First

My friends Robert has just purchased his first car, it is blue and has two seats. My first car was a racing green Triumph Dolomite and she was beautiful. Until she rusted, when another whole Dolomite was bought to replace the bits on her that were turning that glorious shade of orange. I then gave up both cars as a bad job and bought another Dolomite with slightly less ‘flake’ about it. This one also went to the great garage in the sky and I then got a more modern car which I didn’t fear for when the air outside became damp. But my first car, she was beautiful in a way that no other car since has been. Firsts are important.

I remember my first pair of trainers (bought from a catalogue) and they were Reeboks, my first jeans (Levi), my first ‘designer’ t-shirt (poco loco) and the first time I tried sun dried tomatoes (mana from heaven!). I then pondered if things that aren’t firsts ever have the same sort of impact?

I then remembered a particularly spirited discussion I had with someone. I have been something of a Nirvana fan since my teens (when Kurt Cobain was still breathing) although I never saw them live, which retrospectively was a disappointment. I made the statement that seeing a band live was the most authentic experience that you could have of them. The other person contended that a fan is a fan, irrespective of anything else.

Being a fan in that ‘first wave’ is more authentic experience than what future generations could have. This isn’t to say that supporting any band that is no longer in existence makes you less of a fan (most of what I listen to isn’t exactly ‘current’) but being around at the same time as a particular band does give you a different appreciation. You are living through the rest of what is being offered in the current music scene, along side the current political and social scenes as well. Retrospectively we can all have an appreciation, but it will never be the same experience as living through something. It is a different sort of ‘first’.

Then I think back to my car, and realise how different material things are to experiences that we have. I wasn’t the first person to own the car, didn’t own the car when they were first released and were a common sight, so I guess that I lost out on the camaraderie of that. Which would make my friend right, as I likely loved my car as much as everyone else who owned it. But the experiences that I have had, the bands I have seen live, this will always be a more authentic experience to me than anything second hand can create.

The older I get, the more I value authentic experiences. Maybe this is a mirror. The closer I get to my authentic self, the more I crave this same immediacy elsewhere.

Map Point. What is my definition of authenticity?

 

 

 

Moving pictures

Last night I went to the cinema with Robert. I have been friends with Robert for a goodly while and we socialise often, but until last night, the cinema had not been one of those places that we had been. I noticed this a long time ago, and when we made our new year resolutions I asked Robert to choose a film at some point in the year for us to see. And after eight months he found ‘Valerian’.

It may seem strange to be so insistent to engage in such a particular activity, but I love cinema. This expression is overused, surely most people enjoy films and the cinema experience. Obviously, I can never actually know if I am more passionate about film than the average person, but these are my words of love, they have been a lifelong endeavour.

The first film that I ever saw was ‘The Fox and the Hound’ I was around six years old and I went with my friend Katie and her family. I was spellbound, I cried at the film and we ate Maltesers from a box. One of the Maltesers that I ate was utterly solid. It’s strange the memories that stay with a person. From then on it was always an epic occasion to go to the cinema, mostly with my Uncle Dave and my brother. Uncle Dave also took me to my first ’18’ rated picture – ‘My Own Private Idaho’ it was a gritty art-house styled piece that we had to travel to London’s Trocadero to see. I was astounded by the quirky nature of the piece, my mind was blown. My Uncle’s first words post film were ‘That was bleak’. But for me, it showed me that there was so much more than the traditional commercial films with linear narratives. There was freedom and possibility to be discovered. Very occasionally I went with my Mum over the years, Snow White and Pretty Woman stand out, these times were special as I know how my mum mostly feels about cinema!

Part of my degree was in film. This gave me scope to watch some pieces of elegance, chronic boredom, trippy, sketchy, deeply horrific and unfathomable. Cinema for me can be a group or solo experience, both have advantages. With groups, I can talk about the film and by myself, if I go during the day, I sometimes get the whole cinema to myself. This feels like the most indulgent treat ever. A whole film, just for me.

