Productivity

“Pardon was tired. For quite some time his features had been drawn, and sometimes a kind of resignation appeared in his eyes.”

The start of ‘Maigret and the Killer’ sees Maigret’s old friend Dr Pardon discouraged and pessimistic, ruminating on how the job he loves has become frustrated by bureaucracy, turning doctors into bad civil servants. It’s a thought that feels startlingly relevant as I find myself having experienced the strangest end of summer term in twenty eight years of teaching, where a significantly greater part of my time and energies seems to have been spent on helping plan and implement operational procedures and reacting to piecemeal ‘guidance’ from a government that appears to be using a pandemic as a means to carry out a stealth re-imagining of the teaching profession as EduCare. To be fair, this shift is one that has been taking place for some years now with what feels like significantly greater emphasis on Parent and Child as customer, The Market being the all powerful god (or goddess) before which we must all supplicate ourselves. Still, here comes Madame Pardon with coffee and calvados, so here’s to your good health.

‘Maigret and the Killer’ marks the beginning of the end of my last summer of Simenon as the final six of seventy five Maigret novels in their exquisite Harry Gruyaert covers move from the ‘to be read’ pile into my eager hands. It’s a comforting feeling to settle back in with characters and a writer with whom I feel so well acquainted, all the more so with the sounds of birdsong in the garden, a fine Fino Sherry to hand and an expanse of Not Thinking stretching out ahead. There is an awkwardly delicious calm to Simenon’s Maigrets; a curiously benign tension between anger and acceptance, between youth and age, between love and despair. And as much as I feel a peculiar dread at eventually completing ‘Maigret and Monsieur Charles’, I am also looking forward to looping back to ‘Pietr the Latvian’ and starting the whole process over once again.

If I don’t see myself ever going back and re-reading Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti novels then it is certainly not because all those I have read this year have been less than thoroughly entertaining. Unlike so many contemporary crime thrillers, Leon escapes the temptation to write in the first person and this is very much to her credit. It is surely one of the key reasons why her novels feel rather effortlessly timeless even whilst inevitably being observations on contemporary cultural and political contexts. Her knowledge and love of Venice is apparent in every book, and whilst there is always a pleasing enough pace to the narratives, this is never at the expense of space to pause and take in the surroundings. Indeed in many respects the entire book always reads as something of a celebration of a more relaxed approach to life, one where investigations can be put on pause as everyone enjoys fine food and wine over a pleasant lunch break. And believe me, to someone for whom the concept of ‘lunch break’ during the working week is a two-minute window to pee and cram half a cheese pitta down their throat, this vision is absurdly heavenly.

If I have a frustration with Leon’s novels though it is in the amount of time spent on the relationship between Brunetti, his wife Paola (it’s surely no stretch to see cultured English Professor Paola as proxy for Leon herself) and their family. I understand that this preoccupation (or indeed obsession) with Family is as timelessly Italian as pasta, but it is nevertheless something that leaves me cool. Similarly the infatuation with children which forms the core of ‘Suffer The Little Children’ which is the latest in the series that I have read. Leon just about carries off the difficult balancing act between simultaneously fetishising the act of parenthood and condemning the commodification of children, but it results in by far the least enjoyable of the eight (of twenty nine, and counting!) Brunetti novels I’ve read to date. I know I will pick up the series again later in the year (not least because Rupert has so kindly sent me his stash of second hand copies), but this feels like a sensible punctation point at which to put Guido on hold.

If Donna Leon and Georges Simenon are/were prodigiously productive souls, then so too is Ian Preece, whose ‘Listening To The Wind’ is an enormously impressive (just feel the weight!) documentation of his ‘encounters with 21st Century Independent record labels’. At some 700 pages it is almost certainly not a book to read in one sitting but is certainly one that will reward repeated dipping and sampling. Preece’s writing is chatty and entertaining, and if that sometimes means imparting too much personal knowledge then that’s a fair trade-off to make for a book that is brimming with detail and anecdote covering a dizzyingly broad spectrum of music and recorded sound. It would likely be fair too to say that this particular spectrum is peculiar to Preece in that I can’t imagine anyone else being quite so fascinated by the varied and esoteric corners of sonic culture that he explores. That said, Preece does an admirable job of pulling us into his world and keeping us enthralled there. In the chapter on the Dust-To-Digital label (whose ‘I Listen to the Wind that Obliterates My Traces’ release of photographs and sounds surely gives the book its title) he nods to Socrates’ observation that “The more I know the more I realise I know nothing” before going on to say: “None of which quite prepares you for Sekinomu spitting bars like a 1940s Ugandan Crazy Titch about young work hands impregnating the boss’ wife, over even more fevered one-string ndingidi fiddling.” No. I have no idea what means or sounds like either, but goodness it does make me want to find out. It’s Preece’s so obvious enthusiasm that makes the vast wealth of detail in these 34 chapters penetrable, and for anyone remotely interested in the wild obsessive qualities of lives lived deep in the landscapes of recorded sound this book will act as a series of seductive signposts to be revisited on a regular basis.

