Tuesday 26 July 2016

We Don't Eat Family

This is not the blog I had intended to write. I assumed that the next blog I came out with would be a thinly disguised advert for my book (Weekend Rockstars by Dave Holwill – available from amazon  very soon indeed (and aren't you sad you're not about to read 1500 words of me justifying that decision), a must-read for anyone who has ever played in a covers/functions band, or likes jokes, or books, or is paranoid that I have written them into a book – ok, not that thinly disguised was it?)

Buy my book you bastards

Since I last posted, the entire fucking world has gone completely insane – but I'm ignoring that. I've been off work for a week and a half now, and thus I am ignoring the news and forgetting all the things that supposedly matter out in the real world. It's nice.

Anyway, I haven't written anything in a while, as I have been tickling my novel (you remember the novel right? The reason I started this blog?) into publishable shape at last (top writing tip this year, don't do a course in grammar and proof-reading at the same time as putting the finishing touches to a book that you think you've already finished – you will end up dicking around with commas, n-rules and semi-colons forever – and don't start me on oxford commas).

This is not even the blog about pets that I was expecting to write next, having not written any rib-ticklingly amusing tales from Hatherleigh zoo for a bit either, I assumed that the next tale of my accumulation of pets I did not ask for would be about Richard Parker, our most recent Kitten acquisition. But – the events of the last week have changed all that and turned our lives and house upside down.

Tiny Kitten doesn't get her own blog yet

A week ago, I was dancing around outside the Tempest on Brighton beach, having a lovely time and hoping the cats were ok at home. We saw a couple of dogs playing on the beach while we were there, and idly thought about having a look for one when we got back. I remembered my last attempt to get a rescue dog, when a very snotty woman told me that as we had full time jobs we could not look after a dog. Even though I came back every lunchtime anyway, and – at the time – the kids were back from school by 4 o'clock so the dog would never be on its own for longer than a couple of hours. Apparently, teenagers don't count as company for a dog. I must apologise to all the people whose dogs I looked after when I was fifteen your dogs had substandard (and clearly illegal) care.

So when we rang Dartmoor View Dog Rescue on Wednesday afternoon, I did not have particularly high hopes for getting a dog, and certainly not at any time soon. We had already rung the blue cross in Tiverton, who told us we had to look at the website – and that not all the dogs on the website were in Tiverton, or even the South-West – and that the adoption process was far too complicated – and they seemed surprised that we were using something as antiquated as a phone to ask about dogs. All we wanted to do was go to a kennels, look at the dogs and say 'oooh! I want that one!' but apparently you can't do that anymore you have to go on plentyofdogs.com instead:-

Hi, my name is Rover, I like long walks, tennis balls, and having my nipples rubbed - click like on my profile to see my 'special' photos for 'special' friends.

Hi Rover, I'm Dave, I'm looking for a new best friend, do you moult much? Do you chase sheep? Can you put up with cats and heavy metal music?

I'm not sure Dave, can you put up with a wet nose shoved inappropriately up your dressing gown every morning, warm piss on your favourite cushion and the odd poo in your flip-flop?

*turns off laptop, walks away*

But ring Dartmoor View Dog Rescue we did (they also don't have a 'showroom' as such) and they told us they only had one dog at the moment. An Alaskan Malamute:

'What the hell is an Alaskan Malamute?' we said;

'It's like a Husky,' they said;

'Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, can I have it, can I have it, can I have it?' I said.

Luckily, Netty was on the phone, not me, so she enquired about it more sensibly. They told us that Sky (for that is the name of the Doggy in question) would come and visit us at the weekend. I may have become over-excited and passed out at that point.

So I spent Saturday rebuilding the fence that came down (it wasn't meant to, but my nephews came over, and we – ok, mostly me  all got a bit overexcited shaking it around) when I had my studio rebuilt at the end of the garden and then I even painted it (really badly, I call it post-apocalyptic grey/green). We got the call saying that she was coming at midday on Sunday. Given the way things seem to be going, we assumed that there would be a visit, and then they would take her away again (if she even came with them on the first house check) and do loads of checks and suchlike, and then a few more visits before we might, possibly, maybe get to keep her. I went to sleep on Saturday night filled with anticipation and worry – it was a bit like just after we had moved to Devon, and my mum kept arranging for me to meet new kids (I was only five, ok? It's normal). The feeling that you might meet your new best friend the next day was one I had forgotten entirely, and was not entirely welcome back. What if she didn't like me? What if I didn't like her? What if she voted tory? Or looked around to check there weren't any BAME people around before telling a joke?

Sunday morning began with a show of solidarity from the pets. Our most recent acquisition, Gauguin (a big wonky-eared Rabbit), had kicked his way out of the cage. We assumed that the Cats would have ripped him to shreds, but no, we found Richard Parker (a female cat, but I'd got used to calling her that by the time we figured it out, so she identifies as male, though likes female pronouns – it's complicated) playing under the outdoor tables with him. While George Orwell, Kahlo and Duchamp watched relatively disinterestedly from the benches. They had followed the cardinal house rule – we don't eat family. I didn't think the cats had ever listened to that, but apparently they have been paying attention.

