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

Friday, October 30, 2009

with your triumphs and your charms....

Earworms of the Week

> "Buddy Holly" - Weezer

Weezer have actually been around now since 1992, displaying a longevity you would never have imagined possible upon hearing their first album. Don't get me wrong, I have an enormous soft-spot for songs like "Undone - The Sweater Song" and "In the Garage", but you wouldn't have thought that they were going to be anything like as durable a band as they have become. The reason for that longevity is probably because they keep evolving their sound: right from the opening chords - event the name - of "Tired of Sex" on "Pinkerton", it was clear that the cheerful geeks we see mucking about in the brilliant, Spike Jonze directed, "Happy Days" video accompanying "Buddy Holly" were already a thing of the past. That said, "Buddy Holly" might just be the perfect.

> "Dumb" - Nirvana

Not really amongst their finer work, and something of a respite from some of the other, more sonically challenging, tracks on "In Utero", but a good song nonetheless. There's a hint of angst there, of course, but it's really a showcase for a melody. As is their wont, the band try and hide it: not behind feedback this time, but behind a very loose sounding recording. They know it's there though, and are confident enough in it to add a cello to the track. Quite a contrast to "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge" and "Very Ape", the two tracks either side of the song on the album, anyway. Good band. Watch out for them.

> "Vietnam" - Jimmy Cliff

I saw Jimmy Cliff playing the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury on a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon. It was an almost perfect festival moment, baking in the sunshine, drinking beer and listening to songs like "The Harder They Come", "Many Rivers to Cross" and this song. The first thing I did when I got home the following day was to place an order for a greatest hits album. He was brilliant. A proper legend.

> "Lazy Sunday Afternoon" - The Small Faces

Just on the cusp of being too twee to listen to, I actually quite like this song. Whilst not quite being up there with the genius of Ray Davies' "Waterloo Sunset", the lyrics of this song are a snapshot of a world that is now gone. Does anyone still get lumbago? Come to that, is anyone still called Bert?

> "L.E.S. Artistes" - Santogold

I always feel as though Santogold is an artist that I somehow shouldn't like. Perhaps it's because I like to categorise myself as the kind of man who listens to miserable guitar music played by skinny white boys. Whatever, this album is superb, and it gets better with every listen. To hell with you, self-musical stereotyping!

> Theme to "Magnum P.I."

Sounds remarkably similar played backwards to played forwards. I was always more of a Jim Rockford or Quincy man myself, but Magnum had his moments, I suppose.

> "Salute Your Solution" - The Raconteurs

I'm not too sure about the rest of the album, but it's worth the effort just for the adrenaline rush of the guitar riff in this song. I've no idea what Jack White is on about, of course, but since when did that ever matter?

> "I Know It's Over" / "Never Had No One Ever" - The Smiths

The opening up of my iTunes library over my wireless network has meant that I'm able to listen to more or less whatever I want as I potter around. In practice, this seems to have meant that I've listened to a whole lot of Smiths records. Worse still, the ones that have been sticking in my head are the especially miserable, depressing ones. These two, of course, sit side-by-side on "The Queen is Dead", and both are epic. "I Know It's Over" is a towering song, one of Morrissey's finest. Is there a bleaker opening line anywhere in the world than "Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head"?

As always, Morrissey is able to put voice to the worst fears of the disaffected and lonely youth.

"If you're so funny
Then why are you on your own tonight ?

And if you're so clever

Then why are you on your own tonight ?

If you're so very entertaining

Then why are you on your own tonight ?

If you're so very good-looking

Why do you sleep alone tonight ?

...Because tonight is just like any other night

it's a great song, and it's followed by the preposterously lachrymose "Never Had No One Ever", which is self-pitying even by Morrissey's lofty standards:

"I had a really bad dream, It lasted 20 years, 7 months and 27 days".

There was a time in my life when I knew exactly what date it was when I hit that age myself and was wondering why the same thing seemed to be happening to me.

The answer is probably pretty simple, but to paraphrase another Smiths song, I just hadn't earned it yet, baby. I must suffer and cry for a longer time....

If you see the 20-something year old me, do me a favour and give him a slap will you?
Or a kiss.
Or both.

Have a good weekend, y'all.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

here's my handle, here's my spout....

From celestial teapots to actual teapots......We may be in financial meltdown, with our world wracked by vicious wars and by the advancing ravages of climate change, but scientists have finally come up with the solution to a problem that has troubled people for centuries: why do teapots dribble?

Previous research into this critical field vital for the advancement of human understanding has shown that a number of factors affect the rate of dribble: the radius of curvature of the teapot lip; the speed of the flow; the porous nature of the teapot material. The real answer, the source of the dribble itself, has remained frustratingly elusive.

Now, however, scientists have deduced that the answer lies in the fact that, at low pouring speeds, tea starts to "stick" to the inside of the spout, causing the flow to momentarily stop and then to start again - causing the problematic dribble.

Even better news is that, by reducing the friction between the spout and the fluid, this bothersome dribble can be all but be eradicated.


But how? How can we eliminate this problem that has troubled our brightest minds and blighted the advancement our civilizations for so long? Well, the scientists recommend using the thinnest material possible for the lip of the spout, ideally metal, and applying an "hydrophobic" or water repelling substance to the inside.

This will mean the tea literally glides off the surface and into your cup.

The hydrophobic material they suggest? Butter.

What? You think that we're going to smear the spouts of our teapots with butter? Are you mad?

Ah, it seems the research was carried out at the University of Lyons. Well, who else would you put on the case to solve a problem that has bothered tea drinkers for time immemorial but a nation of coffee drinkers?



Tuesday, October 27, 2009

...and I'm saving the world at eight.

Join me! All welcome (offer may exclude women, homosexuals and other minority groups....)

So I see that the Pope has generously decided to allow Anglican clergy to return to the loving arms of the Roman Catholic Church. This is quite a big deal: it's probably the first time since the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century that whole communities of Protestants could be allowed to return to the communion of the Catholic Church. Over the years, untold thousands, perhaps millions of people, have died in conflict between the Catholic and Protestant churches. They've died over their differing beliefs in things like Bibles written in languages other than Latin; over whether or not the host at the communion literally, or only figuratively, turns into the body of Christ; about whether or not churches should be covered with statues of saints or not..... interesting points of discussion, perhaps, but surely not worth fighting and dying over? But fight and die they have. It's not just the wars either - people have been burnt at the stake because they refused to renounce a belief in what language they should be reciting their services in at church. Sir Thomas More, was one, but there were many others... all died because they weren't prepared to do what Henri IV of France seemed prepared to do at the drop of a hat: to recant and join whichever religion it was that was threatening to kill him (usually Catholicism).

So isn't it good that the Pope has offered to cast aside centuries of enmity to bring two sides of the christian faith together? But after centuries of emphasising their distinctness from Catholicism, why would any Anglicans take him up on his kind offer?

Ah, of course... because they've got the proper hump at the Anglican policy of ordinating *gasp* women into the clergy. Yes, ridiculous though it might sound to you and to me, but there are people for whom this one issue is divisive enough that they will cross the Tiber to join the church of Rome over it. Bugger any other canonical issues they might have, bugger the fact that they may well be married and will be joining a priesthood that is supposedly celibate.... no, the idea that women should in any way be considered to be remotely qualified or even appropriate for the clergy is enough to send some people running into the arms of the Roman Catholic Church.

Women in the church? Imagine that. Surely there's nothing in the otherwise famously tolerant and inclusive Holy Book that might lead anybody to think that women should be ordained is there?

Here's what Forward in Faith, a traditionalist strand of Anglicanism, has to say on the matter:

"Forward in Faith is a worldwide association of Anglicans who are unable in conscience to accept the ordination of women as priests or as bishops. Forward in Faith is opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate for three simple reasons.