Tiny Moments #171

It must be more than twenty five years since I last rode along these lanes on the western bank of the Exe. From Tiverton through Washfield and north towards Cove the tarmac ripples and cracks over tree roots, apparently ignoring the notion of traversing troublesome elements in the landscape by hammering straight up and over, like mini murs from the Belgian heartlands. Near Otter’s Holt I mis-remember the topography and turn right when I should have gone left. It’s a move that takes me away from the Exe, up the Parkhouse Water valley and its 20% inclines to Stoodleigh where, admittedly, the views are terrific and almost make the lung bursting, leg burning effort feel worthwhile.

Tiny Moments #170

An afternoon of virtual meetings rears up ahead and so I make the most of the luxury of ‘flexible working’ to creep out for a quick blast in the lanes. A tortoise shell cat darts from the undergrowth on Ratsloe Rise whilst around the corner a young family ride slowly uphill, two children on bicycles so small they seem like miniatures. 

Tiny Moments #169

It is inevitable that on my rides these days my memory slips back to the heady, carefree and quiet Early Days Of Lockdown.  Riding away from the industrial heartland of Hele that straddles the M5 motorway, I pass the wrought iron gates of the Devon Milling Company and reach the fields where, back in what feels like a parallel universe, I once spied a tractor raising clouds of red dust that threatened to suffocate the sky. Today the same field is a mesh of green corn grown as high as my head. The unbending onward march of time and nature slaps my face and hammers home my profound insignificance.

Tiny Moments #168

After a couple of months enjoying a different normal where everyone has been thoughtful and considerate, today reminds me that Normal Service Has Been Resumed. On the A road to Crediton the traffic is back to the typical level of busy and so, in the face of oncoming vehicles, a white VW Passat decides he (it’s bound to be a He) cannot possibly wait another second and passes me with barely an inch to spare. Instinctively my right arm goes up in the Gallic expression of ‘hey, give me some space why don’t you?’ (As opposed to the Latin gesture that includes fingers and unkind suggestions about mothers). Immediately White VW Man stands on the brakes, forcing me to swerve to the edge of the road, passing him on the inside and half expecting a passenger door to open into me. This gives him the chance to close pass me again before speeding off into the distance and his unmissable sales appointment (or possibly to get his processed burger and sugar drink). Welcome back, world.

Tiny Moments #167

Having studiously avoided the lemming run to the South West on Superspeader Saturday, I venture out somewhat tentatively to see what the roads hold in store. The weather reminds me of the Ayrshire coast, with a vicious Westerly blowing clouds across the slowly clearing sky. At least the tailwind is welcome.

Up Brickyard Road towards West Hill I suddenly realise, with the sudden increase in traffic, just how close the A30 is at this point. Where previously I had been aware only of a body of trees, the noise and flashing colour of traffic now makes me it see it is little more than a thin screen, six or seven trees deep at most. A lark flies suddenly from the hedgerow and darts ahead of me for a second before escaping to the fields, as desperate to escape the metal crowds as I am.

Tiny Moments #166

As any cyclist will tell you, any creak or clank from a bike inevitably sounds like it is coming from the bottom bracket. And if you happen to have a Trek BB90 press fit, chances are it is. So it is that for the past couple of months I have laboured long and hard replacing bearings (even went so far as to fit a Token Ninja bb), switching cranks and pedals, fitting new chainrings, cassette and chain… just about everything you can think of. Even got a new saddle after discovering the Specialized Toupe had a completely broken shell (apparently it’s A Thing… thankfully… I’m surely not THAT heavy). Sometimes the creaks would disappear and the first 20km would be quiet before the noises crept back in, amplifying with the distance. So today I thought, okay, let’s switch out the back wheel for one that’s six years old. Because, you know, maybe it’s the wheel…

It’s the wheel.

So sure, the old wheel is a bit out of true and I’ve got mis-matched tyres for a while, but it’s not until you find the distraction of a creak gone that you realise how delicately it was making you pedal. The clouds might be gathering in the hills around me, but mentally it’s like a great weight has been lifted. 

