52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

But long as there are stars above you

His Dark Materials - based on the novels by Philp Pullman, adapted by Nicholas Wright. The National Theatre, London.

Let's get right down to the plot essentials: God is senile and longs for death; the angels are gay; the Church is a corrupt and power hungry institution that kidnaps and tortures young children; there is no heaven and all who die go to the same grey and hopeless wasteland with no hope of salvation or redemption.

It's enough to make you wonder why the Catholic Church is wasting its time worrying about the Da Vinci code.... The three books that make up the "His Dark Materials" trilogy are surely far more iconoclastic than any conspiracy theory or cover-up that Dan Brown has managed to dream up. Make no mistake about it, a stark anti-clericism runs through these books. All of the great totems of the christian religion are torn down one by one through the course of this book, this children's book.

The three books that make up the trilogy (the Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife & The Amber Spyglass) are amongst the most magical books I have ever read. Forget Harry Potter, there is a craft in these stories that can transport you to other worlds. There aren't many books that have moved me to tears, but these ones certainly did, and you must be very cold indeed if you can read the ending and remain unaffected.

A stage adaptation of the books must have seemed like a very ambitious idea indeed. A folly, perhaps. For starters, there's the sheer bulk of it: there are three lengthy books crammed with character and plot that need to be covered, the best part of 1000 pages. How can that be practically compressed into a stage play? Script issues aside, how on earth can you capture a world where the human soul has a physical manifestation in the shape of a daemon, where the characters include giant armoured bears, where the action takes place across continents, across worlds?

The answers quickly becomes clear: the three books are compressed into two performances of three hours each - still a lot to take in, but just about manageable. The daemons are brilliantly visualised using puppets with glowing eyes, none finer than Mrs Coulter's malevolent golden monkey of course (pictured above), but also including owls, snow leopards, blackbirds, hawks, moths, a hare... and all the members of the clergy either have a snake or a lizard, so make of that what you will....

The set itself is amazing; what starts as a simple, flat and empty stage transforms over the course of the plays: it revolves and it contains many levels that can be raised and lowered as the story requires, taking us seamlessly from the common room in Jordan College to the arctic wastes of Svalbard. It's a magnificent achievement in its own right.

All very technically impressive, but what of the play?

It was wonderful. The script swoops and soars and Philip Pullman's world is brought to life before your eyes. As in the books, an awful lot happens, not least a war taking place across many worlds to overthrow and kill God, but the heart of the story is the relationship between Will and Lyra. The very first scene takes place with just the two of them (and Pantalaimon of course) on the bench in the Oxford Botanic Gardens, and six hours later we end in the same place... this time with most of the audience blubbing like babies.

[Leonardo da Vinci, Lady with an Ermine - from the programme, which was full of portraits of people with animals... representing their daemons, of course]

The audience was of course mainly comprised of parents with their excited children. Judging from the conversations I heard during the intervals, everyone was captivated by what they were seeing (although I did see one miserable group of well-groomed elderly people who debated endlessly about the changes that had been made to the script, and how the Church had been introduced too early etc. etc., but I suppose you can't please everyone).

It was a good day out, and an excellent birthday present from C. It wasn't even spoiled by arriving at St. Pancras station at about 22:30 and discovering that the next train to anywhere further north than Bedford wasn't until 23:40. We eventually got into Nottingham station at 02:35, which seems ridiculous. I was more than a little bit bleary-eyed when the alarm went off this morning, that's for sure.


It's a great story, and ever since we left the theatre I have been chewing the themes over in my mind. Does the 'dust' represent original sin? The witches prophecy seems to point to the need for a second Fall, another expulsion from the Garden of Eden, whereas the Church are desperately trying to return the world to a pre-lapsian state, a world without original sin. It's all a bit "Paradise Lost" really. I love the fact that a set of books ostensibly aimed at children can deal with these huge themes in such an intelligent way, and without a shred of condescension. If you haven't read the books, you should really do yourself a favour and check them out.

Although Pullman clearly has no love of the church, to my mind he's actually pushing a humanist agenda here, rather than an atheist one: we shouldn't be seeking to return to the innocence of childhood, we should let childhood go and seek to obtain enlightenment through study and the acquisition of knowledge. We must build the Republic of Heaven where we are, and not look for it in another world.

No fate but what we make.

Actually, I think Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted "Theodore" Logan say it best (and a lot more succinctly):

"Be Excellent Unto Each Other".

Theatre that makes you think. Whatever next?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

...busting makes me feel good

Lord Bargain and I are just sat here chewing the cud and listening to some tunes and have come up with the following conundrum....

What is the best film theme tune ever?

Before you come up with an answer, there are some rules:

1) The title of the song has to be the same as the name of the film (or very, very close)
2) The song has to appear over the opening or closing credits (or both)
3) The song has to have been written for the film - you can't have a film that is named after a song (like "My Girl" or "Can't Buy Me Love" or Pretty Woman)

The reason this came up is because we were listening to a little bit of Ray Parker Jr (as you do) and it got us thinking.....

Can you do better than that? Lord B reckons there's something out there that's better, but I reckon you'll struggle.... (and although it qualifies, don't be coming here and suggesting 'Footloose' either - I'll never get that bloody intro out of my head)

Monday, March 28, 2005

....then its back to work a.g.a.i.n.

We popped down the motorway this afternoon to have lunch with my mum & dad - they live a little over an hour away from us, just the other side of Northampton. Just close enough to pop down for an afternoon, but also just comfortably far enough away, if you know what I mean. We left here at about midday and settled in for a comfortable drive down the motorway listening to 'Want Two' by Rufus Wainwright... he's playing at the Nottingham Royal Concert Hall in April, and I bought a pair of tickets last week. I was mildly worried that nobody would want to come with me, but C. quite enjoys coming with me to the odd concert and was happy to accompany me now that she doesn't have to be away with work that evening.

Of course, this being the last day of the long Easter Weekend, the traffic was terrible.... it was still pretty early in the day, so it wasn't at a standstill, but it was one of those days where everything bunches up in the outside lane, and you find yourself slowing down to a virtual standstill for no reason other than that people like to sit themselves in the middle lane and stay there for the entire duration of their journey, forcing the rest of the motorway to go the long way around them.... Did you know that (according to the RAC) poor lane discipline blocks up about 1/3 of the UK motorway network at any one time? That's 700 lost miles of road every day - the same as the journey from Aberdeen to Penzance.

We heard on the radio a little later on that there was a huge snarl up on the M1 just beyond the exit we had taken. Sure enough, about 4 hours later, when we got back onto the motorway to head home, the southbound lane was completely blocked up with people returning to London from a long weekend up in the countryside. No doubt all the roads out of the South-West will be similarly snarled up this evening.

There had been a new addition to the road since lunchtime though - now everywhere you looked there were caravans. I just do not understand the mentality that leads someone to buy one of these things. I suppose they sell it as freedom: the freedom to get into your car, hook up your caravan, and drive really slowly on major highways and on tiny country lanes alike. The freedom to spend a few days each year in a cramped, single roomed tin can in dangerously close proximity to the rest of your family. The freedom to use a chemical toilet (do tour bus rules apply? i.e. no solids, or are the rules for the caravanning community different? Should you lay down a layer of paper in an attempt to stop the splashing noises? I think we should be told).

Prices for these things seem to start at about £10,000 (I'm sure prices vary enormously, but frankly there's only so much surfing of carvan websites I am prepared to do in the name of research). How many days use a year do you reckon people get out of these things? 2 weeks a year? 4 weeks absolutely tops, if they use it at the weekend as well as when they are on holiday? The rest of the time, these things are allowed to rot on people's driveways, cultivating a layer of green stuff. I don't know about you, but it would take me several years before I manage to spend more than £10,000 on hotels. Surely it's considerably less hassle and considerably more comfortable to just book into a room at some boarding house or bed and breakfast? Proper bed, proper toilet, proper shower? Perhaps it's just me....

The other thing that makes me laugh is the names these things have; they are almost always, without fail, ridiculously macho. Have a look yourself the next time you are out on the roads. They all have names like:

- The Conquerer
- The Crusader Storm / Crusader Typhoon / Crusader Hurricane (you see what they did there?)
- The Supreme Superstar (not just any superstar, mind you, the supreme superstar)
- The Avondale Ulysses

I'm sure somewhere out there is an 'Apocalypse' range, or, for the larger family, the six berth 'Armageddon'. I can't think of many things less macho than a caravan. Or indeed many things less macho than a caravanner. Are the names perhaps compensating for something? The more phallic the name of your caravan....

