Saturday, 24 November 2012

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Monday, 13 August 2012

To the End

Well, can you believe it? It is the 21st anniversary of the release of Blur's debut album, Leisure.

Blur, in case you didn't know, are an English alternative rock band comprising of Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, and Dave Rowntree. They burst onto the scene in 1989, christened Seymour, but as the Blur we all know and love, have remained at the top of their game ever since. To mark 21 years of Blur, Blur 21: The Box was released in July on Parlophone featuring the band’s fine body of work compiled and gathered together. In addition, Blur 21: The Exhibition documents their career as one of the most influential and successful bands of the past two decades.

These commemorations roused two different emotions within me. First, utter joy. What a band! How do I buy it / when can I go? Followed abruptly by heel-skidding shock. Whaaat? 21 years you say? How did that happen? When did I get so old?!

Unquestionably, Blur rocked the music world but they did more than just rock my world - they heavily influenced my formative years and provided a social and musical commentary that was the soundtrack of my 1990s.

Leisurely Listening (1991)

I was thirteen when Leisure was released back in 1991 and can remember feeling spellbound on first hearing She's So High. It's haunting melody and strangely beautiful lyrics spoke to me in a way that I couldn't really understand at the time. I was intrigued, but not fully committed - this was the Grunge era after all and I was into a certain band from Seattle who had a tortured lead singer and a very nice drummer named Dave.

A mildly petulant and experimental teenager, I wore dreadful long, flowery skirts with all-the-way-down buttons, shapeless cardigans and heavy black boots. I sighed a lot and hang out at the local youth club, listening to Nirvana and trying to make sense of the world as my hormones raged on madly and I thought modern life was rubbish. I went to the obligatory teenage parties and tried hard to impress the boys I liked by head-banging to metal and grunge, resulting in the unfortunate predicament of only being able to move my head with the aid of a sharp burst of Deep Heat.

I listened to There's No Other Way and prayed for something interesting to happen. My Mum prayed I wouldn't get a nose ring.

Modern Life is Conflicting (1993)

My fifteen-year old self crawled out of bed, sat up and started to pay a little more attention. I liked the celebration of British heritage, the absorbing but cheeky lyrics and the attire that screamed posh-geezer. I was enamoured by Damon's face and had a penchant for Graham's glasses. Yet, it was the music that was transfixing me. It was melodic and lush, intertwined with punk rock, frazzled guitars and fast drums. I listened to Chemical World on repeat; that recurring guitar rift and Damon's hypnotic voice.

My eyes and ears loved Blur but the sounds of my streets spoke of something else – I had begun to go out to ‘night clubs’. Yet, I’d stagger home and listen to Chemical World in my headphones until the early hours of the morning. It gave me what I needed; effervescence; a little sparkle.

Then Parklife was released and it was obvious that nothing would ever really be the same again.

Brit-Popscene (1994)

Quite simply, Parklife contains two of my all time favourite songs. To The End is one of the most powerful love-songs ever written.

End of a Century is 2 minutes, 45 seconds of pure genius. The opening lyrics 'She said there's ants in the carpet. Dirty little monsters. Eating all the morsels. Picking up the rubbish' still gives me goose bumps.

Walking through London with this song coming out of my headphones, something strange happens. The landscape around me starts to slowly slide away. It collapses and morphs and suddenly I am enveloped in the red, white and blue of 1990s Great Britain. I am eighteen again, in blue jeans paired with my trusty blue Adidas Gazelles. I am proudly sporting a white and blue knitted zip-up cardigan, in an attempt to emulate the casual sportswear look of my heroes. My old pink Fiesta is parked in the drive and I am studying for my A ‘Levels, working two jobs and bursting with boundless energy.

It feels like I am part of something revolutionary and very important, and although me and my fellow teens are drinking far too much and infatuated only with ourselves, it's all OK. We are part of the Cool Britannia movement and with its huge cultural significance that is enough for me. It is irresistible.

Showtime (1994 - 1995)

I didn’t see Blur live at Alexandra Palace in 1994 (although I did buy the now chunky looking VHS) but I did make it to the gig at Wembley Stadium with my sister Michelle and our friends. We worked our way right to the front to get a suitable view of Damon and the boys.

The crowd was rowdy and preparing to mosh, the noise was deafening. The heat, the power, the intensity was all-consuming - girls around us started to faint and others waved frantically at the security guards in need of a great escape. Michelle said she was off and was helped over my head, followed by both of our friends in quick succession. For a while that left only me in that slamming, pulsating crowd. Soon, the heat became too much (I blame the cardigan) and so I dejectedly waved for help to the burly security man. Strangers' hands lifted me along the crowd to safety, but all I could do was stare transfixed at the stage.

