Saturday, 31 December 2011

Are White Christmases a thing of the past?

There are Christmas cards all over my book cases. I like to spot trends so, now that I know there aren't going to be any more cards, I've started looking for themes. This year, in order of popularity, they are:
1. Snow scenes.
2. Birds and animals.
3. Nativity scenes and/or carols.
4. Random Christmas decorations.

There's a lot of crossover, of course. Snow scenes with animals. Snow scenes with robins. Christmas decorations in the snow. I nearly did a Venn diagram, but I'm not quite that anal.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Christmas cards, round robins and writer's block

One of the best things about this time of year is that you actually get real post. I know it's more eco-friendly to send e-cards, but there's something special about envelopes coming through the letterbox with the handwriting of friends and family.

I even like the 'round robin' letters that come with them. It's easy to sneer (thanks Simon Hoggart and his numerous crowd-sourcing readers), but I care about my old friends, even if I rarely see them, and I genuinely like to know how they are.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Pop, storytelling and jukebox musicals

I haven't walked out of many gigs. But Tin Machine was one of them. And if you start talking about David Bowie and artistic integrity I'm likely to remind you of this.

Apparently there was a rather lazy piece of journalism in the Observer recently where someone ran with a press release about a 'jukebox musical' based on Bowie's songs. The story's now been discredited, but Tom Ewing wrote an interesting spin-off article in Friday's Guardian Film & Music where he mused on pop and narrative.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Halloween, Christmas and the death of ordinary time

Last week, I noticed my local pub was advertising 'Halloween weekend'. Basically, three days of 'celebrating'. When I was young, Halloween was just one hour in the evening and a bowl of apples.

That's until the Christians decided Halloween was a Bad Thing and then it became nothing. But nothing is, in fact, what Halloween means for most of us. Not something we celebrate. Not really part of our culture.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Why I hate the 1980s (I think)

I've been saying for as long as I can remember - well at least during this century - how much I hate the 1980s. But I know a lot of people think that the '80s were great, so I'm wondering whether I should rethink.

I'm wondering, in particular, whether this is perhaps an 'it's not you, it's me' moment.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Sounds of the 20th Century: real music, false memories, and why the 70s weren't actually that great

One of the things I'm learning in the 21st century is that radio is often better than television, and the internet is often better than both.
Meanwhile, back in the 20th century, it's 1979. Or it will be on Thursday, when a radio series called Sounds of the 20th Century gets to episode 29. They started in 1951 and they're going on til the end of the century: one year, one hour, a mixture of pop culture, pop music, politics and a little slice of archive zeitgeist.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

All the cool bands

Sometimes you actually find something useful on Facebook. One of my friends 'shared' a photo that's been 'shared' about 3,000 times and I couldn't resist doing the same. It's what they call viral marketing, but as far as I can see it's on a real person's Facebook page and it isn't advertising anything.

The photo is just some text and says this: 'I may be old, but I got to see all the cool bands.'

It's obviously struck a chord with people of a certain age. And why not? I know how to make a young person jealous really easily. You just say you saw the Ramones and Talking Heads on the same bill. And it cost 50p.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

50 is the new 70

Down the road from my house there's a billboard advertising sheltered housing. 'Independent Living For The Over 55s' it says, alongside a photo of a smiling, middle-class 55-year-old woman and an almost identical smiling, middle-class 85-year-old woman. It's not clear which one of them is plotting to put the other one away.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Don't call me a silver surfer

It's official. The golden generation previously known as 'digital natives' no longer exists.

Researchers at the Open University have decided that there is no generational difference between how people use the internet. It's more about learning styles or something. (I think this is just an academic take on 'you're as old as you feel'.)

Thank goodness for that.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Why I'm scared to leave my job

When Tuesday feels like Friday, and Sunday night feels like it did when you were at school, you know you are in the wrong job.

I'd love to stop what I'm doing and go and do something else but I'm very afraid that I will be stuck in the same job for ever. It's a bit like being in an abusive relationship. You keep reminding yourself of all the good reasons for staying, and you almost believe it. You try to imagine a different life, and it becomes harder and harder as time goes by. You do nothing for years, and then one day something snaps...

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Rave on, John Donne

Nobody deserves to die young.

Not the children in East Africa. Not the young Norwegians who died last week. And not Amy Winehouse.

No-one these days talks in terms of the 'deserving' and 'undeserving poor'. So why is it OK to divide the dead into those who did and didn't deserve it?

As John Donne wrote in No Man is an Island: "Any man`s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind."

