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Posted on Feb 6th, 2009
Snow Day, Books, Reviews


(Soundtrack: Kent Soul Collection – “A Soldier’s Sad Story”, Nina Simone “It Is Finished”)
Rain is falling as I write this. The heavy snow which fell on Monday is now reduced to icy patches, which I suspect will be gone by the end of the day. The snowfall was a total one-off. In all the years I have lived in London I have never seen a proper fall of several inches, just the odd flurry which quickly disappears and doesn’t lay. We had a good four inches worth and the city came to a standstill. No buses were running and most of the tubes were down, so the majority of people stayed at home. It became like a public holiday, with a kind of carnival atmosphere. We got up early and walked up to Wormwood Scrubs Park; perfect virginal thick white snow everywhere (see photo). We saw about thirty bright green parrots perched huddled together at the top of some trees. Dogs out walking were dancing round looking confused and delighted – the first time they had seen snow. In fact it was the first time for many Londoners. We went to Ravenscourt Park in the afternoon and people were going a bit crazy, building crowds of snowmen and pelting each other with snowballs. With all the gloom about recession recently, it seemed like a release and a welcome break from reality. I do not think I will see snow like that again in London. Monday seems to have become known as “Snow Day”.
Last night we rehearsed for the first Shirley Lee gig, which is next week with The Bitter Springs at The Wilmington Arms in Clerkenwell. Given that this is a completely new set for us, the songs are currently still finding their place as live versions. So I am a bit nervous about the gig, as more work really needs to be done on them. On the other hand, it is probably right that they are not quite nailed yet, as that will happen during the course of doing some gigs. We are planning on playing most of the album, plus a new song and a track I have written with Andy Lewis for his forthcoming album, and a (less obvious) version of a Spearmint tune. Spirits were good and there were some lovely moments during the session. One more practise next Tuesday, then the gig on Saturday. Fingers crossed everyone can make Tuesday and we don’t get hit by snow or sickness.
Last week we went to a night called Book Slam at 12 Acklam Road in Portobello, with Bridie’s friend Natasha. This is a venue beneath the Westway motorway, which used to be called Subterranea years ago. I remember our previous band Laverne & Shirley spending a hopeless night celebrating Simon’s birthday where we met in Notting Hill, had a few drinks and then set off for Subterranea, but just could not find it. We kept being given bogus directions from passers-by, and eventually had to call it a night and go home, because we never found it, which was ridiculous. Not long after that we played a gig there – I like the place: it has that Clash / Reggae feel to it, that Notting Hill and Brixton epitomise. Anyway, the Book Slam is a monthly night where four authors read from their work, interspersed with Reggae tunes and live music. Given that it is a club, humourous writing works easier than more serious pices, and all four authors were reading funny sections from their novels. They were all really good – I was particularly taken with “Ten Storey Love Song” by Richard Milward, who read with a cardboard tower block over his head, and looked like the literary equivalent of a new Manc band. Bridie liked “The Bird Room” by Chris Killen. Skinny jeans and trainers is clearly what you wear if you are a young male British author, or at least these four were. Their publishers were there too, and I was struck by how much nicer and more positive the atmosphere seemed compared to people in the music industry. We were watching from the balcony, and while the readings were taking place there was obviously no loud music – unusual in a club setting. We gradually became aware of regular swishing sounds from the ceiling, and then realised that it was the sound of cars speeding across the Westway, just a few feet above our heads.
A couple of weeks ago the Guardian ran a series of supplements featuring their list of the 1000 books that we should all read before we die. I do love lists like this because they are a good way of getting into things that you might otherwise miss, so we collected them all. It is scary when you think about it though – try this: Take the age you expect to live until (be generous)… Subtract your current age from this… Multiply this number by 12… Multiply this figure by the number of books you read per month on average (be honest)… Subtract from this the approximate number of books which you have read before and would like to re-read at some point… The answer you get is the number of new books you are likely to read before you die, going at your current rate. In my case the answer is 718, so I am unlikely to get through those 1000. Sorry – this is the kind of silliness I start fixating on if I am lying awake at night. What I take from this is that I should read more and that I should choose well and not squander one of my 718 on some “classic” which is unreadable, nor on a lazy guilty pleasure… on the other hand, the odd comfortable crime novel is pretty appealing. I am trying to read the some classics in between modern novels. I just finished Tolstoy’s “The Death Of Ivan Ilyich”, which is a really short easy read, and inspired the film “Ivan’ XTC”. It is brilliant, and makes you consider how you are living your life. Last year I did read “Don Quixote”, having heard so much acclaim for it. It was very enjoyable and funny, and truly modern, especially Part Two, in which they are moving through a world where they are celebrities, curtesy of the success of Part One – a bit like David Brent becoming a minor celebrity in that Christmas Special. I shall use the 1000 books list to find a few more that I might enjoy.
I think that lists and reviews are a very positive thing when they encourage you to give something as try. We went to see the American comedy film “Role Models” last week. It got a 5 star review in Time Out, but as it happens it wasn’t really my cup of tea – it was quite watchable, but for me, not as great as, say, Pineapple Express. Nevertheless, it didn’t bother me that it got a rave review – I mean with any of the arts, some people are going to like it and some are not – Tom Huddleston of Time Out clearly loved it and probably turned some like-minded people onto it. In the same issue of Time out the same Tom Huddleston also reviewed “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist”. He gave this film 1 star and was vicious in his condemnation of the movie. Bridie and I went to see it anyway, and we both absolutely loved it! OK, so this just confirms that people’s taste differs. What I do not understand though, is: “What was the point of the 1 star review?” What is the point of writing something really negative things about an artistic venture, getting it printed up, circulated round London and selling it? How is it supposed to help people – by putting them off something that they may have enjoyed?
I am all for the old punk fanzine approach of writing enthusiastically about the music and films that you love, and not writing about the things that you don’t love. Over the years I have been kept away from great records and movies, by letting my defenses down and believing negative reviews… then years later I have come to the album (like, say, Marvin’s “”Here My Dear”) and found that I loved it.
Maybe the critics feel they need to be negative sometimes, to give a balanced view, or they feel that purely enthusing for a living would lack bite, but they waste my time and I shall continue to take no notice of them. Where does this need to critique everything come from anyway? Maybe it is from school and having everything you do handed back to you with red ink comments. Maybe we are brought up to feel that this is the way to respond to other people’s work… maybe the critics are getting their revenge on getting so much red ink when they were younger…
Last week saw the end of our Vegan month. The things we had not been eating certainly tasted good when we have had them this week! The month of abstinence taught me that Vegans are poorly catered for in cafes (who are losing their potential business), that I missed eggs and honey more than expected, that I missed cheese and milk less than expected, and that I have no moral urge to become Vegan (whereas I firmly know that for me it would be wrong to eat meat or fish).
Wow, this CD is brilliant – “A Soldier’s Sad Story” is a collection of Deep Soul tracks, all about the Vietnam War. I highly recommend it, especially “Bring The Boys Home” by Freda Payne and “I Can’t Write Left-Handed” by Bill Withers.
We also went to see Sebastien Tellier play last week. He is French… so French!… and plays that kind of sophisticated Serge Gainsbourg Pop while effecting extreme eccentricity with long rambling monologues about chicken sausage and the like. I think in France there are government guidelines ensuring that a high percentage of radio and TV is populated with French entertainers, rather than British or American imports. It means they have a very dense, very French culture which can seem impenetrable to us Brits. It sometimes feels as though they are the island and we are on the mainland… Anyway, he was fab.

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