Saturday, 20 December 2008

There is a boy who never goes out

Listening to: Jenny Lewis - Rabbit Fur Coat

Dialect word of the day: Foosty (Damp, dank)

The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that my blogging has been far more frequent in recent days. Rest assured my life has not suddenly become radically more vivid and interesting, it is solely due to Jess being away and in order to stave off the boredom, I will probably spend the next few days recording my humdrum existence and passing thoughts in excruciating detail, so apologies in advance. For the next week think of me as a low rent Charles Pooter for the generation.

I actually ventured outside the flat for the first time in three days today and sauntered into town, it struck me how very attached I have become to Leith and the east end of Edinburgh (I still haven't worked out where one starts and the other stops) and what a wonderful place it is to live, the fact I can see the Salisbury Crags looming over my street never fails to take my breath away. I love the way the street thrums with life when Hibs are at home, I love the tenements and their air of benign neglect, I love the fact you're surrounded by a rich cultural history, but a history that doesn't appear in guidebooks, but reveals itself to you gradually.

I recently learned that as a young man beset with philosophical doubts and unsure how to make his way in the world, the essayist Thomas Carlyle underwent an epiphany, on Leith Walk, (of all places!) Such experiences are unverifiable and I am deeply sceptical about such 'conversions' but whatever happened profoundly shaped Carlyle's entire life and worldview. Whilst I lack the intellect to fully understand, let alone articulate what occurred to him, I find it fascinating that something so powerful and significant happened so close to where I live and in such an unlikely location.

Whilst I have probably gone of on a tangent a bit, the thrust of what I'm saying is that I can't imagine ever wanting to live anywhere else and I'm slowly starting to gain a sense of purpose and belonging which I have lacked for most of my adult life. Whilst I generally have a good memory for dates and places, the half decade that has passed since leaving University seems to have drifted by in one long mope, beset by indifference, rootlessness uncertainty, and brief periods of self pity. This may be a false dawn; so far my renewed sense of vigor has extended to ironing a few shirts and putting some Domestos down the lavvy, but to be happy with one's surrounding is probably a good sign. You never know one of these days I may even lower myself to do something as vulgar as to have a good time!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Winterval wonderland

Listening to: Herman Dune - Giant

Dialect word of the day: Swedge (a fight or brawl)

How does one measure when Christmas period starts? The first day Advent? December 1st? or maybe the week immediately proceeding the big day? I prefer a more unconventional temporal marker, albeit every bit as regular and reliable as the ones above. For the past decade or so, I have considered it to be Christmas from the the moment I'm informed by a right-wing pillock, normally apalectic with rage that, this year "Birmingham City Council has banned Christmas." They usually cite the Daily Mail or the Sun as the source of this nugget and that it's an attempt of "loony left councillors going out of the way to avoid offending minorities" and/or "Political Correctness gone mad."

Problem is, there is not a shred of truth in the claim. What annoys me most, is the sheer gullibility of the people who believe such arrant nonsense (although being utterly spineless I never actually say this to them) All they need to do is think about what they're saying for a second. It is not, in the council's interests or power to 'ban' Christmas. What do these staunch opponents of all things political correct imagine the council are getting up to? Are they raiding branches of HMV looking for contraband copies of Slade CDs? Making road blocks on the A38 to catch those smuggling tinsel into the exclusion zone? Or sending specially trained sniffer dogs door to door to detect the smell of Mince Pies or Turkey?

Amazingly not.... those loony lefties at the council have suppressed official recognition of Christmas in Birmingham to such a degree , that every year they've put up a tree, an array of Christmas decorations, including a huge illuminated sign across Corporation Street that reads 'Happy Christmas Birmingham' in 15ft high letters! This pap about Birmingham banning Christmas comes from a marketing campaign the Council employed about 10 years ago, to get more shoppers into the refurbished city centre shops for a greater period of the year, and promote a range of secular and non-secular events throughout the Winter, including Winter solstice, Bonfire Night, Children in Need, Ice Skating, Carol concerts, New Year, Diwali and at the very heart of it all...Christmas itself. They hit upon the term 'Winterval' to market these diverse events to shoppers, the term Winterval was never used to replace Christmas and all the Winterval literature makes copious reference to Christmas. Don't believe me? Well here's the long defunct Winterval website, count up all those C-words!

