I know that 3am probably isn’t the most auspicious time to be writing a blog, but I’ve been meaning to scribble something down this week and have only managed an article on why buying furniture at auction can be a good idea. I’m half awake and have had the need to write something, so I thought I would put some ideas down.
So I wanted to ask whether I can still call myself a Goth? I’ve already come to the conclusion that I can’t, but it has been too big a part of my identity in my early adult years to entirely shrug off the label. That’s why I refer to myself as a “retired” goth. I don’t want to go into the whys and wherefores of how I came to call myself a goth in the first place – that’s a very subjective academic definition for me (I’ll try to put up some of my old essays at some point to prove a point). Suffice to say that I ran / managed a successful Goth club in Leeds in the late 1990s and went to all the goth nights as a student and the Whitby Goth Weekends every November for about 5 years.
In that capacity, I was also interviewed by Paul Hodkinson for his PhD thesis (later edited and published as Goth: Identity Style and Subculture), but my experience as a club manager and views seemed to be at odds to his pre-designated ideas. At some point I’ll scribble a critique of his thesis, but now isn’t the time for that. Anyway, he recently returned to some of his interviewees from his thesis (probably about ten years on) in order to gain a bit more understanding on the subculture. I suppose I’ve been thinking about my own identity as a retired goth and what it means to me (I’ll come to why I use that term to describe myself in a little while).
So I suppose the next two questions which I want to ask are: “In what ways can I still describe myself as a Goth” and it’s reverse: “In what ways can I no longer describe myself as a Goth?”. Those will lead to further questions which I will answer along the way.
To begin to answer the first question, “In what ways can I still describe myself as a Goth?”, I turn immediately to my enduring taste in Goth music. My formative years (from about the age of 14-15) where when I began listening to Goth and alternative music. Band such as The Sisters of Mercy, The Cure and Fields of the Nephilim were among the first that i began to explore. I was by no means an identikit Goth – there were certain “accepted” bands which were apparently de rigeur, but I was discerning. I never did “Goth-by-numbers” which is an accusation which could be levelled at some of my less critically aware peers. But as usual, I’m getting away from the subject at hand. I still listen to, and love, all of the old music. And I would say that it still forms part of my identity as an adult. You only need to look at the endurance of Radio 4’s “Desert Island Discs” to gauge how important music is to people’s identities. That’s probably a blog post in itself…
The second most important aspect of my identity as a retired Goth is related to my continued love of the music, and that is a rejection of mainstream / mass / popular culture. This is quite a difficult concept to adequately quantify without going into a separate academic essay in itself. I am aware that my patterns of consumption of mainstream culture are markedly different to those of my Goth peer group. I no longer have a television, a conscious choice rather than one of financial or any other criteria. I am a prolific user of Facebook & YouTube and a recent convert to twitter. I am also a loyal listener to radio 4, from the Today Program through to Front Row and occasionally beyond (yes, that includes The Archers and You & Yours!)… This is just a broad picture of my consumption patterns of contemporary media, and is not intended to give an exhaustive description. While certain aspects fit the usual patterns for some of my peers, others are markedly different.
The last major point in which I can still call myself a Goth is in the maintenance of friendships and relationships with my Goth peers. Although my social circles have expanded since my young adult years (as one would expect), I still maintain good friendships with long-standing friends in the subculture. This is perhaps a less definable aspect of my identity as a Goth, but relationships and friendships within the subculture formed an important part of my inclusion in the social group and should not be discounted. I suspect that this idae is one which could do with a bit more thought, reflection and investigation…
So, those are the ways in which I would say I am still a Goth. The ways in which I am no longer a Goth are a bit more obvious and tend to relate more to activities than to ideas of personal identity. The most obvious is that, although I still listen to the same music, I no longer attend Goth nightclubs or gigs. This is a major part of the subculture, as clubs and gigs are the main social gatherings for Goths. This also should give a clue as to the nature of the subculture, but I’m not going to go into that today.
