Mourning the death of musical literacy

This week has seen a couple of depressing things happen. Firstly the musician Billie Eilish admitted she had no idea who Van Halen were. Secondly people got cross at her for not knowing who Van Halen were. And thirdly, people got cross at the people who were cross with Billie for not knowing who Van Halen were because Van Halen aren’t culturally relevant today.

In short: a lot of people are cross for a lot of different reasons, some to do with Billie Eilish, some to do with Van Halen and some just because they enjoy being cross.

Of course the comments condemning and mocking Eilish for not having an indepth knowledge of Van Halen are wrong. When Gareth Bale recently admitted he didn’t know who the British Prime Minister was but could name the 10 ten ranked golfers in the world, we rolled our eyes and wrote him off as another disconnected thick footballer. The fact Eilish is a woman undoubtedly saw her receive much more grief for her confession that a bloke would have but that’s not what I’m really interested in to be honest.

I’m not expecting every person who either likes listening to music or works in the music industry to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of 70 years of popular music but much like movie making is informed by what has gone before it, so too is music. An appreciation for other genres and time periods can only ever be a boon surely?

I’ve watched Billie in concert on the BBC’s Glasto coverage and although she’s not my cup of tea, I can see that she gave an extraordinary performance that should be applauded. There are plenty of forms of music I don’t like, I’m not a fan of grime, R&B, Nu metal, an a lot of modern pop but that doesn’t mean I know nothing about them. Considering I’m an old school rock fan (think Zep, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath the Who, Pink Floyd, old Fleetwood Mac, branching out into 80s metal), I still love a bit of 60s psychedelia, 50s rock and roll, the new folk revival and some good old fashioned country. In the 90s I got into ambient and dance, good music is good music, pass me another Chemical Brothers album. Oh, and the best gig I’ve seen in the last couple of years was Grandmaster Flash- he was phenomenal.

So I’m sad.

I’m sad that Billie hasn’t heard of the original drummer turned guitarist (waaaay before Dave Grohl made it popular), and popularised the two handed tapping technique in the 1978 song Eruption (Guitarist magazine readers voted it the second best guitar solo of all time once). I’m sad that people think they can lay into her for it but I’m equally sad that others think the best way to stick up for her is to say Van Halen have no relevance today.

In a world where Spotify and Apple Music make it easy to skip songs on an album by an artist you love, the chances of people listening to stuff they don’t know or have any real interest in seems staggeringly remote. That also makes me sad.

I tend to find new music (or rather, music that’s new to me) from a huge variety of sources. Some of it is down to Spotify suggestions, but mostly it’s long involved tangential investigations into more or less entirely unrelated subjects on Wikipedia or Google that lead me down some very esoteric paths.

For example last month I listened to the KLF’s Chill Out album a few times and eventually thought, I wonder what actual throat singing sounds like outside of the sampled world of the KLF, so I did some digging and ended up listening to Achai by the Alash Ensemble, a traditional Tuvan Throat singing group. I’ve been mesmerised and it’s probably my most listened to album of the last few months.

I’ve also recently discovered the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and they’re great. There are a couple of tracks that you’ll probably have heard at some point on the telly in an advert or somewhere- Jollity Farm, the Urban Spaceman and Canyons of Your Mind are pretty well known. It can be something as simple as wondering where an ad on the TV sourced it’s music from.

I tend to drive the kids up the wall with the sort of music that gets put on in the car but they do get exposure to a very wide variety of music as a result. I’ve never felt prouder than the moment when we were in the car driving to Cambridge and Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus came on the radio, the kids all sang along word for word. They hadn’t even heard the Depeche Mode original, rather they’d heard Johnny Cash’s cover version on the only CD in the car on endless repeat whenever we went out of decent radio reception.

The power money can have on relationships

Shepherds Friendly recently got in touch with me over some interesting research it’s done into the influence that money can have in relationships. It’s interesting to see how the dynamic is slowly changing with regard to money between partners. In my parents era it was more accepted that the woman would eventually become a mother (and perhaps even unspoken that job was really something to just tide you over until you found your man) and would stay at home to look after the kids until they were old enough to be left at home.