This rather mundane truth hasn't stop lazy journos regularly trotting out "Birmingham bans Christmas" stories or their gullible readership, desperate for evidence of 'political correctness gone mad' or reverse discrimination ( however fictitious) lapping it up like sick puppies. What is doubly depressing is the way that the Church Of England have jumped onto the Birmingham bashing bandwagon, either out of ignorance or a cynical bid to curry favour with the baying mob.

It is an ideal story for reinforcing a whole set of deeply ingrained prejudices about council officials, minorities and the left in general. I am deeply suspicious of those jourmalists, (and yes I mean you Richard Littlejohn) who revel in being 'politically incorrect.' I suspect it is often just a way of legitimating their racist, homophobic or sexist attitudes, and celebrating the 'good' old days when you could slap the secretary's arse, call Indian waiters 'Gunga Din' or drive home after 10 pints "without the PC brigade jumping on your back."

Breathe easy chums, my lefty rant is over and Christmas is now officially upon us; eat drink and be merry (and that includes folks in Birmingham)

Monday, 15 December 2008

The caped crusader

Listening to: Alasdair Roberts -The crook of my arm

Dialect word of the day: Broo (Dole/unemployment benefit)

I sit writing this whilst enjoying a highly unsatisfactory foot spa. The bubble function appears to have bitten the dust on the journey up to Scotland. A whole fiver that foot spa cost, I've a good mind to write to Anne Robinson on Watchdog or something.

The reason for my podiatry discomfort? Firstly I have always been a martyr to my feet, secondly I favour wildly impractical Chelsea boots and thirdly I have started my weekend job at Holyroodhouse and I'm on my feet for about 7 hours a day. Despite battered and bruised tootsies an slight unease about whether I am compromising my anti-monarchist stance, I find the whole work shabang rather pleasant, my hunger for arcane trivia is more than sated and I get to get dressed up in the most astonishing garb. This consists of Tartan trousers, a Glengarry hat and the best of all a cape with lovely shiny buttons. I love swishing around the Palace in the cape feeling quite the dandy. I am tempted to see if I can persuade Jess to knock up a cape for casual wear, maybe in a discrete tweed. I'm sure my fellow Leithers will be delighted to see me cutting a sartorial dash through the grey winter streets.

The Glengarry is another matter altogether, very few people can wear one of these with elan and I am certainly not one of them. The most straightforward and inoffensive of hats can make me look a bit gormless, but the Glengarry makes me look an utter simpleton, especially combined with my glasses and luxuriant sideburns.

Hopefully my feet will have recovered sufficiently to transport me around the German Market. Jess is ludicrously excited by the amount of pork based foodstuffs she can consume in a single evening. I am actually quite excited, the first time Jess visited me in Leeds, we went to the German market and it seemed a magical experience, both of us drunk on love and a range of quality German lagers. These are now a staple of British city centres at Christmas time and the stalls all seem to be run by your actual German market traders. It makes you wonder who actually runs the stalls back in Germany, given the vast majority seem to be over here. Perhaps there is a market trader exchange scheme in operation. Whilst we peruse handcrafted wooden ornaments, elaborate nativity displays and specialty beers and wines, the good people of Frankfurt or Munich hurry down to the traditional yuletide 'British market' to stock up on pirate DVDs, counterfeit sportswear and condemned meat sold from the back of a lorry.

Tonight will be slightly bittersweet, given that itll be our last evening together for quite a while, Jessis off to see her mum for a pre-Christmas visit. I shall be left in the flat alone and who knows what chaos will ensue, given my inability to cope with the most mundane pracicalities of life.

I shall keep you posted....

