Journal, 1st – 10th March

This week I’ve instituted a new programme where I make myself listen to an album every day, while not doing anything else more intellectually demanding than washing up. This is partly because it’s helpful when it comes to writing The Book, but mainly because I’m increasingly incapable of concentrating on music. I don’t know when I completely lost touch with what’s going on, musically, but I think it was when I began listening to it in work – and suddenly it became something-familiar-in-the-background rather than something challenging and immersive. I haven’t proven a causal link of any kind, and there are several other possible reasons – the fragmentation of centralised charts made it harder to keep track of new stuff, the migration to things like Spotify which I instinctively distrust, and I just hit that age where you’re supposed to lose touch and be so uncool, granddad.

I think it’s a more slippery anxiety, though. My teenage years were in the early 90s, which was a terrible time to be a teenager, when most popular stuff was so awful that everyone had to pretend they liked Soundgarden. Yet what I do remember is that everyone accepted that you were supposed to buy albums, that albums were the fundamental units of music that a band produced. This might just have been because I grew up ninety miles from the nearest record shop, so you damn well had to buy music in great big chunks. Still, the point is that nowadays, albums seem incidental – not to The Young Folk, I hasten to add, but to people my age, who increasingly just stick stuff in their iPod and put it on shuffle. For someone who spent most of his early twenties decrying the shuffle button as the most pointless concept ever created, this is the closer to societal collapse than anything going on in the Ukraine.

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My other musical discovery is that most coffee-shops – where I spend most of my time right now – are advocates of the movement to make 80s or 90s pop-songs more “profound” by playing them on an acoustic guitar and/or piano and getting a winsome female vocalist, as if we were all too stupid to understand how good they were when they were loud. Everyone is much too keen to be sincere these days, but what’s produced most of the greatest pop-songs the world is insincerity. Lots of stunning, liberating, brilliant music is about swagger and poise: putting on a front is the stuff that great songs are made of. Also, as bad as the Come On Eileen version was, to whomever did that version of Love Will Tear Us Apart – if I ever meet you, I’m setting fire to both your ukulele and your hair.

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I don’t really understand what’s going on in the Ukraine, I should add. What I find bemusing is that I’m supposed to, this time round. Nobody seems too concerned that hardly anyone had the faintest idea who the various parties are in Syria, but this time around politicians are repeatedly telling everyone how complicated it all is (except the Americans, obviously, who are happily comparing Putin to Hitler and seem kind of relieved that the Russians are the villains again). There are a lot of prosaic reasons for this – the Ukraine is closer, and Russia – at least to those who decide these agendas – is the sort of powerful yet nutty country that might conceivably nuke us because someone looked at Putin kind of funny.

But the most noticeable thing, in my view, is that people are aware of Ukraine as a proper country – i.e., somewhere with streets and houses that look vaguely like ones you might find in Britain or Ireland, where they recently hosted Euro 2012, somewhere you might reasonably expect your mobile company to cover with a roaming package. The various factions are mostly made up of white people, which is even more important. Because it’s a real place – in those terms – the possibility of reprisals seems tangible, in a way they didn’t in the Middle East which we’re all still conditioned to view as a third-world dustbowl. There still seems to be denial of the fundamental reality that British actions in the Middle East will inevitably have consequences back at home like the London bombings, which is why wanker-politicians still refer to Muslims being “radicalised” as if it’s a genetic mutation triggered by using the wrong prayer-rug. If U.K. forces started dropping bombs on Milan, nobody would be in the least surprised if – in response – explosions in London were to kill fifty people; but if we view the actions as taking place Somewhere Else, we don’t expect anything to rebound on us. Military intervention is so much easier if you half-believe that the place in question doesn’t really exist.

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The other thing that’s floated into my noosphere this week is some sort of Twitter “campaign” (when did retweeting something with a hashtag become a campaign, exactly?) to stop calling little girls bossy, as it means they think asserting themselves and taking charge is a negative thing. It’s fronted by Beyonc√© who’s come up with the line “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.” As she’s American, lots of people are reacting to this in a positive way – which is strange, because if anyone said that to you in real life your immediate reaction would be “ugh, you sound ghastly.” It’s fair to say that Beyonc√© is to feminism what Bono is to anti-poverty campaigning, so this isn’t a surprise.

It’s an odd one, this, because obviously it makes sense to encourage girls to think they can do anything boys can do. Then again, a boy is much more likely to grow up and become a football hooligan, but it’s not like we want to encourage girls to do that. The only thing worse than power is the people who want it: those who aspire to be “leaders” are nearly always completely horrible, so the fact that boys aren’t discouraged from this kind of behaviour might be why I instinctively hate most men. As a moderately competent architect I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in meetings of about fifteen men and no women, ten of whom are obsessed with macho cock-posturing and trying to prove they’re the alpha-male, and the notion that this is in any way positive is miles off the mark. People who say we need more leadership tend to be people who think of themselves as leaders, and as such not worthy of anyone’s attention beyond a quick glance and muttering “jesus, what a wanker.”

All that sounds a bit flippant, but hey. The fact is that “encouraging young girls to be less X” is based on the same fallacy as people opposing gender quotas on the basis that women should just toughen up and get there “on merit” – namely, there’s no way we’re going to change a system that’s empirically rigged, so you need to change yourselves to fit in. It’s victim-blaming, in a sense. Most hierarchical power-structures are anti-woman for the same reason they’re plain anti-social, and only survive because men are more comfortable with being a prick in a suit who everybody secretly hates.

So my solution to the problem is that any child who tries to take charge of anything, ever, should be rewarded with the phrase “Oh shut the fuck up you tedious fucking waste of skin.” This is possibly why I’m not a parent.

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