In The Act to Irene

NOT a regular poster on Facebook – bar the links to these posts which may have brought you here – but do tend to have it running in the background when online.

Among the promoted posts, things its latest algorithm seems to think will interest me (based on what evidence, not sure anyone could explain), ads for items searched for once weeks ago and birthday reminders (happy birthday to one regular reader), there is the odd item of interest.

For the traveller, that includes keep tabs on friends around the world or their ongoing overland trips – thankfully, starting to happen again after an understandable hiatus.

And, courtesy of changing the cover picture on the first anniversary of each day from major travels, it provides a daily reminder of places and experiences from simpler times.

Two years ago today, that was swinging in a hammock on a boat down the Amazon for six days as reality was suspended between Manaus – the epicentre of Brazil’s Covid crisis which bit for the first time within days of our departure – and Colombia where the virus brought us crashing back to reality.

Seven years ago, we were being encouraged to make a ‘donation’ to the police in the Congo before being allowed to make our way to the coast, having spent the previous morning digging a lorry out of a huge pothole, while 12 years ago the clock was ticking on the final few days before my first lengthy overland adventure.

All of those are chronicled on this website, writing about the journeys providing the reason the blog exists in the first place.

And in among them winds the meandering, often faltering, journey through my iPod from A-Z, filling the gaps between travelling – at least that is the plan, the silence of much of the last couple of years suggests otherwise.

Facebook reminded me this week that it was eight years ago that the idea of blogging such a journey would plug those non-travelling times, the first post arriving a couple of weeks later ahead of a sprint through the early tracks which ended with the first of several breaks when combining it with writing about African travels became too distracting from more important things.

Enjoying Africa for one.

Another, planned, break followed while in South America and despite good intentions and a brief flurry of posts in the weeks after returning, it has been sporadic at best since. Non-existent might be more accurate.

But it is time to get writing again, time to get back in the habit.

So to kick off that resumption, time to recap what all this A-Z Challenge is all about for any more recent arrivals, as well as checking out where it has reached in the seemingly never-ending trip through I songs (close to three years and counting).

  • My iPod decides the order

Not as simple as it seems  – A Day In The Life is first in the list, as it was when things kicked off all that time ago. But punctuation, definite and indefinite articles can get a bit confusing.

A-Punk was once the opening track, as was (A Belated) Invite To Eternity by Stornoway which has now been listed under B.

The latest section from The Von Bondies to Beach House (in a move designed to ignore any sensible SEO advice, each post is titled by the two tracks which bookended the latest chunk) was fairly simple for all that.

Billy Bragg’s The Internationale slots in after International Velvet by Catatonia, which is probably a good thing or the  stretch of songs starting The would be as impassable as much of the Congo.

  • No skipping

Each song needs playing in full so that it registers as having been played in my iTunes library.

There is the odd exception – for some reason, a Soundtrack of Our Lives album among a few other songs have appeared on my iPod in poor quality – but have stuck rigidly to my rule.

Long silences stretch the patience – Holden’s Intentionally Left Blank was just annoying while the 14 minutes of silence in the middle of Into The Storm by Lift To Experience was mystifying.

Although it did add up to stretching it out to 28 minutes, 57 seconds and the longest track to date. Fourth longest overall.

  • It’s the tracks that count, not songs

Multiple versions of the same song have to be listened to – covers, live versions, alternative versions or songs appearing on multiple albums or sources.

The most so far is five – one cover and four of the original in various different guises.

This chunk saw three versions of Infected by The The and two apiece for Inside Me by Jesus and Mary Chain, plus the wonderful Into Your Arms by The Lemonheads.

  • No revisionism

There’s some rubbish on there, but nobody put it on there but me (even if the reason is lost in the mists of time), so there’s nobody else to blame.

Except for Bono and his band of merry men who conspired with Apple to deliver tracks into my iTunes – ignored and steadfastly not downloaded to my iPod, although a quick look at what is to come (best avoided, to be honest) suggests a change of iPod has done it automatically.

