I'm not listening to all of their conversation and I can't hear most of it, but it gradually became clear that they were police officers. And the way I could tell was because of jargon ("DCI", "shift pattern", "offences", "21 years service", "The Federation") rather than the subject matter, which was the regular conversation of people working in large bureaucratic organisations, viz. the difficulty of working with people in a people-focused organisation that is run as if it were a machine and all the people just interchangeable parts ("handovers", "bullet points", "stress", "Do they know or are they just stupid?", "Do they know everything that's going on, or nothing at all?", "Just about had enough", "dropping like flies".)
I've had a couple of people ask me whether I was upset by Rhodri Marsden's piece today in the Independent entitled "Am I the only person in the world who hates the ukulele?". Um, no, I thought it was funny in places and a bit silly and provocative in the way that I'm sure I'd be every now and then if I had a column in a Sunday paper and (I don't know how it works, but I assume) having someone else edit what I say anyway.
I don't know Rhodri, the closest I've been is seeing him play the saw at Interesting 2007 when I was one of the comperes, but I get that he's a real musician and I imagine this just seemed like a funny idea for a piece and a chance to wind a few people up. But even taking this article seriously, which I don't think one should, having a go at ukuleles now is a bit like having a go at synth players in the eighties because "everyone" had a Casio PT-1.
It struck me as a bit like that piece sometime in the last year when they declared "peak beard". I wasn't offended by that and I didn't for a moment think of having a shave. I don't have a beard because of fashion and I don't play uke just because everyone else is (are they? no.). I also saw an article today declaring the death of the hipster, which let people know that if they couldn't identify a hipster already, they were those skinny boys with big beards, tattoos and playing a ukulele while nibbling a cupcake. Or something. Silly. I'm not skinny, I don't have any tattoos (that I know of), I don't eat cupcakes and I have a modest little beard. But one day walking through Austin at SXSW the other year, someone I didn't know who was introduced to me by someone else I didn't really know, said with a sneer "Oh you're English and you play the ukulele, isn't that a bit twee? Do you force your audience to eat crumpets?"
For the record. I'm not a fan of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain either - I think that playing Radiohead or Coldplay songs on the uke is a bit boring. I can't get on with mass uke-ups, although I approve of their democratisation of music - it's partly my narcissistic desire to stand out from the crowd and partly that the playing sinks to the lowest common denominator - also not every uke player can and should be allowed to sing! If I'm going to play with other people, I'd much rather they were playing different, complementary instruments and preferably that they are all better musicians than I am. I'm glad that ukes are replacing recorders as the instrument of choice for introducing children to music, because recorders.
So yeah, thank you for your concern and thank you for remembering I'm that bloke who plays the ukulele, but I'm not upset and I certainly don't take it personally.
Just writing wedding invitations and I'm struck by the fashion in the mid to late part of the last century for using a 'y' for an 'i' in naming children. Or is it an affectation that people took on for themselves, whether ironically or not. Like Ryk. It's not just this combination, there were lots the other way Randy, Mandy -> Randi, Mandi and variations on Kait, Cait, Kayte, Cate. What is that? A desire for conformity with a twist of wacky spelling? Or what? Feeling inferior because you were one of 5 Michaels in your class?
I've just set up an IFTTT to cross-post from my Fargo blog to tumblr. Let's see.
UPDATE: rats! I've already got IFTTT pointing to a different tumblr blog....
SO: I've changed it so that it uses "post via e-mail" instead.
I went busking again today. Just now. From 5pm to 6pm roughly, outside Wandsworth Town Station. I decided to do it at around 4 this afternoon, I'd had one of those days where I'd like to go out and shout at people in the street and so I thought I might as well do it in a socially-acceptable way that even includes some small pecuniary gain.
It's fun, but I'd forgotten what hard work it is. Of course it doesn't require much lifting of heavy weights or knotty intellectual problems, but it is a physical act even though I'm just jiggling around a little and playing my ukulele while singing. And it's been warm today. I came home glowing.
It's been a while. I'm not sure why I stopped. Probably the paucity of the pecuniary gain in comparison to the physical exertion. But I do enjoy doing it. I enjoy performing for a sudden, temporary audience. I enjoy the puzzled looks of the construction workers, the befuddlement and hilarity of the teenagers who find a fat middle-aged white bloke in a sweaty t-shirt very amusing indeed. I enjoy making the grey corporate stooges look the other way - I know the sort of day they've had and no matter how frustrated I've been today by self-unemployment and banging my head against a creative wall, I've had complete freedom today to choose what I did and when and how and when I had a cup of tea and whether I can have a nap after lunch. I didn't have to call someone I hate and I didn't have to sit in meetings with people I'm scared of.
And no, I also didn't earn the one-hour equivalent of an £80k package with generous benefits, but I did give two little kids an excuse to dance manically and I made a couple of young ladies blush when I sang "Ain't she sweet?" and they clearly believed I was singing it straight at them. And when I'd had enough, I scooped up the loose change (no folding money today!) into a baggie and accepted a small foil tray of Vegetable Biriani from the nice chaps from Amira's Kitchen down the road who were giving out samples.
I said I'd write something for the B31Voices hyperlocal blog, so this is a kind of draft for that.
