Remembrance.

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Every year there are blog posts, articles and comments on social media about the wearing of poppies – wearing, not wearing, the colours that they come in, etc. After a while I tune this out.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the ceremonies of wreath laying. Remembrance to me is a personal thing and the whole thing on the TV, with politicians standing there in shoes and suits that cost more than a soldier’s monthly wage, seems a little hypocritical, especially when you recognise that the poppy fund is now running to help soldiers and their families – because the very people that sent the soldiers to these places have stopped worrying about them.

But even away from the TV cameras, there will be parades and remembrance services in many other places.

This year marks the end of World War 1 and I will take a moment – my moment, not a state sanctioned one – to not just think about the soldiers that died, but all the casualties involved in conflict.  In WW1, whilst an estimated 10 million soldiers died, 7 million civilians also lost their lives.  There was also an estimated 37 million casualties – both military and civilian – and I dare say that as PTSD was not identified in this number, plus those that lived with people who suffered from it, may even push that number higher still. Plus of course there were the animals.  Some 16 million animals were used – Horses, mules, donkeys, dogs, cats, camels, etc – and some 8 million of those never returned either.

It’s very hard not to get political about Remembrance Sunday – after all, it was politics that started all of this and all of the subsequent conflicts.  But today, I’ll leave those thoughts aside.  Today I will remember all those who were casualties of a conflict.

 

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Pet Sounds

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“Nobody buys music anymore” said a poster on my Facebook timeline recently.  They went on to point out that given that music is pretty much the background for our lives, and triggers for emotions and memories, it was a shame that people just want their music for free.

I thought about this.  It wasn’t the first time that such a comment had been made to me, the previous time being when I had told a friend that I had moved to Spotify and was no longer spending as much money as I did on CDs.

Putting aside the big music labels where the company takes a massive chunk out of the purchase price, streaming services pay a fraction of a penny to the artist every time a track gets played.  Financially for the artist this is a rubbish option.

The issue is that the model has changed – both for music and art.  A good example of this change is the world of photography.  When I moved to digital photography I stopped running up huge processing bills taking my films into be processed; hoping that at least one was going to be half decent.  Even though the quality of the image has improved, there has been one other noticeable change – I no longer print out pictures.  I can view them on my tablet; and I’ve even converted an old tablet to become a digital photoframe.  Effectively, apart from the cost of the camera, this is now “free” (and actually, the camera is the one on my phone so I could argue that’s now a free app too).

So that’s the point – the whole model for how we listen to music has changed.  Whilst some people will still place the vinyl on the deck, most will listen digitally – and it’s almost human nature to seek out the cheap/free option.

The person making the comment had a point – but at the same point had shot themselves in the foot. As well as making the physical version available, they made a digital download version available … and then they put it on Spotify.  Effectively, they made the free version available.  Oops!

I suspect that part of the problem is the perception of the artists lifestyle. Listening to how they have lived the high life, how champagne etc comes easy, how they lost millions through bad investments – it’s quite easy to see how this will result in people not really worrying too much about getting the free version.  Now, I’m sure not all artists will have that kind of income, but it is easy to get swept up in a stereotypical group.

So how do we / the musical artists change this? For me, the answer is relatively simple.  Get out there and play live – and go see the artists playing live.  If you think of the single and the album as a “lost leader” then the money is off the live performance and the merchandise.  Not every ticket will cost over £100 … In the last month I’ve been to five concerts and still not broken the £100 – and if you consider that one of those had a five band line up it isn’t bad value for money at all.

 

A sidebar issue to this is the bootleg recording.  This isn’t a new thing, but with the internet connecting everyone in an instance, and with technology now at a point that it can be carried by anyone, it’s not a challenge to create a video of the concert using three mobile phones and a decent sound recorder.  Again, this is an issue that musicians (and comedians) have a problem with.  But is this really a bad thing?  Everything is negotiable.  If you play a rubbish set you can say “yup, that was a rubbish set” or you could offer to back the recording (or better still, make your own professional version).  But if you do decide to make your own, being quick at releasing is also important.  Years ago I saw the Mission in concert, and before I left I had a two disc copy of the whole show.  It doesn’t need to be that fast, but it should be pretty quick to beat the bootleg version.

The final challenge with music is that publishing companies are not interested in music – they are interested in the money that comes from the music.  Consequently, there seems to be a shift towards a homogenized sound that is appealing and “safe”.  It also means that on a 12-track album there might be four good tracks and the rest is filler.  With my Spotify option I can listen to the album and decide if it’s really my taste.

 

Ultimately the second part of the message holds true.  Music is the background to our lives – it’s just how we’ve got it that’s changed and artists (and their labels) need to change too.

