The other day I was disappointed by a sitcom and spiralled into a world of despair about the state of modern feminism.
The sitcom in question is “Out of Her Mind”, it’s on the BBC iPlayer and was written by and stars comedian Sara Pascoe. I like Sara Pascoe, I would go so far as to say I am a a fan – I have admired her turns on various panel shows, enjoyed her stand-up performances and even read her books. These books are quasi-academic looks at the female body (Animal) and sexual desire, relationships and sex work (Sex Power Money). Both are easy to read, enjoyable and offer some interesting perspectives. When I heard that there was a sitcom based loosely on the ideas explored in both these books, I was definitely interested.
I was disappointed. Granted, I’ve only watched the first 2 episodes, but still I was disappointed.
It started a bit weird, nothing wrong with that. Could be interesting, a bit quirky, 4th wall broken, ok, let’s go. Then it got cringy, desperate, a bit too self-serving and overly self-aware. I literally grimaced through 90% of it, and was mostly baffled through the other 10%. Then after 2 episodes I gave up and the disappointment set it.
I was disappointed that it didn’t go far enough to take us to the different, often challenging perspectives that the books did. I was disappointed that it wasn’t quirky enough, it used clichés in a knowing way, yet was still full of clichés. I was disappointed that it didn’t really SAY anything, I was mainly disappointed that it was about women talking about men, and women talking about their weight. Yes, it tried to do it in a different sort of way, but still…
When I was younger and discovering comedy, there was a distinct lack of diversity in the demographics of comedians around – they were white, they were male. But within that very white, very male group there was diversity of styles. Whether they were in sitcoms, doing stand-up or presenting gameshows and playing charming, joke-telling host, we could see the traditional, the classic, the edgy, the surreal, the slapstick, the dry, the storyteller, the one-liner. Billy Connolly, Russ Abbot, The 2 Ronnies, Fry & Laurie, John Cleese, Ben Elton, Benny Hill, Harry Enfield, Mr Bean, I could literally go on and on.
There were a few women comedians. Actually, there were 4 that I remember – French & Saunders did French & Saunders and one of them did Absolutely Fabulous, Victoria Wood had her tv shows and Jo Brand did stand-up. That was our lot. Jo Brand talked about being a woman. She talked about not having a man. She talked about her weight. Fair enough, that’s her thing. She was good at it. She was funny. She was literally peerless.
As I got older and had more power to view beyond the offering of the 4 tv channels I had been limited to growing up at home, I discovered comedians that I liked – Eddie Izzard, Bill Bailey, Dara O’Briain. I liked slightly surreal, meandering, there’s maybe a punchline coming but maybe not and who cares the journey through the story is funny anyway kind of comedy. Not sure if you could call it a sitcom, but The Mighty Boosh was revelatory to me. Still all-male, still all-white.
In the intervening years, the comedy field had become slightly more diverse, but we still had women talking about their weight or their (lack of) men (Sarah Millican, Katy Brand), Black and Asian people talking about being Black or Asian (Gina Yashere, Stephen K Amos, Shazia Mirza). If you were not white or male you’d better just talk about the fact that you are not white or male. That’s all we will allow you to talk about. White, male comedians get the full gamut of topics, styles and modes to chose from. They can do whole sets without mentioning the fact that they are white or male. Or their weight.
There were a few exceptions. Goodness Gracious Me took talking about being Asian to a whole new level, but was as much aimed at an Asian audience as the “mainstream” white British audience and was littered with Asian culture jokes that the rest of us were largely oblivious to. Smack The Pony was a group of women just being generally funny, it was ground breaking but who followed on that ground? Very few. More recently we have had Fleabag, lauded as the next big thing in feminist comedy. It was good, especially the first series, but I found the whole priest storyline of the 2nd series a bit weird and egotistical.
Incidentally, in writing this I did some google searches to recall names, check spellings etc.
