I Wanna Die to I.D.

The journey is over. It has taken an age, not helped by taking a six-month or so break along the way for another trek, but we have made it.

We have completed the lengthy trawl through songs beginning with the single letter I on my iPod.

And we have even gone a little beyond, throwing in a few extra where the I is followed by a bit of punctuation – all before another long run of tracks following the I with an apostrophe.

But pretty much a year to the day since setting out with Cheatahs – the start of the live post of the A-Z during the blog a day through May challenge we have reached the finale, via that rather length detour (almost) around South America and through lockdown.

The final I track, I Won’t Lie To You by Let’s Wrestle, takes me back even further and probably deserves the full telling of a tale touched upon a few times – especially given what is running through my headphones while writing, but we will get to that.

Once upon a time, back when my knees, shoulder, back and liver held up long enough to play rugby on a Saturday afternoon, my winter weekends were pretty much spoken for – Friday night in my soon-to-be local again Dr Foster’s, the next day mixing trying to avoid both injury and drinking too much.

With limited success.

Once the final whistle went on the season, it heralded a summer of freedom.

A fair few weekends were spent largely split between bed, the sofa, the golf course and Dr Foster’s (about 100 yards or so from the flat which becomes home in a few days, bringing with it the first actual bed since before lockdown kicked in).

But a decent number brought a Friday evening journey to London and what, in hindsight, was good practise for sleeping on a sofa in the front room of my mate’s flat. About 10 minutes walk from Seven Sisters tube station.

He became the godfather of Travel Marmot, setting up this site after a late-night discussion while waiting for me to surface from his spare room – bit of an upgrade from the one-bedroom flat.

Travel Marmot still resides on his company’s server, so best not do anything to annoy him.

Back then, he was the first of our group at school to marry, the first to fledge the nest and head to that there London, providing the perfect bolthole for a weekend away for a gig (Carter somewhere in Brixton and Billy Bragg at a benefit on Hackney Town Hall steps spring to mind), a trip up West or, almost inevitably, a Sunday morning wander around Camden Market before heading off to catch my National Express home.

My rent for imposing on the newly-weds’ spare time was a C90 compilation tape each time, building a collection which became known as The Bollock Tapes after some seemingly hilarious pun to do with the Sex Pistols.

Sadly, the trips became increasingly infrequent as work commitments – which would, combined with injury, put an end to the rugby as well, although not the post-match drinking as my expanding waistline would prove – and their growing family made it impossible to continue in the same pattern.

Although still brings a welcome wave of recognition on boarding a National Express coach.

And the reason for this trip down memory lane?

That closing entry on the run of I tracks came from Let’s Wrestle, who featured on bass Mike Lightning – eldest son of my friend and his wife (with the stepson of Loft and Weather Prophets’ front man Peter Astor on vocals and guitar).

Not sure those compilation tapes can take much (or, let’s be honest, any) credit but musical creativity clearly runs in the family – my money’s on it coming from their mother – as this afternoon’s listening would attest.

My weekend place in my London family would be taken full-time by two boys and a daughter, Poppy, who first met when she was just a few days old.

She has grown a bit since then and is now the singer, guitarist and songwriter of rising band Girl Ray, whose second album Girl was featured today on one of the joys of the coronavirus lockdown – Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties.

The idea, from Charlatans front man Tim Burgess, is simple – press play on an album at an agreed time and follow along or chip in with band members and people involved in making the record on Twitter (#timstwitterlisteningparty).

You can even join in if you missed one – check out the website for what is coming up (very excited for Every Vally with Public Service Broadcasting in a few weeks) and also to replay the tweets in real time as they came in while you listen to the album.

It has provided a welcome, illuminating, communal break from lockdown for music fans and hopefully there is a place for them when some form of normality resumes as they have provided some wonderful escapes into albums old and new, reminding us of the power of music to transport us to better places and times.

Somehow, listening to it together adds something extra.

Pick of the bunch for me have been Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs – forgotten just how good that record is – and Burgess’ own pick as the highlight, Steve McQueen by Prefab Sprout.

Long argued it contains one of the most perfect first sides of any album and, aided by the contributions of singer Wendy Smith and bass player Martin McAloon, heard new things even 30-plus years after my first listen.

Pretty sure tracks from it would have featured on those Bollock Tapes.

Not sure too many, if any, other tracks from this latest section of the A-Z would have followed suit.

It was a section of pretty much getting through the final stretch from newcomers Disq to the unfathomably popular Kasabian which mainly taught us how many songs The Beatles had beginning with I (and it’s apostrophe-ridden relatives, believe me).

Certainly not a chunk of songs that will be revisited and replayed on Twitter any time soon.

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I Need Direction to I Wanna Destroy You

SO what have you got up to in the 56 days since Boris Johnson flapped his paws around above a big desk and introduced unprecedented restrictions on our life?

By law, in an unprecedented move, the word unprecedented has to be repeated an unprecedented number of times in the opening few paragraphs.

Risked breaching restrictions by not using the word coronavirus before this point – managed it for an entire article for the first time the other day which was a pleasant change, but was fretting over being picked up for not using the correct number of unprecedenteds.

Hope you have been getting further down that list of long-planned jobs than me.

Have you learned a language? Upped your sourdough production level to that of a cottage industry? Watched every programme that someone has recommended on Netflix, Amazon Prime and iPlayer? Or made a scale model of Chris Whitty fashioned out of the clippings from the family’s lockdown haircuts?