Stupid Rabbit leads a charmed life it seems

And then the lovely man from Dartmoor View Dog Rescue turned up. He looked at the garden, went through a load of paperwork, talked to us about rehoming dogs – I began to worry that maybe my new best friend had decided to stand me up, and wasn't even coming today – and then he asked if we would like to meet her now. Of course we did, and out of the van she came, huge, fluffy and beautiful. She sat in the garden with us, and within minutes we had a carpet of white fur underfoot, this is a moulty dog. I didn't care about the fur. Richard Parker looked down at her from the shelf in the summerhouse and gave a hiss or two. Sky backed off. We took Sky inside, where Duchamp hissed at her from the sofa. Sky backed off. So far so good – we don't eat family. Though George Orwell and Kahlo had legged it in case nobody had told Sky that yet.

I think I managed to keep my cool when we met – she couldn't tell if I was happy or not

We talked some more, leaving Sky to obsessively watch the now-a-little-less-likely-to-kick-his-way-out-of-the-cage Gauguin and Picasso (Gauguin's Guinea Pig friend), and after an hour or so of Ian from Dartmoor View Dog Rescue listening to me go on about all the dogs I have had, and looking at pictures of Rizla, Rambo, Max, Bertie, Jess, Sandy and all the other dogs I have been lucky enough to be associated with over the years, he said she could stay. Just like that, no more visits, no trouble, just sign a bit of paper, donate some money to the Dog Rescue charity, and thank you very much.

I wasn't really expecting that, I had plans for this week, not just trying to tame a wolf that has never really been trained and barely knows her own name.

I can change my plans.

I would not give into any howling dogs in the middle of the night like I did with Rambo and Rizla.

Somehow I woke up on the sofa at 5am on monday morning with 4 cats using me as a barricade against the massive, snoring dog – who started howling again as soon as I snuck upstairs to bed.

Currently, Richard Parker spends her time trying to ride Sky like a horse (she copes with this very well) George Orwell is impressing upon her the importance of remembering that he is in charge (he is currently leaving a little poo in every spot in the garden that Sky has had a wee) while Kahlo is in shock that I can have done this to her, refusing to come in the house (she once did this for 2 weeks over a squeaky catflap, she'll be fine the fluffy diva) and Duchamp – in his new, badass top-cat role – is giving exactly no fucks, and hissing the dog out of his way whenever he needs to.

So far Sky is stubborn, unwieldy, a little out of shape and prone to outbursts of unexpected malice-free excitement, she'll fit in just fine round here and we don't eat family.

Too stupid to ever be allowed off the lead

Saturday 25 June 2016

I came home angry and drunk and wrote a thing about Brexit (sorry for saying Brexit)

Vimes had once discussed the Ephebian idea of ‘democracy’ with Carrot, and had been rather interested in the idea that everyone had a vote until he found out that while he, Vimes, would have a vote, there was no way in the rules that anyone could prevent Nobby Nobbs from having one as well. Vimes could see the flaw there straight away.” 

Terry Pratchett,The Fifth Elephant

If you are a fan of the Discworld novels, then this quote will probably come to mind every time you go to vote in an election. It certainly rattled round my head a lot on Thursday and Friday during the referendum. However much I disagree with the Leave campaign, they have won, and I have to find a way to make a positive out of that. It has been a bitter, divisive and awful campaign that has torn apart friends and families; I know of at least 4 people who have unfriended each other on facebook (oh my god! The horror!) and will probably never talk to each other again.

Of course, the low point of all this was the assassination of Jo Cox. However anybody tries to spin it, this was an act of political terrorism, just because Tommy Mair wasn't part of any formal organisation, he claimed allegiance to the leave campaign and called Mrs Cox a traitor. That makes him as much a terrorist as Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter. And yet still, even after this awfulness, people were calling anybody wanting to vote remain a traitor (including the guy I had this infamous argument with once), while those on the other side were calling anyone wanting to leave, for whatever reason, racists and fascists and bigots. I am just glad it's all over now, and I hope we can heal the fractures running through society.

Even the Leave campaign didn't expect to win. I realise that that sounds insane, but it is the only thing that makes sense. Farage came out apologetically, and all those Tory MPs wrote that letter saying they wanted Cameron to stay. He didn't and their bet was safe anyway. I have spent the day trying to come to terms with the result. I can live with the leave vote, I can accept that we will leave the EU. I have a problem with what happens next.

My problem is that nothing will change. My problem is that the angry people who have voted against the unequal, fucking dreadful status quo have been lied to, and short changed. My problem is that the people who woke up this morning happy that their children's future was brighter and better, and filled with a well funded NHS, houses for all, and jobs with living wages for anyone willing to put in a day's graft will be thoroughly disappointed. I was told that 'no fucking Europeans' would be telling us what to do now, despite the fact that, as far as I am aware, none were anyway. And then when I suggested that the bastards would always win, that 'at least they were our bastards'. Hoorah for the brits, yay Jingoism. What the fuck does it matter where a cunt comes from, he is still a cunt. I meant Rupert Murdoch when I mentioned the bastards anyway, and he's definitely not one of 'ours', whatever 'ours' means.

I have never wanted to be wrong more in my life, and I would like you to send me this piece in five years time and tell me how wrong I was, and that Brexit (which is not a biscuit) was the best thing ever to happen in the history of England. (For surely, the United Kingdom is now utterly fucked, Scotland will get their second referendum, they will leave, and wonderfully, the IRA seem to be making vague mutterings about a United Ireland again, I can only apologise to Wales for dragging them down with us, but we are England again, have no doubt about that. I hope the woman shouting 'this is our England!' on the news is happy now.)