If you search for “British comedians”, google helpfully displays a line of names with thumbnail photos along the top of the search results page. You can scroll right to reveal more. I had to scroll right past 15 men before I got to Dawn French and Jo Brand. Then past another 11 men before I got to Victoria Wood. 3 women out of 29. I had to go past 26 of them to find the first non-white person in Lenny Henry.
And sad but true, the suggested questions related to my search for “male British comedians”…
We might want to know who is the best, most popular, most famous? Ok, seems fair enough.
And for “female British comedians”?
We want to know who is the best, ok….and hottest? *massive eye-roll*
I feel like when it comes to other fields, I have almost compiled lists of great women that I want to introduce my daughters to. We have started on music – the eldest can sing along to Blondie and recognise “that girl that comes from Glasgow” (Lauren from Chvrches) and I have an all-female indie/rock-with-a-wee-bit-of-pop playlist that I put on in the car as often as I can get away with. They are discovering great female actors for themselves in the likes of Dr Who. Strides are being made, progress is evident, but somehow it still doesn’t seem enough.
I was disappointed in Out of Her Mind because I had higher hopes for something from Sara Pascoe, and I’m disappointed that now, 30 years after I started watching comedians on tv, the women are still only talking about their weight and their (lack of) men. I am disappointed that we still don’t have a great variety of women comedians able to turn their hand to any given style, without being judged on their looks, or told sorry, we already have one of your gender/colour and there isn’t room for any more. I want to see women being themselves, being surreal, doing puns and one-liners, telling hilarious stories, talking about anything other than being a woman, finding/losing a man or their goddam weight.
Disclaimer No. 1 – I have focussed on the UK, I know it’s a whole different ball game in America and maybe elsewhere but I wanted to talk about the situation at home for this post.
Disclaimer No. 2 – I don’t know all comedy. I don’t have the time to consume much comedy these days, so there will undoubtedly be women who I haven’t heard of who are fab. Please tell me about them!
Seems we have a double header this week with the old blog. This is what happens when I decide to recommit to my academic studies. Procrastination? Never. I simply needed a wee writing warm-up exercise…
Over the past 12 months I’ve re-watched the entirety of 2 of my favourite long-running tv programmes of all time – ER and The West Wing. Both shows had a profound impact on me at the time I first watched them. Now, going back and viewing them again, I re-lived those periods, yet saw them through the lens of some 20+ years of life and world experiences. This has left me with a maelstrom of ideas that won’t settle. When that happens, the only way I can calm the storm is to attempt to formulate them into some coherent thoughts and write them all out.
I watched ER when it first aired back in the mid-90s, when I was in high school. It stayed a continual presence in my life as I moved from Dundee to Sweden for a gap year (I was so obsessed that my parents recorded episodes on VHS tapes and mailed them to me every few weeks so I could keep up), then on to Glasgow and London for university. I kept watching it as I moved back to Glasgow for work, got married and the final series aired the year I gave birth to my first child in 2009. A full 15 years of my adolescence and early adulthood. I’m not sure if Channel 4 ever repeated ER, but I certainly don’t think I watched it again after that initial week by week viewing over a decade and a half.
Similarly, I eagerly tuned in to The West Wing when it came to the UK in, I think, 2001, a couple of years after it premiered in the US. This time I had a willing partner who shared my enthusiasm and when the 7th and final series ended, we purchased the full DVD box set (bye bye VHS, no-one misses you) and we did watch the whole shebang again at least once through, maybe more often. Those DVDs were left in his custody after we split, so I’ve certainly not seen any episodes for the past 5 years, although I’ll say at least 7 because after Child2 came along, late night telly viewing became a thing of the past.
Then hurrah and huzzah, Channel 4’s on demand service decide to make first ER available last year, then The West Wing came online last month.
It feels strange to talk about spoilers for 2 programmes that are over 20 years old, but with their appearance on free streaming in the UK I know that some people are catching them for the first time. If you haven’t seen them yet, by god please do, you won’t regret it. So I’ll maybe mention some names etc but I’ll try to steer clear of events and plot developments in the hope that you will discover them for yourselves and when you do, please let me know and we can share thoughts.
