Can I Have A Word?
A thought struck me the other day. I've never actually liked the word 'blog' it's naturally modern but as word I find it a bit clinical, and it certainly doesn't demonstrate the splendid array of words that can be contained in them like a novel or short story does. It's my love of these things called 'words' that has made me want to write one.
I've always preferred letters over numbers. There's just something beautiful about how you can bundle them together to create wondrous words, the wonder being the power they actually posses. Dependent on where they sit in a sentence, they can ether tickle your funny bone or pull at your heartstrings. I don't think numbers have that affect (well there's the recession) but it's not the same reaction. I can't remember anyone gripped with laughter repeating the number 26, or indeed anyone ever remarking 'I haven't heard that number in years.'
Words do indeed fall out of fashion, but that's nothing but the by-product of time, and indeed part of their charm and the picture they can paint. It's all about context. Such words as 'Divine' or 'languid' that now conjure up images of Twenties opulence, the sipping of a cold Gin and Tonic in between puffs from a cocktail cigarette, were once new and only so as they were uttered by these bright young things.
Naturally this is all subjective, although I am assuming you are a fan of the written word if you have got this far. As I am a fan, I have favourite words, such as marvellous, idiotic and vinyl. Discombobulated is a very good one, but perhaps I have always really favoured frivolous. It's because I like being it. I remember being in a temp job and being asked where my boss was, to which I said I was trying to get him to sober up before our next meeting. It's actually on occasions like that where I could do with a sign that said 'frivolous' so people at least know to laugh, or not take me at my word. Although sometimes I wish they would. I did really want those two connecting meeting rooms changed to 'Sly', and 'The Family Stone' respectively.
To avoid being frivolous for a second, I did actually start this blog (there's that word again) by talking about words and why I favoured them over numbers. I am aware that they are beautifully different, but for me, the fundamental difference is that while both of them can be manipulated, the numbers always have to add up. Words aren't like that, they don't have to add up, and they have so many different meanings.
So whether you like to listen to your favourite voice on a page, or out of your home speakers, take a moment to actually listen to what that person has done with those letters. They are indeed only words and you've probably used quite a few yourself before settling down to this. Go and use a few more. Start with frivolous.
If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may have gathered that I have a slight interest in records. As I was listening to one last week, I realised that I'd never actually replaced the stylus of that particular record player. I'm all for authenticity, but that had been there since 1979.
Obviously I'm not going to start advocating tapes, they were naturally a bedfellow of vinyl, but their perfect union can be personified by two terms; 'The Mixtape' and 'Home taping is killing music.'
Let's look at the Mixtape. I know you remember them and no doubt a myriad of memories have started flooding back, and it was exactly the same for me. It was the personal touch, only your choice of tune, the perfect place for that song to sit and what it should follow. Whether you taped them off the radio or put your favourites together, it was the soundtrack of your choosing, and every one of those C90s embedded memories deep into your core. Everyone hears a song, and is then perplexed that the song they're expecting next doesn't come on. As that confusion builds, you're immersed in that time when you had played DJ with that song, and it's only when reality bumps into you, do you realise how much time has passed between you playing or making that tape and hearing that song again.
Whatever your viewpoint, these cassettes contained ninety glorious minutes of music that was either your choice, or lovingly made for you. The picture should tell you this, and I deem myself one of the luckiest man in the world to have these in my possession. Not only because I still own it seventeen years after it was recorded, but the time and effort put in by my best friend instantly highlights how much a person actually cares for you. I still have this over the countless birthday cards I have recycled.
Which brings me to the reason of why this blog was late. I have been playing tapes. But not just playing tapes.
All or Nothing
I have (at the time of you reading this) seven hundred and ninety two albums in my collection, with a spattering of around a hundred singles. Let us concentrate on the albums. The range is incredibly eclectic, rather like some calamity has happened in a record shop and no one's cleaned up yet.