Monday, 1 December 2008

You've been Slade

MixwitMixwit make a mixtapeMixwit mixtapes

Christmas is nearly upon us and I'm trying to cobble together a decent Christmas compilation (If that's not an oxymoron) . I've got to 12 tracks so far, So further suggestions are most welcome. So far I've snared the obvious candidates, yer Low and yer Phil Spector efforts, so you've got your work cut out, if you decide to take up the cudgel.

You never seem to hear the Glitter Band's Another Rock and Roll Christmas these days. I wonder why on earth that could be?

Sunday, 30 November 2008

The Science of Sleep

Listening to: El Pero Del Mar - El Pero Del Mar

Dialect Word of the day: Outwith (outside of)

I woke this morning unable to move my limbs.

My sleep addled mind instantly lept to the most logical conclusion: I'd had an horrific stroke and was incapable of movement below the neck. I sighed, accepted the cruel fate that had befallen me and drifted back into a blissful sleep. Given that I can spend all night worrying about the minutiae of my humdrum life, I think it's fair to say that I displayed hitherto unknown depths of stoicism.

When I awoke properly, some hours later I found that before leaving for work, Jess had lovingly tucked the quilt around me, but had done it with such vigor that I was swaddled like a big gormless Baby Jesus.

Having escaped from the jaws of lifelong paralysis, I decided to make the most of the day, finish the application for the Masters degree, clean the flat, do the recycling, cook something nice for tea and generally behave like a productive human being. Somehow my good intentions got blunted by a combination of the cold, apathy and the fact that the Archers omnibus was on the radio.

I really should loathe the Archers with a passion and spent many years doing exactly that. I used to spend all Sunday lunchtimes praying for a mass outbreak of BSE to hit Ambridge or for a communist coup to collectivise Brookfield farm, anything that would have seen the wretched show taken off the air. The Archers seems to exist in an alternative universe, the fictional county of Borsetshire is unaltered since feudal times, with the whole village being run in the interests of the insufferably smug Archer family. The working class characters, almost all forelock tugging yokel types, seem to exist only for casual labour and comic relief. However when I moved out of my parents' house, teatimes seemed strangely incomplete without it and the tyrannical silence my mother used to enforce from 7:03 to 7:14pm. I will try and keep all mention of The Archers to an absolute minimum, but they may well feature heavily in future blog entries.

After that I'm not quite sure what happened to the rest of the day. I cannot recall a single thing that happened until Jess came home, somewhat peeved to find me still in my dressing gown and the flat looking like a dosshouse. I tried to explain, to her that unemployment, robs the day of any purpose structure or meaning, so what she sees as hours of uninterrupted leisure is a sprawling mass of dead time. I know my degree in Sociology isn't worth much, but being able to trot out this sort of pseudo-academic psycho-babble, can come in useful. It certainly sounds a hell of a lot better than "I'm a shiftless, work shy, skiver."

Friday, 21 November 2008

Life, love and leaving

Listening to: Gram Parsons anthology

Dialect word of the day: Swally (alcoholic drink)

A fairly pleasant day today, one that makes me wish I'd spent my time 'inflation reducing' more productively and also makes me vaguely threatened by the prospect of starting work. I met Jess and her sister in Monster Mash before wandering over to the Library and spending the afternoon and much of the evening reading late Victorian newspaper articles. I feel I may have been over-immersed myself in Ripper research of late, upon leaving the library today I addressed a fellow reader as 'guv'nor' in a appalling Dick Van Dyke-esque accent. I was mildly surprised I didn't preface the remark with 'Cor Blimey' or 'Stone the bleedin crows.'

This week I've also found time to visit Carlton Hill, albeit in slightly unusual circumstances. After two and a bit years together, me and Jess decided that last Sunday would be an excellent time for our first row. We achieved this with consummate ease and in a fit of pique I flounced out of the flat. Being a rank amateur at the rowing and flouncing lark I soon realised that I had made a crucial error I had nowhere to flounce off too, not knowing anyone in Edinburgh well enough to inflict a few hours of low level pseudo-angst on them. So I was left standing on Easter Road feeling a bit pathetic. I soon realised that:

1. In the middle of a Scottish winter it is probably not a good idea to storm outside without first donning a scarf

2. or a hat

3. or gloves.

