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

Friday, October 31, 2008

but without me you're only you....

Earworms of the week.

So, there I was, making myself angry by reading the comments of the general public on the Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross thing over on the "Have Your Say" section of the BBC website. It seems that the villagers are out in force tonight with their torches and their pitchforks. The most recommended comment on the thread reads:

"....On a personal note, I find neither of them in the least bit funny and consider what they have done to an inoffensive man totally unforgivable. Such louses are they that they wouldn't have tried it with anyone big anyone enough to hit back. Remove the pair of them from the airwaves, the world will be a much better place. BURN THEM! BURN THEM! BURN THEM!" (or something).

Oh, reading it again has got me started again.... the world will be a better place without two comedians on the BBC? Why? Will it end world hunger and bring about peace to the middle east? Is this really such big news in the same week that a man is sent to prison in this country for breaking the spine of his 16 month-old daughter across his knee? Which story is the better indicator of the state of the nation, would you say?


Anyway. Then I discovered this website, and all was well with the world again.

Yes, a site that only exists to take the piss out of the people who comment on the BBC's "Have Your Say" pages. I especially like the Twat-O-Tron, where you can generate your own outraged comments.

Mine is:

"is this what the bbc licenc tax gets spen on when will people realise that all parties except the bnp are selling britain to the french because theyre ruining britain the only solution is to speak english this is great britain lets show it

from Common sence ENGLAND FOR THE ENGLISH"

Worryingly convincing, eh?

Anyway. Where was I?

Ah yes, Earworms.....

> "Once and Never Again" - Long Blondes

I was reading the other day that they've split up after guitarist, Dorian Cox, announced that he was very unlikely to play the guitar again after suffering a stroke. Bloody hell. That's a bit of a change from "musical differences". I doubt we've seen the last of celebrated beret wearer Kate Jackson though.... I hope not.

> "Night Nurse" - Gregory Isaacs (and absolutely not by Simply Red)

This is a very dangerous earworm to have, as we're only millimeters away from a Mick Hucknall disaster. Just to be absolutely clear: at no point has my internal jukebox slipped from the classic version of this song into the other. Right? Right. What a gift to advertisers though. It's not like they have to change terribly much about this song to plug the cold-soothing, sleep-inducing nighttime drug, is it?

> "The Fix" - Elbow

Natch. I don't want to go on about them again, but this is proving hard to shift. Richard Hawley is a legend, and I absolutely love the way he exchanges lyrics on the song with lovely Guy.

"The fix is in
The odds that I got were delicious
The fix is in
The jockey is cocky and vicious"

The way he curls that mellifluous baritone around the word "delicious" is a treat.

But, as I say, enough Elbow already.

> "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" - Iron Butterfly

I couldn't even begin to tell you anything about this band, or whether that song title is supposed to be some sort of addled version of "In the Garden of Eden"... what I do know is that I was familiar enough with the riff in the song to be able to recognise it as played on a bontempi organ, and to then spend the rest of the quiz wondering what the hell it was. I opted for The Doors in the end, but kept losing the tune to the apparently-very-similar "Sunshine of Your Love". I was relieved when the answer was revealed and I could safely say that I would never have got this question right in a million years.

> "Ghost Riders in the Sky" - Johnny Cash

Cash has featured here a lot over the years, both the Rick Rubin-era stuff and his older, golden period records. You don't really need me to be telling you that he's a genius, eh? I've no idea how this managed to plant itself in my head on Monday, but it's not as though I'm going to be filing a complaint.

> "Heart of Gold" - Neil Young

I didn't so much earworm the whole of this song as earworm the opening guitar bit over-and-over again. Superb song, obviously. It gets a bit wearing after a while though, let me tell you.

> "All Good Things Come to an End" - Nelly Furtado

I love this song, and I think it sprang to mind when our winning streak of 8 pub quiz wins in a row was finally ended on Wednesday night. We came second. By half a point. On a recount. It's hard to feel cheated, and as well as feeling a little bit relieved that we'd finally got that monkey off our backs, I was really very gratified by the sheer delight and relief displayed by the other team when they knew that they had finally beaten us... but.... next time, we FUCK THEM.

> Theme tune to "Fraggle Rock"

It was in the "Backwards TV themes" round at the quiz - a round that I am irredeemably hopeless at. I never really stood a chance with the "Thundercats" theme, but for some reason, the thought that this one could be Fraggle Rock actually crossed my mind. It was never tangible enough for me to suggest it, but somehow I still ended up feeling annoyed that we hadn't got the answer right. Grr. Great theme tune though. One of the best (even if it doesn't quite have the brilliant, unexpected guitar solo of the Thundercats theme).

> "All Time High" - Rita Coolidge

It doesn't take a genius to see that this one might be linked to all of the oceans of publicity surrounding the release of "Quantum of Solace". I loved the Fleming short story of the same name, but given that Bond doesn't really feature in it at all, except as the person to whom the Governor of Nassau is telling a story about a relationship gone bad, I'm expecting that the plot of the film is likely to be different I like most of the Bond theme tunes, actually, although this is one of the less obvious. It's a corker though. I'm distinctly undecided about the Jack White effort, I have to say.

> "Midlife Crisis" - Faith No More

So there I was, playing six-a-side football, when all of a sudden a familiar sounding thumping riff plopped into my head. It took me 5 minutes to work out that it came from a song that I probably haven't heard at all in at least ten years.... but at least it's a good record. "Out of Nowhere" was the song that I listened to before I sat every single one of my GCSEs in 1990, but for me "Angel Dust" is the better album

I was at their NEC gig where the crowd ripped up the seat linings and rained them down onto the stage as they performed. It was a magical night. Good band too. I mentioned to a colleague this afternoon that I'd been earworming this all day, and he mentioned that sometimes, and equally inexplicably, he sometimes finds himself earworming "Spoonman". Another great song from about the same era. Nice.

So... shuffleathon update?

ShufflerAddress Received?
1. Me
er... yes?
2. Mandy
3. Charlie

4. Planet Me
5. Ian

6. Mike

7. Jerry
8. monogodo
9. Erika
10. Michael
11. Lisa
12. Cody Bones

13. Del

14. RussL

15. Tina
16. Wombat

17. Joe the Troll

18. JamieS

19. Cat
20. Rol
21. Beth

22. asta
23. bedshaped

22. you?

Still room for a few more, I reckon. Apply within.

Can you start sending your addresses to the email addy in my profile? Thanks.....

Right then.

I have to say, I'm very glad that this week is nearly over. One of the systems that I'm responsible for has been in a heap for most of the last 10 days. Sadly it's critical to the business, and I've had several thousand agitated stakeholders jumping up and down and shouting and things.

They tell me that it initially went down because of a rogue database connection, but...I prefer to blame Russell Brand (has it reached the point yet where my name is going on some kind of a list because I haven't complained?)

Stay classy, y'all....

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

fox in the snow....

On the way into work this morning, I drove behind a car with a couple of bumper-stickers. The first was entirely text-based and said:

"You keep your bullshit in Westminster
....and we'll keep ours in the countryside"

I assumed this was something produced by the Countryside Alliance and was intended to be a statement about how the urban metropolitan elite based in parliament was passing legislation on the countryside, most notably by banning hunting with hounds - issues that the knew nothing about and had no business meddling with. Do you see what they did there? they've made a humorous comparison between the "bullshit" spoken by the members of Parliament in Westminster with the actual bullshit produced out of the back end of a male cow. Now, the last time I looked, the whole point of a parliamentary democracy was that every constituency, including those in rural areas, returned a candidate to Westminster with a mandate to represent them. I was not aware that the countryside, or any other part of the nation, was somehow beyond the reach of our law making body. Perhaps that's all the proof you need that I'm irredeemably urban.

There was another sticker too. This one was more subtle. On the left hand side, it featured a picture of a woman on horseback wearing a bright red coat - the garb of someone about to go and kill a fox with dogs. The text underneath said "Now you hate her". On the right hand side there was a picture of someone - presumably the same person - dressed as a nurse. The caption underneath read "Now you don't".