Today I can say this dynamic is changing but the fact we’re now past the date where women effectively work for free compared to men doing exactly the same job shows how far we still have to go. In our relationship we try to be very even and very fair- we have a joint account which all our money goes into and everything else goes out of that. Yes, it makes buying surprise gifts a bit tricky but at the end of the day I don’t see that the money aspect is important because we’re a team and as long as we both work our best for the family, that’s all that matters, not who brings in what. I know plenty of people who keep separate accounts and pay into a joint account for household expenses and while I can see the pros and cons of that, it’s just not for us!

Looking at the infographic that Shepherds Friendly has produced, it is also interesting to see where views diverge on a gender basis- there are some things like how much of a part money plays in a potential partner being attractive for example that have quite a wide gap (translation: men are shallow and go on looks but women are planning for the future) but others like sharing information about salaries where the genders pretty much agree that sharing is indeed caring.

Why don’t you click on over to the infographic yourself and have a look to see whether your approach fits in with the majority, you might find one or two things that could change your mind or approach for the better!

Form an orderly queue

As the nights draw in and it’s dark pretty much all day, apart from that hour or so that the brick wall outside my office window is bathed in sunlight, everyone is getting tetchy. Against the odds, despite it being dark from around 3pm, it is now completely impossible to get the children to bed. Or rather get them to stay in bed. Last night I tucked the younger two in at about 7:30pm and went to hide in the sanctuary* for a bit of peace and quiet. In the five minutes I was in there, I must have heard four or five extra-bedroom excursions from the two I’d put to bed, along with one from the oldest, who came out purely to see what the commotion was about. This happens at the end of the day, at the start of the day we often have Ned come in at around 6ish to ask whether he can have crisps for breakfast. When we say no, it turns out it was much like a retrospective planning application in that he’s already eaten half a tube of Pringles that we thought we’d hidden well enough to be safe.

It’s unrelenting but we normally get a small window of peace when we get home from work. The older two are old enough now to come home from school on their own, so it’s only Ned that goes to after school club. He normally disappears off to put a onesie on as soon as he gets home, on the off chance we’ll ask him to go out again.

Now though, it’s like some feudal nightmare in the early evenings. The peasantry line up impatiently to petition their king and queen with lists of grievances and demands for things that must be met or there will the the slamming of the doors and the stomping up the stairs. Recently I’ve not even managed to shut the front door before the litany of complaints has begun.

It’s all so wearing and I know I’ll miss it when they’ve grown up!

 

*it’s called the sanctuary as it has a lock on the door. And if you shout “I’m doing a poo!” at the top of your voice when people try to talk to you or get into the room, they tend to leave you alone for a bit.

Blue Monday

Mum went to sleep a month ago today and didn’t wake up. This proved to be the end of her long and arduous battle with cancer- multiple myloma. It was the way she wanted to go, at home and in her own bed.

The news came as both a surprise and not a surprise. I was surprised that mum made it past Christmas, and we had been planning for this Christmas, so in that sense it was a surprise but the last few times I saw her she had been very weak. The gruelling treatment for her cancer had unearthed a latent heart problem, and other things were starting to not work properly too. Time was definitely not on mum’s side but when time runs out it is always a shock.

The past month has gone by somewhat in a blur. There is a degree of unreality to it all if I’m honest. Over the last 18 months, as the cancer’s progression and the treatment had become increasingly gruelling, I’ve found despair all too often and upset myself quite a lot. I’ve shed a few tears since October 14 but nowhere near as many as I feel I should. I don’t think it’s sunk in properly if I’m honest. Perhaps it will be the situations like Christmas, or when dad does something stupid and I think, wait til I tell mum about what he’s done now, that I’ll realise.

The kids have been upset by it. To them, their Nanny was someone who used to make great trifles and lasagnes, gave them sweeties and a little bit of pocket money and generally made a fuss about them. She was ever so proud of her grandchildren and their appearance gave her a real second wind when it came to retirement.

