brought up in. There are no fast food outlets or groups of moody kids hanging around. In fact there aren't many outlets of any kind. There is a hairdressers, a petrol station, a chemist, a village store and five pubs, one of which claims to be the third oldest in the country. I'm moving to a town that has its priorities sorted, that's for sure.

What now then? As I type I'm sat among boxes. Boxes full of memories and rubbish. Apart from the dogs and cats, all of whom I've cuddled today and will miss terribly, there are few signs that this is actually a home as opposed to a house and it's all quite depressing. I'm told that the new owner will convert this three bedroom property to five bedrooms, just to maximise rental revenues which will further reduce its status as a home. This place is far more than bricks and mortar to me. This is where I took my first steps. The memories I have of my grandparents, all but one of whom are departed, are all rooted here. I remember Christmases and birthdays and homework and sibling rivalries and crying and laughing and pain and joy. Everything is based here and that base is being taken from me and I don't know what to do. I need to find a new home, but where? And how? Will I ever have another home? It all feels scary, like seeing how far you can walk with your eyes closed. It's quite exhilarating but you know that if you keep your eyes closed for too long long then you'll hurt yourself. I have no idea what I'm doing or where, in the grand scheme of things, I'm going.

I should add that I'm drunk right now so this writing might be even more maudlin and self-indulgent than my normal rubbish (I'm a happy drunk generally but more prone to share my emotions than when I'm sober) but I should make no apologies for that. Sometimes I need some assistance to rid myself of my inhibitions and show a bit of negative emotion, regardless of how pathetic it makes me look. Pathetic is how I feel right now. But I know that I should be looking at this differently. This should be viewed as an opportunity and intend to treat it as such. It's a new chapter, possibly the most significant of my life, and good things will come of it. That much I know.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Ron Miller R.I.P.

In 1966 a man called Ron Miller wrote a song called "For Once in My Life" on the occasion of the birth of his daughter. A singer called Jean Dushon recorded it and released it as a single. Not many people bought it. Miller was a Motown writer and Berry Gordy demanded that he make the song available to his label. Barbara McNair then included it on an album. At this time the song was a ballad.

In the summer of 1967 the song was recorded by two of Motown's more well known acts - The Temptations and Stevie Wonder. It appeared on a Temptations album but the Wonder version was shelved because Gordy didn't like it. I can only assume that Gordy was in the grip of some kind of temporary insanity or was blighted by an addiction to nasty drugs or maybe both of these as no-one with so much as a cursory interest in music can deny that this shows a serious lapse of judgement. We have someone named Billie Jean Brown to thank for persuading Gordy that his ears needed sorting out. Fair play to Gordy though - it was he who appointed Brown head of Motown's quality control department.

Wonder's version of "For Once in My Life" was finally released towards the end of 1968 at which time it peaked at #2 in both Billboard's Pop and R&B charts. The #1 in each chart? "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye. That's okay then; normally when you look back at why a classic song didn't get the recognition it deserved you find some kind of novelty song or Herman's Hermits or something keeping it from the top spot. Apparently Gordy didn't want Gaye's song released either. I wonder whether he'd veto Citizen Kane if he was in movies or decide against grass and flowers and just have mud instead if he was God.

If pressed I'll name Stevie Wonder's version of "For Once in My Life" as my all time favourite song. There is nothing in this world, be that another song, film, person, animal, view or anything at all that can fill me with joy just by its presence like that song. The sound of those first few bars elicits in me a sort of Pavlovian reaction where, whatever I'm doing, my facial muscles are unable to resist forming on my face the biggest grin possible. This song makes me so HAPPY! And by the song's end, or probably well before the end, when it sounds like the pop music equivalent of a Busby Berkeley musical, I'm probably wiping tears from my face just as I am now. Yeah, I'm listening to it right now. Just listen to it too will you?

Anyway, back to Ron Miller. I knew that Stevie Wonder, as with most of the other Motown artists, generally sung other people's songs in the sixties but I've never really taken any interest in who these people were. I've found out that Miller was the only white man in Motown. He wrote a few other songs for Stevie Wonder: "A Place in the Sun", "Travellin' Man", "Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday", and "Heaven Help Us All". Any one of these would represent the pinnacle of a lifetime's songwriting efforts for most people but to have written all of them shows that Miller was some kind of genius.