The call for a second referendum is utterly futile as well. I laughed when Nigel Farage suggested that in the event of a 52/48 split against him then he would push for another referendum. It would be utterly disingenuous of me to suggest that it's ok for my side to do it.

I have heard from left-leaning friends of mine how they see our new, bright future, and I love what my friend Steve Carter said :-

On a deep level, the universe is about change and in change lies potential; potential for good or bad but change is what we have chosen and we now have a real and palpable opportunity for change. I think this is the first step in a long process of seeing good change to our democracy. We have just said no to unelected bodies that govern us so I now see the writing on the wall for the Lords in it's current form - that has to change but it will take time. We also remove the umph of the UK flag wavers - of course, the Scottish will be flag waving. I expect the forces within the Labour party to mobilise a real offence on the Tories but fear they may end up back stabbing internally for a while. We are now blessed with a global communication system and a much more liberal social outlook. People are conscious of the environment and our place within a global society so I do not see a swing to the right. I think we will see a knee jerk to the left and I hope we have a GE soon. However maybe we need some stability for the next couple of years. We have laws in place for rights and the environment and I see nothing changing any time soon in that regard. It is up to us to write to our MPs, go demonstrating and make our voices heard. Only apathy we lead us to nothing positive and there are 48% who have woken up fuming today so hopefully they will be vocal. Today is a good day for democracy. The EU, for all it's good points, is far from a shining light for democracy.”

and if we were exiting under a different administration, I might have his hope, I certainly don't disagree with him fundamentally, but I'm a pragmatist and we have done this under a government who are a fair bit right of Thatcher. I don't think we're doing Progrexit.

I am also once again proper cross with the BBC. I am certain that there are decent, well-educated, sensible people voting leave. The statistics bear that out if nothing else. But all the coverage shows angry people shouting 'immigrants' and waving flags with no coherent argument to back them up. Equally, there must be incoherent fuckwits voting remain, but the media's 'story' is only showing the middle class, lentil weaving graduates arguing some philosophical point or another. Never before have I felt so much like we were being deliberately manipulated in a 'divide and rule' kind of way. Fuck your story, this is real life, don't pit whole communities against each other. Now, more than ever, we need to be united in our intent. Angry sink estates need to work with the intellectual wankers (I have never felt more like an overgrown Adrian Mole in my life than writing this paragraph) and overcome your prejudice. Inequality is everyone's problem, and somebody somewhere is using it to keep us distracted and fighting each other when we should be having a proper fucking revolution.

I am no expert, and I am still fairly sure that sovereignty is an abstract concept unless you want to be in North Korea or Russia, but I can't see how it makes any difference in the real world. It's not often I agree with Alastair Campbell, but when he says that we elect other people to understand the complicated stuff and make decisions for us, I think he's right. I don't pretend to know how to write a budget, or run a government department anymore than Tony Blair could write a really funny song about a cat leaving headless bodies all over the house, or some lengthy pointless bollocks about looking at naked pictures of Prince. Referendums are largely a bad idea.

Nobody is actually going to stop immigration. We need it to keep the country going. Wages are not going to go up even if all the immigrant labour goes back home tomorrow. Austerity will carry on, rich wankers will continue to own more property than they can live in and homes will continue to be for profit, not living in. Look at all the big empty towers of London. Company profits will continue to go towards dividends while the people doing the work are told they can't be paid more because of the Romanians willing to do it for less. Outside of the EU, or inside the EU, the people in charge are the same people, and there are less other people watching them now. It will be bitter to watch the same people still suffering even when the cheap foreign labour has been deported, after they have been given false hope today, and I will take no joy in telling them I told them so (I will still tell them I told you so though).

You have been sold a scapegoat, it will take you years to realise it, and I hope to god that I am wrong and you get to tell me to my face. Capitalism is your enemy, and a lack of investment. EU regulations do not stop nationalisation, which would solve a huge amount of problems in at least a couple of industries. Thatcher sold us all a lie along the lines of the 'american dream', Blair and Cameron have run with it, and now we are all accepting of the Capitalist nightmare, and that the laws of economics are the same as the laws of physics. When the blinkers come off, I will be at the barricades with you, and I will stay your hand at the guillotine. I would like a truly bloodless revolution, (the less said about Farage's tasteless bullet comments the better) and a truly fairer society.

As an anarchist, and no respecter of borders, laws or conventions, today should have been water off a duck's back to me. But I do not like to see people duped, and I do not like to think of where they will throw the blame in five years time when things are no better for them. Also, I have ducks, and they hate the fucking rain like everybody else. Like Jo Cox (who I knew little about before her assassination, and cried over for a whole day) said “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” Just like me and my ducks.
 Don't listen to the bullshit, look with your eyes.

Sunday 19 June 2016

Stand up, say it loud, I'm a terrible dancer and I'm proud

This year began with the unexpected death of my beloved dog, Rizla. David Bowie died the next day and cemented the theme for the rest of the year. Sitting drinking scrumpy alone in the rain on my thirty ninth birthday this week really brought the full awfulness of 2016 in general (not personally, I'm ok, things are good, don't worry) home to me. Never in my life have I spent as much time crying over people I have never met (and in the most recent and dreadful instance, barely knew anything about, but I have never felt so sad and powerless as I did on Thursday night after hearing about the needless murder of Jo Cox. All day Friday – and I apologise for the slightly clichéd simile here - I felt like there was a grey mist about me that would never lift.) as I have done this year.