I started watching ER somewhere at the tail end of last year, and worked through the seasons as the COVID19 pandemic emerged, then spread, then took over all of our lives. I began The West Wing in the run up to the 2020 US Presidential elections, and reached the final seasons as results were being confirmed and a new era dawning across the Atlantic.
First impressions – how well they both stand up today. Although obviously dated in many ways – the internet isn’t really much of a thing, pagers are everywhere and people will insist on shouting into phones rather than texting when they are noisy environments. But in terms of drama that engages, camerawork that is impressively cinematic and characters that we can believe and invest in, it’s all still there. Now whether that’s a nostalgic view on my part and people, old or young, watching them for the first time today will feel the same, I don’t know. If that’s you, please get in touch to let me know.
Both programmes tackle the social issues of the day, often from polar opposite perspectives. We see staffers in The West Wing wrangle over legislating for gun control and how to tackle the never-ending war on drugs. ER sees the victims of gun crime and drug misuse up close in all their devastating reality. Political operatives in Washington come back time and time again to discuss the politically thorny issue of gay marriage, gay people serving in the military, yet in Chicago we see an often sensitive and nuanced portrayal of gay couples fighting for next-of-kin rights and dealing with the stigma around HIV & AIDS. I had actually forgotten just how many storylines in ER touched on HIV/AIDS. It was such a big issue in the late 90s, early 2000s. Today I can’t remember the last time it featured in a storyline on any programme I’ve watched recently. Some social issues endure 20 years later – poverty and inequality, racism, the problems inherent in the healthcare system in the US. Some thankfully do not, we have gay marriage legal in many places, treatment for HIV is so successful (in some rich, Western countries) that the virus can go undetected in carriers, outcomes unthinkable a few decades ago. Both programmes shed light on subjects that were often either taboo or widely misunderstood by the public, giving viewers a multifaceted insight into the societal, economic, political and personal dimensions of each of those issues. I for one, learnt a lot from both.
I can’t discuss either programme without talking about language. Both shows highlight, celebrate and elevate language. They revel in it and hit us over the head with it then allow us to bathe in it. ER is snappy, punchy, full of acronyms and short-cuts because time is of the essence. No-one has time to stand around debating the merits of their chosen medical approach, someone is about to die if they don’t act soon, so it’s all shouted orders, get outta my way, coming though, hand me this, shove that in there, STAT! Then the quieter moments by the bedsides, whispered pleas to loved ones, here’s my story, please help me, listen to me. If you can’t help, then please just listen. In The West Wing we still have the pace, the urgency, the critical decisions at play, but they can take time to sit down and debate the merits of their positions and frequently do. We are often treated to both sides of any given argument, pro/con, Republican/Democrat, Liberal/Conservative, each delivered eloquently, intelligently and passionately. Sometimes the “opposing” argument is so persuasive you become unsure of your very values and question your own opinions. The characters all take such joy in language, articulation, debate and rhetoric. When Toby and Sam extol the virtues, dignity and potency of good writing and compelling oratory it’s enough to make me tear up. There is a musicality to the language used in both programmes, it has tempo, rhythm and timbre. Like music, it can take you places beyond the mere words, it can affect you, touch you, move you.
There are numerous actual speeches that show the brilliance of the writing and the delivery in The West Wing in particular, but I also like the exchanges between characters. Just listen to the rhythm.
Another theme that runs through both shows is that of friendship and loyalty. I love a good programme about friendship and loyalty, see more recent examples in other favourites of mine – Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Both ER and The West Wing are large ensemble cast shows that rely on a core team of dedicated individuals to Get Stuff Done. Be that macro stuff like governing, or micro stuff like stopping a gunshot wound bleeding out. In each case, other people’s lives and livelihoods depend on it. They rely on each other, lean on each other, work best when all are at their best. Our characters each have their strengths, but together, they are more than the sum of their parts.