I can't quite believe that I'd never acknowledged Miller's existence until I read his obituary today. Here is a man largely responsible for producing the one thing in the world that is guaranteed to make me smile at any time and I didn't even know who he was. So I'm acknowledging him now.

Having discovered Miller I thought I'd check out the identities of others who wrote for Wonder. "Sunny" is another of my Stevie Wonder favourites and was written by Bobby Hebb. Here's Hebb's inspiration, according to Wikipedia:

On 23 November 1963, the day after John F. Kennedy's assassination, Harold Hebb (Bobby's brother) was killed in a knife fight outside a Nashville nightclub. Hebb was devastated by both events and sought comfort in songwriting. The song he wrote was the optimistic "Sunny":
"All my intentions were just to think of happier times – basically looking for a brighter day – because times were at a low tide. After I wrote it, I thought "Sunny" just might be a different approach to what Johnny Bragg was talking about in "Just Walkin' in the Rain".

God, I love that song even more now! Take note kids: try experiencing some things beyond getting your heart broken or having a fight in a nightclub before you decide to record songs about your trivial lives. People like Hebb, Miller and Stevie Wonder knew this. They're the people that today's pop stars have to better and they've set the bar pretty darn high. Thanks guys x

Thursday, 16 August 2007

The Camp For Climate Action

The above mentioned group pitched up at a site right next to Heathrow Airport a few days ago. There aren't that many of them there right now and they're probably outnumbered by Police officers. The reaction to the protest has been mixed and generally falls into two camps. Each of these camps are represented by the following quotes copied from the BBC's Have Your Say page:

- Perhaps if these soap dodging hippies worked for a living they would then understand why people need to go on holiday and therefore want to fly to a hot country.

- Yes I will take part. As an old crusty veteran of twyford Down and newbury, I should. Expansion of airports, when we know its bad for us and our future generations, is fatalistic idiocy.

My own office block will have its door shut this week with the combination lock on for the first time ever. When it was being tried out last week I asked my assistant boss what he was doing. He said it was because of "those fucking protester pricks". He's such an enlightened man.

There are police everywhere right now and BA and BAA's Head Offices are absolutely teeming with extra security staff. And why? Because a few people are camped a mile away. I've seen vanloads of Police in riot gear, all ready to face down the hordes of people who are, right now as I type, sitting down in a field having breakfast, maybe followed by a joint (that's if they managed to get any gear past the Police search that just about every single one of them has been subject to). Actually, that's a bit unfair. There will be some direct action later in the week where these extra Police might be needed. No-one knows what form this action will take but I'm dying to find out. Just so long as it doesn't involve getting onto the runways as that's when the protesters become terrorists and start getting shot through the head by marksmen using high-calibre rifles. It won't come to that though, of course. I reckon it will just involve a load of people sitting on a road somewhere and the odd person taking things a little too far and getting a beating for his or her troubles.

I'm not particularly comfortable with my own feelings about all this. I'm completely against the expansion of the airport but work for a company affiliated to a major airline and so am therefore compromising my morals somewhat. It seems common sense to me that the expansion shouldn't go ahead. We know that aircraft emissions are harmful to our already decaying atmosphere so it's wrong that these emissions should increase. Simple. My concerns are also parochial. In order for the expansion to go ahead a few villages will need to be flattened. This is where I grew up. One of the villages is home to a church that has stood for almost a thousand years, considerably longer than any of the business interests that have grown around it. Any one of the many people who approve of the planned expansion need to ask themselves whether they would accept this of their own area. Of course they wouldn't.

I should also state that I'm not someone who feels that airplanes and airlines and big business in general is the root of all that is wrong in the world today. There is, among the protesters, the naivete/ignorance that invariably accompanies righteous indignation. One protester is quoted as saying that she's glad the summer's weather has been terrible because now no-one can claim that we're not destroying the planet. I get her point but it's a point terribly made and it seems to me that having shit weather in the summer proves nothing other than the fact that we live in England. It's quotes such as this that make people like my assistant boss feel that they can spout the ignorant bullshit that they do.

