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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A Day In The Life to Adagio For Strings

“If you ever have to go to Shoeburyness, Take the A road, the okay road that’s the best, Go motorin’ on the A13”
A13 Trunk Road To The Sea – Billy Bragg

IT is somehow apt this trip through my iPod starts, well, almost, with Billy Bragg’s anglicising of Route 66.

It popped up at song number six at the start of a road trip of my own, albeit heading west over the Severn into Wales rather than east through Essex, as the journey got off to a flying start through the first 50 tracks.

Accident Waiting...It’s not the last we will see of the Big Nose Bard of Barking – indeed, he popped up later in the opening 50 with Accident Waiting To Happen – as he has been a constant in my music collection from the days of tape decks and Walkmen, through CDs and onto digital.

One of the most consistently brilliant live performers, Tank Park Salute is able to reduce me and many other grown men to quivering wrecks.

We’ll come back to why Billy is a musical and national treasure in later entries, as well as other acts who will become regular comforts throughout this musical journey – The Smiths (Accept Yourself) and Echo and The Bunnymen (a live version of Action Woman) both popped up as the first of many entries.

There was also a first appearance for Nirvana with the MTV Unplugged version of About A Girl – part of the seemingly apt soundtrack which ushered in my 40th birthday stretched out at the back of a converted bus in Seattle – and two from Bob Mould.

His Husker Dü days produced Actual Condition, while The Act We Act by Sugar provoked memories of a couple of incredibly loud, remarkably hot and fairly painful gigs.

It forms part of the unrelenting opening salvo from the wonderful Copper Blue album – followed by A Good Idea and Changes – with which they opened their set upstairs at a gig above a pub in Birmingham.

If the sweat rolling off the ceiling, the unstinting roar from a three-piece band on full throttle and the crowded moshpit was not uncomfortable enough, the twisted ankle from standing on a discarded pint glass in the middle of the moshpit provoked a tactical retreat to the rear.

Wonderful night from which my ankle soon recovered. Not sure the same can be said about my ears.

Multiple entries also come from The National, a band who have largely passed me by despite rave reviews from friends, and three from Americana legends Lambchop, whose quite beautiful Up With People is currently being played by Mark Radcliffe on 6Music. Never have so many musicians combined so well, so quietly.

There was also some songs which came out of the blue, somehow downloaded or burned into my collection but not or rarely listened to. Stumbling across them and heading off to investigate more by the bands involved is one of the key reasons for taking on this challenge – and why it could take a very long time.

Falling into this category is About Time by Art Brut, with its opening couplet “There was a time when I couldn’t stomach Morrissey, I thought ‘He can’t have had a hard a life as me’”, and Acoustic Guitar, part love letter to the instrument and part plea for it to bring back the singer’s lost love.

One of the tracks from The Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs – sorry, never managed to plough through all 69 – it also features some great lines, most notably “She always loved the sound of your strum, You made her think maybe I wasn’t so dumb” and “Acoustic guitar, if you think I play hard, Well you could have belonged to Steve Earle”.

But one band took over the first section of the list with multiple entries, including the first five tracks – A Day In The Life (twice), A Hard Day’s Night (twice) and A Taste of Honey. They also popped up more than once later on, including three versions of Across The Universe (plus a cover of it by 10cc, who are unlikely to feature again).

Which is all a bit strange, not being the biggest Beatles fan. Any music fan needs a working knowledge of their work, hence their presence in my collection, and growing up their songs were fairly constant background music, even when too young to know who they were (had no real idea, aged 10, who John Lennon was when he was shot, but was old enough to know Imagine was, and still is, an awful song).

And yes, when they were good they were very good – A Day In The Life, Eleanor Rigby, Paperback Writer and many others – but too many of their songs come perilously close to novelty (Yellow Submarine, When I’m 64 or Lovely Rita Meter Maid for starters). And don’t get me started on Hey Jude.

But there’s still a lot of Beatles in my collection, which cannot be said of classical music. In fact, there is just one piece – Samuel Barber’s Adagio For Strings.

It wraps up the first 50 tracks on the list and brings back great memories stood on a headland on an island in the middle of the frozen Lake Baikal as the sun set, the perfect soundtrack for a magical moment.

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