Looking about for something to say to mark 300 days since last orders, that doesn’t involve referencing a certain film…

So I was turning over the maths of it and there it is: 60 sets of five-bar gates tallied on the wall, next to J4M and various pithy obscenities concerning the current state of politics in the UK. ‘Looks like I picked the wrong year to quit drinking!’ Brief pause, eyebrow movement.

repeat

The implication of viewing it in these terms is, though – as I noted fairly early on when I started writing about this in February 2019 – that something is being denied. That there is some sort of sentence being served, time done for crime done.

I don’t find those a useful way of thinking.

The difficulty of not-drinking-alcohol in the society I’m in (the UK) is how the pervasive normality of it makes it near impossible to explain in positive terms. Still can’t think of a way to phrase it without sounding evangelical. ‘I’m spending a year sober’ sounds relentlessly po-faced, enthusiastically well-scrubbed and twitchy of eye, with an added hint of being perched on a particularly lofty horse.

I’ve become comfortable talking about a dry life just as something I haven’t done before. People seem to accept the challenge aspect of it quite readily, if slightly uncomprehendingly. Someone I was in conversation with recently said that they did a booze fast twice a year, for a couple of months at a time, though admitted they usually stopped because they got bored with it. I quite like ‘booze fast’, even if it carries the connotation of breakfast (of champions).

It feels good, though! I don’t feel anywhere near the levels of dreads about mundane matters like, say, getting up and going to work, that I did when I used to drink lotsobooze to quell those dreads.

And, it’s not something I feel like I’m getting bored with, yet. Maybe there are dark shadows flitting about the mirrors that I’m disregarding (pause for Stephen King-ish italicised chuckle). I don’t mean periodic nostalgia for the sting of a decent malt whisky, or the contemplative pleasures of an afternoon pint in a quiet bar. The glinting golden glow softening the edges.

Those are quite enjoyable phantasms, really, partly because as moments they depart quite readily anyway, and mostly because I recognise them for what they are: flowers with serpents underneath, a first beguiling glimpse into a somewhat hazy and increasingly threatening upside down, in which the encroaching darkening evening would inevitably lead through more measures into messiness, clouded mornings of self-recrimination, and so on and on, rinse and repeat, miserably scratching off lines on breezeblocks.

There they are; regard was had for the dark shadows. Cooee! (shadowy tendril waves back as it slurps in reverse into the mirror)

Having regard, I would say, at this stage of my process, works for me. It’s an acknowledgment? Not of something missing but of something positive revealed.

So, yes, still keeping a tally, but not to the extent that that becomes another thing to carry about, a self-imposed sentence, a punishing regime. This is not Sparta.

I’ve been holding off on posting anything alcohol-related, waiting for something worth saying about it, and here it is: 184 days.

The story of stopping began earlier this year (check out the Booze tag). Lots of those first posts were foundation stones; some laid carefully, placed with precision, some just tipped out and left where they landed. There’s a bit of biography, a fair bit of working through ideas about process and motivation. I spent a month or so writing my way out of something and into something. Finding myself inhabiting a different kind of mindset, kind of one I always had in mind but maybe didn’t feel set on, was where a need to write about it all so much fell away.

Perhaps my motivations altered.

“…distressing memories succumb especially easily to motivated forgetting”

– Freud

There have been a lot of associations with drinking bubbling up. I have been intending to document them (a richly-stocked draft folder attests)… but it all felt a bit too personal. As the above quotation suggests, it’s quite easy to ignore “that stuff”, seal closed a door and move on. That stuff beyond the symptoms (a constant sense of inability; feeling bloated in a vast, round number of ways; impoverishment (same); self-negation…)

While I have got on pretty well with being a sober person – lots of exercise, and diary, and making music, and reading a lot, and leaving my old job, and all that stuff – what all that clear-eyed thinkery reveals also is that, even with the dampers off, one’s head still works in certain ways, and that one of the reasons for applying the dampers is because those ways of working can be pretty fucking annoying.

Stopping seemed easy because I was ready to do so. Talking about the things that had me doing it in the first place… the walled-in rooms, the crumbled ruins discovered beneath the lake, are where the interesting stories are, of course.

