Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

What are sodium lights? They’re the yellow street lights that are ubiquitous in the UK and are gradually being replaced in Liverpool (I don’t know about other cities) with white ones.

This burnt-yellow light is a big part of me. As a teenager I hung around after dark on street corners drenched with it. In adulthood I have walked home from nights out countless times in the strangely narcotic yellow atmosphere. I never thought about it until recently. Why does it have to be yellow? I don’t know but it has a magic of its own. Not exactly cosy. Quite artificial. Industrial. But somehow romantic.

I remember as a kid there was a park in Sheffield where you could look down on the entire city and see the whole city’s twinkling orangey-yellow lights. They mapped out the street patterns and merged in the distance like a galaxy of sweets. We have the same in Liverpool on Everton Brow.

The sodium lights of a nearby city or town are a comfort to the night-time driver as they are glimpsed from the motorway.

The other magical thing about sodium lights is that they change colour slowly as they warm up. I remember playing out on the streets in my childhood, seeing a whole street light up at dusk and the lights gradually go from pink, to orange to Lucozade yellow as the night fell.

Now certain streets including mine have had their sodium lights replaced. Presumably they are not inefficient enough (god save us from the evil of inefficiency!!) It’s happening all over the city, probably the whole country, with white light flooding much more area than before. As a result, some of the quaint, odd character from the suburban British street is being lost.

It all seems to me part of a kind of gradual increase in the brightness of our night-time world. Look back to old films and you see a gentler world of interior gas lamps in houses, streetlights shrouded in fog and phone boxes lit with a soft glow. Nowadays a violent brightness is creeping everywhere. Under the relentless pressure of ‘safety’ concerns and 24-hour retail we are turning the night into the day.

Technology is already leading to an over-stimulation, with continuously flashing sources of electronic light, but the built environment has a similar effect. Electronic billboards blaze across obikeur cities, while ATM machines have recently got a lot brighter, as have the interior lighting on buses which I find unbearable. It’s like having your retinas scoured. I know I sound like an old man complaining about the way the world is, but I really feel this is an unstoppable process where designers and engineers will not be happy until they have eliminated night-time darkness altogether.

I asked a female friend about the safety arguament for brighter lighting. She said “Well, it just increases the fear doesn’t it? If you play up to the idea of the night being dangerous then it will be. We need to create more trust not less”

Night is the flipside of day, with its own special atmosphere to cherish. It’s the time when we we recharge; and even if we are active, we can avoid being over-stimulated.

The delights of a stargazing are increasingly becoming impossible in cities, as the wash of artificial light drowns out the fainter heavenly objects.

I would like to keep the sodium lights burning, and leave a little mystery and atmosphere in the night. You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.


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When I was a kid I was in love with motorbikes – along with dinosaurs and knights, they were one of the great obsessions of my childhood. 

I can’t remember how it started, but by the age of nine my bedroom walls were lined with posters of Kawasakis, Suzukis and Hondas; I amassed a sizeable collection of books on the subject and I drew and painted the machines incessantly. When we moved onto a street with a motorcycle showroom on the corner, the fire was stoked still further and I would indulge my two-wheeled fantasies constantly.

All of this was of some concern to my mother, who envisaged me killing myself as soon as I got the chance to ride. An ex-nurse, she was full of lurid tales about road accidents involving motorcyclists and would recount them regularly in order to put me off. It didn’t work however. It was clear to me then, as it is now – the motorcycle is the most exiting invention humankind has ever devised.

The sound of a bike is enough to quicken the blood; the growl of an exposed engine turning over gives off a feeling off danger before you let even out the clutch. That element of risk is what makes it sexy, combined with the individualism of the solo rider, who is bonded to his metal steed in a way humankind has known ever since we first tamed wild horses millenia ago.

I have never understood how anyone could get exited by a car. Sitting off to one side of the vehicle, dragging round a whole lot of extra seats, space and weight, the car driver is contained; cossetted within a piece of vehicular real-estate. Contrast that with hurling yourself through the cold air, exposed, with an angry engine between your knees. A motorbike is pure freedom.

As I got older, my interests changed. To everyone’s surprise, and some relief, I didn’t become a motorcyclist; I kept my feet on the street. But I still salute the individualism that the motorcycle represents, and the cultural impact it has had.

Motorbikes have appeared everywhere in popular culture, from films like Easy Rider to literary eulogies such as “Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. But my favourite piece of motorcycle culture is a song by the English singer/songwriter Richard Thompson.

A master of storytelling and character in song, Thompson (a founder member of folk-rock legends Fairport Convention) recounts the tale of a rebel motorcyclist who woos a  flame-haired woman “Red Molly” on his motorbike, only to come to a messy end, handing her the keys to the machine on his deathbed. Accompanied by his unique, virtuoso guitar playing, this is a Thompson classic. Enjoy…

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Nerve Magazine – Interview with local singer, songwriter and writer Tom George.

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