The other major way in which I can no longer call myself a Goth is the fact that I no longer adopt the dress conventions of the subculture. While I am happy to acknowledge the ways in which Goth styles of dress rupture the conventions of mainstream / mass / popular cultural styles, I don’t feel comfortable making those sort of cultural statements through my style. I still like to take care in my appearance and put thought into what I wear, but I try to distinguish myself in other, more subtle ways. An emphasis on quality and an elegant style is one of the ways in which I try to set myself apart from the conventions of my more closely age-related peers these days. After all, who wants to see a middle-aged man desperately trying to cling on to the fading light of his youth? It’s just not a pretty sight!
The reasons for my particular choice in consigning active participation in the subculture to history range from a boredom of the music (which I perceive as derivative and cliché-ridden), to finding the subculture somewhat limiting to my maturing identity. Having said that, I still feel that my time as a Goth moulded my identity and is something which played a formative role in creating the person I am today. To say that I am a “former Goth” would be to deny this role. Equally, to label myself an “Old Goth” places too much emphasis on a continuing active participation in all the subculture’s streams. So I use the term “retired Goth”. I feel that this adequately describes my current position and relationship with the subculture, and it is one which I am proud to use.
Furniture is something that most of us will buy at some point throughout our lives. As we use furniture, it becomes, well… used I suppose. Article of furniture are not something that we tend to replace every year, but perhaps every few years. with the need to be more flexible in the employment market, we sometimes find that we’ll move a bit more often than our parents might have done. This habit of moving house frequently saw a high point in the property boom with families and individuals moving up the property ladder. These moving points create opportunities for refreshing interior design and buying furniture. What worked in the old house may not necessarily work in the new house. All this leads me to champion the case for buying furniture at auction, over new furniture from a retailer.
There is a perception that antique furniture is elite and expensive but this need not necessarily be the case. Some high-end antiques are always going to cost more than new high-street furniture, but I’m not comparing like with like in that case. Modern reproduction furniture can often be found at auction houses for a fraction of its original cost. I remember one of the first auction I attended in Yorkshire. I could have bought an elegant regency reproduction extending dining table in mahogany veneer for £60. Add six matching reproduction dining chairs with a pair of carver chairs for another £60. With the buyer’s premium and VAT, that’s a dining table and eight chairs for well under £200. No-one bid on either of these items and they left the auction house unsold. I would have bid on them, had I had the space in my own house to accommodate them. As it is, my own house is almost entirely furnished with antique and vintage pieces of furniture, gathered from auction houses, antique shops and even eBay sellers over the last ten years or so.
As with most interior designs, antique furniture goes through trends and buying the right pieces at the right time can save an enormous amount of money, as well as giving your interior a unique and personal appearance. That doesn’t mean that you have to settle for an interior inspired by the bilge spouted by that Grand Dame of hypocrisy and shabby chic tat, Kirsty Allsop (I cite her hypocrisy in that, after years of espousing bland beige identikit interiors and modern “clean” furniture, she now completely decries her past and is advising those bereft of any inspiration (or ability to think on their own) how to give their homes an individual look). There is absolutely no reason why antique (or even modern reproduction) furniture couldn’t work with ultra-modern interior designs. This is the age of post-modern bricolage and pastiche. The inclusion of one or two choice pieces of antique furniture in a modern loft conversion, for example, would emphasise both the antique nature of the furniture and the contemporary milieu in which is it placed.
As I write, in early 2012, the fashion for heavy Victorian “brown” furniture is in the middle of a slump which has lasted maybe four or five years already. Interiors just aren’t happy with the heavy and dark woods and imposing forms of Victorian pieces. I should insert a caveat at this point, as some high-end pieces are still in demand and have held their prices well. This means that you can pick up many useful and decorative pieces of furniture for very little indeed, and for significantly less than the price of a new piece of furniture. Need a desk for the laptop, which needs to be useful and not take up too much space? What about a writing bureau? Or a Victorian Davenport? Or an Edwardian writing table? This is just one example of how antique furniture can fulfil the needs of modern life. The less austere Edwardian period produced elegant furniture which was smaller, lighter and softer than the high Victorian period and perhaps more suitable for modern life. Why settle for that hideous piece of soulless flatpack furniture from the land of interior furnishings and Swedish meatballs?
