Invisible Britain – Sleaford Mods – review

“And that’s my main fear: that everything has happened; nothing exciting or new is ever going to happen again…the future is just going to be a vast conforming suburb of the soul” – JG Ballard’s arguably prophetic statement emblazoned the screen as the first shot of Nathan Hannawin and Paul Sng’s documentary about the Sleaford Mods – Invisible Britain.

 The two followed Sleaford Mods last year as they shunned big city venues in favour of visiting forgotten towns “like Colchester”. They compiled a record of the devoted fans backstage at town halls and arts centres. These were suburbs; and they were also the closed down mining towns, seaside towns bereft of a tourism industry and factory towns full of the disaffected disenfranchised youth. These were venues in Scunthorpe and Stoke, not even Stoke actually, a suburb of Stoke. Their inhabitants were spawned in the post Thatcherite years of falling employment and had been left behind in a mass exodus to the city and they were some of the most passionate people in the country.

  I lived for a few years in a town in the north whose only mention on Vice magazine’s gig reviews read: “the crowd in Lancaster smelled like corned beef” – so yes, big gigs were few and far between and I don’t think the meat comparison is fair or related at all. So I can vouch for the sentiment repeated by the directors in the Q&A session after the preview screening of Invisible Britain – no one feels it and shows it like small town lads. In big cities you’re spoiled for choice but in small towns that weekend you’ve been looking forward to for months is total bliss and revelation. What Invisible Britain shows is that Britain’s suburbs and small towns aren’t necessarily the place where invention and modernity comes to die as Ballard may have inadvertently hit upon, but are instead venues for regeneration. Hard hit towns are the epicentre of rage and it is rage that ‘melts the solid’ to paraphrase The Communist Manifesto and goes some way towards ridding the world of stagnant ideals . How fitting then that our musical saviours from the mundane, The Sleaford Mods, are two men in their forties called Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearne from Nottingham.  

 Much has already been made of the unusual set up of the band, one man shouting at the crowd with a stage presence somewhere between Freddie Mercury and Ian Curtis, and one man basically just drinking and pressing a button at the end of each song. They don’t come wrapped up in a rock star box as one commentator put it, they’re about as far away from Alex Turner and Miles Kane in their red leather trousers as you could imagine.

 The Sleaford Mods for me are a prime example of today’s liquid modernity, the fans aren’t members of rigid clans like the mods and rockers of the past, those featured in the interview sections of the film varied in age, class, gender and race. Dr Lisa Mckenzie of the London School of Economics featured in a segment talking about class division, she was recently reported in the press for taking part in the, supposedly violent in places, anti gentrification protest at the Cereal Killer Cafe. Whereas some saw those marches as a rally against the bearded hipster, Williamson says he couldn’t give a fuck how you choose to dress or whether or not you grow a beard because that’s all up to you. This is a fan base that perhaps shows that in the internet age space and time are irrelevant, who you are and what you know isn’t related to your geographical location or your age, but maybe slightly to how big your 3G plan is.

The failings of the major political parties in Britain were investigated and interspersed with clips of the Sleaford Mods verbalising that very dissatisfaction on stage. These were severe problems with the way benefits have been cut to the most vulnerable and the courts have knowingly imprisoned innocent young people deemed to be “guilty by association” of crimes they didn’t commit. It highlighted what many feel is a widening in the gap between the rich and poor, the total disregard for those in the lower echelons of society. The Sleaford Mods say they aren’t political but their fans see them as protest singers, modern day folk musicians heralding change, or at least writing out the slogans for the disaffected: “Jobseeker!/Can of Strongbow, I’m a mess/Desperately clutching onto a leaflet on depression/Supplied to me by the NHS”. Even if that means nothing to you or if that doesn’t change anything for those that it does, I still believe it’s important that it’s being said.