I've read a lot of judgemental crap recently by people who ought to know better. You're not talking about a cartoon character here, or a soap opera role, whatever the tabloids would like you to think. You're talking about a real person.

A real person, with a family.

An untimely death may not be unexpected. It may not be a shock. That doesn't make it any less dreadful. Years ago, someone I loved died young. Because she didn't love herself enough to care what happened to her. That wasn't her fault, either.

Think first, speak later. Have compassion.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

I am old enough to remember...

The other night I was wasting time on Twitter as usual and stumbled upon a hashtag game #iamoldenoughtoremember. I couldn't resist joining in.

Contributions could be categorised as follows:

#iamoldenoughtoremember hovering your finger over the pause button when taping the top40 on a C90.
...there were 240 pennies in a pound.
...gramophones, 78s, 45s, LPs and EPs. And cassette recorders.
Spangles- the sweeties.
...the original Bill and Ben, the Flowerpot Men.

Weird stuff I thought I'd forgotten:
...Izal medicated loo roll. Or should that be tracing paper at school.
...buying shampoo in sachets because nobody washed their hair often enough to warrant the expense of a whole bottle.
...outside toilets.
...putting wallpaper on school books (why?)

Social comment:
#iamoldenoughtoremember when we had communities. Then Thatcher came to power and told us 'Individualism and commercialism' was good.
...thinking we'd won the punk wars. [that one of mine]

Then I remembered: #iamoldenoughtoremember what I did before Twitter.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Harry Potter and the intimations of old age

We were on holiday last week on the Isle of Purbeck, doing middle-aged middle-class sort of things like camping and going for country walks. And drinking lots of cider.

And spending the day on the heritage railway, enjoying the retro details and mocking the trainspotters.

It's funny how different people see things differently though.

We get onto the steam train and manage to get a compartment to ourselves. And from nearly every family that walks past, we hear the same comment: "Ooh, it's just like in Harry Potter."

No, it's not. It's just like the trains that we used to travel in when we were children. And teenagers. And young adults...

It's very familiar. And it's making me feel very old.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Case Histories soundtrack

UPDATE: If you are looking for the songs from Case Histories Series 2 (broadcast in the UK in May/June 2013), click here: Case Histories Soundtrack Series 2.


I love Kate Atkinson's books, partly because she's a good writer and partly because I can't help wondering about the lost sisters. They are the thread in Case Histories but the theme goes back to Behind the Scenes at the Museum, her first novel. And because I also have a lost sister, I wonder.

And I loved the BBC's 'Case Histories' adaptation, even though it falls into the common category of 'not as good as the book'. I've got to confess a lot of it's to do with Jason Isaacs. I never imagined Jackson Brodie as quite so hunky when I read the books... but I'm not complaining.

The other reason for loving the series is the soundtrack. Who could fail to love a programme that highlights work by Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith and Iris DeMent? The music has attracted plenty of comment - so when are the BBC going to release the soundtrack album?

I've searched for a list of the songs but all I can find is on the iPlayer credits. So, before they disappear from view, I've compiled a list as a public service. I intend to investigate further the stuff I hadn't heard before. I recommend you do the same.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Why I'm not celebrating Father's Day

In my gmail bin I have an email inviting me to 'adopt a veg' for Father's Day, an email offering CAMRA Father's Day gift membership, and a third offering 25% off fairtrade ties for... you guessed it.

Spammers don't care what percentage of recipients actually buy their stuff. These totally legitimate organisations, whose messages I am usually happy to receive, don't seem to care what percentage of their recipients don't have fathers to buy presents for.

Or don't want to buy a present.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Ramones, My Back Pages and why vinyl is better than Spotify

Whenever I go on Facebook the 'top news' at any given time is a whole load of YouTube videos. I wonder if it's my demographic or just the sort of people I know. It might be interesting to see a typical timeline for people of different ages. Babies? Politics? Misspelled incomprehensible stuff?

Sometimes I think that it's all a bit like writing the name of bands on your satchel. We all know we all like the Clash, Mott the Hoople and Bob Dylan so why do we have to tell each other about it?

But sometimes it's nice to be told about something I don't know. Like the link to Spotify of the Ramones doing My Back Pages. (That really ought to be the theme tune to this blog.)

That's what sharing is all about. Or it is now.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Punk's not dead - discuss

I don't watch a lot of television but when I do I like to watch it in company. Which generally means Twitter.

A few weeks ago, BBC4 decided to resurrect Top of the Pops and kicked it off with a themed evening that included a documentary about 1976. It was this in particular that polarised commentators. Generation gap? I expect so.