If you're reading this with one ear on Spotify, while I will be turning a kind blind eye (more on that in another blog) you will be laughing at how stupid a statement like that is, as you can certainly get way over the seven hundred and ninety two albums I have. But they're just the songs and that's my point. There's no album art, no mysterious sleeve notes to ponder over and most importantly, you're not listening to it as it is designed to be heard. This isn't necessarily to do with it being on vinyl, more about who is singing or playing, as it was their choice where that song should sit on the album; what it will sound fantastic to follow, or more importantly, what to begin with. You don't get any of that and have completely ignored the point of them making that record.
Everything is contextual so if it's buried in a play list or presented to you via a logarithm, then you're clearly not showing that singer or band the respect they are due. From the painstaking ponder over the exact words to say, to the gruelling sweat over nailing that chord. That's even before they recorded it.
I'm certainly not saying there's never any room for a playlist, but compared to the original home of that song, it's like telling Mr Holmes that you don't need a poo. Also, where's the Chase? Not the tv programme, but the actual hunting down of that record, where the hunter finally gets their game, whether its finally spotted in a dusty crate or excitedly unwrapped at Christmas. While my taste is incredibly wide, I'm a massive Sixties and Seventies freak, so I get to hunt properly; looking for musicians who could only record for Vinyl, who, when spotted entrapped and captured (most records come quietly) is played on the equipment of the time.
While I do have technology that goes past nineteen seventy eight (I don't write this with a quill) it really should sound like it was supposed to sound. Obviously with the records I like its been quite a few years since they were brand new, but no ones record collection is ever pristine, as we've all had that clumsy knock as we put it on or get up to skip the next one as it's too scratched. It's all part of your collection, and if you never experienced that, then I can only assume that you were the one that kept the box the toy came in.
It's all about the music, and can be perfectly summed up by John Peel's defence of Vinyl over CDs (remember them?). When challenged over the better quality, he said “Listen mate, life has surface noises.” These 'marks', whether on the record or the album's artwork, are the marks of lives left behind are what I love, whether it's the original owner's name or their insistence to rate each song and list its length (again, more on that in another blog)
I wrote about a good deed I did for someone else last week, so it's only fair if I write about a good deed that was done for me. Plus it stops me from sounding big headed, and I wrote about what happened to me last week because it happened and indeed got in the way of me being able to write about records or books or other things that make me say 'oh a bit of wee has come out.'
So the year is 2011, and I was at the Edinburgh Festival with my show, Stuff and Nonsense, a celebration of my love of charity shop discoveries. I had been there just over a week and it had been treating me immensely well as the diary I kept at the time told me. What follows next is inspired from that diary, with little flurries of context as I only hope you wouldn't have read the previous entries. It is still true.
It is around 1am on a Saturday night, relatively still early early for the Festival goers with shows still going strong and the exuberance of a weekend showing no signs of fading fast. I had just left the marvellous company of Shazia Mirza (We had just seen a show) and as she walked in the direction of her flat, I reached into my pocket only to find I had lost my keys. I did the obligatory tap every pocket known to man, before the sad realisation kicked in that they really were misplaced.
So, I was technically homeless. The friend who's flat I was staying in wouldn't want a phone call at this time of day (especially as she was in Bristol) and so any chance of a spare key would have to wait for a postbox. Only knowing comedians, I frantically searched my phone and desperately texted hopeful kind souls. I pondered popping in to the nearby venues with the chance of seeing anyone I know, and then resorted to frantic phone calls of comedians who I knew would still be up.
It was at that moment that Joe Wilkinson appeared and became my knight in shining armour. The answer to that simple question 'are you alright?' was rather lengthy than usual, and thanks to this splendidly kind soul (and equally his girlfriend) I managed to have somewhere to sleep that night.
The three of us went to the flat they were staying in via the chip shop (It was around half one after all) and Joe kept asking me if I wanted anything. I wasn't hungry, yet Joe was incredibly insistent he got me something to eat. I did try to explain that while I didn't have a flat, I did have money on me. I compromised by saying he could make me cup of coffee when we got in, which he was obviously true to his word.
The next morning I had got up as early as possible and headed into town. Joe had secured my homeless status further by buying me a can of shandy bass. I reluctantly wandered towards my venue and told them the news. As the key hadn't been handed in where I thought it could be, I had to try and accept that there would be no show.
