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.