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

Monday, July 31, 2006

seven for a secret never to be told

It's been a mixed day.

On the one hand, I've had to struggle my way through an uninspiring first day back in the office (God knows how depressing it will be when I actually get round to doing some work).

On the other hand though, I've finally managed to get some writing done.

I think the holiday must have got my creative juices flowing, which is a very good thing indeed. It's only a short story, and I haven't edited it or anything, but I'd be obliged if you could have a look and let me know what you think.

You can find it here (and if that link isn't working for some reason, try here)


Oh, and it turns out that last week's VIP visitor was Tony Blair.


(and C. casually told me yesterday that her boss told her before we left that she would have been due to meet the Prime Minister if we hadn't been away on holiday. Her response? That it would take a joint visit from John Lennon and Ghandi before she would think about cancelling her trip. Good girl!)


more holiday snaps on flickr, by the way.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

When you walk in a dream but you know you're not dreaming....

...blogging the old fashioned way


Before I begin, a quick word of warning: if you aren't interested in long posts with lots of photos of Medieval and Renaissance architecture, then you should probably look away now. Still here? Well don't say I didn't warn you. You know I did my Bachelor's degree in Modern European and Renaissance history, right? You are aware that I have a Masters degree in Medieval Studies? It's hard to visit a place like Italy and not have that kind of a dormant interest rekindled, especially if you have a camera.

I've just spent a lovely 8 days in Italy - mainly in Tuscany, but with a couple of brief stops in Umbria. It's a lovely country. They have a gorgeous climate, delightful scenery, a rich and varied history that has left them a wonderful architectural and archeological legacy, their cuisine is irresistable and the people themselves are generally warm and friendly. They can't drive for toffee, have no concept of braking distances and personal space, are terrible poseurs and letches, but in the main they are a lovely people.

The main reason for going was to attend the wedding of C's brother, and the first few days of our holiday were spent in the Southern Tuscan town of Manciano. The wedding itself was delightful: the happy couple were married by the town's mayor (an extremely dapper and charming man) and we then had one hell of a party. As you might expect from a family where the bride grew up in England, Holland, Italy and Spain and where the groom grew up in England and France, it was a really diverse gathering, with people coming from all over the place to celebrate the wedding: Holland, Italy, Russia, Australia, the USA, Spain, France, Austria and England.... needless to say I was the charming polyglot and spent most of my time talking to cousin Helen from Halifax (although I did spend some time talking to Chris from Sydney about all things sporting, and for the record he's very much looking forward to this winter's Ashes and is expecting a close series). Anyway. We had an enormous meal, plenty of wine and champagne and then had a little boogie. The bride and groom led the way - their first dance was to give it everything that they had to "Let's Spend the Night Together" by the Rolling Stones. It was that kind of a night. I called it a day at about 03:30, but C. carried on dancing her little heart out with her big brother until about 07:00 the next morning when she managed to drag herself out of the pool at the venue, pick up her clothes and stagger onto a minibus that took her home (where her mum was waiting up for her....)

As we recovered from hangovers of varying proportions (and believe me, as C. doesn't drink very much, it isn't often that I get to sit on this particular high horse, and yet under the circumstances I felt that I was heroically restrained...) we took in the local sights: the Etruscan hill town of Pitigliano, the beach at Ultima Spiaggia and the hot springs at Saturnia - where we watched the shooting stars at midnight.

The Duomo at Ovieto

It was lovely, but after a couple of days with her family, I could see that C. was itching to escape. We finally got away on the Tuesday and headed into Umbria to have a look at Orvieto. The town itself is pretty enough (and sitting on the top of a mound of volcanic rock, it dominates the landscape for miles around), but the real gem here is the Duomo. This was built in the thirteenth century and has the most amazing facade with huge columns, massive doorways and some amazing sculptures depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament and from the Last Judgement.

The creation story on the duomo facade at Orvieto

The detail is amazing - if you look closely you can see God surgically removing one of Adam's ribs to create Eve, you can see the serpent around the tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve hiding from God as they become aware of their nakedness....

The Last Judgement on the facade at Orvieto

My favourite was the Last Judgement though - the Saved look a bit smug to me, but I was transfixed by the Damned. Look as they climb from their coffins on the bottom left-hand corner and then see as they meet with their fate on the right-hand side as they are consumed by serpents and demons.

Detail from the Last Judgement at Orvieto

Satan looks great, doesn't he? I don't know about you, but to paraphrase Billy Joel, I'd rather dance with the sinners than cry with they saints. The devil has all the best tunes and all that.

The interior of the Duomo is also notable for a couple of other things: Signorellis frescoes of the Last Judgement, and the rather sad little collection of motorbike helmets in one corner, presumably there as memorials to the enduring insanity of Italian driving [edit: on second thoughts, I think the helmets were actually in Siena. Funny how all these Duomos start to blur together.]

The fort at Montalcino

Our next stop, and our base for the next three days was the Tuscan hilltown of Montalcino, home (as I was soon to discover) to what is reputed to be the finest wine in Italy - the Brunello di Montalcino. It is delicious, is served with pretty much every meal, and yes... we have come back with several bottles that we will be cellaring with C's father until it's ready to drink in about 5 years (no such thing as instant gratification in this game, apparently, although the Rosso di Montalcino is also very quaffable, cheaper and ready to drink now.)

I ate like a king here. Three dinners, three delicious meals.

Night one:
homemade pasta with a simple tomato, garlic and basil sauce
Tuscan sausage with beans
Cantucci with vinsanto wine.

Night two:
Homemade lasagne verdi (lovely fresh tasting pesto)
peppered veal with a tomato salad
more cantucci and vinsanto

Night three:
Carpaccio of beef with Pecorino cheese and balsamic vinegar
Rabbit in a white wine sauce

Fantastic. All the food was good, but Montalcino was especially good.


Just a short hop from Montalcino is Siena - home of the famous Palio horse race. It's a little touristy for my tastes, but it has a magnificent oval Campo (where the race takes place twice a year) and another splendid Duomo - this one featuring a pulpit with another memorable scupture of the last judgement with the self-satisfied looking saved and the damned being consumed by serpents. There's also a pleasing set of Pinturicchio frescoes depicting the career of Pius II. If the pictures are to be believed, he was such an incredible diplomat that had he lived in our age, he would have been showered with Ferrero Rocher.

My one complaint? It was bloody impossible to find a replica Siena football shirt. AC Milan, Juventus, Inter Milan and Fiorentina? No problem. The local team? Forget it. Sorry about that Lord B..... you'll have to make do with a bottle of the local plonk instead.

The view from our hotel balcony - Montalcino

So. Nice town. Nice food. Great wine. Splendid scenery.

All in all a pretty good base for exploring the region - we even nipped up to Florence to fight our way through the tourist hordes to wander around the markets (we've both been to Firenze before, and so have been around the Uffizi, the Accademia and so on.... so we went shopping instead).

Bagno Vignoni

Are you still with me? I'm afraid I'm rather starting to bore myself. Honestly. It may sound dull, but it was actually a really fantastic holiday. A much needed break.

Before we headed back to Rome and a functional stop in a nothing hotel near the airport, we popped in to Bagno Vignoni and Pienza before hitting the motorway. Bagno Vignoni is, as the name rather implies, another hot spring. It's a pretty little town with its main square dominated by an ancient pool. It's no longer in use, but is still filled with steaming hot water from the underground springs. To actually take the waters you can either go to the local four star hotel or you can walk a bit down the hill and hop into a natural pool at the bottom of the hill. We opted for the latter, and I spent a very happy half hour covering myself in clay and washing it off in warm (and yet, in the 40 degree heat, pleasingly cool) water.

