The Isolation Station

A fortnight ago, as the world became increasingly swamped by the coronavirus pandemic, the university abruptly halted all of its face to face teaching, with two weeks of the semester still to go. I understand why, of course, but I still felt a certain emptiness as a result of not being able to see the term through to its end. Several strange and uncertain months now lie ahead before my third year begins, but I’m entering that period working on some of my current assignments on a rather empty campus. I’ve also chosen all of my modules for next year and written my dissertation proposal – there’ll be more on both of those later, no doubt – but I also have even more free time on my hands, as do a lot of us.

Before I came home from Winchester last Wednesday, I didn’t leave my flat or the campus unless it was absolutely necessary, and that policy has obviously continued back in Somerset too. My total screen time has been even higher than it usually is. I’ve watched, chatted, written and played, and as you may have gathered recently, I’ve listened to a lot of music too. I’m still working my way through the list of albums I mentioned before, but I also got bored enough one day to create an isolation-themed playlist on Spotify. To keep the musical thread going in this blog, I thought I’d include a link. My friends seem to like it, and Lara suggested I share it, if only for what I hope will be your listening pleasure. Click here to get started – alternatively, go to Spotify and search for The Isolation Station. We’re living in strange times, so if this playlist puts even the slightest smile on your face, it will have been a worthwhile use of my time. Dig in – there’s plenty to listen to!

Mason

Press Play, Don’t Skip

In my last post I mentioned how I’d begun listening to new music while working in the library. It’s been bliss, and something of an education, since I’ve tried to restrict myself as much as possible to things released since 2015 (most of my Liked Songs on Spotify predate that). I haven’t just cherry-picked individual songs, either. I’m doing this the old-fashioned way, listening to albums by artists who are both familiar and unfamiliar to me, in an array of different genres. Well, that’s the intention, anyway. I’ve devised a list of the first records from the last five years that came to mind, and as I develop it I’m going to try and work towards making it as varied in terms of genre and gender as I can. As things stand, though, these are the albums I’ve listened to with only one rule in mind. I press play, and I don’t skip, even when I reach the filler tracks that most of us don’t hesitate to stop in their – well, tracks. Have a look at this completely random selection:

  1. Everyday Life by Coldplay (2019)
  2. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? by Billie Eilish (2019)
  3. Fine Line by Harry Styles (2019)
  4. Seeking Thrills by Georgia (2020)
  5. Gang Signs and Prayer by Stormzy (2017)
  6. Blackstar by David Bowie (2016)
  7. Madame X by Madonna (2019)

There are more on the list I’m yet to delve into, but recommendations are always welcome if you have any. Perhaps I’ll make this post the first part of a series, so I can keep you updated on how I’m getting on and what I think. Maybe it’d be a good idea to restrict my reviews of these albums to three words, to give myself a challenge? Stay tuned to find out…

Mason

Bearing Up

This week has been one marked by contrasts. I entered it on a high, having taken full advantage of the isolation imposed by Storm Dennis to shut myself in the library and get as much work done as I possibly could. At the time of writing, on Saturday evening, I feel I’m leaving it on a slightly lower note – a low-pitched squeaking, rubbing and rattling note, to be precise. That’s the noise currently making my eardrums bleed from an unspecified location. Despite my valiant efforts to trace the source by getting on my hands and knees and shining my iPhone torch into the chair’s inner workings, I am so far at a loss to explain it (although I do think something connected to the wheel could be loose), and since everything is packed into it so tightly, I can’t reach any of the parts. That means I have to leave it to the professionals and wait until an engineer turns up at some stage next week. By that time, I may well have scratched my own ears off. Oh well, at least I’ve got a quiz at the noodle bar where Lara works to look forward to tomorrow night. Let’s just hope I don’t manage to deafen the entire restaurant on my way in!

In the meantime, I’ve returned to the library, and I have a nice quiet booth all to myself. I’ve started listening to music as I work now – I never really did that before as I always felt slightly conspicuous wearing headphones in public – but it’s so much easier to get settled in a little cocoon of sound. I’m trying to use it as an opportunity to discover new music, as I find it too easy to slip into the habit of listening to the same artists, songs and playlists over and over again. Since Spotify offers such a wide-ranging array of lists, I’ve simply taken to reading their names, deciding whether I’ll like them based on that alone, and then pressing play and seeing what happens. It’s been quite exciting so far – maybe I’ll list some of my better discoveries in a future post (leaving out the more embarrassing ones)?

