Friday, September 02, 2005

I know a Girl Called Elsa / She’s into Alka Seltzer

Public transport...its quite a thing isn’t it. Well actually in most of the world it is. Auckland of course is another matter...more or less it has none. I used to catch the bus when I was at University a year or two back but since then for me, more or less, its been the totally pervasive form of public transport in the Queen City…that being the four door sedan with one person in it, sitting in traffic. How sad, and I guess my only excuse is that I’ve always lived within reasonable walking distance of my working space and I meant to walk…honestly, oh and the fact that over the past couple of decades much of my working time has been when buses and trains don’t run. That’s as good an excuse as any. Yep so Auckland has trains always has had as far as I know and there is a cool blog devoted to this at Slow Train Comin’, where Miles muses about his niche subject with humour and the inevitable frustration.

I’ve caught the local train in Auckland twice.

The first time was with my Grandmother back in 1967. I have no real memory of it…

The second time was last year when my ten year old daughter said to me last year “Dad…what’s a train ride like?”. I felt very guilty. She had of course caught a train quite a few times in Sydney when I took her there at age four, Australia having superb public transport in most cities; but she had no memory of it either.

So we trekked down to the new palace under the old Britomart car park (wasn’t that a shitty old building and deserving of smashing….unlike the wonderful and iconic building in Jean Batten Place that the BNZ wants to bowl for a corporate headquarters… didn’t Auckland learn anything from its Tizard endorsed gutting in the Eighties...I guess not, and the fact they would even consider it says more ugly things about the BNZ than I would think they’d like to say). I’d been there a couple of time earlier for a look…curiosity y’know, as to what we paid for, and to muse as to how much we almost spent and how much so many people walked away with. It really didn’t impress. It’s kind of like the Auckland Casino...when you’ve seen a real one its hard to get excited about something like that. But, hey, it’s a start and god knows we need one in Auckland. Now they just need to get trains that actually go somewhere, like the North Shore for example, and go often & on a regular timetable. I tried to get a ticket to Glen Innes and back but there was an extensive wait of an hour or so to come back on one of Auckland’s few lines. I inquired as to why so few bloody trains and I was told there weren’t enough people to justify the train. It seemed to me, thick as I might be, that the reason there were so few people wanting to use the train was that there was no train offered….

So we went to Newmarket, past my old flat in Parnell where Jonathan Tidball and I tried to lasso the Wellington night train with the other end of the rope tied to our uninvited lodgers’ shed…yes I know it was irresponsible of us but…………… a) he (Ted the lodger who had just moved in without invitation and preceded to terrorise our female flatmates) was at the pub, and, b) the state we were in that evening we stood no chance of successfully throwing the rope, let alone successfully hooking the choo-choo. What used to really worry me about Ted was his mate Bill Smith with a missing hand and a steel hook instead coming out of his old army jacket, which he used to drunkenly brandish in our direction of an evening.

Then we went Newmarket and bought a computer game (the complete Doom..the early ones, still the best PC game ever…end of story…I used to sit upstairs in the Box office at 3am with all the lights out, Roach Motel’s Wild Luv coming up from downstairs, all the lights off, the speakers on full, playing this….scared out of my wits) and came back.

The trains were dirty, uncomfortable and about half full and I think Isabella lost interest until I took her to Singapore and showed her a real public transport system….fast, clean, efficient and regular...everything Auckland’s system is not. And it actually goes places….

I love public transport and use it when I can. I like all subway stations (apart from the one in the South Bronx that Harry Russell and I got off at by mistake in 1990) and some buses. I always took the bus when living in London, upstairs with a walkman - I used to get the #159 from my front door in West Hampstead to my work in Norwood…enough time to read the Guardian or The Independent from cover to cover and do the crossword on the return with the added bonus of the London vista. I remember being stuck upstairs for hours surrounded by gridlock and cops the day the Libyans shot the WPC, and I’ll always associate Jah Wobble / Francois K / Holgar Czukay & The Edge’s mesmerising Snake Charmer with the lower part of Regent Street as that was where it kicked in for the first time.

That’s one of those records that seems to revisit me every few years. I never quite leave it. Quite a combination that lot…I think The Edge is one of those wasted talents. His earlier stuff (I mean his contributions to the first couple of U2 albums) had its moments and I guess the fact that he could contribute to a record like this (although maybe their mutual label, Island, when it used to be an adventurous indie, advised him it was a good credibility move..these things happen in A&R) means something. But to me U2 stopped being vaguely interesting, became an ever increasing self parody about album three and stifled the previously intriguing and astounding Brian Eno. I’ve always liked Jah Wobble too. I like the way that a completely untrained and musically illiterate bass player could revolutionise popular music in such a way...and he did…anyone who thinks that the first two PIL albums didn’t change the musical landscape forever, in so many different ways and so many different genres……………

Sadly we seem to have come to a place where people like this are no longer allowed by larger record companies (big indies like Island and Virgin…majors ceased allowing things like this many years back and have never done so in US) to make records like this. Richard Branson may be your classic offensive upper class English twat, but, all credit, he did allow so many acts to indulge their whims and without that you would never have had records like Metal Box or the first Human League album or all those Front Line albums or all those heinous Gong & Henry Cow records for that matter. Then again, it was a time when Joy Division and, indeed, The Screaming Meemees (thank you) banged their way to number one in the pop charts without a moments airplay. I guess the torch, as the majors gobbled up and neutered any large indies has been passed to the thousands of struggling little labels who continue to push the envelope. Just go and look at the releases on a site like Piccadilly and tell me music isn’t alive and well. It inspires.

Yeah, so as I said, I like public transport. Here in Bali we have these cute little bus type things called Bemos…a couple of thousand Rupiah and you get taken places…efficiently, regularly, but not comfortably, what with the roads, the motorbikes and the fact these things are not designed for a six foot bulé. But you can’t have it all….

Tunes today: Gangstarr-Take it Personal…fifteen years on / Oasis-Guess God Thinks I’m Abel…a great song…what Oasis really meant really hit me in a pub in Burnham near Slough in 96..I was pissed as a newt and for the last hour before we got tossed out EVERY bloody song on the juke was Oasis & every bloody person in that pub, young and old, knew every bloody word / The Casuals- Jesamine..big cheesy song for me when I was a young teen and I found it again on Paul Weller’s wonderful Under The Influence collection. There are so many things I’d want to thank Paul Weller for and this just adds to the list……/ The Jam-Liza Radley


Bob Daktari said...

I used to catch the train to Tauranga when visiting the folks, a cool trip, til they stopped the service :( Me, I love trains

Started a blog meself this week, pop on over sometime

rock on

wayde said...

you bastad Simon!! I have spent 2.5 hrs this moring tryin to figure out where
`i know a girl called elsa...' comes from......

I was stuck thinking it was the flaming lips, she uses jelly.... but its not that.... so i ended up giving up and googling the bugger

I was surprised to see who it was!