Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Just when I was about to post about the social menace of the MP3 phone, the Urban Woo beats me to it. They are truly horrible things. I fear I'm part of the last generation to place a premium on high-fidelity audio. Moving from vinyl (yes, I know the arguments about audiophile vinyl, but how many teenagers can afford a Bang and Olufsen rig?) and cassette to CD was a moment of glorious liberation, but the yoof of today seem happy with over-compressed MP3s played through tiny, tinny speakers that make Radio Luxembourg on medium wave sound like a wideband Decca blue-back stereo pressing. This is just one of many ways in which they are being palmed off with fool's gold, IMHO. The Mighty Boosh, anyone?

Anyway, yesterday, I got on the Lowestoft train at Norwich, and saw a young chap trying to make an ill-fitting window stop clattering in sympathetic resonance with the engine. Helpfully, I stepped forward and wedged a redundant ticket in between the window and the frame, rendering it silent. The young chap then thanked me by playing tuneless R&B on his phone nearly all the way home. If I'd been on my own, I'd have challenged him, but I had a small, defenceless and rather beautiful dog with me, so, for her safety, I said nothing. Eventually, somewhere around Reedham swing bridge, the ticket worked loose, and the window started banging away again. Pitted against the MP3 phone, it truly was the lesser of two evils, despite being considerably louder. The noise made matey boy turn his crap music off, mercifully. The truly galling thing is that I had with me several hours of Steely Dan and Donald Fagen, plus a pair of decent headphones, which let very little external noise in, and even less of my music out into the general atmos. If only the batteries hadn't given out on the London-Norwich portion of the journey. I shall be operating the patented Masterton sing-along method in future.

On another occasion, I did say something. Heading to London, a man old enough to know far better got on at Ipswich and proceeded to watch DVDs without headphones. I stepped forward and asked him if he minded using headphones. His reply was stunning in its lack of logic: "It's not a Walkman". My reply was stern: "I don't care what it is. Use headphones or turn it off". He came back with "Am I allowed to talk?", to which I answered "You got on the train on your own. Nobody in this carriage wants to talk to you. If you want to talk to yourself, and you look like the sort of person who might, I can't stop you". As he got off the train at Colchester, he gave me a defiant 'You're a very lucky man' look. As he was about 8 stone soaking wet and a good 5 inches shorter than me, all I could do was laugh. Once he was off the train, another passenger thanked me for intervening, but it's come to a pretty pass where decent people doing nothing is the default position.

Monday, February 18, 2008

I've paid farewell to the London Library. My membership lapses at the end of the month and I've returned all of the books I had on loan. The parting is not without sadness. I've spent a fair bit of time there over the last 5 years, working first on my history of the record industry, then on my soon-come history of light entertainment. Their collection is unrivalled, except by the British Library, but the London Library lets you take the books home, sometimes for years on end. The atmosphere is wonderful if you like to be surrounded by dark wood, leather-bound books and snoring gentlemen with hairy ears. It's not just a haven for bookish buffers, though. There's free wi-fi access for members too. So, why am I giving up on such riches? As you may be aware, the subscription has gone up 80% from £210 a year to £375, to pay for an extension to the building. It sounds a lot, but it's still cheap for a base in the centre of London with hot and cold running wi-fi, a lot of wonderful books, and an iron-floored shelving stack that sounds like the gantries of HMP Slade when you walk through it. I'm just spending less and less time in London these days, and I don't have £375 to spare at the moment. Even before the rise, I was umming and ahhing about whether I could justify the outlay. The rise made my mind up for me, accompanied by an astonishingly puffed-up circular from Sir Tom Stoppard justifying the rise and suggesting that anyone who disagreed was a twat. I'm hoping that my exile is a temporary one, as I can't think of a better waste of £375, but until I have that much to pee up the wall, Sir Tom will have to do without me.