Maybe I'm just being cynical.


"Few industries can boast, as the Caravan Industry can, how they have kept up with the changes in choice, luxury, comfort and safety to offer the variety of lifestyle available today."

Maybe I shouldn't criticise until I've given it a go, eh? Maybe next Easter?

Caravans: "experience the freedom"....

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Sempre estar la, e ver ele voltar

Right then: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

I don't know why, but people seem to have the perception that for all his talent, Bill Murray has only really made a couple of good films.... I suppose we all remember him in films like 'Ghostbusters' (1984), 'Groundhog Day' (1993) and, most recently, 'Lost In Translation' (2003) and wonder what the hell he's been doing with the rest of his time. Sure, he's made a couple of stinkers in his time (Garfield anyone?), but take a look at his entry on the IMDB and as well as those I've already mentioned, you'll see he has a career record lots of actors would be more than happy with:

Tootsie, Scrooged, Ed Wood, Kingpin, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums... hell, I've even got a soft spot for stuff like Caddyshack and Quick Change.

Two of those films - Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums - were directed by Wes Anderson, who also directs 'The Life Aquatic'. As I mentioned earlier this evening, both those films were quirky, and this one isn't about to break the sequence. It tells the story of a washed-up Jacques Cousteau-alike Oceanographer and his quest to find the mythical shark that killed his partner. The casting of the film is like a who's who of whimsical character actors: Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Anjelica Huston, Michael Gambon, Cate Blanchett. Quite a cast, but make no mistake about it, the centre of this film is the baggy, melancholic, world-weary, hangdog Bill Murray himself. He is as majestic as always... playing largely the same character as he always does, it's true, but he is brilliant...

Reviews have been mixed:

"Smug and slow moving"
"Your whimsy tolerance will be tested"
"Anderson's latest endeavour will have you yawning from start to finish"
"The Life Aquatic is Anderson's least interesting film , and should serve as a demostration of the vapidity of his so-called brilliance" (ouch)
"An exquisitely evocative movie that elevates rueful melancholia to a superpower"
"Murray's deadpan presence holds it all together. Like France's Jacques Tati, he's a master of minimalist angst and perfect straight man to a darkly comic world and Anderson skillfully keeps him positioned at the eye of the storm"

You get the general idea: some people loved it, lots of people hate it.

Well I loved it, and was captivated by it - the slowly pirouetting Killer Whale, the apparently dim dolphins, the mad pirates, the magnificent cut-away set of the boat, the red hats and team pyjamas, the kid in lederhosen.... ah. Fantastic.

The thing I loved the most? The soundtrack is made up almost entirely of Portuguese re-workings of classic David Bowie songs on acoustic guitar by the brilliant Seu Jorge, who plays a member of the crew. As if that wasn't enough, two of the non-Bowie soundtrack exceptions are a blisteringly loud & appropriate use for "Search and Destroy" by Iggy and the Stooges and the gloriously obscure "30 Century Man" by Scott Walker - the rest of the sountrack is made up of some wonderfully inspired electronic bleeping.

Who could ask for more? Go see.

Christians can be a wonderfully literal people, can't they?

It might have come to your attention that this time of year is something of a big deal in the Christian calendar. I love the fact that it is traditional to celebrate the death and resurrection of the Lamb of God by eating..... lamb.


Is that some kind of play on the whole "eat of this, this is my body" thing, or are we just being unimaginative? Christmas may be the less important festival in the religious calendar, but it is a whole lot more inventive when it comes to food traditions. You'll struggle to find a turkey in the Bible.

Having said that, the whole chocolate egg / Easter Bunny thing? Hats off for that idea. To paraphrase Bill Hicks - God created all the plants & animals of the Earth for mankind to use, and that includes Marijuana, right guys? It's the only explanation.


I just looked at the clock - British Summer Time started at 01:00 and the clocks went forward an hour. On the plus side, this means that it will seem a lot lighter in the evenings. On the downside, it means it is now 2am.



Saturday, March 26, 2005

he'd like to come and meet us, but he thinks he'd blow our minds

I've just finished watching the return of
Doctor-Who to British television screens. This was a big part of my tea-time ritual when I was growing up, and is most a welcome addition to the wasteland of the Saturday evening TV schedules after a 16 year absence. As soon as the credits fired up and the familiar music drifted across the room, I was struck by how ridiculous it was that the BBC got rid of this in the first place (although, to be fair, the last few series were shit. What the hell was the Doctor thinking when he hooked up with Ace, for God's sake?). This is solid gold TV and is bound to be a ratings winner. Judging by the number of red buses etc. they showed in the first 5 minutes, I imagine the BBC is also hoping to make a mint selling this abroad too....

My first impressions? Pretty good. Christopher Ecclestone is showing no signs that he is taking this too seriously, and is thus following in the grand tradition of all the best Doctors, especially Tom Baker. The effects were also pretty good, but were still also reassuringly crap in a more expensive kind of way, if you know what I mean. We even had an auton wheelie bin belching after it had eaten someone, for heaven's sake!

First episodes are always difficult though: a lot of scene setting is always necessary. So perhaps it's wisest to reserve judgement until the Daleks turn up, eh?


Off to see "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" in a bit.

I haven't read too much about it, but as it's a Wes Anderson film starring Bill Murray, the word "quirky" springs to mind....

more later, I guess.

Friday, March 25, 2005

and not very sensible either

Not a single day goes by when I don't walk around with some tune or other lodged in my head - an earworm that will work it's way around my subconscious all day, sometimes bursting out at odd moments. This doesn't even have to be a song that I like, but typically it's something that I have just been listening to; for instance, as I walk into work in the morning, I am invariably singing the last song that was on in the car, to such an extent that the guy who sits opposite me has become quite attuned to picking up which CD I have on in the car (although he wasn't familiar with any Tony Christie, he was suspiciously quick on the uptake with "Dancing on the Ceiling", although clearly this says as much about my in-car listening as it does about his music taste...) I think the most alarming earworm I have had was when I was a student, and I was humming a tune all day, and it wasn't until I finally burst into song as I walked back to my halls of residence that I realised it was "Heal the World" by Michael Jackson. I was mortified, and felt like trying to find every single person who had heard me humming it during the day to try to explain.... quickly ruling that out as impractical, I went home and scrubbed clean to try and remove the taint.


I've decided to institute a regular feature; a feature that I have only partially stolen from Mike at Troubled Diva. On a regular basis (I think probably weekly, but we'll see how it goes eh?) I will do a top 10 countdown of the songs that have been rocking my world this week. I will not be bound by such trivialities as whether the song has ever been released as a single, or is in the charts this week or anything like that.... no. Basically, my plan is to list out my earworms of the week, and then I want you to share what has been flying around your head.

Here's this week then:

10. 'One Hundred Days' - Mark Lanegan
Nearly as absurdly gravel-voiced as Tom Waits. I shudder to think how many fags and bourbon went into making that voice. Also features on the new Queens of the Stoneage album.

9. 'An Honest Mistake' - The Bravery
The beginning sounds a bit like Interpol, and they have a touch of Franz Ferdinand about them and a big chorus....nice.

8. 'Regret' - New Order
Ah. The summer of 1993. (Thanks again Mark)

7. 'Rock N Roll Lies' - Razorlight
I feel like I should hate Razorlight, but I don't. The CD has been sat in my car for months, and whilst at a traffic light the other day I popped it in. I like the lyrics on this one.

6. 'Bend & Break' - Keane
I've had this album out in the kitchen. Could have been any of the tracks really. They don't have a guitarist, you know....

5. 'Welcome to the Jungle' - Guns N'Roses
A combination of a post on the subject by retro-boy, me listening to "Appetite for Destruction" the other day, and the use of this song in an advert for Grand Theft Auto on the telly. Genius.

4. 'Meantime' - The Futureheads
The best post new-wave barbershop quartet in the land and the band I most want to see live at the moment. Last week it would have been "Hounds of Love", but this is my favourite track on the album.

3. 'Buffalo Soldier' - Bob Marley
We used C's car today, and she had a "teach yourself Korean" CD in. I rummaged around in the glovebox, and not being spoilt for choice (my car is overspilling with CDs) I picked out "Legend". Great album.

2. '(Is This The Way To) Amarillo' - Tony Christie
A great song even before its re-release. Makes me think of vans full of muslim gentlemen on their way to the mosque for some reason.

