No Sun Please, We’re British

And so it begins! This past week, summer has finally arrived on the fair Isles of Britannia . After a particularly shite spring that was all blustery showers, greyness and misery, the sun now shineth like never before. Well, actually, it shines the same way it does every year, but we tend to forget. No nation seems to have the propensity for meteorological absentmindedness quite like the British. Each winter we are without fail brought to a halt by a winter snowstorm that other nations would consider a light flurry. And every year we fill endless newspaper columns with talk of “Caribbean” temperatures – highest since records began! I do like this turn of phrase. It seems to imply that records have both some kind of sentience, and an historical lethargy that they one day decided to overcome for our benefit. (I really do read too much into grammatical nuance sometimes…)

We are renowned worldwide for our love of the weather. Which, as Bill Bryson once noted, is so very bizarre for a nation that “Really doesn’t get much weather at all.” He refers of course to the fact that our winters are mostly mild, our summers hardly ever hot, and the seasons in-between are exactly that. Hurricanes that destroy livelihoods are a generational occurrence, not an annual fear. Snowfall never disconnects communities for days on end. And no part of Britain has ever been levelled by a monster tornado. Although, a interesting and little known fact: Britain has on average more tornadoes per square foot each year than any country on earth. Pissy, pathetic wisps of tornados they may be, but this suits me just fine.

In her wonderful book “Watching the English”, anthropologist Kate Fox dissects our interest in the weather in an interesting way. Discussion of the weather is a very British thing because we are so uniformly awful at sparking conversation with strangers and casual acquaintances. “Weather Speak” as she puts it serves as a perfect icebreaker. Everyone is versed in the weather of the day, and considering our weather is rather changeable, there is always something to discuss.

Which leads me to one of my bugbears. One that I am sure many share. We Brits, well some of us at least, are so very complacent about the weather. When it rains it is “typical”. Snow is a nuisance. And yet when the sun comes out and temperatures soar, many, oh so bloody many people complain it is “too hot” or “the wrong kind of heat”. No, just no.

It appears that there exists an optimum, impossible British summer day. A warm but non-offensive 19.5 degrees, partly cloudy, but whose clouds dare never actually occlude the sun, with a gentle breeze that is neither cooling nor warming, simply refreshing on the skin. Any deviation from this mythical Jane Austin picnic weather and the bitching shall commence, increasing in direct proportion to the differentials thereof.

Yes, we are ill equipped for certain inclement weather. Due to the relative infrequency of heavy snowfall we don’t have an army of snowploughs to hand. This is a risk assessment issue, where it has clearly been deemed more expensive to maintain such a fleet than to simply have the odd day with roads somewhat out of commission. But on a smaller scale, we are embarrassing in ways that are easily rectified. We are terrible at dressing for the occasion. Summer demands light clothing and sunglasses, and summer suits are completely acceptable in other nations. And winter means layers, wools, hats and gloves. Yet many commuters have a one-suit-suits-all mentality which baffles.

So to all this I say poppycock! During cold winter days, enjoy the good things tied to such a season. Wrapping up warm. The hot coffee that lightens the day. The warm fire come evening time. And when it is hot, bask! And for everything in-between, be grateful. Our weather is dull and middling, but our temperate climate serves us so very well. It is perfect for mixed agriculture and wildlife. It is what makes England green. It also implores productivity in the workforce. When days are neither too cold to travel, nor too hot to be bothered, we work harder and get more done.

As a final thought, the mandatory music related comment. The psychology eludes me beyond the obvious, but music really does sound different in the summer. Perhaps it is a simple mood issue. A sunny day breeds a sunny disposition, ergo our favourite iPod playlists make us beam even more than usual. Perhaps the method of consumption changes. Headphones at the park, or a car stereo turned up loud with the windows wide open are both very different listening environments compared to winter’s home hi-fi setup with a cup of hot chocolate.

In the summer I search out songs that open up, broad and wide. Electronic styles flourish with their euphoric perfection, folk music sounds more ethereal and rock music organises its very own festival in my head. Winter is a time for introvertism and closeness, songs that hug and caress. However it must be said that the best music can work for both, reflecting and enhancing our mood whatever it may be, come rain or shine.

Auteurs and Rodents

Alanis Morissette, after the massive success of “Jagged Little Pill”, was once asked when she wrote her lyrics.

I don’t have the quote to hand. Suffice to say she replied that she couldn’t write about a situation she was still involved with, or one that is too recent and too raw. She was suggesting that only through separation, after the passing of time, can we look back on a life event with the clarity needed to understand it properly and to portray it artistically and succinctly.

She then went on to release “Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie”; an album who’s title alone could have benefitted from an editor.

I jest of course; it was a commercial flop in comparison with Jagged Little Pill, but it does contain some beautiful music, and whilst the lyrics are often psychobabble of the highest order, at least they are more often than not memorable, and sometimes painfully honest.

This “distance” from the subject always intrigued me. Enough so to remember the quote (well, the gist thereof) over a decade later. I suppose whenever we hear an artist sing about a broken heart, a forlorn lover, a loss of a friend, or hell, even something positive (I hear it has been done!) we imagine the writer writhing with the subject matter at hand. Vocal performance in popular music demands a display of emotion to put across these lyrics, framing the situation at hand. Emotional impact is indeed often lauded above pitching and technical prowess in pop music. To listen is to believe…

Even if the writer is bitching about a break up from 5 years ago.

Even if the singer didn’t write the song which they are singing, which was written about someone else’s break up 5 years ago.

