Sunday, 21 December 2008

Being boring

I’ve been doing the Christmas cards: that strange delayed communication where you tell someone about your year without knowing what’s happened in their’s (because, assuming you meet the last posting date, the letters inevitably cross). And the older you get, the more worrying the possibilities become and the more careful you have to be. I wouldn’t say that my year has all been plain sailing but if you’re looking for drama there’s nothing to report. Worked too hard, went on holiday a bit. That’s it. Instead of writing a letter, I’m inclined to send my friends a copy of Wendy Cope’s poem Being Boring.
There was drama enough in my turbulent past: Tears and passion - I’ve used up a tankful. No news is good news, and long may it last. If nothing much happens, I’m thankful.
I won’t write it all out because of copyright - but I’m sure someone has, so feel free to google it. Or, if you’re feeling energetic, go to the library: it’s page 9 of the book called If I Don’t Know. When we get the end-of-year media roundups next week, the most-used cliche about 2008 is bound to be the one about ‘living in interesting times’. In those circumstances, I’m actually quite glad that my own life is less than interesting.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

All I want for Christmas...

I don’t spend a lot of time or money doing Christmas shopping these days - the grown-ups in my family decided a few years ago to take a Buy Nothing Christmas approach - which leaves a lot more time for having fun. But I do still have to buy consumerist stuff for the younger generation, which is how I found myself recently in a large record shop. The first thing I saw was a book about the Clash, my favourite band of all time. It took a few seconds to realise what I was looking at. A coffee table book. Please don’t let anyone buy this for me for Christmas.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Winter wonderland

One of the great things about getting older is that you finally get the point of deferred gratification. I love Advent. I love the feeling that something magical is on the horizon but you’re not quite there yet. Christmas can be good, of course, but once your age reaches double figures it’s never actually magical again. Somehow, though, I still get a kick out of the wait. Last night as I came out of church the pavements were shining white with frost, the municipal lights were glowing, and even my drab small town looked special. It could have been Christmas. I was glad that it wasn’t.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Silence is...difficult

I failed to avoid music for No Music Day. To achieve that, I would have had to keep out of shops and pubs. And I was on holiday, so no chance.

But thinking about No Music made me more aware than ever of the half-heard intrusion into my mental space. Sometimes I believe there really is a conspiracy to stop us thinking for ourselves.

I did eventually find a pub that has no music, just good beer and good conversation. They provide the beer: you provide the conversation. Simple really. It’s how things should be.

It’s likely I’ll also fail at Buy Nothing Day, but at least I have a choice. I’ll choose to buy things at the farmers’ market and the local fair trade shop; maybe other local independent shops as well.

Some say you are what you eat: I say you are what you buy. I don’t want to be ‘right on’ (as we used to say in the 80s) but sometimes I try to tell people that shopping is a political act. Mostly, they don’t get it.

Like avoiding music, it takes effort to get away from Tesco and Amazon. Like avoiding music, it’s about keeping out the noise that prevents us from thinking for ourselves.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Silence is golden

I’m celebrating No Music Day.

It’s another prank of Bill Drummond’s. And, like most pranks of Bill’s, it’s actually very serious.
As he explained last year to Radio Scotland:

The reason for choosing the 21st November is that the 22nd is St Cecilia's day
and St Cecilia being the patron saint of music, there seemed a logic that we
fast from music on the day before we may traditionally have celebrated and given
thanks for music.
Why do we need to fast from music? Because we’ve got a surfeit of it. There’s so much around that you don’t notice it any more. And that’s a criminal waste of something that is actually very precious.

If it’s precious, it ought to be scarce. Then we might start valuing it more.

Music, like most of what’s good in our culture, has been commodified. I know I’m not saying anything original here: a lot of other people feel the same. If they didn’t, No Music Day would not have got the support it has.

I realised how far it had gone when I stopped at a chain pub one day on holiday (I don’t usually frequent these places: I was on the road; I needed food). It’s lunchtime. There’s background music playing. It’s a loop of what the management probably call ‘golden oldies’ or ‘sounds of the sixties’. It’s probably piped in from head office.

And they are playing ‘Venus in Furs’ by the Velvet Underground.

This is not a golden oldie. This is not the correct musical accompaniment to a baguette. This was never supposed to be safe.

That has to be proof that no-one is actually listening any more.

