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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

October 31, 2003

And finally...

Last words of the week/month (promise):


Something for the weekend

The priest left through a small side door, and Lucy came over and gave me a hug.

"Well, that was interesting. He came in and found me crawling around on the floor. I thought he was going to go off on one, but actually he was quite friendly, and completely not paranoid, which is a nice change."
"Did you tell him what you were looking for?"
"I asked if he knew anything about the Guthlac connection, but he's fairly new here. He said that some of the locals were a bit... oo er about it, a little bit supersitious, but he doesn't hold with that kind of stuff."
"Ironic for a priest to be against superstition."

"I know. Anyway, we talked about the area. There are quite a few towns round here that used to be islands. And there was a lot of salt production, which they still do on Noirmoutier Island, as well as things like oyster catching and fishing. But you'll find pine forests and dunes now where there used to be sea, and the main industry around here, according to him, is the selling of holiday homes. So. Let's look at this inscription."

She took the torch and wiggled her way sexily along the benches, shining it down at the floor. When she found what she was looking for, she stopped and bent lower down, peering at the faint lettering carved into the stone.

"Bugger," she said. "It's all in Latin or mediaeval French or something."
"Can't you tell?"
"Not easily. I don't suppose you remember much Latin from school?"
"Caecilius," I said, in my best English accent. "Nihil durare potest tempore perpetuo."

She looked at me blankly, the beginnings of a smile in her eyes. "You are so bad," she said. "Have you been seducing women with your Latin all these years?"
"Nah. Somebody I knew a long time ago. It was their motto."
"Nothing lasts for ever, including my knowledge of dead languages."

She laughed. "Oh well. I'll have to come back with a dictionary or something."
"Why don't you take a photo of it?"
She paused, another smile growing on her face.
"Well, duh. Why didn't I think of that? My camera's in your car."
"Use mine," I said. I pulled it out of my shirt pocket. "It's tiny but it'll take a good picture."

She spent some time crawling around and under and over the benches, taking photos occasionally, starting to sing to herself again.

When she'd finished, we headed back to the car. On the way, a strange thing. We saw the Guy Who Nobody Knows from the party the night before, stepping out of a boulangerie and turning quickly to go up a narrow alleyway. I don't know if he saw us or not.
"Who is that guy?" said Lucy.
"Nobody knows."

We bought some bread and ham, some bottled water, and drove to the beach at Bretignolles-sur-Mer. Ironically, the old village of Bretignolles is very much no longer sur-Mer, but a little way inland. On the sea were hundreds of nearly new holiday homes, built in the dunes, many of them probably illegal according to building regulations. We found a wide, almost empty, sandy beach and sat for the afternoon letting the sea breeze blow through our hair. As the sun got lower we walked, found some rock pools and spent a happy hour looking for crabs and taking photos.

Just before we left, I picked up a piece of driftwood from amongst the detritus on the beach and wrote "NIHIL DURARE POTEST TEMPORE PERPETUO" in the sand.

"Arty," she said. "Let's go and find a bed for the night."

The Ad

I have to say, the ad at the top of the page has never bothered me, and by now I wouldn't want to get rid of it and go "ad free". It's not intrusive, and at the moment I actually think it's cool, the way it picks up on stuff I've written and suggests related searches.

For example: Google Search: craig bierko , which seems completely out of the blue, except one of his films is called "I'm With Lucy." (And one of the other stars of that film is David Boreanz, which is a bit of a coincidence.) So basically it's picking up on films and ac-tors that I mention in a really clever way. Humphrey Bogart? Works for me.

Things I bought and wish I hadn't

In the age of the innernet, everybody seems to think it necessary to review every item in their lives. Every book, CD, DVD, car, guitar, pair of shoes, box of matches, and elephant foot umbrella stand, gets a star rating and an on-line review.

But the fatal flaw is that, once people have paid for something, they're reluctant to admit they've made a mistake. And you can't trust magazine type reviews, because it's all done with bribery, backhanders, and alcohol.

So here is the first of an occasional visit to the dark side, things I bought and paid for and wish I hadn't.

1. Our cooker. When our old one went wrong last year, it was quite exciting to be shopping for a new one. When you think of the vast choice out there, and how much I hated the old one, you'd imagine I might buy well. But we felt rushed, because we were without a cooker. And we weren't really ready to buy new, because the kitchen is so appallingly designed it needs a complete rethink. And then it turned out we don't have a 30 amp socket connection in the kitchen, so we had to buy gas again, even though I was looking for electric. Anyway, the cooker is bad. It's an ugly monstrosity, and the hob is ridiculously hard to clean. I hate it and thoroughly unrecommend it.

2. My Fender Blue Flower Telecaster. As you know, it's a nice guitar, plays well, and is probably better than anything else I could have afforded at the time. But the fact remains that I regret the blue flower finish, and wish I had something more conservative. You know what I really wanted was something like this, but it wasn't available at the time. Now, more and more of the Japanese Fenders are being imported, so there's more choice. And the Japanese instruments are superior to anything other than the really expensive US-built Fenders.

3. Coffee machine #1. This was a mistake, it never made a good cup of coffee, and it now sits upon the kitchen windowsill as a rebuke, making it harder to justify the Gaggia purchase.

4. Every time I see a Mazda6 (and watch out for the music), I wish I hadn't bought the Passat.

5. Our Sony telly with built-in video. Not one of the little 14" things, but a full size living room TV. It's always a mistake to buy a multi function device. Because Elodie has stuffed the video with flat food, wooden toys, clothes pegs, and barbie accessories, we had to buy a separate VCR anyway. Which I didn't want to do because I really want a DVD or hard drive recorder (see 1 above). I hate being forced to buy when I'm not ready to buy.

6. Pushchairs, child car seats. We've ended up buying far too many because we were short of cash to begin with and never liked what we originally had. For having only two kids, we've had a ridiculous number of the things.

That is all.

