STRANGE what memories a song can summon from obscure corners of your mind.
Taking the relatively small sample of the latest section of the A-Z journey through my iPod – which covered plenty of miles from Mull Historical Society to Bombay Bicycle Club – several songs popped up with strong associations.
Arcade Fire’s Cold Wind rekindles thoughts of walking across the frozen Lake Baikal in the middle of Siberia, while Coma Girl by Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros brings back great memories of gigs with The Mighty Badger (one of their later offerings, it was also one of my favourites).
And Ryan Adams’ classic break-up track Come Pick Me Up – indeed, the entire Heartbreaker album – reminds me not of personal heartache, but an afternoon spent washing up and cleaning the kitchen.
Memoirs of music fans often tell grand tales of first hearing the track that changed their life – Stuart Maconie’s Cider With Roadies recalls him first hearing This Charming Man while travelling in the boot of a friend’s car – but they tend to creep up on me, working their way into my brain until they have taken firm root.
But that first (second and third) airing of Heartbreaker one Bank Holiday Monday afternoon in Cardiff has somehow stuck. Even in such unexciting circumstances.
Cleaning the kitchen was not on my to-do list when the day started with the early shift at work, back in the days when evening newspapers printed on the day they went on sale.
Having gone into the office way too early – bank holidays always had an earlier deadline – finished off pages with the overnight sport and put together some early pages for the next day, it was back home by lunchtime.
Not to a relaxing afternoon in front of the TV or out and about doing something productive (work out which one was more likely, given this was a bank holiday in Cardiff, so it was probably raining), but to an almighty mess in the kitchen.
It had been growing for days as part of a stand-off between flatmates – three of us who had been in the house for a while versus the new lad.
Three against one hardly seems fair, but the latest tenant to move into my old room (after my rapid move into the much bigger front bedroom the instant the original fourth member of our happy band had moved in with her now husband) didn’t let being outnumbered sway him.
Not only was he impossible to understand – a thick North Walian accent was mixed with a tendency to mumble and swallow his words – he also had a rather different view to keeping the house tidy to the rest of us (for my former work colleagues, getting him to do his share was akin to trying to get me to make a tea round).
The work was not evenly distributed, one of us looked after all the bills and handed us regular notes on how much we had to pay, and kept the whole thing ticking over. The rest of us cleaned up after ourselves, kept life as simple as possible and got on remarkably well.
But not the new guy. (This blog has a bit of a rule to avoid names where possible, but seriously can’t remember his. Sure he told us, just not sure we understood it.)
It all came to a head after he spent an evening cooking for himself and managed to use pretty much all our pans and cooking equipment, leaving them coated in some unidentifiable gunk.
Leaving them being the key phrase. Piled up in the sink.
Having sat there for a couple of days, despite a few increasingly impolite suggestions that he washed them up, we moved the whole collection to outside his bedroom door.
He responded by simply bringing them back downstairs, where they sat in an unwashed pile which grew as he left more unwashed plates and pans in its wake – some of which we had to remove and wash ourselves just to have something to cook and eat with.
It all reached a head the Sunday night before that bank holiday when another of his cooking attempts (thankfully not that frequent) left a trail of devastation which greeted me en route to work the next morning.
The note pinned to fridge the letting him know my true feelings was gone on my return, but the mess wasn’t and my patience ran out – sadly not, as planned, by dragging him downstairs and forcing him to clean up as he was nowhere to be seen.
So Heartbreaker – bought, as a lot of my albums were in those days, on the back of an Uncut magazine sampler CD – was popped into the stereo and the job of clearing up began.
And having listened to it once, it went on again and again as the clean-up went beyond merely working through the washing up, but moved on to a total overhaul and reorganisation of the kitchen – totally out of character for me, but such was the need to keep listening to this wondrous album, of which Come Pick Me Up was a one of the highlights.
The reaction of the man who sparked this kitchen frenzy – the latest in a list of flatmates who could, and probably will, fill more posts on this blog – was negligible.
He said not a word about the note or transformed kitchen and soon started work on building a new pile of washing up for him to ignore and us to get frustrated about, prompting another, less polite note pinned to the fridge which contained one or two words he may have had problems swallowing.
That had the desired effect. Mainly because he found it as he walked into the kitchen with his visiting mum, who evidently gave him a dressing down to the extent that he not only cleaned up the mess, but appeared at the lounge door with a cup of tea for the rest of us before she departed.
The lasting impact was far greater on my musical tastes, sparking a love affair with Adams’ work that saw him pop up several more times in this section and a burgeoning interest in Americana.
But there’s still plenty from the indie ghetto which had been my musical home up to then, three versions of Come Play With Me by The Wedding Present surfacing in the latest batch of tracks, along with two of Coffee & TV (possibly my favourite Blur track) two of Come As You Are by Nirvana (unplugged and electric) and the wonderful coupling of Cloudbusting, almost certainly Kate Bush’s finest hour, and Sufjan Steven’s Come On! Feel The Illinoise!
As for that ex-flatmate. He moved out not long after (the rest of us would soon go our separate ways as well) but our paths did cross some time later in a pub in Cardiff and we sort of spoke.
Just had no idea what he was saying.