Monday, 30 January 2012

The condition of music (decrescendo e morendo).

I’ve been paid several compliments regarding my Blog since my last posting. Excellent! This is always delightful, but given the way my mind works, it comes with a qualification. I am, after all, only as good as the last thing I wrote, and responsibility demands that I maintain a consistent standard. So, you’ll appreciate that I worry about crossing the line into self parody were I to pander to my own distorted idea of what it is my adherents — dare I use the word — desire from these articles. But oh, listen to me, I’m starting to sound despicably ungracious. I really should just take the compliment and get on with it. So if you’re reading this, and especially if you’re reading this having read a previous entry, then thank you. It is wonderful to know there really is a world out there. Ooh, I came close to saying ‘a waiting world’ then, but let’s not get too carried away just yet.

Anyway, my dear adherents, I am pleased to say these past two weeks have thankfully brought no further physical trauma, mental anguish or other misfortunes to me or my beloved, and life ticks along in at least no worse a fashion than usual. All of which meant I could curb my usual spleen and turn my attention to a subject that gives me pleasure without qualification: Classical music. Unfortunately I must postpone that subject until another day. However, my inspiration for this entry instead sprang from a somewhat disappointing moment I had earlier this week while engaged in the otherwise joyful pastime of shopping for Classical CDs.

I had received a generous Christmas gift of £60 in HMV vouchers from my kind and magnificent in-laws. Splendid! The usual evening walk home from work is easily modified to cross Oxford Street and thus make the largest branch of this record emporium an easy stop along the way. The missus was safely dispatched to pass the time in her own inimitable way around John Lewis and his seven floors of fun nearby, giving me a good hour or so to browse the three levels of His Master’s Voice. Some of you will be familiar with it: from the main drag of Oxford Street, you pass through tall, doorless portals into a vast open-plan space filled with immense rows of CD shelving, or ‘gondolas’ as they’re called in the trade (another story for another time). At the centre of this area are the escalator columns that take you upwards to the DVD section one way, down to the basement in the other, where the Folk, Jazz, Soundtracks and Classical Departments can be found — the latter of which is sequestered from the other areas and accessible through heavy, slow-hinged glass doors that provide an effective soundproof barrier from the rest. Once inside, you are confronted with an area of  similar dimensions to a tennis court, with more gondolas laid out in tiers, subdivided into A to Zs of composers, opera, early music, vocalists and so on. Something customer-friendly — and therefore by necessity, melodic and pleasant — is playing over the speakers. This music — and having considerably fewer customers browsing here than elsewhere in the store — helps maintain an atmosphere of almost sacred calm in this room.

While I’m here with you, I should point out that the tranquillity is frequently broken by what seems to be an ever-present hazard in these environs: the attention-seeking Classical music buyer. He (and it’s almost always a he, I have observed) will almost certainly be wearing a scarf, but will otherwise be of any age between 20 and 80. He feels the need to address each line of racking with the posture of a praying mantis, hands poised fussily over the serried CD ranks, fingers flitting over the jewel cases as if playing some vast, vertically stacked keyboard with what he fancies to be a well-practised action. As he searches, he underlines the visual urgency with sounds of questing bother and confusion, clucking disapprovingly at albums that displease him for reasons kept to himself or stopping on others with a clipped ‘ah!’ of delighted recognition. Trust me, his kind are there 75% of the time. I know his game: a stupid, irrelevant pantomime performed in the vain hope that any onlookers may consider this studiedly eccentric behaviour to be the outward signs of an inner heightened sensitivity and exactitude. He’s intensely irksome. I fight the urge to walk up to him, stand too close and shout “WHAT?” in his face. Oh and if you’re so fucking clever, then why are you reading out loud?

