Saturday, September 23, 2006

songs for life

One of the advantages of being 37 over, say, 24 is that I am the right age to have see The Smiths live. When I tell a fellow smiths fan that i saw them six times it is normally met with a deep heartfelt sigh. I dont like engendering regret in others, not after i have devoted all that time reading self help books on how to banish it from my own life (time i sometimes think could have been better spent.....)

Now i have an answer: If you loved the smiths and never saw them live, then go and see the Smyths. They do the songs justice. What more can we ask?

It is like when you support a big football team that all of a sudden goes bust.
A new team starts up, adapting the name slightly, in a much lower league. The devotees turn up, the spirit is the same, you can get much closer to the pitch and you can speak to the players after the game.

They played at the The Grey horse in kingston which is just down the road from us. Some fans of theirs had come from Edgware, another from Epping (I didnt envy their journeys back across town).

I was paranoid that we would be locked out from the surge of smiths fans descending to see them (as far as i know mozzer and the boys never came this way). So we got there at half eight. Tania and lynn got fed up standing around waiting and watching the new order tribute (who weren't bad) so they went off to see Tom do his stuff at the Willoughby, where they could sit down in comfort. I'd waited ninteteen years, ten months and twenty seven days to hear these songs performed live, another hour wasn't going to make any difference.

While i was waiting for them to come on i met natalie and lee who said the first song they danced to at their wedding was a smiths song (There is a light). Apparently the other guests had stood around a bit bemused. They run the Old Kings Head in hampton wick. They have tribute bands on at their pub too, they will have a tribute band to the Clash on soon (the Trash)

The Smyths came on and they started off with a barrage of songs from Hatful of Hollow which is the heart and soul of the The Smiths canon. Hand in glove, What difference does it make?. Singer says ''i think some of you might know this song': This charming man: everyone goes bolly.(What is bolly short for? I hope its nothing offensive).

They had flowers at the front, Natalie sniffed at them 'there not gladioli, I made my mum get gladioli for our wedding'. Oh what the hell. They were on the front of the stage, we passed them to each other, waved them around, danced with them, threw them over our shoulders. All of us at the front danced to every song, sang ever word, ended up arm in arm swaying to There is a light and then going bolly again to Big mouth strikes again. A great night.

Friday, September 22, 2006

If only

I've told my colleagues that I am going to see the The Smyths tonight (it sounded more impressive than it reads).

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Tania got the personal development books that I've accumulated over the years, and put them together in one shelf, asking jokingly 'what does this say about you James?'

I like the way personal development books talk to me. You are human they say, you are uniquely valuable, it has taken the universe billions of years to create you, your body contains elements forged in the furnaces of distant and long gone stars, you are a part of the universe looking out at the universe, your ancestors, whovever they were, have survived and sometimes prospered in many different landscapes and circumstances. So long as you are striving towards your dreams you are not a failure. The universe that made you is on your side.

Recently I read 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius' by Dave Eggers. It is not a personal development book. It is Dave Eggers writing his autobiograhy, but writing it as though it was a novel. It relates how both his parents died within a month of each other when Eggers was 21, leaving him with his kid brother (Toph, aged 7) to bring up.

His response to the cloying gravity of the double tragedy was to sell the suburban Chicago house and rocket off with Toph to sunny San Francisco. He describes bringing Toph up, how he read him John Hersey's 'Hiroshima' as his bed time story, how they evaluated flats to live in by how long an area of hall way they had for sliding along on their socks, how Eggers hoped to strike lucky with single mums at parents evenings at Toph's school.

He reaplays the thoughts that streamed through his heads at the momentous moments like when his mums nose wouldn't stop bleeding in the advanced stages of her cancer or when he is scattering her ashes into a local lake. His thoughts try to match the gravity of the situation but keep getting pulled back to prosaic matters like whether or not to switch the telly off or whether his feet are going to slip into the lake.

