Books,  monthly roundup,  Music

May 24 roundup

(I’ve been going through some old photos – I’m the little blond one in the above, where it appears that I grew up in the 1930s)

I’ve been having a “Month of Lasts” as my OU clock ticks down: Last Open Programme meeting, last JIME meeting, last Applaud Steering committee, last research theme meeting. Shedding all those roles and activities one accumulates like burrs on a poodle running through a field of burdock feels liberating. I’m not quite sure what will replace the interaction, structure and activity that meetings provide though. We do of course like to portray the meeting as the irritating guest at our work wedding, but across a working week they provide social interaction, focus for activity, and structure for the day. Even if I say so myself, I’m pretty good at chairing meetings and they’re usually productive and dare I say it, quite fun. Replacing the architecture they provide will be the challenge post-OU, but I have plans afoot.

As one set of obligations fades however a new set has arisen in the form of negotiating the various care support structures around two elderly parents. The social services, elderly care, private providers and NHS systems sometimes take some cajoling to communicate with each other, but my experience so far has been of unfailingly helpful, supportive and caring staff. But a weekly 9 hour commute to Bedford and back in one day is not as much fun as you might think.

In terms of reading this month, those long drives have allowed audiobooks to be consumed, especially now I have learned to tolerate a 1.4 reading speed. This allowed me to get through some chonky boys, including Dan Simmons The Terror (that North West passage fever was a real buzz for Victorians). If I felt a bit anxious about the open vistas of life before me, then reading Werner Herzog’s memoir Every Man for Himself and God Against All reminded me that intellectual curiosity can take you on all sorts of adventures (I don’t think I’ll be hauling boats through jungles or planning to murder Klaus Kinski though). Screenwriter John Yorke provides a compelling account of storytelling, dismissing many of the secret how to guides and instead focusing on why we tell stories. And when it comes to telling stories, when I was in Cork, Catherine Cronin gave me a present of a book called This is Happiness by Niall Williams, which tells the historical life in a fictional Irish village. It’s beautifully, lyrically written, like a seasoned narrator sitting you by the fire and enjoying their own storytelling prowess and that you are lending an ear. In its attention to the everyday nuances of small village life it is also quite profound.

On the vinyl front this month saw releases from two women at different phases of their musical careers but both carving their distinct niches. Beth Gibbons of Portishead released a solo album Lives Outgrown. The artwork and song titles such as “Tell Me Who You Are Today” speak to the rather schizophrenic nature of the album – sometimes it’s like a singalong at a Woodstock camp fire, then there are drum and bass elements or discordant jazz rhythms. It’s a proper album in the sense that it takes quite a lot of unpacking. Pop phenomenon Billie Eilish released her 3rd full album, Hit Me Hard and Soft. We are lucky to be living in a golden age of massive selling pop queens, and while it’s not a competition, for my money Eilish is the most interesting of them (although I have a lot of time for Taylor, Dua Lipa, Olivia Rodrigo). But my favourite purchase of the month was an old one – the acoustic version of Prefab Sprout’s Steve McQueen. I came across it on Spotify a few years ago but didn’t realise until recently it had been a Record Store Day release a while back. I found a reasonably priced (although ouch on that postage) copy in the US on Discogs. While the Thomas Dolby production of the original is sympathetic and gave us a classic album, you can really appreciate the quality of the songwriting in these stripped back versions. When I was a teenager I had a notion to write a novel, each chapter beginning with a lyric from this album. Let’s be clear, that would have been absolutely awful, but it’s an indication of how such music can affect sensitive young men, and I was sensitive, dammit! Anyway, enjoy what Pitchfork calls “some of the most beautiful, enduring British pop music ever made”


  • Eric Likness

    Martin, have you by an chance run into the music blog of one Craig McAllister? Plain or Pan. I bumped into on (as that’s where I’m hosted) using the built-in WordPress RSS reader. Anyways, Craig’s just a couple years younger than myself and is also quite the fan of the PreFab Sprout, along with a whole host of other bands that emerged during the so-called “New Wave”-ish era around Britain. Definitely worth checking out:

    • mweller

      Hi Eric, I hadn’t come across this, just had a quick look and definitely looks like it’s up my alley, thanks for the recommendation

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