Posted 10 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan Category Books, Photos
Just finished reading Ali Smith’s lovely, confusing, inspiring ‘Artful’, which I’m clearly going to have to re-read if I want to boast to people that I really ‘got it’; it’s a dense, fast-moving combination of intriguing fiction and literary criticism, and I read it as the former, not worrying too much about wringing every ounce of meaning from the many poems and quotations which pepper the text. I did pick out a few lovely things though;
“When human beings love they try to get something. They also try to give something, and this double aim makes love more complicated than food or sleep. It is selfish and altruistic at the same time, and no amount of specialization in one direction quite atrophies the other”. EM Forster
There’s lots of Katherine Mansfield in the book, and lots of trees. I never enjoyed reading DH Lawrence, but I like Mansfield’s description of his ‘Aaron’s Rod’ as a tree, “firmly planted, deep thrusting, outspread, growing grandly, alive in every twig”.
And there was more nature in the following, which made me think of the ‘We are the clay that grew tall’ line in Melissa Harrison’s terrific book ‘Clay’, which I talked about the other day.
“Decay is the beginning of all birth … it transforms shape and essence, the forces and virtues of nature. Just as the decay of all foods in the stomach transforms them and makes them into a pulp, so it happens outside the stomach … Decay is the midwife of very great things!” Paracelsus
and here’s Ali Smith herself, talking about something I’ve already mentioned:
“We do treat books surprisingly lightly in contemporary culture. We’d never expect to understand a piece of music on one listen, but we tend to believe that we’ve read a book after reading it just once. Books and music share more in terms of resonance than just a present tense correlation of heard note to read word. Books need time to dawn on us, it takes time to understand what makes them, structurally, in thematic resonance, in afterthought, and always in correspondence with the books which came before them, because books are produced by books more than by writers; they’re a result of all the books that went before them.”
That one’s pertinent.
I took this photograph of a bunch of paperwhites secured with twine.
I’m a massive Bowie fan, so, transparently, today has been a ridiculously good day for me.
If you missed it – ten years after his last record and seven years after he last performed in public – this morning, entirely without fanfare or forewarning, David Bowie released a brand new song and announced a forthcoming LP. This is, in the world of pop, massive news, and judging by the fact that I heard about it on the Today programme on Radio 4, it’s presumably big news elsewhere too. The Guardian practically devoted their entire Arts team to covering it today (yielding good pieces from Michael Hann and Alexis Petridis), and my twitter feed was a pretty relentless stream of enthusiasm.
I’ve been in a good mood all day.
And amidst all the excitement, there’s a song, and you should listen to it.
It’s far too early for me to pass any real critical judgement, to declare it better than his 90s work or worse than the stuff on ‘Heathen’, and I’m too biased to be truly objective regardless – but the song matters to me because I find it thrilling to think that Bowie still digs making music (I thought he’d retired) and the song itself, regardless of its place in his canon, makes me happy – by chance it recalls much of Bowie’s music that I like best; the sombre, elegiac Bowie of the late ’70s, whose years in Berlin still seem to speak to him more powerfully than any others. To hear him singing in his own distinct, somewhat tremulous voice is, for all that it is aged, a great privilege.
He’s written so many wonderful wonderful songs, but there’s a category that I hold particularly close to my heart, and that’s the smallish number of songs where it sounds like Bowie is singing from deep within his true self – not channeling Anthony Newley, or Lou, or Iggy, or Dylan, or even James Brown (I love it when he channels James Brown). The best example is, I think, ‘Wild Is The Wind‘, which Bowie himself has described as his finest vocal performance. There are shades of that song here – or shades of the truthfulness it evinces. And something very vulnerable too.
What a joy it is to hear, and to have him back.
If you like it too – or, failing that, like David generally – then we can be friends.
When I was a kid I chanced upon 2000AD and, for a short period, I bought it every week. If you’ve not read 2000AD, you might think it’s a nerdy, ultraviolent science fiction comic (and you’d be right) and as such it’s regularly dismissed as an adolescent concern; as a teenager keenly aware of wanting to be cool, I swiftly stopped buying it when I learned this, and began looking for more serious literature to fill the gap (and do a better job of impressing others/girls).
I’ve never been a huge comic reader, but 2000AD was my gateway drug to a world of fine, artistically challenging, serious “graphic novels”, which I read throughout my 20s, in an attempt to marry my affection for comic books with my pretentiously high-brow attitude towards literature. Consequently, a shelf in my flat groans with expensive, sincere comic books, few of which I ever actually finished.
