Category: the lockdown diaries


imageWriting for a living throws up an odd dichotomy. On the one hand writing is at its best when it is left to go where it will, when you can let the pen guide you and take you places you might not have thought about visiting, like an endless train journey with each daily destination chosen at random. On the other, you need to earn money and so have to be discipline enough to follow a, sometimes very precise, brief.

The middle ground, however, is an interesting place. It is the middle ground where I do most of my writing, which these days generally falls into one of three areas. Music, travel and games, all of which, to some degree or another, allow you to build worlds in which your writing can flourish.

Music is easy, you are guided by the sonics but the interpretation of the music is the key and it is when you look for context in which to set the music that you find yourself building small scenes and scenarios to explain it, real or imagined. You can find new angles of attack and new arguments to make. After all, no one wants to just read a lame journalistic description of the music…and anyway, no-one has been dull enough to do that outside local journalism since 1987. A music review should be used to call the tribes together, to share the passion, to connect with like minded souls, a literary stone dropped into the still waters to ripple outwards, it should also tell the reader just why they need this record, how it will change their life, what the artist was trying to do, even if said artist didn’t realise that was what they were trying to do. Why you can not live without this album in your life! That’s the bottom line.

Also, any review containing the word Beatle-esque should be burned immediately…even if you are reading it on your lap top.
Travel writing might take place in the real world but it can heighten the focus of your attention to otherworldly altitudes. I was recently commissioned to write a series of articles designed to promote various locations in Montenegro to the western tourist. The resulting pieces were a cross between a TV travel show and a field guide to the less mystical parts of Middle Earth. Why describe and dictate when you can amuse and amaze?

Games writing is the best. When someone says to me, I have built these games mechanics for my RPG (sadly most are just re-inventions of the D&D wheel) but need someone to flesh out the world it is set in, my eyes…and occasionally my bank balance…light up. It’s like writing the background to your own novel without having to worry about a convincing plot line. I get to literally build worlds –  describe cities, explain the history of the place, set up backstories and complex political relationships, invent religions, evolve new races and fallen gods, narrate past wars and conflicts set to happen, travel the oceans and climb mountains. And with the next job I get to clean the slate and build a different one.

I think what I am saying is that even piece-work such as mine can revel in the extraordinary…if I get it right at least, words can build worlds. That’s a t-shirt slogan right there.

vinyls1My first reaction to people nominating each other to post their top ten influential albums  lists was to run a mile. It is just my default setting. If something is popular I will run away, watch it from a distance, prod it, examine it, gradually testing the water until I decide if it is really for me or not. Generally the answer is not. It is a safety measure, probably an elitist one, but I can live with that. It is why I have plenty of Lilac Time records in my collection and no Foo Fighters, it is also why I can’t name you a single Kardashian…Kod, Klap….Klimt? It is also probably why I am single! Ahh well.

Then I thought, but if I were at the pub I would be leaning on the bar talking to someone in a band T-shirt about why The Smiths wouldn’t have existed without The Church or just how underrated Mazzy Star are…or some such precocious twaddle, so why not this, why not encourage virtual debate about our mutual record collections. If I crack open a beer and put some music which sounds like it was made by someone in a plaid shirt or, depending on who is working, a Finnish indie-electro-pop outfit,  I could almost be in The Tuppenny.

There is also the “Whatever gets you through the night” approach. I’m lucky, I’m a hermit most of the time, sitting at my keyboard writing, content in my own company and happy to be left alone, I have books, wine, cheese, music and sci-fi movies, why would I need people. But most are more social than me and it must be hard going from a 9 to 5 environment into weeks of lockdown, so if such interactions help take the edge off, who am I to judge?

So I did it, I posted, I debated, I engaged, I made puns, I had fun…I hung out with my mates.

Then I realised that I had totally switched camps…perhaps if more people’s opinions were less entrenched and fluid enough to move with their experiences in a fast changing world, it might be a less hostile place, but that is a bigger debate for another time. Yes, I switched camps…totally, now I get more annoyed by people who actively post to the detriment of such activities, belittling those who take part as being “self-important” or congratulating themselves for being humble enough to not to engage, in that way that only passive-aggressive, self-aggrandising, narcissists can. Look at me…don’t look at me!

It then made me consider the modern notion that we like to define ourselves  more by what we don’t like …Coldplay, sun-dried tomatoes, Dan Brown scribblings (guilty but….no, actually, just guilty) TV soaps, rather than the things we are truly passionate about…The Waterboys, Eggs Benedict, China Mieville novels, Black Books. Maybe it isn’t a modern concept, I’m picturing two Roman legionaries slagging off their commanding officers Galea for the amount of product he uses in the horse-hair plume.

So, what am I saying…nothing really. Perhaps, be more positive, let people get through this any way that they can, support your friends, support total strangers, give each other space, celebrate the good, don’t fret the small stuff…and to quote a wiser and more successful man than me…be more kind.

2478105220_91eb47aeb1_zI had to make a supply run today, something that used to seem like an everyday chore but which has now take on the frisson of a covert black ops mission. Never has buying wholemeal bread and toilet roll felt so exhilarating.

On the way home I cut across a small area of grass, too small to be a park really, just a green space designed to allow a bit of breathing room amongst the rows of terraced streets and railway era semi-‘s. When I first moved to the area, on sunny days such as today, the place would have been full of the local Asian kids, I live in an area with a modest proportion of Goan families, playing cricket and volleyball which was kind of cool to see.