Then off to Pienza.

The Orcia Valley seen from Pienza

Pienza - like Florence - is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is where Pope Pius II decided to build the first Renaissance "ideal city", intended as a vatican in minature, with a duomo and Papal palace nestled into the hillside, commanding magnificent views of the Orcia valley. It's nice enough, and the views are breathtaking, but it seems a little austere to me. The Duomo is also slowly but surely collapsing. Apparently it has foundations built on sandstone, and there is a very definite lurch downhill in the nave and some rather alarming cracks in the floor and across the walls. I can't imagine that the Italians would just let it fall off the edge of the hill, but it would be rather a shame to lose it. It would rather change the look of the place, for one thing. Still, if they can save the Leaning Tower of Pisa, then I imagine it should be well within their capabilities to prop up a cliff.

With just one more stop to see the remarkable 10th Century Romanesque church (Pieve di Corsignano), that was it.... we were off back to Rome.

yes... I was welded to that hat and those sunglasses all week. What's your point?

It didn't take long for how good the holiday was to be put back into perspective: the airport was filled with the usual "people in transit" horrors. What is it about moving between point A and point B that brings out the worst in people? Our flight was delayed by an hour because a family of people who had pushed and shoved their way to the front of the queue to board the plane realised - once boarded and seated - that they were in fact on the wrong plane and needed to change to one that was going to London. You have to laugh really. In spite of all the security checks we went through, and in spite of the number of times that our boarding passes were inspected, these people would have landed at East Midlands airport had they not realised for themselves that they wanted to be at Gatwick instead.

Nevermind that though. It was on the cab ride home past all of the theme pubs filled with pasty-faced chavs in their leisure wear that I realised what it was about Italy that I really liked.... I like the fact that the Italians spend their money on clothes and generally looking good and only drink with their meals, not recreationally. I like the fact that they have a proper food culture, and that even the most humble motorway service station will serve you a proper green salad with a proper dressing and breadsticks. Oh, I've not gone soft. I know that the Italians are not perfect - far from it, and you wouldn't see many English men with a shaving rash around the edges of their Speedos, for starters - but it was nice to get away from the English underclass for a few days.

Still I'm back now, and apparently the chav will still inherit the earth.

How are you?

oh, and the car had a CD player too.....

Thursday, July 20, 2006

as simple as a kettle, steady as a rock...

Earworms of the Week

As you know, this is the bit where I usually list the tunes that have been buzzing around my head all week. Because I'm going away to Italy tomorrow morning, I'm going to do things a bit differently this week. We will be doing a fair bit of driving when we're over there, so I'm taking a pile of CDs with me in my little CD wallet (hoping that in this day and age, the hire car will come equipped with a CD player). The process of choosing what music naturally takes quite a lot of thought, a fair amount of time and involves a lot of compromise. Much though I would love to pop a bit of Rage Against The Machine or perhaps some cheeky Iron Maiden in there, the fact that I will be sharing the car with C. means that I need to try and put some stuff in there that she might enjoy too.

Here's what I've come up with.

13) "X&Y" - Coldplay

Ah. Give me a break. I like it.

12) A homemade Red Hot Chili Peppers compilation

...but only because my original CD of "By The Way" is scratched to hell and I can't be arsed to burn a new one. Still, this is a reasonable selection of stuff from "Mother's Milk" up to (but not including) the new album.

"Soul to Squeeze" is a cracking song.

11) "Want Two" - Rufus Wainwright

I think C. likes this because it is very much in the French tradition of torch songs. I haven't listened to this in a while and it provides a bit of contrast to the usual indie pap.

10) "OK Computer" - Radiohead

Partly included because I've been earworming "Lucky", but mainly included because it's a bloody excellent album.

9) "Demon Days" - Gorillaz

I think this a pretty good album ("Kids with Guns" is another earworm regular around these parts), but C. has shown a definite liking for it, so on that basis it's in.

8) "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not" - Arctic Monkeys

Another album I haven't listened to in a while, but "Mardy Bum" popped up on shuffle the other day and reminded me it needs a listen. It's quite a shouty album really, but C. likes the singles and is amused by their accents.

7) "The Essential Billy Joel" (both discs!) - Billy Joel

Need I say more?

6) "1" - The Beatles

Can't go wrong with this really. By choice I'd pop in "Revolver" probably, but this will do as a crowd pleaser.

5) "The Back Room" - Editors

I listened to this the other day and it's brilliant. I don't really know if C. likes this or not (she's probably indifferent), but this one I've picked for me.

4) "18" - Moby

Mark mentioned it a couple of days ago and planted the thought that I should dig it out and listen to it. C. likes him.

3) "Eyes Open" & "Final Straw" - Snow Patrol

We both love a bit of Patrol.

2) "Hot Fuss" - The Killers

I think the album's a bit patchy, but there's no denying the quality of the singles. If they write a better song than "Mr Brightside" in their entire career, I will be astonished.

1) "Way to Blue" - Nick Drake

Gorgeous. Mellow. A bit melancholy.


(obviously I don't actually ask C. what she wants included. That would be stupid. And yes, I will be taking my iPod and some speakers, since you ask.)


Whilst we're on the subject of my lovely girlfriend, do you want to know the song that accompanied our first ever kiss in 1999?

"Happy To Be Stuck With You" by Huey Lewis and the News. In Tamworth services on the M42.

Oh, the glamour.

See you in a week.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

kicking, screaming, gucci little piggy...

Apparently a “senior government minister” will be visiting my office next week. Unfortunately, I’ll be away on holiday when this momentous event happens, and to be honest I couldn’t care less which of that horrible den of worthless tossers turns up to have his arse kissed by various toadying senior managers. What did make me laugh though is the disruption that this visit will cause. Here are a few snippets from the announcement on the company intranet:

-> Parking will be severely restricted and several car parks will be closed for the whole day. This includes the disabled parking.

-> All desks must be kept completely clear and all desk draws and filing cabinets must be left unlocked from the night before so that they can ALL be searched before the visit

-> For the duration of the day, there will only be one way in and out of the building (for several thousand people)

-> Security and the Police will be manning this entrance and carrying out searches of both people and bags. Expect to queue.

-> The canteen will stop serving food at 1pm

-> The VIP will make a guest appearance at a special company briefing at 2pm (although the time is subject to last minute change)

…and so on.

It all sounds like a monumental pain in the arse to me, all for the chance of being “inspired” by the mere presence of such greatness.

I’m desperately hoping that it’s John Prescott. I would dearly love the symbol of all that is rotten with this Government turning up to wave gracefully at the prostrate masses and to pass on his benedictions on the future success of the company before swanning off in his Jaguar to a swanky corporate dinner somewhere. The mental image of the smug fatcats in charge of this company debasing themselves in their haste to grovel before the great fat tit is a very pleasing one.

Unfortunately, I hear Tony Blair is in Nottingham next week, so I imagine it will be him. Perhaps he’ll lead the company in prayer at 2pm?

What’s the official form of address for the Prime Minister again?

Yo! Blair!

It’s all so tedious. Still, the next election campaign won’t fund itself, will it?

Like I said.... it's just a shame I won't be here to see it.

one dance left....