Words fail

This just seems so fantasically evil, self-contradictory, hypocritical, whatever you can think of. Boy scout leader, catholic priest, care home worker... You know what I'm talking about.

Here's one of my kerazy connections for you: River Phoenix, who was supposed to be a vegetable eating, non-smoking, clean-living, child of the earth, died from a drug overdose outside a nightclub in LA.

Everything's the opposite of what it is, as someone once said.


"That might be important to you" -- Ted Moult.
"And that's the way it is with a true Spaniard" -- Woody Allen.
"That's easy for you to say"
"I've told you a million times not to exaggerate."
"I thought I was wrong once but I was mistaken" -- Roy Thirlwall.
"Everything's the opposite of what it is" -- Harry Nilsson (according to John Lennon).

We had a schoolground moment walking up the road from Chris's Caff the other day. The street we work on is used as a giant skip by the local "community," and as well as burned out cars being cut-and-shut by local (and completely above board I'm sure) spray-and-repair shops, you'll see huge piles of discarded rubbish, builders' rubble, and scrap. There was even a turf delivery lorry once I saw just sweeping the mud off the back of his flatbed onto the road. Oh, and not forgetting the caravan that was dumped, then stripped, then burnt out.

What with the usual dog eggs and detritus, it's no surprise if someone thinks they've trodden in something. Neil stopped to look at his shoe and said, "Have I trod in dog shit? Oh, I think it's mud."

There was a few seconds pause, just the right length, before Simon said, "Dog mud?"

We laughed over it, and Hemingway punched me in the nose. (Woody Allen again.)

'Course, there's always the possibility (in this area) that it's actually human mud. But best not think about that.

October 30, 2003

I have no idea

What Ann Widdecombe meant when she said Howard had something of the night about him. Unless she meant he was chivalrous, and had something of the Knight about him.

He's always struck me as an odd fit for the Conservative party, one of those people you think should be on the other side, not because of his beliefs, but because of his style and appearance. He looks Old Labour to me, in the way that Jack Cunningham always seems like a Conservative.

So. What do we know? As with football, the pundits are always wrong. For example, last night, without any evidence, they were initially convinced that David Davies was going to announce his candidacy. Meanwhile, I was sitting there vegged out in front of the TV thinking to myself, but what if he's going to say that he's not a candidate?

All the pundits are convinced that Howard's job will be to ensure that the Tories aren't beaten too badly at the next election, I suppose in the same way that Kinnock took the Labour party to the edge of respectability before they kicked him out in favour of the Weasel Family.

But if, as Ha Ha Mr Wilson pointed out, a week is a long time in politics, then a couple of years is even longer. If the Weasels hang on till 2005, that's plenty of time for them to fuck up, and plenty of time for the economy to collapse, and plenty of time for a few more unpopular wars, and a couple of scandals. Do the pundits seriously think that a few cynical appeals to greed and hatred won't see the Conservatives back in power in a couple of years?

I mean, aren't there a lot of people, like me, who won't vote for our local MPs again, because they voted in favour of the war in Iraq? I'd say there's nothing you can be sure of right now except that you can't be sure. As Bob Dylan/Sam Shepard said, the only thing we knew for sure about Henry Porter is that his name wasn't Henry Porter.

But they like to act all sure of themselves, don't they? It's what they are paid for. And then they can use words like "astonishing" when they are wrong.


You know what I don't like to see? It's when people who run websites (or weblogs as they often are these days) ask you for contributions.

I don't care. Nobody makes you run a web site. If you want to write and get paid for it, get a job. If you have a job and you're still asking for money, well, it seems greedy to me.

I used to visit the Buffy Episode Guide quite a lot, because I couldn't be bothered to wait to see what happened. Sure, these people put quite a lot of work into the site; sure, it was entertaining. But then after a while they realise they've dedicated their lives to producing something for free, that's it's costing them more all the time, and start to ask for contributions to cover their expenses. It's a pattern that has been followed throughout the history of the innernet. First, people discover something they think is groovy, that lets them express themselves in ways they never could before; then it takes over their lives because they're inadequate at balancing work/leisure/friends/family. Then they ask for money.

I still don't care. This blog is free to me (so far), but if it came to it and I had to pay, well, that's between me and my ego as to whether I continue to do it. Nobody forcing me at gunpoint.

The alternative route to providing your thoughts free-of-charge to the whole world is to not do it. The alternative to having the freedom to write just about anything you want is to work for an organisation that tells you what to write. That way you get paid for it, but you'll find yourself, as the guy in the film said, covering dog shows and church fetes or writing about other subjects that repel or bore you.

Begging on a blog is the equivalent of saying, "Please let me write what the hell I like with no peer review and no editorial control, and please pay me for it."

This thought is worth 2p so far.

It's like when people stop you on the street to ask market research questions. You can stand and give your time and opinions for free, or you can walk on by. Visiting a web site with a Paypal or Amazon Payments button is like going round someone's house and being charged for a cup of tea.

It's like Fox in Socks asking Mr Knox for money after messing with his head for half an hour.

October 29, 2003


Inside the church again, peering at inscriptions, Lucy asked if I had a torch in the car.

"There's a small one in the glove box. What for?"
"I just realised that there's few of these inscriptions under the pews, the benches. A torch would help. Could you get it for me?"

Even after just a few minutes inside the church, it was a surprise to step out into the heat and light of the day again. I didn't walk fast. Reaching into the witheringly hot interior of the car, I recalled another occasion when a girl had asked to borrow a torch.

Back when we were still close, about two years after I'd left home to go and do my own thing, Dave and I went on a brief trip to Holland. We stayed in a campsite outside Amsterdam and wandered around for a couple of days, not really sure what to do with ourselves. I think left to his own devices, Dave might have gone into a few of the naughty clubs, but I was never interested in that kind of thing. I always imagined that the stripper would come out onto the stage, take her clothes off, hurt me, then go offstage again.

