Sitting and listening to music. I do more of that now than for ages.
We have a 1960s stereogram, mocked by some in the past – you know who you are – but now declared an impressive feature because vinyl is so frigging trendy again. A wooden coffin on legs, it cost ten pounds nearly twenty years ago, going strong in 2015 (and for £375 in some shops – get us).
Vinyl is fashionable now and the ultimate sound carrier.
Only it isn’t.
Sound carrier snobbery is an odd little hobby to have, one I don’t have time for. Life is too short.
I like a vinyl record because I know it will be there forever. When I buy an LP it will live in my house with me. There is no subsequent home for records I buy. They’re a love match, always. They won’t break if I handle them with careful fingers, which I do.
CDs from 1980s and later are deteriorating now, tape cassettes tangle, MP3s are nice but they give me nothing to hold. So problematic, each; but the sound quality of one is no better than the others, vinyl included, for at home listening; not if you care for them properly. Whoever says different is wrong and selling you a hipster authenticity lie. Don’t listen to them. You’ll feel all the better for it.
I don’t use music as background noise. I don’t jog with it on earphones (I don’t jog at all, but you get my drift), I write in silence now because instead I start humming and go off on a tangent. I like my vinyl in the evenings and early mornings, so I can listen and appreciate better, sit down with a cuppa tea of glass of something, and enjoy. You may be different and that’s okay, listening rules are just silly. There are so many rules now to everything, we’re best ignoring them. It’s less stressful that way.
Last week we went to a new thing at Liverpool’s Metal – cute rooms (with an Aga!) at Edge Hill railway station just outside the city centre. Vinyl Station is held each month. You sit with local music lovers in companionable silence with a cuppa tea or glass of something (I lead, others follow; what can I say?) and listen to a brand new album. When it’s finished playing and only then, we talk about the record.
The best idea I’ve heard for such a long time, a sweet evening. They played Hooton Tennis Club’s debut LP ‘Highest Point In Cliff Town’ this month, I really liked it, I have both their 7” singles already. Not many other people loved the album quite as much, but not everyone can have my exceptional taste, can they?
And do you know what, that’s ok. If we all liked the same thing, how crashingly dull would everything be? Looking forward to next month already.
“There’s no such thing as seagulls, they’re gulls.”
I’m told this a lot but I’m from a village in Lancashire on the rural–urban cusp, it’s not one thing or the other, no discernible identity but dull and unsexy instead, a tired sparrow’s wing of a place. I didn’t see seagulls as I grew up, so to me they mean the sea and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, pirates, journeys across the globe, adventure, birds carrying the souls of dead sailors and pursuing dreams cut short. In Lancashire there is no sea and instead ponds of gloomy black water solid with tadpoles in spring, but the rest of the year? Nothing.
I left Lancashire behind years ago and last month I was sat outside a Liverpool city centre pub drinking beer in the sunshine on a Saturday night watching two seagulls have fisticuffs over a discarded Happy Meal. It all felt very British and unapologetically northern, two lads squaring up to each other, chests stuck out, alpha males scrapping, each appalled at the affront of the other as they danced straight faced, yellow eyes unblinking, long curved scythe beaks jabbing the air. Those birds mean business; mean business.
I was at a gig in a flat nearby a few weeks before, three floors up on a warm evening, the windows open, you could see for miles, a lighthouse view of the city. The singers sang and played, the Anglican Cathedral chimed bells prettily, the seagulls flying overhead guffawing (or so it seemed to me). It was a very Liverpool night, the gulls and church bells stamping their own identity on it and making it theirs – and ours. The mix of people in the flat, the music, the ambience outside; it couldn’t happen anywhere else and was as romantic as Liverpool has ever been. It was beautiful.
Then two of the seagulls start shagging on the roof above our heads. It killed a part of me, a little bit; lowered the tone, at least.
But seagulls, I like them. I always vouch for the underdog, I can’t help it, and there’s so much anti-seagull propaganda and rhetoric now; seagulls are yanked down to the lowly level of asylum seekers and “that bloke down the road who’s never worked in his life, the arsehole”.
Nicked my chips once, the cheeky sods just swooped down.
They shit a lot, why don’t they ever stop shitting?
A seagull ate my hamster.
