sandsmith50

Am I there yet? Almost.

May

So May feels as if it has largely been about trains, plays and photos. I can’t help wondering if going on two London Transport events in a month doesn’t suggest a growing nerdiness about transport but I like to think that it is more about being able to see things that are rarely revealed.

So the first of these trips was a walk through the Thames Tunnel which runs from Rotherhithe to Wapping. It is pretty amazing to think that the tunnel was built between 1825 and 1843. It was originally built for people to walk under the Thames but now it is used as part of the London Overground network. Of course on the day of the walk there were no trains running but walking between the tracks, even with the electricity turned off, still feels a little dangerous and exciting. It turns out to be pretty difficult to take good photos as although there are lights it is still pretty dark. So here is a photo taken by me and an impression of what it might have looked when it opened:

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One of the things that I really like about the tunnel is that it was about more than just getting from one place to another as there used to be stalls in between the arches, in time these places ended up being used for the oldest trade. It feels like City Planners still haven’t really come to terms with the idea that if you create shady spaces they will be used for shady activity. I would really recommend the walk but unfortunately it can only be done when the rail line is closed so it is quite a rare occurrence. In the absence of being able to visit the tunnel, I do heartily recommend a visit to the Brunel museum.

And so underground again, another sort of folly but much less of an engineering miracle. Originally the Aldwych, née Strand, Station was the end of a Piccadilly line spur from Holborn, which is really not all that useful – towards the end of its life the wait time between the trains was about the length of time it would take you to walk above ground. It is a strange place to visit as lots of what you see is fake – the station is now frequently used in film sets so there are fake posters, and also sections where different tiles were tried out before use on other parts of the underground system. During the war the station, like many others, was used by people sheltering from the Blitz. However, unlike other stations there were armed guards protecting valuables that were stored in one of the tunnels. My favourite story that we were told during the walk seemed to sum up the whole place. During the war they stored the Elgin Marbles in the aforementioned tunnel, when it came to the time to restore the Marbles to the British Museum it turned out that although the lifts could bring the Marbles down the couldn’t take them back up so they had to be taken by tube to one of the above ground stations where they were ground stations where they were loaded on to a truck.

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Read more about the history of the station.

You can know see (literally) why I decided that it would be a good idea to go on a photowalk to try and improve my photography skills. It was really useful spending some time reminding myself what all the different buttons on the camera do but I think my problem is that I just don’t have a good eye for a  photo:IMGP1677 IMGP1658 IMGP1653

A worrying obsession with lamps you say? I promise my next post won’t be about lamps of the City of London but as soon as I get a telephoto lens then expect to hear more about weather vanes.

I’ve not been good at ranting recently or perhaps more accurately I have been doing lots of low level grumpy old man ranting which all seems to blend into a general tirade against modernity. I guess you might argue that suitcases with wheels fall into this category but honestly I think it is time we introduced some legislation to control these monsters of the pavement. As a start: anyone wanting to use a suitcase with wheels and a long handle has to take a driving test demonstrating appropriate awareness of their fellow pedestrians, and no one is allowed to be in charge of a suitcase that is too heavy for them to lift up the stairs at a reasonable walking pace.

Thinking further about ranting and what similes we are allowed to use without causing offence, it struck me strange that it is OK to call people (maybe even me) Stalinist when you consider how horrific the crimes that Stalin committed were. Personally I think it is a shame when we have to worry too much about causing offence to people but then I guess I am very fortunate in not having much to be offended about.

A poor month for music – there may have been lots of great stuff out there but I was too busy taking crap photos to hear it. So here’s one that you might well hear at the last party I am ever throwing (only two weeks away now). Despite doing as badly as you can possibly do in German O-level, I still have a bit of a soft spot for German rock music – X-mal Deutschland, Krafwerk, Einstürzende Neubauten etc. – perhaps because I have no idea what they are singing about. But this is probably my favourite, Der Mussolini by D.A.F.

And for something slightly more modern and a tad more romantic: Caribou: Can’t do without you

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April

 

Rant of the month

Actually this isn’t really an April specific rant but perhaps it becomes a little worse in April and through the summer as the number of tourists in London increases. Why, oh why do people have to cut in on the tube – just to be clear these are not tourists but it is almost as if slow moving tourists drive them to it. They seem to think they are in some sort of race and so unlike everyone else there is no need to wait their turn to get on the escalator or get through the ticket barrier. I know it is a trivial thing but it is surprisingly annoying!

