Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Walk on the mild side

I walked home from work today, and as I did so I passed through a part of town that I haven't been through in a long while. I lived there for several years, mainly while I was at college. Perhaps inevitably, it threw up a number of memories.

Here are a few of those memories: I read an article once in which the writer started every paragraph with "I remember...". It was irritating when I first read it, and took some getting used to. Now, I've grown to like it and it seems to suit these recollections. So:

I remember feeling a little perturbed to find out that there'd been some kind of mini-riot in the area a few weeks before I moved in. I'd moved there after a huge argument with my previous landlady, after living on what was apparently one of the most deprived housing estates in Europe, and I wondered if this was a case of "out of the frying pan.." Soon after moving in I was watching the news with a friend and one of the big stories was of a major police operation, I think they were doing drugs raids. I'd remembered hearing lots of sirens early that morning: so that was why the streets on the television footage looked familiar...

I remember one road being a hangout for the drugs dealers, I couldn't walk down there without being accosted: regardless of my then-straggly-haired appearance, I really wasn't into anything stronger than alcohol. The dealers used to scare the hell out of me til I got used to it. Though there were very occasional exceptions, if you didn't hang around or try and cause trouble, you didn't get any trouble in return. I remember one dealer coming up and walking next to me:

Dealer: What you saying?

Me: Nothing.

Dealer: Why not?

Me: Nothing much to say really.

Dealer: You want something?

Me: Yes, I've come down to get fish and chips.

Dealer: Don't go to that one then, the chip shop round the corner's much better.

Me: Thanks, I'll give it a try.

I remember a different occasion where I was coming out of the chip shop and a guy who had an iron bar started giving me some verbal abuse and waving the bar. Without thinking I blurted out my standard response to the dealers, which was "No thanks," and which confused the hell out of him so I just carried on walking home.

I remember a loud knock at the door one day, and three rather intimidating-looking men standing staring at me. Before I had the chance to say anything one of the men looked me straight in the eye and uttered the word "Dosh." Oh shit, I thought, is there some kind of protection racket going on now?

I was staring blankly at him, and he said it again. "Dosh!" I wondered how I was going to get out of this one. I decided to play for time, feeling very nervous since all three men were staring at me, unsmiling. "Dosh?" I asked, shaking my head slightly and frowning.

"Yes, is he in?"

I was completely thrown now. Is who in, I wondered aloud. "Dosh! He does live here doesn't he?"

I couldn't believe it, here was me expecting some attempt at extortion: it finally became clear that they had a mate called Dosh who, as it turned out, lived a couple of doors down the road.

I remember a friend of mine getting mugged in the most passive way possible. On the street with all the dealers, someone beckoned to him to cross the road. So my friend crossed the road, and got mugged.

I remember a guy who took a lot of drugs, who had come to visit one of my housemates. Our cat had gone into the kitchen and helped itself to some mushy peas which were left on a plate. When it ran back into the living room this guy freaked out, seeing what he thought was green foam emanating from the cat's mouth.

I remember I used to love living there.

Thursday, 22 November 2007


Well I'm out to see the 'Klang tonight (he says, as though he knows their music or anything about them), and then I'm away this weekend, since it's my grandmother's birthday: she's just about to reach the age of 92.

Just thought I'd mention it, since it'll be a bit quiet round here until the end of the weekend at least.

Also: it might sound odd, but it wouldn't feel right going away and knowing that the last post on here was one about work, so I had to post something else up. I'd been thinking about blogging a few football-related thoughts, but zola-ink-spots has done a good job of that over at his place.

Oh, and the title of this one is a reference to that saying (sometimes funny, sometimes annoying, depending on who says it), I'll see you Ron: later Ron.

I'll shut up now :)

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Carpet Squad

I thought I'd write something about work. Not a moan this time: my overall feelings haven't changed in that respect, but today was one of those increasingly rare days which reminded me why I enjoyed this kind of work in the first place.

