31 December, 2008

Together Or Alone - Solo 2003

I've really fallen in love with Bakesale lately, and particularly this song. Here's a really nice solo version from 2003:

This is not, clearly, an obligatory end of 2008 post. That may come later but I can't imagine it matters. When I decide which are my favourite albums of the year (I haven't listened to that many 2008 albums really) I will probably post that.

30 December, 2008


The concept of Flat Daddies is giving me some pause for thought this evening. Quite simply, I struggle to know how I really feel about it.

It's wonderful that our feeling for parents, and the amount of love we have to give, are so deep that we can have real joy for a cardboard cut-out. If it helps families, then of course it must be tremendous. And it's fantastic that our free market could never leave such a crucial need unserved (albeit at $50 a pop - this is not a charity).

But it's also incredibly sad that a love that seems so real and vital between a child and their flesh-parent (so as not to discriminate against all the photo-parents out there) could seemingly be easily transferred to a thing.

What does this say about our contemporary view of relationships? These aren't posited as some kind of replacement, but still, how might this make a child feel about objects, as opposed to organisms? Might having this presence inhibit an infant's ability to find the attention that they need during their formative years?

Flat Daddies say on their site: "Experts believe the cutouts are a useful psychological device, especially for children, to help cope with the stress of long absences. It helps the family stay connected and is a constant reminder that even though mom or dad is thousands of miles away, they are still a part of their lives." I hope so. Clearly, I don't know what long-term research exists.

I sympathise greatly with the families that feel a Flat Daddy can help them. Kids should have a two parents, and where families have been wrenched apart through necessity (foreign policy notwithstanding) the effort to keep the other parent 'alive' in their child's mind must be a difficult one.

27 December, 2008

Getting Educated

Christmas comes and Christmas goes, and in its wake yet more tomes are added to the small library I hope I can eventually plough through. With so many modern novels to read, how will I ever address those old epics? War & Peace, Dante's Divine Comedy, A Brief History of Time, Ulysses, The Iliad - we've all set aside some big names that we'll someday tackle, educating ourselves in the process, maybe finishing them in time for it to go on our gravestones.

Give up. I've come to terms with it. I'm never going to get through the complete works of Shakespeare. Austen is too dull. Infinite Jest is actually insultingly long, while Rainbow Six is too much for any one man to understand.

Reading is not all it's cracked up to be - getting things read to you, that's where it's at. Get onto the BBC site and listen to Milton's Paradise Lost, read by Anton Lesser. It's all about God and Satan and things, and contains some excellent words. It's like reading but less grind.

Episode 1 is available for just a couple more days. GO!

24 December, 2008

Grey Days

It’s here. If all the headlines and news-talk didn’t hit home ‘til now, this is it. “Welcome to the recession.”

This is running through my mind as I stand just inside the door at Woolworths. The combination of dishevelled, half-stocked shelves and shuffling crowds plugs uncannily into the zombie-movie scenes that’re so in vogue online. I catch my hands sub-consciously wielding a pump-action shotgun. My nostrils flare and catch a whiff of pure desperation.

I haven’t been in a Woolworths for at least a year, and even then I was dragged in. I haven’t wanted to enter in a decade. That would be when I was buying Stereophonics singles on cassette (ah, that that could be the most embarrassing crime against taste I committed in that grand old store). Even then, all tacky books and oversized chocolate, it was well on the way to becoming a failing pound shop. Woolworth’s demise is hardly my fault. But it’s too much watching others pick over its stiffening corpse, let alone joining in the plunder myself. I move on.

Despair is thick in the air all around the town, on the final Saturday of financial life. Already the morning news reports declared “sell or bust”. Fairy lights in the windows of even the least festive stores are meant to drag in precious customers who seek to make every coin count. Isn’t desperation the currency of every Christmastime? Seasonal slogans in inappropriate places, the impossibility of reading our loved ones’ minds, a determination to make one day a delight for all concerned, all add up to a heady mix.

This year is different. I visit the only independent record store in town, even if it rarely has anything I’m looking for. I spend an hour in my favourite bookstore, just reading the back of novels, even if Waterstones has a better selection. In a way my interest in Christmas shopping has been rekindled now it’s a rescue mission. The sensation of economic decline is reinforced by the languid grey sky hanging heavily overhead.

The shoppers who laugh (for there are a few) are not happy. They are demented. They are in denial. They are drugged worshippers of a death cult, merrily embracing their end. I'm torn between scorn and pity.

There are vultures outside the town, eyeing up the carcasses, ready to strip our failing high street bare of all cashflow. Their prices are unmatchable, their efficiency undeniable and their appetite insatiable. Tescos have added another floor in order to sell more clothes. Week-to-week you needn’t go anywhere else, for anything.

If there’s one lesson I’d love us all to absorb, it would be to shop in places we like, re-learn the link between payment and prestige, and really consider what we value. ‘Bang for your buck’ pales into insignificance against the human cost of forsaking our independent shops in favour of sterile megastores. There must be a rebirth after the fall, and it is still within our power to determine quite what sort of phoenix will rise.