Ah, so what you're saying is that the same people who go out and kill foxes might also hold down highly respected jobs in society. Excuse me for being dim, but what the fuck does that prove? Harold Shipman was a well-respected family doctor, and he's still estimated to have killed 250 people (and no foxes). The fact that he had a respectable job doesn't somehow mitigate the fact that he was a serial killer, does it?

The sticker went on to say that 59% of the population was in favour of fox-hunting. Really? Even if that's true and not some hopelessly optimistic made up statistic, what exactly does that prove? Parliament - the people who we elected to represent us - voted to ban it, and so it is against the law to do it. That doesn't necessarily mean that the law is just or correct, but it is still the law. Protest by all means, as that too is your democratic right, but frankly if you want to persuade me that it's a good idea, then you're going to have to come up with some better arguments. Me, I think it's cruel and unnecessary, and I happen to believe that the ban is no more an infringement of your civil liberties than the law that stops me giving you a slap for being such a blood-thirsty idiot. Actually, I'm genuinely curious about when we decided that our civil liberties were frozen in stone and thus have a sense of when they are being infringed. We don't have a written constitution like the USA, so there's not really any one document that we can refer to as our basic rights as citizens of this country. So how do we actually know when our civil liberties are being infringed? Perhaps some peasants had bumper stickers on their handcarts protesting about Magna Carta? Maybe some of the nobility rode around on Parliament Green waving placards protesting about the parliamentary deposition of Richard II?*

Fox hunting has been banned in most of the UK since 2005, so this is old news really, but what was it Oscar Wilde said? Fox hunting is "the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable."

Still true, apparently.


* I actually wrote a dissertation on the depositions of Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI as part of my Masters degree. In the main, this told the story of the rise of Parliament (as increasingly this was the body used by the usurpers to legitimise their own reigns, thus inadvertently increasing parliament's power as they reigned only through Parliamentary consent). The dissertation also touched upon how there was an intangible, but still very real sense of "kingship" - something that every king was measured against. There is a fair amount of evidence that even the lowliest citizen in Medieval England had a feeling for whether or not they were being governed justly, and usurpations were only tolerated when there was a sense that the king being deposed had failed to live up to this unwritten ideal. I also learnt some fascinating things about how the bodies of deposed kings were usually buried on the quiet and away from London, but that the sons of the usurpers, as the first act of their reigns almost always disinterred the bodies and gave them a proper burial in Westminster Abbey... and they did this because the ceremonial funeral of the old king before the coronation of the new king was a key part of the symbolic transfer of this mystical "kingship" from the old king to the new king.... a tacit acceptance that in spite of Parliamentary assent, the usurpers were never quite legitimate in the eyes of the general population. Written constitutions? Who needs them when you've got a history like that, eh?

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

angry mob....

So, on a evening radio show on a Saturday night, a couple of comedians make a few "prank" phone calls to an actor much loved for playing a racist caricature of a Spanish waiter. They make a few lewd suggestions about the actor's granddaughter, saying (amongst other things) that she has slept with one of the comedians and that she's in a group called "the Satanic Sluts". The show is prefaced with a warning that it "contains some strong language which some listeners may find offensive", and only two of the half million or so people listening complain .... two.... and both are complaints for the foul language involved and not for the content of the calls themselves.

A full week later, the Mail on Sunday picks up the story and by Monday there have been a further 1,585 complaints. By Tuesday it's 4,772, by Wednesday - a full ten days after the broadcast - it's 18,000. The story features in today's copy of The Sun, with the granddaughter now suggesting (in what looks suspiciously like the language of a Sun journalist) That the two comedians are "sickos" and should be sacked by the BBC.

The BBC suspend the two comedians and presumably the number of complaints continues to escalate.

What a stinking pile of shit.

Granted, the messages that Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand left for Andrew Sachs are in reasonably poor taste, and I'm sure the old boy was pretty upset (and no doubt fairly bemused) when he listened to them. But all this furore? Two people complained on the day the show was broadcast. Two people. That's about 0.00005% of the listening audience. A whole week passed with very little comment before this story started to pick up speed. Now it's got up a head of steam and is driven by a putrid sense of mock-outrage and a feigned moral superiority.

Andrew Sachs perhaps has a right to feel offended, but does anyone else really? Do you really have the right to complain about something on the BBC that you've only heard about via the press, and not something you've actually heard with your own ears? The vast majority of the people who actually did hear the show apparently couldn't give a hoot. Are you outraged by proxy or something?

Does it matter at all that his granddaughter actually has slept with Russell Brand and is in a group called Satanic Sluts?

It's sickening, alright, but not because of anything Ross or Brand have done.

Have we really got nothing better to be upset about as a nation than this?

Yes, Ross and Brand are paid an enormous amount of money by the BBC, and yes they are both frequently juvenile and irritating..... but what else is new? Should we just burn them now and be done with it, or should we wait until a few more complaints are received?

We really, really need to get over ourselves.

Besides, what are we going to watch on Friday night now?


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

fast forward selecta...!

"A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to hold the attention. Then you have to take it up a notch, but not blow your wad, so maybe cool it off a notch, and you can't put the same artist twice on the tape, except if some subtle point or lesson or theme involved, and even then not the two of them in a row, and you can't woo somebody with Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" and then bash their head off with something like GBH's "City Baby Attacked by Rats," and... oh, there are a lot of rules....."
Shuffleathon 2008

Call me a sucker for punishment, but I've been thinking about running another Shuffleathon this year. A couple of people have asked me about it, and as I've broadly enjoyed doing it for the last couple of years, I was thinking of giving it another go in the next few weeks.

If you're not familiar with the concept, it's basically a compilation CD exchange. I collect the names and addresses of any people interested in taking part, put all the names into an actual hat, and draw them out one by one, so that each name from the hat is paired with a name from the list of all participants. I will then email everyone individually to let them know who they've drawn, and you then make a compilation CD for the person you've drawn. You won't know who is making a CD for you until the moment that it arrives through your letterbox.... but that anticipation is pretty much the best part of the whole damn thing.

What you put on the CD is entirely up to you. You may know the person you've drawn, or you may be able to deduce something about them from their blog (if they have one). You may decide to make a CD that says something about you, or you may simply decide to put together the most kick-ass compilation you possibly can. Whatever, as anyone who has ever made one will be able to tell you, the act of making a compilation for someone is an intensely personal thing, and absolutely the most important part of the Shuffleathon is the sacred duty of each person receiving a CD to put up some kind of a review of their compilation onto the internet - on your blog or wherever. I don't ask that the reviews are completely uncritical - you are allowed not to like the CD you've been sent - I just ask that you are sensitive to the fact that someone may have poured their heart and soul into the compilation you have received, and that you write your review with that in mind.

I'll keep a big table on here somewhere linking to everyone taking part, and keeping a track of when the CDs have been posted out, when they have been received and link out to the reviews as they start to appear.

Not having a blog (or having a secret blog) does not need to be a barrier to participation - I will happily publish as many reviews here as are necessary. I am also happy to act as an intermediary for anyone who is a little wary of having their postal address revealed to a complete stranger.... as long as you will trust me with it, I will receive and post on CDs to as many people as need be.

So, does that make sense?

Who's interested?

Before you volunteer though, please bear this in mind: once you agree to take part, you are committing to both post out your own compilation for someone, and also to reviewing the CD that you will receive. One or two people last year didn't ever get round to reviewing the CDs that they received, and that was a real let down and disappointment for everyone involved..... so please, if you want to take part, I need you to take your commitment to this seriously. Post your CD out promptly and get your review up in good time.

In theory the shuffleathon is open to anyone and everyone, but I may try and keep it manageable this year, as I don't want to spend months chasing after this and sending out replacement CDs and so on... so please don't be upset if you ask to get involved and I have to turn you down. I'll try and include as many people as I can, but I have to be honest that it is likely to help if you have some track record around here, or if you can at least persuade me that you're going to take this seriously.

.... but it's fun, honestly! It's about making and receiving complilations and about sharing your love of music. What could be better than that?

Once you've agreed to take part, and you're happy to commit to writing up a proper review, then the only rules are those outlined in the quote from "High Fidelity" at the top of the page (and you can pretty much ignore them too if you want).