My mood at the time may depend on whether a new rule is added.

  • New additions count

When this journey started, the A-Z was 11, 235 tracks long. That has grown – despite periods of little or no additions – to 15,636 with more to come when pre-release downloads appear.

At the end of each letter, there is a quick catch-up for any additions since that track’s place in the journey was passed.

Previously, this has been  a pretty quick sprint through a hundred or so tracks, but the current playlist of tracks from A-I waiting to be rattled through runs to 564 songs and will take a day and a half to work through.

That is partly down to the length of the I section, partly down to the amount of music downloaded over the last couple of years and largely down to those lengthy breaks.

May well have to split that into a few posts, once the remaining 150 or so I tracks have  come and gone.

  • Breaks are allowed

This rule was  meant to allow for  a short break to listen to new albums as they arrive, but sheer practicality has seen it stretch much longer at times.

And with good reason, not just because other things were squeezing my time, but it means each fresh start brings a new drive to plough through the next chapter.

This latest chunk has taken its time, the undoubted highlight being Invalid Litter Dept by At The Drive-In, one from the Relationship of Command album which remains one of the prime choices when a bit of noise is needed.

It was, that and The Lemonheads apart, not the most inspiring chunk although there was a couple of tracks from The Joy Formidable who always leave me thinking they need more exploration.

And that is sort of what this whole A-Z journey is all about.

Share

The Enemy to Everybody Knows

THE last entry’s diversion from the direct A-Z route through my iPod, travel and the standard ramblings of this blog into politics and the point of protests elicited a range of responses.

It was largely positive and addressed some of the key points raised from the opening weeks of President Trump’s stay in the White House (and wherever he has popped off for a long weekend playing golf) .

So let’s address those key issues one by one.

  • The Queen Is Dead is the best Smiths album. This one has been argued at length over  more than a few pints and, whatever the merits of their eponymous debut album – its most common competitor – as a complete work from start the finish (the mark of a truly great album), The Queen Is Dead cannot be beaten.

Hatful of Hollow does have its supporters (including one very welcome regular reader who stated its case again) and it is a selection of excellent songs.

But that’s what it is rather than a coherent body of work or a studio album meant to be treated as such.

Let’s not get started on The Bends v OK Computer.

  • President Trump’s dismissal of somebody who dared to disagree with him over his travel ban as a ‘so-called judge’ brought to mind a certain type of person equally as keen on sharing their opinion while trying to silence any contrary ones – the local newspaper letter writer.

Nowhere else do you see the phrase so-called used quite so often – so-called councillors (regardless of any election result), so-called expert (well, yes… that’s probably why they were quoted, it’s a way of avoiding fake news), so-called doctor (yep, seriously had that one a lot) and so-called journalist, especially in the midst of complaints about something not included due to legal reasons (what with all that so-called legal training people don’t seem to accept journalists go through to distinguish them from the keen amateur).

My favourite of all the letters placed on pages (or consigned to the trash) over the years was the one which escalated through a list of so-calleds until it hit pay dirt by describing someone as a so-called person…

Fake news indeed

  • This blog will not fall into the same lack of respect with somebody’s title, it is not Trump it is President Trump. Fascist, loofa-faced, shitgibbon yes (to quote Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach), but always President. President Fascist, loofa-faced, shitgibbon.

He did, after all, win an election. Which brings us to…

  • The response which has become common place to anyone expressing a contrary opinion to the one which won any vote since last July – you lost, get over it.

Since the Brexit referendum (and if we are going to have another referendum, can it be to vote against the word Brexit?), it has become the standard response to anyone less than pleased by the outcome and unwilling to just shrug their shoulders and disappear.

To which the standard answer is no.

Elections, referendums, any vote are a snapshot in time. Yes one side usually wins on that day and we should work to smooth over any differences and work together to make that electoral decision work.