I have to confess, when I'm on holiday, I consciously avoid the news. I even avoid social media, since a quick facebook scroll is no longer uplifting and life-affirming, it is utterly dreadful and leaves me even more depressed. I realise this is supposedly childish, but children tend to be happy, unless given a reason not to be (I am aware just how ridiculous some of those reasons can be). And this week, if you want a reason not to be, then watch the news. I'm not going to go into all this week's awful here, but I'd be surprised if you hadn't noticed it.

Of course, very quickly after being a child, you become a teenager, and then you are presented with a million new reasons not to be happy, most of which revolve around what other people think of you, none of which actually matter. Unfortunately, you won't realise this for another twenty years or so, and there will be a surprising amount of people who are still hung up on it when you get there.

At the moment, like everybody else, I am devoting much more time than I would like to trying to work out if I actually give a shit if we are part of the European Union or not (spoilers, I do care, but I am not telling anybody which side I am on, in case I have to argue about it, which is now officially the thing I am most bored of in the world). I was talking to someone the other day – who shall remain nameless, I am not interested in petty point scoring – who told me that people don't understand the EU thing. I agreed, and then they explained to me that people thought we were voting to leave Europe, but we were only voting to leave the EU. As if we could hack away at a tectonic plate and float ourselves off on a wave of magma were it a different vote. This is just one reason among many that I have stopped arguing about the EU. This same person was also asking if I was as right wing as they felt, as I stood there with my Jesus-features, in my eco-friendly sandals, recycled brazilian tarpaulin hat and army surplus coat, ordering the vegetarian option and the locally produced organic cider.

But this is not about the EU. This is about getting older, and not giving a shit anymore. Which I don't think I do, in or out, we are still all being fucked over by global corporations and having to be grateful that they pay us just a bit less than it takes to live on. But again, this is not about the EU, apologies for the brief tangent.

Those teenage hangups will always haunt us. Being laughed at for whatever reason sticks with you. I touched on it briefly in my last blog about music snobbery, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. I love to dance, I think secretly everybody loves to dance, and that awful maxim 'dance like no-one's watching' only goes so far. Somebody is always watching, even if it's just you. And you are the meanest, snarkiest critic you will ever have. So no, don't dance like no-one's watching, dance like everyone is looking at you and you don't give a shit. I have been recently, and it's been brilliant. I worry about writing anything too positive in case some wanker writes it in quotes on a picture of a sunset, but I'm willing to take the risk this time.

For bank holiday weekend, me and Netty went to Brighton, and danced ourselves stupid at the Fortune of War on the seafront. They were playing Prince, Prince related songs, and possibly some other dirty funk that wasn't Prince, but I think it was all Prince, right on the beach and righteously funky. It reminded me that back when I was at school, I loved Prince, I had seen the cover of Lovesexy and thought that Prince might be the coolest person I had ever seen. I saw him writhing all over the stage in Purple Rain, and was as jealous as a teenage boy can be of his trousers, his devil-may-care-telecaster-across-the-back-on-a-motorbike attitude and everything about him.

However, I was worried that I would be called gay.

I know, but it was a different time, and I am also aware that I was most worried at the reactions from the school rugby team, who I played second row for - a role which requires you to fondle the testicles of the man in front while sticking your head between two bottoms. Yet I was worried that my love of Prince would make them think I was gay.

To clarify, I am not gay, I have checked, and I don't fancy men. I don't even fancy Prince (though I think I could be forgiven for that one if I did). In the same way as other, more stereotypical teenage boys saw James Bond movies and wanted to wear a tux, shoot guns and drive Aston Martins, I saw Prince and wanted to lie about naked looking this fuck-off-cool -

- or wear womens underwear and wank off a telecaster neck.

I know that this does not make me gay, and I also know now that I wouldn't care, and it wouldn't make any difference to me if it did, I am mistaken for a homosexual so often now I have stopped bothering to deny it.

I am not sure which makes me sadder now, the fact that I denied myself so much awesome music in case I was accused of being gay, or the fact that I thought being gay such a bad thing to be accused of. I'd like to think that in these more enlightened times, kids at school are out and proud, and when accused of being gay they answer in the same way as you would when asked where you live, what's your name, what's your sign etc. etc. I realise that we are not there yet, but surely it can't be much longer now before we stop using Gay as a casual insult forever. Homophobia and Misogyny are so rife in our culture at the moment that it can even affect (albeit in a tiny, ultimately trivial way) that great bastion of Great Britain, a public school educated straight white male like myself. It is this ingrained fear of being gay that (possibly, if early reports are to be believed) were the actual root cause of the terrible and heartbreaking scenes in Orlando last week (YMMV IMHO and so on).

After the Fortune of War, we went on to Legends, a marvellous gay club on Brighton seafront. I went down to the cellar dancefloor, and got my funky thing on. A lovely man offered to 'shiver me timbers' for me (we were dressed full pirate, which turned out to be a good idea, as we were invited in to all the clubs along the seafront for nothing, ahead of the massive queues ahead of us, and with the prospect of free cocktails inside. Two middle-aged pirates dancing all the way along the beach, ahead of a long line of young, conventionally-beautiful people who had to pay. There's a lesson for you if you like free drinks.) and instead of offering a horrified 'I'm straight! I'm straight!' - whatever that means - I merely smiled and told him I was married. Thankfully we now live in a country where I can tell anybody I like that I am married without revealing my sexuality. He probably figured out that I was married to the other Pirate who was right behind me, and a woman, but hey, baby steps, and I am a product of a society that made me afraid to admit I liked a popular black American singer because he was naked on the front of his record.

