Monday, 31 January 2011

Return and Regret

There's a tired old cliche amongst veteran Goths, that we are always questioned by wide-eyed eager teenagers as to "What is Goth?"
Like Zen, the Force, or the offside rule, there's no straightforward answer, and more of it lies in a subconscious 'state of mind', plus a tendency towards black clothes regardless of the weather, and a preference for cider and black (and falling over afterwards).

Of slightly less tired-cliche nature, but still debated at length by men in their forties who haven't cut their hair since their twenties, is the 'origins' of Goth, quite how we ended up with some of the unspoken standards of the scene. Between the rock'n'roll excesses of the time and the tendency towards denial of some of the pioneers, nobody is quite sure.

One name that keeps coming up frequently is the Batcave, a London nightclub that tried to get away from the polished-pop tunes of the New Romantic movement in the eighties. A good history, including quotations, was written by
Pete Scathe and indeed his website is a good attempt to track the drunken amble through history of the Goth scene.

The name 'Batcave' these days is generally a bracket-term to describe anything
that came from those anarchic days of the early eighties, when there wasn't so much an alternative scene, as a general desire to rebel against the mainstream. Some of the most definitive bands of that first wave broke out at the time, and when a Goth mentions Batcave, you know they're talking about the original genesis.

Now that we've established these vague definitions, you can imagine the interest we had in a night called 'Return to the Batcave', organised within Leeds. The flyer promised a night of bands from the Batcave era and just beyond, the fabled Second Wave of bands including Leeds-based reluctant associates The Sisters of Mercy. Fronted by DJ Claire, former resident of Club Phonographique (the Leeds answer to Batcave), great things were expected of this unique promotion.

However, this wasn't the first time a Batcave event had been tried. In March 2010, a similar night was run - I missed it, and heard grumblings of discontent at the way it was run. I am, though, as well as being a Goth, a Journalist and determind to get at the truth of the matter - and hopefully have a good time along the way.

My suspicions were immediately aroused when we discovered it was being held in the Cockpit on a Saturday night - supposedly in a separate section to the usual club night Garage, a night playing all the terrible bastard offspring of the alternative sound, and the modern world.
Unfortunately, that separate section was merely the second bar, with the doors between 'our' room and the main floor open and allowing free flow of punters between.

You'll permit me to be judgemental here, mainly because it's my blog, but also because I endure undue judgement every time I step out of my door. I've been into Goth since the mid-nineties, and grudgingly accept that torrent of abuse both physical and mental that goes with dressing differently to whatever fad is passing through youth subculture.
My trips to nightclubs, therefore, are a chance to escape from the vacuous zombies who traipse into Jack Wills to wear whatever MTV tells them to. It's a sanctuary, a chance to have fun without the unwated judgements of complete strangers who every day feel obliged to hurl abuse at me because of the way I look.

I do not therefore want to share a bar, dancefloor and compromising public space with the very worst examples of drunken student scum who regularly clog our city centres and accident and emergency wards of a weekend.
It's a darkly amusing irony that as Goths, we are coldly polite and accepting of whatever jabbering thug meanders into our clubs, yet we would not survive ten minutes in some violence-wracked fleshmarket like Tiger Tiger or Oceana.
Violence is simply out of character in a Goth's psychological make-up, confrontation is something we - quite frankly - run from. In the wake of the Sophie Lancaster tragedy, we've become even more withdrawn from confrontation, and so the precious few people who'd actually turned up for the event braved the tides of squalling, inebriated idiots as best they could.

At one point, I spotted a sequin-topped girl approach the DJ. After she walked away with a confused expression, I had to find out more. Apparently, she'd asked for 'Super Furry Animals' or 'Pulp', and been baffled when the DJ explained it was a Goth night.
Perhaps nobody had explained this to the DJ either, though. Let me put some things straight - Metallica is not Goth. Placebo, desperately trying though they may be, are not Goth. Nine Inch Nails might be Goth by association, but certainly don't belong at a night supposedly dedicated to playing the best of the early eighties. Blondie might be in the right era, but is pretty much so far out of the Goth bracket you'd be hard pressed to see it.

And finally, playing these songs more than twice is the death-knell for any attempt at DJing. Couple that with mixing that sounded like a forty-year old Volvo crossing three lanes on the M62 backwards at seventy miles an hour, and you seriously consider asking for your money back.

