Urban Fathers' Liberation Front

Confused dads working out the city

Becoming Talkies


I try to be a fairly community spirited person, but it has to be said that a lot of the time other commitments can get in the way.  The Enfield neighbourhood where I’ve been with my wife and kids for the last couple of years seems to have a real sense of a growing community spirit, people making an effort, and I like it.  As soon as we moved in, in February 2011, we had a note through the letterbox from a neighbour looking for support in organising a ‘street play’ day for the kids in the street, which involved closing the street for traffic for a summer Saturday afternoon.  The same group of us organised a street party for the Queen’s Jubilee last year.

I’ve also been involved in the organisation of the community festival in the park which took place last year, attracting about 5000 visitors.  The festival is going ahead again this year on September 1.  In addition, this year will see the second Open Studios event for local artists and craftspeople, and an enterprising group of business women have set up a business networking group for the borough called Love Your Doorstep.  In addition, another omnipresent business woman has made the BBC news with her Shock Cash Mobs, a spontaneous gathering of local people to descend on a local independent shop and spend a tenner each.

The latest community project to catch my attention is Talkies.  Partly on the back of a small grant generated by the aforementioned community festival, local resident David Williamson and a small band of volunteers and helpers has established a pop-up cinema.  It has it’s third event last night, enticing over 80 people into a pub to watch ‘Strictly Ballroom’ on a big screen.  Not only was the film excellent, it was preceded by a salsa demonstration which, after the film had finished, became an impromptu salsa class.  Talkies will be holding a fourth event in February with talk of a Junior Cinema Club evolving in the summer if the project can maintain and gather momentum.

The evidence on show in this part of Enfield and the borough more widely, suggests that despite the gloom (or maybe because of it) people still crave contact with each other and social interaction.  The feeling is a growing familiarity with the communities here – the residents, the artisans, the businesses.  There’s a sense of helping and supporting one another which may sound twee but is palpable.  It’s really quite optimistic, and I only hope it’s maintained.

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The Rise and Fall of HMV

IMG_9859I know I am many things when it comes to commenting abut HMV. I am a white guy in his 40s, brought up on a diet of 1980s Top of the Pops, witnessing the arrival of the CD and the apparent fall of vinyl, the emergence of coffee shop grunge, Blur vs Oasis on the Six O’Clock News and the depressing omnipresence of so-called talent shows that rely on insipid covers of other people’s greatest moments.  However….

We seem to be at a pivotal moment in our societal development. The high street as we know it is dying.  In the last few years we’ve seen the demise of a number of high street chains, and many more independent stores have also come and gone.  In its place we see charity shops, nail bars full of women who seem to have nothing better to do than worry about their bloody fingers, and coffee shops doubling as nurseries.  And despite people saying that they regret the high street in its traditional form dying, and wanting things to be different, it is still dying.

I didn’t care much about this until the one place I could rely upon to pass more than a few minutes in the town centre was threatened with disappearing.  HMV has been struggling for a number of years, and like the company itself, I’d rather thought that they’d get by somehow because, well, it’s HMV, and people still like music don’t they?  I realise now that this flies in the face of the fact that HMV stores have been disappearing for a number of years, new stores have not opened in new developments, and many people are content with their exposure to music whilst wandering round the supermarket, watching the X-Factor or mining their memories from when they were 15.

Music for me is like expressing emotion.  I’m not too good at telling people things, or saying how I’m feeling, but I can usually get somewhere by using a song lyric.  During the 1980s, wandering into one of the two Disco Music Centre record stores in Morecambe, or ‘Ear ‘Ere in Lancaster, was like wrapping a warm blanket around me.  Flicking through the 12″ albums with the waft of the plastic liners rising up into my nostrils was blissful; finding the records you wanted was a satisfaction, hearing something in the store or coming across something new in the racks was more so.   The staff would even set aside the huge promo material from our favourite albums after they were done with it.  Of course, all of these stores vanished years ago.

Coming to London during my teenage years and into my twenties and walking into one of Oxford Street’s two HMV stores was magical.  I’d make lists of obscure records I wanted for weeks in advance to ensure that the trip wasn’t wasted, though invariably my list was grander than the contents of my wallet.  But the thrill was in knowing that this cavernous space, set over three floors, wall to wall with racks of LPs, CDs and 7″ singles, would have pretty much anything on my list, and in the unlikely event that it didn’t then the Virgin Megastore at Tottenham Court Road or Tower at Piccadilly Circus probably would.  I can still remember the difficult decisions required in relation to Toad the Wet Sprocket’s back catalogue.  Of course, Virgin, Tower and one of the HMVs vanished years ago.