But it does not mean voicing opposition is ruled out by the result – UK elections come with the bonus of appointing an official opposition (of varying degrees of usefulness). One of the great things about living in a democratic nation and lands of the free is that it is positively encouraged, as opposed to stamped on in so many places.

A fan of President Trump

Refer you back to the last post and how voicing a contrary view is stamped upon in so many parts of the world (as witnessed by those looking over their shoulders and talking in hushed tones while sharing details of everyday life in Zimbabwe) while standing up and making your voice heard has proved far more effective a weapon of lasting change than violence over much of the last century.

And just because we don’t like the result does not mean we are necessarily trying to overturn it – yes, you won, most of us accept that, but who says we can’t have a say on what happens next? Especially when nobody can agree what winning actually means.

  • One final question which came from the last post: Will I be visiting America while President Trumpgibbon is in office?

The answer was swift and simple – yes. Why not? Especially now Sweden seems to be off the travel list.

Having given it more thought, however, it is not quite that simple and why it was asked makes sense.

But whatever the thought processes and reasons for not going under President Trump, they are outweighed by a couple of simple facts – it is, despite so much of what we are seeing on the news (fake or otherwise), a wonderful country crammed full of friendly, welcoming people.

It has lured me back time and again over the last decade or so on a series of holidays and journeys that have taken in 39 states (some more comprehensively than others) and there is so much unseen in the quest to complete the set – more on that to come in the next few weeks.

There are two weeks booked off work this summer and the long-awaited planning for my next trip is starting to look Stateside – where and how depends on what remains in the bank account when the final damage of my run-in with the taxman (thankfully, given this morning’s final form filling, almost over) is assessed.

Fenway Park, Boston

New ground into some of those 11 remaining states? Revisit some of the places which deserve more time? Or let the Red Sox schedule decide (basically, back to New York or Boston)? Possibly, given the early flight prices, a combination of a couple of those.

Whatever the choice, there’s no intention of boycotting President Trump’s USA. That’s if they let me in.

And if you need any greater argument of why it is a country worth visiting, just try some of the music from that part of the world which punctuated the last section of the A-Z on my iPod from Roy Harper to Ryan Adams, who sneaked in behind Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows (from just over the unwalled border) having previously dropped in with two versions of English Girls Approximately.

We had some REM, albeit with Everybody Hurts – one of the handful of their songs which is really well known but which is nowhere near their best, although it is another which gave its name to a blog post – Ernest Borgnine by John Grant (no video as they all come with a very long and very rude intro) and Enfilade from At The Drive-In’s career highlight Relationship of Command (I’ll be the hyena, you’ll see…).

And, mixed in with quintessentially English moments from Harper,  The Jam (Eton Rifles) and Half Man Half Biscuit’s Evening of Swing (Has Been Cancelled), we had my current obsession Drive-By Truckers’ tale of immigrants making a new life for themselves in America.

Which seems fitting.

  • One last point… that’s it for the politics, at least for now. Hopefully for a while, but that may be in the not so large hands of others.

Back to the normal bobbins next time.

photo by:
Share

Antistar to Ashes of American Flags

THE past week has been dominated by departures – one expected but with a string of problems, the other unexpected but with a hint of better times ahead (well, hopefully).

Both have taken up the bulk of my time, thoughts and conversations, over the last few days, meaning this entry has been delayed and taken us a fair bit further along my A-Z journey through my iPod.

Departure number one saw the tenants leave my house in Cardiff.

Installed four years ago while the house stood empty on my overland journey from London to New York (helped by a string of calls and e-mails between Cardiff and China which had the agents trying endlessly to calculate time differences), they remained as my return to the Welsh capital was shortlived.

April_Skies_(single) Even as their latest contract ran out, that was one issue ahead of heading to Africa which looked simple – they sign another one and worries about paying my mortgage were sorted. That was until they announced out of the blue they weren’t signing and were moving out.

And move out they did, seemingly by grabbing a few bits and pieces, walking out the door and heading to pastures new.