Asthma

So it turns out that 2014 has largely been crap because along with lots of other age related crap I am now asthmatic. To be honest it is a bit of a relief, practically as soon as I started taking steroids I started feeling normal again for the first time this year. The discipline of taking an inhaler every day won’t do me any harm, and feels a lot easier than not eating quickly, late or spicy, which seemed to be the option if I had acid reflux. Just in case anyone is actually reading this, my symptoms weren’t what I associated with asthma, e.g. a persistent cough with a fair bit of phlegm but apparently  this can be one of the things that causes shortness of breath. Never felt like I was going to die from not being able to breath but it was extremely debilitating.

Art

This always felt like it was going to be good, a video art installation in the basement ofan NCP car park in Soho. Not straightforward to find but well worth the effort, and rather to my surprise this was less about the excite of seeing art in a different space and much more about the art itself. The exhibition is features photographs and video taken by Richard Mosse in the Democratic of Congo. You see the photographs first, they are striking for their size and clarity but perhaps most of all the striking pinks, this effect comes from the use of a colour infrared film that was developed by the military for camouflage detection as humans and plants have different infra red signatures. The effect in Mosses’ pictures is to paint the landscape pink. Moving on from the pictures you come to a video installation where several double sided screens take you though a refugee camp led by the children of the camp and along a trail through the bush led by soldiers. In themselves the films are very disturbing but the effect of all the screens and an impressive soundtrack in the confined space of the garage is as intended distinctly dislocating. I did get the odd pang of guilt that in sense this was voyeurism of the worst kind but I think partly this is because it is hard to see what one could do to help. It did strike me looking at the arsenals carried by the soldiers in what seems to be a very poor country a starting point might be to start more actively campaigning against the arms trade.  

Richard Mosse – The Enclave

 

Music

So I think this month I will go for some guilty pleasures – I’ve always thought that is a bit of a nonsense phrase where music is concerned and yet despite my best endevours I still find myself thinking you know I really shouldn’t like this but somehow I just can’t help myself and so here some recent and some old.

I think the first time I remember actually listening to Madonna was when I was driving down to Sussex with Julie to look for somewhere to live in my third year at university. At the time it seemed like she had like a virgin on constant replay, slightly to my disgust. But then rather later when I was looking after a stock room in Old Street with only Radio 1 to keep my company as I swept up at the end of the day I started to get a bit hooked, hard to choose between holiday and borderline. My other strong Madonna associated memory is dancing in Spain when we seemed to be showing the locals how to dance as Like a Prayer was playing but then they started playing some Spanish music which they all danced properly to with an elegance that I could never match (I had retreated from the dance floor so wasn’t even attempting to). And in case you were wondering Boderline features in the infamous Party Fears Dance Mix.

On reflection I’m surprised that this didn’t make it into my list of 50 tracks, I think partly the B-Movie album didn’t really deliver on the promise of the singles and so this is a track that I listen to occaisionally, – it’s a fiddle to play on the record deck and it doesn’t come up randomly on iTunes. This really shouldn’t be a guilty pleasure, pretty sure it featured in Peel’s festive 50 but somehow what with the haircuts and everything it seems a little wrong.

And finally something a little more up to date. I can’t quite explain why I like this so much but in the the week or so since I downloaded it I have listened to it a lot – pretty sure it isn’t the Elton John effect. Though on the subject of the latter I heard an archive recording of him singing pub songs and I thought it was very cool. So there.

Not sure about the video though so perhaps close your eyes and listen.

 

 

 

March

It has been suggested that this blog has distinctly emo tendencies. I’m not entirely sure what that means but it probably isn’t a good thing. Unfortunately 2014 seems to be doing its level best to bring out all of my existentialist angst and March was no exception. So apologies for more misery and introspection.

Rants

I seem to have been unwell most of March, and have not been able to shout without setting off a coughing fit so no rants this month. There must have been things that annoyed me but I got too distracted by coughing to remember them. Hopefully, I will remedy this next month.

Sampling

It is strange that I don’t do this more often really but this month I found myself reading a book for a second time by mistake. As it happens I enjoyed reading Talon of the Silver Hawk again and it made a bit more sense this time round. I enjoy Raymond Feist’s Riftwar Novels but annoyingly the library doesn’t have a complete set so I  end up reading the first book in one of the series but then not getting to finish them all. Anyway, I am not trying to be a little more systematic about this by buying the books instead.

