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

Saturday, May 30, 2009

after the flood all the colours came out....

Although I completely missed it, it was World MS Day on Wednesday last week.

Here's what they wanted to achieve:

"The first World MS Day will unite individuals, groups and organisations in the global MS movement. It will provide them with an opportunity to participate in events and activities that will raise awareness of MS as a global issue and raise funds to support the work of the movement including MS research".

Appropriately enough, given that it was the day when he scored a wonderful goal in the Champions League Final, Lionel Messi had this to say:

"Whenever I go out to the field, whenever I kick the ball and whenever I run to catch it, every step and every effort I make will be a tribute to the people who live with a much more difficult challenge, to fight every day against MS".

They've made a fantastic, thoughtful video too:

Of course, this is all very close to home for me, and that video actually brought a tear to my eye. I injected myself with my first dose of Avonex on Tuesday, and it's really brought home for me how much my life has changed and how quickly. I'm relatively unaffected at the moment, but this is a progressive condition, and the best that I can hope for is that things don't get any worse. Unless medical science turfs something up, I'm never going to get any better.

So, given the lack of other alternatives, perhaps we'd best get on with giving medical science a helping hand, eh? With that in mind, C. and I are going to be running the Robin Hood Half Marathon in Nottingham in September to raise money for the MS Society - it's not just for me, of course, but it's for everyone who is - and for everyone who will be - affected by this unpleasant condition. It's not just about the money, either - it's about awareness. MS is one of those conditions that people have heard of and probably have preconceptions about. But MS is a disease that has a thousand faces, and no one person will experience it in the same way as any other. The only way to challenge those preconceptions is by educating people about the disease; by telling them what it is and how it affects me. I can only speak for myself, of course, and of m own experience, but I have MS, and I've decided that it's not going to be a secret. I'm perhaps not going to wear a badge advertising the fact, but neither am I going to keep this as my dirty little secret. My syringes, sharps box and things were all delivered to work last week, and when anyone asked me what was in the big box, I just told them. When I felt a bit ropey on the morning after my injection and people asked why, I told them. Why lie? I'm not challenging anyone's preconceptions if I keep this all to myself. I refuse to be ashamed, and I'm not going to pretend that I feel rough because I had a good night out in the pub just because it's easier for everyone - including me - than the truth.

Our natty orange running vests have arrived from the MS Society now and training is well under way. As soon as we get a Just Giving page up and running, I'm going to be ceaselessly touting for sponsorship from now until the race is run. Just so you know, like.


Friday, May 29, 2009

sometimes I envy them....

Earworms of the Week

> "We Made You" - Eminem

I wouldn't say that I was an Eminem fan, exactly.... I own precisely three of his tracks (can you guess which three?), but it's not hard to see the talent, is it? Like a lot of his stuff, the first few plays of this left me pretty cold, but then it started to grow on me as I started to pick out some of the lyrics and to see both how verbally dexterous he is and how funny. Amy Winehouse's Blake may achieve nothing else in his life, but he can at least now say that he has been namechecked by Eminem. "Never has there been such finesse and nostalgia". Indeed.

> "New in Town" - Little Boots

Hmmm. I can't say that I'm entirely convinced by Britain's hottest new talent, or whatever it is that New Boots is supposed to be. Still, there's no denying that this is in my head, so it must be good at least for that, eh?

> "Dakota" - Stereophonics

A band that once promised so much and settled for middle-of-the-road trad rock mediocrity. This is probably their most frustrating song of all, given that it shone like a diamond in the mud of their other work of the time, showing a clear sign of what they might have been. It's still a great song though, and it sounds especially good when that thousand mile, soaring guitar riff is played when the sun is out.

> "Biology" - Girls Aloud

As an entirely manufactured band who sing nothing but other people's songs, I really want to hate them. You just can't though, can you? In fact, I'll be seeing them live before the year is out.

> "Walking on Broken Glass" / "There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)" - Annie Lennox

C. doesn't listen to all that much contemporary music. She's more of a Radio 4 or classical music kind of a girl. She suffers much of what I listen to, very occasionally expressing a liking to a band like the Kings of Leon or the Fleet Foxes. Eurythmics and Annie Lennox are one act that she could happily listen to all day long. I observed her thrilling to Annie Lennox on "Later...." the other day (coincidentally on the same show that Little Boots appeared), and made a mental note to pick her up that Annie Lennox solo compilation that's come out (she already has the Eurythmics equivalent). I have it to her for her birthday, and gratifyingly she's been listening to nothing else since. French radio being what it is, naturally we heard a bit of Eurythmics as we hopped around the channels). A band I would be more than happy to have on the iTunes library that we share.

> "Stonehenge" - Spinal Tap

The lineup for the Glastonbury Festival was announced this week, and as we get nearer and nearer to June, and the sun is shining, I'm starting to get more and more excited. My tickets even arrived this morning. There are plenty of bands that I'm keen to see (although it looks as though there's going to be no Billy Bragg, which will be very odd, to say the least). One huge highlight looks as though it's going to be the double-header on the Pyramid of The Eagles of Death Metal and Spinal Tap. Can you imagine a more perfect place to hear "Stonehenge" turned up to 11 than at the Glastonbury Festival?

Nope, me neither.

> "Say, Say, Say" - Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson
> "All Night Long" - Lionel Ritchie
> "I Can't Dance" / "Another Day in Paradise" / "In The Air Tonight" - Phil Collins

Whilst driving around in the Loire Valley last weekend, taking in the magnificent sites at Meung-sur-Loire, Amboise and Chenonceau, I spent a fair bit of time in the car flicking around the FM dial and getting to grips with French radio: Forum, RFM, SkyRock and the like. Of course, these stations are obliged by law to play a certain percentage of French songs, so I got to hear exactly how parlous a state French pop music is in (although I did like that song about how the world would be an entirely better place if it was run by women... except for Mrs. Thatcher). In between times though, the playlist seems to consist entirely of music from the 1980s and early 90s, with a particular obsession with Phil Collins, either in solo or as part of Genesis. Still, it's not an entirely bad thing - once in a while - to indulge in a bit of Lionel Ritchie, eh? And when was the last time you heard that McCartney/Jackson duet played on national radio? Superb.

> "Virginia State Epileptic Colony" / "Marlon J.D." - Manic Street Preachers

The new Manic Street Preachers album is epic. The band have returned to a folder of lyrics left behind by Richie James Edwards shortly before he disappeared. After the success of their last album, the band finally felt able to return to them and see if they could do them justice. Oh my, have they succeeded. My favourite Manics album by a country mile is the Richie-dominated "Holy Bible", so perhaps it's no surprise that I would like this, but it's an absolute delight to hear the Manics playing songs like the ones they used to play back in the day. They're older and wiser now, of course, but Richie's lyrics are preserved as though in aspic: they're pithy, dense and impenetrable, of course, but as always, James Dean Bradfield pulls of the not inconsiderable task of bringing them to life and putting them to music ("Oh Christ, Richie. Not Chomsky again?"). The whole album is superb, but these two songs are the obvious standouts for me. I don't think any other band in the world would be capable of an album like this, and we're bloody lucky to still have them.


So, that's your lot. The weather forecast is set fair around these parts, so obviously I'm planning to go to the cinema. The new Sam Raimi horror film, I think. That should bring me out in a cold sweat, eh?

Have a good weekend y'all, and stay classy.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

like a cat in a bag....

It's been a bit gloomy around here recently, so how about we change the subject, eh?

Look! It's a cat in a bag!

Can't you just feel your blood pressure coming down already?