First, it is a practice contrary to the scriptures as they have been consistently interpreted by the two thousand year tradition of the churches of both East and West.

Second, we hold that the ordination of women by individual provinces of the Anglican Communion, without inter-provincial agreement or consensus, is a schismatic act, impairing communion between provinces by subverting the interchangeability and mutual recognition of orders between them.

Third, mindful of the unity for which Our Lord prayed on the night before he died, we are bound to repudiate an action which has willfully placed a new and serious obstacle in the way of reconciliation and full visible unity between Anglicans and the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

(The vicar of my mum and dad's parish is, of course, a fully paid up member of Forward in Faith)

They might actually have something with that second point: the Anglican church has always been something of an unlikely alliance between some sometimes quite different strands of Christianity, with a kind of non-papal Catholicism on one side, and a more Lutheran or Calvinist Protestant faith on the other side. The Communion is an alliance between these different strands; although they might differ on the specifics of their beliefs, especially over the Communion, they were all still grouped together as one big happy family. A priest in one branch of the Anglican Church would be recognised as a priest by every other branch. The ordination of women has changed all of this, because not all branches of the Anglican church subscribe to it, and therefore will not recognise the authority of any female Anglican priests. Mind you, I'm not sure what an influx of married Anglican priests will do for the Communion of the Catholic church, but there you go....

It's almost impossible to escape the impression that these people are primarily pissed off because their little boys club has been opened up to the girls. They can hide behind the Bible all they like, but as long as their are passages in that book that they don't take literally, then I don't see how they have a right to be so literal in their interpretation of the rest of it:

Any person who curseth his father or mother must be killed~Leviticus 20:9

Entrance into the assembly of the Lord was granted only to those with uninjured testicles and a complete penis ~Deuteronomy 23:1

People who have flat noses, or are blind or lame, cannot go to an altar of God ~Leviticus 21:17-18

... to pick just three.

Yes, yes... it is a book that was written thousands of years ago and for a very specific society. Times have changed. We certainly can't be expected to take all of it literally nowadays. The thing is though, what is it that makes you think you can pick and choose the bits you like to interpret literally and the bits that you don't? If you accept that those passages aren't to be taken literally, then how seriously should I take your interpretation of what jobs a woman should or should not be allowed?

Of course, these disaffected Anglicans who are looking to cross the Tiber to the Roman Catholic Church are not looking to leave the Anglican church armed only with their principles. Oh no. They want compensation too:

As the Rev Geoffrey Kirk told an audience at a Forward in Faith assembly: "The Hebrews did not leave Egypt empty-handed. We must now apply ourselves to the task of securing our buildings and assets. We must ensure – for its own good and self-respect – that the Church of England is as generous in its dealings with us."

Good luck with that.

I suppose, as a disinterested observer to the whole thing, instead of getting all worked up about it, I should really just take a seat and enjoy the bun fight.

The New Humanist is clearly doing just that:

"In a gesture which dramatically parallels the recent “come-and-join-us” invitation from the Pope to disaffected Anglicans, the Rationalist Association has opened its door to thousands of can’t-quite-decide agnostics. A spokesperson for the RA (publisher of New Humanist) pointed out that many agnostics had been unhappy for years about the manner in which their uncertainty about God’s existence played into the hands of religious apologists. New recruits to the RA were given some reassurances.

“We are,” said the spokesperson, “not at all averse to agnostics maintaining some traditional forms of speech, such as ‘You can’t help feeling that there is something up there’, but obviously they’ll be expected to gradually forsake their uncertainty about who made the world.”

In a further gesture of conciliation, the spokesperson confirmed that new recruits would not initially be expected to recognise the infallibility of Richard Dawkins

Initially. Hehehe.


Monday, October 26, 2009

I want to live and I want to love....

So, that's decided then.

From the end of January through to sometime in September 2010, we are going to be stepping off the merry-go-round and will be taking some time off from work. Aside from an already booked ski trip in January, we've got nothing concrete planned yet, although we're hoping to get down to New Zealand and Australia for a couple of months from February. Other ideas include things like learning how to dive, going on a safari, visiting Petra in Jordan and the Valley of the Kings in Eygpt and I'd also very much like to spend some time in the Canadian Rockies outside of winter. There's literally a whole world of possibilities in front of us.

Why now? Well, since my diagnosis with MS earlier this year, I suppose it's tempting to say that I want to go and do these things whilst I still can, before my condition becomes too physically limiting. Cobblers. That's too easy and it's not really the reason at all. The simple truth is that there's not a single one of us who knows what life has in store for us, and I'm absolutely no different. If medical science has got little or no idea how my condition is going to progress, then how the hell am I going to? Why worry about what MS may or may not do to me when I could be hit by a bus tomorrow? Any of us could be.

My diagnosis has certainly been a kick up the arse: it's helped me to realise that life is too short to keep putting off until tomorrow the things that we really want to do with our lives. Who really wants to spend all their time stuck in the drudgery of a corporate desk job? It's a living and it passes the time, but it's certainly not something that I live for. I'm lucky: my critical illness insurance payout has given us the financial breathing space to make something like this possible; to enable us to afford to take the time off work and to go and do those things that we've always wanted to do. It's a fantastic opportunity and I'm not going to pass it up.

I've got some time in the office yet before I go, so I'm trying not to get too excited, but we've now got a map of the world up in our kitchen and we're about to get down to some serious planning.....it's really happening.

It's time to step off the treadmill.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

you occupy the bench like toothache....

Earworms of the Week

> "The Man With the Golden Gun" - LuLu

Perhaps the best opening line of any song ever.

"He has a powerful weapon, he charges a million a shot."

The second line is pretty good too:

"An assassin, second to none, the man with the golden gun!"

I ask you, does it get any better than that, ladies and gentlemen?

> "Sweet Caroline" - Neil Diamond

Presented by Marcus Brigstocke on Argumental the other day as the reason why Michael Jackson could never be considered the undisputed king of pop.... Well, unfortunately timed topics on a light entertainment programme aside, there's not much you can do to defend yourself in the face of an earworm as potent as this one, is there? Surrender, would be my advice.

Phil Jupitus simply argued that Jackson couldn't be the King of Pop because pop was not, in fact, a monarchy. Perhaps a more compelling argument?

Who's touching who in this song again?

> "Love Me For a Reason" - The Osmonds

You might think this would have been planted in my head by recent coverage of Boyzone in the wake of the tragic death of Stephen Gateley. No. Sadly, I heard the original being played on hospital radio in the Queens Medical Centre as I waited for my appointment with the nurse on Thursday morning. It's no "Crazy Horses" for sure, but it's not a bad record, you have to concede.

> "Feel" - Robbie Williams

His comeback is already apparently being dubbed a failure on the basis of his appearance on X-Factor and the fact that his single, his fastest selling since "Rock DJ", has been beaten to number one by Alexandra Burke. Ridiculously unfair. As Jude Rogers says in the Guardian today, we should be saluting Williams for his defiant oddness and his resilience. Apparently his new album is sensationally good too. I won't be rushing out to buy it, but I can't help rooting for him. Better him than another Simon Cowell clone, anyway. Mind you, look what happened to Robbie. Perhaps an X-Factor clone will one day tread a similar path. Who knows? ...although if they do, I'm sure it will be without Cowell's support if they dare to tread off the mainsteam.

> "Fade Away & Radiate" - Blondie

I listened to "Parallel Lines" as I ate my breakfast the other day. It's a statement of the bleeding obvious, of course, but what an album that is. Surely better to eat my fruit & oat bagel with golden syrup and to drink my cup of tea listening to that than to put up with whatever Chris Moyles is ranting about, eh? An excellent way to start the day.

