Wednesday, September 29, 2004

I’ve spent most of the last couple of days doing voluntary work in the new book and music Oxfam shop Cotham Hill. It’s certainly different to working in Imperial, but all very pleasant. We have had lots of students in the shop buying their “Cooking for one” “ Eating on a grant” type books and maybe picking up a dodgy 80’s CD at the same time. I’m not sure how long I’ll be spending there in total as I’m looking to get a proper job sorted out soon. Still if I have some free time, I may as well spend in there.

The highlight of today had to be the moment when a lady came to the counter with several books, one of which was the screenplay to a TV series from several years ago. One of my female colleagues pointed to the picture on the cover and said, “Isn’t that -----?” “Yes,” said the customer. My colleague then said something along the lines of “He’s a bit tasty isn’t he?” “Yes” replied the woman, “He’s my husband!” I have to admit that I knew of the connection, which made the moment even funnier for me.

I’ve just been listening to the excellent “Jeremy Hardy speaks to the nation” talking about the futility of choice. Very funny, you can listen to it via his BBC Radio 4 web site.

One luxury of working in Oxfam is a full one hour lunch break, at Imperial we could only get away with 30 minutes, so to be able to sit and really relax was a great treat. I made use of time by reading a short story by Zadie Smith called Hanwell in Hell from the New Yorker. Bizarrely the story was set in Bristol in the 1970’s, I don’t think that Zadie Smith has any connection with Bristol, so it was quite strange to read about the delights of Park Street in the New Yorker of all places.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Yesterday was my first day ever as an unemployed person, and it set me thinking about the start of my working life. Way back in 1978, I was all set to stay on at school to do the 6th form thing, even though I was not really blessed with any great academic abilities. In fact even though I had really enjoyed school from a social perspective and loved the fact that they organised lots of sport for you to take part in, I had becoming increasingly bored and lazy by that whole going to lessons and doing work thing.

One night I was lazily looking through the jobs section of the Evening Post, when a small ad caught my eye. I always avoided those big, boxed job adverts, as they were obviously looking for someone much more talented then me, if they went to all the trouble of paying for a large advert. Anyway this particular advert said that a joinery firm in Kingswood was looking for someone to do general office work. I had no real idea what general office was, but I though that I would send them an application.

Amazingly they called me for an interview and after that offered me the job, I was somewhat shocked. It turned to be a lovely place to work, run by a pair of fervent socialist brothers, with the occasional input of their virtually communist father, it was never going to an ordinary place to work. The tone was set, straight away, my first day coincided with the start of Wimbledon and for the next two weeks, my job seemed to consist of keeping a record of the scores in all the games, via the office radio so that I could keep everyone up to date with the tournament!

Later similar attention was lavished on football tournaments and various elections. The brothers looked after the staff brilliantly, in fact they were probably rather too generous as the firm went bust in late 1984 despite having a full order book, and it was time for me to head off to BT. I still see one of the brothers regularly at the City ground, as he sits very near to me. I’ll always be thankful to him, his brother and Father for helping to ease me into the adult world in such an enjoyable way.

On a different note, the great and good (well some of them are good) of the rock world, have banded together to make an album in support of the Burmese struggle for freedom, anything which helps to highlight the dreadful situation in that country is welcomed and long overdue.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Well we had a fascinating weekend in London, we saw lots of interesting parts of the city, which were totally new to me. Thanks to Orynthia’s auntie we also discovered the joys of the bus service in London. Normally we tend to get around town using the underground, however on this occasion we were staying in West Norward, a part of south London which has no underground station anywhere near it. The good news was that for just £2.50 a day you can get unlimited bus travel anywhere in London, and the great thing about buses is they go almost everywhere, so we had great fun hoping on and off virtually any bus we saw, consequently we saved our legs from an awful lot of walking.

You can see pictures from our visit here.As we were staying in South London, we decided to start our Saturday morning with a trip to Tooting Bec Lido. The sun was shining and the simple Art Deco beauty of the huge pool was easy to appreciate. The pool itself is twice the length of a standard Olympic pool, the men and women swimming did confuse me somewhat. I have to admit that I am a non swimmer, so just about the only time I see swimming taking place is during events like the Olympics, consequently I was amazed at the slow (but elegant) pace of the simmers as they eased their way up down the considerable length of the pool. I mentioned this to Orynthia (who goes swimming every week) and of course she laughed at my naivety, all these years I’d thought of swimming as being a full throttle attempt to get to the end of the pool as soon as possible, when in fact the exact opposite appears to be the case.

