A Brush With Philosophy
The other day I went to a PHILOSOPHY SEMINAR. Or did I? How can we really say?!? Aaaah! Do you see?
The reason for my attendance was that for the past three years of my PhD I've heard academics ENDLESSLY banging on about Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida and various other French blokes who appear to have had a LOT to say about pretty much everything. However, try as I might I have never managed to find out WHAT they are saying (apart from "Aaaah! Do you see?"), particularly when it comes to my particular topic area. At least Umberto Eco wrote an actual paper about SUPERMAN (which everyone goes on about EVEN MORE) that you can read and see what he was on about, this lot don't even seem to have bothered with that.
I've found it all a bit annoying, to be honest, and when I have tried to ENGAGE with Philosophy it gets even worse, as Philosophy basically seems to involve acting like a teenager who has had their first cigarette, boring other people in the kitchen of a house party by saying "Yes, but what if none of this is real eh? aaaah! Do you see?" It also seems to involve making big pronouncement about entire other fields that you don't actually understand, getting it completely wrong, and then claiming it's an INSIGHT. Whenever I've seen people Do Philosophy around comics, for instance, they invariably say things like "Stan Lee invented Captain America" or similar, after which I have FRANKLY no time for anything else they say.
HOWEVER, I always think it is a good idea to get INVOLVED with such things and at least have a GO, just to see if your suspicions are correct rather than simply harrumphing round dismissing things. In that spirit I have gone to the Homeopathic Hospital, for instance, or taken a course in Stand-Up Comedy, or indeed done ACUPUNCTURE. In this way I have learnt that a) a homeopathic hospital is run by people who don't know really how hospitals work but are trying to pretend to be one like off the telly b) stand-up comedy is a lot of work for something that doesn't have an awful lot of SOUL to it c) Acupuncture definitely does SOMETHING but I have no idea how.
THUS I went to an Introduction To Philosophy Seminar in that hope that EITHER my preconceptions would be blown apart and I would gain an understanding of thought through the ages OR my preconceptions would be ratified and I could stop worrying about it. Friends, I got NEITHER of these things, but also... aaah, do you see? BOTH!
Pretty much all of my preconceptions turned out to be true. Within 5 minutes of the seminar starting it was clear that the bloke running it was the sort of teacher who asks blindingly obvious questions, asks for someone to give the blindingly obvious answer, and then calls them an idiot for saying something so blindingly obvious, so that very soon you get LONG SILENCES until someone is forced to be the patsy. Thus when he said "1,2,3,4 - wot is next eh?" it took AGES for some brave soul to eventually say "5?" and he then said "BUT WHY?!?" "Because you're adding one each time?" someone else (correctly) said and then there was much verbal strutting about before he said "No, it's because we're counting in Base 10!"
WHAT THE?!? Reader, I could not help myself. "No it isn't," I said. "It would be the same in Base 6,7,8 etc etc, and the sequence is nothing to do with the base." He waved away my CORRECT POINT and said "Oh well I could have gone on and done a longer sequence", which was not the point AT ALL, and left me ANNOYED for the rest of the session.
HOWEVER, the actual PHILOSOPHY bits were Quite Interesting. I do like Greek Philosophers and their MAD THEORIES, although again these were made ANNOYING. e.g. he told us Zeno's Paradox about ARROWS (i.e. before you go anywhere you have to go halfway there first, but before you can go halfway you have to go half of that etc etc so you can never go anywhere) which is all good BRANE FUN if you are FIFTEEN AND DRUNK but it is not QUITE as MIND BLOWING as it was made out to be. There were lots of good bits about how Philosophy developed and The Enlightenment and all that, but as it went on I thought "Hang on, you said it's all about finding things out for yourself and fearlessly investigating, but this appears to be a long list of dead men who said all this CENTURIES ago."
Also, and it pains me to say this, it all happened in a room full of PhD students who, with the best will in the world, are very APT to taking any opportunity to make everything about their own thesis and go into lengthy, unnecessary, detail about it, much like Doctor Doom does when he reveals a cunning plan (HEM HEM). It all got A BIT ANNOYING!
However, it also left me wanting to know some more FACTS about it all, and on the way home I had the SHUDDERING REALISATION that I could just watch a TELLY programme about it! Apart from comics, TELLY is pretty much the main source of all my knowledge, and so I was DELIGHTED to discover that there are MANY series on the YouTube which not only do all the Fun Stories about Philosophers, but also illustrate it with stock Open University footage of actors wearing bedsheets. THIS is the sort of learning I want please!
Four Years At Work
Let joy be unconfined, for today is the FOURTH ANNIVERSARY of me re-entering the world of Full-Time Employment! Whoo!
Way way back in the distant days of Spring 2013 I finally came to the end of my contract at Birkbeck College. I'd originally been employed ten years earlier to work on The National Evaluation Of SureStart, a massive project which set out to see if having SureStart Centres actually did any good (Short answer: yes, they did). It was a lovely job doing Important Work which gradually transformed into a lovely job where there wasn't that much to do anymore, especially when the actual study ENDED, and I ended up doing a lot of pottering round and GIG booking. THUS when my contract came to an end I didn't think I could really complain, especially as my years of sterling service meant I got paid some redundancy money!
This also coincided with me coming to the end of my MA at City University - my original plan had been to do my MA BECAUSE my job was finishing, and to spend a year off work doing it, but a) the job kept getting extended and b) the MA I chose took two years to do, so I ended up doing most of it while still at Birkbeck. As it happened I finished work not long before I finished my coursework, and so decided that I would take the opportunity to have some time off and become A Professional Writer!
This was not an overwhelming success. Over the next year or so I think I made about 20p from Professional Writing, largely through submissions to "Newsjack" on the radio, but I DID have a LOT of fun. It turns out that NOT going to work is lovely, who knew? Sadly, however, there came a point when I had to accept that the world of Literature was NOT READY FOR ME YET, and so I would have to seek out other avenues of CA$H while I waited for them to catch up. My first idea was to do a PhD, as I knew you could get FUNDING for that sort of thing, but it turns out that while you CAN get funding, it tends to be for BORING things that THE MAN thinks is useful e.g. MEDICAL SCIENCE, and not Doctor Doom. It is an outrage!
So it was that I had to get an actual JOB, and on October 10th 2015 I went to work at Imperial COllege. The reason I remember that date so clearly is because the job went horribly wrong, after being LOVELY for six months, and I ended up leaving to get ANOTHER job, which started on... October 10th 2016! This meant that on October 10th 2017 I was very conscious of the fact that I'd been in THAT job for a year and was a bit BORED with it, so started looking for something else instead. Before all this I had only ever really had TWO full-time jobs, at Leicester University and at Birkbeck, so it was all a bit of a WHIRLWIND, and one I hoped would calm down.
Here on October 10th 2019 I can confirm that it HAS. Indeed, someone on my team announced this week that they were leaving and I thought "Eh?! Why would you want to do THAT? It is dead good here!" which I think is a good sign. The only problem is that this contentedness will surely anger the Gods Of ROCK, who will doubtless decide, sometime between now and October 10th 2020, that the WOrld Of Literature IS finally ready for me and give me a MILLION POUNDS to put my book out.
A Brush With Royalty
For the past few weeks I have been trying to CIRCUMNAVIGATE the building I work in twice a day. This is mostly due to HEALTH, as otherwise I would spend the whole day sat in a stuffy office, only moving to pop to the shop to get some lunch, but it also allows for Interesting Insights. I work up behind Kings Cross station and there is usually something going, but not usually involving FEUDAL OVERLORDS... until yesterday.
For LO! as I stomped around the block on Wednesday morning I came across a small crowd standing behind some barricades. I am always interested in small crowds standing behind barricades, so asked a nearby Grumpy Kings Cross Security Officer what was going on. "The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, apparently" he replied, grumpily. It took me a moment to work out what he meant, but then I realised it was William and Kate so I decided to hang around and have a look. After all, we went to their wedding, so it would be rude not to.
I wasn't the only one to take time from their busy schedule to be there. There is a LOT of building work going on round here, so there were several construction workers in attendance who'd also stopped to see what was going on. "This is how the rich stay rich!" said one to a pal as we waited. "Shout 'Stop Brexit'!" said another one. Everyone was joking around, being dead nonchalant, so when the Pakistani Ambassador arrived nobody batted an eyelid. It looked like there was an event going on at The Aga Khan Centre, and later research showed that they were coming for a chat with The Aga Khan himself, but at the time everyone was more concerned with waving at lorries going by.