One area where there is a marked difference between the 2 programmes is in the diversity of cast/characters. From the get-go, ER was ahead of its time in showing a racially diverse cast portraying characters with multi-dimensional lives. The West Wing, markedly less so, being overwhelmingly white, however as with the gender balance of characters, it was likely a more realistic representation of the workplace settings of each show. Guest characters in ER were of all colours, backgrounds and nationalities. Guest characters on The West Wing were 90% old white men in suits. Interestingly, or certainly interesting for me, in my current profession as a sign language interpreter, both programmes had minor but significant characters who were deaf and their deafness was approached in very different, but I think quite refreshingly realistic ways. Marlee Matlin is incredible in The West Wing, not to mention the awesome Kenny.
The West Wing is a bit thin on the ground with good female characters. Yes, we have CJ, one of the best female characters out of anything, ever, but while in the pilot alone we see Bartlet, Leo, Josh, Toby and Sam all establish themselves as individuals, it takes the whole 7 series for us to meet the same number of fully-rounded female characters, in CJ, Donna, Dr Bartlet, Ainsley and Kate. Even then, Ainsley and Kate are nowhere near the level of the main male characters. Other women come and go, but none are particularly well-written or given the opportunity to develop as fully realised individuals. ER, on the other hand, abounds with awesome women, too many from the 15 series to mention individually, but Abby is my favourite.
And the men. Well. If I go a bit soppy or inappropriate here, I’ll refer you to my previous post. I think I’ve said before that I live in a pretty much female-dominated environment. At home and and work it’s wall to wall women. It wasn’t always this way for me and I badly miss good, smart, funny men in my life. So in the sad absence of real ones in my vicinity, I turn to the fake ones on tv. Mention ER and most women my age or older will come over all faint at the thought of George Clooney as Doug Ross. When I first saw ER I was about 15 and I’ll admit, Doug Ross was a bit too much man for me. Carter was always my favourite – young, sweet, innocent but with a good heart. Seeing it now, at the ripe old age of 41, I can now fully appreciate Doug Ross. That probably makes me officially middle-aged. Carter is still my favourite, though. ER had an amazing ability to create such a range of personalities and characters, both men and women, straying from stereotypes and tropes and creating personas that were so varied and believably individual. In contrast, the characters on the West Wing, the men in particular, all have a similar drive, ambition and personal ethos that in some ways they are all similar, but by virtue of the combination of good writing and impeccable acting, they each have their own subtleties of identity and presentation. It probably says something profound and disturbing about me that I both strongly identify with and am deeply attracted to Josh. As with Carter, nothing has changed in that respect in the 20 years since I first got to know the characters. Yes, Sam is good-looking and Will is smart and funny (I know some people are anti-Will Bailey, but I really like him) but Josh is passionate, determined, principled, thoughtful and sweet. I’m a sucker for a voice/accent and Josh/Bradley Whitford’s is just somehow perfect.
Anyway, let’s move on…
Watching the full series so close together, especially ones with so many guest stars, I noticed all the crossovers, when regulars or guests from 1 would make an appearance in the other. Side note, I also rewatched Gilmore Girls during this time, but then there’s rarely a time when I’m not watching some Gilmore Girls, and Liza Weil does a superb turn in both ER and The West Wing in roles very different from Paris Geller but equally outstanding. Bonus double Gilmore Girls points for an appearance by Headmaster Charleston in the same West Wing episode. The Stars Hollow set also doubles for New Hampshire in a flashback scene in the West Wing but that may be geeking out too far…
I’ll admit I almost gave up on ER a few times, mainly when key characters left and the temptation grew in later series as the incidents and accidents befalling the staff, never mind the patients, grew ever more outlandish – the helicopter crash ffs – but I persisted and I’m glad I did. With the West Wing, I must say that this time round, the difference between the first 4 seasons and the 5th and 6th were much more apparent. I found myself thinking that this guy was being a real dick, that guy was behaving way out of character, then I remembered the change in writers and it made more sense. I never lost interest, though, and feel like things got back on track pretty quickly with some really good scenes and stories in those later series.
