I spent yesterday in the sun. It was really nice.
A classic British summer sunday spent by the lake in Hyde Park with exceptionally good company, scrabble and a picnic from Whole Foods. A good portion of the day was spent just lying on my back on the grass, eyes closed in the beautiful warmth of the sun. It was fantastic. Conversation was conducted without the need for eye contact or even the tilt of a head. Completely relaxed, bathed in the warmth of the summer’s finest, I had the over-riding thought “Why Don’t I do this more often??” The answer to that question presented itself at about ten o’clock that night when I woke up from a sofa snooze to find my face and arms were apparently on fire. As a non-sunshine inclined holidayer, I have never bought suncream. I am now a lobster.
But the question has kind of stuck with me. Why don’t I spend more time outside? The truth is, I think I do. Although I’m alien to the concept of spending a day in the park, I’ll often take myself out for long walks in the countryside or down the canal. I just prefer to do so on a crisp autumn or spring day. I’m not a summer guy. I kind of hate the summer. I actually do hate the summer. I hate it. Every autumn, dreary articles crop up about S.A.D. (Seasonal Affected Disorder) in which people complain about a base depression and misery because of the oppresive grey dreariness of this country. I relish the winter. We do winter rather well here. I genuinely get depressed about the onset of summer. I mean that, as April segues into May, I find myself anxious and skittish. I find the summer amazingly stressful. The constant pressure to be ‘making the most of it’ – holidaying in exotic places, spending weekends with an array of good-looking friends having chilled-out barbecues, which festivals are you going to (there’s six fucking thousand of them now, so no excuse not to be at one every single weekend), going on day-long bike rides and discovering beautiful idylls. In the winter, when asked how you spent the weekend if you reply ‘stayed in, made some stew, watched a pile of dvds’ you get the slow nod of appreciation of the cozy weekend and an orgasmic whisper of ‘mmmmmm stewwww’. If you offer that reply in the summer (even adjusting the stew for a more seasonal ‘big salad’) you get a confused or pitying eyebrow raise. Why the hell aren’t you making the most of this weather?
At this point, I will post a video of my mate Frank Turner performing The Lemonheads song ‘The Outdoor Type’ which is one of those songs I connected with the second I heard it (why his version of it comes up first on Youtube and there are no actual official versions of it up ther by the actual Lemonheads, I have no idea. I’m also rather convinced that Frank IS the outdoor type so find it a little bunk, maybe.) His new album comes out 9th September, you should buy it…
If you want to know what I do indoors… well, I potter. I like to potter, I always have things to do and I enjoy doing them. I love to cook – and get pretty elaborate – my sushi parties are legendary, but even on a day to day basis, I love to make fresh pasta from scratch, cook fresh bagels,. experiment with ugly looking organic vegetables. Cooking is a joy. I always have a screenplay on the go, so I’ll spend a bunch of time up in my study (my little den of geekery) writing or editing/critiquing other people’s screenplays – which is one of my jobs. I’m still finishing my feature film, so I’ll often take to the sofa with my laptop and tweak the edit around on that. The area in my house which in any normal abode would be a dining room houses my ever-growing set of V-drums and mybass guitar, so a chunk of each day is spent rocking out with my imaginery band. Maybe I’ll even write an entry on my shitty blog. I relax by doing stuff.
So, despite being the indoor type, I’m not one of those boring idiots. I’ve always marvelled at man’s ability to sit before a huge screen for hours at a time without fear of really engaging. TV being the opiate of the masses and all that. Growing up, I watched a lot of TV, but there was a lot of good stuff on TV then. The biggest rift between my sister and myself (and these rifts probably deserve a blog of their own at some point) growing up was the eternal fight over the TV remote. I didn’t mind that she wanted to watch something else or that she had got there first – ergo control was hers – it was that she was happy to watch CRAP. Obviously, this was now years ago and we rarely discuss TV these days (like music, avoidance of this topic of conversation ensures a happier relationship) but whenever I see TV listings proclaiming ‘couples we love to hate’ ‘ 100 funniest soap star moments’ ‘jordan and peter – what happened?’ or ‘comedians you’ve never heard of point out how silly the 1980s were’ I can imagine her happily sat in front of her enormous TV quite happy. She probably thinks ‘Thank God Jon isn’t here, he’d be acting like a sanctimonious cunt right about now, I only want to watch a bit of TV’. But, anyway, I can’t do it. I can’t just have the TV and watch passively. I can only watch things that specifically interest and engage me. Bad TV actually depresses me very quickly.