After a while somebody said "They're coming!" and everyone looked down the road to see a police motorcycle and a big posh car coming towards us. More jokes were told and chat was chatted, right up until the moment that the car doors opened and then everyone went SILENT. It is a WEIRD THING about being British - however much you KNOW that Royalty is an oppresive concept based on centuries of injustice, you still have to fight off the urge to say "Gawd bless yer, your majesty!" while tugging at a forelock. To all the people who inevitably are now thinking "Not me, I would lob a BRICK at them, definitely" I say "OF COURSE YOU WOULD."
It was all over in approx 60 seconds as they got out of the car, said hello to someone at the doors, and then wandered in, and then we all magically returned to normal. "Back to work then!" somebody said, and we all dispersed, each giving the air of somebody who had been mildly inconvenienced in their important daily life, and who definitely hadn't taken a whole bunch of pictures on their phone to show off to people in the office. Or at least that's what I assume everyone was doing - I, of course, had gone of in search of a BRICK.
Rock Admin Returns
I have been doing some ROCK ADMIN just lately, and it has been LOVELY!
As subscribers will have noticed, the latest edition of the newsletter went out yesterday, and this took a LOT of Rock Administration. It needs writing OBVS (and checking by The Comms Team In My Corporation) and EMAILING and archiving, but then there's all the tidying up afterwards. During the summer months I usually get a pile of "Out Of Office" replies from people on holiday, but there's usually several defunct email addresses too. This month, for some reason, I got a TONNE of btinternet and yahoo addresses returned to me, which need removing from The Database Of ROCK. I'm sure this is peasy with MailChimp, but not so much when you're still doing it all by hand!
The newsletter has been somewhat SPORADIC this year, due to not much ROCK going on, and part of the reason for this ROCK DROUGHT has been the pausing of Totally Acoustic. However, as previously discussed, Totally Acoustic is now BACK, which means that the PODCASTS are back too. Crumbs, if it feels like the newsletter takes some doing, it is as NOTHING to the effort that goes into getting the podcasts sorted out. Luckily for me I have always kept NOTES on how to do this as there is a LOT of steps that have to be gone through to get my drunken recordings of events into an edited shape! I think it's worth it though - one day I expect the podcast archive to be seen as an essential ARCHIVE for historians of the past decade or so of INDIE!
I ended up having to finish the podcast yesterday at high speed, so that it could be ready for the aforesaid NEWSLETTER, which meant that I suddenly felt myself embroiled in more Rock Admin that I had had for MONTHS, possibly YEARS, and it was actually really good fun! I like ROCK, and I also like getting things organised, and it was lovely to revisit the days when I was up to my ears in this sort of thing all the time. I wouldn't want to go back to QUITE that level of admin again - quite apart from being busy with the PhD and the BOOK, I also know that I would COLLAPSE if I was gigging about as much as I used to - but it was nice to revisit it, and it's made me wander whether I might be able to dip the ROCK toe back in a little bit more? LET'S SEE!
Hornsey Road with Mark Lewisohn
Saturday evening found me in London's glittering LONDON area of London, attending The Theatre for an Interesting Lecture. Why on earth I don't have a Society Column in a leading newspaper yet I do not know.
The lecture was called "Hornsey Road" and was given by Mr Mark Lewisohn, the legendary Beatles scholar who has written MOST of the GRATEST books about The Beatles by the simple expedient of doing some RESEARCH. What makes hims so GRATE is that whereas most people who write about The Beatles simply go back through the old press cuttings and/or other people's books, Mark Lewisohn actually goes and CHECKS and/or talks to people who were THERE. It's Primary Research baby, and it flipping WORKS - his book "Tune In" is FULL of incredible FACTS about the early years of the band before they were famous, including ASTONISHING revelations such as an entirely OTHER name ("The Japage Three") for the group that had never been reported before.
The only problem with this is that it takes FOREVER for him to write them - the second (of three) volumes is still YEARS away apparently, which he acknowledged when he came on stage by saying "Yes, I'm getting on with the next book" to much relieved laughter. One doesn't want to be CRUEL or anything, but looking around the audience when I arrived I realised that this must be a bit of a worry for a lot of them - if I hadn't bumped into Mr S Love on the way in I would have thought I was the youngest person there!
The show itself was FANTASTIC. He took us through "Abbey Road", in chronological order of when each song had been recorded, with a world class Powerpoint presentation. This involved a HUGE number of photographs that I'd never seen before, including some incredible ones of ALL The Beatles, also George Martin and a bloke from Manfred Mann, crowded round a GIGANTIC Moog synthesizer, taking turns to do overdubs on it. There were also some great ones of them working into studio, taken by Yoko from the bed and including her slippers at the bottom of the picture!
He played each song as a "remix", remixing the individual tracks (apparently HACKED from "Beatles Rock Band") and accentuating them variously throughout the song, so he drew attention to, for instance, the bass playing, then the backing vocals, then it all together and so on. This was MOST pertinent during "Oh Darling" when there was a bit with just Macca's vocals and the backing vocals which sounded AMAAAAZING, and drew a round of applause at the end from the crowd.
There were also rounds of applause for some of the INSANE research work, which isn't something that happens often. One of them was for his investigation into the identity of Mr Mustard from the song "Mean Mr Mustard". I don't want to reveal the FUN of it all, but suffice to say there really was a Mr Mustard who really DID shave in the dark, and Mark Lewisohn even had a suggestion as to how John Lennon found out about it. Even more impressive was a detailed map showing EXACTLY where John and Yoko went on their ill-fated motoring tour around the UK using data gleaned from reading local newspaper reports from around the country!
It was brilliant fun, but also VERY INSPIRING, and led me to be determined to get my actual hands on some actual comics for my own research. It'll be something to do while I wait for him to finish book two!
Totally Acoustic Returned!
When I arrived at The King & Queen last night for the first Totally Acoustic in AGES, it was as if nothing had changed. The pub was pleasantly full with people having a nice Thursday evening, the marvellous staff were being marvellous behind the bar, and Mr S Hewitt was already there, sat with a pint, reading his phone. However, when he and I went upstairs we smelt the tell-tale aroma of fresh paint, and there were NEW CHAIRS too! Was this a sign that things would be... different?
No. It wasn't. Everything ran just as it always does, as both Dr H McCookerybook and Mr J Osborne arrived in good time, along with a selection of regulars and other audience members, so when it was time to start we had a pretty much PERFECT size of audience. THUS I went on to lead everybody through the theme song before doing THIS:
This was the LIVE DEBUT for It's Hard To Be Hopeful, which seemed to go down all right - I was relieved that it did, as it's Quite Different to my normal sort of thing but also, I reckon, Quite Good! I must admit that I did also intend to do I'm Doing The Ironing but got halfway through the first verse and forgot the words!
After that display of Professionalism and Shouting, Helen McCookerybook came on next and was GRATE. Watching her play was actually INSPIRING - you see people make such a fuss about finger picking, but she was doing beautiful melodies that sounded simple and delightful, until you looked at the ACTION that was going on with her hands. It was also fantastic to have a Genuine Punk Rock Legend playing who was doing songs that were not only NEW but also ACE, especially the one about trillionaires going to live on Mars!
The break followed after which, as is traditional, I had to be reminded to do the whip round, and then John Osborne came on to do some POEMS. I say "poems" but the way he delivers them is more like Storytelling, I guess. It is BEGUILING and also ENTHRALLING, and features line after line that is packed with IDEAS and LOVE that popped back into our heads on the way home.
It was uniformly BRILLO, in fact, and afterwards we fell into CHAT and BEER and genuine good times. I was really REALLY pleased to have TA back, and now can't WAIT for the next one in November, which will feature Robberie, Ruth from PO!, and a guest spot by The Plinths. It will, I feel, be one HECK of a night!
A Pavilion South Of The River
After heading North for a day out on Saturday, on Sunday I headed SOUTH, this time in the company of The Days In My Week, to have a look around DULWICH. The aforementioned Doors In My Room had been handed a "What's On In Dulwich" booklet after an event a while ago, so we thought we'd have a look!