This last irritating detail apart, I’m very fond of the Classical Department. So it was I made my way down the escalator and through the glassed entrance. I had not been inside the room for a few months. Oh my, how things have changed. The feeling upon entering the room was not dissimilar to how you feel if you arrive first at a party (we’ve all done that), walk into an empty pub just after 11am (never done that? You haven’t lived!) or have ever wandered round the Square Mile of the City Of London on a Sunday (really no need to do that). Embarrassment. The lack of stock, inversely proportional to the abundance of available shelf space, lent the room a distinct air of embarrassment — a bantam puffing up in a poor imitation of heavyweight. You could sense that the gondolas had been placed a little further apart than was previously the case just to hold the ground. If I had noticed, instantly, how thinly the stock had been spread around the room, then it’s odds-on that someone in a position to decide the fate of this department would already have done so too. How much longer will this gentle and civilised sanctum be able to pay its way and retain occupancy?

Coming back up the escalator, (I’ll tell you what I bought another time) the main area on the ground floor also appeared in a new light. Only now did I notice a large section at the back of the store given over to multifarious music playback technology and gaming. It was laid out in painful imitation of a small corner of the Apple Store on Regent Street: perspex boxes with MP3 players and iPads upon them; rows of clear plastic tables at arm height, for people to try out games for Nintendo 3DS, XBox and the like. A lot of air in that part of the shop, but precious little to buy and even less being bought. The Oxford Street HMV once held a Guinness world record for the largest square feet of sales space for a music outlet. It may still do so if we consider the mere shell of the building, but I fear the visibly dwindling amount of stock on display in-store tells a sadly different story.

We all know the problem of course: it’s us. The rise of internet shopping has obviated most needs to hit the High Streets and we’ve all become complicit in this slow decline. Because internet shopping is great, isn’t it? It eliminates the arbitrariness of casual shopping: if you’re prepared to wait a few days, you’re more guaranteed to get a CD that the physical store may not happen to have on the day you stroll in. Some of us hate rubbing shoulders with the hoi-polloi, or battle with recalcitrant trolleys in overcrowded supermarkets  with overheated customers. Me, I love food shopping, but I appreciate how many people hate going on a Saturday (the most likely day to go for most people who work in the week) and would rather spend the time doing something nicer instead. I also despise bespoke shopping precincts, having never found a single one to be an enjoyable place to be for any time. Yes, the advantages of online buying are almost so self-evident as to need no further description.

The sad part is, the advantages of shopping in the High Street are somewhat nebulous and the pleasures more spiritual — if it’s not too strong a word — in nature, so they’re harder to defend. For a start, there’s a thrill of discovery that comes with shop browsing that I simply don’t think the internet can equal. But equally as important: it’s simply good to get out, isn’t it? I think many people need to engage with the outside world more often — precisely the kind of people who would, given half a chance, use the internet to the exclusion of all other vendors. Furthermore I’m not sure if everybody has something else they’d rather do, so all the time saved in not going out isn’t necessarily employed elsewhere in a quality manner. I worry about those people with neither the imagination nor recourse to fill their newly acquired hours. My main worry is that this veritable seismic shift in lifestyle has been adopted so wholeheartedly that we’ve abandoned one form for the other with insufficient consideration. Surely each way has its own rewards? It just seems to me that the internet holds all the practical, expedient cards — but that isn’t everything. To ignore the happiness you get from a good browse in a shop is to argue the value to one’s well-being of paracetamol over that of a good, hot cup of tea — and I would not like to imagine a world where one exists without the other. I’d happily put up with a shop full of people like Mr Classical Mantis every now and then rather than spend my afternoons sat alone at a computer — that’d be really irksome. Plus I can’t order a decent pint online when I want one, whereas my local High Street has a pub.

Another piece of the world is dying and its loss will prove a sad day indeed. The list of independent record shops that have died out in the past decade is almost infinite and many of the major players — Virgin, Fopp!, Zavvi, hell, even Woolworths — are either no more or forced to reconfigure themselves as online entities. No, HMV is not the first record retailer to find themselves in tough times, but at the rate things are going I fear they will almost certainly be the last. The very last.

Sic transit gloria mundi.


Currently watching:
Doctor Who: The Sensorites (BBC, 1964)
The Case-Book Of Sherlock Holmes/The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes (Granada, 1990-1994)

Currently listening:
The Stone Turntable (Transglobal Underground, 2011)
King Of The Down (Arch Garrison, 2010)

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Rant-wank for 2012.

