A Decade in the Life

I can see the logic behind it, but I hold no truck with the notion that the new decade/century/millennium should be celebrated when xx10 gives way to xx11; the logic is sound, but with the uncertainty surrounding when exactly Jesus was born and the Gregorian/Julian Calendar changeover, I stick with the simple 9s changing to 0s as the threshold of a new base. Besides, that’s human nature; we all want to see the numbers roll on, even on simple things like the car odometer or our watch marking the new hour.

2000
So, I saw in the new Millennium at a house party in the small town of Johnstone in the west of Scotland. My friend Kris, an important influence on my life, had invited me, having returned from university for the festive period. I took him up on this offer as basically I had no others and didn’t fancy spending the most significant New Year’s celebration of my life-time in the house with my mother, sister and the cats.

On the first day of this decade/century/millennium Kris and I somehow navigated our way from Johnstone to his girlfriend’s flat in Paisley, where we’d spend the rest of the day. His girlfriend, Kirsteen, was with her family, and so we broke out her Eddie Izzard video collection, which passed the time most satisfactorily.

I had something of a crush on Kirsteen; she was tall and slim, intelligent (an environmental chemistry graduate), creative (was studying art, where she met Kris), and loved Star Trek. She even had an ‘Original Series’ Science officer’s uniform. I think the 2nd of January 2000 was the last time I ever saw here; shortly afterwards she and Kris broke up with the latter due to him being unwilling to continue a long-distance relationship. He’d later admit to me he regretted it.

In early 2000 I was 19, still studying Graphic Design at college, but I had applied to the University of Wolverhampton for a place on their photography degree course.

I moved into my new student accommodation in the knackered industrial town of Dudley in September 2000. I perhaps should have been placed in halls on the main campus in Wolverhampton, where the photography department was based, but fate decreed otherwise. Still, I met some interesting and some annoying people from both the Humanities and Art and Design schools, so it perhaps wasn’t a bad thing. I reawakened my dormant footballing career and started playing guitar with other people for the first time since I’d taken up the instrument two years previously. And I met someone who bent my heart somewhat.

Albums of the year

Badly Drawn Boy – The Hour of The Bewilderbeast
Coldplay – Parachutes
Doves – Lost Souls
Geneva – Weather Underground
Mansun – Little Kix
Oasis – Standing on the Shoulder of Giants
PJ Harvey – Stories from the City, Stories From The Sea
Radiohead – Kid A
Richard Ashcroft – Alone With Everyone
Soulwax – Much Against Everyone’s Advice
U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind

Films of the year

Almost Famous
Finding Forrester
Memento
Million Dollar Hotel
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Snatch
Unbreakable
X-Men

2001

In comparison to the previous year, I can’t remember much about 2001. I suspect this is because it was fairly forgettable. In February I shaved off all my hair, which had reached my shoulder blades, and then spent the rest of the year growing it back. Around the same time, I photographed my first ever gig, Ash at the Little Civic in Wolverhampton. I completed my first year of studies and returned home for summer. Shortly before I was due to make the reverse journey again, my mother and I went on holiday to the Costa del Sol, her 21st birthday to me. I’m not really a summer sun holiday type person (or at least I wasn’t back then), so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have, but the trip to Barcelona’s Camp Nou was well worth it.

I continued to live in halls in second year, rather than move into a house with friends, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but which soon transpired to be rather a large mistake when I found I was seconded next to a rather loud ganja smoking heavy-metal fan. I suppose I could have asked to have been moved, yet for some reason I didn’t. I don’t recollect getting a good night’s sleep that entire academic year.

Albums of the year

Aerosmith – Just Push Play
Ash – Free All Angels
Elbow – Asleep In The Back
King Adora – Vibrate You
Manic Street Preachers – Know Your Enemy
Muse – Origin of Symmetry
Natalie Imbruglia – White Lilies Island
New Order – Get Ready
Paul McCartney – Driving Rain
Ryan Adams – Gold
Super Furry Animals – Rings Around The World
Tenacious D – Tenacious D
Travis – The Invisible Band
Turin Brakes – The Optimist l.p.

