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)

Anarchy in The UK

Well, this is a fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

I’m all for people rebelling against the establishment, and I understand the impotent rage people feel against the forces of globalization wrecking their lives, but all the Brexit result will do is hand power from one bunch of rich toffs to another, ones who have since been shown to have lied about their promises and have no plan for what to do next. If voters outside London think those wankers are going to invest in them as much as the EU has they’re in for a rude awakening. I wish I could feel some schadenfreude over that but I’m too fucking angry.

As there seems to be some buyer’s remorse setting in, and with the economic consequences of Brexit already apparent (not to mention the potential break-up of the UK) some think that the next PM will bottle out of going through with it. But that will only enrage the hardcore Leavers and lead to a surge in support for UKIP from them — violence against immigrants is already on the rise. And just when you need a strong opposition to provide an alternative, the fucking Labour Party goes and implodes.

I really don’t see a good way out of this at the moment. Thanks Cameron!

Download: There’ll Always Be An England – Vera Lynn (mp3)

The Class Struggle

I used to belong to a Facebook group called “I Grew Up In Fulham” through which I reconnected with some old school friends, heard news about others, and even learned a few things about the history of my old manor. Most of the group were old-school, white working-class people, and sadly — with some decent exceptions — the majority of them were rabidly right-wing, nationalistic, immigrant-haters. I tried to argue with them and their bullshit for a while but eventually gave up and left the group because I got sick of seeing their nasty xenophobia in my Facebook feed. On top of that none of them could spell and I was almost as offended by their illiteracy as I was the racism.

There are stupid bigots in every walk of life but these were people who had grown up in the same neighborhoods and gone to the same schools as me, and I felt like an alien amongst them. I’m under no illusions about the British working classes being a bunch of bleeding heart liberals — I know they’d vote to bring back hanging tomorrow if they could — but it was a profoundly depressing experience that made me feel even further disconnected from my roots. I hated thinking “Thank God I got away from you people” because I’m proud that I grew up working class.

I was thinking about that experience when I read the article How I Became Middle Class by Lynsey Hanley in The Guardian the other week which is about the anxiety and identity crisis that can come with upward mobility. Like me, Hanley grew up on a council estate and went to a shitty comprehensive school, but managed to go to college and now has a thoroughly middle-class life with a job in a creative, middle-class profession — a writer in her case — so I related to a lot of it.

Hanley writes about feeling isolated growing up because she was interested in learning and not into doing the same things her friends were and, while I wouldn’t say I ever felt lonely, I know what she means. I was hardly a swot as a kid, but at my school anyone who was the slightest bit academic or read books for pleasure was seen as a teacher’s pet, bully-fodder, and probably a bit gay. Few boys stayed on for the Sixth Form and only two of us took A-Level English. They weren’t any help with my career either, I got into art school under my own steam two years after I left school. During that two-year gap I worked at a t-shirt printing factory where all the workers read The Sun at lunchtime while I had The Guardian which got me a few funny looks and comments. Over the years I’ve had temp jobs as a dishwasher, cleaner, and hotel porter and it was always the same: I was the smartypants who didn’t fit in there, even though my upbringing was the same as the other workers.

I never had any Billy Liar dreams of escaping my background but that’s what art school amounted to. Four years in that environment — and meeting a lot of other kids like myself — can make it very hard to really go “home” again. You still love your family and the friends you had before, but you’ve been shown this other world where you can be more truly yourself (I wonder if my Dad felt the same when he went from being a cab driver to stage manager at the National Theatre). Plus you now have a profession which pays enough money to buy yourself the life your new pretensions require.

But I don’t entirely belong here either because you can take the boy out of the council estate but never really take the council estate out of the boy. We’re not well-off by any means but make just about enough to send our kids to a private school for a few years (but not enough to keep them there longer) which I was often conflicted about. Hanging around with some of the richer parents would make me feel like a class traitor and I’d have to fight the urge to go all Class War on their BMWs. The smug assumptions of the liberal middle classes — and often total lack of experience with people who think differently — can be really annoying too, and make me want say something reactionary just to pop their cozy little bubble. And I love good food but there’s often this common voice in my head sneering that most middle-class lifestyle trappings like fancy coffee, craft beer, and artisnal tomatoes are all just overpriced, poncey bollocks. I may have gone from Carling Black Label to Côtes du Rhône, and tins of Heinz Ravioli to organic pasta from Whole Foods, but my favourite food is still sausages with HP Sauce.

Download: Ambition – Subway Sect (mp3)

Things To Make and Do

Kids today don’t know they’re born. Back in my day we didn’t ‘ave any computers, video games, or iPhones. We had to make our own fun, like making a mask out of an old pair of tights and using BISCUITS FOR EYES.

Try telling kids today that and they won’t believe you.

Download: Paper Mache – Dionne Warwick (mp3)

This image isn’t some Scarfolk gag either, it’s from a real 1976 book called Creative Masks for Stage and School.

Games Boozers Play

Who cares that England never qualified for a World Cup in the 1970s when we had Indoor League on the telly to show off our world-beating skill at pub sports? I bet the Germans were rubbish at Skittles.

Televised Shove Ha’Penny sounds like a Monty Python sketch — and looks like one too — but this was real and actually on our televisions in the 1970s. If you’re desperate to see that exciting Shove Ha’Penny final it starts around 3:25.

Download: Spiel Ohne Grenzen – Peter Gabriel (mp3)

Manchester, So Much To Answer For

Even Mike Leigh at his most misanthropic couldn’t have come up with something as grimly excruciating as this. Don’t miss “One of Great Britain’s top recording groups” about 3 minutes in, and stay for Charlie Williams making racist jokes. After that it somehow manages to keep getting worse. 

We occasionally watched Wheetappers & Shunters at home and I don’t know what is more depressing: The show itself or the sad thought that I might have actually found it entertaining.

Conversations With a Working Man

This is almost 45 years old but sadly could have been filmed yesterday, and I don’t just mean that Yorkshiremen are still always complaining. If anything, working people seem to be going backwards economically these days.

The saddest part though is that his ambition for his daughter doesn’t go beyond hoping she grows up to be a “glamour girl” and some “fellow with a Jaguar” will come along and marry her into the middle class. I hope that would have changed a bit at least, even in Yorkshire.

Not had any Reggae here in a while, this is from Johnson’s 1984 album Making History.

Download: Wat About Di Workin’ Claas – Linton Kwesi Johnson (mp3)

When Love Breaks Down

It’s mean but I feel like getting a time machine so I can go back and tell her what happens.

Download: Don’t Talk To Me About Love (Extended Version) – Altered Images (mp3)

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





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