Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Modern life is ridiculous

The other day I paid a visit to my nearest city. And I saw the following:

A young man with a pudding bowl haircut and a long beard. (I had to force myself not to laugh out loud.)

Two tourists taking photos with the use of a selfie stick.

A young man wearing his hair in a man-bun.

And this.

 Sometimes I don’t understand modern life at all.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Book review: punkPunk!

I prefer short stories to novels, the same way I prefer singles to albums.  So I guess that means this anthology of punk-inspired fiction is a bit like a compilation album.  Like most compilation albums it’s got stuff I like, stuff I like a lot and some stuff I don’t really get.

The book’s been put together by Andrew Hook, whose own story The Last Mohican closes the collection.  In the introduction he explains that he bought his first punk record in 1978 at the age of ten and a half. He admits he was coming at it too late and too young but says “these were my formative years and as a result I am a punk.” Note the present tense. (That’s how I feel, too.)

What these stories have in common is that someone in them is a punk. That’s it. Some of them are about bands and some of them are about fans and some of them don’t appear to be set in the real world.

I’m a purist about punk: I was there and I always think of punk as being about a particular place and time. This has made me rethink a bit (and made me try not to be prejudiced about one of the writers being 27).  This isn’t just about Britain in the mid-70s.

There are stories set in England, Scotland, Greece, Australia, the USA; stories set then, stories set now, and a story set in the future. That one’s Andrew Hook’s, imagining what it would be like if the Sex Pistols gig at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester had actually changed the world.

There’s another speculative tale, BlankNoir by Stephen Palmer, which imagines punk taking place against a backdrop of civil war – the TUC against the government.  Like a lot of punk it’s both scary and hilarious. It’s also satirical: I laughed out loud at “he’d been a fan since their Surrey days in Matt’s parents’ mansion” (the band are all about class war).

I also liked Richard Dellar’s The Rock Star, in which someone lives a rock star life without ever actually becoming a musician.

There’s fantasy, there’s social realism, there are coming-of-age stories (some, I was glad to see, featuring women). There’s a lot of bleakness, which feels unfair because punk was something positive even if the places it came out of were not, and occasionally some humour.

There’s plenty of humour in my favourite, What Use Optimism? by Adam Craig. On one level it’s a simple story about a 50-something bloke trying to get his old punk band back together. On another, it’s a witty, economical picture of what’s gone wrong with music in the intervening years: it’s everywhere, and it doesn’t mean anything any more. I loved this.

I also really liked You Can Jump by Mat Coward,  another then-and-now story with something to say about both.  Because it’s about the time and place I identify with and it feels authentic, and because its hero Andy has “a true punk soul” and says things like “being nostalgic for punk is maybe a contradiction in terms”.

As Andrew Hook says of the book itself: “It’s not a nostalgia trip.”

Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of this book to review. All the other books I’ve reviewed on this blog I’ve paid for myself or got from the library. Other than that, nothing’s changed.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

The missing tweets: tents, Tolpuddle and traffic jams


I promised myself when I went on holiday that I would stay off the internet. (And much of the time, we had no phone signal so I had no choice.) But I couldn’t help thinking of what I might be saying if I was back on Twitter. So here is “what I did on my holiday”, 140 characters at a time.

Day 1 of #holiday. Traffic jam. Car overheats. Nice man selling cherries in lay-by says “turn on the heating”. People overheat.

Interim campsite. The good news: a pub down the road. The bad news: it’s closed for a private party. We twist their arms, and buy cider.

#Holiday, day 2. Why does every car journey in July take four hours?

Campsite (booked for the week) has great views over the sea. And sea breezes. It takes two hours to put up the tent.

Not sure about this campsite. There’s piped music in the loos. And different piped music in the kitchen. Why??

Campsite woman explains why they only have UHT milk in the shop.

Walk to beach. It’s fab. Find the best chippy ever. And a cafĂ© that “overlooks nothing but the sea”.

Day 3. It’s been hot for weeks. Now it’s stopped.  And the view has disappeared.

Campsite woman explains why they can’t offer wi-fi.

Campsite woman explains why they can’t open public areas for campers to shelter when it’s raining.

We find hotel bar with wi-fi so I can check BBC weather app.

Day 4.  These mad Cornish roads are terrifying. Especially in the rain.

Day 5. These mad Cornish roads are terrifying. Especially in the fog.

Day 6. Wake up to birdsong and shadows. Amazed at being in the light again. Find fantastic beach, with rock pools.

Day 7. Wind has broken zip on tent. It’s raining again.  Give up and leave a day early. Campsite woman explains why we can’t have a refund.

Leave and go somewhere nice instead. It takes four hours.

Day 8. Air BnB. Shelter, and a real bed. And a pub on the corner.

Day 9. #Tolpuddle. Everyone seems to be wearing #Jeremy4leader T shirts.

Local history tour about Tolpuddle Martyrs. Someone’s left flowers in the churchyard “for Tony Benn”.

Villagers are selling cream teas. This is a very civilised festival.

There’s a band on in the kids’ area like a punk Wurzels: rewriting classics with a cider theme. “Viva Lyme Regis.”

This song from @Jonny_Baptists makes me laugh: “Let’s bury Thatcher every week”. 

Day 10. @NaomiBedford is on when we arrive at #Tolpuddle. She sounds great. Plus, guest is Justin Currie out of Del Amitri.

#Tolpuddle. I fucking love being called “Comrades”.

Enjoying my free copy of the Morning Star. Info/chattering ratio much better than the Guardian.

No banner from my union so I’m marching in the rally with the local Methodists. Never felt prouder.

I miss Billy Bragg cos I’m at church, and miss Jeremy Corbyn cos waiting for bus. What a fab festival though.

Day 11. Drive to favourite campsite. It takes four hours.

Day 15. Home (four hours). It’s still raining.