Thursday, 26 July 2012

Gnashing Teeth

It's time for my monthly clothes exchange and I'm sitting in Oranaise Cafe in Hyde Park, gate-crashing a City Social meet-up. The host of today's rendezvous is an old teacher-training friend and is complaining about a recent “CS” event. 

I've read interviews with Kate Nash justifying her change in musical direction and brief entertainment news items, reporting how disaffected her fans have become. She recently played Brudenell Social and apparently a large chunk of her audience up and left well before she was done. At lunch, it's joked that the CS member who misplaced her ticket was lucky to have missed this gig and some speculate Nash has suffered some kind of breakdown. The passion of their debate leads me to carry-out some of my own research. Although I'm all for kooky, I've never been a huge Nash fan and have never listened to a whole album.

Back at home enjoying the brief sunshine with another friend, I tell her about the animated lunchtime discussion and she recalls hearing one of Kate's earlier songs and her disgust and amazement. Up until now I've managed to avoid Caroline's A Victim and once we've sniggered through the video, I'm surprised Nash ever made it. I can't help but wonder whether the Caroline the song is based upon is a real person and if she's flattered to be the song's inspiration:

After reacquainting ourselves with early Nash, Caroline reminds us both of the legendary Leigh Bowery's insane and short-lived 90s' experiment, Minty. I never saw their scandalous live antics but remember being amused by their single That's Nice being played on Mark and Lard's show:

Having made this bizarre journey through time, we quickly skip to some of her recent tracks and even find a live video of the offending Brudenell gig:

My grungy roots mean I actually prefer the new Nash and agree she has every right as an artist to experiment with her sound but if you compare the above videos to tracks like Mouthwash, it's easy to see why her fan base feel alienated. The late John Peel would have championed such experimentation and her brave move away from a more commercial sound but whether she manages to replace old fans with new ones remains to be seen.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Precision Punctuality Arrives On Time

I'm in Bradford and once again to my amazement I've been called upon to explain how the ticket machines operate. I'm less surprised this time and even less shocked when my train is late. As normal I've run (a jog to many people) for my train and arriving at the platform discover with relief it's due shortly. Minutes pass and the board still says the train is “on time” despite its scheduled departure having already passed. A group of us mill around the platform internally grumbling until the train disappears from the board and is replaced by the next service. I'm used to buses seemingly being sucked into the void, never arriving despite information boards announcing their imminent arrival moments before but trains?

Back in April, I remember being flabbergasted by various news articles claiming that Network Rail had improved punctuality figures. I spent January to June commuting between Leeds and Crossflatts and experienced delays every day without fail on my return journey. I'm relieved to recently read that new punctuality tables are soon to be published using new criteria that no longer allows five to ten minute delays to be considered as “on time”. The new figures suggest regional trains are “on time” 71% of the time while long-distance journeys only make the cut 59.7% of the time ( Somewhat different from the 90% old calculation methods threw up and still hard to believe for the regular commuter.

In search of station staff to query, I go towards the barriers where three ladies mull over the information board, who seem equally confused by the disappearance of a whole train. One of their number is less fazed, impressively reassuring us she can see it in the distance. I can't but several minutes later her point is made.

Boarding my metal steed, I wonder whether alongside punctuality tables Network Rail plan to improve information boards. After all, acting as company spokesman Network Rail’s Robin Gisby (their operations managing director) recently said: “We will be open and honest with the public about our performance and the capacity constraints we’re working under”. I dubiously look forward to the days when information boards are less misleading and trains stop being abducted by alien ships.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Local Tourist

While others attempt to Salsa and Zumba, I’m ageing before my time to join a free walking tour of Leeds’ riverside. Having watched the dragon boat racing at last year’s Waterfront Festival, I’ve decided to become a tourist in my own city. I may not have grown up in Leeds but I’ve now been here for most of my adult life and nearly half of my life so far so feel justified in calling it “my” city. After all, I spend much more time in the North than I do in Kent – not so long ago, I even managed to quite remarkably get lost in Cranbrook (the tiny town I grew up in).

