She’s gonna blow

Today was breakfast in Seattle, a visit to Mt St Helens Interpretive Centre and a mooch around Portland. 

Seattle: we ran along the Port front park (meaning, Claire ran and I bobbed along in her wake). I’ve found that running is a nice way to see new places from a different perspective and I think we picked a good city to start that off in here. This is the map, just in case you’re interested 

In 2000, I did the route we have planned more or less. I have almost no memory of the detail of that trip. But I know we went to Mt St Helens Interpretive Centre. We were both genuinely astonished at the accounts of how the mountain puffed, then bulged, then blew in 1980. At least as astonishing as the photos and accounts were the contemporaneous front pages of the local papers. The big stories that weren’t MSH were the problems Carter had running a campaign whilst other crises overwhelmed him (the failed Iran hostage rescue was months away), Tito’s funeral (immortalised in “All Out Superpower Confrontation” by NTNOCN (you can see that here ) and the, frankly astonishing, reports of Washington State’s plans to desegregate their schools. In 1980.
1980.

1980.
Christ. 

Anyway: we pressed on to Portland, a city I remembered very fondly because, the first night Finbar and I were there in 2000, a bartender offered to take us around the city on his day off the next day. And that he did: with his girlfriend he drove us all over and we ended in an amazing bar with some bands playing. I’d like to think they were future members of the Decemberists, but probably not. It was an incredibly kind thing to do and the kind of thing that makes you love a city. 

Portland is lovely. You might’ve been here. It’s full of stuff and not well-explored by people we know. It’s culturally young and a bit hipster. We have a full day tomorrow to explore and I think it won’t be enough. But, and here’s the turn, the homelessness problem in this city is unbelievably visible. 
Not that it’s necessarily worse than in other cities. But it’s just so visible. Here’s an article I found.

Clearly it’s a complex problem. And also, the places that truly-lost people are drawn to are likely to be the metropolitan centres that offer both the infrastructure to help and the presence of enough liberal people to help. 

But, jeez, it’s astonishing to see, in such density, in a city that seems to be going about its business. 

It’s like a leafy London. 

Postscript: we walked the CBD for a couple of hours and it rained. The centre of Portland seemed oddly quiet for a weekday in a major city. Maybe there’s something unusual about this place that we aren’t seeing. If you’re in town, do check out Pizza Schmizza.  They had lovely food, a good beer menu, all the weird sports, and lovely staff to boot. 

La la la la la A-me-ri-ca

Finally arrived in Seattle. Been here once before. It rained then. It wasn’t raining when we landed. It started as we disembarked the plane. 
I have voluntarily not researched things to do here because the story is mostly further south. The Space Needle is shut for renovation (and looks like the 60s relic that it is). The Seahawks were playing as we arrived, in San Francisco, so the bars were busy but the town was quiet. 

Google told me that the Museum of Pop (just opened as the Hendrix Experience when I was here in 2000) had a Jim Henson exhibition on. Mrs T was oinking, knee deep in ordure. 
The exhibition was lovely though: adults my age were stupidly giggly at the sight of The Count, and the option to press your hand into walls-full of Muppet “fur”. 


Mrs T also got to do the Star Trek exhibition (I had to crawl along one of those tunnels, like Scotty). I got to see the Bowie/Mick Rock photos. 
Seattle is fine. I fancy we’ve given it our best shot.

What other people think

My “last chance to grow my hair out” project was hitting that tricky point where I can’t do a thing with it, and I had started to lose heart and contemplate getting it cut, thus ending my youth. I’ll concede that, at 48 and a half, this may seem a bit flipping late. 

At my best, I’d love to have hair like Tim Buckley. If you’re not familiar with him, he was a folk/rock singer and songwriter who died in 1974. His songs have affected me more than anyone else’s, since I first heard him sing in my early 20s. He was amazingly beautiful. He was also, apparently, a bit of a tosser. I can’t sing like him. I can’t play guitar like him. I’m almost twice the age he got to. But I could have his hair. Here’s Tim. 


As a fallback, since I can’t quite get my Barnet to stand up like Tim’s, I’d settle for 70s ITV children’s show Magpie presenter, Mick Robinson’s look. Here’s Mick in his prime, if you’re not familiar with him:


Cool, huh? 

Anyway: I’m stuck in that halfway place between looking like my hair idols and looking unhoused. 