Hello. I've been busy down at the local pub quiz. We didn't win (pah! it was De Niro who won the Oscar for 'The Godfather Part II' and not Al Pacino...) but I did get to take part in a very entertaining round of "Deal or No Deal" (if you have no idea what this is, you might be well served by having a look here before reading on...). I didn't get to sit in the chair, but I did get to be a box-holder. The prizes ranged from a beer mat through to £150. My box had £10 in it, but the brave chap in the hot seat managed to hang on until it was a 50:50 chance between a glass of Pepsi and £60. He was offered a swap, but hung onto his original box and was rewarded with the £60. Great entertainment.


It's probably about time we had a shuffleathon update, isn't it?

Shuffleathon Update

[big table lifted and shifted]

A few more reviews in, but still a few left to be done. Pull your fingers out, eh?

Some poor buggers (including me) have yet to receive our CDs. I reckon we stay patient for another week, and if they still haven't arrived when I get back from Italy, we'll look into doing some resends. Sound reasonable?

Right. That'll do.

As you were.

Monday, July 17, 2006

would you lay with me and just forget the world?

Why is it that the week before you go on holiday is always the busiest week of the year? This Friday, C. and I are flying off to Italy to attend her brother's wedding in Tuscany. We will be spending the first four days on wedding duties, but from then onwards we are on our own for the rest of the week and will be leaving the family and tootling off to a little hotel that we will use as a base for exploring the area.

... but that's not for another few days yet.

I expected that my four days at work this week would be madness, but I wasn't really expecting to have an action packed weekend as well.

Friday was alright. I escaped the office at a respectable hour and then took advantage of C. disappearing off to a Salsa night to have a relatively quiet evening: a swim and sauna at the gym, a bit of telly, a bit of playstation and then an early night. So far so good, and then Saturday happened. C. has been looking for a new outfit for the wedding for a number of weeks now with no success (each outfit was carefully selected, tried on in the shop, purchased, brought home to enable photos to be taken and sent to her mother in France for assessment before the dress is then returned to the shop and the search begins again.) The news that the bride will be wearing Max Mara, the groom Paul Smith and that even her dad will be modelling a new suit has given new focus and determination to the quest. This was our last chance.

I hope my enthusiasm for this is coming across OK.

Actually, I'm not being fair. C. has done most of the looking on her own, and I have hardly been dragged around the shops at all. We did look for dresses, but C. has more or less decided that she likes an outfit that she already has more. We did buy me a shirt and tie though.

Anyway. Long day shopping, then back home for a run and some tea before beginning the laundry preparations for the holiday - sorting out the things that need to be washed to be ready to be packed. Again, I can't pretend that this is any great hardship for me, as C. does far more than her fair share here, but it's at times like these that the holiday is starting to seem more like a military operation than some time away from work to relax.

I had to get up early on Sunday too. You might remember that my elder brother has a Korean wife (we went to Seoul for the wedding last May). Well, the parents-in-law are over at the moment, so we were invited to a family day out......

We went to Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire to watch the latest round in The Knight's Tournament. This is pretty much what is says on the tin:

"Cheer on your heroes as they are put through their paces in jousting, archery, sword-fighting and mounted skill at arms"

There were jesters and minstrels, there were a couple of really excellent falconry displays and there was some full-on proper displays of skill at arms by guys dressed up in full armour. It sounds cheesy, but it was actually very well done and was a great way to spend a gloriously sunny day. Better yet was the news that the picnic was being provided by the Korean side of the family - so we had delicious hand-made sushi rolls. Mmmmmmm.

The tournament was contested by four knights (and their Squires), each representing a region of the kingdom (North, South, East and West). I couldn't tell you who won, but judging by the number of people who turned up, English Heritage are definitely onto a winner.

We drove home, nipped out for a quick drink to celebrate a friend's birthday and set about planning an exciting evening of more laundry, soup for tea and an early night.

It wasn't to be.

Snow Patrol @ Nottingham Rock City, 16th July 2006

At about 8pm, the phone rang. Did I want to come to the concert tonight? Lord B. and I had spotted this gig a few weeks ago: Snow Patrol are currently touring enormodomes around the world in support of their last album, "Eyes Wide Open". They don't do the UK leg of the tour proper until November when they are playing places like the Birmingham National Indoor Arena, the Manchester MEN Arena and Wembley Arena. I have distinctly mixed feelings about watching bands playing in arenas, so I was delighted to see this rogue date at Rock City. A little bit of investigation revealed that this was a charity night in aid of the Cancerbackup charity, but sadly also revealed that there was literally only a single ticket left. Lord B. took it and I put the gig out of my mind.

Would I be interested in going? Hell yes.

So, C. and I happily ditched our exciting plans for the night and hot-footed it into town to meet up with Lord B. and Sarah and head into the venue. I like Snow Patrol. For one reason or another, I ended up seeing them live 4 times in 2004. That last time, I listened to them playing a more or less identical set with no new songs and I wondered if they were going to be able to follow up "Final Straw" or if they would slowly slide back into obscurity. Well, I think that the release of "Eyes Wide Open" answered that question. Perhaps it isn't quite "Final Straw", but it is an excellent album in its own right.

The band take to the stage at about 22:30 (so much for my early night) and it is immediately apparent that something has changed; something is different, something wonderful - Gary Lightbody has finally had his haircut. That ridiculous Rowlf-from-the-muppets style he's been wearing for much of the last year has finally been replaced by a crop. Hurray! They launch straight into "Spitting Games" and we're off and running.

It's a brilliant, brilliant gig. A real feature of those Snow Patrol shows I saw in 2004 was how wonderfully thrilled the band always looked when they played "Run" and the whole audience sang it back to them. I think that perhaps the most remarkable thing about last night's gig was that the novelty clearly still hasn't worn off. The enthusiasm with which the crowd sang along to current single, "Chasing Cars" clearly took the band by surprise. Perhaps they've been playing arenas for just long enough to appreciate playing a show in front of 1,900 passionate fans in a smaller venue. It's a beautiful song though, and it must be magical to see that they have written another song that so clearly connects with people. Gary Lightbody and new bassist Paul Wilson couldn't wipe the smiles from their faces for the rest of the gig. Big guitarist Nathan Connolly is a bit more dour looking, but I reckon I caught him grinning a couple of times too. When they finished the song, the audience reacted as though they were calling the band back for an encore rather than only a handful of songs into their set. We stamped, we cheered, we screamed, we clapped.... and the band could only stand on the stage and watch with amazement. It's a killer song and it could be massive (I think it's out to buy this week actually).

They played for 90 minutes in all and they were ace. The crowd was really, really up for it for the whole gig and went into an absolute frenzy as the band closed their set with "Run" and "You're All I Have". "Run" in particular was sung so lustily by the audience that Lightbody felt the need to remark that they hadn't heard it sung so passionately for a long time - they've definitely been playing in too many arenas. I initially thought that "You're All I Have" was a slightly odd choice as a single - it's a catchy but slightly awkward song. It makes perfect sense live. A quick encore and that was it.

Ah. It was an amazing night.

Even bumping into Sandi Thom on the way into Rock City couldn't spoil the night for me (you know, she *looks* like she's spent a lot of time in her basement. On balance, I think it would be better for everyone if she went straight back in there and shut the door - once her webcam has been confiscated, obviously).

Without a shadow of a doubt one of the best gigs I have been to in a long time. The fact that the band and their whole crew were playing for free to raise money for an excellent cause only makes the night sweeter.

The rating? I've had a little philosophical debate with myself today to see if I think it's possible to ever attend the perfect gig.

My verdict?

10/10. Perfect.

(thanks to Lord B for the tickets, and big shout out to John from Verbal Warning who had the spares in the first place. The perfect end to a busy weekend.)