The reason that I would expect to re-read books more frequently (there are too many books out there for me to consider doing this on purpose apart from comfort reading of childhood favourites) is that I read quickly and lightly – I can almost never remember the names of the characters or places in books but I do generally remember the plot. It is a form of sampling something I think we are all increasingly reliant on. Not just in a sound reproduction sense, where digital music is produced by sampling noises rather than reproducing them dB by dB but there is just too much out there to read and take in so we end up sampling via twitter, RSS feeds, media. The risk is that this sampling is inherently biased, it is much easier to sample things you know about or where you agree than to try looking at different points of view. I think this is best illustrated by music. There is now so much music to listen to; vast back catalogues as well as new bands from all over the world (if you want to try sampling some aspects of global pop I heartily recommend The Music Alliance Pact). I don’t have time to listen to whole tracks so I will generally listen to the first minute or so and make a decision as to whether I like it. Obviously this doesn’t make sense as quite a bit of the music I like I cam to like rather than liking at first hearing. But every now and then you find a real classic of a song, e.g Pilot by The Fridge from Switzerland. Another result of this sampling is that I almost never listen to whole albums any more where as when I was young I bought albums rather than singles so I didn’t have to keep changing the record.

Education

Actually this is really more a continuation of reading. Every now and then I take a rest from reading novels and turn to a serious book. I decided to read Education and State Formation (the first edition) when I heard Professor Green  (the Institute of Education rather than Hackney) talking about why the UK had such an abysmal record in technical education. Roughly speaking the argument runs like this – although England was the first country to industrialize the changes in working practices did not make many demands in terms of education; on the continent where they were playing catch up they saw that the second wave of industrialization would require technical skills and they unlike England had national systems of education that were able to respond to  this need. It was a very interesting read, and you can see that the unsatisfactory early evolution of education in England still casts a long shadow over the system today. Before the government played a role there was education for the rich in public schools, education for some in grammar schools that aped the public schools and then some moral education for the rest delivered through church schools. The government attempted to bring all these elements into the system but with no clear sense of purpose for education resulting in a fractured system that did little to help social mobility or meet the skills needs of the country. From the point of view of technical education the other interesting point was that apprenticeships managed to survive all of these changes – I had rather assumed that this was a good thing but it seems that unlike in continental Europe apprenticeships in England were very much learning on the job with a low educational content, a trend that has continued to this day for many apprenticeships.

I was also very struck by the Marxist interpretation of the demand for universal schooling which was driven by concern about moral laxness of children whose parents were now working all hours in factories leading to a breakdown in family life. Again, I think you can see elements of this today whenever there is a moral panic somehow schools are in the front line of defending the nation’s virtue.

Dance

I didn’t really manage to get out that much in March so it is strange that I went to two dance things. I have decide that I really like some dance but I am afraid quite a lot of it leaves me rather cold. I think this is probably laziness on my part, I don’t like dance where you have to understand and appreciate how close the dancer is getting to an idealised set of  ‘steps/movement’. But dance as spectacle I enjoy. So I really enjoyed Shadowland at the Peacock Theatre.

Music

And so to finish a couple of songs:

I can’t believe that I didn’t have this in my original 50 but here it is SoKo I’ll Kill Her

And from the party mix, though I am not entirely sure that this is a dance track, Candyskin by the Fire Engines

February

Hmm – 2014 still not really doing it for me yet.

Rant of the month

This was a particular good month for ranting though! A number of possibilities to choose from but although not the most earth shattering I still feel angry (I’m 50 what were you expecting?) about BBC News seeing fit to make the death of a reasonably well known actor the main story on the News at 10.00. I won’t name the actor partly because I can’t remember his name (I’m 50 you know) but also I have absolutely nothing against him and I feel as sorry for his family and friends as I do for the vast numbers of people who lost someone the same day but didn’t have the consolation of knowing that ‘half of New York was in a state of shock as a result’. In my head this sort of over the top reaction is linked to the current (I am 50 so I can redefine periods of time) obsession with awards ceremonies. When I finally give in and put a boot through the TV it will be because some reporter has said “… and this could be a pointer towards the Oscars”. Why can’t we just go and watch films and decide whether we like them – cinema is not and never should be a competitive sport, it is far too subjective for that.

