Come and ‘ave a go if you’re avant garde enough

I love parodies but has it all gone too far? Just before New Year, I managed to negotiate with my kids half an hour of music television. Ah, a classic straight away: Sum 41’s ‘Fat Lip’, which features a random Iron Maiden tribute at the end. Afterwards, it was Bowling for Soup’s ‘1985’:

‘Cause she’s still preoccupied
With 19, 19, 1985…’

To be fair, having read the lyrics, there is a genuine and sad narrative that is quite surprising for what sounds like a standard ‘pop punk’ song. I had thought that it was a brazenly nostalgic song written to justify a silly video with references to 1985, though ‘Addicted to Love’ was released in 1986 and ‘Faith’ was released in 1987!

So is a fondness for parodies based on nostalgia or is it simply laziness? ‘It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.’* I’d add that it’s easier to imagine the end of capitalism than the beginning of a music style that is truly new. There’s a van parked outside a nightclub in town that has ‘80s’ and ‘90s’ on the back and various photos and images associated with those decades. Can you imagine a van parked outside a nightclub with ‘2000s’ and ‘2010s’ on it? All the images would surely inherently be parodies…So do I love them or not? Yes, but wouldn’t it be great if, instead of the weary widespread acceptance of ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ postmodernism, we were part of something original?

‘Postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to…irreverence, and self-referentiality…’** Indeed, have you seen the video for ‘Finesse’ by Bruno Mars? Honestly, why don’t we just put our brains in jars and watch Fresh Prince on repeat?

‘Punk continues to fascinate because it was the twentieth century’s last avant-garde.’***

‘Avant-garde in music can refer to any form of music working within traditional structures while seeking to breach boundaries in some manner.’****

Come on Bruno, sort it out!






This Is Just To Say That I Hope These Words Move You

I’ve just written yet another letter to the paper about the NHS. I heard on the radio yesterday that a woman died, having waited almost four hours for an ambulance to arrive. She was struggling to breathe. Can you imagine the pain and fear? How did the thousands/millions of other people react when they heard this news?

Cyril Connolly wrote in 1938:

‘…Unless writers do all they can it will be too late; war will break out and the moment be past when the eloquence of the artist can influence the destiny of humanity.’

To think that ‘the eloquence of the artist’ can have such influence! Despite Orwell and, no doubt, many other tireless heroes, war obviously did break out. Maybe this poem would inspire millions of people to save our NHS:

This Is Just To Say

I have taken
the NHS
that was in
public ownership

and which
you were probably
for future generations

Forgive me
it was so profitable
so good
and so rich*

I like to think it would, especially as I wrote it (some credit also due to William Carlos Williams). I think the poem was re-tweeted 83 times. Aw mah gawd – I’m famous! Justin Timberlake’s new song had about 1.8mn YouTube views in about 16 hours. Tony Walsh’s ‘This is The Place’ has, so far, had almost 205,000 views**. The crowd he was reading to loved the mention of Emmeline Pankhurst. I’ve just glanced at the wiki entry for her – lots of activism, not much poetry.



Aware of the loud beating of my own heart

I rarely watch the telly, but it was Christmas Eve and I had to stay up till midnight so that the kids would have fallen asleep and I could invite Santa into the house so he could leave the stockings and eat the pies. I ended up watching The Great Gatsby and, during the first party scene, I wondered whether Baz Luhrmann had directed it. While the party scenes were inevitably immense, and the anachronistic use of modern music outrageous (yet somehow appropriate), the scene that sticks in my mind now is the one in which Gatsby meets Daisy for the first time in five years. Leonardo di Caprio conveyed the awkwardness that I remembered from the book. That seems to imply that I believe all adaptations should be faithful to the book but I actually agree with Anthony Minghella, who says in my Christmas present, ‘Minghella on Minghella’, that this shouldn’t be the case. I just think it’s a beautiful scene, in the book and the film, especially as it contrasts with Gatsby’s hitherto pristine confidence. He is utterly humbled by his love for a woman.

‘There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams – not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion.’

So it’s Boxing Day, and I suppose I’m like most people now, thinking about what will happen next year. I hope dreams are achieved and, even if not, the colossal vitality of your illusions is enough to carry you through dark days. It works for me most of the time. Failing that, read some poetry: there’s plenty of it in The Great Gatsby.

Happy days on a loop


There is a wonderful photo on the homepage for The Fling Festival: taken from immediately behind two DJs (one of whom I recognise as Steve Lamacq), it also captures the happiness of about 200 revellers taking part in what I presume is a silent disco. Almost in the exact centre of the photo is a man with arms aloft in celebration, a pint in one hand. He is wearing sun glasses (indoors!) and a huge smile.

Walking home earlier this week, I stopped to take a photo of an American diner that has been abandoned for months. The surrounding mist only made it more beautiful. I used to love going there. However, even its Pulp Fiction dance floor and Happy Days on a loop (in mute) could not prevent it being closed. Customers became tired of waiting for tomato ketchup and basic politeness, so I had to practise my John Travolta moves elsewhere.

‘Only let it form within his hands once more –
The moment cradled like a brandy glass.
Sitting alone in the empty dining hall…’*

Sitting alone or dancing together? No need to choose a ‘best’. Only let us replay the happy moments…


What difference does it make?

I read (and re-tweeted) this fantastic comment on Twitter a few days ago:

‘When people talk about travelling to the past, they worry about radically changing the present by doing something small, but barely anyone in the present really thinks that they can radically change the future by doing something small.’

