Tuesday, 28 February 2017

strange town

Found myself in a strange town
Though I've only been here for three weeks now
I've got blisters on my feet
Trying to find a friend in Oxford Street

Growing up a half hour's journey outside of London often means you grow up with a fascination for the place. During my childhood visits to museums, galleries and the zoo were commonplace. By the time I was fifteen I was regularly going up there by myself. Trains were quick and easy and life was different and, yes, exciting. However, I never really wanted to move there.

I stayed there often enough with friends that had moved there, often for extended periods. A good friend of mine from school mostly lived in Kensington at his girlfriend's house. Why wouldn't you? Her parents were loaded and had a huge house. They were always away on their island in Scotland or in America sorting things out for the family oil business.

As I've often written about before, my main area of operation was around Charing Cross Road, Denmark Street and the pubs around Soho Square. The Marquee Club was in Wardour Street and I spent much of my time there. I loved eating cheaply in Greek restaurants and drinking in the Nelly Dean in the next road along. By the time I had some money to spare in my late teens early twenties, guitar shops become as important a haunt as the record shops I frequented.

However, back at home in Stevenage I often prefered to be out in the woods and fields walking for miles through Hertfordshire's gentle landscape. Mind you, the amount of chalk and mud in those fields meant you came home about six inches taller and it took forever to clean the stuff off of your boots. Oh, I enjoyed the pubs in the High Street and the one guitar shop (owned by Chris Barber's guitarist John Slaughter) but these were later joy. In my youth if you ventured out particularly on Friday and Saturday nights you needed to be able to either run fast or have the gift of the gab to stop being beaten up by the marauding gangs of skinheads. The violent underbelly of the urban landscape has always driven me out towards clean air and vast fields. You can see who's coming and from what direction much easier.

My thoughts these past few days have drifted back to those times but not through any nostalgia particularly. Talking to old friends via the phone or email has made me start to think much less of my home town. I still go back occasionally to see a few of our best friends who still live there. But when we're there we go to their houses and very occasionally a pub in the High Street. I never go to the town centre but we do often walk out to some of the rural areas that have survived into this century. These are some of the same places I used to walk myself.

Also, another old friend from the old place invited me into a Facebook group of old memories of the town. I took a look around there, posted a thing or two about some gigs I put on at the College and now feel that I have little interest in what's being posted there. It's a long time ago. Maybe the worrying amount of adult illiteracy in what I read there has put me off, I'm not sure. I don't really give a toss about, "who remembers the chinese restaurant/cinema/tramp?" etc that goes with the territory. Or maybe, finally after thirty five years living away from the place, I've finally got it out of my system. I'm not sure which.

Still, I started by talking about London. Another thing that has definitely prompted me to think about my home town is the book I'm reading. I'm reading Paul Du Noyer's In The City which is brief history of the music of London and how that city has helped shape much of the music that we all know and love. It's a book where Elizabethan ballads, Gilbert and Sullivan and the Music Hall are as important as Carnaby Street and the Kinks and Small Faces. Typically, of such a book covering such a subject, there are parts that are much more interesting than others. That is to say that by three quarters of the way though when punk rears its spotty Art School face and he starts to write about Wham! and Dizzee Rascal, my interest has totally waned. It's not an exhaustive history but I feel there is a lot missed out. Still, there have been some intriguing points made along the way.

One thing that struck me is that whilst much modern music, like punk, is a product of urban environments, I fell in love with more acoustic based music at an early age. Genesis being the first band I really took to in the early 1970s lead me to enjoying Prog music for a while. But the 12 string guitars, flutes and more pastoral sounds juxtaposed against the electric guitars and drums eventually lead me towards more Elysian fields and into folk. The acoustic/electric mix of folk-rock also fuelled my rural/urban upbringing. Like many in the early seventies, a semi-rusticated childhood through the 1960s had fuelled a love for the types of music Fairport Convention, Traffic and Nick Drake were producing.