1. 'I Predict a Riot' - the Kaiser Chiefs
It's not big, and it's not clever, but it is absurdly catchy (and uses the word "thee" several times too, which is worth extra points, in my books). Named after a South African Football team in honour of Lucas Radebe, fact fans. I like a band that uses lots of "Na na nas" and "La la las" too, and this lot have a whole song called "na na na na naa" for heaven's sake (and yes, it does exactly what it says on the tin)


Local newspapers make me laugh. You know those billboards that they use to advertise the contents of today's paper? You know, the little snippet of news that is supposed to grab your attention and make you buy the paper? In Nottingham today, this was:


Answers on a postcard....

Thursday, March 24, 2005

do I have to tell the story of a thousand rainy days

"Centuries ago, when magic still existed in England, the greatest magician of them all was the Raven King. A human child brought up by fairies, the Raven King blended fairy wisdom and human reason to create English magic. Now, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, he is barely more than a legend, and England, with its mad King and its dashing poets, no longer believes in practical magic.

Then the reclusive Mr Norrell of Hurtfew Abbey appears and causes the statues of York Cathedral to speak and move. News spreads of the return of magic to England and, persuaded that he must help the government in the war against Napoleon, Mr Norrell goes to London. There he meets a brilliant young magician and takes him as a pupil. Jonathan Strange is charming, rich and arrogant. Together, they dazzle the country with their feats.

But the partnership soon turns to rivalry. Mr Norrell has never conquered his lifelong habits of secrecy, while Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous magic. He becomes fascinated by the shadowy figure of the Raven King, and his heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens, not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything that he holds dear."

As a bibliophile, I enjoyed this book before I had read a single word: it is an 800 page hardback and has a pleasantly tactile dust jacket with a ribbon sewn into the spine for use as a bookmark. This attention to detail is presumably, at least in part, meant to conjure up the image of a book that would not look out of place in the library of a Nineteenth Century gentleman. This is appropriate because the book is set in post-Enlightenment England, where the dusty, scholastic world of the theoretical magician is about to be torn asunder by the return of practical magic to England.

This book has been much trumpeted as the "adult Harry Potter", and I suppose it has some similarities in the way that the author weaves a world of magic into the fabric of the familiar world. Real historical events and characters make regular appearances in the plot: we see Wellington victorious in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo, where the intervention of Jonathan Strange proves as influential on the course of the battle as the British Infantry squares. We also meet Lord Byron in Italy and are witness to the madness of George III (madness in fact becomes a key plot device, as mad people are able to see the fairies that the rest of us cannot...)

It's about magic then, but that's where the similarities with Harry Potter end. Make no mistake, this is a cracking read. The prose style is of an altogether different class to the best that JK Rowling can manage, and there's none of the leaden dialogue that litters her books either. I hesitate slightly to say it, but I think there are touches of the slightly ironical styles of Austen and Thackery as we watch the ritual-bound dance of manners that takes place in the drawing rooms of the English aristocracy. Mind you, all of this would be pretty irrelevant if the story was no good - 800 pages would be something of a long haul if pretty prose was all the reader had to admire. Luckily for us then, there is a gripping plot thread that runs from the start of the book through to the very end, involving a pact with a malevolant Fairy King... but the author is in no hurry to get us to there, and we are allowed to wander with the characters through several entertaining cul-de-sacs that add depth and realism to the author's world, and help us to savour her creation.

This is one of those books where when you try to explain the plot to someone, they make a face at you because:
a) it's quite hard to explain an 800 page book in a sentence
b) some people will never, ever want to read an 800 page book
c) some people will never, ever, under any circumstances want to read a book about magic and fairies

(or all of the above)

I loved it. I was hooked from the moment the first statue came to life in York Minster through to the very end. This is the best book I have read in a while, and the 800 pages flew by. One of those books you enjoy so much that you are almost sorry to have finished it.

What next? hmmm.

Not sure, but there are few things as sweet in life as the anticipation of the next book. The literary world is my oyster. Dickens then? Chaucer? Some Shakespeare?

Nah. Nothing so highbrow (always tomorrow, eh?)

Mark Radcliffe's autobiography I reckon (or possibly, in honour of Yoko, "You Shall Know Our Velocity" by Dave Eggers)

Onwards and upwards, Rodders.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

you know somewhere a ship comes in every day

When I was about 5 years old, I ran away from school. The reason for this uncharacteristic burst of delinquency? I had been messing around in class when I should have been writing, and when asked how much I had written, I miscounted and said I had done seven lines, when in fact I had only written five rather scruffy ones. My punishment was that I had to remain in the classroom, on my own, whilst the rest of my class went off to watch the latest episode of "Play School".

This distressed me terribly, as it would anyone. Play School was the must-see television of the time. No self-respecting five year-old could afford to miss an single episode - my playground credibility would have been shot down in flames, and I would surely no longer be welcome to play in the wendy house. With these thoughts buzzing around my brain, I decided I didn't have to stand for this, and I got up, walked out of the classroom, out of the school building, through the deserted playground and out the gate into the street. From there I walked/ran the mile or so back home. Sadly there was no one in at the time, so I was forced to sit on the back step and wait for my Mum to come back from the supermarket. It was a lovely afternoon, and I seem to remember that I whiled away the time by playing with the cat, a grumpy three-legged creature called Fern.

As you might imagine, when she returned, my Mum was a little surprised to find me waiting for her. The school had of course been going frantic. This may have been back 1979, and although it was apparently acceptable to leave a five year old alone in a classroom, it was not great if that child was then missing when you got back, and you weren't able to find them (if this happened now, I can only assume that International Rescue would have to be called, and that there would be a public enquiry leading to the closure of the school for gross negligence. Of course, in those days we didn't have paedophiles, there was no crime, and Brittannia ruled the waves, so I was probably okay). I was taken back to school, taken to the headmaster's office and made to apologise to Mr. Shepherd. I was then welcomed back into the bosom of my class, where my friend Oliver told me how they had all helped to look for me, and he had searched the wendy house thoroughly, including in the dressing-up box.

That was more than 25 years ago, and I can still remember the feeling of exhiliration I got as I stepped out of the school gate and set off for home.

Do you reckon I'd feel something similar if I stood up now and walked out of the office and went home?

I reckon that maybe I would.

I'll just finish my lunch first, eh?

Monday, March 21, 2005

they'll say isn't she pretty that ship called dignity

I've just been reading about the case of Terri Schiavo in Florida. She's been in a (disputed) persistent vegetative state for the last 15 years and has been the subject of a heartbreaking "right to die" case. Basically, her husband and legal guardian wants to allow his wife to die, and her parents are fighting to keep her alive. This has just hit the news again because George W. Bush has just intervened and a law is about to be passed that will overturn a previous ruling and allow the reinsertion of Terri's feeding tube, which was removed on Friday to allow her to die. This is being rushed through emergency sessions of Congress and the Senate, and Bush plans to sign it as soon as he can, vowing to:

"stand on the side of those defending life for all Americans, including those with disabilities. In cases like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws and our courts should have a presumption in favour of life"

This is an amazing ruling and a historic day: we have finally found the issue important enough to make this work-shy clown cut short a holiday.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is the only smart-arse remark I plan to make about this case.

So, so sad.

I hope if I am ever unfortunate enough to end up in a similar position, my loved ones will allow me to die with dignity, and that the Government will be unable to stop them.

A final thought: is it me, or is there some supreme irony hearing the man who presided over a record number of executions whilst governor of Texas; the man who started an unjustified and pointlessly destructive war in Iraq, holding forth on the need to "have a presumption in favour of life"?


Michael Howard.

Not content with proposing sweepingly arbitrary quotas on asylum applications, he has now turned his attention to Travellers and their abuse of the (and I quote him directly) "so called Human Rights Act", which he is suggesting should be scrapped.

Nice portfolio of policies he's working on here. Chuck out all foreigners. Drive out the gypsies. Scapegoat unpopular minorities.... He's mining a rich populist seam of hatred and prejudice here, and I look forward to him sweeping to power on a wave of populist support and dissolving the Reichstag.

It's sad to see all traces of political priniciples sacrificed in favour of shameless vote grubbing. Not racist? Do me a favour you vile, repulsive man.


Michael Jackson: without wanting to make light of the very serious allegations, this is not the behaviour of a man with a full deck of cards, although I'm not sure why this should come as a surprise to anyone. At least this time he didn't turn up in him jim-jams. Mind you, the media feeding frenzy (reconstructions and all) surrounding this case is starting to make me feel distinctly queasy.