Choose not to listen. Then you might start hearing again.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

You can't judge a book by looking at the cover

It’s weird the way Facebook asks you to make lists of your favourite music. It’s not as if it proves anything.

I could make a list, and it would (of course) be the hippest list there ever was. I’ve made plenty such lists before. But it might not be true. Or it might only be true for a day. Some days I feel like listening to Cole Porter. Some days I feel like listening to Carl Perkins. Often I feel like listening to silence.

But whatever I put on the list, it wouldn’t mean anything.

When I was 15 (things might have changed since the 70s) the first thing you asked anyone you met was ‘what music do you like?’ You might snog someone who gave the wrong answer, but you wouldn’t go out with them. Use this as a basis for a relationship as a grown-up and you’re on very dodgy ground.

I learned, eventually, that the music you listen to isn’t an indication of character.

After all, a person is not immoral or politically unsound or aesthetically challenged just because they think 1980s pop is worth celebrating. All they are is ten years younger than me.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Don't let me down

I tried to do the middle-aged cynic bit. Because it’s a part I like to play and because it keeps me safe. That way you don’t get disappointed.

But there was no disappointment the morning after the election. Watching the news, I allowed myself for a little while to be moved. It was Jesse Jackson’s tears that finally did it.

It felt like 1997 again.

Maybe that’s my reason to be cynical. Because after the euphoria of that May night (which will always be a treasured memory, regardless of what came afterwards) the disappointment was worse. What can you say about Blair? ‘He’s not the messiah: he’s a very naughty boy.’

The expectations on Obama are even greater. I’m trying not to hope. I wish I could.

Friday, 7 November 2008


Barack Obama has brought hope to millions of people around the world. Millions of middle-aged people.

He was born in 1961 and everyone thinks he's young.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Pretty in pink

They are making us wear pink to work tomorrow. If we wear pink, we give them money. If we don’t wear pink, we give them more money. Sounds like a good business model. (Yes, I’m grown up now and I have a career and I can use expressions like ‘business model’ without laughing. Well, almost.)

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pink clothes, apart from a pair of shoes I fell in love with because they were so rock’n’roll. The reason I don’t have pink clothes isn’t because I don’t want to; it’s just because I look terrible in pink. If it didn’t make my face look a weird colour I’d wear pink all the time. Because, as everyone knows, that’s what middle-aged women do.

I hate jokes about ‘menopause pink’. Because they’re cheap and lazy and misogynistic and ageist. But there’s some truth in them. When I was young I used to wonder why women of a certain age tended to wear fuschia. Now I know. It’s because they can. Because they’re not scared any more of what people think. Because they’re not scared any more of letting themselves be feminine. I blame Enid Blyton.

You’re more likely to hear me say ‘I blame Margaret Thatcher’ or ‘I blame Bill Gates’, but there are times that I blame Blyton. For denying a generation of women the chance to express their femininity. Think back to the Famous Five. If you were a girl, who did you want to be? George of course, the ‘tomboy’ who wants to look like a boy. (Have you ever seen the word ‘tomboy’ outside an Enid Blyton book? Did she invent the concept?)

As a tiny child I preferred blue to pink. Barbie had been invented for a while but the major marketing hadn’t really kicked in. By the time I reached my Blyton years I wouldn’t consider pink again for decades. At eight, I cut off my hair and was delighted when someone did actually mistake me for a boy.

At 18, I cut off my hair again as a punk and barely veered from my jeans and T shirt, one-of-the-boys image for years. In my late 30s and newly single, I was unreceptive to my best friend’s attempt to give me a makeover. She kept talking about ‘sweetheart necklines’. I still don’t know what they are.

I was around 40 before I had the nerve to flaunt my assets. When it was almost too late. What a waste. Not long ago, I was at a works do, standing in the queue for the Ladies and listening to a drunken conversation along the lines of ‘who has the best tits in the company’. (Yes, chaps, this is what we discuss among ourselves when you’re not there. All that talk about shoes is just a front.) And as I listened to the names - which didn’t include me - I had one of those ‘I used to be a contender’ moments.

It’s true you don’t appreciate what you’ve got until you’ve lost it. So, I’m not afraid now to dress like a girl. But I won’t be wearing pink tomorrow, except on my feet. I won’t be regretting it too much. On reflection, it’s a relief that I’m not tempted too far in that direction. The logical conclusion is, after all, Barbara Cartland.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Never mind the adverts

I don’t watch much TV so I’ve only just caught the famous Johnny Rotten butter advert, although several people have told me about it. They seemed to think I’d be upset. Funnily enough, I don’t care.