> "Wired for Sound" - Cliff Richard

I'm starting to think that this might just be the most persistent earworm of the year as I just can't seem to shake it. It's probably not in the least bit cool to say so, but actually I think this is a damn fine pop record. My mum likes Cliff, and so I used to have to listen to his music from this era in the car as we were driven to school. You know, "Devil Woman" and all that kind of stuff. Pretty good, actually. Having grown up there, I've even got something of a soft-spot for the video of Cliff wearing a walkman as he rollerskates in the Milton Keynes shopping centre just outside John Lewis. If you haven't read Bob Stanley's piece in the Guardian that attempts to put Cliff up where he belongs in the pantheon of British rock and roll pioneers, then you really should. It wasn't all "Millennium Prayer", you know.... and do watch this video: it's brilliant.

> "My Humps" - Black Eyed Peas
> "Milkshake" - Kelis

It's the little things that keep you entertained at work. I was in a meeting the other day; I was probably the senior stakeholder there, and I was being taken through a detailed requirements catalogue. When we came to a section about a piece of functionality called "my links", I couldn't help myself and blurted out:
"my lovely lady links".
Not everyone got it, but those who did looked at me in amazement.
Someone then confused the Black Eyed Peas with Kelis, and the second half of this earworm double-team was complete. For the record, I much prefer the Kelis record. The Black Eyed Peas? Nah... you can keep'em.

> "Kelly Watch the Stars" - Air

I fell asleep the other night listening to "Moon Safari". It's a good way to go, actually. You should try it.

> "Crying Lightning" - Arctic Monkeys

I was today presented with an unexpected opportunity to buy standing tickets for the Arctic Monkeys gig at the Nottingham Arena in November. It was predictably chaotic when the tickets first went on sale, so I didn't even bother... but now they're back on sale for some reason. I was tempted for a while, mostly because they were available, I think. Then I thought about it a bit more and decided that £30-odd for a ticket was quite steep both for a gig in an Arena (which I generally find unsatisfactory) and to see a band whose last album I didn't really enjoy all that much. I enjoyed watching them at Glastonbury a couple of years ago, and I may well go and see them again some time, but this time around I think I'm going to give them a miss. That said, I have been making a bit more of an effort with the album, and it has been growing on me. This song in particular has been working its way into my head. Alex Turner's way with a lyric is amply displayed in the way he works the pick n'mix metaphor through this song, throwing in a line about toothache for good measure. They're talented for sure, and they're a compelling live act.... just not compelling enough for me to risk an arena gig with a crowd I suspect will be filled with beer chuckers. Perhaps I'm now just too old and grumpy to put up with that....?


That's your lot. Have a good weekend, y'all and stay classy. I'll be mostly reading my book, drinking some Leffe Blonde and listening to Queens of the Stone Age. There are worse ways to pass the time, you know.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

where is my mind?

"So was there anything else?"

I was in my regular six-monthly session with my MS Nurse. If you have multiple sclerosis, then the network of MS Nurses - that suddenly seems to appear as you are diagnosed - becomes the absolute centre of your medical world and of your contact with the NHS. Whatever you need, whether that's an appointment, advice, treatment or simply a shoulder to cry on, the MS Nurses are just a phonecall away. Where consultant neurologists and other doctors sometimes seem to come from another planet where empathy and human understanding are in short supply, the MS Nurses also provide a reassuringly human face to the monolith that is the National Health Service.

Today's appointment was a simple follow-up to make sure that I was okay and that I was coping alright with the injections that I have now been doing for six months. My doctors have thus far been extremely tight-lipped in front of me about my case and they seem to be absolutely determined to avoid using the phrase "multiple sclerosis" to label my condition, preferring instead to hide behind "demyelinating disease". To date, the only doctor to use "MS" when talking about my condition was the guy who saw me after the lumbar puncture and who casually gave me my results in a waiting room of patients (the nurse said she'd be having a word with him about that...). All of my neurologists have steadfastly and carefully stayed away from it, to the extent that they rarely actually give me the results of the tests that I have done at all, preferring to generalise. As a result, I don't actually know what type of MS I have. Relapsing-remitting is the most common, and even in the absence of obvious relapses, I'm assuming it's that, but for all I know it could also be primary-progressive or something else.

Today's session with my MS Nurse was priceless then, if only because it gave me a chance to have a look at the letters the doctors have been sending each other about my condition: my blood tests show that my liver function has been okay since I started on the beta-interferon but my haemoglobin levels have been falling and I'm now slightly anaemic. My evoked potentials test showed mainly that they don't have "normal" readings for a man of my height, but that the tests showed a slower passage of nerve signals up one leg than up another, indicating demyelination. The lumbar puncture showed oligoclonal banding in the proteins also indicating demyelination. A letter from one consultant to my GP showed that I have been classified as having relapsing-remitting MS..... all good, useful information that no one thought fit to tell me about until I saw my MS Nurse.

So apart from the blurring in my right eye, the general ups-and-downs of the numbness and tingling in my body and the weakness in my arms and shoulders, was there anything else I wanted to mention to the nurse?

Well... as it happens, yes there was. I wasn't really sure how to say this, and I wasn't sure whether this was all in my head or not, so in the end I just came right out with it: I've started to notice, or I think I've started to notice, some problems with my memory. I have an excellent memory, in the main, but just recently I have found it oddly difficult to recall one or two things: people's names, a system that I used to work with. Nothing much, you might think, and feasibly things I might just have forgotten. But then again, it is unusual for me, and not a little disconcerting too.... and it's one of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. I have so far been able to handle all of the physical symptoms that this condition has managed to throw at me. I know I haven't been all that badly affected yet, relatively speaking, but what I've had, I've coped with. Physical symptoms are only that, aren't they? They only affect your body. Sure, I'd feel pretty down if I lost the ability to run, never mind the ability to walk, but as long as you have all your marbles, then at least you have something. I pride myself on my intellect, and the idea that I might be beginning to lose some of those marbles I prize so highly, is a very, very frightening thought.

So I mentioned it.

And now I am going to be seeing a neuropsychologist.

As C. was there too today, I imagine that I'm also going to be getting some kind of brain training game thing for Christmas. I've managed to happily avoid sudoku all of my life so far, let's hope that I manage to avoid it for a bit longer, eh?


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

and it ain't not proving that me mind ain't moving....

There was a funny crowd out in town on Saturday night. I wasn't stopping for long, and was just having a quick meal after the cinema before heading home... but it was long enough to see that the makeup of the crowd was a lot older and more male than usual. It took me a minute or two to realise, as I walked up the Lace Market, that Carl Froch was defending his Super-Middleweight crown at the Nottingham Arena later that same night, and that the people milling about were likely boxing fans whiling away their early evening before the start of the under-card. If anything, this had a calming effect on the city centre, with pubs filled with crowds of people having a quiet drink as a prelude to the main event of their night, instead of crowds of people moving between pubs and well on the way to oblivion.

We ate in the Cock & Hoop, a relatively quiet pub that serves excellent food and probably isn't really a stop on most people's pub crawls. Dinner was good, but what really caught my eye was the group of ladies who were gathering in the main seating area where we were eating. At first I took them to be the other halves of some boxing fans; they were a little bit older than your average hen party, and they were clearly having a fairly quiet drink rather than slinging back the Bacardi Breezers. After a bit, I noticed that they were all wearing some kind of a uniform. As one of the ladies turned her back to me, I got a good chance to have a look at the large logo on the back of her fleece. There was a large picture of a star, a website address and the company name:

Central England Paranormal Investigators.

I looked them up when I got home, and apparently they were having some kind of a "do" at the Galleries of Justice, just opposite the pub. If you've seen "Most Haunted", then you probably know the drill: set up loads of infra-red cameras and thermometers and stuff, and spend the night giving your paying customers the heebie-jeebies in a really creepy old jailhouse in the wee-small hours of the morning. A quick scan of their website reveals that they guys I was looking at in the pub were the core team who would be leading the night's investigations. Now, I personally don't really believe in all that stuff. It's not so much that I don't think there's anything else out there, but rather that I'm prone to be a bit sceptical of someone selling their services as a psychic or a spirit medium. I'm open-minded though, and I'm sure these guys are really good at what they do and that their clients have a really interesting night out..... but the thing is, I'm not sure if I would really trust in the expertise of someone who had put a six-pointed star as the focal point of their logo. Everybody knows that the pentagram is associated with magic and the occult, but surely most people also know that a pentagram has five points. The clue's in the name. These guys had a six-pointed star - a hexagram - on their backs. The Star of David. Um. Doesn't that mean something completely different?