Your only limitation is your imagination....

If you're interested, drop me a line here and we'll take it from there.

I don't know about you, but I'm thinking of my track#1 already. It sets the tone, doesn't it?

Here's the first incarnation of that big, stupid table that we've all come to know and to love....

Let's get this show on the road, eh?

ShufflerAddress Received?
1. Me
er... yes?
2. you?
3. him?

4. everybody...?

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Monday, October 27, 2008

pocket full of kryptonite...

You know how I was saying the other day that Superman was an essentially very dull character because the sheer extent of his powers rendered him invulnerable? Well, I think I spoke too soon.

I've just read "Kingdom Come" by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, and it's knocked my socks off.

This probably won't be news to anyone with even a passing interest in comics, as it was initially published in 1996 and has won multiple awards....but it's brilliant. The most brilliant thing about it is that, at its heart, it has a concept that renders Superman powerless, without actually taking away a single one of his powers and without so much as a sniff of any kryptonite.

How? By taking the central guiding principle of his life - the sanctity of human life - and rendering it utterly redundant in the modern world. Another hero, Magog, outright kills the Joker in cold blood after he conducts a massacre at the Daily Planet that kills ninety-two men and one woman - Lois Lane. Superman immediately takes Magog into custody for his crime, but he is quickly acquitted by a society wondering why it hadn't happened sooner: after all, the Joker was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocents over a period of years. Surely the real question to be asked is not why Magog killed him now, but why Superman and Batman and their like did not do the same thing decades ago. At a stroke, Superman is rendered irrelevant by the society he has selflessly protected for the entirety of his adult life. He is powerless in spite of all his powers, and he disappears into a self-imposed exile, to be replaced by a new breed of hero. The story is mostly about Superman's reluctant, well-intentioned but still deeply-flawed second coming, but I won't ruin it by attempting to explain it - do yourself a favour and read it for yourself.

Now, that's a much more interesting premise, isn't it?

The story is absolutely shot through with references to ancient mythology, the Book of Revelations and to armageddon: the end of the world. Does the world need heroes, or have heroes rendered humanity unable to take the responsibility for their own actions?

Cheerful it is not, but then, who says that comic books are just for kids?

I wouldn't want to stretch the point too far, but dare I accuse the authors of this brightly coloured disposable nonsense of ...literature? Perhaps I'm dreaming, but I got the distinct impression when I was reading this that it wasn't really just about people with super powers in tight and often revealing costumes at all, and that in fact - and slap me if I'm going too far here - there might even be some kind of message being conveyed behind the story?

It might even be.... an allegory?

Nah. Come on.... after all, it's only a comic, innit.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

a sight worth seeing, a vision of you...

Earworms of the Week.

It's been a horrible day at work, so as I mix myself what I hope will be the first of several White Russians in an attempt to unwind, let's have a look at the songs that have been buzzing about my head over the last ten days or so (not including any Elbow...).

> "Patience" - Take That

I think they've got new material on the way out, but I think this got into my head when I caught a bit of Gary Barlow on the phone to Chris Moyles the other day. He was obviously sat in front of his piano at home and he kept playing little snippets of a few of his songs as he was chatting to the fat lump. Even down a phone line and even though our Gary sounded like he had only just got out of bed, this song stood out a mile. It's a proper song this. I'd normally say that this type of thing isn't really my cup of tea, and I suppose it's not really, but I think the quality of the songwriting on this stands out a country mile from some of the other shit that you hear on the radio. A collaboration between Status Quo and Scooter you say? Well, that's certainly something to look forward to, eh?

> "Boomshakalaka" - Apache Indian

Entirely LB's fault. I have absolutely no idea how this got into his head, but he was good enough to pass the infection on to me, and I've been singing it to myself for more than a week now. Nice one. Whatever happened to Apache Indian? I seem to half-remember a recent programme where he travelled to India and made some sort of documentary? Or did I dream that? If it's not a programme that's been made, then who do I pitch it to? We could follow it up with Apache Indian's guide to the Aboriginal peoples of Northern America. Apache Indian meets the Apache Indians anyone? From the producers who brought you "Schama's Sharmas", historian Simon Schama's journey through the transformation of modern India....

This is a ridiculous song, incidentally.

> "Oxford Comma" - Vampire Weekend

Mike went to go and see this lot the other day instead of attending the Leftlion quiz, and no sooner had he mentioned the band than this song started to play in my head (closely followed by "Mansard Roof"). I quite like them, although I do find the whole idea of a New York indie band being quite so influenced by Paul Simon being influenced by the rhythms of Africa to be a little bit strange. Decent album though. Coincidentally, I was also reading something the other day about the usage of the Oxford Comma (which, of course, is the comma used immediately before a grammatical conjunction that precedes the last item in a list of three or more items. The phrase "Portugal, Spain, and France", for example, is written with the serial comma, while "Portugal, Spain and France", identical in meaning, is written without it). Does it better match the cadence of the spoken word? Does it remove ambiguity or simply add to it? Is it redundant? Who knows...and frankly, as the song says, who cares? (oh, who am I kidding? You know I care about stuff like that....)

> Theme tune to Bullseye / Big Break

You know when it's really late at night and you've been flicking idly through the tv channels to see if there's anything on worth watching? Well, if you find yourself in front of Challenge TV and watching re-runs of absolutely ancient quiz shows, then it's probably time that you went to bed. I didn't heed my own advice, mind you, and so I found myself the other night watching in fascination as contestants competed for a cube clock radio and a teasmaid on Bullseye, and at the whole idea that anyone once thought that Jim Davidson being sexist and racist on prime time television was anything remotely approaching a good idea.

> "It's Beginning to Get to Me" - Snow Patrol

They're not cool, obviously, but I quite like the new single, and I will be buying the album at some point next week. Soft as shite and lyrically stuck in a postion of wide-eyed wonder, I can't help but like Snow Patrol for their sincerity and for that wonderfully expressive Norn Iron voice of Gary Lightbody. He really does look like he's having a fit when he's singing though, doesn't he? Eyes rolling into the back of his head and everything. And I see that although he still has that "Celt" sticker attached to his guitar, it's no longer a battered telecaster but a sleek and gleaming Les Paul. They must have sold some records or summit.

> "Is It Any Wonder" - Keane

...and on the subject of soft as shite bands. I bought the new album the other day, have listened to it a couple of times, and remain resolutely unconvinced by it so far. Tom Chaplain has a great voice, no question, but after about 30 minutes on the new album, it struck me that he's singing every song at almost the same pitch and that there's precious little variation. Perhaps it's my imagination or perhaps it's the production on the record, but where Gary Lightbody's voice is a powerful instrument for conveying the emotion in Snow Patrol's songs, Chaplain's voice on this record seems to be stripped of anything like the same kind of expression. Hmmm. I'll give it time and see if it grows on me. Unlike lots of people, I'm not predisposed to dislike Keane, and I think it's great that they've started to throw away the apparent givens of their own band and have added a bass and guitar to their sound. I heard this song on the radio the other day, and although that keyboard bit at the beginning is very U2-circa "Achtung Baby", it really is very catchy.

> "Manic Depression" - Jimi Hendrix

You know how you hear some tunes, and although you can't quite put your finger on exactly what it is, you just know that you know it? I had exactly that feeling when I heard this song as played on the bontempi organ at the pub quiz the other night. I was trying to think out loud, to see if the rest of the team could help out, when my lovely wife suddenly asked if it was Hendrix. That was all the cue I needed to get to the name of the song.... which as I'm sure you will know, is the kind of thing that gives you a lovely feeling of warm satisfaction. The questions that you really have to work to get the answer are often the most gratifying, aren't they? Good song, actually. C. couldn't remember ever hearing the song, but something about it just reminded her of Hendrix. What a great team we make, eh?

> "Da Doo Ron Ron" - Crystals

Nope. No idea.

Catchy though, eh?