John Lydon sold out when he re-formed the Sex Pistols. What he does when he’s not being a Sex Pistol is no concern of mine. He’s making a good job of reinventing himself as a great British eccentric and national treasure, and I quite like that. This latest project seems to fit his new role quite well.

It’s not as though the ad is for anything that actually matters. And it’s not as though there was anything in the punk manifesto about poverty being a good thing. Lydon’s first band, if you remember, made a career out of getting money from corporations for very little, and winding everyone up. This seems perfectly in keeping.

PS It’s on YouTube, obviously. But I’m not going to put a link to it because that’s what they want.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Poetry in motion

Today is National Poetry Day and the theme is work. Which I do not find inspiring as a theme but which does at least inspire people to get some poetry into their workplace. My own working day was considerably happier for the appearance throughout the day of ‘random poems’ (as the young people like to say) around the office. I felt like your parents pretending to be Father Christmas as I crept in ten minutes early and put a carefully chosen poem on the desk of each of my colleagues. Paul Farley is poet in residence for National Poetry Day and writes in his blog about work poems:
it’s worth bearing in mind that writing poetry has an element of play, albeit serious play, which is the very antithesis of labour.
Reading it, too - which meant that every poem I read today was the opposite of working. Which is absolutely fine by me.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Started out with nothing

I liked Seasick Steve’s song title I Started Out With Nothin And I Still Got Most Of It Left. Partly because it’s amusing and partly because it’s economical: it tells you everything you need to know about the man - his image and his music. Which mean you don’t actually have to listen to him.

We’re watching him on TV, and Partner (who is a guitarist) says: the blues is much more interesting to play than it is to listen to.

When you think about it, that probably applies to most music. Jazz? Definitely. Folk? Often. Rock? If it’s guitar solos or drum solos, almost certainly- although, at its best, I still think it’s the type of music most likely to excite and entrance the people listening as well as the people playing it.

Actually, you can probably apply the theory to most kinds of artistic activity. Lots of people paint but it doesn’t mean their paintings are any good. Lots of people write poetry but 99 per cent is crap. (OK, lots of people write blogs as well... I’m not sure I like where this is going.)

Over the years, I’ve been the bored recipient of a lot of mediocre music, writing, exhibitions, theatre, television and film. The great thing is that it hasn’t stopped me continuing to search out all these things. Even in the cultural desert I now call home, there’s not a week goes by that I don’t come across something that makes me want to shout: take notice of this, someone here has a vision. And it’s in those moments of discovery that I’m happiest, because just for a while I can forget I’m supposed to be a middle-aged cynic.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

You can't put your arms around a memory

I’ve just come back from Liverpool where I spent some of my formative years. There’s a bit of a nostalgia fest going on there at the moment and it’s left me feeling more confused than ever about the fact I’m not 20 any more and what the hell I’m going to do about it.

Emotional roller coaster? More like a bloody ghost train. Liverpool in Capital of Culture year is buzzy, user friendly, full of public art and high-profile events (and shops). It’s famous. When I went there as a student it was still full of bomb sites. And infamous. No-one wanted to know.

So why do so many people wish it was 1977 (or thereabouts) again? Because if you were in the right place at the right time, there wasn’t a better place to be. I suppose everyone feels like that about the place where they first learned to be themselves. But Eric’s club in Liverpool, which three decades later has been well and truly commodified, was something special.

That’s just a fact: I’m not going to go on about it. The fact that other people are going on about it is what is making me so uncomfortable right now. I don't want to pretend that those times didn't happen, or didn't matter. I just don't want to be one of those people who live in the past. The hard bit is working out how to be true to the person you were then, without always looking backwards. Between embracing nostalgia and rejecting the past, there must be a way that works. Liverpool’s grown up now, but beneath the corporate stuff it hasn’t lost the vein of anarchy and playfulness that was always a part of its culture. I’m grown up now but there’s got to still be a link with the self I discovered back then. I guess every mid-life crisis is the point where you realise it's time to start that search.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

I'm not a number

Is it just me, or does every website in the world carry a Google Ad telling readers how to lose weight? Facebook’s tendency to typecast is becoming particularly sinister. It knows how old I am, and every time I log in I find it inviting me to buy a new boiler or to lose ten pounds. Funnily enough, I have done both of these things this year already.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

David Cassidy and the concrete ceiling

One day in the mid 1970s I horrified my English teacher when she found me reading Jackie magazine. She knew my favourite book was Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and couldn’t understand how I could hold two such contradictory positions.