She quite often wakes me up first thing in the morning by jumping on the bed with a little chirrup, poking her nose in my face and wheezing her breathy little purr over me. It's pretty much the best possible way to start your day. No problem feels too big when your cat wants a cuddle.

I'd heartily recommend it.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

melt in a memory....

Shuffleathon 2008/9 Update

I'm wondering if perhaps shuffleathon reviews are a little like buses: you wait for ages for one to turn up, and then all of a sudden two arrive at once. There's not been this much shuffle action around here since who knows when. First of all Joe the Troll has come up trumps with his review of Beth's CD. Not only has he done the honours with the disc itself, but he's written a long, thoughtful introduction on the way that technology has affected the way he listens to music. Well worth waiting for, I reckon. The disc itself seems to have been reasonably succesful, which was nice.

That was quite a lot of excitement for one week, so I'm sure you can imagine my delight when, the very next day, I received another review. Not just any review, either.... this was asta's review of the disc that I sent her. Without further ado, here's her thoughts on the matter.


Apologies are Not Enough

Any illusions I might have harboured that my days as a procrastinator were over were ground to dust with this year's Shuffleathon CD. I handled the first part of the project with ease. I compiled and sent out my own mix CD swiftly and was rewarded with a glowing reception review by Threelight in less time than it takes to make a Christmas cake.

Then I fell into the sticky, stultifying morass that is known as Getting Around To It. SwissToni 's package arrived in plenty of time for me to listen, revel in, ponder, assess, critique and re-appreciate his efforts, long before tinsel was hung on the tree. And I should mention that I was doubly blessed because ST included a bonus CD of his 2007 Christmas Mix. But I had Other Commitments to attend to. Then there was Christmas preparations Christmas, after-Christmas and a burgeoning list of Work Panics and Assorted Emergencies. These were followed by the Escape to the Caribbean, the Shackling to the Work Studio,and the Case of the Mysterious Frozen Shoulder. All of this operated in the shadow of the overwhelming powerful Maybe Later.
To my complete and utter shame it has taken me close to six months to complete this project. This sort of time frame would only be acceptable if I were a Royal Commissioner ( inside Canadian joke-sorry).

So mea maxima culpa, ST.

At long last, here's a review--

> White Riot- The Clash

You can't talk about punk without The Clash. I first heard this song and its album in the living room of a seedy university apartment in Ottawa in 1979 when P, an angry and talented architecture student, forced me to listen to it. It assaulted my ears and mind. I'd like to say I loved it at first listen. I didn't. I was much more timid and judgmental then. I wanted to like it. I knew it was important. But I couldn't feign enjoyment. For a girl brought up on the likes of Bach and Bacharach and a daily dosing of Top 40, how could two chords played at breakneck speed be considered music. But that I can recall exactly when and where I first heard this tells you all you need to know about it's influence. It's brilliant. I don't think The Clash were ever better than they were in this first raw recording. I sneer at the pretenders and imitators who came after who heard the fuzz, distortions and stripped down notes and registered nothing else-the bands with attitudinal cores of vanity and narcissism. We call them posers.

> Let's Talk About it- White Denim

What do we have here? This is a song that's designed to be played loud. It's percussive fun with bits and bobs of jangly garage silliness. Distortion? check. Thrashy guitar? check. Crazy percussion? double check. Throw in feedback and a chaotic jumble of electronica and we have all the making of a three minute party. I have my doubts about the future of this particular band, but I have no gripe with this song.

> Gloria- Patti Smith

Confession time. This is where I got bogged down and not because I dislike either the artist or the song, no, quite the opposite. I think Patti Smith ranks up there with the best of the best when it comes to the history of punk music. What could I possibly add that hasn't already been written? She is referred to as a legend and an icon. She is the ultimate punk rocker although, at the time, there was a tendency to give her short shrift- mostly because she was female and not a particularly pretty one at that. She didn't fit the cliché of what was salable in rock. She was and is an acquired taste. Gloria is one of her signature songs. I can't imagine anyone who claims to like rock music who hasn't heard this at some point. This song is what a certain part of the 70s were like. It was nothing like my 1975, which was staid, preppy and stifling. Horses, where this track is found, was a shocking, crumbling kick to all my received notions of what music was. I immediately recognised that this was not just “angry noise” but it took me a long time to develop an honest appreciation. Like I said; she's an acquired taste.

A bit of trivia; word is that Patti is about to become a mother-in-law to White Stripes drummer Meg White. I expect the music at the wedding to be kick-ass.

> Handlebars - Flobots

Ah yes, political hip-hop; an almost sure-fire recipe for simplistic overstatement and aural irritation. I was aware of their album Fight With Tools, but I hadn't heard anything from it. I really like this song. A Lot. I like the fact that there are strings and horns in a rock groove with hip hop beats and MCs who know how to work words. I'm still not going to go out and buy the album, but I always listen to this song when it's turn comes up on the CD player.

> White Winter Hymnal-Fleet Foxes

This group made it to more than a few of the Top 10 albums of 2008. It made it to mine, because of this song. It sounds like a round.( I say sounds like, because they don't actually sing it in the round, although I suspect they could.) The melody sounds like it could have been written last week or as far back as the 16th century. I don't think it's just a coincidence that the album cover is a Bruegel. The song is musical sketch of children on a winter's day playing in the snow- but there's blood and menace all around: "I was following the pack/ All swallowed in their coats/ With scarves of red tied 'round their throats/ To keep their little heads from falling in the snow/”. Yikes. But then a description of actual blood on the snow is compared to strawberries. It's all so disconcerting. But then, nature isn't Bambi y'know. Brilliant stuff. And Catchy. This melody is a mighty powerful earworm.

> Night Terror- Laura Marling

This one gave me some problems. The Shuffleathon CDs arrive in the bleakest darkest time of the year- winter solstice. It's taken me many years to figure it out, but I am highly susceptible to the weather. I'm not just talk SAD, I'm talking year round reaction to current conditions. Living in the northern hemisphere means winter solstice is brutal for me. Laura Marling may be the critic's choice for alt-folk princess of the year past, but I couldn't listen to this song. I mean I could listen to it long enough to appreciate the haunting lingering melody and the mystical voice, but as soon as the lyrics registered. Nope. Sorry can't do it. I can't handle that much darkness and bleakness when I'm in the middle of darkness and bleakness. I was never much of one for a wallow.

It's Spring now. Fantastic song. She still sounds like Valerie Gore to me, but that's not a bad thing. What a difference a few months make. And another persistent earworm

> Me and Julio Down By The School Yard- Paul Simon

And now, for a complete change of pace and mood.

I love this song. Always have. I don't know what “mama pajama” saw. I don't know who the 'radical priest 'on the cover of Newsweek is. I don't care. It's the bounce, the sunshine, the sheer fun in the melody and lyric that makes this a keeper. Paul Simon can be dweebish, obsessive and a bit of twit in interviews when he's pontificating about his music, and his later music drags, despite or perhaps because of, all his attention to detail, but he's great when he's playing the breezy.

> Levi Stubbs' Tears- Billy Bragg

I'm old enough to remember the Four Tops, and the group owes much of its popularity to force of Levi Stubbs' baritone. I don't know if ST included this song because Stubbs died in October of 2008 or simply because it's a great song. The character sketch is an unusual and tricky song form-three minutes isn't long to set the mood,and tell the story without turning to the well-trod paths of cliché and sentimentality. I think Billy Bragg is has a deft touch, especially in this tale of woe. The street accent and brilliantly ragged guitar only add to the picture of a hopeless life where only the Four Tops can hold anything in place. It's so well done that I can almost forgive him for the lyric “One dark night he came home from the sea/And put a hole in her body where no hole should be.” Almost.