Today, though! Strike up the anniversary waltz. It’s officially just over six months since I stopped drinking alcoholic drinks. Halfway to my target of a year off drinking, feeling good about it, break out the cake.

“Anniversaries”, though. As discussed in one of those early pieces, how to signify short-term dates of significance is unclear. Checking back through the booze tag from earlier in the year, I think a week was pebbles. Rocks tend to appear later in the anniversary stakes. Six months being a semiannual return, it’s better than pebbles. Something concrete, perhaps?

Anniversaries are curious things. Dates on the calendar, both of which are also curious things if you start to consider them too closely.

Why we choose to honour such occasions likely speaks to some human desire or other – I’m not considering it too closely. Marking off the days for something to do, at the least.

The technical ‘date something happened in a particular year previously’ meaning of ‘anniversary’ ignores the rich world of short-term commemoration, the acknowledgment required for events that are under one year but worthy of celebrating.

Kids go from weeks to months to years seemingly in the blink of an eye, if quite a wearied blinking for some considerable time. “It’ll be over before you know it!” Wearied blinking eye rolling.

And of course there’s the fresh-hearted whimsy of school students enjoying their two week, or one month, or three month milestones with significant others.

“Three weeks – that’s Mud.” “Six weeks – er, Cola Bottles…?”

Anyway, today marks the auspicious event of seven days going by since beginning this exploration of a post-booze habit process.

Pebbles?

Skating around my enduring affection for verfremdungseffekt, I bumped into the marvellous vigintennial, or vicennial, meaning 20th anniversary.

As if that weren’t enough! Okay, delving into Stuff-Having-A-Vigintennial, I was delighted, but delighted, to see it has been 20 years since Quasi released the album Featuring “Birds”.

Quasi is a two piece, Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss. They used to be married, but, yeah, things happen… anyway, fortunately, they remained a musical item.

Featuring “Birds”, the duo’s third album, is a collection of lively yet lugubrious songs for roxichord and drums, with mordant, witty, often bleakly cynical lyrics. Thematically, they grapple with politics and relationships in particular.

Music lovers may recognise both names from other outfits – Weiss with Sleater-Kinney, for example. Quasi also toured with Elliott Smith, as support and backing band, which I was lucky enough to see in action. My then partner and friendship group found a rich seam of gigs In Them Days. We’re all largely scattered about the planet now, and breakups are never easy, but let the annals record those were also often the best of times.

Perhaps one of my favourite ever gigs was when we got to see Quasi do their own headlining set in September 1999 at the 13th Note Club in Glasgow… and here, he shuffled excitedly among his effects, is the set list:

…on lovely pink paper, you may just about discern.

The embedded tune is “It’s Hard To Turn Me On”, which came as an encore that night. There was Coomes, semi-seriously claiming to the rapt crowd to be running out of songs to play, when a slightly slurry Scottish voice suggested “Walt Disney!” He had to run it by them a couple of times, as I recall. “Walt Disney disnae make me happy!”. Quasi duly obliged.

Featuring “Birds”. Please seek it out and wish it a happy vigintenary year.

Today I received an alert from WordPress congratulating me on having signed up with the platform seven years ago.

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Pop! Zwing! Trumpets! [FX: the sound of ‘Fiesta’ by The Pogues]

OK, I am being a little sarky there. But it’s a fair chunk of time, not what one would call a dalliance. It’s been a busy period.

Seven’s a busy number. While there may be no truth to the story that the human body has fully renewed all its cells every seven years, making us a ‘new person’, we’ve got a bunch of other affinities with the digit. Days of the week, Deadly Sins, Basic Plots, Steiner’s developmental stages, Ages of Man, Sages (of the Bamboo Grove), years after which relationships develop an itch, hills of Rome, Wonders of the World, Classical planets, revelatory Seals, Sisters in the stars (Pleiades), chakras… plus stock market fluctuations, religious significance, gematric/numerological symbolism…

If man is five,
then the devil is six…
and if the devil is six
then GOD is seven…

Which is of course Monkey Gone To Heaven by Pixies, and if you check out the genius page for the song, you’ll find Frank Black’s somewhat dry comments that give us this post’s title.

