Wednesday, 24 July 2013

An excerpt from my travel journal:

Day 1

Having the sick bucket beside my leg is no qualification.  Upon rumour of sickness at the front of the bus, the bucket was passed nonchalantly away from me, to remove any possibility that I may become embroiled in the ensuing affair.  Sadly, I still had to report the incident to the self-appointed vomit-manager - catchphrase, 'I can do sick'.  Confused by the ambiguous nature of the verb in this sentence, I simply nodded and retreated back to my seat, humbled and strangely sad.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Another unfinished scribble...

Grey coffee.  Proof that the glorious revolution of Technicolor of the 1930s was, in fact, simply a scheme designed to drain colour from the real world to then haphazardly paint it onto Judy Garland’s face.  This left only grey outside the cinema’s doors – a grey that had matured and spread like spilled milk over the years to the present, resulting in this grey coffee, in its grey cup, on this grey station platform, underneath this glowering grey sky.  Well, thought Jacob as he stared into his latte, fuck Judy Garland and all the glorious blue in her dress. Today was a grey day like all the rest, and there was little to be done about that.  He glanced again at the departures television, a 16-inch curved screen from the mid-1980s, and saw that his late train had been erased from it, the television na├»vely assuming that since its departure time had passed, the train must have set off on its way filled with happy travellers.  A sigh, a frown and a sip of coffee.  Weather was just so aware, it seemed.  Aware of our moods, aware of our fears and most of all aware of the fact that the 09.47 to King’s Cross is late and is probably never going to turn up at all.

The platform was busy, as usual, and filled with the sort of people you get on grey June days, waiting for a delayed train. All the benches had been filled, some to overflowing, by large families, overweight men, endless bags, suitcases and rucksacks, all stationary and wondering why they were less comfortable than they would be standing. Jacob didn’t see the point in trying this out for himself: he’d waited in enough stations to know that the seats would be uncomfortable: metal and unyielding, rather like the brilliant yellow train frontages that whizzed by occasionally.  So he stood and waited, his grey coffee going cold, his thoughts shifting as he peered down the tracks at the approaching yellow lights that would either continue down to his platform, proving it to be his train, or deviously slink off to the left to Platform Two, a feline manoeuvre designed to sap the soul.  A man wearing a hat walked past him to get a better look at this phenomenon, holding a magazine very tightly rolled behind his back.  The man peered down the tracks with an eager leaning stance and, not for the first time, Jacob considered the outcome should the old man fall from his ludicrous cranings onto the track.  This was something that sometimes held his thoughts – the reaction of your average man (Jacob was kind enough to himself to accept ‘average’ status) to such a disaster.  Would he help; could he help?  Would he spring like some kind of super hero onto the tracks, lift the man up, grunt heroically, push, heave the man from the rails; jump up at the last minute landing squarely on the platform to be worshipped by the audience - the fat man on the bench? No.  Jacob had made a decision before, some years ago.  He’d do nothing as he reasoned that he wouldn’t be able to do anything.  He’d heard things about how the human mind fails to cope with these disasters, how heroes either didn’t exist or had been around once but were now no more, dodos of humanity.  The man stopped craning and stood, rocking happily on his heels.
  The lights got closer, lighting the dark rails and breathing a tired life into the scene, life that had been fading for some days now, as far as Jacob was concerned.   Edinburgh had been interesting and even enjoyable on occasion, but it really was time to go home when you found yourself quietly ranting to yourself about the quality of your station-bought coffee, and suffering a vague feeling of discomfort whenever you thought about home, with its associated life and future.  As the lights stayed on course and Jacob gathered his bags this subtle anxiety clawed once more at his stomach, but was drowned by the last of the lukewarm coffee.  The cup, crushed and crumpled, fell beneath the wheels of the carriages; Jacob opened the door and climbed aboard, knowing that his reserved seat would be occupied, and knowing just as well that he hadn’t the wherewithal to effect any change should this be the case. He noticed the old man with the hat had got onto the same carriage as him and was sitting at a table seat, eagerly covering the table with items that were utilized to speed the journey.  Jacob sat heavily opposite him, got a quick smile – interesting smile, almost scared yet backed up by gleeful glittering eyes – and stowed his bags under his seat.  Gazing from the grimy window at the vacated platform with its innocent display boards he got another jolt of nerves in his stomach as he thought of home and the inevitable.
                “Grey day it is, isn’t it?” Waverley station began to slide by as Jacob looked back at the hat-man opposite, surprised by the sound. He replied,
                “Yes, really gives the place a charm.”  The man stared. “You know, Edinburgh’s got that quality, hasn’t it: looks good when it’s bleak.” Jacob felt a little stupid for explaining his pithy first comment but the man’s look had drawn it from him.  Evidently satisfied, the hat-man smiled again – that odd smile – and continued,
                “Was grey yesterday too; did you see the sky yesterday, about three?  Furious, it was.  Expected a right downpour, didn’t come though”.  A pause.  “Might come later, way it looks.”  Jacob nodded.  He felt uncomfortable in this exchange after imagining, in gratuitous detail, what would have happened to this man if he’d fallen in front of a speeding train.  He cleared his throat to reply, but too late, “Yep, might come later,” the man continued, gazing at the sky over Arthur’s Seat.
                “If it does at least we’ll be miles away from it,” tried Jacob, “shouldn’t cover the whole country, I doubt.”  At least this is what he hoped. This greyness, all colour sapped by Dorothy Gale and her Technicolor friends, was getting him down. “It’ll be twenty-two degrees in London, I bet, thanks to that heat-island thing.”
                “Heat island?”
                Great, thought Jacob.  Committed to prolong and intensify this conversation indefinitely.  Conversations didn’t happen on trains in Britain unless you were mad, very old or drunk and today Jacob was none of the three. “Yeah, heat islands, it’s the name given to the way large towns and, uh, cities soak up heat.  All the people, and buildings, they create their own ecosystem with their own winds,” the man was leaning on the table, truly interested by Jacob’s halting description, “and, uh, weather, almost.  Means that places like London – really huge cities – are a lot warmer than the surrounding country.”
                “Warmer, but could still be grey, eh?” was the man’s retort.  “Just because it’s hotter doesn’t mean it won’t be humid, overcast and damp.  Me, I’m going to Peterborough, a place that certainly has no heat island,” snort of laughter, “more a nasty dampness.  You’ll have to let me know about the London heat.”  The man settled back into his chair, removing his hat in the process.
                Let him know.  Yes, of course.  Jacob waited a moment, expecting more anecdotal gems from the man and, when none seemed imminent, he too settled into his seat, which was now picking up speed outside Portobello.  How would I let him know, he thought