Anyway, Prince makes me think I can dance like this

Seriously, don't start me on my Michael Jackson Fanboi hangups either

When I actually dance like this

thanks to my friend Marcus for catching us dancing in the square to the marvellous Anthem playing Bon Jovi last weekend. I accept that I (like most musicians who aren't Prince) am a terrible dancer, but I am enjoying myself, and you can all fuck off. In my head I believe I look like Louis the 14th in Versailles (if you're watching) when in fact, I look like the old grey grizzled buggers in it instead, and am rapidly approaching full-Gandalf.

Nobody on their death bed regrets not spending enough time sat at the side of the dance floor making snarky comments about the people out there having a better time than they are, so get on up, get on the good foot, and do the bad thing while you still can. Stand up, say it loud, I'm a terrible dancer and I'm proud.

Thursday 19 May 2016

Has Music Snobbery Ruined Your Life?

Twice a year, the internet erupts with 'serious' music fans denouncing what they are watching on the television. The Brit Awards, and the Eurovision song contest. Personally, I like both of them, as I am not 15 anymore and have finally gotten over myself.

The problem with being a teenager (which I have not been for nearly 20 years now) is the crippling self-doubt and desperate desire to be accepted on whatever terms you have chosen. I was never one to try to fit in, but, ironically, in deliberately not fitting in I then had to ensure I lived up to those conditions that I had set for myself. If that makes sense.

This problem is never more evident than when it comes to one's musical preferences. Even now, upon hearing a song that I really really like, my first instinct is to check who it is by, and which genre they fit into, and whether I am allowed to like it or not (in case some cooler kids in the playground laugh at me for my Kajagoogoo pencil case again*). Which is a bit rich coming from somebody who proudly owns records by Barry Manilow, Rupert Holmes and Cliff Richard. This came to a head recently in the Totnes branch of Oxfam when I heard this song:-

Holy shitballs, that is really Abba, and really awesome

I loved it, and asked the nice man behind the counter who it was, as I don't have shazam, or understand how it works and I suspect that the signal in Totnes is not strong enough for such a thing to work. Imagine my mortification when he told me it was Abba, the most ridiculed of all bands (by me, I hasten to add). The poppiest of the poppy, the one that all the mums have been dancing around their handbags to since the 70s, the most despicably accessible music ever recorded – my sister likes them for god's sake! How dare it be catchy and enjoyable for everyone (joyless bollock-wranglers like myself excluded of course).

When I started listening to Heavy Metal in the late 80s, I had to pretend that I had never liked Bros, Baltimora, Big Fun and Brother Beyond, a few years later when I discovered Punk music I denied my love of Poison, Mötley Crüe, Skid Row and Whitesnake (and never mind when I had to move on to Lard, The Descendents, Sub-Humans and ever more niche and obscure punk, dismissing the Sex Pistols as 'lightweight'). When, in 1996, I heard a catchy new song called 'Wannabe', and spent a good week jigging about to it on the production line I was working on, I found myself mortified to discover it was by a band aimed at pre-teen girls. I shouldn't have been really, it's a fucking great song.

Because fuck you, I like it

But I am still second-guessing myself, I recently saw this performance on Jools Holland, and loved it so much that I immediately ordered the album.

I wasn't sure if I liked it or hated it on first watching, always a good sign

and in the original french, for those of us who like that sort of thing

While waiting for it I listened to the original french language version of it on youtube for 5 days straight. I've always liked foreign language music (including opera) possibly because I never really listened to lyrics anyway. Not understanding what the words mean leaves you free to enjoy the music more, rather than trying to work out what the words are, and what they might be about. My lack of attention to lyrics led the twelve year old me to believe that Pink Floyd's The Wall was a tale of a country freeing itself from a tyrannical fascist regime, until the film made me see it as the self-indulgent Roger Waters wankfest it really is. Doesn't stop the songs being great; it just means the concept is, as I have already said, a self-indulgent wankfest. This could all be why my own songs have now been stripped of any deeper meaning and are now the equivalent of Paul McCartney's famous Scrambled Eggs (I prefer that version).

shameless plug once again, sorry

Since my copy of Chaleur Humaine by Christine and the Queens has turned up, I have been listening to it over and over and over again, like I haven't done for ages with any record. I can fondly recall other records that got this treatment, in 1991 I listened to Anarchy in the UK pretty much every morning; Summer 1993 was punctuated by Creedence Clearwater Revival's Pagan Baby in a similar way; A perfectly happy relationship of nearly 3 years broke up in 1996 because I couldn't stop listening to Steve Miller's The Joker, and in its miserable aftermath I found almost never-ending solace in Hey Jealousy by the Gin Blossoms on a perpetual loop. (You will notice that none of this is particularly music snobbish, but the White Noise's first album got similar treatment at one point, and I listened to a lot of Grateful Dead after that breakup.) However, in my thirties I have not felt the need to play the same song over and over again. At least not until I heard this: which I am. I am slightly unnerved that I have not heard it on 6 music once. Which means it is either on Radio 1 or 2 (I wouldn't know) - which puts it into the wrong bracket for the personality I have been desperately trying to project since I was 12 – or it is not on any radio station, in which case it is obscure french pop music that nobody else is listening to, and my teenage self approves.