Films of the year

Ali
Amélie
Donnie Darko
From Hell
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
A Knight’s Tale
K-PAX
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Monsters, Inc.
Shrek
Spirited Away
Zoolander

2002

As the academic year 2001-2002 drew to an inevitable anti-climax, I returned to Glasgow for the last time (for any length of time, for three years at least) to work the summer in the duty free shop in Glasgow airport. I let my mother talk me into getting streaks put in my hair (the first time I’d ever dyed my hair in any way), then I tinted it red, and shortly before I headed south for my third and final year at university, I attempted to conceal the bad dye jobs with another; jet black.

Dudley Campus had been shut down at the end of the previous session, so all of us had been relocated to the main site in Wolverhampton. I moved into a small terraced house in Whitmore Reans with my friends Bex, Rosie and Cherie, and embarked upon what would be the most enjoyable nine months of my life.

I got to know Mike, a friend of a friend, and we started playing music together. I found myself playing football in West Park every Wednesday afternoon with the football team set up by the Dudley Campus exiles. Academically, I was doing the best I’d done at university, and I was quite content.

Albums of the year

Badly Drawn Boy – About A Boy Soundtrack
Bruce Springsteen – The Rising
The Chemical Brothers – Come With Us
Coldplay – A Rush Of Blood To The Head
Doves – The Last Broadcast
Foo Fighters – One By One
Haven – Between The Senses
John Squire – Time Changes Everything
Oasis – Heathen Chemistry
Puressence – Planet Helpless
Red Hot Chili Peppers – By The Way
The Shining – True Skies
Suede – A New Morning

Films of the year

8 Mile
24 Hour Party People
28 Days Later
About a Boy
Adaptation
The Bourne Identity
Morvern Callar
One Hour Photo
Panic Room
Standing in the Shadows of Motown

2003

2003 was what footballers would describe as being a year of two halves. The first five or six months I was as happy as I can ever remember being; it was almost as giddily delirious a time as the pre-primary school times I can still see and feel so vividly. I got a tattoo, I joined a band, I was playing open mics, football for my university, I was enjoying my photography, I felt as socially adept as I’ve ever been, I finally bonded with someone I’d known for a while…even my grandfather dying of cancer in March didn’t set me back too much.

And then when I was arranging to have my graduation ceremony with my Art & Design classmates rather than the Humanities school, I found out I didn’t have enough credits to graduate at all. It transpired the new head of the photography department had failed my final negotiated project for reasons that remain unclear to me to this day. I attempted to resit the module over the summer, hampered by the department being shut for renovations. My emails to the lecturer went unanswered, my resubmission unmarked. Graduation week arrived, and having remained in Wolverhampton, I had offered to let some of my friends and class-mates crash in my house. The days when they went off to collect their diplomas broke my heart in a way I think I might finally have gotten over these six years later.

I didn’t know where I was going, but having spoken to a guidance counsellor, I discovered I only needed 15 credits, or a standard module, to gain my degree, rather than the 30 credit negotiated project I’d failed. I’m not sure who exactly had the brainwave, whether it was me or a friend, but I transferred to the school of humanities (which I was able to do as a mixed-discipline student), and enrolled in a dissertation module in English Literature. I chose to write my thesis on Harry Potter, something of a urine-extractory choice as I felt the university had taken the piss out of me. However, my despair was tempered by me achieving something I’d felt I’d never be able to do, namely pass my driving test.