Tonight, in Loughborough, I’ve discovered that no-one else seems bothered what they look like. I’ve just been served by a perfectly pretty person, who for whatever reason had come as Peter Gabriel during his “Gabriel III” phase. By which I mean, unsatisfied with her own features, she’d done that thing that looks like a Sharpie accident and just drawn on features, like eyebrows and cheekbones. 

Clearly, you can look how you want and it doesn’t matter. Hallelujah. 
The hair stays, for now. 

Oh and in case you can’t quite place the reference, here’s the PG I’m talking about:

Cardio

Played cricket today. Although it was a short game (both sides being more or less equally rubbish) it was fun and the stiff breeze made for an interesting test of our skills. Which we mostly fumbled. 

We won, if you’re interested. But I thought I’d post my movement stats for the innings that we fielded. For American readers, that’s the same as your kind of innings, except with ten outs. Oh and the batters aren’t limited to three strikes.  

In fact: if you’re unfamiliar with the game, me and my American brother did this a couple of years ago How I brought cricket to the USA

Anyhow. Here are my stats. As you can see, it’s a fairly steady jog. The spikes will be mostly me trotting in from the boundary (outfield) to congratulate the bowlers and, because cricket is still gentlemanly, to applaud the batter on their way off the field. Occasionally this is ironic or sarcastic, but not often. 

But if you’re unfamiliar with my sport, you might wonder what the significant dip in heart rate is about a third of the way along. 

Well, because we didn’t use all our allowed overs (look that up), the opposition’s batters had to start their innings before tea. 

Tea. 

That’s right: we played for forty minutes, then took a break at the allotted time (you don’t mess with tea time) and took tea (being a mixture of finger food and actual cups of tea) and then went out for another ninety minutes to finish the job. 

You won’t find that in the Men’s Fitness guide to weight loss, I know. But it’s how all activities should occur. 

We used to have an empire, you know?

What I learned about justice

I finished 11 days of jury service the other day. It was sobering and grown-up and bleak and it felt worthwhile. I made some temporary friends with other jurors and was privileged to sit on two juries. I laughed a lot, considering. 

Having worked with HMCTS for nearly ten years, it was great to see their work for real. All of the court staff, from the contract security teams to the jury co-ordinators to the ushers and court clerks were super-professional and clearly mindful of how unfamiliar the whole process was to the 80 of us in their charge. 

The legal process, when done properly, appears a very stop-start business and it’s hard not to consider the cutbacks in the staffing of courts when one trial was halted so that the defence could go to collect a witness in person. It’s clear that shuffling resources (court rooms, judiciary, court staff and jurors) is a bit of an art. 

Both judges I saw were unbelievably cool. You know that thing where who the smartest person in the room is isn’t in doubt? That. Their balance between maintaining strict process and helping twelve idiots to understand what was going on was amazing in both cases. They both had very different styles but, man, you wouldn’t take either of them on at either fencing or chess.

We talk a lot about the burden of proof in criminal cases as part of my work. It’s interesting that “beyond reasonable doubt”, being plain English words, can be interpreted so widely by normal adults (including all five barristers I listened to, albeit in their cases to the benefit of their cases). 

In the jury room, I heard “I’m certain” down to “I think”. This must happen all the time. The widest gap in interpretation can be summed up in this sentence, quoted verbatim, when I was left on the wrong side of the fence, with still a ton of questions in my notes:
“The thing is matthew, you’re trying to be analytical, but I’m just going with my gut”. 

Justice was definitely done, but you can see how fragile a thing it is. 

Did Tufty die in vain?


Is it me or are pedestrians getting more and more blasé about road safety?

As a very small child I learned road safety from a squirrel. Pre- green cross code man (though firmly GXC) I guess I was at the apex of Tufty’s pre-eminence as the icon of overtly precautionary pedestrian behaviour. Certainly his message stuck with me. To this day, I can’t comfortably use a pedestrian crossing on the wonk, because in one “circle all the naughty things these anthropomorphic creatures are doing” picture, one of Tufty’s friends (probably that numbskull Willie Weasel) was walking OUTSIDE OF THE METAL STUDS. 

I’m pretty sure that I’ve never come close to being run over on a road and it’s entirely down to Tufty. (There was a moment on my 20th birthday when I think my brother may have hauled me off the A512 from near a bus, but in fairness Tufty didn’t really cover safety after pub golf night so I wasn’t technically letting him down). 