The first thing I discovered about Dulwich is that it is in SOUTH London, and thus much less easy to get to than anywhere in NORTH London. The original TfL Journey Planner-supplied plan was to get the Jubilee Line to Canada Water, an Overground to Peckham Rye, and then a Southern train to North Dulwich. It seemed simple enough but this turned out to be the NAIVE HOPES of a long-term North Londoner such as I, who expected these trains to a) TURN UP and b) OCCUR REGULARLY. When we got to Canada Water it gave us a SIXTEEN MINUTE wait for our next train which then got CANCELLED. I am, of course, aware that everybody OUTSIDE London is now going "Oh you are lucky to have trains, we have to wait three weeks for a broken wheelbarrow to get anywhere" and this is TRUE, but in my defense I had to stand on a smelly platform 18 miles beneath Canada Water trying to get enough signal on my phone to persuade TfL Journey Planner to give me a reasonable alternative route. Luckily The Stops On My Route looked at the map and pointed out that we could just go a couple more stops to London Bridge and get the Southern train directly from there. This was MUCH easier, also QUICKER than the original route, and it was only then that I remembered that Journey Planner is not the innocent route planner it pretends to be, but a devious MANIPULATOR that is forever trying to stop people going through Zone 1 and/or through busy stations. NAUGHTY Journey Planner!
Our handmade artisanal route was MUCH better, and we arrived in North Dulwich safe and sound ready to be WOWED by Dulwich Village, which a handy online guide had told us was "like a rural village in the middle of London". Obviously it wasn't in the middle of London AT ALL, but it was nothing like a rural village either - as my travelling companion suggested, it was more like the outskirts of Leicester, but I suppose "like Groby but near Peckham" isn't quite as sexy.
Our first port of call was Dulwich Picture Gallery, which I had promoted at home as having a big exhibition about REMBRANDT. Technically it DOES have one, but it turns out not to start for a couple of weeks - in my defence their website was, like most Arts websites, a bit confusing. It didn't really matter though as we didn't actually go INSIDE the gallery, instead having a good look at their PAVILION (which was on its last day). I do like a pavilion, and this one was not only COLOURFUL but also had a GANTRY halfway up that you could wander round which was full of tiny children making dinosaur noises, and thus ACE.
We then crossed the road and did a circumnavigation of Dulwich Park. The guide promised us "adorable dogs" which it definitely had a lot of, but surely missed a trick by not describing it as "like Central Park in Peterborough, but a bit bigger and near Peckham." It was dead nice and featured even more tiny children making dinosaur noises, especially outside the cafe where 17,000 toddlers took it in turns to be frightened of, and then harrass, an extremely dignified dog.
After that we crossed back over the road, took a shortcut through the gallery grounds again, and then hopped into Belair Park which, weirdly, did not remind us of ANY part of The Midlands. It was still pretty good though, especially an AMAZING Rose Garden which - ARF! - I had not - ROFLS! - promised anybody. We had a quick look inside the Manor House there too, although when we opened the doors we heard high pitched squealing, so assumed it had been booked for a function. As we left a young man came out and told us that it was a bridal shower, but that the building would be open as a restaurant next month. At first we thought he was just undertaking some excellent customer service, but later realised that he probably just wanted to get away from the Bridal Shower for a bit!
With that done we went to West Dulwich to wait for about 20 minutes for our next train, then got on a Thameslink back to St Pancras where we were reunited with the very fast, very regular, very handy high speed service home to Stratford International. It had been a lovely day out, but gor blimey guv'nor, it was good to be back in North London again!
A Day Out In Doncaster
I was up bright and early on Saturday for an exciting day trip to DONCASTER. DONCASTER! A place where many have passed through, several have changed, but few have actual BEEN! Speaking as someone from Peterborough I must say that this, of course, is a perfectly reasonable state of affairs for any British population centre, and it was AS a person from Peterborough that I was going there for LO! I was off for my first Away game of the season!
The train from London to Doncaster passes, as so many do, through Peterborough, and thus I was able to meet Mr P Myland and many other Posh fans on the train. We got into Doncaster Actual just before midday and, after a brief wander and a couple of phone calls, found a large contingent of fellow Peterborians in a Weatherspoon's pub. I don't LIKE going in Weatherspoon's because a) it is basically funding Brexit b) the beer is usually on the turn and c) the pubs themselves are like drinking in a waiting room of DESPAIR, and this one was very much in this vein, so I was relieved when we toddled off down the road to the MUCH nicer Doncaster Brewery Tap. It was FULL of blue shirts, also lovely beer, also a UKELELE band who, by the time we had to leave, had the whole room singing "Delilah". Well, I say they had the whole room singing - I'm not entirely sure they WANTED everyone to join in, but they did!
UPDATE: I forgot to mention this in the first draft, but at some point during our wanderings round Doncaster a man came up to us and said "You going to the football? What team?" when we answered "Peterborough" he said "Aha! Adrian Durham!" For those who don't know, Mr A Durham is a radio presenter on TalkSport. He is also, perhaps more imporantly, a fellow alumni of Deacon's School in Peterborough and was in the year above me and Mr Myland at school (and in several school plays at the same time as me also). Crikey, if you had told me then that a stranger would know Peterborough because of Adrian Durham I would not have believed you - John Ringrose or Jason Blood, certainly, but Adrian?
Anyway, after some deliberate confusion at the mini-cab company over the road (involving everyone claiming to be called "Paul" - it seemed funny at the time) we were driven the 15,000 miles across Doncaster, out of Doncaster, and then across several time zones to get to The Keepmoat Stadium which is basically on the other side of the planet, in an industrial estate. Inside it was Actually All Right, like a cross between Pride Park in Derby and Kingsmeadow in Wimbledon i.e. modern but diddy. As we stood around near the bar before kick off I witnessed lots more Fenland faces coming in, spotting people they knew, looking delighted and striding over to shake hands. There were smiles all around me, lots of singing, and a genuinely happy atmosphere of people doing something they enjoyed with people they liked. It was lovely!
The happy atmosphere dissipated somewhat with the actual game, which was TERRIBLE. On the plus side, it was a gloriously sunny day, although that meant the Away end spent the next nearly two hours squinting under the shade of their hands, but that was about as good as it got. The Posh twitter account posted a picture where, if you zoom in, you can see me smiling and applauding something. I think maybe it was taken as the players came on at the start!
It was a somewhat deflated group of East Midlanders who made their way back into town, on what turned out to be an EXTRAORDINARILY long trek back. It took us about an HOUR, although there was a break for CHIPS about three quarters of the way back. After a visit to The Leopard the day ended with Mr Myland and I being THWARTED in our attempts to visit The Draughtsman on Platform 3 of the station (which I'd visited before with Mr M Tiller) due to it being shut. DENIED AGAIN!
We were joined on the train home by other Posh fans, but also fans of Norwich and Fulham, who were heading home after their own away games. As people went back and forth through the carriages I saw various different fans stopping to chat, to see how each other had done and commiserate accordingly. In these dark times of national division, seeing drunk people gently mock each other on a train was bloody lovely!
Feeling A Bit Of A Perforation
For the past few Wednesdays I have been going to my local Sports Injury Clinic after work to have some ACUPUNCTURE done. It only opened fairly recently and we got a FLYER in our letterbox about it, so after some deliberation with The Mail In My Pigeonhole I decided to give it a go to see if it would sort my PSORIASIS out. Psoriasis is a SKIN THING that I've had for YEARS and have tried MANY different ways to cure, from Chinese Medicine to Pestering The NHS, with none of them ever really getting rid of it for good. My most recent trip to a Skin Specialist at our local hospital was as dispiriting as ever - basically a man shrugging his shoulders and giving me some STEROID CREAM to plaster over it - so I thought I'd try NEEDLES instead.
A lot of my first appointment in the clinic was taken up with a CHAT, during which the (very jolly) practitioner told me that one of the "side effects" would be a lessening of anxiety. This is CONSIDERABLY more appealing than the side effects of steroid cream (thinning skin) or Chinese medicine (horrible taste and smell) and I certainly did feel less anxious afterwards... until about 11pm, at which point our washing machine stopped working!
