The Dead Zone

It rained all day here this past Sunday which is hasn’t done in a long time. There’s something about weather like that which makes you want to hunker down at home and do bugger all, which is pretty much what I did. It reminded me of the rainy weekends of my childhood (of which there were plenty in England) when you were stuck at home and almost crushed by boredom. The difference this time was that being an adult with a job and responsibilities I was more than happy to be doing nothing.

Having a black and white television with only three channels now seems like deprivation on a par with having an outside toilet, but our suffering was compounded by the lack of much to actually watch on Sundays either. This Radio Times listing for what was probably a wet Sunday in March 1972 is fairly typical for the nanny-like BBC at the time: Asian and Welsh news, programs about learning German and Tennis, a look at Swedish schools, and bloody Farming. (ITV wasn’t much better either). If that wasn’t bad enough, in the early evening we had the Government-mandated “God slot” when both channels showed religious programs and probably turned the whole country off God as a result.

Sometimes the BBC would show a decent old movie in the afternoon — Brief Encounter was one which I still think of as a “rainy Sunday” film — but mostly the day was a Dead Zone and I ended up exiled to my bedroom listening to the radio, reading comics, and drawing. When I got bored with doing that I just stared blankly out of the window at the gloomy sky, the lack of stimulation sending me into an almost dream-like state.

There was no point in braving the elements and going out either because everything was closed on a Sunday and, until the influx of Asian immigrants who took over the businesses in the mid-70s, this included local corner shops too. They’d open in the morning so you could get your Sunday paper but close at 12, so you were literally shit out of luck if you ran out of milk or bread. This might seem like a major inconvenience now, but I am a little nostalgic for Sunday closing because it was society stopping the wheels of capitalism for just one day and saying that commerce wasn’t the most important thing. That’s Communist talk now.

Having nothing to do has gone the way of the dinosaur now and there is stimulation at-hand anytime. When my kids say they’re bored I try to convince them that it’s good for the soul because it forces you to look inside yourself for inspiration and entertainment. But they just look at me like I’m crazy.

Download: The Day It Rained Forever – Nick Heyward (mp3)

Something for the Weekend

I have an emotional attachment to this record going back to my childhood that I wrote about in the early days of this blog and I still get a bit choked up when those kids start singing “Grocer Jack, Grocer Jack, is it true what mummy says, you won’t come back? Actually seeing them do it in this video is even worse — that little boy in the blazer!

I was playing it in the car the other day when from behind me my daughter started singing along “Grocer Jack, Grocer Jack…”. I swear I was overcome with such a wave of sentiment and happiness I thought I was going to cry for a minute.

And you may ask yourself…

2010 was yet another banner year in my life with the birth of our second child and the milestone of a 10th wedding anniversary. Both caused a fair amount of “Well, how did I get here?” reflection on my part but it was the birth of my son that was the most existentially discombobulating. Having one kid is a big enough deal but two of them, besides all the extra work, feels like a whole different game of soldiers entirely. Instead of just being 2+1 we’re now a proper family which is, you know, a real thing. Finding myself part of a classic nuclear family with the house in the suburbs and the car in the driveway (we only need .5 more children and we’ll have ticked all the boxes) seem all the more surreal to me because I grew up in a single-parent family in a council flat. At dinner time when I look across the table at my wife and children — besides being filled with so much love and happiness I think I might burst at the seams — I have this peculiar out-of-body feeling of disbelief as if it’s not my own real life I’m living in and instead I’m the “Dad” character in a sitcom. But more than that it all seems so terribly adult which is another suit of clothes I can’t get to quite fit naturally.

My dad was in the same position as me by the time he was 28 but his generation were raised with completely different expectations than mine, we had the luxury of being able to put off all that boring growing-up stuff until much later in life and extending our youth with all it’s fun self-indulgences beyond our 20s and sometimes well into our 30s. I never even lived with a girl before I got married at 38 and then had my first kid at the ripe old age of 44 so I delayed it all even more than most (but boy, did I have a great time in Florida in my 30s). So despite having now acquired all the trappings of mature adulthood I still find it odd when people in shops call me “Sir” — Sir? Me? — because deep down I always think of myself as a twerpy young kid with an immature obsession with music and records (though thankfully I gave up reading comics a long time ago), not as a husband and father.

Blogging seems a bit of a juvenile pursuit too I must admit (I mean, can you imagine John Wayne blogging? ) but what should I give it up for? Gardening? Pipe-smoking? Cardigan-wearing?

Download: Once In A Lifetime (live) — Talking Heads
Buy: Stop Making Sense (album)

Oops, I did it again

And two days later THIS happened too. What a week!

Download: A Father – Virginia Astley (mp3)

This is from Astley’s second solo album Hope In A Darkened Heart which has been out of print for years, so not only is it lovely it’s quite rare too. Enjoy.

Once more unto the breach

The new baby is due any minute/second/day now so I’ll be vanishing into the New Daddy Twilight Zone which means there won’t be much posting for a while. I know that happens a lot here but this time I have a really good excuse.

Here’s a lovely slice of dusty old Motown to keep you company.

Download: Baby A Go-Go – Barbara McNair (mp3)

Regrets, I’ve had a few

When you were a kid did you ever think about how old you’d be in the year 2000? It seemed so far away and unreal (science fiction was set in the year 2000) but all the times I thought about it I never wondered about what I’d actually be doing at that age. Even when I grew up, in job interviews I couldn’t answer the question “Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?” because I’ve never had A Plan or been one of those people who think “I want to be doing this by the time I’m 35″ or “I want to have that by the time I’m 40.” I’ve met a few go-getters who actually think about their lives like that (mostly in America) but they’re not the sort of people I’d want to have a beer with.

Last year I became a father for the first time and the year before that my own father died so it’s been a life-changing couple of years. The only piece of fatherly wisdom my Old Man ever passed on to me was that if you keep doing good work and don’t piss off too many people along the way then positive things will happen and life will work itself out. He said that when I was going through a rough patch and it meant a lot to me at the time, especially as he wasn’t the sort of father who usually passed on sage life lessons (are any fathers like that?) So that’s pretty much what I’ve done, and with no plan and no goals things have worked out very well indeed. The Old Man was right, I just wish he could have met his beautiful granddaughter.

The reason for this indulgent navel-gazing is that today is my 45th birthday. I gave up being bothered by birthdays after the trauma of turning 30 (that was painful) but 45 does feel like a big one, like I really, actually am middle-aged now. I’m not going to suddenly turn into a misanthropic old git complaining about the bloody kids today and their stupid music, how crap movies are now and how the the whole of Western culture is going down the toilet — because frankly I’ve always been like that, my nickname at college was Alf Garnett. But I don’t want to be 18 or 25 again, I’d have to care about things like iPods and video games and text-messaging and think Green Day were really good or something too. No thanks.

Just to prove I’m still alive and interested in new things, not always looking over my shoulder at the past, here’s a record from a current band I saw live recently. The Clientele don’t pop up very often on mp3 blogs for some reason but I think they’re wonderful.

Download: Isn’t Life Strange – The Clientele (mp3)
Buy: “God Save The Clientele” (album)

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com