The experience for me growing up started with checking times on Teletext and long queues on a Saturday afternoon. The tickets were bought at the booth at the front. Popcorn was a new development in my life at this time, as was the accompanying large fizzy drink. There was an apprehension of sitting in the dark waiting for the bright lights and the excitement when the film started to roll. The smell of the theatre is one that is fixed in my mind, a mixture of old and popcorn. Coming out afterwards into the sunshine, feeling that I had been to another world and even now it is an adjustment to make it back to the real one. I always watch all the credits at the end as a mark of respect to the hundreds and thousands of people who work for months, sometimes years to bring me the privilege of ninety minutes of escapism. Me and my daughter also have the associative game of searching for our own names within the multitudes.

In various places in my house are all the cinema stubs for pretty much every film I have ever seen. At some point, I will collect them all together and turn them into a massive picture and I know, without ever having made this, it will be epic and make me feel much smiley.

Valerian was a very pretty film with some dark moments and some beautiful comedic vignettes. Thank you for choosing a film Robert and giving me the time to experience my great love.xx

My iPad purgatory

In the last three days of my life, I have thrown bits of useless instructional paper, have screamed, sobbed, but as yet have not uttered any profanity. Of this I am proud. Essentially my daughter’s school iPad is about to be released into her exclusive care, so I need to back it up. Simple.

I discovered upon opening iTunes, resetting my password, then the security questions, I have not backed up my iPhone since October 2014. Clearly, I have faith! I have an iPhone4 that I bought around seven years ago. I have not upgraded for multiple reasons. One, mobile phones do not easily recycle. After watching a particularly harrowing video clip on a ‘Red Nose Day’ film I feel especially passionate about this. Two, I have haggled down to such a good tariff that I am reluctant to change anything and three, curiosity. Just how long will this phone last?

My phone has been submerged in bath water, on at least three occasions. The bag of rice with additional sachets of silica enclosed now has a permanent residence in my cupboard, just in case. But on one of these underwater escapades, the speakers packed up. So my involvement with iTunes transcended to a very distant relationship.

Then four years ago the iPad arrived in our lives. It arrived on a scheme that I paid into at young one’s school. Now they want to take off all the apps that they put on there, but they may wipe it in the process. So I need to back it up. I am reasonably techy, can sort out most things that require my attention, can fix the machines of others on occasion, but this is now making me angry. If I were a violent person, around four hours ago the iPad would have experienced flight.

I have perused the A4 sheets of white paper that came home from the school, looked through some wiki sites, gone through several web places that have promised a solution. They all lied. I can follow instructions, am really good at just taking things a step at a time, I can mould IKEA flat pack furniture to my will, but this is beyond all that is holy! This is becoming something somewhat beyond the pale. I have followed, guessed, clicked at random, downloaded and gazed off into the mid-distance in the hope of divine inspiration. It has not arrived.

I would like to say this is a post about patience or asking for help. In reality, it is currently neither. I have spent multiple hours in the pursuit of a complete sync and have essentially achieved nothing. Other than feeling a sense that I am doing everything I should, but clearly there is a teensy hindrance, a button not clicked or a menu not found. Tomorrow I will begin again with this somewhat arduous task. I may not have won today, but under no circumstances am I giving up.

On a positive, a couple of months back, the speakers on my phone perked up. This was definitely a win.

Map Point. What have I given up because it felt too hard?

 

All hail the bucket

Music festivals are definitely one of my happy places. I have not been to one in years, but during my twenties, I went to a fair few, and they were so much fun. One year I went to Reading Festival with Kathryn. We were prepared. We had purchased a tent, which apparently is helpful, food, and other essential liquid provisions. We were packed and ready. My then boyfriend was driving us down with his friend (they were possibly going fishing for the weekend) so off we all set.

We had been in the car about five minutes when a reality struck. We had forgotten the eggs. This was not catastrophic, more eggs could be purchased. We could move on from this minor error. Another ten minutes down the road it transpired we had forgotten the tent. We had to go back for this one, it is allegedly a central tenet of the camping experience. And neither of us felt mad fussed about dying from exposure. So the journey continued uneventfully until we got to Reading, when the traffic started to move woefully slowly. It was a hot day. Eventually, we got out of the car and went to the place of festival, only to have to return to the car some minutes later as we had once again, forgotten the tent.

Likely the best thing that I packed for the trip was a bucket. This bucket proved king! It could be sat on, used as a makeshift table and also used to carry stuff. I seem to recall on the first day we walked into town and purchased new speakers for our little walkman so we could listen to cassette tapes of the bands that we loved when we were not seeing them on stage. We were all set up, we had the basics of festival camping – music, alcohol, food and shelter.