It wasn't an easy day, and to be honest I wasn't looking forward to it. I shan't go into any detail about the individuals that I was working with, for obvious reasons. Suffice it to say that there have been some extremely challenging circumstances for those concerned, and today was potentially pivotal for each of them.

Well I've come home at the end of the working day feeling quite fulfilled and satisfied, I'd practically forgotten what that feeling was like. I feel like I've been able to make use of the skills that I've got, and - to use what becomes an ever-more hackneyed expression - to play a role in making a difference. To be able to help to navigate a possible way forward.

The refreshing thing is that I've been able to do that without any politics or paperwork getting in the way, thus enabling me to get a lot of things done in a fairly straightforward and unhindered manner.

I don't hold out any high hopes of having a similar kind of day again for a while, but today really was quite refreshing. Don't ask me why I called this post Carpet Squad though, I don't have any rational explanation.

Monday, 19 November 2007


The good news is that The Fall are playing this week, and so are Efterklang. Regular readers of this blog (if I'm not flattering myself with the plural*) will know that I'm partial to the Fall's output, having seen them in concert a number of times, and owning one or two or twenty of their albums.

On the other hand, I know next to nothing about Efterklang - even whether I've spelled their name correctly - but they've been recommended to me and, as an added incentive, they're playing down at my local. Which is thoughtful of them.

The bad news is that they're both playing on the same night. So, in short, do I stick with what I know, or do I take a risk?

In other news (I use the term loosely): tonight Matthew, we are going to be Spartacus. Yes it's the pub quiz again. I mention this mainly because when we're in the process of arranging to go, it feels less like a quiz team and more like a bunch of criminals getting together to do "one last job." I think that's how we come across as well.

Last time there was a question asking who was the only Hollywood film star to always be played by a member of the opposite sex: as a joke, I said "Lassie" loudly, and it turned out to be the right answer. Serves me right for trying to be clever.

*or am I being falsely modest by suggesting I'm flattering myself with the plural?

Thursday, 15 November 2007


I've put a new post up here. It's not very cheerful, and sooner or later there'll be even more to follow :)

Monday, 12 November 2007

Tags (4)

Now as I may have previously mentioned I'm rather ambivalent as regards being tagged, though I've been known to indulge from time to time. It would be hard to refuse this one though, since it constitutes a twin assault from djkirkby and pixie (though presumably not acting in concert...that would be a bit weird). So I shall do it and make the most of rambling on about myself: let none of my ambivalence appear disrespectful to my two taggers, since it's flattering really.

So thank you to the aforementioned, though I shan't tag anyone else: anyone who wishes to do this one though, feel free to.

8 passions in my life
Art. Both the viewing/experiencing of, and also the making of. Finally, in contrast to when I spoke about this a few months ago, I'm starting to breathe a bit of life (only a bit, at the moment) into the seemingly long-since dormant corpse that is (or was) my own artwork.

Music: similar to above, this relates to the listening thereof (?), seeing in live performance, and also producing my own. Sporadically so at the moment, but unlike drawing and painting, I've never allowed this to stagnate for long periods of time.

Reading: no, not the place. Reading books. It's been less fiction and more history over the last 12 months since I first went to Berlin (yes the place), I feel the need to know about these things. Which serves as an explanation for my book list below, which looks a bit obsessive to say the least.

Languages: especially European ones. My love of the sounds and words spoken in other languages is in inverse proportion to my ability to speak them. I'm fascinated by the relationships between words in different languages. I'm a sucker for hearing foreign accents as well.

Cycling: I'm sure I've gone on about this often enough as it is.

Good whisky: single malt, especially Laphroiag. As a real connoisseur might say, "it's the shit."

Decent beer: similar to above (though not the same, obviously, or my liver would have packed in years ago).

An unrequieted one: I'm not saying any more, but see the point about languages.

8 things to do before I die
A total copout answer here, but more of the above. I was tempted to put "breathe in and out four times each" but that's even more of a copout. I'm stonewalling: for some reason this one doesn't present anything satisfactory. The other thing is, what if I don't do them before I die? That will mean I've lied or I've failed, even if I've had a damn good time trying. Yes, I know the whole point is probably to have a damn good time trying, but still I can't think of 8 things to put here that properly answer this question.

