Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Tough of the Track

Two wheels good
My eldest has been going to a grasstrack racing group this summer, run by a great local cycling club, Colchester Rovers.
Grasstrack - I had no idea either - is exactly what it sounds like. Kids race around a grass track on fixed wheel cycles, which the club provides if you don't have one, which we don't.
It has been great fun and really plays to his competitive side, which is becoming more apparent as he gets older. In recent weeks he's been doing quite well, especially as some of the more established youngsters have been racing for longer and have a bit more track nous, as well as more gear.
There is a little league table and he's been pleased to have been near the top. On Monday night we went and I had to remind him to change out of his school kit into something more sporty. "Why? It doesn't matter," he protested, but changed anyway.
It was probably just as well, as he won two of his three races and now sits at the top of the league table. If he'd done it in school shorts, it might have looked like he was taking the Michael.
It was the nearest I've got to a real Alf Tupper moment, even if he didn't turn up eating fish and chips. He run 'em all!

Crackle and hum

No automatic alt text available.I visited my mum at the weekend and after years of promising, I finally took my vinyl record collection from her garage. It has been there for about nine years, and before that, it had been in my old bedroom since 1988 when I came home from university. Soon after that, the CD age kicked in, and although I moved house fairly regularly in my post-college days, the 12 inchers stayed put.They were played very infrequently after that, locked away in a cupboard in my minuscule room. When mum moved house, I had to box them up and she was kind enough to take them with her. Although I had my own flat in Hackney by then, it wasn't huge, and I didn't have a record deck to play them. They could easily have gone the way of my huge collection of music 'inkies' - Sounds, NME and Kerrang magazines that I would buy avidly in the teens, twenties, and thirties. These were given away after I discovered that their value - huge to me - was not appreciated by anybody else.I was obsessed with music, like many people of my age. There are so many more passions and pastimes for kids these days, or so it seems. Maybe it's just that my two are a bit young to have got the bug yet. I didn't really start to get into music until I was about 12 and moved to England. 
For me, heavy metal was my entry point. Not very cool, I know, although more so now that it ever was when I was a youth. However, it opened up a peer group for me. I was even briefly in a hard rock band with some school friends - initially as timing challenged drummer, and then as singer, the job that no one ever wanted.
After that my tastes broadened quite a bit, and so did my purchasing habits. I noticed that some of the older guys who I admired didn't feel the need to stick to just the one genre, so although I didn't ditch my love of the hard stuff, it wasn't the only thing that interested me.
Albums were relatively hard to get hold of until I got my first jobs - newspaper rounds, milk rounds, cleaning jobs, and the big break, a summer holiday working in the local bread factory. I felt like a millionaire taking home nearly £200 a week (sounds a fortune, but I doubt you'd get away with doing the hours I had to, these days).
With cash in my pocket and albums at £4-5 a pop, my collection quickly built up. I'd listen to them on my dad's old separates system or a small unit in my bedroom, making mixtapes for friends and people I wanted to impress with my catholic tastes.
Our local record shop, Buzzard Records, was a chart return shop, so there was always a stack of cheap singles and 12 inchers to be had as sales guys dropped off loads of free copies to try and hype tracks into the charts. Consequently, I've got a whole subgenre of singles by no-hit wonders who nevertheless produced great little pop moments.
I was obsessed by vinyl at that time in my life. I even took my growing record collection to university with me. It seemed inconceivable that I would leave it behind. Your music collection spoke volumes about the kind of person you were, or so I thought. I remember reading somebody saying that they'd go to parties and if the person didn't have a copy of Psychocandy in their collection, then they'd leave.
I wouldn't go that far, and I do have a copy of the Jesus and Mary Chain's first album.
Anyway, I've opened up a the first carton of albums - T-Z, of course it's alphabetised. There's quite a lot of Throwing Muses and Tom Waits, a forgotten diamond by One the Juggler (hang on, that's not T-Z - my filing system has been compromised), Tracey Thorn's lovely first solo album, and a red vinyl copy of an album by former Gillan guitarist Bernie Torme, who I was obsessed with for ages (I once sat listening to the top 40 convincing myself during the countdown to the new number one, that it must actually be him, as his latest single hadn't been played. Of course, it hadn't made the top 75, nevermind the 40).
As well as the six crates of records, I brought back my dad's old Sansui record deck, which still works, although the stylus may be a bit worn. Either that, or the records are just scratched to bits. Maybe after years of listening to pristine CD quality sound, the background crackle is more obvious than it was back in the day. I think we lived through the era of crap vinyl anyway. It was noticeable when you bought an older record. The original copy of Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left I picked up from the record shop on Camden Lock bridge (what was that called?) was move satisfyingly solid than many of the records I subsequently bought new, including the Drake compilation, Heaven in a Wild Flower, that got me into him while I was at university.
At the moment, I feel like the Howard Carter of music, going through the crate and plopping stuff on to the deck. Twenty minutes of music - the length of one side of an album kids - also seems so much more civilised than the interminable tyranny of the unedited CD. We thought it was great to get more value for your money, but really it seemed to encourage a lack of editorial quality control. A side of an album passes very quickly, forcing you to refocus every 20 minutes on what to listen to next.
After a long break from the vinyl, it seems quite hip to be listening to slabs of plastic played with a needle. The vinyl revival is now a big thing, although I can't see myself being sucked back into buying it. This is a little holiday in the past.
The last vinyl record I think I bought was Oasis's (What's the Story) Morning Glory? I got it 22 years ago at a release party at Virgin Records where the band played some numbers, and I got it signed by Noel and the drummer (sorry fella, I can't remember your name). As such, it was more of an artefact, especially as I had nothing to play it on. My then girlfriend bought the CD which was what we played.
It might be in one of those unopened boxes, although I've a feeling it may have been lost when we moved house as I think I kept that particular item close for a while.
Never mind (an album I don't have on vinyl). There are still plenty of memories to dig out.

