Metablog

Dot writes: this blog continues to be a rather quiet place. However, I have in fact been doing quite a lot of blogging, of a sort, in the last couple of weeks – just not for Ken and Dot’s Allsorts. The words in these posts aren’t all mine, and neither is all the effort behind them, but I proposed the project and was then responsible for editing and arranging the materials and for writing the summarising/linking passages:

The Lucky Country EP collective review part 1
The Lucky Country EP collective review part 2
The Lucky Country EP collective review part 3
The Lucky Country EP collective review part 4
The Lucky Country EP collective review part 5

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In case you can’t face reading all of these, they constitute a track-by-track review of the recent EP by The Basics, based on discussion on Facebook plus a complete review and another set of comments sent in via email. (But you should read them. They’re more entertaining than what I’m about to put you through here…)

A little context: I seem to have become part of an online Gotye/Basics fan community. This is startling in some ways – I was never a band-posters-on-the-wall sort of girl, save briefly when I first went to university and was trying out a new personality for a bit. However, it is a very enjoyable opportunity to discuss music in detail, which is something I like to do (especially when it comes to Gotye), as well as to have a bit of a gossip. And I have encountered some extremely nice and interesting people this way, including one I would now count as a close friend, even though I haven’t actually met her.

This post is an outlet for a few thoughts about the process of producing the collective review, because it taught me a number of things about how online communities can work. Also, while I enjoyed doing the review hugely (especially when I got to have a couple of great live chats as part of two of the Facebook threads) it was at the same time a little frustrating.

So, the main discussion behind the blog posts took place in a closed chat group on Facebook (closed in that you have to apply to join it and the posts go only to members – they don’t filter the membership especially, but it does mean that one’s lengthy thoughts about a rock’n’roll band don’t then turn up in the newsfeed of all one’s professional acquaintances, something I’m rather grateful for). Before it happened there was a certain amount of planning that went on between me and the two admins, with some input from another member. Should we have separate threads for each track? How often should they be posted? How soon after the release of the EP could we expect people to be ready to talk about it? In the end it was done slightly by feel: five separate threads, one per song, starting on the day of release as in fact the whole thing had been previewed on the Rolling Stone website earlier in the week, but then beginning new threads when the previous one seemed to have died away, which worked out at roughly a new thread every two days. I wrote up the posts as we went and they were published a couple of days after each discussion. The threads were posted by one of the admins, not by me: I’m a very recent addition to this group and felt it would be a bit pushy and bumptious of me to be trying to marshal people into activity. I got more confident in this respect as the process went on.

The admins worked very hard at getting people involved. They tweeted about the review from both the Gotyettes and Basicettes Twitter accounts, and also advertised on the corresponding Facebook accounts. One admin sent personal emails to some fans she thought would want to be involved, but who were strangely quiet in the early threads (it turned out quite a lot of them were having a get-together in New Orleans, meaning that, ironically, they hadn’t listened to the EP yet or didn’t yet have time to discuss it). She also posted carefully-judged questions and comments designed to get discussion going. But, although we got excellent comments and I did have plenty of material for the posts, one thing that surprised me was how little most people were contented to say and how many didn’t join in at all. For me, talking and thinking about the music is an important part of my pleasure in it, and it was wanting to find people with whom to do that that led me into the chat group to start with. If a higher proportion of the group had contributed it would have been much more difficult for me to weave everything together, so I’m certainly not complaining; but it was a reminder that not everyone enjoys things in quite the analytical way I like to – or, even if they do, they don’t share my overwhelming urge to have my say about it. (There’s also the fact that not everyone who likes Gotye also likes his other band. They’re pretty different projects.)

I was slightly unsure of my own role and the extent to which these were ‘my’ posts. On the one hand, the collective review was my idea; on the other, it was a group activity being run by the Gotyettes. In the comments, I started by posting things I hoped would prompt others to respond, but I also had views of my own to share. I always had one eye on what the finished product would be like, and for that I had a couple of aims to keep in balance: on the one hand, I wanted it truly be a group review, representing as many people as possible, but on the other I wanted to make sure each post had something of substance to say, and in most cases there were specific points I thought should be made. As a result, I veered between holding back in the threads, not wanting to drown other people out or put them off (I wrote a couple of comments that did start to sound a bit academic, and I went back and edited them into a less formal register), and, conversely, eagerly sharing my own responses. I felt the editorial voice in the posts had to restrict itself to summarising or commenting on the discussion plus offering some general information about the tracks; I couldn’t use it as a vehicle to air my personal opinions. This prompted me, on one occasion, to post a comment largely because I very much wanted to put some of its contents in the review, rather than because it actually contributed to a conversation. (And then I went back and pruned it heavily. It was one of the academic ones and I had got rather carried away.)

