Compilation Tapes: And their sociological importance

An old blog post here about something I’ve been keen on for most of my life.

What you may be about to read was written in 2012. Before I returned to vinyl, when our house still contained hundreds of CDs, and various digital things were still in their infancy. Anyway, I was reminded of it, here in November 2017, when I almost wrote it again. Here’s how it happened.

I’m sat in a café reading a Colm Toíbín novel, it’s a hard life, when a friend walks in. Let’s call him Paul, that being his name. Paul’s come in to do some writing about sociology, that being his job. But before he goes off to his own table to settle down with his laptop and latté we naturally, and I can’t remember how, engage in a conversational topic of top sociological importance. Namely ‘Compilation tapes and their role in getting to know girls when we were younger.’

I’m inspired and, this being how blog posts get started, start to compose one that’s more or less a transcript of our conversation on my way home. Until I remember I’ve already written more or less the same thing.

So here it is, fresh from 2012. With loads of Pandora and Spotify links taken out. Because one no longer exists, I’ve long stopped paying for the other, I don’t have a car or a CD player to my name any more and, besides, I’m now longing for the return of cassettes so I can make proper compilation tapes from my LPs again. Enjoy, if you can.

What are you listening to? iTunes, Spotify, Pandora maybe, in the United States? Or mainly CDs? We’ve got hundreds of CDs, and the only place we ever listen to any of them is in the car. Because we mostly listen to music that streams through our computers and iPods. And most of that music is on permanent ‘shuffle’ so we don’t know what’s coming next. It’s like we’re listening to massive compilation tapes. Compiled by me. Because I’ve been making compilation tapes for most of my life.

Our house, in 1995. Cassettes ready for playing in the car.

At first it was done using a hand held microphone plugged in to a cheap little cassette recorder. Later on the machinery got more sophisticated, but the cassettes really didn’t. Continue reading

The Stranger in Skelmersdale

One of my most treasured possessions and one of the very few things I’ve kept hold of in a life with few kept books and very little else in the way of belongings, is ‘The Stranger in Liverpool.’ My 1820 edition of a guide to Liverpool which takes the shape of escorting an unfamiliar visitor on a walk ‘around the parish bounds’ of the relatively small place we were then.

Yesterday I was ‘The Stranger in Skelmersdale.’ One day, 200 years after my precious book, of being taken on a walk round a nearby town that I hardly know at all.

I remember the moment I was introduced to Skelmersdale.

It’s a summer evening in 1965 and we’ve come out for a drive after our tea in the brand new family car, a dark blue Ford Cortina, ELV 397C. We’ve travelled out from North Liverpool into the Lancashire countryside. All winding lanes and old churches, where the most modern thing in the landscape is us in our car, until we arrive at what I remember as the crest of a hill where we are looking down into the huge bowl of a building site landscape:

“What’s that Dad?”
“It’s a new town they’re building down there. It’s going to be called Skelmersdale.”

After that my memories are few. Of riding through the brand new place most days on a Ribble bus, on my way to Wigan Tech, as the 1970s begin. A few years later some friends lose their home in Melling as the M58 is finally, and more than a bit late, built through there to Skelmersdale. Then in more recent years some contacts and one visit through my work with the School for Social Entrepreneurs. So, not much and definitely not enough to claim to know the place.

Which is how come I turn up here, late November in 2017, as The Stranger in Skelmersdale. Continue reading

Love and Happiness: A moment

It’s late on a Saturday afternoon, it’s yesterday, already dark and already shading into evening, now we are in late November, when I witness this moment of the purest love and happiness.

I am walking along Smithdown Road in Liverpool, not long before I’ll be turning left up my own street, when I see them all. Five figures in an undulating line across the pavement, walking towards me. Apart from the Mum figure nearest the road they look like they’re walking in age formation, the youngest holding her hand, then in steadily increasing ages towards the eldest, no more than ten years old I’d say, walking next to the wall, nearest to the shops.

From a distance they all seem to be talking at once. But as we pass, the Mum contracting the line of them slightly to let me through on the outside, the notes of their conversation separate into this moment of the purest love and happiness: Continue reading

A True Story: Having the time of your life?