> "Picture This" - Blondie

Ah, the song that got away. Another one that made an appearance in the bontempi organ round of the quiz, where apparently lots of people mistook it for a completely different song. I thought it was unmistakeable, and immediately gave out the artist and title. A few questions later, after a bit of questioning from a couple of teammates, I had a moment of doubt and amended the title of the song to "Picture Of You". Wrong, and until the recount, it looked as though it was a half point that was going to cost us our winning streak. Luckily it didn't, but always trust your gut instincts in these things. Always.

> Sky+ Menu music

I have no idea what this piece of music is, if indeed it is anything at all. All I know is that, apart from the odd ill-advised seasonal interlude, this is the music that plays when you are navigating around the menus on your Sky+ box. It's not very long and it loops almost seamlessly back upon itself every few minutes. It's also, without a shadow of a doubt, the most hypnotic piece of music I think I have ever heard. Mesmerising.


And that's it...... have a good weekend y'all and STAY CLASSY.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

you don't need this disease....

I've had a couple of people today ask me if I've seen this.

The results of a three year trial on a drug called alemtuzumab have been released. It's a synthetic antibody that was developed some 30 years ago as a treatment for leukemia. Why are people asking me about this? Because the trial was to assess the impact that it has on the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis.

The results were startling: not only were people markedly less likely to have a relapse...those on the trial were 74% less likely to relapse and had a 71% lower risk of being disabled within three years. Most amazingly of all, the drug appears to cause a reversal of symptoms.

"For the first time we've shown definitely that treating people early on with this aggressive immunosuppression is a good thing and we can say people's disability improves. That's never been seen before and goes counter to everything we thought....What is unprecedented and fascinating is that patients who take beta interferon have slowly shrinking brains as the disease attacks their brain tissue. We used MRI scans to show that patients who have alemtuzumab have enlarging brains as the lost tissue is restored. Somehow the drug is promoting brain repair" said Alasdair Coles, a member of the Cambridge team.

Now, I don't have MS. I have transverse myelitis. Specifically, I have a lesion on the left-hand side of my cervical spinal cord; in my neck. However, I do have something -- like MS -- that has damaged my central nervous system, specifically it has affected the myelin sheath that surrounds my spinal cord. This has upset the transmission of nerve signals down my body and given me weakness across my shoulders and widespread sensations of numbness and pins & needles. From the tops of my head to the soles of my feet.

This is announcement today is thus potentially really good news: if there is a drug that may repair the damage the lesion on my neck has caused to my nervous system and help reverse my symptoms, then this can only be a good thing. Never mind me.... this drug could bring about significant improvement in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are far worse affected than I am. Let's not get carried away just yet, but it's undeniably looking promising.

I'm lucky: not only am I lucky that my symptoms, whilst widespread and bothersome, have not significantly impaired me (other people are not so lucky), but I am also lucky that I suffer from a condition that has been the subject of significant funding for medical research... funding that has led directly to this news. I'm very aware that other conditions do not attract the same kind of money that this does.

Always look on the bright side and all that.

Thanks to everyone who saw the news and thought of me, by the way. You're too kind, and I really appreciate it.


and it's not not knowing that there ain't nothin' showin'....

... and so the streak continues.

It was a bit of a close run thing last night, but we've now won the Leftlion pub quiz, hosted by Nottingham's Mr. Sex every Wednesday night in the Golden Fleece, no fewer than eight times in a row. We actually got taken to a tie-break last night.... which we lost..... but there was a discrepancy between the score we thought we had and the score that we had been given. So we checked. Not because we desperately wanted to win, you understand, but because if we didn't find out which answer we'd got wrong that we thought we'd got right, we'd never be able to live with ourselves. I was already starting to dwell on the critical half point I lost by changing my mind about the name of the Blondie song played on the bontempi organ, moving it neatly from the right answer to the nearly right, but still oh-so-wrong, answer..... I'd hate to be responsible for breaking the streak and all.

Although, in a way, when we thought we'd lost, I actually experienced a moment of relief....

So we asked Nottingham's Mr. Sex for clarification, just for our own sake and -- bless him -- he did a countback and realised he'd made a mistake and that actually we'd won by a clear point.

We didn't want the prize or owt.

We just wanted to know that we won.

So we left, and the streak is still on.

Not that it matters really. It's a nice night out with good company, good food, decent beer and an excellent and very entertaining quiz.

Plus it's always nice to see the faces of the team that used to win when they see that we've turned up again....

...I'm pretty sure that everyone in that pub hates us. I'm not sure I blame them.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

homeward bound....

As I was sat in traffic the other day, I glanced across at the truck alongside me, and to help pass the idle time, I read what was emblazoned on the side. It's not that I was expecting it to be particularly interesting, it's more that I had time on my hands and felt that it was likely to be more interesting than continuing to study the numberplate of the car just in front.

It was a haulage company. No real surprises there. I read on, perhaps not eagerly, but I read on nonetheless. It was a haulage firm from Barnstaple, North Devonshire. Now, my father's family are from Plymouth, so I happened to know that Barnstaple was in Devon. I didn't actually know that Barnstaple was in North Devon. If I'd had to guess, then I think that's what I would have plumped for, but it would still have been a guess. It seems my gamble in reading the side of the lorry was paying off and I'd now learned something for my troubles.

I read on.

Except that was it. The name of the haulage company and the fact that it was based in North Devonshire. Perhaps it's just me, but I was expecting more. Hell, now I'd started reading, I felt a little bit cheated that there wasn't more. In the unlikely event that I wanted to find this haulage company, what the hell was I supposed to do? Follow the truck and hope it was going home? Is it too much to expect a phone number or something? Is a website really out of the question? Do you even want my theoretical business?

And North Devonshire? What's that all about? If I didn't know where Barnstaple was, is telling me that it's in North Devonshire as opposed to any other part of Devon really that helpful? Are the people of Barnstaple able to get into a taxi, anywhere in Europe, give their address as "North Devonshire" and have a trouble-free journey directly to their doorsteps? Perhaps there's some kind of regional pride here that I'm not aware of, and the people of North Devon are desperate not to be associated with any other part of their county?

"Where are you from then?"
"Ah, I'm from Barnstaple"
"Oh yes, is that in South Devon?"


Do the people of Central Devonshire make an advertisement of the fact, or do they prefer to think of themselves as being Southern North Devonshire? Or Northern South Devonshire? Are there rules here? Do the local councils have to issue guidelines, or is this something you are born knowing?

And then the traffic cleared up and I drove home.

Well, it passed the time alright, but what about all those unanswered questions?

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Monday, October 20, 2008

monster mash....

I spent much of my Sunday sat quietly in front of an open fire working my way through the "Planet Hulk" and "World War Hulk" comics. The Hulk was one of Stan Lee's very first comic book creations, making his debut in 1962, six months after the Fantastic Four's first appearance in 1961, but fully six months before Spider-Man's arrival. Apparently he's been voted the 19th greatest comic character of all time (by Wizard magazine in 2008), but unlike Spider-Man, Daredevil, Wolverine, Batman and the like, I've never really been able to warm to him and have only really come across him in passing in the Marvel Universe.

Sure, I watched the tv show as a child (oops, with that haunting theme tune, there goes another earworm), and I loyally trooped off to the cinema to watch the first "Hulk" film (although not the second one - I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice). Ultimately, I just did not find the character very interesting.

The premise is fine: the Hulk is Jekyll and Hyde for the nuclear generation, and there is plenty of scope for both drama and melodrama in the constant struggle between man (Bruce Banner) and monster (the Hulk). Unfortunately, the heroes that I find the most interesting are also the most conflicted (Batman, Spider-Man, Wolverine, to name three); these are heroes who do not live in a world of black and white, and they face dilemmas with every decision they make and in the blurring of their private and professional identities. Although there is conflict at the very centre of the Hulk's existence, an internal conflict for supremacy between man and monster, the Hulk himself is ultimately very simple. His motives may be terribly misunderstood by the world in general, but essentially he gets angry and smashes stuff up. "Hulk smash".