We had a good laugh about it on the way home, anyway. Can you imagine summoning a demon and thinking you're protected by the symbols you've drawn on the floor inside a chalk circle... only to discover that the six-pointed star you've drawn protects you rather less well than the pentagram you thought you'd drawn? You'd be a laughing stock in all of the circles of hell.

Or perhaps I should try not be such a smartarse - a quick glance at wikipedia tells me that the hexagram (not necessarily the same thing as a Star of David, apparently) is commonly used both as a talisman and for conjuring spirits in the practice of witchcraft.


That being true, then I am forced to admit that those people I'd been quietly laughing at might well be right. Anyway, it definitely means that I was wrong to infer from the logo alone that they must be idiots. Just because I didn't know the hexagram's associations with the occult, doesn't mean that no one else does, and it certainly doesn't mean that they made a mistake.

*does more research*

Ah, but then again, they were using the "Star of David" form of hexagram - two overlaid triangles - rather than the Unicursal hexagram, which is drawn in one continuous line and is more commonly associated with the occult....

So they could have known of the hexagram's associations with the occult but chosen the wrong form of hexagram for their logos, or they could simply have mistaken the hexagram for the a pentagram. Or I could be wrong.

Or I could be thinking about this too much.

......Actually, don't answer that.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

the green, green grass of home....

Ever since I was a teenager, I think it's fair to say that I haven't always seen eye-to-eye with my dad. This is hardly a unique phenomenon, I'm sure, but to this day, we barely have to be around each other under the same roof for longer than a day before we start rubbing each other up the wrong way. I'm not sure why this is. Superficially, we're quite similar. For starters, at first glance, we look physically very similar, and are unmistakably father and son. Look a little more closely though, and the differences become more apparent: as well as being bald where my dad has a full head of hair, I'm a lot taller and actually have quite a different physical build to my dad. It wasn't until my mum lost a load of weight recently that I realised quite how much I actually resemble her in terms of our physical stature - tall, thin, broad-shouldered.

I think something similar is true of our personalities: on the face of it we're both untidy, impatient and irascible, with a tendency not to listen and to interrupt, but when you look at things a bit closer, the differences become a lot starker. At least I hope they do.... My dad is a doctor and a man of the sciences; I am very much inclined towards the humanities. My dad is religious and I most certainly am not.... and so on. I love him to bits, of course, but I just don't think he understands me because, although we're superficially similar on the face of it, I am ultimately put together in a quite different way to him. Somehow, after all this time, he still gets angry when I react to things differently to him (and, I suppose, vice-versa). It's as if he keeps expecting me to be more like him than I actually am.

I was given a stark illustration of this when we last saw my parents: my dad was talking to C. and was describing how I used to drive him mad when I was a teenager by deliberately doing a bad job of mowing the lawn, leaving tufts of uncut grass all over the place. This, he said, was absolutely typical of me. This is not the way I remember things. It's absolutely true to say that I used to drag my heels over being told to cut the grass. What teenager doesn't? It wasn't so much that I disliked the job itself or had anything better to do with my time, it was more to do with the fact that I was being told -- ordered -- to do something, and I objected on principle and took my time getting it done. There was never any question that I wouldn't do it; it was always only a matter of how far I could push it before I actually went and did it. If you've been a teenager, then you've probably been there yourself and I'm sure you know how it works. However, once I was out and cutting the grass, never once did I deliberately set out to do a bad job, to piss my father off or otherwise. I may have DONE a bad job, but I never set out to do so intentionally. The idea that my dad has spent the last twenty years or so stewing on that as being somehow typical of me is something that I find a little disturbing. It is entirely possible, I now think, that my dad has based his assessment of my personality on a presumption of a premeditation, of a malice of forethought, that has simply never been there.

Based on a conversation I had with C. over the weekend, what really worries me now is that she has taken my father's misreading of me on-board and is applying it to me herself. I've no one to blame for this misreading of my intentions but myself, but I still find it alarming that my actions (or inactions) are interpreted in this way. I'm surely not that inscrutable, am I?

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Monday, October 19, 2009

and you know where they burn books, people are next....

"Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime....."

So begins "To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell, written at some point in the middle of the Seventeenth Century. It famously features an amorous suitor attempting to convince his reluctant partner to surrender her virginity. If I had the time, he says, I would spend centuries adoring every part of your body... but....

"But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace."

In other words, give it up now love, before it's too late.

It's a fantastic poem, and I was reminded of it this afternoon, when Aravis tweeted how she'd been studying it in class and had been somewhat taken aback by some of her classmates' reactions to it:

"Asked if To His Coy Mistress was meant as existential angst or seduction, my classmates' consensus was: neither. He's just some gross creepy guy trying to get into her pants."

Hmm. That's arguable, I suppose, but they went further, with one student saying:

"...it communicates a man who would like to use a woman for his own pleasure to gratify his ego."

The same student then goes on to call him violent.

When I studied this poem, some twenty years ago, we talked at length about the poet's intentions here, and how, as a religious man, he might actually be mocking some of the "carpe diem" attitudes of his contemporaries. For myself, I like to think that the narrator of the poem is being slightly comical in his argument, as though when your dad refuses to lend you a fiver, you ask him to lend you a £100 instead. What we didn't discuss in any detail was how "gross" or otherwise the poet might be. It's always a dangerous game to view a 350 year old poem through the lens of today's morality. They didn't have flushing toilets, power showers or cable tv back then either, and I'm sure that's a pretty grotesque thought for lots of people too. Things become even more dangerous when you start to factor in your religious beliefs.

Apparently lots of Aravis' class are quite religious - Catholics - and although I don't know them, it's tempting to think that their views on a poem like this have been shaped by their conservative, religious viewpoints.

For some reason, I'm reminded of the recent new reports about the top ten books that people tried to get the American Library Association to ban. Surprise, surprise.... many of them feature themes that the conservative religious right finds offensive: "And Tango Makes Three", the story of two gay penguins in Central Park Zoo; the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, where God is senile and decrepit; "Uncle Bobby's Wedding", featuring some gay guinea pigs. This follows earlier stories about how Sarah Palin tried in the late 1990s as then mayor of Wasilla in Alaska to have "Daddy's Roommate", a tale about a gay father, removed from the town library. Just the other day, Matt Latimer, a former speechwriter for George Bush, alleged in his new memoir of life in the White House that Bush had refused to grant JK Rowling the Presidential Medal of Freedom because her writing "encouraged witchcraft".... .and don't even mention Charles Darwin: a recent film on the naturalist's life has failed to find a US distributor because of its controversial themes. i.e. it talks about Evolution.

I'm sure we all agree that censorship is bad... but all you have to do is to take a closer look at the one book these people will never ban, and you will see quite how ridiculous these people really are.

Let's start with Genesis. We'll pass over a drunken Noah sleeping with his daughters, and we'll stop at Genesis chapter 19, verses 4-8, where two angels come to visit Lot to warn him of the impending disaster about to strike Sodom. He invites them in as his guests:

"But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter. And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them. And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, and said, I pray you brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye unto them as is good unto your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they unto the shadow of my roof."

In other words, gang rape my virgin daughters, but leave my guests alone. Nice.