Seriously, if you're going to be a depressed teenager in the 90s, listen to this song every day

I know, but just listen to this, ok? It's really good

It is this kind of obsessive reasoning that can really stop you just being happy if you are, by your very nature, a music snob. Which I have been accused of enough times to know I probably am. Although I'm not really, if I'm honest. I like Justin Bieber's new music, I think a lot of Lady Gaga's stuff is absolutely sublime. I like Kesha, and most of my favourite songs are from Sesame Street. I am a long way from cool, and I don't know why my subconscious still worries if my music taste is reflecting the right image. Somewhere inside is a thirteen year old kid who is coping with being laughed at for being a bit weird by stretching that weirdness as far as he can – colouring his hair in with marker pens and wearing lime green (with gold pinstripes no less) charity shop suits while listening to krautrock and the Residents. If I could tell him one thing it would be that it is ok to like the Residents and Tiffany at the same time.

Tiffany's first (and as far as i am aware, only) album is one of the only cassettes I didn't throw away when I moved house 3 years ago, and I only kept about 10 out of something like 500. I am on my third copy having worn the other two out.

I still don't understand people who don't like the Residents

My fear of pop music was finally exorcised when I was playing in a show band that all enthused over Justin Timberlake, Destiny's Child and En Vogue. All acts I had been treating with disdain in my official position as an alternative, punky, gothy rock type. All great songs (which I already knew in my head) and all great fun to play. Around the same time I caved in and watched Eurovision after refusing to for years. Like a lot of people I know, I had sneered at it for not being worthy, not real music. As I watched these happy people dancing around the stage in sheer abandonment (many of them in their native tongues, bringing back my love of unintelligible lyrics) I realised that that's the point of Eurovision (and Pop music's raison d'etre) it isn't trying to change the world. It's a bit of fun, a small ray of joy in a world filled with awful, a way to bring a continent of disparate people together in mutual vitriol over the pretentious and dreadful, and wild joy over the utterly batshit insane. My only regret is that it took me so long to get over myself, stop pretending to like REO Speedwagon 'ironically' and just sing along with Can't Fight This Feeling with the car windows wound down and tears streaming from my eyes (which, deep down, we all want to do).

There are two types of people in this world, those who admit they love the speedwagon, and liars.

*disclaimer – I never actually had a kajagooo pencil case, I got laughed at for a Bon Jovi cassette, but that makes me sound a lot cooler than I was/am.

Monday 2 May 2016

I've Been Out Walking – I Don't Do Too Much Walking These Days

A man in a pub - who had just had this blog recommended to him by a friend of mine - asked me what it's about. I would like to say that I replied with 'about 3000 words a couple of years ago, but I can generally pull it in at about 1000 these days, if I don't go off on a stupid tangent about people I spoke to in the pub,' rather than shrugging, taking a slurp of my pint, muttering, 'I dunno, cats? Pop culture stuff? Inappropriate over-sharing of my personal life?' and wandering out for a cigarette I didn't really want as I hadn't yet hit that magic third pint where I stop being a miserable misanthropic twat and become the witty raconteur you know and love.

Sadly, this lack of an overarching theme is continued in this latest instalment, which was already mapped out in my mind way back on Thursday night, and would have been written and perfect by lunchtime on Friday, if it weren't for two minor problems. I am a slave to my circadian rhythm (my favourite Grace Jones B side) and modern working hours conventions. Inspiration generally hits me just as I am going to bed, or as I am walking to work in the morning. Sadly, I am not in the position to be able to sit up all night writing whenever the muse hits, as I have to work for a living, which is why I can't then sit and write it all up in the day time either. Like most people, I have to remember it all in the evening, when I'm knackered and have forgotten almost all of it. I am writing this on a Sunday, it's been nearly three days since I came up with the original theme for this piece, and I've mostly been drinking in the intervening time (I was out dancing til 2 in the morning last night, like I haven't done for over ten years. Netty has finally relented her ban on my dancing where other people can see me).

Walking has been my favourite source of inspiration for as long as I can remember, and I don't do as much as I used to. Writers are always told to keep a notebook on them at all times, to write stuff down as it strikes, which is all very well, but can any other writers please tell me how they manage not to lose their fucking pen every time they step out of the front door? I now use a notebook app on my phone, which is slightly more reliable, though prone to run out of battery, and autocorrect leaves much of it as incomprehensible as my Doctor-worthy handwriting is. My walking these days is mostly confined to walking in and out of work four times a day along a road with no pavements. Trying to type in a note as the rain lashes down on my screen while jumping into a hedge to avoid being crushed by a tractor brings home the terrifyingly brutal nature of being a 21st century rural not-quite-writer (but is more legible than my wet, inky handwriting on papier mache would be in similar circumstances). If there is one thing I miss about living in a town it is pavements.

This is the view from next to my house, I have been walking past it four times a day, every day for the last three years, and I still never fail to stop and be impressed by it, these sheep think I am their King, or that I have food, I am not sure which. This is not the best angle and the view normally looks better than this, it is the best picture of the sheep though, and I felt that was more important, despite the text making the opposite plainly true.

