Something for the weekend

They don’t write TV themes as great as this anymore, and cop shows today don’t have that dark, gritty urban feel of The French Connection either, but that’s probably because New York doesn’t look like that anymore. And detectives on television no longer wear suits by Botany 500 either.

The world is just going to hell isn’t it?


Junior Choice

I was playing some records last Saturday morning when my little girl decided she wanted to pick a record to play next. So she started pulling out albums at random and when she handed me this, saying “I want this one, Daddy!” I had to grab the camera.

I’ve no idea why she chose that particular one, but having her ask me to play a Roxy Music album was one of my proudest moments as a father so far.

Download: Prairie Rose – Roxy Music (mp3)

Sensing a blog post in the making I let her carry on pulling out records — with no prompting from me, I swear. And I think she showed remarkably good taste for a two year old.

Classic choice this one.

Download: Cue Fanfare – Prefab Sprout (mp3)

I don’t think this one has been played in 20 years but it may now have a new life as a kiddie’s favourite.

Download: Forgotten – Altered Images (mp3)

OK, some more Roxy Music then. That’s my girl.

Download: 2HB – Roxy Music (mp3)

Now I know what to do next time I’m stumped for a post idea.

Stiff Upper Lips

Alec: We know we really love each other. That’s true. That’s all that really matters.
Laura: It isn’t all that really matters. Other things matter too. Self-respect matters, and decency.

No one has ever asked me about the picture in the banner at the top of this page so I assume everyone knows it comes from the 1945 film Brief Encounter — and those that didn’t know couldn’t care less what it was. I grew up knowing that film by heart, it was one of those old British movies full of plummy voices, stiff upper lips and dreary tea rooms which the BBC used to show all the time on Sunday afternoons (along with Genevieve, The Way To The Stars, and The Dam Busters) and it’s atmosphere of monochrome miserablism was perfectly suited to that post-lunch rainy Sunday dead zone where there was nothing better to do than sit in front of the fire and watch a great old movie.

The picture of England these films painted was of a genteel and polite country which probably only exists today in the minds of ageing Daily Mail readers. It was a place of deference and impeccable manners where the last thing anyone wants to do is cause a scene or, God forbid, get all emotional about something. It’s a cliché about us English that we’re all a bit reserved and repressed and in Brief Encounter Alec and Laura are like the poster children for stiff English formality, living in a buttoned-up world of afternoon tea and polite chat about trains and library books. When they fall in love it threatens to tear that tidy world apart and they’re thrown into a panic by it, Laura in particular is completely discombobulated by her sudden feelings — “I’ve fallen in love. I’m an ordinary woman. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people.” — and it’s heartbreaking to see them try to be sensible and frightfully British about something as irrational and powerful as love.

Before she meets Alec, Laura’s life has all the flavour and excitement of a stale British Rail ham sandwich, with a house in the suburbs and a dull husband who looks like he probably goes to bed in the pinstriped suit he wears while doing The Times’ crossword puzzle in front of the fire every night. It’s the sort of dreary suburban trap that would later be made out to be a soul-destroying hellhole to be escaped at all costs, but Laura is a sensible middle-class housewife and people like her just don’t run off with a handsome doctor. Passion and romance might be alright for the French, but she’s British! So she does the “decent” thing and gives up Alec even though it tears her apart. At the end of the film it looks like she’ll never be happy again, but you know that she’ll pull herself together, keep it all bottled up and soldier on making the best of things, hiding her misery behind a polite English exterior. Order must be preserved, emotions must be kept in check, or England and the Empire will crumble.

It’s easy to mock (and parody) their frightfully proper manners and old-fashioned English reserve in general, especially in this post-1960s era when we’re told it’s bad to bottle your feelings up and to let it all hang out, man. But really, don’t you wish more people these days would resist the urge to share the almost pornographic details of their inner selves in public and keep the lid on a bit more? And just because the “stuffy” Brit isn’t inclined to swing naked from the emotional chandelier doesn’t mean they have no feelings, we just find it a little vulgar and juvenile to advertise them to the world in great big neon letters* which is why we get embarrassed in the presence of loud Americans who will insist on talking about their bloody feelings and hugging you all the time. That’s when we start looking at our shoes and talking about the weather.