> Fugitive Motel- Elbow

Elbow was my favourite band for 2008. If my copy of Seldom Seen Kid was on vinyl, I'd have worn it out by now, so it's a delight to hear an Elbow song here. I don't know if the band was aware of the double meaning in the title. I suspect so. It adds to the beauty of the lyrics about yearning for someone missing. I could listen to this one over and over. In fact I do.

> Casmir Pulaski Day- Sufjan Stevens

Good thing I wasn't looking for fluffy kittens and rainbows on this CD because here comes another song best left until Spring. I think Sufjan Stevens is a gifted musician and I bet he'd make a damn fine short story writer. I'm wary of concept albums but Illinois is just one of those musical oddities that works for me. I did have to rely on Google to find out what, if anything was, Casmir Pulaski Day. I'm not convinced the guy was sufficiently impressive to get a day, but it has little to do with the song which is, have I used the word bleak yet? Yes I have. Okay. DEPRESSING. The guy's lover is dying of cancer!

Okay, spring now. Still achingly sad, but at least I can listen to it. Oh yes, and I thought I'd mention that in all the articles I've read about Stevens' religiousness, little mention is made of his refusal to wrap it all in cotton-candy angel clouds. Stevens uses religious imagery as a literary tool in much the same way Northrup Fry described in The Great Code. I suspect his faith lives without gloss. Remember the lyric “Tuesday night, at the bible study, we lift our hands and pray over you body/ But nothing ever happens” Move along. No fluffy kittens here.

> Out Come the Wolves- Jacob Golden

We're all doomed. Let me be earnest, pretentious and preachy while I castigate you about it because I can see it and you obviously need to be told.

Sorry, but that's what I hear with Jacob. He may be lovely away from a microphone, but this one's just too much for me. Not even Spring makes bearable.

> I Like Birds- Eels

Now that's how I like my misanthropy- served with snark and humour. If anyone's got a right to be dark,dismal and emotionally disturbed, its Mark Oliver Everett. The man seems to have had nothing but tragedy in his life. How many of us have a mother and sister commit suicide? In quick succession, no less? Right. I'd be opting for birds too.

> Next- The Sensational Alex Harvey Band

With very few exceptions, I despise novelty songs and I don't care that this was written by Jacques Brel; with this arrangement, it's a novelty song. Novelty bands are worse. They are like parlour tricks. Even at their most successful, they only work once. I have played this at least two dozen times. It's a tango. No it's glitter rock. No it's a tango. I can not tell you how it ends but I bet you know what word I want to write.now.....

> I Write Songs not Tragedies- Panic! At the Disco

The band dropped the ! In 2008, but I don't believe it will make much difference. This is a one-album wonder band. Manic more than panic. Hyper and frenetic with lyrics that come gushing out like glitter bombs on New Year's Eve. The New York Times described them as “circusized at birth”. They launched during the heights of emo, but anyone could tell that label wouldn't stick. They are emo in the way that The Real Housewives of Orange County are real. It's for the cameras, hon.
I don't care. I already had this song on my iPod. The very qualities they get slammed for are the ones that make this song worthwhile. It's theatrical, shamelessly poppy and slickly shallow. Yum.

> If You Go Away-Dusty Springfield

I like Jacques Brel. Really. And I adore Dusty Springfield. But. Ne Me Quitte Pas has to has to be one of the most frequently and badly recorded songs of the past century. My introduction to the song was the cover by Terry Jacks; ruined it for me forever. It's a good song. I don't think it's as great as all those recordings would suggest. I think it gets recorded because it goes right for the emotional jugular. It's a song a singer can sink his or her teeth into with passion. Most drain it of any honest feeling and turn it into a maudlin mess. Not Dusty. I don't think it was possible for her to sing without honesty, even when delivering what used to be called a belter, and if she was faking it, kudos to her artistry. All in all, I'd rather listen to her sing something else. Still. She rocks this version. And if you don't believe me, consider what Nina Simone does to this song. I own a ton of Nina Simone recordings but she just massacres this song. Her French is worse than mine.

> Slow Show- The National

Another band I love. Boxer was one of my favourite albums of 2007. Most songs by The National are pretty damned bleak. Matt Berninger’s voice alone make it almost a certainty that angst with a touch of gloomy will be the prevailing mood of anything they record. In the case of this song, the whiff of melancholy adds to depth of this love song. I think “For twenty-nine years, before I saw you, you know, I dreamed about you” is the most romantic lyric I've heard in quite some time. Unlikely, but romantic.

> Robots- Flight of the Conchords

And change!

Remember what I said about novelty songs and novelty bands? None of this applies if you have a television show. Oh, look at that. You do. Robots is no Business Time or the Most Beautiful Girl in the Room, but it's worth a giggle. Well done, boys.

> Africa-Toto

Yes. What an excellent way to end a CD. It's Toto. Shut up.This song is great. Lyrics schmerics. Most people can't agree on whether its “ pass the rains” or bless the rains” and really, either way the lyrics are ridiculous. It's still a great song. It's not great enough to let the likes of Karl Wolf and Culture mess with it, but yeah. Toto! Africa!

So out of 18 songs I can tell you there's only one that I scramble to skip when I'm playing this in the car, and this CD is still in the heavy rotation stack. This is a CD filled with WIN. Thank you ST. It's more than I deserved for such appalling tardiness.

While it in no way makes up for the gross delay, I thought I'd provide a link to something that's been making me smile lately. It's retro, it's now, it's timeless. It's Busby Berkley meets Socialist Realist Art filtered and refracted by Dali mirrors. It's Adriano Celentano.



Thanks asta. I suppose I've played it pretty safe, really, but that's still a pretty high hit rate, if you ask me. I have no idea why, but all of the compilations that I make seem to turn out depressing. Perhaps it's a direct consequence of the amount of miserable music I listen to? Hmm. Perhaps...... Although, I have to say, if you think this one is miserable, then you should have seen my first draft, which included some Scott Walker around about the Sufjan and Dusty tracks, and when I played it back, it was so unbearable lachrymose that I just had to laugh. Anyway. Thanks so much for sticking with it and coming back with such a fulsome review. I can't believe I sent it out to you with a Christmas CD! Well, a review well worth the wait. In fact, counting Joe's effort above, that's two reviews well worth the wait.

Just two to go now.....

Mandy (reviewing Lisa's CD)
Mike (reviewing Erika's CD)

Both are in hand.

Have a little patience. We'll get to the end of this thing yet.

As always, any updates on progress should be sent to the email address in my profile. General brickbats can be posted in the comments below.

ShufflerPosted out
1. Me
2. Mandyyes
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
24. Paul
25. Alan
26. Astronaut
27. Threelight
28. The Great Grape Ape
29. Paul W
30. Ben

Shuffleathon is based upon an original concept by the inspirational YokoSpungeon.... thanks Yoko.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

shoot it up....

Things I have learned today:

-> That no matter how many times you practice injecting into a sponge, there's still something distinctly unsettling about holding a syringe with a 5cm long needle over your own thigh (and that even the thought of a 5cm long needle freaks lots of people out...)

-> That my wife stabs the needle into the practice sponge with just a touch too much gusto for comfort.

-> That when offered a count of three before plunging it into my leg, it's best to just bite the bullet and to go for it before the count reaches "two".

-> That if you give yourself enough of a run-up, and if you take care to relax your thigh muscle, the needle actually goes in silently and painlessly, and almost before you know where you are, you're done.

