Roo and I went to the cinema to watch “Lion” in early 2017. We booked our seats near an aisle to make it easy for Roo to get to her seat. Just before the film started and after the lights had dimmed, two women arrived and took the seats next to us. Once the film started, for the first ten minutes the woman two seats from me talked non-stop to the woman sitting next to me. It wasn’t very loud but it was a constant distraction. I sat there thinking that I was going to say something but nervous about a confrontation. I kept thinking about it and in the end I did ask if she would mind not talking please. I was very polite. It worked. There was no more talking. I hated doing it but I do think it’s rude to talk during a film.
So far so good with this story but there’s more. When the film ended, Roo and I let the women leave before us so that Roo could take her time getting down the stairs. The woman who had been talking gave me what can only be described as a filthy look as she went past. As they went down the stairs, the woman who had been sitting next to me took the hand of what was obviously her mother. As we watched them walk out it was clear that the woman who had been sitting next to me had learning difficulties. What I haven’t said yet is that the first half hour of the film was spoken in Hindi and there were subtitles on the screen. I guessed that the daughter possibly had problems reading and her mother was reading to her what to say. I felt terrible. To be fair to myself, there were empty seats next to these people and they could have moved further away from us but I still felt like a bully. On the other hand there is a rule (a principle?) that when you go to a cinema you should shut up.
In 1996 I got three tickets to go to Lord’s to watch a day’s play of the Test match between England and Pakistan. We had good seats in The Tavern Stand – my Dad to my right and my wife to my left. I don’t remember it being a particularly thrilling day’s play but it was the only time that the three of us went to a Test match together. It was memorable for two reasons. With five minutes to go, the two seats to the right of my Dad were still unoccupied. Just before play started a bloke politely walked past us carrying a huge hamper. He placed his hamper on the first seat and sat in the second seat. Tickets were about £50 each then and he had bought one for him and one for his hamper which was full of scotch eggs, pork pies and beer. Brilliant. The second reason I remember this day’s play is more relevant. Behind us were eight blokes, all in their late 20s or early 30s. They all knew each other. One of the pleasures in watching cricket is to spend the time in your friends’ company. To go to a match and expect everybody else to sit in silence is absurd. Obviously I would prefer it if people around me didn’t talk complete nonsense but people are allowed to have whatever conversation they want. It would be puerile of me to object. Unless, that is, I’m sitting between my Dad and my wife and the eight blokes behind me are having a loud conversation, which lasts about an hour, all to do with an operation one of them has had which involved having a rod inserted into his penis. In the end, I resorted to full sarcastic teacher mode. I could have politely asked them to bear in mind the sensibilities of the people around them but instead I turned round and said “Any chance of turning it down a little bit mate? The people on the other side of the ground can’t quite hear you.” At which point they apologised, shut up for 10 minutes and then started making pointed comments about how they couldn’t even have a conversation at a cricket match any more. We left two hours early.
It was my good ex-friend Percy who asked if I would like to go and see David Bowie at The Bingley Hall, Stafford in 1978. Although Stafford was 160 miles from Harlow, I was very excited to go, never having seen him perform live before (or since). “Low” and “‘Heroes'” had been released in 1977 and I loved them both. I especially liked side 2 of both of these records as they were largely instrumental; doom filled magnificent electronica. I was especially looking forward to hearing some of these songs played live. I can’t remember what song it was that he played slap bang in the middle of the set but it may have been “Sense Of Doubt”, from “‘Heroes'”. He started playing it and the people standing behind me (it was a standing gig) decided that this would be a good time to strike up a conversation. I walked away and tried to find a space where I could bask in the beauty of the music. I tried about 5 or 6 different spots but people throughout the cavernous space that is The Bingley Hall were paying no attention to the music and talking to each other. Loudly. Waiting for “Fame” or “Ziggy Stardust” which I do like but I also like the quiet songs. This time I didn’t ask anyone behind me to shut up.
There have been times when it seems that the only way I want to interact with other people is to tell them to shut up. The people next to me in a cinema. The people behind me at a cricket match or a gig. Children in my Maths classes. This is not healthy. I need to change my expectations. Mismatched expectations are the root of all conflict and I have tried very hard over the past few years to lower my expectations in order to minimise disappointment.
“Stage” is an excellent double album. It was recorded live in Boston, Philadelphia and Providence (Rhode Island) a month before I went to The Bingley Hall. It reached Number 5 in the UK Charts. It’s pretty high octane – when I put the record on, I had to take a Billy Bragg EP off the turntable. The speed was set at 45 rpm so I changed it to 33 rpm for “Stage”. When the first song, “Hang On To Yourself” came on, I thought I had failed to change the speed because the pace is so furious.
It’s a double album so there are 4 sides and they are carefully organised although they don’t appear in the order of a typical set from the time. Side 1 has songs from “Ziggy Stardust” (“Hang On To Yourself”, “Ziggy Stardust”, “Five Years”, “Soul Love” and “Star”). Side 2 has the challenging twins of “Station To Station” and “TVC15” surrounding a more crowd pleasing “Fame”. Side 3 features instrumental songs from “Low” and “‘Heroes'” (“Warszawa”, “Speed Of Life”, “Art Decade”, “Sense Of Doubt”) and “Breaking Glass”. Side 4 has three more songs from “‘Heroes'” (“‘Heroes'”, “What In the World” and “Beauty And the Beast”) and “Blackout” from “Low”.
It is an excellent record. Side 4 in particular is very exciting and the versions of the songs (none of which is more than 6 years old) are not complete re workings (a la Bob Dylan) nor are they “faithful renditions” of the studio albums. Every song is a masterpiece. I’m really enjoying listening to it now. If only those people outside the house would stop talking!