Later, it occurred to me that the comic I wanted to read wasn’t a hip independent quarterly at all – it was 2000AD, and when I went back to it I immediately recalled that actually, despite it being nerdy and ultraviolent, it was always bloody smart and often highly political and satirical. More importantly, it was great fun, and for all the dazzlingly inventive stuff that would feature in it, by far the best was generally the staple, Judge Dredd, which was and is a work of complete genius. Having spent pretending otherwise, It’s probably fashionable to say this, now, which makes this mea culpa somewhat redundant, but there it is.
Anyway, I watched the recent adaptation of this fine comic strip, the Brit-made ‘Dredd’, starring Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby this weekend, and I thought it was completely marvellous. Possibly not quite as darkly comic as the strip, nor quite as gruesomely inventive (hard on a very low budget), but it was an absolutely fantastic, lean, aggressive, compulsive bit of action cinema, propelled by all the things that make the comic strip great – a complete lack of misogyny, a vivid and colourful concept and best of all, a central character who is complete in every sense.
Dredd isn’t, if you trace him through the comic, a lot of things he’s described as being (a fascist, an unlearning automaton), but he is consistent, coherent and always convincing, as cleanly defined an action hero as you could wish for. He’s also devilishly hard to play, so I was completely certain that neither Karl Urban nor any actor could convincingly portray Dredd on screen, but after fifteen minutes I was absolutely sold on his performance.
Similarly, my heart sank when I saw that a young and very beautiful actress had been picked to play Anderson, fearing that meant a descent into predictable roles, but her performance (and more important, her characterisation) is almost note perfect. Never once is she shown to be weaker than any male character nor is her meeting with the (also female) villain contextualised in light of their sex. She’s just a brilliant, character, as is Dredd.
And this is a brilliant film. Not flawless, obviously, and some way from being a masterpiece of cinema – but it is a masterpiece of bringing Dredd to life, which is all we could have asked for. There’s some really exciting slo-mo filming in there, too, enough to suggest that given a bigger budget a sequel could go some way to visualising the extraordinary colour and madness of the comic.
Another year, another last.fm list of the songs I listened to most this year (here’s the one I posted a year ago). As always, it’s very unrepresentative as it doesn’t track vinyl listens, or times when I have scrobble turned off. But it’s still a nice little list. Slightly disappointed that Taylor Swift didn’t make it to the number one slot.
Just finished reading Melissa Harrison’s lovely first novel, ‘Clay’, and wanted to pen a few thoughts while it’s still fresh in my mind. ‘Clay’ is a terrifically beautiful book, a quiet, sensitive portrayal of the lives of a small cast of slightly lonely, slightly constrained protagonists, and their development over the course of a half year in a South London which is by turns familiar and gloriously unfamiliar.
Familiar because Harrison has a good grasp of the plain-sight city – “nail bars, chicken parlours, newsagents, mobile phone unlocking, cheap calls to Africa”, and exotic because she populates the city with a bewildering cast of living things which our eyes are either untrained to see or disposed to miss; dog foxes, bats, sticky goosegrass and evergreen choisya, butterflies, greenflies and stag beetles, swifts, starlings, and plane trees shedding flakes of polluted bark. Harrison’s prose is poetic but hyper-observant, always sensing new movement in the nearby undergrowth, or a pair of eyes watching high in a tree.
All five of the novel’s main characters see more of this hidden city than I (regrettably) do, and are to a smaller or greater extent drawn towards the area’s liminal places – the parts of London in which pockets of extraordinary life are concealed, yet continue to thrive – and in particular to a small park near Tooting Common, which becomes the space in which they meet and interact. At the centre is TC, whose story of neglect is painfully sad but whose resourcefulness and passion for nature is a rebuke to his coddled, careless peers. Around him Harrison conjures a story quite free of sensationalism or sentimentality, but which is quietly gripping and somewhat inspiring.
The clay of the title refers to a phrase recalled from childhood – ‘we are the clay that grew tall’, which resonates through the novel; TC is a child ‘on intimate terms with the earth’. Jozef, an exile from Poland, mourns the physical properties of the farm he grew up on. Sophia, growing old on a council estate her family have left, does her best to disrupt the order which the council wish to impose upon the wedge-shaped park she has watched over for decades, her pockets bulging with papery bulbs.