The machine felt better in the morning, and so did I, and so I've continued going and I THINK it's working. It's hard to tell because Psorisais - or "scabby elbow syndrome" to give it its technical name - comes and goes, but it's definitely not getting worse, and I also THINK the experience is calming my BRANE down a bit. The weird thing about it all though is that it's a LOT less SPIRITUAL than I thought it would be. The practitioner is, as I say, a jolly chap who has not mentioned CHI or CHAKRA once yet, which is a bit disappointing. I wish he WOULD, rather than the occasional attempts to make it sound "scientific". In my experience Alternative Practitioners ALWAYS try and make it sound Scientifc but I wish they wouldn't as as they almost always get it WRONG. Tell me it's AURAS or something, Alternative Practitioners, and I'll be happy!
It's also very much NOT spiritual when the actual NEEDLES go in. I thought this was going to be all INCENSE and ZEN but actually it is some bloke sticking a bunch of bloody NEEDLES into you. I can't always feel ALL of them, but some I flipping well can, especially ones in my HAND that I can flipping SEE. There's also some that go in the Upper Leg which, weirdly, always make me EXTREMELY CONSCIOUS of the existence of the MUSCLES in my body - usually I wonder around feeling like a Floating Entity, unconnected to tawdry physical existence, but when that needle goes in my thigh suddenly I am aware that I am a mass of MUSCLES and BONES that are all working together.
I think I'd prefer the INCENSE to be honest, and maybe some chanting, but so far it seems to be working, and NEITHER of us have made a "Bit of a Prick" joke yet, so I reckon I'll keep going!
A Nosey Around
On Tuesday night myself and The Rooms In My Building went to another one of the "Your Neighbourhood Talks" events over at Here East, the COLOSSAL building over on the other side of the Olympic Park (where we live, have I mentioned?) which used to be The Media Centre during the Olympics (which happened here, where I live). We have been to several of these events, partly because it is vital to be an active member of ONE'S COMMUNITY, and also because it is a great way to have a good old nosey around in places you otherwise wouldn't be allowed into.
Getting to Here East is also a good excuse for a stomp across the PARK, which is always a DELIGHT, and we arrived just in time to snaffle the last remains of the BUFFET which they always supply. Last time we went, when it was over at the POOL, we WOLFED down about 17 metric tonnes of sandwiches, but this time we were there a bit later and were disgusted to find that SOMEBODY ELSE had eaten them, leaving us with only a few cakes. The nerve of some people!
The main "marketplace" for the event was inside Plexal, which is one of these co-working areas that are so funky at the moment. I've been to a few of these for WORK purposes and found them to be Quite Swanky and usually full of FREE, DELICIOUS, posh coffee, but this one was something else altogether. They had basically built a LEGO CITY inside a huge futuristic WAREHOUSE, with STREET LIGHTS down the middle and a GRASS area. It was actually quite nice - in such a HUGE space some of the mini-offices were bound to be away from the Actual Windows, so having it in a street like this meant they could have windows INSIDE, looking onto people passing by. The only disadvantage, according to me, would be that you'd probably still need to do some WORK while you were there. For all the fancy trimmings and cool fixtures, I did see quite a lot of fed-up looking IT GUYS scattered around, still glaring at screens at 7.30pm.
The MAIN thing we were there for tho was the TOUR around the UCL ROBOTICS LAB. I was slightly disappointed that this did not involve ACTUAL KILLER ROBOTS, but apart from that it was Quite Interesting. They have built a lecture theatre that is also a classroom, several meeting areas, a viewing platform and a BLACK BOX for Performance Testing, which we roamed around pointing at Innovations. There was also a Mechanical Engineering area which was doing its best to look MODERN but was still very much like the Mechanical Engineering areas I saw at Leicester Poly 17,000 years ago when I would visit Dr N Brown there during our student days i.e. FULL of SOLDERING IRONS. They even had a synthesizer there that someone was repairing!
It was also EERILY QUIET there - the students had not yet returned, and you could FEEL the staff GIRDING themselves for their arrival. I know the feeling - at my own workplace we are currently enjoying the golden period when the STAFF are all in but the STUDENTS have yet to come and mess the place up, which is very inconsiderate. Universities are for STAFF and, very occasionally, concerned local citizens who want to have a nosey around!
I was unable to attend the second day of the Stanley Kubrik symposium on Saturday as I had tickets to go to an equally prestigious cultural event: Peterborough United playing Rochdale.
I met Mr P Myland and Mr C Dowsett just before noon at The Bumble Inn, a DELIGHTFUL micro-pub which I seem to be forming a HABIT of being in. We had a couple of beers and then wandered through town to Charters AKA The Boat Place, site of MANY pints drunk by me over several decades, MARVELLING on the way about the lack of Away Supporters. On my last two visits, to see Posh play Ipswich and then Sunderland, town had been FULL of them, but we didn't see ANY Rochdale fans until we got to Charters, and then only a few. It turned out only 216 had made the journey, a low total proportionally matched by less than 6 thousand for Posh.
I guess the low turnout was because nobody was expecting much, which to be fair included ME. I was sure that after the fantastic game last time this one would be RUBBISH but, as with so many of my predictions, both sporting and political, I was entirely WRONG. It was BLOODY GRATE! The first goal, from Mr I Toney, was a right mess, as he more or less walked the ball, and the opposition keeper, into the net with him, but after that it was ZUT ALORS for BEAUTIFUL Actual Football featuring SKILLS the like of which I cannot BEAR to even DREAM of getting used to. It was meant to be a DULL DRAW or PROBABLY HOME LOSS but there were CHIPS and SHOTS and PASSES the like of which I would expect to see Gary Linekar talking about, not Colin Murray!
It ended with Posh winning SIX-NIL! SIX! NIL! I still find it hard to believe, but as we staggered out, DRUNK of ENTERTAINMENT, it was with the sure and certain knowledge that the NEXT home game would see us get walloped. That is my DEFINITE PREDICTION - honest!
Designing Worlds With S Kubrick
I went to a SYMPOSIUM last week, and this time it was part of WORK rather than for COMICS SCHOOL!
For LO! UAL was one of the organisers of Kubrick: Designing Worlds, a two-day event all about, well, Stanley Kubrick. I must admit I didn't know much about him, going in - I've watched "2001" OBVS, seen a bit of "A Clockwork Orange" DECADES ago (on a dodgy 19th generation VHS) and went to the pictures to watch "AI", but that's about it, I thus thought I ought to do a bit of revision beforehand, so watched "The Shining" over a couple of nights, which was a very ODD experience as it turns out I have already SEEN approx 30% of the film ALREADY in various clips and ALLUSIONS. I was also glad that I'd started my revision early because CRUMBS it is a LONG old film - at some point in the late 1980s I think someone somewhere must have realised you don't actually HAVE to show characters walking ALL THE WAY from one scene to another EVERY SINGLE TIME, because films like "The Shining" seem to do that A LOT.
I wondered if I should watch any other films, but this turned out to be UNNECESSARY as the day was mostly about "The Shining", "2001", "A Clockwork Orange" and "AI"! WINZ! There was in fact an ENTIRE SESSION all about "AI", during which everyone seemed to agree with ME i.e. that it was dead good and all those idiots at the time who went "Ooh it's so SCHMALTZY and SPIELBERG" were WRONG. This session featured the BEST BIT of the whole day too, when Chris Baker talked about how he'd done the Storyboards. It was DEAD INTERESTING and also really nice to hear someone talking with a proper Midlands accent - as ever with these things, there were quite a lot of Posh People talking during the rest of the day!
They KEYNOTE was good too - I was expecting an IN-DEPTH ANALYSIS of the film "The Shining" but what we got was a MASSIVELY trainspottery look at where each bit of the film was shot and how it all actually WORKED within the studio complex, featuring spectactularly ANNOTATED aerial shots of Borehamwood. I speak as someone who has PORED over intensely detailed articles which try to work out precisely where photographs of the Beatles had been shot, so I was entirely prepared for other people to be just as KRAZY about their own obsessions, and this guy very much was. It was FAB!
The whole day, in fact, was dead good, and it had the added bonus of featuring "The Head Of Invention", which features in MY NOVEL, sitting outside. It was only after spending a few hours there that I realised that, unlike in the aforesaid BOOK, The Design Museum is NOT next to the Thames. It turns out that, in the time since I first wrote it, The Design Museum has MOVED. I feel a RE-WRITE coming on!
Totally Acoustic Returns
Today I am EXTREMELY happy to announce that Totally Acoustic is BACK!
