Saturday, August 27, 2011

Speak to me

Walking home through Brighton today I found myself passing through the North Laine shopping area, an old haunt of mine. It's a mixture of the vibrant, cool, quaint and curious with record and clothes shops, cafes, bookshops and pubs and an old favourite emporium, Snoopers' Paradise.

Seeing a Chinese supermarket, Yum Yum, I casually wandered in. With no cash to spend, it was little more than a self indulgent opportunity to touch the raw nerves of my recent loss, to take pleasure in the pain of absence and a masturbatory attempt to show off my knowledge of their fare. "Do you have do-pi," I asked. The young Asian shop attendant looked puzzled.

"It's a kind of dried do-fu, I said.

"Tofu?"

"Yes, tofu." I replied, trying not to be a dick.

She asked her manager and we found something close to the Taiwanese version I was familiar with in the dried foods aisle. For future reference I was happy, but that wasn't the real reason for being there. I looked around some more making mental notes and conjuring images of my Taiwanese life before buying some pak choi and leaving.

A little further down the road I came across a cycle shop I used to use. Once I had some cash, I'd be needing a new tube and in due course a new pump and some other bits and bobs. Again, with no real motivation other than to talk to someone, I went in. A guy was reassembling a bike clamped to a stand in the shop front but seemed free to talk. I said I'd be needing a pump and was there any particular type that he'd recommend before admitting that I was just checking out the market and, to be honest, having just returned from Taiwan, sussing out which bike shop I'd be using. "Wow," he said. "How long were you there?"

"I lived there for nine years," I said. "but er, actually, I cycled from England to Singapore before arriving," as if I'd had no option but to let on. There followed the regular chat, a combination of faux modesty and genuine pride in what I'd done ten years ago. I left saying I'd almost certainly be back once I'd got things together.

Finally, towards the end of the line of route I'd taken so many times before, I came to The Wax Factor, the second hand record shop where I used to buy most of my records. I'd walked past a couple of times since I'd been back but this time I went inside. I'm not sure quite what I was expecting but the deep, half-lit chamber lined with racks of classic LPs was much as it ever had been. Unsure where to start, I dived in randomly and flicked leisurely through the vinyl, occasionally taking a disc out of its sleeve to hold it in my hands, as if by touching it I would bring myself closer to the musicians who'd made it. I breathed deeply of that atmosphere, real and metaphorical, found in second hand book and record shops.

On a high shelf out of casual reach, was a copy of Led Zeppelin III. "Limited Edition 200g vinyl, £60," said the sign. Having an old copy of the same record myself made me curious just how special 200g was compared to a regular disc. It also gave me a chance to talk to the long haired, bespectacled owner who'd probably sold me my first record 20 years ago.

It wasn't hard for me to drop in that I'd been away for ten years and, hadn't vinyl made a wonderful recovery in that time. With MP3s superseding CDs as the utilitarian means of music delivery, vinyl was now a premium product. I mentioned of course, that I used to be a regular and it was nice to be back, and then I was on my way.

It's natural to want to share your experiences, to reingratiate yourself into society and give yourself a right to be there. And you can only talk about what you know. But the fact is, in the scheme of things, your experiences are personal and for the most part, the butcher's wife running off with the newsagent's daughter is far more significant.

Hence the blog.

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