Does Michael Jackson not deserve to be allowed to keep a shred of his dignity? Has he forfeited his right to that, or did he do that long ago? Will it make any difference if the court acquits him? Does anyone care what the verdict is anymore?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

the devil came and took me from bar to street to bookie

I had an excellent day out with some old friends yesterday. We are all the same age and all have birthdays in March, so we always try to meet up and do something to mark the passing of time. I say “something”, but what I mean is that we go out and get absolutely bladdered somewhere. This year we were in Nottingham, and watched the rugby in the pub, went out for a curry, got back round mine by about 10pm and then were all soundly asleep in front of the telly within 30 minutes (match of the day and then some rubbish film starring Ewan McGregor - Nightwatch I think, although I can’t tell you anything about it, except that I think Nick Nolte did it). I think we must be getting old.

I like drinking, and I think I’m pretty good at it; I have friends who will swear they have never seen me drunk.... it’s not because I don’t drink much, or because I haven’t actually been drunk in front of them, it’s because I’m quite good at hiding it, or because I am less drunk than they are, and so therefore appear to be relatively sober. Anyway. The thing is, I don’t think I actually like getting drunk anymore. I just don’t like the feeling. I’m not sure I ever really have (does anyone?). I seem to have an inbuilt mechanism that tells me when to stop, and generally speaking that’s when I stop.

I don’t plan to stop drinking. I like drinking. I like a nice big unsubtle red wine. I like beer - even lager has its moments. I like a good malt whiskey. Hell, I even quite like a nice liqueur every now and again. I’m not ready to give that up. What I am considering though is cutting out those all day sessions. It’s not even as though we set out to drink solidly at these things; we’ve usually gone somewhere to watch some sport, and drinking is just the natural by-product of being in the pub. When the sport finishes, we roll onto another pub and keep drinking. It’s habit more than anything else.


I woke up this morning and I felt okay. I was tired, more than anything else, although I did feel like I’d been out drinking. The guys were still around, so we got the Sunday papers in and settled down to watch Dodgeball (brilliant, brilliant film) and some Red Dwarf VI. After the lads shoved off, I decided to punish myself and got my bike out, cycled for 20 minutes, got off my bike, ran 5km around the rowing lake, and then got back on my bike and cycled home. And NOW I have a headache. That’ll teach me. The beer and the curry were fine; it’s the exercise that’s made me feel ill.

Don’t do it kids.


Today I did something I have never done before - I read a blog in it’s entirety from bottom to top, all 15 months of it. Why? Because I have this thing I like to do where I read the first ever entry on a blog I like. I do this mainly because my own is so hopeless, and because it took me a little while to find my voice. I am interested to see how “fully formed” some bloggers start out. This one was so good, that I just kept reading and reading. It’s excellent. Good work Flash.


I’ve now spent the Amazon vouchers that have been burning a hole in my virtual pocket for the last couple of weeks (I had to wait until all birthday presents had been exchanged and this weekend saw the arrival of Red Dwarf VI and the freedom to shop!)

I opted for:
Employment - The Kaiser Chiefs
Want Two - Rufus Wainwright
Lullabies to Paralyze - Queens of the Stoneage
The Bravery - The Bravery

and I bought myself the boxset of Seinfeld series 1-3. I was a latecomer to the delights of the archetypal “show about nothing”, but in my opinion nothing on TV is better scripted. The plot for every single epsiode twists and turns, but is always, always, brought together perfectly at the end. The BBC made how many series of “Goodnight Sweetheart” and put it on primetime TV? They keep making “My Hero” and putting it on at primetime. So why the hell was Seinfeld always buried on BBC2 at midnight? I know the slap bass is annoying, but.... did it deserve that?

Friday, March 18, 2005

Sometimes you fall into the arms of no-one at all

I don't talk about work all that often here. It's not because I'm especially worried about getting the sack (although we all know it happens, right?). It's mainly because it's dull. It would be boring for me to write about it, and boring for you to read about it. I always seem to have had one of those jobs that is really hard to explain. At one point, I resorted drawing a picture whilst trying to explain to my dad what it is that I do... needless to say, he didn't get it, and was now actually exchanging amused looks with C. when he thought I couldn't see. Grrr. Work has been on my mind somewhat over the last few weeks, so I thought I'd unburden myself. I hope you don't mind. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

I was outsourced last May, and left a big UK company to work for a giant global IT company. I say I left, but as is the way of these things, actually very little changed: I sit in the same desk, work with the same people and do more or less the same job. Plus ca change. Except things DO change. Where once I was an in-house resource, now I am an external cost. I wasn't free before - far from it - but now my cost is a very visible per diem charge on every project I work on. Gradually, over the months, I have come to be regarded by my old employer as more of a necessary evil than a valued contributer. My new employer, meanwhile, is quite happy to have me sitting in the same role reeling them in £thousands a year with very few overheads. They don't have to worry about providing me with an office or a desk, and I am gainfully billing 37 hours a week, every week.

Old Company is currently finalising its budgets for their new financial year. It is becoming clear that they are looking to cut me out. They're trying to keep it under their hats, but they want to save the money. It's not as though there won't be the work for me to do, but these budgets are always an act of fantasy, with figures plucked out of a hat and then cut in half, and then halved again. They need to make the savings where they can. That's okay by me as they have been driving me mad, and I have been looking to escape for a while now. The secrecy is irritating though, and I am fighting the urge to succomb to paranoia and assume it is because they think I'm shit. I am not shit. It creates uncertainty though. The new financial year starts on 1st April - in two weeks time. It is entirely possible that I could be told they only want to use me two days a week with no time to find something else to fill the other three days. Screw them.

For my part, I welcomed the outsource as it opened a world of opportunities that were never going to be there for me if I stayed where I was: a UK Retailer does not have the same number of IT roles around the place as a global technology company. I haven't managed to take advantage of this yet, but I will. Where I am is undeniably comfortable, from a purely practical point of view: my current desk is about 10 minutes drive away from my house, I sleep in my own bed every night and I get to cook my own tea with my girlfriend and watch TV on my sofa and stuff like that - stuff that really adds quality to your life. A change in role will mean a change in lifestyle, as I will have to do a lot more travelling to wherever the work happens to be. This is something I am prepared to do. Unlike many of my colleagues who were outsourced, I don't have an emotional attachment to the Old Company (in many cases brought on by 20-odd years service), I don't have kids in school and generally have a bit more flexibility.

So far so dull.

The thing that is making this situation especially wearing is that New Company is going through one of those periods of uncertainty that most companies tend to go through. There is some sort of restructuring going on, and I am being moved from one meaningless grouping to another, all carried out in the name of "getting closer to the customer" or "getting the right skills to the right place at the right time" or some such generic management nonsense. I've been told about it on conference calls, webcasts, emails, newsletters and presentations... but I still have no real idea what it means for me. In addition to this (and I think it is a different set of sweeping changes), a huge swathe of the UK part of New Company has also been put onto consultation - which basically means that there are going to be organisational changes that may lead to a change in the basic terms and conditions of my employment. Cutting through the crap and non-communication, this means that people will be made redundant. I don't believe that this will affect me, and I'm told that I have skills that New Company is short of, but at the moment they are only telling us the stuff that they are legally obliged to i.e. very little.

It's all quite wearing. I hadn't realised how much until yesterday, when I found myself extremely cheesed off with the whole situation: Old Company scheming to stop paying for me at three times the rate they used to pay me when they employed me, and New Company on the cusp of making changes that might REALLY affect me (possibly in a good way) but that they aren't telling me about.

Good job I work to live, rather than the other way around eh? All I want from a job is a decent wage and intellectual stimulation. I look at some of these high achieving business types who aren't much older than I am, and much though I'd love their salaries, I really don't think I'd want their life.

Sorry if this has been dull - I just wanted to vent it out somewhere.... blogging can be quite therapeutic, can't it?

Anything good happening in your life?


I've added a couple of new sites to my blogroll this week. Some are completely new to me, and others I have been reading on and off for a few months. Have a look - some of them are Nottingham based (discovered mainly thanks to Mike and Ben), and they're all good stuff.

troubled diva - Mike is fresh from his nomination in the Bloggies, but has turned his attention to matters rather closer to home:

"Desperate times call for drastic measures. The "incipient" pot belly which has dogged me since the end of the 1990s can no longer be passed off as a temporary swelling, and I can no longer cling to the delusion that I somehow possess a "natural" 32-inch waist. Those smart Hugo Boss "going out in" trousers which I bought in December, with the more "classic" higher waist? I've worn them twice. The physical discomfort I could cope with, but as for the Friar Tuck/Figure 3 profile: one can only spend so many hours clenching one's abdomen without risking a nasty rupture. Sure, the fashionably low-slung bum cleavage look has served me well for the past four years, but I sense a sea change in the air. Adapt and survive, and all that."