Another point to consider is the resale value of antique versus the resale value of new. The moment you take delivery of that new piece of furniture, it will lose probably ⅔ of its value. In the short-medium term, an antique piece will mostly hold its resale value or even increase in value (unless you are unfortunate to buy just before a market slump hits). Most people don’t even consider the idea of resale value when buying furniture, but its something that I try to take into account.
The major sticking point that I think people have with antique furniture is knowledge. There are so many periods and styles of antique furniture that the whole idea of buying antique can seem impenetrably complicated. This needn’t be the case. I’m by no means an antique furniture expert (I know a furniture restorer and I’m constantly befuddled by what pieces belong to what periods), but I can see what works visually and functionally. If you can see something having a use and fitting in with your interior decor, and have the time to browse the auction houses’ online catalogues, you’re probably about 90% there. Take the plunge and go to an auction.
It has come to my attention that I’ve not posted anything in the Politics / Current affairs category in my blog, so I thought I would rectify that omission by having my great education rant.
Education is perhaps one of the most important aspects to creating a successful and balanced society. It fuels the employment market by giving young people the basic knowledge which will be needed for their chosen professions. A quality education should allow an employer to determine whether or not a candidate is suitable for a position. Without good state education, employers would end up having to spend time training potential employees in the basics before candidates could be expected to carry out any role with any sort of effectiveness.
Sadly, the UK education system is in such a dreadful state that it is barely able to fulfil its requirements in giving young people the knowledge necessary for them to effectively compete in the employment market. A large part of the problem (but by no means the whole problem) is a result of the previous Labour Government’s higher education policies, led by Tony Blair. Under David Blunkett, the higher education system saw huge investment, but also saw a huge rise in the number of pupils entering higher education to study at degree level. This is the key problem for me.
Universities have a specific role to play in the education system. They rely upon high quality entrants who are able to cope with the higher academic rigours of a degree compared to those of GCSEs or A-levels. They are, by their very nature, elite institutions. I would like to make the distinction between elite and elitist at this point, as it is an important one. When I use the word elite in the context of this post, I am describing students of the highest quality of academic ability, regardless of any other quality they may possess (social background, wealth, race, nationality). I use elitist, by contrast, to refer to the idea that certain individuals (rightly or wrongly) deserve favoured treatment as a result of their social standing, class or wealth. In this sense, universities should be elite and not elitist.
And here stands my problem. David Blunkett opened up the higher education system. Tony Blair stated that he wanted 50% of school leavers to go to university. This, I believe, is at least in part a result of confusing the elite nature of university with a perceived elitist nature. Certainly there is a great perception that some Oxford or Cambridge colleges, as well as some of the top-performing universities are elitist, but I don’t want to get side-tracked on individual cases and prefer to keep a broader picture in mind. Maybe by opening up universities to 50% of school leavers, they thought they would be giving people from more disadvantaged backgrounds a better start, enabling them to become more socially mobile and “levelling the playing field”, to use one of those semi-meaningless nu-speak phrases so favoured by New Labour. This attitude is not just patronising to those of disadvantaged backgrounds but has caused enormous damage to the higher education system.
Did anyone in the New Labour machine ever look at the idea of universities being elite education institutions? I suppose not, although it is one of the most obvious qualities of the university system. Had they done so, they would have realised that the idea of sending such a high proportion of school leavers to university would mean that they would cease to be elite. Maybe New Labour thought that UK school leavers were of such a high educational standard that they deserved an elite education. With the huge arrogance displayed by New Labour (and Tony Blair in particular), it’s impossible to discount this assertion. Either way, I’m getting away from the topic.
The decision to “open up” universities to such a flood of entrants has meant that standards have inevitably dropped. Universities are no longer the institutions of elite education that they were, as they are obliged to fill places to hit admission targets. They have, to a certain extent, become certificate factories. Of course I hesitate to tar all universities with the same brush, and I daresay that there are some which haven’t been afflicted with this tragedy. In the large case of universities though, I would find it difficult to deny.
