Wednesday, 16 July 2008

His Master's Voice

Writing is a very lonely profession, especially when one is suffering from seemingly permanent writer’s block and spending endless days in front of a blank computer screen. In situations such as this, I often find that classical music plays a very important role and can induce a calming influence on an otherwise stressful experience.

July brings a favourite event of mine: the annual BBC Proms festival of classical music. As well as assisting with one’s inspiration, it is also a useful opportunity to stock up on one’s CD collection. So, after consulting my trusty Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music, I headed to London’s West End to find a specific recording of Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony.

I am a firm believer that anyone doing a job should have some degree of interest, even pride, in what they do. Unfortunately, there are times when one meets with certain individuals who fall well and truly outside this category. On this particular day there was only one sales assistant working in the classical music department, a Jay-Z lookalike who was idly shifting bunches of Edward Elgar CDs from one shelf to another and then back again for no explicable reason.

The only recording of Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony on the shelves that I could see was not the ‘definitive’ one I was looking for. So I approached the sales assistant and gave him the details and label number, asking if it was in stock.

This is where I get confused about sales assistants. However much you tell them you can’t find the thing you are looking for on the shelf, it’s the first place they take you as though they have some kind of super-power in seeing things that customers cannot. The sales assistant handed me a copy of the Shostakovich CD on the shelf before I clarified that it was not the one I was looking for, so he took me to his computer to try and find it on the system.

I decided to make polite conversation and asked if he was looking forward to the Proms. He looked at me sternly and asked if ‘looking forward to the Proms’ was meant in a general classical music sense, or the fact that it would result in an inevitable increase in sales for a three month period. I said that I meant the former, to which he replied ‘no’ as he did not care much for classical music and was into reggae. He then ‘apologised’ that my recording was not in stock, but there’d be no point in ordering it as I could probably find it in another music store.

What is the world coming to when a classical music department is manned by a gangsta-rapper who probably doesn’t know one end of a conductor’s baton from the other? Maybe Shakespeare would’ve felt the same way about modern-day writers using keyboards instead of feathers.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

The Innit Crowd

As has been previously documented in my electric columns, I am no expert when it comes to fashion. But it doesn’t take an Albert Einstein to recognise that the correct way to wear a pair of trousers is to keep the waist at a suitable height so that the wearer’s undergarments are not openly visible to the naked eye.

There is a fashion epidemic within today’s ‘yoof’ society which appears to have caused an adverse chemical reaction in the brains of young people. As a result, anyone under the age of 18 seems to be compelled to go out in public with their trousers hanging around their ankles, flashing imitation designer underwear, and usually tripping over themselves within seconds of closing their mum’s front door.

Then there are those who choose to wear trousers where a ludicrous amount of room has been tailored around the genitals and inner thigh areas, with the leg section not starting until well below the knee. Most people refer to these trousers as ‘baggy’. My late grandfather referred to them as ‘shit-stoppers.’ Observing the general state of the ‘yoofs’ who wear them, one is inclined to agree with him.

Then, of course, there are those ‘yoofs’ who try to combine styles and wear shit-stoppers hanging around their ankles. But all this really does is make them question whether it would’ve been easier to cut a couple of extra holes in a potato sack and wear that instead.

One fears that the days of Great Britain’s younger citizens wearing smart-looking casual clothes are long gone. It is now a national fancy-dress party, except there is nothing particularly fancy about the bizarre costumes that ‘yoofs’ seem happy to be dressed in.

And one is doubly confused as to why ‘yoofs’ born and bred in London speak in a Jamaican accent. Perhaps I’m unaware of some funky Caribbean digital TV channel which focuses on how everyone there wears sensible trousers and speaks like a cockney.

Of course, as a writer (or, at least, a struggling one), one has to be down with the kids and stay fat with the gen. One must avoid one’s face being beefed, and adverse comments should be directed at one’s hand as one’s face will not be listening. This is because I am bad. I am a bad writer, innit. (I have to be careful who I direct my latter comment to in case they do not wear shit-stoppers and take its literal meaning. More often than not, they would be right!)

But, however depressing the state of Britain’s ‘yoof’ culture is, I am proud of the fact that many people tend to think I look much younger than my actual years. Well, it’s the Jamaican accent and potato sack which does it. Word!

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Off the Rails

Anyone travelling on parts of London’s rail transport system at the moment cannot fail to notice the recent deluge of posters featuring irritatingly happy people with the slogan Building a Better Railway plastered above their heads.

Many would interpret this as an advertisement confirming that London has a perfect transport system – the stuff that fairytales are made of. Or, at the very least, it is an attempt to convince us into believing such a thing, as though we are a population of pre-programmed Stepford Citizens.

The truth of the matter is that these annoying posters are informing us that London will eventually have a more reliable service, probably not perfect, and certainly not until 2014 at the earliest. Until then, it’s misery all the way with continuous signal failures, engineering works and line closures while the ‘system is upgraded’ – presumably, to something which it should’ve been decades ago.

Thus, one is not really sure what these smiling poster people have to smile about, and this is yet another contributing factor towards why Londoners walk around looking generally miserable. They’ve just had an appalling journey to work and, on leaving the station, have seen a big smiling person telling them that they’ll have even more appalling journeys to work for at least another six years. And most of those journeys are likely to become increasingly worse.

The irony of all this is that there is another set of posters featuring equally irritating people telling us to Get Out More by using the very transport system which is currently making our lives complete hell. They, too, have beaming smiles on their faces, and I venture to argue that this is possibly because they are so far unaware of the other posters prophesising travel doom and gloom for the foreseeable future.

At the bottom of these posters is an invitation to Get Out More and become an irritating smiling face. I thought it would be amusing to take up the offer, so I contacted the relevant department by traditional telephone.

After a series of questions involving my type of work, place of work, where I have lunch, and how often I use the transport system during rush hour, I was told that, regretfully, I did not qualify for the current poster campaign. However, I was thanked for taking the time to contact them and my details would be kept on file should a future advertising campaign fall into my ‘profile bracket.’

So when I look at these smiling faces, I conclude that another reason they are probably smiling is that none of them are struggling writers who do not fall into the ‘profile bracket’ of a Stepford Citizen. But then I amuse myself with the consolation that at least struggling writers do not have to endure the ‘joys’ of travelling on London’s transport system during the peak time rush hour.