Today’s tour makes me feel aged. There are three young backpackers in the group, an older couple and a latecomer who looks about my age. The three real tourists avoid asking questions and leave the tour early. One of them seemed to spend longer on his phone than he did listening to our Civic Trust guide. The older couple keep to themselves too but nod appreciatively when our enthusiastic guide makes a subtle joke. The latecomer walks with our guide as if they are old friends chatting away about developments in the city. I eventually join them and repeatedly experience moments of Déjà Vu as we appreciate the age of the buildings and agree on the importance of looking up in order to do so.

By the end of the tour, I feel able to conduct my own diluted slightly less informative educational walk, having soaked in some of the history of the canals. I could tell tourists about the first company to champion the redevelopment of the dockland, explain the reasoning behind the man-made island or explain how Clarence Dock came into being but the thing that most surprised me has prompted my only photographic souvenir of the tour (aside from the gift of knowledge that is)....

I’m amazed ducks have actually chosen to inhabit the centre of our bustling city. And with the click of the camera, I gratefully I feel a wee bit more childish again....

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Gender Neutral People And Pronouns

Once again, I'm waiting in Bradford Interchange after another Cineworld stint. I'm regularly irritated by this train station's lack of ticket facilities and have missed trains before after office hours when long queues of folk are waiting at the only working ticket machine. I've even complained about how under-staffed the station is at times and have accordingly received compensation.

Tonight, few people are about and there's only an elderly lady in front of me who seems to be having problems working the machine. I decide to ask if I can be of assistance. As she turns to register my concern, I try to conceal my shock - "she" is neither old nor female. Standing nervously in front of me is either a cross-dresser, a transgender, a transexual or a guy in fancy dress who seems to favour more mature fashions. She or he is carrying a large momsy cream handbag and wears a neck scarf with a matching pastel-coloured floral skirt/jacket and small kitten heels. S/he is exceedingly nervous and apologetic about his/her incompetence. I ask where s/he is trying to go and select the appropriate fare as s/he cluelessly looks on, practically waiting for me to insert the correct money. 

When the ticket is printed, I have to reach down to retrieve it and hand it over. I have honestly never seen anyone so dependent for help in order to complete a task so routine to me. Even tourists I've seen trying to fathom the mind-boggling maps of the London Underground, have needed less help when purchasing a ticket from the machine. I walk away, feeling like I've done my good deed for the day.

As I'm about to go through the barrier, I glance back and see s/he is still standing by the machine, looking perplexed. I feel an inexplicable sense of responsibility so turn back. "It doesn't say where I go to get the train," s/he despairingly says with childlike innocence, clearly crying out for more help. I virtually take him/her by the hand and guide him/her to the barriers where I indicate the ticket needs to be fed through the slot. S/he shuffles through anxiously awaiting the return of the ticket. Tickets safely back in hands, we walk to the platform screens and I quickly establish there's no direct train from Bradford to his/her desired destination. I ask the guard the best plan of action and we both board the same train. I'm going straight to Leeds where s/he will have to change trains. I dread to think how that's going to go.

I can't help but reflect how lucky s/he was that there wasn't the normal queue for the machine and someone was on hand to help. I'm also incredibly curious how someone dressed in such unusual garb can be seem so shy and vulnerable. The combination of the outfit selection with s/he not being able to operate a ticket machine or even know how train information boards work, has left me searching for unreachable explanations. Whatever the circumstances, the whole experience has amazed me. I'm almost more amazed by this than the lack of gender neutral pronouns in the English language. Surely by now linguistics could have come up with an acceptable solution to the "s/he" and "their" debate? After all, English is an ever burgeoning and developing language and society has finally recognised people are no longer easily categorised into just two sexes. Come on you influential Linguists!