Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Good Riddance 

This is the time of year when people make lists and I'm no exception. 2003 had been a rotten year because of a bunch of professional and personal reasons I'm not going into here (this is not a blog, after all) and the shameful invasion of Iraq. I'll be glad to see the back of it. However, there were lots of good bits worth remembering. For instance, we had four nights in Rome, and I saw my favourite band, REM, twice (the second time at Glastonbury) and also saw great gigs by David Bowie, Neil Young and Evan Dando, amonst others. Gig of the year, however, had to be Paul McCartney on his first night at Sheffield Arena - a fantastic show and an emotional evening for a lad brought up on the Beatles in West Kirby, only a few miles from Liverpool, with front block seats.

My favourite film of the year was Goodbye Lenin, which will surprise nobody who reads my forthcoming Barrington Stoke novel, 'Coma', although I didn't nick the film's plot (honest). Best play was Dark Earth by David Harrower at Traverse Theatre during the Edinburgh Festival. My favourite telly was either The Office Christmas special or the entire second season of Curb Your Enthusiasm (the first series got off to a shaky start but the second lost the improvised feel and turned into the kind of sour, superbly tight farce that Seinfeld excelled at). Unfortunately, you have to have BBC4 to see it, but more than half the UK does now, so maybe that's OK...

The best young adult novel I read this year was Fleshmarket by Nicola Morgan, set in the Victorian Edinburgh of Burke, Hare and the early days of surgery. Stephan Collishaw's The Last Girl was the best first novel I read this year. The adult novel I most enjoyed was Michael Chabon's The Wonder Boys. His The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier and Klay about the early days of superhero comics, was thoroughly absorbing, too. And, finally, out now but not officially published until next week, Nigel Pickard's first poetry pamphlet, Making Sense (Shoestring Press) is well worth looking out for.

Happy New Year to all my readers.

Friday, December 12, 2003


John Harvey started it, back in '86 or '87. He made these end of year compilations (we didn't call them mix tapes then) of his favourite songs of the year. They were usually titled with some wry quotation from a song lyric. In '87 I made him a tape in return. In '88 I made copies of the tape for a few friends. Mike made one back, using C120 tapes from the start (a bit too long at times, plus the tape's too thin to risk in the car stereo) - Mike always likes to cram in as much music as possible.

In the mid-nineties, my tapes crept up to 100 minutes in length. Come the millenium, everybody bought CD recorders or computer burners and started doing compilations on CD. This improved the sound quality and made it easier to skip tracks you didn't like, but limited the amount of music you could fit on. Mike got around this by sending out three themed cds, doubling his length. I use a CD recorder that copies in real time, so more than one would take too long to copy.

Yesterday I only squeezed out 500 words of the novel I'm working on, but I did make the best of year CD, ready to reach friends abroad (I haven't missed the last posting date for France, have I?) in the home made sleeve cum christmas card that Sue designed on Wednesday. She also road tested a 90 minute cassette rough draft in the car going to work this week, nixing tracks by Bob Dylan, John Stewart and the Super Furry Animals, amongst others.

Getting a balance of tracks is almost impossible. 'Too folky' Sue argued and I had to remove tracks by Lucinda Williams and Neil Young, both of whom I saw giving great shows in Manchester during the spring. I limit myself to music released during the year (except track 18, which came out in mid December 02, too late to be in last year's compilation). Keeping the volume even is another challenge. Most CDs are the same volume, but a few are deliberately louder and a couple rather quiet (especially track 20, a bootleg recording of a rewritten Phil Ochs anti-war song).

Anyway, it's done: I even slipped on a Robert Wyatt track (Sue hates his voice, but this is a piano solo). Now all I have to do is make up to twenty copies to send out to family and friends (and if you're one of them, you might want to avoid the list below - it's always more fun to listen not knowing what comes next). John stopped making his a few years ago, but still gets sent one when he's in the country. A different John is now onto his third CD compilation - half chosen by him, half by his kids. And this year Terry's made one too (that great Dylan track, 'Cross The Green Mountain' is bound to be on there).

Let the copying begin.

Dave and Sue's Musical Highlights of 2003

1 REM - Bad Day
2 Johnny Cash - Hurt
3 Gillian Welch - Look At Miss Ohio
4 Outkast - Hey Ya
5 The Strokes - 12.51
6 My Morning Jacket - Mahgeetah
7 Warren Zevon - My Dirty Life And Times
8 The Jayhawks - Tampa To Tulsa
9 David Bowie - Bring Me The Disco King
10 Steely Dan - The Things I Miss The Most
11 The Dandy Warhols - We Used To Be Friends
12 Joe Strummer - Coma Girl
13 The Libertines - Don't Look Back Into The Sun
14 Emmylou Harris - Strong Hand
15 Blur - Out Of Time
16 Evan Dando - Hard Drive
17 Madonna - Hollywood
18 Eminem - Lose Yourself
19 The White Stripes - Seven Nation Army
20 Richard Thompson - I Ain't Marching Any More
21 Robert Wyatt - Raining In My Heart

Sunday, December 07, 2003


We get to the pub just after eight. We're only stopping for a quick half before having dinner with old friends. In my local's upstairs room is a celebration party for a new friend who's just won a city council byelection. It's early, so there are less than a dozen people there. We're sitting at a table with the new councillor, the local MP and his wife. The MP gets up to greet somebody.

I recognise the new arrival, although for a moment I can't place him. An ex-county councillor, I think, someone I knew back when I was a party activist, twenty years ago. No, he's too young. A university lecturer, maybe. He's dressed in a somewhat bizarre combination of old jeans, pink shirt and scarlet blazer. I'm about to place him when John saves me the job by introducing 'Charlie...' followed by his surname and title.

So a moment later we're having a drink with the country's top law lord. I'm making conversation easing small talk (turns out Charlie only lives a few miles away). We quickly move on to discuss the byelection and the new Tory leader. Us blokes agree that Howard will play well in the Commons but not in the country. Sue argues that his grammar school boy made good versus privileged public schoolboy might play rather better than that, but Charlie doesn't acknowledge her point.

It's nearly time for us to go. I go and have a word with a couple of people I haven't seen in years, then shake hands with the Lord Chancellor before we take our leave. I want to say that this encounter is 'surreal' but that would overstate the moment. It wasn't a manufactured publicity moment (no media), just a mildly famous bloke in a place where you wouldn't expect to see him.

What makes this memorable and (maybe) worth writing about here is to do with proximity to power. I'll never have a better opportunity to discuss the issues that inhabit the novel I'm working on with somebody who can directly affect those issues. And did I use this chance? Of course not. They crossed my mind, but there was no way I could casually throw them into early evening pub conversation. The urge for justice is not as strong as the English urge for politeness.

Did I curse myself for the rest of the evening, replaying the short drink until I worked out a way to discuss asylum seekers, the history of government drugs policy or the need to update the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act? Nah. By the time we got to our old friends, only a couple of minutes late, the encounter had been transformed into a dinner party anecdote. And now this journal entry.

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