National Treasures

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Heart, by Clker-Free-Vector-Images on pixabay. CC0, image in the public domain.

Other countries may have favorite celebrities, comedians, chat show hosts. In the UK, we have our ‘National Treasures’.

These are basically well-known people who are so beloved of the populace that they can do no wrong. They are usually 60+ years old and have been honored with titles – the celebrity version of long service awards – for their contributions to society over the decades. They are often actors, television presenters, comedians, radio broadcasters or musicians. People’s definition of who is, or is not, a National Treasure vary but there is a central list of those who are likely to be referred to thus.

The Queen is always somewhere on the list for royalists. Others who seem to feature regularly are:

Television

  • Sir David Attenborough – documentary maker and naturalist
  • Jeremy Paxman – quizmaster of University Challenge and feared interviewer
  • Sir Trevor McDonald – news presenter
  • Sir Bruce Forsyth – entertainer

Stage and Film

  • Stephen Fry – actor, author, quizmaster of QI
  • Dame Judi Dench
  • Dame Helen Mirren
  • Dame Maggie Smith
  • Victoria Wood – comedian who died last year

Music

  • Sir Elton John
  • Sir Paul McCartney
  • Freddie Mercury – late lead singer of rock band Queen
  • Dr Brian May – Queen’s guitarist and also an astrophysicist of some note

Science

  • Professor Stephen Hawking

More divisive figures such as Lady Thatcher, the former Prime Minister, were also called National Treasures in their time. Businessman Sir Richard Branson is often included in the list because his business empire touches many people.

Personally, I would also add the Monty Python team, especially Michael Palin, because he seems like a genuinely ‘nice guy’ as well as being a versatile broadcaster and writer, plus broadcaster Clare Balding because she has gone against all the previous standards of female presenters and made a success of being just who she is.

It doesn’t seem to matter much what these National Treasures say, they will always find someone to defend their status. It is, of course, entirely possible to LOSE the title of National Treasure, especially if found to have been involved in financial or sexual misdeeds. Former members of the National Treasures list are either thoroughly disgraced if still alive, or thoroughly vilified if dead.

That’s the last thing a National Treasure would wish to happen to them, and after a recent run of lurid headlines featuring more than one former National Treasure, it seems like the rest of the group are lying low and trying not to attract attention to themselves for now. That’s probably the best policy when they have so much status to lose. The adoration of a nation is not to be trifled with.

Go bother someone else!

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Stress, by typographyimages on Pixabay. CC0, image in the public domain.

My friend’s boss is a total toerag. A complete misogynist, a bully, distrustful, racist. The full Monty of all the really desirable traits in a movie baddie.

She has worked at the same organisation for almost 20 years and seen out two bosses. One left on health grounds some years ago, the other was moved when his attitude became intolerable. The organisation has a reputation for having become a sexist and racist place to be, with accusations thrown from all levels towards the rot that seemingly starts at the top and trickles slowly downwards.

You’d think after all this time that she’d be left to get on with her job, with her boss confident that she knows what she’s doing. Apparently not. She seemingly requires micromanagement, according to him. And snide comments about her weight. And criticism of her attitude (which doesn’t get any better when he treats her like that).

Now my office is hardly perfect, as we have one colleague who really ought to retire as she’s not much use at anything in a modern office plus another who is constantly off sick, despite being very quick at her job when she’s in. But that pales into insignificance when my friend’s boss is the one creating the waves and making it unpleasant for her to be there. Of course, the organisation can’t sack her, because she’s done nothing wrong. But the organisation’s representatives can make it as unpleasant as possible for her to be there, in an effort to make her jump.

However, my friend is a tough cookie. She has spoken to a lawyer and is considering taking a tribunal against her employer for the disgraceful behaviour shown by the senior staff. She was already considering moving on anyway, but has redoubled her efforts to leave given the turn of events. She is studying to improve her qualifications and hoping to gain an extra leg up the career ladder as a result. She is paying for this out of her own pocket and studying in her own time, so that when she passes the final exams she can tell her boss where to go without owing the organisation money or time. She’s not badly paid in her present position, but given her length of service she does seem to be expected to undertake a lot of menial tasks.