Momentarily, it was perfectly silent. Just me floating up in the air, watching the instruments move and Damon's mouth opening and closing but no noise coming out. It was hypnotic. Suddenly the music was intensely loud again and I was thrust back into reality and directed to an empty seat in the stands. I was alone for the remainder of that gig but it remains one of the best I've ever seen.

Modern Life is very good actually… Blur are back

Tonight sees Blur headlining a special concert to mark the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics and if their headlining gig in Glastonbury in 2009 is anything to go by, it is bound to be a fitting farewell to the greatest Games the world has ever seen from arguably the greatest Band the world has ever seen.

Blur are the perfect choice to play to the country's current state of beautifully frenzied patriotism. It's almost like being back in red, white and blue 1990s Britpop. It really, really has happened.

I would never claim to be the biggest fan; I wasn't there in the mud on that historic Sunday night at Glastonbury and although I desperately wish I could be there tonight, I'll have to make do with listening to and watching the euphoria live instead.

Despite this, I will probably follow them until the end. (Jusqu'a la fin).

Whenever that may be.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Rejection and a (near) brush with fame...

Rejection - it's an appalling word isn't it. Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as 'the dismissing or refusal of a proposal, idea', the proposal / idea being dismissed and refused in this sad case is me.

In my search to find a suitable new role I have sent off countless applications, networked tirelessly and Tweeted, Linked In'd and Facebooked ferociously. For my efforts, I have been rewarded with unanswered calls, broken promises, and worse still, the dreaded rejection email which can feel like a perfectly timed blow to the stomach rather than simply an addition to your inbox.

Its par for the course in our current economic climate and I am certain I am not alone, but sometimes even with the strongest will, rejection can leave you languishing in self pity, moping around eating peanut butter out of the jar and resisting the urge to go back to bed with a back catalogue of Stylist magazine. It can also render you unable to cope with day to day situations that usually you would find hilarious.

Weird mug shot

While standing at Liverpool Street station last week waiting to meet friends, I was approached by a man with a clipboard and a camera; as a non-moving target I was an easy aim. I narrowed my eyes at him suspiciously, assuming he was part of a flash mob assembly or wanted to sell me a mobile phone. 'Hello,' he said in a smooth-as-silk voice. 'Have you heard of Dove?'

'Yes, thank you,' I said dismissively as he handed me a white leaflet adorned with the familiar columbiforme logo. 'We are casting non-models for our new skincare advertising campaign. Would you be interested?’ he said. I could have sworn he placed a heavy emphasis on the 'non-models' part of that sentence as I darted my eyes about looking for a hidden camera. 'Dove uses real women NOT MODELS in their campaigns' he said, stressing once again the non-model point. 'They also pay well'.

I am not ashamed to say that my ears pricked up at this point; after all I was unemployed and in search of any form of legal income to settle a rather large debt accumulated on the South Island of New Zealand a few months before. The week's rejection was hanging over my head like a black cloud so acting on impulse, I agreed - I try to live by the mantra that life throws all sorts of things at you and you had to try your hardest to catch.

Without delay, the man positioned his camera and took my photograph in one of London's busiest stations, a two-part portrait with a front-view (yuck) and side-view (double yuck), while I held a clipboard with my personal details scrawled across in it bold black marker pen. Effectively taking part in my own bizarre mug shot, with a nervous smile frozen across my face, people stared. I didn't blame them.

On my way home that evening, and in a wine-induced haze, I reflected on my experience and wondered if maybe I'd been a little aloof. The next day I contacted the casting agent who understood my trepidation and suggested that I emailed her some more photos, which I did. I waited patiently and genuinely didn’t expect to hear back from Dove anytime soon – things like this just didn't happen to me, especially with this mug (and that mug shot no doubt) and a lack of the necessary self confidence that the campaign embodied. Yet, late one evening that week I had a text from an unknown number that read 'Sorry for the delay Nicola, it's a YES! I'll be in touch to confirm'.

For the first time in weeks, I felt an enormous surge of energy. Ok, so it is not an every day occurrence to be cast in an advert for a popular skin care range and the thought of it actually made me shaky with fear (what did it involve exactly, would I have to be naked?! etc). However, it was an interesting opportunity, a paid one at that, and after weeks of rejection, a well-needed boost. I waited until the next day and with newfound courage, responded to the text saying it was great news and I looked forward to hearing more. I informed my husband excitedly, I rang my Mum who noted I sounded brighter for the first time in weeks, and even allowed myself a fleeting moment to dream about how I'd spend my earnings.

Reality bites

Leaving my iPhone unattended to grab a drink, I returned to a missed call and a voicemail. How prompt, I thought chirpily as I listened to the message. 'Hi Nicola, it's Shernhall Methodist Church. Just to confirm you're all booked in for the car-boot sale on Saturday morning. See you then’.

