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Missing, Inaction

July 11, 2019 27 comments

Did you miss me, while I was away? Did you hang my picture on your wall? No, hold on, I shouldn’t be quoting him, should I! But he did make some undeniably great pop songs, before his downfall and disgrace. So, let’s start again. Had you noticed that I had been AWOL from my blog again? You could be forgiven for that: I’m not exactly the most regular or reliable of bloggers, am I? And as this hiatus was, by my standards, relatively brief, it probably wouldn’t have registered very high on the Richter scale for blogquakes, if such a thing exists. Come to think of it, very few of my posts would be likely to raise Prof Richter from his usual UK torpor anyway. But, if you cast your eyes to the right, you will see that this post is all of 18 days since my last one. Why?

I hadn’t planned on taking a break, although I have alluded in some recent posts to the fact that a lot of real life was happening around me. That in itself wouldn’t have caused the gap – but we should always be wary of gaps, as any traveller on the London Underground will know. The major real life issue was not, for once, my health, though it didn’t have a positive effect on me health-wise. It was that I had to move home. I know that all over the world this is an everyday occurrence but I am used to stability, and this was a decidedly destabilising experience! I had been in the same home for the past eleven and a half years, since my divorce, and this was only my second move of home since 1982: I am a creature of regular habits! But, since the aforementioned divorce I have been living in a flat rented from a private owner. The owners’ circumstances required them to raise the cash from selling the property, so yours truly had to go. The whole experience was incredibly stressful for me, and I’m intending to write a post about that at some point, when I feel up to it: moving home is, after all, recognised as one of the leading causes of stress. But I’ll save that for another day – it requires more care, sensitivity and thought than I can muster at present. The point of this piece – yes, I’m finally getting to it – is a reflection on how dependent we have become on something which we know is there, even though we can’t see it. But, as Joni Mitchell said, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.’ I’m referring, of course, to that modern day wonder known as the internet.

Do you ever stop to think about how much we depend on it? If not, try going without it for a whole 15 days, like I have just done. I knew there would be a few days without it after the move, but wasn’t prepared for an additional delay while British Telecom (aka BT) struggled to work out why the link from the box on the wall in my new flat failed to register any kind of score on their readings – think of it as a telecoms version of ‘Royaume Uni – nul points’ at the Eurovision Song Contest, a phrase with which we Brits were already familiar for many years before the vote for Brexit, since when even fewer countries have deigned to bestow any points on our pathetic entries to the competition. Apparently, leaving the EU doesn’t automatically mean that we leave the song contest too, as anyone old enough (i.e. me) to remember us being in it before EU membership can tell you. I wonder if anyone has done a study of the correlation between the two? I wouldn’t mind betting that the song contest is a popular entertainment choice for pro-Brexiteers: after all, if you’re a moron about one thing it’s likely that you will be equally moronic about others, and the chances are that some would have been sufficiently stupid to think that’s what they were voting for. But I digress, sorry. BT have finally solved the problem, after much testing, digging up the road and playing with cables, etc and I’m now back in the land of the living. Huzzah!

The interweb, then. It was in 1997 that we first got connected to it at home, and around the same time at work. Back then it was a novelty, but in the 20+ years since then it has become an absolutely vital part of our lives, both for work and personal use. I haven’t been completely cut off: I have still had the use of my mobile and data, but that is expensive and the screen is too small for much – it’s good for WhatsApp, texts  and checking emails, but far too expensive for any more intensive use. To avoid any language barriers I should point out, for the benefit of those who insist on using the term, that by ‘mobile’ I’m referring to what you call a ‘cell phone.’ To us, that is something a prisoner would have, but each to their own language, I guess. The ubiquity of the web as part of our lives was brought home to me by my older daughter, who asked if I could get something like a Chromecast while I was waiting for my satellite tv to be reconnected. This is a very intelligent young woman with a PhD, who is a Senior Lecturer at one of the UK’s better universities. With, I thought, remarkable nonchalance and absolutely no sarcasm, I replied that I already have an Apple TV, but it (and a Chromecast) kind of relied on the internet. The reply was along the lines of ‘🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️😂😂😂’ but that makes my point, doesn’t it: we are so used to having the web that we forget how much we use it for. Try doing any of these on a small screen when you’re trying not to go into the next band for another squillion quid of mobile data charges:

Blogging, of course, to begin with – it’s just no fun trying to read and comment on blogs on a mobile, here in my cell, and I’ve rather let things slip. Sorry, I’m sure your posts were all great but I might not catch up with you all! I wrote this piece on my (unconnected) iPad during my enforced absence, and have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to unleash it upon you. Well, a little, anyway.