We were booked to travel home on the ferry from the Hook to Harwich, and we arrived in Rotterdam a day or so early. The weather was good, so we spent the time in a campsite in the dunes, sitting on the beach and watching the girls. One afternoon, we got back to our tent to find a young German couple had pitched their tent close to ours. They were on a motorcycle tour of Europe, though we never got much more than that out of them because they didn't speak English and we didn't speak German. The bike was one of those huge Honda Goldwing things, and I remember thinking it strange that they weren't the usual fat type of people you see on those bikes.

The boyfriend was a decent type, with sandy hair and freckles, and eyes that crinkled when he smiled. His girlfriend was a tall, slim, brunette, with perfect skin and a beautiful smile. I was mostly in love with her as soon as I set eyes on her. That night we sat outside our tent and smoked and talked and drank wine. It was a great evening, made more special by dint of the fact than none of us understood what the other was saying.

Dave and I had collected some exotic cigarettes in Amsterdam. When I say exotic cigarettes I mean, the kind of cigarettes you never saw at home, non-global brands. I had some menthol ones, which featured a cute picture of a polar bear on the packet. I can't remember what he had. And we had some pipe tobacco, which we'd been smoking in liquorice Rizla papers.

It was the kind of thing we did. Starting with tea in the school common room, we'd always been looking for something different to smoke, though we never tried very hard to get marriage-hana. The pipe tobacco was sold to us by another gorgeous girl in the Luton pipe shop (the owner's daughter). She sold us black cherry flavour, and chocolate. We tried it in a pipe, but it was too strong, so we took to making small roll ups. I guess they smelt exotic enough to attract the German couple, and another pair of German girls, who came over from their tent and joined the fun.

I never knew her name, the Gorgeous One. We were all swapping cigarettes, and she took one of everything, but refused one of mine, pointing to the polar bear by way of explanation. Her guy, bless him, was a lightweight, and passed out after a few plastic cups of wine. Herself, she became brighter and lovelier and flirtier as the night wore on. I felt that the refusal of the polar bear cigarettes was a sign that she liked me, and there was much eye contact.

At the end of the evening, with all the alcohol gone, we helped her get her boyfriend in the tent. She asked for our Tachenlampen. She spoke loudly, slowly, repeated herself patiently, and kept requesting the Tachenlampen, but we didn't know what she as talking about. We laughed at her a lot and imitated what he words sounded like to us.

In the end she threw up her hands and crawled into our tent, wiggling her bum from side to side, and came back with our torch.

I'll never forget her.

When I got back to the church, Lucy was talking to a priest. He was tall, thin, middle-aged. He gestured at me to remove my hat, which I did. Then I stood there, turning the torch on and off with my thumb.


When I was growing up, and we were poor (and lived between the cracks in the plaster on the poor house wall), the only alco-hol that ever came into our house was a bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream at Christmas.

My parents would also buy one cardboard crate of poky pola at christmas. I used to drink it through a straw and feel myself getting high. The only other time we got poky pola was FA Cup Final day.

As we got richer and various kids left home, or got jobs and began to pay rent, alcohol appeared at other times. Like a bottle of 99p Normandy Cider for Sunday lunch. Then at xmas we started having things like Advocaat (for Snowballs) and Whisky Macs and Bacardi and Poke.

My own first alcoholic beverage was partaken of at the Who's concert at Wemberley, 1978. It was the only sustenance I had for the entire day. We shared a gallon bottle of cider between us. I didn't feel drunk at all, but I did lose about a stone.

When I got my first job, I went cock-a-tail crazy and bought a load of spirits and mixers to go along with my Vogue cocktail book. But I never really mixed anything I liked, and there's no cocktail better than a whisky mac.

October 28, 2003

The Reivers (1969)

They were talking about horse racing movies on the radio this morning, and I thought about The Reivers, which is one of those films they used to show a lot on TV and don't anymore (not on the channels I get, anyway).

'Course, it's not a horse racing movie, per se, but there is a race in it, which the little boy participates in and Boon (McQueen) bets upon. It's an ace film, but you tend not to see films like this anymore. To me, it's like the Sunday afternoon version of High Plains Drifter, you know what I'm talking about.

I've read the book, too. It's far more enjoyable than anything else William Faulkner wrote (he wrote it late in the day, too, towards the end of his life). I'd say he was in the same kind of mood John Steinbeck was when he wrote Sweet Thursday.

Steve McQueen made a lot of films like this; he's more famous for other roles, but it's films like this one and Love With the Proper Stranger that made him the star he was.


Bear with me, I'm not using innernet-speak all of a sudden. Although the state of the Conservative Party does make you laugh out loud, as well as chuckle quietly to yourself. No, I thought I'd just helpfully point out the problem the Tories have at the moment: Little Old Ladies.

What a huge strategic error it was for them to make the Conservative Party more democratic, by allowing its members to vote for the leader. For younger listeners, the Tory leader used to be elected by the Parliamentary Party. That way, they tended to choose a natural leader from among their own ranks, who was a good Parliamentary performer. The crucial thing is that a huge percentage of people will always vote the way they vote, no matter what. You could elect Humpty Dumpty or indeed Boris Johnson as Tory leader and the little old ladies, the residents of Windsor, Kensington, Chelsea, etc. etc., would still vote for him.

The voters who matter in elections are the floaters, the tiny percentage of fickle, grasping, fair-weather friends who actually affect the outcome. These are the people you need to appeal to with your leader. The members of parliament always knew this, and on the whole managed to keep electing people who could do that job.

But I guess we can thank the gods for Ted Heath and his enthusiasm for Europe, because 30 years later the subject rips at the heart of what the Party stands for. The Little Old Ladies hate it; the floaters are largely indifferent, unless the subject is the straightness of bananas.

So while the LOLs have any say in the matter, natural candidates like Michael Portillo, or even British American Tobacco's own Ken Clarke, don't stand the slightest chance of winning leadership contests. So following the nonentity Major, we had the nonentity Hague, and then the nonentity Duncan Smith. A pattern emerges. They keep electing people who are not Ken or Michael, and become a laughing stock.

