Writing 101: Three Songs That Matter To Me.

The latest blog101 challenge is to follow some other blogs and some tags. I’m guessing that others who have taken to following my blog over the last couple of days have done so as part of the same challenge. This might explain why, when I write about how I don’t have a faith, and in fact reject the notion of a faith I end up with two new religious bloggers following me. Ho Hum.

Time to Face The Music.

In the absence of a writing challenge for blogging101, I’m falling back to the writing101 assignment. This calls for me to write about three songs that matter to me. Of course, the issue with a post like this is that it is entirely reliant on the day, mood and recent musical exposure. What did I listen to on my iPod on the way to work this morning? is the sun shining (actually, yes, yes it is) etc.

So I’m going to have to go for today’s picks, with the caveat that it would probably differ in at least one track a week from now.

Song 1: Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd.

The album, also called ‘Wish You Were Here’ is, without reservation my favourite album. Unfortunately my wife hates Pink Floyd (preferring entirely disposable pop), so I tend to listen to it when I’m on my own.

I love this particular track because it puts me in mind of my time at University. It reminds me of my old house and class mates, and of my early adulthood. It reminds me of when I moved on in my musical tastes from the stuff that the radio was playing.

And when I was able to see David Gilmour live in London some years back, he walked out onto the stage, stood in the spotlight and started to play this, and the hush in the audience was electric.

So this is a song that speaks to me about my memory, about my life.

Song 2: East Easy Rider – Julian Cope.

Another song with strong memories. In the early nineties I spent the Christmas holidays in Morocco with four friends. We had gone primarily to surf, but there was also a local motorbike rental place, and a few times we hired bikes to explore the country. All but one of the bikes were 125cc trail bikes, the other was a 250cc bike with a more laid back chopper styling. One afternoon I had an hour to kill and decided to take this bigger bike for a spin on my own. I headed out of town, following the coast road northwards.  Like many coast roads this was cut into a steep descent down to a rocky shore, so as I rode along I had the Atlantic to my left, and a cliff to my right. Being late afternoon the sun was low in the sky casting my shadow against the cliff.

When I look back at the experience it was one of the points in my life when I was most at peace. I wasn’t wearing a helmet, or protective equipment, but the road was quiet and I wasn’t going particularly quickly, just enjoying the wind in my long hair, the sun on my skin and the experience in general.

As I rode along I began to sing, and this was the song that felt appropriate. It wasn’t long after the album (Peggy Suicide) had been released and I’d been listening to it pretty continuously, so that, combined with the title and the sentiment seemed to fit.

Good Times.

Song 3: Blood Wedding – Oysterband.

I wrote above that I was going to struggle to narrow this whole thing down to three tracks, and I really have. The only one that was obvious was number 1. I ended up picking this because the three ‘go to’ acts that I listen to when I don’t know what to listen to are reflected in this list. And when it came to picking an Oysterband song, there were many I could have chosen, but the one that was played at my wedding made sense.

Our wedding wasn’t anything like the one in the song by the way. No drunken uncles pissing up the walls or anything like that. And it is worth pointing out that it wasn’t our ‘first dance’. That was the far more romantic ‘Thankyou’ by Dido. But after the first dance this was the one that got the party started!

Reflections.

When I was trying to choose the tracks to write about I spent a lot of time scrolling around on my iPod, and it was a timely reminder of how consuming music has changed. I had vinyl records that required you to sit, almost reverentially around a stereo. I had cassettes which were robust in terms of being able to move the playing equipment around, but which relied on fragile tape which I was practised at repairing when it broke or got scrunched. I had CDs which were robust, and had excellent sound quality, but held only one album each. I had an MP3 CD player where you could play MP3 encoded CDs which could hold ten or more albums on a single disc. And then I had an iPod, smaller than a CD case, but holding every single CD I own, as well as downloaded podcasts and audio books. And because of that I could try different songs, test what they meant to me and write the above. It isn’t profound, but my 12 year old self would have thought it was fantastic.

Other Racers and Riders.