After working my way through the "Marvel Civil War" comics a little while ago, my interest was piqued in the "Planet Hulk" series when a number of other Marvel characters (Iron Man, Black Bolt, Dr.Strange and Reed Richards) trick the Hulk and blast him into outer space to take such an unpredictable creature entirely out of the conflict. Their intention was to send him to an idyllic world with no intelligent life, somewhere the Hulk could finally be alone with himself, which was all he ever said he wanted. Of course, something goes wrong, and the Hulk ends up on a violent planet where he is forced to become a gladiator, fighting first for his own survival and then for his own freedom and the freedom of the whole planet.

Yes, it does sound ridiculous when the plot's set out like that, but it's a comic for heaven's sake... Sheesh.

So when I was in town on Saturday, I popped into Page 45 and picked up copies of both "Planet Hulk" and the follow-up "World War Hulk", where the Hulk returns to Earth to wreak his revenge upon those who sent him into space. They're both pretty hefty volumes, but what are Sunday afternoons for if not browsing through a little light reading in front of the fire?


In my opinion, the most interesting superheroes are the ones that, as well as being conflicted, are the most vulnerable. For me, Superman is amongst the dullest heroes ever created simply because of the sheer extent of his powers. A character like Wolverine will always be a more interesting character simply because his powers are so much more limited and this forces the writers to be much more imaginative and makes battles with more powerful villains all the more interesting. Where "Planet Hulk" really works is in removing the Hulk entirely from the confines of Earth and placing him in a completely different environment. This frees the character up from so many of the constraints he usually labours under, and gives the writers freedom to explore. It is, however, a story that is fundamentally flawed by the sheer extent of the Hulk's power. It's reasonably well established that the Hulk's strength is proportional to the extent of his rage - it is, after all, anger that triggers Bruce banners transformation in the first place. In "Planet Hulk", the Hulk's rage is so immense that he ends up being able to swim in magma and walk in space without needing oxygen or a suit. Not only that, but throughout the entire story, he only transforms into Bruce Banner for brief moments, and never in a situation where it might be interesting or to put him in any real danger. In short, he is invulnerable. This is dull. The story is okay, but as there's never really any threat to our hero, I didn't find all that much to get excited about. The return to Earth and the Hulk's vengeance in "World War Hulk" are also rushed and confused, with a constant flow of characters from the wider Marvel Universe and a hurried and unsatisfying conclusion. The moral ambiguities here could have been interesting: were the illuminati right to act as they did? Were their actions really in service of the greater good? These are the kinds of issues that were dealt with extensively in the "Civil War" comics, which uses the comic medium to explore some of the issues raised by the real-life "War on Terror", but here they don't feel properly explored, and are buried beneath the rubble caused by the Hulk smashing up New York.

"Hulk smash". Again.

Perhaps it's been done to death in the past, but for me the Hulk will only be really interesting when they explore his vulnerabilities, not his strengths. Bruce Banner should not be subsumed within the Hulk, he should be at the very centre of the story, just as he was in the original TV series, forever unable to form meaningful bonds with people because of the monster inside him that he is unable to control. Even the Hulk himself should be about more than just smashing stuff up. He's complex and vulnerable too: a simple soul who is cruelly provoked and misunderstood by the world who only see him as a monster.

That theme tune is still playing in your head, isn't it?

"Planet Hulk" lacks these nuances, and, as a result, I found it ultimately unsatisfying. Hulk smashing just doesn't do it for me, I'm afraid.

... and with that, I'm going to flounce back to Anne Brontë and "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall".

Well, straight after reading "Ultimate Marvel Team Up", anyway.....

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Friday, October 17, 2008

keep staring like you've never seen the stars....

Elbow @ De Montfort Hall, Leicester - 16th October 2008

When I saw Elbow in February 2006, as they toured in support of their album "Leaders of the Free World", I had the following to say:

"They remind me a little of a non-stadium friendly Coldplay - with a better and more inventive lyricist. They're very downbeat and slightly melancholy, but they have a wonderful knack with a tune, and given the right moment, can be wonderfully uplifting. They deserve to be massive, but I would be very surprised if that ever really happens."

When I saw them again in April this year, touring the newly released "Seldom Seen Kid" album, I quoted that line again, adding that:

"Their media profile seems to be a bit higher these days, but somehow they remain a band that it's difficult to see ever really becoming as big as they deserve. Perhaps they're too self-effacing..."

Gloriously, I was wrong.

"The Seldom Seen Kid" ticked along nicely after its release, picking up fans slowly but surely as it gradually sank into popular consciousness. By the time Glastonbury rolled around, they were drawing a fairly substantial crowd to watch them performing against the glorious backdrop of the setting sun on the Other Stage. Another couple of months down the track and "One Day Like This" was already being more or less ubiquitously used to soundtrack montages for everything from the Big Brother finale to the BBC's coverage of the Beijing Olympics. And then, of course, at the beginning of September, Elbow were announced as the winners of the 2008 Mercury Music Prize. It wasn't exactly an unexpected win, but it was one that was rapturously received, not least by the band themselves, for whom it was recognition that had been some 18 years in coming.

Winning the prize has certainly raised the band's profile, that's for sure, and I'm pretty sure that the exposure has won them many new fans. It's all good, though, because Elbow are a magnificent band who have been producing some beautiful music, almost unnoticed, for more than a decade. Tonight's gig at De Montfort Hall is a triumphal one for them: the tickets sold out long before the Mercury Awards, and the audience tonight is thus mainly made up of people who have loved and cherished Elbow for a little while, and even those fans who arrived with "The Seldom Seen Kid" have had plenty of time to allow the album to seep slowly underneath their skin. It's a lovely venue in a surprisingly leafy part of Leicester, and is reminiscent of places like Blackpool Empress Ballroom and Wolverhampton Civic: it's a decent size and probably takes around three thousand people, but even when it's full, it's airy enough not to be claustrophobic and there's a comfortable amount of space on the floor too. We're not wedged in like Rock City sardines here. It's a mixed crowd too, and there seems to be a far higher percentage of ladies than there were at the Rock City gig in April. It seems that lovely, sensitive Guy Garvey has been working his charms on the fairer sex. If Sarah is anything to go by, they are putty in his hands before he's even opened his mouth.

If the Rock City gig saw the band showcasing their new album, tonight they have absolutely nothing to prove to anyone. This is a celebration, both for us and the band, and they very obviously enjoy flexing their musical muscles in a larger venue with lovely acoustics and a crowd that welcomes them with something approaching unconditional approval. Tonight they take their time over the songs, and they're not afraid to give up large portions of the set to some of their beautiful, but much more downbeat material. I suspect that the band know that their audience is about to change, and soon they will be playing much larger venues to people who know them for "Grounds for Divorce" and "One Day Like This", songs that are undeniably good, but are hardly representative of the band's back catalogue. Tonight, songs like "Great Expectations" and "Scattered Black and Whites" are greeted with a respectful hush. At Wembley Arena next year, I can't help but wonder if attention spans might begin to wander and we might see chatter. I hope not. They're lovely songs, and very few bands can convey such a broad emotional palate so effectively. They deserve to be cherished.

The band open with "Starlings", of course, and move on through a setlist with a hefty chunk of their newest songs. Before "Mirrorball", Guy asks if there are a Paul and Karen in the audience tonight. They're here, albeit right at the very back of the upper tier. Guy pauses and then tells Karen that Paul has something that he'd like to ask her during the song, and we'd be back later for an update. They play it, and it's a lovely, lovely song, and - surprise, surprise - it turns out that she said yes.

"Excellent. Congratulations. And now, to celebrate, here's a song about gut-wrenching heartbreak...."

And the band launch into "The Stops". Another shimmeringly beautiful song, but it's enough to make the hardest of hearts melt, not least because it's apparently about Guy's breakup with Edith Bowman. How big-hearted is the sentiment expressed in these lines:

"No longer my affair
Well I can't go there just yet
So I've come to love and trust those friends
That are holding your net"

I'm big and tough, of course, but even I'm finding my eyes welling up a touch as Guy's expressive voice reaches out to the stars. Aw. Lovely Guy.