Portillo has been on the telly. He's presented thoughtful historical documentaries, and he's put on a pinny and worked in Asda. He has, in short, worked harder than anyone else within the Tory Party to redeem himself from the low point of 1997, when the nation guffawed as he lost his seat. He has toiled to bring himself back from that point, to make himself seem more warm, tolerant, caring, and cuddly. He has done what the Party needed to do after the scorched earth Thatcher era; and if the rest of them had worked half as hard as he has, they'd be electable by now. Of course he's the only one who stands a chance of winning a general election (not the next one perhaps, but the one after).

But this is what I think: I think the LOLs have the suspicion that he might be ever so slightly gay. Also that he might be ever so slightly foreign, and therefore suspect as far as the Queen's head on the coin of the realm is concerned.

Which might be ironic, when you think about Ted Heath and his boat and his orchestra.

October 27, 2003

fear of a black cat

So. I've updated my Mac OS to 10.2.3, aka Panther, and everything seems to be working perfectly... except keyboard input in the Blogger Create New Post window. So I'm having to copy and paste.

I'm not installing it at home yet, because it'll break Pro Tools or something like that, but I like the feel of it so far. Seems just that little bit quicker, labels are back, and Exposé (which allows you to show/hide open windows in various ways) is smooth.

But the mouse tracking speed has changed, inexplicably, and I need to reset it to where it was before. And of course I can't type into a Blogger window, which is weird.

**Update. Being the Problem-solving kind of guy I am, I tried everything (resetting Safari, messing around with preferences, restarting the Mac) and eventually went into the User>> library>> preferences and threw away the Safari preferences file. All is now (s)well.

As I suspected...

...The 100 scary moments thing was rubbish. I can't watch these programmes, so I just flicked in and out occasionally. I don't like the parade of nonentities they have commenting on things (original directors/stars are okay, but all these so-called comedians and 15-year-old Empire magazine writers, who they?).

It was predictable that most of the so-called scary moments were just things that made you jump. I remember doing just that watching Alien for the first time, but these aren't moments that then make you scared to be in an empty house or walk down a dark street. A lot of it was (surely?) stuff that made you laugh out loud rather than being actually scary. Like the "winner" Jack Nicholson in Boring Stanley Kubrik's boring The Shining. Or Linda Blair's head turning full circle in The Exorcist. If something looks fake, or otherwise ridiculous, surely you're not scared by it?

I remember when I did Mark's Horror course at university, I went into it with the attitude that I'd never actually been scared by any of these gorefests or jumpfests. Anything that evokes a supernatural world beyond the world is hard to be frightened of, epecially when you see the bluescreen effects of other dimensions, which are always rubbish, with a coloured fringe.

Stuff with zombies and stage blood and severed limbs and can make you turn away from the screen, and even have nightmares, but, you know. Psychological fear, where you leave the cinema or switch off the tv and feel deep unease, that kind of thing is so rare. I haven't watched that Blair Witch thing - I feel like it's been watched for me.

I just don't have the personality for it, I suppose. Some people, you only have to show them a rat and they have a panic attack. I'm not saying I'm never scared, but I was more frightened of Meg Ryan's lips than I was by most of the stuff in that programme.


Saw Meg Ryan on Parkie on Saturday night, and was suitably embarrassed. There's a certain kind of star so concerned with trying to come across as "thoughtful and intelligent" that they end up seeming thick and ignorant.

She was squirming away from Parkie, who was trying desperately to lighten her up and flirt a bit, and every time they pulled a close-up of her face, you couldn't help noticing that her lips look pretty much like Jack Nicholson's as the Joker in Batman.

I'm sure she'd deny it, but it looks like she's gone all Lesley Ash on us, which flies in the face of her trying to be taken seriously. I've never subscribed to the "Meg Ryan only does ditsy" school of thought, so all this publicity about "In the Cut" is meaningless, of course.

Her best films, for me, are French Kiss (with Kevin Kline) and Addicted to Love with Matthew Broderick. In both films she shared screentime with gifted comic actors, whereas in her more well known films with Tom Hanks, too much time in the film is spent with them not on screen together. Romantic Comedy should all be about interaction, not all this longing from a distance crap. Bringing Up Baby doesn't feature Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn exchanging letters or phonecalls, does it?

So while I know she's doesn't "only do ditsy" she only really does that - or something like it - well, and the rest of the time she comes across too much as someone trying to be taken seriously. And the lips are looking ridiculous.

You know, it's funny, but on imdb you can see that she played characters called C/Katherine/Kate in 3 films in a row (IQ, French Kiss, and Restoration).

She's also been Maggie three different times.

I wonder what the record is for an actor/actress playing characters with the same name in different films (franchises excluded).?

October 22, 2003

Last Day

Lucy was up early. It was our last day, and I suppose she wanted to make the most of it. I don't know what time it was when I woke up, but I could hear her moving around, singing to herself. She sounded content, and I indulged myself in lying there imagining what it would be like to wake up to the sound of her singing on a regular basis.

I decided that if I could ever get by the way she made me think about the past, it might be pretty nice to wake up like this.

Suddenly she knocked on the door, waited a second or two, and the poked her head round.


"Why don't we leave today? I mean, let's still go back to St Guthlac, and then we'll spend the afternoon on the beach, but then why don't we head off and stop the night in a hotel?"

I couldn't see any objection, so I just said okay. But then I started thinking, would I have objected if I had actually objected? I seemed to be going further down the path of just doing whatever Lucy wanted to do. The truth was, I'd been at a loose end, and if she wanted to go chasing off after ghosts or relics, I was game. I didn't have anything better to do for the foreseeable future. I wondered if that was a problem as I had a shower and got dressed.

She'd made coffee, and was leaning on the kitchen counter. I felt like I should at least try to have a conversation about why she wanted to leave today.

