Saturday, 13 September 2014

music in your pocket, and a watch

the iPod Classic (you know, the chunky thing with the click-wheel) is to disappear. Those who still use one may do so until it dies, and then, oblivion. I have been reading with some interest some online debates about this. A lot of chaps, especially those of the family-man car-driving persuasion, are miffed at this move by Apple. When it's pointed out to them that they are not being deprived of music-on-the-go but can listen on their phone, and that most people can't fit their entire music collection on any iPod, they get even crosser. That's not the point, they say. My music identifies me. I say to that, if you need an iPod to have a sense of identity you are more of a slave to the capitalist conspiracy than I am. And I am. My first iPod, in 2010, had a click-wheel, and while I wasn't sorry when that was phased out, I really somehow liked the sound of that little wheel. After that iPod died I listened on my iPhone, and that was great. I needed to make playlists, but I rather enjoyed thinking each morning what I wanted to listen to on the way to work and putting a playlist on. I liked timing the playlist so the last track, played as I was walking into the building, was a punching, up-yours kind of thing. A favourite was "My Name Is Stain" by Shaka Ponk, or "Batard" (no translation needed I fancy) by Stromae. Is this a gender thing? Because chaps I know seem to HATE doing this. They want ALL THEIR MUSIC RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW. I managed to drop and break my iPhone about 18 months ago, and couldn't afford a new one, so now I have a Samsung Galaxy and I like it quite a lot. But I also now have a simple iPod Nano, for music only. Because iTunes.

Yes, iTunes is horrid, we all agree. But what else is a girl to do? You like a track, you get it for a euro. And no Wall of Plastic. Sig other has one of these walls, because he has many many CDs and is still adding to his collection. So I have to buy Billy bookshelves from IKEA to put the CDs on.

A watch. You know what I'm talking about. I have wanted one of these ever since I first heard about them. I just rather resent having to get a new phone so I can work the watch off it. Samsung do a stand-alone one. But the Apple one is a thing of beauty... What would you do?

Apple Watch
Samsung Gear Watch

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Good King Richard

Richard III
this picture of King Richard III is quite well known I think, though it was not painted in his lifetime. It seems to be a copy of one that was, but is now lost. He's one of the better known kings of England, largely because of Shakespeare's play and the numerous subsequent film adaptations, especially perhaps Laurence Olivier in the part, with his hunchback and tights. The title of this post makes my view of Richard clear - he has been maligned throughout history, and the record should be set straight - but the story is not a simple one. Shakespeare was hired to trash his reputation, because the grandfather of Elizabeth I, queen in Shakespeare's time, was the usurper of the throne victor in the last battle of the Wars of the Roses, at Bosworth Field on 22nd August 1485. Shakespeare wrote about other kings, but it's only really Richard, and to some extent Henry V, who are remembered because of him. Shakespeare had to trash Richard's reputation, because even then, a century later, there were still people who knew, or suspected, that Richard was not the villain his Tudor successors had called him.

I came to Richard through the Shakespeare play, in my schooldays. The cartoon villain that play makes him uses such glorious language that I started wondering why he needed to be trashed. He was king for only two years, after all. He was defeated in battle. Why was he not forgotten? So I got to reading other things about him, and a teacher pointed me at Josephine Tey's "The Daughter of Time", most editions of which use this picture on the cover. I discovered that he was the last king of England to be English. The last king of England to die in battle. And the first one to have the laws of England written in English so that the people could understand them.

Nobody knew then that the remains of Richard, the only king of England not to have a marked grave, would be found underneath a car park in Leicester. But they were, in 2012. Something that was so unlikely that it's still hard to believe now, but it happened. I went to Leicester last month to see the visitor centre they have created, and to see the grave site in the former car park. It was rather affecting, like going to a funeral can be. But I was impressed. Richard is to be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral next March. I shall be there to pay my respects to his coffin, which will lie in the cathedral for three days before the burial. They are building him a tomb there now, and I hope it is fit for Good King Richard, which is how the north of England knew him.

Who killed the Princes in theTower? Nobody knows. Possibly no one did.

Did Richard have a hunchback and a withered arm? No, the bones establish that. He had scoliosis, which would have made one shoulder higher than the other, but the clothes of those days, and especially armour, would have disguised that very effectively.