Boy oh boy. My brain is frazzled. Scarcely two weeks into January and already 2012 is uncommon busy. Too much has prevailed upon my attention so far to devote much time to writing. Some of these distractions have been welcome, fun and stimulating but several — the majority, it dejects me to say — have been tiring, fraught with worry, sad and extremely sobering. You may imagine I don’t do ‘sobering’ in the main, so this is something new to consider. Interesting times indeed — but nothing I need trouble you with right now, I’m afraid. Still, while I’m here, placed in a not entirely agreeable frame of mind, and having moulded your expectations (somewhat unfairly) by telling you so, I think now is a good a time as any to have a rant and a rail and generally be annoyed. So here, for your edification and estimation, are a couple of things I can’t stand.

Before I begin, I’m not going to talk about the major, self-evident execrations of human life — I’m confident that none of you reading this are big fans of racism, homophobia, sexism, ageism and disability discrimination — let’s take all that as given. No one digs terminal illness or unrequited love — and only the dullest of politicians or economists would posit the notion that the world is better off with a smattering of war than none at all. Nothing so heroic, so nauseatingly worthy. No, let’s be a little more mundane, more personal. It’s more fun that way, oddly enough. Furthermore, I should add that I was going to list more than two things, but I have found, rereading this article prior to posting, that I don’t half like going off on one and needs must bowdlerise. So:

1. SOFAS IN PUBS: the ongoing and drawn-out death of the decent boozer goes hand-in-hand with the rise of stupid interior design creeping into your local. Let me be plain about this: sofas with matching armchairs to sit in are fine fittings in the privacy and quiet of one’s own living room, but there’s a reason why the Public House is so named: it’s full of the general public. Conversation conducted across the gulf between living room furniture in a noisy pub would be rendered inaudible without a measurable increase in volume — and I don’t know about you, but I have interesting, meaningful and often deeply personal discussions in pubs. All of this requires the protagonists have a degree of intimacy.

The standard wooden table is a sorely underrated piece of equipment in the arsenal of the intensely sociable: not only does it provide a level surface to place one’s beverage, but crucially, one’s arms and elbows as well (etiquette be damned; it’s not Sunday lunch with your parents now), enabling those sat round it to conspire in as confidential fashion as they may wish to without being alone. You simply can’t do this in a pub with sofas and armchairs. Their inclusion in an increasing number of establishments indicates a desire to encourage a certain type of trendy-yet-transient trade who want difference for its own sake. I find it inherently contradictory that anyone wishing to be ‘seen out’ somewhere would find their cool in a place that replicates the familiarity of home. Well, I haven’t come here to laze about — anyone who tells you that this is what a pub is for doesn’t know how to drink. Ah, there they are: the ones sitting in the sofas, mouthing barely heard inanities. Go home.

2. MULTIPLEX CINEMA: Mono sound, smoked-out auditoria, seats of the tattiest velour, cheerfully naff adverts purveying the dubious wares of local businesses — and all bookended by the funky slitscan-style graphics of Pearl & Dean, soundtracked to the super-slick sting of Pete Moore’s ‘Asteroid.’ The Seventies cinema-going experience was no mere cliché, I can assure you. How I loved going once upon a time. My childhood in Sidcup was punctuated by frequent trips to the ABC on the High Street, a fleapit boasting no less than two screens. The staff were astonishingly ugly and joyless. Within this horribly decorated picture house I saw my first ever film in 1975 (Disney’s The Jungle Book; I fell asleep before the end) and many films for the first time there that I have come to love repeatedly ever since: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (both the 1977 original and the unnecessary 1981 Special Edition), 2001: A Space Odyssey (the tenth anniversary rerelease in 1978), Back To The Future (all three films), Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park, to name a handful of the big ones. At times when they didn’t show adverts or trailers before the main feature, a strip of scratched film would have colour gels passed and projected through it onto the screen to musical accompaniment: Pink Floyd never lost sleep over these boys.