8 things I often say
You fucking tosser (usually under my breath since I want to stay alive for now)
I don't know/ I'm not sure
What/pardon/sorry? (see earlier posts about tinnitus)
That'll be them now (whenever the phone rings)
Shitting Crikey

8 Books I read recently
The Great War For Civilisation by Robert Fisk
Ulli Haarburst's Novel of Roy Orbison in Clingfilm
My Summer of Love by Helen Cross
In Search of Adam by Caroline Smailes
Stasiland by Anna Funder
Rising '44 by Norman Davies
The Berlin Wall by Frederick Taylor
The Fall of Berlin by Anthony Read and David Fisher

8 songs that mean something to me
Oh bloody hell, where do I start with this? Another one which is difficult to answer but for a very different reason, i.e. there are way too many. I'll choose eight which aren't necessarily the most meaningful, or even the most meaningful right now, but still they answer the question.

Motherfucker=Redeemer by Godspeed You Black Emperor. An incredible, epic instrumental piece from an incredible, instrumental album by an incredible, instrumental band. I haven't listened to the album that this is from for a couple of years at least, it may well be time to rectify that. Intense and very moving stuff.

Take Me To The Other Side by Spacemen 3. First time I heard this was when I saw them in concert, and I was knocked for six: nearly twenty years later I've still not been to a better gig, and the song in question was an astonishing highlight. Relentless, druggy power-chords and drones: it really had a huge impact on me, and I was stone-cold sober when I saw them.

Jesus by The Velvet Underground. I could choose any of the songs on the first side of their third album. This is beautiful, quiet and has a heartbreakingly simple melody and lyric which gets me every time.

Genetic Transmission by SPK. Because like the album it's from (Leichenschrei), it used to scare the shit out of me and was unlike anything I'd previously heard at that point (early-mid eighties).

Come On In My Kitchen by Robert Johnson. Not sure how I could do this, or its effect on me, any justice.

Yoo Doo Right by Can. Not the first track I heard by them, but the one which instantly drew me in and the one I always come back to, for all sorts of reasons both musically and personally.

Fernando by Abba. Yes it does mean something to me, because as I've written previously, this was the first piece of music I heard, aged about three, in which I felt compelled to ask what the difference between the song and the band was: something which had never previously occurred to me. If we were to talk about an ABBA song that I really like though, that would have to be S.O.S.

Host Of Seraphim by Dead Can Dance. More breathtakingly beautiful stuff (and other such hyperbole). I was reminded of this earlier today: a friend of mine once came round, she was going through a difficult time and we were sat talking. I put this album on and she immediately burst into tears because she knew it and associated it with an even more difficult time. Oops.

Eight Qualities I Look For In A Friend
This might sound disingenuous but it feels quite cynical to list something along these lines. Yes there are obvious ones like sense of humour and so on but if I have to write a list then it feels like it's missing the point really. Sorry!

Friday, 9 November 2007


One of the photographs I recently unearthed was this (my deletion of the phone numbers):

I'm unsure of precisely the kind of real emergency in which one would require a painting.

Thursday, 8 November 2007


I just remembered that Baldrick, in Blackadder, couldn't pronounce the word "hospital." Hence the title.

Pixie has written a very eloquent post about her hospital experiences from a couple of years ago, and one thing she wrote was about how, at first, being in hospital was in some ways quite enjoyable. This immediately triggered a memory. Now here's where we go off at a tangent in that respect, since I didn't have anything life-threatening or potentially devastating: I had been admitted for a minor operation to remove a lymph node, in order to test for any signs of Hodgkin's Disease.

In the event the results, thankfully, proved negative. My brief stay in hospital, meanwhile, felt like a real adventure.