Everyone loses their parents eventually, and if they don’t that’s the real tragedy I suppose. But it’s not easy is it?

Monday night is a rush- here’s my chilli recipe

Monday’s need to be carried off with military precision. Ned now goes swimming with a friend’s family after school on Monday, so we don’t have to pick him up from after school club but I have a 75 minute window to get home from work, cook and eat dinner and then leave to take Fifi and the boy to their respective drumming and piano lessons.

I’m pathologically against the idea of a jar of pesto over some hastily cooked pasta, or chucking chips and fish fingers in the oven, so I’ve been devising a range of quick to cook meals for Mondays (occasionally we go for jacket spud in the slow cooker but this generally meets with howls of disapproval, so it’s a worst case dinner) that can not only be cooked in under an hour but cooked and eaten in under an hour too.

First on my list is the patented Alex & Harry Lancaster university chilli from 1995. Or rather a modern variant on it.

There are two ways to cook this, both start with a 500g packet of mince (lamb or beef, we’re easy). The first method is the more straight forward in that it uses all 500g of mince. The second sees the mince split 60/40, with 40% used in chilli and the rest kept for another night to go into a spag bol or cottage/shepherds pie (there is a difference: cottage= beef, shepherds=lamb!). The reason for the unequal split comes down to the chilli having more additional ingredients in the sauce; kidney beans, black-eyed beans and maybe if you’re in the mood for it, some sweetcorn.

The key to this recipe is to make sure you don’t turn the hob up too high. It’s always a temptation when you’re in a hurry but you’ll end up with dry meat that’s hard and won’t absorb the sauce. If you let it brown gently, and then let the final chilli simmer for ten to fifteen minutes, you should have a luxuriant sauce that’s still taken you under half an hour to cook.

On a Monday I always tend to cheat with the rice and use the microwavable sachets that take 2 minutes to cook. I’m generally a bit rubbish at cooking rice anyway, and I’ve been meaning to get myself a rice cooker for ages.

If you do choose to use all 500g of mince, there will be a fairly high chance that you’ll have some leftover chilli- we tend to and that’s with 5 of us scoffing it. Chilli is one of those dishes that defies logic and actually tastes better once it’s been frozen, defrosted and cooked again, so never despair when you’ve got leftovers.

This is a meal that tends to sort the kids out prior to music but does leave them with an orange sauce-moustache if I’m not careful!

Just a normal nights dinner- homemade onion rings recipe

Last night I got home a little later than usual, as did the boy (auditions for the school play!). As Ned had Beavers and Fifi had a school opening evening visit planned (can’t believe she is in the last year of primary school- madness!), the two youngest and wifey had eaten, leaving me to fend for the boy and me. I had a forty minute window between getting back from dropping Ned off at Beavers and having to go and pick Ned up from Beavers. Not so much of a window, as a chink of light creeping in from between the curtains really.

So rather than going for the typical egg & chips that had been suggested, I had a spring onion and cheese omelette with a side of hastily home made onion rings, and the boy had home made onion rings and chips.

Onion rings aren’t difficult to make, and home made ones are so much nicer than the manky frozen ones you bung in the oven.

The thing it’s easy to forget (or not know in the first place I suppose) is by the time the oven is up to temperature to cook frozen pre-prepared food, it’s entirely possible to cook something much nice yourself on the hob. In this case, there were even some onion rings left over for Ned when I picked him up from Beavers. This is the sort of stuff I wouldn’t have in the freezer compartment even if there was room, which there isn’t, as we’ve got about 6 bags of frozen pineapple chunks in there at the moment for some reason or other I’ve never fully understood.

Where does encouragement stop and pushy parenting begin?

We’re at dilemma point with Ned (who is 8 in January) over his guitar playing. Like most of our children, practice is seen as a chore to him. In the past we’ve dropped the boy’s guitar, and Fifi’s guitar because they didn’t practice enough (the boy doesn’t practice his drumming as much as he should but is still heading towards grade 3 with speed, and Fifi is just about doing enough piano practice to justify continued lessons). The problem is, Ned doesn’t play anything else, so it’s not as if he is doing something badly while doing something else better.