By the mid-Nineties, the multiplex model had arrived from the USA and as town centres became pedestrianised — killed by the final solution of shopping madness — so the ‘cinema villages’ sprang up like fungal spores in dead places. They sold hotdogs, vast crates of popcorn, mega-buckets of Pepsi Max and micro-tubs of Haagen-Dazs, all in vast quantity and even greater expense.  The screens were many of number, of unprecedented size and the auditoria larger to match, accommodating hundreds of people, some of whom could almost see the screen square on. The sound was surrounding, resounding and abounding. The ABC in Sidcup couldn’t compete with that — nor, laudably, did they try. Instead, they introduced daytime screenings of £2.50 at a time when a typical multiplex ticket cost the price of a round of drinks. I was delighted as an adult to take my dear retired father to see Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan at such a daytime screening in the late nineties, and again in 2000 to see Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. By then, the writing was on the flock wall. The ABC closed later that year, finally overwhelmed, forced to capitulate to the big hitters of silver screen presentation.

And yet…nothing that modern cinema presentation has to offer has suggested to me that today’s moviegoing experience is any better. You used to get what you paid for — that is to say, a film and nothing more. Screen size, comfy seats and stereo sound are all improvements on the ABC model — I can’t lie — but these should be basic requirements, taken as given. No, it’s the unnecessary that irritates me, and the blatancy with which today’s multiplexes vie for ever more irrelevant ways to fleece you for your cash is stunningly insulting. The huge bucket of ice slurry and cola, the tasteless, textureless frankfurter facsimile: are these items strictly necessary to make your evening better? Well, really. You won’t starve for the duration of the film. Bring some sweeties along if you must flavour your drool, but why not try taking your partner out to somewhere nice to eat before or after the show, like grown-ups — not to Frankie & Fucking Benny’s Microwaved Frozen Food Toytown.

What people consistently fail to realise about a trip to the cinema is that it is a fundamentally antisocial activity. Sure, you go with people to see the film, and you may go somewhere afterwards to discuss what you saw, but at its core is a two-hour-average demanding your silence and attention. Now, it appears less and less to require the audience sit and watch the film, but to invite running commentary and the feverish consumption of the aforementioned overpriced poor-quality food items. Well, it’s not dinner time, boys and girls. Go elsewhere for that. The cinema used to be one of several things a fun-loving person would do over the course of a varied, entertaining evening. Now, by having isolated movie villages with surrounding mediocre food outlets to lure the undemanding and keep them within the labyrinth, a trip to the flicks has become the entire evening in itself for so many people and the venue a prime place for the feckless to hang out in, aimlessly, simply to make it more of an event. In this respect, it’s akin to the disproportionate time spent sitting about waiting for a flight at an airport. Do you really wish to spend a second longer in these drab, generic places, outside of their primary function? If we didn’t give the cinema complexes a good excuse to have people hanging around them, then we wouldn’t have the kind of tedious people who hang around them hanging around them. Got it?

I have a distinct suspicion that you may not agree with me on either of these points. Well, that’s the bit that turns me on. I’m getting old and my sense of humour is becoming — let’s be charitable — somewhat rarified as I perceive each little piece of my world getting still further away from me for no adequate reason. The fact remains that none of these bones of contention are negotiable with me. I maintain that there’s no nice sofa in a pub waiting to be discovered and short of getting pregnant, effecting a personality overhaul or undergoing unnecessary aversion therapy I will never, ever develop a craving for cinema popcorn. I’m an embittered bastard, but at least I know what I don’t like and I know why I don’t like it — and that’s a good start. Almost positive, you might say.

Happy January.


Currently watching:
The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes (Granada, 1984) The palate clearer for every New Year: Jeremy Brett’s supreme interpretation of the consulting detective.
Doctor Who: The Android Invasion (BBC, 1975)
Doctor Who: Invasion Of The Dinosaurs (BBC, 1973)

Currently listening:
Any/all albums by Cardiacs.
Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Te Deum/Messe de minuit (Choeur et Musiciens de Louvre/Marc Minkowski, 1997)

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Happy New Year.

Festive cheers to you all. Besides the mandatory merrymaking that occurs round this time of year, I have cause for a minor, momentary celebration of my own. For it was this time, last year — and may I say oh, what a joy it is to use that phrase now and how much I fear I’ll be using it plentifully before too long — that I started my Blog. So, cheers to me — hup, huzzah, etc.