Two things stand out about the first night, the first was the marvellous game we played whilst engaging in the second thing that stood out massive absinthe consumption. The game involved us stretching out our guylines as long as possible (all the tents were closely packed, most people had not bothered with the luxury of pegging their temporary domicile to the ground) and waiting for drunk people to walk into them. They did, often, and will much profuse apology. I don’t believe we actually injured anyone, but after an hour or so, we upped pegs as we feared for the structural integrity of the tent.

I wish I could say that we saw more bands, but we utterly didn’t. Camping is hard and with effort, so we agreed that as long as we saw two bands each day, that would likely see us through. There are bands in the lineup that retrospectively became some of my favourite artists, but I never saw them at the festival, because as previously stated, camping is hard.

We did manage to wash our hair each day using only a bucket of water each (the bucket rocked hard!). Kathryn made some seriously inedible noodles topped with processed cheese (muchly poor choice) and I didn’t wander off and get lost too badly. And when we did make the effort to see some bands, we almost got to the front.

For those unfamiliar with making it to the front at a festival, it basically involves using all your body weight to manoeuvre forwards whilst simultaneously getting to know around eight people all at once, incredibly intimately. We watched the Foos. Dave Grohl is a festival legend. It was starting to rain, the floor was becoming a little muddy underfoot, and on the cool night air, we could see the steam rising from our squashed together bodies. And then Muse came on. And the jumping started.

If you didn’t jump you were at risk of falling over, if you did jump, slightly less risk, but still a strong possibility. People were falling down everywhere, and whilst people were helping them back up, me and Kathryn decided this might be a good time to exit the masses and return to the ‘oft left behind’ shelter. In this chaos, I lost a really good hoodie. When we finally downed camp, we found an abandoned supermarket trolley in which we put all of our stuff. This was a godsend on route to the station.

It was an incredible few days and one for me that transcended the simple act of going to a festival. I was going through the motions with my life, nothing new, everything just ticking along. Taking a step back from my ordinary, seeing my life with a fresh perspective was a definite start point of an ongoing adventure.

Map Point. What do I see when I look at my life from an outsiders perspective?

 

 

Sunny days of melody

The first singles that I ever bought were ‘Hey Mickey’ by Tony Basil and ‘Come on Eileen’ by Dexys Midnight Runners. I feel proud that my first foray into music was with two such legendary songs. Today I have been thinking about other songs that have inspired me, moved me to a new way of thinking, with their melodies and lyrical poetry. Here are my first three.

‘Newborn’ Elbow

Elbow was one of the bands that I found whilst listening to the radio. It was on XFM before it went too commercial and it played so many new and amazing tracks. I was sitting at work. At the time I was working as a research archivist at loss adjustors, which is basically the company that haggles for the insurance companies in event of a claim. I worked in the downstairs that was seldom used, so I was mostly by myself, surrounded by thousands upon thousands of case files. My job was to look after them (I didn’t read them any bedtime stories) and produce statistics. So, for the most part, I could listen to the radio. I was sitting mid-stack, siphoning off the files that were bound for destruction and I heard an ethereal voice issuing from my little box of noise. I remember stopping, inhaling this haunting melody deep into my being. The lyrics were in sharp contrast to this beautiful cadence. It was a song about love, about an all-consuming love that a person can surrender to in entirety. I became a quite a fan after that one song, although never saw them play. I think that would have been nice. Several years later they won some quite big awards and broke into the mainstream. But for me, that first song, and the first album that I heard will always make me pause, breathe deep and smile quietly inside.

‘Every Me, Every You’ Placebo

Placebo is a band that I have seen. Once at a festival where they were not very good and once at the Astoria, where they shone. It was a small intimate gig, and so much fun. It was also the night where someone from the mosh pit fell into my right shin, causing unspeakable agonies. On the train home with my friend Tina, I untied my high boot and discovered that it was bruised from knee to ankle. But it didn’t hurt, so I untied the other to discover that I was not in fact bruised, but with the dancing, the sweating, my legs were stained with dye. Not sure if the expected bruise ever materialised. But it was an epic evening. ‘Every Me, Every You’ was the first song that I ever heard from Placebo, only it wasn’t. It was the first song that I recognised as Placebo, but when I heard their other songs, I already knew them. Sometimes bands can go like that, blend in with the hub until one song makes them stand out. The song was later used in the film ‘Cruel Intentions’. There is so much energy to this song, I have never really pondered the lyrics too much (but I am word perfect!) they are dark, but hint, for me at least, towards ideas of authenticity. This is the biggest draw to me with their music.