‘Clay’ is a very satisfying read; a serious book which evokes important topics like innocence, companionship and trust, but which is driven forward by the author’s obvious, intimate connection with nature.
Very pleased that it’s the first thing I read in 2013; it’s a short, brilliant novel that makes me want to rush out into the woods.
When Sam was over for Xmas we met up with our dear friend Eva in Brighton’s nice Marwood cafe (pictures of which appear below). I am ashamed to say I hardly ever get round to seeing Eva, which is absolutely stupid, and something I must remedy in 2013.
Eva is terrific; we wished her well for the holiday season and she politely assured us that she had absolutely no intention of seeing us on Christmas Day, because she had an essay to write and also had ‘an onion and a pepper’ in the fridge that needed eating. If we did met up, she insisted, she would be unable to join in the festivities or pretend to like her presents. She also talked briefly about her new obsession with crime, her time in Turkey (when she was frequently mistaken for a spy) and her hatred of communism.
Eva is now in Greece where she is spending the next two weeks picking olives. I think perhaps she, rather than me or Sam, is the one with it all sorted out.
10. Foxes – Foxes
The indie-pop contingent in this year’s list gets the nod courtesy of being fractionally more fun than the other bands who might have made the list (Allo Darlin’, The Twerps, Exlovers), and their debut LP is bursting with offbeat, tongue-in-cheek moments, combined with moments of piercing fragility. A really lovely record full of winning melodies, lines and ideas.
9. Matthew Dear – Beams
Matthew Dear’s ‘Black City’ was one of my favourite records of 2010 so it’s not really a surprise that I loved this too – if anything it’s a more organic, coherent work, a lovely, Bowie/Eno/Byrne indebted collage of techno and art-pop. ‘Beams’ is the first record that Dear has recorded since he moved to the countryside, but it still resonates with the sounds of the big, sinister city. Great stuff.
8. Soko – I Wish I Was An Alien
Listened to this a lot this year, puzzling over Soko’s fragile lack of self-esteem and her storytelling ability. I’m not quite sure if she’s really as unhappy as she makes out on this record, but it leads to some great, underworked, bruised French pop-folk. It’s become a bit of a joke in our house; ‘how’s Soko feeling today?’. ‘It’s not good, I’m afraid’.
7. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill
Far far better than it has the right to be after a few years of interesting but not exactly vital records; this new effort – a double LP of straight, Crazy Horse riffing – genuinely sounds like Neil is back to his best. Only the first song, which finds him whinging about mp3s, disappoints, with the rest a wonderful, winding celebration of rock and roll.
6. Darren Hayman & The Long Parliament – The Violence
The best record of Darren’s career by some distance, this marvellous LP feels somehow like his most heartfelt despite it being a meditation on the seventeenth century Essex witch trials. Magnificently arranged and full of lovely, if sometimes disturbing imagery, this is a display of artistic ambition realised.
5. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
The music of Leonard Cohen is very important to me, as his records were played constantly at home when I was a child, and I actually went some time ignoring this new record, fearing that I’d be let down by what I assumed was inevitable disappointment. It wasn’t until I saw Cohen play in Berlin in the late summer that I realised how superb his songwriting continues to be, leaving me doing some rather shame-faced catching up. This may arrive very late in Leonard’s career, but it’s a hugely important part of his body of work. And hopefully not his last LP.
4. Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny – Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose
Delighted by this one, not least because I watched Beth do a series of gigs throughout 2009, 10 and 11 where she somehow seemed to be enjoying each show less and less and sounding more and more tired of the songs she’d been playing for a few years. In fact, much of ‘Yours Truly…’ had been long recorded by that stage, but somehow its release galvanised the band and they’ve been better and better every time I’ve seen them since. And this record is far far better than any debut LP has the right to be – confident, intelligent, daring and gloriously canorous. Beth’s recording the follow up in LA at the moment and I think it’ll be even better.
3. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
This one, from early 2012, feels like it came out aaages ago, but it still sounds incredibly fresh when I put it on; a lovely slice of warm Americana by two Swedes who allowed their obsession with Emmylou, June, Gram and Johnny to shine through on every song. A lovely listen every time.