I was the youngest (aged 18 and 3/4) on the ward: everyone else appeared to be middle aged or older, and I remember the man in the next bed to me had the most excruciating cough, you could tell he was in great pain and I pitied his poor lungs. Still, regardless of our comparative ages, we were all rendered infantile to a degree: the way we were all spoken to (imagine me being referred to as "Mr trousers" at the end of every sentence, in that tone of voice which lowers and then goes higher again); the way a bunch of grown men - and me - were all confined to our beds, wearing pyjamas.

This way, you know your place: you're there to have things done to you, and to be cared for. To be at the mercy of the routine and decisions of others. I'm not saying this in an entirely critical way, but in my experience it's just part of how it all is. In the same way that I like being at airports, but they inescapably make me feel guilty of something with all the scans, questions and checking of details.

Speaking of pyjamas, I'd recently bought myself some magnificent stripey ones, the really old-school kind with the pocket, and little to keep them up except for that cord that ties around the waist. They were rather oversized as well. They were the real deal though, I got them from an oddly esoteric shop situated down an alleyway which specialized in gear which had otherwise not been seen for a long time. On the hospital ward, thus attired, I remember a nurse coming along and, in that tone of voice saying "now then Mr trousers, you need to go to for your x-ray, the x-ray department is down the corridor, through the doors and second on your left."

I had already lost some of my self-consciousness since I had been examined, poked and prodded, shaved - and worst of all, discussed like I wasn't in the same room - and after a while I found I wasn't bothered about the seeming indignity, I was able to view it with a sense of humour. I could have sunk into the ground though when I tottered through into the x-ray department in my oversized, grandad-style pyjamas and found that this was in the outpatient's department. This meant that everyone else was fully dressed, wearing thick overcoats and scarves - it was January - and they all seemed to turn and look at me and to stifle giggles.

Everyone who was waiting was sat in a big semicircle of chairs, and there was one empty seat right in the middle. I decided to be bold and just sat down in the middle of everyone, carefully arranging myself so that my pyjamas didn't inadvertently reveal more than they needed to. I was still getting funny looks, so I just would give whoever it was a winning smile. I felt so incongruous, I just shed my self-consciousness (nothing else though, thankfully) and enjoyed the daftness of the moment.

Later, a couple of hours before I was due to have my operation, I was back in my bed idling the time away and having the occasional moment of anxiety. I remember a nurse coming in and saying "now you've got to take these tablets Mr trousers, and don't get out of bed after you've taken them because you might feel a bit dizzy."

This was what I had been waiting for: pre-med. My mother had told me about this.

Having taken the tablets, I lay back in bed with a sense of expectation. I waited.

Nothing happened.

I waited some more.

Still nothing. This was very disappointing. I had been lying there for maybe half an hour.

Then I sat up, and I felt I had sat up not just at a right-angle to the bed, but at a right-angle to the whole of reality. Shit! I felt great!

A nurse wheeled a patient past my bed. I gave them the victory salute, accompanied by the thoughtful words, "Fucking Dig It!" I then lay back down and saw the clock swimming around on the wall. Time distortion seemed to be happening as well: half an hour went past in five minutes, and vice versa. I sat up again: the transition from lying down to sitting up was like an amazing, epic journey. So I kept lying back down and sitting up again.

People were often walking past: my bed was right next to the ward entrance. Whenever someone did walk past, it was a real effort to keep my mouth shut, so I didn't. "Who needs acid house when you've got this shit?" I asked, not unreasonably (to me, at least). Amazingly, no-one told me to shut up, and I believe that people regarded such questions as merely rhetorical.

Since one or more of the tablets was a muscle relaxant, then finally I succumbed and just sank back into my bed, languidly watching the time pass in its uneven way, punctuated by people going to and fro: my exclamations to them were now rather more lazy. Finally a nurse and a couple of hospital orderlies came along with a trolley, on which I would be transported to the operating theatre. I looked at the trolley and started burbling on about whether they had any ice cream. I was still burbling on about it after they had lifted me on to the trolley and were wheeling me down the corridor.

They starting asking me questions: my name, my age, where I lived. I couldn't give them a straight answer, since as far as I was concerned they were asking such hilarious questions. Finally a rather stern tone of voice from one of the faces looking down at me signalled my need for compliance.