To kill time, I met up with some friends who were visiting Edinburgh, ambled through some charity shops, but it just wouldn't lift my spirit. We went for something to eat and while on the surface I appeared OK, I was deeply saddened by my state of limbo. I left them to go to my second roof over my head, in the form of fine friends, Margot and David. I had stayed with them on my previous visits, plus I had an address for the spare key to be delivered.
The next morning I got up at 8, of which there was no need as the postman didn't come till 12. In rapid time, I made it to my flat, had a quick change, and raced back into town (in a taxi that played Bowie's Five Years) to carry on regardless. It turned out to be a splendid show, despite the natural panic I had tried to suppress through the whole experience.
Looking back, it was a weird experience to feel homeless, as it was without the poverty and lack of choices it has associated with it. I had just been locked out of the flat I was staying in, yet it did suddenly affect my whole world. It was then a delight to be taken in by a kind soul, have the marvel of being looked after, and a great pleasure that I was in the right place at the right time to indeed be rescued.
Life Imitating Art
On a break from thinking about rapiers, I was heading to the shops when I spotted something odd on the pavement, which on closer inspection turned out to be an elderly woman who had suffered a fall. By luck, I wasn't alone and thankfully my girlfriend had done some nursing so expertly leapt into action, ensuring her head had some rest from a folded coat and comfortable enough on the kindly donated blanket that she now lay on. I had dashed back to the flat to secure a coat to drape over the slightly frustrated maiden.
I can't speak for you, but the age in my head doesn't reflect the physical age that everyone sees. It was exactly the same for our stumbled granny, disgruntled at the pensioner legs that wouldn't line up with her independent thinking. She aired more puzzled frustration at the now sadly regular examples of will and body not working in harmony as we waited for the ambulance. If I was to be sensible, she shouldn't have left her flat, but then again, who are we to question or dampen someone's thoughts? No doubt she'd pulled this caper off countless times before, returning unscathed to the oblivious sleeping cat.
Imagine reader that you are reading this story in real time and there was still no sign of those sirens, despite several queries as to its arrival. This was the case and so with the maiden having stumbled no more than 500 yards from her flat and stating that she wasn't going to lie on the pavement any longer, the only humane thing was to help her walk back to her flat. It was a slow, methodical walk, steady steps, a little slower than when someone is drunk.
So with the good deed done and the formerly crumpled maiden now secured on her comfy sofa, all that was left to do was for her to wait for the ambulance and the heroic duo to take their leave.
One of the main things I learnt from this is that people are either incredibly kind or incredibly selfish. The latter was sadly highlighted by what can only be described as a moronic dad. I use this word (and would sadly use a nastier one) as he freely let his toddler cycle near to us as we tried to walk our maiden back to her flat.
Obviously I wouldn't want to spoil this tale by focusing on him, nobody can factor in a gene pool oddity, but it just goes to show that this life is really all about perspective.
I may have digressed a little, but essentially as I continue to refuel my passion, be it via dusty gem's plucked out of a box or the needle hitting a familiar favourite, it does nothing more than turn me into an anorak., of which I am immensely proud.
If you have a passion that no one understands, then congratulations (unless of course you're a serial killer) as you know what causes the endorphins to rush through the lesser travelled path. So come fellow anoraks, let us clutch at our toggles and raise high our flasks of tea.
Even if you've never been to the Edinburgh Festival, you'd have to be a bit of a numpty not to think that any show you see there, from Theatre to Stand Up, has not been pondered, written and rehearsed to within an inch of its life. Obviously my shows are, but then again, I'm a Virgo. That said, with all the prep and sweat I put into every single sentence, it's real life that triggers the laughter and you have to be ready to accept it, just like when a kid plays with the box over the toy, or an album is only affordable as a reissue. I've given you a couple of these moments below, things that genuinely did happen to me whilst offstage, and I hope they make you realise that sometimes, you can't write stuff like this.
I think I had only been there a couple of days when I bumped into a panicked comedian I knew. She was doing her show in forty minutes and with a reviewer in, could do with a friendly face, so would naturally sort me a ticket. As I didn't have enough time to sit down to eat, I hurried to the chippy and with fish and chips in my hand, promptly sought out a bench on The Meadows to satisfy my appetite.