"Why the change of plans?"
"It was... last night, I thought we might... you know, end up in bed or something. I was thinking about that all night, that I wanted to ask you. But then after speaking to him, Didier I mean, and that weird bloke we didn't know who he was kept staring at me. And then I thought a lot of people were looking at us, and a couple of people made some snide remarks. It didn't feel right any more, so I never said anything to you. And you didn't say anything to me, still. So I think we should get away from all this, all these people, all this stuff about the past, and we should go somewhere and be ourselves."

It was a longer explanation than I'd been looking for.

We packed up quickly and loaded the car, then walked over to the main house to say goodbye. There was the usual stuff about staying in touch "this time," and hugs all round, and then we were on the road. I don't like to linger. Often, when I know I'm going home, I've left in my mind anyway. This was more sudden, but it felt good to get away. Truth is, I'd have carried on driving all the way home, but then I tried to think of it as another holiday, and I settled in to accepting that.

It was another bright and sunny day, hot, blue, and St Guthlac Sur Mer was still quiet and beautiful. We parked in the tiny car park and walked over towards the church again. On the way, Lucy noticed something we hadn't seen before: a sign pointing to the Old Port. So we walked down there.

There wasn't much to see, just an area of cobbles, and one of those information boards with a map of how the port had looked. We looked at it together. Set into the cobbles was a very old cast iron mooring post, which I guess we were supposed to think was from the original port. I didn't believe it myself.

"A couple of things tend to have happened with places like this," she said. "First of all, rivers tend to silt up, and if you don't keep dredging your harbour, eventually you can't use it. There's a place just down the Vendée coast called Ile d'Oleron, which is not only not an island, but a couple of kilometres inland. Not like this, through reclamation, but through silting. They used to build boats there."
"It must affect the local economy when things like that happen."
"Yes, so the other thing that can go on, when the Dutch engineers arrive and start to drain marshes and build dykes, they find them being sabotaged. It's a very controversial move, because you're affecting the livelihood of the local fisher folk. And you know what they can be like."
"So why do it?"
"Because someone in power wants more land for hunting and farming, and the Dutch engineers had a vested interest, because they got paid in land."

She started walking back up towards the church.

"So what's the story here?" I asked.

"I suspect there was a bit of both. First of all, the tendency of the port to silt up. Second of all, someone wanted more land. And then I think there's a huge pinch of superstition or magic going on. If there had been controversy over reclaiming the land, some bones reputed to have special powers might have been brought in to counter the protesters and saboteurs. So they'd have been very secretive about exactly where they were."



I've always wanted to see the Aurora, and yet I'm not hardy enough to live further north than I do now. I once took two holidays in a row near Inverness, which is as far north as I've ever been, hoping to see something. But it's pot luck, there has to be sun spot activity, and you can wait around for months, and see nothing.

The second trip to Inverness was the last holiday A and I took together. We went with her sister and her sister's boyfriend. It was a friendly enough week, but it was one of those things, but the time the photos came back from the lab, it was practically all over.

One night after we'd been in the bar, it was around midnight, I set the tripod up outside and took a photo of all of us using the available light. It was June, so it was never really properly dark. It was a sad thing indeed to see the print, all of us standing so still and smiling, when everything was about to change.

It reminds you how great the innernet can be, when you can see photos like this, taken in the past week. It's somehow better than looking at a book and seeing a photo taken 30 years ago. The Aurora seems more real. Someone was looking at it only yesterday.


While it makes interesting reading, The Register's anti-google campaign is highly confusing to me. While I want to be groovy and leftist and take on board all the right-on anti-monopoly thoughts emanating from the Reg, I simply haven't got a problem with my Google searches.

Some of the examples they give are so odd; as one of their readers points out, "Watching baseball London" is just a bad search. I've always been google gifted, and 99 times out of a hundred I find what I want with the first search. Maybe it's a fault, but if I don't get what I want first time, I tend to think my search terms are at fault and change them. Again, 99 percent of my 1 percent failed first searches are fixed with a change of search term.

What this indicates to me is that there are some people out there who are too inflexible in their thinking to be able to imagine another approach to a problem. Which when you think about it is no surprise, because lateral thinking is a prized asset and can't be faked. People with an inability to think laterally are being found out by Google, which is extremely interesting.

when I'm looking for an image, I usually use AlltheWeb.com, which for some reason produces better results, especially if you're looking for people with no clothes on.

I always get so tired when faced with right-on people, I don't know about you. They pick on symptoms of a larger disease and blather on about them the whole time, and it gets exhausting. Not shopping here, not going there, not buying this, not using this software, this search engine, objection objection objection. In the end it's just white noise to me. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh....

October 21, 2003

Identity Crisis

I've given Shelby a couple of listens, and I think it's a nice record. It's odd to see that on CDDB she's categorised as a country artist - still. Obviously, I'd heard of her before "I am Shelby" as a country singer, but from that self-reinvention moment on she was more what you'd call a mainstream rock artist.

"Identity Crisis" is all about that, hence the title. She's touching bases without really fitting neatly into a category, which is how I'd define rock. Or you could call it AOR if you were a radio programmer. There are songs on "IC" which are country-ish, or you could argue she sounds like Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, or the Everly Brothers, who were all like Donny and Marie, a little bit Country and a little bit Rock and Roll.

But to categorise Shelby as a country artist for the rest of all time seems a bit harsh. I love the genre myself, but she's clearly been trying to get away from it for quite a few years now. She seems almost reluctant to be sharing the stage on her sister's "Show." It's as if, following Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait, Dylan was stuffed into the country section.

The instruments used on "IC" are your classic rock instruments: guitars, some with distortion/effects (so NOT country), Rhodes (again, you'll find real pianos on country records), and the ubiquitous B3. It all sounds very nice, and "One With the Sun," the final track, even put me in mind of melodiegroup - lyrically.

Personally I can't be bothered to delve into the lyrics much; I don't partic. care what it's all about. Something to do with splitting up with someone I imagine.