I’d moved into a new house, just round the corner from the previous one, with my friends Mary, Bob and Chris, and had found a job entering data for a small company in the Heath Town area of the City. It wasn’t a great job, and I saw out the year being frustrated at work and academically, looking for photography work here and there, to no avail. In November I did a week’s work experience as a photographer with the Scotsman newspaper, who my father worked for, and around that period I signed up for the now defunct Stay Beautiful online messageboard, an inconsequential decision I thought at the time, but which has now gone down in the annals of mystory as something of a life-changing one.

Albums of the Year

The Beatles – Let It Be…Naked
Blur – Think Tank
Damien Rice – O
The Darkness – Permission To Land
Doves – Lost Sides
Elbow – Cast of Thousands
Johnny Marr + The Healers – Boomslang
Klaus Badelt & Hans Zimmer – The Pirates of the Carribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Soundtrack
Muse – Absolution
Travis – 12 Memories

Films of the Year

Haute Tension/Switchblade Romance

Kill Bill Vol. 1

Les Triplettes de Belleville
Lost in Translation

Love Actually

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

2004

At the start of the year, the band I’d formed with my contemporaries Smithy and Woodall made its first live appearance at a Battle of the Bands in the Varsity pub in Wolverhampton. We’d recruited Smithy’s brother Dave on bass, and another Dave on drums, both of whom had played with Smithy in a previous group. I don’t recall us being great, but we got through to the next round based on the number of our friends who voted for us. I’d bought a new guitar a week before our debut, a Gibson SG in heritage cherry which I subsequently named Scarlett, and which is still one of my cherished possessions to this day.

In June, I handed in my notice at the data entry place and moved to Birmingham as we’d decided to give the band a bit of a go. I found work doing more data entry, and despite making friends with my housemates, I wasn’t very happy. I did however complete my dissertation and gain my degree, graduating in September, and I’d had a pleasant three days at the V festival in Staffordshire with 3/4s of my bandmates. In addition, we drove through to Lincoln in a hire car to play a set in the pub our friend managed, perhaps the highlight of our brief career.

However, after a disagreement over pay and working conditions, I found myself out of a job a few weeks before Christmas. I saw in the New Year as miserable as I’d ever been and pining for someone, quite possibly as wrong a person as I could pine for.

Albums of the year

Ash – Meltdown
Embrace – Out Of Nothing
Foo Fighters – In Your Honour
John Squire – Marshall’s House
Manic Street Preachers – Lifeblood
The Music – Welcome to the North
U2 – How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

Films of the year

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Howl’s Moving Castle

Million Dollar Baby

Night Watch

Shaun of the Dead

Team America: World Police
The Incredibles

2005

2005 didn’t get off to a great start with me being unemployed, and it would get worse when the four guys I was sharing a house with all moved out, having signed six-month contracts when I’d signed a year’s. The landlords seemed to find it difficult to attract new tenants, and so for a while there were only three of us in the house. I did manage to find a new job however, as an admin/receptionist with a charity. I was still looking for photography work, and this proved to be my undoing, as when I asked the HR manager to have an objective look at my CV, she cancelled my employment.

So, back to square one. Urgently needing money, I found myself work painting the floors of a storage building in Erdington, and before the week was out, another agency had landed me a post with a council social work department for much better money. Around the same time, my sister told me she was pregnant with her first child and I would shortly be an uncle.

So things were looking up, but my living conditions were still grim. New tenants had been found, but the atmosphere in the house was always a little frosty, and that’s no way to live. The band had started to lose momentum, and I felt at least two of the members weren’t that interested. Trips home for my gran’s funeral and my father’s fiftieth birthday had led to the surprising development of homesickness, and so when my house contract ended, I quit my band and my job, packed my stuff into a van and drove back to Glasgow.

For her fiftieth birthday, my mother had arranged a holiday for herself, family and some friends in Corfu. I hadn’t really wanted to go, for financial reasons, but I found my arm twisted, and it was enjoyable enough in the end. In September, my niece Rachael was born, healthy in almost every way other than having Albinism, which she hasn’t let hold her back in the slightest.