2. Tim Burgess – Oh No I Love You
Easily the biggest surprise of the year for me was the depth and quality of Tim Burgess’s second solo LP. The words were written by Kurt Wagner of Lambchop and the record produced in his Nashville studio (meaning the luxuriant country-soul sound of Wagner’s band is present throughout), but much of the joy is found in Burgess’s clean, pretty songwriting (he penned the tunes) and in his delightful voice, which is often as boyish as ever it was and yet sometimes a cracked, deep whisper. His switch to falsetto in ‘The Economy’ is one of my favourite musical moments of 2012.
1. Field Music – Plumb
I couldn’t quite get my head around Field Music’s 2009 double LP ‘Measure’, which was a real surprise after having often claimed that their ‘Tones of Town’, from four years earlier, is my favourite record of the 21st Century so far. ‘Plumb’, happily, fixes all of the problems I had with its predecessor, coming in at a gloriously concise 35 minutes but crammed with more twists, turns and segues than you could shake a stick at. Like much of Field Music’s best work, there’s a kind of symphonic consistency and coherence to the album which makes me think of it in terms of movements rather than the songs. Allowing me that, the final movement, comprising the last five songs, is the sound of 2012 for me.
Allo Darlin’, Oddisee, The Wave Pictures, Kimbra, Viv Albertine, The Twerps, Damon Albarn, Brother Ali, Cabaret Scene, Actress, Moritz Von Oswald, Blu & Exile, Taylor Swift, Mac Demarco, Friends, La Sera, Parquet Courts, Josephine Foster, Quakers, John Cale, Ab-Soul, Brian Eno, Milk Music.
Last year’s Top 10.
1. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo
2. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
3. Destroyer – Kaputt
4. Stricken City – Losing Colour
5. Veronica Falls – s/t
6. Nick Lowe – The Old Magic
7. Gorillaz – The Fall
8. Real Estate – Days
9. Little Dragon – Ritual Union
10. The Fall – Ersatz GB
When we finally made it out of Brighton on the first day of 2013, it was much colder than we expected and the light, which had been thrillingly rich all day, was already beginning to dip. So we only walked around Devil’s Dyke for half an hour or so, mindful not to slip in the mud and binding our coats tight around us, as if we might conjure an extra layer by wrapping them round twice. Of course I had a hangover and new (year) promises to keep, so the cold wind did its unwelcome job of battering last night’s boozy breath out of my lungs until I felt like this was the start of something new, not just a painful bit left over from yesterday. I felt less than re-born, but glad to be alive and idling into another year.
No news yet on the resolutions, but I did take a few photographs.
Don’t think I blogged about Homeland at all during it’s previous run, which is a shame in retrospect as it might have given me an opportunity to segue into the following, which is a largely enthusiastic take on the first episode of the new series. Not having anything to refer to, I have to think back to the various things I liked and disliked about the initial show. But that’s not hard, as series 2 seems, at a first glance, to pick up exactly where it left off – one of the more persuasive, nuanced televisual takes on the fall out from the War on Terror, yet filled with flaws and inconsistencies which, thankfully, are for the most part forgiveable when lined up against what the show does very well.
Quickly; some of the problems – it remains essentially unbelievable that Carrie was ever tolerated at the CIA, just as it seems utterly incredible that Brody, so soon returned from imprisonment in Iraq, should be seriously considered ready for high office. The scenes in the Middle East seem, thus far, less convincing than those at home, and the scenes of high tension draw rather heavily on tropes from too-familiar scenarios (that said, I’m glad the show isn’t much bothered with whizzy technology; in some respects it seems to owe more to Le Carre than CNN).
But what it does best, first and foremost, is create characters you care about. I still don’t know quite where I stand on Brody, who I’m dimly aware is working, reluctantly, towards an event of mass terror but who, mostly courtesy of his powerful back-story and conscience (in this series personified by Morgan Saylor, who plays his 16 year old daughter) remains a fascinating and attractive enigma. He is there, the programme tells us, because circumstance has driven him there, not because he wants to be.
The opposite of true of Carrie, who wants with every fibre of her being to be in the field or high in an ivory tower, doing whatever she can to protect her sources, her agents, the public and her country. But circumstance has led her astray, too, so that she begins this series not at the CIA but teaching English and, tending her garden, trying to manage her bipolar disorder. Fresh from literally shocking medical treatment, she’s commended for her success in reinventing herself – and only her father, who shares her condition, recognises the distance she has left to travel.