I was reminded somewhat of teaching a seminar – trying to strike the balance between ‘delivering content’ and generating engagement – only I wasn’t quite sure who was in the group, or what they would respond to, or whether they even wanted to be there, and of course I wasn’t actually the teacher. The world of online interaction I’m moving into through fan activity is much more international and much more socially and occupationally various than the one I normally move in. In fact there are people in the chat group with whom I do feel I can be very much myself, and with whom I clearly have lots in common; but there are others for whom I worry I might seem pretentious, or too dominant. If only they knew how shy I can be at a party…

In the end, I was pleased with the series of posts and proud of the work I’d done for them, as well as grateful for and somewhat awed by the effort the admins had put in organising everything. I do feel a certain yearning for something more deeply analytical, something more acutely observant and detailed, especially with respect to the musical textures and structures of the material; but insofar as I might be able to provide any of that myself, it would be as a result of the period of thinking and listening that the collective review enabled, and a result of responding to other people’s observations. I feel the process has in itself taught me something – about how hard it can be to judge the impact of one’s own words and actions in the virtual world, but also about how richly satisfying it can be to interact with people you don’t know but who share your interests.

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Coffee snobs

Ken writes:

People often scoff when they learn I drink only decaffeinated instant coffee.

‘Why bother?’

The funny thing about this attitude is that it does no justice to their own appreciation for coffee. It implicitly claims there is nothing of value in the experience besides the caffeine. But who would want to replace drinking coffee with taking a caffeine pill?

They are mildly physically dependent on coffee, but I am not. They do need the caffeine stimulation, but I do not. I get as much from a cuppa as they do because I’m not missing what is missing from decaff.

But can they scoff because I drink instant decaf coffee?

I would concede that instant coffee has less flavour than the proper kind. It's bound to because it is processed and exposed to oxygen. Even after just a couple of weeks, the flavour of a jar of instant coffee has dropped away noticeably. But at the end of the day, it's only a cup of coffee. It's not something that really matters.

The pleasure of a well made cup of coffee just doesn't count for much. Even if on a relative scale proper coffee wipes the floor with instant, the two pleasures are so far from what really counts in life as to be indistinguishable.

I used to be a bit of a snob about coffee. Now I think it's just a young man's thing. One adopts these positions as part of carving out an identity. It felt good to feel superior to other people and to think that my palate was capable of affording me higher and more noble pleasures than others were capable of. I think I recognise now that it was not that other people couldn't tell the difference, it's just that they had the sense not to waste time bothering about it.

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Hugh is seven!

Dot writes:
On Saturday our elder boy turned seven.
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He had five friends round for a party, which I considered our most successful children’s party so far in that not only did the children apparently enjoy themselves, getting vigorously stuck in to all the games we organised – I was heartened by the enthusiasm with which a bunch of six- and seven-year-old boys participated in a dancing competition – but also Ken and I remembered to do things that sensible parents do, such as have a bag by the door for the presents so they didn’t all get opened and strewn around during the party. The cake was bought (bad mummy, not that Hugh minded), but the party bags were not crammed with sweets (good mummy): instead, there were inexpensive prizes for all the games and the kids got to take those home. The giant pencils seemed to be the most desirable items. Hugh ended up not winning any of the prizes at his own party, but he didn’t whinge a bit. And that above anything illustrates what a big boy he has become.

We are very proud of him.

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Rejection

Dot writes: recently Hugh found romance with a girl in his class. We heard from her parents that Ella was drawing love-hearts with ‘Hugh’ written in them in her books and proposed to marry him next week. He told me that the people he loved most in the world were me, Ken, Ella and Storm (Storm is a Senior Infant who is, says Hugh, ‘very cute’. We notice that Frank didn’t make the list).

But then it was all off. Whether Storm had something to do with this, we didn’t know, but apparently it was over. This evening, driving to Boys’ Brigade, Hugh decided to tell me and Frank about it.

Hugh, mournfully: I’ve lost my love. Ella has quitted marrying me.

Me: Why is that?

Hugh: I don’t know, she just quitted marrying me. She won’t give her permission and you need both people’s permission to get married. Now I can’t play chase the girls anymore. I will have to play a different game. [????]

Frank: In the Spiderman programme that girl says they aren’t ready.

Hugh: Yes, maybe we’re just not ready.

