Saturday, 31 May 2008

Complaint: response

Although I was starting to wonder whether I was actually going to get a reply to this, it arrived yesterday. The salient points are as follows:

"...I was sorry to hear of the details of your journey and I apologise for the inconvenience this caused. As an apology, I have ordered a cheque for £14.60, to cover the cost of your ticket and the additional bus ticket that you had to purchase, which will be sent in the next 7 - 10 days."

I'm very, very pleasantly surprised by this - overall it was a more than reasonable and thoughtful response, over and above my expectations. Now £14.60 isn't a huge amount to ask for but the fact that they've seen fit to reimburse it without fobbing me off with vouchers or excuses is the main thing as far as I'm concerned.

I'll be writing back to thank them for their response, it only seems right to do so.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

The non-loneliness of the short-distance cyclist

It seems to have been one of those days where strangers want to talk to me or tell me things. I don't see this as anything to do with a boost in my charisma mind you.

It began when I was walking through town to work - a man some twenty yards away raised his hand, smiled and shouted, how you doing? I looked behind me to see who he was talking to, only to find that there was nobody there. He continued with other words of greeting as we got closer. This seemed to me to be leading towards the territory of him asking me for money - it does happen with some regularity around this part of town - but whether or not this was the case, his attempts at disarming me with his warmth were met with a curt Morning! and I walked on.

Later in the day, as I was walking along a suburban street to a work appointment, a boy of about twelve held up a £10 note and asked if I would go in the off-licence to get some alcohol for him. He responded to my refusal with but I've got the money, which led me to wonder if he'd ever tried to ask a stranger to actually provide the funds as well.

On the bus on the way home a chap with an inane grin got on and promptly addressed the driver with a strangely satisfied-sounding Waaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrghhhhhhhhhhhh! as he showed him his day ticket. He then walked down the bus, giving me a big thumbs-up and saying a barely-coherent Alright? as he passed me by. He spent the rest of the journey sat at the back, occasionally making loud utterances along the lines of HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAHAHAHAAAAARRRRRRGGHHHH!

Back home I wasted little time in making the most of the change in the weather, and went cycling for an hour and a half. As I neared home, I slowed my pace a little as I went up a hill (I must be losing my touch since I was recently boasting about gaining speed uphill), and noticed a thin-looking man with an intense, slightly haunted expression on his face, his eyes sunken but startlingly wide. He was staring at me as I rode by, and said with some certainty, your back wheel has fallen off.

I tacitly thanked myself for trusting what grasp I have of the laws of physics rather than looking behind to where the back wheel should be. It certainly felt like it was still there, and that was good enough for me. I must admit to making a quick check once I'd arrived back home though.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Just being

I returned to the Gower Peninsula this weekend, the second time I had been there: the first was some 17 years ago. So much of the territory was familiar enough to trigger off recollections, but the immediacy of the circumstances was more than enough for me to enjoy the moment and not to indulge in nostalgia.

There was much activity: driving, talking, walking, laughing, eating, drinking. There was much to stimulate the senses: warm sunshine, incredibly strong winds, driving rain, sea air, sand everywhere. Though the weather was at times harsh, it added to the experience, was an integral part of it rather than spoiling it: there's nothing like being warm and dry inside a tent at night while the wind howls just on the other side of the canvas, upon which the rain beats a heavy, constant tattoo.

It was a pleasure to be out, and to watch the sand whipped up by the wind into mini-tornadoes; to climb hills and explore caves; to feel the exhilaration of being out in the elements, followed by the delights of good food and beer.

But most of all, as we walked for miles along the beach, it was good to head away from the others for a while and to walk along the shore just at the point at which the waves made their furthest inroads onto the beach. Here I could allow myself to be silent, to be filled with silence, to let the sea wash the disquiet far out into the distance.

Here, just for a short while, I was afforded the luxury of just being.

Friday, 23 May 2008


"Some German band...I can't even pronahnce their fackin name." So said one of the security staff who happened to be sat in a cafe just down the road from the venue, as he talked about vis and vat in a loud, boorish and monotonous voice to one of his colleagues. He was getting on our nerves so once we'd finished eating, we headed into the pub next door to sink a couple of pints before the gig.