General anaesthetic was fantastic too. They put a plastic widget in the vein in my hand through which they gave one injection. A masked face looking down at me then informed they would be giving another injection, and asked me to count to ten. "How cliched," I thought, "you won't get me counting to ten". I could feel a cold liquid spreading through my hand as the second injection went in.

"One...two...three...four..." I could hear my voice counting. Was that me? I was disappointed in myself. I then felt my legs detach themselves from the rest of my body and drift at some speed to the ceiling. Then my torso followed, and I was out.

The seemingly psychedelic distortions of the pre-med tablets had worn off by the time I was being brought back to consciousness, to be replaced by a weary kind of weirdness. As I was slowly coming round I was perturbed to see a familiar face and hear a voice I hadn't heard since I had been at play-school, perhaps fifteen years previously. More than three quarters of my life ago.

"Hello trousers, remember me?" Shit! One of my play-school teachers! I must be dead! I was convinced of this - why on earth else would she be bringing me round after an operation? The haziness of this slow return to the offices of awareness was like one of those rather hackneyed dream sequences you see on television. Here was a figure from my past as seen through a soft-focus lens. I think I asked her if I was dead as well, though I'm not sure whether this too was taken as a rhetorical question. The more I came round, the more convinced I was: her facial features became ever clearer and this seemed to confirm my thesis.

Finally she told me she now worked as a nurse, and suddenly that made sense. So, I was still alive after all. Back on the ward, I witnessed someone die late that night, but I'll save that for a different (and no doubt very cheerful) post.

Meanwhile, completely unrelated to the above ramblings, here is a picture of Iona, especially for Merkin.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Sweet solitude

I finally got round to installing my old hard drive (called "Dave", as I realised when I got it set up) onto my new computer at the weekend, with a bit of guidance from a friend. Well, when I say "new" computer, I've had it since January. Anyway one of the main reasons for this is that I've got lots of music files on there: now I can listen back to them or rework them using better software than I had previously.

I spent much of yesterday transferring the files and listening to a lot of them, and there were so many things I''d worked on - half finished ideas, most of them - that I'd forgotten about. It was a genuine (and thankfully not unpleasant) surprise when I heard them again.

The other good thing was that on the same hard drive were some photographs of a holiday a few years ago: I went with a few friends to Mull, and found it to be one of the most beautiful places I've been to. When I came across these photographs I lapsed into silence, I was immediately transported back there.

I remember really enjoying and appreciating the company of my friends, but I remember also just how much the wide open spaces, often breathtaking scenery and surprisingly mild weather (we went in February) really lent itself to blissful solitude.

Outside our accommodation (it's there in the photograph at the end), all was silent, save for the cry of an owl late at night. In the evenings, we would all sit around the huge table in the magnificent dining room to drink, talk and to have good food. It was amazing, it felt like we were in a castle and we had it all to ourselves.

At some point each evening I would take a walk outside on my own for a short while (a bit like Captain Oates without the snow or the heroics) and would unfailingly feel a wave of emotion hit me, such was the incredible stillness. The echoes in the little valley; the last vestige of the evening sunlight; the gentle, soothing lapping sounds of the water: it was all so uncomplicated, each little detail or event really moved me.

People often talk about how open spaces, incredible vistas, areas of natural beauty can make them feel humbled, puny, worthless even. This wasn't like that: it was calming, comforting and sometimes just a little melancholic. Out here was somewhere I could just be, and I was sorry to have to leave.

Thanks (in part) to these photographs, the memories are stronger again.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Drawn (2)

As threatened here are some more drawings and a photo I took the other day. I think the main point I'm trying to make with the photo (apart from the obviously nice evening sky) is that I'm looking up and around a lot more now - not always a pleasant thing to do round these parts - and hence recording what catches my eye.

Really it's probably a case of looking for the same thing anyway: a trigger for thoughts, recollections and resonances.

Anyway: too many big words already for a Saturday morning.