Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Carelessly discarded yesterdays

I'm still listening to Bill Bryson's 'I'm a stranger here myself' audiobook. It's a collection of columns he wrote on his return to the United States to live.

One particularly poignant entry concerns Bill taking the opportunity to play ball with his youngest son upon realising that the boy will 'never again be seven years, one month and six days old. So you have to take these chances while they are there'.

It's a valuable lesson. Life is indeed too short...

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Video killed the radio star?

I should be sleeping but, as ever, I seem to be inappropriately awake. Might as well make some reasonably constructive use of the wee small hours...

A thought, vis a vis radio consumption, occurred to me earlier this evening (well, Monday evening at any rate) as I listened to the excellent Museum of Curiosity on Radio 4. How, precisely, should one listen to the radio?

I appreciate that on first glance this seems a fatuous question, the obvious answer being with one's ears. Similarly prosaic/sarcastic responses would almost certainly include: on a radio, via the internet, carefully or perhaps even sitting down.

My question though was - and is - one of engagement. Unlike television, radio requires the use of only one sense, thereby leaving the listener free - if they so choose - to do something else at the same time: wash the dishes, read the paper, drive to the shops, paint the ceiling. The listener can, of course, choose not to do anything other than simply listen and, by extension, engage with the broadcast. This latter option was the one I chose for the Museum of Curiousity.

I say chose, it more or less just happened by default. Feeling ill for much of yesterday I was in taking-it-easy mode and found myself sitting with a mug of tea in front of the fire with the radio on and nothing else to occupy me. I couldn't help but feel slightly distracted as I listened - distracted enough certainly to be planning a blog about the listening process. It's not that I wasn't enjoying the programme; it's funny, engaging, clever and features one of my favourite stand-ups, Sean Lock. The problem, if that's what it is, is that I don't often have the opportunity to simply listen to a radio broadcast, to allow it to wash over me, without either interacting with my children, driving the car, washing the dishes or reading the paper. Never painting the ceiling.

It was nice to be able to appreciate the broadcast without these distractions - there were no exhortations to "text your thoughts to the programme" or adverts for other shows or distracting background images and graphics. Just the concept and the people. Does there have to be any more? This is how it must have been in days gone by when families would gather round the wireless to hear the day's output - often limited to just a few hours or perhaps, in the case of wartime broadcasting, to a single leader's speech.

Strangely, through the miracles of the internet radio we've just bought (there being no "normal" reception in this house) I've just heard a simliar view expressed. Radio 4's Book of the Week this week is Radiohead by John Osborne, the story of one man's exploration of the radio waves of Britain as he listens to a different station every day for a year.

As the protagonist listens to Virgin Radio's mix of adverts and rock music he contends "this isn't what radio was invented for" and he's probably right. Though with the 7000+ stations available on our internet radio ranging from mainstream pop music in downtown San Diego to rural affairs in out-of-town West Cork it could be argued that modern radio and the ability of anyone to broadcast via the internet is the ultimate democratic tool.

As I started typing this, one of the few constants in an ever-changing media landscape, The Shipping Forecast, bobbed gently away on the airwaves (if I can mix my geographical metaphors). In a world of uncertainty, it's good to know that we can switch on the radio three times a day and find out if it's safe to drop anchor off Malin Head...

Saturday, 23 May 2009

All of life is here...

Buchanan Street, Glasgow. A pipe band complete with scantily clad lap dancing accompaniment courtesy of ''...right next to the god botherers, Socialist Worker demo and the Glasgow-Palestine Alliance. Cannae beat it.

Friday, 22 May 2009

A dusty walk to the tap

Just come across this in last weekend's Guardian Family section; couldn't agree more...

At home

In the US, there are "campers" who head into the wilderness, tents on backs - and there are the "car-campers", much derided by hardliners for bringing along a vehicle full of "essentials". In the spirit of British invention, why not try "house-camping"?

Our impetus to set up a tent on the lawn came from a need to air the tent for future trips and a failure to plan for the bank holiday. Surprisingly, there was still the same sense of anticipation of sleeping outside, the same excitement in "helping" Dad put up the tent and, even better, the chance to get really filthy - especially while preparing marshmallows over the fire pit.

True, there is no new environment to explore - the fun derives from looking at the same place in a new way. Plus, the next morning, there is little packing to be done, the bathroom facilities are excellent, and making coffee does not involve a dusty walk to the tap, a gas canister and a long wait.

Rebecca Gardner

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Out of chaos comes order...

I finally made a start. Do you see what happens when the telly gets switched off because I'm "just watching it for the sake of it"?

The great CD collection alphabetising exercise is well underway...

And yes, I'm well aware that in all but the weirdest alphabet, The Black Crowes would come before The Broken Family Band but at least we're in the ballpark here. Give me a break, I'm not that anal...

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Web 2.0: Jedi or Sith?

Photo from purplemattfish

Hopefully the Star Wars fans out there will appreciate the "two sides of the same coin" thinking here rather than a straight good versus bad analogy.