Danger! High Postage - Phil has just had a temporary transfer to Nottingham blogging from Birmingham and is raging about Robert Kilroy-Silk:

"I received a press release from Veritas today, outlining their new policiespolicy. What shocked me was not what the shallow, offensive bigotry it contained, but the fact that the attached word document was written in the most evil font of all - Times New Roman."

Silent Words Speak Loudest - apart from rounding up what's new in the blogosphere (cough! cough! good idea that), Ben has spotted some graffiti and decided to wax all lyrical:

"[*meta-alert!*] Blogging's a bit like graffiti. Regardless of protestations to the contrary, the reason bloggers put their words up online rather than simply keep a private diary is so that they're publically visible. The difference is that, unlike graffiti, blogging's legal, though what you say can still get you into trouble."

World of Flash - Flash likes Nik Kershaw, loves his iPod, has a certain way of labelling his blog posts and works in the town of my birth. What's not to like?

"I am a slave to my comments. When I don't receive any I want to stamp up & down, I want to demand why you don't love me anymore. Luckily enough, I do still hold onto some semblance of sanity & it quickly passes. When I recently had a post with 10 comments I was overjoyed, but I immediately set myself new targets. Never enough, y'see."

Well. We can all relate to that.

Go lookee.

(I still love the rest of you, by the way. I think perhaps I should do a round-up of all my regular reads.... you'd love to read about yourselves, wouldn't you? You love it!)

You're not the only one

I've just been sat at my desk listening to the genius of "Appetite for Destruction" by G'n'f'n'R.


It's made me think of the video for "November Rain". I don't really like this song all that much. By this point a lot of the rawness that made them great has gone, to be replaced by Axl's delusions of grandeur and his overuse of a grand piano. The video is nothing short of magnificent though...

Like all the best videos, this one tells a story.... It tells us of Axl Rose and his model girlfriend Stephanie Seymour getting married, having a party, and living out their lives together in bliss until their tragic, tearful deaths. The band were so keen on getting everything just right, that they paid for the video themselves:

- wedding dress -> $8,000
- specially constructed coffin -> $8,000
- renting a symphony orchestra -> $25,000
- specially constructed chapel -> $150,000
- total cost of video -> $1.5m +

So far, so ridiculously overblown. Axl in particular looks a bit blowdryed - he's not a handsome man, bless him, but he looks like he's made a real effort for his special day.

The best bit by miles, and the reason for bringing this up in the first place, is the solo. In the middle of the ceremony, Slash stands up and walks out of the chapel. The rest of the guests are all dressed up, but Slash is wearing his customary leathers, denim and a top hat (naturally). He throws open the doors and walks out into the middle of a desert (as you do). He walks until he is a little way in front of the church, and then he launches into an EPIC, widescreen guitar solo (the longest ever in a top 10 single and voted number 6 in the 100 greatest guitar solos by the readers of Guitar World Magazine, fact fans!)


They were a brilliant band once. Now they have a guitarist called Buckethead who, yup, wears a bucket on his head all the time....

I hate to shatter any illusions you may have had, but I don't think Axl and Stephanie Seymour lasted the distance either, so I guess they never got to use those custom made coffins after all. Still. If the song teaches us anything at all, it teaches us that nothing lasts forever, even cold november rain.

ho hum.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

he was white as a sheet and he also had false teeth

The first of the Da Vinci Code debates took place in Genoa last night and was apparently packed to the rafters.

"This book is a sack of lies against the Church, against the real history of Christianity and against Christ himself" said Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican flunky appointed to head up the counter-offensive.

If the book is so offensive to the Church, why have the Vatican waited for so long before hitting back? It's been in the bestseller charts for months....

I've given this a bit of thought: the Pope's had a bit of time on his hands lately, so I reckon that the Polish speaking-book edition has just been published (no doubt read by Martin Jarvis).... Picture the scene: His Holiness is in his hospital bed, recovering. He opens his eyes, and they light upon his loyal aides waiting to answer his every need, to cater to his every whim...

"Un peu de miel. Une Fleur.... Le Da Vinci Code...."

What next? The FBI against the creator of the X-Files for the propagation of the LIES that the US Government is in cahoots with alien races? Or is their silence on the subject significant?


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

That’s what mrs. riordan said and she should know

I was reading this afternoon that Jack Dee doesn't like the iPod. Apparently a substantial part of his current routine is given over to it. Fair enough I suppose. I absolutely adore my iPod and take it pretty much everywhere with me, but even I'm starting to get annoyed by its ubiquity. It's bloody everywhere. The white headphones are a touch of marketing genius, aren't they? Generally speaking, you keep this kind of thing in your pocket, and all the rest of the world can see of it is the headphones. Those headphones (and their cables) are usually black. The iPod's headphones (and cables) are white, and they stand out a mile. Naturally, this has made their owners the target of muggers ("hey look! I've got a £400 piece of kit in my pocket! come and get me!"). That doesn't seem to have stopped anyone though, does it? It's a badge of honour. It marks you out.

They're not even very good headphones.

The iPod is a triumph of form *and* functionality. It is an object of geek desire *and* an object of chic desire. That's quite a neat trick to be able to pull off - I can't think of something else with such a broad appeal.

I hardly need to tell you, dear reader, which side of the geek/chic divide I reside.

.... oh please. You could at least have PRETENDED to humour me.... Thanks a bunch.

I wonder whether Nick Hornby likes the iPod. The main thrust of his novel "High Fidelity" is about a man's need to catalogue his life in the same way as he catalogues his record collection. I reckon he probably hates it, or at least thinks that he ought to. I've never owned many records and the bulk of my collection is in CD format, which strikes me as being far more utilitarian - there's somehow less to love about a CD than a record (although it's a hell of a lot more practical in the car). Although it is brilliant to be able to carry several hundred of your favourite albums around in something only slightly bigger than a packet of fags, I somehow think that the real vinyl afficionado gets as much of a kick from the physical pleasure of his collection - the feel of it, the smell of it. The ritual of choosing a record, pulling it from it's sleeve, giving it a wipe and popping it onto the player before settling down in your favourite chair in the ideal stereo position.... you can even use the sleeve to construct a jazz cigarette, if you are so inclined. Very few of these things apply to the CD, and pretty much none of them apply to the iPod. The iPod even organises your collection for you (alphabetical by artist, alphabetical by album, alphabetical by song, by genre.... no autobiographical setting, sadly).

I think it's brilliant. I'm an iPod bore. A sensible middle-aged chap at work sidled up to me yesterday and in a confidential whisper asked my advice about downloading music from iTunes.... I encouraged him (it is, after all, extremely easy). I did however offer him my usual caution that he should be careful in his selection of his first download... as I've said here before, I reckon your first download is a key moment in your life.

This same chap came up to me today to give me an update - apparently (and a little weirdly) this chap had been unable to find the Evanessance single, so for this landmark event in his life had thought long and hard and then settled on "Hey Ya!"

An excellent choice, I'm sure you'll agree.


I have 4702 songs on my iPod (that's 12.3 days of solid listening, apparently). Here are the first ten songs that come up when I pop it onto shuffle:

1. "All Shook Up" - Elvis Presley
2. "Alone, Together" - The Strokes
3. "Night Bird Flying" - Jimi Hendrix
4. "Raw Power" - Iggy Pop & The Stooges
5. "Bedshaped" - Keane
6. "Black Eyed Dog" - Nick Drake
7. "Message to Crommie" - Planet 4 Folk Quartet (on the 'Help' album)
8. "Ring the Bells" - James
9. "Walking Barefoot" - Ash
10. "Words" - Doves

Not bad, not bad. 4692 to go then.


I think I might attempt an "autobiographical" playlist: the songs that plot the way through my musical life from Nik Kershaw, Aha and 5 Star through to Bloc Party, Rufus Wainwright and The Futureheads via Iron Maiden, The Smiths and Scott Walker*

Actually, on reflection, maybe Nick Hornby would love the iPod.

(* I don't actually have any Nik Kershaw or 5 Star on my iPod, in case you wondered, although I do have some Aha.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Truth, rest your head

Once again, the Catholic Church has managed to have me in stitches today.

Are those guys for real?

Cardinal Carcisio Bertone, the Archbishop of Genoa, was today appointed by the Vatican to debunk the Da Vinci Code. In his official capacity he will be organising a series of public debates focusing on the blurring of fact and fiction in the novel. Bertone told Il Giornale:

"The book is everywhere. There is a very real risk that many people who read it will believe that the fables it contains are true...It astonishes and worries me that so many people believe these lies."

