Music Features

The Culture Bunker #7: NR10 Special

It’s two in the afternoon and I’m scribbling this in a bar in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Something like three hours ago, the esteemed editor of this journal and my friend of many years sent an e-mail asking for me to write a piece as part of this whole ‘No Ripcord is Ten Years Old’ affair.

Well, what to write? It’s over five years since I wrote the last of these pieces, maybe closer to six. That’s a long time in anyone’s life. As I jot away in this heavily worn notebook, I’m 28 years and two days old. Through a series of events that are far too protracted to go in to here, I wound up in the South of Estonia, enjoying a sauna and beer. In a few hours, I’m due to catch a flight out to Frankfurt. Cheap air travel is great, as long as you don’t mind getting your arse felt up by over-zealous airport security types now and again.

So, a decade. Since 1999, we’ve seen bands come and go, a load of films about comic book characters and the two biggest football clubs in England end up being owned by Americans. I wouldn’t have seen that coming. Meanwhile, dear David has taken No Ripcord from being a single page affair to the much valued piece of the Internet we see today. Kudos to him.

Extra kudos to him as well for giving me a platform to rant away back in the early part of the decade. Two years on the dole does funny things to a person’s mind, let me tell you. The subsequent years? Well, I’ve worked behind the bar at an airport hotel, at a cricket ground, wrote letters to people telling them their health insurance is not valid and wrote articles for a journal on funfairs. Whatever pays for the next flight and the next beer.

Trying to think back to those early days, I struggle to empathise with the 18 year old version of myself. He’d probably be disappointed that I didn’t become chief football writer for the Guardian or songwriter in the hippest cult band around but perhaps a little placated that I didn’t become a complete sell-out.

All the same, 28 seems like a non-man’s land between youth and middle age. You’re not young any more, but neither are you in that zone of respectability where you’re supposed to own a sensible car and socialise with couples rather than going out on the pop with your gang of mates.

It’s at this time life really begins to catch up with you. Grey hairs spout, those cheap economy seats begin to take their toll and when you go to family events, there are babies everywhere. Babies, marriages and mortgages, responsibilities I’ve managed to skip thus far in my life.

I remember I started a column with a line from Billy Bragg’s A New England: “I’m 22 now but I won’t be long”. Later in the same song, Bill notes that “all the girls I loved at school are already pushing prams”. Well, it’s happening to me now, but with a different subtext: they’re just having a normal life, like people do. I’ve still got Doctor Martens boots, a collection of black clothing and a penchant for spending money on albums and Playstation games, just like when I was 18. So maybe not everything changes.

Unlike back then, nowadays I go off to countries like Estonia on my own. Yesterday morning, when I staggered to hotel breakfast area for some toast, ‘Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares’ was on. It was subtitled and the tedious chef’s usual ranting was uncensored, meaning a stream of “fuck” and “wanker” floated over the room. My fellow patrons ate their food unperturbed by this, but it made for one of those surreal moments that, when you think back, are the best kind.

It was also a bit disconcerting to see the Moomins on the box. Little My always gave me the creeps, for some reason. I thought I looked pissed off all the time.

Going back a few steps, even I have managed to note that they’ve finally got round to making a Watchmen film. By the time this gets to you, I expect the No Ripcord film buffs to have handed out their verdict. Regardless, I won’t be going to see it. I’ve read articles in which those behind the film say it will be faithful to the books. Fair enough, but why should I bother seeing it then, given I can flick through the book whenever I want?

Perhaps I’m being a pedant, as ever. Just seems a waste of £7 or whatever it costs to go to see the flicks these days. Still, studio execs have been like 49’ers in mining comic books for box office dollars recently and, in honesty, I enjoyed the Punisher film (always good to see John Travolta shot) and the two recent Batman capers.

I found The Dark Knight especially enjoyable. Replacing Katie Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhaal can only be a very good move by my book and it was nice to see Heath Ledger pick up the Peter Finch Memorial Oscar.

It’s time to leave now, but just before I do, I ask the girl behind the bar if where the best place to get a taxi to the airport is. She looks at me blankly. It’s not that she can’t understand English; it’s just that she’s never heard a Cumbrian accent before. I guess that means it’s just as well I didn’t tell her the story of the man with an Orange for a head, in the event that kind of humour translates into the Baltic states. Fuck it, I’ll walk.