I had no more joy finding photography work, or indeed any form of work in Glasgow than I had in the West Midlands, and so for the second year in a row I was unemployed at Christmas and the New Year.

Albums of the year

Coldplay – X&Y
Doves – Some Cities
Editors – The Back Room
Elbow – Leaders of the Free World
Gorillaz – Demon Days
Kaiser Chiefs – Employment
New Order – Waiting For The Sirens’ Call
Oasis – Don’t Believe The Truth
Paul McCartney – Chaos and Creation In The Backyard
Sigur Ros – Takk…
Starsailor – On the Outside
The Tears – Here Come the Tears

Films of the Year

Batman Begins

Serenity

Sin City

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse

Walk the Line

2006

A year best forgotten, if only because I can’t remember anything about it. I spent the entire year unemployed, save for a fruitless three weeks near the 2/3rds of the way through when I briefly worked for a high street music retailer, and I did have two unsuccessful interviews for medical illustrator positions. One of which was in Cardiff, and would have fulfilled me deeply I suspect.

Instead, I watched a baby grow and develop, spending almost as much time as her father (who had a full time job) did with her. I’d never been around an infant before (other than my sister, but I was only a baba myself then), so it was an eye-opening time for me.

Albums of the year

The Beatles – Love
Guillemots – Through The Window Pane
The Hold Steady – Boys And Girls In America
Hope of the States – Left
James Dean Bradfield – The Great Western
Muse – Black Holes & Revelations
Nicky Wire – I Killed The Zeitgeist

Films of the Year

Casino Royale
Dreamgirls
Pan’s Labyrinth

2007

2007 marked the start of an upward curve, although the year itself began with something of a down turn when my uncle died at just 54 years of age. Shortly afterwards however, I found myself in gainful employment once again, and I was able to frame a trip to London around the Muse concert at Wembley stadium I’d impetuously booked a ticket for the previous November. Things started to pick up in general now I’d found steady employment (in March I’ll have been in the same place for three years), and my confidence picked up to the point where towards the end of the year I found myself on my first date for a long time. However, in November, my gran Jean, my last grandparent (I had five due to my father’s father remarrying) died of what appeared to be little more than old age.

Albums of the year

Aqualung – Memory Man
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Ash – Twilight of the Innocents
Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
The Hedrons – One More Won’t Kill Us
Manic Street Preachers – Send Away The Tigers
The National – Boxer
Paul McCartney – Memory Almost Full
Radiohead – In Rainbows
Travis – The Boy With No Name

Films of the year

Control

Sunshine

The Simpsons Movie
(I will point out I didn’t see many films in 2007…)

2008

Quite probably the most exciting twelve months of my life, I seemed to pack a huge amount into this year…by my lowly standards obviously.

I’d set myself a target of finishing the protracted first draft of my novel by my 28th birthday in February, which I achieved. I spent the Easter weekend being drunk in Dublin and in April, I travelled to the United States for friends Matt and Ru’s wedding in San Jose, CA. Over the three weeks I was o the other side of the Atlantic I saw San Francisco, Yosemite and spent six days in New York. In May I met some internet friends in Manchester, and two months later I was back in Lancashire for Paul McCartney’s gig at Anfield stadium in Liverpool. I bought myself a new digital SLR camera in July, and attended my first festival in four years when I dragged myself up to Inveraray for the Connect festival and almost repeated the journey in September when I made my way to the Isle of Mull for four days.

In November, I completed NaNoWriMo for the third time, played bass on a performance of Usher’s ‘You Got It Bad’ in front of 250 people at a Chinese Talent Contest in the Mitchell Theatre in Glasgow and spend a weekend in London, and took in my first FA Premier League game when I saw Tottenham beat Bolton 2-0 at White Hart Lane.

Most notably, I started a HNC in Architectural Technology on one day week release from work, which should open a few doors if and when I complete it in June 2010.

