A return to the real world

As said the other day, shielding is over so today was the first day back at work which consisted of staring at a monitor wondering what my job actually was.

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Finally, I turned the thing on and remembered what I did!

 

So it’s a slow return. Only four days and I feel like I’ve worked a week after doing little on day one!

Quarantine’s End

AS of the 1st August shielding from Covid-19 has been suspended in Scotland so this means no more lockdown, and no more quarantine so back to work this week, around a month after most other people returned. So no more being forgotten about.

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Frankly, I don’t think people know what to do with people shielding. We can’t isolate until a vaccine is maybe found but we can’t be put at risk so we all face a hard discussion as to what to do. Now I’ve been talking about a return to work for a month, and I hope things work out otherwise I’m going to have to find something that involves working from home assuming my health, both mental and physical, holds up. Four months of lockdown and more or less isolation will leave a toll, but as yet I don’t know what that might be.

So we’ll see how things go in whatever the world is now, but I have a feeling that before spring, we’ll be back on full lockdown again in a pattern of loosening and tightening that’ll be with us til, if, we find a vaccine.

Eight years since the London Olympics

Back in July 2012, the London Olympics were looking to be a huge joke. What was clearly a new vanity project for Labour and Tony Blair at a time of prosperity became a millstone around the neck of a Tory/Lib Dem coalition who didn’t seem especially interested in culture or sport, and a London Mayor’s office run by Boris Johnson who was making mistake after mistake in the run-up to the event.  Security was a mess, nobody could buy tickets and if they did they were either too expensive or for events you didn’t want. Basically, as soon as we hit the month of the Olympics all that was expected was a giant mess.

Friends of mine, however, were going up to volunteer for the games, and one asked me if I wanted to go up and work a few days over the event doing some work in one of the offices on-site. So I went up a fortnight before it started, checked things out, saw it was carnage and decided to stay in Bristol for the duration as although the money was good, I didn’t really want to crash in a hotel in London nor did I want to piss all the money away.

The opening ceremony was to be done by Danny Boyle which at first excited people but then leaks of the show came out making people worried it was going to be shite. The ceremony was a Friday night which for me meant finishing work around 5pm, taking a walk home, and stopping by my local pub til who knows when? It was also cold and wet which that summer had been. It’d been dismal that year with few sunny days to call even a sunny spell.

With the ceremony on live TV in the pub, I couldn’t be arsed going home as I’d not just got a beer in, but it’d be funny to take the piss down the pub with everyone else so the ceremony started and we started taking the piss. What’s all this with the sheep and shit? Then slowly the banter stopped ”(hang on is that Underworld?? Was that Fuck Buttons????”)as more and more of us were sitting around watching and listening to it. We then realised this was something quite special, so I sat down the pub watching this event unfold before nipping home when the athletes started coming out (of course grabbing a fish supper on the way) to watch the rest at home.

That opening ceremony did define something for many. It defined the myth of a working United Kingdom and also showed that out of sacrifice we did create the NHS which to this day is still an extraordinary thing to do in that shattered time just after WW2. It showed the amazing contribution to music and culture these islands have produced and it probably still is the only bit of mass theatre most people have seen. It’s beloved of middle class liberals especially as they see it portraying the UK as it is, instead of as it could be. Obviously Boyle wasn’t going to go full in with politics, and in retrospect it is extraordinary how much he did manage to put in.

But for one evening in a grim, wet July things seemed good and it seemed like maybe the UK isn’t as bad as we think. Of course reality kicked in once the Olympics and Paralympics ended, and then a few years later in 2016 the reality of the UK was spattered across our screens for all to see.

Here though is the official Olympic channel coverage of the opening ceremony. It does have some wonderful Barry Davies commentary where he’s going full Partridge but it is a great document of something special eight long years ago.

Coming out of lockdown

On the 23rd of March, I went into lockdown and because I’m shielding I’ve barely left the house barring the odd GP appointment, or a walk to the corner shop at the end of my road. Sometimes I’ve sat on the bench in the wee park at the other end of the street. As a whole, though I’ve probably been no more than 200 meters from my front door in over four months.  So I’m going a tad stir crazy.

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As long as we progress into phase 4 of coming out of lockdown on the 3rd of August I’m off furlough, back to work for a while as part-time is still an option and frankly, lockdown has seen a lot of post-stroke issues flare up so things will need to be monitored over August. Of course we could all go back a phase, or worse go back into full lockdown. With the state of Covid infections in England and it being a matter of time before these start crossing the border, it is a matter of time before the second wave which many think will kick in this winter. That’ll mean a return to lockdown.

But for now, I’m a few weeks from some sense of whatever the new normal will be. Wish me luck!

How we need Superman more than ever

There’s a push for Superman to be black to make him ‘relevant to a modern audience’ and although there’s a few good arguments out there for that, the argument hinges upon making Superman hip and relevant,  which means basically we end up moving away from the idea of Superman to something different.

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Alternate versions of Superman are fine, but they work best when they contrast with Superman himself, but the problem is people have lost just what Superman is and why he’s never stopped being relevant, and in the world we’re in today he’s even more relevant.

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Why?