Friday, July 14, 2006


I was just getting out of my car at football yesterday evening when my attention was caught by sound of Coldplay pumping across the car park. I glanced around and saw that the soaring guitar of "Talk" was coming from a convertible Saab being driven by a middle-aged guy with no hair. I shook my head a little sadly at how tragic it all was and hurried on to the changing rooms to get ready for the game.

Today, as I was driving home from work, I suddenly realised that I was not only listening to Coldplay but I was also lustily singing along. It dawned on me that as a balding man in his 30s, someone could quite easily pass the same casual judgment on me as I had passed only the day before. Yeah, alright... I don't drive a convertible and I'm probably a touch younger, but....ooops.

It could have been worse though: I had Thin Lizzy on in the car yesterday. Get caught singing along to that in your car and you probably *are* Alan Partridge aren't you?

Earworms of the Week

...the usual selection of flotsam, ephemera and ropey heavy metal.

10. "2 Minutes to Midnight" - Iron Maiden

As you know, I've been listening to Thin Lizzy this week. One of the things that struck me the most about this experience was that latter-day Lizzy sounds remarkably like a sub-standard Iron Maiden. I suppose this was their attempt to get included in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, but to be honest it just made me want to go and listen to the real thing. So I did. I think there would be a lot less hate in the world if more people put on a string vest, grabbed a tassled leather jacket, put their foot on a monitor and strafed an imaginary crowd with their bass guitar.

Coincidentally, I'm watching "Spinal Tap" with Lord B and Sarah tomorrow....

9. "The Girls and the Dogs" - Scott Walker

Another one of Walker's Brel covers. Ah, that winning comparison between women and dogs. The ladies love that.

8. "Easy Lover" - Phil Collins & Philip Bailey

I think I'm going to blame Leah for this...... she included a Phil Collins song on her shuffleathon CD to Mark. My first reaction was one of amusement; then horror; then it simply turned into incredulity that - if you had to include a song by Phil Collins - it wouldn't be this one.... and so the seed of the song was planted in my head.

Yes, it does have a great video with helicopters and cameras on big boom arms and stuff.... but it's still Phil Collins innit?

7. "Groove is in the Heart" - Dee Lite

It's that bloody whistley bit. Grrr.

6. "Interlude" - Morrissey & Siouxie Sioux

Mandy's right, this is a brilliant song.

5. "Back in Black" - AC/DC

This was played (very well) during the "Chainsaw" interlude at last week's Billy Joel gig. It's a fantastic song, isn't it? That's a monumental riff.

4. "Speak to me Someone" - Gene

There is nothing fashionable about Gene. Nothing. Never has been and never will be. In their early days they were slagged off as being a Smiths covers band, and in their later days they were ignored as an irrelevancy. Inbetween, they didn't sell all that many records.

I thought they were great. "Drawn to the Deep End" is a marvellous album with lots of wonderful songs on it. I could've picked almost anything off this, but it's this one that's in been in my head this week. It builds beautifully and has a great chorus.

What more do you need?

3. "I'm Gonna Be" - The Proclaimers

Yeah, alright. So Gene never wrote anything as catchy as this.

2. "Cannonball" - The Breeders

One of the most memorable bass breaks ever?

1. "Jailbreak" - Thin Lizzy

"Tonight theres gonna be a jailbreak
Somewhere in this town
See me and the boys we don't like it
So we're getting up and going down"

They weren't a very complicated band, were they?

Straighforward rock.


Kiss my Face!


Shuffleathon Update

[gone daddy gone]

Still waiting on the transatlantic postal service, then.....

Thursday, July 13, 2006

what seems like an interlude now.....

Whilst I'm waiting for my shuffleathon CD to work its way through the postal system, I've somehow managed to find myself in the position of carrying out a virtual shuffleathon CD exchange with TheCatGirlSpeaks. Cat had caught wind of the shuffleathon over at bedshaped's blog and was so taken with the idea that she spent a bit of time thinking up what would have gone on her CD. We got talking:

ST: if you can burn it, I bet I can find you a recipient....... even if it has to be me!

Cat: my problem is both lack of know-how and lack of equipment. My employers obviously don't want me spending my working days making CDs as they have selfishly not provided me with a CD burner. I've no PC at home, so am a bit stuck!

ST: In the spirit of virtual shuffleathons, I'll send you a tracklisting to the CD I'd send you, if you like. Although, of course, I actually will be able to send it to you.

Cat: why don't you review my "virtual CD" (I'd imagine you know the tracks on it, just remember that some of them were chosen for sentimental reasons as opposed to artistic merit! - doing this made me realise how much music is linked to events and people in my head) and I'll review your "virtual CD"?

ST: OK - you're on.

So here we are then.

Let's start with my review of Cat's CD:

1) There is a Light That Never Goes Out - The Smiths

Ah, the shortcut to my heart. As probably everybody knows, I adore The Smiths, and this is probably my favourite of their songs. Yes, perhaps it is a bit obvious, but that doesn't take away an iota of its impact. Ah, the darkened underpass. There was a time when this song really spoke to me. It still does.

Excellent start.

2) Everything Flows - Teenage Fanclub

Teenage Fanclub are one of those bands that I resisted for a long time. I think I took an irrational dislike to them around the time of "bandwagonesque" or "Thirteen" and I held onto the grudge until the moment I heard "Sparky's Dream". From that moment onwards, the guitarist's stupid haircut and the slightly fawning coverage in the NME stopped being a problem and I allowed myself to be seduced by their music.

This song is much earlier and perhaps a bit rougher around the edges than some of their more recent stuff, but it's a lovely record. God bless the Fannies!

3) Suffocation Blues - The Kevin McDermott Orchestra

I've never heard of this band before, but on first listen it seems like a pleasantly acoustic little number. It's a bit of an old lyrical conceit - the first verse is about a woman sitting alone in her room, and the second verse is about a young man sitting alone in his room. I'm just thinking that they might be getting it together in the third verse when the song ends. I quite like this actually.

It's a touch overbilled though: one bloke and his guitar doesn't sound much like an orchestra to me.

You snogged this guy after a gig? Did he have that crappy haircut then too?

4) Add It Up - The Violent Femmes

A band that I've heard of but not heard anything by. Wobbly and slightly whiny lyrics at the start.... and no doubt a big guitar soon. Oh yes... here we go. It's a bit shambolic and strangely reminscent of The Libertines, actually. The backing track sounds oddly like the Stray Cats too... sort of shuffling and acoustic. Big guitar solo and then the big finish. It sounds like it was recorded on the cheap but it also sounds quite dirty and urgent. I like it.

5) Set You Free - N-Trance

I know this one. Of course I know this one. It's a stone cold classic and definitively not my cup of tea at all. What would you call this? Euphoric House or somesuch? This is all very well, but I can't listen to this stuff for pleasure, and it conjures disturbing images of Monday night discos ("The Top Banana") when I was at University.

I've heard far worse than this, but no thanks.

6) My Lady Story - Antony and the Johnsons

One of the most incredible voices I have heard in a long, long time.

I first heard that voice when I saw Antony performing "Hope There's Someone" alone at a piano on "Later..." (mercifully without any 'helpful' boogie-woogie accompaniment from Jools). I was probably sat in front of my telly impatiently waiting for some no-mark indie band to come on, but I was utterly transfixed by this fat bloke in a dress and wearing a terrible wig.

Utterly unique and often deeply moving stuff.

7) Central Reservation - Beth Orton

I quite like Beth Orton and I have her first album, but I have never really understood why so much fuss seems to be made of her. She's okay, but is she really all that? Having said that, this is a really lovely record. I love the leisurely pace of it and her voice sounds great.