For those unaware, this is the regular night I have done for YEARS where acts are invited to come and play in the top room of a pub without any kind of PA or amplifiers - totally acoustically, in fact. I also RECORD the proceedings and unleash an edited PODCAST shortly afterwards. These PODCASTS are very much still available to download, and provide a pretty GRATE catalogue of some of the GIANTS of indiepop over the past decade or so. And also, ME.
The last regular gig was a couple of years ago, when we had an all-dayer to celebrate our tenth anniversary after which I let it lay FALLOW for a while so that I could concentrate on doing my PhD. There've been a couple of one-offs since then, but I think now I'm ready to bring it back on a regular, albeit probably bi-monthly, schedule. I have, to be honest, missed it!
The original idea for this one was to have Mr Matt Tiller play as part of hs Slightly Wonky Love Songs Tour, but when we couldn't work out a date that fitted a) Matt's rigorous touring schedule b) the pub's diary I decided, with Matt's agreement, to just go ahead and do it ANYWAY. My excuse is that the pub said they were looking forward to having us back, and I couldn't upset them after that could I?
THUS the first night of the grand return is on Thursday September 26th when, as ever, "Doors" will be 7pm and the first act (ME) will go on not long after 7.30pm. It all gets better after that though, as we'll have two GRATE performers who have each graced us once before - John Osborne and Helen McCookerybook!
I have also had confirmation that Mr S Hewitt will also be in attendance, in his usual seat, so it is BOUND to be a good one - come along if you can, and if not, there'll be a podcast!
Actually Good Football
On Saturday I went to The Football again, to see Peterborough United play Sunderland, and it was ACTUALLY GOOD!
To be clear to those who follow Premiership teams, or watch it on telly, "Actually Good" in this context means "UTTERLY AMAZING", for LO! it was not the usual mix of cock-ups, missed passes, falling over and occasional flashes of proper football like what you usually get, it was... well, ACTUALLY GOOD! Posh looked like an ACTUAL TEAM! They passed to each other! They scored THREE (3) properly - PROPERLY - good goals. It was like nothing else I have ever seen at London Road - I've seen them win at home before (not often, but I have) and I've seen them play well away from home (notably Wembley hem hem) but to see them do so at their home ground, against one of the teams tipped to win the league, was astonishing.
I wasn't the only one to think so either - all around me, my fellow Peterborians jumped up and down and hugged each other in unalloyed GLEE when our third goal - our THIRD! - went in as a result of astonishingly good ACTUAL FOOTBALL. The streets around the ground afterwards, so often full of frowns and grumbling, glowed with GRINS as disbelieving Poshies staggered out, their BRANES struggling to grasp the fact that what they'd seen hadn't needed excuses, or hopes for improvement. It had been ACTUALLY GOOD!
It was also lovely because Mr P Myland had got us seats in The Family Stand, which OOH LA LA was quite swanky and like a modern football stand, with seats you could actually sit in, toilets that worked and Ample Space for shops rather than one tiny cupboard. "It was built in the 1990s" he pointed out, not in 1932 when people were shorter due to malnutrition and had less health expectations. I was MOST impressed!
I had such a lovely time that I have committed myself to going AGANE in a couple of weeks, when a lifetime's experience tells me that we will be roundly trounced by Rochdale and it'll rain. Still, we shall always have Sunderland!
An Actual Night Out At An Actual Gig
My life has been a giddy social whirl of late, with up to THREE trips out A WEEK, often involving pubs! A few years ago this would have counted as par for the course, even QUIET, but now that I have got used to sitting on the sofa with The Tea In My Mug watching TELLY it has all been a bit of a SHOCK!
For instance, I went out for PIES and PINTS with Mr Matt Tiller on Wednesday night and then, NOT TWENTY FOUR HOURS LATER went out AGANE on Thursday to a GIG. A GIG! What was I thinking?
Actually, what I was thinking was "This is dead good", as I was off to see Alex and the Christopher Hale Band with Simon Love & The Old Romantics at Paper Dress. It took me a while to get there, however, as I had blithely thought to myself "Paper Dress is near Hackney Station" and got off at Hackney WICK, only to realise that I should have got off the train five minutes earlier at Hackney CENTRAL. I went back, caught the next train, and was in good time to find Alex and everybody in the PUB down the road. PHEW!
When we got back to the actual venue I was pleasantly surprised by how REALLY NICE it was. I've seen in gig listings that Paper Dress have been doing gigs for a while, and had imagined it as a smelly corner in an old clothes shop, but actually it was LOVELY, with a downstairs BAR area and an upstairs with a stage and proper PA system, and also a very jovial LANDLORD stood behind another BAR! It was GRATE!
I've not seen Alex play for AGES, nor at any point with the current band, who were ACE - notably the drummer, who I was astonished to find was very much in the Tim Pattison STYLE. You don't get to see these majestic creatures very often, and I MARVELLED at the way he WALLOPED his kit with a mixture of FURY and DETACHED SADNESS, dropping his head to concentrate during the (rare!) moments when he WASN'T hitting things, and even doing Classic Pattison Fills and also STOPS. I took photographs to inform The Band, but I wish I'd got a video of him in action!
The whole set was FAB, in fact, especially as it meant Alex was FREED to roam about and do proper frontman stuff. This was then followed by ANOTHER excellent set, by Simon Love and co - Simon has been ROCKING AROUND in groups in the same scene as me for AGES but I have very rarely seen him and/or them play live, which is a terrible shame because they were GRATE. My favourite member of the band in THIS set was his trumpet player who a) made it sound a bit like The Boo Radleys and b) DANCED DETERMINEDLY. It was ACE!
It all reminded me of the good bits of when I used to do this all the time, although when I looked around me it felt odd to realise I didn't actually KNOW anybody else there... until, to my DELIGHT, The Cresswells turned up! HOORAH!
It was, all together, rather brilliant, though I must admit that the way I felt the following morning was not quite as filled with nostalgic joy!
I recently embarked upon a reappraisal of my SHIRTS, brought about by the realisation that most of the shirts I wore on a daily basis were OLD and a bit TATTY. I thus went through my wardrobe and THREW OUT all and any that were no longer fit for purpose, and set to getting some new ones.
The last time I did this was about three years ago when I returned to the workplace after my (WONDERFUL) year OFF. On that occasion myself and The Pattern Of My Fabric went to Fat Face and Marks & Spencers and selected a whole bunch of perfectly reasonable WOrk Shirts (NB for my sort of work, so basically what other people would call Casual Shirts, mostly CHECKED) which saw me through the years that followed. It was all fairly painless and, I thought, would be again. I thought INCORRECTLY!
Maybe it is the time of year, but I could find NO reasonable Work Shirts AT ALL. We live next door to Westfield in Stratford which is RAMMED FULL of clothes shops, ALL of which I schlepped around, unable to find ANYTHING reasonable. There were plenty of EXPENSIVE shirts, and MILLIONS of cheapo shirts in "SLIM FIT", but precisely NO standard Work/Casual Shirts for a gentleman of my girth and status. "WHat is going ON?" I thought. "WHere are the SHIRTS?!?"
It is a situation which the aforementioned Buttons In My Buttonholes has referred to as "Try To Buy", where one does one's BEST to go round traditional high street-style stores to buy something, but is FOILED at every turn, and thus, as in this case, turns to THE INTERWEB. We didn't find any Standard Work Shirts here EITHER, but we DID find a whole HEAP of Reasonably Priced and NICE Shirts and, after all the HASSLES of going round the shops I fell upon them in relief and bought LOADS.
So it was that I suddenly found myself in possession of approx EIGHT new shirts, ALL of which were DEAD NICE. This sounds good, but it was actually a bit difficult to get my head round - I'm used to having Standard Work Shirts that I wear in the day, and then 2-3 NICE Shirts which are reserved for Going Out In, and the two very rarely interact. NOW, when I open my wardrobe of a morning ALL I see are Nice Shirts, and I feel a bit guilty putting them on. Shouldn't I be saving this for a trip to the PUB or something?
I did wonder if this was all in my head, but it seems not - since I started wearing Nice Shirts I have been COMPLEMENTED on them THREE times, which is precisely THREE times more than I have ever been complemented on a shirt in my LIFE. It is Quite Unsettling for someone who has spent his entire life so far being mostly UNNOTICED clothes-wise to suddenly be OBJECTIFIED in this way. It's nice of people to say, but it FREAKS me out a bit!