There were tens of songs that I would happily have included on a different day, or in a different mood. A short list:

Thankyou – Dido

Put Out The Lights – Oysterband

Mother – Pink Floyd

World Shut Your Mouth – Julian Cope

Reward – Teardrop Explodes

Love Will Tear Us Apart – Either Oysterband or Joy Division version

Duelling Banjos – Any version

Benzadrine – Thea Gilmore

She Sells Sanctuary – The Cult

Pictures of You – The Cure

Victim of Love – Erasure

Tom’s Diner – Suzanne Vega (the original, non-beatbox version, I saw her live in Birmingham, and she just walked out to the microphone and sang it without any accompaniment)

Homophobia – Chumbawamba

Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana or The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

And I really could add to this list pretty much all day…

Writing 101: Unlock The Mind.

I signed up to do this years blogging 101 and writing 101 sessions on the web. And here I am.

The first writing assignment: Just Write.

Where do you start? There is a Monty Python sketch where writing is a spectator sport complete with an excitable crowd and breathless commentary. But writing obviously isn’t something done in front of an audience. It is done in your head. With an audience of one, and they are, in all likelihood your  worst critic.

The cursor flashes. Inviting you to press the keys. Taunting you with how little it has moved. But what can you put down on screen.

And does the screen help or hinder? On a screen the ability to go back, to tweak, to massage or to procrastinate are almost limitless.  The promise of being able to change not just the words, but the font, the colour and the page size can mire a user in options.  This is why when I am really trying to write, not blog, I go off-line and start writing in a system that doesn’t support those fripperies.  When talking on this subject I can wax lyrical about an old word processor ‘WordPerfect 5.1’. It had a lot going for it. It ran in DOS, so when you were using WordPerfect that was all you were using, there weren’t any other programs available to flip back and forth to. The screen when you opened a document was almost entirely blank, with just a single line of text in the bottom right hand corner which provided a word and line count. Finally, you could mark things as being of a particular style (heading, body etc) but the text on the screen changed only slightly. You weren’t invited to make judgements about the space taken up on the page, that was for the program to worry about. The point was to write words. The words would be processed into a document later, but the words came first.

Other media suit different processes. A diary or a record of thoughts and feelings might feel more natural if it is in your own handwriting, which might change to reflect your moods. Adding doodles, exclamations or scribbles give an insight into something in parallel to the words, just like non-verbal communication matters when it comes to talking with real people. But there are issues with this type of document. I read a comment once about how writing in a notebook feels like a supremely audacious action. Taking a pristine, beautiful piece of paper and saying ‘I’m important enough to defile this paper, what I do to it matters more’. I find the action of posting blog entries easier as the paper that is defiled is electronic, essentially limitless, and somehow no-one expects blogs to matter anyway.

That is all I have to say about this. Writing is something I want to do, and would like to be better at. I am aware of some of my flaws, but I think practice will highlight a lot more. I think writing, editing and learning from the process is important.

 

Book Review: Regeneration – Pat Barker.

I wrote the other day about my first ever book club meeting, and how much I had enjoyed it. Now comes the review, my thoughts and feelings.

For the record, I read this at the first part of a trilogy (I purchased all three parts as a single volume, it was cheaper than the individual parts) and it was on my Kindle. The Amazon page for this is here.

Plot Summary (Slight Risk of Spoilers).

The story revolves around Siegfried Sassoon, the famous poet. Most British people have heard of him because of having to study World War I poetry at school, and his poetry is useful for those studying because it shows a very distinct arc. At the beginning of the war Sassoon’s writing was full of patriotic fervour, but by the end it was a bitter, angry denouncing of those in charge.

Regeneration is set in 1917. Siegfried Sassoon has written a declaration denouncing the war, and an MP is shortly going to read it out in Parliament (everything that happens in the chambers is recorded in Hansard, the official record of government business). As an act of protest it was a dangerous one. Sassoon could have been considered to be stoking dissent in the ranks. Robert Graves, another famous writer persuades Sassoon to accept being sent to a hospital for shell shock.

At the hospital Sassoon meets Rivers, a doctor charged with helping those officers who are suffering from shell shock to get better with an eye to being sent back to the front line.

Reading It.

This is one of those strange books where it isn’t really appropriate to say that I enjoyed it. The story is at times extremely harrowing, and my notes that I made as I read show that. I describe one character as a bastard having read the chapter where he, to all intents and purposes tortures a poor patient. Having said that the writing was excellent, never feeling laboured or stilted in any way. This is especially important in those sections that talk about the awful experiences the soldiers have endured.