Here's what I think: The airport has been a massive force for good in this area and for the whole country. It's very important for our commercial and leisure interests. It now it has a fantastic looking new terminal that puts the other four to shame. Let's just leave it at that, can we?

Monday, 13 August 2007

The Kick-Off

The Greatest Show on Earth, or so it itself believes, rolled back into town this weekend and provided us football junkies with a much needed fix. Premiership football is back! Rejoice! Here is what was learnt last weekend:

Arsenal has a soft centre and won't win anything this season. Chelsea is a kind of football juggernaut, demolishing all smaller vehicles but maybe struggling with those of a similar size (we'll see soon when they play Liverpool). Tottenham are bottlers. A top class team needs a top class striker. Man United take note. Liverpool can look promising at times but will ultimately disappoint. The same four teams as last season will share the top four spots this season.

In other words, everything was the same as last year. Sure, there'll be an occasional foray into the higher echelons of the league by some spunky usurper but they'll be banished the very next year. We had managers bemoaning the quality of referees. Commentators doing the same. Players diving in order to gain free kicks or penalties. Nothing changes. And we'll all still keep watching, no matter how distasteful we find the behaviour of all those just mentioned, plus those who run the game.

It used to be the fans that let themselves and the game down. Football was really ugly then and the crowds stayed away. Now it's everyone else letting the fans down. And as long as we continue to demean ourselves by swallowing it all up then nothing will change and the beautiful game will eventually disappear up its own arse forever.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

There Goes the Fear

I'm struggling to find things to write here at the moment. I hope that I'm just experiencing what our national daily newspapers are going through at the moment - hence this bunch of crap from last week's The Sun. And this.

Here's a brief run through the past couple of weeks: I've moved out of my flat and am staying at my parent's place for a few weeks until I find something else. I went to the Innocent Village Fete on saturday which was excellent, if only because it was the first day this summer that I'd enjoyed proper summer weather. I saw The Simpsons Movie. It's as good as your favourite episode of The Simpsons with its length multiplied by three times. It's brilliant. And football season starts this weekend so all is right with the world again.

I don't really have any inspiration to write much more than this. Or rather, I do but I'm concerned about the reaction of those who might read it. This blog features my photo and my name and is linked to from my Facebook account. I need to start another blog and write it anonymously so I can write whatever I like without fear of upsetting anyone. Oh yes...

Friday, 27 July 2007

British Democracy....

This is what happens when our attention is diverted for a while. It is quite sickening. I wonder how many members of the various environmental groups mentioned in the article have been in favour of longer detention-without-charge powers for the police in terrorism cases. For it is only with the support of draconian government policies such as these that the climate can be created where law abiding citizens can suddenly be arrested on criminal charges for simply exercising their right to protest.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

The Weather Underground

I still have no PC or laptop. I hope to write something about my housing situation soon, but not just yet for reasons that will become clear....

Today could turn out to be extraordinary. There are a good few hours left until midnight but I'm confident that the day will end without rain falling. To anyone outside of the UK with any idea of our weather this wouldn't seem to signify anything too unusual. In this country the weather is very changeable, that is well known. But, in this particular summer, for the day to pass without rain is a real treat. A few weeks ago I wrote that I didn't enjoy Glastonbury Festival as much as I might have, due to the amount of rain. Well, it turns out that we were lucky. The weather since has not only been worse, it has been worse on an almost constant basis, culminating in recent floods the like of which would worry a Bangladeshi. Look:

We are over half way through the British summer and we've been cheated. It's impossible to leave your home for any length of time without running the risk of getting wet which is such a shame for most of the population who look forward to the great outdoors at this time of year. Apparently the terrible weather is set to continue for at least a further two weeks which brings me to the sole reason I started writing on this topic: An excuse to use this fantastic quote printed in The Sun from Barry Gromit of the Met Office:

"The longer the rain lasts the less likely it is there will be dry and sunny weather"


Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Cold Turkey Has Got Me...