“Paul is intoxicated by the exuberance of his own verbosity.” This is how my form teacher at Primary School described me, aged ten, in my end-of-term report. I like this description very much. That I was insufferably precocious is obvious, but I think there’s a great deal of good to be said for being such a determined, confident steamroller of joy at such a young age. The Little Engine That REALLY Could, if you like.

Unfortunately, I fear my natural intoxication has been replaced with something a little more…‘medicinal’ in the past few years. I suspect it’s entirely symptomatic of my need to look harder for the kind of exuberance I clearly used to access without effort or conscience until not so very long ago. My writings over the past twelve months have helped, diaristically, to set some of my emotional responses to situations in order and I have to come to a sad conclusion: I have not been a very happy man lately. Events have conspired, as I all too often find myself saying, to wear down the sense of humour and natural bonhomie for which, I like to think, I am so rightly famous. Oh, I’ve not necessarily been advertising the fact — rather, I hope I haven’t; I possess too much nervous energy to sit about moping and as an intensely sociable person I try to find the fun in everything, everywhere, as often as I can. Nonetheless, there is an ever-present background radiation level of uncertainty and discontent. Well, this simply won’t do any longer — and so, as the occasion affords, we come to the matter of New Year’s Resolutions.

Last January I eschewed the obvious kind of challenges, those I described as walking a brisk mile every day, cutting down on booze or even leaving the sugar out of my coffee” and prescribed a self-help manual-type programme of Resolutions that I readily admitted sounded “rather worthy, slightly pompous, possibly passive, definitely vague, and ultimately — worst of all — dull.” You know the sort of thing: I promise to be less tolerant of stupidity whenever I should encounter it, I shall not quail from confrontation and I shall not waste my time on people who waste my time — in other words, physical exertion is one thing, but it needs mental strength to sustain it. Well, it’s a beautiful thought. OK, a thought at least.

A year on, and I can’t agree with this — it’s too abstract, utterly non-reliant on visible result, and surely visible results is what the resolutions game is all about. It’s also merely reactive, which is surely only half the story in self-improvement, if not even less. All the time I have been waiting for something or someone to come along and test my resolve is time I could have spent doing something active, and I feel a little foolish for that.

Similarly, Roger Waters, discussing Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon (and you and I had best get used to it — I’ll be mentioning these chaps a lot more over the coming year; it seems their capacity to fascinate me is endless) drew much of his lyrical inspiration from the realisation in his late twenties that his life to date was not a rehearsal:

“Everything was always in order to prepare for real life, which was at some point going to start down the road. It came as a great shock to discover that I wasn’t preparing for anything — I was right in the middle of it, and always had been.”

Now try feeling that when you’re over forty. I think this may be the absolute definition of Midlife Crisis.

In a way, I had noticed this phenomenon obliquely already: several years ago I was told that I had been taking the medication for my ongoing asthma incorrectly — for thirty years. Once I stopped feeling a bit of a ‘nana, I simply administered the correct daily dosage henceforward. This is my way of telling myself: don’t worry about what went before, let’s get on with things now. I’m sure this is obvious advice to you, but it comes as an absolute bloody revelation to me. Well, I’m a silly bastard. There’s always plenty to do, even in these benighted economic times. Here are a few things I plan to do in the coming weeks and I recommend them to you. Think not of them as resolutions if you don’t wish to — some are self-evident — but more as a sort of game plan:

Cooking: last January I cooked my first roast duck, a seismic event on the culinary scale for me, and a successful one. Who knows what exciting innovations 2012 will bring to the Murphy cuisine? Seriously, let me wax dogmatic on this matter here and advise you all: if you can’t cook and don’t cook — learn to. The first thing you’ll notice is how much cheaper your shopping bill is when you’re buying the raw ingredients for meals. Furthermore, it’s — sorry in advance for the naff phrase — a ‘life skill,’ that demonstrates your willingness to engage with the world around you. If you can’t make decent mashed potatoes or a bacon sarny, for example, then to my mind you’re betraying a certain degree of mental laziness that casts my doubt on your ability to do anything more complex. Really, grow up. Everyone should have one thing in their culinary repertoire beyond knowing how thickly they like their Marmite on toast. Finally — and this is the feeblest reason of all — it impresses people if you can cook. This is sadly more to do with gratitude of the inept masses out there who can’t cook, but as someone who isn’t too bad in the kitchen I can categorically state that good food is much nicer when someone else makes it for you. Especially breakfast. Now stop listening to me grouching and have fun finding out. That’s an order!

