Circumstances

I freely admit to being a bit of a nightmare to buy presents for. The reason for this is that if I want something that is within my means I just go out and buy it, on impulse, usually within minutes of having the idea of wanting whatever it is, leaving little opportunity for family to surprise me with a present of something I’ve wanted for a long time.

And so it was that just a couple of weeks before Christmas I found myself in a shop buying a record player. We had just re-modelled our adult living room, rather foolishly splashing out on a brand new settee. Foolish, because we have toddlers. We thought about that though and bought a second brand new sofa to put in their playroom that we weren’t as bothered if they spilled things on. This was the plan, but we still wince every time they go near it with anything remotely edible. Mrs Aitchworld cringes and I get a nervous twitch in my right eye.

We also bought a huge bookcase that, as luck would have it, had lower shelves of dimensions that would house all my old vinyl LPs. There is something wondrous about an album cover, so much so that they should be displayed and not hidden away in a loft. There was once a pub near to me owned by a musician who decorated the establishments walls with framed album covers. (While this looked good, ultimately it was crap because you couldn’t get the LPs out of their sleeves).

Whole generations are missing out on the experience of studying the 30cm square (more if it was a gatefold cover) works of art that accompanied the approximately 45 minutes of music contained within, which entertained me while I was growing up. Tape cassette artwork and CD artwork was just too small to appreciate. And do recording artists even bother with cover artwork on albums these days?

What absolutely shouldn’t be displayed in the living room, ever, according to Mrs Aitchworld, is a bright silver, plastic and chrome stereo system from the early 2000s of the sort I had been using up in the loft room until it turned into a dumping ground of out-grown baby items and as yet too-big hand me downs waiting to be grown into. Apparently, as amazing as the sound quality may be, it was considered far too garish and vulgar, and would look out of place in a tasteful and classically styled living room.

A small suitcase-style record player, in a stylish red colour to match the decor and soft furnishings, was deemed acceptable though, and (literally) within minutes of this decision Henry and I were deep in baskets in the middle aisle of the nearest Aldi in order to acquire one. I didn’t need telling twice.

It should be obvious that I love music. I’ve mentioned it enough and although it wasn’t the intention when I started this blog, every blog post name has ended up being a song title (or at least a slightly paraphrased version of one) and this is now (and will remain) the standard. Usually as I am wittering away via the medium of typing words, a song will pop into my head that just suits whatever it is I am writing at the time; it fits the theme of the blog post. Sometimes it is the title, sometimes it is part of the lyrics. It has always been this way. Even before I even got into writing, this was the case, as I was reminded when I listened to Queen’s very first album the other day on my newly purchased turntable.

Back when I was 17, freshly expelled from school, I decided I needed to express my feelings in writing to a girl whom I would no longer see on a daily basis. The thing is, back then, I wasn’t quite as good with words as I think I am today. In fact, I was quite the awkward teenager. However, I had music at my disposal. And so it was that I proceeded to write a love letter that was made up entirely of snippets of song lyrics, interwoven into an approximation of how I felt. I was the literary equivalent of Fat Boy Slim, mixing all the music up long before he had even thought about doing it.

There was always the danger of the girl in question could have recognised the song lyrics… who am I kidding? I wasn’t in the least bit trendy when I was 17. I liked progressive rock music. The love letter was constructed from lines from songs by bands such as like Marillion, King Crimson, Rush, Yes, Genesis (obviously from before Peter Gabriel left) Pendragon, IQ and I can even remember I used a line from Queen’s “My Fairy King”, hence why I was reminded of it when listening to the album it was from for the first time in decades just the other day.

It was a genius idea, fool-proof in winning the heart of the intended recipient even, especially when all penned neatly in fountain pen. I thought it looked the bollocks. To be fair, the reason I used fountain pen wasn’t necessarily because I thought nicely flowing ink would add a romantic touch. The reality was that I couldn’t, and to this day still can’t, write in any sort of ballpoint pen without getting covered in little spots of biro ink all over my hands. I have no idea why. Eventually I gave up with pens altogether and these days write everything with a propelling pencil.

If you are reading this, Vicky who lived in Congleton in 1988, and you did read my letter of that time rather than just shoving it straight in the bin, and it made absolutely no sense to you, now you know why. Mind you, you are equally as highly unlikely to be reading this load of bilge either, so it may forever remain a mystery to you.

