Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lookin' Out My Back Door

Two heartless traffic wardens prepare ‘Welcome to our town!’ parking tickets for three poor visitors whose only crime was to park on a ridiculous yellow line while visiting their elderly relatives in the nursing home opposite. Meanwhile, another driver is forced into a dangerous overtaking manoeuvre because some idiot with flashing lights has parked on the bend.

Well, that was my immediate reading of the situation as I stepped out onto our balcony earlier this week. Bastards! ... Poor sods! ... Haven’t they got anything better to do? ... And look where they parked their own car, for heaven’s sake! ... Incandescent with rage, I rushed off a couple of photos on my trusty mobile, while simultaneously preparing my indignant letter to the local newspaper. These people needed to be taught a lesson!

Needless to say, that letter never made it to print for various reasons: I still hadn’t made the dinner; I calmed down in the meantime; I could no longer be bothered; I am, despite appearances, a lazy sod; I already have enough enemies in the town hall; and, last but not least, Mother Mary Miguel Ruiz came to me, whispering words of wisdom: “Don’t Make Assumptions” (The Four Agreements, 1997). Personally, I suspect Don Miguel nicked this idea from that classic Guardian  “Points of View” ad:

Oh dear, there I go again making those terrible assumptions! What ever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”? Had it never occurred to me that these noble officers of the law were simply obeying orders from above? Did I seriously think that they got some kind of perverted pleasure from persecuting their fellow citizens? Yes, I did, as a matter of fact, but could I actually prove this? And what about the drivers? Could I state categorically that they were visiting their nearest and dearest, as opposed to having a quick pint down the road?  (The jury is still out on this one.) Besides, why couldn’t they park like everybody else on the estate?

Be that as it may, I’m sticking with my “heartless traffic wardens” theory; not least because that sodding yellow line has resulted in thousands of euros in compulsory donations to our local Policemen’s Ball fund. Bastards. Not that I would ever wish harm on anyone, you understand J.


‘Excuse me, I’m looking for the men’s.’

‘Well, good luck, mate.’

Another mistake. Never ask a smiling person for directions: they are only there to take the piss.

‘Thank you. Could you tell me where it is, please?’

‘Where what is?’

‘The men’s.’

‘The men’s what?’

‘The men’s toilet, of course.’

‘Oh, why didn’t you say so?’

‘Well, I would have thought it was obvious.’

‘Well, you’d be wrong. Never assume because when you assume, you make—’

‘An “ass” out of “u” and “me”. Yes, I’ve heard it.’

‘Well, actually, clever clogs, I was going to say, “You make an ‘as’ out of ‘sum’ and ‘e’.” ’

‘That doesn’t make sense.’

‘It does to me. Now, where was I?’

‘You were going to tell me where the men’s is.’

‘Ah yes, that’s right. So if somebody asks me where the butcher’s is, I don’t immediately assume that they want the butcher’s toilet, do I? In fact, it’s far more likely that they want the butcher’s shop, isn’t it? Ditto baker’s, greengrocer’s and fishmonger’s. It’s what they call “ellipsis”, I believe.’

dayrealing, chapter 3, “Don’t Stop”

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Remember The Days Of The Old School Yard

Brian (3), Mike (6).

A result that was to be repeated on many occasions whenever we played tennis.

My friend and I were having a drink together the other day when Purple Rain started up. As we both happened to like the song, we challenged each other to name the year...

‘Nineteen eighty-eight?’ I said.
‘Nineteen ninety,’ she replied.

Upon which, we returned to far more important topics – What are you making for dinner tonight? What did you have for lunch? Have you done the shopping yet? Have you seen the price of artichokes? etc. – and forgot all about poor Prince.

Once home, I opened my beloved Wikipedia, and discovered to my surprise that Purple Rain had been released in, wait for it,... 1984! We were both miles out – even if, technically speaking, I was less wrong than she was and had therefore won the bet. As always.

So, what was going on here? Put simply, neither of us has any personal or vivid memories connected with this particular song – which doesn't detract from its merit in the slightest, of course. Indeed, the song's intrinsic quality, musical worth, or whatever you want to call it, is totally irrelevant here. As we struggle or breeze through life, certain events  mark us more than others; and, in my case, the songs I was listening to at the time provide a convenient ongoing soundtrack, which I can dig out at any moment. Or, as my literary hero, Karl Ove, puts it so graphically:

“If my memories were stacked in a heap on the back of my life’s trailer,
music was the rope that held them together and kept it, my life, in position.”