So what I'm saying is, if you see me out and about, do not be ALARMED if you see me in a dead swanky bit of clobber. I'm probably not on my way to an Awards Ceremony or Wedding Reception, this is all I've got!
Three Years In
This week I received an email from the fine folks at Transport For London, telling me that my Student Tube Pass was about to run out. I was already GIRDING myself from the annual month of renewing various Student cards that happens when a new term starts in September, but this was something slightly different. The email told me that Student Tube Passes only last for three years, as that's how long an undergraduate degree usually takes, but they'd be sending me a new one automatically as they knew my course lasted longer.
Once I'd got over my AMAZEMENT and DELIGHT that something like this was set up to work so smoothly, without the need for 17 forms, 38 signatures and a photocopy of my passport, I was suddenly struck by the FACT that I have now been doing my PhD for THREE YEARS, which is longer even than I spent on my BA(hons) from Leicester Polytechnic. Crikey! It feels like only a few months ago since I first set sail on the sea of Unique Contributions To Knowledge, while in contrast my first degree - Combined Arts (English & Politics) for which I recieved The Gentleman's Degree i.e. a 2:2 - looms LARGE in my memory as taking FOREVER. During that time I played in at least three bands, directed two plays, wrote a musical, learned to play bass guitar, took three seperate productions to the Edinburgh Fringe, discovered BEER, set up and compered a comedy club, ran the student drama club, found out what happens when you drink a pint of WINE, contributed to the college newspaper, did two stand-up comedy sets and made friendships that are still with me now. Since starting my PhD I have mostly watched American sitcoms.
Of course, I have ALSO done several TONNES of Actual Work for the PhD, whereas for my first degree I worked out precisely how many lectures I needed to turn up to to avoid getting told off (40%, apparently) and then stuck religiously to that number. Also the fact that I DID all that other stuff while doing my first degree might just possibly explain why I was LUCKY to get the grade I did, although of course ANY degree from Leicester Polytechnic, especially an HONS degree, remains the passport to riches that it always was.
It still surprised me though, not least because it means I am well over halfway through it all now. I'm doing a part-time PhD so, in theory, I'll be handing it in in September of the Space Year 2021. That seems an awfully long way away, until I think of all I've got to DO between now and then, at which point it doesn't seem long at all!
In fact, I should really be getting on with it right now. Or maybe I'll go to the kitchen and see if Neil's got the kettle on, then check under the sofa to see if there's enough change to get me into the Poly Bop on Friday. After THAT, I'll definitely do some work!
A Whole New Season
On Saturday morning I was off out again on the East Coast Mainline, this time heading to Peterborough. I was there to meet Mr P Myland and his associates for my first trip to London Road of the footballing year, with Posh playing Ipswich. I read beforehgand that they were bringing 4,000 supporters with them, most of whome seemed to be getting off the train next to mine, and later on there were MILLIONS (approx) of them marching down Long Causeway, singing away. It was Quite Exciting!
On the way my phone was buzzing with Whatsapp messages as the meeting place changed from The Brewery Tap to The Ostrich (AKA Bogarts) to The Bumblebee as each place filled up with Ipswich supporters, which worked out nicely for me as The Bumblebee is LOVELY. We loafed around there for a while and I was amazed to find that this group of chaps now contains ONE person who commentates for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and another who is part of the team looking for a new ground. It was like being in the Peterborough United ILLUMINATI!
Mileage had moved his season ticket so we were sitting together, right down near the front in seats which a) had a GRATE view b) were in very easy range for shouting at the Linesman but c) had clearly been installed at a time when the height of the average Fenlander was about 4'11". My poor old KNEES are STILL hurting, especially from when the rather LARGE gentleman in front of me would sit back SATISFIED after making a pronouncement upon the game. OW!
The actual FOOTBALL seemed, to me, to be much the same as ever, although there were some THRILLS from the goalie who DROPPED the ball in the first half to let in a ridiculous goal but then saved a PENALTY in the second half, forcing approx 6,000 Peterborians to suddenly decide they had liked him all along. It ended up 2-2, with Ipswich scoring an equaliser in the very last minute of extra time. As I say, pretty much the usual sort of thing.
There was time for one last pint and then I was heading home, but I would be returning - in two weeks time in fact, when we play Sunderland. Mr Myland assures me that this time we'll have seats designed with modern knees in mind!
48 Hours In Edinburgh
I went to Edinburgh again last week, this time with Mr S Hewitt to experience a 48 Fringe SPECTACULAR!
We met up just before 8am at Kings Cross station and had a DELIGHTFUL trip up on the train, furnished with BREAKFAST and HOT DRINKS in our luxurious carriage - as OLD HANDS we had of course booked First Class, and as luck would have it we managed to nab The Best Seats In The Carriage i.e. one of the two doubler seats right in the middle where there's an extra big GAP so loads of room. It was ACE!
As we arrived into Edinburgh I felt, as usual, TERRIFIED with NERVES. "No, BODY", I said to myself, "I know Steve is here but that doesn't mean you're doing a show. BE NOT AFEARED!" I was so nervous that I was forced - FORCED - to go with Steve to The Halfway House for our traditional Just Off The Train Pint. It was extremely helpful!
We had a bit of a wander round (including a visit to The Cold Town Bar which was VERY nice) before we split up for our first shows. I went to see my nephew Mr O Grant in "A Chorus Line: High School Version" which I was expecting to be like a school play but OH MY GOODNESS it REALLY wasn't! The whole thing was SUPER PROFESSIONAL, the LIGHTS and the SOUND and the COSTUMES were all top notch, and CRIKEY but those kids could sing! PROPERLY too - Oliver was, of course, the BEST, but there was a LOT of dancing and singing all round. It was ace!
ALSO I was the only person in the audience aged between 16 and approx 70 - there were a lot of very proud Grandparents in the room, and they had every right to be!
Steve and I regrouped in The Bow Bar and then went to check into our HOTEL - or rather, Student Halls. I was expecting it to be like Halls in OLDEN TIMES e.g. a BROWN room with a SINK in the corner, but it was actually Quite Nice. I suppose Halls have to be like that nowadays as they spend about 25% of the year pretending to be hotels. It was also very quiet, almost as if it was full of grown-ups going OUT to do things, rather than KIDS staying in and having parties etc.
I'd intended to go and see the Basil Brush show next, but I read a review that said it wasn't very good so, rather than spoil my impressions of a childhood HERO (who is looking very good for his age etc etc) we went to see "Awww Snap - Marvelus" which was two grown men titting about for an hour with cheap props being silly about superheroes. It was a KRAZY IDEA but, for some reason, we rather liked it!
Memories become slightly hazy at this point but I think it was somewhere around here that we ended up in The Royal Oak AKA The Folk Pub. It is a tiny little place and when we barged in it was FULL of people, with about six musicians ranged around the edges, taking AGES to tune up for their last song. We put money in the JAR which had time to go round the whole pub while they were faffing, and then the singer gave a speech about how it was 50 years since the start of The Troubles and how this was Important (she self-described as a "Millenial" and most of the others looked the same age) so they were going to do a song all about it. "OHO!" thought Steve and I. "Get ready for an ANGRY song about the iniquities of British Rule with SWEARS and possible IRA mentions!"
And then they played "Zombie" by The Cranberries. This was the MOST HILARIOUS part of our entire trip and we had to go outside to a) laugh b) swear. Then a man who looked like he'd been squashed in a car compactor turned up and played The Border Pipes and it was ACE!
My final show for the day was "The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre Company" who, as ever, were BRILL, but as I staggered off home Steve headed off to see some WRESTLING-based shows. He loves that sort of thing!
We began our second day with John Osbourne's "You're In A Bad Way" which was a GRATE and very MOVING storytelling show. It ended with him playing "The Lesson Of The Smiths" on his iPod which i THINK may be because he'd seen us watching, but could possibly now be part of every show. I would support it if so! Next we split up, with Steve going for more wrestling and me watching "If You're Feeling Sinister: A Play With Music" which was a bit ODD. I, like pretty much everybody else there by the looks of them, had gone because I love the album, but there wasn't actually much of it IN the play and what there was was very short and oddly detached from the story, which for some reason was about a robbery of a painting. The play itself was a bit rubbish, in fact, and fairly pointless but GOLLY the DIRECTION and especially the ACTING was AMAZING. Both actors were INCREDIBLE and they way it was all put together was BRILLIANT, it's just that the material was a bit crap. ALSO, vitally, they didn't do "Judy And The Dream Of Horses" AT ALL!!!!