We’re dancing into David Cameron territory here, happily and easily, with immaculate quick step, in perfect time. Swarms of seagulls could be a thing if we try hard enough, with walls at Calais keeping them out. If only they were born as Zimbabwean lions with nerdy British sounding names, they’d be golden. As it stands, the anti-seagull brigade would wring Jonathan Livingston-Liverpool Seagull’s neck and stick him in an artisan pie with a craft beer brewed especially to match. Familiarity and shagging above peoples’ heads, it breeds contempt, that’s the seagulls’ problem. Maybe they need to make themselves a bit scarcer? Develop a less rustic palate, shift from junk food to quinoa, chia seeds? Go all hipster and authentic, rebrand themselves as gulls? People would fall for that.
In case you’re wondering, the fighting seagulls warring over the Happy Meal on that Saturday night, neither won. A patient pigeon sneaked in and scoffed the burger and chips while they flapped their wings at each other. There’s a lesson in there somewhere I think; for the seagulls and us.
(One thing I do know, experience dictates it, that the odds are both are sure to have got laid later on).
It’s not as naughty as it sounds and perfectly legal, but still secret.
Each month or six weeks I get an email telling me “you’re in!” and to expect further communication soon. Sure enough it arrives, 24 hours before the event, instructions where to go and at what time. And to bring a bottle of something refreshing.
What I’m not told is why I’m there and what is going to happen to me.
Actually, that last line isn’t quite true…
Sofar Sounds is a worldwide phenomenon, people arranging secret concerts in unconventional places, typically residential homes. What the audience is not told is who will be performing on the actual night, in fact we don’t know that until they take to the stage (or living room floor); it could be a name you’re familiar with or someone brand new. The need for respect and trust, no leaking of addresses or locations, makes it kinda sexy, with a rent party vibe. Some Sofar Sounds are free, others you chuck in a few bob and the cash goes to the artists.
Saturday’s Liverpool Sofar was at a new venue/café/art space in the city centre, The Well Space. And it was brilliant! My favourites – singer songwriter Esme Bridie, and R&B soul singer Jálen N’Gonda.
Our first time in The Well Space – tucked away in a quiet corner in town on Roscoe Street, and it has a library too.
I love initiatives like Sofar Sounds, so positive and very creative.
(My secret is now out, I hope you’re not too shocked. More on Sofar Sounds here)
I hear this, all the time. Everyone knows everyone else, and if you don’t, you know their mum. There’s an essential noseyness in the blood. I like that. It means you can walk through town anytime and see a familiar face (or their mum’s).
I went to Liverpool author Amanda Brooke’s launch party for The Missing Husband, her brand new novel, on Thursday last at Waterstones in Liverpool ONE. As ever, because it’s Liverpool, I end up talking to people I know, lots of them.
Ahh! You’re here too!
None of them writing people, just folk I know. It’s a joy. A grand evening of wine and words.
There are so many flash fiction timed competitions now, the sort where you are given a photo or word prompt and a set time – often mere hours – to write a punchy flash fiction. I sign up to them and swear blind I’ll enter this week honestly, but I never do.
It’s the time element that doesn’t suit me, I think; but I’ve used such prompts quite a lot and worked on the flashes until I’m happy with them. I saw this photo on the Angry Hourglass site back in October 2014:
The photo reminded me of the sort of characters we have in Liverpool. The city is full of them, the wonderful busker Jacky (aka Plinkety Plink, because he mimed playing a cardboard guitar and sang “plinkety-plink” to Beatles songs, no matter the actual lyric) who performed outside Probe Records in the 1980s. Jacky died and was replaced by a doppleganger who carried on in his stead, like a tribute act of sorts.
I remember too Cherry Red frequenting pubs in the city centre, so called because he put shoe polish on his head in an effort to conceal his balding pate. The Cherry Red and Plinkety-Plink monikers were not meant as cruel or nasty, but affectionately and both men are still spoken about with fondness.
So when I saw the pic of the man in his top hat on Angry Hourglass I imagined him prancing about in Liverpool or another city and getting up to all sorts. I wrote a flash fiction about him called Follow The Finger; it went quite dark in the end, as my flashes often do. Last week some six months after I first saw the photo Follow The Finger was published over at Flash Fiction Magazine. You can read it here.
The bar I’m going to has no sign outside. Still, I find it. My friends arrive with kisses and hugs. We go inside. I acclimatise and nod yes, I’ve been here before. It is familiar with its cheesy fries served in tin mugs. That’s not the sort of thing you forget, a place that puts cheese on your food without asking first, in an Old Prospector mug.
The bar is full of the beautiful people who shop at John Lewis or Waitrose and the only second hand furniture they have at home is antique, passed down as a family heirloom. The men have designer beards ironed flat and trimmed or blow dried, one has a seaman’s woolly hat warming his skull. He works in computer coding.