But I mentioned earlier about how polite Goths are - we simply left, quietly furious at how out of pocket we were on a night that disappointed in every single way. If it wasn't for nights like Flock at the Library, you'd be hard pressed to think Leeds was ever part of the Goth scene, let alone a major hub.

let's hope the disaffected clubbers who turned up can come up with a suitable the alternative.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Losing, Searching, and Finding

I turned twenty-six on the seventeenth, this month. There was an odd vague shadow over it; the first message I received was from my girlfriend, wishing me a happy birthday...and reluctantly informing me of some bad news.

We know a young couple like ourselves, Jenny and S
Steve, and we'd gone out together for drinks and food, an enjoyable first time combining two couples in a social event. However, after a heavy night of drinking in Wetherby with friends, Steve had gone missing. He'd now been gone without contact for forty-eight hours.

I celebrated anyway, and felt no guilt; quite apart from the fact that we knew no details, what could I do? The answer was solved on the Tuesday - the police were organising a search of the local area, and volunteers were called for. My girlfriend heard from Jenny first thing in the morning, and even as I was just coming to, she asked if we wanted to join them - there was no question.

We went to Wetherby, on the bus. A friendly, elderly gentleman passenger enquired as to our plans. "We're meeting friends" responded my girlfriend without hesitation, and we both hoisted polite masks. There was no question of involving this good-natured stranger in our duties, but it tinged my confused feelings with a darker sheen, of something unwanted, or forbidden.
The rendezvous was at the Police Station, and as we walked through the town, we expressed our admiration for this old-fashioned place - and each time, we both shared a paradoxical sense of guilt, that we should be brought to and be enjoying this place, when we were here for such a sober purpose.

There were a lot of volunteers, around thirty people - none of whom we know. We gave our details to the police, recording everyone who was joining the search. I stumbled over my address, giving a postcode for a place I left a year ago. Like any right-minded citizen, the mere presence of the police is intimidating - exactly as it should be. But I was already wrong-footed by the nature of the situation...
The officer taking my girlfriend's details himself stumbled; nobody I know spells Natasha with two 'E's, but he managed it. We laughed about it, quietly and nervously, as we massed in the old magistrates court for a briefing.
Another intimidating room, another reminder of the power of the law; other volunteers around us expressed concerns, hoping they'd never have to appear in a court-room. There were more chuckles, and I felt briefly outraged that people should joke at such a somber time...

But then, hadn't we? Weren't we keeping our worries and fears at bay with humour, such a natural human response?
Seconds before the briefing was due to begin, Jenny arrived and met us for the first time. Before my girlfriend could even stand up, Jenny was in her arms, sobbing. That was the first time the miasma of complex emotions around me solidified, and I felt a stab in the chest. Guilt rolled over me, followed by helplessness in the face of my friend's anguish, fear of what we might find, anger at the grim outlook...
"Thank you both so much for coming" Jenny whispered. We met eyes, and I nodded jerkily before dropping my gaze to the floor; the emotion in her eyes overwhelmed me. I'm not a man given to emotional displays, I prefer to keep myself guarded and controlled, and if I'd looked into her face much longer, my sympathy would have pulled me down.

She took a seat across the aisle, and my girlfriend laid her head on my shoulder. There weren't any words, what could be said? I put my arm around her shoulder, as a sold Yorkshireman of an officer stood up.
thanked us for coming, explained the procedure, warned us of the dangers, and showed us where we'd be searching. We filed out, herded by uniformed officers, who stopped traffic to take us across major A-Roads, curious motorists gawping from windows as we clambered a fence and into the rich, muddy farmland surrounding Wetherby.

We were spread in a broad line, more than two hundred foot wide, each person ten feet from his partners either side. We would walk forwards slowly, searching the ground for 'evidence'. The police had said the first priority was finding Steve of course, but anything to indicate what had happened would be valuable.
It was at that point, in the briefing, when I began to suspect the police's privately-held outlook, that we were searching for clues to why Steve had died...
My girlfriend, a medical student, had observed earlier in the day that this would be the last day we could conceivably find Steve in a rescuable condition, but her voice held no conviction and I wondered who she was reassuring. I knew my own suspicions...

Seconds in to the search, and my hand went up. A mobile phone, damp and flashing a red light, dropped in the soil. Two officers clustered around it, advancing theories and suspicions...why was it covered with water? Did that indicate it had been rained on, perhaps left overnight...?
Minutes of tense waiting for an answer, and a female volunteer came down the line, stiff and awkward; she'd dropped the phone herself. Nerves all around relaxed minutely, and I swallowed a bilious mouthful of tension.