I texted Ella’s mum who said that perhaps they would feel ready when they had both turned seven.

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Pepper

Dot writes: gosh, it’s been a while since I posted, hasn’t it? That’s the start of term for you. I should write something long and insightful to make up for the gap. In the mean time – look at the kitten!

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She was born at Carraig Dúlra, an organic farm in Wicklow, as one of a litter of six. One of my colleagues volunteers there and advertised that they were looking for homes for kittens and I said we’d take one. I slightly wish I’d said we’d take two…isn’t she lovely?

Her sex is not absolutely certain but my colleague was fairly sure we were getting a female. Anyway, we are calling her Pepper, which seems gender neutral (though the boys suggested it thinking of Peppa Pig), at least for the moment.

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More of Dot’s musical adventures

Dot writes: I suspect that my pace of new listening is going to slow somewhat as I get sucked into the maelstrom of the teaching term, but here’s a little post on the three new albums I’ve been exploring over the past two weeks. Two of them I bought and the third one I was given. The third is much the obscurest and also, now they’ve all had time to grow on me, also the most interesting.

1. London Grammar, If You Wait

This was instantly appealing – lovely vocals, moody keyboards, and I really like the minimalist guitar style. I found a write-up in the Guardian that was a bit sniffy about how non-gritty they are (I’ve just searched for it and I can’t find it, but I don’t think I made it up), but not everyone has to be The Clash. They have got very popular very quickly and it’s easy to tell why.

2. Karnivool, Asymmetry

Oddly, I came to London Grammar through this utterly different band, Karnivool, because Karnivool did a cover of Hey Now for the Australian radio station Triple J and I saw it on YouTube and liked it. And I was investigating Karnivool because of another cover, their version of Gotye’s The Only Way (it works amazingly well as a hard rock song). Clearly they have a great taste in cover versions, but it has taken me a little time to attune to their original material as they’re much heavier than anything I have been into for a while, and also they give their songs portentous titles like Nachash and Eidolon. However, this song, We Are, is a real ear worm; and the video is magnificently creepy.

3. Zammuto, Anchor

So, I was aware of this before I was given it, but I wasn’t quite sure I was going to like it. I did find this clip extremely engaging as – hooray! – it has a trebuchet; indeed, it could hardly be further from your rubbish generic pop video.

However, at first I responded to the clip more than to the song. But the song has a disconcerting, ebullient quality that really does grow on you, and the album as a whole is full of complex textures and ideas. It’s a little spiky, but it’s not without melody and sweetness, and there’s lots to explore. The creative methods behind it are extremely original, as illustrated in this documentary. (We also note that Nick Zammuto grows amazing carrots, or rather his wife does – ours were riddled with carrot fly, alas… and he built the trebuchet himself, too. What a genius.)

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Buckling

Dot writes: things I’ve learnt over the last few weeks:

1. Apparently there’s a kind of broken bone children can get that isn’t really broken, but rather bent. Their soft bones can deform under pressure where an adult’s would just split. It’s called a buckle fracture. In the course of a surprisingly efficient visit to A & E on Monday 1st September (triage nurse, doctor, x-ray, doctor again, application of back-slab cast, and visit to physio all in 2 and a half hours) I was told that Hugh had one of these. He was given a sweet little zimmer frame and an appointment at the fracture clinic for the following week.

2. It’s amazing how many people have stories of having told their children off for moaning and made them go for walks and things when they actually had broken bones.

3. Having a child who can’t walk any distance makes it even harder to solve a giant childcare crisis, because you can no longer fall back on arranging for them to be picked up by people from the after school place and walk back to it, supposing the after school place would return your calls.

4. However, even buckle fractures can usually be traced to a memorable event. Waking up with a sore foot and developing a limp that turns to a hop is not the way it usually goes. Also, A & E doctors sometimes get over-excited. The specialist we saw on Monday 8th cut the dressing off Hugh’s ankle and sent him off home with one bare foot, telling us that his ankle wasn’t broken at all, and we could return the zimmer frame when we got the chance. (Needless to say it’s still in the boot.)

5. It is possible to recruit a new au pair and have her move in within a week. She’s from Valencia. She’s great. (Though if it had been that easy when I was trying to recruit an au pair in August there would have been no giant childcare crisis.)

6. However, I still feel massively stressed because term is heading towards us like a train and, frankly, the last few weeks have been a bit of a disaster work-wise. Next summer the arrangements need to be simpler.

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I’ve just learned another new thing: if you do a google image search for ‘child zimmer frame’, after a bit you get a picture of Bob Dylan. I wonder why?

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