I just wish this situation would leave her alone and go bother someone who deserves it. Like a politician or the head of an organisation who is paid more in a year than my friend and I will earn combined in our lifetimes. They hardly need to worry about where the next paycheck is coming from, do they? Politicians become speakers, life coaches, consultants, even editors, as soon as they drop from the public gaze. The rest of us are rarely lucky enough to have a new job lined up when the old one turns round and bites us.

The upshot of all this is that I haven’t seen my friend for months, as all she does is work, sleep and study (and hopefully occasionally eat!). She communicates through her partner, who is good friends with Mr C. I miss her company and I’d really love to write a full and frank letter to her disgusting boss telling him exactly what I think of his objectionable behaviour. In many organisations, he would have been taken down a long time ago for an attitude like his, but in this organisation, the rot is likely only to be addressed by a wholesale removal of the entire executive Board and all the cronies who behave in the same way.

How can this even be allowed in modern life? We are supposed to be a civilised race. This doesn’t look like very civilised behaviour to me.

 

Music or looks?

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Open ClipArt Vectors at Pixabay. CC0.

I’ve been a fan of Jean-Michel Jarre for more years than I care to remember. I bought every widely available commercial release from 1983’s The Essential Jean-Michel Jarre onwards in order, plus the works I’d missed from earlier in his career.

The year I turned 13, my musical landscape was changed forever. My class were working on a combined art and drama project (because our teacher taught both). A classmate decided to produce something using Oxygene IV as the soundtrack. So help me, I have no clue what her project was about, because the music hit me between the eyes. She had been introduced to the sound by her older sister. Their mother was French, so this may have had something to do with it.

My Christmas present from my parents that year was a copy of The Essential, a compilation of music from Oxygene, Equinoxe, Magnetic Fields (Les Chants Magnetiques), Les Concerts en Chine and Zoolook. I subsequently upgraded my initial cassette copy first to vinyl and then to CD. I had never heard anything like it before. As Jean-Michel kept releasing more music, so it became a habit that my parents would buy me the latest release for Christmas. One of the first CDs I owned was Les Concerts en Chine. At the time I didn’t appreciate what he had done, being able to play to millions in China. But I appreciated the music; instrumental, tuneful, earwormingly hummable, memorable.

In 1986, I bought Jarre’s eighth studio release, Rendezvous, on vinyl, because the photograph on the back was to die for. The CD didn’t have the same photograph on it, so the vinyl it was. That was probably the first time I realised that the geek whose music I had grown to love was in fact a rather good looking, very suave, very typically Gallic man.

In April 1986, Jarre staged Rendezvous Houston, where he used the skyscrapers of the Texan city as a backdrop to his stage and hoped to link up live with the space shuttle as it crossed above the States. In the end this concert turned into a memorial for the astronauts on board the Space Shuttle Challenger, including Ron McNair, who had all been killed shortly after takeoff in January. NASA astronauts apparently begged Jean-Michel to go ahead with the concert in respect and memorial to their late colleagues. The concert was shown on TV and played on the radio here in the UK, and I watched and listened to every second of the coverage.

Come 1988 and it was London’s turn. Originally scheduled for late September, Destination Docklands eventually took place on the weekend of 8-9 October 1988. The week before I had been deposited at University in Newcastle-upon-Tyne by my parents. I promptly bought a coach ticket and headed back down to London with one of my new student friends who was also a geek and a Jarre fan.

A heavy cold and a raging ear infection, plus a night spent sitting on Victoria Station floor after missing the coach back up north were my rewards for an evening spent in the tipping rain listening to Jean-Michel and the band and seeing the fireworks. I couldn’t see much else, being short and having a standing ticket. But I Was There.

Five years later, I headed to the old Wembley stadium for the Europe in Concert tour. I was accompanied by a family friend, because we had realised we were both going to the same concert. On 28 August 1993, I saw my second Jean-Michel Jarre concert, showcasing much of the music from Chronologie.

