Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Team Spirit

We all learnt that at school, didn’t we?

In my case, and probably in yours (assuming no millenniums read this blog), team meant sport.  Which meant competition.  Our team, because it was a team, had to develop spirit, which was what would enable us to beat the other team.  (The fact that the other team was usually a random Wednesday afternoon selection of one’s classmates, and so didn’t really have time to do that, wasn’t important.  The concept was the lesson.)  Team spirit enables the team to compete and win.
(It didn’t work that way in practice for me, because competing in a sporting team turned out to mean competing mainly against one’s teammates in order to improve one’s chances of being noticed and so advancing one’s social status, something I could do much more easily indoors.  Although one couldn’t totally duck, I generally managed to avoid contact sports, because I didn’t like getting hurt, of which there was a more than fifty-fifty risk because, although I wasn’t physically weak or small, I resisted acquiring the skills needed to avoid getting hurt without running the risk of getting hurt, which I didn’t like.  And cricket was for privileged boys.  So I never properly learnt team spirit.)
I now, I think, see the fallacy in all this.  Out here in the real grown-up world, most teams aren’t, or shouldn’t be trying to beat another team, never mind their own.  They are, or should be, trying to get the job done.  But that bloody competitive sporting team spirit they learnt at school does nothing but get in the way.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Imaginary conversation down the pub


“’Ere, guv, wanna buy this?”

“Um, what is it?”

“Can’t tell you exactly.  But it’s good.”

“Right.  Okay.  Um, how much?”

“Ooh.  Buy it first, let’s sort that out after.”

“Um.  Okay, sounds good.”

“Deal then?”

“Course!  My shout!”

Next day, after church:

“Um, remember that thing what we was talking about last night – you know, about this, um, thing…?”

“Oh yeah, course I do.  Cheque in the post.   Fancy a pint?”

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Influential Albums #5 – Todd

About the fourth time I listened to this, I thought I understood the first track.  It’s called ‘How About A Little Fanfare?’, and it begins with Todd enunciating seven heavily distorted syllables that make no sense at all, except that they’re followed by a loud, cacophonous, well, fanfare.

So at that fourth listen, I clapped on the cans, dropped the needle into the groove, and heard a very quiet pre-play of what was to follow – the fanfare…  the syllables suddenly made sense… “how was that little fanfare, that little fanfare…?”
I’ve never been able to make it happen since.  Presumably you have to hit the run-in groove at exactly the right point to hear it; or else I was hallucinating – this was 1974.
I’ve just listened to sides 1 and 2 of this album (I still can’t make the little fanfare play again, but I swear it exists, somewhere out there in the vinyl exosphere) and would like to explain, in three simple paragraphs, why it’s influential.
1.     Todd Rundgren was a pioneer explorer of the electronic creation of music.  Synths had of course been used extensively in pop from 1968 onwards, but no-one had previously built an entire album around these totally constructed sounds and playing – the latter including his early use of sequencing technology to make a machine perform licks and riffs that not even the most proficient human would be capable of replicating.
2.     He was also a pioneer in the techniques of self-performed, self-produced multi-track recording. Although many other musicians are credited on the internet as having performed on the record, including the Brecker brothers who obviously did the horn parts (Todd egocentrically doesn’t name anyone but himself in the original cover notes), it’s obviously mostly him.  This made me begin to understand that just one person, given the right kit and skill-set, could make music from scratch.
3.     It contains one of my Desert Island Discs.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Confident Insecurity


My workmate (I call him that, though we mostly met down the pub, where this story takes place) George was a thoroughly anglicised Hong Kong Chinese, with all the confident insecurity I imagine comes with that territory.  George was (still is, I trust) a keen golfer.  One lunchtime, George came into the pub full of his weekend experience.  He’d attended some expensively well-known course (serious golfers will throw a lot of money and self-respect at their game), played eighteen, and was changing his shoes in the locker room, when in walks an extremely famous golfer whom I’ll just call Nick.
George can’t believe his luck and avidly engages Nick in conversation.  Nick’s a decent sort and lets George admire him for a while, though he’s clearly getting a bit bored by this insecurely over-confident bloke.  Eventually, inevitably, George brings the chat round to golf, hoping to pick up a game-changing tip.
“I’ve always wondered, Nick,” he says.  “I tee off and manage say 180 yards, but you usually get about 260.  How do you do that?”
Nick scratches his head and ponders for a while.  “Well, George,” he finally says.  “I think it’s this.  I hit it harder than you.”