Or, how about Judges chapter 19, verses 22-25, where a Levite and his concubine come to visit Gibeah and stay with an old man who lives there:

"Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into the house, that we may know him. And the man, the master of the house, said unto them, Nay, my brethren, nay, I pray you, do not so wickedly; seeing that this man is come into my house, do not this folly. Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you; but unto this man do not so vile a thing. But the men would not hearken to him: so the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her, all the night until morning: and when the day began to spring, they let her go."

Nice, eh? She dies, incidentally, as a result of her terrible night, and her master cuts her body up and sends the parts to different parts of the coast. Much righteous slaughter ensues, in God's name, of course.*

The Old Testament is riddled with this kind of stuff, and -- if read through the lens of today's morality -- isn't it just the most awful, misogynist rubbish you've ever heard? But they'll never ban that, of course, it's The Bible, isn't it? It's only the word of God, innit? I'm sure you'll agree that Harry Potter is far more of a perfidious influence on our youth than stories of maidens offered up for gang rape by their fathers, or come to that, a seventeenth century charmer trying to woo his coy mistress.


*In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention at this point that I'm not as up on the Old Testament as I might be --- I'm still reading "The God Delusion", and Dawkins mentions both these passages in chapter 7 to illustrate how people pick and choose which bits of the Bible are to be taken literally and which bits should be read allegorically. Obviously the Bible isn't suggesting we should offer up our daughters for rape, but clearly that bit about a man lying with another man is to be taken literally and homosexuality is thus a grievous sin.... Out of interest, I checked a book of children's bible stories that I was given at my christening before writing this, and although the story of the angels visiting Lot is told, funnily enough, it skips Lot's offering of his virgin daughters to the mob. Strange that. It's still full of the blood and thunder of the Old Testament God, but it chooses to skip that bit....


Whilst we're on the subject of the ignorance of crowds... lest we liberals get too excited by our recent triumphs in the battles against Carter-Ruck over Trafigura and over Jan Moir's stunningly insensitive article about Stephen Gately, let's remember two things:

1) We're not the only people who can organise campaigns like this: ask Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand about how easily roused the good people of middle England can be, and get ready for a campaign from the BNP over this week's Question Time appearance.

2) We might be a more tolerant and inclusive pitchfork wielding mob, but we're still a pitchfork wielding mob.


Friday, October 16, 2009

I'll follow you until you love me....

Earworms of the Week

> "Harold of the Rocks" - Primus

Amazingly, in spite of having quite a few of their albums, I don't actually have any Primus ripped onto my iPod. That's a situation that must change. How can anyone manage without some gloriously random, almost jazzy, bass driven metal on their portable MP3 player? I ask you? This song is on "Frizzle Fry", an album that I discovered when I was about 16 years old and have pretty much loved ever since. It reminds me, inevitably, of that emotional scene in Neighbours when Harold Bishop is lost, apparently swept out to sea, and all that remains are his glasses that are discovered in a rock pool. Heart breaking.

> "America" - Razorlight

Their first album was promising, with perhaps even some signs that there might be some substance behind Johnny Borrell's boasting. The second album promptly delivered them a number one single, but -- for me anyway -- was resolutely "meh". When the next album comes out, whenever that's going to be, I don't think I'll be bothering. Lightweight and with far too big an opinion of their own greatness. Still, this is a pretty decent song.

> "Monkey Gone to Heaven" - The Pixies

lots of incomprehensible screaming about the devil being six and God being seven? Brilliant, obviously.

> "Blue Skies" - Noah and the Whale

Breaking up with Laura Marling may well have hurt like a bastard at the time, but if the result of all that pain is an album as good as "The First Days of Spring", then -- from my point of view anyway -- it's got to have all be worthwhile, right? A breakup album, and no mistake, but superb.

> "Goddess on a Hiway" - Mercury Rev

One of the joys of finally making my iTunes available wirelessly is that I am now actively listening to music in the bedroom. Yes, I know that this is ridiculous: I have an iPod; I have speakers; I have various stereos I could move about the house... but the fact remains that in several years I have had access to all of these things, and I have mainly been entirely without music in the bedroom. Stick an Airport Express into the bedroom, and suddenly I'm listening to music all the time. Stupid, but there you go..... Anyway, one of the albums I listened to this week whilst reading my book was "Deserter's Songs" was released in 1998, but I reckon it sounds as perfectly out of time now as it did back then. It's superb. This is the best song on it by a country mile, of course, but it's a fantastic ethereal album.

> "Age of Revolution" / "Gentlemen & Players" - Duckworth Lewis

A concept album about cricket by the man behind The Divine Comedy? What a dreadful idea. Except that, actually, it works. Yes, "Jiggery Pokery" is probably the song that captures the headlines, but actually it's the least typical song on the album. The musical style varies hugely across the album, but the main thread is that all of the songs are loosely themed about cricket. "Age of Revolution" charts how the game has changed from being run by the Gentlemen to being taken over by the upstart players who are now "driving Bentleys, playing Twenty20". "Gentlemen & Players" is a more pastoral number, with a distinctly sepia-tinged view of the game. Sounds ridiculous, but sounds fantastic. Seriously, you should give it a go.

> "The Living Daylights" / "The Sun Always Shines on TV" - A-ha

Sad news this week that the legendary A-ha have split up. Their heyday was in the 1980s, but they never actually split up, taking a hiatus in 1994, but coming back together in 1998. You might not have heard anything new by them since something like 1988, but actually their 2002 album "Analogue" is actually really good (I must have listened to "Celice" alone hundreds of times... although that's at least partially because it's the very first track on my iPod on alphabetical order by artist, and if I hit the wrong button, that's the song that starts playing....). Their second album, "Scoundrel Days", was actually one of the very first albums that I ever owned. They're a big part of my life and I'm really sad to hear that they've finally called it a day. "The Living Daylights" is hardly their finest or best known song, but I like it as it manages to be both an A-ha song and also recognisably a James Bond theme tune. I also love the Nordic froideur and restrained passion that courses through "The Sun Always Shines on TV". Fantastic band. They'll be missed.

> "California Uber Alles" - Dead Kennedys

I was aware of "Too Drunk To Fuck", of course... but quite how good this song is was only latterly revealed to me. It's not just the choppy guitar riffs (although they're pretty damn good), it's the syncopation in the chorus

"California Uber Alles
California Uber Alles
Uber Alles California
Uber Alles California

Zen fascists will control you
100% natural
You will jog for the master race
And always wear the happy face"

Brilliant, brilliant record.

> "Karma Police" - Radiohead

...Speaking of brilliant records. "OK Computer" came out when I was working on the shopfloor of HMV York. Initially I was delighted to have a decent record to listen to whilst working instead of the usual succession of crappy "Now" albums, the Spice Girls or Ministry of Sound compiliations.... and then the constant repetition managed to kill it for me. It took me a good few years and a good pair of headphones before I realised quite how good this album really was. "Lucky" is probably my favourite song on the album, followed closely by "Exit Music (for a film)" - which works especially well through headphones as you can hear every catch as Thom Yorke takes a breath. You can't really argue with this song though, and the video is somehow archetypally Radiohead-y too, with Yorke looking especially miserable (not quite as archetypal as "No Surprises" though, it has to be said). I'm not massively keen on anything they've done since, but they remain a damn good band and few bands scale heights like this.

> "Paparazzi" - Lady Gaga

Gaga is something of a guilty pleasure of mine. I've nothing against pop, but it seems to me that there's something a little bit arty and edgy about Gaga. Yes, a lot of the album tracks are not all that far removed from other performers (like Pink), and she can sometimes seem a bit forced when interviewed (as she did on Jonathan Ross a while back), but the real standout tracks are something different. They're catchy, of course, but they seem to deal with sometimes quite dark lyrical themes - rough sex, for instance, seems to crop up several times. There's also something of an air of melancholy underneath all the glitz and shiny production sheen. Maybe I'm overanalysing. One thing's for sure: I'm certainly analysing it more than 22 y.o. at work, who seemed troubled by the question of whether he found Gaga attractive or not. Well, anyway. I like this song. I find it slightly haunting.