Doing general ‘business-y things’ is another thing which is made convenient by the internet. I had forgotten just how many places I had shared my address with, and almost every postal delivery brings a reminder of another. But it is but a matter of moments to update my address for them all, and I shudder to think how many letters and phone calls this would have taken back in olden times. I prioritised a few which I thought were essential – like not getting the power cut off, for example – and one of these was my TV licence. Don’t ask me why, I just did, even though I wasn’t able to watch tv. I was glad I did, though, as it seems the previous occupant of my flat didn’t have a licence so my address is now on the hit list for the enforcement people. These faceless bureaucrats work on the assumption that everyone watches tv, and that no one is so primitive as not to. Therefore we must prove that we don’t need a licence if that is the case. Police state, anyone?

Shopping – this just isn’t much fun with an app on a mobile. I managed a full grocery shop, but wouldn’t want to keep doing it that way. I have relied on internet shopping for just about everything in recent years and using only a mobile it was almost impossible to browse for the essentials I need for my new home – I really do need a new washing up bowl! I did spend some of my precious data on looking at getting a dongle for my laptop, to create an impression of broadband, but decided that I would rather not buy a bit of kit which might be inviting the Chinese government into my home to spy on me. I’ll keep my internet browsing habits to myself, if it’s all the same to you. Or them.

News – I’ve mostly been without tv for this period, too, and have come to realise how dependent I am for my daily news fix on the Guardian and Apple News apps. I’ve used radio news but somehow it isn’t the same without pictures: if someone is throwing a milkshake over a fascist I want to see it! But I did eventually realise that my portable tv did actually work with an indoor aerial, even if the main one didn’t, so I’ve at least been able to watch a bit of Wimbledon.

Sports news is the same. I enjoy a full subscription to tv sports services and make much use of them, although I do draw the line at watching those imported efforts like handegg and rounders. The cricket World Cup has been taking place and it has been purgatory for me not to be able to watch. Is it bad that I’ve been wasting my mobile data on apps that update me? I think not, but I’ve been very sparing with my use. Life just hasn’t been the same!

Music – I’ve had to actually play CDs rather than stream my music! I know, it’s shocking, isn’t it? I have a vast collection of CDs and have been reacquainting myself with them. I really should have a massive clear out, though: there are few which aren’t available on Apple Music and it is so easy to use that service. I’ve missed YouTube too – who’d have thought that people like me would spend so much time watching music videos?

Catch up tv – you can’t download without the web, or use the mobile service to watch programmes currently being broadcast. I’ve always used these as back up services, and I’ve missed them. As soon as my Sky connection is reinstalled I’ll be doing a lot of downloading: the newest series of NCIS New Orleans awaits!

Games – I don’t classify myself as a serious gamer, though I’ll admit to being intrigued to see what Apple will be offering with its new service in the autumn (aka fall, if you must!). What I mean is the sort of games you can play on an iPad. Did you ever stop to think how many of these required an internet connection? No, nor did I – until this past fortnight. Whilst much of this is for those dreadful adverts that permit you a free go, some games just don’t work properly without being connected. Now that is something I wouldn’t have imagined moaning about 20 odd years ago when the web entered my life!

Reference and knowledge: not the kind that you can get just as easily from a book – remember them, dictionaries and encyclopaedias? – but the ability to do important stuff like checking IMDb to work out where I’ve previously seen the actor I’m watching now. As I was limited to watching DVDs that wasn’t such a big deal, but I still missed it. 

Above all, and underpinning everything else, is the feeling of not being connected. It is very easy to become isolated if you rely on web based services: I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve missed Farcebook and, to a lesser extent, Twitter and Instagram. Some of my friends think I probably don’t care about them any more! I’ve dropped in on a couple of occasions but they were very brief stops. I’m now gradually reacquainting myself with what is going on, and hopefully it won’t take me too long to catch up!