We’ve talked about it with his teacher, who is great, and is also MY guitar teacher (I got a guitar for my 40th and am slowly but surely learning to play it), and he says Ned would regret stopping because he’s learnt a lot but there is no point in him continuing if he’s not going to put some effort in. As Ned and I have consecutive lessons on a Saturday morning, I thought this would mean that we could practice together. Well, I spent most of last nights masterclass by Arsenal (I don’t get to write that very often any more) learning how to play Wish You Were Here:

with Ned sat next to me, resolutely failing to practice Chasing Cars from the Grade 1 Rockschool book. He didn’t even do five minutes and while I wasn’t quite into Bryan Adams “played it til my fingers bled, was the summer of ’69” territory, my fingers were sore by the end of it.

And so we reach the conundrum. Ned will regret giving up and it will take forever to get him onto a waiting list and back into lessons if he changes his mind (and almost certainly not the lesson next to mine) but, and it’s a big but, the lessons, even his 20 minute a week lesson, aren’t cheap, especially if there isn’t any practice going on. At the moment I sort of feel like he’s trapped in that vicious circle of not practising as he’s not developed the finger tip callouses that practice gives you that means your fingers don’t constantly hurt but can’t break out of it. He knows all the major chords, can do some power chords, and is even getting better with his pinkie movement but there is only so much 20 minutes a week can do for you.

I’m the biggest lover of music in our house but I’m also the most unmusical when it comes to innate talent. It’s going to be such a shame if I end up being one of the best musical instrument players just because I’ve put the time in.

We’re still not sure whether to push Ned to keep it up or just let him give it in. I’m secretly hoping I can convince him to practice in the next week or two as we need to make a decision to give a half terms notice by 25th October…

And lo, there was WAR

Ned is taking to junior school (well year three) with aplomb. The focus on learning vs play lead learning in infants hasn’t fazed him and he’s still very chipper.

We get regular updates on how things have gone at school, and I have to say mostly they’re believable. The thing with Ned is you can always tell the cut off point where his retelling of events starts to veer into the realm of fantasy; it will be the football story where he goes from having a good game to scoring 87 goals and being carried on the shoulders of his team mates, or the maths lesson where he gets a prize for doing well, followed by a prize for the number of prizes he won.

So it’s in this context of tall tales, that we listened raptly to Ned’s tale of the school WAR. A child in year three who disliked someone in year four decided to declare WAR on year 4. An army was marshalled and there was much punching and kicking, with lots of blood spilt, as WAR was enacted upon year 4. Ned and his buddy were determined to not get involved (this was perhaps the beginning of the tall tale, who knows, Ned does follow some rules at school) but saw the carnage wrought during the WAR. The large foam play bricks were used to batter other children, there was shoving, and shouting, and it took all the playground supervisors to separate the factions.

In the aftermath of the WAR, the headmistress spoke to both years, threatening a ban on the play bricks forever, and various other dire consequences if they broke the terms of the peace treaty and the white caps patrolling the playground had to intervene.

The next morning the boy who instigated the WAR smuggled in a large supply of sweeties to dish out to his disaffected troops in an attempt to keep them onside and loyal through the phoney war period until proper WAR could be re-instigated. We didn’t get to the bottom of how this morale boosting manoeuvre worked out because there hasn’t been any additional WAR so far, and I had to get Ned off to Beavers, thus ending our discussion of WAR. I’ve reached out to Kate Adie, former BBC war correspondent, to see if she wants to join me on the front line but have yet to hear back.

And lo! the sentence is almost over

This school summer holiday has been a bit different to others. It’s the first summer holiday that the both of us have had full time jobs. It’s a good job I use maths daily in my job and was able to deduct two from six – two weeks family holidays away from home, taken from six weeks off school leaves four weeks where we have to cover the kids.

We managed to cover the school holidays but it did involve using a spreadsheet with more formulae that you would have necessarily expected. I realise that for many this isn’t an unusual occurrence but when you’ve got three kids and haven’t had both parents in full time employment for the better part of a decade, it takes some organisation and some getting used to. We’ve managed to avoid kids clubs which aren’t inherently expensive if you’ve got A child but when you have three tend to be very much so, mostly by relying on my wonderful in-laws and swapping kids with friends for the odd day either I or my wife have had off.

