On watching a film I don’t know the name of.

Tonight you are watching a Russian movie about the stilyagi, or hipsters, the men and women who followed jazz and rock and roll, the music, the clothes, the lifestyle in the Soviet Union of the fifties.

It’s not historically accurate. It is, appropriately enough, stylised with a strong touch of the musical about it. Everybody lives in beautiful rooms, even the ones who live in communal flats. The shops are very chic, even if they are full of black or grey clothes, the better to highlight the vibrancy of the stilyagi. And the musical numbers are in Russian, which wasn’t how it worked at all. As you understand it. Everything you know on the subject comes from a book called ‘Back in the USSR’ by Artemy Troitsky. But he definitely knows what he is talking about, although mostly it’s not about the stilyagi.*

Mind you, the film makers seem to have read it too. They are certainly doing the highlights anyway. Atmosphere of hostility. Much spitting and haranguing. People getting their hair shaved by well meaning mobs. Bootleg copies of American records on old X-rays. Many of the leading lights being the children of the upper ranks of Soviet society. Someone has just got arrested.

The story charts the journey of a young member of the stilyagi from onlooker to leading light in the movement. We are nearing the end of the film now and his best friend and wife have just spent the last half an hour highlighting how they over the fad they are in contrast to our hero, who is still determinedly sporting a quiff and playing his sax loudly enough to wake the baby.

You are not sure if the film has a point. Possibly there is a bit of sniffyness at what is essentially something of a hollow lifestyle, and one that is built on a romanticised view of the West at that. But the film definitely doesn’t stint the contrast between the joy and enjoyment of the stilyagi in contrast to that of the rest of the country either.

Plus the rather jolly song at the end sees the boy with delusion intact, albeit somehow also in the present day, surrounded by the youth cultures of the last fifty years, and seems to have trumped that rather downbeat conclusion. Who knows?

Pushkin**. Or someone with a better command of Russian, anyway.


You have found the film. It is called, appropriately enough, Stilyagi. And here is the lead at the moment his hipster life really takes off.

And you really like this song.

*You highly recommend this book, but only to people who have a working knowledge of Russian rock music, otherwise it probably makes no sense at all. Still, there’s always youtube.

**There’s nothing worse than a bad joke explained, but it might help to know that in Russian, there’s a little call and response thing which goes: ‘Who knows?’ ‘Pushkin knows.’ I dunno, become a revered national poet and writer of dirty limerics, and suddenly you are omniscient.


On my son, the composer.

The Star likes to sing. So does the Comet.

While the Comet prefers to hum along with you, the radio, random noises on the street, the Star prefers solos.

He’s taken to making up his own songs, as well as mutilating traditional ones.

The latest (in Russian) goes:

‘If you go to the seaside a shark will come and eat you, eat you, eat you.

If you go to the seaside a shark will come and eat you, and then you’ll be dead.’

It might be time to stop letting him watch David Attenborough, but the tune’s not bad.

Another installment of a toddler’s Guide to… Hyde Park

On driving the car down memory lane

The Star likes XFM radio station, he informed you today. Or rather while you were driving along today listening to XFM, he informed you that he liked this song… and that song… that song is his favourite… and this one… he likes this next song… and so on.

This is a clear win for team indie guitar bands in the face of years of Papa’s clear preference for Planet Rock and, god help you, heavy metal. ‘Heavy metal’ being defined as any loud guitar band you don’t like. The support is very welcome. You were on the verge of admitting that Pink Floyd perhaps aren’t as annoying as all that, after all.

Anyway, it’s nice to see the Star developing preferences. And preferences that aren’t animal related at that. Although he was very impressed by the name ‘Arctic Monkeys’ for a band, so that might have something to do with it. He might also just be trying to curry favour with you. You do have a tendency to go ‘oooooh!’, turn the volume up high and wave your hands in the air while listening to the radio in the car. Which is less alarming than it sounds, given that you are driving. After all, it is London. If you aren’t sitting in a traffic jam, you are waiting at a red light.

The thing is, XFM started out back when the kind of music they played was all you listened to, and they still like to sprinkle their playlist with an awful lot of music that makes you smile both in fond remembrance and, given that you are rapidly approaching 40 and will probably never mosh again, a little wistfully. This is why you only listen to it in the car. You can have too much of a good thing.

Since you were stuck in the car for a good hour and a half today, you have positively overdosed on nostalgia and this has inspired you to go searching youtube for some of the bands of your yoof who XFM will probably never play. The ones who didn’t quite make it.

