Brushes with Culture

This is a space where I can reflect on the many fascinating things that I experience. Some of the things I brush with are Culture with a capital C. Others are just intriguing moments. Sometimes I am brushing with these moments in a hurry. This is a chance to relive those moments in tranquility. These are the stories I tell myself in those quieter moments.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

10CC and all that

It is time to return to that free CD and the pleasure of chopping carrots to it. Cooking to the sound of the big boys...

When I first knew and loved 10CC (and I did: I bought my own vinyl copy of both Original Soundtrack and their Greatest Hits, not to mention having How Dare You in...wait for it...the trendy form of a cassette tape!), I knew and loved them with the ears of an easily shocked adolescent. Precocious, yes, in my choice of listening pleasures. Unfeminine, true, in my appreciation of a good riff. And shortly about to fall for the distinctly uncouth and explicit likes of The Vibrators, the Stranglers and the Pistols. (As well as the more intriguing XTC, Magazine and Wire.)

But a teenager is going to miss the knowing sophistication of most of those lyrics. And probably many of the nods in the music too. So I thought it was very funny as I chopped my carrots, listening to all those songs I'd loved with a certain innocence in the 70s. Did I know then what the 10CC referred to? Most likely, but I'd have appreciated it at the childish level of smut and then gone off and been cool about it. I really didn't get the extent to which they were being smug and asking their audience to collude.

Take Wall St Shuffle:

Oh, Howard Hughes
Did your money make you better?
Are you waiting for the hour
When you can screw me?
'Cos you're big enough

I hadn't a clue about most of the stuff going on in there, either in terms of chords or concepts. Or the stunningly evocative I'm Mandy Fly Me (probably only evocative if you can remember the plane ads of the 70s with their inane air hostesses selling the dream of the skyhigh club.):

I've often heard the jingle
It's never struck a chord
With a smile as bright as sunshine
She called me through the poster
And welcomed me aboard
She led me, she fed me
She read me like a book
But I'm hiding in the small print
Won't you take another look
And take me away
Try me, Mandy, fly me away

Ah, yes, when flying was still glamorous. I can't do justice here to the musical complexities going on. But they weren't ordinary three-minute wonders. And thirty years later, they made a punching good accompaniment to my preparation of fish stew.

Just the other day, a friend and I were singing the lyrics to Girls Talk by Elvis Costello. That was another track I adored. "You may not be an oldfashioned girl but you're gonna get dated". And that was a three-minute wonder. So there was other sophistication in those days. But nothing quite as arch. If Costello was a clever young man, then 10CC were big smug boys.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Up in Smoke

I have come back from town reeking of cigarette smoke with an unusual satisfaction. As we went into the Market Porter tonight, I could be heard to say 'Well, this might be our last time in a smokey pub.' (I've a party to hold on Saturday night when I could be at the Morgan Arms' fag wake...)

I realise with some shock that I shall miss the stinging eyes and tired grey aroma once the ban is in place. Not much, but I shall feel the difference and remember the old days.

I find a well of nostalgia is already filling. The same nostalgia that I have for the smell of Wandsworth breweries in the smog which used to fill autumn afternoons when I was young. Or the large chimneys that bedecked the hills as we drove up the A1.

I was lacking something too when I found that Italy's restaurants had gone smoke-free. The food was better without it, but the Italians seemed diminished. It was with some relief that I discovered the French still gesticulating and flicking and remonstrating with the aid of their Gauloises and Camels.

For the most part, the absence of cigarette smoke inspires tremendous relief in me - not least, I won't go home and face that dreadful smell emanating from last night's clothes - but with the end of smoking, there is bound to be a loss of character. From the days of the bikesheds, to the smokers' corner at work, to the point where I ceased to be included in those networks because I'd quit the habit, cigarettes have always accompanied the best of the gossip.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

My Child and my Childhood

Last May I went to the theatre a lot and I did the same this May. What is it about May, I wonder?

High spot was yesterday's My Child at the Royal Court, which also finished last night. And I liked it because it was sharp, pacey and painful. The set enveloped us and I'd argue with the reviewer who found it stuck too far in the the internal worlds of the characters and low on references to the wider context. The tube-carriage-style space we inhabited (standing) captured the pace and technologisation of the world ('Mum, he doesn't know what an Xbox is') and the adverts around us captured the surface culture we are fed, that stresses looks and money ('I want a dad that's rich and strong.') Sympathy may not have been wholly with the out-of-work philosophy major father but his final questions about why it's not enough to be good and mean well had a certain resonance. Excellent casting - the family all had a likeness and a snappiness that partnered their vulnerability. The brittleness was palpable. One of the best things I've seen in a while.

And then I woke up this morning and realised it was Sunday and I hadn't missed the Mail on Sunday's offer of a free 10CC greatest hits CD. It was my one regret when I went to bed that I'd been singing the hits featured on the advert ever since I'd heard it in the week and then forgotten to buy the paper. So now I have that walk back to the newsagents and to adolescence to look forward to. Which is a whole other story. But it was a salutary reminder that adverts do shape our world. Harnessing sappy memories of way back to sell us ridiculous things... Can't imagine that I'll open that evil organ of middle England it came in, though.