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Of Colds and Summer

I have a cold.  It settled upon me on Thursday evening and has clawed deeper into my being since then.  I assume I will either recover, painfully and weakly, over the coming months; or it will kill me and probably eat me to boot.  It's a nasty cold.

I'm not going to waste my time, or yours, decrying the injustice of a summer cold.  Viruses care little for seasonal preferences.  Instead, I'm going to consider why we persist in calling it a cold.  It really is a most unsatisfactory name for the illness.  I would argue, in fact, that it removes even the connotation of disease, due to its very bland and vague nature.  What use is a name for a viral disease that makes it sound as if you simply need to put a jumper on?

Because of this, people everywhere have to pretend to be fine when they've got a cold.  They have to soldier on, and act as if nothing untoward is wrong at all.  Society, combined with linguistics, has left us powerless and guilty on those occasions where we 'catch a cold'.  I see this as wrong.  Catching a cold is horrid.  It's one of the more common viruses out there and it really lays into the victim, often for periods of a week or more.  It is usually more debilitating than a bout of tummy trouble (which, at least, people give you sympathy for as you waddle to the loo looking fraught), and is far more of a regular occurrence than, say, typhus.  It makes you feel like a slovenly furry animal has taken up residence in your sinuses and is steadily sandpapering the walls in order to redecorate.  It makes you very sleepy, and a hazard to other motorists.  It forces you to grimace apologetically to an audience of indifferent bastards as your nose transforms into a weir of snot and you desperately grasp for the loose end of the bog roll you're now forced to carry around with you.  It's a bad illness.

So, its name needs changing as a matter of some urgency.  People need to be allowed to look and feel horrific during the course of the illness, and they need to be able to garner sympathy from the multitude.  'Man flu' has had some vogue recently, mainly due to questionable pseudoscience seemingly performed by GQ magazine, but I fear that it lacks the punch required (and is still, clearly, a derogatory term).  I think most of the worst diseases have a hint of Latin or Greek about them.  Diphtheria - ends in a vowel, good move.  Typhoid - ends in an '-oid', making it sound like a killer robot.  Gonorrhea - hard to spell, a definite plus.  Legionnaire's Disease - slightly seedy sounding, with extra connotations of the French, excellent.

I think we should begin to call the common cold 'Fisherman's Grehbuloidia'.  That would work.

Top 40 albums of the 1990s

Hello everyone; I haven't blogged for months for many reasons, but feel perhaps it's time to crack on a little. There's a bit going around Twitter at present about top 50 90s albums, so thought I'd throw my two penn'orth into the hat.  The order is fairly arbitrary, and is subject to change as I progress through time.

40. Hope is Important - Idlewild
39. Definitely Maybe - Oasis
38. Bring it On - Gomez
37. Wowee Zowee - Pavement
36. Mothers Milk - Red Hot Chili Peppers
35. Urban Hymns - The Verve
34. Ten - Pearl Jam
33. Nevermind - Nirvana
32. Parklife - Blur
31. In Utero - Nirvana
30. It's a Shame About Ray - The Lemonheads
29. Up - REM
28. Everything Must Go - Manic Street Preachers
27. OK Computer - Radiohead
26. Dog Man Star - Suede
25. In It For the Money - Supergrass
24. Unchained - Johnny Cash
23. Placebo - Placebo
22. Diva - Annie Lennox
21. Pinkerton - Weezer
20. Grace - Jeff Buckley
19. If You're Feeling Sinister - Belle and Sebastian
18. Odelay - Beck
17. Weezer (Blue) - Weezer
16. Trompe Le Monde - Pixies
15. Beautiful Freak - Eels
14. The Sophtware Slump - Grandaddy
13. Daydream Nation - Sonic Youth
12. Rage Against the Machine - Rage Against the Machine
11. Automatic for the People - REM
10. Doolittle - Pixies
9. Very - The Pet Shop Boys
8. Siamese Dream - Smashing Pumpkins
7. The Colour and the Shape - Foo Fighters
6. Electro-Shock Blues - Eels
5. The Soft Bulletin - Flaming Lips
4. The Holy Bible - Manic Street Preachers
3. Different Class - Pulp
2. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness - Smashing Pumpkins
1. The Bends - Radiohead