Friday, June 09, 2017

About last night

In his braggadocious march on the White House, Donald Trump boasted that Americans would be 'winning' so often under his leadership that they'd get sick of it.
The feeling has been the opposite for many of us in the UK for the past couple of years. I'm talking about the left here obviously.
First there was the 2015 election win by David Cameron's Tories, made worse by the fact that the Lib Dems were virtually wiped out after shouldering an unfair amount of blame for the sins of the coalition - in my opinion.
Then there was last year's European referendum, which Cameron was bounced into when he landed that unexpected majority.
And, of course Trump. How the hell did that happen America?
I'll put aside various local elections and by-elections when it seemed as if Labour was incapable of pulling out of terminal tailspin.
No wonder Theresa May was licking her lips at the prospect of a snap election to lock in her good fortune to be the leader of the government at a time of such disorganised opposition with a leader who was being lampooned by the press and disliked and distrusted by the electorate. What could possibly go wrong?
There will be plenty of amateur and professional pundits picking over that one for years to come. It's still barely believable that Tess May snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The Tories are the biggest party, yes, but with a reduced number of seats, no majority, and now seemingly in bed with a bunch of oddballs, the DUP.
And it is May who must carry the can, although at the minute she seems determined to carry on as if nothing has changed. Whether it was her decision or Lynton Crosby's to focus the campaign on the presidential qualities of May, barely matters now. What is incredible is how unable or unwilling they were to change tack once it started to become apparent that May was a liability.
There were so many cock ups, which could have been opportunities to reset the Maybot and try something new - the regal announcement she wouldn't debate with Jeremy Corbyn; the embarrassingly stagey stump speeches to party members; the robotic repetition of campaign slogans; the inability to think on her feet; the car crash interviews supposedly designed to show her normality (girls jobs and boys jobs, running through wheatfield...), and, of course, the U-turn on the Dementia Tax.
It's surely be an indication of how inbred Tory culture is that in 20 years as an MP nobody seemed to cotton on to how weird she is. She seemed normal to them.
As May became more strange, and the very opposite of strong and stable, Jeremy Corbyn seemed to hit his stride. I'll put my cards on the table and say that I wasn't a fan of him becoming a leader. I didn't rush to join the Labour Party to support him or any other candidate, so this is a purely personal opinion.
His appeal, to me, seemed to be to a group of people who were involved in fantasy politics, and more interested in some form of unrealistic ideological purity than the hard and dull business of winning and exercising power. Having lived through the 80s when it seemed as if Thatcher would never be usurped, my political inclinations are towards the need to compromise and devise realistic policies that won't alienate those you need in the broad church needed to win power.
Mind you, that approach didn't help Ed Miliband, whose 2015 manifesto was so uninspiring it barely stood a chance. The monstering of the right wing press didn't help either.
So while Corbynistas got more and more excited about their man, I harrumphed on the sidelines, much like most of the PLP.
But as the election campaign went on, Corbyn's appeal became more apparent against the strangeness of Theresa May. While she walked around empty factories where Tory supporters were bussed in after the real staff went home, he spoke to people wherever he found them. Both spoke to the converted, but his crowds were bigger, more enthusiastic, and made up of normal people. A lot of the content from Corbyn was old time religion for the Labour tribe, but people lapped it up, and not just party members. While she became more stilted as the campaign went on, Corbs started to find his Mojo, and although he wasn't on the cover of that particular magazine, he made it on to the front of Kerrang! and NME. He sounded normal and like the avuncular, chap that his people had spoken about, whether making self deprecating gags about his allotment, or waxing lyrical about Arsenal to a couple of fans, who obviously thought this old dude was alright.