...on the run. To my parent's house to be precise which is where I have had to go lately to be able to surf the web. I moved into a new flat two weeks ago and I don't have a PC or laptop and it's driving me mad. I'm getting the Facebook shakes, and no mistake. I'm typing this from work in my lunch hour. I'm surprised my company's super-strict firewall hasn't told me off yet but I'll make the most of it while I can.

I should compose a quick summary of the last couple of weeks but not much has happened. I went to see Buffalo Tom at the Scala and they were fantastic. I went to the Rise Festival at Finsbury Park which was also very enjoyable, if a little wet. I've acquired a new hangover symptom - aching joints. I had aching joints all day yesterday due to my weekend's activities. I'm starting to feel a bit old.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Sweden, So Much To Answer For

One day I might find myself in Room 101. It could happen. The government adopted doublespeak some time ago and continues to bring in laws that it claims are essential to curb the ever-present terrorism threat but that also subtly change the way we live our lives without us even noticing. I know the terrorism threat is real but I don't see how a national ID card or the stealthy way the government is introducing laws that combat legitimate public protest is going to change anything.

Woah, calm down Ian! What happened there?! This was supposed to be a light-hearted rant about some trivial event in my life and suddenly, after years of apathy, I turned into someone who actually cares. Enough of that and back to the story....

Should I find myself in Room 101 I would, of course, have to face my worst nightmare. For Winston Smith it was rats gnawing his face (until he ratted on his lover. Ha! Pun!). I imagine others would face the same fate since rats are reviled by so many. At present, and I mean today at this specific time and maybe for a few days yet and no longer, I have no doubt what I would find should I have to enter that infernal place. I would walk through the door to find myself in a well lit room. On the floor would be an arrow and I would follow it. The room would be very large but various structures give it a maze-like quality that ensure that I visit every part of its huge area so that I don't miss any of it. The arrow guides me through the maze with thousands of other people. We would all be walking very slowly, sometimes retracing our steps back through the maze so as to reinspect some part of it that was previously missed.

I might as well stop waffling on in this ridiculous quasi-mysterious manner, I'm even boring myself now. I'm referring to Ikea, or as Dante referred to it, the Fourth Circle of Hell. I went there last night for the purpose of acquiring a few items for my bedroom. I left there in a state somewhere between despair and murderous rage.

No-one enters the Wembley branch of Ikea in a good mood. In order to get there you need to drive a few miles along one of the ugliest roads on God's Earth, the North Circular. It's grim, maybe London at its most unpleasant. Just make sure you don't take a wrong turn into Stonebridge Park....And then you arrive and, if you're lucky, it will take you less than 10 minutes to find a parking space before you wander into consumer paradise.

It all looks appealing enough to begin with. Everything is very well ordered and well lit and well spaced out. The goods are pleasing on the eye. Stylish, but not intimidatingly so. Populist, you might say. And certainly very popular judging by all the people there. You don't miss anything the store has to offer because you can't. There is a single route and you must follow it, deviation is impossible. And it goes on and on. Bland and inoffensive rules here and you will see every bland and inoffensive item the store has whether you want to or not.

I looked up Ikea on wikipedia and found the following information:

IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad was, as a teen, directly involved in the pro-Nazi New Swedish Movement (Nysvenska Rörelsen) until at least 1945, causing tensions when IKEA began opening stores in Israel.

It all now begins to make sense. The order. The uniformity. The brown-shirted staff (actually, I made that up. They wear a tasteful and non-threatening blue). It's a totalitarian utopia and we're all falling for it. Our desire for cheap yet stylish living room furniture is blinding us to what is really going on. When Hitler talked of lebensraum he didn't mean room for his master race to breed and live, he was referring to actual living rooms! Do you see!?

However, there is one area in which Ikea falls short in its ambition to become the flagship store of the extreme right and is also the main source of my hatred of the place. After about ninety minutes shopping I had decided upon a bookcase, bedside table and television stand. I collected them from the warehouse area and made my way to the checkout only to find a huge scrum of people all doing the same as me. I would have had to wait in line for a further half hour. It was 10.45 on a Monday night! Already tired from a few sleepless nights and irritable from spending time in consumer hell I took no time at all deciding on my course of action. I swore loudly, left the store and drove home without my goods. I thought efficiency was the one big thing that a fascist regime might have in its favour. After all, if Mussolini managed to make the trains run on time all those decades ago, then what would surely have been his favoured home furnishing outlet can open a few more checkouts!