Our next stop was the rather more modern Peckham Library. As we approached the library we had a great view of the energetically buzzing streets of Peckham from the top floor of a double-decker bus. A vast array of colourful food shops, selling produce from all corners of the world caught our eye, so after spending some time in the spectacular Will Alsop designed Library, we spent some time walking the streets of this exciting and chaotic neighbourhood. We stopped off in one of the many Caribbean food shops to purchase the odd sounding (and looking) “Bun & Cheese”, which consisted on two huge slice of a sort of moist fruit loaf, with a slice of cheese in the middle. Unorthodox and tasty, caught the mood of the area perfectly.

Our next location was at the very heart of orthodox and traditional London, 120 Fleet Street the former home of both the Daily and Sunday Express. I’ve always love the cool black simplicity of the exterior of this classic Art Deco building and now following a whopping £5 000, 000 restoration, we had a chance to see the stunning lobby area. Understandably this visit meant our first period of queuing, luckily we only had to wait around 30 minutes, the time passed quickly as we chatted with the person in front of us, who knew Bristol as she had gone to University here. So we spent quite a while telling her about places we had visited on previous open doors days in Bristol, as well as the “what have you seen”, “where are going next” time conversion which is an integral part of these sort of events. Once we got inside the lobby was well worth the wait, amazing detailing and design couple with opulent grandeur made it a very special place.

After missing out on a tour of BBC Bush House, we stopped for a coffee in Somerset House before heading up to Bloomsbury for a visit to The Horse Hospital. My former colleague RLF played a gig there recently and his description made we want to check out this very intriguing art’s space. It’s an independently funded centre for experimental art of various types on the upper floor, combined with a costume storage unit in the basement, which is accessed via a very steep winding path, complete with chunky wooden breaks. Very odd and very old it was a good place to end our exertions for the first day as the rain fell heavily.

Sunday morning dawned clear and bright and we jumped on a bus heading towards Streatham. Our destination here was the classic collection of 1930’s flats called Pullman Court. We fell in love with this place, probably helped by the lovely guides who took their time to explain about the architectural history and the practicalities of living in a place like this, we really felt at home. It was great to hear that after decades of neglect people have started to really value the building and restoration and repairs and being made in order to ensure that this place lasts for many more years.

After a bit of bus confusion in the Brixton area, it was back to Peckham to look at another 1930’s gem “The Pioneer Centre”. Before the guided tour began, we managed to sneak in a quick visit to Quay House a converted milk depot, which had lots of interesting features. Then it was back to “The Pioneer Centre” home of the so called Peckham experiment of the 1930’s, it was built as a place was doctors could monitor the affect of exercise and socialising would have on the health of the local residents who used the place. It’s worth reading further on the history of that idea, but I’m not going to bog you down with loads of text on that here. What I will say though is that the original architect for the property was Owen Williams, the same man who did the external work at 120 Fleet Street. We were taken on a tour of the property by the of the guys who now own flats in the building, once again their enthusiasm for the place was infectious. It featured as incredible internal swimming pool and a huge roof terrace, giving spectacular views over London.

Time then for our final destination. This time in the very heart of the London establishment, a private members club – The Lansdowne Club just off Berkeley square. A strange mixture of styles here, the place was originally built in 1763 by Robert Adam for the Marquess of Bute, before becoming transformed into a club with loads of glorious Art Deco rooms in the 1930’s. it was a fitting end to a fantastic weekend.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Well Sondre Lerche was pretty impressive last night. As he is virtually unknown in the UK, this was something of a toe in the water type affair, so we did not get the chance to hear him playing with a band. No matter, Sondre and his gorgeous Gretsch guitar gave us plenty to enjoy. The first surprise of the evening came when Sondre explained in perfect English (as we now expect from all Scandinavians) that his surname in pronounced Ler-Kay, apparently even the Norwegians have difficulty getting his name right.

