An Anniversary Gift For You

P&D Asteroid

Yes, I know this is where you expect to find yourself a bit of Country music, but this morning, something a little different. (Sunday Morning Coming Down will be along shortly, fret not.)

You see, somehow, I appear to have reached a landmark. This is my 1000th post. So, I figure you deserve my best anecdote as a reward for having stuck with me this long.

It’s all downhill from here, by the way.

Deep breath. Here goes:

We had a Christmas works do last year.

It’s something we haven’t really done at all in my time in my current job: mixing socially.

A few of us had met up at the end of September to mark one work colleague getting some sort of auditing qualification which I neither understand nor aspire to. She seemed happy enough to have achieved it, and we all had a really good night. The success of that led others to decide to organise something similar for Christmas.

And so it was that we descended on a local pub one Thursday night. I found myself holding court over a group of work colleagues, mostly women, (when they weren’t pushing ice cubes down my back, which I nonchalantly retrieved and plinked into my drink), dropping anecdotes, taking the piss out of them and myself, generally being the¬†entertaining old soak you know and love.

A few days later, I was sat at my desk at work, when within my earshot Kay (my boss) and one of the other bosses were discussing¬†how enjoyable the night had been, how Kay and I had been the last¬†man and woman standing – we stayed until the ungodly hour of almost-chucking out time – which means that in their eyes we¬†are now confirmed alcoholics. I tried not to earwig, stayed focussed on my monitor, but couldn’t ignore it when Kay said “Yeh, he’s not a bad drinking companion. Tells a pretty good yarn, too.”

I looked up, all innocent. “Who, me?”

Yes, you, they chorused.

So, here’s a pretty good yarn. Everybody I know already knows this story, but it’s the one I’m most often asked to write up here, and I’ve always resisted. Until today. But since this is my 1000th post, now seems as good a time as any.

The first time I ever told this story, and was made aware of its comic potential was back in the mid 1990s. I’d just started working for Boots the Chemist, and had to attend one of those induction/team building sessions that new employers feel obliged to make you go on.

As an ice-breaker, we were invited to tell the rest of the group our most embarrassing moment. There was the usual parade of people trying to avoid the gaze of Pat, my boss and the lady charged with presiding over proceedings. (I used to refer to her as Auntie Pat, which she hated and would often tell me not to call her it. I meant it as a term of endearment, but she didn’t seem to take it that way. Make of that what you will.)

After a few minutes of awkward silence,¬†I thought, “Ah well, I have a pretty funny¬†one”, and put my hand up to volunteer.

After I’d finished, and the laughs died down, Auntie Pat said: “I’m not sure anyone’s going to be able to beat that….”

They couldn’t. They didn’t.

I’ve told this story many times since. All of my friends know it. I told it to my Dad one Christmas a few years ago, when there was just me and him sitting up into the wee small hours, drinking, chewing the fat. “You have to tell your mother that one…” he howled. And the next day, when I did, she said “You have to tell (insert name of aunt or uncle here) that one…” Now, barely a Christmas or a family gathering goes by when I don’t end up telling this story, so you may as well hear it too.

Have I built this up enough yet?

I’ve told this story many times, but I’ve never written it. I hope this works out okay, but I can’t promise anything. That’s what’s known as a disclaimer.

Let me set the scene. It’s 1987, and I’m at Sixth Form. My fellow Sixth-Formers¬†decide a night out is needed, but an activity of choice cannot be agreed on. The boys all want to go to the pub, get drunk and try to get off with the girls. The girls, sensibly, (bar a couple of notable exceptions) want none of that, preferring to go to the cinema to see what is now universally recognised (by straight men) as being the worst film ever made: Dirty Dancing.

A compromise is reached: we’d all go to the pub, have a couple of beers, and then go to the cinema to watch Patrick Swayze do his thang.

And so to The Red Lion on Peterborough’s Cathedral Square we ventured, a bar which had two very important qualities:

  1. A juke box and two pool tables, and, even more importantly
  2. It was renowned at the time for being a tad on the lax side when it came to asking for ID.