It did remind me that one of the reasons I don't know a whole lot about bands like Love and Television, I spent a long time listening to Buddy Holly, the Everlys, and odd things like the Shangri-Las and The Chiffons. So this record had a familiar vibe to me. There's a bit of Patsy Cline in there (one of the songs, "Lonesome," Shelby wrote as if Patsy was still alive and she was a pro songwriter).

But her identity? I've never been able to work her out. She looks different in almost every picture you see of her. Not in a Madonna "I'm doing this deliberately" way, but in a slightly disturbing, "I don't know who I am" kind of way.

All in all, this record is bound to appear on "Top 10 Albums of 2003" lists by the kind of people who produce annual lists of the top 10 albums/films. It will be seen as Country Lite for people who don't really like Country (who like rock, in other words); so in that sense she sits alongside Lyle Lovett, kd lang, Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams. Just hip enough to appeal to a Guardian reader, but a long way from being a favourite of mine.

I'll probably play this up to xmas and then sell it or give it away.


Does anybody really care who is in charge at Granada/Carlton/ITV. I submit m'lud that this is a case of the media reporting on the media in a self-obsessive, navel gazing manner, whilst non media people don't give a rat's arse.

It's acceptable for the media section of the Guardian to report it, of course, but the fact is it was all over 5Live this morn, which is beyond the, you know, pale. Pail?

These guys are all a bunch of empty suits anyway, aren't they? Whoring themselves from one job to another whilst maintaining a healthy contempt for their audiences. My favourite kind of tv people are the kind who say they don't actually watch any television. I love them so much. Especially act-ors, when interviewed for Radio Times.

Q. What's your favourite television programme?
A. Muffin the Mule, which is the last thing I saw. I think you'll find that though I'm in your face constantly on television, I feel I'm far too important to actually watch the rubbish we put out.

October 20, 2003

Right to Rome

I've been reading this, something of a ripping yarn. I'm amused by the Amazon reviewer who's taken the time to slag it, especially in pointing out the inaccuracies.

It's fiction! And I love the idea that he feels qualified to criticise someone else's view of what might have happened 2000 years ago. It's f-i-c-t-i-o-n. There's even an Author's Note at the back in which he fully admits the liberties he's taken for dramatic effect.

Makes a change, for me, from reading thrillers or SF. I always used to enjoy Rosemary Sutcliffe, and the Eagle of the Ninth is a cracking mystery story.

This is yet another of the books I've got for free through Kellogg's cereals, and on the whole I think we've done quite well out of it. I've discovered at least a couple of people I'd like to read more of, which is reassuring. Because you go through these periods of thinking there will never be anything new you'd want to read.

Babette hates anything to do with Romans; but I think the point is, you're supposed to hate them. Michel Serres blames the violence and oppression in the world on the Romans, because Rome was repeatedly founded on murder and oppression. And for Serres, we never leave the past behind but carry it around with us. Not so much condemned to repeat it, but helplessly living it out.

Vox Tonelab

I've borrowed a Tonelab for testing, and I suspect I'll be keeping it. I'm not sure how much of a difference the valve makes to the sounds you get, but the main thing is that it sounds superb. There are three main reasons to prefer the Tonelab to the Line6 Pod XT or the Digitech Genesis series.

It's a British company, and the amp tones are more slanted towards British makes and sounds. This means there are fewer of the hideous modern US ultra-distorted rock-ist models. Vox amps are well represented, but there are a couple of Tweeds, a Blackface, and then a British Blues sound, and a model based on Marshall. After that there are a few of the "boutique" sounds, but they're not in the majority.

It's also built well. It's bigger, heavier, and has a metal case, whereas other desktop modellers tend to be lightweight and plastic.

The final thing is, the manual is good. The nice thing about it, there are some proper explanations of the models and how best to use them. You don't get this with the others; there's always an assumption that every guitarist will know the ins and outs of every amp in the history of the world, in a kind of trainspotterly way. Well, I can't see how this could be. Before the Pod, a lot of guitarists only ever played with one or two amps, and having so many models at your disposal can be confusing.

For example, never have I read before an explanation of how to get the best out of a Tweed model. I've laboured under the misapprehension that the volume control on my Telecaster was best played flat out. But now I learn that if you turn it down, you can adjust the way you hit the strings and get different sounds out of the amp, which itself is played flat out.

The Tonelab manual is full of nice little explanations like that, and it was a pleasure to play and record with.

The Horror...

I knew when I became a parent that I'd face days likethis. What a horrible experience.

Leaving aside the information that I find no magic in anything Disney (bar the odd Pixar production distributed by them), I can't see where they get this "100 years" nonsense from, either. Walt Disney was born in 1901, so we're 102 years on from that. And Steamboat Willie was released in 1928, which is 75 years ago. So if they'd said, "75 years of Disney Magic," what would have been wrong with that? 75 years not good enough for the people in marketing obviously. What will they do in 25 years when it's really 100 years of "magic"? And anyway, the most recent film in the production is A Bug's Life, which was 5 years ago. So it was 70 years of so-called magic, and I want 30% of the ticket price back please.

I wouldn't know where to start with Disney, were it not for The Book of Daniel, which contains a stinging critique of the whole stinking edifice.

So, you're asking, why did I take my own kids to see something I hate so much? Well, it wasn't my idea. But still, I believe people should be able to make their own minds up about Disney, religion, politics, anything else. I was taken to see Disney on Ice when I was young (think it was a works outing for Index Printers in Dumpstable); and of course I was taken to see Bambi, Dumbo, Snow White, and all the other horrors of the canon. I came to hate it, and maybe my kids will, maybe they won't.

It's like Barbie. Of course you recoil in horror when your daughter wants one, but if you said no, she'd just obsess on the subject for the rest of her life. As it is, I think Barbie is lying gathering dust under a bed somewhere, which is a healthy state of affairs.