They are quite simply superb tonight. "Leaders of the Free World", possibly my favourite Elbow song, is almost delivered with venom, as is that monumental guitar riff on "Grounds for Divorce". At the other end of the emotional spectrum, we sway gently and coo as the band play the likes of "Bones of You", "Loneliness of the Tower Crane Driver", "Newborn" and a great version of "Weather to Fly", that sees the band all clustered around "Craig's House" on the keyboard riser, where they share a round of Sambucca before Guy launches into that most delicate of refrains:

"Are we having the time of our lives?"

The only possible response from the crowd here is YES.

Over the years, I've seen a lot of frontmen, but I don't think I've yet seen one that has such an instinctive connection with his audience. Guy Garvey doesn't say very much to us tonight, certainly not as much as he said at Rock City in April, but he still exudes warmth and camaraderie, whether he is nodding his appreciation at the sombrero that is tossed onto the stage during "Mexican Standoff", or if he is gently waving his pointed fingers in the air in recognition of the man a few rows from the front who does this same gesture throughout the gig. It's a masterclass, and the band themselves are as tight as a drum and their 18 years together and the closeness of their friendships are there for all to see.

The band leave the stage with the crowd still singing the refrain to "One Day Like This", but they're soon back, and they treat us to an encore that gently brings us down. "We've haven't played a gig this good in years" are Guy Garvey's parting words to us as the band leave the stage for the last time. Perhaps he says that every night, but Elbow are a really special band, and they are absolutely at the top of the game.

As we leave the venue, we see Paul and Karen are lingering outside, walking hand-in-hand along the pathways in front of the main door - it's a special night for them, and I'm sure they never want it to end.

I think I know how they feel.

As usual, I didn't keep a track of the songs they played as I was far too busy watching the gig, but this is the setlist from their Wolverhampton gig on Wednesday night, and it looks pretty similar to me, although obviously we had Paul and Karen during Mirrorball and not Cate's mum.... but you get the general idea.

Thanks to Sarah for the lovely sandwiches she made me for my tea to eat in the car on the way down, and thanks to Mike for spotting the gig in the listings in April and suggesting that we buy tickets. A really special night.

VERDICT: 9.5 / 10

Mike's interview with guitarist Mark Potter from March 2008 can be found here.

Earworms of the Week - Elbow Special.

...because it seems unfair to list anything else when I've had Elbow so much on my mind and playing on my internal jukebox. Apache Indian will just have to wait to next week, I'm afraid.

> "Red"

The song that introduced me to Elbow. Remember the days before YouTube and iPods and stuff? Yahoo or someone was hosting a streaming version of the song, and I gave it a listen. Not long afterwards, I went out and bought myself a copy of "Asleep in the Back", and my journey with the band was underway.

> "Puncture Repair"

Not a long song, but a beautiful, redemptive little number.

"The cavalry with tea and sympathy"

Gorgeous sentiment. I hope everyone has their own puncture repair.

> "Fugitive Motel"

I think of "Bones of You" as being a close cousin to this song, with the repeated idea of being far away from the person that you love.

"I blow you a kiss
It should reach you tomorrow
As it flies from the other side of the world
From my room in my fugitive motel
Somewhere in the dust bowl
It flies from the other side of the world"

There's something about the way that he repeats the line "Somewhere in the dust bowl" that makes this song so hypnotic.

> "Newborn"

One of their early big-hitters from their first album. Bold first line for a love song, eh?

"I'll be the corpse in your bathtub
I'll be as deaf as a post
If you hold me like a newborn"

He's got a real knack of finding new ways of expressing his emotions, no?

> "Grounds for Divorce"

For that dirty, stinking great big guitar riff. Irresistable.

*makes surreptitious pointy rock fingers*

> "Grace Under Pressure"

Another lovely, nuanced love song.


> "The Loneliness of the Tower Crane Driver"

Tell me, how many other bands could write a song like this? One guy at De Montfort went absolutely ballistic when they played this. Mike wondered if perhaps he was a tower crane driver. Who knows? I bet there aren't many songs about them. I wonder if I'd react in the same way if they wrote a song about IT Consultants?

> "Leaders of the Free World"

Maybe I'm missing something, but this doesn't appear to be a bruised, emotionally taut love song.

"Passing the gun from father to feckless son"

Superb. Good guitar solo too. Guy Garvey should play lead guitar more often, I think.

The Bush era summarised in one pithy line.

> "The Stops" (another version here)

Beautiful. Heart-breaking.

*wipes away tear*

Enough Elbow for now?

Maybe. Good band.

"We still believe in love so fuck you".

The end.

Have a good weekend, y'all. Stay classy.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

road to nowhere....

I had a dream last night.

I was driving down the motorway. It looked a lot like the southbound stretch of the M1 around junction 23, but I suppose it could have been anywhere. I was driving along happily enough, when I was overtaken by a car travelling in reverse. I was a little taken aback, watched the driver as he disppeared up the road with his hands on the wheel but his whole body twisted round to look over his shoulder, and I found myself wondering if it was even possible for a car to travel that fast in reverse.

Or perhaps I was just travelling really slowly?

I'm desperately resisting the tempation to view this dream as any kind of metaphor for my brilliant career.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

if you don't know me by now...

We had a series of announcements at work last week detailing a big restructure that's going on. The last two times this happened, my job was physically moved between companies - with an outsource in 2004 and an insource in 2006 (nothing like good strategic planning, eh?). This time around, praise the lord, although various bits and pieces in my job are going to change, I'm at least going to both remain in a job and remain in the same company. Not everyone has been so lucky, and my colleagues based in another office down near London have just been told that their jobs, if they even still exist in the newly re-organised company, have been moved up to Nottingham.

During my 1:1 with my director to discuss how the changes affected me, I was shown an organogram of the new structure of the department. Because of the changes affecting this other office, no names could be put onto the organogram, but a dumb point at a box on the chart effectively told me where I sat. Good for me, but even as it was happening, I couldn't help but think about the people in this other office just outside London being given similar briefings and probably being told by their bosses that the organograms didn't have names on and that they might have a chance of a job.....

Details of how the news went down have been dripping through all this week. Apparently this other office has not taken it well, especially as all of their senior management has been parachuted into cushy jobs elsewhere in the organisation, leaving them to fend entirely for themselves. I also heard how their director broke the news of the changes to them: apparently, he stood up and said, and I'm not joking:

"I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I've got another job. The bad news is that it's a bit further from home for me to travel."

No wonder they've taken it badly. That is so David Brent as to be completely beyond a joke. As the great man said:

"Well, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that Neil will be taking over both branches, and some of you will lose your jobs. Those of you who are kept on will have to relocate to Swindon, if you wanna stay. I know, gutting. On a more positive note, the good news is, I've been promoted. So, every cloud... You're still thinking about the bad news, aren't you?"

It's a bit close for comfort, isn't it?

There were stories of a video conference on Monday where the video screen in the office near London was broken, so they made the fatal mistake of assuming that this meant that the screen in Nottingham was broken too, when in fact it was working all too well. As a colleague of mine put it to me, it wasn't so much what they were saying, as the gesticulations that were accompanying what they were saying.

I have to say that I don't blame them. I happen to think that ultimately this move was both inevitable and strategically the right thing to do, but the management of the people issues this brings up has been nothing short of disgraceful. Although why would I expect any better?

As Harry Callahan once said: "Personnel? That's for assholes."

Poor sods.

{snip made here, for reasons of getting slightly cold feet about one particular thing I said. Gossip is gossip, after all...}

Sometimes it's good not to mistake your job for a career.

Of course, all of the above might be cobblers; nothing more than idle gossip. I'm not sure the truth of it matters all that much, actually. I'm prepared to believe that all of these things happened in the company I work for, and that's probably all that counts.



Tuesday, October 14, 2008

because the night....

How can it be that we're barely into October and the clocks haven't even gone back, yet I find myself having to put on my fluorescent vest before I go out on a run this evening? It was only just gone seven by the time I got out of the door, but it was already properly dark. It had been raining as I drove home from work a few minutes before, so as well as my bright yellow vest, I was wrapped up in full-length running leggings, a long-sleeved thermal top, a hat and a pair of gloves. This is pretty much the running gear that I will be using in the middle of December, and I'm not quite sure that I'm ready to give up on the fairer seasons and move straight into deepest, darkest winter just yet.