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Glastonbury Festival 2007: Muddy

Us Glastonbury folk (I think I can say "us", this was my fourth festival in succession) seem to like to place each festival in order of quality. My best was my first in 2003. This, by no small coincidence, was also a year in which the weather was perfect. It was sunny but rarely so much that it was uncomfortable. The weather has got steadily worse every year since then. Last time saw a deluge of biblical proportions, literally more rain than I've ever seen, let alone camped in. It made life difficult but by the Sunday, when Brian Wilson played and made the sun come out, the ground was pretty dry. This week saw one decent day, Wednesday, followed by four days in which it rained until around 3pm every day. The entire site was a quagmire. There was no escape. It wasn't my worst Glastonbury but my second worse and I don't know how I'll deal with it next year if the weather is the same. I've had enough wet and muddy Glastonburys.

However, like a dog's feelings towards its often cruel master, my love for Glastonbury Festival is unconditional and this will always be so. I have moments of happiness there that just can't occur anywhere else. There exists an atmosphere that I don't believe can be found anywhere else. It's a city where people approach life with an open mind, where they can express themselves in whichever way they feel knowing that they won't be judged. It's somewhere you feel anything could happen, something completely wonderful and unexpected. All you have to do is go look for it and you'll find it. And if all you want to do is get whacked out on goofballs or drunk on gallons of magic monkey juice then so be it.
Good things that happened this year include:

  • Seeing Arcade Fire at their spiritual home

  • Having our biggest and best camp ever - 12 of us! And managing to get camp fires on three consecutive nights

  • Enjoying a few communal breakfasts of sausage sandwiches washed down with cider

  • The Park - an excellent new area

  • Seeing the Hard-Fi secret gig

  • Having a group discussion on the fact that centipedes shoes would be in the style of those worn by Mr Noisy.

  • Seeing Super Furry Animals at last
  • And loads of other things that I can't remember right now

There were also gripes but most of these revolve around the weather and underfoot conditions. I can't complain about those two as a great deal has been done to improve drainage and the weather is under no-one's control, not even Michael Eavis'. There are just two things I believe he needs to address and that is that there are too many people now onsite and that there is no supervision for those leaving after the festival. Some people were in the car parks waiting to get out for up to ten hours with no idea of when they would leave. I, on the other hand, was out of the car park in around six hours. It would have been less than one hour but my idiot sister lost the car. We trudged around in the driving rain for many hours before she finally found it a mere 5 hours after we first left the site. I would have been angry with her but she was too distressed and I was too tired.

It's a shame that the weather has caused some of my friends to claim this is their last Glastonbury but I understand. I've decided to get a ticket next year but I won't go if the weather forecast is as bad as this year's. The amount of work you have to put in compared to the fun derived is becoming a bit much. I want to be able to sit where I please and feel the sun on my face. I don't like walking around the site having to look at the ground in order to not fall over in the mud. I don't like being muddy but I'll always love Glastonbury.

Monday, 11 June 2007

The Monkey on my Back

I intended writing this post last week, probably about four days ago. It was to be about something that I've discovered and become hopelessly addicted to but, due to my addiction, it's taken this long to get around to it. Even as I sit here I'm thinking about when I'm next going to use it. But I'm going to be strong. For about half an hour anyway.

I've drunk heartily from life's chalice and even taking into account my compulsive nature I've never been addicted quite so quickly to anything as I have this. The only thing that keeps me from using it all day is the fact that I can't use it at work. Thanks goodness. But I start using almost as soon as I get home from work. First I make sure that I get changed and do any tasks that can't wait. I know that once I start I won't be doing anything else for a while. Before I know it, night has drawn in and another evening has passed. I go to bed feeling the remorse of a true junkie: that I've wasted another evening but I know that tomorrow I'll start all over again.