At the unmomentous moments his thoughts get pulled in the other direction. He is on the beech playing frisbee with Toph. Toph has perfected some show off moves, like lying on his tummy just as the frisbee is coming down and then jumping up and catching it. Eggers proudly describing how dumb these moves are, and the writing/thoughts flick from the frisbee throwing to the last breaths of his mother and back again.

Eggers expresses the same thoughts as the personal development books, but harshly, with the gloves off.

A TV company employee interviewed him after he applied to appear on her reality TV programme. She questioned whether he was an exhibitionist, willing to live in a televised house for two months, talking on tv about the tragedy of his family. Eggers replied:

''Someone wants to celebrate their existence and you call it exhibitionism. Its niggardly. If you don't want anyone to know about your existence you might as well kill yourself, your taking up space, air.''

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Festive logic

Last December Andrew (then aged 6) was round at Tania's mums house.

He was misbehaving.

The following exchange took place:

Gran (annoyed): "stop that, or I'll get the elves and the fairies to tell santa not to bring you what you want for christmas"

Andrew (puzzled): "but how could they grandma? I don't know what I want for christmas."

Friday, September 01, 2006

Is the universe telling us where to go?

Whilst on holiday in the Isle of Wight this Easter we went to Tescos, and could not find any local produce in the store. It was almost identical to Tescos in New Malden (which, fortunately, does not stock local produce either: my father in law's allotment couldn't cope). Inside Tescos the differences between an agricultural island and a concrete south west london suburb are flattened.

Globalisation offers a total disregard for where we are on earth and cuts all connections with place and with history. Is this subliminaly preparing us to make the break with earth? Preparing us for a day when humanity packs its Tesco bags with a few momentoes of our birth planet and takes itself off to a different home somewhere else in the solar system or the galaxy?

John Gray doesn't think we will ever get off the planet. He does not believe that we inexorably make progress towards higher and better knowledge. In Straw Dogs: thoughts on humans and other animals he tells us technology is not something that human beings control. Human beings will never be able to use their knowledge and technology to become master of their fate.

Human beings bring technology into the world, but once it is in the world it becomes another thing we interact with. And our interactions with it are shaped by the same power sruggles, economic forces, big business interests, organised crime interests, emotions and desires as is human interaction with anything else.

Gray talks about the folly of those plants set up to freeze people until such time as the technology comes along to bring humans back to life and to extend human life. The freezing plants will fall victim to economic collapse, revolution or war long before the life restoring/extending technology comes on stream.

Gray believes that the surge in human population is unsustainable for the earth's ecostystem. Human beings will live for a time in a distorted envrionment, geared to sustaining the unstustainable as long as possible, with less and less animal and plant species keeping us company. The rise in human numbers will start to plateau off, and then reverse as a result of war,disease, resource scarcity and/or climate change. The progress in knowledge and technology will become a double edged sword as weapons of mass destruction become more easily replicable. Wars of resources (for water, for oil, for land) become more virulent as the resources become scarcer.

His message is not entirely pessimistic. Human beings are not stronger than the earth's ecostystem and whatever we do we will not be able to destroy life on earth. The earth will survive us, and then forget about us. The growth of human numbers is a plague that earth will deal with and climate change may just be the method that the earth will use to shrug off its human burden.

Gray's work has helped me come up with an answer to that rather tricky question:

If there are is intelligent life on other planets near other stars, why haven't they come and found us on earth?

Maybe those life-forms that have survived long enough to contemplate space travel have lived in balance with their eco-system and not felt the need to indulge in any inter-stellar tourism or colonialism.

On earth those parts of the human race that have lived in balance with the environment have tended to be wiped out by more rapacious colonists who have developed powerful weapons to support their aggressive inclinations. So how could the universe ptotect planets with diverse and sustainable eco-systems from attack by an aggressive species who have used their own eco-system as a springboard to conquer others?

The best way for the universe to protect sustainable eco-systems would be to get the home planet of the aggressive species to reject them before they developed the power to pollute other parts of the universe.