Mason

 

The Man At The Bus Stop

In our recent Creative Voice 2 classes, we’ve been using a variety of things as sources of inspiration. Last week it was dreams (the one time I desperately needed one, I didn’t have any, so I made something up instead), and the week before that we used old photographs. In the first week, we simply had to think of a person we knew or had encountered. There are many things I could have written about countless people I know, both good and bad, but I decided I’d pluck someone random out of thin air, and that’s how I came to write about the man at the bus stop. His story is a relatively simple one, but it isn’t something I’ll be forgetting in a hurry – it touched me and it might just touch you too.

In the autumn of 2016, when there was a 90-minute bus journey between me and my workplace at the time, I was shivering with my coat wrapped tightly around my body as I waited for the bus to arrive. It was nearing 7am and obviously still dark at that time of year, so you would be forgiven for thinking that I wouldn’t be up for talking – and I wasn’t, until the man beside me piped up. He was an elderly gentleman, and if I’m honest, he looked rather stereotypical complete with flat cap and walking stick. Even at the age of 85, though, he had lost none of his energy, and as we gradually established a conversation he exuded a great deal of warmth, particularly when he spoke about his wife.

I had noticed upon first seeing him that he had a bouquet of flowers in his hand, and he eventually told me that he was taking them to her. He’d been doing this, a four-hour round trip, six mornings a week for at least a couple of years, ever since she’d gone into a care home with dementia. He didn’t go on Sundays. They were his quiet days, which he spent alone in the house they shared – he never mentioned any children or grandchildren. I only ever knew him as a devoted husband, who told me about his wife with the kind of love I haven’t seen or heard anywhere since. He talked about their life together, what they’d done for a living, the places they’d travelled to, and what he did for her now she was in the home. He cooked for her, cleaned for her, made sure she always had clothes to wear – whatever it was, he’d help out. Apparently, she didn’t recognise him very often, but whenever there was a moment of lucidity, they could reminisce about some of their most precious moments together. Even though the woman he’d spent a lifetime with was ebbing away before his eyes, his enthusiasm for seeing her every day never seemed to waver once – I remember him telling me that despite everything, “she’s still my girl”. I couldn’t help but think that a lot of guys I knew could learn a thing or two from him.

These conversations continued for around three months, ending when the Christmas break arrived. When I started work again in January 2017, and arrived at the bus stop for my first day back, the man was nowhere to be seen. That didn’t seem like a good sign at all, since he had been so adamant about his determination to take the journey whenever he could. Then the bus pulled up, and the driver got out to help me aboard. “By the way”, he said, as he put the ramp down on the pavement, “the gentleman you’ve been speaking to wanted me to let you know his wife passed away over Christmas.”

My heart sank at that moment, as I know his will have done. We never even knew each other’s names, but I did feel like we’d established a nice little connection, and there was a definite dampener on the rest of that day for me. I haven’t seen the man anywhere since, and I don’t even know if he’s still with us. If he is, I hope he’s gotten to a place where he’s comfortable and content, and if he isn’t, I hope someone was there to show him love and support in the aftermath of his loss. It’s what he would have done for his wife, unquestionably and unconditionally. If you ask me, the man at the bus stop was the definition of true devotion.

Mason

Mosaic

So, we’re now onto the last of the songs from my module that I’m going to show you. It’s a version of Blur’s ‘On Your Own’ – or part of it – entitled ‘Mosaic’, although ‘Collage’ might have been a better name. It’s a mish-mash (and that’s a technical term) of phrases and images with no meaning whatsoever. I’d put some degree of thought into each of the preceding three songs, so I wanted to close my assignment with one that made absolutely no sense. Having a completely blank canvas was slightly daunting, as is always the case, but I was looking forward to seeing how absurd my imagery could get and what the limits of my imagination were. These verses are therefore pretty weird, since I wasn’t taking them seriously, but I hope you don’t either. Enjoy!