-> That a jab given like this takes about 4-5 hours to take effect. T

-> That this is also how long it takes for the side-effects to kick in, and is why you would normally administer the injection last thing at night, before you go to bed, rather than first thing in the morning, before you go to work.

-> That a 5 hour wait, not knowing how hard (or otherwise) you are going to be hit by side-effects, is a killer.

-> That, so far, a heady cocktail of ibuprofen and paracetamol seems to have been enough to limit the side-effects to a dull, fuzzy, throbbing head. Manageable enough, anyway, that I'm still in the office at 7pm and not in bed with a wet towel over my head.

-> Not yet, anyway.

An interesting day. I feel like I've acquired a new skill, albeit one that I never really expected to pick up, and one that I wish I didn't need..... but it's all gone okay so far, and that's as much as I could ask for, really.

It's only this first jab that needs to be supervised, so from next week, I'll be doing it from home and it will really be business as usual. I'll have to have regular bloodtests to make sure everything is okay (especially my liver function, apparently), and I'll follow up every so often with the MS Nurses and with the neurologists, but this is now officially just a once-weekly occurence in my normal, every day existence. I'll never really know if this is doing me any good as the drug is only licensed to (maybe) slow down the progression of the disease. The very best I can hope for is that I don't get any worse than I am now, and although that could be a slightly depressing thought if I chose to dwell on it, I think that it's still a whole lot better than doing nothing.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

king for a thursday afternoon....

Maximo Park @ Rock City, 20th May 2009

I feel a strange kind of kinship with Maximo Park. This feeling has absolutely nothing to do with their music, although their spiky, wordy indie is right up my musical street, and has everything to do with the fact that I feel that we are connected. This is no abstract connection: this is a very real connection. Ready? Guitarist Duncan Lloyd is from Derby and was best man at a colleague of mine's brother's wedding. Yeah. We're pretty much family. This colleague actually recommended that I go and see the band as soon as she heard I was going to the Glastonbury Festival in 2005. I hadn't heard of the band, but I took her recommendation seriously enough that I felt mildly guilty that the floods meant that the trip down to the John Peel stage would have been unfeasibly difficult and I didn't bother. I bought the band's debut album immediately upon my return and then kicked myself that I hadn't seen them when I had the chance. In the end, I had to wait until April 2007 before I saw them perform live. They were pretty good, but not fantastic, although "Our Earthly Pleasures" went on to be my favourite album of that year.

The band released their third album, "Quicken the Heart", a couple of weeks ago but, to be honest, I found it to be distinctly underwhelming. Perhaps it was time for the band to try to move their sound on, but the first couple of listens revealed a slightly murky sounding effort with the guitars well down the mix and the keyboards well up. Never mind. I wasn't giving up on them easily, and I was really hoping that the songs would somehow spring into life and make perfect sense once I heard them live.

For once, I actually turned up at the venue early.... not as early as the long line of kids I'd seen when I walked past on the way to grab some dinner, queuing up outside Rock City waiting for doors, but early for me and in plenty of time to watch the support. I'd heard good things about Bombay Bicycle Club and decided to give them a whirl. Well, what can I say? They're obscenely young, they sound a little bit like generic early 90s indie in general and like Hefner in particular, and their guitarist looks like Ron Weasley. Well, one of the Weasley clan, anyway. They were okay, I suppose, but I didn't hear anything special.

The old lags started to fill the place up before the main act took to the stage, but the crowd was still a pretty healthy mix of young and old, girls and boys. I was actually really looking forward to this one.


This was a real curate's egg of a gig. The first half of the set was loaded with some absolute classics: the band burst onto stage to "Graffiti" and then proceeded to mix up songs from their first two albums with tracks from the new album. It worked pretty well, and songs like "Wraithlike" and "Cloud of Mystery" sounded far better live than they do on record, with much more guitar, and with the increasingly suspiciously be-hatted Paul Smith throwing himself around the stage like a lunatic, gurning at the crowd. He's something of a strange frontman, I think: he writes some often quite thoughtful lyrics, but he's also something of a dynamo onstage. I'm sure he's not everyone's cup of tea, and perhaps some of his posturing can be a bit tiresome, but whilst the rest of the band are pretty static, he adds a lot of energy to the proceedings, and his enthusiasm tends to transmit out into the crowd. They have some brilliant songs too: "Books From Boxes", "Our Velocity", "Going Missing", "The Night I Lost My Head" and - of course - "Apply Some Pressure". The new songs initially fitted in quite well, but the quality and pace of the set sagged quite badly towards the end. Current single, "The Kids Are Sick Again", is okay, I suppose, but some of the new stuff is just not up to standard. Take "Let's Get Clinical": For a lyricist as talented and articulate as Paul Smith, this is just lazy:

"I'd like to map your body out
Inch by inch
North to south
And I'm free for circumnavigation"

Is that the best he could come up with? It's a song that tries to be sassy and sexy, but is simply a bass-heavy plod with uninspiring lyrics. And what about this from "The Penultimate Clinch":

"But it's like dismantling
A decommissioned spacecraft.
Some parts you can't destroy."


I realise that they're trying to do something a little bit different, and to broaden out their musical palate (let's be honest, great song though it is, "Our Velocity" is essentially a retread of "Apply Some Pressure", isn't it?), but it's disappointing all the same.

On the whole, it's a decent gig. The high points are pretty high, and they're an interesting band that I really like. It's just a real shame that tonight's set emphasises some of the weaker new material, especially when played in close proximity to real belters like "Our Velocity" and "Apply Some Pressure". Still, they are rapturously received by the crowd, and the band seem to be riding the crest of a wave at the moment, held aloft by some prominent TV slots, radio airplay and some high-profile gigs (they're opening Glastonbury on the Thursday night). Good luck to them, it's always nice to see dear personal friends of mine (ahem) finding some success.

Highlight of the night? Undoubtedly the deliriously happy fan in the red t-shirt on the balcony, obvliviously basking in a spotlight from the stagelights and throwing himself unselfconsciously into a routine that involved booming out the lyrics, over-emoting with his hands and the occasional spot of air-drumming. At one point, I swear that most of the crowd were looking at him rather than at the band. He was brilliant and, I suspect, quite drunk.

So. Overall, a mixed night. I thought the band sounded pretty good, and that most of the old material and a decent slice of the new songs are really good. It's just a shame that some of the newer stuff is noticeably weaker, and that this rather takes the wind out of the band's sails. I'll give them another chance at Glastonbury I think, and I'll see whether another few weeks of living with the new album give it a chance to take root.

Verdict: 7 / 10.

Mike's review of this gig can be found here. (Kaiser Chiefs? They're nothing like the Kaiser Chiefs, man!)


I'm away for a few days now, making a fuss of C. over her birthday, but be sure to enjoy your long weekend. Mine will most likely be soundtracked by the superb new Manic Street Preachers album, and hopefully there will be a bit of sun down by the Loire and some wine up from the cellar....


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

the needle and the damage done....

My drugs were delivered to the office a little after lunch this afternoon. I'd missed the call to my mobile, so received a call from one of the nice ladies on reception and quickly hurried round to pick up my stash.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but what I got was a pretty large blue box and a bright yellow sharps bin. The lady on reception - who I've known for years - was really curious and asked what it was. When I told her it was drugs and that I was going to have to start injecting myself, she asked what for. So I told her. She expressed sympathy, and then asked if I was going to be taking deliveries like this daily or weekly. Monthly, I said. Quick as a flash, she offered to make sure it all got received all right every month and that if I wasn't around to pick it up, she'd make sure it was locked up in reception rather than disappear into the mail system. I was quite touched, actually. It turns out that this lady was off work a few years ago with a brain hemorrhage, has some titanium bands inside her skull, and was extremely empathetic to my needs. She asked about who my neurologist was and how often I saw them, and then we had the following conversation:

"Of course, you know what's really good... as well as that stuff?" She nodded at my big blue box.
I raised an eyebrow quizzically, knowing where this was going but wondering if she was really going to say it in the reception of the Head Office of a big blue chip company.
There we go, she said it. Well, it's been proven to work, right? Perhaps not in the reception of the business though, right?

