Monday, August 25, 2014

Bank holiday bands

I have just spent the bank holiday Monday afternoon drinking in the pub. Post-kids, this is something of a rarity, but once upon a time it was almost the preferred option for wiling away the long bank holiday hours.
Today I wanted to see a local band that I'm quite partial to and having spent the past couple of days on family friendly activities (Southwold and Colchester's Big Sunday street festival), and given that the weather was rubbish, I had a green card to get down to the Kings Arms.
It did make me think back to the halcyon days of bank holiday weekends at South Bedfordshire's premiere pub venue, the Wheatsheaf in Leighton Buzzard.
This was my local in a way that I've never had since. It was the pub I started drinking in (underage, sorry Geoff), where all of my friends would end up at some point over the weekend, and where people really did know your name.
A special mention at this point for the main man behind the bar for much of this time, Roy who was one of the coolest guys we all knew. He was more likely to strike up a conversation about free form jazz, beat poets, indie rock or contemporary literature than how the football had gone this weekend. I think I've still got a copy of a Richard Brautigan volume he loaned me.


Anyway, the Wheatie was the centre of my universe for a number of years. I still remember fondly the pub trip to Glastonbury '90 in the back of one local's van - no planning, just turn up and get in. We were treated to an endless supply of home made vegetable wine from a regular named Les: "This is a rather pokey little beetroot noir. Goes very well with cheese." Roy was on that trip too - passing round the hash cakes probably.
The Wheatsheaf was, and is, a mainstay of the local gig scene in the region, so bank holidays were always a big deal - an opportunity to drink all day and groove down to local bands. I recall bombing back from the Stone Roses Spike Island gig in 1990, just to see a Northampton soul band called Moses who specialised in War covers (Low Rider and World is a Ghetto stick in the memory.) I must have cut a particular dash in my Levi's parallel flares and gig T-shirt.
I was still living at home at the time, having moved back there after university when no career presented itself on a plate - how very inconsiderate.
It was quite a depressing time in some ways. Three years at university had been one great big laugh - gigs, parties, laughs... but not much sex - and ending up living at home seemed a real let down.
Then I discovered a new, pub centred, group of mates. Many of them were just ordinary blokes and lasses. That's not meant to sound condescending. What I mean is that after three years in university surrounded mainly by privileged, middle class kids (this was the mid 80s before the great expansion of higher education), I was hanging with people who I probably felt more at home with. It was a community based around alcohol mainly, but a community nonetheless.
So, that was my bank holidays sorted.
Today was a bit different. I indulged in drink, but not so much in chat. The band were good but it lacked the shared experience of yore.
I felt a bit old to be honest, especially after one guy spoke to me about how it now took him two days to get over hangovers. "Still, I expect it's about four for you," he courteously pointed out.
It's a good job the next bank holiday is not for a few months.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Yours sincerely

A strange thing about the way we live so much of our lives online is how difficult it can make it to read situations.
I have friends who are so witty, scathing, political, angry or provocative in their online personas that I sometimes don't recognise the person I know.
We spend so much time now presenting our preferred image to the outside world. I remember when I first heard somebody talk about their personal 'brand' 20 years ago or so. At the time it seemed a ludicrous idea to me that individuals would think of themselves as a package of personal brand values, but not any more.
I think many of us do present an idealised image to the world online. One where we're funnier, smarter and more interesting than we really are. And it's easy to become trapped in a notion of how we are perceived by others through our Tweets, comments, status updates, Instagram pictures, check ins and likes. I often find myself hovering over a comment wondering, "Is that what I think?" or even, "Is that what people think that I think?"
And then deleting it!
At a time when the idea of 'authenticity' has gained great credence in branding, it's probably never been tougher to really be authentic. Or maybe that's just the case with frauds like me.
Today a friend replied to a Tweet of mine where I had recommended something she wrote. She thanked me, but I'm so used to reading her acerbically funny comments about stuff that I couldn't work out whether it was a genuine or not.

Why did she use those particular words?
What does the use of capital letters THERE mean?
Do you even thank people for praise in Tweets?

I know, First World Problems.
Maybe I should have called her.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Free ice cream

Who wants an ice cream?
It's vanilla - I've got it right here.
It's free. You don't need to pay.
The man took it out of his freezer.
He just left it at the side of the road.
There's nothing wrong with it.
But there isn't any space.
There's strawberry as well.
Look at the swirl of red.
They're filling up the freezer now.
No room for ice cream.
Does nobody want one?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer holiday

De de da, de de da, de de de da, diddle-a...
Six weeks summer holiday starts today and as usual, Mrs Holiday has excelled herself by preparing for the larks ahead. Both the boys have a Summer bucket of toys, books and diversions. It's one of the little traditions that she is gradually introducing to our happy band.
I can't remember ever getting anything like that back in my days. You'd get the summer special of whatever comic or magazine you favoured and read it until the ink had practically come off over the ensuing weeks.
Our two have water pistols, Top Trumps, hula hoops, a space hopper (to share - good luck with that!) and various books from the second hand shops of the town. They are delighted. In fact they've both just come wandering into the office stark naked wearing butterfly nets (I forgot about those) and pointing the water pistols at me. It's going to be a long summer!
Happy holidays.