After a few hours of pint quaffing, we¬†trotted off¬†to the cinema. At that time, there were two in the mighty pantheon that¬†is¬†Peterborough: an Odeon and an ABC, both close to each other, but I’d be lying if I told you I could remember which of them had the dubious distinction of¬†showing Dirty Dancing.

What is important to note here though is that cinemas in the late 1980s were a very different beast to cinemas now. Cinemas had two or three screens at the most; the term “multiplex” simply didn’t exist.

We all make our way into the screen showing the Dancing film. As the Pearl & Dean adverts roll…

…I’m mildly aware that I need to pee, but I figure I can control myself.

The film starts. It’s terrible, obviously. The urge to visit the Gents¬†becomes a little more urgent. I look at my watch and decide I can hold it in a little longer.

After an hour or so seems to have passed, I check my watch again. Oh. It’s ten minutes later, and my bladder now feels full enough to burst. There’s nothing for it, I decide: I’m going to have to go to the gents and miss the thrillingly complex and layered build up that you’ll no doubt be aware occurs in Dirty Dancing.

I’ve ended up sitting towards the rear left of the theatre; there’s no exit behind me to the left, so I now have to make my way along the line of people sitting to my right as I head towards the door.

“Sorry…excuse me…was that your foot, I’m so sorry….sorry, excuse me, sorry…”

I stumble to the end of the row, and make it to the door. On going through it, I find myself in an annex, confronted with three more doors.

I feel a little like this (although dressed slightly differently, but only slightly, mind):

One has the word “Ladies” written on it, so I exclude that from my enquiries.

The other two have no writing on them at all. But it’s okay, I reason to myself, because I can remember walking through one of them to get into the theatre, which means the other one¬†had to¬†be the Gents, but the sign must have fallen off. You know, like they do.

All I need to do, therefore, is remember which door one is the one that I have already been through.

The sensible thing to do at this point would be to open one of the other two doors, or both if necessary, to establish what was on the other side.

I did not do the sensible thing.

Instead, I decided that as the door marked “Ladies” was the one to the left, then the door to the foyer must be the one to right, with the door to the Gents’ being in the middle, next to the Ladies’.

Now, gentleman readers, it is at this juncture that I require some support, for what I am about to say demands a frankly incredible suspension of belief.

You’ve been in a similar situation, I’m sure, where the desperate, overwhelming need to pee coupled with the certainty of the proximity of a place to pee leads you to begin to unbuckle, unbutton or unzip in advance of sight of the actual target, right?

We’ve all done that, haven’t we?

Actually, I¬†know I’m not alone here. A chap I knew when I lived in Cardiff described the exact same thing when he recounted how odd it is that the need to pee when drunk dramatically increases the moment he got his front door key out of his pocket, like his bladder had decided that keys out = home, or near enough that nobody’s going to object. He even had a name for it: “Premature Drunk Piss Excitement”, which, if you’ll excuse the phrase, doesn’t¬†exactly roll off the tongue, but I’ve never managed to improve on it.

So, not just me then.

On this occasion, however:

I force my way through the door that I have determined is 100%, definitely, no two ways about it, the door to the gents. Unzipped and ready for action.

Only to find that the door in question does not lead to the sanctuary of a urinal.

It lead to the concessions stand.

And specifically, I am standing behind the hot dog stand. With Little Jez out and ready for action.

Luckily I manage to clench, but I see a girl dressed in the cinema’s livery turn towards me, her lip curled up¬†in disgust and horror.

And then, as I desperately attempt to tuck everything away again and head for the door, I hear the voice of the bloke she is serving, who was trying to buy a hot dog.

“Not that one thanks, love.¬†I’d like a¬†full-size one. Plenty of mustard, please.”

Appropriate song alert:

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Led Zeppelin – Hot Dog

Oh, the shame.