4. or money so you can sulk in a pub or cafe.

So despite these privations, I stuck it out and wandered off to Carlton Hill for a bit of a mooch and mope. Despite my black mood, I couldn't help but be overawed by the view from the top of the hill and the bleak beauty of the monuments, especially the half completed National Monument. It was an attempt to build a replica of the Parthenon in honour of the Scottish troops who'd died in the Napoleonic Wars even though they ran out of money after only 12 columns it's still a hugely imposing spectacle and I rather like it for being such an epic failure.

Having stuck it out for an hour and a half I rather pompously decided that I'd probably made my point and deigned returned to the flat, to find that Jess had fallen asleep and had no idea I'd even left the lounge ! Thankfully this took the wind out of my sales and We both found the whole scenario utterly absurd and had a good chortle about it. Especially when she revealed that Carlton Hill was a well known dogging hotspot.

Although can one go dogging on foot? Now there's a question to ponder!

Sunday, 2 November 2008

The morning after the night before

Listening to: Jens Lekman Oh you're so silent Jens

Dialect word of the day: Jag (Injection)

The weather is starting to become wintry and given my scrooge like tendencies, I have begrudgingly switched the heating on. For once my fiscal self restraint is probably warranted, two months on the dole is really starting to bite.

Talking of the dole, my bi-monthly appointment with the good folk at High Riggs Job Centre, was marginally more awful than usual. My regular signing man was absent, which is a pity as for a dole office clerk he possesses uncommon amounts of humanity and intelligence (Christ knows how he slipped through the net, perhaps he has been sent on an intensive DSS course to systematically purge him of every trace of civility.) His replacement was every bit the archetype of the dole office drone, brusque to the point of rudeness, utterly lacking in imagination and a slavish devotion to a seemingly endless list of arcane rules and regulations. Well only a few more weeks and I'll be able to kiss them goodbye (fingers crossed!)

The rest of the afternoon was spent more pleasantly in the library, doing a bit of reading on the ol' Ripper murders. I'm beginning to get some more focused ideas for a dissertation topic, looking at the hoax letters received by the press and how by writing these, the public became actors actively shaping the course of events. I begin to worry that my reading matter on such occasions makes the library assistants think I'm some sort of weirdo, borrowing book after book on Jack the Ripper; I am increasingly convinced they have me down as a Fred West waiting to happen. This worries me to such a degree that I have been trying (and largely failing) to engage them in light hearted banter, in a futile attempt them I am actually a well adjusted human being and I won't be waiting for them outside wearing a leather mask and weilding a chainsaw.

The Halloween party at Leith ex-servicemen's club was pretty cool, the building is located in a surprisingly spiffy street of Georgian Terraces although the interior was pure 70s and fabulously cheap. I had been somewhat nervous walking down Leith Walk in my Rod Stewart costume, but with my leopardskin leggings and bleach blond feather cut wig I was an absolute dead ringer for a Leith Prostitute and escaped unmolested. I think the locals appreciated my efforts to pay homage to one of their heroes and I managed to win one of the awards for best costume, which pleased and embarrassed me in equal measure. I felt a bit sorry for Jess as she had gone to a great deal more effort with her Dusty costume. Whilst the drink flowed relatively freely, there wasn't much action on the dancefloor., I did have a a half hearted go at dancing at the end, but my leggings were chaffing a bit, who knew Rod suffered so much for his art?

In amongst the booze and general merriment was the world's longest raffle which, I kid you not, lasted for nearly 45 minutes. There was such a wide selection of prizes that literally everyone in the room won at least once. I managed to scoop a set of bath soaps (which will do as a Christmas present for my Gran and a meal for two at a hotel in the Grassmarket, which should see Valentine's day taken care of.

Tightfisted? Moi?

Monday, 27 October 2008

That was the week that was

Listening to: Bandwagonesque Teenage Fanclub
Dialect word: Weejie (someone from Glasgow)

Finally! Work!