[yes, I have edited this bit....]

Well, I certainly never expected to be offered cannabis under those circumstances - for medicinal use or otherwise. But isn't she great? I've always made a point of saying hello to her by name as I walk through reception every morning, but I must admit that's not quite the kind of return I was expecting, anyway.

So what's in the box?

Big blue box

And it is a very big box.

Slightly disappointingly, once you get through all of the packaging and the ice packs (which actually aren't required for this stuff), then all it contains is four individual packs like this one.


That's four doses - one month's supply - of bioset Avonex (in powder form, in the vial on the top right), a syringe filled with a solution (bottom, to be mixed with the powder and then loaded back up into the syringe ready for injecting) and a big bloody needle (top left).

Big needle

Well, perhaps not massive, but still plenty big enough.

I've now got an appointment with the MS Nurses for 9am on Tuesday morning, at which point I will be taught how to mix the drug up properly and will then give myself my very first injection. I won't be using the gadget that shoots the needle into the muscle, either... I'll be doing it all by hand.

This suddenly all feels very, very real.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

we've all been changed from what we were....

I saw this poem in the Guardian the other day, and it struck a chord:

Needle Biopsy 22/12/08 by John Updike

All praise be Valium in Jesus' name:
a CAT-scan needle biopsy sent me
up a happy cul-de-sac, a detour not
detached from consciousness but sweetly part-
I heard machines and experts murmuring about me-
a dulcet tube in which I lay secure and warm
and thought creative thoughts, intensely so,
as in my fading prime. Plans flowered, dreams.

All would be well, I felt, all manner of thing.
The needle, carefully worked, was in me, beyond pain,
aimed at an adrenal gland. I had not hoped
to find, in this bright place, so solvent a peace.
Days later, the results came casually through:
the gland, biopsied, showed metastasis.

Updike died of this cancer on 27th January 2009.

I'm not being melodramatic here, and our situations are very different....it's just that I've spent some time being tested in hospitals recently, and I think I sort of know what he meant. There's a kind of zen-like calm that descends when you are enveloped in an MRI scanner: you're there for a very serious purpose, of course, and the results may have a profound impact on your life, but whilst encased in that tube, I found myself oddly detached from myself and from my problems.

I found out this morning that my appointments for a lumbar puncture and for an evoked potential test are in the post. So it rather looks as though I'll be spending a bit more time yet in the immediate future desperately seeking that same sense of calm and detachment as a large needle is inserted between two vertebrae and into my spinal chord.

I was also contacted today by the company who will become the regular suppliers of the drugs that I'm going to take to try to control and to slow down my condition. At some point tomorrow, I will become the proud owner of my very own injection kit: needles, syringes, drug mix, injector thingie to shoot the needle into my thigh and even my own sharps box.... the works (delivered to my office, no less). I suppose that at some point shortly after that, I'll start the course of weekly injections that are going to become my routine for the foreseeable future.

It's all good, right?


Monday, May 18, 2009

raised on a diet of broken biscuits...

Spex Fest @ Bodega Social, 17th May 2009

What better way of whiling away a dreary, rainy Sunday evening than by attending a marathon showcase for some up-and-coming American indie bands? Well, that's what was on offer at the Social yesterday, anyway, and as the Evening Post's intrepid reviewer was good enough to offer me his 'plus one', and there was nothing much else happening, how could I refuse?

The show officially started at 17:30, but as it was due to finish after midnight, we decided to give the first couple of bands a miss, and timed our arrival for the start of the set by the Icy Demons. The Social is pretty small venue, with a capacity of around about 200, but it still didn't seem like a sell out to me. I suppose the nature of a night like this, with so many bands on the bill over such an extended period of time, it's only natural that there's going to be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between the venue and the downstairs bar, where food is served and the music was being played at a volume slightly more conducive to conversation. Still, the audience that there was seemed to be enthusiastic enough, even if they did appear to be on average at least 15 years younger than me. The gits.

The idea of the night was to showcase some fairly experimental US indie bands, and this seems to attract a particular kind of person. In the nicest way possible, many of them had the air of the misfit about them: there were a lot of chunky, out-sized glasses; cheap, brightly coloured sunglasses; blocky haircuts; pointy shoes; plenty of tweed; pointy brogues; MC Hammer trousers (seriously) and I also saw a guy who could not have been older than 25 years old with a huge, full ginger beard. All seemed slightly awkward in their skins, but happy enough to make a statement with their hair and their clothes, and to dance around awkwardly but happily to some often quite unapproachably awkward indie. Good luck to them. Lots of them were sensible enough to be wearing earplugs too - far more of them than I have ever seen at a gig before. Perhaps they're hoping to avoid the tinnitus that affects most of us older gig-goers. Pah. Total silence is overrated, you know....

Icy Demons were up first, for us anyway, and my goodness what a lucky bag of randomness. The lead singer is called Griffin Rodriguez - a splendid name in its own right, you'd think, but he prefers to go by the stage name of Blue Hawaii. He plays what looks like an electric cello and leads his band through a bewildering array of musical styles that encompasses jazz, prog, a bit of light rapping, a touch of opera, dub..... you name an influence, and it's in there somewhere. I found them a little bit too much for my tastes, and I thought they lacked melody, but it was delivered skillfully and enthusiastically, and in Pow Pow, they have an absolutely splendid drummer, worth the price of entry alone.

Next up were Rainbow Arabia, who play their African-influenced beats on vintage Lebanese synths, apparently. Does the origin of the synth have an impact on the sound? Perhaps it does, as I was initially very unsure about the duo's sound, but after a few minutes, and once they hit their stride, they were hypnotically good. I was quite taken by the keyboardist's cloth cap / moustache combo, but it was the sheer style of his companion's guitar work and echoey vocals that stole the show for me. I've no idea how a band from LA ends up sounding like they grew up in a souk, but somehow it worked.

Times New Viking
are the kind of band that make me think of Ben from Silent Words: they're a trio, with the childlike keyboards being comprehensively drowned out by the thrashy drums and guitars. Their lo-fi approach was certainly a change of pace, anyway. I was stood next to the soundboard for the duration of the set, and I was heartily amused to see a sketch, provided by the band, showing how they wanted their gear to be set up. Next to the picture of a guitar plugged into an amp was a little arrow with the word "LOUD" written all in capitals. That sums them up, really. At one point, the guitarist played the guitar refrain from "Smells Like Teen Spirit", and at a stroke reminded me that what made Nirvana great (and bands like the Pixies) was that, for all that they buried their songs in feedback and in shouting, fundamentally they understood the importance of melody. Times New Viking? Less so.

Last, but not least, were Telepathe ... a pair of sweet-looking girls who surrounded themselves with a fearsome wall of electronic noise that almost drowned them out entirely. Interesting in small doses, I suppose, and threatening in the way that the last Portishead album was, but over the course of even a short set, far too much to take in. Or perhaps, as it was now gone midnight, it was simply past my bedtime?

Perhaps none of the bands were really entirely my cup of tea, but it was an interesting evening, nonetheless. The kids certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, anyway.