Drinking buddies will now testify that I now seem to have developed a system where the desperate need to pee is avoided quite simply, by¬†visiting the toilet¬†almost¬†every ten minutes after the second pint as kicked in. The correct medical term for this is not “I’ve broken the seal”, or “The taps are on now”, or “Captain Slackbladder”; no,¬†it is called “Being Nearly Fifty.”

Anyway, enjoy your breakfast.

More soon.

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Late Night Stargazing

I’m not really a fan of the whole Marvel/DC Comics movie franchise, but a month or so ago, I caught the trailer for Deadpool 2, thought it looked really funny and half-remembered a lot of people on Twitter¬†banging on about how brilliant the first one was.

A week or so later, as I scrolled lethargically through the choices on Netflix I saw that the first one had serendipitously been added, so I gave it a go. And bloody loved it.

So this week I popped along to my local multiplex to watch the sequel, and loved it even more. As well as being action-packed as you’d expect, it’s incredibly arch, funny, often knowingly so, quite sweary, and with plenty of popular culture references thrown in to keep you on your toes. There’s also plenty of “breaking¬†the fourth wall” moments, when Deadpool addresses the audience directly as the action unfolds at the same time. Think Miranda dressed sort of like Spiderman but wise-cracking like Bruce Willis in the Die Hard movies rather than just falling over and you’re somewhere close.

You¬†don’t¬†need to have seen any of the other Marvel or DC Comics movies – although I probably had a few references to them soar over my head – and you don’t necessarily need to have seen the first Deadpool movie to enjoy the second, but I’d say¬†there are enough peripheral characters in both to probably make it worth investing the time in doing so.

And the soundtrack is bloody marvellous too, and tonight’s track appears at one of the few quiet moments in the film (which contains a simply quite wonderful pop culture reference which I won’t spoil here):

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a-ha – Take on Me (MTV Unplugged – Summer Solstice)

More soon.

Sunday Morning Coming Down

I’ve mentioned Charley Pride before, of course.

Ex-Army, ex-professional baseball pitcher, the military and sporting world’s loss was very much country music’s gain.

This is from an album my Dad had a copy of when I was a kid, and which I recently got hold of a copy of for myself. By which I mean, there’ll be more from this another time.

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Charley Pride – Able Bodied Man

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

I’ve been listening to, and loving, Tracey Thorn’s latest record, called, erm…well Record recently.

I first remember hearing Tracey and her frankly incredible voice way back in the mid-80s when she was still part of Everything But The Girl, long before they changed from being a predominantly acoustic duo to being (I hesitate to call them this still, it sounds like a real Dad terminology) a dance act.

This record in fact, which sounds as great today as it did back then:

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Everything But The Girl – Each and Every One

More soon.

Saturday Night Coming Up

I’ve mentioned before how, at the time in the late 1980s/early 1990s , when the whole rave/acid scene was properly kicking off, I was largely (willfully) ignorant to it, believing proper music had to have guitars involved somewhere, and that the whole¬†scene was one in which only¬†drug-takers would have an interest.

The thing is, now I’m older, I know that’s plainly not true. And, thinking back, I probably knew it at the time, but hated to be wrong.

And here’s how I know that: my girlfriend at the time was very much into the clubbing scene, but I’m willing to bet never took an E in her life.

Her and her best mate would, every month, go along to Time Flies, at the time quite an underground night; now, over thirty years later (it’s still going), the grand old lady of club nights in Wales.

And how do I know they didn’t indulge in any off-the-menu activities? Well, because they’d come back to ours and go straight to bed and sleep, exhausted from dancing all night,¬†in¬† a way that I never managed when I went (chemically induced) clubbing years later.

When I finally gave in and started clubbing, I always wanted to let her know that she was right and I was wrong, not a situation I normally ‘fess up to. Our paths crossed for a while, but not after I’d joined the party. She’d have loved knowing; she was right about most things, and she could have gleefully added this to the list.

Maybe if I’d joined in at the time, we’d never have split, and then I wouldn’t be writing this.