Right. That's your lot. The weekend is here and I have the prospect of buying some more speaker cables ahead of me as the development of my man room starts to take shape. I hope your weekend is somewhere near as exciting as that..... stay classy.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

I'm a man, that's what I am.....

One of the unexpected benefits of getting the loft converted is that I'm apparently now going to get a proper man space in the house. I've had a cave since we first moved in: home to the bulk of my CDs, my separates stereo, a pile of my books, my desk, an old telly and one of my computers. The walls are covered with pictures of Andrew Flintoff, The Beatles, Muhammad Ali, Han Solo and Morrissey/Marr. There's even a beer fridge in there. It's meant to be a proper man space, but sadly for me, it hasn't really worked out like that. The room has served as our main spare room, and although the futon in there spends most of its life folded up as a sofa and not rolled out as a bed, it effectively blocks access to the CD racks and the stereo; there's no real signal on the tv and the beer fridge is sadly empty and unplugged most of the time. Since I've had a laptop and no longer need to sit at the desk, I don't really spend much time in there at all.

The addition of a new room in the house has now moved the goalposts: the room in the loft is now very much our guest room. It has a double-bed and an en-suite bathroom. This means, so I was informed this evening, that we don't need to keep a futon in my cave any more, and we can get a chair, put in some more book and CD shelves, shift the stereo and speakers somewhere more central to the room for optimal listening, perhaps get a decent telly, another sky box and a DVD player.... the world is suddenly my oyster.

What I really want, and all I really need, is a room where I will be happy to spend some time: somewhere I can sit in a chair and listen to music, watch some telly and to read some books. But can I really leave it there? As a man, do I not have some kind of obligation to pack the room full of all kinds of other stuff?

I throw the question open to the floor: what else should go in that room? What else does any self-respecting man room need? A drumkit? A moose head? A gun cabinet? A fully functioning casino? A full-size snooker table? A grotto with lake and a cascading waterfall?

You tell me......

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

tell me life is beautiful....

When we were in a noodle bar the other day, alongside the bill, we were presented with a pair of fortune cookies. For some reason, C. gets excited about such things, and she eagerly ripped open her cookie and pulled out the message. It said something like, "you will receive some good news next Tuesday". The usual carefully non-specific, quasi-mystical nonsense, I thought. I would have expected nothing less. After all, what's the point of fortune cookies? They're not even especially nice biscuits. Even so, C seemed a touch disappointed and down in the mouth, as if she was somehow expecting more from her fortune. Her disappointment was quickly replaced by an eagerness to see what my fortune had in store for me. She was so keen, in fact, that I had to move fairly quickly to stop her taking my cookie and opening it for herself.

My fortune read: "Because of your melodic nature, the moonlight never misses an appointment".

For some unknown reason, this seemed to enrage C. How could it be fair that her fortune was so mundane and mine was so poetic? Frankly, I couldn't see what her problem was and I was quietly impressed by my fortune. How the cookie could possibly know about my melodic nature...?

Perhaps I've misjudged the whole thing?


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

but your boss gets richer off you....

I'm suffering from superlative exhaustion. I spent the day at one of those internal work conference things where you sit at a table with a saucer of sweets, hotel branded notepaper and biros and big glass bottles of mineral water*. We have these every six months or so, and the idea is for our leadership to share their ambitions with their wider management team**. Sounds awful, right? Well, surprisingly they're usually not too bad.

After a few hours though, the thing that really starts to grate is the language. I'm not talking about 'buzzword bingo' here, although you do get the odd "low hanging fruit" or "singing from the same hymn sheet" here and there. It's just the relentless onslaught of superlatives. Why be good when you can be great? Why settle for merely great when you can be legendary? Everything is massively important and vital. It's draining and ultimately it's empty. I understand why we use the language of aspiration - who aims to be "quite good"? It's not exactly a motivational stretch target, is it? But after a while, the real meaning and emphasis of those words is lost. Eventually, I stop hearing those words at all.

I love words and I love the English language. When used well, it can have the most incredible combination of form and function. We may not have as many words for snow as the Eskimos***, but we do have a wonderfully expressive and flexible language. Language is important to me, and I think that it is important to use it properly. At my worst, this manifests itself as the terrible grammar nazi who pulls people up for their misuse of the apostrophe or who chastises people who ignorantly correct my use of "me" instead of "I" (as in "that belongs to C and me"). That said, I also know that one of the best things about the English language is its capacity to absorb new words to continually evolve. What really gets on my nerves though is the casual misuse of language where words are used so much that they become empty. If you're going to fill your sentences with meaningless words like that, then why bother speaking at all?

We have a regular temperature check-type survey in the office. It's called the "Great Place to Work" survey, but I'll let that particular superlative pass as an aspiration. The use of language is sloppy though. When you're asking me to score you on how much I agree with a particular statement, the words that you use are absolutely critical to the way I will answer the question: the words you choose are the only way you have of communicating the question that you want me to answer. They have to be right. If you ask me, as the survey does, do I LOVE being part of my team at work, then I'm going to have to tell you that I don't. I quite like some of the people in my team, but love? No. If someone has to explain to me, before I fill out the survey, what they mean by each question, then something is terribly wrong. How hard would it be to word it right in the first place, without ambiguity? By the same token, why do we have to constantly and brainlessly reach for the biggest superlative we can think of? Do we not have the wit to use the language more creatively than that?

Part of it, I suppose, is that people like to be seen to be doing and saying the right things. In this world, the language of positivity is the same thing as genuinely being positive. This should also be accompanied by the waving of arms, the widening of eyes and, if you think you can pull it off, some actual, honest-to-goodness whooping. Same thing applies to your successes: saying that you have been massively successful and have achieved great things is exactly the same thing as actually achieving great things. In fact, in many ways it's much more important. Looking at some of the people in the room at the conference today, this is an approach that seems to work.

I work hard and I do many of the things that my senior managers were talking about today. My problem, I'm told, is that what I don't do is to work hard enough on telling other people about what I do. Forgive me if I think that the substance of what you do should be more important than what you say.

Mind you, that said, I'm not so lacking in self-awareness as to realise that I sometimes don't exactly help myself: when asked why I thought a "massively important" new project had been codenamed "Darwin", I said that it was because we fundamentally did not believe in intelligent design. Not the answer they were looking for, apparently.....


* As you might expect from an event like this, the bottled water was ethical and each bottle saw a donation made to a charity that installs water pumps into African villages. The name of this water? Sela V. What the hell were they thinking? I know that Perrier ran a successful advertising campaign in the 80s with lots of "eau" puns, but that's just excruciating and more than a touch self-satisfied. Awful... and perhaps entirely audience appropriate.

** Don't be thinking I'm any kind of a big cheese. There are hundreds of us.

*** Urban myth, by the way

As I've talked about grammar here, I'm sure to have made several mistakes. Oh well. Sela V.


Monday, October 12, 2009


MS is a right barrel of laughs, I can tell you. One of the things that I'm discovering is that I never quite know what's going to happen next, or indeed what to make of it all. That's true for everyone else, of course, but at the moment my life seems to be a rollercoaster of minor surprises and little humps in the road: sleeping policemen on the highway of life, if you like.

I went out running as usual on Saturday morning. Nothing unusual in that, and since the training for the half marathon, I've been trying to make a bit of an effort to keep the mileage up on at least one of my weekly runs. More often than not, that longer run takes place on a Saturday lunchtime when time pressures are fewer. I had a bit of a lie-in as usual, gently sounded out the morning-after impact of a night spent at the Nottingham beer festival, and then headed out the door. It was a lovely day, and I actually quite enjoyed the 6.70 mile route I took out along the river, even though I ran it the wrong way around (is it just me who normally follows my normal running routes the same way around? It just feels wrong if I do them back-to-front...).