Jarre continued to record and release amazing music. The Hong Kong series of concerts was also released on CD, and once again, reminded me how amazing his live music was.

8 June 1997 saw the next installment of the live experience, this one featuring the second part of the Oxygene trilogy. Oxygene 7-13 was released in 1996, 20 years after the original. To commemorate, Jean-Michel took to the road again, and came back to Wembley, this time opting to play the Arena rather than the stadium. I duly booked a ticket, a hotel room and prepared to party. When I found my seat, I was delighted to realise that it was on the end of a row, looking down through the lights to the stage below. I was in heaven – closest I’d made it so far to seeing Jean-Michel up close and personal.

In 2003 I met my husband. Things went a bit brassic for a while; earning money from work was more important than attending concerts. Neither of us managed to attend the Space of Freedom concert in Gdansk in 2005, despite my husband (then still my boyfriend) having long-standing friends in the city. Meanwhile, Jean-Michel continued to release work and tour, while my husband and I were unable to afford to spoil ourselves beyond listening to his music. Between us, we missed several concerts in Europe and England.

By 2016, we decided to put that right. Jean-Michel’s music was a fixation in my life; my husband knew this, and to boot, his closest friend, who had been our best man, was also a dead cert for a Jarre ticket if we could manage to buy three when he announced he was touring again.

We could, so on 7 October 2016, we all rolled up to the O2 Arena for an experience, Jarre-style. 28 years almost to the day since my first Jean-Michel Jarre concert, I was back again. Cue all the jokes that we had made driving through northern France on holiday about the fact that the signs for Grand-Synthe and Petit-Synthe ought to rightfully be followed by one for Harpe Laser.

But it gets better. Bitten by the Jarre bug, my husband joined a Facebook fan group. We already knew that his friend and I would both be getting copies of Jarre’s new CD, Oxygene 3, for Christmas. During the concert, Jean-Michel himself had announced the release date as 2 December 2016, 40 years to the day that the original Oxygene work was released in France. At the end of November, my husband casually dropped into conversation that he had read that the Maestro would be signing copies of his new work in HMV Oxford Street on the day of release.

I told my boss that I needed to be in London by 4.30pm on that Friday and requested two hours of leave to make it so. Thus it was that I found myself in front of the musician I had followed for over 30 years, wordlessly (and nervously) handing him my newly purchased CD to sign and wishing fervently that I could bring myself to shake his hand. I did at least remember my manners enough to thank him, however.

And was he as good looking as I had thought all those years ago when his amazing music was the only thing I knew about him? Oh yes. Effortlessly chic, well trimmed stubble, carefully tied cravat-style scarf, mirror shades, well cut (and undoubtedly expensive) suit with a black long sleeve t-shirt underneath. Still as serious as ever though – very few photographs show Jean-Michel smiling.

Where to from here? Who knows? Will Jean-Michel keep making music and/or touring; will this turn out to be his last release, or will he, as suggested, continue with the series of Electronica collaborations with modern synth musicians? Jarre has already recorded with the Pet Shop Boys and Edward Snowden. Time, maybe, for him to arrange to record a duet with Kebu from Finland, possibly his greatest living fan; to play a private gig at Revision demoscene party in Saarbrucken, Germany or Assembly demoscene and gaming party in Finland; perhaps to pay a visit to the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge for their next Music for Geeks or Synthesized event.

His choice to make. My joy to listen, attend and appreciate.

Happiness cannot be bought

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Identity-self-image by johnhain at Pixabay. CC0, free for use.

Recently I have spent a fair amount of time considering the human question, for various reasons.

  • Sure, being good looking undoubtedly helps smoothe a path in life. But looks often fade.
  • Having enough money eases any worries about the future. But money can easily be spent on unexpected bills.
  • Being able to monetise a natural talent increases the chances of job satisfaction and success, so long as the artist retains the ability to produce.
  • Being loved is a useful boost to the ego, but love can pass.