It was a fantastic run too. The rain had just stopped as I stepped out of the door, so the world was clean and fresh smelling, my legs were feeling fresh and I barely bumped into a soul as I negotiated my way around sleeping geese nestled up on the path against the river Trent. I was sealed in behind my headphones as usual, and my iPod managed to kick up a selection of tunes that really seemed to suit my mood, including "Mr. Brightside", "The Queen is Dead" and the Nirvana version of "The Man Who Sold the World". If there's a better way to put the frustrations of another day in the office behind you, then I'm not sure I know what it is (although I will be having a nice cool glass of refreshing beer in a minute....).

You know what the absolute highlight of my run was though? It was the dawning realisation, about ten minutes in and as my body began to throw off heat, that my running top smelt really strongly of goulash. This is not in the least bit surprising, really, given that the top has been hanging in the kitchen where for much of the last twenty-four hours I have been stewing up a huge pot of the same. 800g of beef; 800g of finely chopped onion; three or four heaped tablespoons of sweet paprika, some garlic, a splash of vinegar, some water and a lot of pleasing simmering and stirring.

My running tops have certainly smelt of worse things, that's for sure.

If winter heralds in the arrival of hearty stews for supper, then perhaps it's not so bad after all.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

like a monkey with a minature cymbal...

Want to know what I learned this weekend? Well let me tell you: I learned that I've got precisely 10,171 songs on my iPod.

This number is now burned indelibly onto the back of my brain after spending most of the weekend attempting to reconstruct my iTunes library and watching the slow tick-tick-tick of each track being processed in repeated library consolidations and reloads. After a while, I realised that it processed the songs in the same order: the order I ripped them. So I watched the long sequence of files from "Candy Says" by the Velvet Underground through to "Kicked in the Teeth" by AC/DC. Again and again and again over the whole weekend.


Well it's ultimately not a very interesting story, so if this is likely to bore you, I suggest you look away now. Seriously. There were times over the last couple of days when I just could have skipped to the end too.

Anyone still here?

OK, well.... this whole sorry story began when, at some point on Friday night, I realised there was a disconnection between iTunes and the music files on my external hard drive. I synced my iPod and watched as my library turned into a sea of exclamation marks as iTunes tried to tell me that it couldn't locate the tracks.

Obviously, when you've spent literally weeks and weeks of your life over the last four years ripping CDs and acquiring MP3s, and when your iPod is an increasingly central part of your day-to-day life, this is probably the last thing that you want to see. The immediate fear is that the underlying tracks themselves have somehow gone and that you'll have to start all over again. Can you imagine that? Ripping all those CDs? And what about all that other stuff you've somehow got your hands on over the years? What about that? I held my breath and did a quick search in my time capsule drive. Hmm. The source music files all still seem to be there (and anyway, I had only done a full backup onto a completely separate hard drive last weekend, so it wouldn't have been a total catastrophe if they had all gone, as I would be literally one song and 79p poorer. "Handlebars" by Flobots, actually).

Knowing my source material was intact was some comfort, but there then followed hours and hours and hours of fiddling about, trying to work out why the hell iTunes was so confused in the first place and then trying to fix it. iTunes is really a fairly simple beast: you tell it where the music is kept, and it builds a music library based upon that location, but without touching the music files at all. As long as you keep it in the know where your library is stored, then everything should be okay. When I had originally moved my library off my laptop and onto the networked external, wirelessly accessible hard drive, I had been careful to delete all of the residual music on my laptop so that my library was only ever in one place. This was the first thing that I checked, and I was a little troubled to see that a big pile of my library, as well as still being sat on my external drive, appeared to have magically moved back onto the laptop. The tracks that iTunes could actually see were the ones residing in here. No wonder iTunes was confused.


I checked the library settings in iTunes. It had changed back, apparently of its own accord to point at the laptop, and at that point must have copied back a big chunk of the library. I changed the setting, kicked off the magic consolidation process in iTunes that is supposed to make sure that all music files are sat in your specified library location, and I waited as it processed. This took several hours, and I watched as 10,171 files slowly processed. When that consolidation finished, I deleted all of the music remaining on the laptop. My intention was clear: to have only one place that iTunes should look to find my music library... my external drive. Sadly, upon deletion, the songs in iTunes that didn't have exclamation marks against them suddenly now did. All my songs were in one place, and one place only, but iTunes was trying to tell me that it didn't know where any of them were.


All my music was still safe, but how could I sleep until I worked out what was wrong?

By 2am, and several consolidations later (and several more happy hours watching 10,171 files process over and over again), things were no better. I wondered if having the music library in a folder called "My iTunes Music1" was somehow making a difference, and copied the whole lot into "My iTunes Music" on the same drive instead, and then sat and watched as it consolidated the whole lot again. 10,171 files.

No improvement.

At some point on Saturday morning, I managed to do something that duplicated the tracks - at least within iTunes - and I now had the missing tracks, together with all the playcounts and things, and a new set of tracks entirely, all freshly added today and with no playcounts or anything. I still only had the one set of music on the hard drive, which was comforting to some extent, but now iTunes was beginning to really piss me off.

In the end, I took the iTunes library xml file from my laptop and moved it somewhere safe. I reopened iTunes, and because it now had no concept of my library, it was completely (and mercifully) blank. This was definitely an improvement. Through the file menu in iTunes, I then reimported the library xml file, and then left the computer for most of the rest of the day as it processed through all 10,171 files. Again.

When it had finished, there was a message on the screen saying that it hadn't been able to import some files because it couldn't find them.... but as I looked through the library, I could have wept for joy when I saw that there were only 10,171 files present and not a single damn exclamation mark.

I'd done it.

Of course, every playlist and playcount that referenced one of the files that iTunes hadn't been able to find was now gone. I therefore spent most of Sunday afternoon reconstructing the most useful playlists from my iPod and telling myself I didn't care about the playcounts. Finally though, it was the moment of truth: I synced my iPods. My 6gb nano took a couple of hours, so it was no surprise that my 60gb iPod with everything on it took a little longer. So I watched as all 10,171 files transferred slowly -- again -- over the course of the next 12 hours or so.

Well, I didn't sit and watch it all. I read "Snuff" by Chuck Palahniuk too.

All of it.

So curious to know what I did this weekend? Well, for massive chunks of it, I watched a computer processing 10,171 media files over and over and over and over again because a piece of software was a touch confused about where to find them, even though throughout the whole damn process all 10,171 of them had never moved from where they started the weekend in the first place: on my external hard drive.


Now I think of it, I actually started this process with 10,169 music files.

Where the hell did the other two come from?


Stupid computers.

I trust your weekends were more relaxing?

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Friday, October 10, 2008

I can keep rhythm with no metronome, no metronome....

Earworms of the Week

Is it just me, or has this week seemed like an especially long one? What with winter drawing in, a series of big announcements at work, a disappointing gig and a resurfacing of the WT's (or at least my awareness of them), all in all, it's been a bit rubbish. Still, the weekend is here, the smoked pancetta is melting into the vegetables in the oven, the thick, liquoricey Chilean Syrah is open and I've even managed to have a productive day working at home. Imagine that.

So what's been buzzing around my head this week? Well, thanks to an iPhone application that has enabled me to handily keep a track of them, we're going to know more or less exactly, as I've been tracking them the moment they first popped up. Technically I think the application is for "To Do" lists, but it's surely much better used to this end? Thanks to @Snowgoon for the recommendation.

Anyway. The list.

> "God Gave Rock and Roll To You" - Kiss

Purely and simply because I was thinking about Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey the other day, and when I think of that film, this song is never far behind. Kiss are ludicrous at the best of times, but you've got to love the talky bit at the end of this song, haven't you?

"I know life sometimes can get tough!
And I know life sometimes can be a drag!
But people, we have been given a gift,
We have been given a road
And that road's name is... rock and roll!"

Brilliant. And he means it too.

> "Livin' The Vida Loca" - Ricky Martin

Ricky Martin? Ricky Martin is here?