This is all leading up to my point, don’t worry. If you were to ask me, however, what human activity do you most detest (not including the old obvious ones like genocide and stuff) I’d have to say… computer games. I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. I have two consoles. One is a playstation 2. I bought this purely because they made a video game of the film The Warriors. The Warriors is one of my favourite films and, like many dudes I’m sure, I have had many daydreams about how ace it would be to have been one of The Wariors. When the faintest chance of emulating that dream was offered to me, I gladly forked out a couple of hundred quid on the consle and the game. It was OK. It was a bit boring really. The fighting was fun for a while (I only really like fighting games). I kept the PS2 in the shop and played it here. After a week, I had reached level 3 of the game.. Jamie had finished it. With the game finished by someone I knew, I no longer felt the need to try – it had been done. The PS2 lives in the shop. Occasionally, it’ll get taken of the dusty shelf and plugged in if a Guitar Hero challeneg is raised.
I also own a Wii. I had a go on one at my friend’s house and we had a fun afternoon of boxing and bowling. The Wii is acually a great machine, it forces you up out of your seat, moving around and interacting rather than experiencing. Of course, I live alone. So upon unpacking and setting up my Wii, I realised the whole point of it is actually the kind of socila lubricant bit. Stood infront of it alone, bowling imaginary balls at digital pins lacked a certain joyfulness. I just don’t like modern video games. I’m scarred by memories of watching flatmates spend entire weekends slack-jawed infront of some all-consuming diversion, then watch themburst through the front door after work, microwave some awful frozen food and disappear into their room to their preferable digital existence.
As a kid, I was addicted to computers. We were the first family I knew to have a home computer – our Spectrum 48k was our pride and rubber-keyed joy. I remember coming home from school and seeing it plugged into both our TV and home tape recorder. ‘Press the space bar!’ my mu m said, I did. On the TV, the words ‘Hello Jonathan! How was your day at school?’ appeared. My flabber was ghasted. My mother had programmed a computer! And she taught me how to do it! I believe, if my BASIC is still up to scratch, that the winning forumla for that particular slice of joy was…
10 IF INKEYS =”SPACE” GOTO 20
20 PRINT “Hello Jonathan! How was your day?”
Every sunday afternoon, my da, my sister and I would sit at the keyboard typing in code that had been printed in whichever magazine we’d got that week – Your Sinclair and Sinclair User usually. It would take a few hours to type in a few hundred lines of code. In shifts, one of us would tpe, one of us would read out what should be typed and the third would kind of QC it – ‘you misspelled that! ‘ ‘she said 4, not 5’. At the end of the session, we’d type the holy word ‘RUN’ and, well invariably, nothing would happen and Dad would have to spend a further two hours alone trying to work out where we’d gone wrong. Once that was done ‘RUN’ would be followed by either a painfully simple game or an image constructing itself out of triangles and simple vectors which would slowly reveal itself to be usually some kind of landscape of pyramids or something. As crappy as it often turned out, we’d acheived something as a family.
We progressed, eventually to a Spectrum +2, 128k (built in tape recorder, go faster stripe!) bu the technology itself didn’t really move on. You were restriced to a handful of colours and games designers had to be resourceful to create great (and even more so to make great looking) games. These games were based on simple ideas and the joy of problem solving. The graphice were uniformly terrible (although they hold a very special place in my heart) and you had to do a bit of work to create the experience yourself. You kind of had to fill in the blanks and give it a bit of imagination. That’s what was great about the computers of my youth, the speccys and the Commodore 64s, the lamentable Amstrad CPCs (my friend Darren was the only person I knew to have one of these shitboxes) – they made you do a bit of work, you had to engage your imagination to play along.
Video games now look like films, the graphics are ultra realistic, the game play takes place in some mad 360 degree, wi-fi, full depth-perception totally immersive world. But it’s all done for you. When you boil most of these games down, they are amazingly simple linear things where you just acheive simple things – running, jumping, hacking, driving – as they’re presented to you. It looks so real, it’s hypnotic, the goals it sets for you are so simple, it’s also kind of passive. You don’t get to do much, you don’t get to engage, you just get to sit there and experience. The idea of a completely immersive, completely artificial, completely passive experience sounds completely crap to me.
Get outside and make the most of the sunshine!