This has the slightly melancholy edge to it makes it perfect listening for a Sunday.

8) Groove is in the Heart - Dee Lite

A classic, for sure... but we're back at that Monday night disco again.

Actually, I think it must be impossible to hate this song - it's just so absurdly upbeat and catchy. I think I'll draw the line at downloading it though; it though, I know what this one sounds like already, thank you very much. That whistling bit is already lodged in my brain and I have absolutely no doubt that this bloody song will be appearing in Friday's earworm list, so thanks for that.

9) Ten Storey Love Song - The Stone Roses

I don't like "Second Coming" very much. I thought their debut album was stunning, but was deeply, deeply disappointed by the sub-Led Zeppelin nonsense they subsequently produced. A five year wait for this? At least this song didn't contain any of the silly and overlong guitar wig-outs that ruin the rest of the album.

Having said that, I saw them live in 1995 and they opened their set with "I Wanna Be Adored" - "She Bangs The Drums" - "Waterfall" - "Ten Storey Love Song". I still don't think I've ever seen a better half hour at any concert I have ever been to. They were magnificent, and this song blended right in.

I think that was John Squire's last gig, actually. Have I ever mentioned that I also saw Izzy Stradlin's last gig with Guns'N'Roses? No? Consider it done.

People tell me that the album isn't as bad as I remember it, but I'm now just listening to the four or five minutes of rubbish before "Breaking into Heaven" kicks in, and I still can't be bothered with it.

Oh, and Ian Brown couldn't carry a tune in a bucket in the studio, never mind live. Never, ever go and see him perform live. I've had that misfortune twice (as a solo artist) and I won't make the mistake a third time. Arrogant tosser.

10) Hairdresser on Fire - Morrissey

Ah. Marvellous song. It's not my favourite Morrissey song, but it's one that I don't listen to often enough. I must put "Bona Drag" on.


Is that it? I was expecting 12 songs really. Oh well.

I like. I'm going to playlist this one up in iTunes and give it a proper listen now.


Right. My turn. I'm going to deliberately avoid any of the songs that I put onto my shuffleathon CD...

1. "Farmer in the City" - Scott Walker

From "Tilt", one of his more recent and more difficult albums. After 11 years of listening to this, I still can't really fathom what it's about. Is it an auction of some sort? Eerie. Compelling. He's a genius, obviously.

2. "Talk (Thin White Duke remix)" - Coldplay

I don't normally do remixes, but this one I really do like. As the riff was lifted from Kraftwerk in the first place, this sort of takes it back to where it came from.

R. E. M. I. X.

3. "Ladykillers" - Lush

Ah. A real blast from the past and something of a guilty pleasure. I've got this on CD single, if you can remember such a thing.

4. "Apply Some Pressure" - Maximo Park

This is a gem. Urgent, frantic, geordie.

5. "An Innocent Man" - Billy Joel


6. "More Than A Feeling" - Boston

Absurd slice of MOR with a brilliant guitar solo. Another guilty pleasure, I'm afraid.

7. "PDA" - Interpol

I always say that Interpol are the band that personnifies my music taste: four skinny white blokes playing slightly doomy indie rock.

Smiling is overrated.

8. "This Mess We're In" - PJ Harvey (feat. Thom Yorke)

This is beautiful, haunting duet from an excellent album. I love the bit where Thom Yorke's pained, half-mumbled wail echoes the words that PJ is speaking.

9. "Sweet Jane" - The Velvet Underground

...worth it for Lou Reed's playful "....just watch me now!" at 2:06.

10. "Interlude" - Morrissey & Siouxie Sioux

Gorgeous. This was recorded as Morrissey was transforming into something of a crooner (and for my money he still sounds at his best today when he is backed by an orchestra and not by a slighly limited bunch of rockabillies). Siouxie sounds great too.

11. "Born of Frustration" - James

Very underrated this lot, in my opinion. Yes, obviously Tim Booth was (and no doubt is) a bit of a prat, but they wrote some fantastic songs.... This is surely one of the best whoops ever committed to record, isn't it?

12. "If You Could Read My Mind" - Johnny Cash

I was talking about this the other day. Beautiful. Heartbreaking. You can hear his voice cracking as he sings. This had to be the last song on the CD - you can't follow this.

[please note, although the temptation was almost overwhelming, I have resisted the urge to put any Keane songs onto this CD....]


This is exhausting. I'm **almost** all compilationed out.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same...

This time last year, I was worrying about a strange sensation of numbness that was creeping across my body as I was in training for the London Triathlon.

"It started on Monday last week, when I woke up with pins & needles in my right hand, and over the course of the week it has spread up my arm, down the right-hand side of my chest, ribs and back, and now seems to be working its way down my thigh. Although I have a kind of constant dull tingling feeling, I otherwise have sensation and full motor control and it is clearly not inhibiting me very much. But my pain receptors seem to have been dulled, even switched off, and everything I touch feels somehow very far away. It's a disconcerting feeling."

Around about this time two year's ago, I was reflecting on how little my job had changed since my outsourcing.

"Same job, same salary, same everything."

Plus ça change, eh?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

it's in my soul, it's what I need...

A couple of new shuffleathon reviews have crept in, so it's probably high time that I re-posted that monstrous table thing.

Here it is now.

[oops, gone again]

Almost everything is out in the post now (sheesh Graham....!) so if you haven't received yours yet, then sit tight and it shouldn't be too far away, the vagaries of the international postal service notwithstanding.

Whilst we're waiting though, it would be great to have a few more reviews to read, if you know what I mean.....? We've had some great reviews so far, and it looks like there have been some excellent compiliations being sent around the place. Whilst we're on that subject, I just have to say 'nuff respect to Monogodo for putting "Big Bottoms" by Spinal Tap on his CD for Lord B. Now that's an **inspired** inclusion, and as a direct result I will be screening the film to Lord B for the first time on Thursday evening. Yeah. I can't believe he hasn't seen it either.

By popular request, once all of the reviews are in, I'll then set about compiling some sort of tragically anally retentive list of what songs appeared where and how often and stuff like that.

I bet you can't wait.


I'm still feeling a bit blue this evening, but y'know... comfort in sound. And I reckon that this evening's comfort is going to be mainly provided by Thin Lizzy.

Let's rock!

Monday, July 10, 2006

but the feeling's gone and I just can't get it back...

I'm feeling a touch melancholy today. I'm not sure why. It might be that the World Cup has finished with one of my sporting heroes ending his career in disgrace; it might be because I'm listening to Johnny Cash's final album, "American V: A Hundred Highways"; it might be because I've just finished reading the tenth and final volume of Neil Gaiman's "Sandman".

It might be all of these things.

I've spoken about this elsewhere, so I won't dwell on it here.... but after 4 weeks and however many games played in this tournament, the image that is burned into my brain is not the winning captain lifting the World Cup.


The picture that I can't forget is Zidane trudging past the trophy and down the tunnel with his head bowed after his sending off. There's no question that he deserved to be sent off for that moment of madness, it's just that surely it wasn't supposed to end like this? How could it end like this? How is that fair?

I can't decide if "American V: A Hundred Highways" is the worst album I could be listening to in this frame of mind or the best. Johnny Cash died in October 2003, so this final collection of the recordings he made with Rick Rubin sounds like a voice coming from beyond the grave. The songs are confessional and reflective and speak of impending death and redemption. That deep, majestic voice is still there, just about, but you can often hear its owner struggling for breath. It's incredibly moving.