You can see his point: the Da Vinci Code has sold more than 18m copies and has been translated into 44 different languages. That's a lot of people who might be taken in. We should probably head over to Waterstones and start building bonfires with this insidious little book right away! Now! Quick, before it causes any more damage! No time to pick up your pitchfork!

Oh wait a minute.

The Bible sells more than 20 million copies each year in the USA alone (in addition to the tens of millions that are given away free). The Gideon Society reckon that worldwide they give away about 60 million copies of the Bible every year. The Bible has been translated into about 2287 languages (your 44 languages and 18m copies not looking so impressive now, eh Dan Brown?).

Billions and billions of copies of this book have been sold over the years, so, I think it's fair to say that the Bible is everywhere. I think it's also fair to say that there is a very real risk that the people who read it will believe that the fables it contains are true... in fact I think that this is actively encouraged. Frankly, it astonishes me and worries me that so many people believe these lies....

How many people have died in the name of the Da Vinci Code? From what I can work out, and I haven't read it, the worst thing you can say about it is that it is crap literature. I don't think it's caused any wars - a bit of tourism perhaps, but no massacres or burnings at the stake or anything like that.

At least the Da Vinci Code has the decency to have the word FICTION stamped across the back.


The other thing the Catholic Church did to annoy me today is a little bit more parochial, but is perhaps the more serious issue - the head of the Catholic Church in Britain felt fit to share with the nation some views on the forthcoming UK General Election that he may have been better advised to have kept to himself.

Michael Howard recently made a remark in a reknowned political journal (Cosmopolitan) that he was in favour of reducing the upper limit on abortions from 24 weeks to 20 weeks, although he wouldn't go as far as reducing it to 12 weeks. This was immediately and predicatably seized upon by the Pro-Life Alliance. Ridiculously, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, also decided to weigh in on the subject:

"It is very important that this debate has been opened into the public arena, both in the lead-up to and after the election. Abortion, for Catholics, is a very key issue, we are totally opposed to it. The policy supported by Mr Howard is one that we would also commend, on the way to a full abandonment of abortion."

There's more. Not content with holding forth on abortion, he decided to share his views on the machinery of government:

"At the moment there are a lot of quangos and bodies that advise governments that this or that is the better way to do things. We live in a very utilitarian society, what is useful is not always what is right for society and sometimes is very wrong."

Hm. Interesting. But how should we vote at the next General Election archbishop?

"As bishops, we are not going to suggest people support one particular party....There has been a notion in the past that Catholics would be more in support of the Labour party because they were working-class people. Now I'm not so sure that will be quite so true today, the Labour party has developed."

Where does he get off? Whilst I understand (although don't share) his convictions about abortion, I firmly believe that he has no business getting involved in politics. All three of the major parties have felt the need to jump in at this point and firmly say that abortion should not be an election issue, but is instead a matter of individual conscience. Quite right. Keep your nose out of politics, Cardinal.

Where would we be if religion was to be the major shaping factor in determining the result of the election for the political leaders of our country?

Ah yes.


Monday, March 14, 2005

You're a water sign, I'm an air sign

Memory is a funny thing and can be triggered in funny ways.

I visited one of my old schools a while back, and the thing that really got me was the way the place smelled: the science lab, the boot rooms, the changing rooms.... they all smelled exactly the same as they did when I was 8 years old. It took me right back. I could remember cleaning my shoes on the bench outside the toilets, next to where we hung up our boiler suits and stored our wellington boots. I could remember sitting in the main science labs for the first time, and watching Mr. Nichol throwing some iron filings into the bunsen flame, or tossing some sodium into a beaker of water. I could remember hanging my clothes on the peg below my school number (I was number 21) and popping my clothes into the wire locker as I got changed for games. All of that triggered by smell.

I think the same thing is true of sounds; of music. The jaunty music used in Austin Powers (you know, the Quincy Jones TV theme thing that was sampled on "My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style" by the Dream Warriors) will always remind me of Glastonbury in 2002, watching the second half of the World Cup final between Germany and Brazil on the big screen at the Pyramid Stage after Rolf Harris had finished his set. Instead of the commentary, we had this music, and drunk on cheap red wine swigged from mineral water bottles, we danced.

I mention this because I listened to Suede's debut album at work this afternoon. It's a cracking album and it throws me right back to the summer of 1993. It was my first year at University, and I saw Suede headlining the NME stage at Glastonbury in the run up to the release of their debut album. That was my first Glastonbury. Back in those days you could stroll into a shop a couple of weeks before the festival and buy a ticket. It was wonderfully hot that year, and I saw a heap of bands: The Kinks, Van Morrison, The Verve, Rolf Harris, The Lemonheads, Orbital, Dodgy, a bloke playing the spoons on the jazz stage and, er, Lenny Kravitz.... Suede were massively hyped at the time and they drew a huge crowd. They were good, although with hindsight, I can't help but think I would have been better off at the Pyramid Stage watching the reformed Velvet Underground (I saw the back end of "Venus in Furs" as I trudged back to my tent - ah well...)

The Suede album came out not long after that, and I was quick to buy it. My car at the time (a white fiat panda 4x4) didn't have a CD player, or indeed a cassette player, so I was forced to carry around a little ghetto blaster running on batteries to play my tunes. As this did not have a CD player on it, I also carried around a little cassette case filled with tapes of my favourite albums. In that summer of 1993, I needn't have bothered: the only tape that I listened to had Suede on one side, and "Star" by Belly on the other. Marvellous albums both.

Actually, now I think of it, I can place myself fairly exactly with Suede's next two albums as well. "Dog Man Star" (my favourite) will always remind me of the four months I spent in Venice in 1994. The album came out whilst I was there, and my friend John posted me a copy on cassette with Nico's "Chelsea Girl" on the other side. "Coming Up" always takes me back to the town centre of Buxton and a holiday I had in Derbyshire with my then-girlfriend and her family (I think the only shop I could find this in on the day of release was a WHSmith). That was the last Suede album I bought. I'd lost interest by then. "Coming Up" is patchy at best.

So here ends 'My life with Suede'.

Listening their debut album this afternoon took me right back to the summer of 1993 and bombing around in my little car to see my friend in Quorn, Leicestershire. I was 19 years old, and if my memory serves me correctly, I stopped at a service station on the way home and picked up a copy of "Club" magazine.

Ah, happy days.

Does music do the same thing to you? Care to share any examples with the rest of the class?


Hats off to a fellow Nottingham blogger, Mike from Troubled Diva, for his nomination in the "best glbt weblog" category at the Bloggies. 4th place is not to be sniffed at. Not at all. Congratulations.

I'm also flattered to have been included in his wholly unrepresentative and unrepentantly biased mini-guide to some selected Nottingham blogs of note. There's some good blogs in there too. I'm not worthy, etc.


A big "Hello" to the 100s of people who seem to have been hitting this weblog with image searches for Gail Emms (I saw her and Nathan Robertson winning their silver medal in Athens, and we subsequently kept bumping into her in downtown Athens as she celebrated). If you're looking for the photo it's back here somewhere... ah here it is.... whilst ogling her, try not to look at Bob (on her right) and Luke (on her left) - frankly they're enough to put anyone off their stroke.


Saturday, March 12, 2005

got a devil's haircut in my mind...

Call me a reactionary if you must, but I find myself physically offended by McFly.

It's not just because they are a boy band masquerading as a "real band" (look! they've got guitars and everything!), although that is a pretty good reason. Manufactured shite. And I don't care how much anyone likes their single in support of comic relief....

Anyway. That's not the reason they make me want to throw up everytime I see them. No. That's mainly because of their haircuts. What the hell is going on there? Some sort of short/long, spikey, bleached MULLET, that's what. They're bloody mullets!

Ah, the mullet. The haircut that dared not speak its name for most of the last 20 years, and suddenly they are EVERYWHERE. What happened? When did it become acceptable? Why are men suddenly going into a hairdresser and asking for the haircut that time forgot?

Well, here's one reason:

This preening clown has pretty much single-handedly made it okay for men to walk into a salon (not a barber, a salon) and ask for a hair-do. With colouring and stuff. Walk past one next time you are in a town centre - what was once the domain of old ladies and their purple rinses is now filled with every chav-about-town with silver foil on his hair and his head in a giant drying machine. I had a friend pay Toni & Guy £55 for the privilege of giving him a number 4 all over. £55 for a clipper job? That's more than the clippers cost. I would be astonished if there was a hairdresser in the land who doesn't get down on their knees and thank God for David Beckham every day of the week. If they don't, they bloody well should.

