Reading Music Magazines

Sunday 31st May

That’s what I do.  Have done for years and will do until I die.  It started with Time Out and City Limits back in the early seventies, when they were writing about and reviewing new bands. I occasionally bought Melody Maker or New Musical Express (NME) but then they both fell in love with Punk and I hated both it and them; they reviled my old heroes and called them dinosaurs – well, who has had the last laugh, guys.  Anyway, I bought Q almost from the first issue and then started buying Uncut which featured, and still does, a free CD of new music each month.  I stopped my subscription to Q a few years ago, as it began to chase a younger audience.  Uncut is still mostly for us ‘oldies’ with regular features about the Beatles, Stones, Who and a whole skew of lesser known musical favourites of mine. When I moved house I had hundreds of old issues up in the loft, but I just threw them away; I wanted a clean sweep.

I have Uncut delivered to Walton and always look forward to it; some issues seem to be written specifically for me and I often read it from cover to cover.  If I am flying I often buy Mojo, which is nearly as good as Uncut and it makes the journey a lot less stressful.  So, what is it that I love.  Partly it is a nostalgia trip, but I am actually just as interested in the Review sections where a lot of bands I have never heard of feature. I am like a sponge, that just loves absorbing more and more information – just as I never tire of listening to all my old CDs, and a few new ones too.  Watching quiz shows I laugh to myself as I realize how well I would do on any music question before 1990.  My daughter, who is almost as fanatical about Dance Music of the nineties and onwards keeps buying me newer stuff for Birthdays and Christmas.  I usually like them, but there is just so much old stuff, remastered and box-sets, which I need to keep buying and reading about, and many of my old heroes are still releasing new stuff, Dylan, Neil Young and Leonard, so I need to keep reading music magazines just to keep up with them.

2066 – And Janek is still being watched, but who by?

Saturday 30th May

-[Janek was wrong, no-one was watching him.   So far we had not suspected any subversive activity.  The survcams could always be backtracked if we needed to see him, but on this occasion he wasn’t specifically traced.  But his paranoia did have some basis in fact.  Of course we were worried about him.   At the time we too knew nothing about his ‘diary’ as he called it.  It was only later we discovered it, and all he had written, but his behaviour at work had been noticed.  Too many fluctuations in his ‘hit’ rate, too many rapid eye movements as he examined his notepad, and no, no-one had moved his pen and pad, that was his own paranoia I am afraid.

But despite these fluctuations he was not especially marked out as any kind of threat.  We were watching him; but of course we were watching everyone.  It is in everyone’s interest to be watched.  We truly are the good shepherds, watching over our flock, night and day, we never sleep.   Despite, and actually because of our prime objective, the well-being and nourishment of as many people as possible, we have to constantly watch for any individual who might be about to upset the apple-cart (to use a colourful if antiquated colloquial expression).

We really do care about the human species.  But it is the species we are there to protect and nurture, not any individual member of that species, who for whatever perverted reason is beginning to become a threat.  We have enough on our hands with the erratic and unpredictable climate.   Moving whole factories and production facilities and re-site-ing entire populations is pretty hard work in itself.  So having to deal with foolish individuals who think they know better than our democratically decided solutions is at most an irritant.   But we never sleep, and irritation or not we have to deal with it.

Janek Smith wasn’t the first malcontent we had encountered and there was a well-established procedure.  First observation, checking and classifying the potential threat, then a slight re-classification, a down strata-ing maybe, but with the definite inference that this was only temporary and depending on a return to normal behaviour could easily be reversed.  This combined with a subtle change in their health-drug intake would almost always correct the slightly malfunctioning individual.  Janek hardly registered on our minor offender files but the usual procedure was automatically put into motion.  This is the beauty of our system; no-one has to make those awkward decisions anymore.   Human judgement, erratic and emotional as it is, is taken out of the equation.  If there is a problem there will be a procedure to deal with it.


Back in a Different Real World

Friday 29th May

We are so busy now with our social life in France that we have little time for the news.  Or maybe it is just that being physically removed from Britain means that these issues pass us by, or seem to be happening in quite a different reality.  Last night entertaining friends and drinking wine in our garden at ten at night it all seemed a long way away.

