Freedom to Fuzzy

ONE of those Facebook on this day posts popped up in my feed this week, recalling my attempts to adjust to working a Monday to Friday, nine-to-five week.

That was seven years ago and lasted little more than a year during a career diversion out of journalism and in to the travel industry.

But since first switching from a weekly newspaper to a daily – one still embroiled in the unfolding tale of the Fred and Rose West killings when OJ Simpson was about to be more than an ex-sportsman turned actor – my working life has involved weekends.

Until now…

Be it covering rugby matches and the accompanying travelling and writing or producing pages for Monday’s papers, Saturdays and Sundays have been normal working days. 

But no longer. The past week has been the first since our newspapers took the leap from dailies to weeklies and the working week of the production department switched to a standard five-day Monday to Friday.

It’s taken some getting used to, not least because we did it from a standing start after the final daily newspapers, producing the first week’s product in three days.

And it’s not exactly been nine to five – it’s been more nine (ish) to whatever time we have finished. Which meant nine (the other one) on one night and around 4.30 on quieter ones, having wandered in nearer 10.

For people used to working weekends, taking days off in the week and considering leaving the office anything before 7pm as an early finish, it’s all been a bit odd.

What do people do on Sundays? Or with full evenings? Especially once Pointless has finished.*

Our working hours are minor changes in everything that has happened in the office in the last month. And the newspaper industry.

It came as something as a shock to us all. Not so much the decision, more the timing. We knew something would change, we just weren’t expecting it to be so drastic and so sudden.

And, however many times you go through this – reckon my personal redundancy process counter is up to double figures and have somehow survived them all, even the one where my hand went up for voluntary – it is not pleasant to go through uncertainty and see friends and colleagues disappear from the newsroom to uncertain futures.

Been debating what to write about the changes, the reasons behind it, the state of the newspaper industry and the reaction to the decision and a week in, not sure there’s a totally coherent answer there.

There’s several future posts in all that once the dust has settled and, for now, we just want to get on with it.

I remain a huge advocate of newspapers and their role in the world, especially when providing a much-needed scrutineer to politicians – global, national and local – and anyone in a position to make a decision which can impact on readers’ lives.

And, yes, the decision to go weekly would not have been my choice. But, it is an understandable one in the current climate – however many people tell us we are wrong. Right before telling us they haven’t bought the paper in years.

One thing that does need pointing out is the reaction of more than one former colleague or fellow journalists past and present who have jumped in to have their say.

Many have been measured and realistic about the state of the industry, others have criticised and repeated claims they have not bothered to check – most notably that the papers will be “thrown together” by people in another office who don’t know the area and don’t care.

Can assure them, we are based in the area, care about it hugely and the paper and I have never just “thrown together” any pages, article or paper in 27 years doing this. If that happens, it won’t just be weekends I won’t be working on newspapers.

And we’ll continue to check our facts.

The sense of change and end of an era has been echoed by the A-Z journey through my iPod as it reached the end of the F section on this section from The Housemartins to Grant Lee Buffalo – track 3,794 out of 13,090 (for now).

It looked at one point as if the whole journey had ended at The Friendly Beasts by Sufjan Stevens when my iPod basically packed up.

An F word which popped up a few times in this section came in to use, but one thing about Apple is you can find solutions for most problems online – albeit with fairly liberal use of the same F word – and it popped back in to life.

It brought a decent, if not classic, selection headed up by a pair of Half Man Biscuit tracks from across the decades – the early Fuckin’ ‘Ell It’s Fred Titmus and more recent Fun Day In The Park, complete with wonderful rhyming couplet,  ‘Soft play area with free bananas/Iguana Andy and his iguanas’.

There was the familiar figure of Billy Bragg (From A Vauxhall Velox), the lovely French Navy by Camera Obscura (more of them in the next entry), the sadly departed Stornoway (Fuel Up), Full Moon, Empty Heart by Belly – one of those bands rediscovered on this journey – a Jam classic (Funeral Pyre) and Frontier Psychiatrist by The Avalanches which somehow became a bit of a regular on the Trans Africa.

Grant Hart

Continuing the apt timing, there was Friend, You’ve Got To Fall by Husker Du, pretty much about the time the sad news broke that drummer Grant Hart had died. Not without damaging the hearing of a generation of guitar music fans.

And there was Future Boy by Turin Brakes. There’s some decisions to be made as this boy heads into the future over the next few weeks, probably starting with whether to see them live again at the end of the month.

Hopefully we’ll have worked out how this new weekly stuff pans out by then.

  • It’s not exactly no weekend work, there’s been a couple of Sunday hours ahead of finishing this post. More changes in the next month or so will produce even more free time as my journey time from work changes from more than an hour to about a minute. There are plans for that spare time, but more of that to come.
photo by: paul bevan
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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.

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