About a mile from home, I noticed that I was losing sensation in my bottom lip. In the context of the numbness I feel elsewhere in my body, it wasn't really anything too dramatic, and I wasn't too worried about it, but I felt it slowly increasing in its (lack of) intensity as I continued to head home. By the time I set foot through the front door, I had lost a good deal of the feeling in the lower part of my cheeks too: I felt a little like I was at the dentists and about to have a filling put in.

Over the course of the next few hours, feeling returned, but it does leave a lingering feeling of "what's next"?

The answer wasn't long in making itself known, and I found my usual Sunday swim hampered by a loss of power across my upper arms and shoulders. This isn't new, but it seems to come and go unpredictably, and naturally made my swim -- an exercise I do specifically to exercise those muscles -- rather more bothersome than usual.

And then this morning I woke up with a blurry eye. I've talked about this before, but a visit to my eye doctor last week has now shown that my eyes and their implanted lenses are extremely healthy and working very well. Under normal conditions, my vision is excellent - much better than average. This blurriness then, is something of a mystery. My optic nerve apparently looks good, but it now seems certain that this sporadic blurriness is being caused by old nerve damage. Something they don't tell you, it now seems, is that you can suffer neurological damage that you don't notice at the time, but which leaves permanent damage. This blurriness is a classic sign, apparently. It's not there all the time, and even when it is there, it's not too annoying... but given that it's never going to entirely go away, that's probably just as well. Actually, given the choice of a problem with my eye, my implants or a nerve problem, this is probably the easiest one to deal with as I have no choice but to get on with things. No intervention will make any difference, so I can just try to ignore it and move on. Hey ho.

I don't need to be told that, in the grand scheme of things, a weekend where I have been able to run, swim and attend a beer festival doesn't sound like one where I have been too greatly inconvenienced by my condition. And I haven't been. Trust me, I'm very much aware of that already; every painful run I go on is now precious to me in its own way simply because I can still run. But what's next? There's no way of knowing, and nothing anyone could do about it even if there was. I know that. There's nothing to be gained by worrying about what my future might, or might not, hold.....but...well, you have to wonder, don't you?

It's a right old barrel of laughs, this dear old surprise-a-minute, never-saw-that-one-coming condition of mine.


Friday, October 09, 2009

and so I drank one it became four.....

Gone drinking at the Nottingham Beer Festival. Well, you get a souvenir glass and everything, so....

According to wikipedia, "Beer is the world's oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic beverage and the third most popular drink overall after water and tea. It is produced by the brewing and fermentation of starches, mainly derived from cereal grains—most commonly malted barley, although wheat, maize (corn), and rice are widely used. Most beer is flavoured with hops, which add bitterness and act as a natural preservative, though other flavourings such as herbs or fruit may occasionally be included."

Hmmm. I'm not sure that entirely captures the appeal.

Hmm. Neither does that.

Well, I'm going to pack up my little notebook and my pens in three different colours to make careful tasting notes, and I'm going to go anyway.

There are apparently 701 different beers and more than 100 ciders (give or take).

I may be some time.

.....You know I was joking about the notebook and pens, right?


Aw, come on....


Thursday, October 08, 2009

you know the preacher likes the cold, he knows I'm gonna stay.....

Right, well as I think I'm likely to be at the Nottingham Beer Festival tomorrow, I think I'd better get this week's earworms done today, eh?

Earworms of the Week

> "Walking in Memphis" - Cher

There I was, innocently minding my own business in the office, when I was suddenly landed with this. How does a conversation about the ten bestselling soundtrack albums of all time suddenly end up with me having to put up with bloody Cher, eh? Yeah, I suppose it's mildly amusing that someone might think that this song was written by Leonard Cohen (Marc Cohn / Leonard Cohen... easy mistake to make right?). It's not half so funny when you have this ringing around your head, let me tell you......

> "Marlon JD" - Manic Street Preachers

I was listening again to "Journal for Plague Lovers" the other day, and it really is a very good album. In the writing of this album, the band had finally returned to some lyrical fragments left behind by Richie shortly before his disappearance. The result, perhaps not surprisingly, is the best thing that they've done since.... well, pretty much since Richie vanished. Then again, "The Holy Bible" has always been my favourite Manics album, so perhaps I would say that. The lyrics are incredibly dense, seemingly packing in an impossible number of references into each line: I'd be surprised if anyone other than their author would be able to explain them. It was a brave decision by a band who have spent more than a decade trying to look forwards and not backwards, and I think the results entirely vindicate them.... not that they had anything to prove to anyone. I've no idea what this song is about, but it's brilliant.

> "Voodoo Chile" - Jimi Hendrix

Someone linked to this on Twitter the other day, and I'm not sure if I'm missing something, or if they really have made a Bob Marley t-shirt with Jimi Hendrix on it. Whatever, it was enough to plant this into my head anyway. Well, that and hearing it on the radio, anyway. It's not my favourite of his songs, but it's pretty unmistakeable. Is there anyone else who has quite such a recognisable guitar-playing style? All loose-limbed and effortless. His not the best singer in the world, for sure, but you can't have everything, can you? (and I'm afraid to say, that whenever I think of Hendrix, I end up coming back to that immortal line from Spinal Tap: you can't dust for vomit.....)

> "Hey Man (Now You're Really Livin')" - Eels

I love this band. It's not that E writes spectacular anthems or anything, but he does have this amazing knack of conveying emotion. He's had an apparently tragic life, but -- as here -- he has the lightness of touch to talk about some pretty heavy emotions with an almost incongruously upbeat tune.

"Do you know what it's like to fall on the floor
And cry your guts out 'til you got no more
Hey man now you're really living"

He's unique, I think. Great tune.

> "Vicinity of Obscenity" - System of a Down

Well, you couldn't get much more of a contrast from Eels than System of a Down, could you? Absolutely bonkers band. If I have no idea what Richie was talking about in that Manics tune, then what the hell are you to make of this?

"Banana Banana Banana Terracotta Banana Terracotta Terracotta Pie!
Banana Banana Banana Terracotta Banana Terracotta Terracotta Pie!

I'm usually a lyrics man, and that looks suspiciously like nonsense to me....but the sheer weight of the music and the full on screaming commitment of Serj Tankian just about make it all work somehow.

Terracotta Pie Hey!
Terracotta Pie Hey!

> "Empire State of Mind" - Jay-Z

I'm not an especially big fan of Jay-Z, I have to say... but this song stood out at his Wembley gig the other week, and the more I hear it, the more I like it. There you go. I'm sure he'll be thrilled to know my view, so if you see him, please feel free to tell him.

> "PDA" - Interpol

Paul Banks still sounds like an undertaker reading a legal document, but I love Interpol and I was long overdue digging out their debut album and giving it a spin. Still sounds good to me.

> "Love it When You Call" - The Feeling

This was playing when I was in a bar last weekend, and it's just a sublime pop song, isn't it? My favourite bits are the band harmonies on the chorus echoing the main lyrics:

"I love it when you call
(he loves it when you call)


Brilliant song.

> "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris" - Morrissey

Morrissey is such a maddening artist: having come back with a bang from his years in the wilderness with "You Are the Quarry", he then quickly followed it up with an album - "Ringleader of the Tormentors" - that just never really did it for me. It was all sound and fury and lacking in substance, even if Morrissey's voice itself sounded as good as it has done in years. Having not really been that thrilled with it initially, his next album, "Years of Refusal" has grown on me. It's not my favourite Morrissey album by any stretch of the imagination, but neither is it "Maladjusted". This is the most immediate song on the album, and when it popped up on the CD player in the car, I found myself repeating it several times. It's short and sweet and certainly doesn't outstay its welcome. Good song. Would probably be enhanced by the presence of Johnny Marr, though..... but what wouldn't be??