When I finished the 15 series of ER, it felt like the end of a marathon. I was ready for it to end and content with the way it did. Should it have stopped sooner? Maybe, but I did feel that towards the end, the quality of stories and realism picked back up again to the point where it did the previous 14 years justice. I may watch it again at some point, probably not all 15 series, but I’ll go back to County General again I’m sure. With the West Wing, despite going off the rails a little in series 5 and 6, I felt that the final series was a definite return to glory and I didn’t want it to end at all. I wanted to know how the new president got on, what happened in Kazakhstan, did CJ save the world, does Charlie eventually become president? In my mind, yes, he does. Of course.
In the meantime, I continue to live in the West Wing World thanks to The West Wing Weekly, a podcast hosted by Joshua Malina who was in it, and Hrishikesh Hirway, who is a fan. Impressively, they have many stars of the show as guests, who give insights into their characters and plotlines and offer some fun anecdotes about the making of the show. The podcast also delves deep into some of the themes and calls expert witnesses to discuss particular episodes – they consult a Rabbi on Judaic teachings referenced in one episode and speak to a military man who was instrumental in repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” which as mentioned recurs as a theme through several West Wing episodes. I listen either thinking, “yes, yes, I noticed that too!!” or “huh, that’s interesting, I need to go and look into that some more…” It’s all done with a good sense of humour and is far more amusing that I have made it sound. I would highly recommend checking it out.
So it has been nice to spend a year in the company of characters who are so familiar and live through their lives and stories again. It was fun to realise I’d forgotten what happened in places and experience plots as if for the first time. It was also fun to remember snippets of dialogue just before they are delivered, anticipate the comedic plays and get drawn into the emotional dramatic scenes. Most of all these 2 programmes have provided a much needed escape from the real world, and isn’t that what good televisual entertainment should be all about?
When I was 18 I went to live and work in Sweden for a year. Initially I lived with a family with 4 young children. Mid-way through the year it was decided that I would move to a different house, shared by several young adults. I remember vividly a conversation with the 7 year old daughter of the family. I was trying to reassure her (in Swedish, which was neither of our first languages) that I would still visit and see her often and wasn’t going to be far away. I asked her if she knew where I was going. She replied yes, and she knew why. Oh, I enquired, not fully sure of the reasons myself, why? “För att du är ensam…” she replied sadly. “Because you are lonely…”
To this day I’m not sure if the parents in that family saw something in me that I didn’t fully recognise yet myself, or if actually there were a multitude of other reasons for my move, but it struck at my very heart. Her gentle words and doleful eyes staring up at me, wondering if an adult could really be so terribly lonely, has stayed with me all these years.
I was reminded of it today when I came across this tweet:
I don’t follow the author, it was a retweet that showed up on my timeline, but I was drawn to it and that paragraph alone chimed so true for me that I started to cry.
Now before I go on, yes, we are in the middle of a global pandemic and things are pretty tough for everyone. I am ok. I am mostly doing pretty well, actually, considering. I have friends and family who are going through this pandemic whilst also dealing with cancer, depression, fraught relationships and/or unemployment. I am healthy and I have work and I live in Scotland where I actually trust our government to get us through this. I do not take these things for granted. But yes, I am lonely.
I have always been happy with my own company and do enjoy solitude. I am essentially an introvert and don’t seek the company of others often, sometimes indeed actively avoiding it. I don’t make connections with people easily or frequently. When I do I am either so overwhelmed that I babble about our common interests and don’t ever want to let them go, or get freaked because it happens so rarely and retreat into myself not wanting to ruin a possible friendship or more. I have always had a few close friends rather than been part of a large gregarious group. Since I left home at 18 to move to Sweden, I have lived away from my family, and over time, friends that I had or made have moved away too. It happens and is not unusual or tragic.