I would say that if anyone is setting out to read it they should probably avoid doing what I did. I found myself wondering how much of the story was factual, and what, if any were the product of the author’s imagination. This being 2014 I did what any right minded, internet connected person would and googled Sassoon. Obviously he has a Wikipedia entry, and obviously it tells you about what happens at the end of the book!

Reading More.

I really did find this a striking book to read, and one that I am sure will stay in my memory for a long time. I didn’t want to start reading the rest of the trilogy straight away. It was the sort of read that you feel the need to ‘decompress’ after. But I will, and soon. And I’m looking forward to it.

And Finally.

I have signed up to the Blogging101 blog-prompts. Today’s task was to change the title of my blog, so I’ve done this. But the above is my actual blog entry. I have a list of blog topics in case the prompts don’t work, or require an entry. I’m trying to improve my blogging habit and my writing style.

Blogging 101, Day 1: Who Am I, and Why Am I Here?

I have had this blog for a while, and I sporadically update it. However, I received the notification regarding the latest blogging course being provided at The Daily Post, and I thought that it might offer me the opportunity to develop a better blogging habit.

It is September the 15th and the first assignment is in. Who am I, and why am I here?

This is a timely assignment. My daughter has just started at a new school, and has been given her very first piece of homework. There was some maths, but there was also a page where she was asked to draw a picture of herself and to write a little bit about herself. I was helping and encouraging her, so we got some scrap paper and wrote phrases about her. These were things like ‘Likes and Dislikes’, ‘What others think of her’ and ‘What her aspirations are for the future’. Sadly she chose to write only a very little on the page itself. Like most of us, I suspect she was nervous of putting herself  ‘out there’ for her teacher to see.

I thought it would help to do something similar.

Likes:

I am an unabashed geek. I love to play around with computers and gadgets of all kinds. I love to push the envelope on the way that I use kit. I tend not to run the default system where it is practical to hack things. I’m a huge fan of Linux, and I use it as my main operating system at work (on servers and my own desktop computers) and at home (though my laptop is dual boot so my wife and daughter can use it).

I love Italian food, particularly pizza.

I would spend most of the day where I wasn’t using a computer reading. I like to read a weird plethora of books, often ploughing my way through instruction manuals and user guides for software, but I also love fiction.

My favourite author is Jane Austen, and my favourite book is Pride and Prejudice. I’ve read it so often that I can recite sections of it, I can pick up a copy and pick a page at random and start reading, and will know exactly what has happened beforehand and what is yet to come.

I like animals, especially dogs. I also enjoy walking the family dog, especially in the morning when I take the time to think about the day ahead.

Dislikes:

I’m firmly of the opinion that life is too short to waste much time on hate. But there are some things which will cause me to get my soapbox out and go on a rant. Today isn’t the day to be so negative.

What People Might Say About Me:

Of course, the real answer is that you would have to ask them. I aspire to many things. How well I succeed I simply don’t know.

Aims and Aspirations:

I’m not a particularly ambitious person. I like my job, and I love that I get to spend time with my family who are the most important thing for me. I aspire to collect knowledge and to learn every day. I watch my daughter and enjoy the fun and pathos that she brings into my life.

There you go. A little bit of introspection about who I am.

Why Am I Here?

The answer to this depends on how profound you want to be at this particular juncture. I’m here, writing this blog because I like the idea of writing. I like the idea that ideas shape language and language shapes your ideas, and I want to pummel my ideas to see what happens. I am also here because if I have one major weakness when it comes to writing it is that I am hopelessly verbose. I think the best cure for this is to develop a less verbose habit, and that is best done by practice.

The other answer is that, as far as I’m concerned I’m here, like all of us because of an accident of cosmic happen-stance. As far as we can tell there was a rapid inflation of space-time about 13.6 billion years ago. As the space expanded it cooled and condensed into elementary particles which clumped together into simple elements which then clumped into stars which lit up the early universe while turning lighter elements into heavier elements. The stars exploded scattering their remnants into space where they clumped again to form other stars. Some of the elementary material clumped into smaller balls of matter which rotated around the stars and cooled and coalesced as planets. One of the planets, nothing special just happened to have the right conditions for the formation of very simple self replicating molecules. These molecules began a race which would eventually be labelled ‘The Survival of the Fittest’, and began to change with replication, eventually forming simple cells, then multi-cellular life and then a myriad of life forms each ideally suited for the conditions found on the planet.