Yes, I’ve been able to read books and magazines on my iPad during the hiatus, but only those which I had previously downloaded. There is nothing like the frustration of making a choice from my Kindle library only to realise ‘bugger, that one is still in the cloud!’ It’s just so good to feel normal again, as much as I ever do. Expect more from me now that I can see you again across the ether, as I emerge from my cocoon.

For anyone who has struggled to read this piece with the guilt from being reminded of the classic piece of pop ear worm with which I began, I can only apologise. I should, however, like to conclude by pointing out that, as a matter of fact, I’m back! By way of apology, I offer you the other song to which I referred:

See you soon, if I ever escape from my binge watching, listening, reconnecting and reading catch ups!

A #ChristmasSongOfTheDay Part Three

December 18, 2018 4 comments

We’re getting closer to the big day, aren’t we! This is, as the title suggests, the third part of my compilation of daily song posts, and offers the usual melange dredged from the canyons of my mind (bonus brownie points to anyone who got that reference!). Today, I’m refreshing you on days 13 up to day 18 – which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is today. Time to get those sprouts on!

For the 13th I went back to my musical roots. Deep down, I am at heart a folkie, and have long loved the music of bands like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, which is where the English folk-rock genre really began, in the late 60s. The driving force behind Steeleye has been their singer, Maddy Prior, and I’ve been lucky enough to see the band (I think) six times, going right back to late 1970. For a good many years now Maddy has also run a side project – Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band – who tour at Christmas. This year is no exception: they are still going strong. A new video popped up on YouTube a few days ago: I’m not sure when the performance is actually from, but it looks fairly recent. This is their version of a well known carol, and it is simply joyous:

This is actually the fifth year that I’ve done this – although only the second here on the blog – and very few songs have featured every year. My choice for day 14 is one of that select group: it is from Blue, one of the best albums ever made, by one of the best singer-songwriters ever. The version I’ve previously shared was accompanied by a video of Snoopy skating, which was a perfect fit, but sadly that one has now been withdrawn for copyright reasons: the word that springs to mind is ‘snowflakes!’ The song is still just as brilliant, though, and this video is a good substitute for Snoopy. Here is the wonderful Joni Mitchell:

Day 15 went down a rather different track. Although they haven’t done it recently, the rock band The Killers produced a Christmas song each year for about eight years. Proceeds were donated to charity – I think that is a rather wonderful thing to do, and deserving of mention in my dispatches. This is my favourite of their collection because, well, nothing says ‘Christmas’ quite like cowboys and robot spacemen, does it?

As the 16th was a Sunday I followed my usual practice of selecting a carol. I’ve featured this one before, but not this version. I really can’t think why, as I loved this duo’s music during their short time together as a partnership. They made two excellent albums plus a one-off seasonal single, which featured this as its B-side. The carol is familiar, I’m sure, but I doubt there are many versions which even come close to the heartbreaking beauty and simplicity of the Civil Wars:

Having regretted the musical demise of one favourite, I think I applied my hex on my choice for the 17th too. You probably won’t have heard of Brynn Andre, and she hasn’t been active on the music scene very much for quite some time, having made two lovely albums and an EP going back nearly ten years. Her Twitter feed describes her as a ‘coach for the modern girl’ with no mention of music in her bio – it has been inactive since 2014 anyway. She did pop up doing some live shows in 2014 with an unfulfilled promise of new recordings, and provided the vocals last year for a song by a band called We Are. I live in hope! It says on the video that the song is from an EP entitled Holiday, but until yesterday I’d been unable to find it, other than in this YouTube video version. Having donned my deerstalker I finally managed to locate it as the title track of a three song free download on Bandcamp, so I’m now a very happy bunny! It’s an old standard, but she breathes new life into it, with a lovely evocative video to match. This is another of the select few songs which I’ve featured in all five years of my #ChristmasSongOfTheDay, and I think you’ll see why:

My selection for today takes us back to the mainstream. This is one of the few of my choices which has appeared in the music charts, reaching no.6 in the US and no.9 in the UK (as a double A-side with My Hometown) in 1985, but it is difficult to leave out the Boss (no, not those Sugar and Numpty Trumpty guys, someone more deserving of the title!). Again, this is a pop Christmas standard, but I think this version is great! It’s happy, and that’s what Christmas should be:

So, that’s a wrap for today. I’ll be back on Christmas Day with the final selection of eight more songs to take us up to the full complement of 26. Yes, I know there are 25 days in the usual Advent Calendar but this is mine so I can do it how I like! I get to a final total of 26 by giving you a bonus extra song on Christmas Day – alright, I admit it, it’s more to do with indecision than seasonal goodwill, but I hope you won’t complain!