Did I ever tell you about the time I saw Pil? It was in the Brighton Arena and was a rather strange gig. There was a slight element of tragedy about John Lydon wanting to try and move  on whilst the audience was still spitting at him. A very tiring gig for me as I spent most of the time extreme chicken dancing to protect a friend who was a little the worse for wear and therefore sitting on the floor not moving not even once the pogoing started.

Reading

I have spent far too much of February reading about Cap’n Kydd. He is the hero of a series of sea faring novels set in the 18/19th Century by Julian Stockwin. They are similar to the Patrick O’Brian novels, but perhaps lacking in some of the science and politics but I think maybe Stockwin does a better job of capturing the hierarchy that operated on boats. Anyway, they are something of an indulgence. I didn’t take many photos in February, but here is one with a nautical theme taken from Deal beach in the middle of a very difficult discussion. We watched them launching the boat, at first it was very unclear what they were trying to do as it seemed as if the boat had almost fallen down the drop on the beach and they were digging it out but gradually it became clear they were actually launching it.

Launching a boat in deal

To compensate for this slacking, I read my grandfather’s introduction to English Literature. The book effectively starts with Chaucer, when did English Literature start – discuss, and talks through the major works of literature – poetry, novels, drama – up until the middle of the 20th Century. My grandfather must have read an amazing amount (no really, a lot), this was published when he was quite young and he must not only of read the works that are mentioned but also the ones that are referred to for comparative purposes. I was also struck by similarities to histories of science I have read, in part the dislocation of one field of advance from the advances or perhaps setbacks that are occurring elsewhere; and in a similar way to science there seem to be revolutions in terms of style etc driven perhaps by one paradigm shifting. Reading that James Joyce was attempting something similar to cubism by attempting to give a completely real description of the thoughts of  his characters explains a lot about why I didn’t really like Ulysses. In contrast the other book that I read and really made me think in February was South of the Border, West of the Sun by Murakami. Actually I think Murakami does a really good job of getting inside of the head of the protagonist, what I found interesting about this and Norwegian Wood is that he somehow manages to do this with very little expression, the language is simple and stark and the thinking seems to be much less muddled than my own and yet somehow it really rings true. Reviewers have complained that compared to his other books this just seems to be a simple straightforward love story but then that seems a rather harder thing to write than magic realism. 

Not doing very well on new music for 2014 so a Japanese themed song and then one I spend too much time listening to in February.

Party Antics

Now that reminds me that at what are fast becoming are regular party planning drinks it was agreed that we ought to come up with 30 dance songs to make up a play list. So in a new regular feature here is a dance track that I don’t think I have listed before

Suggestions for tracks to grace a 50 year old’s birthday party very welcome!

January

So far I am not that impressed by 2014, but here are some highlights and maybe lowlights of the month.

Walking

Only managed one proper walk. Finally I am back on track to finish of the Capital Ring. I had been a bit put off by the fact that I had got to Grove Park which is somewhere in deepest South London and that the walk to Crystal Palace from there looked to be quite long which in these times of limited daylight an early start. As it happened, it seemed not to be as far as my guidebook suggested and due to an absence of interesting looking pubs or cafes (or perhaps I just wasn’t in the frame of mind to notice them) on the way I managed to complete the walk fairly quickly. Highlights were: the walk through the woods at the start, despite being only a small ribbon of wilderness in a forest of suburban roads it was blissfully empty of people (particularly joggers); and the crystal palace dinosaurs. I have also noted the public gold course at Beckenham Palace for future reference.

One of the more unusual encounters on the capital ring walk

One of the more unusual encounters on the capital ring walk

Reading

One good thing about all this rain is that it provided a good excuse for reading, not back to ruptured Achilles form but reading more than a book a week, though it has to be said on the whole I have been going for pleasure rather than enlightenment. Today I finished The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle which is effectively about how practice makes perfect with some science thrown in. The science in this case is about myelin which is likened to the insulation of a wire only in this case we are talking nerves and that practice increases this insulation making the transmission of signals more effective. An interesting book, it adds to my growing feeling that it might be interesting to try and really get to grips with psychology and then go back to teaching, I think good teachers do some of these things instinctively but then I wasn’t that good a teacher so perhaps a bit more thought about activities which really get pupils thinking could make the difference. I also read Graeme Obree The Flying Scotsman which should link to the myelin, and perhaps it does. He seems to be a remarkable if rather unhappy man. One of the best sporting biographies that I have read, in a strange way he makes the impossible things that he achieved seem rather everyday and inevitable.