So, what place has all this indulgent, reminiscing nonsense have in a blog that is predominantly about raising children, I hear you ask. Well, probably not much, except that Arthur and Henry have become rather taken with the whole record thing. While generally they love relatively modern artists such as Avril Lavigne, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, often requesting these be played when in the car with me, they have actually started to ask that I get albums out of the new book case and play them on the new record player.

The two most common wants, currently, are “the green one” (The Yes Album) and “the bed one” (Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason) to play on the new record player. Arthur, the more musical of the two, likes to play it all very loud. Henry, obviously with not quite as good musical taste as his brother and father, turns them right down again. I foresee some cracking love letters being penned by Arthur in his teenage years! Both of them love counting the beds on the cover of Momentary Lapse, which takes them the entire length of the album because their capacity for numbers at the moment runs to about twenty and then they have to start again.

The boys aren’t yet fully aware of the capacity of an iPad or an iPhone*. They are starting to recognise certain icons on the screen – for some reason both Arthur and Henry like to play with the calculator app and once into an unlocked iPhone they can go straight to the app and start “playing numbers”. They also recognise certain Cbeebies apps and the Iplayer. However it is all a bit more luck than judgement a lot of the time, as I found out the other day when I left my phone alone and unlocked with Arthur in the playroom. Later that evening I was looking for a picture on my phone and I found in the region of two hundred and seventy pictures of Arthur’s face. I was quite impressed he’d found the function that swapped to the camera on the front of the phone though. I was also relieved that I hadn’t had to cancel yet another call to the emergency services again.

There is still just something a little bit special about pulling an LP off the shelf, removing it from it’s cover and lyric-lined inner sleeve, and then spending the next 22ish minutes listening to it, before turning it over and listening to the next 22 minutes of the other side. And although one day the boys will fully understand how to use phones and tablets, probably fulfilling their potential for usefulness far more efficiently than I can, for now, they seem to get the whole record experience that I grew up enjoying.

I’ve got loads of music on my phone and on memory sticks in the car, and yet still more on computers and hard drives and smart televisions dotted around the house. I can easily access pretty much anything I want, music wise, in seconds and it is all in one place. And that’s before even considering any online radio or on-demand streaming.

When I was growing up, if you’d have told me that one day all the music I could ever want would be able to come through my telephone wires I’d have laughed. Then again, I do remember dialling 16 to hear records played by the GPO on repeat, via my parents telephone, so I suppose it wasn’t that far fetched. I still remember the bollocking I got from my dad when he got the first telephone bill subsequent to this discovery, although that was probably very much akin to receiving an iTunes bill these days. It’s funny how life changes, yet stays so very much the same.

*Other devices are available.
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Video Killed The Radio Star

It’s official. I’m old. Over the Christmas period I got a new mobile telephone and despite my best efforts, I failed in setting it up. I did pretty well, importing all my contacts and applications, but no matter what I tried I couldn’t get the damn thing connected to the internet. I was partially vindicated in that when I took it to the Carphone Warehouse, from where I bought the SIM card, in order for a teenager to sort it all out for me, that they were also unable to connect me to the internet. In the end I had to resort to ringing Vodafone (other mobile telephony providers are available) to help me.

And then there was the Firestick incident this week. Friends of ours gave it to us as a gift to thank us for all the stuff we had given them for their new-born twins. I’ve commented before on the generosity of our friends who have children (all boys) who are slightly older than Arthur and Henry and I lost my man cave up in the converted loft room months ago with all the incoming hand-me-downs. We have boxes of clothes and shoes taking us through the next three years. Getting rid of several van loads of clothes and toys was a blessing, not something we needed thanking for. But appreciated we were, and the Firestick was a thing of beauty; a gadget for me to play with. Man like gadget!

Once it was all plugged in and ready to go, I realised I had no clue how to find HDMI source on the television by using the remote control. Or any other method. I bought the telly only a few months ago – it’s one of these smart TVs that works off the internet, magic and witchcraft (but not off the aerial if there is a strong wind or a bit of rain, apparently).