(Verse 1)

All the lemons stowed away in their chip paper

Embraced by the flowing summer sun

Oh, it’s all in the past, no-one cares now

Little amethyst assassins on the run

Now you’re on the telephone

But you’re talking static

As the big glass door slides shut automatic

And did I leave the gas on in the attic?

Lose myself in the dense yellow mist

Floating on away

 

(Chorus 1)

And now the flies

Keeping a surprise

It’s in their feet

And it’s in their eyes

Just hibernation

Resting at the station

Galactic sleeper

But no Grim Reaper

I’ll ride on home, inflate a dome

Light the stars in airplane fuel

We’ll be starting a blaze in the head

 

It’s food for the soul

For the soul

 

(Verse 2)

And the sky is raining rods in shades of emerald

The grass is growing high around the hogs

Sniffing hungry round the eyeballs

Of a kitty

And eating the bread the man’s thrown onto the lawn

On the emerald lawn

 

Mason

 

 

Stay Tuned To Find Out

Before Christmas, I shared my altered version of Coldplay’s ‘In My Place’, which I called ‘Endless Miles’. It accompanied three other songs as part of a submission for my Composing Song Lyrics module, which I handed in just last week – I therefore feel that now is a good time to show you the second of my songs, ‘Stay Tuned To Find Out’. This is an adaptation of Jamiroquai’s single ‘Automaton’, from their 2017 album of the same name, and it was included in my collection because I needed a song with attitude, something that contrasted with ‘Endless Miles’ to provide variety in my lyrics. The title came first, during a seminar, and I then had the idea of writing something about a person’s past sins coming back to haunt them – the words you are about to see reflect that. As with the last song, you can listen to the original and see how well you think they fit. There is a full rap verse in the Jamiroquai version, which I’ve attempted to start here as I was running short on the overall line count, but I wasn’t confident and I decided to stop before I made a fool of myself:

(Verse 1)

Up or down?

Now stay tuned to find out

Coming round

As all hope just bleeds out

Feel his heat

Breath burning your back

Avoidance of doubt

(avoidance of doubt)

Turn it on and up you get

 

(Chorus 1)

He’s not turned your corner yet

Blood-boiling, sizzling walk of sin

No matter where you check, you cannot run, no you cannot hide

From the march of fate

Out of the dark, into the light

Oh, when the judgement day is done

You’ll have your mind and soul destroyed

Stay tuned to find out

 

(Verse 2)

Out of luck?

Thirty second head start

He’s on his way

Hears the beat of your heart

It’s on the wind

Now pray for mercy

Oh, you can lie and you can cry, the end is nigh

(just stay tuned to find out)

Revenge is coming for you

 

(Chorus 2)

He’s standing right on your doorstep now

Eager to stare you in the face

Sets things the way they’re meant to be

And puts you in your place

Now come outside, time to pay your debt

Will he forgive all that you’ve done?

You’re past the point of no return

Stay tuned to find out

 

(Verse 3 – beginning of rap verse)

Now he’s got you pinned to the ground

Tied up hard howling like a hound

Will he leave you there just starved and bound?

Time to find out…

 

Mason

The Roaring Twenties

Happy New Year! It’s 2020 – and that sounds like a year from an old science-fiction film, doesn’t it? You might expect to look around and see people zooming this way and that with jetpacks or hoverboards. Unfortunately, though, technology has still not quite progressed far enough for that, and life goes on just as before. At around this time last year, I committed to two New Year’s resolutions, one of which was successful and the other less so. I am hesitant to establish any new ones this year, although it has been noted that as of now, I am exactly halfway through my degree. What that means is that sooner or later, I will have to look to the future – and so, after I go back to Winchester on Saturday, I intend to start working on what I’ll do and where I’ll go. In case progress is slow, though, I’m not going to keep you updated on that unless there’s actually something substantial to say!

I also want to make sure I have more to say about 2020 on here, and while that might not mean being massively prolific, I am going to try and post more than two or three times a month where I can. In the event of a shortage of anecdotes from my own life, it might be a good opportunity for me to branch out and include other voices and other things, which seems apt when you consider the blog will be five years old in August. I can’t make any promises, but you’ll have to watch this space. The year is a blank slate, and anything could happen.

Mason