Unlike the article’s author, I don’t live completely alone. For the past 5 years, I have lived just with my 2 daughters, who stay with their dad regularly, usually 1 night per week and every 2nd weekend. So they keep me busy and provide that human contact, which I know so many people, especially now, don’t have. I am lucky in that regard.
Yet I am lonely.
The kids give a pretence of not-loneliness. They mask it and make it oftentimes bearable or forgotten. But it’s not the same. I of course love my girls and as they get older we can do more interesting things and have more interesting conversations but what I miss most is regular adult conversation. Not necessarily high brow repartee, although that would be nice, but just regular mundane everyday chat. A person, or people, to share some of my life with. The company of an 11 and a 7 year old is not the same as the company of adults, be they colleagues that you see every day or a partner that you come home to at night.
The pandemic, lockdown and social distancing has exacerbated the problem, but for me it definitely started a while before we were all forced into a world of quarantines and self-isolation. I’ve been separated over 5 years so that’s a part of it. I moved to mainly freelance work last summer, so that’s a part of it. In some ways, as my 7 year old Swedish friend noted, it’s always been within me. But now, without the possibility to seek out friendships and connections and interactions when I tire of my self-imposed solitude, it deepens.
The other day I missed flirting. I hardly ever flirt. I’m terrible at it. But once in a while the chance comes along and it’s fun. I miss the possibility of flirting.
It’s not all about romance or a relationship or sex. I’ve been single for 5 years. That’s a long time. I was cajoled by friends to try dating apps, but it’s not for me. As I said, I don’t make connections easily, I need time. I’m the kind of person it takes a while to get to know, and like. I’m great if you get to know me. I miss the possibility of getting to know.
Despite my introvertness, I enjoy meeting people. I’m actually fascinated by most people. I’m better 1-1 than in groups. I work a lot for Colleges just now and pre-pandemic I enjoyed meeting all the different students and lecturers and finding out about them and their lives. Now we are all online. I am let into the Zoom room just as the lecture starts and when it ends we say thanks and bye and the screen closes. No opportunity to discuss the news, the subject being taught that day, the funny thing that happened on the way here. I miss those small interactions and the possibility of more meaningful connections.
So what do I do? Too much time on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, certainly. Texts, messages, social media comments and occasional zoom calls exchanged with friends. It’s not the same. I read, I’ve always read, it is escapism, it allows me to experience a different time, place or be part of a different group of people. I watch tv, seeking out characters that make me laugh or that I can relate to. I have the radio on, or listen to podcasts, it’s a form of intimacy. But it’s not the same. When I am watching the West Wing and I wonder out loud, “Whatever happened to Elsie Snuffin?” No-one answers.
The full article mentioned above can be found here, and is a beautiful read:
Books and bookshelves have been in the news a lot recently, whether it be reports that we are reading more during lockdown, recommendations for which books to tackle during lockdown, or even whether we will ultimately fail to finish those books we finally attempt during lockdown. As we peer into people’s homes on Zoom etc, the bookshelves frequently in the backgound have been coming under scrutiny, leading to the inevitable advice as to how to arrange your shelves to impress.
I am a reader. I am as fascinated by other people’s bookshelves as it is possible to be. I look at the rows and stacks in envy. I would love a wall filled with shelves groaning with books from floor to ceiling. I don’t have that. I have a couple of smallish bookcases, the biggest one shared half with my kids, the others spread where I can squeeze them into my small house. The majority of books I have read in my life, I don’t own. As a child and teenager I made frequent use of our local library, then once I had read through that I graduated to the central library in town. Some (I hope) are still at my parents’ house. Many other books have been borrowed from friends and handed back. Some belonged to my ex and remain with him. In the past 5 years or so I have read on a mixture of physical books and kindle. I don’t mind either. I’m not a purist, a book is a book. The kindle has several advantages over physical books, especially with the aforementioned small house and lack of shelf space. Recently, though, a few things have happened that have made me think about the books I do and don’t own.