It’s perhaps a shame, given this fascinating starting point, that the makers of the second series of Homeland could not have waited a little longer to re-introduce Carrie to the action, but it’s a credit to them that the way they do provides a brief valedictory moment which makes up for their impatience; a smile in the backstreets of Beirut is all it takes to reassure us that Carrie’s treatment has not purged her of her self.
I hope this principle, of returning our protagonists immediately to action, does not cause problems; of course it’s great to see Carrie, Brody, Saul and Dana plunged back into the grip of drama, but what sets Homeland so far apart from its contemporaries is the way it rejects the immediacy of 24. It knows that crises unfold more often over weeks and months than over days, and takes the risk of delaying gratification. I hope that the explosive start of series 2 is misleading, and we settle back into a dance of diplomacy, tension and mistrust.
And I wait keenly, while I’m at it, for the return of the jazz – rarely has a show been as well scored as Homeland. Hoping this new run keeps the standard up, and even raises it by a bar or two. In 5/4 time, perhaps.
A quick summary of the last few weeks, courtesy of Instagram. If it were completely accurate it would contains a great many photographs of beer bottles, but I’m with-holding them for a later post, and so I don’t look like an alcoholic.
Just finished watching the uneven, enjoyable and often rather brilliant Parade’s End, the latest big-budget costume drama from the BBC, which is adapted from a series of Ford Madox Ford books which no-one has read. It was a nice big, sumptuous production with two of Britain’s most celebrated mouth-actors (Rebecca Hall’s curled lip and Benedict Cumberbatch’s downturned grimace), focusing on that period where a buckling society, faced with the violence of the first world war, finally became Modern.
Cumberbatch, as Christopher Tietjens – a noble, repressed Tory – is the last in the Parade; the last man to whom High Toryism means loyalty, fidelity and permanence, and Hall is his flighty, rather magnificent wife, whose machinations debase his reputation and chip away at his resolve. He stands resolute, absorbing her disgrace, and even resisting love, which arrives in the form of Valentine Wannop, a (disappointingly wet) Suffragette. In the end it’s neither his wife nor his love which dismantles his attachment to the past, but the War – which is of course the great, monstrous wave which sweeps everything away and heralds the arrival of the real 20th Century.
I loved this five-parter, but it was an odd affair. Part society satire, part love story, part treatise on tradition and modernity, and most powerfully a violent war-time farce, it is a drama where the tone ricochets from scene to scene, setting to setting, episode to episode. It has little of the elegance or method of Victorian drama, but showing as it does a period of enormous upheaval, that’s perhaps appropriate.
And the whole thing is carried beautifully by the cast right up until the final episode, which somehow just fails in its final third to voice the transformation effected upon Christopher, or rather to pinpoint with sufficient specificity just what frees him to evolve his principles. I wanted more on the destructive but transformative power of the war, of the levelling and the loosening of society which it provoked. In the end Parade’s End ended as a love story might – movingly, with some success; but shy of the revelation which Tom Stoppard’s script seemed to be building towards.
Still, really enjoyed it. A joyful reminder of how great the BBC is.
I went and saw a couple of really great bands at the Riots Not Diets night in Brighton on Saturday. The first were the excellent Edible Arrangements, who played a short set of really excellent stuff, a kind of slightly gothic take on Electrelane’s two note minimalism. It’s obviously v early days for them as they’ve released nothing so far – but they’re worth keeping an eye out for.
Likewise The Middle Ones, who were up next and played some absolutely terrific songs. A two-piece who combine wonderful lyrics and beautiful voices with rudimentary playing and occasional bursts of joyous noise, they were really great.
We picked up one of their CD afterwards and I’ve been absolutely floored ever since by one song in particular – the very short and very beautiful ‘Sam Said’ which is so simple and profound that I feel the need to share it, lyrics included. Shades of those early, devastating Emmy The Great songs like ‘City Song’ and ‘MIA’.
Do listen; learn the lyrics, sing along. It’ll make your life better.
I feel stupidly happy again
I feel more like myself every day
Since you said I should stop worrying, stop worrying.
Sleeping on trains
always used to make me feel safe
made me think that I could be more brave
made me think I could stop worrying, stop worrying now.
and today I ought to feel bad
for the loss of the hero I used to have
but maybe that just means I can
finally stop worshipping, stop worshipping
people I see
who seem better at living than me
who seem louder and faster and free
Maybe I should stop worshipping, stop worshipping
Sam said it’s better this way
Sam said it’s better this way
Sam said it’s better this way
and at last I believe him, at last I believe him today.”