Seems like a lot of our current celebrities are struggling at the moment. They all have visible demons, despite being variously

  • very wealthy
  • very successful
  • supremely talented
  • obviously in a loved up partnership
  • and in most cases ridiculously good looking to boot

or some combination of the above.

Yet, in the news reports I read, the photographs I see, they are never smiling. They have mirror shades to hide their eyes or never look at the camera directly. They check themselves into rehab or clinics to ‘rest and recover’ when what they’re searching for isn’t available on prescription.

What many of these actors, musicians and writers seem to lack is a sense of internal happiness. Of peace with their life as it is. Of satisfaction with what they have achieved. Of self-worth. There is a hole there, filled with nothing, or maybe (worse) with self-loathing for some reason, or past demons they have yet to bury. Loneliness can be a big factor too – those with a serial love life and no steady partner, multiply divorced or who have lost the love of their life may well be struggling with being alone more than others.

A hug from a loved one can’t fix all of that, but it can go some way to helping. All the money in the world means they’ll never have to worry about medical bills but they might be wondering who will hold their hand in their hours of need. At the end of any course of rehab treatment a love of the person they have become or the person they always knew they were may well help to get themselves back on the path they were following before fame beckoned.

But if the sense of self-worth isn’t there, no amount of money, flattery, fame and talent will help them.

Oxygene 20 and pictures in my head

 

 

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Open ClipArt Vectors at Pixabay. CC0.

One of my favorite musicians, French synthesiser player Jean-Michel Jarre, has just released his latest work.

Oxygene 3 is the completion of the trilogy of Oxygene releases which was started with the eponymous first LP, released in France on 2 December 1976.

I’ll spare you the tale of the trek to London on release day last week to queue for the unique chance to meet the Maestro in person, to have him sign my copy of his CD and for me to flunk the opportunity to shake his hand in thanks for 40 years of sanity-inducing music, four amazing concerts and a place in my life that is only equalled by my favorite teddy bear and my husband. “Merci, Jean-Michel,” was all I could squeak.

Having had a variety of Jarre CDs on the rotational ever since, needless to say, I have heard a fair bit of this new CD. I took it to work today, to show my colleague who is a music afficionado and a Jarre fan too. It was subsequently played at least six times throughout the day.

I’m still getting to know this work. But I have to say that Oxygene 20, the final track on the CD (and hence in the trilogy) is a piece of some note.

Starting with a series of stabbing organ chords worthy of Widor or Bach, it becomes the most other-worldly piece of sweeping harmonies. At 2 minutes 45 seconds or so, it flies off into the wide black space vacuum inhabited by many of the best classical and electronic pieces.

At that point I start seeing visions of mankind post-apocalypse, in the midst of the nuclear winter, fleeing Earth for the last time, and watching ‘home’ turn from a blue and green orb to a star as lightspeed drive kicks in.

Oxygene 20 is a very atmospheric track; one of the comments I read said that it sounds ‘so final’. It sounds so final that I have vivid mental pictures of it accompanying my last journey, so that those mourners at my funeral hear this track as my farewell, and leave the area as the final chords fade. Fitting, perhaps, given that I have been a fan of Jean-Michel Jarre for 34 years so far. When I first heard Oxygene IV in 1982, I was 12. Brought up on jazz and classical music, Jean-Michel’s work was the next natural step for me to hear. Little did my parents know that ‘Oxy IV’ would kickstart something special, something lasting, and the gateway to a lifetime preference for instrumental music.

On 7 October 2016 I took my husband and our best man to their first Jarre concert. We attended the O2 Arena for the London date of the Electronica tour. Given that my husband has known of my fixation with Jarre since we met and that our best man (who is also my husband’s best friend) is a big fan too, this had to be done. What neither of them bargained for was the amazing light show, awesome sound and all round immersive experience. Having stood through the rain at Destination Docklands in 1988, sat in the original Wembley Stadium for Chronologie in 1993 and then peered entranced downward through the light rigs in Wembley Arena for Oxygene 7-13 in 1996, I knew what was going to happen, and promptly lost myself in the experience for the next couple of hours. The music, visuals, lights and lasers did not disappoint.