You would be a hard person indeed not to have a lump in your throat whilst listening to this album. Cash's cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind" is particularly affecting:

"If I could read your mind love
What a tale your thoughts could tell
Just like a paperback novel
The kind that drugstores sell
When you reach the part where the heartaches come
The hero would be me
But heroes often fail
And you won't read that book again
Because the ending's just too hard to take"

It's almost unbearably poignant. You can almost see June Carter-Cash standing behind him as he sings, or hovering in the background as she does in the video for "Hurt". But she was dead when he sang this, and now Cash himself is dead.

"It should be a while before I see Doctor Death" says Cash in "Like the 309"... the last song he ever wrote.

They don't make them like him any more. An amazing album and a fitting epitaph.

I've finally finished Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" saga too. All ten volumes of it. I won't say too much here because I don't want to spoil if for anyone who hasn't read it.... but my goodness me, what an ending.


One thing is for certain though, whatever else it has achieved (and believe me, it is an absolutely stunning piece of work), Gaiman's saga has definitely given me my favourite anthropomorphic personification of Death.

(well, almost definitely.....)

Omnia mutantur nihil interit. Everything changes but nothing is truly lost.

...and it's pizza for tea.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

sing us a song, you're the piano man...

Billy Joel @ Birmingham NEC, 7th July 2006

My earliest musical memories are of sitting in front of my dad's HiFi system every Sunday evening listening to the charts and taping any songs that grabbed my fancy. I must have taped hundreds of songs over the years, but for some reason the song that I remember taping the most clearly is "Always There", the theme from "Howard's Way".


My earliest memories of watching music on TV were of rushing to get ready for bed so that I would be able to sit down in front of the telly at 7pm on a Thursday night to watch "Top of the Pops". Of all the songs that I must have seen, the one that I remember the most clearly was a number one single in 1983 and the video featured a little guy dressed up as a mechanic, dancing his socks off in pursuit of some unattainably gorgeous woman in a fancy car. It was, of course, "Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel. It's a great record, isn't it? One of the defining records of the 1980s - certainly for me - and in my opinion it still sounds fantastic today. Well, perhaps it's dated a tiny bit, but it still gives me a warm feeling.

There have been times in my life since when it hasn't been especially cool to admit to liking him, but even in the middle of my heavy metal years I was happy to run out to the shops and buy a copy of "The River of Dreams".

I think Billy Joel is brilliant, and I was more excited about going to this gig than I have been about any concert for some time. I don't really like arena gigs at the best of times, and the NEC is an absolute barn. I've seen some good gigs here (Faith No More, Iron Maiden, and yes...Bon Jovi), but like any arena, the atmosphere can be totally dead and the acoustics dreadful. Most gigs I go to, even those at arenas, tend to have a standing area at the front. I always make the effort to get standing tickets where I possibly can - the atmosphere is just so much better, and you get a much, much better view (not least when you are nearly 2m tall). This one was all seating though, and I did worry that your typical Billy Joel fan was likely to want to remain firmly sat in their seat all night, gently tapping their foot and slowly sucking all the atmosphere out of the place. Well, might as well face up to it: Billy Joel released his first album in 1971 and was at the absolute peak of his commercial success in the early 80s. He isn't likely to attract a very young and trendy crowd, is he? (and yes, I am acutely conscious of the irony in that remark. I'm 32 years old myself, and I'm sometimes very aware that people probably say stuff like this about me when I go to a gig at the Rescue Rooms or The Social).

I shouldn't have worried.

Yes, the crowd *was* made up largely of the kind of people for whom going to a concert is a real outing and who had dressed up for the occasion. Lots of them looked like they were probably accountants. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that at all, but as Lord B has pointed out, if I start going to gigs in a smart shirt, smart trousers and a jacket... do please shoot me (Well, I was actually wearing a jacket, but in my defence, I was also wearing my Ramones t-shirt for the occasion. This seemed to pleasantly surprise the guy at the merchandising stand who felt the need to remark that he hadn't expected to see one of those this evening as he sold me my Billy Joel keyring and "Uptown Girl" badge for C.) To be fair to this audience though, when it came really came down to it though, these people were prepared to get up out of their seats and show their appreciation to the great man. I've been to a lot of trendier gigs at Rock City where the crowd hasn't been half so up for it.

As advertised, BJ came onto the stage at about 8pm, and he stayed there pretty much for the entirety of the next two and a half hours (he had a short break about halfway through the set when he allowed a roadie called Chainsaw to take to the stage and sing a stonking version of "Highway to Hell" with his band). Sometimes gigs can drag if they go on too long... not this one.

How could it possibly drag when the setlist includes songs like: Miami 2017 (See The Lights Go Out on Broadway), New York State of Mind, She's Always A Woman, Movin' Out, Only The Good Die Young, My Life, It's Still Rock and Roll To Me, Allentown, An Innocent Man, Uptown Girl, I Go To Extremes, We Didn't Start the Fire, The Downeaster "Alexa", The River of Dreams, Scenes From An Italian Restaurant and - of course - Piano Man.

It wasn't just the quality of the songs that made this a great night though; Billy Joel was the consummate entertainer throughout. He chatted to the crowd, he read out a marriage proposal, he spoke into someone's mobile phone for them, he cracked jokes - often at his own expense, he bounced up and down behind his piano and, when he wasn't behind his piano, he charged around the stage with more enthusiasm and energy than you might have expected for a short, tubby little guy pushing 60. He was great. A real delight.

I don't think I will see a better gig this year.

He's a legend.

Outstanding. 9/10.

we've come too far to leave it all behind....

Earworms of the Week

I'm just back in from seeing Billy Joel (full review here) and it's getting late, so I'll keep this relatively brief this week. Besides, as this list appears to have come from about 1982, it's probably best not to dwell on it too long anyway.

10. 'Magic Moments" - Perry Como

I've been being more disciplined about my earworms this week. I was determined to try to catch some of the ones that flit across my head briefly then disappear forever. I was so determined to remember that I actually wrote some of them down. Looking at this list, I'm fairly sure I shouldn't have bothered.

I loathe this song.

9. "The Chain" - Fleetwood Mac

For many years, this was the theme tune to the BBC's coverage of Formula One. It's a pretty cool tune, or at least it's a great tune for about 30 seconds.... but I pretty much hate watching cars driving round and round a track and avoid it wherever possible, so this song doesn't have the best of associations for me. Now when I hear it, I think about Jim Rosenthal, and that's not a thought to keep you warm at night.

8. "The James Bond Theme" - Monty Norman

Now this I do like. I'm not sure it's the best tune to be caught humming at your desk, but I'm pretty sure it's not the worst either. I saw a trailer for Casino Royale the other day, and Daniel Craig looks like he's going to be fine. I'm not sure what all the fuss was about over his casting, to be honest. Haven't the geeks heard of hair dye?

7. "She Moves In Her Own Way" - Kooks

A guy in the office asked me what I thought about the Kooks the other day, and this song was immediately planted in my brain. Bad hats. Bad hair. Great song.

6. "Drive" - The Cars

uh-oh. Here comes the MOR.

This song almost always conjures up images of the starving in 1980s Ethiopia, but it's still a great record.

5. "When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going" - Billy Ocean

Good grief. It's bad enough that I had this in my head without me having to tell you lot about it. It would have been a different story if it had been "Get Outta My Dreams Get Into My Car" obviously....

4. "All Sparks" - Editors

In an increasingly desperate attempt to escape the power ballads in my head, I stuck this album on in the car. It's a corker, and every time I listen to it I'm more and more struck by how good this song is. It's very simple, but it's ace.