Dartmoor is always in view in my bit of Devon (a fact I usually celebrate by muttering 'Hello Dartmoor you magnificent big green bastard' as it hoves into view on the horizon as I drive home) so the wife and I have been doing some walking on it recently. I downloaded an app to help us. Technology is brilliant, and to those who say I should just use a map and compass, I say to you that in order to navigate by map and compass you need to know where you are in the first place, and I'm not so good at that. To the smug, outdoorsy people who say to me 'well, what did you do before you had a smartphone then?' I am forced to reply, 'I got lost, all the time, it was shit, I have a smartphone now, it is better, now fuck off.' I have a similar argument prepared for my excessive use of satnav in the car.

Walking on the moor (which we are doing a lot of at the moment because Netty is doing a charity walk in the middle of the night with my mother next weekend please sponsor her here, thanks) is proving rather more emotional for us than we expected. I've always been deeply suspicious of people who go out for walks and don't own a dog, and it does feel particularly odd being one of them. In case you are new here, or you didn't know, my beloved dog Rizla had a massive heart attack and died in my arms the day before David Bowie died in January. Much as 2016's death roll-call has been taking its toll, this is still the one I have most trouble getting over. I have tried and failed to write about it lots of times since, but ended up changing the subject (like I did here) or turning off the computer and doing something else instead. With unnerving prescience I managed to write the best tribute to her three months before she died and haven't been able to top it since.

Man and Dog, out walking, as it is supposed to be, Rizla's long-suffering look is not coincidence, I had been trying out jokes on her all morning by this point

The thing I have found intriguing is the immediacy with which people will say to me 'are you going to get another dog?' And while I accept that this is standard when someone loses a pet, I am forced to question it. If, god forbid, my wife were to die, would your first question be 'are you thinking of getting married again?' if one of the kids died would you ask me 'are you thinking of getting some more kids then?' I suppose you might, but you probably wouldn't, right? Last time I was without a dog I ummed and ahhed about getting another one until some friends of mine told me they had free puppies and offered me one (and Netty insisted, see here for more details). Another friend in the pub last night (while I was still in the heady daze that only comes with a solid fusion of scrumpy and James Brown) gave me a similar story, and I may have once again been talked into getting a puppy. However, neither he nor I are sure if the puppies will even exist yet, so nothing is set in stone.

The cats do try and fill the big dog-shaped hole in my life. Duchamp regularly takes a massive dump on the living room floor, Bitey insists on coming for walks with me, and George Orwell stretches out over the entire sofa revelling in his spectacular flatulence. I didn't realise quite the extent to which Rizla was keeping them all in check until spring burst forth recently. The glorious spectacle of life bursting out in all the hedgerows and moorland by my house is transformed into a macabre carnival of death and horror. Every morning, without fail, I have to scrub the blood off the walls, pick up the carefully arranged intestines (I'm sure they spelled out 'you're next' this morning), hoover up the feathers and try to locate any survivors for relocation to somewhere far away - where doubtless some other evil murderous feline will finish the job, but I will feel better about it. I always thought the dog was being a dick when she used to bark at the cats and send them straight back out of the catflap again. I suspect it was just because she had magic dog ears and could hear the terrified cheeping and squeaking of the victims they were carrying. So far this year we have had rabbits, moles, all types of bird, and most impressively, a squirrel. I am still convinced that there will be a sheep one day, or even a cow, if they can get it through the catflap. It's not their fault, they don't realise that my gift preference is for French Disco records, not corpses.

Yes, we took a photo of Bitey with the squirrel, (it was far too late to save it at this point) at least it still had it's head on, George Orwell and she both have two bells on their collars now, short of attaching one of those supersonically-high-pitched electronic rodent repellers to them, or some kind of siren, I am at a loss as to how to stop the murder. And yes, I am old enough to rock those slippers now.

The reality of all pet ownership is spending hours of your life elbow deep in offal, vomit and faeces, but for some reason we keep doing it. Today I realised the extent of the dog-shaped hole in my life, as I had to force myself to walk away from a hamster in a pet shop that I had formed an unshakeable bond with. He was ginger, and trying ever-so-slightly too hard to get on with me, and I had already called him Ron Weasley and planned our long and exciting friendship before I realised he was a hamster, and I live in a house filled with evil, plotting murderous bastards who need to be stopped (they already tear baby rabbits limb from limb in front of our guinea pigs and rabbits, in some kind of 'look what we're going to do to you if we get in there' display of power). The only way to do that is probably to get another dog, let's hope my friend's puppies are real, and not a funk and cider inspired hallucination.

Thursday 14 April 2016

The Millenial Generation Has No Imagination

Q: When can a new, exciting, dangerous art movement be said to have truly lost its edge?

A: When a group of middle-aged, middle class people holding umbrellas are dragging their children around Bristol on a guided walk of it by a wildly enthusiastic, fiftyish (sorry if you are reading this and younger than that, I assume a lifetime of the lifestyle has taken its toll) chap in a sensible lightweight waterproof jacket.

That's me on the far left, don't let my feigned cynicism put you off, it's a really interesting walk

This was my realisation last weekend as my wife and I trudged the pavements of Stokes Croft on a tour of Bristol street art. Street Art, Graffiti, or whatever you want to refer to it as, has been defanged; it is now as dangerous as the pre-raphaelites, pointillism, cubism and pop-art. We were on the walk to see if it would be appropriate for my wife's private school GCSE class to go on, that's how edgy the spray can brigade are now (they have their own specialist paint marketed at them by big corporations and everything). I think a few of the other participants were a little miffed that we only saw two Banksys, and that the very enthused guide was far more excited by newer work, and Graffiti's inherently transient nature. I liked him, I learned stuff, although I agreed with the guy who had sprayed 'Fuck Banksy' on the side of a wheelie bin in silver paint. Banksy is to Graffiti what Mumford and Sons are to folk music (I accept that that might be a bit strong, nobody deserves to be compared to Mumford and Sons plc).