 

We are all just tourists

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Earlier this week, one of my image a day prompts was “Tourists”.  I had hoped to be inspired, but for whatever reason nothing came from it – and with the day running out I decided to go for profound wording instead.

I know that the challenges I do don’t matter – in as much that nothing is lost if I miss a day, or post late, but unless I have a situation outside of my control, I don’t like to fail.  It’s a personality driver that I’m very well aware of.

As it was, the wording (or deciding upon it) neatly provided a reason for another post I was going to write this week.

I was told about an art exhibition that was on in London.  I could only really go on the Monday or Tuesday – I wasn’t going to be in London for the rest of the week, or indeed the rest of the time the exhibition was open.  It would mean leaving work early to get there for the late entrance time.  Fortunately, my Monday night opened up when my colleagues said that they wouldn’t be going to the evening class we’ve all started taking – and rather than go on my own I decided to get the tickets – and headed up town.  Unfortunately, the organisers had made a mistake on the website – and the exhibition was not open on the Monday evening.  I was offered to transfer to a second night – but having to leave work early a second night wasn’t really possible, so I asked for a midnight.  With my evening now wide open, I decided instead to go hunt for the Rhino statues in London. I also happened to fall into a comic shop and at least one pub – something I would not have been able to do if I’d just gone to the exhibition.

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When I told my work colleagues the next day they all commented that I should ask for some recompense for the inconvenience that had been experienced.  “They don’t need to know what you did with your evening” they added.

I received an email from the organisers and an agreement to refund the money. Personally, I’m happy with that. I’m not out of pocket, and it gave me two nights for rhino hunting (as I then went out again after work to look over in Mayfair and Chelsea).

 

I thought these two things linked together quite simply.  When we go on holiday, we endeavour to make the best of our time; if something happens we make alternate plans and carry on. Even on holidays there is a need to slow up and take a breather, rather than just wear ourselves out.  So why should our non-holiday days be any different? OK, there are somethings that we have to do (work, for example), but that’s not all the time – and that’s when we have to make the best of the available time.  We are just tourists, passing through this place, so buy the tickets and see the sights!

 

Because he’s a dedicated follower of fashion

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Yesterday I decided to get my hair cut (yes, I still have some, although there is a bit that doesn’t need cutting any more!).  I tend to get quite a close crop on the sides as I find that it disguises the one or two grey hairs that have appeared (LOL).  Anyway, I sat down, explained the number for the cutter and we began – and it seemed a lot shorter than usual.  However, once they’ve started you can only really let them finish their job – they can’t stick it back on.

A fleeting thought struck me – would this cut be too extreme for work?  As it was, I was pleased with the final result as it was as I usually have it (I’d just let it grow out a little more than usual so the difference seemed greater).

But it was this thought that got me thinking.  In the last week, social media posts have been filled with “Timmy’s First Day” and “Becky goes to big school” etc – complete with photos of aforesaid children looking bored and staged with what is often slightly-too-big-but-they’ll-grow-into-them blazers.  I didn’t see any news stories of children being sent home for inappropriate haircuts, but I guess we’re only a few days into term now.

Going to school in the 1970s and 1980s, the shaved skinhead was definitely not an appropriate haircut – especially as at the time skinheads were becoming less of a sign that the person listened to ska or two-tone and more that they aligned themselves to the National Front. But with the New Romantics heading into the music scene, as well as the rise of hip-hop and rap; haircuts were becoming as much a symbol of the music you were into as a furry mop over your ears.  Never had the hair length for a Flock of Seagulls haircut (or the confidence!) though.  Into the 1990’s – and tramlines started to appear.

But as we move forward, the hair fashions change again.  The idea of the “comb over” is now a thing of the past, and having close shave cuts all over (shorter than the skin or suedehead) is now a common occurrence.

 

So what’s my point?  Actually it’s this.  If you are going to school to learn, the focus should be on learning – not how you look when you are learning.  Putting arguments forward about how you look when you go to get a job is irrelevant (unless you are going for a job interview in less than three weeks).  The idea of self-respect and self-worth is great – but only if it is actually taught.  Unless someone actually tells you what is scruffy, and what is neat you won’t know – saying that it’s in a letter doesn’t help,  Moving forward to my job I’ve noticed that not everyone wears a tie these days; polished shoes isn’t a common thing (nor is ironing a shirt) and that jeans can be considered appropriate office wear.  In most cases, the smart suit is worn today with the same disregard as it was when we went to school – but we can decide when to take our ties off.  And for those jobs that require you to wear a uniform? Well, the company provides them – you don’t have to go the only shop in the county that charges over and above what might be normal.  But haircuts? Well, apart from shaping the face (if you’re worried about that sort of thing) it’s for getting out of your eyes.  There’s no labels to worry about and generally it’s quite difficult two or three days on to tell if someone spend £10 on a haircut or £60.