With his floppy fringe, jazz tinged vocals and the aforementioned Gretsch, the obvious comparison was with a youthful Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera fame. That however could be his problem, whilst many of us of a certain age are suckers for the sort of wonderful guitar pop, which the likes of Postcard Records pushed our way in the early 80’s, to others it could sound rather dated.

Hopefully the infectious quality of his songs will be enough to bring him a larger audience in the UK. Last night he treated us to the best tracks from the two albums he has released so far plus one exquisite unreleased song. The only awkward part of the evening for us, was trying to make sure that the rather over enthusiastic middle aged Norwegian gentlemen standing next to us, did not step on our toes or crash into us too many times as he bounced around during the gig. We escaped without injury but sadly as soon as Sondre left the stage our Norwegian friend pounced on him and engaged in some in depth Norwegian chitchat, which ruled out the chance of an encore. We made the short journey back to Bristol, thinking that we may have seen a star in the making.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Orynthia found out the other day that Norwegian wonder boy Sondre Lerche is playing in Cardiff this evening, so it’s time for a flying visit to my mothers homeland. It’s all going to be a bit of a dash, but he does make some very nice music and it’s a great chance to catch him in a (very) small venue.

Today was a rather sad day in the shop. RLF, Jay, Mark and I meet for the last time to do the final bit of painting, when we were done Mark thanked us for all our efforts and then gave us each an astounding gift and a farewell card. I don’t think that any of us knew what to say, I dropped RLF and Jay home and it was hugs and good wishes all round.

They have been lovely people to work with, I must admit that when I started I was slightly concerned that the other guys would think it a bit odd that an old timer like me had started working in a shop like Imperial, maybe they would think it was just Mark looking after a mate and that I would find myself in a slightly odd position. Of course, I had no reason to have those thoughts; part of the attraction of the job WAS the people who worked there already. I was also concerned that it could jeopardise the friendship I have with Mark. During our time in work the dynamic of our relationship would have to change, Mark had to be the boss and I was very much the new boy compared to RLF, Jay, Alex, Chris and Beren. I think it all went really well, I’m sure that with the exception of RLF (who is moving to London) I’ll see them all around. I certainly hope so. Sorry to wax so lyrical about it all but it was great to live out the teenagers dream job at the age of 42. You can see a nice piece on the shop here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Well it’s been pretty hectic, since I last wrote a proper entry here. We caught a couple of contrasting gigs by RLF, firstly in intimate surroundings when he played with the wonderful Freeze Puppy at “Here”, then at the very busy, very hot “Croft” on Saturday evening. I guess it’s the last time for a while that we will see the magnificence of RLF in Bristol for a while as he is about to move away from the area. London, your gain is our loss.

I also managed to catch PJ Harvey in action on Sunday evening, she was great but was not so sure about some members of the band, as they appeared to more interested in throwing shapes than playing the right notes.

In the midst of all this activity the shop finally closed last Wednesday, so ever since then we have been clearing the place of any indication that we may have existed. Initially, this entailed breaking up the counter and removing everything from the walls and then yesterday we repainted the whole place, which was actually more fun than I thought it would be, not enough fun to think about making decorating a career option though.

I know that I mention the New Yorker magazine from time to time, but I just have to say it really is the best magazine I have ever read. The recent double size food issue was a wonderful case in point. Consistently fantastic writing about all manner of things pertaining to food made it an endlessly fascinating and informative read. The only problem is finding the time to read it, the latest issue dropped through the latter box this morning and I’ve haven’t started last weeks yet.

As BCFC were at home last Saturday, we only managed to catch 3 places on open doors day, before going to Ashton gate to see City thump Stockport 5-0! That’s 9 goals in the last two home games; it’s all really rather strange. Anyway this weekend we off going to London for open house weekend. We managed to get some bargain coach travel and will be staying with Orynthia’s auntie, so it should be a pretty cheap and interesting weekend. Any tips on good places to see will be much appreciated.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Oh my word, it looks as though I shall be going to the Tom Waits gig in London!!