Your two favourites in this category were probably the Family Cat, mainly for the song Steamroller and an excellent T shirt. The Senseless Things had not only another excellent T shirt*, but also a really really good bass player** and a number of very good songs.

Enjoy. And yes, people did dress like that back then. I bet that’s a fashion craze that never comes round again. You probably should stop taking the piss out of the 80s now. Yes, the T shirts were much better.

*Indie kids and their T shirts. *happysigh*

**Who, you have discovered, now tours with Muse. The dirty sell out. Oh deary deary me. Poor man.

And now for something completely different: a toddler’s Guide to… the V&A.

On green-eyed taxis.

The Star likes to join in when his Papa sings this song.

Controversially, he has decided that the words are ‘BANANA! Banana, banana, banana. BANANA! Banana. Banana, banana. BANANA!’

He also sings it in a very peculiar rock growl, although that might be because he his trying to copy his Papa, a man who cannot hold a tune and who is rhythm deaf.

You are perplexed.

Mainly by his taste in music.

On Dad’s Army, the Musical.

So you recently went to see a musical version of Dad’s Army put on by an amateur company you are friendly with.

Dad’s Army, for the Britanically challenged amongst us, was originally a long running TV series about a particularly incompetent chapter of the Home Guard, men who weren’t actually in the armed forces during World War Two on the grounds of being old, infirm or bank managers but who were armed to the teeth with pitchforks and expected to help defend the white cliffs in the event of an invasion. It was a comedy. Much bantering in the village hall in drafty uniforms with pauses for tea.

So is the musical stage version. Apparently it’s a splicing together of a few of the TV episodes. With added wartime songs and a singalong at the end.

It was fun. Much of the amusement value was watching the actors doing impressions of their more famous counterparts. Very successfully too. It was well cast. Plus you enjoyed the songs. You are just* old enough to have been around when they were still well-known songs. and young enough** that they have sunk without trace for many many years now.

And of course, you got to boo some Germans, which made it practically panto already and a good way of getting into the Christmas spirit.

Anyway. The men (and, in the musical, the women) of Dad’s Army bumble along, but they are decent people, trying to do the decent thing in difficult times. It was sweet and nostalgic and everybody belted out Rule Britannia at the end with a real feeling of warm and fuzzy pride. Except B. Who waved his red paper napkin and sang  Sovietksi Soyuz.

But how difficult? You see because B was there, you suddenly found yourself wondering how gently entertaining a Russian, sorry, Soviet, version would be. Cheerful ditties about eating Granny to stave off starvation in the blockade of Leningrad? Plucky witicisims about Mrs Ivanov having her house set fire to by the invading army, with  her and her baby inside of it? Tap dance routines from the cheeky young pioneer leaping across the bodies of his family and friends during the carnage in Stalingrad?

Of course, Dad’s Army doesn’t represent the full gamut of British experiences of World War Two. There are plenty of harrowing tales there and some of them even happened to civilians.

But the comfortableness of the evening worried you a bit.

Although it wasn’t half as bad as the last time you went to that particular venue to see that particular company perform.

That time the entertainment was Jack the Ripper, the Musical.

*Just. Just.

**Easily. Easily.

On twinkletoes.

The Star has discovered dancing. You can’t think where he’s picked this up from. You don’t have a habit of leaping round the living room when a really good song comes on the radio at all.

Anyway, the Star will bop around in his high chair while listening to his portable radio. But it’s when he’s got a bit more space and Papa is listening to Planet Rock that he really likes to go for it.

He spins!

He hops up and down!

He runs on the spot!

He shakes his head from side to side.

And he’s got this one move where he waves one hand above his head and does a sort galloping movement that makes him look as though he’s in some dance off with a cowboy.

It’s all most peculiar and he has about as much sense of rhythm as B, but really very, very cute.

On Bratya Grim

This is your favourite band. Has been for a while now, so you have decided to come out of the closet.

You only really became aware of them after you left Russia, so you can’t blame it on nostalgia.

They are a Post Soviet group so entirely lack the extra cool that surviving as a rock band under communism lends.

Clearly they do not gain much cool from any other direction either, although someone seems to have had at them with the peroxide bottle as their career has progressed, which can only be a good thing.

B says they are lightweights in the lyrics department, which is about as dismissive as a Russian gets. Although as you really don’t go in much for lyrics, you could care less.

But you do like the music. It cheers you up.

Plus one of their songs includes a rock harpsichord. Not here, you couldn’t find that one. But still. A rock harpsichord. Imagine that. It makes you hug yourself with glee.