Combating mediocrity in the modern world…

Posts tagged “blog

25 Things

This was originally one of those Facebook memes which did the rounds. You’re supposed to write 25 things about yourself, tag 25 people (so that they can write 25 things about themselves) and then post it. And the interminable chain of diarrhoea goes on and on.

This is my post:

Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app), then click publish.

1. I haven’t filled one of these litte thingies out since the first flush of excitement at having the internet and email in my own home (it was dial-up back in those days).
2.So I have no idea why I’m filling this one out now.
3.And I’ll probably struggle to think of 25 things which are interesting enough, or at least not too embarrassing, to put up here.
4.So again, I have no idea why filling this one out, only I have a different reason now.
5. I have thought of something not too embarrassing, although it may not be very interesting.
6. While I was the goalkeeper for the school U16 hockey team, we lost a match 11-2.
7. That was the last match of hockey I ever played for the school.
8. I’m not particularly fond of hockey anymore.
9. I’m running out of things to put down here.
10. So far, out of ten items on this list, I have probably only given you one actual fact from my life. That’s quite an achievement isn’t it?
11. I am not very good at typing and thinking at the same time. That will probably explain the spelling mistakes in any of my emails or messages.
12. I have an irrational fear of foreigners – this makes me literally xenophobic.
13. I am an accomplished liar (see 12, above).
14. I really am struggling to find anything else to write, and I don’t think I know 25 people who will want to read this nonsense. Oooh, does that count as 2?
15. That doesn’t count as 2, no.
16.I am a lazy creature by nature, so any housework which I do should be recognised as an enormous triumph.
17. I’m going to have to stop making up silly stuff to fill out the rest of this list.
18.It is one of my goals to stop making up silly stuff to fill out the rest of this list.
19. I’m really not sure that number 18 on this list is a realistic goal.
20. I was born in Dudley, which is a good thing as it was close to where my mum was at the time.
21. I have nearly finished this list, and most of you will know no more about me than when you began reading.
22.I have been randomly leaving a space between the numbers on this list and the beginning of the sentence. And none of you noticed did you?
23.I have no words of wisdom for anyone. Ever. So don’t ask.
24. I dislike musicals.
25. I especially dislike musicals about Nuns.

A brief confession

I have something to confess. I am a smoker. I am a smoker who loves smoking. I’ve been smoking since I was about 17 (although not “properly” smoking and inhaling until a couple of years later…). That means that I’ve smoked for the whole of my adult life – more than 20 years.

I. Just. Love. Smoking. If I were a poet, I would write an ode to tobacco. If I were a painter, I would paint someone smoking a cigarette, trying to capture that romantic love of tobacco which occasionally makes itself overtly obvious, and which lurks behind the big knot of personal neuroses the rest of the time. It is part of my very being. My identity relies upon it. My day is imbued with it.

My life wouldn’t be the same without it. I love all of the different forms of smoking: cigarettes, cigars and even the pipe. I love all of the different rituals around smoking: when to smoke, how to smoke, what brand of cigarettes someone smokes. I am fascinated by all of the paraphernalia which accompanies smoking: elegant lighters, sophisticated cigarette cases lovingly crafted from precious metals, rolling tobacco, pipe tampers and cleaning instruments. These are all part of the activity of smoking.

I'm fascinated by all the paraphernalia of smoking

I'm fascinated by all the paraphernalia of smoking

I have tried giving up smoking a few times in the past and always ended up miserable without my cigarettes. I felt lost without them. My brain became foggy. I was unable to concentrate. I seemed to become more stupid without them. I felt like a part of my soul had been removed and I was grieving for my loss. It’s as if cigarettes somehow complete me.

And I’m not ashamed of my love for cigarettes either. I feel no sense of guilt in indulging my senses with a packet of cigarettes. Smoking is one of the new social taboos, frowned upon by righteous health evangelists. I resent other people trying to dictate to me what choices I can or cannot make, and I resent the frowns and snide remarks from disapproving micro-dictators who want to control every aspect of my life. I have made the choice (yes, it’s an informed one and I’m aware of the risks) to smoke. The key point here is that it’s a choice. I don’t enforce my smoking (either active or passive) on others, so what’s the issue?

I know that smoking carries a wide range of health risks, but as my dear old Ma says: “You pick your window, don’t you?”. The Government seems to be trying to reduce the number of adults and young children who smoke, but the fact is that the UK economy would crumble if it weren’t for us smokers. An item in The Spectator last year cited the tax revenue from tobacco to be around £9.3bn, while the cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses was around £2.7bn. That’s a net income of £6.6bn into the government’s coffers. Do the politicians really want to go for an outright ban on smoking? I sincerely doubt it.

This points to the suggestion that smoking can be a consciously political act. It is at the same time rebellious (against the anti-smoking campaigners) and conformative (as far as the proceeds of tobacco duty are knowingly paid to HMRC or whichever body is legislated to collect tax on behalf of different Governments). I’m not quite sure whether I’m a rebellious smoker or a conformative smoker. For the moment I’ll just call myself a romantic smoker.

Can I still call myself a Goth?

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.


Secrets of Budget Style

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.

Useful Antiques Books

Well, I’m still getting used to blogging on WordPress, but while I get a few ideas together, I thought it would be helpful (and easy from my point of view) to throw a few links together with some antiques books which I’ve found useful. It’s filler in terms of blogroll, but hopefully you’ll find these links and descriptions useful. The links lead through to pages, but I believe these are all published internationally and should be available elsewhere…

Millers Antiques Encyclopedia is a very useful reference and introduction to basic antiques knowledge. It covers all of the essential categories (furniture, glass & pottery, silver, and so on), describing periods and their related styles. A very helpful start.

Jackson’s Hallmarks (Pocket Edition) is essential for anyone wanting to date and identify pieces of silver from the UK and Republic of Ireland. It is very clear and easy to use. It may not have exhaustive lists of silversmiths but it is the most useful for identifying dates of assay. It lists cycles of date hallmarks clearly, running from the very first hallmarks right through to the 1990s (when the date letter’s inclusion became elective rather than mandatory). You can find a couple of useful links for finding silversmiths on my links / resources page.

Jackson’s Silver and Gold Marks is a much larger volume, and I find it a little more difficult to use than the pocket edition. It’s laid out in a very different way which seems a lot less instinctive to my modern tech-age brain. Its use requires a lot more cross-referencing between the index and content than the pocket edition, and it doesn’t give more modern silversmiths (only listing into the very early 20th century). Having said that, it is useful for “proper” antique pieces of silver and is quite a heavy tome. While I certainly use the pocket edition more often, I do occasionally find myself turning to the masterwork, hence its inclusion here.

Miller’s Antiques Handbook and Price Guide is published every year. I’ve not usually bothered to buy these every year, but I have bought the current (2012-13) issue and am delighted with it. It has changed its format from the older copies which I have, becoming more of a handbook rather than just a price guide. It features reviews of how particular markets are performing, pieces to look out for and “case studies” of particularly fine examples in each of the categories. In comparison to the older format, they’re obviously making a concerted effort to offer more useful descriptions, rather than splattering scrappy photos onto a page with a handful of words and a price. I will certainly be buying a copy of this every year, based on its current format.