My job involves talking to grown-ups about safety in a very serious way and I’ve used The Tufty Club probably weekly for 25 years as a jumping off point for discussions about all sorts of properly sobering risks in hundreds of settings. It’s always split a room (not just by age, but also by where you grew up (and just possibly by class, but I’m not sure)) and it has a lovely way of making a connection (turns out it really was a Club, after all). 

I was very briefly curious about acquiring the brand for commercial purposes but it turns out that RoSPA still owns (and very occasionally uses) it. You can find out more about Tufty here https://www.rospa.com/about/history/tufty/

It seems daft now, but as we work on more and more sophisticated approaches to safety behaviour change, I keep coming back to the power of that squirrel. 

Anyway, I was standing at a pedestrian crossing by the Mexican restaurant in Loughborough last week. You’ll know it if you’re from here, but probably won’t if you’re not. It’s a very narrow road. It’s infrequently used but it’s alongside the main road. It used to be one way (inbound) but since last year it now has two-way traffic. As a result of being the poor relation in a crossroads, you can sit at a red light for about three minutes before it’s your turn. It’s fairly safe to cross as a pedestrian, despite what the red man says. But Tufty would surely point out that, were the lights to change, the traffic waiting patiently to pull out would be upon you very very quickly indeed. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to stop and dance whilst you’re walking to work. I was listening to “kiss on your list” by Hall and Oates, so you’ll understand.

There’s a guy in a Transit van who has been waiting to pull out of the junction for almost the full three minutes that I’ve been waiting to cross. The sequence is going to let him go first. We’ve exchanged a morning nod. I’m giving him my “I know. It’s so annoying” smile. He’s giving me his “seriously? You couldn’t get across this junction without the lights” look. 
The lights change. He starts to move. 

I look across the junction and an elderly woman on a mobility scooter arrives at the junction and JUST KEEPS GOING. JESUS! SHE’S GOING TO…
The guy in the Transit slams on the brakes. 

He goes from 4 to 0mph in the blink of an eye. 

The old woman carries on, oblivious.

Transit Man looks up to see that his light is now red. Another three minutes of waiting. He flashes me a look of deep and exasperated fury. 
“Well, she’s not in the Tufty club” I say, offering my deepest sympathy.

“The f**k you say?!?!”

The green man says go. I go. Swiftly. 

I may have mis-read our brief relationship, but I’ll mark Transit Man as “probably not a member”. 

So long, Tufty. 1953-2017. 

Doubles

So a man who’s done some magic carpentry for us over the years told me, in the pub tonight, that I owed him an apology. 

He says that he was in one of Loughborough’s Nepalese restaurants when he saw me walk in. He gently prodded me with his boot to say hi.

A bloke who wasn’t me was, apparently, quite upset about it. Who knew I had a doppelgänger? And what are the odds that, if you’re gonna have a double in your own home town, they’re going to be an arse?

I was reading a book of haikus when Damien (the carpenter) told me this. So I was inspired to write my own. 

Guy that looks like me

Turns out to be a bell-end

What are the odds, eh?
I shall look out for him. Give him a piece of my mind. Unless he looks a bit tasty, obviously.  

Train

I had to travel from Manchester City centre to Crawley, near Gatwick Airport tonight. I set off in the blazing heat from Manchester Piccadilly train station at 1615. I was in my hotel by 2000. I travelled on time, through three rail networks. It relied on tons of people doing the thing they’re paid for properly. 

It’s a shit blog post, I get it. But it was a brilliant journey.
I’m ridiculously grateful that I live in a country where this stuff doesn’t automatically create a story worthy of the internet. 

You’ll never guess who I was last Saturday 

So if you’ve followed any of my feeds, you’ll know that my pop covers band NotNowCato played the Glastonbudget Festival last weekend.  Bit of background: 

  • The band is my gang. We’ve been together since 1996. We never even tried to write our own songs. Much as I love words, all my attempts at lyrics started at “I wanna hold your hand” and escalated less than a verse later to “we’re stapling our eyelids to the ceiling” (actually I think that’s a Groening gag, but the idea stands)
  • Glastonbudget is a “tribute” act Festival. It’s been running for 11 years I think, three miles from my home, and is pretty professional these days. The main tribute acts are startlingly good and make a proper living being brilliant facsimiles of massive acts. 