Holding contradictory positions is, of course, a requirement of being a teenager (or any other transitional period, eg becoming middle-aged). And, as a talking head said in a recent TV programme about the magazine ‘If it was in Jackie... Jackie magazine was the bible.’

Outside the classroom, Jackie taught me everything I knew. How to put on make-up (I still do it the same way today). How to lose weight by eating half a Mars bar instead of a whole one. What to wear. How to talk to boys. There was sensible advice from Cathy and Claire, and some slightly less sensible (in fact, rather dodgy) fortune-telling quizzes. And there were, of course, the posters of Marc Bolan and David Cassidy, even if it was tricky putting them up without getting sellotape on the wallpaper (I think I was at university before they invented blu-tack).

It was also, as another talking head put it, ‘a 1950s bubble merging into the 1970s’. I didn’t realise until I bought a copy of a Jackie anthology for my sister’s birthday how shocking its real message was. Any girl shown in the magazine who had a job was a secretary or, if she was really glamorous, a receptionist. That was it.

When I started secondary school, the headmistress went round the class asking us what we wanted to be when we grew up. The majority chose to be hairdressers or air stewardesses (and this was a grammar school, where you might have expected some aspirations). Well, the only role models we had for 'career women' were scary spinsters like her and her colleagues.

By the time you got to sixth form, things had changed a bit. If you were top of the class you were going to university. A little below and you were going to teacher training college. Anyone left after that was going to work in a bank. University wasn’t a career move: it was an end in itself. No-one suggested what you might do afterwards. I’m not sure anyone actually came out and said it, but I got the impression that the main purpose of university was upward mobility via marriage. I was expected to find a nice middle-class boy who would go into a nice professional job so I wouldn’t have to worry about a career... Actually, what I did do at university was discover feminism.

This is recent history. So why are we surprised by headlines about the ‘concrete ceiling’? There are many good reasons why there are so few women in the board room. Partly it’s because, in the business world, social bonding is done through conversations about football not conversations about shoes. Partly it’s because women are too sensible to buy into the long-hours culture: we’d rather have a life. And partly it’s because we were never taught to want it. Partly, of course, it’s also because we grew up in an era where working for ‘the man’ (as opposed to ‘a man’) was not something to aspire to anyway.

But there weren’t alternative role models for girls, either. When I started looking beyond Jackie magazine, I had to find my inspiration in things written by men and about men: there was, after all, no book called Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Philip Larkin was right

I used to say that I would have ‘Philip Larkin was right’ on my gravestone, as a tribute to his best known poem. Well, I’m grown-up now and I’ve got over it, but I still think he was right about other things. For example, saying the 1960s began in 1963. OK, he didn’t actually say ‘the 1960s’ in Annus Mirabilis (that would not have grabbed attention in the same way). But the principle is the same: it’s not the years with noughts at the end that are necessarily the milestones. The 1960s didn’t begin in 1960. They didn’t actually begin in 1963 either. As far as I can remember it was much later than that. I’ve been reading a book based on a 1950s childhood and in some ways Shena Mackay could be describing my own childhood in the 60s. When I got to the description of the first day at school, the thing that jumped out at me was: ‘some game such as In and Out the Dusty Bluebells’. It’s strange when you thought you had forgotten something and it suddenly comes back. I remember the infant school hall, bare feet, that song - not a playground game but something to dance to in PE lessons. One of my earliest memories, except until I read that page I hadn’t realised that I still remembered it. The 1960s began around the time I went to junior school, with only a few years to go before 1970. Before that, there was ‘Listen with Mother’, free orange juice, and wallcharts stating ‘Thirty pennies make half-a-crown’. Afterwards, there was ‘modern maths’ and Concorde and getting ready for New Money... It’s been downhill all the way since then.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Clyde city rockers

Someone else has noticed that the lead singer in Glasvegas looks like Joe Strummer. Apart from the fact they make good music, this is another reason to like them. In 1977, the Clash were my joint-favourite band (along with the Ramones). Also, I always fancied Joe Strummer. Sadly, I feel I should avoid feeling the same about James Allan. I am old enough to be his mother.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Elvis Presley has left the building

The NME was right when it put ‘Remember him this way’ on their cover the week Elvis died. I was wrong when I thought the Clash were cool and prophetic. ‘No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones in 1977.’
The world would be no poorer without the Rolling Stones, and I could happily live without ever hearing the Beatles again. But Elvis’s death was a loss.
In the end, the Clash had to own up to their debt to Elvis (and there aren’t many musicians who don’t have one). At least, they allowed a homage in Ray Lowry’s album cover design for London Calling, based on an Elvis LP sleeve. (There’s loads of pop trivia where this came from, fact fans. You’re reading someone who once beat a Mastermind contender on ‘punk rock in the 1970s’. Without even revising.)