He’s an alien refugee who can’t go back home as that’s destroyed, but was found by two kind, decent people who taught him how to be a good person and uphold the ideas that make the American Dream something admirable. For him, a little girls cat stuck up a tree is as important as stopping Brainiac from invading Earth. It’s all about giving something to make people’s lives better. He’s about finding people’s problems and solving them be it a lost cat or a deadly alien invasion.

And remember, when Superman started he was beating up slum landlords, speeding drivers and people who lived in the Depression-era who made readers lives more hellish than it already was. Superman’s working class, near socialist roots are perfect to update to the 2020’s, and his message of hope is what is needed in a world living with everything we are just now. In fact, there’s a hell of a lot of similarities between the 2020’s and the 1930s. We need a hero now who isn’t corruptible, and isn’t some edgelord’s idea of what he should be in 20202, so no neck-breaking, glum, grimness but someone who celebrates life and people.

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Superman right now is in a rut. The comics are poor and Henry Cavill is signing on to play Superman in cameo appearances for now as Warners have no idea how to treat the character because all superheroes have to be ‘edgy’ in some way but there’s room for honesty, decency and redefining the ‘American Way’ through the eyes of a refugee So what if he’s ‘old fashioned’. Maybe we need that in the age of Trump and Brexit?

 

 

35 years of Live Aid

Today, 35 years ago Live Aid happened featuring two huge open-air concerts in London and Philadelphia and global hunger was wiped out overnight making the world an almost utopia. Except it didn’t. So let’s be blunt from the off; as an event to help people Live Aid’s reach was limited, and although aid did get to people, it also got in the hands of warlords who bought guns and other weapons who then proceeded to murder tens of thousands of people. Bob Geldof’s successor to Live Aid, Live 8, ended up siding with Western governments allowing them a shield to back off doing anything real to wipe out Third World debt.

Of course, people giving money in 1985 didn’t know this. I bought a copy of Do They Know its Christmas? like millions of others thinking my few quid that I’d spent on a frankly shite record (which has long, long been sold off) would actually do something. I’d dabbled with the idea of getting a ticket and going down with some friends but I bluntly, shat myself about going down to London myself, spending a day in Wembley, then heading back to Victoria in the wee hours to wait for the bus back. A few years later I wouldn’t have blinked about it, but it is a regret as we had people who’d come into the shop I worked in who could have easily gotten tickets.

In those pre-internet days knowledge that Live Aid was not doing what it set out to do was in circulation, though hard to get but journalists were at least aware on both sides of the Atlantic there were problems. The problem was the narrative was written in stone. Bob Geldof was a saint, and his free-market vision of aid relief might involve giving millions direct to a butcher but let’s skim over that so we can feel good after all, it’s better to be kind than pick Geldof and Live Aid apart because they did help people?

And here we are 35 years later still being fed the same narrative. Yet for all my moral outrage at what Live Aid, and especially Geldof, is actually responsible for, I’ve been constantly drawn to the Live Aid concert itself as possibly one of those moments which helped shape the next 35 years for me in selling me the idea of large open-air festivals such as Glastonbury.

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As for me on that day, I remember having to pop into work to help deal with a delivery but managed to get away so I was home by midday to watch the start of it which then saw me stuck in front of the TV for the next 14 hours or so. I witnessed poor Adam Ant single-handedly destroy his career to Queen dragging theirs out of the gutter. Watching it back today little of it stands up musically, nor do many of these acts know how to play to a crowd of 100k. Queen was one of those exceptions as was David Bowie who was going through his megastar phase before making the horrible mistake which was his career from 86 to the early 90s. I still shudder at Tin Machine which reminds me I must tell my Tin Machine story one day…

But that day was about spectacle, not to mention the actual technical marvel of putting the thing on, and the BBC showing it to the UK in those early days of satellites. A lot of what was done that day pushed technology on so that just a few years later satellite TV became a thing and you’d see dishes go up on the sides of houses of the few who could afford it back then.  It was amazing to see things flit from the UK to US and back again. Who cares that many of the performances were poor, it was the spectacle which mattered and looking at the continuity back then it’s clear that was how it was affecting people who were there.

Of course there were some things which did happen. Most of the acts saw their careers either blow up like U2 or Madonna or come back from the dead like Queen and Status Quo. Others saw careers prolonged for a year or two longer than they should have been with Adam Ant being an exception.  Live Aid also saw how music changed for the latter half of the 80s so that these big acts dominated to the point where chart music stagnated. No wonder the breakthrough of rave and Indie music in 89 was lapped up as we’d struggled with that post Live Aid bubble.

35 years later the legacy of that day beyond the memories people have of it as a glorious spectacle is complex. Geldof has clearly profited in terms of relevance since then as in 1985 his 15 minutes of fame was well and truly up, but his move into international politics is going to either make him a saint or hang like a set of chains depending on how you’ve informed yourself. Most people though see him, and Live Aid/8 (I remember Geldof appearing at Glastonbury in 2005 being welcomed uncritically on the main stages, but elsewhere you’d be able to find opposing voices to what he was doing, not to mention that both concerts are lacking in black acts) are purely noble causes and not the complex mess it really is.

