Reminiscence

Every so often I have the craving to go and excavate my past. Today I was looking for some remembrance of the Brazilian electronica sampler I used to have, as it doesn’t appear on Spotify, as yet, and I remembered I’d written about it for a blog I used to have, You Can Call Me Betty. I was quite proud of this blog: I averaged a post per weekday for most of it, and all about the music I loved. It got to be too much like a chore to keep up, as it’s pretty hard-going keeping up that consistency, but there was some good times: as well as the series on Brazilian electro I did a month-long run of music from World Cup countries, and a special on old school hip hop.

But it’s funny to read, because my blogs have always been – while avoiding obvious personal, private stuff, pretty much based on what I was thinking and feeling at the time, so I can sense myself, 4 years ago. And goodness, but what has changed.

First, and most importantly, The Boss actually is a genius and I tell myself off for thinking otherwise.

Up there with that, I’ve moved house four times (to Wood Green, to elsewhere in Wood Green, to Walthamstow, to Enfield), stopped that blog and started several others, taken up allotmenteering, the mandolin, occasional baking and hearty, many-portioned cookery, Birkenstocks, dance music and Tom Waits, geography and Ian Rankin. Most excitingly of course, I’ve managed to con a beautiful woman into marrying me and making me happy. That’s the big one.

Apparently I was totally emo then as well, who’d have thought. I leave you with a poem about chocolate digestives.

I was looking for a job…

It’s job-hunting season chez Simone, again. This means a slew of daily email alerts to read through and mostly discard, because clever old Simone chose to do a Masters with the intention of working at some level of government, be it local, national, civil service, what have you. But now the shiny-chins in charge of killing the public sector have taken all the money for such ventures away, and there’s a distinct over-supply of qualified applicants. Temping here we come.

I suppose it shouldn’t come as too huge a surprise, what with the election and financial crisis and so forth, but really. I’ll forever advocate a strengthening of state apparatus, because it’s the governments duty to care for it’s people, not to hope that greedy people with no commitment will look after others. Follow the current government’s route and you have a pile of poorly-funded charity sector organisations staffed by underpaid, overworked, good-natured folk, plus a private sector content to ignore it’s duties to, for example, the environment and other people, plus a government that sits back and ignores the lot. This might be a gross over-simplification of the marxist-structuralist school, but I don’t think so. This is the way people are inclined, and that’s what a Conservative government wants. I’m all for a state-funded public sector with many jobs, providing fairly for both the less privileged and more privileged alike. It shouldn’t be so hard.

Geography

I’ve been studying geography for the last year. I’ve looked at gentrification many times, planning and development, the philosophies of Marx, of Foucault, of Friedman, urban policy in Paris, Rio, London, the Chicago School’s  models and the LA School’s opposing models, the whys and wherefores of quantitative and qualitative research, focus groups and internet surveys, public engagement and civic ownership, encouraging low-emission lifestyles and a lot more. I am only now looking at a map, and that’s one I have to make for myself. So much for geography being degree-level colouring in.

Mumford & Son, the work’s never done

The Mumfords are another group I first encountered on the telly: this time, rather than the effete, stylised androgyny of Hurts I was confronted by a gaggle of what appeared to be extras from an ITV Thomas Hardy adaptation, all grandad shirts and waistcoats, romping around in haystacks in the wind. Hairy men they were, with mouths opened a bit too wide. But visual aesthetics aside, it was the music that made me stop and pay attention.

There’s a few bands that sound a bit like Mumford & Sons, a few precedents in the overwraught, frantic thrashing vein of Arcade Fire, say. But there’s a tautness to Mumford & Sons, a restraint that’s lacking in many more successful bands. And though Marcus Mumford lets it rip from time to time (hence the need for the wide open mouth I suppose), it’s never with total abandon, rather (I like to think) a very English sense of emotional reserve. Same with the forceful male harmonising, the hard-plucked banjos and the like: it’s kept with control, even when it’s most raging. Good on them, I don’t rate the sixth-form stylings of The XX at all and I was hoping the Mumfords would get the Mercury.

Hurts, everybody

It’s been a while since I’ve done any music reviews, and, I suspect, it will be a while yet. Which is perverse really as I’m probably listening to more new music now than in the last three years or so. Most recently it’s Hurts, who I first encountered through the striking video for Better Than Love, and whose debut is now available on Spotify. I’d been entirely out of touch with music videos since I last watched The Chart Show but got into a MTV2 habit which included the likes of lovely videos by Temper Trap and the Mumfords, for instance. Hurts‘ effort (above) is probably my favourite of recent days (Temper Trap one with the cross-country run would have won it but for the horrific memories of actual school athletics it recalls). All moody and tense, it gives the song a wonderful atmosphere – it’s a great song already.