3. "More Than A Feeling" - Boston

Where did all this soft rock come from? Why on earth is it flooding into my head this week? By this point I'm starting to resign myself to the inevitable appearance of REO Speedwagon or Toto on my internal jukebox.

This song features one of the best guitar solos ever.


A real guilty pleasure, I'm afraid.

2. "The Downeaster Alexa" - Billy Joel

Legend. Legend. Legend.

1. "If You Leave Me Now" - Chicago

I downloaded Del's first podcast earlier this week. It's brilliant, as you might expect, but early on there's an inspired blending of Beyonce's "Crazy in Love" with this song. It starts with a couple of the "wooo-ooo-ooo"s added into the background as Beyonce shakes her tush, but it soon develops into a full blown version of the song itself.

It's a cracking song, obviously..... but if you want to know where how all this ropey 1970s soft rock got into my head this week, it started here.


Shuffleathon Update

Almost all the CDs are out in the post now, and the reviews are starting to come in.... and in case you missed it here, I appear to have committed to producing a list of all the tracks included on all of the CDs. I'm still not quite sure how that happened, but it might be interesting, right? That way we can see what the most popular songs are and stuff like that.

Keep the reviews coming in... and be sure to list all the tracks!

[silly table moved]

More on Billy Joel tomorrow.......

Friday, July 07, 2006

people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening...

Today is the first anniversary of the London bombing. This time last year, in the middle of the morning rush hour, bombs went off in three separate tube trains, and the number 30 bus was blown apart near Tavistock Square. 52 people died as a result of these attacks, and hundreds more were injured. To my mind it is entirely appropriate that we pause for a moment today and remember them.

What I can’t stand though is the air of mawkishness that seems to have swept the nation. Ever since Diana died, we seem to have leapt upon every opportunity for a spot of mass communal grieving. There was a guy on the radio this morning whose wife had died in the bus bombing. He was naturally devastated, all the more so because she had only got on the bus at his suggestions when she had been unable to get to work via the underground. Both were unaware of the tube bombings because of the initial media blackout. As well as blaming himself, this man also laid some responsibility at the door of the government and the emergency services. If they had known about the attacks, he argued, she would never have been on that bus. Perhaps so, but perhaps she would have been trampled to death in the panic that such an announcement would have caused in rush hour London. He went on to say that he could remember every single detail of that day and could remember nothing since. I’m sympathetic to his loss and I’m not trying to sound heartless, but at what point did his grieving turn into melodrama?

Some police bigwig was up next. He expressed his sorrow at the losses people suffered a year ago and suggested that the people who had carried out these attacks were “beyond criminal”. What does that mean exactly? That these bombers were somehow in a different category to the Kray twins? The Krays were brutal killers too, but the fact that they loved their dear old mum makes them a different class of killer to apparently motiveless British Asian youths with homemade bombs in their backpacks? The presenter asked the policeman about the shooting of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube Station last July and the recent shooting of a supposed terrorist suspect at Forest Gate in London. Of course, both shootings were unfortunate incidents, and the police are very sorry for their mistakes…. But somehow this policeman still managed to insinuate that the end justifies the means. These tactics will stop future terrorist attacks, and if a few innocent people get shot in the meantime, well, that’s a price we have to pay if we want to stay safe.

Stay safe from who? I think it’s fair to say that it makes little difference to Jean Charles de Menezes if he is killed by a terrorist or by a policeman. He’s still dead.

I don’t think it is a price worth paying.

And then I heard Marie Fatayi-Williams being interviewed. Her son Anthony was also killed in the bus bombing, but instead of seeking recriminations or looking to assign blame, this lady spoke eloquently of how she had come to terms with the loss of her son with the help of her faith, how she had been able to forgive the men who took her son from her because she understood that if she did not, then the hate could consume her. It was inspiring to listen to her talk. In her own softly spoken way, this lady is a beacon of hope and an example of how a civilised society should be responding to events like these. This is not the first time that Marie Fatayi-Williams has been interviewed and you may have heard her speaking before: in the immediate aftermath of the attacks and when her son was still missing, she made this speech to the assembled press, clutching a photo of her son:

“This is Anthony, Anthony Fatayi -Williams, 26 years old, he's missing and we fear that he was in the bus explosion ... on Thursday. We don't know. We do know from the witnesses that he left the Northern line in Euston. We know he made a call to his office at Amec at 9.41 from the NW1 area to say he could not make [it] by the tube but he would find alternative means to work.

Since then he has not made any contact with any single person. Now New York, now Madrid, now London. There has been widespread slaughter of innocent people. There have been streams of tears, innocent tears. There have been rivers of blood, innocent blood. Death in the morning, people going to find their livelihood, death in the noontime on the highways and streets.

They are not warriors. Which cause has been served? Certainly not the cause of God, not the cause of Allah because God Almighty only gives life and is full of mercy. Anyone who has been misled, or is being misled to believe that by killing innocent people he or she is serving God should think again because it's not true. Terrorism is not the way, terrorism is not the way. It doesn't beget peace. We can't deliver peace by terrorism, never can we deliver peace by killing people. Throughout history, those people who have changed the world have done so without violence, they have [won] people to their cause through peaceful protest. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, their discipline, their self-sacrifice, their conviction made people turn towards them, to follow them. What inspiration can senseless slaughter provide? Death and destruction of young people in their prime as well as old and helpless can never be the foundations for building society."

(the whole of this speech can be found here)

We can’t deliver peace by killing people. Death and destruction of young people in their prime as well as old and helpless can never be the foundations for building society. These are points that Tony Blair may like to consider the next time he pores over his despatches from Iraq or when he considers sending more troops to Afghanistan or when he turns a blind eye to the Americans at Guantanamo Bay. Charles Clarke may be able to pretend that he doesn’t understand why some British Asians are becoming radicalised enough to become suicide bombers (as he was doing this morning), but he’s not fooling me.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

then work came and made us free....

Working is a funny way to make a living.

I realise that's a completely ridiculous thing to say, but it is. Yeah, I know that there are some people out there who have worthwhile and fulfilling jobs that make a real contribution to mankind. There are people out there whose life work is to help other people: they save lives, they are dedicated to ending poverty and other good stuff like that. The thing is that I don't have a job like that. I am a tiny cog in a vast and faceless corporate machine. My days are full. I generally have more work than can do in the time available. I work long hours and sometimes I have to take work home with me.

I get up every morning, I get into my smart trousers and my stiff-collared shirt, and I head into the office. I let myself in through the barriers using my ID card, which I then use to buy myself a coffee as I head to my desk (it's a cashless building, so I have to charge my card up with money if I want to buy anything). I read reports. I write reports. I read emails. I write emails. I go to meetings. I answer my phone.

Sometimes my computer plays up.

Before I know where I am, it's nearly noon and I have my lunch. Usually I have a sandwich, a bottle of water and some crisps. Sometimes, just for variety, I'll have some salad instead. I try not to eat too much junk food when I'm at my desk, and I make sure I take in a variety of fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts and things to graze on throughout the rest of the day.

Other people start to go home at about 5pm, so I have fewer meetings and my phone stops ringing. The next couple of hours are usually my most productive, and I'll often pop my headphones in and crank up my iPod as I try to catch up on whatever has arrived on my desk whilst I've spent all of the day in meetings. At around 7pm I'll head home.

At the end of the month they pay me.