One of my earliest cinema memories is of queuing down the street at the cinema in Dumpstable before it became a bingo hall. We were waiting to see The Love Bug. I have rarely been so excited. You don't want to deprive kids of excitement like that, and such occasions are all too rare. People don't queue round the block for films any more, do they? Last time I did was probably at the ABC in Nottingham, the old lady cinema, which isn't there anymore.

Please die now

Strange to see a Microsoft representative using "choice" and "Windows" in the same sentence. Objecting to the Apple music store on the grounds that you can't play Windows Media files on an iPod. That's what he's saying: they want everyone to use Windows Media because then they can make more money; plus it's a closed format and they can prevent people from burning CDs of music they've paid for.

Whereas the Apple model allows you to burn as many CDs as you want, plus it's in an open format (AAC) which sounds better than any other compressed format out there. And of course Apple build better interfaces.

To use the words of Kevin Keegan, I would just love it if the Apple music store kills the Windows Media format, which deserves to take its place in the annals of The Dead Media Project. Thanks to Rob (Alien Wireless) for the link to that.

He's also incorrect (or lying?) when he claims that you can't use music you've purchased from the iTunes music store with 3rd party players. Of course you can. You can convert from AAC to AIFF or MP3; you can burn it onto CD, transfer to minidisc, and you can of course transfer tracks over to another MP3 player. Disinformation is everywhere.

October 17, 2003

The Green Bullet

I'd realy like one of these. It's the best way to get that totally honky blues harp sound. I've been running the harp through an amp (when I say amp, I mean amp model) to get something like it, but now I've realised I need to EQ quite severely to cut at 100Hz and 5kHz. I could either do this with AmpliTube or one of the other plug-ins.

I was talking to Simon earlier about this kind of thing. He has concerns that because of the digital landfillability of much of the kit people use to make sounds these days, that it will become increasingly hard to replicate sounds. He mentioned two drum machines he once used which no longer work. And being the kind of item they are, a repair is more expensive than a new one, or a piece of software.

But actually this is nothing new. Keef is interviewed by CSM in Purfling Monthly this month, and they talk about the distinctive sound he achieved on Jumping Jack Flash and Street Fighting Man. Keef played his acoustic guitar into the microphone of an early cassette recorder, and overloaded it. It's a fantastic sound, created in a simple and creative way. But then they introduced a new generation of cassette recorders with built-in limiters, and you could no longer overload them. So he basically chucked that method out of the window, and nowadays you'd have to work hard with outboard gear/software to achieve the same effect.

There are probably hundreds of examples of this kind of thing. I mentioned to Simon that a certain breed of musician (including members of the Breeders) are now vocally anti-digital and insisting everything is analogue on their recordings. Apart, obviously, from the final bit where it gets put onto a CD/DVD/SACD. In this, they face the paradox explained by Keef in his interview: as soon as you record an acoustic guitar with a microphone, it's an electric guitar. This is one of those always-already-there observer interfering with the experiment kind of events. Which brings to mind certain Jonathan Richman gigs I've been to, where he'd do the whole gig with an acoustic guitar, a sax, and his voice, all unamplified, no matter what the size of the venue. Wonderful.

Anyway, I have Shelby's latest, which was very nearly all home made (she played all the guitars). It's a lovely-sounding record, very dry, and of course she insisted on using analogue gear. So there are all these movements going on, with thousands of people getting into home recording because of the power of the home computer, and it's all digital. And there are major recording studios and producers moving over in increasing numbers to Pro Tools|HD, because once you hear 192kHz, the whole digital vs. analogue argument is meaningless. And the systems are cheaper and more flexible than anything analogue. So then the artists themselves, whether through technophobia or stubbornness, are insisting that they use analogue gear both on stage and in the studio, "Because it sounds so great."

My attitude? I'm somewhere between. I wholeheartedly believe that recorded sound has been on a downhill path since Beatles For Sale (and, possibly, even since Songs for Swingin' Lovers, but that's an argument for another day). On the other hand, I think some artistes are just out for a pose, and if they understood the magic that can be achieved with plug-ins from Bomb Factory and McDSP, they'd realise how liberating and empowering the digital revolution has been. From this point of view they begin to sound like elitist nurks, and the noughties equivalent of Sinatra's classic is Songs for Whingeing Luvvies.

US version of Dinnerladies

I loved Dinnerladies, a strange experience for me (liking a British comedy), but there were some fantastic lines, especially the aphasia type ones, where she would think of an entirely inappropriate word instead of the one she was looking for.

The fatal flaw with a lot of British comedies is the have the writer as one of the stars. It's like tying one hand behind your back. You get some success, but then the writer/star doesn't want to do it any more (John Cleese, Victoria Wood, Ricky Gervais) and you're left with just the 12 or 16 episodes for the rest of time. Then in the case of some of them, you wish they'd stop doing more (Absolutely Fabulous) because it wasn't funny anymore after the first few.

A US version of dinnerladies would be set, not in a canteen, but in a top restaurant or coffee shop. Everyone would be gorgeous. The Victoria Wood character would be played by Courtney Cox. Nobody would nip out for a fag. Instead of toast and a cuppa, they'd serve coffee and muffins. Instead of Dinnerladies, it will be called Friends.

It was ironic when they re-exported Coupling to the US, since it was obvious Coupling was a failed attempt to do Friends in the UK. It's like playing babelfish translations or Chinese whispers with comedy formats. I mean, wasn't the Royle Family a sort of version of Married... with Children? Which itself was probably an update of the Archie Bunker US version of Till Death Us Do Part. Which was probably based on that Jackie Gleason thing.

In the end, everything is just revolving around or reacting to I Love Lucy and the Dick Van Dyke Show.