One of the most inspiring Green organisations I’ve come across is based on my doorstep right here in Sussex. My girlfriend Lyndsey has been volunteering at The Green Centre, situated in East Brighton, for the last three years, and at a recent Open Day & Recycling Bonanza I helped out and, working with a fellow film-maker, Dan Corns, made this video about the centre and its amazing Creative Director, Melanie Rees.
Mel has turned the centre into a real community project, working with local people to create a sustainable, open and inspiring space. The Green Centre market is full of nice objects which keep the business ticking over, but the heart of the Centre is the amazing recycling resource it offers, helping to ensure that practically nothing goes to waste, but is re-used, re-cycled or re-purposed. Out in the back of the Centre, a new pond provides social housing for the local wildlife.
As usual I’m working my way through the Booker Prize shortlist, and while I’ve not read the whole lot yet, I’ve been very much stopped in my tracks by ‘Swimming Home’, the new novel by Deborah Levy, which – while a short read – has resonated at the edge of my thoughts constantly since I finished it a few days ago.
The book is as clean and clear as the ringing of a bell, but quietly and meticulously poetic, full of beautiful language and deeply visual storytelling. Set around a holiday villa in the south of France, where the warm sun seems to stir a mild fever, it conjures up a series of unforgettable images – from the sight of a naked girl swimming resembling a bear, to a boy emerging from a wall, and a centipede examined clambering out of a bucket. A very middle class English family – the Jacobs – holiday abroad with friends and get tangled up with Kitty Finch, a provocative and very cinematic agent of change, who pulls and tears at the delicate conventions of the family. And Levy is a truly superb writer, distracting the reader so with her style that the plot twists, when they come, left me startled, uneasy.
Levy’s characters are on the precipice of self-discovery but numbed, needing the disruptive power of Kitty Finch to shake them up. Of Isabel Jacob, a foreign correspondent unable to reconcile her life as a journalist and a mother, Levy writes, “If she knew that to be forceful was not the same as being powerful and to be gentle was not the same as being fragile, she did not know how to use this knowledge in her own life or what it added up to”. Her husband, Joe, seems at first blithe and unfeeling, but his crime of conscience is deliberate forgetting. Kitty, who shares aspects of his past he tries to ignore, stirs him to action. But as each character attempts to guide proceedings, their lack of control is made apparent, and things spiral out of hand. Levy’s handling of this approaching chaos is masterly. It’s truly a very lovely book.
I raced through this in two or three hours, and knew immediately on finishing that it would merit a re-read. Oddly, I’m impatient to finish the rest of the shortlist so that I might get back to it.
A real winner. Hopefully – in terms of the Booker Prize – literally.
It was Roald Dahl Day last Thursday; like everyone my age (and probably a great many people younger and older), Dahl left an indelible mark on me during my childhood; particularly with The BFG, The Witches and Matilda, all three of which I can remember being published (the first only hazily). But of course there’s much to love in the earlier books too, for example in Danny The Champion Of The World, which is lovely on the relationship between a boy and his father, particularly the pride the child takes in his father’s powerful knowledge of the world.
In a passage which has since been successfully (and lovingly) lampooned by the fantastic Adam Buxton, (here), Dahl captures that wonder.
I really loved those morning walks to school with my father. We talked practically the whole time. Mostly it was he who talked and I who listened, and just about everything he said was fascinating. He was a true countryman. The fields, the streams, the woods and all the creatures who lived in these places were a part of his life. Although he was a mechanic by trade and a very fine one, I believe he could have become a great naturalist if only he had had a good schooling.
Long ago he had taught me the names of all the trees and the wild flowers and the different grasses that grow in the fields. All the birds, too, I could name, not only by sighting them but by listening to their calls and their songs.
In springtime we would hunt for birds’ nests along the way, and when we found one he would lift me up on to his shoulders so I could peer into it and see the eggs. But I was never allowed to touch them.
I overheard a nice exchange on the train today, which offered up a nice insight into modern day parenting. A young, mop-headed boy sat with his father on the 5.21 from Chichester to Brighton. He looked up and asked his dad a question.
“Dad, what’s the speed of light?”