When I logged back into my Twitter account a few minutes ago, I read this:

‘I feel physically sick. I feel so anxious. I’m not sure how many more years or months I’m going to be able to work daily on climate change. Today is one of those days:

State of the Arctic, 2017: “Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades.” ‘

Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist I have never met. I have shared his doom-laden tweets so often that they are now always shunted to the top of my feed due to ‘algorithms’ or something.

But that quote, though! You have to do what you can. Over the past 10 years, I have written hundreds of letters to local newspapers about war, budget cuts, the NHS, climate change…but why? To vent and to hopefully encourage others to do something, whatever that might be. Something small, something positive, something that will benefit others.

‘For poetry makes nothing happen…’**

No, and maybe letters don’t, and I’m almost certain that this blog won’t, but you need some escapism when you think What Difference Does It Make?

‘I’m so sick and tired
And I’m feeling very sick and ill today…**



I was here first

Last night I went to a poetry night but a couple sitting next to me had not, so they decided to speak as loudly as they could until I braved it and asked them to be quiet. “But we’ve been here since 6,” said the man, which was quite an odd defence, I thought. Imagine if someone organised a wake at a Wetherspoon’s, everyone shuffling sombrely in, drying away tears and remembering Pete holding his favourite pint. ”Ayyyyyyyy Macarena!!!” chant a group of tropical shirt wearing idiots at the bar. Mary (Pete’s widow) shudders and politely points out the seriousness of the situation. One of the idiots says, “But we’ve been here since 2am!”

If you see similar behaviour, don’t stand by and let it happen: let poetry win!

Poetry in a miner key

Some students thought it would be a good idea to host a miners’ strike-themed event, at which guests would have been dressed as miners or members of Margaret Thatcher’s government.* In other news, Prince Harry will be getting married. A few years ago, he went to a ‘Colonial and Native’ party dressed as a Nazi. It doesn’t seem to have done his CV much harm.

I was struck by this poetry in the invitation to the miners’ strike event:

‘…a few working class beating bobbys (sic) wouldn’t go amiss
Nor would a few Falkland war heroes.
You get the gist…’

Ah, poetry…But hang on. Of course, this is repellent: how could anyone ever think that such an ‘event’ would be a good idea? The organisers attempted to whet the appetite by stating in the invite that guests should ‘expect a confrontation bigger than Orgeave.’ Wow! Why stop there? Next up: an ‘event’ modelled on the massacre of 642 people in Oradour-sur-Glane in 1944.**

‘…a few villager murdering Nazis wouldn’t go amiss
Nor would a few students with a general disregard for common decency.
You get the gist…’




Are there cats?

On the same day that I read that a dog who was abandoned by her owner at an airport had died of a ‘broken heart’, a majority of MPs voted to reject the idea that animals feel emotion and pain. Perhaps the MPs would say of the dog: ‘But her heart was not literally broken!’ Indeed, but three years ago my cat literally curled up in the shower and waited to die. The £80 spent on the emergency appointment that ended his pain was the best £80 I will ever spend. A friend wrote: ‘Animals are sentient beings. This is a scientific fact,’ which reminded me of John Oliver on climate change:

‘You don’t need people’s opinions on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking, “Which number is bigger: 15 or 5?” or “Do owls exist?” or “Are there hats?”’*

One assumes that the MPs who voted to reject animal sentience are in fact sentient themselves: if you hit them in the face, they would say ouch; if you scratched their car, they would feel upset. So, surely there can only be one reason to deny animals sentient status, and that is to exploit them. Therefore, would it be a surprise if we woke up tomorrow to the news that the poor will no longer be classed as sentient?


Note, 27/11/17: I have been advised today that the vote against Caroline Lucas MP’s animal sentience amendment is not the same as voting against the idea of animals being sentient. Happy to be corrected, but after seven and a half years of the present government, is it any wonder that people would interpret it as such? Isn’t it all rather plausible?

Sorry, back to poetry… 

Bop! Oh! And the money men…

I read in the latest edition of Cambridge Alumni Magazine (CAM) that ‘the weekly College bop has been a mainstay of student life for almost 50 years.’ My nostalgia for those ‘halcyon days’ clashes with the irritation caused by the word ‘bop’. I think I probably thought at the time that it was quite charming: the word ‘bop’ was uniquely Cambridge and we were going to jolly well enjoy living in this fake twee universe we had created for ourselves. More recently, I have read that Cambridge (and Oxford) have secretly invested tens of millions of pounds in offshore funds, including in a joint venture to develop oil exploration and deep-sea drilling.* Oh, how wonderfully cute! I remember going cap in hand to an official to ask for some hardship money and being refused, despite the stench of poverty and BO and a big toe poking through a shoe. No money for me – it’s in the Cayman Islands! No money for hospitals – it’s in the Cayman Islands! Ah, shut up, Neil – play the theme tune from Inspector Gadget and have a little dance, won’t you? Call it a ‘bop’, there’s a good man…



The dogs go on with their doggy life

If only Anthropocene was just the name of an album by Muse. I wander around town and observe people being dazzled by things in my aloof way…

‘…the dogs go on with their doggy life…
…how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster…’*

It’s tempting to stand by the preacher and demand a little more interest in the sixth extinction of the species. I’m torn by eternal worry and the impulse to find sanctuary in art. Until a few days ago, I had never heard of Jim Jarmusch. I’ve just seen the film Paterson and now I think he’s the coolest person on the planet.

‘For us human beings, time is limited on this planet. There are too many people and nature is soon going to rectify this. It is going to be difficult and tragic…We have to be very grateful for very small details of life…’**

Like poetry and films, I suppose. Poetry and films, poetry and films…Repeat whilst skipping to the cliff’s edge…