But today I have returned to the UK.  Crowds swarming around me at Liverpool Street, and on the DLR commuters pushing and shoving, seemed a different real world altogether.  And sitting here watching the news I wonder which is the real world; the quiet streets and ex-pat community deep in South West France or the hustle bustle of London and World News?  David Cameron on a charm offensive in Europe (and we are still no clearer about the reforms he will achieve) and the shenanigans at FIFA, where despite all the corruption allegations and the nonsense of holding a World Cup in the almost unknown foot-balling giant of Qatar, Sepp Blatter will in all likelihood be re-elected and sail on regardless.  In the same way as the Financial scandals are explained away as a few rogue traders, the corruption and greed endemic in Big Business and Sport will be that it is all okay really, just a few corrupt officials who have now gone.  And as Neil Innes (Bonzo Dog Doodah Band) once sung – “today’s news is tomorrow’s chip paper”, but even that reality has gone too, white paper and plastic bags have replaced even that.

So, for a few days I am back in the world of work, and seeing some of the Grandchildren too.  Then I will return to the peace and quiet of sunny Eymet; a totally different reality.

Shock Horror – “City Trader is Motivated by Greed”

Thursday 28th May

BBC News claimed last night (Tuesday) that a City Trader accused of manipulating the Libor rate was motivated purely by greed.  Well, blow me down – I never expected that.

The truth is that they all are, the whole market, the entire financial system is motivated by one simple factor – GREED.  The media, which is hardly unblemished in the modern sins of the world, is trying to make out that this guy, and I couldn’t care less what his name is, was an exception, some sort of a bad apple, the ring leader who cajoled others into helping him to fix the rate which would have benefited him.  The truth is that Thatcher legitimized Greed; it was what drove the market, which was going to make us all rich.  And Blair and Brown and now Osborne and Cameron are turning even blinder eyes to the bankers and their shenanigans even though they were the reason the whole financial Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall, only to be put back together again with our money.  Hence the deficit, hence the need for Austerity, hence the cuts, hence the rich being repaid by the poor.

Greed is the driving force behind Capitalism.  Big Business lies when it claims to have created millions of jobs; the truth us that they are only using us to enrich themselves and if and when robots can do it cheaper and better they will employ them rather than us.   Be under no illusion, greed is also killing us.  The biggest threat facing mankind is not ISIS, or Muslim fundamentalism or immigrants or even the SNP (hahaha).  It is Global Warming and the damage being wreaked on the Environment by Greed.  And it is absolutely no surprise that City Traders bent the rules, what was so bad about that; they were only making money weren’t they?

F is for Marianne Faithfull

Wednesday 27th May

Marianne is one of the true survivors from the sixties.  This is my own potted remembrance of her and I have resisted resorting to Wikipedia.  We first heard of her as the girlfriend of Mick Jagger, though rumour has it that she slept with both Mick and Keith, who knows – she doesn’t talk about it.  She had been educated by Catholic nuns and was very young and startlingly beautiful; one of her parents was Russian I believe.  She recorded a single ‘This Little Bird’ or maybe it was ‘As Tears Goes By’ and it got into the top ten.  She had a husky and quite deep voice and we all assumed she had only been able to make the record because she was Mick’s girlfriend.  Then in ’68 I think she was arrested on a drugs charge, as the press would have it, ‘wearing nothing but a fur coat and a Mars bar’, but she has always denied this story.

The she split with Mick, or as we heard Mick slung her out.  She recorded a handful of albums of other peoples songs, pretty poor cover versions really.  Suddenly she was in a film “Girl on a Motorcycle”, a European art movie which was pretty unforgettable except when she unzipped her leather top to reveal her glorious breasts – that image stayed with me for a long time.  Apparently she fell into drugs badly and at one time was begging in Soho for money for Heroin with all her possessions in plastic bags.  Then in the Eighties came her redemption.  She somehow managed to get a brilliant band together and recorded “Broken English” with its explicit lyrics and great songs.  Since then she has gone from strength to strength and is one of the few artists who does exactly what she wants; sometimes recording with new young artists, sometimes a classic rock band or quiet haunting ballads and she has even turned her hand to recording Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins.  Her concerts are renowned and she still tours occasionally, especially in Europe.  In a funny way, artistically at least, she has eclipsed the Stones, as they rumble on playing their old hits and nothing new, she is still releasing new and interesting records.

Pas de Probleme in the Café des Arts

Tuesday 26th May

Today (yesterday) was a bank holiday en France, yes another one.  On the last bank holiday we were very quiet, so I decided to go in and tidy up from last night’s Vernissage. Hoover, put the tables back, wash the glasses and maybe have to serve the odd customer before early closing at lunch.  I had just finished hoovering and the tables were more or less in the right place, I hadn’t even put the A board out or changed the Closed to Open sign when a man’s head appeared around the door and asked in French, of course, if we were open.

