Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Gnomes and Dwarves

It has been an uneventful week. My mother was completely nonplussed by David Bowie's death, complaining that her Daily Mail had too many articles about him:

"There were 13 pages. 13! I can't think of anything he's done."

I mentioned The Laughing Gnome, which my mother remembered from Junior Choice, but the rest of Bowie's oeuvre has passed her by. In fairness, she was in her early 40s when David Bowie began to make a name for himself. What little interest in popular music my mother had, ended with Nina and Frederik.

(After retiring at the peak of his career, Frederik went on to briefly own Burke's peerage, before moving to the Philippines, where his yacht was used to transport cannabis. He died from gunshot wounds in 1994).

I may laugh at my mother's ignorance of popular culture, but the truth is that my parents were far more au fait with the charts than I am, as the day would always begin with Radio Two (I have a distinct memory of my father shaving over the kitchen sink, listening to Tony Orlando and Dawn singing Knock Three Times).

I can't remember the last time I knew what Number One was.

A few days later, Alan Rickman died. My mother had never heard of him, while another person thought he was the pop musician who appeared on Grumpy Old Men.

I despair.

After a rather odd Christmas, life has returned to normal. My days are shaped around taking and collecting my sons to their respective schools and while the driving can be a little tedious, at least it takes me through some beautiful countryside. I enjoy seeing how much the same landscape can change according to the weather and time of day.

To make the journey pass more quickly, my younger son and I have started listening to audio plays. We tried a very enjoyable 1950s NBC radio series called X Minus One (thank you to Val for the link) and are now working our way through the BBC adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. I'd forgotten how annoying Gimli the Dwarf was, always droning on about his dull ancestors.

In between driving, posting book orders and being a housewife, I occasionally stop to take a snap of anything that catches my eye. Here are some things from the last few weeks:

I will soon have more photos of Lewes than Google Earth.


Kid said...

I must confess, although I knew who he was and was slightly saddened by his passing (after all, he'd been around forever, hadn't he?), it did occur to me that his death generated a disproportionate amount of coverage in relation to his accomplishments. A cultural icon? Not to me he wasn't, and unless one was a Bowie fan in one's teenage years (when everything seems to have a greater significance), he really wasn't relevant to most people's lives. When I think of Bowie, I think mainly of half a dozen things: The Laughing Gnome, Space Oddity, Life On Mars, The Snowman intro, the bad half of a duet with Bing Crosby, and The Man who Fell To Earth. Dressing up in women's clothing and appearing slightly weird doesn't seem all that impressive to me. To those to whom Bowie represents the magical age of their youth, that will be heresy, but we always imagine that things (and people) which are important to us, are somehow important to everybody, but that's not necessarily the case. Still a shame that he's dead 'though, as he came across as a nice enough man once he'd conquered his demons. Not trying to be controversial, merely pointing out that your mother's view is probably that of the majority of the population.

Great photos by the way.

Steerforth said...

Kid - I'd broadly agree with you. Bowie didn't change my life or speak for me, so my reaction was simply one of sympathy for his family and friends. I found the outpourings of grief quite intriguing, as I can't imagine feeling like that about anyone I've never met.

Dale said...

I do agree with you both, and echo your mother's bewilderment, Steerforth - Bowie's life and mine intersected not at all, and his music was not to my taste.

I did not understand his god-like status with some of those of succeeding generations: to me he was just that English bloke who made unlistenable music from time to time, and who needed to eat a pie or two. The recent journalistic overkill of Bowie obituaries was baffling.

He did look interesting in Labyrinth, though, but with that costume, wig and makeup so would Paddy's Pig.

Keep up the stunning photographs. I have a hunch that one day they might keep you.

Brian Busby said...

“…I can't imagine feeling like that about anyone I've never met.” I do understand, Steerforth. If you’d said the same two weeks back over a pint – one can dream – I’d have nodded in agreement.

And yet, I broke down in tears when telling my wife that Bowie had died. Just why, I cannot say, though I expect it has to do with adolescence and late middle age. From nine to nineteen – “All the Young Dudes” to “Ashes to Ashes” – Bowie held great sway in my life. It was through him that I learned of the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Jacques Brel, Iggy Pop, Mott the Hoople, Music Hall, Cabaret, Philadelphia Soul, Robert Fripp, Brian Eno, Kraftwerk and Television. Bowie introduced me to Andy Warhol, George Orwell, William S. Burroughs and Anthony Burgess. (Never mind that I don’t much care for two of the four.) “He was our university,” Suzanne Moore wrote in The Guardian. He was my university in high school; I had to run to keep up. Then, surprisingly, in university I sped right past him. I had no time for Let’s Dance, Tonight and Never Let Me Down. Later albums were more interesting. At fifty-three, 'Hours…' appeals much more than it did at thirty-seven, when I first heard it. When he disappeared, I didn't miss him. When he reemerged with The Next Day… well, I thought “Where Are We Now” was a very nice song.