‘Fire and Rain’ James Taylor

I can’t remember when I first heard this song, but know that it was in a film that I watched when I was around fifteen. I found so many songs this way. This was in the days pre-internet, so it took me a goodly time to track it down. I have never felt confined just to listen to what was current, there is always more that you can find looking back. Some songs when you hear them, take a little bit of residence inside your chest and stay there. Every time you hear them, the world seems brighter. I found out the meaning and correct lyrics to the song many years later, which made me love the song all over again. I love the honesty of committing those sorts of feelings into words and then elevating that further with harmony.

Map Point. What songs in my life have the most memories?

 

 

 

Intrinsic passions

Today I have been for my interview at a university to study my masters. I am planning to study ‘the narrative of protest in new media’. And after the next two years, with the university’s acceptance, I will be able to tell everyone precisely what that is. It feels exciting to be able to go back to studying, such a massive privilege.

I have worked with a lot of young people who have not had a positive experience of education. It is an incredible experience for me to watch them really shine when I have explained a concept or taught them a skill. I think it is part of the human experience to want to acquire new skills, but for a lot of people, education can be perceived as something that is ‘not for their thing’.

At my own secondary school, the most engaging, most charismatic, most skilled teachers went to all the higher classes, and anyone who didn’t fit this criteria, got teachers who were marking time and largely disinterested. I varied in my skill levels across subjects so in some subjects I had an advantage, others not so much. I understand why it happens, but it doesn’t help many of the students who need help most.

I find out in two weeks time whether or not I have a place on the course, but at this point, I know that I have done all I can with the most amazing support from my friends, tutors and family, which I appreciate that not everyone has access to. I know that I am utterly blessed.

Being able to learn new things I believe comes from different places. Intrinsic motivation, simply knowing that you want to pursue something is a very lucky place to be. For me, some of what I now love so much comes from seeing that exact same thing through the eyes of another. Aged seventeen I met the most amazing group of people, including two of my favourite people on earth, Brenda and Roy. They took me to galleries, theatre and concerts, and through their most wonderful gift of invitation, I was shown something that I could pursue. I learnt a new way of seeing.

Map Point. Who in my friendship groups inspires me?

 

It’s your go

I am a gamer. This word carries a lot of connotations, and generally refers to video games. But I have a more equally opportunistic outlook. I love mostly all games. Strategy games played online, where the visuals mostly never move, big games that involve massive landscapes to be explored (much Minecraft happy!), board games of words and knowledge, and occasionally a game of crazy golf.

My first gaming love was Zelda on the NES, me and my brother would play for hours and hours, whilst listening to The Beach Boys on cassette tape. I remember, aged fifteen, being at work and receiving a phone call from my brother, telling me that he had reached the final boss on ‘The Legend of Zelda’ and me begging him to pause it for the four hours it would take me to finish work and get home. He did. Am impressed at the stability of the NES as a console. For anyone who remembers ‘Duck Hunt’, respect to you all!

My first board game loves (beyond the years of Ludo, Sorry! and Buckaroo) were Scrabble, Risk and Monopoly. My mum had something of an abhorrence for board games, not because of the games themselves, but because ‘people took too long’ having their go. My Uncle Dave was also a board game fiend, and we used to play almost every Sunday afternoon. Whenever we used to go and visit my mum’s brother, there would always be a massive game of Trivial Pursuit. This is something that me and my cousin re-enact whenever he comes down, although possibly with more alcohol. They were all such good times. Maybe it was never about the games themselves.

For me games are an important part of my life. I am sometimes competitive, sometimes not. It is the absolute joy of learning something new, honing my existing skills and sharing some time with good people. Until very recently, I wasn’t playing many games at all, despite my love for them. I played an occasional game with my daughter or very occasionally with friends. Now I am playing weekly and it feels good. So many things that I really enjoy seem to slip by, I haven’t prioritised the time. I guess that there are many things that I love to do. Trying to do everything all the time can be hard to achieve, but using my time well, that is what is important.