“Oui Monsieur” I replied, “Pas de Probleme.”

Pas de problem?  I hasn’t realized that the whole family of eight were about to troop in.  Undaunted I marshalled them into the main room and pointed to the tables and went off to get my order pad from the chaos in the tiny kitchen.  I returned to find that they had rearranged the tables into one for all of them and were sitting merrily waiting for service.  Drinks were 6 chocolate chaud and 2 longues Americanos.  Aaarghh !!!  Hot chocolates are the hardest as you have to stir the powdered chocolate fast as the hot milk comes out of the frother.  Now, where was the coffee machine?  I found it, filled and plugged it in.  Eventually all 8 drinks were served.  Please don’t ask for any food.  But they did, and I also had to explain to them in my halting French exactly what a scone was, including les ingredients, le crème and le confiture.  5 scones, 2 slices of Apple Strudel and a cheese and ham baguette.  Despite the chaos of the kitchen I managed it.  They actually loved it, or maybe loved the experience of an Englishman stumbling around and serving them.  They were really pleasant and they wanted to chat in French about the café and the new photo exhibition and wanted to pay avec un cheque.  Pas de Probleme Monsieur.  And really, after all it wasn’t.

Vide Grenier in Eymet

Monday 25th May

Today (yesterday) was the Vide Grenier in Eymet.  Vide Grenier literally means empty your attic and it is a fantastic town-wide car boot sale.  Each small town seems to have one a year, but Eymet is renowned as one of the best.  There are a few traders but an awful lot of ordinary people just selling old stuff they have had in their homes for a long time.  Glasses, vases, cups and saucers, old pots and pans, clocks and ornaments, chairs and bits of furniture, plants, toys, books and paintings.  And it went on and on, there must have been about two hundred stalls, all along the Boulevard National and up by the old Station and all around the East side of the Boulevard.  But unlike our car-boots there was a lot of very good quality stuff. The Antiques Road-Trip would have had a field day.  Our house is already full of junk but we could have easily filled it twice over again.

I opened the café just before nine, and even though the vide grenier was the other side of town many people parked their cars in the square and walked up our street stopping for a coffee on the way.  By lunchtime I had sold out of scones and most of our cakes and we had been busier than market day.  We closed at one-thirty but could have been packed all afternoon, but I was tired by then and we have never just been interested in making money. Besides we had a ‘vernissage’ that evening; Andy Barber’s superb photos of Trees and Shopfronts which look fantastic. Another successful soiree and then a late dinner at the Creperie.

Four weeks in and it isn’t so bad

Sunday 24th May

Well I retired about four weeks ago.  At least from the worst job, I am still doing one Restaurant mostly be e-mail, but with one visit back a month.  No more daily rush, DLR, Jubilee and Bakerloo lines packed and strap-hanging and watching and hoping desperately for a seat.  No more angry e-mails from suppliers we haven’t paid (why they should get angry with me I don’t know, I wasn’t running the company) no more piles of statements to reconcile every month, no more panicking to get the Restaurants to bank so that we could pay the wages every fortnight.  I do still get e-mails, but nothing urgent, nothing that cannot wait – and the very fact that I am in another country puts a physical distance between me and a different reality anyway.

We have slipped into a different routine completely, sharing the running of the café, which except for Thursday is pretty easy anyway, just a few coffees to make and scones to prepare.  Most evenings we go for a walk and a drink at the Café de Paris or Tortoni where we are bound to meet some people we know to chat to.  Friday night is music night at the Gambetta, last night a French duo who played harmonica and didgeridoo to a tape loop backing.  Interesting and quite pleasant, but a bit same-y.  I must confess that I am drinking more than I used to, having to force myself to have nights of abstention occasionally.  But all in all four weeks in and it isn’t so bad.  You should try it, really – it could be good for you.

Don’t Let The Grass Grow…

Saturday 23rd May

On my last trip home, just two week ago but it seems longer, one of the chores was mowing the lawn; and of course that will be a task to do in a week’s time when I am back again.  I used to have a caravan at Walton for a few years before I bought the house there, and again mowing the lawn around our van was one of my weekend chores.  So, why do we do it?  Simple, because we love the grass when it is mown in nice even strips.  I particularly like the smell of new mown grass, it is the smell I most associate with Summer.

We have met so many people out here in France who have fallen for the lure of a big place in the country, and when you travel through France you realize just how much land there is.  Prices here are so low too that for two or three hundred thousand euros you can buy a large farmhouse with outbuildings and many acres of grass.   And then the problem starts – mowing it.  And even with a ride-on petrol mower this can take ages.  We keep hearing stories of whole days taken just mowing the grass.