Then came “Blackstar”, which is one of the greatest things he’d ever recorded. It sparked a flurry of emails between myself and old friends. The release of “Lazarus” on the 7th and the album itself on the 8th brought more, lasting through the weekend. Then came the Monday.

Why did I weep when Bowie died? The shock most certainly played a role. Oddly, I had always expected that his would affect me much more than any "celebrity" death. A self-fulfilling prophecy, perhaps.

Val said...

Love the photos I especially enjoy the interiors as they are so different to here.
Glad you are having fun listening ....I 'll ask around for recommended listens... I think there are Captain Hornblower,Dick Barton, The Adventures of Tin Tin , Journey into Space, Dick Barton and the like available if they appeal to you?
I'm sure my Mother's opinion of David Bowie would have matched your Mums :o)

Val said...

Oh and Sexton Blake with William Franklyn as Blake... I think all these are at the same spot if they appeal to you?

Martin Hodges said...

Have to say, like Brian, I was inexplicably grief-stricken at the news of Bowie's death. Even now, I can't fathom the reaction. But the release of "Where Are We Now?" also produced an emotional response. Maybe our skin gets thinner actually, and metaphorically, as we get older?

Love those photographs. Have been enjoying them on Instagram.

Would appreciate the link to the audio books, if you can see yourself clear. Cheers!

Richard de pesando MA(RCA) said...

I clearly spend too much time on social media - after the brief biography of Nina and Frederik - I automatically went for the 'like' button

James Russell said...

That's quite a school run you've got there, Steerforth! Most scenic in Britain?

Jess said...

I love the BBC adaption of LTR. All car journeys as a child had a soundtrack of audio books. One of which narrated by Penelope Keith drove my dad into such a rage he threw it out the window somewhere in Brittany.
I think it's one of my favourite mediums a lot of things have made such an impact when listened to that on film have left me cold. Of course choice of narrator or actors are key.
The BBC John la Carrè Smiley adaptions are excellent so atmospheric. Also depending on age of children etc Harry Potter and Stephen Fry his audio recordings of the books are fantastic better than the films.

joan.kyler said...

They're terrific photos! Thanks for sharing.

sustainablemum said...

I had no idea that Bowie recorded the Laughing Gnome I remember hearing that on Junior Choice. Speaking of which did you hear that Ed Stewart died the day before Bowie?

Canadian Chickadee said...

Beautiful photos. And I like your photos better than Google earth's!

By the way, don't despair that your mother has no idea who David Bowie was. Neither does my husband, and he was around while I was listening to some of Bowie's stuff so he has no excuse. And maybe your mum has a point about the amount of ink devoted to Bowie, and the fact that people only sit up and take notice when an artist/musician/actor dies. It's as if it's not cool to praise anyone living. I guess dissing public figures sells more papers. Sad comment on our times, if true.

Steerforth said...

Dale - You're right about the journalistic overkill - a complete absence of any objectivity about the man and an assumption that we all shared the same view.

Brian - I'm sure you're right that Bowie's death was emblematic for so many middle aged people and that their grief is as much for their adolescent selves as it is for the man himself. I had an unspent youth listening to Beethoven rather than Bowie, so I missed out on so many of the cultural references that you mentioned and came to them belatedly, when the angst had died down. I suppose that the singer whose death would upset me the most is Kate Bush, but she'll probably see me out.

Val - What's really rewarding is how much my son enjoys these old broadcasts. For some reason, he always says that he wishes he could live "in the time when men wore hats" - a view he's held since he was six, so these mp3s are a real gift.

Martin - Val's link is here: - it's a real treasure trove. There is also a very good 'old time radio' collection here:

Richard - The Nina and Frederik story is quite an extraordinary one and I had no idea how successful they were, as this clip shows:

James - The colours in the picture of the wooden fence and the field remind me strongly of Ravilious's painting of the chalk paths on the Downs.

Jess - Yes, the BBC LOTR is marvellous. I particularly love Stephen Oliver's music, which is so much better than the overblown soundtrack to Peter Jackson's film trilogy. I can sympathise with your dad - I can't listen to children's CDs at the best of times and the idea of being subjected to them when driving is too awful to contemplate.

Joan - Thanks, I'm glad you liked them.

Sustainablemum - Yes I did, and I'd say that I was slightly more upset by Stewpot's death because he meant more to me as a child. I know that's an awful thing to confess, but I can't pretend otherwise. I admired some of Bowie's albums and love songs like Andy Warhol, but when I was nine he seemed odd and slightly scary. And he called his son Zowie, which I took a very dim view of (as did his son, who now calls himself Duncan).