Good luck if you have. Or if you have managed to get anything extra done.

Even one word of Spanish, half an artisan crumpet or the opening credits to Tiger King would be one up on me.

As would a haircut, although lucked out by having one in Cartagena days before being forced to flee Colombia (well, find an earlier flight home, but flee adds an element of drama sadly lacking in the rest of my lockdown existence) and have the advantage of there not being that much hair there to start with.

Have bucked the trend a bit by staying largely clean shaven (well, once a week) for the first time in at least six years, but good intentions don’t survive here.

Been too busy.

When Boris Johnson – and please, it is full name, the Prime Minister, Johnson or… well, sure you can come up with something, never just Boris – announced the restrictions on March 23, had been home for five days and was heading for a third night spent on my sister’s sofa (still there) having given up my flat to head to South America.

And a day away from my first Government-sanctioned bit of exercise – what has become the daily walk round the local roads, via one of a couple of shops, which are starting to be a bit repetitive – and sending out a raft of job applications.

Jobs anywhere are pretty thin on the ground, certainly in journalism with former colleagues furloughed or taking pay cuts, and most of the applications came back pretty quickly with a message saying the vacancy and recruitment had been put on hold.

Was steeling myself by the weekend to going back to my teenage years and getting a job stacking shelves, collecting trolleys or whatever the essential supermarkets needed doing.

Anything to earn a few quid until something else turned up and allow me to find somewhere to live and bid farewell to the sofa and my new roommate. More of him later.

And then, on the Sunday evening, came a message from one of those job applications. A quick exchange and a morning phone call later and before you could explain the R number to somebody, was sat at the dining room table writing a story about the impact of the coronavirus (see, impossible not to mention it) on school fees.

What started as one story, became a couple a day, then more and before any of us really knew what had happened, was working full-time as a freelance, writing about business.

Try not to tell anyone (think have got away with it up to this point) but it is not my specialist subject and have leaned heavily on some advice gleaned early in my career – there is no such thing as a stupid question.

Not all advice stands up to scrutiny, as someone who tried to talk me through some economic figures will gladly attest.

But it is amazing what you can learn in a short time when the rest of the world is on Duolingo, nursing a sourdough starter or binge-watching The Stranger (did actually watch that, but had seen half of it with subtitles on the iPad in a hammock next to me on a Brazilian ferry, while its owner kept kicking me).

So my day has fallen into a routine far tighter than the one discarded in August in favour of living out of a bag on the road.

My commute is somehow even shorter than the couple of hundred yards it was, this one taking in the metres from sofa to dining room table (via the kitchen) for 8am and a morning tapping away at the laptop before the lunchtime newsletter goes out.

A quick break for lunch – and clearing storage on a crammed laptop which was painfully low until a couple of weekends of back-ups and reboots – and it is more of the same, if without a looming deadline, logging my hours for the invoice and off on my daily bit of exercise cum escape from the confines of the office/living space which has made up most of my world for the last nine weeks.

And with a nightly call to Australia (see recent posts if you are wondering about that one) before bed, that leaves just a few hours for food, language learning, bread making and box set addiction.

In my case, replace those with sorting through, stealing and ordering thousands of pictures from South America and turning my trip notes into a lasting chronicle of the previous six monhs.

Or, to be more accurate, getting distracted by something on my laptop and finding a myriad of ways to avoid doing whatever had been allocated for that night’s lockdown task.

All this to a soundtrack of a few fresh musical arrivals, a new fondness for podcasts, those 15 albums on Facebook which shaped my musical tastes, Tim Burgess’ Twitter listening parties – one of the great plusses of this whole crisis and something worth covering in a future post – and the latest trawl through the A-Z of my iPod.

That, usually listened to on the daily walk, took us from Teenage Fanclub to The Soft Boys (a sort of tribute to a musical Facebook group) via an occasionally diverting, if hardly headline-grabbing, collection of tracks as the lengthy trawl through I songs continues.

The Stone Roses wanna be adored so much they told us three times, perhaps why The Ramones wanna be sedated with The Smiths probably summing it up best with I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish.

REM popped up with I Remember California and I Took Your Name (twice) and there was also repeat appearances from Sufjan Stevens (I Saw Three Ships and I Walked) with notable outings from Stornoway (I Saw You Blink), I Am Kloot (I Still Do) and a decent discovery from The Orielles with I Only Bought It For The Bottle.

Could have said that a few times in recent months.

One last thing.

My lockdown bed – just need to remind my roomie of that

Mentioned my roommate earlier on, usually to be found on the sofa across the other side of the room, occasionally in his bed in front of the television and, far too often, trying to get up on my sofa or just being disruptive in the middle of the night.

Harry is a, very nearly, eight-year-old chunky black Labrador and the fact he is here to keep me awake through the night is something of a miracle.

Certainly various vets thought otherwise when he suddenly lost the use of his back legs at the start of last year.

But he is very much still with us, scooting around propelled with his immensely powerful front legs and, when the mood takes him, with his wobbly back ones playing an increasing part.

When they can keep up with his front ones.

Last night he slept through until 8am, the night before we got as far as 2am. And then 4.30am, before finally gave up any hope of a lie-in sometime around 6.30am.

Hoping the snoring coming from the other side of the room is a sign he is settling in for another long night asleep – after a final whizz/drag round the block, depending on how helpful he is feeling.

Maybe my lockdown existence is not quite so predictable after all.

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