Today was different. The team that I am joining when I get insourced had an away day. This meant I was able to get up into my jeans and a t-shirt and head off to a local hotel instead of to the office. We did some "getting to know you" ice-breaker type exercises, we had a big lunch, and we talked about the new organisation ("Team I.S.") and its proposed processes. We were done by 15:30 and I went home. It was a nice break to the routine, and I suppose in its own way it was quite interesting.... but it got me thinking about how peculiar my ordinary working life really is, when you think about it. All that stuff that we do as routine - what's it all for? why on earth do we put ourselves through all this stuff? Why do we spend all this time with all these people that we barely know, most of whom we don't even like? It's like some kind of a bizarre soap opera where nothing much ever really happens. It's the untelevised reality TV show of my life.

It's certainly a weird way to live.

Who decided we should live like this? You know what? It was a **TERRIBLE** idea.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not moaning about my lot. I know that I can always get off my arse and become a gardener or a volunteer or something like that if I think that will make me happy. The fact that I am working for a large corporation is down to me and I know it's up to me to change that if I want to. I know all that.

It's just that work is proper bobbins.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

I closed my eyes and I slipped away

Shuffleathon update

Hi-diddly-hi neigbours!

Nearly all of the CDs are now in the post and the reviews are starting to trickle in.... although as Charlie points out here, waiting for your recipient to go from "yes" to "review" "...is like waiting to go to the principal's office".

With that thought in mind, if you've received your CD and you haven't posted up your review yet.... for pity's sake show some mercy!


...and that's your lot.

Not that I'm letting this whole thing dominate my life. Oh no. Even with my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, I'm finding I can just take it or leave it.

Oh yes.

How about you?

* Shuffleathon from an original concept by Yoko - God love her.

Monday, July 03, 2006

take a look it's on display for you....

Red Hot Chili Peppers @ The Ricoh Arena, Coventry - 2nd July 2006

At some point last Friday, I was asked by a colleague of mine if I had anything planned for the weekend. When I mentioned that I was going to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers, she raised her eyebrows at me in mild surprise and suggested that I must be pretty down with the kids. Well, perhaps that's true, but as I bought my first Red Hot Chili Peppers album ("Mother's Milk") in 1989 and last saw them live at the Reading Festival in 1994, this seemed like a slightly odd remark. Yes, the RHCPs are selling as many records now as they have at any other point in their career, but they have been around for ages (they formed in 1983, and Flea and Anthony Kiedis are now both 43 years old).

Indeed, when I first started listening to the band, they were still very much in the middle of the slap bass / socks on cocks era of their development. "Mother's Milk" showed the first tentative signs that the band might have a little more to offer, and marked the debut of John Frusciante as the band's guitarist, but I was forced to go backwards to "The Uplift Mofo Party Plan" to hear more material. I was in the grips of my rock phase at the time, and this shouty, bass-slapping rock wasn't a million miles away from Faith No More, so I was happy enough. It wasn't until the release of "Blood Sugar Sex Magik" that I realised what a fantastic band they were becoming. The shouty bass workouts are still there, but songs like "Under the Bridge" and "I Could Have Lied" in particular showed depths of songwriting skills that weren't immediately apparent elsewhere ("Special Secret Song Inside" being a particular low point).

The Frusciante-less "One Hot Minute" aside, it has pretty much been onwards and upwards for the Chilis since then. Each successive album has seen the band getting better and better, and the muscular rock of old is slowly being replaced by songs with an almost Beach Boys-like grasp of melody. "Californication" was followed by their commerical high water mark,"By The Way", and the double album "Stadium Arcadium" was released to ecstatic reviews earlier this year.

To be honest, I haven't been grabbed by the new album anywhere near as much as I have been by any of the last two. A double album smacks to me of a lack of quality control, and even if this isn't the case, it's a hell of a lot of material to get to grips with, and I still haven't managed to listen to the whole thing through more than a couple of times. Still. It is now 12 years since I last saw the band live, so I thought it was high time that I bought myself some tickets and saw them play their new stuff.

Dave Navarro was still in the band the last time I saw them, and although this was the tour when they had the lightbulb suits and the flaming helmets, the showmanship couldn't quite conceal the fact that the material (that later became "One Hot Minute") was not quite up to standard. I was actually quite excited to be finally be going to see them play again.

I had the usual pantomime with ticketmaster: I bought the tickets months in advance of the gig, but the tickets weren't sent out until the last minute, and of course I was at work when they tried to deliver them (£4 booking fee per ticket! outrageous.) After I'd sorted that out, I was then emailed by the agency telling me that there would be a parking exclusion zone for a couple of miles around the stadium and I would need to book car parking in advance. Fine. I contacted the arena only to find that they weren't there and they would call me back. 5 days until the concert. When they did ring me, it was to tell me that I would need to send them a cheque for the parking.


Anyway. All sorted in time and off we trot on Sunday afternoon. The Ricoh Arena is a fairly new stadium built to house the mighty Coventry City. As you might expect, it was exactly like every other new stadium you've ever been to. We arrived in time to catch the end of the first support band ("!!!" - average) and to see the whole of the set by Dirty Pretty Things (not bad, but they've definitely listened to too many Clash records). I spent much of the time marvelling at the sheer diversity of the crowd. As you'd expect from a band that has been around as long as the Chilis there was a huge mixture of people. Lots of tattooed rockers - sure - but also lots of girls in bikini tops, lots of kids and a rather sizeable chav contingent. There was a gang of this latter bunch standing right in front of us. They seemed to find it amusing throwing whatever they could lay their hands on into the crowd - beer bottles in the main (some fuller than others), but also several half-eaten ice creams got chucked as well. I have to say that I did laugh quite hard when one of these idiots got hit square on the head by a half-full bottle that someone else had chucked forwards. I hope if was full of piss.

The Chilis came on and played for the best part of two hours. The setlist was mainly focused around songs from "Stadium Arcadium" and "By The Way", but they did delve into their back catalogue and treated us to older and less expected songs like "Me and My Friends" and "Soul to Squeeze". They were ace. We know all about Flea's virtuosity with the bass guitar, but John Frusciante was a revelation. It is no coincidence that it was Frusciante's return to the band for "Californication" that sparked their renaissance and he's breathtaking live. I can't recall seeing such an accomplished guitarist play. Anthony Kiedis has a decent enough voice, but the songs really take off with the addition of Frusciante's backing vocals and harmonies (often accompanied by Flea).

What stood out? For me the standout track on the new album is "Snow ((hey oh))", and it didn't disapppoint live. Also excellent were "Don't Forget Me", set opener "Can't Stop", "Scar Tissue" and "Give It Away".

They were excellent. My one complaint though is that their set contained far too many instrumental interludes. Yes, it is great to see a band as good as this flexing their muscles, but when it means that they don't play songs like "The Zephyr Song" or "Under the Bridge" or "Dosed" (my favourite), then I can't help but feel a tiny bit cheated of a better show. They also don't really go in for chatting with the crowd much. I can understand that these stadium gigs must seem the same after a while, but I'm only seeing them once on this tour and a little bit of interaction with the crowd wouldn't go amiss (they did try a bit of a joke about England losing to Portugal - a result which has probably gone a long way towards helping them sell out Wednesday night's gig at Pride Park in Derby... a concert that was being advertised on the telly last week in a desperate attempt to shift tickets). Still, I shouldn't grumble really. At Reading in 1994 the whole band clearly hated being in England at all, and took every opportunity to moan about it. Perhaps silence is preferrable.

They're a great band. The three-and-a-half hours it then took us to make the 1-hour journey home on a Sunday night felt almost felt painless in the warm afterglow of the gig.

Almost (we finally got home about 2am).

I've had to drink a lot of coffee and some Red Bull to get through the day in one piece.... Well worth it.