This is something which is now being picked up by employers. As the usual round of GCSE and A-level results come out year after year with record numbers of As and A*s, captains of industry are beginning to break rank with received knowledge and declare that they are finding it more and more difficult to distinguish good graduates from bad ones. The attainment of a degree is no longer the valuable marker of a quality education, devalued and diluted by the increased number of graduates from the great cathedrals of certification.
One of the great tragedies in all of this is the silence from the educators themselves. No-one is willing to criticise the education policy as being pure folly, obviously as it’s not in their interest. Lecturers would be out of a job if they spoke out in the media. Neither is it in the interest of politicians to shed light on the fact that the UK higher education system is in the gutter. So it remains the job of those brave Captains of Industry to publicly complain about the state of things if anything is to change. Lets just hope there’s someone in the government who’s listening.
It’s not quite the middle of the night. Not yet, but I’m guessing it will be by the time I’ve finished this post. I’ve already tried to get to sleep and have managed about an hour. Maybe an hour and a half. I’m not entirely sure. I’ve spent about an hour searching the internet and it’s now 2.25. I’m not sure if that’s important or not. I’ve had a good meal, a bottle of wine and a good evening tonight before heading off to bed. This isn’t in itself anything to report. I went to sleep with my mp-3 player on (not wanting to favour any specific brand…). I woke up after maybe a couple of hour’s sleep, with a bit of an idea in my head. I can’t quite explain everything quickly, so this post is probably more for my own benefit, than anything else…
I wasn’t especially disturbed when I woke up. I was aware that I was listening to a particular piece of music which I had just installed on my (generic) mp-3 player just this morning. It’s a piece of music which I’ve owned for a couple of years, (since it became available on a popular, and legal, music download site) but which I knew from about 1995-ish. I should probably describe a little background now, as it might be helpful in the overall narrative of my post and provide a bit of context with which to understand my current predicament….
I’ve never really been a particularly religious person. I was brought up in an anglican family (please note the lower-case “a” in anglican!). At the risk of contradicting myself now, I probably have been or am a religious person, just not in the way you might expect. I studied the psychology of folklore as part of my bachelor degree, which gave me a particular slant on my religious upbringing. I then went on to a masters degree in Cultural Studies, which showed me some of the techniques of semiology (the science of understanding symbols). That gave me further understanding of my upbringing and perhaps consolidated some of my ideas about religion, ethics and philosophy, and how they related to my particular set of beliefs.
I know I’m being a bit vague about all of this, but I don’t want to go into the whole religion story in this post; I want to concentrate on the events leading up to me being awake now and wanting to write a blog post. I’ll leave those other stories for another time… The rest of the story might help me make sense of who I am and how I fit into the world. For now I just want to get some ideas down; I’ll figure out how they relate to everything else in the coming days.
Well, with that extensive introduction, I now feel that I’m able to get on with my story… I’ve always had peculiar dreams. Ever since I was young, I had recurring dreams when I was ill. They had no relation to my illness and were completely abstract. I’ve had more interesting dreams since I’ve become an adult and I don’t always remember them but always get a sense of them being incredibly vivid. Of course I do remember some of my dreams and those that I am aware of are still incredibly abstract, but I can sometimes draw some meanings out of them, no matter how bizarre they are.
I always wanted my dreams to be more important than they actually are – I wanted them to have some “mystical” significance and tell me something about myself or the world in which I live. Of course this never (or rarely) happened, or they were so abstract that only a Freudian psychoanalyst or pseudo-religious charlatan could make any sense of them. The point is that I wanted them to signify that I was somehow “special” or “different” from my peers or friends. Yeh, sure, they have lucid dreams every now and again, but I go through patches where I’ll have two or three lucid dreams a night and I’ll be aware that I’ve dreamt two or three nights in the space of a week.
I suppose my dreaming activity has peaks where I’ll remember or at least be aware that I’ve had dreams. I’ve given up semi-consciously noticing whether I can read or see colours in my dreams (which are apparently indicators of having lucid dreams), as pretty much every dream that I have is in colour. I used to try to notice whether I had remembered a colour or whether there was something which I could read. I could never control the dream, but was usually aware of something which would give me a semi-conscious indication of whether I was dreaming lucidly or not – walking past a shop and being able to read the sign above it would be a good example.