Join a group: not necessarily a music group, although that can be fun. I have had my fill of bands for the time being, tho’. Last February, however, I chaired my first ever talk at a meeting of the Sohemian Society, a collective dedicated to celebrating the literary, artistic and historical legacy of London’s Soho district. For the meagre sum of £3, one is ushered upstairs of the legendary Wheatsheaf pub on Rathbone Place for an occasional weekly talk on an always-fascinating aspect of Sohemian history. Like any gathering, it’s a good place to meet people and have a chat over a drink (and often dinner afterwards), particularly on topics you may not discuss anywhere else with anyone else. In this respect, it’s usually the evenings on subjects I know little or none about that yield the most rewards. Their website is here if you’re interested.

I hear book groups are also fab affairs, although I read so very little these days. That said, the prospect of joining such a gang might boot me up the posterior in this regard. Which brings me onto:

Read more: my walks home after work take me past the Forbidden Planet store on Shaftesbury Avenue: two floors of max-out geek heaven. The top floor contains all the toys and collectibles, those overpriced effigies of over-endowed superheroes, plus the T-shirts and mugs blazoned with the logo of your favourite film. I have an unvarnished hypocritical disdain for all this kind of tat — mainly because they never have that Welcome To Amity Island! Jaws T-shirt in my size. However in the last few weeks I have discovered the joys of the lower level, the one housing the books and graphic novels. Here I have reacquainted myself with reprinted editions of the comics I loved as a child. Mark their names with pride: 2000AD! Star Lord! Battle! Action! I think that last one may have had an exclamation mark in the title, by the way. And the strips, ah, such unsubtly rousing stories: Flesh, Harlem Heroes, Ro-Busters and of course, the mighty Judge Dredd…OK, it’s not Dostoyevsky, but on the plus side…it’s not Dostoyevsky. I’m a complicated chap and sometimes my tastes run to the joyously simplistic; gratuitous Seventies cartoon violence and relentless Thrill-Power. Who knows, before too long I may graduate to Big Books, ones with words and no pictures. In the meantime, it’s fun and it’s a start.

Listen to music: Naxos, the purveyors of budget Classical music CDs have a page on their website advising people how best to listen to music while attending concerts. This will come as patronisingly obvious to many of you, but I’m sure there are still a few of you who may have music as something that’s simply on in the background in your home. This is fine sometimes, of course but the enjoyment of music is increased ten, one hundred, one thousandfold if one listens, really listens. Do nothing else while you do, except maybe to raise and lower a beverage of your choice to your lips. Close your eyes if need be. Appreciate how the sounds are achieved, follow the passage of one particular instrument or musician on the recording. Let it — forgive the triteness of expression — take you on a journey. One can go for hours at home doing nothing else if not rapt in sound. It’s as free as anything gets nowadays — something we can all be glad of. There, my instant solution to overspending. If I were Prime Minister, I tell you. Then again, you could ignore me and always…

Get out of the house and visit somewhere, preferably cheap: my passport is in dire need of renewal at time of writing and I cannot afford to go abroad. Undaunted, there is much to do on my own doorstep. Most of the major galleries and Museums in London are free. Apologies if you’re not reading this in the London area, but hey, you’re online, so you’re not in a cave wherever you are. Early last month I visited the Meantime Brewery in Greenwich, as part of a friend’s birthday celebration. You may be shocked, nay amazed, to learn that I have never been inside of a brewery in my life. The closest I ever came to one was when I was shown round the Codorníu cava vineyards in Barcelona, aged thirteen — which doesn’t count, even if the snifter I received at the end did go completely to my innocent, little curly haired head. Our guide at the Meantime Brewery was entertainingly knowledgeable and I learned more about making beer in one evening than I ever did — plus we were plied with copious amounts of the stuff as we went around. The finest, freshest beer one could imagine, drank straight from the copper-bottomed cow, in a manner of speaking. We all completely recouped the £15 outlay for the trip in sampled booze at least twice over. Magnificent!