I blogged yesterday about Danny MacAskill. If you've not checked out the video yet then please, brighten up your day by doing so. Then brighten up someone else's by sending them the link, then they can see how this works?

That was after I'd read an article in The Sunday Times by a chap called Bryan Appleyard. If you follow the link , you too can read it. The wonders of the World Wide Web, eh? Basically what he was saying was that yes, the internet (as the general public understands it, Google,, Amazon, Facebook, Hotmail, etc, the "www bit") is, basically a good thing.


(You just knew that was coming)

He goes on to deride second coming of the web, "Web 2.0" - the communication and interaction side of the internet as wrong and dangerous:

[from the Times Online article] Twenty years have passed since Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the world wide web. From 1989 to 2000 it grew exponentially. Then it crashed, and...from the ashes emerged web 2.0, a cult created, engineered and run by Californians. This can be defined in many ways, but its principal features are, as with everything else in California, freedom, personal expression, letting it all hang out and making shedloads of wonga.

Blogging, Twittering and Facebooking, he contends, all give the individual the unprecedented opportunity to blather to the entire world. And this, Bryan, is a bad thing is it?

Yes. Of course there's any amount of inane rubbish out there. This post being, I'm under no illusions, perhaps another example. There's also, though, any amount of good stuff too - whether it be the mundanity of a restaurant recommendation or the wonder that is the Smithsonian's online museum collection. Similarly, and here I think is the point Mr. Appleyard may be missing - though I don't for one second think he's not aware of it - there's good and bad stuff out there in the "real" world too. It's a case of trying to find the diamond in the coal as a wise man once said.

Just because a book, CD, film or event exists, that doesn't mean you have to read, listen to, watch or attend it. There's choice there. There's freedom there. The moment you start to say this is good - we'll keep it, this is bad - let's destroy it, you move from critique to censorship.

There's a very engaging debate ongoing at the moment around freedoms (of speech and the press) in connection with The British Chiropractic Association and some claims they have made in connection with the efficacy of such a practice. Read more via Dave Gorman and Jack of Kent.

I'm not suggesting Mr. Appleyard is in favour of censorship per se - though he does appear to want to subdue the will and enthusiasm of the individual:

Institutions — publishers, newspapers, museums, universities, schools — exist precisely because they can do more than individuals. If web 2.0 flattens everything to the level of whim and self-actualisation, then it will have done more harm than good.

He then goes on to suggest that, in fact, the internet (or does he mean the World Wide Web?) may actually be harmful to, at a basic level, the evolution of human intelligence:

“There seems to be an inverse correlation between technological speed and intellectual diversity,” observes Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy.

I'm no great fan of MySpace - unless it's telling me when the next King Creosote or Phil Campbell gig is - or Facebook. But I accept their right to exist and the right of people to use them. Sure, you could just go and meet your pals in the pub for a beer and tell them your news and find out theirs rather than Tweet or Blog it but, and here's the thing, some of us have children, jobs, housework, in short, life to contend with and those student afternoons of pints, coffee and games of pool with your mates in the union are a long way away and even if they're not - it's good to talk. For some, sharing their thoughts can be a laugh, for others it can be cathartic or even therapeutic - a way to make sense of a troubled life.

If a problem shared can be a problem halved, then why can a joke shared or a new musical discovery shared not be a laugh or a singalong doubled, quadrupled or infinitely multiplied?

Appleyard again: The cult is the problem. I know that this article — it always happens — will be sneered at all over the web by people who cannot think for themselves because they are blindly faithful to the idea that the web is the future, all of it. I will be called a Luddite.

No Bryan, I'm not sneering, just tilting my head to one side and thinking, hmm, maybe Mr. Appleyard you need to get some nice people to follow on Twitter or watch the brilliant first appearance by Kate Nash on Later or read a life-affirming article by Roddy Woomble to see what you're missing by rejecting the social media aspect of the web.

He concludes the piece thus: it [the web] is wonderful, certainly, but it is also porn, online brothels, privacy invasions, hucksterism, mindless babble and the vacant gaze that always accompanies the mindless pursuit of the new. The web is human and fallen.

Yes Bryan. All those things. It's called life.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Little point reinventing the wheel... I've nicked this from Tom Morton's blog.

I've just sat and watched this clip with my jaw literally dropped open...if you're not impressed by this you certainly have no soul, and probably no pulse.

Dangerously close to a kum-by-ah moment...

I'm not long back from a trip to see the excellently named Otis Gibbs play the equally splendidly monickered Twisted Wheel club in Glasgow.

Otis is a singer-songwriter in the Woody Guthrie/Steve Earle style, with a crop of facial hair in the ZZ Top style and a terrific line in between song patter.

As we sang along, as requested, to an anti-war number with the refrain 'one day our whispers will be louder than your screams,' a genuinely pleased Mr. Gibbs gave us the title of this post...

Well worth checking out, if only for his endearingly poor impersonation of Billy Bragg's exhortations to try black pudding and "something called a publunch (said as one word)"

Friday, 15 May 2009

Joan Rivers has really let herself go..