In some ways, I think Corbyn benefited from having steered clear, or been avoided by, the mainstream media. Lots of people knew little about him, so when his profile began to build, it didn't tally with the increasingly foam flecked efforts of the Hate Mail and S*n to monster him. People liked him.
All of which was all very well, but having awoken enough over the past couple of years to news that your side really wasn't winning, I was cool on Labour's prospects, even as the chaotic opinion polls seemed to show that it was cutting into a Tory lead that had been more than 20% at one point. It could all still change on polling day. Predictions seemed meaningless - anything from Labour dropping to a rump of 150 seats of less, to doing... quite well. Anything seemed possible.
To be honest, I started out not caring about this election. I was angry, and still am angry, about the referendum, which to my mind is a piece of national self harm. I was angry about the people who voted for it and who continue to defend it. And I was angry at the Tories, for... well, reasons.
I was also angry at Corbyn's Labour Party for not getting its act together, and for turning into a kind of self-righteous cult that seemed to have no real interest in gaining power. Everything seemed such a foregone conclusion, what was the point?
But it started to change as the campaign progressed. I don't think that's been unusual. In my constituency, I decided that I was going to vote for the Lib Dem candidate, and four-time election winner in Colchester, Sir Bob Russell. It was a tactical vote. It seemed to be more important to try and limit the inevitable Tory landslide where I could, than vote for a party that I had always voted for.
As the weeks went on, my opinion shifted. There has been a real energy among the Labour people in the town and lots of activity. A poll claimed that Labour had overtaken the Lib Dems - no one was sure how robust it was, so I was still undecided. It didn't even seem to matter that much, as I was convinced that the local Tory candidate would be a shoo in.
In the end I decided as I got on my bike to cycle to the polling booth. My neighbour, who was displaying Labour posters in his window was in his garden and I stopped to chat to find out what he thought was the real state of play in the town. He had been unenthusiastic about Corbyn, but spoke passionately about the people in the local Labour team and how there did seem to be Labour surge in the town, and in the region (well done Ipswich). He thought that Labour had overtaken the Lib Dems, and pointed out that in a growing town like Colchester, who knew what could happen in the years ahead with young people and families making their homes here.
His enthusiasm got to me. He kind of told me what I wanted to hear, so I did vote for Labour candidate Tim Young. He didn't win, but he did come second, and he more than doubled the Labour vote so that they are now near enough to make the Tories sweat. Who knows what could happen next time?
Last night, Charlotte and I sat up doing the Guardian Weekend quiz - we are such cliches - not bothered about turning over to see the exit poll in real time. I wanted to know, but didn't expect much, so the prediction - now fact - that Labour had eaten into the Tories lead, and prevented a Tory majority was gratifying.
As we tuned in, John McDonnell was telling Dimbleby that the Tories had run a campaign based on nastiness and dragging politics into the gutter, much to Michael Fallon's surprise - he obviously thought they were still at the polite chit chat stage of proceedings. That made me laugh, and the prediction made me take a sharp intake of breath.
All day, people like me have had a spring in their step. There were conspiratorial grins from fellow 'saboteurs' on the school run. My neighbour was practically bouncing round the garden as he deadheaded his roses.
Tomorrow there will be a bit of sober reflection. Labour did come second after all. There's a lot that is unclear. Brexit still beckons and there could be another general election before the end of the year. The Tories can't run a campaign as bad as that again, can they?
For tonight though, I'm going to put that to one side, have a beer and feel a bit better. People have voted for hope and an alternative to the Tories offer of more of the same and a seventh year, and counting, of austerity. And in case I haven't made it clear, I have to say that I was obviously wrong about Jeremy Corbyn. The boy done good.