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Well we had some very exciting news in Bristol yesterday, from May 20th next year Continental Airlines are going to be operating a direct flight between Bristol and New York!! We have already started looking at our finances and planning to take advantage of this new service. Hopefully a few people from New York will want to visit Bristol as well, maybe I could be some sort of tour guide for New Yorkers looking for real insight into the delights of Bristol. You know the sort of thing, how to avoid the late night beer monsters in the city centre taxi ranks, where to find the best Asian food, giving the low down on all the quirky little music venues we have......

Talking of quirky little music venues, tonight we are heading off to the basement of “Here” to one of RLF’s farewell gigs before he leave us to head back to London. He is playing 4 gigs, in 3 different venues around the Stokes Croft area. As well as this evening’s gig we are also going to his final big show on Saturday at the “The Croft”. It’s amazing, we have around 5 different options for really good things to do on Saturday evening, when normally Saturday turns out to be a bit of a stay at home sort of evening, with all our going out taking place during the week. On top of that it's open doors day and City are at home against Stockport, it's going to be a pretty busy day.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Wow we had a great evening yesterday, watching the wonderful Charlie Parr in action at The Cube. What a fantastic guitarist and songwriter this man is. If he plays anywhere near you, you really should go and see him. He is a real gent as well; it’s high time that his work was more widely known. If you can’t get to see him in the flesh, he has two excellent albums available (and cheap), do yourself a favour a grab them.

Earlier a writing an email to blog friend Heather who lives in the states and found myself writing the following:
Meeting so many people who are involved in making music has been one of the joys of working in the record shop. As I am easily the wrong side of 40, it's really energizing to chat to these young people who are determined to make things happen for themselves. So many of them either make their own music or promote gigs and club nights, we even have a small cinema/ music venue (capacity around 110), which is run entirely by volunteers. They are so supportive and encouraging of each other, it really is great. No one makes any money, yet they keep on putting on interesting entertainments for the people of Bristol to enjoy. How lucky I am to live in a place where such things take place!

I think this really is a time of change in Bristol, as places like Imperial close and although it serves a different crowd, I was sad to hear of The Depot closing as that was a venue where people could enjoy hassle free dance music, without the big club attitude, which many places have. Although I never went to any of the nights there, I know from talking to friends that it will be much missed by a large section of the Bristol community. Still, it is really good to hear about the people that still want to find ways of doing interesting things for the right reasons, so in no particular order here are some of the people who continue to make this town of ours an interesting place to live; The Cube, Here (it’s a shop in Stokes Croft), Tom of my two Toms (and about 20 other bands), Mark from float and The Cube, Lady Lucy, RLF (sadly not in Bristol for much longer), Chiz, Ed, Dutty Girl, Simple Kid promotions, Aaron of run run promotions. Whilst we still have the likes of John Stapleton, Paul of Espionage fame and a few others of my generation working hard it’s fun to watch the new blood coming through.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Since I last wrote we have had the last of the summer bank holiday breaks, whilst I have been working in the shop these have been even more lovely as my Fridays are spent at home anyway, this means that I have had a lot of 4 day weekends. Splendid!

As ever quite a lot of our time has been spent watching live music, on Friday afternoon I wandered into town for the free jazz in Queens Square. I meet up with Orynthia and Teresa and shared a couple of bottles of wine, whilst listening to the cream of the Bristol jazz scene playing for a few hours.

On Monday afternoon we had our second look at Wilma and their amusing take on the world of country music before heading up to The Downs to catch some of the music and food on offer at the Asian festival.

Last night was spent at the Polish club, watching the crazy vaudeville show provided by The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. They are a real one off, presenting more of a “show” than a normal gig experience. I can really see why they were such a hit at the Edinburgh festival. Special mention also needs to be made of the support act, Bristol’s own Kid Carpet, who put on a hugely entertaining show using kids toys and cheesy samples, car boot fair pop is the only way I can describe it. If this tour comes anywhere near your town it’s well worth seeing.

What else.....well the shop is really looking very, very empty now. I’ll be surprised if we have any stock left after next weekend. People are still saying the nicest things to us and sometimes it does feel that we should be offering a counselling service to help them get over the devastation that our imminent departure is causing.

The big treat on bank holiday Monday, was seeing Bristol City finally win a league game this season. A spanking 4-1 victory over Brentford should be the catalyst to push up the league table.