Saturday, 21 April 2012

High fidelity

Apparently, today is Record Store Day. "What's that?" I hear you ask.

Actually, I don't hear disembodied voices any more. Not since the Event. Anyway.

Record Store Day is supposed to help us celebrate the unique culture of our independent record stores. There are special vinyl and CD releases, promotional produtcts, the whole shebang. This is officially a Good Thing.

Why? Because when I was putting this post together I was trying to remember the last time I had been in an independent record store and my mind drew a blank. Then I tried to think about the last time I'd even seen an indie store. Nope, still struggling.

This is clearly a  market sector that needs our help.

Which is odd, because I think I spent about 30% of my waking hours between the age of 13 and 19 in record shops. I loved them, really loved them. I had the nonchalant finger-flick down to a fine art. You know, the action used when riffling through a shelf of vinyl albums or CD jewel cases, digging through the dross to uncover the treasure.For a couple of years I  even had a Saturday job in a record store. And while it wasn't an independent, it was still the coolest job a teenager could have.

But that was long ago. These days we don't  tend to buy music in the same way. There's very little thought involved in the wqhole process. Music is a commodity, there to be downloaded as a series of ones and zeroes at the click of a mouse. It was so much different back then.The first single I ever went out and bought was this:

I heard it on the radio as a young teenager. I fell in love with it but then had to wait until the weekend before going to my record store. Somehow, clicking a link doesn't seem to have the same emotional involvement.

Still love it now, to be honest. Brother number 1 played me the orchestral version once when I was driving us through Wales. We very nearly had an accident.

Record stores perform another vital task. They are places for blokes to go when their wives/girlfriends/significant others are shopping for clothes. We can go and do the riffle through CDs of impenetrable guitar music while she's off looking at 27 near-identical tops. These places save marriages, of this I am certain.

I can vouch for this. A few weeks ago Katie was on the retail trail so I wandered into a record store. I picked up a couple of CDs from artists I'd never really listened to before, but sort of felt I needed to discover. Taking them to the counter, the cool long-haired guy behind the till smiled and nodded approvingly at my purchases. I walked out of that shop 20 feet tall.

You just can't get that from iTunes.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

This thing that I wrote

Could you help me out a little, please?

Last year I wrote a novel. I know, I haven't mentioned it for a while. Think yourself lucky. You thought you'd got away, didn't you? The novel - or rather the first draft of it - has been sitting on a memory stick since I finished it at the end of November and I haven't gone back to edit it.

Why? Because.editing is hard work and I'm lazy. Creating stuff is fun. Going back and making it slightly-less-crappy is difficult. There will always be something else more attractive to do. Like sitting on my sofa, drinking tea, for instance. I need a sizeable kick up the backside.

So this is what I'm going to do. Below is an (unedited) exerpt from the book. Have a read. Let me know what you think - in the comment box, Facebook, Twitter or your social network of choice. Because, after all is said and done, I'm a tart, and feedback flicks my switches, presses by buttons and turns my dials to 11. There's an image for you. Anyway, here goes for nothing:


Ken Hamilton was a clockwise man and proud of it. Asking him to drive in the other direction would have been like making him betray his very soul.

He checked the time on his watch; still six minutes until he needed to get going. Good, he thought. I’m ahead of schedule. Can’t mess up the timetable, especially not with Inspectors out on the route today.

Hamilton considered himself at the very peak of his profession. He was, he thought, similar in many ways to an airline pilot given the keys to a 747, only in his case he was in the driving seat of a National Express West Midlands Metro-Cammel Turboliner double-decker bus. But it wasn’t the vehicle that was significant – it was the route.

The number 11 bus route following Birmingham’s Outer Circle was, he would tell people, the longest scheduled urban bus service in Europe. He wasn’t entirely sure if that was true. More often than not, a listener’s eyes would get that strange faraway look whenever he started to talk about it. He was rarely challenged by people when he made claims like that.

He used to tell the very same people that he was just like his namesake, Lewis Hamilton. “He too drives his own single-seater around circuits all day.” By this point in the conversation the other party would rarely take him up on this claim. The other seventy seats on the bus surely should count for something. And the clockwise 11C bus route was hardly the same as Monza. Normally though, he’d get comments like, “Is that the time?” or “Excuse me, I think I’ve just seen my wife carrying a week’s supply of humus,” or some such.

