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Archive for November, 2011

There’s nothing quite like a song for placing waymarks in your past, is there? And there’s nothing quite like You Tube for porting yourself back to them. To be sure, You Tube is a dangerous place for nostalgia junkies. I can be innocently chasing down a vaguely remembered song and suddenly I’ll discover, not only the song, but video of the exact same T.V. show I watched it on twenty, thirty, or even forty years ago. And suddenly, there I am, helplessly time warped while the memories come flooding back at me like it was all yesterday.

 So,…  I’ve been reliving the summer of 1974 today, and one waymark in particular. It’s August, I’m thirteen years old and I’m driving home with my family from a holiday in Benllech bay, on the Isle of Angelsey. We’re travelling north in a pea green MK 1 Cortina, me, my younger sister, Mum and Dad, crossing the infamous Thelwall Viaduct on the M6. The sun’s shining and I’m looking out of the window at the play of light on the dark waters of the Manchester ship canal, hundreds of feet below, and this song is playing on the radio:

Soul was pretty big that year. I also recall Sad Sweet Dreamer and Barry White’s immortal “My Everything” – but “When will I see you again?” stands out. It made it to number one in August and lingered in the charts for the rest of ‘74, to become a bitter-sweet backing track to a lot of dark stuff that was to happen later on.

Unknown to any of us, as we drove home that day my father was ill. By the winter he was in a bad way, and by February he’d gone. I didn’t know as we crossed Thelwall in August ‘74, with that song playing, we were never to share another summer together. My father’s death crushed me. It made me feel atom sized, and it made the world feel suddenly cold and vast and cruel.

I still think of my father most days and wish with all my heart we’d had more time. Driving north over Thelwall even now is a reliable trigger for such feelings, but it’s only in more recent times I’ve realised it was another event, one that happened in the autumn, while that song was still in the charts, and my father was still alive, that probably saved me from drowning in the pit of grief I’d yet to experience.

 I fell in love.

She was a girl at my school. When I look at pictures of her now I wonder how she managed to so completely capture me. There were other girls from that time I remember as being more overtly good looking and blatantly sexual, but Rachel had a style and a class all her own – at least in my imagination – and that made her the real thing for me. I still feel a shiver when I think of her.

Of course, young love rarely makes for happy endings, and,… well,… she never did find out about me.

Grief is an uncompromising emotion and it changes you. I guess on the surface, after my father’s passing, nothing seemed to change at all, at least in the way I went about my life; I went on being a mostly average student, but I managed not to go off the rails and make my mother’s life hell. Indeed my memory of that time is one of trying to swallow down the rage and trying to hang on in there at school because I felt it was what my father would have wanted me to do, not to ruin myself, I suppose. But something had to give, and I dealt with it by falling deep inside of myself, becoming withdrawn and ever more introverted. I think I might have drowned there, except for that other uncompromising emotion, love, which threw me a rope and hauled me out, whether I liked it or not, to a different kind of future.

It seems odd that such a hopeless thing could restore a will to live. Coming out of grief, it was like swapping one emptiness for another but, unlike grief, unrequited love is a thing built on hope and if nothing else it gets you out of bed in the morning, it plants your feet firmly on the ground and sends you into the day full of expectation of your mistress’ favour, even though the humiliation and the shot expectations of yesterday’s hopes are still hanging in tatters around your neck.

To be sure, Rachel was a very powerful projection of something I hadn’t a hope in hell of getting  a handle on. She was a goddess, quite literally so, in the classical sense, and not altogether benign. Later on, my hopeless infatuation was better summed up by the Carpenters and “Goodbye to Love”, but the goddess wanted me to live, and live I did. It was to be thirty years later, when writing “Langholm Avenue”, before I was finally able to look her in the eye and make my peace with her.

As I chase down the decades on You Tube now, I realise there are so many other songs I’d like to share with you, and most of them make “When will I see you” sound a bit corny. It’s a sad reflection but I suspect that trio of gorgeous girls and their lovely song would probably be booed off X Factor now, but they were innocent times, and none the worse for that.

 In conclusion, I raise a glass to the memory of my father. Also to the memory of Rachel.