 

There are many times when I think not being a schoolkid anymore is a good thing.  And not worrying about my haircut must be one of those things.

 

Mid-life evaluation

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In the office this week, my colleagues were talking about their current careers and whether it was about time to do something different – perhaps turning hobbies into jobs etc.  I pondered this – I quite like what I do and it inspires my hobbies; equally, my hobbies inspire my creative thinking which in turn helps my job.  Plus, I feel quite fortunate that on balance I enjoy my job – I certainly don’t have issues working past the closing bell and thinking about solutions when I’m not at work.

Pondering this mid-life evaluation, a thought crossed my mind. “It’s not about the grass growing under your feet; it’s about make sure that there is grass under your feet”

We often talk about “letting the grass grow under our feet” as a statement for not doing anything – but of course if you aren’t moving the ground isn’t getting light – so the grass won’t grow (if you’ve ever been camping, when you strike camp the grass is always lighter under the tent – where there has been no light, the grass starts to breakdown and die.

But provided we continue to move – even a little in the area, then the grass will continue to grow (yes, I realise that if you constantly walk over the same piece of land you can end up with a very muddy patch of ground – analogies rarely work 100%).

So to move away from the analogy: it is a useful tool to ask ourselves “Am I happy?” and apply that question to our job, our life, our hobbies and our friends.  If the answer is “no” then it is up to us to decide what the next steps will be.  It doesn’t have to be a career change,  or a complete life rewrite – it can just be making time for a hobby or interest; something that we can do within any constraints that we have to live with (which may be having to create art from found supplies rather than new from the craft shop).

Finding the Authentic

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With nothing better to do I decided to travel to Covent Garden and from there walk to Green Park. It was hot, and with a slight detour for photographs down Godwin Court (possibly one of two locations that inspired the Harry Potter Diagon Alley, the other being Cecil Court, where Watkins Books can be found) I decided to have a swift drink in a favourite haunt, Mr Fogg’s Tavern. If you’ve never been it (and the upstairs Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour) are fantastic places – bedecked as you would have expected to find a Victorian public house. Except… except it’s only two years old (it opened in 2016). This was in part the seed for this blog.

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Godwin Court. With a few filters applied for good measure.

I found a corner of a table to park my pint (in a proper glass tankard) and started to look through social media. The two people who were also sitting at the table introduced themselves – they were from the outskirts of Paris and had come over for a visit. “Is this a proper English pub?” they asked.

It was a difficult one to answer – but one that led me to an interesting walk. I answered this was as typical as you might expect, but it’s a new pub – and there are many (such as the Lamb and Flag, just around the corner) that have been there in one form or another since the 1600s. We talked about how as a local person you might still discover interesting things about wherever you lived and that I was still finding things in London that would be weird, interesting and cool – but of course I’ve had many years to explore London. We also talked about places like Brick Lane – now a very trendy place and a good location for a curry (like Wembley if you’re prepared to head out to the suburbs)

As I left the pub, I thought about that question – and what do people expect when they visit other countries? After all, people in America don’t all wear cowboy boots and Stetson hats, Canadians don’t all say “eh?” at the end of every sentence… and I’ll stop there before any stereotypes become dodgy. You get my point. Certainly “Londoners” aren’t all cheeky chappies with a whistle and a chimney brush going “awlright, Mary Poppins!”

I started to think about what tourists might expect when they come to London – and how certain areas might pander a little too much. For example – based on the sheer volume of chippies around the Tower of London, Fish and Chips are very much a British thing. Personally, the Golden Union in Poland Street, just off Oxford Street, is probably the best traditional chippy (but there are many, many others that have won awards all around London).

Other things that I would expect people would want to see (and where to see them):