Over the years the nature of the space changed and the place seem to become the bastion of grey looking people in JD sportswear, swigging out of cans of cheap, strong lager and spitting and cackling like well-cooked pork crackling. Then I started noticing needles lying around the place, smashed bottles, crumpled cans and all the other detritus of lost days. Then I stopped cutting through the area altogether and instead walked the longer way around to get back home.

I walked through today though, assuming that it would be empty, and it was. But the space had changed again. With its upkeep now being of low priority for the council teams, presumably, it had gone a bit wild. The normally clipped grass was a lush ankle high sea, dotted with yellow dandelions and white daisies. Cow parsley clumps and clusters of nettle had taken root and various other species which would normally be classed as “weed” where reshaping, recolouring, reclaiming the area. It was glorious.

There is a lot of debate about wild spaces in urban environments these days, I have to admit I don’t know enough about the subject to have an opinion one way of the other (stop press: man on internet saying that he doesn’t have an opinion about something stuns nation!) but I do know that it was nice to spend even those few, fleeting minutes there.

 

 

imageThankfully, my work is fairly flexible and although writing about the music and arts side of things has taken a dive, I have picked up a bit more work writing travel site content and particularly writing text for role-playing game and tabletop game components. I guess, certainly in the case of the latter, many of the people designing games are hobbyists and with time on their hands during the lockdown are getting stuck into their labours of love. And when they need ideas for quest cards, read aloud descriptions for dungeon adventures or even whole worlds created they come to people like me. Makes a refreshing change from waxing lyrical about Tel Aviv dream-pop or the latest low slung rock ‘n’ roll crew to be setting Minneapolis on fire.

Thankfully, the one side of my back bedroom empire which still functions okay is buying and selling records, which thanks to the post office still functioning (a massive thank you to them) means that I can still keep a few quid trickling in.

I was out today doing undertaking my early morning quest of dropping post off before hunting and gathering for Camembert, bacon and Shiraz…you know, the essentials…and Commercial Road (pictured) was wonderfully empty. I would have felt like I was in some sort of dystopian thriller if it wasn’t for the traffic wardens! Traffic wardens? Key workers? I guess now that every is parked outside their house, or at least trying to there will be a slew of cars parked in zones which are short stay or for which they have the wrong permit. Nice to see that the council have their priorities straight!

beatles-abbey-road-social-distancingSuch anxious times bring out both the best and the worst in people. People who like to use such jingoistic rhetoric keep banging on about the Blitz spirit, but it has to be remembered that it wasn’t all about communal singing in the Aldwych tube station to keep Peters up, there was some pretty opportunistic naughtiness going on in the back streets too.

That said, I like to think that people are essentially good, you have to really else life would just be too bleak. And on the odd occasion when I leave the house to go hunting and gathering like my primitive forebears, laying in wait in the fresh produce aisle to ambush fresh basil or running to ground a couple of bottles of tonic water, the people around me seem pretty friendly.

There is something really good natured about the wobbly logistics that we find ourselves undertaking to keep our distance from each other. Each swerve and meander accompanied by a smile or a mouthed “sorry” as we silently communicate the sentiment “it’s not you, it’s me” whilst thinking “it’s definitely you almost-zombie.”

Of course there have been a few who ruin it a bit, a wandering chav who still doesn’t understand that spitting on the ground is ghastly under any conditions and the woman outside Aldi who thinks that queuing is for other people.

Of course the worst of the worst came out last night when a woman was videoed by CCTV apparently stealing from here neighbours. A despicable thing to do at the best of times but taking advantage of the fact that many packages are being left outside houses to reduce the contact between doing delivery jobs and those who are anxious about or vulnerable to, the virus. Now ranking somewhere just below Genghis Khan and that woman who put a cat in a bit a few years ago, imagine when things return to normal and  she has to have normal contact with her neighbours again! I think she will understand the true nature of social distancing then!

 

imageI guess I was probably better equipped than many for this lock down. As a writer I sit in the spare room all day hammering long words and half-baked opinions together using only a keyboard and a vat of coffee anyway. In fact it was only when Aldi ran out of decent brie and loo roll that I realised anything much was happening. So I did what any normal person would do, bought a goat, took out a subscription to the Daily Mail and carried on.

Work has been tough. As a mainly music and arts writer, reviewing new releases, promoting tours, writing press releases and generally waxing lyrical about upcoming live events, I have watched a whole swathe of my income drop off a cliff. But needs must and all that, so I searched around and found a stack of other writing to keep me occupied and, more importantly, bills paid. I might not be able to tell you much about what’s happening in the music world at the moment…although I would hazard a guess at bugger all…but I know a lot more about the tourist industry in Montenegro than I did a few weeks ago.

It’s all about being flexible I guess, or as my good friend Grant Sharkey says “Stay Safe and Be Adabtable”…and he’s spent many a post-gig night sleeping in a smart car with an upright bass, so I trust his word. And being adaptable means also finding something else for this blog to be about since their are no gigs to talk about, after all I’m hardly going to have anything worthwhile to say about that slew of online acoustic videos where middle managers on £60,000 a year play terrible renditions of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah whilst asking people to donate to their cover bands cause. No, no, no.

So maybe this is going to be a repository for my thoughts during these strange times. Let’s see.

And on a final note, if you do have to go out then my advice is to make the most of it and walk down the middle of an empty road pretending to be Charlton Heston in The Omega Man/Will Smith in I Am Legend…delete as applicable to your age….it’s sort of empowering.