We searched all afternoon, crossing field after field, mud caking on our boots. Time and again my eye was drawn to some twinkling object; I knew we were looking for small personal possessions. Was that a pound coin? I bent down; a perfectly round, pound-shaped glass disc, dusty and churned up from the ploughed soil. Either side of me, people watched as I bent back up, eyes questioning; I shook my head, ashamed at my own mistake, and pushed forward.
You'll have seen it on the news, people crossing land in a broad line, searching. Except we only had a handful of officers with us, five or six, spaced along the line to respond to finds.

Beside me to the right, a family - father, mother, daughter - walked closely together, continuing banal stories about friends and relatives. I flickered with annoyance, three people covering the same space as one, barely concentrating. Had they erected psychological barriers against the solemn nature of our work? Were they well-intentioned but useless volunteers, bereft of the grasp of duty, floundering in pursuit of our goal? Perhaps. But if I spent my time concentrating and berating them silently, I was far from carrying out my own task. I returned to scanning the ground.

By the third field, my suspicions were promoted; we were searchin newly planted, wide fields, where any large object would have been easily spotted. We were off the course Steve could have been expected to take, as he was leaving Wetherby for home, his last known position was across the A1 to our left - he'd never be in these fields.
Twenty minute before daylight ended, we crossed the A1 to begin our trek back to town; we'd probably travelled two miles, searching eight fields minutely. I expressed my suspicions to my girlfriend; we were searching areas outside the likely location of Steve's position. Untrained, unreliable volunteers could be psychologically assuaged, and at the same time cover a zone not expected to produce results, freeing official search parties to try the river and other dangerous regions most likely to contain possibly alarming finds...

Thanks were handed out freely by police, we'd excelled, we'd saved search parties much time and effort, knowing this region was already checked. We parted as swiftly as we'd met, and Jenny had left; she was not involved in the search, a decision we could all agree with, lovers should not find each other in this case...

My girlfriend and I took the bus back, exhausted physically and mentally. Bereft of a result, unwilling to face suspicions we couldn't confirm, we retreated into music, two people beside each other on a bus, headphones in, eyes staring without seeing. I don't believe we've held hands for that long before though...

Today is the nineteenth, and Steve has been missing since the sixteenth. At a quarter to twelve, my girlfriend rang. It's surprising what can be conveyed without words, even across a telephone call. There was silence, then a deep sigh backed with tears. I said "Oh.", and felt a hollowness creep into my chest.
I was at hers by five past, and we held each other silently in the kitchen. She'd cried out her tears by then, and I'm not given to upset...especially when I feel this confused.

All I know is that he has been found, as we all feared he would be, beyond help. As little as I know about how he was lost, is as little as I know about my feelings. Steve occupied a strange point in my world, more than a stranger or friend of a friend, not yet a close mate - but on the way to be. I'd seen him at Jenny's birthday, just before Christmas. We shook hands, discussed a popular computer game - I gave him some pointers, he thanked me profusely for advancing him past a tricky part. We made plans to go for another dinner with our girlfriends, discussed good bars and restaurants, I told him I'd be celebrating my birthday with a party in January...

That amiable man with a sense of humour so like my own, who'd sat opposite me in a bar and roared at my jokes and rapped out some choice one-liners of his own, would not be any better known. I'd never know what he was hoping to do with his career, if he and Jenny would be moving in, if we'd enjoy any other outings as a couple.
My girlfriend is visiting Jenny this afternoon; I mulled the matter over silently at hers, then asked if she wanted my company. She considered it, then decided that I should give Jenny some space, a boyfriend, my presence might only make things worse.

I've never confronted the concept that merely being present, when you want to convey sympathy, friendship and comfort, could be even worse than not attending. My friend would benefit more from me not being there. I accept it logically, but emotionally - how do you reconcile that thought? It makes sense, but I cannot say I like it.

I must make sense of my feelings. Writing this blog has helped, and if you've read through it, you have my thanks.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Tim versus Technology

It used to be an anecdote accepted as fact that the older the generation, the lower their affinity for technology. It certainly works in the other direction; my six year old cousin has become more adept at Call of Duty – the immensely popular video game – than I ever could, and I've been playing games religiously for the entirety of his young life! Yet he still runs circles around me.

Imagine my surprise then, when my girlfriend's mother arrived home with a new mobile phone. It was one of the new touch-screen, iPhone-clone models that are an affordable alternative to Steve Job's latest masterpiece. Now, I've been playing with my Galaxy for several months, getting used to its features and even writing a review of it, where I loftily praised its merits, dismissing its weak battery life as one of its rare failings.

So, I confidently took on the challenge of setting up my in-law's telephone. As in any new scenario, you search for landmarks, and having adjusted so well to my own mobile, I was immediately at sea. It seems like the manufacturers, so aware of the similarities between their progeny and the iFruit market overlord, have designed the systems within their phone to diverge so violently from each other so as to distinguish their individuality.