But we’ve now reached the stage where the kids are pretty much sick of the sight of each other and can’t spend ten minutes (dinner time, a car ride somewhere) together without bickering or fighting. We can’t wait to pack them off to school again next week, even though the autumn term is the hardest to deal with from so many perspectives. Hard? Well the primary school runs all the curriculum meetings about and hour and a half into my working day, and I work 2 miles from the office. The wife does the school drop off but works miles away in Tring, so an extra hour off her working day for a meeting means she doesn’t get into work until late morning. On top of that the kids obviously have to settle back into the routine of school, new teachers, and re-establish friendships that haven’t been maintained over the summer. It’s a hell-term but something we’re actually looking forward to it!

Review: Nozstock 2019

We loved the 2019 Nozstock the Hidden Valley music festival. We loved it so much, we’ve put our money were our mouth is (because bloggers tend to find free stuff “brilliant” all the time, don’t they?) and booked our tickets for next year. In fact we booked our tickets as soon as we got back (my wife did it while I unpacked the car).

Let’s take a step back though and talk about the Nozstock Festival. In it’s 21st year, Nozstock continues to be an environmentally conscious boutique festival, set in the rolling Herefordshire countryside on a cattle farm (it used to be a dairy farm but the current generation of farmers weren’t particularly in favour of the early starts).

This years Nozstock festival was a sell out, as was the previous year but even as a sell out, the sprawling site fits the 5,000 or so attendees comfortably, with plenty of space to swing a cat, or more pertinently some of those balls on a bit of string with streamers attached like some of the hipsters seem to like.

Everywhere seems to have a festival now, and the quality of course can be enormously variable. That’s one of the things I like about Nozstock; it’s kept it’s modest size and been happy continuing thus. It’s well organised, doesn’t overstretch either the organisers nor the facilities, and just works.

This years line up had more than a hint of reggae, folk and country about it during the daylight hours, reverting to some banging DJ sets and other more rambunctious acts after dark. My personal highlight was David Rodigan, some middle aged chap in a bright yellow suit I’d never heard of. Fortunately my wife filled me in on who he was (back in the day he was the Kiss FM DJ who introduced Jungle to an unsuspecting mainstream audience). He was absolutely fantastic and one of the key reasons festivals like Nozstock are so vital.

What do I mean by this? Well lets time travel back to 2008, before all this Spotify and Google Play Music stuff was popular. I had 500+ CDs in a rack next to the hi-fi. I usually played about 10 of them and ignored the rest. Even now, I have my playlists and favourite albums on Spotify and that’s pretty much all I listen to. Festivals are a brilliant way of stepping outside your own personal bubble and experiencing something new. Live music really is hard to beat.

Fifi’s personal highlight was the DJ set by Rudimental and if you’ve never seen a 10 year old pogo for over 90 minutes, let me tell you she managed it and was awesome.

Attending a festival as a family is a little different to attending a festival and this is another area that Nozstock shines. The site is sprawling but easily accessible, there are loads of free kids activities, and the food is both nice (not a given) and really reasonably priced. We were pitched in the family camping area, and since it’s policed (they don’t let people in without i) a family and ii) a colour coded family wristband), it was full of families.

There are some parts of the site that cater to EDM enthusiasts, be it jungle, trance or more rave influenced stuff and it was great fun to drop into these areas with the kids and experience an experience that is unlike any other- if you ever do the same, just make sure your kids have ear defenders and you might actually want a pair of foam ear plugs yourself! (And a word to the wise, if you decide to see the Sleaford Mods, which you should, they’re ace, remember they’re about as sweary as it’s possible to get live.)

Nozstock 2020 tickets are already up for sale, and the early bird discounts are too good to ignore, which is why we didn’t, put our money where our mouths were and purchased some tickets, guaranteeing a blooming great weekend of live music and entertainment next year!