The main prompt to my thinking, though, was a quote from Paul Weller. Now, he was from outside of London too. Hailing from Woking, which is twenty six miles and half an hour outside of Waterloo, Weller also had a desire for London. Weller worked hard and has several changes of direction musically. He desperately wanted London but needed also to remember where he came from and use his influences. Town and country. What he says to Du Noyer is probably in essence how I feel about the past too. However, before I end with the full quote, I'd like to just point out that most towns are like this. If you're lucky enough to live near open fields, woods, hills and/or the sea then you too probably feel that pull. You need the services available, you need community but you also need to escape the fumes and noise. I do feel blessed in some ways for having the rural location of my youth with the ease of getting to London too:

"It's funny to look at those paces," he says of his childhood. "Everywhere looks tiny and run down. It's all the reasons I wanted to get the fuck out of there. I've still got family there but my main link with Woking is the area where I used to play as a kid, the woods around there, the rural side. The actual town's a dump, like most satellite towns. They've got a big mall but no one's got any bread and the shops are empty . . . "

Sunday, 19 February 2017

we're all james bond now

we could be heroes just for one day . . .

I was looking down over a ski slope in the Pyrenees last week as I was sitting on a chairlift thinking about how lucky I felt being able to slide down the sides of mountains. What I mean is that the World has changed so much in my sixty one years.

When Ian Fleming started writing the James Bond books in 1953, he gave an impression of being very worldly-wise and attempted to provide an exotic life for his hero. In truth much of what he created was rather naïve. The traits he gave Bond were mostly his own such as his favourite brand of toiletries and his love of scrambled eggs. There has been much written over the years about the vodka martini he drinks - including Daniel Craig's Bond ditching the drink in favour of a different one. Most people don't really care, I'm sure, but evidently the Fleming drink is not supposed to be particularly pleasant. Not being a cocktail drinker I really don't care. However, there is a point to my ramblings here.

Whilst skiing in the Pyrenees last week as opposed to our usual haunts of the Alps, we skied off-piste briefly which added a frisson of excitement to the proceedings. It struck me again that whilst taking great pleasure in the activity, back in the post-war years when Fleming was writing it would have seemed like life on another planet for many of his readers.

As many people have probably grown up with the films rather than actually reading the books, Bond has become synonymous with an exotic and exciting lifestyle. This lifestyle must have seemed extraordinarily fascinating back then in those harsh and austere days of rationing. Rationing was brought to an end on 4th July 1954, two years before I was born. Bond's easy familiarity with fine dining, cocktails and how to undress ladies without fumbling like Captain Hook must have fueled many fantasies of a smarmy, charmed life.

This life now very much seems to be with us. Many of us have been to exotic locations, eaten far more interesting foods than Bond ever seemed to and driven some very flashy cars too. The amount of things my car can do seems way beyond even the worst excesses of the awful Roger Moore years of the Bond franchise. Mind you, I still haven't found the ejector seat or machine guns but I'm fairly sure that Nissan have provided them.

We use communication devices and can track people via their phones and cars if we are suspicious enough of our partners. Mrs Dave can just look at her wrist to read her texts without even checking her phone due to her exercise doo-hickie. When I want to check a fact I can google it or use the Wikipedia app on my phone within seconds. It's quicker to check a recipe online than it is to look it up in a book too. The pleasure of looking things up is still there though. Having instant access isn't always the best thing in my very humble opinion.

Air travel is definitely something that has changed over the years. Loads of people seem to have been to the most far-flung parts of the World quite happily and experienced some very diverse cultures. In Fleming's time very few - only the very rich - really travelled abroad. Flying must have been very exciting. Probably not the long slog through airport security that we have to endure nowadays. Given how much we have to take off and put in a tray now I'm surprised they don't just tell us to walk naked through the security checks and have done with it.

Cameras. Let's not talk about cameras.

So, exotic holidays, food and drinks are available fairly cheaply nowadays. Our technology is so advanced (even if our battery technology hasn't kept up) that we can keep in touch and have instant access to many forms of knowledge. We drive cars a that many of us still can't work out all the things it can do. I have a pen that is a stylus for my phone, two different screwdrivers, a spirit level and a short ruler. A useful item for me, mainly to tighten the screw on my glasses and write quick notes with. You can use it to stir tea too. Mind you, the refill is so short you can't write many notes with it.

Still, with all this going on I feel that we are all James Bond now. Okay, without the murder and violence, but I'm sure some people manage that too.