Anyway, I’m at risk of getting lost in the detail here, so I’ll try to take a broader view of what happened to me tonight, and what prompted me to write a blog in the middle of the night. I didn’t have a dream tonight; it’s not impossible to dream in only a couple of hour’s sleep but tonight wasn’t one of those nights. I woke up and realised that although I don’t quite understand the dreams that I may be having, or if I do they are very personal, the fact that I do dream is probably important to myself (if to no-one else). I started researching dreaming in a little more depth, but have so far come up with nothing. Many of the site on the internet are either Freudian analysis sites (which really isn’t much help to me) or (to try to put it politely) new age hocum.
I suppose what I’m looking for is a connection with some people who I can talk with about my dreaming experiences and who also share a similar philosophical and spiritual set of ideas (I use the word spiritual in place of religious as I’m self-shielded against that sort of dogma…). I’ve probably not come to any conclusion in this post, which I acknowledge must be frustrating for anyone reading it, but I don’t think that has made it any less worthwhile for being so. If nothing else, it has helped me to at least start writing about and recognising the fact that I dream more lucidly and more often than most of my peers, and that somewhere, there’s something hidden in amongst the dreams which might be important (to me, if to no-one else).
If you’ve got this far, thanks for reading. I hope it hasn’t been too bland or boring, and I hope you’ll comment with your thoughts on dreams and philosophy. I will try to post something in the next couple of days about my personal beliefs which should give a little bit of context to what I’ve written here….
Since moving to the outskirts of London, on the borders of Surrey, I have been blessed with some of the finest charity shops in the country. Before I moved two years ago, I lived in the rugged county of Yorkshire, which was sadly bereft of any quality charity shops selling menswear.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the idea of charity shops (which I believe are a specific UK phenomenon), these are shops which are run by charities, selling donated clothes, bric-a-brac and basically anything that people no longer want or use but which still have a useful life in them. Items are donated to the shops by the public and then resold, bringing income for the charity. The prices of items sold in charity shops barely compare to the original retail price, the only issue being that you’re buying second hand items. That’s occasionally a cause of snobbery, but when you think about the second-hand market in clothes on eBay, there’s not much difference.
Since moving away from Yorkshire, I have had the good fortune to furnish my wardrobe with designer labels, mainly from charity shops and at a fraction of the original retail price. A Barbour Northumbria coat with lining and separate hood would set you back about £280 in one of their retail outlets. I found one for £35. Armani jeans (£5), Dolce & Gabanna wool jacket (barely worn, £25), Ralph Lauren hoodie (last season, £12); these are just a few of the items I have found in charity shops in the local area.
My crowning glory was a handbag for my wife. I found an unused, genuine (it still had the tags and certificate of authenticity) Balenciaga handbag. The exact same bag was still on sale in the Balenciaga online store for £1240. It had all the right bits & pieces with it, still had the little plastic covers on the leather zipper bits, the only thing I could see was that the plastic cover from one of the handles had been removed. I paid £195 for it. That’s a difference of over £900!
I’ve yet to find anything to beat the Balenciaga handbag. That really was a one-in-a-million find. I think that since I’ve been living down here, the only thing that I’ve paid full price for was a black Barbour International biker jacket (produced to celebrate the brand’s 75 year anniversary), for £220. I felt guilty paying full price for it; before I moved I would never have been able to justify paying that much for a coat. When I consider the savings I have made on all the other clothes in my wardrobe though, I don’t feel so bad. Although I seem to be becoming a label slave, there’s no way I could ever justify paying full price for a new item from, say, Dolce & Gabanna, when I have so much choice in the charity shops.
A note of caution should also be struck; while I can find all sorts of designer labels in the charity shops, they’re rarely current season. This doesn’t bother me at all, as I’m less interested in following fashion than I am in creating a sense of style. Whereas fashion changes from week-to-week, style has a more enduring quality. And if vintage clothing is your thing, there’s no better place to start filling your wardrobe than charity shops.