Monday, 11 August 2008

Sweet old world

I’ve never been a fan of singer songwriters, but sometimes songs tell the truth better than anything else. I’ve heard songs by Lucinda Williams and recognised myself. And once I heard a song of hers and recognised someone else. Someone who died twenty years ago and should not have done. Here’s the song.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

The spirit of 76

I’ve been listening to Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s play ‘This is the modern world’ on Radio 4. It’s part of a themed series called ‘One chord wonders’ about a punk reunion (‘band reunions are totally against the spirit of 76. Let’s have an audience reunion...’).

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

In praise of older women part 2

At the weekend I came across my next door neighbour digging up ivy from her garden.

She was 90 this year. She didn't even make a big deal about that.

I will think of this next time I am tempted to complain about my arthritis.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Why age does matter

Tracy Emin is older than Elvis. Tracy Emin is 45. I am older than Tracy Emin. Some people will try to tell you that age doesn't matter. These people are men. Age does matter. And the bottom line is, it matters more when you’re a woman. Emin is being interviewed (by a journalist who, presumably, likes the ‘tortured artist’ angle) and she is talking about the fact she’s never had babies. To cut a long story short, she never met the right man at the right time. (That’s what I always tell people, when they ask: it’s a long story.) Has she written off the prospect of having children at all? asks the interviewer. Emin answers:
Every day I'm writing it off. I'm adjusting to not having them.
You don’t though. It’s not something you adjust to. It’s not something you ever do get used to.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Why Patti Smith is important part 2

I was right all along. In fact, I was on trend three decades ago.

So what's the next big thing? According to ‘Catriona MacNab, trendsetter’:
We're working on autumn/winter 09/10 right now. Patti Smith will be a big influence.

Monday, 7 July 2008

What not to wear

You might not know it to look at me (I’ve inherited a puritan streak that prevents me from spending money on clothes) but I am actually quite interested in fashion. Also, as a true child of the ’80s, in what people choose to say about themselves through what they wear.

So I am always fascinated by the Guardian’s weekly feature ‘The close-up’, in which they interview a fashionable nonentity about their clothes. I wouldn’t slag off someone in print because I am basically a nice person, so I won’t mention the name of this week’s interviewee. I’ll just say it’s a middle-aged Sloane in designer labels who describes her style as ‘edgy’ and ‘bohemian’ and says: ‘I want to be rock’n’roll when I’m 60.’

Sorry, it doesn’t work like that. You’re 42 years old. You’re wearing white trousers. You name-drop Liz Hurley. You can’t possibly be rock’n’roll.

Telling people you’re rock’n’roll is like telling people you’re eccentric, or cool, or sexy. It’s the opposite of a self-fulfilling prophecy (a self-negating prophecy?). It automatically makes what you’ve just said impossible. Being rock’n’roll, or eccentric, or cool, or sexy can never be achieved by the self-conscious. Anyone over the age of 40 who says they are ‘rock’n’roll’ is in danger of becoming David Brent. Note to self: never use this expression in public ever again.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Romance or risk assessment?

What I did on my holidays part 3...

pondered that if people had been so worried about getting sued 200 years ago, Jane Austen would have completely missed her plot.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Never trust a hippie

Why is it that whenever you see boats - canal, river, harbour, whatever - there’s always one that’s been named after a character in Lord of the Rings?

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

I fought the lawn (and the lawn won)

I always thought that when I got to a certain age I would stop wearing T shirts with writing on. OK, I still have a few band T shirts that I wear to do the gardening, but it wouldn’t really be dignified to be seen wearing them in public.

But I was quite tempted when I spotted this on holiday (courtesy of jivingjellyfish). It sums up a lot really... not least, my despair at the state of my garden.

PS I am the proud owner of ‘I fought the law’ by the Clash AND the Bobby Fuller Four. Does that make me cool, or just a bit of a saddo?