I smiled to myself, suspecting (rightly) that his father wouldn’t know the answer offhand (I don’t either, sadly). It felt like a slightly sad moment to me – the son still too young to realise that adults don’t have all the answers.
But the father did something very clever. Instead of immediately replying, he engaged his son in conversation, asking him what made him want to know that, and generally talked confidently around the subject while he quickly tapped into his mobile phone. When – only moments later – Google provided him with the answer, he was able to very naturally say,
“Well, anyway – the speed of light is around 700 miles an hour”.
The illusion was allowed to stand – Dad as the oracle and the font of knowledge. Very sweet, and rather lovely. I hope that illusion can be maintained a bit longer.
The Olympics, I’m afraid, completely passed me by, as did the Paralympics – I realise that saying this marks me out as a bad tempered refusenik, (which I partly am), but the real reason I didn’t watch more than 10 minutes of the whole thing is not because I found the whole thing particularly troubling or distasteful, nor because of the overwhelming level of patriotism sweeping the country, but simply because I find most sport (with the exception of football) utterly boring. Plus I was actually out of the country for half of the last month anyway.
That’s not to say that I’m not aware of the benefits that came with the Olympics, nor occasionally diverted by the human stories which exist beneath the main narrative – this interview with Victoria Pendleton is fascinating and rather moving. Like my favourite footballer, Benoît Assou-Ekotto, she isn’t obsessed with sport, which I find very endearing. But it’s not that that is interesting, but rather the difficult, painful backstory which accompanies her story. The interview’s worth a read – first paragraph:
According to Victoria Pendleton, British Cycling has already sold off her bike. Some staff members will probably never speak to her again. She suspects they will be relieved not to have to deal with her any more. She tells me all this with a twinkly, tinkling laugh, the kind people adopt when they are trying especially hard not to sound bitter. The words ring in my head as I hang up the phone after our second conversation. I feel unexpectedly gutted.
My established love of beer is fast becoming an obsession, I think – something which has been much encouraged by the existence in Brighton of (a) a truly excellent off license – Trafalgar Wine at the top of the North Laine – and (b) some terrific pubs which are bringing in more and more imported and speciality beers. I’ve recently subscribed to @beerbods, too – a really excellent service which, for the price of £36, provides 12 bottles of excellent beer (one a week for 3 months) that come with all sorts of social media bells and whistles and, most importantly, tasting notes – which is great for a heathen like me.
This is very interesting; using crowdfunding to finance artistic projects is hardly news – it’s been happening for years and has clearly picked up a great deal of pace recently, in the world of films, games, journalism and publishing. In the music world, a number of indie rock bands which I follow have used it to get records off the ground, and in each case have done so in keeping with a level of independent spirit which makes the decision unsurprisingly. (Interesting, Darren Hayman is a vocal opponent of this method of funding creativity).
This article points to a more traditional area of music which has been benefiting from this new world; jazz.
Not long ago, Wayne Escoffery—trusted saxophonist with the Mingus Big Band, the Tom Harrell Quintet and Ben Riley’s Monk Legacy Septet—had an idea for a new album. He’d already released five under his name, and a couple with his wife, the singer Carolyn Leonhart. But this one would be different: a concept album inspired by his early years in London, and the hardships of his single mother, and the circumstances around their emigration to the States. In essence, a portrait of the artist as a young man.
It would also be his first album of entirely original music, which he’d conceived for a blend of acoustic and electric instruments. But when he presented the idea to the record label he was affiliated with at the time, he found no traction there. “They felt that the music wasn’t accessible or radio friendly,” he recalled recently. So Escoffery turned to Kickstarter, the popular crowd-funding website, and took his pitch public. The decision literally paid off. He exceeded his $10,000 goal, and went on to make his album, The Only Son of One, which was released on Sunnyside this spring. (To the likely chagrin of his previous label, it has met with some success on jazz radio.)
Went to Pride today; lovely as always to join in the festivities, especially as we went to hang out with our friends Oli and Sanj beforehand, in what they cheerfully term their ‘gay house’. Sanj was ashamed to have no sparkling water to hand, and rebuked me for folding my arms at one point. “I need you to relax”, he told me, wrenching my posture. “This is a gay house”.
"Me, I want to bloody kick this moronic bloody world in the bloody teeth over and over till it bloody understands that not hurting people is ten bloody thousand times more bloody important than being right."
David Mitchell, Black Swan Green