Or maybe I’d have dived in headfirst – as I ultimately did –¬†in which case I’d either be dead or a dribbling basket case by now.

Who knows.

What I do know is back then, the signs were there for me. There were a couple of tunes, probably classed as cheesy now, which I loved.

Like this:

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Oceanic – Insanity

More soon.

loudQUIETloud

Mention the above phrase, and those wise old sages amongst you will see it as a Pixies reference.

Some may see it as a Nirvana reference, but since Kurt Cobain often cited Pixies as an influence, it’s not unreasonable to assume that when his records did the whole loudQUIETloud thing, as they often did, there was a hat being tipped in their direction.

And no, the emphasis isn’t all wrong in me/us/them referring to loudQUIETloud; the very point of it is that sandwiched between loud sections, the quiet(er) moments stand out for their oasis-like (no, not them) idyllic calm and beauty.

But in 1991 one band took it a step further: quietVERYLOUDINDEEDnomorequietbits.

Step forward The Wedding Present and the first single from the Steve Albini produced Seamonsters album.

It’s hard to communicate quite the impact this made on hearing it¬†for the first time. The¬†lyrical bent is as one had come to expect¬†from Wedding Present stalwart David Gedge, although rather than the protagonist being unloved or dumped as had generally been the case previously, now the subject of the song is one half of an illicit affair.

And musically: well, it starts as a slightly low-key, stripped down sound, in much the same way as¬†Blur would succesfully adapt on their 1997 Blur album. There are no trademark break-neck jangly guitars a la ¬†‘Shatner’ on display here.

And then.

And then it just fucking explodes into a sheer wall of noise: an angry, seething, frustrated, unfettered, raging wall of sound, the exact opposite of that which Phil Spector tried to do in the 60s, but no less exquisite for it.

If you’re listening to this on your headphones, I recommend you either turn the volume up or down, depending on your proclivities, around the 2:18¬†mark, because it’s at 2:20 that the fireworks start:

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The Wedding Present – Dalliance

Genuis. No other word for it.

More soon.

Ivor Gift for You

Last weekend (or was it the weekend before, I lose track so easily these days) I was at a friend’s 40th birthday. The DJ, a very lovely friend of mine, played Kirsty MacColl’s version of A New England. I was stood at the bar, awaiting service, when I became aware that¬†a couple¬†next to me were singing along to it, with pleasingly appropriate gusto.

It always fills my heart with joy, that. Not just to hear that record, but to witness others loving it as much as I do.

Prepare to have the wind sucked out of your sails.

The guy called to his spouse: “It’s a Billy Bragg song, but I’ve no idea who’s singing this.”

The woman shrugged.

I couldn’t help myself.

“Kirsty MacColl. It’s Kirsty MacColl. Famously, it’s Kirsty MacColl.” I spluttered/interjected.

“Is it?” the chap answered.

I braced myself for the follow-up “What’s she up to now?” question.

But instead, this, from his lady friend:

“He’s due a come-back, isn’t he, old Billy?”

I have rarely had to bite my tongue so hard.

“He’s never gone away….!” was all I could proffer.

And as proof,¬†this week Billy¬†has been given the Outstanding Contribution To British Music at this year’s Ivor Novello Awards.

Billy is a man who has stayed true to his principles whilst never losing the knack for bashing out a truly great tune.

I bloody love Billy.

Here’s one such great tune which features not only the dulcet tones of Ms. MacColl on backing vocals, but also one Johnny Marr, who plays guitar. Obviously.

billy-bragg-greetings-to-the-new-brunette-lineBilly Bragg – Greeting to the New Brunette

And here’s a slightly reworked version, which crops up on his B-Side heavy compilation, Reaching to the Converted (and probably, therefore, on a B-side somewhere, but I can’t be arsed with finding out which one):

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Billy Bragg – Shirley

“How can you lie there and think of England when you don’t even know who’s in the team?” What a lyric.

Congrats Billy, this is long overdue.

More soon.