Monday, 25 April 2016

EVER GET THE FEELING YOU'VE NOT BEEN CHEATED?

Of late, my footsteps keep taking me past the clutter of a decent remaindered books outlet in the West End of that London. I've taken to stopping in for a brief mooch, mindful of all the interesting reads I've been turned onto by these places over the years, as mentioned in a recent ramble around the upside of time-killing.

This particular shop has proven to be particularly well-stocked with the works of Jon Ronson, hence their numerousness on the this is my england reading list. In theory, I would have been happy to pay full price for any of these. It also seems unfortunate that non-fiction as consistently interesting and amusing as Ronson's can be had from the bargain bins. But the remaindering process is a gift horse. My means are not unlimited. So I cannot look it in the mouth.

On the most recent trip to this shop, I picked up another of Ronson's books, wondering for the first time ever whether he had written something unlikely to be worth the discounted price I'd paid for it, let alone the original full price. It was, after all, extremely slender, weighing in at barely seventy pages. But given than less can be more, I was more wary of the subject matter than of the feathery size of this little thing. I was never, after all, much of a fan of Frank Sidebottom, the singing papier-mâché head brought squeakily to life in the 1980s and 1990s by the late Chris Sievey.

I did get the joke. Being a soft southern git did not prevent me from appreciating the comic mismatching of musical forms with obscure references to the quotidian details of life in the north of England. I must have even had some level of appetite for that particular brand of comedy because Half Man Half Biscuit were a fixture of my teenage mixtapes for a while. I was a fan of The Fall, too, a fact I mention because I contend that the magic realism of Mark E. Smith's lyrics and the knowing dourness of his delivery combine to create a comic effect not unalike the ones conjured up by Frank Sidebottom or by the post-punksters from the Wirral peninsula. 

I just felt that the Birkenhead combo did the whole northern absurdism bit more amusingly and more satisfyingly than the persona created by Chris Sievey. Good grounds, then, for wondering how much I would enjoy Ronson's brief account of his time as a member of Frank Sidebottom's Oh Blimey Big Band and of his later co-writing of a fictionalised movie version of Sievey's strange life.

I needn't have entertained these doubts. I demolished those seventy pages in the time it took to eat some sushi and take two tube rides. On both journeys, I was that passenger you sometimes see struggling to suppress loud laughter and wiping hot tears of mirth from his face. This is only partly because the dingy gig venues and Students Union ENTS office described by Ronson were so close to the wonderful, half-recalled shitholes of my own youth. It is simply very funny and sweetly sad. So DO buy this. Buy it for very little in the remaindered book store. Or buy it full price. But get it. Get it.  



Sunday, 24 April 2016

SOFT KILOMETRES: TUNES

having managed to twist the left ankle rather painfully on Friday, I needed fairly gentle physical jerks today. nothing involving the slamming of the bodyweight through the legs and onto the floor. treadmill pounding, then, dispreferred in favour of turning the pedals of the static bicycle thing. around 20 notional km were thusly racked up, followed by other non-ankle-imperilling shenanigans. musical accompaniment consisted of:

  • The Freemasons ft. Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer) [2009]
  • The Skatalites: Beardsman Ska [c. 1965?]
  • Flowered Up: It's On [1990]
  • Focus: Hocus Pocus [1971]
  • Goran Bregović: Kalasnjikov [2000?]
  • The White Stripes: Icky Thump [2007]
  • The Fall: Mr. Pharmacist [1986]
  • Donald Byrd, Jason Mizell & Fonce Mizell: Street Lady [1973]
  • Billy Taylor Trio: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free [1986?]
  • Rotary Connection & Minnie Riperton: I Am the Black Gold of the Sun [1971]
  • Las Balkanieras: Yu Go! [2011]
  • The Jam: In the City [1977]

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

all progress depends on the unreasonable man

sometimes I enjoy a well-known quotation so much that it becomes a staple of my conversation. I'll reach for it whenever it seems apposite. I probably overdo it sometimes. one such much-loved quote has cropped up once or twice on this is my england. it is a remark made by George Bernard Shaw, suggesting that we avoid the temptation to get drawn into debates with those who refuse to play nice in a lively exchange. Shaw talks to us in terms of wrestling with a pig.

this image is most likely to surge to the front of my mind when I'm feeling the urge to spar with the writers of very horrible comments added, below the line, to articles or news items presented to me on the laptop screen or on the phone. same thing back when I used to bother with Internet messageboards. it can happen in the context of Twitter, too, of course.

no huge surprise, then, to find myself stumbling upon another Shaw quote today and deciding that it may well become as well-liked and come to be(over)used as regularly as the pig wrestling bit:
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
readers who are more well-read than me. readers who are better educated. readers who really KNOW their Shaw. they may all be smiling, sighing or eye-rolling at the spectacle of a middle-aged blogger only coming to know of the above quotation today. at the childlike wonder with which he's enjoying it as something fresh. at the idea that he openly professes the likelihood of working into his limited repertoire of rhetorical flourishes. but I don't mind. I'll never meet you anway. and I like it. just like it. find it pleasing. find it to be neatly and so, so obviously useful and versatile. and I like the slim, slight book in which it cropped up for me today. more on that soon.