As we watched the awfulness that was Sailor and Brotherhood of Man, half the viewers said: 'This is why we fought the punk wars'. And the other half said: 'I suppose someone will come on in a minute and say that punk changed everything'.

Let's nail this once and for all.

Actually, it did.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Dream jobs, work-life balance, and other lies

It was great on Friday to have an extra day off work. I could have spent it in front of the telly watching a celebrity wedding. Or in front of Twitter watching people bitch about the celebrity wedding (I was tempted). Instead I took the chance to catch up on some of the things I don't usually have the time and energy to do. And I thought a bit about my working life.

Everyone knows about the hierarchy of needs, right? The idea is that basic needs come first - stuff like food, sleep and sex. Then you get the nice-to-haves like safety, belonging and esteem. And at the top you get self-actualisation.

This theory is supposed to be useful when you manage people. Now, I've never been in a workplace that lays on food or sleep, let alone sex. And I've definitely never been in a workplace that provides self-actualisation. I think I'd feel pretty suspicious if it did.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Don't ask me questions

I've been having arguments about the census with Husband. He's not happy because the information is being collected by an American arm of the military-industrial complex. I'm not bothered because there's nothing there I wouldn't put on Twitter.

But I did find some of the questions difficult. And that's apart from the enigmatic Question 17. (It turns out the reason it's blank is actually quite boring.) What troubled me were the questions about health and disability.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Don't bring back Top of the Pops

Middle-aged people went a bit mad last night as BBC4 chose a Top of the Pops theme for their regular Friday music night. I followed the Twitter stream for #totp and it was trending all night.

The first hour and a half was a clip show from 1964 to 1975 (with colour coming in for Lola by the Kinks). Husband periodically walked into the room, looked at the TV, said 'he's dead' and walked out again. But I had a great time. And not just because the Faces, T Rex and David Bowie were on one after the other.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Pancakes, International Women's Day and what not to say to a feminist

I'm actually more excited about it being Pancake Day than International Women's Day. As someone said on Twitter, social media seems to have reduced International Women's Day to the level of National Chip Week.

And I never like the idea of being told when to think about any particular issue - whether it's Comic Relief or Valentine's Day or Climate Week. Or Women's Day. I'd prefer to choose myself when I want to be charitable, romantic or green. Or feminist. And preferably not as a one-off.

On the other hand, there is something relevant to women in society that's been bugging me for a while. I don't expect to be popular for saying this but I'll say it anyway.

It's not big and clever to use the C word. It's not even funny.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The IT Crowd

Why I like working with geeks:
1. There is always someone to talk to on Twitter.
2. They make you realise that Microserfs was not fiction.
3. They never say things like: ‘We can get on with our project because management are more interested in other things.’ They do say: ‘The eye of Sauron is turned elsewhere.’

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Most of the time I feel about 46. Sometimes I feel 16.

Most of the time I feel about 46. Sometimes I feel 16. And that's not a good thing.

I decided recently, and deliberately, that I felt 46. I thought I ought to choose something - because I don't feel my real age, which has a 5 in front of it - so I chose something realistic. I think I can actually get away with this one, for a while at least.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Save our libraries

It was Save Our Libraries Day on Saturday so I dutifully went down to mine to try to save it. No-one seemed to notice. The librarians were more interested in showing me how to use the DIY checkout than thanking me for my solidarity. There were not people queuing to take out their books. The shelves were not bare.

I knew there would not be any well-known authors doing sit-ins, because my library is not one marked for closure (although there are 20 in my county that are, which is 20 too many). But I romantically hoped there might be some empty shelves, or some sense of occasion.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Book review: The stranger in the mirror

I remember the first time I heard a friend describe herself as 'a middle-aged woman'. I was shocked. She's a year younger than me.

A few years later, at the age of 50-something and officially menopausal, I can't deny it any more. So I could not resist buying a book called The Stranger in the Mirror: A Memoir of Middle Age.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Why Twitter is the new rock'n'roll

Many years ago when I worked in newspapers you always had to write some 'highlights of the year' to fill the column inches when everyone was on holiday.

I didn't think I'd still be doing it years later, without getting paid, but some things are too good not to share. My media highlights of the year were all on Twitter.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Grumpy New Year

I didn't watch 'Grumpy Old New Year' on Friday night. I get grumpy about talking-heads programmes. I get grumpy about repeats. I get grumpy when there is nothing decent on TV on New Year's Eve. Presumably the programmers think it doesn't matter because 'everyone' is out partying. But that's just pretend-life; some kind of myth. In real life most people stay in. And find out there's nothing on telly.