Erm, not quite the message I was expecting. It seemed my high street modelling career was over before it had even begun. Much to my chagrin it wasn't a casting confirmation for one of the world's biggest brands after all, but a courtesy call from Ken from our local church confirming the trestle table I'd requested for the weekend's forthcoming car boot. It was back to the drudgery of job applications and selling unwanted household items at a reduced rate at an ungodly hour on a weekend.

My pride was wounded but I had no choice but to see the funny side – what else could I do? It was that or head weeping to the peanut butter jar. I'm yet to hear from Dove, so not only have I been rejected for roles relating to my professional career, I have also been rejected as a non-model-model.

Reject the rejection

It's difficult to pick yourself up again after yet another brush-off but if anyone out there is also feeling the pain of rejection, please try to remember that it is temporary and it will pass. Rejection can happen to the best of them. When Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, was in her twenties and trying to find a publisher for her second book she was rejected - 25 times. She is now president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group and author of no less than 11 books amongst other things. She said in a recent interview '...don't be afraid of failure... Nobody who's succeeded has not failed along the way' and I’m feeling inspired by her words of wisdom.

So with that in mind, I'll carry on. Tomorrow, I'll wedge in another job application in my lunch break. I'll go for a coffee with a former colleague and I'll go all Out on LinkedIn.

Failing that, I've heard Go Compare is casting....


Thursday, 28 June 2012

Delicious words served on paper...

Oscar and Friends Booksellers, 35/277-285 Crown Street, Surry Hills, NSW 2010, Australia

I am completely addicted to reading all kinds of literature. I am also rather partial to a bit of technology and depend on my range of i-Gadgets to survive the perils of modern life. However, I have not introduced two of my greatest passions to each other and they remain as two separate love affairs. In other words, I am yet to fall for the beguiling charms of the eBook reader.

Call me old-fashioned. Label me out of touch. Go on, hit with me with your best insult, I can take it. I remain defiant in my love of real-life books and I refuse to budge. You won't find a Kindle nestled in the depths of my handbag, or a Kobo peeking out of my clutch. I'm devoted to paper.

Ampersand Cafe and Bookstore, 78 Oxford Street, Paddington, NSW 2021, Australia

Admittedly, e-Readers provide some urgently needed extra room in fit-to-bursting handbags and spare a few blushes on the tube when reading Fifty Shades of Grey. They are sleek, chic, and store a magnitude of McEwan, heaps of Hemingway and acres of Allende. But, despite the benefits, I still prefer delicious words served on paper rather than on a screen and I'm concerned that the beautiful book will soon be in danger of extinction.

Book-love, I just can't get over it. Books feel comforting in your hand with their just-printed intoxicating scent and the crisp sound the pages make as you turn the page is inimitable. They have beautiful, embossed covers that tempt you like new clothes on a rail, and create an orchestra of colour and height when lined up on a bookcase. Books are very personal; they can be adorned with a carefully crafted note to complete a gift, a simply scribbled date that automatically marks a place in history, or even by the style in which they are read. Are you a front page folder-over? Or does the mere sight of such destruction make you want to cry out in protest? Maybe you have a special bookmark, postcard, or old photograph that you use to keep your page and transport it from book to book, author to author. In comparison, all e-Readers look identical.

Pegasus Books, Shop 204a Left Bank Cuba Mall, Te Aro, Wellington 6011, New Zealand

Then there are the bookshops themselves; whether polished stores selling the latest new releases, second-hand havens packed to the rafters with historic gems, or a fantastic combination of the two. In my opinion, nothing beats exploring the hidden treasures in a bookshop and finding rediscovered novels from centuries gone by, that new best seller that everyone is talking about or even better, stumbling across a book with a mysterious note on its inside cover. On my recent travels, I picked up a deliciously battered old copy of Stephen King's classic 'IT' in Endeavour Books in Kaikoura, New Zealand. It is literally falling apart; the cracked spine hanging on to the contents for dear life and the pages yellowing at the edges from years of exposure to light. The note reads:

'Dear Shelvin. Thought you might appreciate this book to add to your horror collection. Good luck with your future plans. I await to hear the stories of your trips to Egypt. Enjoy Auckland. You have shown much personal growth this year. Remember - life doesn't put things in front of you that you are unable to handle. Go well, Ms Mallinder.'

I am haunted by that note and itching to know who the devil Ms Mallinder is, how Shelvin fared in Egypt and Auckland and if he continued to grow personally. (For those who have read the book, I am also haunted by that terrifying clown brought to life by King's extraordinary storytelling).
Endeavour Books, 8 West End, Kaikoura 7300, Canterbury, New Zealand

We all need a place to indulge our passion for paperbacks, somewhere peaceful and just that little bit special. So, to add some weight to my evidence in the case of Humble Book vs Gargantuan e-Reader, I've handpicked some of the unique bookshops I love where you can while the hours away over a good book...