On top of a hill in Yorkshire. Some time in the late 1990s.

Recently on here I’ve been writing about being self-employed and the kinds of work I do. About how much I like variety in the work I take on and the stress it caused me recently when I found myself doing too much of one thing.

So when I read this article by Owen Jones in The Guardian, suggesting that a four day working week could be good for our economy, our society and our health, I remembered.

I remembered that ever since I began leaving my day job in the mid-1990s and becoming self-employed one of my objectives in doing so has been to work less. Not that I don’t enjoy the work I do. I do, and one of the big things I’ve always gone on about is finding and doing the work you love. And I have, mostly. But a core part of living the life I’ve had over this last 22 years has been to have more time than I used to have for me.

To do what? Well, we’ll get on to that. Continue reading

Moving beyond ‘No’

Yes, I’ve been reading. But we’ll come back to that.

When I got talking to people in Granby in Liverpool, about seven years ago now, they asked me to help them get over a very specific problem:

“We all know what we don’t want. We don’t want our houses to be knocked down. So we’ve got very good, over many years, at opposing any and all plans to do this. The trouble is though, we can’t agree between us on exactly what it is we do want. So could you help?”

I said “Yes, maybe” and we began to work on something together, loads of us, that has largely worked. Not perfectly and it’s not finished. But we moved beyond that skilfully confident “no” to a curious and more friendly “yes,” and in so doing changed a piece of the Earth very much for the better.

What I hadn’t realised until this week was that in learning that lesson in Granby, that yes is stronger than no, we were beginning to learn something that may yet help to create a better future for the whole of the Earth, if we could be fairly quick about it. Continue reading

Clearing with Sarah: Less not more

Some of the most popular posts I’ve written on here lately are the three linked ones called “The Clearing.” I’ve cleared books, activities and, since I wrote the posts, even a car over the past couple of months. And feel much better for it, thanks.

Well, there are two of us live here and Sarah’s been doing some deep and enthusiastic clearing herself. So here’s her take on the whys, wherefores and hows of living with less and how you get there.

Fair warning, fire is involved.

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If you’re a regular blog reader then you’ll know that we’ve been busy here – busy ‘clearing’. Clearing is the term we use for ‘getting rid of stuff that we don’t use anymore’.

And that ‘stuff’ can be literally ‘things’ like books and possessions (as in The Clearing). It can also be people and activities, yes that’s a bit trickier (as in The Clearing 2). And it can be about time too, a sort of extension of people and activities (as in The Clearing 3). But the end result of all of this clearing is less ‘stuff’, less clutter, and more space and time for you.

For me that’s involved clearing knitting projects, giving me more time to concentrate on the ones that matter – fingerless gloves. It’s also meant that I’ve had time to (finally) re-cover some chairs in a fabric bought much earlier this year.

And I’ve cleared out my recipe folder – amazing the amount of recipes I’ve printed or kept from a magazine and will never make, or have tried and didn’t like. So this clearing has given me the space to concentrate on a couple of recipes that I have improved – like cheesecake and (finally) apple tart.

And just because we are ‘good’ at clearing it doesn’t mean that we don’t own ‘stuff’. I do have stuff – although when it comes to clothes I will almost certainly never match the effortless minimalism displayed by Ronnie in his wardrobe – but anyway this is not a competition. But the point of clearing for me is that the ‘stuff’ that I have is stuff that I want in my life. Continue reading

Like you would do for one you love: For Liverpool and Leeds

I’ve been thinking about Liverpool, which probably won’t surprise anyone who knows me. Also thinking of Leeds and Leonard Cohen, which might. The thinking brought on by an early morning Saturday tweet which mentioned how much a friend and I openly love our places, my friend Phil being from Leeds.

This was sent as part of a discussion several Leeds friends turned out to be having about whether and how it’s ok to be critical of where you live and are mostly working. I instinctively replied:

“I always write honestly about Liverpool & as everyone knows, I love it. So any criticism is careful & gentle, as with one you love.”

As soon as I’d sent that it reminded me of Leonard Cohen’s song “Take This Longing” Continue reading