The rest of the album isn’t half bad either, although they don’t quite match the aural excitement of Better Than Love. The tone is that of a number of two-pieces over the years, notably the brooding romanticisms of Tears For Fears, the singer/silent partner synth swathes of the Pet Shop Boys, or even the trance-y drama of M83 or Air. See most recent single Wonderful Life: the lyrics are an almost banal tale of meeting on the Severn Bridge, of ordinary romance between ordinary people. I’m almost reminded of Arab Strap or Belle & Sebastian, not just the Pet Shop Boys (they even head vaguely into Erasure territory on Devotion, a duet with Kylie Minogue, no less). The booming backing choir in the big chorus with it’s refrain of “don’t let go, never give up, it’s such a wonderful life” has just that combination of reservation, sarcasm and desperate belief that characterised the likes of Mad World or Head Over Heels. And by the end of the track the synths are stabbing and washing, the choir is bellowing, Theo Hutchcraft is repeating himself with more and more twisting on his vocals: it’s Gallic electro time.

I miss writing about music a bit, but I think I needed the break: if you’d have asked me to write reviews over the last couple of years, I think you’d have mostly got diatribes about how it was fine these days and everything, but not as good as Bruce Springsteen.

So apparently I’m hot for Victorian suburbia.

Photo from Memories

Having lived in the multicultural, um, paradise of Wood Green for four years it’s a bit of a shock to the system to find myself setting up home in the altogether more genteel ‘burbs of Enfield. Only a few miles from my former home, this is Outer London with a vengeance: it may be a temporary stop for us, but it’s an experience if nothing else.

One of the things I enjoy about living in a new area is exploring all the back roads and routes and recalibrating the map in my head. First thing I got to know was the free parking spots, which taught me the joy of the maze-like footpaths around the back of the Town, by the New River. Just recently though, I’ve been getting my head around Bush Hill Park. This place was always a diaphanous concept for me, being one of those locales that you don’t really go through to get anywhere. It’s become a source of shortcuts of late though, and I think I’ve finally got it. I like this business of figuring out the Victorian mindset – I’d better, it’s going to dominate my head for the next four weeks while I finish my dissertation on Noel Park. Bush Hill Park is far more typical of late nineteenth century expansionism than the philanthropically-minded spacious avenues of Noel Park: the spacious avenues of Bush Hill Park were intended for a much more salubrious set of suburban pioneers, evidenced by the huge, sprawling (and beautiful) piles on Wellington Road.

The sweeping streets around the station, the gated cul-de-sac of the curiously-named Private Road, were aimed towards the city workers who’d take this train down to Liverpool Street and to some extent that looks true today: the early morning foot traffic as I patrolled this morning were split between the expensive-looking suits of city types and the cheap, shiny suits of estate agents. The smaller houses near St Mark’s Road and Main Avenue seem to have been built with one eye on the Royal Small Arms Factory at what is now Enfield Island Village, and the development continued after the first war with massive infill up to the new A10, built alongside the other major arterial routes between the wars. Now, it’s all uniformly block-paved driveways (good job this isn’t a flood zone) and wide roads to accommodate these new-fangled motor cars.

I love mooching round places hunting for new charity shops, and it’s a pity when I can’t write anything about them because there’s no shops there. So here, I’m a Victorian suburbia geek.

Finding Mrs Doyle

I’m always a bit cheered when people fit comfortably into stereotypes: as a student of social sciences it’s gratifying to know that for all the deconstruction of structuralist sociological explanations of recent years, sometimes bodies of people genuinely do share some characteristics. It should have come as no surprise really, that Irish people sound Irish, but apparently that’s a thing they do.

My new wife and I spent our honeymoon in County Kerry – although booked with the intention that it was a long way from anywhere and thus would make a good location to completely rest after the exertions of catering and organising a wedding ourselves, it turned out that Kerry is completely beautiful and we spent the week driving through mountain passes and looking at lakes, it was great. And everyone’s so nice! I made the schoolboy error of forgetting the paper part of my driving licence when booking a car and the nice young man in the Europcar office booked us a B&B, drove us there, picked us up in the morning and sorted us out. On the way, every single Irish-ism you can imagine bar “top of the morning”: I can’t rent you the car without the paper part, so I can’t. It’s your honeymoon? To be sure I didn’t know that so. And so on.

At the B&B they kept coming: you’ll have some tea so? Ah go on. Are you sure now? Have some cake with that. Go on. It was brilliant. The Kerry accent has some charming little quirks in it so that trying to explain it phonetically is not really that easy. I suggest you search out some clips from the Rose of Tralee festival this year, a surreal hybrid of an old-fashioned beauty contest and the glitz of the X Factor. The new presenter this year, the wonderful Daithi O Se is a Dingle man, the West Kerry gaeltacht where all signs are in Irish, and the broad, unrefined joy of being Irish breaks through his every speech. The man’s a new hero, whether it’s commenting on an entrant’s father’s fine set of teeth, or vamping Tom Wait’s ‘Martha‘ with the house band while another entrant was changing into dancing shoes.

Happily though, the nicest stereotype about the Irish was thoroughly reinforced. They’re lovely, friendly, charming folk. I love them, I’m going to sell up and move to the mountains there.