Mind you. If there is anything that can be said in this defence, at least there has always been a healthy tradition of this kind of fashion disaster in the football world:

Ah.... Chrissy Waddle. Pretty much the finest exponent of Mullet Art outside of Germany (for surely it's not so much a haircut as performance art?)

This abomination was much to be found in the music industry as well for much of the 1980s (not least with Waddle & Hoddle's "Diamond Lights").

Here's another fine example:

This one is notable for it's sheer length from top to tail - it's like a giant bird plume. (One of the first albums I ever bought was "The Riddle", you know....it's a classic, although I was devastated to read the other day that Nik Kershaw had revealed that it was "nonsense" and there was no answer to the Riddle. I didn't sit puzzling over the lyrics or anything, it just would have been nice if it had a deeper meaning. Maybe it's all literal, and somewhere there IS a tree by a river near a hole in the ground, and the old man of iron really does go around and around....)

I don't think that Nik Kershaw is the real inspiration behind the McFly barnet though. Oh no. Not by a long shot:

It has to be Limahl doesn't it? Only Limahl has the same ambitious combination of spikes, long hair/short hair and a badger dye job.

This haircut has been ridiculed for YEARS. How has it wriggled its way back into the mainstream? I just don't get it. There were loads of them at the Athlete gig last week as well.

Waste of hair if you ask me.

Friday, March 11, 2005

With a danish on each ear and Darth Vader drawing near...

George Lucas has informed the world that "Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith" will not be suitable for children.

The film, of course, charts the fall of Annakin Skywalker and his transformation from a sulky, frowning, petulant brat into a big, wheezy old guy in a shiny black costume with some fantastically chunky 1970s switches on the front.

Apparently the film is likely to get a PG13.

This is good news. By my reckoning, the jedi have got to be pretty significantly slaughtered before we get to Episode IV, so I'd be disappointed if there wasn't going to be some major asskicking going on.... I'm not expecting blood (I've always seen the lightsabre as a very carpet-friendly weapon in that regard), but I am expecting to see those self-righteous, all-knowing smart-alecs getting a right good shoe-ing by the darkside.

As the film isn't being targetted at kids, does this mean that we won't see an obscene merchandising push to support the launch of the film? (a trend started, lest we forget, by the the original Star Wars film)

Will it mean that you won't be able to get a Mc-Skywalker or a Mc-R2D2 with your Happy Meal?

That you won't be able to buy a little plastic figure of Ewan McGregor in Toys R Us?

That you won't be able to purchase that essential Jar-Jar Binks Yo-Yo?

Somehow I seriously doubt it.


and yes Des, I know that lots of so-called adults buy these things too

and yes, OK, I do have a Darth Maul double-bladed lightsabre at home. What of it?

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Stop looking at me like that.

I am not a geek.

One lightsabre does not a geek make....

Does it?

Thursday, March 10, 2005

oh I can't control myself...

I'm due a new mobile phone.

Ordinarily this wouldn't trouble me for more than a few minutes - you know: pop into the shop, pick phone, sign away life for another 12 months, leave. The end. For some reason though, this decision is really taxing me this year. C. is out tonight, and I was going to spend the time playing Football Manager and generally just lounging around. Instead, I have spent a couple of hours looking into the battery issues on the Sony-Ericsson K700i and wondering if I really care if I get that or the T630. I'm sure it doesn't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things, and now I'm tired and a bit grumpy that I haven't spent more of my evening carefully guiding Roma and Wolverhampton Wanderers to the glory they so richly deserve....


The internet is both a blessing and a curse in these situations.... so many user forums filled with so little useful information....

Anyway. Why am I talking to you? It's halftime in the Wolves v Brighton league game, and it's still 0-0 and a stirring team talk is needed, methinks....

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

making the most of the true british climate


As I never tire of mentioning, when I last saw Athlete at Rock City (in February 2004), they were being supported by a pre-"Run" Snow Patrol. In fact, this was the very week that "Run" was released and Athlete proudly informed us that from the midweek charts it looked like their warm-up act were going to make the top 5. "So go out and buy their record tomorrow. Anyway, here's our biggest hit single - it made number 43" said the singer, before launching into "Westside".

At the time, Athlete seemed to be on the cusp of great things: their debut album, "Vehicles & Animals" had been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, and with a bit of TV advertising and a knack for writing memorable tunes, they seemed to have a real chance of some proper success. Since then, Snow Patrol have of course subsequently gone on to multi-platinum greatness, and are being lined up to support U2 as they tour the enormodomes in the summer; but what's happened to Athlete? Well, thirteen months later and they're still playing Rock City, for one thing..... but that's not neccessarily a bad thing..... it was absolutely rammed to the rafters, and it's one of those venues that has a few steps dotted around the place, as well as a balcony, so probably looks like a bear pit from the stage. Nottingham being the happening town that it is, Daniel Bedingfield was also playing at a different venue, so we had some fun whilst parking the car trying to guess who had come to watch which gig. The truth is that the Athlete audience is pretty easy to pick out: although there was a pretty wide age-range present, to be honest, from the looks of it their core constituency is the 20-25 year old student. As you'd probably expect from their new, piano-drenched sound, a good proportion of the crowd were women. We assumed that all the chavs we saw were on their way to see the Bedmeister.... or just to nick our cars.

The support certainly wasn't as good this time - Stephen Fretwell ("the finest singer/songwriter in the UK" according to his website) appears to wish that he was Damien Rice, and he sits firmly in the "the cat / is on the mat / wearing a hat" school of rhyme... and he has dreadful hair to boot.

Athlete then,

They've released a new album, "Tourist", which I think went into the chart at number one. They've had a proper top 5 single too - "wires" - so you can hardly accuse them of standing still. They certainly appear to have more stage presence than the last time I saw them as well - and not just because of the delighful brown tank-top the keyboardist was wearing. They've tweaked their sound a little bit too: "Vehicles & Animals" is full of quirky, jaunty songs, but on "Tourist" they have discovered what one might term their "Coldplay" sound - all lush pianos and plaintiff choruses. Their first song just rams this point home. "Chances" makes lyrical reference to a mathematician trying to solve the forumula for love, which is dangerously close to Chris Martin's premise for "The Scientist".... on the whole though, I think the comparison is unfair. Athlete have always used keyboards, and the new sound is evolutionary rather than revolutionary I think - lazy journalists again.

They were really, really good. The atmosphere in Rock City was great and the band seem to be in that charming phase where they can't quite believe how well they're doing, and that people know the words to their new songs - they're all smiles (actually, a lot like Snow Patrol for the whole of last year). "Westside" - their biggest hit from their first album, remember, was played about 4 songs into the set (which was exciting news for the idiot standing in front of me - you know those people who try to squeeze past you, forcing you to turn sideways to let them past, and then they decide to stop right in front of you, leaving you unable to put your hands back down by your sides? He was one of them. He also had no concept of body space, and began edging backwards. Anyway. He left after "Westside" - perhaps he was trying to make it to Daniel Bedingfield before he played "James Dean (I wanna know)"?)

The set was what you'd expect - most of the new album with a dash of the first album thrown in for good measure. They really got the crowd soaring when they played "Vehicles & Animals", which became an acoustically driven singalong with the crowd roaring out the lyrics (the singer actually stopped at one point, and asked if we actually wanted to hear him sing, or if he should just sing along with us), and moved on through "You Got The Style" and finished up with "Wires".... before of course being dragged up onstage for a few more songs by the loudest shouts for an encore I have heard at Rock City.

Catch them if you can - the next time we see them will be in far bigger venues than these. I think they'll get the festival crowds pumping in the summer, that's for sure.

Highly recommended.


Thanks to Retro-Boy for generously sending me a couple of CDs through the post. I had innocently asked where I should start with Joy Division, and before I know it, I now have pretty much every song they ever recorded, plus most of New Order's output and a good deal of Electronic's. As of last night they were all added to my Ipod and I shall be ploughing through them over the next couple of days. As far as I know, the CD didn't remove "Layla" from my Itunes library, but it's true that I haven't checked that it's still there yet....

Thanks Mark.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

but the stars we could reach were just starfish on the beach

Turning 31 has so far worked out okay.

I don't know quite what I was expecting would happen, but I didn't turn into a pumpkin at midnight (as far as I can tell...) Thanks for all your comments though, as Aravis said, it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling having your wishes flying in from around the world. It was a good day: some nice prezzies in the morning, a tolerable day at work and a nice meal out with C. at Punchinellos in the evening. I didn't drink all that much (just a drop of champagne or two and a couple of glasses of red wine), but it's funny how much more you notice it when you are at work the next day, and not sat on the sofa reading the paper and watching tv after a nice long lie in. I didn't feel sick or especially hungover or anything like that; I just knew I'd had a drink, that's all... And of course I had an 08:30 meeting with the customer today.