Music

January is always a strange month for music, trying to catch up on stuff from the previous year etc.

So some newish rain related songs to enjoy:

Water Roof – LudiSTELO A slice of Korean psychedelic synth

And a blast from the past, strictly a very dry song rather than a wet one but it does have rain in the title

New Order – Temptation

Well so here I am 50 blogs on, later than planned as I have now been 50 for just over two months. But of course you, dear reader, will understand that these special dates in reality mean nothing at all other than what we read into them, and I plan to get better at being late for everything henceforth apart from death which I will be precisely on time for. I still find it odd that I am writing backwards as far as you are concerned, though the chances are that you won’t bother to read posts 49 to 1 so you won’t suffer any disorientation at all.

Anyway, the point of this blog was to do it and write about some music that I really like and try to explain why it means something to me. One post for each year of my life. It turns out to be easier to talk about what it means to me than to say why I like it, perhaps this is one of the things that I really like about music it is hard to convey anything about why music is good with words, you just have to listen to it.

I have quite enjoyed writing the blog although it is fair to say I have slipped rather in the last month or so but I think now I am freed of the responsibility of a desert island like 50 I can relax and maybe just write about the songs that I chant (well it can’t be described as singing, chanting is probably stretching it) as I cycle to work, drown out the noise in boring meetings (just in case you are wondering this would be silent chanting in my head) etc. etc. And I am conscious I have left lots of great stuff out and I hope I will hear lots of new great stuff.

In other words if I carry on I will try and cut back on the nostalgia trips but for one last time …

When I went inter-railing with Chris and Izaac in 1982 having finished A-levels it felt like the world changed in the month we were away. Partly I changed, travelling through bits of Europe by myself and realizing that I could probably survive as an adult, almost managing to chat up a girl and camping in the arctic circle. When we left Temptation had been released and it broke all the rules (self imposed) about what I should like in music at that time, it was really long and very danceable. Oh and of course as the possessor of a pair of green eyes it seemed to speak to me. But it was a John Peel record, this meant that it belonged to a small club of aficionados. Imagine our surprise when it started creeping into the charts, ok so it only made it to 29 but still it felt like a revolution. If other people liked New Order enough to buy the record then maybe the world was becoming a better place. What a daft idea but then I was only 18 and I think in those days daft ideas seemed more plausible than they do now, when everyone has seen it all, done it all and rejected it all. Or perhaps it is just the optimism of youth.

Tracy Thorn

This seems to have been a very hard post to write, once I had decided what the 50th one would be then the 49th became hard as it needed to try and capture some bits of music that haven’t been properly represented so far, to improve the general coolness quotient (what is the phrase for adjective that can’t possible be linked to the noun?) and to try and suggest that I might carry on with this but looking to the more recent past rather than ancient history.

I’m not entirely convinced that Tracy Thorn serves all these purposes but here goes:

I think I saw the Marine Girls in 1982 at what was then Kingston Polytechnic as part of a cherry red tour. They were already a favourite from listening to John Peel and so I drove up there in the Austin A40 with a couple of friends from university. I don’t remember much about the gig, perfectly pleasant but perhaps not as exciting as the other gigs I had been to, the number was still less than 10 then and most of those would have been the Fall! One of them, Michael, had somehow worked out how to write for the student newspaper I think so he went backstage to interview people while I kept the engine running. Looking back I seem to have known and maybe still do like to engage in a more proactive way than I do. Music is something I like to receive, I don’t want to know much about how or why it is made. Anyway, the Marine Girls stand for a line of Easy Listening which I have always enjoyed, catchy tunes that make you tap your feet but not get out of bed to dance with clever lyrics (though mind you I had the Cocteau Twins in this mould and I am not sure there lyrics are clever – more impenetrable). Hard to choose a single song but

I must admit that I was never that huge a fan of everything but the girl, not really sure why but then this rather changed everything, an incredibly moving song

 

 

I guess the key to all of this is that I think Tracy Thorn has an amazing voice and perhaps what could be called pop sensibility. Reading her biography, one of the few music ones that I would recommend, she seems like a reasonably ordinary person who just likes making music. It is tempting to finish with plain sailing which is probably my favourite of her solo pieces but instead I think I should go for something more recent