Monday, 18 April 2016

TREADMILL TUNES 005

Well, the days of working out in the relatively ritzy hotels and the gated community clubhouses of Florida are well and truly over. Warm weather and wide, bright highways no more. Back to Brexiting, blathering Blighty. Hence, then, to my usual gymnasium and to the realisation that while my "fitness" doesn't seem to have eroded too much, my posture (when lifting things and pulling things etc.) has gone squarely to hell in just two weeks. I'm assured it can be got back to where it was pretty swiftly. Ahead of all this, I'd pounded away on the old treadmill for a bit, propelled on my way by these tracks:

  • Department S: Is Vic There? [1980]
  • Sham 69: Hurry Up Harry [1978]
  • The Farm: Groovy Train [1991]
  • TC 1992: Funky Guitar [1992]
  • Visage: Fade to Grey [1980]
  • Indeep: Last Night a D.J. Saved My Life [1982]
  • James Brown: Funky President (People It's Bad) [1974]

Earlier in the day, while having a coffee, I'd noticed a guy wearing very eye-catching socks:


Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

GETTING BREAKFAST & STUFF

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA. GOING OUT FOR BREAKFAST. A BAGEL WITH LOX, CREAM CHEESE, TOMATO, ONION AND CAPERS FOR ME. AND A V8. SHOPPING FOR SOME OTHER STUFF. LOOKING FOR A STRAW HAT. GETTING A SMOOTHIE. WAITING TO CROSS THE STREET AND BEING GREETED BY A SMILING SHERIFF'S DEPUTY PASSING BY ON A BIG ASS MOTORCYCLE. PICKING UP SOME TICKETS. SEEING THINGS:





TREADMILL TUNES 004


Hotel gym in St. Augustine, Florida this morning. Put in a couple of miles on the treadmill plus a few other physical jerks. All of this jollied along by:
  • The Dismasters: Small Time Hustler [1987]
  • Otis Gayle: I'll Be Around [1972?]
  • 3rd Bass: The Cactus [1989]
  • Wild Cherry: Play That Funky Music [1976]
  • Lou Donaldson: One Cylinder [1967]
  • Just Jack: Starz In Their Eyes [2007]
  • Primal Scream: Movin' On Up [1991]
  • James Mason: Sweet Power Your Embrace [1977]
  • Happy Mondays: Step On [1990]

POOLS APART

We are now up in St. Augustine, Florida, having guided the rented Jeep up I-95 from the more familiar CDP where one of my sets of in-laws can be found. For the last stretch of the journey north, we left the Interstate, preferring the coast-hugging A1A, which passes by pastel-shaded and often staggeringly large holiday homes. The shining, turquoise Atlantic surged onto a long stretch of bright sand. We stopped for lunch at a roadside place with bulging, good-tasting reuben sandwiches (although clearly better known for seafood), where I bloody nearly left my debit card behind again. Second time this trip. Same stunt pulled in a Manhattan trattoria when we were in chilly New York last week. I think I'm foxed by that American thing of taking your card away and then returning it to you in some kinda leatherette binder to conclude the payment process. I write on the tip, sign my name and then get up to leave, all without extracting my card. Well, I've done it twice in just over a week. Muscle memory kicking in? (i.e. the brain is foxed by the hands being asked to do something different from the routine I'm used to back home, i.e. POS machine brought to table, card handed back to me by waiter/waitress). Failure of ageing brain to access full range of restaurant schemata? whatevs. Just don't do it again, OK?


On arrival here, we headed straight for the pool deck of our quirky downtown hotel. A single Margarita each. A few pages of the book I'm reading right now. A few minutes of Church of Lazlo on 96.5 The Buzz from Kansas City (best radio show in the world; I ought to write about it properly some time soon). But, just as it should be, way more of the time spent splashing about in the cool water of the pool and the almost scalding water of the hot tub (murder, for the first few moments, on my sunburned shins) with my son.


He's a good lad. High-spirited, for sure. Testing the limits of what he can get away with saying and doing? Most definitely. But he seems to be considerate enough. On the way to being able to operate in human society without causing undue harm or upset. Maybe some of that is natural. But we do our part, guiding him towards a feeling for other people's feelings, towards an awareness of what's going on around him. So only a few words were needed to ensure he had fun without shouting the place down, knocking over someone's drink or soaking the pages of some other punter's holiday novel. 