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Unrepentant

If you don’t want to leave the EU, you’re a remoaner.  If you do, you’re a brextremist.  Either way, you’re a traitor/coward/halfwit/c*nt.  This more or less sums up the quality of the debate I’m seeing now (although ‘debate’ may be too charitable a word).

What all parties seem to take as read is that the referendum was valid in the first place.  I’ve consistently questioned this, and now that healthy desperation and vulgar abuse are finally becoming the prime movers, perhaps it’s time to reiterate my reasons.  There are three.
One: the framework.
It’s ludicrous that a simple first-past-the-post majority of those who chose to vote should be allowed to determine such a radically fundamental change to every aspect of the nature of our nation.
Obviously, this question (which is a constitutional one) dates back to way before this particular referendum, but it should have been raised and debated, both in the media and by Parliament, when the 2015 Referendum Bill was being considered.  Had it been, I would have supported a proposal that, at the very least, a majority of the electorate should be required in order to achieve a meaningful result.
Two: the legality.
It was falsely presented as a legally binding decision of the electorate.  In fact, the enabling legislation does not contain any obligation on the current or any future government to implement the result.  This well-researched and seemingly impartial Wikipedia article contains links to that legislation if you want to follow them.
It’s worth quoting in full the relevant paragraph of the article:
‘In accordance with the Act and the public duty of the Electoral Commission, an impartial guide was posted to every household in the UK and Gibraltar in the week beginning of 16 May 2016. The advisory leaflet was titled: "Why the Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK". This leaflet clearly stated: "This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide".  [my italics]
So the idea that the referendum was in any way binding rests solely on the wording of a government pamphlet.
Three: the question.
This was the subject of much debate, to fairly general public indifference, and they came up with this compromise:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
Let’s deconstruct it.  Firstly, turn it upside down:
“Should the United Kingdom leave the European Union or remain a member of the European Union?”
Would this simple rewording have influenced an undecided voter one way or the other?  I suspect it would.  So either way it’s a loaded question.
Secondly, it’s actually a spuriously overloaded question.  All that was needed was “Should the United Kingdom leave the European Union?”
And in any case, the word ‘Should’ turns it into an opinion poll, doesn't it?

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Shaving Abuse

I have recently noticed that my can of Men’s Sensitive Aloe Vera Shave Foam warns me that ‘Solvent Abuse Can Kill Instantly’.
I see I’ve been doing it all wrong.  There I was slapping the stuff on my face and scraping it with a razor blade, when all I needed to do was wait for the bristles to dissolve.
I haven’t yet tried pushing it up my nose to see if I die instantly.  Tomorrow morning, perhaps.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Parable


It’s funny how people deal with their own failures, isn’t it?
About twelve years ago I went to Witrose in my shiny new car to buy some stuff, I forget what.  As I was driving into the car park I noticed someone about to back out of a space straight ahead of me, so I flashed my lights and waited.
The driver behind me couldn’t wait the twenty or so seconds this manoeuvre would have taken, so he hooted.  I ignored this, so he decided to overtake me.  He did that rather badly – he drove into the side of my car.
I said a few not very well-chosen words.
“No need to swear,” he said.
We went and found parking spaces (the driver who’d been the innocent cause of the situation having long departed) and inspected the damage – surface scratches to my shiny new car, none visible on his old banger.
He started telling me I should have been signalling.  (I was going straight ahead.)  He told me I was holding everyone up.  (I was holding him up.)
I said: “Excuse me, you’ve just driven into the side of my car, and it’s my fault?” and walked away.