Albums of the year

The Charlatans – You Cross My Path
Coldplay – Viva la Vida, or Death and All His Friends
dEUS – Vantage Point
Elbow – Friend of Ours
The Fireman – Electric Arguments
Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard – The Dark Knight Soundtrack
Metallica – Death Magnetic
Oasis – Dig Out Your Soul
Portishead – Third
Sigur Ros – Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
Travis – Ode To J. Smith

Films of the year

Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Iron Man

Persepolis

The Bank Job

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

Wall-E

2009

This last year hasn’t been quite as notable as its predecessor, mainly because of something of a watershed moment in my life when I realised I really should be putting some money aside to save up the deposit for a house. For most of 2009, a quarter of my wages has been going into a savings account, to help me achieve/purchase the things I need to help me get on. Last year I paid off what I owed for my digital SLR, cleared the outstanding balance on my credit card and bought a badly needed new laptop. Due to this reduction in my disposable income, I wasn’t able to go on the holidays I had intended to, though I still stole a couple of trips away. I ventured down to Cardiff for the Photomarathon contest, which I’d wanted to enter for several years, in June, and spent four days in London in September.

I’ve played some music on and off with Kevin, Fred and Andy, but we haven’t really been getting anywhere. I completed the first year of my HNC with no difficulty and moved onto the second part of the course. I took a few night classes, including one in portfolio preparation should I be able to apply for the Architecture degree course…I wrote a few short stories, completed NaNoWriMo again and took more photographs than I’ve ever done in my life. I took part in a Chinese dragon boat race, went on a RIB, took up cycling for a while before throwing my inept, £50 bike in the bin. I went a whole year without drinking. I think I’ve done more things, but I really should write them down in blogs more often, because I’ll forget them otherwise.

But of course there’s Kate, my sister’s second child and my younger niece, who was born in March and who is going to break hearts someday, mark my words.

And while I didn’t do quite as much in 2009 as I had the year before, I’ve been laying foundations. My decade ended not with a bang, but with a deep breath. Let’s see what 2010-2019 offers…

Albums of the year

Doves – Kingdom Of Rust
Manic Street Preachers – Journal for Plague Lovers
Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
Muse – The Resistance

Films of the Year

Avatar

Sherlock Holmes

Star Trek

Album of the decade

Doves – Lost Souls

I’m not sure when I first became of Doves; I had a passing acquaintance with their previous incarnation Sub Sub thanks to their hit single ‘Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)’ from 1993, but they weren’t an act I’d paid close attention to. Their metamorphosis from the dance act they were into the rock band they are now had completely passed me by. In my first year at university, I remember my friend Amy and some of her acquaintances trying to sell a spare ticket for the band’s gig in Wolverhampton, but I wasn’t particularly interested in going. And then something piqued my interest, because I bought their first album as Doves at Christmas. I’m not deliberately being vague here; normally I would have heard a single on the radio or something, but I genuinely can’t remember such an event happening. I do however quite clearly recall a spot for the album on television late one night; the brief snippets I heard of the songs intrigued me.

I confess it took me a while to get into it; it’s the classic slow-burning album, with melodies that take just long enough to unfold their buds and ingrain themselves on your memory without losing their appeal too quickly. The songs that made up what would be side B on an LP were immediate, bold and beguiling. The first ‘side’ took a little longer to surrender its charms to me; ‘Sea Song’ for instance didn’t appeal to me until I heard it used on a BBC trailer one night in 2005 and after that I was in love with it.

I wrestled with the question of why Doves were so different to so many of their contemporaries for most of the decade; while many rock bands seemed to be caught up with tight trousers, sharp hair, compression and ProTools, Doves seemed to grow their songs in a dark room somewhere in Manchester. Moody, atmospheric and probably the musically accomplished British band to emerge since Radiohead, their albums were the British music equivalent of the Mirror universe in Star Trek.