None of the buttons on the remote for this new television have anything so obvious as the word “source” next to them, but instead rely on hieroglyphics that no one over the age of about 20 can understand. Even Mrs Aitchworld, a veritable youth at seven years my junior, was none the wiser. I eventually considered doing that most unmanly of things and reading the manual. I resisted to the best of my ability, but ultimately, in the wee small hours, I capitulated and dug out the manual for the TV in search of the solution.

Since I am using computers less and less, I consider my eyesight to have improved back to the levels it was at during my early twenties and in light of this I stopped wearing my glasses a couple of years ago. However, I may have been a bit premature in this assertion because I couldn’t actually read the manual. I don’t usually have trouble reading small print and assumed that the cheap paper the manual was printed on had caused the ink to bleed and therefore appear blurred.

Still, it played on my mind and while I was in Primark on a recent shopping trip to Manchester, waiting for Mrs Aitchworld to try on some clobber, I found myself stood next to a display rack of reading glasses. I was distraught to find, when I tried some on, they made print very much clearer.

Of course the natural thing to do when I got home was to google these symptoms and after many hours of research and self-diagnosis the verdict is that I’m going blind. This is going to be a bit of a problem for me because I’m not altogether keen on dogs; I will still throw away shoes that I have trod in a dog turd whilst wearing, although I coped admirably the other week (and ever since)when Arthur managed to tread in one and Mrs Aitchworld cleaned them up – I have been able to handle them without having to bin them. Given the rate at which the boys are growing at the moment, I didn’t expect them to still fit him for more than a few more days. So if a guide dog is out of the question, I will have to train the cats to take me for walks and I’m pretty sure that won’t end well.

All is not lost because I am confident that pretty soon Arthur and Henry will be able to sort this kind of stuff out for me. They are already starting to get the hang of an iPhone (other smartphones are available) and know which button to press in order to cut me off when they have had enough of my Facetime presence. At first it was attributed to clumsiness and them pressing the red button in error, but as time passes it is becoming apparent that it is their way of saying “I’m getting bored of you now, dickhead”.

We have even downloaded a couple of child oriented applications to keep them distracted while they are in the trolley going round Aldi to keep them out of the stock room and super specials aisles. They are getting the hang of them too and each action towards the phone is becoming more considered, more planned. It’s amazing to think that an iPhone to Arthur and Henry will probably be like a Nokia 3310 was to me when I first got one. It was a thing of wonder then, but very soon became outdated, just like smartphones will, once we all have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in our heads as standard. I’m wondering if google glasses will help my reading issues…

I was an early adopter of the mobile telephone and had one long before everyone had one. And I always upgraded too, so an actual Nokia 3310 came to me pretty much upon release and I was suddenly able to send text messages; it was a revelation.

However, I hardly knew anyone else with a mobile telephone, let alone people who could actually receive an SMS, so it was a moot point really. There was one person, an ex-girlfriend who had SMS capability, but she had gone out for a bottle of wine several months earlier and never returned (it was okay; I had some beers in), so I doubt she would have been particularly pleased to have received a message saying “Zinfandel please” just because I’d upgraded my phone. Or “Znfndl plz”, as I believe would have been the correct way of abbreviating things in those days.

I have always spelt everything in full and punctuated correctly, so my text messages always arrived with the recipient in batches of several at a time. I still maintain this practice, but fortunately you are allowed more characters in a message now.This is probably one of the reasons I don’t get on particularly well with Twitter for me to get my point across would take many tweets and interest would wane after the first few. Not that anyone really follows me anyway.

Of course, then picture messages came along, and shortly afterwards technology gathered such pace that things like WhatChat and SnapApp came along, as did various other messaging applications to confuse the hell out of anyone who just wants to ask if a mate is coming out for a pint. And it is this similarity that brings me back to how quickly the twins are developing.

I come back to this theme time and again, but as a parent I am finding myself looking forward to the next development and in doing so it is like I am not appreciating the moment. I so desperately want Arthur and Henry to remain babies (or at the very most toddlers) for as long as is possible, but at the same time, I’ve got a Google Chromecast that I unplugged from the television a few months ago and I could do with setting it all up again but unfortunately I’ve lost the manual. Not that it would be any good even if I did have it, because I wouldn’t be able to read it anyway. So as much as I want the boys to remain as young as possible for as long as possible, I could really do with their help on this! At the current rate of change, I reckon I could have it sorted by summer.