Download: Love Hurts – The Everly Brothers (mp3)
Download: I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You – Tom Waits (mp3)
Download: Show Some Emotion – Joan Armatrading (mp3)

*Or we used to, I’m sure I’m not the only one who found the national crying jag that took place after the death of Princess Diana a little unseemly at times, especially when people started demanding that the Queen open her heart and let us all cry on her shoulder too as if she was bloody Oprah Winfrey.

My Mother’s Records

When I was about 14 my best mate at school told me that he thought my mother was good-looking. I don’t know if I should have thumped him for eyeing up my mum in that way (and maybe having secret Mrs. Robinson-style fantasies about her) but the truth is I was more chuffed than anything. I was rather proud that I had an attractive mother who got compliments — even from chubby schoolboys — and was wolf-whistled at when she walked past a building site, even though she had reached the shockingly ancient age of 40 that year. So while she might not have been able to afford to buy me the new Gola trainers with the lime green stripe that all my mates had at least I didn’t mind being seen in public with her.

Not that she was a Bond girl or anything but because she was a single woman with long blond hair who still dated men she seemed younger and more glamourous than my friend’s mothers who were more Woman’s Realm than Cosmopolitan if you know what I mean — “proper” mums like the ones you saw in Daz commercials on the telly. That’s how I remember them anyway, but when you’re that age most grown-ups seem old and boring. My mate Paul had parents called Stan and Winnie which not only sounds like two characters out of Andy Capp they looked like them too, the sort of people the 1960s seemed to have completely passed by and you can’t imagine ever being young or having sex — though Paul was proof that they must have done it at least once. Lovely people, mind.

As you can imagine, being a divorcee raising two kids on her own my mum had a thing for songs about strong, independent women battling against the odds (men, usually) so she loved the Country record “Harper Valley PTA” by Jeannie C. Riley. This 1968 hit was about a single parent (though widowed in this case) who scandalizes the other parents at her daughter’s school by wearing short skirts and being seen out on the town with men. The best part about it is she stands up for herself and gives them all a good verbal knee in the balls for their small-minded hypocrisy. When one-parent families were portrayed in the media back then it was usually as a “problem” — latchkey kids, “broken” homes and all that crap — so it was nice to hear a loud and proud single mum in a pop song. Not only that, but it also stands up for a mother’s right to look sexy which must have made mine pump her fist in the air and shout “right on sister!”

Download: Harper Valley PTA – Jeannie C. Riley (mp3)

Things I do when no one’s looking

I had to go in to work on Sunday and as I was all alone in the office I indulged in a secret act so shameful I would have been mortified if anyone saw me. I was working away with iTunes playing in the background but when this tune came on I turned the volume up to 11 and completely, um, rocked out to it.

Download: Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To…) – Queen (mp3)

There was much vigorous nodding of the head, biting of the lower lip, air-guitaring, and even playing of the drums on my desk.

Promise you won’t tell anyone.

The future isn’t all it was cracked up to be

Remember when machines were going to free us all from the drudgery of work and lead us into a utopian life of leisure, novel-writing and blogging? As recently as the 1980s people were predicting that computers would make us so efficient our main problem would be finding ways to fill up all the free time we’d have.

So why is it I don’t even have time to draw breath this week, let alone write a blog post (well, apart from this one of course)? In my business there was a time when you could tell the boss/client he couldn’t make that last minute change because there wasn’t time to get the typesetting back or have the artwork redone or find a different photo — now no one ever says “no” because the deadline extends almost to the minute before the job gets printed. Those old limitations were physical, human limitations, but now it’s all possible with a few keystrokes our poor human selves are working longer and longer hours in an effort to keep up with the 24/7 flow of work that computers and the internet have made possible. All that computer-enabled “free” time has just been filled up with more work, I’m super efficient these days but I’m also completely knackered most of the time.

All of which is my way of saying I’m having a really bad week.

Download: Crushed By The Wheels of Industry (12″ version) – Heaven 17 (mp3)

Big Girl’s Blouses

I know I’m a little late to this, but what’s with the whole of England coming to a standstill because of a little snow? Eight inches? Pah! We’ve had eight feet of it here in Boston since Christmas — and it’s snowing again right now while I’m writing this! — and we all managed to get to work. It’s such a cataclysmic event The Guardian are even live blogging about it. You know, like they probably did on 9/11. Get a grip people, Hitler must be laughing in his grave.

Download: Baby It’s Cold Outside – Joyce Blair & Oliver Reed (mp3)