Verdict: 6 / 10

Mike's review of this gig can be found here.


Friday, May 15, 2009

I'm anemic royalty....

Earworms of the Week

I haven't inflicted the contents of my internal jukebox on you for a while, so I'm raring to go. Straight into it, then, eh?

> "Celebrity Skin" - Hole

Well, whatever else you might say about Courtney Love, there's no denying the enduring appeal of this song, originally released in 1998 and a fixture in my head pretty much ever since. Yes, it was co-written with Billy Corgan, but the way that Love spits out the lyrics is just superb. Great riff too, which can't hurt. Melissa auf de Maur looks great in the video too.

> "Kingdom of Rust" - Doves

I still haven't got round to buying the album, but the haunting way that Jimi Goodwin delivers this song has been stuck in my head now for several weeks. Is it only Mancunian bands that can conjure up this level of melancholia? Is there something in the water up there or what?

> "Green Onions" / "Hey Ya!" - Booker T

Booker T was on Later.... a few weeks ago, and as well as treating us to a few bars of his most famous (and still vibrant sounding) tune, he also played a rip-roaring hammond organ version of the Outkast hit. I didn't quite recognise it at first; it was naggingly familiar for a moment or two before it became entirely obvious. Great song. It sounds great the way Outkast do it on the original, it sounds great done as a straight-up ballad with a single voice and acoustic guitar, and it sounds pretty damn good when played - without vocals - on the hammond organ with a backing band. Mind you, I imagine that Booker T could make Boyzone sound funky on his organ, nevermind Andre 3000. It's hard to go wrong with a song that good, I think.

> "If You're Into It" - Flight of the Conchords

Typically, I forgot that the second season of the Conchords was starting on Tuesday, and only remembered to check on Thursday morning. D'oh. It's not on the iPlayer for some reason either. Still, this was pretty much my most played album of last year, and although this song isn't on the record, I've also been re-watching the first season on DVD. This is a beautiful little lovesong that Bret writes for Coco...

"If you want me to,
I can hang 'round with you

If I only knew, that's what you're into

You and him, him and you

If that's what you're into

Him hangin' round, around you

You hangin' round, yeah you're there too

that goes distinctly wonky in the middle....

"Then on our next date,
Well you could bring your roommate
I don't know if Stu is keen to

But maybe we could double team you

How 'bout you and two dudes?

Him, you, and Stu in the nude

Bein' lewd with two dudes with food

Well that's if Stu's into it too

Very, very funny. I hear the second season is going to be the last.... well, perhaps it's right to go out whilst you're still on top. They've done pretty well with it so far, but how far can a gag about being formerly New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo accapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo really stretch?

> "Waving Flags" - British Sea Power

It's the European Elections soon, and as well as having to put up with hateful rubbish being pushed through my letterbox by the UK Independence Party (ripped up and posted back to them in their thoughtfully provided postage paid envelope with some added cat food), I had the dubious pleasure of hearing the BNP's Nick Griffin on the radio. Apparently he has no objections to "the likes" of Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole playing for the English football team, it was simply a plain fact to say that they could never ethnically be described as being British. White people, you see, have been living in these islands since before the last ice age. I was driving to work when I heard him holding forth on this, and it made me sick to the pit of my stomach. He's obviously a moron, but it makes me so angry to hear this half-thought out shit being presented to people as some sort of rational argument. So what you're saying, Nick, if I understand you correctly, is that you've drawn an utterly arbitrary line in the sand and you're saying that there were white people here thousands of years ago, therefore all white people here are ethnically British? So just as you presumably lump all coloured people into the category "not ethncically British", then all white people are "ethnically British". Um, isn't the whole concept of being ethnically British a nonsense? Aren't we, like most other groups of people, the result of thousands and thousands of years of interbreeding? We proud British are a mongrel race, with the flotsam and jetsam in our genepool from the hundreds of invaders and vistors these islands have had over the years: saxons, angles, vikings, romans, normans.... to think that we can in any sensible way be called a specific "race" is a total nonsense. Still, what do you expect from the leader of the British National Party? Well thought out, rational argument? This all called to mind British Sea Power's celebration of the influx of immigrants to our proud little island. Welcome in, indeed.

> "Calm Like A Bomb" - Rage Against The Machine

Sometimes, when a particularly dull document is stubbornly refusing to write itself, the only thing you can do is to reach for Rage. I don't know if it helps me get documents written, but it certainly makes me feel better. Very cathartic. I'd like to see Rage meet Nick Griffin, that's for sure....

> "Daniel" / "The Big Sleep" - Bat for Lashes

I've never really been all that into Kate Bush, and I'm not really familiar with her work beyond the obvious... but I have discovered that I think the new album by Bat For Lashes is brilliant. It's all ethereal and breathy and wonderful. And it features a duet with one of my all time musical heroes, Mr. Noel Scott Engel a.k.a. Scott Walker. Ahh. Perfection. Plus it's nice to have a song called "Daniel" that isn't about someone's pet rat, no? (oh, hang on. That was called "Ben", wasn't it? Well, you know what I mean).

> "Save All Your Kisses For Me" - Brotherhood of Man

Yes, it's Eurovision time. Actually, this song was popped into my head as a result of Newsnight's "Immigration Song Contest", which took some young immigrant musicians to Britain, told their stories and then had them playing a Eurovision classic. Having already survived a Polish rock band covering "Making Your Mind Up", I was ill-prepared for a Somali rapper to cover this Brotherhood of Man classic. He did a respectable job, as it happens, putting his own spin on the song without completely losing the sense of the original... although I have to say that I'm not really sure what the hell newsnight were doing. Neither, I suspect, did they.

Speaking of Eurovision, our very own Troubled-Diva is the proud author the cover story on today's Guardian Film & Music supplement -- a Eurovision preview, naturally. He's been previewing the contest every year for us on his blog, but he's gone national! Well done Mike. Hurray!

> "The Kids are Sick Again" - Maximo Park

"Our Earthly Pleasures" was easily my album of 2007, but after my first couple of listens to the new album, I have to say that I'm not entirely sure about the follow-up. There's nothing on here that sounds anything like "Apply Some Pressure" or "Our Velocity", but I'm sure the band would argue that it was time to move on. The result seems to be largely synth driven with some of singer Paul Smith's poetic lyrics sounding slightly awkward. Still, it's early days yet. I'm seeing the band performing live at Rock City next week, when the songs may well come to life for me. Besides, this song - the first single from the album - is really starting to sink into my head. It's true that the chorus doesn't kick in until the song is nearly over, but it's a real grower. Good band. It's nice to have them back, and I'm very much looking to seeing them live again.

> "Pennyroyal Tea" - Manic Street Preachers

"The Holy Bible" is just about my favourite album of all time. I saw the band playing at the Reading Festival in 1994, one of their first gigs after Richie had gone into rehab, and they were amazing. I tried to buy the album on the way home, on the day of release, but in those shops were still shut on bank holidays, and I had to wait. It's a work of stark brilliance. It's totally uncompromising in facing up to some of the horrors of the Twentieth Century, and it's sometimes a difficult listen, but it's the best thing they've ever done. At that gig they played a cover of Nirvana's Pennyroyal Tea, a song of unremitting bleakness that seemed to fit in extremely well with the Manic Street Preachers world view of the time. One of my favourite Nirvana songs, as it happens, and the Manics didn't let me down with their version. Brillaint band. So how excited am I by the new album, due out on Monday, which has seen the band return to some lyrics left to them by Richie before he disappeared.