Black Francis glosses a little, though, maybe. There’s something about the number. There’s something about all the numbers, obviously, if you’re looking for it, but seven seems attached particularly to groups, cycles and changes.

This seventh year I have begun writing and blogging a lot more frequently than I have previously. And, in a neat coincidink/sync event, I got my Power of Seven blogging award and was contemplating this change in method at the same time I encountered the song below.

So, while I go off and basic plot a ‘seven’ themed playlist (Pixies, Iron Maiden, Madness, Prince, Culture, The Clash, The Shins, for seven starters), here is a just fantastic version of Black Sabbath’s Changes, by Charles Bradley, with which I fell in love today.

“Times 111…”

Today, remembrance services in Europe mark the 70th anniversary of “D-Day”, June 6th 1944.

D-Day was quite an undertaking. It marked a decisive moment in the Second World War, the history of Europe, the world.

There was – and remains – no doubt in the minds of the people taking part that they were engaged in something important.

I bought this book second hand some years ago:

magic_and_religion_Frazer

Among its pages, this note and inscription:

D_Day_good_luck_Ike

Such finds are one of the reasons I enjoy and love “real” books.

The language used by Eisenhower is unequivocal: “this great and noble undertaking”. It has been a powerful experience watching the veterans on the footage today. Even the youngest of them, 15 at the time according to some accounts, are nearing 90. They’re still standing up for the prayers.

Of course, the date in the book is intriguing. I will do my best to find out who W Beecham (?) is or was, and provide an update on them.

The choice of book is intriguing as well. It confirms a thought I was having earlier, that it is important also to have an understanding and respect for imagination and human creativity as ways of making sense out of a sometimes brutal world.

Half term holidays! Busy doing nothing, working the whole day through.

On the radio mainly we have BBC 6 Music, which normally does OK for itself. This week Radio 6 has been celebrating the “20th anniversary of Britpop”… It had me scratching my head a bit.

Time might have been that I would have pounced on such a one-sided 7″ flexidisc single of an idea and torn it a new centre hole. Not only would I have questioned the arbitrariness of the timing, and the wisdom of giving Damon Allbran further opportunity to wreak his adenoidal miseries upon the populace, but also given detailed Mr Agreeable-styled rebuttals for each of the artists featured:

“Gene. Gene?! F***ing dreary knock-off Smiths b*******s – and that’s taking dreary to depths unknown to the hardiest of miners. Couldn’t carry a tune in a f***ing bucket, no-good sh***hawks. Gene. Dear sweet c***ing Christ deliver us.”

Must have been terrific fun writing the Agreeable columns. But for this grand Britpoppish retrospective, I just couldn’t generate enough spleen. Seriously, My Life Story?

Still, something made me want to contribute my experience in some way. “Maybe I could knock out a list of British artists that I was also listening to in 1994 that weren’t really Britpop.” I thought.

“It would have had The Divine Comedy (Promenade album) on it (despite a later Neil Hannon work managing to squeak an entry on the 6 Music countdown), or Portishead, Dummy… Therapy?…? Er…”

I kind of ran out of ideas. Bands I wasn’t listening to in 1994? Spend holiday time writing about M People? Gah!

Well, OK, “Britpop”, then. Seriously, how hard can this be?

I really liked Suede. Metal Mickey in particular. I saw them live at Leeds T&C… the musical shark was sighted when Bernard Butler left, but look, listen (as politicians and footballers often begin their sentences):

Oh dad, she’s driving me mad!

Oasis… I remember very well the day I chose to wade through the hype and buy the Live Forever CD single (from Fopp in Byres Road, Glasgow). Me and me bezzer Jack sat listening to it, roundly unimpressed with the first three tracks, and then just falling instantly for the live version of Supersonic.

Mind you, it was easy to officially lose interest shortly after hearing the perfection of ‘Acquiesce’. What else can a band say? “Roll with it”? Get off.

Supergrass were awesome. If you do not know Caught by the Fuzz, why, reader, you must.

Yes!