Well, it’s only two more shopping days until Christmas. All my presents are bought & wrapped. Those which need to be shipped off to various members of the family are already arrived. Most of the main course foods are done (I’ll spend a little time going through the menu at some point if I can be bothered…). There is, however, a lot of food shopping left to do. I have a list, so I’m ahead of the game. My wife is working tomorrow, which leaves the shopping to me. I’m expecting it to be really busy, what with Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday. Having tonsilitis and a throat which looks like it’s a result of some sort of evil biological experiment, I’m expecting tomorrow’s shopping to be something of a trial of endurance. I’ve decided that the sensible approach is one of taking my time and trying to enjoy the experience. Or at least shut myself off from the rest of the hectic masses… With that in mind, I have spent the last hour or so with a cup of tea and a warming shot of brandy, loading some shopping tunes onto my (non-specific, unbranded, generic) mp3 player. So this is what I’ll be listening to tomorrow, while I brave the masses in that pre-Christmas scrum:
- Ace of Spades: Motörhead
- Atomic: Blondie
- Basket Case: Green Day
- Bug Powder Dust (Featuring Justin Warfield): Bomb The Bass
- Call Me (Theme from “American Gigolo”): Blondie
- Come Out And Play: The Offspring
- Debaser: Pixies
- Disobedience: K.M.F.D.M.
- Do You Love Me?: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
- Don Quixote: Nik Kershaw
- Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)?: The Buzzcocks Fatherland (Eldritch And Orpheus Remix): Die Krupps
- Fear Loves This Place: Julian Cope
- Fighting Trousers: Professor Elemental
- Gay Bar: Electric Six
- God Is God: Laibach
- The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – The Ecstasy of Gold: Ennio Morricone
- Got the Time: Anthrax
- Had A Dad: Jane’s Addiction
- Here Comes Your Man: Pixies
- Hey Ya! (Radio Mix/Club Mix): OutKast
- I Believe In A Thing Called Love: The Darkness
- I Will Refuse (12″ Version): Pailhead
- Kill The Poor: Dead Kennedys
- Let’s go to Bed (milk mix): The Cure
- Little Fluffy Clouds (Ambient Mix 1): The Orb
- Look Away: Big Country
- My Boyfriend’s Back: Alice Donut
- No One Knows: Queens Of The Stone Age
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Propellerheads
- One Great Thing: Big Country
- Orange Crush: R.E.M.
- The Prophet: CJ Bolland
- The Riddle: Nik Kershaw
- Shine On The House Of Love
- Shoppers’ Paradise: Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine
- So What: Ministry
- Spybreak!: Propellerheads
- Strict Machine: Goldfrapp
- Superbeast: Rob Zombie
- Swamp Thing: The Grid
- Too Drunk To Fuck: Dead Kennedys
- Union Of The Snake: Duran Duran
- We Come 1: Faithless
- 19-2000: Gorillaz
Writing a blog for a newbie isn’t an easy thing to do. That great expanse of white screen which has to be filled with words. What do I write about? Why am I even writing at all? Will anyone else be interested in what I choose to write? These are just a few of the questions facing me as I cut yet another facet into my online existence.
The first reason I wanted to start a blog was to expand upon my twitter feeds (you can follow me at Mr_andy_fereday). I’m a relatively new member of that micro blogging site and while it’s useful for one or two lines of text, anything more than that doesn’t work. I have blogged for a while at Landscape Juice Network, but that started getting too industry-orientated and I’ve not been there for a few years now. I’m full of cold and limited to my bed at the moment, so a blog seemed like a good idea to keep me from interminable boredom.
I suppose on twitter I’ve been trying to focus on some of the interesting aspects of beginning a life in antique collecting and dealing. It’s a relatively new development for me, and I’m definitely still finding my feet in the market. So that’s going to form some of the content of my blog posts in the future. As for the rest of the content? Probably whimsical musings on aspects of modern life, rants about minor trifling hiccups and anything else which springs to mind. I will try to maintain a relatively high standard of writing, but this of course depends on the quantity of wine which has been consumed.
Please feel free to comment on anything you see here, and advice on blogging is always welcome.