So, how did this all start? It started how these things always start. Someone, a friend, tells you all about it. Then another invited me to join their group. Try it, they say, it's fun. They often do this out of spite. Yes, it is fun for a while, but what they really want is to feel less alone. They want others to share their addiction as if this somehow validates their own or lifts some weight from their shoulders. Neither of these things happen. All that happens is that one addict becomes two addicts.

It turns out that users are everywhere. In the week that I've been using I've found that loads of people I already knew are also using. They had previously never spoke of it. Indeed, you don't ever know whether anyone is a user until you join their world and start using it yourself. And it's the social aspect that is most enjoyable. So long as your friends are using it then you will always find some enjoyment, regardless of how fleeting and empty that enjoyment is.

So, what now? Well, I've acknowledged my helplessness. That's supposed to be the first step but, to be honest, I don't really care. I'm addicted and I don't care. I'm going to continue using it when I get home from work and maybe even before I go to work in the morning. As long as there are others there with me I'm going to continue using it and damn the consequences.

My name is Ian and I'm addicted to Facebook.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Whole Days Throwing Sticks into Streams....

Towards the end of my previous post I listed reasons why the media might want to keep Madeleine's story prominent. One reason I forgot to include is that our media likes to scare us. This is clearly a tactic that sells. We don't see headlines such as: "Public healthier and living longer than ever" or "Our kids have never been safer". These headlines don't sell, despite their undoubted truth. It seems that people are largely interested in hearing about how dangerous the world is; it's as if this information gives some us perverse sense of security. We want to believe the worst and we can't be happy unless we're in a collective state of agitation.

I'm an exception to all this. It's true that I believe that we, as a race, are screwed. But this relates to the self-immolation that we will surely provoke in a short while by refusing to treat our planet with the respect it deserves. However, all that will happen with or without my permission and I'm quite relaxed about it. When it comes to safety on a local level I firmly believe that, in my part of the world at least, we are better off than ever before.

Okay, that's easy for me to say. I'm an adult male and although my demographic is more likely than any other to experience the effects of crime I'm confident enough to walk the streets without worrying. Maybe if I had a child to worry about then I'd think a bit differently. Well, it's true that I'd certainly be vigilant. But I'd like to think that I'd give my children a bit more freedom than is seen to be acceptable today.

This study really upsets me. I live next to an infant school and am well aware of the large amount of parents who take their children to school (often in SUVs but that's another matter) but I was astonished to learn that only 9% of kids walk to school on their own compared to 80% in 1970. There are loads of reasons for this but one of the main ones must be fear. If it's not fear of what might happen to one's child then it's fear of being labelled an irresponsible parent for letting that child out of one's sight for a few minutes. This is very sad. I can't find any official figures but would be very surprised if children were in any more danger from being attacked or abducted than they were 35 years ago. And there are half as many children killed in vehicle accidents every year than there were in 1922 despite there being 25 times more traffic on the roads.

It's now early June. It's warm outside and the sun doesn't go down until late. Next month the schools break up for six weeks. It's this time that was so fantastic to me as a child. I could play football in our close (no through traffic so the only danger was grazed knees and elbows and this happened frequently) or go cycling with my friends. We might meet at someone's house in the morning and spend all day doing exactly as we pleased. We would explore our environment and discover things and have the kind of fun that only a child can have and be home in time for tea. This no longer happens because their parents are scared. This means that there is an entire generation of children that are growing up having missed out on some of the most vital of formative experiences. Children no longer go out to play.

At some point there has to be a backlash. When today's kids get older and realise that they were cheated of a proper childhood then maybe there'll be a greater understanding of what children need. Maybe the next generation of children will consequently have more freedom. Yes, there are risks. But there will always be risks and these risks are minuscule compared to the rich experiences and life-lessons that can be learnt if children can just be given a little more space. A life spent wrapped in cotton wool is no life worth living and the climate that children are brought up in right now isn't a place to which I'm in any hurry to introduce anyone.

Thursday, 31 May 2007

The News Today is that there is No News

What makes one human being more important than another?