At least, that’s how it appears, judging by what they have left strewn across the uncleaned house and unkempt garden, sadly bereft of a few pieces of my furniture which seem to have walked out of the door with them.

The constant amending of to-do lists for Africa, this blog and life in general has been replaced by a to-do list for sorting out the house, but only after a few very deep breaths to calm down.

As well as anger, their actions and attitude in leaving the house in such a state totally amazes me – how can anybody not be consumed by embarrassment to leave somebody else’s house in that condition?

When the time comes later this year, my flat will be attacked from all angles by an array of cleaning products and, bar a few dusty bits and one or two difficult to access places in the bathroom, it is already in a pretty presentable state.

Having just about calmed down from a trip to confirm what the agents had told me – via a journey that included an almost hour-long traffic jam in Chepstow, of all places, which helped scoot the A-Z journey along at a healthy pace and past the 400 mark (Apple Blossom by The White Stripes) – the second departure crept up on us on Monday morning.

The sacking of Nigel Davies as Gloucester’s director of rugby was not totally out of the blue – after all, the season has disappointed from start to finish and Saturday’s closing defeat at relegated Worcester was, frankly, laughable as the Cherry and Whites mixed touches of genius with splashes of ineptitude.

While the loud-mouthed bloke behind me at Worcester will not be alone in celebrating Davies’ departure (his main reason being that the outgoing boss is Welsh), his reading of the situation was remarkably misplaced and badly informed.

This, after all, was a man who only realised in the second half when he could see the names and numbers on the players’ backs that he had been slagging off the wrong player for 40 minutes while claiming that flanker Matt Kvesic had only made about three tackles all season and should be sold. His tackle numbers actually put Kvesic fourth in the entire league.

Personally, with reinforcements arriving, my opinion was that Davies deserved time next season to shape what is finally his squad – not short on talent this term, but lacking in depth and, at crucial times, leadership and direction – probably until the Six Nations at least.

But, having made the decision, the board were right to act quickly – stay or go, this could not drag on all summer.

And they now need not only to find the right man, but the right structure. Davies spent a lot of time during the season working on bringing in those signings and, from a distance, that was time Gloucester needed him sorting out the problems on the pitch – two jobs, one man just didn’t add up.

Of course, this poor season (and when we have had bad seasons before it was, unlike this one, largely expected) coincided with my first season ticket in four decades of watching rugby at Kingsholm, the first time when playing, working, travelling or living away did not keep me away from Castle Grim for long periods.

Fellow fans will be delighted that being in Africa for most of the season will mean no renewal.

So, that’s the background to the last few days, what has been the soundtrack?

wilco-ashes-of-american-flags-dvd-338-300Starting with the new longest so far (Antistar at Massive Attack comes in at 19.41, but more than half of that is largely silence bar a few background beats), we have seen classic first  entries by The Housemartins (Anxious), The Jesus and Mary Chain (April Skies, which a friend once tried to teach me the bassline to, without success) and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions (Are Your Ready To Be Heartbroken?).

Also popping up for the first time – and blowing away a few emotions on the drive back from Cardiff – were At The Drive-In with Arc Arsenal while Prefab Sprout’s Appetite gave a more gentle first touch from their Steve McQueen masterpiece (the first side of which is almost flawless) and A-Punk by Vampire Weekend slipped from the opening track of the whole countdown on a previous attempt to somewhere near 400.

Arseholes, The Shirehorse’s much preferable version of Robbie Williams’ Angels, provided a rather different direction while The Clash and Joe Strummer have different readings of Armagideon Time.

To wrap it all up on a high note, Wilco provided two versions (live and original) of probably my favourite song of theirs, Ashes of American Flags.

And blasting that out on the drive home from work was enough to provide a great end to a testing few days.

Share
 

Please log in to vote

You need to log in to vote. If you already had an account, you may log in here

Alternatively, if you do not have an account yet you can create one here.