 I laud and celebrate the film as a celebration of the small town, when I asked the directors at the end what the main difference was  between fans in the city and fans elsewhere, one said they were really pleased to be reminded of the existence of “decent people” and followed that by revealing unsurprisingly that he was a Londoner born and bred. I wanted to ask whether or not the directors themselves would consider moving to Scunthorpe or the outskirts of Stoke having made the film? What I wanted to say was that we need to change the attitudes of the suburbs and the small towns, retain the thinkers and creatives to a place they might just be able to make a positive impact upon, that it’s all very well and good making a documentary to this effect but would you actually live amongst the decent people yourself? But my small town shyness got the better of me. 

Invisible Britain – Sleaford Mods – review

I’m out for a good time, all the rest is propaganda

My hun Janet Street Porter speaking on Question Time on the 26th March spoke about her support for positive discrimination in the workplace that’s to say employing a person because they suit your needs, and one of those needs might be that you need to employ a woman for example, I totally agree and that’s not at all because I am a woman – last time I checked eh *LOL*.

The argument in opposition from the audience was almost as predictable as bringing up Mo Farrah in debates surrounding immigration – “whatever happened to getting the job based on merit?”. What I don’t think I’ve seen yet in this argument and what I’m gonna argue now is: why don’t you look at the process of employment itself. There’s never any way you can guarantee you’re employing the best person for the job until they begin to work there, and even then you can be in a position for decades and out yourself as a twat when you punch someone for not making your tea on time.

The proof is in the pudding as the old adage goes – like you can’t assume someone’s going to be a good boyfriend just because they tick all your boxes and wear nice shoes, you can’t say that anything’s been an all round success, you can only ever assertively say the opposite when you’ve got evidence to prove so.

Speaking as a well accomplished charmer both as girlfriend and employee I know the job interview process fairly well, my success in gaining positions (and boyfriends) I am not really suited to is comparable to Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me if You Can – if he wanted to get a job at HSBC.

Yes in theory you can look at anyone’s glittering CV and well planned outfit; a firm handshake, frequent borderline flirtatious eye contact – and decide you have definitely chosen the right person for the job – but it’s always going to be a bit of a gamble. The thing is though we’re all probably capable of a job if we put our minds to it, no one is pre destined to be a member or parliament, putting more women in shouldn’t be viewed as taking away the birth rite of a man.

So my point is that if there’s only a Duke of Edinburgh award between two candidates and one candidate happens to be a woman, of an ethnic minority or disabled – take a look at your organisation and consider the benefits of having that diversity on your team, things that can’t be put across in a CV. I do believe that having women in the workplace in particular enforces a whole new positive vibe in a lot of cases, packs of men in cahoots have been responsible for a lot of wrong doing let’s be honest, why not shake it up a bit?

I was pushed to write this post because I know I’ve been deemed the right woman for the job when I really wasn’t, that’s a personal thing about needing a bit more life experience before I join the rat race.

On paper I am degree educated and should probably be taking up a place at some scheme in a big city. But I’ve learnt that I’m just not ready for that kind of forced responsibility and at the time I didn’t want to fully commit to a job in a field I didn’t really understand even if it meant I was making money and looking succesful to my friends on the internet.

This all sort of links in to another point Janet made about school leavers in Britain maybe not actually being ready for employment even in lower paid jobs and perhaps that’s why a lot of the jobs are being taken up by migrant workers, not as some people would assume because they are happy to work for less. Janet suggested this might stem from a failing in our education system which isn’t a great thought that a generation of adults leave school without the skills to take a drinks order.

Having worked in hospitality, the trade she cited in particular, for years now – I can say I’ve witnessed this first hand – but I don’t think it’s for exactly the same reasons. My Polish friends have always been super human in their work ethic, never expecting a hand out or a day off, always going the extra mile to make things run smoothly. A lot of the school leavers I’ve worked with are permanently miffed and lose pride in their work and respect for their employers. It’s not to say that’s true of everyone in the country but I wonder why I’ve often had this experience.

I think that the problem is not that we aren’t prepared for even ‘menial’ jobs I think it’s because we’re overly hyped up for a life of grand success.