Monday, 23 June 2008

Anarchy... sponsored by BT

The Sex Pistols have been playing at the Isle of Wight festival. Why?? I’m watching it on the television, which seems the sensible thing to do (because I’m pretty sensible these days). They’re playing Pretty Vacant. Four fat, fiftyish geezers singing a young men’s song. To people who weren’t born when they did it the first time round. There’s something very wrong about this. I’d be taking myself far too seriously if I used the word sacrilegious. So I’ll use the word ‘irrelevant’ instead. John Lydon is not Johnny Rotten. To his credit, he doesn’t pretend to be. When he talks sweetly to the interviewer about getting nervous before he goes on stage and wanting to put on a good show, I know it’s not the same person. When he says they are there to have a laugh I wonder whether, actually, he is. That’s ‘having a laugh’ as in ‘taking the ****ing piss’.

Monday, 9 June 2008

"You don't look it"

Tim Dowling in the Guardian is 45. He says:
I realise that 45 isn't any sort of particular milestone, that it doesn't count as old to anyone older, and that it doesn't count as young to anyone. It's just the age when you know for certain that anyone who says you don't look it simply isn't looking hard enough, or under bright enough light.
Welcome to the club, Tim. I’ve been bluffing people about my age for years but I’m starting to realise my bluffing days are drawing to a close. It’s a pity. I’d got used to hearing ‘you don’t look it.’ And believing it.
I could start wearing gloves. That might buy me a few more years...

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

The new rock'n'roll is... rock'n'roll

A few years ago, at a better than usual works Christmas do, we were asked to write down our top ten Desert Island Discs as a party game – then guess which list belonged to who. I was mortified when someone put my name next to the list that included Joan Armatrading. Mine was the one with Elvis, T Rex and the Clash.

It’s strange how much your sense of self is wrapped up in the music you care about. And I mean ‘care about’. Not just ‘like’. I thought I’d grown out of all that. I was wrong. It’s nothing to do with trying to impress, or nostalgia, or even the soundtrack of my life. (I was in nappies when much of the music I love was being made.) It’s about what makes you feel alive. And what makes you feel alive isn’t necessarily the same for the next person.

For a while, I’d forgotten what that felt like. Then I heard something on Mark Lamarr’s Redneck Music that woke me up. It was probably nonsense. It was almost certainly primitive. (Both are, of course, two of the criteria for the best rock’n’roll.) It made me laugh with joy. And again, more recently, I was watching Later with Jools Holland: normally last bastion of the boring muso, but suddenly good again. And I heard Glasvegas and hung onto every note.

I realised I hadn’t stoppped caring about music. I’d just been listening to the wrong sort of music, and thought I didn’t care any more. There’s the music I used to like, and think I ought to like now because it meant something to me once. There’s the music I used to like and would like still. Except it makes me feel the way I felt the first time I heard it. And I really don’t want to be 15 again. There’s the music I like because it’s the sort of music I like. And the music I like because I know quality when I hear it. That’s what happens when you get middle-aged. And then there’s the stuff that makes you feel alive. It doesn’t have to be ‘quality’. It doesn’t have to be approved by anyone else. It just has to connect. That’s what’s worth caring about. That’s worth forgetting how old you are.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

I am a cliché

At lunchtime today, some of my colleagues had a barbeque. Some of them got in the car and went to the pub. Some of them stayed at their desks and on Facebook.

I cycled to the shops and bought some fairtrade bananas.

No wonder they laugh at me.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Here comes the summer

Summer arrived suddenly on Tuesday. The same day as the man who came to install our new boiler. Sadly, I was more excited about the boiler. Must be a sign of age. Finally I will be energy efficient. Finally I will be warm in winter. I feel as if someone has given me a present. Unfortunately, I had to pay for it.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Hope I don't die before I get old

So I’m in Schuh, because it’s still my favourite shop, even though I’m old enough to know better. And I see a cute pair of shoes covered in little skulls. And I turn my back on them.

Some time in the early ’80s, I had a cute dress covered in skull-and-crossbones. I thought it was the height of cool. Two decades on, I don’t really need my clothes to be a memento mori.

In the past few months, four people I know well have had a death in the close family. Sometimes I wonder who’s going to be next. Sometimes I wonder when it will be me.