There will also be an additional post as part of my musical advent this year. For the first time I’m doing a little something extra which will feature here on Friday, and I hope to see you again then. In the meantime, stay well and happy, and mind those sprouts 😉

#ChristmasSongADay – Part 3

December 18, 2017 28 comments

Continuing my series of the songs I have been posting each day for Advent on Twitter and Facebook, here are those I featured from Days 13 to today, Day 18.

One of my favourite singer/songwriters is Mary Chapin Carpenter. I have every album she has released in her 30 year career and have been lucky enough to see her play live: a magical experience. In 2008 she released an album of Christmas songs, called Come Darkness, Come Light. Six of the twelve songs were written by her, including this one, the title track, which was my choice for the 13th. I think it’s lovely, and hope you like it too:

That turned out to be the start of a three day run of songs from female singer/songwriters. I’ve always had a soft spot for this style of music, going back to when I first became interested in music in the 60s. One of the first to get my attention was the peerless Joni Mitchell. Even after all these years, my favourite of all of her albums is Blue, which was released in 1971. My vinyl copy of that album wore very thin during my university days, and it is still my ‘go to’ Joni album. It is a very introspective album – classic bedsit music! One of the best of a set of fine tracks is this one, which I chose on the 14th. I believe it is complemented perfectly by the Snoopy video:

The third song in this run of three, which I posted on the 15th, is by another artist whose albums all feature in my collection. Shawn Colvin released her debut album a couple of years after Mary Chapin Carpenter’s first record. The two are friends and have played live together many times, although I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Shawn live – there are plenty of videos on YouTube though! She beat Mary to a Christmas album by ten years, releasing Holiday Songs And Lullabies in 1998. This is another fine album, and the track I chose is this one:

Isn’t that lovely, so beautiful in its simplicity? How could I follow that up? I didn’t try! Instead, I took a completely different approach, and went loud:

That dark little song about a department store Father Christmas being duffed up by a bunch of kids was released as a single in 1977. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn’t trouble the charts. As far as I know it has only appeared since then on a couple of Kinks compilation albums: they went through a period of making their studio releases ‘concept albums’ and it’s hard to see where this song would have fitted in! Still, it raises a smile of nostalgia for me, and I’d be surprised if you’d heard it before – which is, after all, one of the reasons why I make this selection each year! As a complete aside, you might like to take a look at a much more heart-warming view of a child’s Christmas, written by Enda, a fellow blogger. I think this is a wonderful piece of writing, and I hope you can read it too.

As yesterday, Day 17, was a Sunday I thought it fitting to share a Christmas carol as my song for the day. But, rather than go for a version from a religious setting, I chose this:

You may well recognise Maddy Prior as being a longstanding member of Steeleye Span, who – along with Fairport Convention – were one of the forerunners of the electric folk scene which developed in England in the late 1960s. You may also recall them having a novelty Christmas hit in 1972 with Gaudete, to the best of my knowledge still one of only two chart hits sung entirely in Latin (the other is Pie Jesu). I could have chosen that, but went for this one instead as it is a little further off the beaten track. Whilst remaining a Steeleye Span member, Maddy has regularly undertaken Christmas tours with the Carnival Band, and that is taken from a DVD made of their 2004 tour.

For today’s choice I stayed in the folk music area. I featured Bellowhead earlier in the series, and here they are again, leading a massed folk band ensemble that featured in a one-off special programme shown on BBC4 in 2009. It really doesn’t seem that long ago since I first saw this! This song, although not this version, was the b-side of Bellowhead’s Christmas Bells single (which is in Part 1 of this series – link is on the right). I bet you haven’t seen it done like this before, though:

So, that’s it for Part 3 of my #ChristmasSongADay series. I’ll be back on Christmas Day with the final seven songs, and hope to see you again then. After all, you’re going to need something to take your mind off the eggnog, yet still more gifts of socks, and arguments with the family, aren’t you! Have a great week, and I hope all of your Christmas preparations go well. See you on the 25th 😊

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