Saturday, 22 September 2012

Forever forty something . . .

With a whoop of joy and a nice cup of tea, I celebrated the news this week that middle age is now offically classed as 55 years old. By whom, I've no idea. The BBC? The Coalition? Dot Cotton? Anyway, I'm now firmly below that target and look forward to a continuation of Cliff Richard-like eternal youth.

Of course, it's a load of old nonsense. Under a particularly harsh light (thank you gents toilets, at work . . .) I observed the knackered-looking face, bloodshot eyes and slap-head hairstyle. But enough of the bloke standing next to me. No, in reality that middle-aged mug in the mirror was mine. Phsically, there is no getting away from it. OK, so I drag my weary carcass down to the gym a few times each week but it's only putting off the inevitable. I may as well cut to the chase, shove a Fray Bentos pie in my gob and don a pair of tousers with an elasticated waist.

Musically, I'm all over the place. No change there then. Earlier this week I happened across a playlist for a hospital radio programme I presented twenty five years ago. It featured Nana Mouskouri, LL Cool J and Cilla Black amongst others. I should have been dragged out of the studio and thrashed with a copy of Smash Hits. I was a young fogey. Today, I'm peering at an i-Tunes playlist that includes The Strawbs, Julia Boutros (she's from Palestine) and the Slim Willis Band (thank you Uncle Alan in Manchester). It's an eclectic mix but I love it. There's a relief about being over forty in that you really don't have to bother with mainstream pop anymore. Not for me (or indeed for anyone who likes music) Beiber, Flo-Rida or Taylor Swift. I won't be purchasing anything by Little Mix or Cheryl No Surname Anymore. I can bask in a bit of David Guetta, indulge in Sergio Mendes and enjoy a bit of Noel Gallagher. I do reserve the right not to like Coldplay though.

It's all a bit more Radio 2 than 6 Music these days and that's how it should be. Who needs another forty-something saddo desperately "chillin'" with the kids? I recommend sticking to reminiscing about Echo and the Bunnymen albums, New Order twelve inch singles and Nena's hairy armpits on Top of the Pops. And let's do it with a lack of grace and a mug of Tetleys.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Summer is over . . .

With a misty-eyed expression, it's time for us to take down the bunting and stow away those Team GB t-shirts. No more treks through the Olympic Park, no more hastily grabbed meals of pie and mash, no more standing to attention for a screeching national anthem from a country you can't quite place. It's over. It's done. Move on.

That was a bit brutal wasn't it? On the wings of a joyous few weeks, we can now bask in the start of, hopefully, a mellow autumn. Message to M&S - it is 27 degrees outside and I DO NOT need to be presented with a shelving rack packed with Christmas puddings and mince pies! Take note local pubs and restaurants - I DO NOT want to "book early for Xmas", whatever 'Xmas' is.

To ease myself into the joys of pre-winter, I'm already hooked into BBC2's Great British Bake Off. Addictive in its simplicity, the show has me dribbling at the sight of various pies, tarts and tortes served up by an army of rather impressive contestants. Top of the cake stand at the moment is James from the Shetland Isles. Scientific precision is working wonders and this unassuming young man's chances of victory are rising like a loaf. Another to watch out for is mum-of-two Cathryn who seems to approach each recipe with an "it's all going to go wrong" face, only to create something special. The skill and dedication of the baking bunch is to be applauded and once again, I feel shame as I drag a ready-made sponge from the shelf in Waitrose.

How about a good read? I have an overflowing bookcase of things that I need to settle down to but last week I ploughed through Rachel Lichtenstein's On Brick Lane. Having lived in and around the Whitechapel area for several years, I was amazed at how much I had failed to pick up on. For me Brick Lane was often just a handy route from Whitechapel down to Bethnal Green. I knew all the obvious stuff - Truman brewery, bagel bakery, Krays blah blah blah. What I had not taken into account was the manner in which Jewish Whitechapel had seemingly disappeared over a few years to be replaced by the equally vibrant Bengali community. Lichtenstein explores the area in search of signs of the former but also celebrates the diverse and re-invented Brick Lane of today. Is it a sentimental read? Most definitely but that should not detract from the absorbing social history commentary that Lichtenstein gives. There's also a nice little walking tour in the back of the book so I'll be dragging myself off to Aldgate East station in the near future.

The Sky Box is currently full of things waiting to be watched, some good and some dubious. I've watched one episode of Charlie Brooker's Touch of Cloth which is a bit ho-hum in parts but laugh out loud in others. However, it is box set season for me and I decided on a re-watching of The West Wing. I'd forgotten how sharp Aaron Sorkin's tale of life in the White House was and it's been a pleasure to re-acquainte myself with CJ, Josh and Martin Sheen's terrific Prsident Bartlett. I suppose in some episodes, the swelling orchestral music and meaningful looks can be a little bit schmaltzy but overall, the series is a class act. Interesting that since its self-imposed demise in 2006, Sorkin has been unable to re-create the magic in his later ventures.

There you go then. No need to feel down. The gates to the Olympic Park may soon be locked but there are always reasons to be cheerful.