> "Strawberry Swing" - Coldplay

This seems to be used as an example of a Coldplay song that doesn't sound like Coldplay. Well, I suppose so, a bit, but there's really no mistaking them, is there? I like Coldplay, as you know, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing them again next month. I listened to "Viva la Vida" the other day, actually, and I like it. Perhaps not as much as I've liked some of their stuff in the past, but perhaps I've grown up a little bit. It's good though. I think "Viva La Vida" (the song) is as good as anything they've done in the past.

> "Graffiti" - Maximo Park

Sparked, obviously, by that great piece of graffiti I saw the other day. You've got to love a song with a regional accent though, eh?

> "Wichita Lineman" - Glen Campbell

I'm not sure where this came from, although I see that Glen Campbell has a new album coming out, is playing Nottingham later in the year and is on Later.... tonight, so perhaps it's not surprising that this crept into my subconscious. It's brilliant, of course. Written by Jimmy Webb (Campbell isn't a songwriter, and I believe his new album is all covers too, perhaps not quite in the Johnny Cash mould, but featuring a cover of "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" by Green Day). It beautifully describes longing for an absent love, I think.

"And I need you more than want you.
And I want you for all time"

Brilliant song.

> "Touch Too Much" - AC/DC

I've been listening to a lot of AC/DC this week. Reading some of the coverage of their forthcoming album encouraged me to check out some of their old, Bon Scott-era stuff, and a quick visit to Fopp saw me pick up "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap", "Powerage" and "Highway to Hell" at bargain prices... an especially good result as it turns out they won't allow any of their stuff to be downloaded (legally) as they consider themselves an album band and don't want people picking off the singles. What - EVAH. Anyway, I profess myself to be very satisfied, and I've been listening to the albums at work. You can't beat a bit of primeval rock to beat away the office blues, eh? Their lyrics aren't exactly the most sophisticated, but that sparse guitar chopping out those riffs is just iconic. Did you know that "Back in Black" is the second best selling album of all time, after "Thriller", having sold 42m copies? Did you know that AC/DC have sold more than 200m albums worldwide? That's more than U2.... it seems that a little primeval rock and the same song repeated in almost endless variations can get you quite a long way....

> "She Wants to Move" - N.E.R.D.

This popped up on the radio when I was in the shower the other day. It's absurdly catchy, isn't it? I fear it may be impossible to listen to this without shaking your tush... and that's no doubt planted an uncomfortable image of me getting out of the shower, for which I can only apologise....

> "Handlebars" - Flobots

The first time I heard this song, I really didn't think very much of it. It seemed pleasing enough, but, on first listen, appeared to be nonsense. When I heard it again this week, it sank into my head enough for me to look it up on google to see who it was by, and then from there on to YouTube to have another listen and a look at the video. Oh goodness. This song is actually quite hard hitting, isn't it?

To quote wikipedia:

"[the song] is about the idea that we have so much incredible potential as human beings to be destructive or to be creative," Flobots' MC Jonny 5 (a.k.a. Jamie Laurie) told MTV. "And it's tragic to me that the appetite for military innovation is endless, but when it comes to taking on a project like ending world hunger, it's seen as outlandish. It's not treated with the same seriousness."

The video is great too, featuring an animation of two friends on their bikes who reach a fork in the road, with a signpost pointing at a corporate type symbol one way, and a dove the other way. The friends part, and the video tells a sad story that ends in violence and death.

Interesting song.

Bloody catchy too.


and that's it.

Have a good weekend y'all, and STAY CLASSY.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

shot me down I cannot fly...

Seasick Steve @ Nottingham Rock City, 9th October 2008

Seasick Steve used to be a hobo. Not a bum, a hobo: an itinerant hopping on and off freight trains looking for work across the USA. Surely if you know one thing about Seasick Steve, this is the thing that you know. It's a compelling back story, for sure, and it's hard not to be entranced by the sheer delight mixed with disbelief that this crusty sixty-something year old displays as he becomes ever more successful. He played the Royal Albert Hall last week, for heaven's sake, and he seems to be a fixture on Later...With Jools Holland, the place he got his first real TV exposure (as recently as 2006). I'm not sure how much of his backstory is mythology, mind, as he has been working in the music business as a performer and a producer since the 1960s, but such is his charm that it's easy to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Rock City is absolutely packed for him tonight. I arrive with Mike a few minutes before he takes to the stage (at around half eight, with the curfew scheduled for 10.... the students are back, and we'd hate to make them wait around for their disco) and we really have to squeeze our way through the hordes to get to a vantage point near the mixing desk. Steve arrives to a rapturous welcome, lumberjack shirt and battered John Deere hat firmly in place. In fact, I've rarely seen an act at Rock City be given so much love before they've even played a note. He's clutching his Three String Trance Wonder, a beaten up guitar with three strings, and he's accompanied by a Garth-from-Wayne's-World-alike drummer, and a young guy on claps and other assorted percussion who he later introduces to us as his son. The three of them launch into Seasick Steve's stock in trade: the blues. It's not fussy, and it's not clever, but there is something primeval about this kind of music - or there should be if it's played right - and the crowd is thrilled. Unlike Heavy Trash the other day, where Jon Spencer is very much lost in his act, Seasick Steve seems to ooze authenticity. He can't write a song about nothing, he tells us, all of this stuff has happened to him. He's brilliant. He's heckled in a good-natured way by the crowd, and his response is to reach down by his side and pick up a baseball bat that he pats into his palm a couple of times before laughing and saying "It's all good. It's all good", putting the bat down and taking slugs from a bottle of Jack Daniels. The crowd laps it up.

.... but after a while, the limitations of the genre - especially when played on a three-stringed guitar or on a Diddly Bow - really start to kick in. I like Seasick Steve, but I struggle to listen to one of his albums in one sitting, and the live show seems to be similar. Before long, the thrill is starting to pall. I hold the crowd at least partly to blame for this, mind: after their huge welcome, it pretty quickly becomes clear that they like the idea of Seasick Steve far more than they like the actuality of Seasick Steve. Before we're even three songs in, the chattering has started, and my attention is starting to wander as I allow it to distract me. There's the guy in the vest standing next to me, recording the whole show on his phone as he stands chatting to his mate. Does he not realise that his chatter is a whole lot closer to the microphone on his phone than Seasick Steve's music is? What's he going to do with a crappy mobile recording of a gig anyway? What about the girls just in front of us? All dolled up for the evening and revelling in the attention they are being paid by the beered up lads standing around them. One of them even answers her phone when it rings. It's all a bit Dom Joly. "Hello! YES, I'M AT A GIG! YES! I KNOW!"

Steve does his best, he realises that sitting down onstage, as he does, is a bit limiting and means that large swathes of the crowd won't be able to see him, so he tries to move around a bit, even if it means moving away from his stomp box, the Mississippi Drum Machine. I think he also senses the attention span of the crowd wandering, and he chops several quiet songs from his setlist so that he can play more stompers. It doesn't stop the chatter though, and although I think he's playing reasonably well, I find myself becoming annoyed by the people around me - never a good sign - and then I start to feel tired, hot and a bit headachey. The music is okay and is played pretty well, but after while I realise that although some of his songs are about hopping on trains to pick 'chokes in Cali, others are about being bitten by annoying bugs in the long grass or about his dead dog... hmm. Perhaps the well of inspiration is only so deep.

In the end, I let the crowd get the better of me and Mike and I retreated to the Rescue Rooms bar before the start of the encore. We arrived just in time to see an unpleasant looking scuffle and a lot of shouting. That pretty much summed up the evening.

I really want to like Seasick Steve, and I really do like some of his music... but it's clear that 90 minutes is about 60 minutes too long for me, and about 85 minutes too long for a large slice of his audience. I don't know what his gig at the Albert Hall was like, but I suspect that I'd enjoy him more in a smaller venue with a more attentive audience, and I fear he may be playing them again soon when the media finally gets bored of him and looks for another novelty to patronise.

Disappointing.... and largely ruined by a terribly disrespectful audience. I hope they enjoyed their disco.

Verdict: 5.5 / 10