I have a new blog!

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In an attempt to trick myself into thinking that the dreaded ‘D’ word might be fun, I have set up a blog to keep track of all the research I am doing for my dissertation. I think that by forcing myself to blog at least twice a week, there might a bigger chance of me actually handing in 12,000 words of something decent come April 2013. I also hope that it will solve the common ‘what are you doing your dissertation on?’ question, as my current answer, ‘I’m-looking-at-the-changing-attitudes-towards-First-World-War-memorials-in-the-run-up-to-the-centenary-of-the-outbreak-of-the-War’, isn’t very catchy and has the habit of sending people into temporary comas. So here it is: www.rememberedinstone.wordpress.com

I plan to change the name once I think of something better, as I am increasingly finding that a lot of WWI memorials are not made of stone, and that many of them have been forgotten, or at least ignored. If you have any suggestions, please whack them in the comment box below. As for the topic: I want to know how people in modern Britain feel about First World War memorials. In just a couple of years, we will mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, but I wonder how many people really care? Several organisations have already set up 2014 projects to help fund conservation of memorials, but I’m also beginning to find that there are people out there keen to honour the dead who aren’t getting the help they require. Then there are the people that aren’t recorded in the newspapers: the apathetic. Those people who walk past war memorials every day without realising they are there, who probably haven’t held a minute’s silence on the 11th of November since they left school, but who may still be somewhat perturbed by the notion of a rock star’s step-son swinging from the Cenotaph. Another group of people I am keen to talk to are the people who see war memorials as a source of income: the metal thieves. So if you think you might be interested, head over to my new blog, and please let me know if you hear any war memorial news in your area (maybe your grandma lays a wreath at her father’s memorial every November, or perhaps you have a friend who was recently arrested for pissing on a war memorial?). I will attempt to keep this blog updated (as I have completely failed to do over the last three months) but it might prove a bit tricky between editing my university newspaper, working on my dissertation and other uni work and attempting to keep at least a portion of my sanity intact.

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Three 90s acts you might have forgotten about

This week, I’ve been making full use of Spotify’s ‘Related Artists’ tab. To break up listening to Usher’s Climax on repeat, I’ve travelled through Destiny’s Child’s back catalogue, the collective works of N Sync and Justin Timberlake and into the dark corners of one-hit-wonders. This has uncovered some classics that you had probably done your best to forget about, but upon listening to them again, memories of childhood crushes, old TV programmes and forgotten dance routines will no doubt come flooding back.

1. BBMak – Back Here

Clever readers will clock the Millennium Wheel in the background, which didn’t open to the public until March 2000, however Back Here was originally released in 1999. Spotify’s biography fo BBMak describe them as ‘England’s answer to the Backstreet Boys’ however, unlike the Backstreet Boys who are currently touring the world with New Kids on the Block, BBMak went their separate ways in 2003. Wikipedia reports that Mark Barry is now working as a personal trainer in Bolton.

2. Adam Rickitt – Breathe Again

In 1999 Coronation Street star Adam Rickitt signed a 6-album deal with Polydor. Breathe Again was his only hit single, peaking at number 5 in the singles chart. His debut (and only) album, Good Times, reached number 41 in its first week of release, and subsequently fell out of the charts and Rickitt was dropped from the label. In 2011, People reported that Rickitt was working for the RSPCA as a capital appeals manager. The interview is quite a read.

3. Honeyz – End of the Line

Honeyz were one of those 90s girl groups that wouldn’t have existed were it not for the success of Destiny’s Child and the Wonderbra. End of the Line was their second release, which reached number 5 in the UK singles chart in 1998. In 2005, the band briefly reformed, and competed in ITV’s one-hit-wonder contest, Hit Me, Baby, One More Time, where they performed a cover of Nickelback’s How You Remind Me which is not dissimilar to the version that I sing in the shower sometimes.

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An afternoon at Shaw’s Corner

When the playwright George Bernard Shaw was looking for somewhere to live in the early 20th century, the story goes that he and his wife stumbled across the grave stone of a 70 year old woman in the Hertfordshire hamlet of Ayot St Lawrence. The woman’s epitaph read ‘Her time was short’. The Shaws were impressed that 70 years was a short period of time here, and decided to settle in the area.  Whether this tale is true or not, Shaw lived in the hamlet until the grand old age of 94, so perhaps there was something in the water after all.

Today Shaw’s Corner, the house where the couple lived for over 40 years, is owned by the National Trust. In fact, the house opened to visitors just six months after Shaw’s death in November 1950. This means that today the house looks much the same as it did when the Shaws lived there, from the papers in GBS’s office, to the lino flooring on the servants’ staircase. Shaw’s socialist leanings are evident throughout the house, especially on the family mantelpiece where pictures of Lenin, Stalin and Gandhi are proudly on display. Also littered through the house is evidence of the many influential people that Shaw befriended, especially William Morris and T.E. Lawrence.
I found this  a refreshing change from the type of properties the National Trust is usually known for -imposing aristocratic buildings which to me seem fairly irrelevant and, honestly, a bit boring.