I then went to see Tom Parry who was BRILLO, especially in the face of some, let's say "boisterous", older people who clearly thought they were co-starring in the show. He dealt with it very well and was EXTREMELY funny throughout. I then went and found Steve, who was with Tamsyn and Jo from Northampton, had a beer, and then we went to see Josie Long doing her new show up at The Stand. She also was very good - it's almost as if only going to see people you've seen before is a way of ensuring you see stuff you're going to like when you're on a time limit.
And talking of people I'd seen before, my final show of the trip - after dropping into The City Cafe to do a pub quiz and to get Steve his tea - was Steve Lamacq's "Going Deaf For A Living" which has come on A LOT since the last time we saw it - it was GRATE then, but this time it was super tight, full of LOADS more gags, a lot less audience participation, and felt like a Proper Show all round. It was ACE!
After the show I sat in the Teviot Lounge upstairs for a little while and had a moment of PROFOUND NOSTALGIA as I realised I was sitting at the same window that I'd sat at 29 years ago on the final night of my first ever trip to The Fringe. A LOT has changed since then, but the building is still pretty much the same and the motivating forces of the Fringe - BEER and LARKS - are unaltered.
Next morning I was heading back alone, accompanied by a carriage full of various VERY POSH LADIES, mostly in their sixties, who talked Very Loudly And Confidently all the way back. I tell you what, if anybody ever suggests that a private education encourages intelligence, get them to travel First Class on a long journey and MARVEL at the fact that Posh People are utterly incapable of understanding how seat numbers work!
I got home TIRED but full of GOOD TIMES, and also very pleased to discover that it's possible to enjoy The Fringe without having to spend a fortnight, and several thousand pounds, doing your own show! Hoorah!
The Review Show: The Boys, I Am Mother, Get Out and Blinded By The Light
I love the IDEA of watching films, especially now that I have Netflix and Amazon a.k.a. ALL THE TELLY, but I always think that I don't have the time, especially now that they are regularly about two hours long. HOWEVER I am also conscious of the fact that I tend to watch at LEAST two episodes of Whatever Show I'm Bingeing At The Moment and, in the case of "The Boys", three and a bit until I am unable to stay awake any longer.
"The Boys", by the way, is BLOODY BRILLIANT - what a world we live in, where TELLY has caught up with COMICS so much that it can not only do the Dark Commentary On The Genre that comics did in the 1990s, but do it WELL to such an extent that you just take for granted all the special effects that, only a few years ago, would have been beyond them. ALSO I am very pleased that I simply didn't bother reading any of The Cool Comics of the past 20 years or so, as it means that I get to watch "The Boys", "Umbrella Academy", "Preacher" and "The Walking Dead" without a CLUE what's going to happen!
ANYWAY, the point of this was to say that I basically DO watch nearly a film's worth of telly most days, so thought I'd have a go at watching some. ALSO The Clips In My Trailer was away on Friday night, so I had to do SOMETHING to take my mind off the existential loneliness. HENCE I sat down and watched "I Am Mother" on the Netflix. Here is my review: It was Quite Good. I'm pretty sure it could have been half an hour shorter, and there were several times when I thought "Hang on, why are you doing THAT?" but it passed very pleasantly, also Quite Excitingly.
The second film I watched, the next day, was "Get Out" and that was BLOODY BRILLIANT. I spent the first half thinking "EEK this is TOO TENSE, I can't watch any more!" and then the next quarter going "You WHAT? ARGH!" and then the final bit basically applauding how EXCELLENT it was. It reminded my of "Back To The Future" in a lot of ways (NB I may be the only person to think this) because of the SCRIPT which was, not to mince words, EXQUISITE. Every single AMAZING TWIST was very carefully, very cleverly set up in such a way that you never saw it coming but, when you did, your brain went "Hang one, how did that... OH YEAH!" There's a reveal towards the very very end about why some characters act the way they did that made me want to IMMEDIATELY watch the whole thing all over again. It was AMAAAAAZING!
And then on Sunday I went to the Actual Pictures to watch "Blinded By The Light" as we'd seen it on The Film Review on the news channel and it looked good. Review: IT WAS! It was very obviously directed by the same person who did "Bend It Like Beckham" and there were LOADS of places where they were clearly doing something Just Because It Was Cool rather than for narrative purposes, and lots of the supporting characters were JUST supporting characters, but the main plot was EXTREMELY MOVING - almost as if the story of a boy growing up in a nowhere town in the 80s who wanted to be a writer had some sort of RESONANCE to me, who can say? ALSO for the first time in my life it made me understand why so many people I know LOVE Bruce Springsteen so much. He's sort of like an American Billy Bragg isn't he? I have bought the soundtrack album anyway, so will give it a go - I hear he does a version of our song "Glory Days", so he can't be all bad.
In summary then: FILMS! they range from quite good to AMAZING, and therefore are worth a go every own and again!
Today I am very happy to say that The Plinthsmania EP by John Dredge & The Plinths (feat. ME!) is available to stream, listen to and, partially at least, WATCH!
This is the set of songs that we recorded AGES ago with Mr A Brook in Surry (who I saw last week) and features a whole bunch of songs what I wrote with Mr J Dredge. The lead track is called Idiots Run The World and there is a rather MARVELOUS video to go with it, THUS:
If ever a song was released at precisely the correct time, socio-politically, I believe it is THIS one!
Annual Art Day
On Sunday The Picture In My Frame and I embarked on our Big Annual ART DAY, where we go into London Town and look at a load of ART. We don't JUST do this once a year of course - we are dead sophisticated - but this is the day when we always go to two or more SPECIFIC Art Events in the same day.
The first of these was The Serpentine Pavilion at The Serpentine Gallery, what we go to every year. This time we took a rather circuitous four-stage route of trains and tubes to get there which took a while but allowed us to almost entirely miss out the stinky Central Line, and then walked through the park to the gallery via a LOT of parrots. It's always good to go and see the pavilion because it is not only a Unique and Interesting Installation, but it is also one guaranteed to have BEER on sale within it, and so we sat on a bench with a drink admiring this year's presentation, which is basically as SLATE ROOF without a building beneath it. It was DEAD GOOD.
We then went into the gallery to look at the Faith Ringgold exhibition, which was quite good but didn't move me as much as I wanted to. It was quite similar to the Victoria Crowe exhibition in this and one other way - I think I preferred the earlier stuff. You can put the indie kid in an art gallery, but you can't stop him being indie!
We then HIKED across London for about 50 minutes until we reached Trafalgar Square, where we we nipped into The National Portrait Gallery for a well deserved sandwich and another BEER. We were also there to make our usual visit to see the BP Portrait Awards, which has varied a LOT over time, with some years (like last year) being DEAD GOOD and others being a bit bland/disappointing/GLOOMY. This year's fell quite neatly into the bland category, with an awful lot of those pictures where you have to look in REALLY close to see it's a painting rather than a photograph. It's all very clever, but I don't see the point, especially when it's a perfect replica of a not very good photograph. Why not just put a frame around the photo? Having said that, The Eye Of My Beholder did like Eden (Protection) which looked AMAZING. I think I may also have been put off by the caption to Ninety Years which said that the subject's "facial expression and hands serve as a metaphor for her life." NO THEY DON'T. Faces and hands can be reflections, or expressions, or even the RESULT of a life, but they are not flipping metaphors!
There was to be MUCH more of this sort of stuff - "Art Bollocks" as we in the trade call it, don't you know - when we got to our final stop, but happily it was more than made up for by some BRILLIANT exhibits. For LO! we got on the tube again and headed to Regents Park for the Frieze Sculpture park, which was BLOODY GRATE. Our favourites included a replica of a toy car scaled up to actual car-size, some GIGANTIC numbers and, my favourite, "Superhero Cog Woman #1" by LR Vandy.
There were LOADS of GRATE sculptures which were being enjoyed by some very happy people out for a stroll around them. There was also some NONSENSE, including a sculpture that was described as circular "like the sun, the moon, the earth, the eye, the mother's breast, or the galaxy." I am PRETTY SURE that those last two are not actual circles, chaps.
Despite that it was a BRILLIANT way to end a THOROUGHLY enjoyable day wandering around drinking beer and looking at THE ART. I would highly recommend it, and can't wait for next year!