One day, my youngest daughter (6) picked up my kindle and asked what it was for. I realised she never saw me read. I only do it after she’s in bed or when she’s away at her dad’s house. Then my older daughter was bored one day. She devours books the same way I did at her age, but she had read through all hers. I told her to have a look at my shelves. She was at once astonished and confused. She had never thought she could touch my books, never mind actually read them. We talked about which ones might be suitable for her now, and which might be more appropriate in a couple of years. It then struck me that many of the books I would naturally introduce her to, I don’t have in my possession to give her.
Maybe because there weren’t shelves to peruse or maybe because we don’t share similar tastes, but I didn’t read any of my parent’s books either. Despite my parents also being avid readers, we didn’t have shelves full of books around our house. My dad is also a frequent library user, and my mum has always had a complex system of rotating books around various friend circles. I have no idea how she keeps track, but when a friend comes for coffee, a carrier bag full of books will be produced from somewhere and exchanged for another bag. So books were around, but not available to me, or shared or discussed.
I have also, in recent years, been making efforts to fill the gaps in my literary knowledge. I decided I couldn’t call myself a reader if I wasn’t familiar with some of the classics. That’s probably not true, but I have a perverse working-class guilt thing that I’m not well read enough to call myself educated and I feel embarrassed when I don’t get a reference or recognise a quote. Although I have always read, I avoided some of the more literary writing because I feared that it would be boring, like the books we had to read at school, or above me and I wouldn’t “get it”. However, I can’t keep blaming my school or my parent’s lack of bookshelves forever, so it was time to take matters into my own hands.
I’m sort of focusing on modern classics first, because the reasons given above still niggle at the back of my mind and classic classic still seems more like homework. I started with Kerouac, meandered through a few other Beats, went on to David Foster Wallace, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Hemmingway, Steinbeck, Joseph Heller and have just finished The Catcher in the Rye. I think I’ll linger with Salinger for a while. It’s comfortably Beat-like and have found that, like music, although I will always support women creatives when I can, in my vastly female-dominated home and work environment, I crave the masculine voice and perspective, the male presence, so will escape away with my male writer friends for now until I can see the real ones again.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all high-brow stuff. I’ve also read a fair few lighter books, some non-fiction and even some books written by celebrities who have something interesting to say. Oh and a few textbooks too…
I want my daughters to grow up surrounded by books, theirs and mine, and not get shelf envy when they go and visit friends and family. This is hard to do with electronic books, so I’ve been trawling 2nd hand bookshops to buy some of the volumes that I’ve read on kindle in order to have a physical copy and to look out for classics that I’ve not read yet. It’ll take me a while and I may have to evict some other possessions in order to fit them, in, but slowly and surely, one day I will have my own wall of groaning bookshelves. Let’s hope we’re not still in lockdown Zoom land by then…
In the interests of transparency and because you may be as nosy as me, here are my current bookshelves. I do have an order in with a 2nd hand bookshop online but couldn’t wait until that delivery to post this.
Last night I was at one of the best, most fun gigs of my life and I almost didn’t go.
To be honest, since the last time I saw Editors in 2015 I haven’t really given them much attention. I tried to listen to some of their new releases over the years but they didn’t really do it for me. I got bored listening to the same 2 or 3 albums and just sort of stopped. They were still on my radar, following them on social media etc but that was about it. They announced a “Greatest Hits” album and I ignored it. Then they announced a “Greatest Hits” tour and I took a sharp intake of breath. Ok, here we go. As I’ve said before, I’m not much one for nostalgia. Ordinarily I wouldn’t give this kind of thing much thought…..BUT….I never caught Editors during their first two (best) albums. I saw them in 2013 and 2015 post-Chris, heavy into new album cycles with only a smattering of the old favourites. This could be my chance to go back in time and finally see those songs live. Ok, ticket bought.