In the mornings I take the dogs down to the river by the old mill, and there is a large abandoned factory there which they love to walk round.  A few weeks ago the grass was fairly short and our path, which a few fellow dog walkers had made, was easy to follow.  Now almost daily I can see the grass growing, a week or two ago it was about three feet high but now it is almost my height, the seed heads bowing in the breeze, and our path is now harder and harder to negotiate as it regrows so quickly and even brambles are now snaking their way across it.  At some point it will die off but for now the grass is growing at an alarming rate; lots of showers and sunshine providing the perfect conditions.  And at a much slower rate we too are growing older and we must remind ourselves not to let the grass grow under our own feet too quickly either.

2066 – And Janek is beginning to get paranoid

Friday 22nd May

Diary Entry – 20660112

“I am being watched.  Observed.  Spied upon.  I am fairly certain of that, I really don’t know how they know, or maybe just suspect at this point, but I am certain that they do know (at least something, because you can never be that sure of anything). Nothing is knowable in its entirety, and nothing is trustworthy that you haven’t seen with your own eyes, and even then….. no certainty exists because we have no control of anything anymore, even what we see.

That is why this diary is so important to me.  I have just re-read the entries, and never mind how paranoid I sound, the words are still there, exactly as I wrote them, every word is still there in black on white.  And yet despite the security of seeing them, un-tampered with, exactly as I wrote them, I fear that I am being watched.

Yesterday I returned from lunch, not really refreshed, but in my line of work, you not only take the obligatory five minutes every hour off-screen, but you actually need time away from any stimulus at all, or all that concentration you have built up is lost.  As well as a sustenance drink I need to lie down and blanket out my mind for about thirty minutes, or it takes me too long to warm up when the numbers start spinning again on my screens.  I lie there in my pod, and send my mind into relax-mode, clearing my brain of all thoughts and impressions and enter that state of almost-but-not-quite sleep, where all my functions are slowed down but I am not dreaming either.  It takes a bit of time to learn the technique; it’s a sort of self hypnosis.  I am not actually in a trance, but that is the closest thing to describe it.  My mind just goes blank, I can never actually remember anything about it.  I ease myself into my pod, close the padded lid, and start to relax one by one my muscles, and then I drift out of this consciousness and I am a blank screen with no input.   Asleep to all outside observers, but just as the screens are never truly asleep, neither am I; I am simply on stand-by.

A gently rising buzz in the pod wakes me up, brings me out of my self-induced state, back into the real (or is it?) world.  I slowly surface as if from under a lake of thick glutinous water; maybe the surface is covered with little bits of debris or dead insects, as I always brush my face clear, as if some skein, some net had been weighing me down.  Refreshed and cleansed, I am ready for another bout of number screening.  I don’t really mind the work, at least it keeps me active, my mind is fully engaged and I have no time to think about my life, or my lack of one.  Sometimes I imagine it would be far easier to spend my whole life in that state; simply not thinking.   It is thinking that is my problem.  I think.

So I return to my position, my little screened-off cell and I straight away feel uncomfortable, something seems different.  I can sense something has changed; some slight alteration.  Nothing is missing, maybe something has been added.  There was my pad and pen just where I had left them surely.  But no, the pen is next to the pad and lined up vertically with it, surely I had left it on the pad and at sort of right angles, maybe 85 degrees or so.  Just off-centre, a right angle would be just too obvious.  I have these strange little routines; I always like to leave my pen at nearly right angles across the pad.  I have to tear off the sheet I was scribbling numbers on, and throw it in the bin, I like to leave my pad clean, lined up with the pen across it ready for the next session.   But today the pad has been moved, it is slightly off-centre, a centimetre or so wonky, and the pen is definitely not where I left it.  I am sure of that.  Or am I sure?  I can’t be one hundred per cent sure.  I rack my brain to remember but cannot be certain.  Would they have been so stupid as to not have left the pad and pen exactly as I had left them?  Or did I just forget my normal routine?  Is it me or them?

I quickly check the contents of the bin, but just the few sheets I tore off, scrunched up, (though there is no way of being sure they haven’t been unscrunched, is there?).  Stop these stupid thoughts Janek, so what if they have touched my pad, what does it signify?  I don’t know, but whatever it was for I don’t like it.  I nod towards the top of the right top screen and the four screens come awake one after the other, glowing gently then they swell brighter and slowly they populate with numbers, row upon row of numbers, white on a blue background, my preferred colours.  After a quick rub of my face, to shake off these paranoid thoughts I try to concentrate.  It takes me a minute or two to recover and I almost imperceptibly nod again and the numbers start their never-ending screening, slowly at first and speeding up as the screen senses my eyes scanning the numbers.