Don’t be afraid, be useful: apologies for such a vague and high-handed bit of advice, but there’s no simpler way of expressing it. I’m thinking of times when I could have been of assistance to someone, but maybe lacked the ability. Last summer, I was summoned for Coroner’s Court Jury Service and spent the best part of a fortnight in a room with ten complete strangers engaged — contrary to my expectations — in some of the most stimulating discussion I had all year. I learned many weaknesses and shortcomings about myself and the frailties of other people; in the former, I realised how often my received wisdom was based on pure supposition and needed to be validated, how often I would casually throw my words about as assumed fact instead of the complete arse that it could be. From the cases I sat in upon, I learned that life could be cruelly ended in sudden, apparently random ways. Scary stuff, certainly, but with qualification: most of these fatal incidents could largely be averted with sufficient vigilance to read the danger signs in advance and possess the initiative to act. So, for example, pay attention to the batteries in your smoke alarm. Learn how to perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre. Recognise the early stages of carbon monoxide poisoning or meningitis and ensure you do not mistake flu symptoms for either. Oh, and bloody check the facts before you forward on those scaremongering emails about HIV-positive syringes taped onto park benches for the unwary to sit upon — people who do that really piss me off. Fear, as someone enlightened once put it, really is the mind killer.

Finally, obviously and for some, most painfully:

Get rid of something: in this financial climate the temptation may be to hold onto everything that you can, but who has not found that certain things, once shucked away, are surprisingly easy to leave behind you. Whether you’re chucking out all the crap that accumulated in your home over Christmas, discovering the joys of eBay or — yes — quitting cigarettes, it’s a good a time as any to make an assault on those things that bug you about your daily routine. Thankfully, since I last wrote on the matter, I continue not to smoke, although I have enough vivid dreams in which I am puffing away on the tabs to know that I cannot yet classify myself a comfortable ‘non-smoker,’ if you understand me. If you’re on the ciggie wagon for 2012, then you may be interested to read my tale of quitting (click here).

A recurring theme in my blogs is how often I like to mention how music isn’t easily pigeonholed into such all-encompassing genres of ‘Sixties’ ‘rock’ ‘funk’ ‘Seventies’ and the like, but instead evolves, organically or forcibly, into ever-newer, ever-changing things. I should take my own advice more often. A dictionary-style definition of ‘time’ is as accurate as it is cold: a ‘non-spatial continuum,’ in which events are perceived and played in apparently irreversible order, from the past, through the present and on into the future. It’s so very, very obvious, but I think all too often in our rigidly ordered lives of appointments and deadlines, we tend to forget that time flows, and instead break things down into chunks labelled ‘today,’ ‘Friday,’ ‘January,’ ‘2012’ and so forth — but time, and the eroding effect it has on your life, can’t always be so easily packaged into such tidy bundles. I have previously spent my life seeing the world in this way far too often, but when you come to think about it, ‘January,’ for all its financial austerity and long cold nights, is not so much something to ‘get through’ as a general time in which you simply have to find the fun wherever you will. Which I guess is what we all try to do most months, isn’t it?

Have a splendid New Year and I wish you the most positive outlook for 2012 — unless you’re Mayan, in which case, enjoy Doomsday, safe in the knowledge that you were right all along.


Currently watching:
Young Sherlock Holmes (Barry Levinson, 1985)
Sherlock (BBC, 2012)
Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie, 2009)
The Star Wars Saga (George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Richard Marquand, 1977 - 2005)

Currently listening:
All albums by the amazing North Sea Radio Orchestra: North Sea Radio Orchestra (2005), Birds (2007) and I A Moon (2011).

Currently reading:
Comics mania! Flesh: The Dino Files (Mills, Boix, Sola Gosnell, Belardinelli, McKay, 1977-79, 2007) and Harlem Heroes (Mills, Tully, Gibbons, Belardinelli, 1977-78).