The house is surrounded by beautiful extensive gardens, which Shaw himself tended to until his death, which was brought about by a fall whilst pruning a tree. The Shaw’s were vegetarians and you can still wander around their orchards and vegetable patches. Even in the middle of the April showers which were raining down on my visit, the grounds were still a delight to walk around.

At the bottom of the garden is George Bernard Shaw’s writing shed, where he would hide away from visitors to work on his plays, and presumably take shelter from bad weather on his perambulations around the garden. The green pole to the left hand side of the shed was built in order to swivel the shed to follow sunlight throughout the day. Inside the tiny hut is a small writing desk with a type writer and a telephone, as well as a little bed which one imagines GBS would have used to nap on in the afternoon.

The house is about an hour’s drive from London and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays (although open on Bank Holidays). As it is a fairly modest house, there is no café but there is a second hand book stall with ice creams and soft drinks for sale, and you can also buy 1950s variations of plants found in the garden if that floats your boat. For further info about visiting the house, and upcoming productions of Shaw’s plays there, visit the National Trust’s website.

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Folk Song Friday: The Grey Funnel Line

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The finest ship that sails the sea
Is still a prison for the likes of me
But give me wings like Noah’s dove
I’ll fly up harbour to the girl I love
Here’s one more day on the Grey Funnel Line

Listening to The Grey Funnel Line, you would think that it had been around for centuries. The story of a sailor, alone at sea, desperate to return to his lover on land is timeless, however the song is actually less than 60 years old. Cyril Tawney was just 16 when he joined the Royal Navy (or the Grey Funnel Line as it’s known among sailors), and this was last song he wrote before leaving the Navy 14 years later. Since then, the song has been covered by a wide range of high profile artists, from June Tabor to Emmylou Harris, but I’m yet to hear a version which encapsulates the wistfulness of the song as much as Ed, Will and Ginger’s version (above). In his notes on the piece, Tawney describes it as ‘a straightforward song about a sailor leaving home and the loved one’ and it’s this simplicity that makes folks songs like this so great.

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High Kingsdown Co Op: The Inconvenient Truth

Epigrump is a fortnightly column in Epigram, where writers moan about what has got on their nerves recently. I wrote about the farcical nature of our local convenience store.

HIGH KINGSDOWN SWRG (Clarence Place, High Kingsdown, Bristol  BS2 8DD) Jun11

Cast your minds back to 2004 when chip and pin was introduced to the nation as a safer, faster way to shop on plastic. Over the past eight years, this system has revolutionised our shopping experience, meaning that now fraudsters only need memorise four digits instead of a person’s entire cursive style in order to gain access to the fortunes of others. It has also led to a rise in the number of automated machines, meaning that we no longer have to deal with lowly cashiers and car park attendants. Or so I thought.

Last weekend, an eerie quietness not seen since the Dark Ages fell on the High Kingsdown estate as whispers spread that the card machines in the Co Op convenience store on St Michael’s Hill were broken. Regulars to this shop will be aware of the ongoing drama with payment methods. For those who are less familiar with it, let me take you through the average person’s trip to the Kingsdown Co Op. It starts with a hunger pang. The kind of hunger pang so painful, you know you won’t be able to make it to Sainsbury’s before you’ve started gnawing on furniture. All you need  is a little bit of bacon or some milk to make porridge. ‘No problem’, you think, ‘I’ll just pop to the Co Op’ which is all very well and good until you realise that your rumbling stomach has not synchronised calendars with Co Op’s opening hours. Long-term residents in these parts know that if you haven’t got milk in the fridge on Saturday night, there will be a long wait until the Co Op’s automatic doors finally open at noon the next day, only for you to find that they haven’t yet had their milk delivery. After realising that an overpriced pint of skimmed milk is better than nothing, you traipse around the store, picking up whatever bizarre items happen to be reduced that day (ice cream syrup, anyone?) You are then faced with a dilemma: do you march straight up to the beaming cashier, or avoid their glazed expressions and questionable social skills and wait half your life to use what they have the temerity to call ‘The Fast Lanes’ (also known as self-service machines to the uninitiated). The queue for these machines is often 20-deep, usually due to the fact that one of the terminals has become overwhelmed, trying to add up how much you’ve spent so far, whilst screaming at you that your newspaper costs TWO POUNDS (pause for dramatic effect) TEN PENCE. Once you finally make it to a working terminal, your eyes fall on a hastily printed sheet of A4 declaring that payment is either cash or card only. Needless to say, you won’t have the payment method du jour in your pocket. This involves an embarrassing abandonment of your transaction, casting those in the queue behind you into a confused rage, as you lope off to the cashier you had originally tried to avoid, just so you can pay. As you wait your turn behind a man holding a tube of toothpaste and some bleach, you eye up the potential till talent. Cashier number one is a lady who is far too old to be wearing the neon butterfly clips she proudly displays in her cropped brown hair. Last time you were here, she scolded you for removing your card too quickly from the chip and pin machine, which, as always, was running at a snail’s pace, and you had to repeat the whole sorry affair. Cashier number two shows more promise, until he is called away to deal with the Fast Lane drama you left behind. As you’re busy craning your neck to see how he’s getting on, another machine directs you to cashier number three. From behind his oval spectacles, he beams at you, greeting you with a friendly ‘hello dear! How are you? Would you like a bag?’ He continues grinning as he packs away your Tic Tacs, tomatoes and tampons without battering an eyelid and you hurriedly hand over the cash and run home to satisfy your nutritional needs.