Ken had been on the 11C for fifteen years and had resisted all attempts by the management to move him onto other routes. The 11C was the gig for him. He was a man with a passion. He knew every inch of the 27 miles, every one of the 68 stops, every turn, every junction and every sleeping policeman. It was a pity the passengers got in the way somewhat, but he supposed they were a necessary evil. And he was not going anti-clockwise, no matter what.

It wasn’t as if he had any personal enmity against the 11A drivers. Ken had spoken to one once for a few minutes before realising, and in fairness he’d seemed almost reasonable. But anti-clockwise was retrograde, against the natural order of things. Some things happen for a reason. On one occasion he’d absent-mindedly missed the terminus at the end of his shift. He couldn’t face driving against the flow of the route, so he’d simple completed another circuit.

The Inspectors hadn’t liked that one bit. What did they know, the philistines?

He glanced at his watch once more. Still three minutes before I can get going once more. He looked out of his window, at the nefarious delights of Acocks Green Laser Quest. This is the life. I am master of all I survey.


Oh, this was really too much. Someone was trying to get on. Really, he thought, it’s the passengers that make this job so difficult. Always wanting to get somewhere, that mad dash from A to B. In Ken Hamilton’s mind there was a lot to be said for starting out from A and ending up back there once again, a mere hour and a half later.


For God’s sake. This was completely unnecessary. It was putting him off his Daily Express. He had half a mind to drive off, but that would mean arriving at the next stop ahead of the timetable. He wasn’t having that.

With a hiss of hydraulics, the passenger door folded open and made further argument academic. Ken stared madly – he hadn’t even touched the controls. “What’s going on?” he asked out loud.

“Please don’t be concerned, Mr Hamilton,” said the figure, stepping lightly onto the bus. “I am sorry to have inconvenienced you. I need to take you somewhere.”

“What? I’m in the middle of my shift. Don’t be daft. Now, unless you have correct change or a pass I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” He thought it a little odd that he couldn’t make out any features. The youth of today, always in hoodies or some such clothing. Strange, I can’t actually make him out at all. It’s like the light just skips over him. Must get my eyes checked out. He blinked.

“Mr Hamilton, please step out of the cab and follow me. You will understand.”

“I understand,” said the driver. An alarm sounded briefly as he opened the door to his compartment, then silenced as he slammed it shut once more behind him. “Where are we going?”

“I cannot tell you at the moment. But the journey is necessary.”

“We’re not going to have to go anti-clockwise, are we?”

“Probably best that you don’t worry about it, Mr Hamilton.”

Monday, 2 April 2012

I think I get it now

I think I've made my position on parenthood quite clear. If I wanted to be constantly anxious, sleepless and financially ruined, I'd have a crack habit instead. I know that children are supposed to be a source of constant joy. So they say, at least. But I'm ever so slightly cynical - the 'they' in question only ever seem to be existing parents.

I can't help thinking that they want the misery to be shared amongst others.

I'm fully aware that my position in this respect goes against common sense. The species needs to continue, after all.  But last time I checked, we seemed to be doing a pretty good job. Some might say that my view is contrary to nature. I normally ask these people how they square Mother Nature with being able to make such comments on a website with a complete stranger hundreds of miles away. That tends to do the trick.

I'm not anti-child, though. It's just the whole concept of babies I find completely alien. You essentially give up the fun things and have to be responsible for this little person that is completely, 100% dependent upon you. Katie and I can barely look after ourselves. Put an infant into the mix and quite frankly it'd be a recipe for disaster.

Babies are, effectively, machines for making a terrifying amount of poo. It's what they do. When you're six weeks old, that's pretty much all you're going to have on the CV. Pastimes? Pooing. Oh, and crying. And while I've been in several situations where bodily fluids and yelling were on the agenda, it's not something I'm keen on choosing as a lifestyle choice.

Another thing - babies are just exhausting. I've written about this before. It's just relentless. The effort you have to put in is immense. I wouldn't mind, but you don't even get much in the way of conversation on the weighty matters of the day.

And yet. And yet.

Yesterday I spent a little time with my niece, who is about a month off her second birthday. It was a sunny afternoon in the garden. She had her white sun hat on, and went "Uh-oh" every time it slipped off.  She laughed and giggled at her Aunt and Uncle, flashing ocean-blue eyes at us both. Running after a tennis ball was the funniest thing in the world. Seriously, if I could get adults to laugh that easily I'd have a career in stand up.

So here's the thing. I'm still not sold on parenthood. But I learned something. If you can manage to keep a baby alive for a year or so, it turns into a toddler.

And toddlers are the best thing in the universe.


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