From where I'm sitting I can reel off the names of those humans who are most important to me. It's easy. The list includes my family and friends and then maybe those that I've not met but whose art brings me happiness.

If I was to try to think of this question in an objective sense then I'd probably go for world leaders. Then campaigners and activists of all kinds, people who try to make a difference to their environment, thereby influencing the lives of others.

But in reality I've no idea. I'd really like to think that the answer is that no one human being is more important than any other. I'd hope that's how God sees it too.

There is, however, an industry that decides which human beings are the most important every day and that industry is the newspaper industry and that human being is the one that appears on the front page. It's a tough call. Each paper is aware that it has to print stories that appeal to the current readership while trying to attract new readers. They also have to try to attract new advertising revenue. Each seems to have worked out what to wheel out on a on a slow news day:

Daily Express - Princess Diana
The Star - TV Reality show stars
The Independent - Environment expose
Guardian - Big business expose
Daily Mail - Anyone who isn't, or isn't aspiring to be, white and middle class is scum and a danger to us Mail readers, the silent moral majority.

Recently, however, there has been a pan-newspaper consensus on what constitutes a front page story, what constitutes an important human being. What our nation's media (this includes TV)has decided is that the most important story in this country for the last 28 days is the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. She has become the most important person in the world, judging by the amount of exposure her plight has received. She, in this country, is more important than the Queen, the Prime Minister (and the PM in waiting), and all of our sports and pop and movie stars (which I'm sure no-one has a problem with). She is more important than genocide in Darfur and every other tragedy that is occurring anywhere in the world today and I have a problem with this.

Now follows a disclaimer, obligatory for anyone expressing any kind of cynicism at the amount of exposure that one girl's disappearance has caused. If I was her parent I would want her image on every front page, every back page, every TV programme, billboard, passing car, lapel badge etc. I would want her name on everyone's lips, in everyone's consciousness. I can't imagine the pain they're feeling and hope that in the event that their worst fears come true that they can somehow move on with their lives with Madeleine's siblings.

But I'm not her parent. I have other concerns. I'm just a person who reads about her in the papers every day hoping for new information. So far there has been none. A man was questioned by police and then released without charge, so far his only crime seems to have been that he looked a bit suspicious. His glass eye probably didn't help. And that has been the only news in the month since she first went missing. Every day her story gets top billing and every day the story is that there is no story. Not even my beloved BBC can hold its head high here as it has been guilty of the same speculative and sometimes libellous reporting - think of Robert Murat and the frequent comments on the adequacy or otherwise of the Portuguese police.

So why is she still front page news? The simple answer is that I don't know. But here are some possible factor:

- She's young and photogenic. Let's not mess about here; if she wasn't a pretty, young white girl with attractive middle class parents there would not have been all of this exposure. Sukhpal Singh from Stockwell would not have got the same treatment and you can be sure that there would have been more outcry at the parents leaving their child alone.

- Her parents have used the media fantastically well.

- Portugal is a nice place to go to report on a story.

- The public still want the story and so none of the papers want to drop it. This is a difficult point to evaluate as there is a very fine balancing act between a paper and its readers regarding demand for news: the public demands certain stories but the media can also create these demands where previously there was little interest. I think that there is still a huge amount of interest in the story although this may be waning in the face of a complete lack of new information.

This last point could absolve the media of its blanket coverage, although not its mawkish style. If the public wants a story then the papers will provide it regardless of whether there is a story at all, it would be stupid not to. It's just a shame that we're left with the strange phenomenon whereby the public and the media exist in a symbiotic relationship that is entirely dependant on the amount of grief that members of that public feel for a child that they've never met. How long can this go on? Did we collectively grieve for this long when Princess Diana died? I'm not sure we did.

What I've written here is pretty unfocused so I feel I should summarise:

- Madeleine's plight is a tragic one, especially to her family.

- But, for the rest of us, life goes on.

- So let's continue to pray for her safe return

- Although I don't see why the Pope should get involved, unless this is the new Papal strategy for every family in the McCann's position.

- There are few things that we like more than a good old collective grieve. We are clearly, as a nation, emotionally retarded.