Having an interest in 1950’s literature I wrote my dissertation on the representation of working class people in plays like Look Back in Anger and novels such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.  In the latter the protaganist Arthur Seaton isn’t exactly proud of his job as factory worker, but pride doesn’t really appear a lot in his vocabulary, he just knows he better work hard at it and earn his wage so he can spend it all on a Saturday night “I’m out for a good time, all the rest is propaganda”.

It’s my view that people worked as factory workers and shop keepers and secretaries in the mid century and there was no real shame about it, they provided for their families and enjoyed life’s small pleasures –  then if you were good enough at your job you’d move up or transfer your skills elsewhere.

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Now it seems if you’re not a professional by the time you’re in your mid twenties you’re a disappointment – and to confound it your families have paid thousands of pounds for you to go to university to end up disappointing them. Don’t get me wrong I would love to be working for the BBC right now in a perfect world but I’m going to get there in my own time, I’m going to live a little – then I’m going to write a TV show about it.

Anyway at one point in the Question Time debate an intelligent seeming woman in the audience spoke out about her zero hour contract and was clearly embarrassed and ashamed to admit that job was working in a cinema.

On zero hour contracts I have to say it is very inconvenient for me – to the point where I can’t plan holidays or make expensive purchases, but I’m like Arthur Seaton, it’s all about Saturday night anyway.

Previously the panel had discussed a happiness survey proving that most people are happy with their lot – well yes I am happy but it’s not a lot to do with my job or my wage – the people the state needs to be bearing in mind are the provably vulnerable, zero hour contracts need to be canned not because I can’t go on holiday, but because you can’t let a young mother be put in a position where she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to pay her rent next month.

So these young British people who shun menial jobs seem to be doing it because they have no respect for the virtues of hard work, actual work, they all want to work in marketing for Betfair like their mates. You can blame the benefit system for this but I think it has more to do with consumerism. Maybe all we need to do is show young people they don’t necessarily need a high status job right away, maybe we just need to show everyone a good time on a Saturday night.

I’m out for a good time, all the rest is propaganda

Rhapsody in Blue

Yesterday the sun was out so we sat outside the pub with a cider pretending to be warm. I noticed something I realised is one of my favourite things. There was a Dad riding a bicycle and his two kids were way out in front, he threw pointless shouts out ahead for them to slow the bloody hell down and I could hear the struggle in his voice – when you’re both going down the same steep hill on a bike there’s no catching up to someone, it’s gravity’s problem now, you’re pissing in the wind.

I remembered that feeling of caring about someone so much you make a spectacle out of yourself, like when we used to have to call out for my little sister called Maddie when she went missing in the supermarket. It was around about the time Madeleine McCann had gone missing and everyone gave us dodgy looks. So this post is sort of about protecting people, praising people and ruining people.

When I was born a little dry skinned thing with wild hair and lines under my eyes, I bet my mum wished she could wrap me up in pink feathers forever, safe from the confusion and din of the orchestra outside.

Growing up was like discovering Rhapsody in Blue, a steady induction into the noise of real life and it’s exciting. I was 9 when my teacher made us listen to George Gershwin. I wanted to thank him and impress him in some way and so I stole one of my mum’s dusty compilation jazz CDs and took it in the next day as a gift, that was in hindsight a bit inappropriate.

One day the same teacher told me I wasn’t allowed to get any more housepoints in class because the other children were getting jealous – I was a boffin of the highest order. I can’t work out whether it was even more inappropriate that the next time he conceded and did award me a housepoint – despite many many correct answers in the interim – was for looking ‘nice’ on dress down day. Maybe this was alright because it was an excuse to congratulate me  that didn’t – at least – make the other children feel stupid, being a teacher must be hard work.

It’s funny that now I’m a woman I can see a generation of us who got used to getting housepoints for looking nice.