It’s not that I’m morbid. It’s just that, after the last birthday, I realised it’s quite likely I have about the same number of years left as I've already squandered. (Regrets – I’ve had a lot...)

‘Life’s too short’ used to be something that I said. Now it’s something that I mean.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Beware of the flowers (cos I'm sure they're gonna get you)

I love the notion of guerilla gardening. It’s quite subversive, and totally benign. Unless you suffer from hay fever. I’d do it myself if my spare time wasn’t already taken up with damage limitation on my own plot.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Remember the Mallen Streak?

Most women who ‘look good for their age’ dye their hair. Discuss. I always said I wouldn’t dye my hair again because when I went grey I wanted to be there to see it happen. I was quite excited when it did. I thought I’d made it to maturity when I got my first grey hair. I’ve got a few more now and I’m fine with this. In theory. I don’t mind having grey hair: I do mind having boring hair. I have (or had) dark brown hair; it’s been admired from time to time. For some time now I have yearned to have a white streak in it. Now I have discovered that (if I comb it a certain way) I do have one. It made my day. I might never make it as Cruella de Vil. But I might at least manage a Mallen Streak.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Language in the 21st century

I was brought up to always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. No-one says it any more. It’s not because they aren’t polite. It’s because they are too polite. No-one says ‘yes’ or ‘no’ either. The new lexicon of 21st century etiquette goes something like this: You’re a star = thank you (said to someone you know) Lovely = thank you (said to someone you don’t know) Absolutely = yes. Saying ‘no’? ... not answering an email, generally.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Language and the generation gap

My sister’s children have forbidden her to say ‘whatev’. On the grounds that she’s over 25. (Quite a lot over 25, actually.) How things have changed. My mother never wanted to take over our slang. She just laughed at us when we called everything ‘far out’. At the time, she was still describing everything as ‘with it’. ...

‘You were cool once, mum,’ says my niece kindly. ‘In the 70s.’

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Welcome to the Older than Elvis Hall of Fame

Happy birthday Pete Wylie.
Pete has to qualify for the Older than Elvis Hall of Fame:
  • for releasing his masterpiece after the age of 40.
  • for being, in the words of Julian Cope, ‘the most enthusiastic person I’ve ever met’.
  • for a Kerouac-scale level of self-mythologising.
  • for being older than Elvis... and still being himself.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Why Patti Smith matters

I’ve been to see a film with the 16-year-old heroine who says her favourite musicians are the Stooges, Patti Smith and the Runaways. I would love to believe that such 16-year-olds exist. I’m not sure whether I do. But it made me think back.

It’s hard to explain to a man why Patti Smith was so important. It’s hard to explain to someone who cares about guitar solos why punk rock mattered. Maybe it didn’t matter that the Sex Pistols sang God Save the Queen in Silver Jubilee year and were banned from being number one (the past really is a different country). Maybe it didn’t matter that English people finally started making records in English accents. Maybe it didn’t matter that people were making music, and writing about music, who had never been allowed to before.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

You are what you eat

Seen at my local farmers’ market this morning: ‘Squirrels. £4. May contain nuts.’

I thought it was an early April fool’s joke, but the bloke said he shot them himself.

I was almost tempted to buy one. After all, according to Arena, squirrel is supposed to be one of the things Elvis ate when he was young and poor.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

In praise of older women

Some wise words in the Guardian today from Manjinder Virk in praise of older women. Reckon her mum qualifies for the Older than Elvis hall of fame.

My mother also turned 60 this year and she celebrated this momentous occasion by spinning the decks - well, CDs, to be more precise. My mum, aka DJ Jasvir, is a writer by day and a radio presenter by night.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

What's on TV, darling?

I leave the room for just one minute and when I get back, Clarkson is on the TV. Again. And Partner doesn’t even drive. ‘Top Gear isn’t really about cars,’ he tries to tell me. No, it’s about middle-aged men trying to prove something. At the risk of sounding like Grumpy Old Women, the worst thing that ever happened to my living room was when a TV channel I’d never heard of rebranded itself as Dave and got on Freeview.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

The new rock’n’roll?