Watching my son play thusly (i.e. nicely), my mind returned to the clubhouse pool at the gated community where we'd been staying for the preceding few days. It's well maintained. A good size. Lots of comfy furniture arranged around it. A short walk from my in-laws' house (though most other pool users prefer to arrive and leave on golf carts...). The schools here not being on a break, it's quiet on weekdays. Empty. Or maybe just a couple of retirees swimming laps or relaxing in the sunshine. But at weekends we expect there to be more people around. Folks with kids and whose houses don't have private pools. I'm not exactly known for vivaciousness and conviviality but my wife is a nicer person and my son gets on easily with other kids so it's all fine. Well, usually. But not this Sunday.

It wasn't the gaggle of 20-something/30-something adults without accompanying children that rattled me. They were OK, notwithstanding the execrable LeAnn Rimes-style music playing from their corner of the pool deck. It wasn't even the small group of boys in their early teens loudly tormenting each other with dull jibes and banging the fucking gates to the pool area over and over and over and over and over again. No, what turned our stomachs and turned us away was the strange, unpleasant sight of a rotund boy eating slice after slice of pizza WHILE STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING SWIMMING POOL. Not just eating pizza, mind you, but picking at it with his chubby fingers, discarding dispreferred pieces of topping and crust INTO THE FUCKING WATER. 

You're probably asking where his parents were, right? Nowhere in sight? No, no. Not the case. The massively obese dad was sitting by the pool, WATCHING his son's drooly gob and hungry jaws work on those pizza slices. Not just watching, though. Each time junior finished a slice, big daddy would struggle up from his chair and hand the boy another portion. WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. FUCK.

Of course I considered going over there to ask the big guy what the hell he was doing. But I thought about my father-in-law and wondered whether he would appreciate being drawn into a dispute with one of his neighbours over something happening in a pool he never uses himself. So I left it and we headed back to the house. No desire to swim around with bits of masticated pizza dough and slobbery pepperoni.

So I was reminded that loutish behaviour and terrible parenting are not (as some may have it) phenomena exclusively associated with the poor. The gated community into whose pool we saw pizza crumbs being deposited is not a cheap place to live. While the prices of the smaller houses are certainly not high by UK standards, the monthly charges (to cover maintenance of the facilities and immaculate landscaping) are eye-watering. So that shitty, shitty dad has money and lives in some comfort. He's better off, I'm sure, that most of the parents we'd seen the day before at a local water park. There, my sense was that the patrons were mostly people living in homes with no access to private pools. People of more modest means. Many of them Hispanic and speakers of English as a second language, in an area where we have only observed Hispanics working as gardeners and cleaners. Consider the demographics of the nearby settlement where my in-laws reside, the numbers strongly suggesting that those Hispanic labourers we see at work must be based in other, presumably less affluent, parts of the county:
The racial makeup of the CDP [is] 96.56% White, 1.08% African American, 0.13% Native American, 1.03% Asian, 0.40% from other races, and 0.79% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.77% of the population.
That apparently less affluent water park crowd, then? Having a good time with their kids without any sign of behaviour as thoughtless, selfish or unpleasant as the nonsense we saw a day later from monied fat-dad and his pizza-gobbling offspring. Funny, lovely, horrible, old world. 

ROLL OF HONOUR

from time to time it's fun to review the list of people who have chosen to block this is my england on Twitter. this was last done back in May 2015. couple of observations, then, about today's update: new entries are marked with an asterisk; new entry may not mean the blocking has happened recently - could be the case I've only just noticed or only just remembered. here they are then...

  • Stacy Herbert*
  • Stewart Jackson MP*
  • Raheem Kassam*
  • Louise Mensch
  • Nadine Dorries
  • Guido Fawkes
  • Grace Dent
  • George Galloway
  • Nick Griffin
  • Douglas Carswell
  • Toby Young
  • James Delingpole
  • Melanie Phillips
  • Jay Bothroyd
  • Mike Gaukin
  • Joshua Bonehill-Paine (several incarnations thereof)
  • Tim Lovejoy
  • Fraser Nelson
  • Max Keiser
  • Ian Millard

as ever, I'd like to confirm that these folks were not on the wrong end of expletive-dotted abuse or, indeed, anything unreasonably abusive. interesting to note how many of the above, though, are self-proclaimed free speakers, notoriously sharp-tongued or otherwise supposedly inclined towards the rough and tumble of a robust discussion.

Friday, 8 April 2016

TREADMILL TUNES 003

the Florida gated community we are calling home for the next few days is well equipped with stuff we don't use (golf course, boat dock) and stuff we do (large, shallow swimming pool; small, neat gym). in said gym I am adjusting to the treadmill counting my progress in miles rather than km and my speed in mph rather than kph. it's doable. so ahead of a few other physical jerks this sunny morning, I put in somewhere between two and three miles. during all this activity I was kept company by:

  • Years and Years: King [2015]
  • Brass Construction: Movin' [1975] 
  • Lafayette Afro Rock Band: Hihache [1973]
  • The Brothers Johnson: Strawberry Letter 23 [1977]
  • Candi Staton: Young Hearts Run Free [1976]
  • Porter Robinson ft. Urban Cone: Lionhearted [2014]
  • Fred Westley: Funk for your Ass [2008]