Oddball Reviews #5: ‘Tubular Bells’ by Mike Oldfield (1973)

Increasingly, people are moving away from albums and indeed away from physical recorded music formats. An album, children, was a collection of pieces of music, often with a common theme. This album, issued of course originally as a vinyl LP, was groundbreaking. (Yes, of course you know what a vinyl LP was.)

It consisted of two long pieces of music, one on each side. It was pretty much all instrumental, apart from a section of introductions of instruments by Viv Stanshall, of Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band fame. Apart from that, almost all the instruments were played by Mike Oldfield, already known as an accomplished guitarist, having played with Kevin Ayers.

It’s perhaps hard to appreciate how revolutionary this album seemed at the time. The length, which was very novel to rock and pop listeners, inevitably drew comparisons with so-called “classical” music, although ‘Tubular Bells’ is more a collection of linked themes. Overdubbing, the layering of recorded parts, was familiar, perhaps most notably due to the Beatles, but the idea of one musician doing almost all the parts was very new.

I notice that I have written all that in the past tense, but of course this is recorded music, and side 2 is playing as I speak. For me, the album is beautiful. It has lovely tunes, which join seamlessly. The guitar playing is outstanding.

For those who don’t know it, the opening is on piano and (I think) glockenspiel and is in a very peculiar time signature: 15/8, or a bar of 7/8 then a bar of 8/8. Its unexpected nature sets the tone for the rest. There are some straightforward rock parts (the “Piltdown Man” section) and lyrical pastoral passages. It ends with a hornpipe. Why not?

The making of ‘Tubular Bells’ and its subsequent history, along with the history of Mike Oldfield himself, are worthy of a book. There has probably been one written.

I could myself quite happily write a long blog on the connections with my favourite bands, Gong and Soft Machine. But I won’t bore you any further; I urge you to listen to ‘Tubular Bells’ if you don’t know it, or to relisten to it if you do.

How I missed it from The Oblique Top Albums List I do not know.


England win rugby Grand Slam

That’s right. England have won the rugby Grand Slam by beating Scotland 80-0.

Am I fantasising? No.

Some among you will of course know that this is the England women’s rugby team. Others are forgiven for not knowing- and here’s why.

England win rugby Grand Slam

In the papers we bought this morning, one had 12 pages given over to sport, plus a pull-out section about football. Seven of the pages were about men’s rugby (given a very exciting weekend). The report about the stunning victory by the England women was less than a third of a page. In another newspaper, there were 12 pages of sport, with the obligatory (16 page) football pullout, five pages of men’s rugby and just 8 sentences about the women’s rugby.

Similarly, TV coverage was confined to highlights late on Sunday night.

You may of course point out that a small number of people follow women’s rugby. It’s obvious why that is. They never get to hear about it. The sport will never develop unless it gets more publicity.

(This paucity of coverage of women’s sport is not confined to rugby. Recently the England Lionesses football team pulled off a remarkable victory in the 2019 SheBelieves tournament in America. Similarly few column inches were written about it.)

“You may find this distressing….”

I’m a wimp. I won’t watch horror films. I won’t watch films of operations and medical procedures. I even hide behind my newspaper when there are gory scenes on ‘Casualty’ (a British hospital TV drama).

Nevertheless, I was puzzled and perplexed (and even perturbed) by the following announcement on the BBC news:

Listeners may find the following report distressing…” …or it may have been “upsetting” …or words to that effect.

Mostly we watch TV news and are used to being warned about distressing images. This, however, got me thinking.

News is, by its very nature, often distressing and upsetting. (The report certainly was.) Do we really need to be warned about it?

I have not used an image for this. It seemed inappropriate.)

“May I call you Mark?”

Call me old-fashioned….

You’re old-fashioned.”

Well, yes, but you know what I mean. I try not to be a grumpy old git, but some things about the modern world irritate me.

May I call you Mark

Take the question of the title, which has recently started happening to me more often. I’m on the telephone, on a business call, and the conversation goes something like:

Right, Mark- may I call you Mark?”

To be honest, I would sooner be called Mr Oblique- or better still, Sir. I never of course say this. I just acquiesce meekly. My irritation is because this is business. It’s formal. I feel that if I am treated formally, then I am being treated with care and attention. Anyway, how can I say no? I’m already being called Mark: it looks very rude to insist on “Mr Oblique”. (No, you know that’s not my real name. Will you stop being so difficult today?)

Worse still, of course, is when I’m asked: “Can I call you Mark?” Yes, of course you can. You just showed you are capable of it. You should be asking if you have my permission: if you may.

I wonder how my late father reacted in that situation. He was a man who, up to the end of his life, lifted his hat if he met a woman he knew. I am aware that this irritation may be a attribute of my age and what I was accustomed to in my formative years.

Please bear with me for a few moments longer to let me tell a story from when I was ten. I was walking back to school after lunch (on my own) when I met a teenager leading a horse. I held a gate open for her.

Thank you, sir,” she said.

I felt brilliant being called sir, and still do when I think about it. (Don’t spoil it for me by saying she was being sarcastic. You know who you are.)

Finally….. perhaps perversely, I don’t mind being called “love” in other situations. In fact, I quite like it. Getting a coffee in a café, or buying a newspaper, is somehow not a formal occasion.

All together now: “You’re old-fashioned. And a grumpy old git.”