The internet gives us our housepoints now, appeal to the right audience and you could be raking them in. Pile your mahogany set of drawers with velvet vintage hats, artistically place your pot plants in a shaft of light – or just get your arse out, I’m not against that either.

It’s just sometimes it feels like that fleeting aesthetic appreciation is society’s way of saying “Here have a biscuit, you done good”, you can’t survive off of biscuits, I wish you could. Even if you stop getting any real appreciation from the thoughts in your head as opposed to your haircuts and skirts, don’t go out just to seek those cursory mufti day housepoints – I reckon.

I’m glad to be a part of the cacophony of the real world, out of  the wooly cotton brains of infancy, I won’t waste my time here by merely dressing up in pink feathers.

I recently lost some weight and for the first time I’m actually worried people might only be interested in me for my figure – when in the past it was without a doubt my dazzling personality – here’s a sort of poem I wrote about objectification:

Don’t Put Too Much Pressure on My Hip Bones

Don’t you know these hip bones were designed by the gods?

One day a small me with dry skin and wild hair will sit astride them on the perch they make.

They’re grade 1 listed, they could house a human being who’ll one day be very old,

Maybe even important, my hip bones might get a blue plaque erected on their frontage.

Treat me like the Pantheon I am –  please don’t boil me down to a ‘bikini bridge’.

The skin you see will shift like sands, I will bloat and shrink and scar.

But I’m not easy to break – I’m not a marble statue.

I’m the most complicated airfix model you ever made,

I’m that Thunderbird 2.

tb2d1

Rhapsody in Blue

Misogynist of the week

Shout out to the winner of this week’s misogynist of the week for his performance in the tried and tested classic “Can I buy you that drink? What’s wrong with you it’s free alcohol?”.

Your delivery really was on point, there’s nothing that says “I’m genuinely interested in getting to know you and have no other designs on your person” like an aggressive response to a polite rebuttal.

I mean what is wrong with me? Well the biggest thing you got wrong there is assuming that I somehow can’t afford my own alcohol – I have portioned out in my brain how many bottles of wine I can realistically afford to buy per week on my wages – I’m well aware of my capability to buy alcohol.

A tip though – perhaps going to a beer festival isn’t the ideal place to pick up honeys? To be honest I was only forcing down that 4th half pint to try and get in the spirit of things, it was playing havoc with my yeast intolerance.

Really glad you wore that jersey blazer to pick up your award though, they make men, especially short men, look like characters knitted by nans – making your aggression slightly less effective. Not sure what it was about a blazer made out of regular, stiffer, material that you found was one step too smart, but I’ll hand it to you, smart casual is a hard look to nail – keep trying.

My favourite bit was when I said “no thanks I’ve got loads of tokens left” and you said “I BET you do…”. I really love it when people have no sense of humour and they blindly run head on into a non-joke. Euphamisms aren’t ever funny even when they make sense fyi. Unless he was making some comment about racial tokenism? No he was probably just implying my ‘tokens’ were my …tits…or something.

But, I spose the joke’s on me. I saw your hard work had paid off when I spotted you later on, majestically head nodding to a Nirvana song you’ve never known the words to in the middle of a crowd of other drunk douchebags, but ultimately, alone.

Misogynist of the week

What do I have?

What do I have? I have a part time job, I have a flat above a shop, I have a cafetiere and a radio.

I have funny stories to tell in pubs and songs I’ll hear that will mean nothing to anyone else but me.

I have someone whose very handwriting makes me swoon, I have a bottle of beer I have half a lump of cheese, I don’t have any bread I have a yeast intolerance.

I probably have some baccy at the bottom of a bag somewhere, I have a best friend – she’ll probably buy some for me in the morning.

I have at least two jumpers that impress the right people, I have four pairs of shoes and I like telling people one of them came from a market in Berlin.

I don’t have a business card – I don’t have a car, I don’t need a business card and I don’t need a car. I’m a part time waitress and my work’s down the road.

I know my favourite wines – white and red – I know what eye make up looks best on me. What more can you expect I’m only, nearly, 23.