Unpop 191

Download disc 1

Curtain – Marden Hill (from ‘London Pavillion vol 2’ LP)
Day Trip – Plone (from ‘Puzzlewood‘ LP)
Noelna – anneemall (from ‘Hello’ LP. Bandcamp)
Dance Alone – Darwin (from ‘Dance Alone’ EP. Bandcamp)
Silver Blades – Cult Figures (from ‘Silver Blades’ EP. Bandcamp)
All Points North – Gary Olson (from ‘Gary Olson’ LP. Bandcamp)
Sweetness – Yes (from ‘Occasional Rain‘ compilation)
Dreams of Leaving – Always (from ‘Thames Valley Leather Club and Other Stories’ LP)
Touch – Lori And The Chameleons (on ‘From The Shores of Lake Placid’ LP)
I Talk To The Wind – Dana Gavanski (from ‘Wind Songs’ EP. Bandcamp)
The Tunnel – French for rabbits (digital single. Bandcamp)
Patterns Of Nature – Sweet Whirl (from ‘How Much Works’ LP. Bandcamp)
Centrelink – THIBAULT (from ‘Or Not Thibauld’ LP. Bandcamp)
Closer – The Clientele (digital single. Bandcamp)
Sky Over Water – Stuart Moxham & Louis Philippe (from ‘The Devil Laughs’ LP. Bandcamp)
Dead Summer – Darren Hayman (from ‘The Doll’s House Room’ EP. Bandcamp)
Nothing At All – Emma Kupa (from ‘It Will Come Easier’ LP. Bandcamp)
The Truth – I LIKE TRAINS (from ‘Kompromat’ LP. Bandcamp)
American Crisis – Bob Mould (from ‘Blue Hearts’ LP. Bandcamp)
Shut Up – September Girls (digital single. Bandcamp)
Enter or Exit – The Stroppies (from ‘Look Alive’ LP. Bandcamp)

Download disc 2

Wake – Strand of Oaks (from ‘Ambient For Change’ LP. Bandcamp)
Red Light – Introduction (from ‘Introduction’ LP. Bandcamp)
I Know Where The Summer Goes – Belle & Sebastian (from ‘The Days of The Bagnold Summer’ LP)
Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart – A GIRL CALLED EDDY (from ‘Been Around’ LP. Bandcamp)
She’s There – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (from ‘Sideways to New Italy’ LP. Bandcamp)
Highly Amplified – Cornershop (from ‘England Is A Garden‘ LP)
Quiet Life – Ray Davies (from ‘Absolute Beginners’ soundtrack)
Used To Love You – Wesley Gonzalez (from ‘Appalling Human’ LP. Bandcamp)
Phenomenal World – The Orbits (from ‘Dream You Away’ LP)
Teen Line – The Shivvers (from ‘Lost Hits From Milwaukee’s First Family Of Powerpop: 1979-82’ LP)
Safe and Sorry – The Slow Summits (digital single. Bandcamp)
The Landmark – The Gist (from ‘Interior Windows’ LP. Bandcamp)
A Vantage Point Is The Top Of A Tree – gnac (from ‘Early Recordings EP1’ Bandcamp)
The Acid Mantle – Skyray (from ‘Liquid Crystal Display’ LP. Bandcamp)
Fabulous Things – Straitjacket Fits (from ‘Hail’ LP reissue. Bandcamp)
Because Of Toledo – The Blue Nile (from ‘High’ LP reissue)
Take Me Back To The Brooklands – The Bathers (from ‘Unusual Places To Drive’ EP. Bandcamp)
Mary Margaret in Mid-Air – the innocence mission (from ‘See You Tomorrow’ LP. Bandcamp)
Somewhere In China – Shop Assistants (from ‘Safety Net’ 12″)
Come With Me To Jesus – Mandy Moore (from ‘Occasional Rain‘ compilation)
Prayer – Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus (from ‘Songs of Yearning’ LP. Bandcamp)

Partial playlist on The Spotify

Full mix streaming on Mixcloud.

Tiny Moments #165

Despite the headwind home I detour via Thorverton and Raddon for a few additional kilometres. Sprinting up the inclines through the village of Langford I pass the sign for Langford Park Luxury Care Home and once again cannot help but think of Prefab Sprout. Coincidentally I have not long finished watching the excellent ‘I Am Not Okay With This’ on The Netflix, which features a terrific scene soundtracked by perhaps the most well known single from ‘From Langley Park to Memphis’. Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque indeed.

Tiny Moments #164

This week has been one of warm temperatures and winds that switch direction by 180 degrees during the day. If I had my time to myself this could have meant planning a route where I might have a tailwind most of the way around. Instead I’m riding to school when, even at 11am, there is still a headwind, knowing that in the four hours before I can start for home again, it will be a headwind once again. Feel certain this is allegory for These Times.