Can't sleep. Tuned into I-player for some comedy, "Chewin' the Fat" as it happens. The intro rolled: "Now it's time for this week's special guest, Joan Rivers..."

Elvis cowboy boots, knocked off videos and a smell of frying.

The passing of the Glasgow Shopping Experience/Iconic Cultural Institution/Bypasser of financial trends and market forces/Rammy of a public midden* ends in tears, snotters and much gnashing of teeth today.

I have no strong feelings either way - it's a shitty eyesore, yes but it may - just may - help keep people on or below the poverty line from being hung out to dry.

What I do recall is trips their in my early teenage years with my dad - never alone, are you mental? This is Paddy's Market. I had to just point at potential purchases and shrug in a gesture through which I hoped to communicate my interest in ascertaining its price. Got some cracking bargains though; notably a pair of brown suede (!) cowboy boots around the time of the first Guns N' Roses comeback which I was sure made me look like W. Axl Rose. Or at least they imbued me with the spirit - I took to putting Jack Daniel's on my rice crispies and sporting white cycling shorts.

I also got a few of those wee storage boxes you don't see so much anymore (probably since you're not down at Paddy's - it's your fault (!) - to house my burgeoning collection of seven inch singles (by now featuring 'Thunder' 'Jagged Edge' 'Deaf School' and, of course, the great Feargal Sharkey (go on, pretend you didn't secretly enjoy "You Little Thief"). No more will untidy Glasgow children say "eh?" when mum or dad tell them their untidy bedroom is "like Paddy's Market on a busy day."

I couldn't, in all conscience, mourn its passing. Particularly now that the (always slightly) dodgy element seems to have become a full scale criminal underbelly (Recently it was branded a "crime ridden midden" by Glasgow City Council, who vowed to clean up the area.) As the plug is pulled that gurgling you'll hear is the indigestion of a generation...

*go on - you choose, double dare you...

Thursday, 14 May 2009

"the nicest part is just before you taste it...

...but that can't go on forever."

Cheering myself up with a Gregory's Girl ginger beer and lime ice drink (or "float" as some weird folk say)

Nostalgic pavements...

Right. Music. Again.

I love music, me. Without going into huge, detailed and undoubtedly boring explanations of the whys and hows, I bought loads of the stuff last weekend at the excellent Europa Music in Stirling and some at the not quite so excellent (but they had what I was after) HMV, also in Stirling. I mean, it's not as if I'd travel somewhere different just to visit a chain store.

For the princely sum of £19, I left Europa with Through The Past Darkly and Jump Back by the Stones, The Singles by the criminally neglected Bluetones and lastly the magnificent Whatever People Say I Am That's What I'm Not by The Arctic Monkeys. All excellent. All cheap. Bob is indeed my uncle.

HMV (for 98pence more) supplied me with the latest offerings from King Creosote and Dan Auerbach. KC's is a bit of a grower but good nonetheless whilst Dan does a kind of pared down version of his Black Keys incarnation. Really nice, almost acoustic blues.

I digress. In Inverness the other week I heard a song in a cafe. I immediately recognised the voice as belonging to a certain female artiste that I thought I didn't like. I don't know why I thought I disliked her. No sound reasoning, no rationale. This arbitrary opinion forming is, is it not, what makes talking about musical tastes so interesting.

Anyway, the song sounded great and was very - and here I'm going to sound very middle-aged - catchy. Sorry, but it was. And is.

With a free Amazon voucher burning a hole in my inbox, I bought the album. Almost "on spec" and do you know what? It's one of the best things I've ever heard. Lyrically it's something of a masterpiece - the idea of nostalgic pavements and the magnificent line "you said I must eat so many lemons, 'cos I am so bitter, I said I'd rather be with your friends mate 'cos they are much fitter" being just two from a whole CD-full.

The artiste in question? Here she is, enjoy this great song and brilliant video...

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

I hate that duck...

I really like Roddy Woomble anyway, (okay, I've never actually met him but he seems a nice bloke, makes brilliant music and writes fantastic articles) but this line from one of his Sunday Herald articles is absolutely priceless and has made me smile after a sleepless night...

There's not as much as you think separating, say, Keith Harris and Orville from Pete Doherty, just a different kind of audience.

I'll say no more.

As Beverley Craven* once said..

It's four o'clock in the morning and it's starting to get light...

* I always remember her as it seemed to me that "Promise Me" would have been a great track for Oasis to cover, just imagine Liam's vocal talents snarling "You liiiight up another cig-a-rette and I pour the wi-iiine-ah" Excellent stuff. Maybe I should do it at a karaoke. Or maybe not.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Parting is such sorrow...

A glorious day in lovely Arisaig it may be, but waving your family away on a wee boat as they journey back to the tiny island we call home is not pleasant. I'm hopeful that the munchkins might spot a dolphin or two on the way. Won't make me feel any better though...

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Any chance of a bacon roll?

Apparently not but what a welcome sight. Pouring down in Stirling. Too early through Callander. Beanscene to the rescue. Coffee and a chocolate croissant. Ahh.