What do I have?

Getting all my stuff stolen

I keep having my faith in humanity restored and then thwarted on this trip, when a girl is crying into the red wine she can’t really afford why would you be so meticulous with the measurements, I’d give myself the bottle for free just to shut me up.

My passport, money and cards were stolen in Prague and I became a regular at the British Embassy. There was one point, when I thought I’d actually lost the temporary passport, that I imagined returning to ask for ‘my usual’.

In a lot of ways some stereotypes have been hardened – eastern Europeans have stared at me as I bawled in the reception, Spaniards have screamed at high speed and low understanding of the actual situation and brits have generally made fun of me.

What I’ve realised is that it doesn’t really matter who did what for me. Lots of girls have looked at me, as I puff on my rollie like the badass I’m pretending to be; take a breath and recount my tales of woe and how I overcame them, in absolute awe – I can tell. Yes they would have got their mum to pay for the first flight home and that’s fine, but what can I say, I’ve seen things in my time – nae bother.

Yes seeing that bar lady tip out a couple of ml of precious wine so that I didn’t get too much for my 3 euros was annoying, but if I’ve learnt anything from The Streets it’s that no-one can help you but yourself:

No-ones really there fighting for you in the last garison.
No-one except yourself that is, no-one except you.
You are the one who’s got your back ’til the last deeds done.
Scott can’t have my back til the absolute end,
Coz hes got to look out for what over his horizon.

My opinion on the matter is that if I can afford to give something to someone then I will, maybe that’s why my pre paid card ran out of funds sooner than expected. 

Some practical advice for anyone who might have found this blog through relevant search terms unlike these few below: 

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What to actually do if you get robbed and you’re alone and sad and hungry:

  • I’d say sober up but as soon as I sobered up things got a lot more depressing, make your own decision on this one.
  • Usually people would say cancel your cards – I would say don’t do that. If you have Verified by Visa and your pin is safe it’s probably ok for a few hours *not 100% accurate probably but I was fine*. This means that if you have your long card number, expiry date and security code stored somewhere you can still use it to book essential things like trains or hostels. I found that my details were saved in my Google Chrome autofill setting so it was even easier. As soon as I booked my hostel for the night I cancelled the card obvs. 
  • Go to the British Embassy, you’ll need a way of paying for the new passport which was another reason having my card details was useful for a few hours. They’ll sort you out from here but it might take some time, bring a snack and a magazine lol.
  • Go to the Western Union, there should be loads, ask about a prepaid interchange card (if you don’t have time for your replacement card to be sent out to you) This costs 9 euros and you can put cash on it and eventually do bank transfers over to the card if they’ll just ACCEPT YOUR GODDAMN DRIVING LICENSE this is why I was crying into the wine, but generally if you have a way of sending them a copy of proof of address and ID they can do this no problem. 
  • Or you could just online bank some money over to a friend and get them to withdraw it but people who are covered in mascara and haven’t eaten in a couple of days don’t make friends so easily. 

I sent this information to the British Embassy too because I obviously need some good karma with my luck lately and hopefully this helps.

Travel wise for anyone visiting Prague I recommend definitely not going to Roxy club but I would recommend the free tour where you get to see a gnarly dead hand in a church (possible rag).

Budapest was one of the coolest places I’ve ever been, everything seems like it’s coming to life, especially within the cheap as hell ruin bars. The people are awesome and the weather is generally hot, the architecture is beautiful and I had another epiphanous moment of joy sitting in a shaded grass area by the Danube next to a fountain reading the beautiful chapters of Lolita. It was only slightly marred by how much I needed a wee and how much I was considering secretly doing one from within my maxi dress.

I’ve only spent a day in Vienna so far but I think it was a great decision on my part to spend 5 out of 7 remaining euros on my person on watching The Third Man at Burg Kino theatre which is small and cosy and plays it every day with evening performances at weekends. It was also showing The Grand Budapest hotel but you can read my thoughts on that here

Getting all my stuff stolen

Europe solo 1

It’s not uncommon and I’m not throwing a pity party here but I’ve been suffering from anxiety for about a year, I think writing about it might help, it’s just getting boring now. I thought I’d weave this catharsis into my first travel log at the beginning of my solo month away in Europe.