A year ago, our bassist suggested that we audition to be one of the 80 or so acts at this year’s festival. We’d never done anything that organised (we have played a couple of local festivals before but only by invitation)

Putting a thirty-minute set together for that show last October was a different discipline from our normal rehearsal schedule. The night of the audition was amazing fun, and we made a bunch of new friends from other bands trying out. That performance was probably the best of our 21 years, and it was amazing to have friends and family come and support us 

Here’s a favourite photo from that night

We got our slot (tea-time Saturday: the place they put the old warhorses at Glastonbury) and our stage (the small outdoor stage) and a set of instructions for how to get in, on, play and take down properly. 
I’ve been to a few festivals and it’s another one of those things that you can be in the centre of and have no sense of what’s happening to make it happen. Since in real life my job is to look at how people get things done, I probably should have thought about this before. So if you’re interested, here’s the headlines:

  • The whole site is designed to create a border: exactly like “airside and landside” at an airport. From the “band campsite” (oh the glamour!) past the back of the main stage, past our stage and on to the “big top” is the service road. Security, barriers and screens keep the moving parts away from the festival-goers. 
  • The administration behind the scenes was locked down to the point that we couldn’t present ourselves as performers until “no more than one hour” before our scheduled start time
  • At least half of our audition focused on our ability to set up and break down quickly. On the day we were assisted by the stage crew and we were pretty efficient
  • There’s nothing glamorous on our side of the fence

We went on the Friday to soak up the atmosphere, to get maximum use from our free tickets (that said “band” on them which was already enough to get me giddy) and also so we could figure out what kit the boys needed to bring. They’re really only in a band for the technology (and shopping for technology) opportunities it offers.

In the event, the wind picked up an hour before we started, and the decision was made to close the stage until it subsided. Lighting was removed from above the apron. We pointed out that the thin children who were due to play before us were more at risk of blowing away than any of us, but the authorities were having none of it. For half an hour, we thought that we might not get to play after all.
Three-quarters of an hour later than scheduled, and (along with other bands) reduced by five minutes, we sound checked half a verse and then we were off. My photos tell me that 81 people eventually came to watch us. And I’m stupidly grateful for every one of them (I am counting the sound guys, and photographers, but not the security officer because she was facing the other way the whole time (I am a stickler for accurate accounting)).
About 1300, I got a bit sad at the prospect that folks might not come to see us. It happens a bunch of times in general: I worry that I’m promoting our regular gigs too hard, and then a couple of days after we’ve played, I get asked when we’re playing. So I took to Facebook and pleaded with people who liked the band page (a relatively low level of commitment, I recognise) to share the post advertising our slot. 

 I was trying to get everyone to do it, on the basis that:

  • even if people didn’t know anyone at the event, they might show up on timelines of people who were there
  • or they might show up on timelines of people who knew people who were there
  • or they might decide to message friends who might know someone

You get the idea: I directly asked some of the most connected people I knew whether they would share the post, even though they didn’t know anyone who might have been there. In the event, enough people came to tell me that they’d only come to see us because someone had prompted them that I’m really pleased to have risked burning all that goodwill in one big go. I think I’ve said thank-you directly to the folks who were identified as having gained us one or more watchers, but if I haven’t: thank you thank you thank you.
The stats for the boosted post tell me that we were seen by 1003 people, and that 100 of them shared our post. Here’s the nerdy breakdown of my boost by age of user:

Anyway: we played and it was wonderful. It was absolutely the fastest 25 minutes of my life. And it was amazing. For that whole time I felt like a proper pop star. Here’s what I mean.

The main stage hosts the big hitters that will appeal to the biggest crowd (Beach Boys, Michael Jackson, Beatles, Springsteen and Oasis pro-tribute bands); the Big Top has the (mostly pro) “specialist” bands (Korn, Pink Floyd, Black Eyed Peas) as well as a selection of other stuff (but all at a level way above us). The LoCo tent hosts folky and acoustic stuff, mostly. The IcOn stage (that we were on) is the smaller, outdoor stage, and it hosted mostly keen young upstarts playing their own stuff, or grizzled covers bands like us. I don’t care that it was the stage with the smallest audience: to me it looked and played like Wembley, 13th July, 1985.
And that’s kind of my point, I guess. 

If you’ve seen the band, you might recognise that every gig we play, I imagine that we’re playing at a legendary venue and that tonight is the gig that really matters. 

So on Saturday, May 27th 2017, on a proper stage, with proper lights, with my gang spread out either side of me, and the wind blowing my hair horizontally, and being as well-rehearsed as we’ve ever been, and with six massive songs that our audience could sing back to us, and with twenty-one years of practice, and with a proper introduction from a local radio star…..

I was Bono, baby. 

I was Bono.