Then I realised it was a Tuesday, mid-week gigs are tricky at the best of times but especially when the girls have evening activities. But things have been kind of stressful lately, I haven’t been to a gig since early December and since every free minute of mine has been spent studying I have rarely been out at all, the necessary arrangements were made and out I went.
The support were Whispering Sons. I had never heard of them. I didn’t think much of them. I could explain why but don’t want to waste time being mean so I’ll just say they didn’t appeal to me, but might appeal to you, so check them out anyway.
I decided to aim for the front of the crowd this time, after the previous 2 times I was either on the sidelines or further back. I was surprised to be able to get a spot in the 2nd row behind the barrier, to the right side. People around were friendly and gave each other lots of room. A few of us shorties stuck together to ensure we all had a decent view.
Editors. Were. Phenomenal.
I was thrilled to bits to hear all those old songs live, I had to admit sometimes a bit of nostalgia isn’t such a bad thing. Honestly, missing seeing this band from becoming a fan in 2007/8 ish through the Chris years caused me actual pain. The 2013 and 2015 shows were good, but not great. Last night’s gig erased that pain and fed my musical soul with enough tonic to keep me elevated for quite some time.
They have so many good songs, it’s ridiculous. They played a fair few that I either didn’t know or only knew vaguely, but I enjoyed them nonetheless. The vast bulk of songs were from The Back Room, An End Has A Start and The Weight of Your Love, which suited me 100%. I really haven’t even listened to any of their stuff for about 5 years, which is a long time. In a way made it all the more special when my memories were reawakened in a live setting, the whole of the Barras singing along making the songs 3-dimensional again. Papillon is still my favourite, but when they started songs like All Sparks or Blood, I would think to myself, “f*ck yes, this one is brilliant too!” and so it would go on. For a full hour and 45 minutes, thank you very much
The people around me were singing, dancing, jumping, hands-in-the-air, full-on having a ball, it was such a lot of fun to be down at the front but not get crushed, we had space, we used it to dance and jump around, everyone had a great time and left without any bruises.
There are 5 Editors now, and clearly it is a team affair. The sounds, the energy, the melodies, rhythms and backing come from all 5 members. I was Russell side and it was amusing to watch him play as if he had just strolled on to the stage to have a wee jam with his mates and look mildly amused that hundreds of people were watching him. Unfortunately I couldn’t see Ed, as he and his kit were obscured by a piano otherwise I would have been interested to see him in action. I couldn’t see the other 2 Chris-replacement members on the other side of the stage at all. None of that really mattered, though because whilst not detracting from the very real and important fact that all 5 members contribute to the awesomeness of Editors, there is also Tom Smith. When Tom Smith is on stage, one can only look at Tom Smith and behold his magnificence.
He is an intense performer without being scary or off-putting. Rather his intensity draws you in, you are a part of it. He focuses on a specific point on the stage, singing to it, gesturing to it, addressing it, then he suddenly turns to the audience and looks us in the eye and we are transfixed. We are part of it too. He sings with his whole body. He writhes, turns, twists, crouches, elongates and almost spasms but somehow does so gracefully, elegantly, sensuously. It is a continuous gyration that either generates, or is generated by the song, we aren’t sure. The song and the man are one. His voice. Oh lordy, his voice. I have never heard anything like it. Deep, resonant, each syllable enunciated almost too precisely but that is his style and it suits him. It isn’t forced or for effect. The whole package is just…mesmerising.
But he also makes some expressions while singing that are, frankly, quite comical.
Anyway, before I write a 5000 word essay on how awesome Tom Smith is (and I could, believe me) I will just remind myself to go back and listen to those old records again, maybe give the newer ones once more try and wallow for as long as I can in the feeling of finally seeing (almost) “classic” Editors live and glad that I was able to go to what turned out to be a very fun, very emotional, uplifting kind of gig.