The anxiety probably started after that chasm opened up at the end of University. It was compounded by a deep sense of regret and a fear of perpetual loneliness and failure that felt very real. Despite having a good job and loving family, my default position was that it was all going to end awfully anyway because I was useless, I felt like a trainwreck in slow motion. I had only confided this to a couple of my closest friends, but five or so days into my trip I found myself speaking outwardly to relative strangers in a field in France. I was telling them about one anxiety attack in particular – how I had recently stayed up all night, convinced that I had knocked someone over in my car. I contemplated phoning the hospital and the police, I waited nervously the following day picturing my future in prison, of course I hadn’t done anything of the sort, it was madness.

That night in France we had reconvened to another campsite after the music festival with tents and supplies plundered in the aftermath from those that had fled the festival site. Here we spoke through the darkness and the skins of our stolen tents until late. My new friends listened and responded in earnest. But it seemed to me that here on the continent, these kindred spirits I’d found didn’t care too much about my tiresome islander insecurities, I mean that in the best possible sense. Everyone just wants to help you along the way, to give you a leg up on to your next stop, there’s always a new end goal, a train to catch and a destination to make it to which is a comforting distraction.

Once I had gathered my mind and my newly cleaned clothes I parted ways with the two celestial Swiss girls who had taken me to Amsterdam without a second thought, determined to make it on my own this time. The physicality of travelling alone has become a very visceral experience. Two mornings since arriving in Berlin I have woken up in a strange state of mind, like being stoned on silence. The monologue whirring around my empty head on long journeys alone got me into such a funk I could barely stand to think. All this waiting around at train stations certainly put me in mind of the times I’d have had someone waiting for me at the other end, someone who isn’t a dodgy Spaniard in a gaudy dorm room.

When I get going on my feet though, and I’ve always felt this, it’s as if I can actually walk off the malaise. With each step I am eking out more happiness from the pavements through the soles of my feet. So it was as I walked alone around Friedrichstraße, I turned a corner into the markets beneath the station selling records and books and into warm sunshine. I was suddenly overwhelmed with peace. Stepping down by the river an old gramophone played as people read and drank beer in deckchairs with the Museuminsel as a grand backdrop.

That’s when I decided to sit on the grass and write this in my notebook, a guitarist is playing a folk song I love and I’m reminded of an intense joy, for now the anxiety has drifted off down the river.

There is nothing about Berlin that doesn’t appeal to me. Later on I am dumbstruck by two beautiful grey haired women dancing the waltz together on an open air stage. I can even forgive the Segway riders, the cosplay odd bods and the hen parties in the park. Everything else is sincere, even the boat party full of transvestites that passed looked like art to me. The line between the sublime and the ridiculous is so blurred here, the rules are bent and the primary aim seems to be pleasure – not empty seaside postcard pleasure, the real thing.

I was drinking wine under a red striped parasol as the bells tolled six, a strange uncanny sound – like a warped version of the cheerful English bells – thinking about how strange it is that a geographical location can change the tone of a place, right down to its bells. Berlin has a rich but dark past, the memorials I often passed made me think that the city is always conscious of the fact, but of everything else it is still rightly proud. I think I would do well to find an affinity with this attitude and so I’ve extended my stay.

I am reading Tropic of Cancer thanks to reputable recommendations and it being gifted to me from ‘my only ally’, John. It’s proving to be the best travel companion. The writing is insightful in the extreme, in comparison – reading Henry Miller isn’t like being stoned in silence – it’s like riding a high in your head space. One phrase I made a note of amongst the bawdy prose stood out because of it’s relative pragmatism “above all, never despair . Il ne faut jamais désespérer.”

Europe solo 1