So, back to Oxygene 20. Starting with church-like Widor chords, it then wanders off into Arctic sound effects of wuthering wind, cold weather, rain, thunder. Then from out of the sound effects comes a piece from Jean-Michel’s past. As the echo of the original Oxygene work gives way to more doomsday chords, the sweetest, floating, lilting harmonies soon overtake it. Melodic angel-song, major chords swelling and growing in volume mix with the thunderstorm sound effects and eventually overcome. Sweet flowing melody carries the listener away, a rolling river of chords, fading thunder.  I see bright white rivers of music, flowing onwards, upwards, outward, away from trouble, away from pain and daily grind.

The pan pipes join with the organ melody, thickening the tune and adding accent. The strings and organ continue until I have the mental image of the Earth blinking into oblivion, or life coming to an end, as the last few notes ebb and fade.

Video shared by FiSundowners (https://twitter.com/ShikobaSpirit). Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. The maker of this video read my mind. Oxygene 20 accompanying images of 2001: A Space Odyssey. This. In spades.

Jean-Michel’s father, Maurice Jarre, was a noted composer of film scores including Laurence of Arabia, The Longest Day, Witness, Ghost, Doctor Zhivago, Dead Poets’ Society and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. With this work’s final track, Jean-Michel does his father’s legacy proud; it would be a fitting end theme for a suitable movie blockbuster.

Sometimes you just can’t win!

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Telephone, by OpenClipArt Vectors at Pixabay. CC0.

 

You know those occasions where you’re caught between a rock and a hard place; where whatever you do is likely to be wrong to some degree?

We seem to specialize in them in my current office. The colleague mix is challenging, admittedly, because one of us is usually off sick, on a non-working day (part time contract) or on leave.

I LOATHE answering the telephone, as we have some serious time wasters calling in, and also some very needy people. And the other thing I don’t deal well with is special snowflakes who think the world revolves around them.

So, this morning we had one of those perfect storm moments. A full house of staff, for a minor miracle, but only three of us left in the office: the random IT fellow who has taken up residence, the Director’s PA, an older woman working part time into retirement, and me. IT man has not been well lately either, and is also working part time at present after being off sick for several weeks.

Those two were talking (non-work related) when the phone on the PA’s desk rang. I moved to answer it and was told in no uncertain terms ‘That’s MY phone. I will answer it.’ Fair enough, so please go and do so forthwith, as it is still ringing, I thought.

But before she could cover the distance across the office it stopped ringing. She returned to chatting with our other colleague. Two minutes later one of the other lines rang. I picked that up. It was a colleague from another department wanting to speak to either the Director or our line manager, who is also in the same office, when she’s at her desk. Colleague on the phone asked in turn (and in that order) for the Director, our line manager and the PA. I told her the PA was busy and the other two were out of the office, then offered to take a message or have one of them call her back. She declined both options.

Well, when our line manager came back into the office (and the PA went back to her desk), everything erupted. I went to give the message to our line manager that the colleague had rung and the PA had a right coniption fit. Apparently she would have taken the call if only I had interrupted her mother’s meeting with our colleague her conversation. If that was the case why did she not bustle over to her desk quicker when the phone rang the first time, huh?

It was me and telephones again, where I insisted on dealing with the call no matter what, she asserted. I gave her a Paddington Hard Stare that might easily have been mistaken for a Vulcan Death Stare and delivered my message that the colleague wished to speak to either our line manager or the Director, although I didn’t know the subject.

I get the feeling that if I had interrupted her cosy little natter, I wouldn’t have been flavour of the month either. But tough, she didn’t get to her phone when it rang.

If I had ignored the phone I would have been in the wrong too.

So I answered it, but that was wrong as well.

Do you see what I mean about a rock and a hard place? I wasn’t going to win that encounter with the phone, no matter how hard I tried.