The Special Olympics

Ah, I see the Special Olympics are upon us once again. Special Olympics? Yes. This is an international sports festival for people with intellectual difficulties. The ethos is very much about taking part and doing your best, rather than being the best.

I have had certain reservations about the Paralympics, because I feel there is a danger that the general public will see disabled people as superheroes, not paying attention to the millions who have no hope of ever being included. However, this is surely outweighed by the publicity generated. The Paralympics are a Good Thing.

There has been some media coverage of the Special Olympics, and some lovely interviews with some very articulate young people competing. Good luck to them all.

As is very obvious, we have a daughter with serious intellectual difficulties. She will probably never get into the Special Olympics. For her to see high profile sports happening for people like her is great, but the raised awareness for the general public is even more important. The Special Olympics are a Very Good Thing.

It’s great to see the funding that our government has made available for these athletes…… No, hang on, there was no funding. WHAT??? That’s right, we spend millions and millions on able-bodied sportspeople, some of who will go on to become very rich, but none for some of the least advantaged in our society.

Oh well, at least Prince Harry sent a message of support.

Mrs O, comments: “These people aren’t glamorous and they aren’t going to complain. Learning difficulties are invisible. Their disability is one of the least understood and least acknowledged by the rest of society.”

Follow this link for the Special Olympics website

The revolution is inclusion

Special Olympics

Photograph: Opening Ceremony 2015 by Eric Garcetti

[CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D

Lent: Giving up giving up

For Lent, I am giving up giving up things.

Of course, its a good deal more complicated than that.

Why am I thinking about Lent, anyway? Part of the answer is that, despite being now of no fixed religion, my childhood in the traditions of the Church of England has stayed with me. Also, the life of this country is also still regulated to a large extent by the calendar of the church, and Lent somehow resonates with an obsession of the times: Giving Things Up, as evidenced by dry January, Veganuary etc.

Lent002Some years ago I was given the little book pictured by that fine Catholic lady MB (who is almost certainly not reading this blog). It tells me that “Lent is about giving things up in order to focus on God”.

Mrs O. and I gave up alcohol- within reason, of course- there’s no point in spoiling a social occasion. This has, to my surprise, worked so far. I suppose it shows that I don’t drink a huge amount, although I did find myself thinking about a gin and tonic on the first night. It has not, as far as I am aware, helped me to focus on God. Do I feel better? Maybe.

The book says that Lent “is also about taking some things on that reflect God’s character- such as doing kind and generous things for others”. It gives some suggestions, such as saying something nice about someone behind their back. I tried some of those ideas but still don’t feel very fulfilled, or even focused on God.

I told myself that I should do something that made me feel better about myself: say meditate every day and do my back exercises every day. I have to report a (nearly) complete fail- though of course writing this made me start.

So why bother? Not to bother with Lent has been my default position for a long time, as the opening sentence implies. I don’t know why the idea of Lent keeps nagging at me. Yes, it’s part of my culture. Yes, it can be good to give up a bad habit, although not if you’re going to simply take it up again afterwards. Why in this particular way and in this particular time though, especially if you’re not a Christian? Perhaps there is a puritanical streak in me which says suffering is good; though giving up alcohol, sweets, TV or whatever is hardly suffering.

(The Guardian recently had an article saying that Lent was all showy, wholesome abstinence. I didn’t read it, as I am falling out of love with that paper and what I see as its rather scolding, righteous tone. Unfortunately, I rather agree with the assessment, at least for non-Christians.)

So maybe my conclusion is what I started with. I’m giving up things for Lent. Although perhaps I’ll stick with the teetota bit for a while.

(I apologise for working my views out in this form. As so often with me, writing helps me to sort my thoughts out.)

(If you do want a different way of approaching Lent, the little book is a fine way to do it.)

‘Spare and Found Parts’ by Sarah Maria Griffin

Gosh, I thought, this is good. (Yes, I do talk like that to myself.)

Two thirds of the way through, I started to change my mind; but the final verdict is “Jolly Good (with reservations)”.

Spare and Found Parts001

This is a science fiction/ young adult novel, with a smidgen of fantasy. How do you know it’s science fiction? It’s set in a post-apocalyptic future. How do you know it’s young adult? The protagonist is a teenager (and love is involved). What’s an old bloke like me doing reading young adult books? Why, that paragon of good taste, Ms. O. included it in her latest loan batch.

Nell, the aforementioned protagonist, lives in a world which has been devastated by plague, somehow brought on by technology, The plague has killed most of the population. Most of those who are left have been damaged in some way and have prosthetic replacements. Thus Nell has a new heart; her father, who has done much of the replacement work, has a new arm.

Nell has grown to be a troubled girl since the death of her mother, and when scavenging for discarded old technology finds a mannequin’s arm, which she determines to use as the basis for a (male) android companion.

Up to the construction of the android, I found the book compelling and believable. However, at that point you have to believe that Nell just joins the parts together, with a small computing unit of some sort, and it works. It becomes sentient. This all strikes me as very implausible; rather like the unexplained space travel in ‘The Space Between the Stars’ by Anne Corlett.

However, having got over this obstacle, the realisation of the android’s character and the ending were moving and powerful. I won’t do a spoiler, but it was a very satisfying resolution.

So, to sum up, a very pleasingly detailed and plausible setting; well-developed characters; a moving and thoughtful story. Set against that, poorly explained science, but it’s still a winner, in the Oblique view.