In the wake of the announcement in January 2013, that HMV had entered administration, coincident with a massive 25% off sale, I purposefully made a visit to Oxford Street to see what was going on.  I wanted a couple of albums, given the markdowns, namely David Bowie’s Hunky Dory and Soft Cell’s Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret – not exactly obscure albums or artists.  It wasn’t a reminiscent visit either; I still visit HMV in Oxford Street whenever I can.

What greeted me on this visit, alongside the usual piled high, bulk reduced, mainstream selection of TV and film DVD box sets, 2 for £10 albums and the latest top 40 albums was a sale that cluttered the place up with unorganised boxes of DVDs and CDs and the regular shelves virtually empty of stock.  It was a sale seemingly being run by children, reliant on coming across something by chance and buying on impulse.  Neither of the CDs I wanted were available, and the overall selection was rather depleted.  There was a sense of desperation about it.  HMV had finally reached the pinnacle of what it seemed to want to achieve these last few years – appealing to everyone whilst simultaneously appealing to no-one.

I was pleased when a buyer for HMV came forward, but the nature of the beast needs to change.  The record buying public has changed.  I can’t speak for the teenager, the family watching that lowest common denominator tat that television companies tend to offer on a Saturday night, the mum mooching around Sainsbury’s and accidentally passing the music stand, for those who have no appreciation of the physical thing and the art and artistry that goes into that, but I can talk for blokes like me.

I still want to get my hands on a physical music product, whether it’s a shiny CD or a big black vinyl disc.  I still want to have to browse, to maybe hear something I like in a store as I browse, to come across something that looks interesting, to come by chance upon a name that was otherwise lost down the metaphoric side of the sofa in my brain, to have recommendations and suggestions made by someone else who’s judgement I can value.  The likes of Sister Ray, Reckless and Rough Trade and the many brilliant independents up and down the country fill some of the gap here but tend to lean toward their own niches or have the randomness of second hand selections, but it would be nice to have some level of consistency in selling records in the major towns and cities of the country to those who want it.

I’m pretty sure that there’s a band of boring middle aged fellas like me who have music buying in their blood who would relish the prospect of visiting a well stocked music store where they could guarantee a good back catalogue of nostalgic stock combined with a sprinkling of new releases.  And perhaps have a nice coffee and muffin.  Surely a super slimmed down HMV can, in part, meet that?

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The new world of hassle-free payment

I was setting up a new exhibition of my work last week at Enfield Chase station.  The work is up in My Coffee Shop, the delightful little oasis of calm on this busy north London station.  It not being my local station, I’d asked the owner, Karen, whether there was parking handy at the station for me to unload.  She’d said that the station had a car park, and that it was £3 to park all day.  Perfect.  I even did a visit the day before to check out how handy it was.

I arrived at the car park on the day with a small collection of pound coins for the ticket machine.  However, on arrival, I found that there was no ticket machine; only  a sign…


Oh lovely, thought I, a quicker and more efficient way to pay than the burden of preparing loose change, walking to a machine, dispensing money and taking the ticket back to the car.  Oh, goody!

With a longing for human contact, I called the number first.  I got a recorded message to tell me to send a text.  I texted the number of the car park location.  I got a text back to say I needed to register for the service.  I had to ring another number.  During this call, I had to type in my card number, my expiry date and code.  I dropped my wallet and all the other cards fell out.  Once I’d registered, and paid, I was told the call was over, and I should remember to text my car registration. I texted my car registration.  A minute later, I received a text telling me the required format for my text message with my car registration, which was not just my car registration.  I re-texted my car registration in the format required.  The whole process took about ten minutes.

For those who want a summary of this quick an efficient method of payment, it goes: telephone call, text, telephone call, enter all card details, text, text again.  That’s two telephone calls and three texts.  And there’s an additional 20p charge on top of the £3, which they call a ‘convenience fee’.  I expect with so much speed, efficiency and convenience, there has to be a financial cost over and above the actual act of parking.

I will probably never use this car park again, but at least I am now registered which will take all the hassle out of not using it again.  And I was saved the burden of that money in machine business that had so troubled mankind up to the invention of texts.

At least I had a spare three quid for a coffee and a croissant.

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