Even if the singer is covering a song, originally sung by an artist who didn’t write the song, which was actually written about a pet gerbil called Frederick.

And so on and so forth. Until we have so many disconnects that we are left with some nice words that likely mean more to the listener than they ever did to the performer. This is itself is an interesting discussion point. Art exists in the hearts and minds of the consumer. It can and it should mean a hundred different things to a hundred different people. But this is a thought for another day.

Back to singer-songwriters. The lack of distance from conception to performance is why, I am quite sure, the singer-songwriter will forever have a place in popular music. There will always be a mass of people that want to be presented with artistry, rather than conglomerated pseudo-feelings aimed at a certain demographic, touting this year’s sound, wearing this year’s couture.

I don’t care whether a song was written 5 minutes or 5 years after the break up. That particular distance makes no odds to me. But knowing that the singer themselves went through this pain, felt this particular heartbreak, makes it all the more enjoyable. As wrong as that may sound, nowadays more than ever we need something real once in a while. The 60s auteur movement was a stupendous one, freeing anyone with an instrument and a voice to share with the world their own opinion, their own experiences and their own feelings. I don’t think my generation can ever fully understand the impact this had on music and music fans at the time. But I feel it should be defended and cherished.

But then I would say that wouldn’t I? Anyway, I’m off to write a song about a hamster…

Songs for Flower Pot Men

So, Blogging. Let’s give this a shot!

Most are the rules are unknown to me, so I will learn as I go, absorbing and discarding accordingly. If a deluge of #hashtags and cyberlinking are the norm, I will choose to be the odd. If language is usually shortened, neutered or otherwise massacred for the coffee break masses, I’ll sit in the corner and wax lyrical regardless.

So, Blogging. Why give this a shot?

I seem to be reeling recently. Mind on overdrive, wide awake yet struggling to find particular use from it. Perhaps a point of focus is needed. I am due to start writing more lyrics as soon as possible. My melody writing is sailing ahead of me on a sea of la’s, bah’s and fa’s, with nary a lyrical touchstone in sight. Save writing my next album for Bill and Ben, I think I should find some subject matter. And why not try this, an online diary of general shit from my day to day life? Can’t hurt surely?!

And the usual of course; sharing my daily doings and interests with those to whom it may appeal…

Standing on the platform waiting for my train at Liverpool Street Tube station, I was busy watching the chap opposite gluing up the new poster, which informed us all to “Take care on The Underground after drinking alcohol”. Being, as I was, perfectly sober, I dutifully threw caution to the wind and decided to practise my  balancing skills on the train tracks – eyes firmly shut, singing at some volume to the nearby busker and his chirpy accordion version of “Let it Be”.

Or at least I did in my head. Which of course made me chuckle out loud.

Nearby faces looked on concerned. I have been doing this a lot today. I blame Bill Bryson for the most part, having been on a recent reading kick of his older books. At least when a book is in hand, people can explain away solitary laughter. They struggle however when I am simply referencing back in my head to a funny anecdote that rings true of a sudden while wandering the street – or, heaven forbid, creating one of my own in imagination land!

Regardless, I was happy and smiling. Twas a good day.

So happy in fact that for once, instead of riling me, I could observe and get to thinking about the single most annoying aspect of public transport: The train chav.

(For those unaware of the term British term “Chav”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chav, or other Google sources)

Firstly, and apologies, the rant. Yes, they are everywhere. But only on a train carriage are we stuck in such close proximity to their tinny mobile phone speakers, cheap aftershave and needlessly loud verbal vomit. In a car we are sheltered and are only a gear change and a few revs away from reducing their population (…imagination land again…). On the high street we flit between them and can choose our venues carefully enough to avoid lengthy exposure.  But on a train carriage, only noise isolating headphones can save us!

I focused for once on the conversations. It is not difficult at a volume which all but demands we listen anyhow! Not the language as such, although naturally I am not a fan. But primarily the fact the everything, everything, is expressed as grand statement demanding attention.

They don’t simply watch and discuss TV shows. They cry out at heavenly deities about the unbelievable sights they have seen, then dilute any fear of actually cementing an opinion by employing the mandatory rhetorical question to finish.

(Or, put in context – “OH MY GOD, did you SEE Eastenders last night?!?! It was A-maz-ing, wen’it!?”)

Yes. This is a huge matter of with foundations in education, and social and economic issues. Most of which I am hugely unqualified to understand or comment upon, of this I am fully aware. But, for what it is worth, what struck me most listening to these kids was that their views on achievement seem so madly skewed from mine, and it really made me think.

I have been charged as an overachiever and I take no shame in this, always aiming higher. As such I am likely misplaced to understand these kids. But to them, spreading gossip, watching a TV show someone may have missed, getting the new Adidas trainers before their mates, etc, etc, actually count as achievements worth yelling out in public. And they mean it too. It is a little saddening to me but perhaps I am missing something. Perhaps the little wins give them great satisfaction? I like to think everyone wants to achieve in life, perhaps we all put the goalposts in very different places?

Regardless, surely the entire train carriage need not hear of them. Grumble Grumble.

This may have been obvious to many of you, in which case sorry for catching on so late. Unfortunately it only makes me more concerned about the causes, certain things I already loathe about modern culture. Television shows and magazines which promote and idolise talentless celebrities only further the idea that meaningful addition to society is no longer something to celebrate or even aim for, when a fake tan, a vacant stare and a moronic catchphrase seems to net a far greater audience.

This makes me less happy. I started off so well on blog post #1. So it’s back to the reading for me. A few more hours spent with Mr Bryson and I’ll be back on the high again!