The Meadows is a green stretch of Edinburgh, equally populated with performers, tourists and drunks. As I enjoyed my grub, a couple of minutes passed before a man sat next to me and pulled out a guitar. I glanced towards him, was informed that I wasn't in his way, so went back to my munching and left him to his tuning. He then launched into a song, singing and everything, which was when I realised I was now sat next to a Busker. I remember thinking, if anyone stops to watch, they're going to want to know what the fella with the chips is gonna' do. How long before he sings? Let's just say, they were the fastest fish and chips I have ever eaten and I have only just stopped taking the Rennies.
Earlier on, I had been in the pound shop (as you know, most comedians are doing well) to furnish my temporary accommodation with such delights as coathangers, mug, plate and emergency toilet roll. As I was in a queue, I saw an elderly gentlemen stop at a display and pick something from it. He ambled over to an assistant and asked “Is this a chocolate bar?” to which he was told “No, that's a DVD.”
As I said, those were just a couple of things that happened to me whilst I was there; I haven't even mentioned becoming briefly homeless, but maybe that's for another time...
They were indeed heady times, and are always looked back on with delightful relish. I’m not saying we all have to be in a band, just that next time you feel discombobulated with yourself, try to remember those flashes from the past that made up the scenery on the journey that brought you here.
Feel Free To Choose
It's a strange concept when we're told things are free. Firstly, we're led to believe that the best things in life are free, only to find out that these 'things' should be given to the birds and bees as it's money that people want. The problem is that money shouldn't be cared for as it can't buy you love, and everybody tells you so. Then of course there's the free lunch, which is naturally weird because as soon as you hear about it, you're told it doesn't exist. I could never figure out if it was like the Yeti. And if these 'free lunches' do happen under the premise of an assumed debt, what favour are my parents going to claim for the endless Nobbly Bobblies I devoured at Barry Island?
So what, in this 'Best things' category is truly free? To begin with, you're free, to do what you want, any old time. If I was to be serious for a minute, I would simply say that you just need to make yourself aware that these 'things' are out there, and with the right frame of mind, they'll stumble your way.
You'll be surprised what does. On holiday in Dorset, I regularly 'helped myself' to some fresh apples from a box marked with the same sentence. That same holiday, I got to 'Hitch Hike' for the first time, when a incredibly kind man answered my thumb (I believe that's the right term). This fine fellow was nice enough to bundle me and my girlfriend in his car and drive past his door to drop us off at our door. Not only did it relive our legs, but saved us from the storm that had started brewing.
More recently, I've been scouring the charity shops for photo frames. As you'll find out, along with the records, I also collect photographs of families I've never met. I love them as a little snapshot of time and, as I was rummaging through a box of heroin – sorry I should say, mixed bric a brac, I pulled out a frame. This frame fitted exactly a photograph I have been wanting to frame for quite some time. That probably sounds odd to the Ikea generation, but this frame was older than me, and the photo in question had been cut especially to fit this type of frame. It was free because I just put in my carrier bag. No, it was in a box marked 'free,' its price sticker crudely reduced to try and entice someone into taking it home. Nobody did, until I came along, as I was the right person to have it.
Even if you don't like to Womble a bargain or amble though the countryside, you obviously like to read. I'm assuming this as you got this far. Then keep your eyes open for the fairies. I was walking through central London recently and on the top of the button box for a pedestrian crossing, sat a book. It wasn't forgotten or misplaced, it was there as a gift, wrapped in ribbon and looking inviting. I glanced around to see if anyone had spotted it, looked again to see if it still existed, (I'd expected it to turn into a milkshake carton) and so I picked it up, eagerly eyeing the front until I could stop and study it more. It was donated by the Book fairies, a lovely group of random individuals who simply pass things on. I had no intention of reading this, but as I'd found it, I was obviously meant to, and like a kind fairy, passed it on.
So take off your headphones, discard any attention to your phone and have a look what you can see There's more to life than just a free voucher.