Friday, March 28, 2014

I see a sadness



He stands in a crowd of friends, outwardly happy, confident and fulfilled. He’s talented, handsome and going places, but there’s something not quite right, and nobody else seems to be able to see it.
I catch him glancing at me. He knows that I know. I look away, embarrassed at being caught catching him out. When I look up again, he has turned his back on me but I know that he’s thinking about what just happened.
What did just happen?

Friday, February 07, 2014

Picture this

Eighties style: it's in there somewhere
We live in a world where images have lost some of their power or allure. The fact that most of us carry a camera around with at all times means there are not many things that remain undocumented or shared.

Of course it wasn't always like this (cue Hovis theme tune). When I was younger, cameras were not generally carried around. Unless you saw yourself as a photographer and were always on the lookout for a shot, people only took cameras out on certain occasions: holidays, parties, school trips, weddings, Christmas...

The list is not exhaustive, but the point is that we only tended to document things that we thought were special and required recording for posterity. You can see it in the studied grins and stiffness in many old pictures. You really did pose for pictures. There were only 24 or 36 shots in a reel and you didn't want to waste them by not being camera ready. When the film was eventually finished, which could take months, or even years in some cases, you then had to send off the film and wait for Truprint or whoever to return it 28 days later.

As a result, I find that there are large parts of my life where there aren't many pictures of me. My university years for example. It really wasn't like today were we can shoot off that many pictures of one scene, choose the best one and delete the rest. The few pictures I have are a bit stagy with me and my peers trying to look cool, or wacky, or a combination of the two.

That's why I like this picture, which until last night I didn't know existed. I was browsing Facebook where a band I saw quite a lot in the Eighties, The Very Things, had posted some pictures from back in the day. I was scrolling through them when this one jumped out. That's me in the middle with the rather wavy, Charles I do (I thought I looked like Bono at the time). It was taken from the stage at one of their gigs at ULU in London. I think I must have been about 19 or 20. Standing next to me with his hand making a fin in front of his face, is my friend Andrew.

There are several reasons I like the picture. It captures a time an a place that I remember very fondly. It was my first real taste of independence, living away from home and left to my own devices. I thought I was kind of out there, but looking back on it, I probably had, as David Cameron would put it a normal student experience. There were some high jinks, but in some ways we were fairly innocent, and I think that it comes through in the picture. We weren't particularly cool, although we thought we were. Our pleasures were fairly simple and we had a good time.

In some ways we had it a lot easier than students today. I can't remember there being a whole lot of pressure on me to achieve highly at university. In some ways I wish there had been. College was seen as a bit of a lesson in life, certainly that was a message I carried from my very liberal social studies lecturer at school, but it was a fairly common thought. You could live reasonably well on a student grant (just starting to become means tested as I went to college although I got a full grant for three years), tuition fees were paid, banks were happy to indulge an overdraft if required (some things never change), but you could get housing benefit and claim dole in the summer.

I wonder how many of the people in that picture ended up working in the City or in corporate law or accountancy. Not very many I guess, although most of them are students. Did many of them have a plan? I certainly didn't, and I didn't really have much of a clue either. But by the look of my face in that picture, I was happy enough that night.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Yoga time

My pre-Christmas running binge turned out to be a bit of a folly. After 24 days of running my right knee swelled up like a balloon and I've had to opt for something a bit less high impact.
Just before Christmas I took in a yoga class run by one of the parents from my son's school. I've been meaning to give it a try for a while, mainly on the testimony of a colleague who swears by it. Despite the fact that his wife was a qualified yoga practitioner, he'd never shown interest until she dragged him along after he'd been moaning about his back. It turned out to be a revelation and he's now turned into the most flexible Fifty-something in West London.
If it could work for my friend, then why not me? I've at least a decade on him.
After the pre-Christmas class, today saw me back on the mat in a packed class in the centre of Colchester. From the informed position of having taken two classes in my life it seems as if there are a few things going on here.
It's a mix of the mental and the physical. Yoga seems to help with flexibility, but there is a lot of emphasis on breathing, relaxation and visualisation. This leads to some odd instructions like being asked to try and envisage breathing out of your back or from behind your knees. Perhaps you need to reach the next level of enlightenment for this to work.
It's gentle, but intense. The class was full of a real mix of ages and the teacher Ceri offers a number of options for each exercise to ensure that people work to their level. You can take it easy, or you can really go for the stretch, although given the overall philosophy, I expect it's not encouraged to go crazy in the first few lessons - see my running experience for further details.
It's a different type of work out. I'm used to exertion and being physically wrung out as an indicator of how worthwhile a session has been, but yoga isn't like that. You can feel you are using muscles, but it's not a cardiovascular burn. For me, it's probably something I will do in conjunction with more intense activities such as running, cycling and swimming.
Having said that, I definitely feel like I have done something that exerts me. I think I'll sleep well tonight.
Flexibility is a good thing for all of these CV heavy activities anyway, and you're less likely to do yourself harm if your body is a bit more elastic.
Another observation is that because your body is being twisted around in ways it is not quite use to, there can be occasional involuntary releases of gas.
I don't think it is yoga etiquette to ruin the moment by guffaw at these, and look round for the culprit.
It wasn't me anyway.