And now you know why I LOATHE answering the phone.

Remembrance

I have no clue who first considered that humans were intelligent beings.

We most certainly are not.

During the two minute Silence for Remembrance Day today, the following thoughts tripped through my head:

If humanity is so intelligent, how come we still have young people losing their lives in war? A century after the Great War (the one which was supposed to end all wars) this should not be happening. This sad parade of broken bodies and traumatised minds returning from service, of physical and mental damage changing lives forever. Those families left with nothing but memories of those who will not return. How come we haven’t yet learned that live and let live is far easier than killing someone because of their belief, their culture or the color of their skin?

Humanity is very dumb if certain of us are still resorting to playground tactics of throwing a tantrum just because someone disagrees with us. Throwing a very large tantrum involving killing, suicide and horrific injuries to as many people as possible that we don’t like. Changing not just the lives of the survivors, but their families and friends too.

I have long since despaired of humanity. We went to the dogs a long time ago on this planet. We’re killing it, the animals we share it with, and the planet itself as quickly as we can in pursuit of fleeting happiness. And we’re not even doing it humanely either.

Trouble is that no amount of Remembrance services, of Last Posts, of poppies and solemn words, can help if we never wise up and learn from them. However, we’re still committing the same mistakes we did a century ago, and still trying to wipe out ‘the opposition’ instead of working out what went wrong and trying to mend relations.

Yes, I’m a pessimist. But in these dark days of jihad, Brexit, Trump, color and cultural discrimination, can you really blame me?

Off days

Hayley says it as it is, and how I feel at least once a week. Those days when the headphones are glued on my head to keep me focussed and I pray the phone won’t ring because all I’d want to do is unplug it from the wall and drop it out of the window.

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Hey hey,

Although I’ve been feeling a lot better I do have the occasional ‘off day’. An off day is where I find the simple things a lot harder than usual. The days where I feel down and I don’t really know why, where I feel super anxious and find it hard to concerntrate.

Today is one of these days. I’m on the way to work and there is no place I wouldn’t rather be going then here. Not because I don’t enjoy the job but because the thought of being around people scares me. The thought of serving customers scares me, the thought of having them see what I look like when I feel really ugly scares me.

After writing these first two paragraphs I have now finished work. It was really hard, at times I wanted to cry and didn’t think I could cope on the shop floor…

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Bucket list

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Jean-Michel Jarre at the Harpe Laser, 02 Arena, 7 October 2016. All rights reserved – author’s own photograph.

Everyone has a bucket list – a list of things to do that they’d like to but may never manage.

As things go, mine is looking in pretty good shape.

I’ve flown a glider, travelled Premium Economy class from the States and met various actors, musicians and geeks, mainly at conventions and private events. I’ve competed in a televised quiz show, appeared on other TV output and walked the pitlane at several motor racing tracks in Europe and America. My PB for a half marathon (walking pace) is under 3 hours 20 minutes and I am slowly decluttering my house, as well as my parents’ and mother-in-law’s by selling things on eBay. I own several items of designer clothing and wear them regularly to work. I’ve seen polar bears in the wild and close up in wildlife parks and zoos.

There are a few items that I would like to do that I will never manage, mainly because the people involved are no longer alive. I will never get the still print from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home signed by Leonard Nimoy, although William Shatner autographed it several years ago.

I will also never talk to Arthur C Clarke about 2001: A Space Odyssey, nor Sir Douglas Bader about his life.

There are a couple of points still left to tick off. Some time with French musician Jean-Michel Jarre would be precious, as although I have now seen him in concert four times, I have never even come close to meeting him.

The same goes for musician Steve Winwood plus actors Kevin Bacon, Rutger Hauer and Viggo Mortensen. It is possible that I may manage to be at the right convention at the right time to meet those last three at signings, but the musicians are a little more challenging as they are both intensely private people.

Adopting a cat or cats from the local Blue Cross shelter is somewhat more likely, at least in the shorter term. I have to admit.

What kind of shape are your bucket lists in?