‘What did you do at the weekend?’ If I told them, they wouldn’t be impressed. Yes, I spend my spare time gardening. Middle-aged cliche number 1. But give me mud, sun, physical work, the air on my face, and I’m as happy as I’ve ever been in a sweaty club. It’s not that different, really. It’s just a different way of feeling connected.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Monday, 11 February 2008

Culture Show

On Saturday night I’m watching the Culture Show, and the Next Big Thing are discussing their experiments with different rhythms and so forth, and I'm thinking: why are you talking about all this as if no-one had ever done it before? Because on Friday night I just happened to be listening to 'Damaged Goods'. The next moment, Lauren Laverne and Mark Kermode are name-checking Gang of Four and I realise I have just happened to become fashionable, by accident. But I still don’t want to listen to Foals, any more than I needed to listen to Franz Ferdinand when it was their turn. And I’m about to start intellectualising about the contradictions inherent in doing an experiment more than once when Mark Kermode says: they’ve got really bad haircuts. Which is, of course, the real reason I can’t take them seriously. A question. Why is it cool when Mark Kermode plays music that could have been made 50 years ago, but not cool when Foals play music that could have been made nearly 30 years ago? a) He has a better haircut. b) I’m just a hypocrite, basically.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Pop on trial

BBC4 has been running a season about pop, most of which I’ve avoided, because I’ve already got the T shirt. I find myself watching ‘1970s pop on trial’. A group of middle-aged men are discussing 70s pop music and how good it was and I’m wondering why there are no middle-aged women there. Punk changed everything, says someone, and I have to agree, because I Was There. On the sofa, my partner (who was playing Thin Lizzy when I was watching the Clash) says ‘oh no it didn’t’. And I think to myself, it’s a good thing I met you when I was grown-up because it would never have worked otherwise. We’d have split up due to musical differences.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Life begins at 44

According to the Guardian, 50 is the new 70. Or something. Stephen Moss’s article ‘It’s official: happiness resumes at 50’ comments on some research that shows you’re going to be the most depressed in your life at the age of 44. After that, apparently, it gets better. Not from here it doesn’t. Maybe it’s different for men. Moss says:
"The first 40 years of life is text, the rest is commentary," wrote Schopenhauer. .. I reached 50 last year, and far from being distressed by that supposedly defining moment, I've never felt better. I now accept that I am deep into my commentary period, and am enjoying it hugely.
Personally, I was pretty happy at 44. It felt good to be a grown-up at last. I would have quite liked to stop the clock then. There’s a lot of difference between being one side of 45 and being the ‘wrong side’. It’s embarrassing, for a start. And after a while, you begin realising that someone’s been stealing your life. It sounds as if Stephen Moss is happy to hand his over. I’m not ready to do that yet. I’m not ready for wisdom if that means accepting things. Because that means giving up. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel ready for that, even at 70.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Why Madonna is amazing

A conversation at work: Colleague: ‘Madonna is my hero. She’s amazing. She’s nearly 50.’ Me: ‘What’s so amazing about being nearly 50?’ I’m living a lie. People don’t know how old I am. I’ve always looked younger than I am. When I was 21 this was really annoying. Now I like it a bit better. I remember when I was a child hearing jokes about how women lie about their age. I never understood the jokes. But now I understand why they do it. It’s not vanity. It’s not trying to deceive people. It’s to see if anyone will notice. I wonder how long it will take before I start saying: ‘I’m 83 you know.’

Friday, 25 January 2008

Why should I worry?

Yes, I am a mature adult and I know there are other things I should be worrying about than whether I am still cool. And I do worry about other things. I worry about:
  • climate change.
  • getting fat.
  • globalisation.
  • the bills.
  • turning into my mother.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Woke up this morning, I was older than Elvis

‘Woke up this morning, I was older than Elvis.’ Is it just me or is that a great first line for a song? Yes, you get the blues when you realise you’re not young any more.

I’ve never been able to write songs so I’m writing this instead.

I’ve been wondering what I would say if someone asked what my blog was about and came up with the following:

  • How to stay hip when you are in your 40s, and whether it’s actually a good idea anyway.
  • or, if I’m feeling pretentious: The cultural implications of approaching middle age.
  • or, if I’m being really honest: What the hell is happening to me?
Elvis was the hippest person who ever lived. Well, maybe not all the time, but that doesn’t matter. It never bothered me when I passed the age Marilyn died (I’m not even sure what age that was) because I never identified with her. Maybe it’s because I was born when one of his songs was number one, but I always wanted to be Elvis Presley.

The problem is, when you’re older than Elvis, you can’t ask yourself ‘what would Elvis do?’. Because he never was 44. You’ve got to work it out for yourself. It’s one of the things this blog will be about. There might be others. I’ll see how it goes.