Rocking All Over The World (Surrey branch)
I had a lovely day yesterday, as I was in distant SURREY, doing some recording with Mr A Brook at The Brook Recording Studio. Andy used to have a studio on Denmark Street where, many years ago, I used to pop in at lunchtimes to record DEMOES, and since then I have taken every opportunity to visit his new place, notably recently with The Plinths. On this occasion however I was there to record my vocal and guitar bits for the HITS that The Validators recorded in Derby last month, and I was RIGHT looking forward to it!
I'd taken the day off work for the SESSION and spent a large part of my morning on TRANES. It took nearly two HOURS to get down to Wallington where Andy has his studio, including DELAYS, but when I got there I found he had already loaded up the STEMS what I had sent him the night before and he was SO READY TO ROCK that I barely had time to put my bag and guitar down before I was shepherded into the Vocal Booth. This is one of the SEVERAL reasons I like recording with Andy - he is SUPER KEEN to GET ON WITH IT, so we always get LOADS done!
Once in the vocal booth (i.e. cupboard) I was surprised to see a TELLY on the wall which acted as a VIDEO RELAY so I could see Andy at his desk and he, terrifyingly, could see ME! This is obviously useful when you're doing this sort of thing, but I must admit I have become used to the comforting SECRECY of doing vocals inside a cupboard where nobody can see you. When I'm doing The Vocals I have a tendency to wrap my arms and hands up in knots, pull faces, and DANCE AROUND, but I quickly realised that I am surely not the only person to do this, and that if you're a studio engineer you probably see a lot worse, so relaxed into my usual Ian Curtis/Strictly Come Dancing/Drunken Octupus CAVORTING.
Doing the LOT took about 90 minutes, with me generally doing one complete take straight through and then doing a second take with stops whenever I went wrong followed by PATCHING UP to get it sounding decent. It's another great thing about going and doing this in a studio with someone who is Very Patient - if I'd been on my own I would have done one take of each song and then RAN AWAY!
With that all done we moved onto THE GUITAR, which was HORRIBLE. I am not the world's greatest singer but at least I can BELLOW and call it some kind of STYLISTIC CHOICE, but my guitar playing is entirely irredeemable, and it sounds even WORSE when it is EXPOSED as the sole FOCUS of an activity. We did get everything done in the end but it was PAINFUL, especially when my inability to play the chord B minor reared its ugly head (as it so often does) and we ended up recording those bits as their own special overdubs. The only bright spots in the whole terrifying experience were when Andy assured me that the reason my guitar kept going out of time with the rest of the band was that THEY - not me, THEY - were going wonky. I must remember to get this down in writing next time I'm there.
The SCARIEST bit though came when I attempted to begin two entirely NEW recordings, of Cheer Up Love and It's Hard To Be Hopeful. My initial idea was just to DO them, with a click track to HELP THE OTHERS LATER, but instead I ended up trying to JUST do the guitar parts, which didn't work at all as I kept getting lost. Instead I recorded a GUIDE vocal and guitar first, which went ALL OVER THE PLACE on both occasions as I was thinking about approx 17 different things at the same time. We then did GUITAR for each, by which time my fingertips were in AGONY from all the playing, so by the time I FINALLY went back into the vocal both I was in A Bit Of A State, with heart RACING. Happily the singing was a nice way to CALM DOWN and feel better, and it sounded PRETTY DARN GOOD in the end.
With that done there was time to sit and have a bit of a natter while Andy sorted out the STEMS what we'd recorded ready for export. It turns out that he has been recording STATUS QUO, and that Francis Rossi, unsurprisingly, has a LOT of stories to tell!
With that done we shook hands and I set off for my train, full of JOY at how it had all gone, and it was only when I got to Norwood Junction that I realised I had left my flipping guitar behind in the studio! Even this hassle, which will probably involved EITHER meeting Andy in town sometime or heading back down to Wallington, did nothing to take the shine of things, as it had been a BRILLIANT day adding extra HIT-MATERIAL to a whole set of HITS!
All The World's A Comic
On Friday after work I went back to my old stomping ground of BLOOMSBURY to attend an event at The British Museum - or, as all the cool kids call it, "The BM". It was BRILLIANT being round that way again - I worked in Bloomsbury at Birkbeck College from 2003 to 2014, and then adjacent to it a couple of years later at UCL, and I flipping LOVED it. The whole area is full of MUSEUMS and INTERESTING PLACES and SHOPS both Chain and Non-Chain and mostly PUBS. Much as I love my current job the area around Kings Cross is nowhere NEAR as much fun!
One of my favourite things to do when I was at Birkbeck was to pop into the British Museum on my lunchbreak, just to go and see one Interesting Exhibit at a time. I would usually pop in via the back door, and did the same on Friday night, passing the Easter Island statue (i.e. Arthur in "Storm House") on the way. It was very WARM in the main building, but thankfully the talk I was going to was in the air-conditioned basement, where various staff members somehow knew EXACTLY what I was there for.
For LO! the talk was called "All The World's A Comic: Storytelling Through Pictures" and the audience contained a large proportion of The Usual Suspects. It was chaired by all-round legend Mr Paul Gravett and featured a talk by HIM and then from five EXPERTS from the museum, discussing items they looked after which related to narrative storytelling. I knew Paul Gravett's talk would be fun, but I was expecting the others to be a bit DRY and BORING, and possibly not much related to comics. In this expectation I was ENTIRELY WRONG however, as each of the experts were INCREDIBLY ENTHUSIASTIC and REALLY REALLY wanted to tell us about their items. They all had different styles too - some bombastic, some a bit cheeky, some just desperate to tell us why they found it all SO VERY EXCITING!
It didn't teach me a lot about comics, but it DID teach me a lot about ROCK PAINTING, the ancient Assyrians, Buddhism, and LOTS more. One of the amazing things about living in That London is that talks like this happen EVERY DAY, all over the city. If I wasn't worried that my BRANE would explode I would go to them all the time!
Financial Management Of ROCK
As well as being peerless pioners of ROCK ACTION, The Validators also have an enviable track record in revolutionising ROCK ADMIN. Our development of The Spreadsheet Of ROCK, for instance, has helped literally MILLIONS* of young bands successfully manage their time in recording studios, and our use of Good Practice in Procedureal Issues has been a major part of our dominance in the field of Being Good At Having Band Meetings (*I expect).
This trend is set to continue in the future, notably in the GRATE new idea for Physical Product which we shall be using for our forthcoming series of EPs, but also in terms of FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT. For LO! after years of having "the record company" (hem hem) paying for the recording and release of our Physical Products, we are now moving to a CO-OPERATIVE model whereby funds ACCRUED by said band are used to fund things. This change has come about entirely because of our ongoing desire to experiment and innovate, and definitely not because "the record company" works in the public sector and has basically had pay cuts for the past ten years!
This decision came at quite a good time for us, as we have recently done TWO gigs that actually PAID US MONEY, which we were able to put into a notional FUND to pay for other stuff. This was all very jolly when money was just coming IN, but gets a bit more complex when it starts to go OUT for things like rehearsals and recording sessions, so over the past few days I have been in correspondence with our Financial Director Mr T "The Tiger" MacClure, to find ways to formalise our processes.
(if you're wondering wht Tom is our Financial Director, it's because he is REALLY GOOD at Going And Asking For The Money after gigs, and has even on occasion come back with MORE money than expected. Various previous Financial Directors have often come back looking SHEEPISH having got too embarrassed to bring the subject up)
All this led to us setting up our own BAND PayPal account (Tim's idea!) where money can both be deposited and sent out from, enabling individual band members to PAY for stuff and then claim the money back, and also for us ALL to see what we've got left. EXCITINGLY we also now have one of them Google Spreadsheets which shows what we've spent AND ALSO what we still need to spend.
This last bit of PLANNING has been, genuinely, QUITE EXCITING, as it shows HOW we can do our next batch of releases and, by extension, affirms that we WILL! As mentioned previously, we're hoping to put out at least three EPs of new material, with the first coming later this year, and seeing it all written down like this is rather LOVELY as it makes it all look highly do-able. The next ACTION POINT, once the financial plan has been discussed, amended, and agreed by the entire BOARD... sorry, BAND, will be to get on with some more recording. I'm booked in to do my bits next week, and I can't WAIT - nothing says ROCK AND FLIPPING ROLL like a properly budgeted recording session!