But weren’t they supposed to be part of the New Wave of New Wave or something? Was 1994 simply the year someone thought up “Britpop” to describe everything made by a guitar band in Britain? There were all sorts of things that seemed quite acceptable at the time, that with hindsight look tarnished, horribly insincere. Echobelly. Why, even Parklife, which accompanies some happy memories of driving round Glasgow in a friend’s knackered car, singing along with ‘To The End’. That record had been interesting in sequence, because Blur seemed like a band getting better with each album, constantly prompting the question “wherever next”? The answer to that, of course, was “to a very big house in the c**try and Fat f***ing Les.”

See, that’s how it starts. One could go on. The terrible rest of it, the Sleeper, the Menswe@r… It was actually starting to give me a headache trying to remember them.

There’s that old saying that if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there. This morning, as we breakfasted with the strains of poll-topping track (and a bona fide classic “Well done, listeners of Britain!” moment of delight hearing it) Common People by Pulp playing in the background – a song I saw Jarvis Cocker introduce at the inaugural T in the Park, 1994, as “A national anthem for the Netto generation.” – I suggested to J that perhaps we need an equivalent phrase for the 1990s. “Such as ‘If you feel like celebrating Britpop then you weren’t really listening to it.'”
J said “That’s… a bit contrived.”

Contrived! Of course! I seized on the notion. Contrivance seemed to sum up both the original Britpop tag – and, in fact, much of the music, which was sloppy second-hand shop versions of better bands or styles – and the need to celebrate any anniversary for it. And certainly this meta-response.

THEN I remembered that Kieron Gillen, Jamie McElvie and Matt Wilson have already inked the definitive look back, not-in-anger-but-a-bit, on Britpop, in 2006, in fact.

phonogramtpb

It is an excellent comic. If you are of A Certain Age, or interested in pursuing research on this matter, I urge you to the publication. Phonogram Vol.1, “Rue Britannia”. It’s equal parts tender-hearted and unsympathetic, and right. Except about Kenickie. They were f***ing s***-awful.

23 March: Today is the anniversary of the death (in 1931) of Bhagat Singh, an Indian revolutionary.

I discovered this through twitter and the keeps-on-giving interweb… There is so much history in the world one might never uncover it all. I’m always grateful for new stories about interesting people.

I am also in agreement with Singh’s definition of anarchy:

“The ultimate goal of Anarchism is complete independence, according to which no one will be obsessed with God or religion, nor will anybody be crazy for money or other worldly desires. There will be no chains on the body or control by the state. This means that they want to eliminate: the Church, God and Religion; the state; Private property.”

Perhaps one day… hope springs eternal.

NB: The tiny photo used here is from the Singh family-run info website shahidbhagatsingh.org – I didn’t ask if I could use it, so sorry about that, but I wanted to use an actual photo rather than one of the often fanciful artist’s impressions floating about. Hopefully shahidbhagatsingh.org will get a few extra views at least.

Anyway, a tip of the hat to Bhagat Singh.

I remember being 14 years old and watching with disbelief scenes from Hillsborough playing out on the telly. Images from Sky News yesterday (15 April 2009), of the 20th anniversary memorial service, and of course the events of the disaster, brought back a lot of that disbelief. It was like footage from another planet. 1989, a number, another summer, last century.

It’s astonishing to think that so much has changed in the last 20 years as to effectively mean we are actually on a different planet. Not just with regard to the seismic impact of Sky on association football – another article, another blog. This is an unprecedented period of information exchange. As John Mackin says in this excellent article at the Liverpooltv site,

back in 1989, before mobile phones and digital cameras, before the internet, before every major event being recorded and disseminated in a hundred different ways, the ‘facts’ were in the hands of a select few who could, and did, manipulate the situation.

How fortunate we are to be around as the information explosion happens, that knowledge is available at the touch of a button, and that we live to see it. Since then, ‘the people’ (with all the relevant geographical caveats) have more access to information, the truth, than ever. Yet, as recent events illustrate, those supposedly entrusted with looking after the people are still expected, and in some cases it would appear willing, to do what ‘the select few’ dictate. We can at least, as Mackin notes, make steps quicker than we could to bring some sort of reckoning to bear on people’s actions.

Justice, as ever, continues to be generally evasive. Meanwhile, a musical nil desperandum gesture of solidarity and hope to Liverpool supporters, from a Leeds fan:
96 tears – too many teardrops for one heart to be crying.

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