It's even got a magnificent painting on the front cover by Jenny Saville, just like the Holy Bible. Just don't try to buy it from a supermarket, eh? Idiots.


Anyway. That's your lot.

Jai Ho everyone.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

our castle and our keep...

The world is in recession; banks are being dragged under by bad debt and are being bailed out with Government money; shares are plummeting; people are being laid off in their thousands; the property market has collapsed.... Meanwhile, in my middle class world, we're having a loft conversion done.

People tend to raise their eyebrows when I tell them this, and they then leer at me suggestively and ask if we're feathering the nest. Nudge, nudge. Wink wink. Say no more. At this point, I generally feign confusion and ask them to spell out whatever it is that they're insinuating. It's a jovial way of asking if we're planning a family, apparently.

No. Not at the moment.

We actually talked about getting the loft converted from the very first moment that we looked around the house with a view to putting in an offer, but for various reasons, we never got around to doing anything about it. We actually considered moving somewhere bigger about 18 months ago, but in the end settled on getting our little garden sorted - last year's project - and getting the loft done. So why now? Well, the reason for the building work is that we've finally managed to entice our Austrian friends and their two kids over from Vienna for a week in the summer. We're going to try to repay the kindness they showed us when we got married (and every other time we've been to Vienna) by taking some time off work and showing them around the country. We've arranged to borrow my dad's big car so that we can shuttle everyone around in go. No, please don't ask why my dad used to ferry my two brothers, my mother and me around in a Fiat Strada and then bought a massive people carrier as soon as we all moved out. So, an extra room and an extra bathroom are going to be really handy.

Anyway. That's what C told me was the reason for getting the work done, anyway.


The work has been going on for a few weeks now, but it's only since Monday that the builders have been working in the main body of the house (and not just in the roof), so things have moved on pretty quickly since then. I've got new stairs and things.

I'm hardly Kirstie Allsopp, but here are a few photos of what's suddenly appeared over the last couple of days.

Stairs 1

This is the view from our bedroom. You can see the door there on the right hand side of the picture, and you can see how we've lost a chunk out of the corner of the room where the stairs turn and head up into the attic. Apparently our ceiling is in a terrible state, and bows towards the middle of the room, so the builders are actually going to completely replace it. Free. It makes their lift a lot easier, apparently. It will come down a couple of inches to accommodate that new landing you can see hanging down, but will still be tall enough that I will only just be able to touch it with my arms above my head. Plenty of headroom. They're also cutting down one of our tall wardrobes so that it will fit underneath the new stairs.

Attic room #2

Apart from the photos that C. took though the hole in the floor last week, it was only on Wednesday evening, when I came home to find the stairs had been put in, that I was able to see what the builders had been up to for the last few weeks. It's somehow much bigger and more airy than I was expecting. I was also a touch worried about how much headroom I would have under the slant of the roof, but it's plenty high enough. The velux windows are absolutely huge too, and when the rain started to hammer down onto them, I was thrown back to my old bedroom in the house where I grew up, where the partially flat roof used to make a hell of a noise when it rained. I found the sound very soothing at the time, and apparently I still do.

Attic room #1

Look at the size of that window! And there's our missing stepladder (on the left).

Attic bathroom

The room was looking quite a lot less spacious when I got home this evening, but only because the builders had started to box in the bathroom. There's another velux window to go in yet, and obviously none of the bathroom fittings have gone in yet, but things are taking shape really quickly.

Nosey Parker #2

It seems that C. isn't the only member of the family who is intrigued by the new room. Minou is staring into one of the cupboards that will provide us with storage space underneath the eaves, and it's surely only a matter of time before she explores these new and interesting places more thoroughly. Luckily, she is currently finding the remains of the builder's lunches more interesting..... She's in the habit of rolling around on her back, displaying her fou-fou to the world, and as a result has been filthy dirty since the moment the builders first arrived.... the little tart. Like everyone else she meets, Minou appears to have the builders wrapped well and truly around her little paws. Trollop.

More exciting middle-class building expansion news as it happens!

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

the old king is dead, long live the king....

There was very nearly a crisis today at work. No one died of swine flu or anything, and the business still appears to be in one piece.... but bugger all of that: my iPod nearly died. In fact, it may still die. It's looking a little touch and go at the moment, to be honest.

It's my own stupid fault. When I was unpacking my bag last night, in the act of pulling out my lunchbox, I flicked my iPod across the kitchen. It flew through the air, as if in slow motion, and then landed, face down, next to the cat's bowl of kibbles with a resounding and somewhat disconcerting SMACK.

I stared at it for a second or two, and then slowly, almost reluctantly I bent down to pick it up. The screen hadn't cracked, which was something, and a quick look told me that it seemed to be loading up okay. I heaved a sigh of relief and put it to one side.

Me and that iPod go back a long way. Well, three years, anyway. It was the replacement for the original 3G iPod - the first that was compatible with PCs - that was stolen back in January 2006. A number of other things were taken at the same time, but that was the one that really hurt and wa replaced as quickly as possible. Apple products are famous for breaking down just outside of their warranty, so three and a half years lifespan on a product with an initial twelve month warranty isn't too bad. I own several other iPods, but this is my main man - my 60GB iPod that holds every single bit of music I've ever ripped. Even though I always have my iPhone on me, and it has a small selection of tunes on it, I still almost always carry my big iPod with me. Who knows when you're going to want to listen to that Soulwax album? Or that Sleeper single? Or that piece of Cuban jazz? Or that Kia Ora advert ("too orangey for crows....")?


Anyway. I was struggling to concentrate on a document in the office this morning, and I reached for my iPod to try and shut out any ephemeral noise. I plugged in, selected the new Bat For Lashes album, and was then horrified to see what looked like a large watermark across my screen. It was only visible when the backlight was on, but it looked very much like the fall had damaged the screen. Never mind.... as long as the music works. Which it did. Until the penultimate song, when it just stopped dead and made some minor clicking noises. A couple of hard reboots and a change of album later (Scott I), and everything seemed okay again.


I was concerned; concerned enough that I popped across to the Apple website to see what repairs cost. Nearly £140. Okay. So how much is a new one? My first surprise was that Apple now only make a single iPod with a hard drive. Perhaps not surprisingly given how hard they're pushing video content, Apple think that the iTouch is the future. Perhaps it is, but with a maximum capacity of 32GB, that just isn't going to cut it for the kind of user who wants to carry their entire electronic record collection around with them, and doesn't want to spend their time mucking about with playlists. Still, they do make a 120GB "classic" iPod, double the capacity of my existing one and quite a lot smaller and sleeker. How much? £175. It's as though they want you to buy a new one rather than have your old one repaired or something.....

I went to check out the reviews on iLounge.

.....Hang on a minute. Am I mourning the possible demise of my old iPod, or am I getting excited about the opportunity of doing a bit of gadget shopping? Well, let's not be hasty - my old, much travelled and much loved iPod is not actually dead yet.

If you'll forgive me imagining my old iPod in the role of Shakespeare's Henry IV, finding that the new iPod (Prince Hal) has taken his crown as he slept:

"I stay too long by thee, I weary thee.
Dost thou so hunger for mine empty chair

That thou wilt needs invest thee with my honours

Before thy hour be ripe?
O foolish youth!

The king isn't dead yet. He may be unwell, but he's hanging on in there. In fact, he played me some Ruby Suns and a bit of Rage Against the Machine as I finished that dreary bloody document off before heading home...... So let's give the old boy a chance, eh?

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, eh?

...yeah, you're right. I'm going window-shopping at the weekend and everyone knows it.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I see a salty message written in the eaves....