Still, musically if you’re an act looking to play a big festival you can do worse than using Live Aid as a guide as to how to do it. Queen and U2 are your guides.

 

How we used to buy comics

I’ve spoken in the past about how I used to buy comics back in the distant past of the 70s, but the thing is about that era few people walking around with a camera all the time as we all mostly do today. Today if you see something, you just pull out your phone, and if you want something then you can go online and you’re pretty much certain to get what you want.

In those days you’d be lucky to get the issue you want, but you might get something you weren’t looking for. It’s hard to describe the ragtag nature of buying comics back then this one picture helps show the chaos of the time.

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I believe this picture is from the US in the late 70s, possibly California. The Hulk magazines in the background place it no later than 1980, but there are gems in that picture such as Jack Kirby’s 2001 adaptation and the Superman versus Spider-Man crossover from 1976.  But that’s how it used to be. No bags, no boards, no comic boxes just comics stuffed in whatever boxes they can fit in.

I love this picture and although California was thousands of miles away from where I grew up, this is very similar to me as a child going to markets or second-hand bookshops raking through boxes of old comics pulling out stuff I wanted (Herb Trimpe Hulk’s, any issue of The Flash, Avengers or JLA) as well as stuff I just liked the look of. Prices were never stupid, or designed to scam you like say, slabbed comics are today.  You bought them, you read them and you loved them. Then that mutated into collecting them…

These days are long gone of course, but to have a time machine, a pocket rammed with cash and to go back to buy as much in this picture as possible.

The great flood of Glastonbury Festival 2005

Back in 2005 the Glastonbury Festival that year started out nice, dry and warm. Sure, some rain was forecast for the Friday but it’d be not that bad? Nah, it nearly ended up with the festival being called off and 150,000 people being evacuated though to where I don’t know. I assume the Bath and West Showground.

This is a video showing the creeping horror of what happened at the bottom of Pennards Hill that day. We were in the field next to it awaiting the floods to come but thankfully they didn’t or we’d suffered what these poor sods did.

The good news is after this Micahel Eavis spent hundreds of thousands of pounds installing drainage across the site, though areas were missed as we’d find out when the festival returned after a fallow year in 2007.

So sit back and enjoy a piece of found footage horror…

 

The early days of the Glastonbury Festival

One of the many, many things to have come out of the lack of a Glastonbury Festival this year, and touch wood, only this year, is a look at the history of the festival and no I don’t mean the BBC’s rather cursory look back at the last 25 years of the festival. Although the weekend’s coverage by the BBC was good, and the broadcast of David Bowie’s set from 2000 was one of 2000’s few highlights, there was one name missing from the programming which was that of the late Jean Eavis, Michael’s wife.

The first few years I went in the 90’s Jean was as much a figurehead of the festival as Michael, and she’d be there on the site making sure fences were repaired slowly so tens of thousands of kids like myself could get in. Michael in recent years admitted they calculated for a certain few thousand on top of those buying tickets getting in as they knew these kids would bring something to the festival that, bluntly, has been lost in the age of the superfence which is the anarchic spontaneity of people trying to pay for their weekend by creating whatever entertainment they can for people.

And those people ranged from hippies or crusties, or indeed any folk who’d fell through the cracks of Tory Britain in the 80’s and early 90’s. All the lost, all the misfits were welcomed and they played with the wealthier students and other folks who came to the festival with no problems.  Well, more or less no problem. Even by the time I first started going in the early 90’s parts of the site were places to avoid at night but more on that another time.

So I’ve been looking at what footage exists of that first quarter-century of the festival is online and most of it is fragments of a festival that doesn’t exist anymore, but the spirit of that festival still resides in the Green Fields and some of the people that attend who don’t see Glastonbury as just a big gig in a field.

The main thing that does get me is the growth of the festival. Fields that lay empty in 1990 are now. I remember long walks to get from where the bus from Bristol used to drop you to the site, but now that’s all within the walls of the festival as the site grows each year.

I especially love the grainy old Super 8 footage. There’s something instantly nostalgic, even romantic, about it.

Looking at the 1986 footage it really is remarkable how it’s grown. Back then the site is basically what is now the main area for the Pyramid, plus what’s now the kids’ field. Everything over the old train tracks was more or less untouched waiting for future years to descend upon it.

By 1995 the first age of the festival was over. Now longer aligned with CND and such a direct political cause the festival moved to something more inclusive which has transformed into an event where Tory MP’s are seen mingling with millionaire footballers and those kids who would have something to add to the festival are locked out. 1995 is my favourite year of those early years I went as the entire site was bursting with creativity. I miss the sound systems everywhere mainly as Michael has no love for dance or electronic music so would try to keep that out but he eventually had to change.

Rave culture may have been something Eavis struggled with, but it transformed Glastonbury into what it is now just as the fence changed it, the television coverage changed it and even Covid-19 will affect the festival in some shape or form in the years ahead.

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the first Glastonbury Fayre (1970 was the Pilton Pop Festival), so in many ways, this is the festival kicking off properly after 1970’s dry run. Hopefully I’ll be there next year to celebrate, and remember what came before us to get us to where we are today.