FHM Knowledge and Loaded Skills

In the ‘New Lad’ heyday of the mid-90s, when cigarettes, alcohol and football were all you needed to be a ‘ledge’, one was presented with a binary choice for lad-based news: ‘Loaded’ and ‘FHM’ were the clear market-leaders.  Nuts and Zoo were a little too low-brow, aimed more at the 13-year olds lacking the confidence to buy pornographic magazines in their local WHSmiths and GQ was a little too high-brow, not to mention that fact that it contained fashion shoots involving men.

FHM and Loaded contained a glossy mix of supposedly true laddish tales, a 24 page glossy shoot of a lady whose first name ended in ‘i’, some sports and some music that it was ok for a lad to like (Oasis, Cast, Space etc).  A ‘dilemmas’ feature occasionally made an appearance, presumably to massage the grey matter of the readership.  This would include questions such as:

‘Would you ‘do’ The Coors if you had to ‘do’ the bloke too?

Which would you prefer, a mermaid with the top half of a woman and the bottom half of a fish, or the top half of a fish and the bottom half of the woman?

If you could have ten points to spend on women, and supermodels were 10, women you knew were 2 and ‘lucky dip’ was 1, how would you spend your points?

If these aren’t actual questions from FHM, they are close enough to the brain-teasers posed by the mag, and they make for a brand of rather tasteless sexism.  I think we’ve moved on.

However, these needless and pointless questions aren’t so very different from the question of ‘Knowledge v Skills’.  We have admittedly move into a more highbrow line of questioning (perhaps even beyond GQ’s remit), but I don’t think the dilemma is any more valid as a question.  It is surely desirable to have both.  It is even possible to possess ‘skills’ in isolation, without background knowledge?  It is certainly possible to hold in one’s mind a large collection of disparate facts, which may be useful when it comes to questions of pure factual recall (pub quizzes) for example, but does this even constitute knowledge?  No-one articulates better what I mean than Richard Feynman – here he is talking about the difference between ‘knowing the name of something, and knowing something’:


It is clear that the people Feynman criticise possess a certain degree of knowledge, without the skills of analysis to make that knowledge useful. However, how can you begin to use your skills of analysis if you don’t even know that it’s a bird making the noise?

Knowledge and skills have little in common with the ‘traditional v progressive’ debate, though some may argue that the method of direct instruction favoured by those in the former category promotes the importance of knowledge and the pupil-centred approach favoured by the progressives promotes skills-based learning, but to look at things in these terms is too simplistic and binary (almost in the mold of an FHM article writer).  

Every teacher must agree that the passing on of knowledge is to some degree their raison d’etre – this is evident in the quote from Joseph O’Neill, who states that ‘the human race refreshes itself in complete ignorance’.  However, no teacher would ever intend to pass on that knowledge without making connections between the material being delivered.  I watched the marvellous BBC4 series ‘A Tale of Three Cities’ last night, which focused on Paris in 1928.  The series moved effortlessly around the Culture, Politics, Art, Architecture and Music of the City, all placed in clear historical context.  I can’t imagine how one could have appreciated the programme without knowledge of how these things came to be, but it takes a certain degree of skill to understand how these things are connected.  ‘Only Connect’ has been the theme of my Third Form teaching this year, and I have tried to prove that connections can be made between seemingly disparate things.

I cannot imagine anything more dull than skills-based teaching – the passing on of knowledge is one of the most joyful parts of being a teacher.  Having said that, to think that I was merely preparing pupils for a tilt at the ‘Eggheads’ would be pretty disappointing too.  In much the same way that Baddiel and Skinner will always be linked to the laddish mid-90s through ‘3 Lions’ and ‘Fantasy Football’, it’s impossible to de-couple knowledge from skills.  It’s not an either/or question- if it’s those you’re after, stick to your back-copies of Loaded.

Face the Music (2)

Here it is, the long awaited second installment of my ‘Top Ten Albums’, this time from 2001 right up to the present day. The only feedback I had from my related post was that ‘it was a bit dull’ (thanks brother), so I’ve decided to listen to advice, and to improve things by justifying the choices, as well as putting a few thoughts down about music in general. Remember, faithful readers that these are the albums that I’ve listen to most regularly, rather than being those which I judge to be the best musically.

Just before the albums themselves, here’s some ramblings. I hope they prove cathartic for me:

  • I don’t actually seem to buy albums very much any more. Is this a bad thing? Not if you don’t like masses of filler (Raw Like Sushi still has my vote for the greatest load of rubbish outside the singles), but there was something nice about listening to a singer/band all the way through the album, especially if there was some concept to the album (Mansun, The Streets). Concept. How pretentious. Sorry.
  • You will always be judged on the music you listen to. This is unfair, but it’s going to happen. If you listen to Snow Patrol, you don’t really like music, and your opinion on what’s good or not is not worth listening to. You probably like elevator music too.
  • Why the argument about whether musicians write their own music or not? Why does it matter? Elvis didn’t write his music, and he’s pretty good. Granted, if the music is hugely emotional, and the performance is anguished, then you find out it’s been written by a load of grey suits, you might feel a little cheated, but we don’t expect actors to write the plays they appear in, and the same should apply to musicians.
  • You have a right to feel proud when a band you ‘liked before they were famous’ subsequently becomes famous. There is, however, nothing wrong with liking a popular band, and it’s not time to ditch them for something more obscure just because some other people like them too. Coldplay are good, aren’t they?
  • Why do so many bands now have the definite article in their names? I’m sure that we’ve reached saturation point on the number of ‘The….’ that are out there. Is ‘The Drums’ the worst name for a band since Hootie and the Blowfish, or is that just me?