Eventually one of the higher life forms on the planet developed a slightly different mechanism for survival. Whereas other life always relied on bigger teeth or stronger muscles this animal relied on a brain which was capable of modelling the world around it and cooperating and making tools. The human race took this ability and ran with it, and soon (in geological and biological terms) this species covered most of the world and were more successful than any other species apart from bacteria.

And then came the computer, and the internet and the infinite number of monkeys battering an infinite number of keyboards…

I don’t believe in any deity. And even if you were to provide information which showed that there was a finger on the button that triggered the big bang I would not consider any of the claimed gods worthy of worship. They all reflect the bigotry of their creators and the social mores of the time they were dreamt up.

 

My First Book Club Meeting.

For someone who really likes to read, it is strange that I have never been to a book club before. Of course, it helps that this particular book club meets in lunch time at work.

There weren’t a lot of us, but that helped in not feeling overawed. It is a fact that working at a University (particularly this University) means it is easy to feel like you are a long way from being the smartest person in the room!

The book we were discussing was Regeneration by Pat Barker. It tells the tale of Siegfried Sassoon and his time in a hospital in Scotland during the First World War.

I found that the book was an excellent read. I hesitate to say that I enjoyed it. A story centring on men both physically and mentally scarred by their experiences feels like something I wouldn’t want to label as enjoyable. But the story was compelling. There was plenty to talk about too.

Lots of things to digest. The multiple meanings of the title, the nature of war and propaganda and what feels like a morally justifiable war.

I will add my thoughts on the book in another post, but I will definitely want to attend the book circle again.

 

Book Review: An American Fraud. One Lawyer’s Case against Mormonism – Kay Burningham.

It is important to nail my colours to the mast before I write the body of this review. I’m not a religious person. In fact, I go beyond being an atheist, and deep into being anti-theist.

I don’t come to this book to try and justify my faith over and above another. I arrive at its pages keen to hear the experiences of someone who was raised in Mormonism and who, after many years left the faith in disgust.

Kay Burningham tells of her disillusionment in a book of two parts. The first part is an autobiography covering a life steeped in the religion. Everything from home life to education was enveloped in Mormonism including studying law at the Mormon University. But the story is tinged with anger and despair as a series of adult relationships prove to be disastrous, primarily because the people involved are damaged by their backgrounds.

The second part is a history of the religion itself. It is a damning story, highlighting the obvious fraudulent life of Joseph Smith. The list of obviously self serving ‘revelations’ that Smith had, and the fact that there were people prepared to believe and to follow is amazing. Successors to Smith, especially Brigham Young have their story told, and, incredibly they come over as even odious than Joseph Smith himself.

An interesting read, detailed without being laboured. It also pointed me to another book, Wife 19 by one of the unfortunate polygamous wives of Brigham Young. The review of that book will appear later!

It Wasn’t A Graduation, But It Was Lovely.

Yesterday was my daughter’s last day at her infant school. She has been there for three years, and has been happy there almost all the time.

To mark the end of their time at the school they held a special leaver’s assembly. It was a simple affair. Once all the parents and other children were seated there was a procession of each of the children down the aisle of the church (it is a Church of England school), while their teacher said something about what sort of pupil they were, and what their memories of the child would be. It was very sweet, each child wearing a hand made cardboard mortar board.

I’m very glad to say that the school wasn’t silly enough to use terms like graduating, graduation or graduate. These are seven year old children who are leaving one school and moving on to another. They have come a long way in the time they have been at their current school, but they have a long way to go as well.

The wonderful parts of the whole event were:

  • The understandably proud look on each child’s face as the proceeded down the aisle while the teacher sang their praises.
  • The multiple photo opportunities for individual children, groups of friends and families.
  • The fun ‘throw your hats in the air’ photo opportunity.
  • The chance to say hi to the former teachers that the children had had, but who had moved on in the interim.
  • A yearbook full of wonderful memories and sweet biographies. The spelling is sometimes hilarious due to the use of phonetics, but the sentiments ranged from sweet, through funny to full of pathos and almost heart breaking sadness.

A new, exciting, and sometimes scary adventure awaits the children who left the school yesterday, but a great deal has been done to prepare each child for a bright future.