 When will I see them again? Are you kidding me? I see them every day.

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I know I’m sometimes guilty of over-analysing things. It’s my introverted nature, I’m afraid. I worry that it creeps into my writing at times, making it turgid as I travel convoluted lines of reasoning, like trying to prove the existence of unicorns, for example, at the sight of hoof-prints, when the most logical explanation is a horse. I know I’ve done this with Second Life, the open ended role playing game by Linden Labs that I still maintain a presence in. I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words about it, trying to explain to myself its peculiar allure, trying to get to the psychological nub of it as if there were some fantastic insight to be gleaned into the heart of the human condition.

I was trying to explain it to my 14 year old son, shaking my head in wonder yet again at what I thought to be the wider implications of this virtual reality wonderland, but he just rolled his eyes and said: “Look: you’ve got this fantasy world where people can go anonymously and do absolutely anything; you don’t need to explain it any more than that, do you? Come on Dad, you’re over-analysing stuff again.”

Sure, there’s probably nothing more profound about Second Life than that. It’s just taken me five years to realise it, with the benefit of some sage advice from my teenage son. I must be careful therefore not to similarly labour my analysis of Flickr.

I’ve had a Flickr account for a couple of years now, but I’ve only recently begun to make better use of it. Flickr of course is a service that lets you put photographs and digital artwork online in a public forum. You can mark your pictures private and just share them with friends and family, or you can open them up to a worldwide audience. I put a handful of my more arty photographs on there a couple of years ago, and until recently some of them hadn’t been viewed even once, so I was wondering what the point of it all was. I mean why would I want to show my photographs to complete strangers, anyway? Is it not just “showing off”? And why on earth would anyone want to look at them? (which apparently they didn’t). And what if I’m misguided in my enthusiasm for my pictures, and they’re not that great anyway? It would be,… well,… embarrassing.

But still,…

I think for me the problem with Flickr, was the fact that it was uncomfortable sitting hunched up in front of a computer monitor of an evening to look at other people’s photographs – especially when I’d been hunched up in front of a computer all day at work. The computer – even a laptop – just didn’t quite bring out the potential of Flickr, but then I bought an iPad, and suddenly I could sit in an easy chair with it and flick through the Flickr stream like you would through a glossy magazine. Within seconds, you were guaranteed to be gazing in awe at a picture someone had taken, or drawn or painted – not necessarily because it was dramatic or shocking, but because there was just something in the picture that spoke directly to you. This is how art works, after all.

I’ve been using a little app called FlickStackr, which smooths out the browsing process for you and, as a result, diving into Flickr is now like falling down the rabbit hole. It opens up a world of richness and colour and breathtaking artistic talent that is mostly unsung. We are instinctively creative creatures, and Flickr showcases that to good effect.

I dabble a little with digital art myself. In particular I enjoy fingerpainting on my iPad with an app called Sketchbook, and I’ve put a few of my first attempts on Flickr as well. Like my earlier photographs, these didn’t attract much attention at first, but that was before I’d discovered “groups”.

At the top level, Flickr is so unimaginably vast, your little account is like a grain of sand on a beach; it’s unlikely anyone’s going to notice it. So you look for things you might have in common with other Flickrers, like say Sketchbook art, and you discover there’s a “group” for that. You take pictures with an old Canon Powershot A640? Yes there’s a group for that as well. You live in Lancashire UK? Sure, there’s a group for that as well. So you join those groups, start tagging your material to them and suddenly people start dropping by to say things about your stuff, or selecting them as favourites for their own little collections.

But before I embark on a long rambling analysis of why I enjoy doing this, I’m better asking my 14 year old son for his advice because I’m only going to get myself into another existential muddle if I don’t. He says, it’s like when he comes to me with one of his drawings that he’s worked on for ages, and says: wha’d’ya think of this then? It’s not showing off, it just makes you feel good when someone looks at something you’ve done and says, hey: nice picture!

I think writing’s the same. In a way we’re looking for approval, for permission to be as we are and to think the things we do. At the bottom of us we’re saying: I did this, I wrote this, I painted this, I saw this and felt this because I thought it might mean something. Do you think it might mean something too?


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