The visitor centre in Leicester has a terrific display of pictures of actors who have played Richard. I never saw Kevin Spacey or Antony Sher play him, and wish I had. I saw the film with Ian McKellen, which is my personal favourite, and is quite terrifying. The display includes a picture of John Lydon in his Johnny Rotten days, and says that Lydon modelled his physical stage persona on Richard as played by Olivier. Really?

Things not many people know. When Richard was killed on Bosworth Field, his crown was found under a bush. I remember that from school history. But the crown was placed on Henry Tudor's head, then and there, by Stanley, who was supposed to be Richard's ally and had betrayed him. When Henry was king he got an Act passed declaring his kingship to have begun the day before Bosworth, which made Richard guilty of treason. So Henry Tudor's reign started with a lie.

Rest in peace King Richard.

After the bones were found, a camping equipment shop in Leicester put a sign in its window for its January sale: "Now is the winter of our discount tents". Oh, please yourselves. 

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

P J O'Rourke and the boomers

Ghastly right-winger that he is, I have always found P J O'Rourke hilarious. I particularly loved that his book on international conflict and crisis was called "Give War A Chance". Anyway, his latest tome, "The Baby Boom, How It Got That Way And It Wasn't My Fault And I'll Never Do It Again" is a bit variable. You have to love a writer who puts in ahead of the foreword a quote from Ecclesiasticus, in the Apocrypha bit of the Bible (I always used to get him mixed up with Ecclesiastes, because I could never remember which one you were supposed to read and which one not, but Ecclesiasticus is the Wrong One) "How can he get wisdom... whose talk is of bullocks?"  But a lot of this is a description of a 1950s-to-early-60s childhood in Ohio, attracting the reaction "So what?" And why do Americans have to refer to brand names all the time? For us ration-book Brits the only brand names with any nostalgia quotient are probably Spangles and Golden Wonder, neither of which exists any more. He refers to Depends and Levitra, both of which I had to look up (incontinence pants and Viagra variant, since you ask, neither of which probably existed when US boomers were children).

But O'Rourke's boomer credentials are impeccable. He used to be editor of National Lampoon. Largely because he was/is funny. He took a lot of drugs, at the right time. He lived in a shared house called Big Green.

Who are the boomers? Opinions differ. Most agree that the oldest ones were born in 1946, conceived usually by returning soldiers. The youngest, however, were born anywhere between 1959 and 1964, depending who you believe (O'Rourke goes for 1964). What did boomers have that was cool, and that has lasted? Our music, of course. We had the Beatles. We had the Rolling Stones. We had the Kinks. We had the Who (none of these American, just saying). Except that all these people are/were war babies, born in the 1940s. Not boomers. Who are the boomer musicians? The late Sid Vicious? Morrissey (at the younger end)? Elvis Costello? Well, I grant  you him, but it's not the same, if you get my drift. So what did our generation produce? We went into politics, some of us. The Clintons are boomers, at the top end of the age group, and so may Barack Obama be, at the bottom end. Tony Blair definitely is. Angela Merkel. But the boomers' time in the political sunlight was brief. David Cameron is younger than that. Nigel Farage doesn't count. Our time there is over. Fun while it lasted. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Like the rest of our lives really.

Artists? Writers? Not that many. Martin Amis, if  you like him (I do) scrapes in (born 1949). Jonathan Coe. David Mitchell is too young. Margaret Drabble is too old. The writers I choose to read, mostly, are older or younger than the boomer generation.

But P J O'Rourke is funny. And concise. He notes, rightly, that the tax bills to fund the boomers' retirement are barely starting to come in, adding that that ought to galvanise those Generation X slackers into doing some work, besides which it would help them get over the death of Kurt Cobain. Just as well, then, that we don't want to retire. If we did, we'd have to admit we were old. Our parents wanted to retire. Some of them did so in their fifties, because their working lives were quite hard, and they were glad when they were over. Us, no. We've been having a pretty good time, all told. Quite a lot of us died young without any wars to kill us off, unlike now (I've lost several friends my own age and younger), but (and I'm talking about Brits, here) we had home cooking not junk food when we were children, we played out, we were not driven around, we were allowed chips only once a week, and we acquired self-reliance by being outside the house without adults from early on. We never grew up, and we are going to live for ever.

That's not an indictment of my generation, it's a snapshot opinion of it. Will later generations think of us kindly?