> "California Dreaming" - Lee Moses

Given that the Mamas and Papas version of this song was deemed to be number 89 in the Rolling Stone list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, then you'd imagine that it would be pretty difficult to top. Well, perhaps Lee Moses doesn't quite manage that, but he does get pretty damn close. The style is completely different - well, what would be the point of trying to top Mama Cass and co. on vocal harmonies? - but that injection of soul works incredibly well, shifting the tone of the song completely and really making the song his own by not competing on the same pitch at all. I can only take my hat off to Red, who brought this song to my attention in the comments to Queenie's autumn playlist on Postculturist. It's superb. I can't stop listening to it......

And tomorrow night.... beer. There will be more than 600 casks of real ale, apparently. Well, I'll do my best.

Enjoy your weekends people.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

broad beans are sleeping in their blankety bed.....

At Primary School this morning, instead of reading with the kids, their teacher apologetically took me through to the main event of the day: the harvest festival service.

I haven't been to a Harvest Festival service since I was at school, and I was pleased to see that the format remains much the same: all the kids sat on the floor in the main hall, with a couple of tables at the front laden with tins of food (including, I was amused to note, a tin of mushy peas....) as well as some cabbages and the odd pineapple. The service itself was run by a nice lady vicar (who is actually the mother of one of the kids I read with last year) and was - as far as these things go - pretty good. She'd brought in a bag of apples from a tree in her garden and was getting everyone involved by asking the assembled kids lots of questions: how many different varieties of apples are there? (the initial guess was 4, the answer was something like 1,500), what is the study of apples called: apology, theology or pomology? How much air is in an apple? (25% apparently). There was then a spot of apple bobbing on the stage, with every participant being rewarded with an apple. Finally, a couple of volunteers came up onto the stage and were each given a slice of apple. Asked if they liked the apple, both willingly agreed. The vicar then turned the apple around to show that the other side of the apple had a wormhole. Rather than running away screaming (which the teacher sat next to me had whispered she was worried about,especially as one of the kids chosen was apparently autistic), both kids were fascinated and wanted to know if the worm was still in there.... The vicar's point, she went on to explain, was that many of the apples had blemishes, bruises and wormholes, but that they were still fundamentally good. Can you see where she's going? That's right, apples are a lot like people, aren't they? Some have bruises and seem bad, but that everyone is basically good. Naturally, religion came into it, but actually it was done in quite an inclusive way, stressing what she believed as a christian, but not necessarily assuming that everyone in the room shared her faith. I thought it was nicely done, actually.

That said, my favourite bit of the whole service was the song that the kids all sang (and acted out in sign language):

Cauliflowers fluffy and cabbages green,
Strawberries sweeter than any I've seen
Beetroot purple and onions white,
All grow steadily day and night

The apples are ripe, the plums are red,
Broad beans are sleeping in a blankety bed

Blackberries juicy and rhubarb sour,
Marrows that are fattening hour by hour.
Gooseberries hairy and lettuces fat
Radishes round and runner beans flat

The apples are ripe, the plums are red,
Broad beans are sleeping in a blankety bed

Orangey carrots and turnips cream,
Reddening tomatoes that used to be green,
Brown potatoes in little heaps,
Down in the darkness where the celery sleeps

The apples are ripe, the plums are red,
Broad beans are sleeping in a blankety bed

They'd been practicing all week, I was told, and they sounded great. How can you not be charmed by a room full of kids all singing to you about some beans in their blankety bed?

On the way out, my class's teacher told me how she thought it was really good for her class to have a man come in to read to them every week, as there are only two male teachers in the whole school. If they don't have one of those guys as their class teacher, then a class might well spend the whole year surrounded entirely by women. Ah, I thought, that explains why most of them call me "miss" then.....

Best hour of the working week, without a shadow of a doubt. As usual. A new earworm, too.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

a paper world with paper faces beneath a paper moon....

As the darkness drew in this evening and a wintry rain started to fall, instead of going home to head out on the run I'd promised myself I would do, I found myself chatting with a few of my colleagues. As the office emptied, the topic of conversation drifted relentlessly towards the subject of what it took to get ahead at work, with my 22 year-old colleague asking me if I would ever consider playing the game in order to get promoted. The easy answer is no, but I still hesitated a little before answering. I'm conscious that 22 y.o. is quite impressionable, and I definitely don't want to give him the impression that my way is the only way to go. In fact, I think I will be doing him a great disservice if I don't point out that if he chooses to walk the path I have chosen, then he is likely to find it somewhat career limiting.

I used to think that I wanted to be managing director, but as I've got older, I've realised how far from the truth that is. I am challenge orientated and I want to do the best job that I can, but I can't quite stop myself from asking questions that it might be more prudent to leave unasked. I can't help myself: the same analytical mind that is essential to doing my job is forever getting me into trouble. My new boss is always going on about how doing a good job is not enough; how you need to work on 'building your brand' and making sure that the right people see you behaving in what they consider the right way. Part of the assessment of our performance is, after all, based upon our "behaviours"..... If you want to get ahead, my boss tells me, you need to work on your brand. Or as one of my other colleagues said this evening, "You have to be prepared to suck some cock".

It's a glib line: it's funny and it means that we outsiders can vent our scorn at the people we perceive to be advancing their careers on the basis of appearances rather than achievements. It's too easy though. It's an easy answer that provides succour to people like us who think we're doing a better job than the people being promoted around us. It can't always be true, can it? It might seem true in my department, but -- as my wife likes to point out -- it is possible to move your career forwards without compromising your integrity, and her career is proof positive: a shining example of someone who treats her colleagues with respect and achieves success through nothing less than talent and sheer hard work.

I've been thinking about this.

We all have our opinions on our colleagues and on ourselves, but I reckon that if you can come up with a method for somehow measuring integrity, then you might just have the benchmark for determining who is merely going through the motions of 'building their brand' and who is genuinely concerned about doing the best job that they can.

How about this:

Picture a sliding scale, with "Self-Awareness" on one end and "Self-Importance" on the other end. I'm going to call this the "Vestiges of Humanity" scale. Every single thing we do at work -- and in life -- will move us in one direction or the other along that scale. I think that any reasonable person should always be aiming to have their self-awareness outweigh their self-importance. Anyone, no matter how much you may dislike them or doubt their motives, who has shown you that they are the right side of that scale, I think deserve the benefit of the doubt. In the spirit of self-development and to further your own self-awareness, you should of course apply this measure most rigorously to yourself.

I'm not claiming that this is the perfect measure, by any means. It's a rule of thumb at best. Actually, I doubt that you will find many people who fall entirely on the wrong side of the scale at all. Most people will probably be somewhere around the middle. But I am convinced that you will get a reasonable measure of someone if you consider the direction they are travelling along that scale.

I've been idly applying this to various of my colleagues over the course of the evening, and the results have been quite interesting. There's only really one of my team who I would say has actively tipped into self-importance in recent weeks (and I don't think he's a lost cause), but it has given me cause to reassess my opinions of a couple of people, including my boss. I've not been sure what his motives have been over the last few weeks, and my overall view of him has taken a sharp turn for the worse as a direct result. A bit of close consideration using the "Vestiges of Humanity" scale, and I find to my surprise that I need to amend my opinion of him. I'm still not sure of his motives, but I am pretty sure that he's both self-aware and not especially self-important. He might be confused himself about where he's going at the moment, so perhaps I should be offering him some help instead of adding to his problems?

A most unexpected result, and one that is going to perhaps lead me to change my own attitude and behaviour. Hmm. I might be onto something here.

I've always fancied writing a book, and I was reading in the paper the other day that the most successful books on the market are self-help books. "Who Moved My Cheese" and all that jazz. With a bit of work, perhaps the "Vestiges of Humanity" scale could be the next big thing? If I can help myself, then I reckon I can help anyone...

Or perhaps I've just tipped critically down my own scale and into self-importance?