Saturday, 18 June 2011

Passing by the Other Side, a Beginner's Guide

Summer's here and with summer comes the chugger (a portmanteau word derived from 'charity' and 'mugger' and one of the best neologisms of the last decade). It is possible your area is not effected by this modern phenomenon in which case you are blesséd indeed. For your information they are young people who approach you in the street on behalf of charity and are remarkably persistent. They're not volunteers and they're not employed by the charity in question. They work for agencies paid for by said charity and they are very irritating. They've spread to the telephone now. Just the other day I had a call from a well known national help and advice charity wanting a direct debit off me. So I am now in the position of being able to say that the Samaritans have called me wanting help.

The flesh and blood ones have calmed down a bit this year, or at least they have in this part of the world. Last summer it was impossible to make your way down Northumberland Street without being pursued by one or more of them. They would even approach you if you were sitting down and deep in conversation and you had to be distinctly rude to them to get them to go away which I dislike doing.

I did however find one foolproof method of getting shot of them. The theory was as follows. I was frequently approached while returning from a shop at the supermarket and at the top of my bag would be a loaf of their cheapest bread. On being approached I would invite the chugger to regard my somewhat scruffy attire, elderly shoes and finally the cheap dry bread and invite them to conclude that I do not have any disposable income to put to their convenience. Abashed and confused, I reckoned, they would fall away sadder but wiser chuggers.

That was the theory.

You see, I'd had a bad day and so when I was approached by an earnest young man my carefully worked out plan collapsed and instead of calmly taking him to task I whipped the loaf out of the bag and waved it at him while saying 'Cheap bread! Cheap bread!' in an urgent voice.

Well, it worked, I'll say that, but on the whole I'd rather not discuss the incident any more.

Friday, 10 June 2011

I Want to Know What the Words Are

Here’s a thing, 47 years old and never seen stadium rock. This was not deliberate as such, it just never occurred to me to do so. In fact, going to see three ‘80s bands at Newcastle’s arena the other day turned out to be the first gig outside of a pub that I’d been to in something like fifteen years if not more. It was like realising how long it is since you last saw a dentist.

Anyway, thanks to the generosity of an old friend, I found myself at said arena to watch the rock stylings of the bands Styx, Foreigner and Journey in that order. It was all a bit odd as I could not bring to mind a single song any of them had done. I listened to bit of Styx and Foreigner on spotify but never got round to Journey so that was going to be a new discovery for me. People I mentioned this to would say ‘Journey? They’re the ones who did…’ and sing a few bars which, I’m sorry to say, was not as helpful as they intended but did leave me in a state of pleasurable uncertainty.

So what was it like? Well, Styx were on first and it quickly became apparent that either they had not seen This Is Spinal Tap, or – and this is my hope – they had but were damned if they were going to change their act as a result. We had the three guitarists lined up front stage phallicly sticking the necks of their guitars at us while they grimaced musically. We had a plethora of ‘Hullo Newcastle’ and ‘Whoo Newcastle’ shouted at random. The keyboardist had a habit of showing off by playing solos with one arm held up in the air behind him thereby demonstrating that there are at least two things he can do one-handedly. Every now and again a slightly shy bookish looking man with a bass guitar would come on and join in. Much was made of this and it turned out that he was the bassist from the original band which raised the question of how authentic were this lot? How many original members were left or were we getting some kind of homeopathic Styx? My companion noted that the difference between the original and the tribute bands is becoming increasingly blurred. But all in all, they were good fun, got the audience on their side and did what they had been paid to do. I thought they were rather sweet.

Next were Foreigner who endeared themselves to the audience after a couple of songs by stating bluntly that they didn’t have much time so from now on in they were going to be only doing their big hits. Which they did. And the crowd loved it, even if the lead singer did over-estimate the geordie audience's capacity for remembering the lyrics to the chorus of ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ and ended up having to shout out the line in advance like a rock pantomime*. Again, highly professional and like Styx, pronounced Newcastle correctly with the short ‘a’ and the stress on the second syllable.

*A cheap and cheerful form of rock opera which I for one would pay good money to see

Finally we had Journey, the headline act and as such on for 90 minutes as opposed to the mere hour the other two had been granted each. Their arrival on stage was greeted with great enthusiasm by the audience which slowly dribbled away as the lead singer kept announcing those words nostalgia soaked concert goers of a certain age both loath and fear: ‘And here’s one from our new album.’ One of these appeared to be called 'Spunky Love' though I really hope it wasn't. We left before the end and so I never did get to hear their version of that song people sang at me. Never shall now I suppose.

My companion, who was stopping off in the North East of England on her way to somewhere else, had obtained the tickets because a Foreigner tribute band are playing at her holiday destination. I must ask her which was better.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Give me Eeyore, or Give Me Proust

Chatting to a friend the other day, I commented that I occasionally get into trouble for putting milk in espresso coffee. Apparently you’re not meant to do that. My friend fiercely defended my right to put milk, or indeed anything else that took my fancy, into anything I wished to drink. I was grateful for her support. As it happens I drink espresso not only because the espresso maker I have is one of those that you place directly on the hob and therefore guarantees piping hot coffee, something which cafetiéres and percolators cannot, but also that said espresso maker looks ever so slightly like a dalek.

I was reminded of all the above while perusing the Guardian on-line and yet again coming across someone getting remarkably tetchy about adults reading Harry Potter. This is a bit of a King Charles’ Head with CP Scott’s mob*. They have that curious irritation bordering on real anger about the Harry Potter books which I genuinely do not understand. Some of it seems to be down to snobbery, some of it down to jealousy and a lot down to the fact that adults read them too. And this seems to be the real irritant. But what, pray, is so appallingly wrong with adults reading children’s books? Especially that some extremely fun and interesting writing is currently coming from that corner.

*And with me as a quick glance shows I have written about three blogs on this subject over the last six months

The answer, at least for some people, seems to be a sense of propriety. Adults should not read books intended for some other group. It makes a mockery of the whole terribly serious business of being a reader. After all, how can you hold your head up at the Hay on Wye Literary Festival when your bibliophilic superiority is undermined by someone reading The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (which scores doubly badly as it is not only a YA** book but science fiction as well but which remains one the very few literary responses to the banking crisis that I have come across).

Well the hell with them. I will continue to put milk in my espresso and read what I damn well want to read. It’s just such a terrible shame that I have to assert my right to do so.

**Young Adult as teenagers and children who dislike being called children are now referred to by the publishing industry. As I now have discovered, calling a teenager an old child does not go down well.