Still, the bar is small and all goes well with our drinks and chats and catch ups. After a glass or two of wine and because I’d blanked out my first visit to this place I ask, “does anyone know where the toilet is?”
Fingers point to an oblong block of white in the corner. The toilets are through the doorway and down a Kafkaesque corridor of too much light, harsh and glaring like it hates me, the sort of blazing light that call centres turn up to eleven to keep the worker drones awake. Conditions you hear about in testimonies from people released from Guantanamo Bay, tales of sensory overload or deprivation, or both. I walk towards the light and follow the long straight corridor and am confronted by a pig trough. It is metal and deep, taps hanging over the side. I’ve had wine, so my mind rambles. They must turn the taps and swill spurts out runny and brown and nutritious for the pigs, splashing against the backwash and mirror. It’s wipe-clean. This is a progressive pig house, consideration given to the swine who want to look nice after they’ve eaten. How nice, and right-on for the pigs.
But I see no pigs. There is no pig swill. I realise, slowly, that this is not a pig trough. It is a washbasin, a long one with men and women’s toilets on either side. I am in fact in a unisex toilet.
In the 1990s men and women were for a brief and ugly time seen as the same. Someone decided young women were like lads, though what that made lads no one was quite sure. Zoe Ball and Cerys Matthews are and were tremendous women but never lads, no matter how much the ladette inventor (a man) wanted them to be. I’m linking the ladette thing and unisex toilets together because for the life of me I can’t think of any reason why either concept existed, and why at the same time. The ladette label has long jogged on but unisex toilets? No one wants them and yet they still exist, and new ones built.
I’m torn as to why they are still here, these years on. Are designers, bar owners or whoever comes up with these ideas believing unisex loos right-on, or are they eager to save space and make more money? I’m thinking it’s cash related, for the life of me I can’t think of another reason. Back in 1990s most realised the concept of unisex toilets as a grim one, men and women doing toilet things so close is very wrong. We are not the same. Men and women are equal but not the same. There is a tremendous difference between us and that’s okay. I’m grateful for the differences and feel like holding a bloody party to celebrate them if the differences mean that we get separate toilets.
We do our toilet business differently, but some right on-ers, they will not let it go. Stubborn digging in of heels is never good. The definition of madness is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. Madness barks and gallops in these bars and clubs, the ones with unisex toilets.
I go to the women’s cubicles, a row of white doors. I am in The Trial, unsure what I’ve done wrong but at least I know how to get out of the place at the end and that is a lifeline. The cubicles, they are as I imagine men’s conveniences, blocked toilets with crumpled wads of toilet roll sodden solid and grey like old chewing gum. Not Waitrose toilet roll, I note. Funny, that.
I soldier on because I must then go to wash my hands in the trough. It is not a sink, no matter how much my mind tries to convince me. The trough is functional dull steel, it will never earn a shine and wouldn’t look out of place in a 1950s sci-fi move.The Revenge of The Uni-Sex Toilets filmmakers, I fancy they imagined we’d be living on a pill a day by now and not have to work because robots do everything for us. Hollow laughter, I know you well.
I give washing my hands a try, the things hanging over the side of the trough shaped like a tap are ones where you put your hand or whatever else it is you might need to wash underneath and water comes out of its own accord. Only tonight it doesn’t and I’m standing there with damp hands under a shy dribble as a painfully young man as mortified as me washes his hands in his part of the trough. There is no man and woman part of the trough but I pretend there is, we both do. We finish the washing and drying at the same time and leave simultaneously.
‘You first,’ he says. He is a gentleman.
Somehow, this makes everything worse. We both stare at the ground, not wanting to look at each other because we both know we’ve been to the toilet and it’s just too awful to think about, the individual toilet business. I’m northern and working class and he has an imagination too. So I’m walking along this horrifically well-lit corridor with a twenty year old boy behind me to get away from the toilet as quickly as I can and thinking “why do people in bars hate their customers so much?” Because I think they do. They must, or why else would they carry on with the unisex toilets thing? No good can come of it, ever.
Charity shops the week before Christmas are traditionally sparse for goodies, New Year is the time when we can pounce and scoop up unwanted gifts. I struck lucky today, and found this foxy little darling.
I don’t know what this was meant to be when originally made but now with a little charity shop magic, it’s my new Kindle cover. YMCA bought, it has a notebook-sized pocket at the back too. Win-win.