  • Policemen with old fashioned hats: I would suggest heading to Baker Street and the infamous 221B Baker Street. There’s a “copper” outside just ready for you to take pictures (I don’t think he’s a real one though)
  • Soldiers with big furry hats: for these you’ll need to go the Household Cavalry, just down Whitehall from Trafalgar Square (and just before Downing Street). Small note though: these are REAL soldiers, with proper guns. You can see them at Buckingham Palace, but they’re much further away. The other traditional location is the Tower of London, manned by Beefeaters
  • Men with funny Bowler hats: this is probably easier as most of the bigger hotels will have someone outside.
  • Big Union Jacks: I’d say the Mall, leading to Buckingham Palace. And if you look up, you’ll see ships on the lampposts – each one representing a ship in Nelson’s fleet.
  • London Landmarks: good luck with Big Ben right now as it’s having a makeover, but if you’re in the city, you’ll find them. Some are a little more challenging now, such as the Monument to the Great Fire of London; but they’re still out there… In serious tone, many can be found around the Houses of Parliament and along the Thames (or at least can be seen)
  • Pubs and Beer: Londoners have always liked their beer and so public houses aren’t difficult to find; the challenge is finding a GOOD one. I’d avoid the Punch & Judy in Covent Garden – its location is great, but the beer… a little too fizzy for me. Better to go up to the Nags Head by Covent Garden Station, or even better, find the Lamb and Flag (and there’s always Mr Fogg’s). Basically, you could probably throw a stone and find somewhere to get a beer. The other point is that unlike some other countries, pubs in England are social hubs as well as places to drink – they are friendlier!
  • River Thames – it’s the very big watery thing that separates the NORF from the SARF (North and South). If you have the time, get the Clipper boat and head up / down – Greenwich is awesome to visit!
  • Cricket – sorry old bean but for cricket you will need to head into the leafier areas. We don’t all play it, it isn’t everywhere and like baseball seems to go on FOREVER….

I didn’t even touch on black cabs, London buses, winkles, pie and mash not neither and no how, Cor’ blimey guvnor (and no one says that any more either). The point is that there are many hundreds of books and guides that will lead you round the streets of London. With GPS on phones you’re never really lost – but there are useful map posts all around that can help you get pretty much anywhere in London.

There are the tourist spots – and if you only have a few hours you’re going to head to Hamleys, Liberties, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus; sadly, though this has become homogenised to be the same as anywhere else. As I overheard someone say about Piccadilly Circus, “it’s like a little Times Square” (Actually, Piccadilly circus was built in 1819, Times Square 1904. So there!). But if you have a little more time, just one street over from all those locations is the better history of London.

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Piccadily circus. Other places may do better, but we were first.

I hope that the couple enjoyed their drinks and that their stay in London was a wonderful time. But I just wonder if their perception of London was met – and if they had known what was around the corner that they didn’t go down… but then, when I visit another country, I think it’s the same for me too.

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I wonder how many tourists have since this ear?

Character Appropriation

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This week I bought a few more collectable figures… ah, heck, toys. It was an electic mix – Tintin, Thomson (or it may have been Thompson), the Professor (from the Powerpuff girls) and Miffy.  As usual, the intention is that I will work them into images somehow to post on my various online locations.  It wasn’t until I sat back in the hotel room, figures lined up and camera ready that I had a thought:

 

Could I just USE these figures, or could I only use them within the confines of their characters?

 

Allow me to explain.  In my collection of toys I have some characters that are quite popular figures – Tintin, Star Wars Stormtrooper, Iron Maiden’s Eddie (In Powerslave outfit), Miffy  – and these characters have a backstory, a character style… a way of behaving.  For me, this starts to guide what I can do with that figure.  I have a whole lot of other figures, such as the Naughty Rabbits, who are cute but don’t have the backstory, which enables me to start to create one that I can then use in story telling (a quick search on my blog will show how one such Rabbit is now called Roger).

 

For younger children, possibly with little or no knowledge of character development, this isn’t an issue – a toy is a toy is a toy; if Superman is called Red Cape guy and he has to save the world from tea parties organised by Peppermint Patrol and Barbie that’s all fine (actually, that’s really good – that’s imagination and should be applauded).  As we grow up, we do lose a little of this imagination – our knowledge is expanded – we know that whilst Batman and Superman both have capes, only Superman can fly unaided, for example – so having Batman in flight next to Superman is “wrong”.

 

 

There is a certain pleasure in having these rules – because without them you can’t bend/break them.  The image “Miffy gets Squiffy” works (for me) because whilst it is very unlikely that Miffy will ever be in a story where getting squiffy is the subject matter, this breaks the rules – but by making the picture sort-of childlike it sort of fits in*

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My challenge (and this post) came from the Tintin characters I had bought.  I knew where they had come from (the Tintin stories) but I’d never actually read the stories myself – so I will have to sit down and do some research.  I have discovered that as a general approach, Herge wrote Tintin in a particular way that would allow the reader to be the boy reporter and become immersed in the story line.  I like this as it then offers a world of options.

 

The other aspect to this is that my toys aren’t the only versions of these toys. So if I took a figure and started to develop their character in one direction – and found that someone else had gone in another way, should I start to use their version too? Or just accept the multiverse theory and carry on regardless??

 

As always, there are many questions and very few answers… but I would be interested in your views on this!

 

 

*A while back I asked who writes the wording to describe art, using terms like “offers the paradigm of being both within and without the architectural soundscape through the medium of the fusion of visual and audio experience”.  Apparently, I could be that guy. Or not.