Anyway, here’s the music:

2001: Royksopp – Melody AM. From one’s mid-20s, it’s time to start thinking ‘which music would go best with my sophisticated dinner party?’. Air and Zero 7 were early favourites, and I determined early to never go back to anyone who played Norah Jones, even if their basil parfait was to die for. After a couple of listens to Moon Safari, you can’t help wanting the washing up to come a little faster, and the only time I went to see Air, I fell asleep. Royksopp seemed a whole lot cooler, and I stayed awake throughout their Somerset House gig.

2002: The Streets – Original Pirate Material. Is this the last album that genuinely didn’t sound like anything that had gone before? I think so. Living in London at the time probably helped, and the beat on ‘has it come to this?’ always reminds me of the tube, in a good way.

2003: Goldfrapp – Black Cherry. ‘Felt Mountain’ is far better, but ‘Black Cherry’ still has its moments, and I did fall in love with Alison Goldfrapp one night in Hammersmith. So did Jez.

2004: Kasabian – Kasabian. The most swaggery bunch since Oasis, and just as exciting as Oasis when they kicked off. Coming from uber-sh*thole Leicester and still being good gains extra points. LSF, Cutt Off, Cluc Foot and Processed Beats would make it a good album even if only a couple of these songs were on there.

2005: Picaresque – The Decemberists. Must have been a pretty weak year. I like the Decemberists, and I don’t care if the singer has an irritating voice, and they’re not as cool as other such alt-country fellows, according to muso yank Ryan.

2006: Whatever people say I am… – Arctic Monkeys. Obviously. They were very exciting indeed, and if only for ‘still take you home’, the anthem of 2007’s Ireland holiday, they deserve the vote.

2007: Cross – Justice. Not sure if I’m too old for this, but ever since phantom no.2 was used on channel 5’s awful football Italia, they’ve had a hold over me. French music is cool these days. Who knew?

2008: The Age of the Understatement – The Last Shadow Puppets. The Arctic Monkey’s chap’s other band, and definitely more of a grower, even if it’s not so catchy. Sounds a bit like the AMs meets Bowie, which can never be a bad thing.

2009: West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum – Kasabian. Kasabian’s second album wasn’t much cop, and they seemed to be a real one album wonder (at least in my eyes). I can’t describe the sadness with which I watched ‘shoot the runner’ on the Friday Night Project, thinking how incredibly awful it was. WRPLA is even better than the debut album, and even though Noel Fielding was in the Vlad the Impaler video, it’s still a great album.

2010: One Life Stand – Hot Chip. Only for ‘I feel better’ really, and I probably haven’t even listened to the whole album more than once, but 2010’s not even over, and I’ve had enough of this list, and you have too. Probably.

Face the Music

Everyone’s a fan of lists. Channel 5 in particular. List shows seem to have spawned from programmes such as ‘I love 1973’, and the public’s love of nostalgia in general. They started with the ten best films, or albums, which seemed fair enough. Suddenly ten wasn’t enough, and we moved into the top 100 best…, and the categories became rather more desperate too. I’m pretty sure I’ve spent a Sunday night watching the countdown of the ‘Top 100 love scenes in family movies from the 1980s starring Molly Ringwald’. Whereas the original list shows meant that some pretty big decisions needed to be made, nowadays it’s more tricky just finding enough examples to cram into the list. What’s left to do? ‘Top seven days of the week’? ‘Top 100 colours’? I, for one, am on the edge of my seat.

This all acts as an introduction to this particular entry, which is a list about albums. Ten year’s worth of albums in fact. Starting in 1991, purely for the fact that it’s a palindrome, and for someone as ‘curious incident-y’ as me, that’s where you need to start.

In a bid to remove all controversy, these aren’t necessarily those albums that I think are the best of that year, simply the ones I reckon I’ve listened to most often. They’re probably the albums that I liked most in each particular year, though I seem to remember that as an angsty 15 year old, music was one of the main ways that you fitted in, and if you carried round a vinyl copy of ‘blood sugar sex magik’ in an Andy’s records bag, a reasonable amount of cool would be heaped upon you even before you opened your zit-encrusted mouth in front of a moderately attractive girl.

1991 – Nirvana, Nevermind
1992 – Tie: Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted and Sonic Youth, Dirty
1993 – Suede, Suede
1994 – Portishead, Dummy
1995 – Oasis, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (of course)
1996 – Cake, Fashion Nugget
1997 – Tie: Prodigy, The Fat of the Land and Ben Folds Five, Whatever and Ever Amen
1998 – Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane over the Sea
1999 – Moby, Play (and may I be forever damned for this, especially given the number of times I played porcelein)
2000 – The Avalanches, Since I Left You

What a very depressing list. I wasn’t aware that I’d spent my time from the age of 15 to 24 desperately trying to fit in with the crowd, though my listening tastes would suggest differently. 1998 represents a high point, with 1999 the nadir.

When I’ve recovered from my despond, I shall compile a 2001-2010 list, which will hopefully be less predictable and formulaic.