Karl Ove Knausgård, Dancing in the Dark

What wouldn't I give to be able to write like that! But never mind Karl. Who here remembers what they were doing late September 1984 when, if Wikipedia is to be trusted, Purple Rain first hit the airwaves? Hey, I do! I was just starting out as an English teacher here in the Basque Country, tormenting my delightful students with Stevie Wonder's greatest contribution to music, I Just Called To Say I Love You ("Listen and fill the gaps"); Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas? ("Correct the lyrics if you can"), and George Michael's Last Christmas ("Just watch the sodding video, please").

One of the advantages of writing a blog that nobody reads is I can make terrible confessions and get away with it. OK, then, are you ready? Here goes... The songs I remember best – and even today still, very occasionally, listen to when nobody is around to whack me over the head – are all those glam rock classics from the early 70s: Starman, Sorrow, Block Buster, Ballroom Blitz, Metal Guru, Solid Gold Easy Action, Gudbuy T'Jane, Cum On Feel The Noize, School's Out, Elected, All The Way From Memphis, Roll Away The Stone, Ballpark Incident, See My Baby Jive... David Bowie, The Sweet, T.Rex, Slade, Alice Cooper, Mott The Hoople, Wizzard and, heaven have mercy on me, The Rubettes. Personally, I blame my parents for letting their kids watch Top Of The Pops when we really ought to have been listening through the walls to our neighbours’ Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Genesis LPs.

I’ve done my best to make amends in the meantime by buying up every 30th and 40th Anniversary “deluxe remastered CD, complete with bonus tracks, DVD and previously unreleased footage”, of every single album ever released in the 70s by ‘proper’ musicians. Amazon regularly writes to me to thank me for being their best customer ever, and to remind me that customers who bought  Pink Floyd’s entire back catalogue “also bought Brian Eno’s entire back catalogue”, “also like Roy Harper’s entire back catalogue”, and maybe I should consider joining them?

But where was I? Well, the point I’m trying to make is, much as I love Wish You Were Here, and while I would infinitely prefer to be stranded on a desert island with Pink Floyd’s Finest as opposed to, say, Slade’s Smashest, the fact remains that the former will never be a part of my childhood’s soundtrack whereas the latter always will. And whenever I hear one of those awful childhood pop songs, I can’t help being transported back 40 years in time to happier and more trouble-free days.


‘Got anything from nineteen seventy-four?’
‘Why seventy-four?’
‘Because it came after seventy-three.’

And, more importantly, before seventy-five, the year in which his music died; the year in which his childhood ended and his teenhood began; the year in which Colin passed away and Craphead was christened; the year in which football in the playground was replaced by rugby on the playing field; and, in brief, the year in which innocence and youth made way for sinners and truth.

‘You’re weird. OK, here you go,’ said Mal, throwing Colin the mic. ‘Catch!’
‘Ah, da-da-dum-da, ah, da-da-dum-da …’
‘Ah, da-da-dum-da, ah, da-da-dum-da …’
It’s definitely not Barry White.
‘Ah, da-da-dum-da, ah, da-da-dum-da …’
Those “Ah”s are getting higher.
‘Ah, da-da-dum-da, da-da-da-da-dum-da-da …’
Wish me luck!
‘La, la-la-la-la …’

And he was away! How he hit those high notes was a mystery. But he did. Just as he used to be able to hit them back in 1974. Suddenly he was in the playground again, running after the ball; he spent a lot of his childhood running after balls. And then he was just running. He wasn’t going to win any MTV awards for this videoclip.

‘Sugar baby love …’

How he loved this song! If you were serious about your music, you were supposed to despise stuff like this – even more so when killjoys pointed out that the Rubettes weren’t even singing the falsetto parts –, but Colin had never had much time for the music snobs, the so-called experts who always proclaimed, “Of course, their first album was the best”, even when anyone with ears could tell you it was a stinker. Well, whatever, it was thanks to hundreds of three-minute gems like this that Colin was able to reconstruct his entire childhood; the hundred happiest months of his life. Now that wasn’t bad, was it?

dayrealing, chapter 47, “Sugar Baby Love