Carol - I'm glad that the press were generally very respectful about Bowie's death, but my mother's dreadful newspaper will soon start dredging up the dirt, if they haven't already.

Bald sparrow said...

Don’t be hard on your mum … some of us simply don’t like (can’t bear in my case) pop music and so apart from being a name that occasionally comes up in the press Bowie doesn’t mean a thing to us. I don’t think I have ever heard anything by the guy … and why should I, or your mum? How many pop music fans would know much at all about classical music or jazz? Horses for courses.

Annabel said...

I loved Stewpot too, and Bowie was all over my 1970s teenage bedroom walls after I got over my fixation with David Cassidy. Bowie's music did provide a soundtrack to my life and he was so innovative, whereas the Stones, whom I also loved a little later continued to plough the same furrow so to speak. (I can remember being mortified when my mum did a Jagger strut once to Get Off of My Cloud on Top of the Pops).

Steerforth said...

Bald Sparrow - I don't mean to be hard on my mother. I was just amused by the contrast between the newspaper coverage and the indifference of many ordinary people, whose lives weren't shaped by Bowie's music. I appreciate that you don't like pop music (and classical is my preferred choice), but I would strongly recommend The Laughing Gnome.

Annabel - I think Stewpot was the friendly uncle we all wanted and unlike some of his peers, he didn't abuse his position of trust. Sadly, I preferred Gary Glitter to David Bowie - something I'd quite happily airbrush from my history! As far as posters go, I had one of Olivia Newton John on my wall. I think she may have been my first crush.

Chris Matarazzo said...

I have some very warm memories of listening to the BBC audio play of LotR on cassette tapes... You're right about Gimli, though. What's worse is reading the books to one's son, as I did, and feeling obligated to mimic the gravelly voice. It wrought havoc on my singing.

Erika said...

Not a massive Bowie fan, but felt a blow in the guts when Queen's Under Pressure came on the car's audio...two greats who are now dead. Do NOT talk about Kate Bush dying. I am so not ready for that.

Lucille said...

I think he'd like the Paul Temple collection. You can actually hear them wearing hats.

zmkc said...

Lucille is right, what a brilliant comment. I used to feign illness in primary school because I wanted to stay at home and listen to the afternoon play. I think the plays must have been more interesting then - they often seem full of concern about important 'issues' these days in a rather heavyhanded way.

Little Nell said...

I used to listen to the radio when I was a child and particularly liked Book at Bedtime, which I believe is still going. As an adult The journey to work was made more bearable by audio books and I often had to sit in the car after parking to listen to an exciting bit, or the tail end of the CD.

Steerforth said...

Chris - I've been trying to read The Hobbit to my younger son, but trying to do different voices for all the dwarves that arrived at Bilbo's house defeated me. I'd forgotten the beginning and as I turned each page, my heart sank: not another bloody dwarf! I thought the Gollum voice in the BBC radio version was superb, even if it was slightly too Fagin-like at times.

Erika - I'm fairly confident that I will die before Kate Bush, but if the worst happened, I think I'd feel upset for her son and husband rather than experiencing any sense of loss myself. I think I've become numbed over the years, which is probably not a good thing.

Lucille - I'll try that. I like the idea of hearing the hats, but I hope we won't smell the chain smoking of Capstans.

Zoe - Those afternoon plays drive me mad - nearly all set in a grim, unnamed northern town, with people experiencing various crises. At some point towards the end, a man with a strong accent will say "You never told me!" to which a woman with an equally strong accent will reply "You never asked!" and this will precipitate a resolution that leaves the listener feeling vaguely suicidal.

Nell - One of my life-changing moments was being in bed with my tranny (a sentence that could easily be misunderstood these days) at the age of eight and discovering the Classic Serial on Radio Four. It was Jane Eyre and I was hooked. I'd never heard a radio drama before and was amazed at how visual they were. Listening to the wailing of Mrs Rochester in the dark of my bedroom sent shivers down my spine. Wonderful stuff.

Lucy R. Fisher said...

Just listened to the BBC Smileys with Simon Russell Beale - he's brilliant, but the self-lacerating voiceovers get a bit maudlin. Anna Chancellor great as Anne (much nastier in "real life"). Now listening to a Raffles series which hits just the right tone. BBC Radio Drama doesn't do enough genre fiction! "Ishoos", as you say.

Lucy R. Fisher said...

Just struck me that the generous Bowie media coverage (a lot written before time?) was not an "outpouring of grief" or a symptom of "Dianification", but a response to the loss of someone who was British, was famous, lived in the US and made a lot of money from his art. He was an important British export (and a fine musician). It's interesting how some of the coverage denigrated his working class background.