Map Point. How can I plan my tomorrow to be more fun?

The ideas of others

I was chatting with Maggie about her artwork. It occurs to me that I have many friends who are artists, and I guess as a photographer, I count myself among them. We were talking about how when you create a piece of work, it is utterly yours, but if someone else helps you, is the end result truly your own?

This for me raised a massive question, how are any of us authentic? I heard recently that we are exposed to as much new information in a day as a person living a couple of hundred years ago did in a lifetime. I don’t know how true this actually is, but it feels as if it could be. I also thought about a quote from Frankenstein, stating that a person is happiest when they believe their back garden to be their world. I think there is truth in this too.

But back to the artwork, or indeed any creative expression. W are influenced by so many things that it would be almost impossible to trace back an idea to its origins. We read books, follow traditions, watch television (or not..), see advertising everywhere, look at social media streams, and countless other ways of absorbing new information. And then we interact with others who have done exactly the same. So any one idea or thought, passion or belief is almost untraceable. We are information sponges, and it gives us possibility.

And back to the artwork (again..). I think if you help someone personally, giving your time to them, there is a sense of gratitude from them that accompanies that. In many circumstances, this is straight forward, appreciation is most happy making to receive! But if you feel gratitude for someone helping you to create something then I see how that could feel like diminished ownership, but it really isn’t.

Any work I produce I know has come from all my experiences, whether that was a direct idea of another or from a connection that I have made from the assembly of information in my head. Both are equally as valid. Art should be celebrated, knowing that it is derived from a culture of collective understanding, and as such it shines.

Map Point. How do I express my authentic self?

 

Another computer

Today I have decided to set up a desktop computer for my daughter. She is increasingly stealing mine, and in utter practicality, it somewhat vexes me if I can’t get on it. Two thoughts then occurred. One, do I have all the necessary cables for the second computer and two, I am somewhat shocked at my screen dependency.

Well, not exactly shocked, I know that I spend a goodly part of each day working at my computer. Organising, writing, sourcing, tracking and sometimes if I manage all of the above, gaming (I like Minecraft, my daughter calls me a ‘non-failing noob’). But when I have expected to be able to do something on the computer to find someone else already there, I feel a little lost. I then sort of potter about until my young one has finished with whatever she has been doing (have not yet reached the stage of telling her ‘it’s my turn’, at least not yet). After whatever other task I engage in is over and I find the computer empty again, it is sometimes with a sense of resignation, knowing that I will be stuck in the chair for a goodly amount of time.

Maybe this is just how we interact with technology now, our social dependence for imagining the world is now through the device of the screen. This is an apparently acceptable addiction to have. I spend my working time in front of a screen, why not my downtime too? It is easy to access and efficient, and it changes my interaction with the world.

But back to the first issue. I am a collector of stuff, the right cables will definitely be here. Somewhere.

Map Point. What is my favourite non-screen activity?

 

Favourite things

I love to read. I really struggled to learn this incredible skill when I was little. My Mum came in to help out with reading in infant school and I remember her saying to me, whilst I was attempting to read a book about pirates ‘Come on Sally, just let’s get through this one’. I can’t help but wonder whether my utter boredom about what I was reading (with no offence to pirates intended) delayed me any, but within a few years, it became one of my defining characteristics.

The first book that genuinely filled me with a sense of possibility was The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. It was the first book I remember that gave me a sense of over worldly, the idea that humans can be so much more than we currently perceive. I am sure that I had seen these ideas portrayed in films and television, but this was my first experience with a book. I saw a world written through someone else eyes. And it was good.

There have been so many books that have elevated me in some way. Showing me a new idea or a new complexity of the human existence that I had not yet discovered. Worlds were formed and broken with each page turned. Books by Douglas Coupland, Alex Garland, Toni Morrison, so many incredible authors with amazing new perspectives.

Alongside these incredible books, I am sure that I have forgotten a good deal of what I have read. And this is okay too, some things can inform our lives without us having a direct memory. And some books I have had to abandon, curiously most of these I do remember. My bookshelf is a place of incredible memory.

Seeing different lives, different viewpoints, different worlds is so incredibly important to personal growth. If I consider everything in my life as a new possibility, a new opportunity, then I can make the choice to learn.

Map Point. What was the last book that I read?