This is not in silver paint, or on the side of a wheelie bin. I didn't take any photos.

Art, by its very nature, is an ever changing, ever evolving thing, and so it is only natural that big, colourful, barely readable letters on the side of trains would become accepted and boring. Of course, Graff/Rave culture is all well over thirty years old now, and by rights should be as dead as the hep cats and Daddios of the beat generation were when it sprang up. But it's not, perplexingly. Millenials (I think that's what we've decided to call them yeah?) appear to just be running a continuation of the culture that we generation Xers handed down to them. Spray your name on a wall, eat a disco biscuit and chew your face off to some seriously dirty beats, just like 1989 (except they spell it dutty now).

Not so very different, apart from the hair, obviously

A young chap in Bristol city centre on Saturday was singing DJ Luck and MC Neat's 1999 garage classic 'With a Little Bit of Luck' to me as he handed out flyers to a dance weekender. It is possible that he recognised it as something an old git like me might recognise, but it is still akin to me handing out flyers to a free party in 1992 (when we were still allowed to meet up in fields and dance to repetitive beats) while singing 'I Wanna Dance Wit' Choo' by Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes. Which, I must confess, I may well have actually done, but I am special.

It worries me though, my Grandparent's generation had Jazz, modernism, berets, trench-coats and sneaky reefers. They went on to ask their kids what that god awful noise was and why on earth those blokes had such long hair. My parent's generation got Rock and Roll (which in my very broad definition includes Psychedelia, Heavy Metal and Punk) Pop art, loon pants, winklepickers and LSD. They wanted to know why the music we listened to had no discernible tune, and invented the rap-with-a-silent-C joke for everyone to enjoy. My generation got huge, phat (with an emphatic PH) electronic bleeps and beats, Hip-hop, Graffiti, massive trainers, flowerpot hats and Ecstasy. We are still young enough to believe we like current music (luckily for us it is not radically different yet).

This is not my mate Tom, looks a bit like him though

The next generation seem to be content to drink over-priced coffee and grow over-long beards while listening to the same tired old trance anthems and munching on the same horse tranquilisers that the hippies were messing around with in the 70s. In their defence, we are doing the same thing, generation X is nothing if not greedy, we hung on to the coat tails of rock and roll, we can latch on to the hipsters flannel shirts if we want to. Of course, the big difference is how well it is all classified into sub-genres nowadays, it can't even be narrowed down to one type of glitch hop for fuck's sake (it's possible that critics just need to do something to justify their existence, so why not new genre names. I'm still a big fan of Post-Womble-Deathcore-Hoedown).

It might be because they have the new frontier that we never did, the world wide web, interconnectedness with everyone all the time, a platform to broadcast your every thought and whim upon, and consume all the culture that ever was. There's a lot of it out there already, maybe now it's all so accessible there's no need to invent anymore. Or possibly the next mass change has already happened and I am just too old to realise that it is not just vandalism/noise.

Broadly speaking I can drop modern, popular musical movements into 3 stages (I'm a musician, my wife's the artist, if I keep up the art talk I'm going to get found out as a bluffer pretty quickly) the Jazz age, the Rock age and the Electronic age. The first half of the 20th century was dominated by big bands, crooners and swinging good times, and then Elvis, Scotty Moore and Bill Black turn up and turn everything upside down (Rock Around The Clock is Big band Swing, I don't care what anybody else says, it is NOT Rock and Roll). After that it's all guitars and rock (be it 'n' roll, -abilly, prog or punk) until Giorgio Moroder buries everything in synths, Run DMC sample all the beats and old men with guitars and trumpets harrumph and say it isn't music and anyone can do it (it is and they really can't). Of course there is a seam of pop music running through the whole thing from Irving Berlin to Justin Bieber whose only concern is creating earworms to get your foot-tapping and your granny humming along.

Small confession, I think Love Yourself is a fucking top tune, and I am not sorry

Of course people get upset that their idols get old and continue to play, shaking their heads at grey-haired, arthritic rock and rollers still strutting about the stage, not remembering that the old swingers, jazzers and bluesmen played and sang until they dropped (some of them have not dropped yet, nobody is telling Tony Bennett he should stop now). I remember Phil Cool doing a routine about the Stones still playing in the 80s – I can't get no... Sanatogen - he thought they should have stopped then...
These people are more upset at the very visible evidence that they are no longer young, virile or relevant, rock is dead, get over it. I'm sure sometime back in the late 16th century some ludicrously hatted Italian noble lamented the fact that Giovanni the Madrigal guy was still trying to to fit into his minstrel's tights at his age.

I was told these guys were past it when I saw them 25 years ago

After the walk, my wife and I laughed at the idea of the old people's homes of the future having an afternoon rave rather than a tea dance, or a sing song. But Ebeneezer Goode is the new Knees Up Mother Brown, make way for the next thing. The original rockers probably never expected to be grey haired and supervised either, but eventually the day room will be filled with black lights and glow sticks and the disco biscuits will be rich teas (predunked so as not to hurt your teeth).

Anybody got any Veras? Lovely