Well at least the prospect of it, an end to my enforced idleness is nigh! An interview with Social Services on Wednesday and I got offered a job in their Youth Justice team. This was something of a surprise to me as I didn't think I'd done particularly well in the interview, and came across as a bit of a know-all. However they looked fairly impressed when they found out I could complete an ASSET and I guess that probably swung it. The post is only for six months and they needed someone who at least knew their way around.

After the phone call on Thursday, which I fully anticipated to be of the 'thanks but no thanks' variety, I was pretty euphoric and took Jess out for a meal at Tex Mex and very good it was too. To cap a very decent day, John Betjeman's Metro-Land documentary, was on BBC Four and given that it contained Architecture, Underground trains, Social commentary and John Betjaman himself being all charming, it couldn't fail to delight me.

My views on the suburbs have scarcely changed since I was a teenager; their mediocrity and characterlessness bore me to tears a juvenile and patronising attitude I have been unable to shift. Betjamen is more nuanced and ambivalent than me , whilst he pithily comments on the gnomes and car washing denizens of Neasden, and the Croxley revels that "date back to 1952" Metro-land also looks at the idealism and aspirations of those who after the carnage of the First World War desired a rural idyll within easy commuting distance from London and how that informed the deeply conservative, faux rustic Tudorbethan style semis that sprung up in a ribbon pattern along the line. The sheer popularity of this vision combined with comparatively low interest rates, during the 30s effectively killed the vision and led to the anonymous, identikit suburbs that litter outer London.

However if you take a trip on the Metropolitan Line, what is utterly striking is how brave and futuristic the tube buildings are. Eastcote is a cracking exapmple. Designed by Charles Holden, at roughly the same time, they look clean, simple and bright, whilst the suburban semis around them look fussy and chintzy.

Jess was off work this weekend and we went shopping for fancy dress costumes for the Hallow e'en party in Leith, sadly no Robin Hood outfits to be had at short notice and we had to innovate. She opted for Dusty Springfield and got a super maxi dress in the Grassmarket and I've gone for Rod Stewart circa 'Do ya think I'm sexy' I believe that Rod is the patron saint of Scotland and I hope the locals will appreciate my homage to the great man. I was also pleasantly surprised by the ease with which I obtained a pair of l leopardskin leggings for the occasion. My delight at securing the said items almost outweighed the humiliation of standing in the queue in BHS grasping a pair of leopardskin trousers intended for a 15 year old girl.

Almost but not quite......

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Opening salvo

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome!

Listening to: Vampire Weekend
Dialect word of the day: Piece (Sandwich)

I moved to Edinburgh from a tedious London suburb (or Orbitaland as I pretentiously labelled it) with my girlfriend and am attempting to establish a life in Edinburgh. This is pretty daunting thing to do, especially as you get older and tend to establish social ties in a particular place. Much as I disliked London, there were a number of friends a tube ride away.

That said, Edinburgh is quite lovely and the flat is in a quite nice Victorian tenement block. (Well it was until someone set fire to it ) I stumbled across David Hume's tomb at the top of our road and managed to walk unscathed through a Leith housing scheme wearing a cravat.

I think that I will quite like living in Scotland, any country that celebrates its' national poet with such vigor is alright by me. I still haven't got over the novelty of Scottish notes and Tartans. However such talk does tend to get me in trouble with my girlfriend, who understandably gets narked when I act like the tourist I probably still am.

However certain things still puzzle me, notably the Scottish cuisine. Everything and I mean everything appears to be deep fried! The chip shop across the street appears to exist as a v-sign to the health minister, it sells booze, fags, sweets and fizzy pop as well as deep frying their Pizzas. The orange Cheddar is also taking some getting used to; cheese plays a big role in my life.

The diet hasn't done me in yet, although a car had a bloody good go back in September. I bounced off the windscreen at about 30 mph, although I had the good sense to get myself run over outside a Doctor's surgery and was still wearing my bike helmet. Even so, I got carted off to hospital and they were amazed I hadn't broken anything. I put this down to my languid, limp wristed demeanour .

Anyway that's enough for starters, more later!