A good day though.

Over dinner I was reminded of a particularly memorable birthday: one that I spent in Morrocco in 2001. We were there to do a bit of trekking in the Sahara and the Anti-Atlas mountains, and it was wonderful. We went with a company called Equatorial Travel, run by a guy called JP from his shop in Ashbourne. Equatorial is a fair trade company, and to a large degree the holiday was made by the fact that JP's partner in Morrocco, a berber called Brahim, was the most wonderful guide.


We went over the snow-capped High Atlas mountains and down across the Draa Valley to Zagora and the edges of the Sahara itself. We then spent a week walking through the desert with some camels. It's an amazing place. Walking through it like that and you really get a feel for how it teems with life: lizards, gerbils, scarobs, birds... loads of stuff. You also get to see how varied the landscape is, from constantly shifting dune seas through dazzlingly lush oasis to completely flat hamada stoney desert absolutely packed with fossils. We camped under the stars, got caught in a sandstorm, drank gallons and gallons of hot, sweet mint tea, baked sandbread in the buried embers of the campfire and spent an afternoon sampling the hospitality of some nomads in their tent. From there we took a 4x4 across the saltflats, stayed in a hotel where the proprieter sat and puffed happily on his hooky pipe whilst we ate our breakfast, and then headed on into the Anti-Atlas mountains. Our starting point for the hike here was in Brahim's village, where we had the most fantastic tagine amongst the olive groves before picking up the donkeys and heading into the mountains themselves. The colour of the rock is amazing and the whole place is bleakly beautiful. It's so unearthly that it felt a bit like walking on Mars. We walked in a big loop through the mountains and after three days worked our way back to the village, where we had a lamb slaughtered for us as part of the muslim festival (Brahim called it "La fete du mouton" but I can't remember the proper islamic term for it).

On the way back to Marrakesh, we spent a day with Brahim's wife and family. This was my birthday. We were taken to a proper Hammam for the best cleaning and pummelling I think I have ever had (and to be honest, after all that walking, I needed it - that sand gets everywhere). We then went back to the family home, where we were fed and where I remember clearly we watched the Milan vs Galatasaray in the Champions League. At the end of the game I was presented with a totally unexpected surprise: they had baked me a birthday cake (with candles, icing and iced lettering proclaiming I was 27 and everything). It was brilliant. It was all topped off the next day when I was summoned down to the father-in-law's shop, which was below the house. I had wanted to get a jelaba as a souvenir of my trip (it's a jedi thing), and as this chap was a retired tailor, he had (without telling me), sized me up with a glance, and gone out and rustled up some of his friends in the trade. When I walked into the shop that morning, I was presented with a selection of the most gorgeous jelabas I had seen (and all of which fitted perfectly), and chose a beautifully woven grey one, with some fantastic embroidery. It was then sold to me (well, to C. as another splendidly thoughful gift for me) for something less than £30. Amazing. Brahim explained that this was a without profit price, because I was a guest in his house.

I'm gushing a bit about it now.

It was a wonderful, wonderful holiday, and it came to mind when I was thinking about having a nice day on my birthday yesterday. I don't know what pre-conceptions you might have about taking a holiday in a muslim country (albeit that this was pre 9/11), or indeed what preconceptions you may have about muslims themselves, but this was a delight. Lovely, warm-hearted generous people. We didn't even share a language with Hussein, one of the guides in the desert, but over the course of the week we communicated just fine - jokes, games, stories, songs. He found us fascinating - on the first night in the desert, he had walked in the darkness back to a village, picked up another camel and walked back. When we asked him if he had navigated using the stars, he just looked at us like this was the craziest thing he had ever heard, and laughed fit to burst his sides... "he knew the way" was how Brahim explained how he had navigated through the miles of desert in the pitch black. Another time he told us how he had picked out his wife - men and women meet only rarely in the desert, and when they do, the women will be covered up from head to toe, with only their eyes showing. Through Brahim, Hussein told us that it had been love at first sight. When asked the not unreasonable question of HOW this could be the case, his eyes twinkled and he told us it was the way she moved.

Totally different culture, but some things are the same the world over, eh?


I got asked by a colleague (Hi Dave!) this morning to tell him the first lyric I thought of about sunshine. I could have come up with "Here Comes the Sun" or "Who Loves the Sun" or a million other songs. But what popped into my head?

Don't blame it on sunshine
Don't blame it on moonlight
Don't blame it on good times
Blame it on the boogie....

Dear God.

Did you do any better than that?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Let it out don't hold it in

It's my birthday today - so if you pop by here later on, be sure to be wearing your party best and come fully prepared for:

- pass the parcel
- jelly
- balloons
- a rubbish magician
- more cake than you can shake a stick at (pleny enough for takeaways)
- a little bit of disco dancing...

Quite a few candles now - 31!

I'm a lucky boy though. C. has been carefully hoarding all the cards and things that have dropped through the letter-box in the last few days.

- A copy of Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli's graphic adaptation of Paul Auster's "City of Glass" from the New York Trilogy
- A copy of "The Rings of Saturn" by W.G. Sebald
- Some vouchers to Neal's Yard Dairy
- Some YSL M7

...but best of all, C. has got me a pair of tickets to both parts of His Dark Materials at the National Theatre later on this month. The run finishes at the end of March, and apparently these were the very last tickets available to both shows on the same day. It's supposed to be superb, so I'm very much looking forward to it.

Mind you... I have now reached that venerable age where I no longer bother taking the day off. So if you'll excuse me, I have to go and get ready for work.... [mutter mutter]

Saturday, March 05, 2005

From one extreme to another

Right then. Thirteen Senses at the Nottingham Rescue Rooms.

I seem to have seen a lot of full-page adverts in the various music magazines (er, okay, Q and Word) saying that Thirteen Senses are destined for stadium stardom. I guess it's a lot to do with the fact that their sound is drenched in piano. Keane and Coldplay both use the piano, and they are massive. Thirteen Senses also use a piano, ergo they will be massive. I think the ads may even have a bunch of quotes on from journos saying that they sound like a cross between Keane and Coldplay (nobody every accused music journalists of having an original thought in their heads, eh?)


I've talked about the Rescue Rooms before. It's a nice, intimate little venue just around the corner from Rock City. A bit smokey, maybe, but I like the fact that you can stand at the back of the room, and still be within spitting distance of the band. In fact, that's more or less exactly where Lord Bargain and I stood this evening -- right on the top of the steps at the back of the venue, near the door. We turned up a little bit late and only caught the end of the second support band Alterkicks (we missed Pollen). They seemed okay. The singer was a bit out of tune, but he got better as he went on. I'm afraid they didn't make much of an impression, although the guitarist had a fantastic afro (for a skinny white guy, anyway).

After Alterkicks had cleared off their own gear (I love it when a band clear up after themselves - it's somehow so endearing), the main attraction came on. The lead singer walks on, and immediately almost disappears as he sits behind his keyboards. Hm. Not exactly dominating the stage. They're pretty good though - a decent reproduction of their album. The singer has a a lovely ethereal voice - a little bit like the guy from Mercury Rev - and they have a pretty distinctive sound: guitar all plucked rather than strummed, and lots of keyboard. There's something missing though. The album is fantastic - a real treat, but at the moment they just don't seem to have enough songs that really get the crowd moving. "Into the Fire" and "Thru the Glass" are both excellent songs and really got everybody pumping, and they have a couple of others that grab the attention ("Do No Wrong" and "The Salt Wound Routine"), but the rest are all pretty downbeat. Nothing wrong with that, but there was quite a lot of conversation going on in the audience. Maybe it's because most of us aren't all that familiar with the material yet. I was wondering as I was listening if Coldplay had the same kind of problem as they hawked "Parachutes" around in small venues (well, "Yellow" and "Shiver" are attention grabbers, and maybe "Don't Panic", but the rest are all gems that take a little bit more attention to really get to know and love, aren't they?)

They're a good band though, and they sound pretty good live. I expect they will cut the mustard when they play the festivals later on this year, and I think they have every chance of making it big.... it was a good show. £9 well spent, although my advice? The singer should shed that mullet.

Athlete on Wednesday.... I've seen them a couple of times (once at the Move festival when they were on the bill supporting R.E.M., and once at Rock City with a pre-"Run" Snow Patrol in support). The new album is good, so I'm looking forward to it.