I went back to school on Saturday. My old school. My junior school to be precise. From 1972 to 1975 (because I left early) I was a pupil at St Laurence's CofE Junior School on Bunbury Road in Northfield. I'd started school at the Infants, which then was on the original site at the top of Church Hill, three years earlier. I was also baptised at St Laurence's Church when I was 6 years old (it seems my parents waited until my brother was born to baptise all three of us at the same time).
I have very fond memories of the Junior School. I had all sorts of mixed feelings about school after that, but Junior School rocks. You get to sit with the same people all day everyday and make good friends, and there's no huge academic pressure (bar the 11-plus, which I left to avoid) instead there's a good mix of reading, writing, arithmetic, art, music and physical stuff. I strongly remember thinking about writing a poem for the first time, the thrill of moving up a colour on the reading scheme, making tie-die t-shirts, doing finger painting and getting carried away getting poster paint all over all the desks, someone (a pupil) doing a streak (!), just running back and forth over the back playground, having a three-a-side football league playing with those little plastic skeleton balls on the front playground, planting a tree not in '73 but '74, learning French with "Madame", starting to write with an ink pen, crisps going up from 3p to 3 1/2p to 4p all in one term and the crisp-strike that ensued. And it was where I first remember being on stage and seeing others on stage, doing readings at Christmas - "And it came to pass that there came a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed, and all went to be taxed, each unto his own city." And doing old-time music hall songs -"Hello, hello, who's your lady friend?".1
And as it was a Christian school, I also remember loving the stories about Jesus and the Disciples. Healing the sick, getting lame people to walk, miracles, the excitement of Christmas, the bitter-sweet story of Holy Week. And the hymns, starting every day with a jolly good sing song - brilliant!
Now, today's children are having that experience and on Saturday we got a glimpse of it, in between the waves of nostalgia and occasional pangs of half-remembered trauma (being late for assembly, scraping your knees on the tarmac, not wearing the right clothes when the photographer was coming).
There was a fire engine in the drive when we got there. Of course I'd have loved to climb on it, but they were only letting kids on. There was a long, long queue (almost the length of the drive itself) for pony rides on one field and there was a mega bouncy castle on the other field. It felt a bit naughty walking down the drive rather than going round to the Innage Rd entrance. There were a lot of people there. Lots of them probably were former pupils but there was no formal system for identifying them. I happened to bump into Gail Battersby (née Alldrit) when we were in the "old photo" room and saw her pointing to herself in a picture that I was also in. We had a moment of saying hello and watching each others faces go in and out of focus before we could connect the names with the 1972 faces with the 2014 faces. She's looking a lot better 40 years on than me!
I needed to catch up today with Nick, who's going to be my Best Man in September, so we arranged to meet at the Tate for a coffee. We ended up not talking about September very much at all.
He'd been delayed a little, and when he rang to apologise he also said "Do you want to go to a thing at the Globe this afternoon? I've got comps." I had no idea what "Last Days of Troy" was but I said yes, as is good practice.
Once we'd found each other and grabbed a coffee from Monmouth in Borough Market, we toddled back to Tate Modern and had a stroll around the Matisse show. There's a lot of it. I could easily have spent another hour in there, going back to the beginning and going more slowly, but really lovely stuff. Those shows are a bit pricey, but if you can find a member to go with, always worthwhile. I came out refilled. There's something about seeing those paper-cut pieces close up, seeing the gouache on the paper and the lines not as even and rounded as when you see a print or a digital copy scrunched down to 320x240px. And there's also something about seeing these pieces after seeing years of copies and derivatives and trying to grasp the newness of this stuff in the 1940s.
We went up onto the members' room balcony to get rehydrated and have a chat about art and us and what we do and why we (I, actually, he's doing alright!) don't do enough and the importance of saying what you want to do, to the right people.
And then we went round to the Globe. I hadn't realised it was going to be 3 hours and that our "comps" were for the £5 groundling tickets anyway so we'd be standing up for 3 hours. But still, it's theatre, innit? I also wasn't really sure who Lily Cole was. I kind of recognise her face, but didn't know she was a model really. Have I seen her act in anything else? Well, 3 hours was too long, whether you were standing up or not. I spent a lot of time trying not to think about how much my feet were hurting. Luckily there was some space in the shade otherwise I'd have been applying heavy layers of after-sun by now.
Michael Billington, in his review of the show when it was at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, described Lily Cole's performance as "inexpressive". For once, I agree with Billington. And I'd add "to the point of almost invisibility" - there were times when I didn't realise she was on stage until she spoke and I can't believe that's deliberate. None of the women are very strong and the men don't come over as warriors - Achilles has spent a lot of time in the gym, but even when riled, I didn't believe he'd ever seen much fighting. The centrepiece Hector vs Achilles fight was very dancey and all the men do this kind of big, meat-chewing, declaiming, straining every facial muscle they have while they strut up and down and prowl around each other. As a play it's not a bad take on the Iliad, it assumes that you know the backstory of how Helen ended up in Troy and how they're all related and how the Gods were involved - there's some apple business but nothing's said about why. I liked the way that the Gods were handled, remembering that they're immortal, but have been sidelined, and a kind of family business. Still.