Two more chalked off

I’m not a particularly nice person. There are thousands of people, inanimate objects, films, items of clothing, tv programs, haircuts, football players, words, shops and bands which are subject to my wide ranging and longlasting bile. Here are a few, randomly selected: Hazel Blears, salad serving spoons, Manhunter, snoods, middle partings, Frank Lampard (Jnr, but not Snr), shedload, Starbucks, Manic Street Preachers. I am rarely happier than when sat ranting in front of Question Time, screaming at the radio as Robbie Savage ruins the once-fine 606 or grimacing at the internet reading that Pulp are to reform. It makes my day to have so many dislikes. I have become defined by them.

It wasn’t always like this. I was a nice young man once. As a teenager I would spend every waking moment (ie around 9 hours a day) playing, traveling to see and enthusing about this or that band. When How Soon Is Now?* was released it felt like the world had been evolving entirely with that moment in mind. I now realise how ridiculous that was: There is A Light That Never Goes Out was of course still to come.

But for every new dawn of music that you had to tell the world about there were a hundred Larry Letdowns. For every Smiths, there was a Wolfgang Press, a Tricky or a Felt who’s brilliant first burst was never repeated, the magical flame never relit. Too late – I’d already told everyone they were incredible based on that single irresistable shock of energy that welled up when I heard it.

A year after the brilliant first album Magic New Discovery Band had almost always gone from bright and essential to making some flabby follow up with an orchestra, wearing skinny ties and country waistcoats and you’re left to deal with everyone reminding you that you told them they were the Second Coming**.

One of the best gigs I had been to at the time was Lenny Kravitz (stop giggling at the back, you heard me right). It may well have been his first gig in England. I had been helping a friend renovate his parents house in France in winter and early spring and his first album came out. Bizarre that his full-on Bill Withers-meets-White Album valviness could sound so fresh and alive but it really did. Back in England and working in a kitchen for the summer, a minibus of us drove up to Bristol, to a small venue called the Victoria Rooms. I think it’s still there but it may well have changed. It was my birthday, 1990. It’s fair to say that cider may have been taken, other combustibles may also have been enjoyed. I was in the company of people with names like Slob, Basher, Tricky Mickey, Oaksey and Jumbo – one of whom was a master with a shower attachment, a handful of uncooked chick peas, his backside and a wok.

Maybe it was the cider, maybe it was the summer heat, maybe it was the birthday happiness, it almost certainly wasn’t the chickpeas, but Lenny Kravitz was amazing. I know it sounds preposterous, I’m blushing typing it, but he was. Magic band, he full of energy and leanness. That album hardly left the stereo that summer. Then look what happened: the bastard turned into a Led Zeppelin tribute band, just like the Stone Roses did.

So experience has taught me it is safer to rant and gristle about those loathsome things in life than extol the seemingly magnificent.

Looking back, the signs were there early on. Even in my serene, positive early years Michelle from Eastenders stirred up irrational bile. Everytime she appeared I’d be thrown onto a turbulent sea of venom and obscenity. No idea why. Slowly a catalogue of insufferables formed. Gradually they overtook the ‘likes’. This was fine. Us men are simple folk – we can build up an identity equally well from either the sum of the things we like or the things we dislike. It may seem perfectly reasonable to ask us to do it from a rational combination of the two but it really isn’t.

I’ve become deeply attached to the things I loath. You may, in a month of Sundays, convince me that this isn’t poetry, that this isn’t genius, that here isn’t a person born to do exactly what they are doing…but you’ll be entering a whole other league of trickiness to get me to uncurl my white-knuckled fingers from around the throat of one of my deeply-held loathings .

But in recent years I noticed that more and more of my incandescent dislikes were being picked off by a God intent on taking everything that defined me away. I wrote about this five and half years ago. Van Morrison could never have held a light to Jim to the 15 year old me and then I heard Astral Weeks. The truly awful Bette Midler*** produced the single quote that both Jane Perrone and (via Jane’s blog) I found summed up the magic of compost.

“My whole life has been spent waiting for an epiphany, a manifestation of God’s presence, the kind of transcendent, magical experience that lets you see your place in the big picture. And that is what I had with my first heap.” Bette Midler, ‘Los Angeles “Compost Queen”‘, Los Angeles Times, May 1996

I had to entertain the ghastly prospect that perhaps underneath that repellent body of work (Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Wind Beneath My Wings) heaven forbid there was a person not without the odd redeeming feature. I still find that hard to type.

I remember consciously, clearly saying to myself one school half term when I was maybe 12 that if I ever got into watching televised golf something could have gone fundamentally, seriously wrong. My dislike of golf was exacerated by Sam Torrance. He took up with actress Suzanne Danielle. She was one of my first pre-teenage crushes and she was previously hooked up with Patrick Mower (a sort of boil-in-the-bag Oliver Tobias). Patrick Mower was in one of my favourite childhood programmes, Whodunnit?, where the studio guests had to deduce the culprit of some crime or other based on their interrogations of the various participants. By double association Patrick Mower was ace; by running off with Suzanne Danielle (therefore making Patrick Mower unhappy) and playing golf Sam Torrance was doubly awful. I now love little better than watching the Ryder Cup in front of a roaring fire, whisky in one hand listening to perhaps the finest spots summarizer of any sport, Sam Torrance, tell it how it is.