For the last few weeks, we've had builders round working on converting our loft into something considerably more usable. Although we've had a bit of scaffolding up, from the inside you'd hardly notice that they were here at all: instead of dragging all of their stuff in and out through the house, they made themselves a little hole in the roof and have been carting everything through that. Simple. Given that one builder we had round to quote for the job told us that we might as well move out for six weeks because it was such a dirty job, this has been quite gratifying, and it's been no surprise that these guys came so highly recommended. Apart from the mysterious disappearance from the house of our stepladder, we've otherwise been able to watch in undisturbed comfort as our roof is transformed above us. Apart from the scaffolding and the piles and piles of stuff appearing in the skip outside the house, the only visible change initially was the arrival of two huge Velux windows. Not only did they give the outside of the house a new look, but thanks to a small hole that the builders made in the ceiling where they're going to put in the new stairs, we have been able to see brilliant sunshine streaming down from what had previously been an extremely dark and inaccessible loft.

All good things come to an end though, and as of the back end of last week, when a plumber made a few last adjustments, the builders were ready to break through into the house proper. C. was quite excited by this: one of the drawbacks of having the builders coming and going using the scaffolding has been that we haven't actually been able to see any of what they've been doing up there, and this is - for some people, anyway - a bit frustrating. All those changes happening and you don't get a chance to have a good nosey around and to watch what's happening for weeks. It didn't bother me at all, but I get the feeling that curious homeowners have caused these builders trouble in the past, and so they've always been very careful at the end of each day to make sure that they seal up the roof properly and take away their ladders so that all temptation to clamber up and have a peek is removed and, with it, all danger of having a clumsy homeowner put their big feet through their own bedroom ceiling.

C's been climbing the walls - metaphorically, at least - in her eagerness to have a look at what's going on up there. When the Velux windows were first put in, she kept wandering down the street to see what she could see of the new attic room through them. Not much, as I discovered when she dragged me down the street to see for myself. It probably goes without saying that she was very much looking forward to a hole being made in the ceiling, as it might give her a chance to see what was going on up there.

The hole, when it finally came, was initially only a small, trapdoor sized, incision in the ceiling of the hallway just outside our bedroom. Still wary of inquisitive homeowners, the builders made sure that they covered it each evening with a bit of wood..... that they screwed on. C. was away in Paris all week, but I wasn't really bothered and just left them to it. What was the big hurry to see the progress I knew what happening up there? I was more than happy to wait until the stairs went in. Others, it turns out, were less patient, and I got home from a swim that Friday night to find C. bouncing around the house with glee. Apparently she'd been initially frustrated by the screwed down cover to the hole, but had discovered that her hand was small enough to creep up past the cover and into the space beyond. Naturally, once she had realised that, sticking her hand up holding a camera was only moments away, and now she was hugely excited about showing me the resultant pictures.

Mildly curious, I had a look.... and I can tell you that, unsurprisingly, our new attic room currently looks like an unfinished room. Given that it used to be a horrible, dark, dirty attic, this is definitely progress.... but there's still some way to go yet. C. however was excited enough to point out to me where the new storage cupboards were, how light it was, how spacious it looked and, and this was her favourite bit, the solution to the mystery of where our stepladder had got to. There it was, leaning against the wall at the back of the new attic room.

"I reckon they must have put that there to stop us using it to try and get into the roof though the access hatch". C. had obviously been giving this some thought.

I glanced over at the new hole in the ceiling and at the gap where she had pushed her hand through to take the photos. It was at least 3 meters up in the air.

"So how did you take those photos then? How did you get your hand all the way up there?" I asked.

C. looked over and saw the other, much bigger, stepladder that the builders had left leaning against the wall underneath the opening and which she must have climbed up in order to get her hand up into the roofspace. Her face fell.

"Oh" she said, somewhat crestfallen.

She's a clever girl, that one, but sometimes.......honestly.

The stairs go in tomorrow, so who knows how excited she'll be when she gets back home this Friday.......

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Monday, May 11, 2009

I'm falling out of grace.....

When I was studying history at University, I used to find gender studies exasperating. It wasn't that I didn't find the subject interesting - I did a whole course on women in Industrial Revolution Britain as revealed in the works of the likes of George Eliot, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell and Mary Wollstonecraft - I objected more to the posturing of some of the historians who covered the subject. Was it really necessary to make a point of calling history "herstory"? What place did political correctness have here?

Of course, the point that historians like this were making (and sometimes labouring) was simply that a good historian should take care to consider the subjectivity of every single piece of evidence they study... including any gender slant. It is a truism that history is written by the victors, but it is equally true that history has largely been written by men, and the role of women is, by comparison, neglected. The language that we use IS important because it can either help to reinforce or to undermine the status quo - and not just in history either.

I mention this because I have decided that I need to cut some words out of my common vocabulary. They are words that I use pretty often, but only rarely in their original sense, choosing instead to use them almost exclusively when swearing. The words in question? heaven; hell; God; Jesus Christ; damn; holy. Stuff like that.

Why am I going to cut them out? Because I do not believe in God. It's not just Jehovah, mind you, I don't believe in any gods - not Zeus, not Baal, not Shiva. None of them. I simply choose to go one god further in my disbelief than most. I don't believe in heaven, I don't believe in hell. I believe that when you die, that's it - and I also believe that that's okay. Like lots of people, I have certain views on organised religion, and my study of history has shown me some of the more unpleasant things that people have done in the name of religion, but I absolutely respect an individual's right to their own religious beliefs. Of course I do....it's just not for me. I was brought up in the Church of England tradition: I sang in the choir; I attended Sunday School; I studied Religious Education at school; I read the lesson in chapel; I know large chunks of the Bible story from both Old and New Testaments.... the works. That kind of stuff is hard to entirely shake off, and I'm sure that my christian upbringing (both of my parents are believers) is stamped through my core, whether or not I happen to believe in the Almighty.

So why worry about the words? What difference do they make to anything? They're just words, aren't they?

I received a text message from a colleague the other day. It was one of those messages that has clearly been sent to everyone in the addressbook in his phone, and it was announcing the birth of his son, Joshua. As well as telling us all the exact minute of his second child's birth and telling us the exact weight -- why do people do that, by the way? -- he also took the time to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers. Now, I know that this is simply the kind of thing that people say in circumstances like this, but those words made me oddly angry. How dare he presume on either count? Yes, I'm pleased that everthing has gone okay for them, but I can assure him that it's got nothing to do with any prayers of mine, and I seriously doubt it has anything to do with anybody's prayers at all. Why use that word? Why presume that just because he's a religious man, that everyone else shares his beliefs? There's another reason to be angry too: another of our colleagues has been having a difficult time recently because his wife went into labour with their twins prematurely, and one of the babies died and the other is clinging onto life in intensive care. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the idea that the wellbeing of Joshua has anything to do with prayers means by implication that if things go wrong then that's somehow down to a lack of prayer. Yes, I know that the text message wasn't meant to mean anything within a million miles of that, but I'm afraid that's the unconscious insinuation that I read into those words. What does the church teach us? If you're good and you say your prayers, then good things will happen to you. If you don't.......

The words you choose are important, and I'm going to try to rid myself of those words that have a religious overtone that I don't believe in.

Not entirely uncoincidentally, I put a new sticker on my car this weekend.

Atheist Bus

Some people think that atheists must lead empty, purposeless and meaningless lives in the absence of a belief in the afterlife. I've actually found my lack of belief to be quite liberating. If this is all there is, then what greater motivation do you need to try and make the most of it; to celebrate being human and to celebrate our humanity?

I don't believe in God, I believe in mankind people.