An interview around the release of their fourth album, Kingdom of Rust in 2009 shed some light on the matter; discussing the song ‘Jetstream’, which was conceived to play over the closing credits for Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, the band admitted a cinematic influence on their music. Of course. It all made sense then and explained why their songs were so likely to crop up soundtracking programmes on the BBC (as I write this, Kingdom of Rust’s ‘Compulsion’ has just cropped up on Top Gear), and ultimately, why I love them so much.

Lost Souls was followed two years later by The Last Broadcast, an album almost, but not quite, its equal. The band themselves feel that the latter album is more optimistic, and I would agree; I do however, prefer the more downbeat, but no less scintillating mood of Lost Souls.

Film of the Decade

Hot Fuzz

I’d never really watched Spaced; I’d seen a few episodes and hadn’t particularly enjoyed it. I didn’t have high hopes for Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s next project, the zom-rom-com Shaun of the Dead because I don’t care for the undead either. The year after it came out however, my then housemates rented it on DVD and I was converted; I thought it was brilliant. I actually became fixated with it somewhat, and I even bought both series of Spaced (although I’m still not keen on it). Thus, when their follow up film Hot Fuzz was released, I rolled up at the door of the Odeon at Atlantic Quay in Glasgow, keen to see how it matched up. People talk about ‘second album syndrome’, where a sophomore attempt is not as good, or keenly received as the first. This wasn’t the case with Hot Fuzz however; the cinematic equivalent of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, it was four or five narratives rolled into one, but excelled at all of them, from the fish out of water first act, to the murder mystery second act, to the cop/buddy movie climax. It’s not a cerebral, thought-provoking film, true, but it is simply, viscerally entertaining.

The films and music I’ve mentioned here don’t necessarily represent the best films and music over the previous ten years, because there’s a lot of stuff I haven’t seen or heard yet. I was concerned to note a tailing off in the amount of films and albums I can honestly say I enjoyed and would listen to/watch again. I’m curious as to whether this marks a post-digital decay in quality, or whether I’m just getting old and can’t understand this noisy crash-bang nonsense all the youngsters are listening to. In that vein, I give you my top ten most pernicious things to happen to culture in the last ten years…

1. The Strokes. Releasing their debut album Is This It in 2001, and representing the avant garde of the garage rock revival, soon every new band would soon, and more ominously, look like the Strokes. Bearing in mind that almost every band that has ever emerged in the wake of the vastly more successful band they’re slavishly copying has been terrible, this is not a good thing.

2. Ricky Gervais. First coming to public attention on the 11 o’clock Show in the late 90s ‘playing’ an obnoxious reporter, Gervais’ star reached its zenith following his and Stephen Merchant’s slow-burning The Office mocumentary. Wisely winding both The Office and its follow-up Extras after just two series of each, he has since moved into Hollywood films and become extraordinarily rich and feted. My issue is this; his comedy is the archetype of the ‘awkward’ type that has become predominant times, where someone insults a gay/disabled/black person accidentally and spends the remainder of the episode attempting to make amends. Presumably this brand of comedy flourished when it became socially unacceptable to directly insult gay/disabled/black people. In any case, it isn’t big and it isn’t clever. It does, sadly, seem to be lucrative.

3. Arctic Monkeys. An ‘internet phenomenon’, the AMs have cornered the market in new apparel for Regents. Critics constantly talk about the lyrical bent of Alex Turner, while never quite managing to appraise the John Lennon solo b-side quality of the music. An immensely boring band.

4. Simon Cowell. Oh, you know. And Nigel Lythgoe for that matter.

5. Dan Brown. Bit of an obvious choice, but deserved. Angels & Demons was a decent read but the Da Vinci Code, Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent’s The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail stapled to an American daytime soap plot, was truly terrible in parts. It also ensured that every other novel published for the remainder of the noughties would have titles like The Atlantis Codex and The Olympus Enigma and be about utterly fuck all. Still, lowest common denominator was the watch word of the wretched decade.

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