I can see that these about-faces may sound like harmless incidentals to many of you but for me these prejudices felt as genuinely immovable as my preference for wearing the right shoes on the right feet.

I mention this because two more bags that are strapped to the Buckaroo that is Me have been jettisoned recently: I bought a Mac; I started using Facebook.

I’ve had a PC since 1995. For 15 years Mac users have given me great pleasure. Here Mac user, I would say hilariously – would you like to buy a car that’s slow, got a rubbish engine and it’ll cost you twice as much as a good one but on the upside it has got a nice paint job? It didn’t help that if you had a Mac it appeared compulsory that you wore only retro clothes, you lived in Brighton for a while (and boy, didn’t we have to hear about it), you amusingly pronounce Battersea ‘Battersia’, you had pink Converse Allstars, everything kitsch must be worshipped, your car was shit but you wouldn’t get rid of it, everything was an installation, if Terry Pratchett wasn’t God then Douglas Adams was, and it was illegal for you to like any band once they become famous unless it’s someone so screamingly ‘over there’ like the Spice Girls. Not that I’m saying these things are necessarily bad you understand…but the ensemble is a painful one.

So why did I get one? Almost certainly because I’ve morphed into a version of the terrible arse I describe above. In mitigation, my PC was reaching its elastic limit, full, no longer capable of expanding to meet the increasing needs of the many softwares required of it, and like any machine, after a while it had just gotten tired of co-operating. It needed replacing. I could’ve gone for another PC but during it’s life span my work has changed…much less of the old landscape consultancy work and more writing. Crucially, more photography.

As well as this blog I’ve taken the photos for the two books I’ve had published and for the next one (River Cottage Handbook: Fruit, published next spring), as well as some of those in the monthly articles I have in English Garden magazine, where Jason Ingram takes the rest. He’s a fine photographer and a fine man. I can say that as I know he’s got better things to do than read this nonsense. He made the PC-to-Mac hop a couple of years ago and was one of the few people I could ask about why getting a Mac would be sensible who didn’t just answer ‘because I just love em’. For once it made sense: most of the software I now use was designed to work in a Mac environment so it works more efficiently, more in tune with what I’m doing. I won’t go into the technicals, but it made sense to swap. Are Macs amazing? This one seems perfectly lovely but where’s the hashtag?! I’m now saving up for my manbag and off to have my haircut into a Hoxton fin.

Facebook has always got my goat, whereas Twitter I love. Twitter is creative, linking people and ideas, and making things happen that wouldn’t have otherwise. Of the 1000-odd followers I have on Twitter I guess I knew half a dozen personally before I started using Twitter. These are new voices and ears. More than a handful have become close real-world friends I’d no sooner be without than crumpets in winter. It has cost me too many minutes idling away when I ought to be doing something else, but it’s given me endless laughs, days in the sun at events I otherwise wouldn’t have been at, I’ve read brilliant writing I almost certainly wouldn’t have known about and enjoyed many days of very pleasantly paying work. It is outward facing, creative and joins dots between people and ideas – everything Facebook isn’t.

So why am I using Facebook? I got badgered by a few people, suggesting I should have an Otter Farm page, that it was almost a dereliction of my keenness to get Otter Farm out there. I had a look, and like the car crash you want to turn away from I looked again. It’s everything I thought it would be: nauseatingly tedious, full of a succession of mini-brags and attention-seeking dramaqueening…but, and this really hurts to admit, it’s not only that. It’s put me back in touch with old friends I haven’t seen for a much as twenty years, with old friends I haven’t seen or twenty months and even a few idiots I saw last week. It’s shit and it’s quite good too. Oh there I go again, a balanced view….now I’m pissing myself off.

There is another element to all this though: I’ve become so fascinated by the galloping distruction of my dislikes that where once I would’ve run away from (say) watching rugby league, I find I’m actively investigating whether there isn’t some gem I’ve previously missed. I don’t automatically turn off the TV when Fiona Bruce starts reading the news anymore.

I’m worried I’m in danger of coming over all reasonable.

So what’s left to hang on to? Have I any dislikes that are immune from threat? Will I start to find Michael Gove interesting? Will Jarvis Cock one day regain the last two letters of his surname in this house? Must I get used to a future in which Patrick Kielty makes me laugh? Is James Blunt destined to become more than rhyming slang in my mind? Will I dig up all these edibles for some hydrangeas or whatever those ornamental plants are called?

Lord knows…I can only hope that whoever it is upstairs will leave me in peace, with just a few of my dislikes and a sliver of dignity intact.