Last time I'd been to see said unpronounceable German band, they'd been touring to mark their 25th Anniversary, and they had been on electrifying form: not having a new album to promote at that point, they'd played 2 long sets dipping extensively into their older, more chaotic and noisy material with gleeful abandon - they were a tight and effective unit too, well-practiced having toured the previous year.

Going for the third time in four years to see them at the same venue felt something like going to see an old friend, or as my companion put it, like a sort of homecoming. It would be interesting to see what had changed in the meantime.

Certainly, this time around they were a largely different beast - current album Alles Wieder Offen is a more stately, restrained affair: their choice of material and their demeanour reflected that.

They opened strongly with "Die Wellen" and from there they set the tone with the meditative, medium-paced works taken from the aforementioned current album. This was particularly effective on tracks such as the darkly seductive, slow-building drone of "Unvollständigkeit," and it was here that they were at their strongest. When they drew on material from previous albums, they chose works which were of a broadly similar feel. Another highlight was "Die Befindlichkeit des Landes" - and it's always delicious to see a whole crowd of people singing the final, repeating refrain, Was ist die Befindlichkeit des Landes?

For a band which has a reputation for being noisy and manic, they rely a lot on the impact of silence, of faint whispers, and mere hints of the chaos that used to be their staple fare. Now, so much of it is given over to nuance and the mere suggestion of darker, nastier things lurking behind the fragility of their material.

As such, it was an incredibly engaging concert, and they once again excelled: my one criticism would be that, as they returned for their first encore, they played two of their quietest, slowest songs, and it felt like it was threatening to stretch the point a little too far. However they did finally up the tempo with an excellent version of "Alles", before returning once again to do an improvised piece, and finishing with "Youme & Meyou."

Visually, they're a unique band to watch as well, given the bewildering array of objects and contraptions from which they manage to tease noise, textures and notes, blending them into a coherent whole with other more conventional instruments. It's hard not to smile when, say, the bass player manages to coax sounds from his guitar by playing it with a vibrator next to the pickup, or the percussionist generates a haunting melody from playing plastic tubing.

As well as being there with a good friend of mine, we met my brother there too, someone I don't see all that often. I was glad to see that he enjoyed it just as much. In conversation with a mutual friend, we remarked also just how genial Neubauten's onstage presence has become - very relaxed and happy to engage with the audience from start to finish. This mutual friend described them as being "surprisingly cuddly" - which is quite a leap from their old reputation as confrontational and rather dangerous manglers of sound.

Their name, as you surely know, roughly translates into Collapsing New Buildings. On present evidence it seems that the buildings have long since collapsed: Neubauten are sifting relentlessly through the rubble and finding much of great beauty, as well as the occasional hint of danger.

We stopped in a hotel a short walk down the road, where we had a bottle of whisky and an iPod waiting for us. We stayed up for a further couple of hours, talking, supping whisky and listening to - that's right - The Fall. A perfect end to a fine evening.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

ceci n'est pas un ticket

Now I'm looking forward to it...

I may or may not be back with a full report: or I may, in passing, just say something like "oh, it was amazing!" I know that's a bit presumptive, but they didn't disappoint on the previous two occasions I've seen them.

In the meantime, a small dose of surrealism.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Candles and cake

Happy Birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me
Happy Birthday dear Trouser Press
Happppppppy Birthdayyyyyyyyyyyyyy tooooooooooooo meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

That's right, the Press is one year old today. Thanks for reading it thus far.

Sunday, 18 May 2008


At 1 o'clock Saturday morning, I picked up a phone message on my mobile (which is still permanently on silent, otherwise I might have been aware of the phone ringing earlier on that night). It was my mother, informing me that a relative of mine had died. Chances are it was a heart attack, according to what's been ascertained so far.

It's not a personal loss for me, I'm not sad, as such: the person in question wasn't someone I knew all that well, nor had I had seen him for a very long time.

It has given me pause for reflection though: from what I do know and remember of him, he was a decent bloke - well liked, and rightly so. Nevertheless I feel - and this may sound odd - that I owe thanks to him for something that was of crucial importance to me, but which was made possible quite inadvertently by him: as a result of his own ill-health, in fact.

I've previously described the situation at length, so I won't repeat myself: but this was the relative who was in hospital (following a major operation) at the same time that my dad was in his final days in the hospice on the same site. In short, his presence there meant that, during the visit described here, my mother went to go and spend some time with him - and I got to have essential time alone with my father the last time I ever saw him.