It’s hard to convey just what an odd mix of people the staff in this particular branch are. A budding playwright would do well to take a trip there and observe them in their natural habitat. If Hotel California ran a chain of convenience stores, this would be it. Some of the staff, like cashier number three, never seem to leave. You go in on your way to uni and there he is, smiling over your Danish pastry. He is there again in the evening, when you dash in minutes before closing, standing upright, eyes open, but clearly asleep.

And yet despite the crazy cashiers, the bipolar payment systems and the massive queues, we still go back. Just because it’s… well, convenient.

-from Issue 246 of Epigram.

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Album Review: Kindness – World, You Need a Change of Mind

In 2009, music blogs went apeshit for Kindness, an outfit shrouded in mystery, who released one double single ‘Swinging Party’/’Gee Up’ before disappearing back into the ether. Three years on, Kindness is back. Like many other Myspace maestros, Kindness is in fact a one-man project. Adam Bainbridge originally hails from Peterborough but has since escaped his webbed-feet Fenland friends and now splits his time between Berlin and London. Rather than riding the wave of the initial hype surrounding Kindness, Bainbridge took his time to work away at his album, and this attention to detail is obviously demonstrated throughout the record through the careful layering of synths and vocals. Although Bainbridge managed to avoid having to turn out a slapped-dashed album of electro pop to please bespectacled bloggers, there is a feeling that the ship may have sailed on Kindness’ brand of laid-back left-field disco. Despite songs such as ‘House (All That You Need)’ and ‘Gee Up’ featuring some of the best elements of Prince-style pop grooves, there just isn’t anything groundbreaking about what Bainbridge is doing. Although many artists feature a cover on their debut album, Bainbridge’s decision to cover Anita Dobson’s ‘Anyone Can Fall In Love’ (sung to the tune of the Eastenders theme tune) is simply bizarre, but does at least, cement Kindness in the retro-indie realm he clearly desires to dwell in.


-from Issue 249 of Epigram.

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Album Review: The Magnetic Fields – Love at the Bottom of the Sea

Love at the Bottom of the Sea sees the Magnetic Fields return to their celebrated sarcastic synthpop style, after their last three albums, went down a more acoustic route. Despite the fact that the band, driven by eternal pessimist, founder and lead singer, Stephin Merritt, has released three albums in the last eight years, they are still remembered for 1999’s epic concept album, 69 Love Songs. Love at the Bottom of the Sea is unlikely to usurp it as the band’s crowning glory, which is alright according to Merritt who recently told the Guardian ‘I will spend the rest of my life living down 69 Love Songs, just as I planned to. It’s fine.’

Despite what the title suggests, Love at the Bottom of the Sea is not a collection of fifteen songs about sex amongst aquatic animals. Instead, it features a range of bizarre and varied topics, from falling in love with a drag queen on ‘Andrew in Drag’ to hanging out with metaphysical beings on ‘I’ve Run Away to Join the Fairies’. On a superficial level, the album is a perfectly pleasant pop album, but on second listen, Merritt’s unique lyrical style presents itself. Album closer ‘All She Cares About is Mariachi’ best exemplifies this as Merritt laments, ‘So go ahead and hire Saatchi & Saatchi/to advertise the sausage in your pants/but all she cares about is Mariachi/and all she ever wants to do is dance.’ Elsewhere, ‘Quick!’ and ‘Your Girlfriend’s Face’ see the band exploit their rediscovery of synthesisers to the full, creating loud, brash pop songs, which though not necessarily enduring classics, are certainly a refreshing change from other songs currently masquerading under the banner of pop.

The record is laced with nostalgic references to childhood, from similarities between First World War song ‘If You Were the Only Girl (In the World)’ and ‘Only Boy in Town’, to the imploring nature of ‘Horrible Party’ ‘take me away from this horrible party and let me go home to Mother’. Sadly, the use of synthesisers means the sincerity of these ideas is somewhat lost, but the juxtaposition of these sentiments with Merritt’s miserable baritone makes Love at the Bottom of the Sea an interesting release. Interesting, but perhaps not enthralling.

-from Issue 248 of Epigram.

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