I mean, I classed it a small victory when I finally reached the text messaging screen. However, it was here my so-called 'superior technical knowledge' fell down; I take pride in never using the predictive text features, so when I was asked if I could turn it on, I wasn't even able to tell if it was turned off. The controls on my own telephone were so totally different, I could barely make sense of it.

That was just the beginning. Each question either led to me weakly explaining the theory behind a feature (whilst having no knowledge of how it was activated) or a simple “I don't know.” Then, she spotted the Bluetooth feature – which I'd introduced her to barely six days before – and promptly made a shortcut on her home screen. It took me a week to understand how to do that on my own mobile!

I have my own theory about how I was so wrong-footed. We're the generation that is the first to enjoy instant access, immediate downloads, prompt affinity with the technology we're inventing as we go along. Within seconds, you grasp the basic mechanics of operating a device, and via trial and error you quickly establish the methods to get the results.

My girlfriend's mother is of the generation preceding. For them, the most archaic of technology was accompanied by instruction manuals the size of a phone book. I used to play with an Amstrad 64K 'computer', and the BASIC programming book that came with it was thicker than most of my textbooks from school. That is a symbol of our developing technological awareness, that the children of my generation had increasingly reduced attention spans, which was paralleled by the reduction in size of technology, and the reduction in waiting time for results from your machine.

However, the split-second reactions of my age group (and even more so my six-year old assassin of a cousin) have, I believe, led us into an awareness cul-de-sac. My subconscious affinity with my mobile, netbook, PC, have been honed to a fine edge with that relevant device. Try and introduce those unconscious instincts to a new machine, a new procedure, and I must consciously make an effort to learn how to operate them. But I'm of the generation that doesn't consciously learn anything anymore! Contrast that with my mother-in-law, supposedly of a generation forgotten by technology, that has spent a lifetime studiously rehearsing achingly-complex instructions for computers that barely lasted a decade.

They've practised the skills they learnt that we thought were simply inherited, they can learn the procedures we thought we could gain by osmosis. The only restraint is the lack of confidence with new technology, instilled by the arrogant dictation of their supposedly more aware descendants.

Don't be guilty of technological discrimination; consider the abilities of everyone before buying in to the stereotype!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Be My Guardian?

In a move that will probably become a landmark event for the Blogger's Age, an anonymous Guardian columnist is leaving the direction of his so-far wayward love life in the hands of his readers.

As a struggling Journalism undergraduate my first thought was admiration of the scale of originality being displayed to snag a regular column position. Credit me for my cold-eyed professionalism anyway.
My second thought was a bizarre stab of sympathy; I've suffered myself from an unsteady path through the world of relationships. I'm only just reconciled with my long-term girlfriend, and during the challenging times I usually went on bitter, sullen retreat from the whole world.

So perhaps our unlucky friend has decided to turn his personal woes into public entertainment; not a world removed from Endemol's Big Brother format, thankfully moribund after years of increasing reminders of the poor state of, well, poor Britain.

It's not clear if the author is a journalist; as a student hack, I am beaten regularly about the head with tales of level-headed objectivity and this seems to be a step beyond the docile diarised tales of staple column-writing.

Of greater concern is the responsibility the author is shedding for himself, his happiness and – of keener observation – his partner, the inevitably renamed 'Hayley'. Either he has told her of his plan to conduct his personal relations like a social experiment, which would be the death-knell of any relationship; or he hasn't, and she's labouring under misconceptions that will either lead to their parting, or her participating in a bizarre performance co-ordinated by silly names on the Guardian website. Neither outcome hints at future stability.

More importantly, we – and he – should be aware of the impact of the internet, like some omnipotent toddler, wielding a massive influence online with an immensely inverse sense of responsibility. Should the masses vote for a break with the erstwhile Haley, what guarantee the Author will even meet another woman in time for next week's thrilling instalment? Come the anarchists of the internet, his every chance at intimacy could be thwarted for the online equivalent of the child who pulls wings off flies.

Speaking of silly names, Twitter has yet to pass judgement on this journalistic experiment. Twitter, I rather grandiosely think, represents the high-water mark of intelligence on the web, currently unfathomable to the trolls and weirdos of Facebook or Youtube. Their commentary, and crucially their disclosure of involvement in the voting, will be a telling analysis of this tiny feat of social engineering. Of even more value to the social commentators of our age, how the fickle consumers of the web decide to dictate the author's private life will be a fascinating insight into the flexible morality of the digital age. I hope to comment on both as the scenario develops...