* Originally as the B-side to ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’, pop trivia fans

** Talking of which, there must be a gazillion thirtysomethings there out there feeling bilious every time they hear the Stone Roses second album, although let’s be fair, the first album was a whole load of fillers bookended by two decent songs

*** I notice that Bette Midler has more than a passing resemblance to Renee Zellwigger****…and I wonder whether this seemingly random dislike-pairing is driven by their mutual lack of eyes

**** I think I may have spelt her name wrong but I can’t even bear to google it in case a picture of her appears on my screen and sets me off

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  • Zzzzzzzzzzzz sorry fell asleep on my mac…..What were you saying? Oh hang on,someone has poked me,back later to read….

  • You should try dipping custard creams in tea next. Yum.
    i do like your description of twitter. We all talk an awful lot of nonsense on it, but it's a bizarrely easy way to meet interesting people. Or I'm just a hopeless addict seeking justification.

  • Crikey, you did go on a bit there, but you're still young, I'm willing to overlook it. And you did say some lovely things about Twitter and Macs are fine in my book. But, FACEBOOK! – are you mad? It's dreadful. I've just deactivated myself on it and I feel so much better. Let's hope you come to your senses soon.

    Yours fairmindedly
    Gilly

  • nice to find I am not the only person who took yonks to move to mac, who rolled their eyes at the 'because I love it comment' form mac-o-philes. It does pretty much what my PC did but some of them better, some of them not better, not even as good but all in all it's been a productive move.
    and I really like that your posts are filled with unrelated images of plants…weird but somehow enchanting

  • And what's your problem with the Manics? A shadow of they're former selfs I'll grant you, but a fine band in anyone's book……..

  • Including time spent watching Morrissey tart about, Lenny Kravitz pout alluringly, trip-hopping with Tricky, playing spot-the-difference with Japanese quinces, fondly reminiscing about Suzanne Danielle*., humming 'Wind Beneath My Wings' (thank you for that earworm), marvelling that you wrote about Macs without using the word shiny, sneering at your attempt to get down with the kids on Facebook and generally reading this tos I have lost at least an hour and a half of my valuable time.

    I am sending you an invoice.

    *Further research reveals that her first three film roles were as,in chronological order, Pretty Girl, Girl at Party and Disco Dancer (this last in The Stud with Oliver Tobias – the freshly picked organic Patrick Mower)

  • I think I've sussed it.
    Don't read the blog but leave it a few days and just read the comments.

    Invariably funnier & also a lot shorter.

    *takes cover*

  • PG – I think yr crown is safe

    Michelle – cmon, pay attention

    Ms Sock – Im guessing Spot the Difference wasn't yr forte as a child

    Martyn – errr…no

    Lia – What yr suggesting about custard creams is outlawed by the Court of Human Rights Page 523, para 12

    cw – not sure if you're being nice or not, I suspect the latter

    Gilly – Ive worked out the key to fbk…only have friends on it and ignore all friend 'collectors', and exactly the reverse on twitter – keep it for people you didnt know before

    Rosalind – thnk you, glad you like the photos…they are sort of related in ytat I have usually tken thm between the time the last post was published and this but yes, they are usually irrelevant.

    GM – you're very cruel

    Simon – if their 1st album hadnt been awful too they wouldve been the finest ilustration of the point I made about bands who get the orchestra in for the 2nd album…except it was woeful too too. The bass player cant decide if he wants to be a tribute to Peter Hook or Paul Simonon and the singer has perhaps the worst throat-located noisemaking machine I've ever heard, then there's the sixth form lyrics. Now look, you've started me off again…..

    JAS – There were many Morriseys in that a video and coupled with the Suzanne Danielle 'research' you undertook I think that still leaves you in my debt.

    Anthony – I couldnt agree more, but noone would leave amusing comments if I didnt write the crap to begin with

    Bob – Steady on. *fully discloses* I almost did a PhD there (if that's the one out on the train stop somewhere a few miles out of Brighton) but the funding fell trough and I ended up going to Oxford Brookes. I also have two of the loveliest people I know about to move that way and several very lovely friends already there…do you see how the world conspires against me….?

  • Helle – I'm not sure whether yr being nice or not…but the 'though' gives me the impression perhaps not. I'll pinch yr biscuits if yr not careful…

    Laetitia – I am styling as we speak…*squirts mousse*

  • You either have a lot more time on your hands than most or you can type very fast!
    Having said that, its quite refreshing to read this instead of the usual OTT, bubbly, be positive, cup half full, attitude to life. Nothing better than a good moan now and again.

  • Ahh, The Wolfgang Press. I saw them in Bristol in 1989.They were supporting the Pixies. Wolfgang Press weren't very good. Pixies, on the other hand were flippin' brilliant.

  • blimey – dissing Brighton AGAIN? please be considerate to the uber hip and happening few who were privileged to be BORN here and have not just bought an I Love Brighton badge from a dodgy tourist shop in the lanes.
    so there.
    otherwise, I also made it to the end (and I clicked on the disruptions) and even though I enjoyed the post very much I think you should send me a pack of party rings for my trouble and as compensation.
    ta
    Claire