I'm not sure how it sounds, remembering someone effectively for something they couldn't help, indeed for something they would rather not have been going through in the first place. It certainly isn't intended to diminish him in any way, far from it. But although I never knew him very well, I realise he'll always be connected in my memory to the most poignant experience I've ever had - and for that, I'll always be grateful.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

First post about Neubauten in a while

This time next week I'll be in London watching Einstürzende Neubauten. I've booked the Thursday and Friday off so I have the added bonus of a long weekend. I've seen them twice before and both times they were excellent, the second time especially so.

Here's them doing one of their gentler, more melodic pieces (played, incidentally, mainly on plastic tubes) - it's a live performance and seems to have a couple of disjointed moments for some reason.

Can I start getting excited about it now, or should I wait for a bit?

Monday, 12 May 2008

A rhyme

On an evening like this
Cycling is bliss

I thank you!

My creative pursuits have currently taken a back seat, and right now I'm not anxious about that: thanks to the weather and other factors, I'm suddenly back into a mode which I would best describe as Cycling Like A Madman. I've probably said similar in previous posts, but it forms an outlet which is obviously quite different to the creative stuff, but is very satisfying in its own right.

You've seen dogs when their owner has taken them to the park and let them off the lead, and they bound about with sheer abandon and their tongues hanging out, spirited and euphoric - that's me that is, when I find I can actually gain speed up hills which used to leave me out of breath (and yes, sometimes my tongue is hanging out...).

I was also pleasantly alarmed to note that the route I'm currently cycling (not literally as I type: that would be foolhardy), last week was taking around 1 hour 41 minutes to complete: this week it's taken me an average of 1 hour 32 minutes.

There's a lyric in Memories Can't Wait by Talking Heads

"there's a party in my mind
and it's never gonna stop"

-and which goes on to say words to the effect of, other people can go home, whereas I'm stuck here and can't leave. Sometimes my own incessant trains of thought feel like that, but a good hour or two of Cycling Like A Madman is the equivalent of a very effective ssshhhhhhhhh!, things get a little quieter up there.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008


I had the satisfying feeling of dropping a letter of complaint into the post today. With it regarding the rail services (or lack of them, which was thoughtful given that it was a bank holiday weekend) I'm not anticipating much by way of a decent response. Whether I choose to pursue it beyond that point remains to be seen, depending on what they say and also on how irritable I'm still feeling about it.

Here's the crux of it:

"Eventually, like most other people who were waiting and getting increasingly exasperated, I got on the standard bus service from Matlock Bath to Derby, after which I had the prospect of a further journey by train ahead of me. This cost me an extra £3.30 on top of the rail fare I had already paid, and was an uncomfortable, hot and lengthy journey.

Not only do I resent being in a situation where I had to pay extra money in order to get back home significantly later than I had planned, I very strongly resent having paid out the sum of £11.30 for a day return which clearly wasn’t worth the money for the quality of service provided. I look forward to your comments about the compensation you will provide, since I will not be satisfied without this provision.

Frankly, it beggars belief that yet again, busy lines are closed for engineering work at one of the busiest times of the year. I appreciate that engineering work has to be done, but I am not interested in knowing what justification there is for doing it at such times when it results in maximising the disruption caused to passengers: the point is that if the bus replacement service was not so badly managed and pathetically inadequate then I would not be writing to you in the first place. Additionally, the timetable for the service could at best be described as a triumph of optimism or a work of fiction. At worst, it appears to be another example of the contempt in which passengers appear to be held by those attempting to run the service, being kept in continual uncertainty by low standards and misinformation.

This helped to mar what would have otherwise been a pleasant day out, and it also caused tremendous disruption to my plans for the rest of the day. The sad thing is that this kind of situation is depressingly predictable. "

What I decided not to include in the letter, though I was conjuring with the idea, was that the only good point of this bus journey for me was thanks to a child sat on a nearby seat, who for a good 15 minutes or so was repeatedly telling her mother in a very whiny voice that she was hungry. At this point I remembered I'd got a chocolate bar in my bag: I retrieved it and, in view of said infant, ate it all to myself: it's rare, but sometimes such utterly petty spitefulness is the only thing for it.