Numbers, numbers, numbers. Numbers revolving faster and faster; our whole world is built on numbers, and yet we hardly any of can even add up in our heads any more.  I am one of those people though who seem to have the ability to see patterns in numbers, and the letters and symbols they use too, that even the super-computers miss.  Maybe it is actually a sixth sense, and I am not seeing the numbers at all, but through some divination, some intuitive reflex I can detect some discrepancy, some slight variation in the textural mass of numbers spinning past.  There may be patterns inside the patterns that even I do not see.  Even with the added letters and symbols, any random sample must have hidden codes buried in their apparent randomness.  Infinity is a man-made concept; everything has a beginning and an end and at some point must repeat itself.  And about 20% of the time I am right.  The patterns I detect check out, they have some basis in fact.  This is easily enough for the hypercoms to run secondary and tertiary checks which they follow-up on, exhuming and re-running the data and eventually they sort out the problems.  Actually even less than 1% success rate would be enough for the computers, they never get tired, so the size of their workload doesn’t matter.  They never get bored with checking and rechecking, even a hundred times, in fact they are never happier than going over and over the same data to detect the smallest discrepancy.

But this afternoon I just couldn’t seem to concentrate and after two hours I hadn’t seen anything.  Nothing at all.  Not the slightest irregularity.  This had never happened before, i always saw something, no matter how vague.  My mind just saw numbers spinning past.  My pad was clear of any jottings and my mind was even blanker.  I was about to ask for a break, maybe another session in the pod would see me right, when the screen spoke to me.

“Janek, do you want to take a break?” a neutral female voice spoke to me. “You seem tired; maybe we have done enough for today.” She paused, but I didn’t answer her.  “Why don’t you take a break and then if you feel up to it we can start again, or call it a day if you like.  It really is your call.”

I had never heard more than two words strung together at my work screens, and this was whole sentences, and remarkably, was almost sympathetic in tone.   But you know no matter how they programme these machines, the voices, though synthesised from real people are never quite right.   The words may be well chosen and even the tone, but somehow it isn’t quite right, not quite that genuine hesitant timbre of the human voice; it is always that bit too perfect, too polished, too rehearsed.   Maybe it was an automatically programmed response which I had never triggered before.  Maybe it was some new software.  Something inside me always shudders slightly when a computer speaks to me, some inner me dislikes and instantly distrusts even the gentlest synthesised voice.  And I was damned if I would deign to actually talk with a machine.  Of course I silently agreed to take a break (it was never a suggestion at all, simply a kindly worded command), but somehow I couldn’t shift my stubbornly unco-operative mind, even after another ten in the pod.  As the computer suggested – I called it a day.

Not that that would be a problem in itself, I was sure.  The nature of our work was so inexplicable, so delicate that we had to be in pretty good physical shape to work efficiently anyway, so it wasn’t unusual if you didn’t complete a day for some reason.  Sometimes a head cold, or an old-fashioned headache would be sufficient to stop you from working at your best.  But this was different, if you decided to retire it was your decision; I had never heard the computer itself come to this conclusion.   I had simply never heard of it before, but maybe it was a recent innovation that I had missed, maybe the facility had always been there, but had never been exercised in my case.   My fellow workers had never mentioned it; sometimes we would chat after the work, and ask whether we had had a good day or not, and no-one had mentioned this.  I had never heard of any screen asking an operator to take a break before.

On the way home I felt strange too, it was at least two hours earlier than my usual time and the tubes were almost deserted at this time of day.  Apparently they used to be crowded all day long, but people rarely travelled for pleasure now and there were hardly any tourists in cold old London now.  Strange that even though there was no reason at all why our work, and in fact all human work, could not be done at any time of the day, the working day, the nine to five routine seems to be hardwired into our systems, and everyone prefers to work during these daylight hours. Maybe we haven’t progressed half as far as we thought we had.

So I was practically alone as the train hurtled through station after station and although hardly anyone got on or off I had this terrible feeling that I was being followed.  I kept glancing at my fellow screen-absorbed travellers, wondering if they were watching me as I was watching them.  Though why on earth anyone should follow me I cannot imagine, I make exactly the same journey every day.  I never deviate.  Why should I?  But then why should I have deviated so far and started writing this strange diary in the first place.”