October 16, 2003

It's the time of day, stupid

Actually, that Chicken Slick recipe was a bit posh. Ours was more like this: "I did not know there were any other kind until I came to Pennsylvania. In the South we always had 'slicks'. They are made from any good biscuit dough, rolled thin, cut into strips approx 1' wide and about five to six inches long. They are dropped slowly into boiling broth, chicken, turkey, squirrel etc. They can not be dumped in too fast or they will stick together and not be 'slick'"

It fits, because my mum lived in North Carolina for a while, her first marriage, which is where a lot of her recipes came from. And we had the poverty chicken slick, none of this stuff with chicken joints and breasts.

Chicken Slick was for Sunday tea, after we'd had a roast chicken for lunch. Picked clean, it was boiled for stock, and the resulting thin broth was what she put the slick dumplings in. So I associate that very much with Sunday tea times, in the dark half of the year, the nights drawing in and the Sunday night serial on the telly.

Saturday tea times, I associate with Dr Who and pizza. But again, the pizza was slightly different, because she used to make it with a scone crust rather than a dough crust. It was deep pan, with a kind of bolognaise filling and topped with cheddar, not mozzarella. As more kids left home and we became a better off family, pizza morphed into bread dough and mozzarella type, and although this is pizza as she is eaten around the world, you lose something for everything you gain.

I once made scone based pizza in a school cooking project. You had to invite your favourite teacher for a meal and cook it, and I chose that. He was impressed, but thought I'd made the decision to make the scone base was culinary and original as opposed to coming from my background. People give you more and less credit than you deserve.

So that was Saturday night, and how we miss it. After a full afternoon's sport on Grandstand, you got final score and then Dr Who, as you were sitting down to tea. Moving Dr Who to a weekday night was the beginning of the end of civilisation, and I really believe that. These muppets who make this kind of decision must wonder at the passions they evoke, but they don't care what they're doing to the fabric of our society. You remove that whole-family-gathered-round-the-TV event, and people start to find other things to do, and you can't go back. Families stop gathering, things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, and Sylvester McCoy personifies the collapse.

things we don't eat any more

I've got them on my desk, the digestives. We have a rep comes in once a week with biscuits for everyone. Some guys down the end of the room get the custard creams, and there always used to be Rich Tea left over, which nobody wanted. They were great when I was counting points.

But I persuaded the rep to replace the unloved Rich Tea with Digestives. You can forget how good they are if you haven't eaten them in a long time. They don't have to have chocolate on them, they are great on their own, or with cheese.

This started a discussion of odd things people do, like spreading butter on Rich Teas (a bit like putting cheese on chips).

Strange things I used to have when I was growing up, secrets taken by my mum to her grave: Chicken Slick. What was that? It was some kind of chicken broth with slippery stringy dumpling type things in it. Delicious, actually.

Then there was the pudding you had when there was nothing left in the house: stale chocolate cake and custard. Or bananas and custard.

For tea, sometimes, we had banana and raisin sandwiches. And my favourite leftovers meal was fried mashed potato. You add an egg to cold leftover mash and fry little patties in a bit of oil. Fantastic.

You can't believe how much the kitchen fills with smoke and smell and the ringing of smoke alarms when you try to recreate some of your mother's cooking. She used to do Mock Scampi and French Fries. The Mock Scampi was actually Monkfish, which is nicer than scampi, and almost certainly more expensive now. It's also a horrible slimy kind of fish that's difficult to work with because you have to peel off the pink membrane and work around the backbone. French Fries were crinkle cut square-ish bits of potato which had been parboiled before deep frying. Absolutely fantastic.

But more than the smoke and the smell, you're left with an extraordinary mess, which I remember very well. Even a trad roast sunday lunch with home made yorkshire puddings leaves you with every surface of the kitchen covered in dirty pots and pans and food processor bits. Another bad one is sweet and sour pork. My mum used to make a Cantonese-style sweet and sour sauce, with bits of pineapple and cucumber in, and she'd deep fry the pork in batter separately, and cook rice, obviously. Again, the kitchen looks like a bomb has hit it, which is OK if you happen to have 7 kids to do the cleaning up after.

Sardines on toast. I sometimes remember to get sardines, they're full of Omega3, but the kids don't like them. It's like something from the war, isn't it, but it's also really good for you and quick to do.

Chicken slick.... Could this be it?

Cunning Plan

At first I thought perhaps Blockbuster were struggling when they introduced the New Releases For Two Nights thing. Leaving aside the fact that their concentration on the top 10 or 20 films leaves you remarkably little to choose from, they obviously buy so many of the top few films that they can afford to let you have it for two nights.

But this week the penny dropped. Got a film on Saturday (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days), and of course watched it on Saturday night. So instead of taking it back to the shop on Sunday, as we used to do, and when I had the time to do it, I kept it till Monday.

And then forgot.

After a few glasses of wine on Tuesday night, I realised, and determined to take it back next day.

And then forgot.

So I eventually took it round at 11 p.m. last night, but I now owe them for additional nights.

The film itself? 40% on RottenTomatoes is all about the lack of obvious chemistry, the seen-it-all-beforeness of it, and I've got no argument. But that's why you get out a romantic comedy, for a bit of escapism. It was all right. Kate Hudson is watchable, but his Texas accent seemed a bit incongruous in the setting (romantic comedy set in NYC). She's also a little bit not sexy, Meg Ryanish, which is what you come to expect. She's totally flat chested, which means I can't get worked up about her too much. I liked her in Almost Famous, but I liked everything about that film.

But everyone's a critic these days, so I'll leave it at being worth £3.75, but perhaps not the additional nights' rental I'll end up paying.

Last night, while I was forgetting to take the DVD back to Blockbuster, I watched Coyote Ugly, which is the kind of bad film I really like. My criteria are simple: pretty girls, sexy girls, nice looking women, a bit of music, nothing too arty, nothing directed by Gus Van Sant or Chris Columbus. So while it was a plodding, cliché-ridden, meaningless, half-remake of The Thing Called Love, I enjoyed every minute of it.

I tend not to watch films on TV, but there was nothing else on I was keen on. I'll rent a film, but I tend not to want to watch the kind of film that has too many blokes and not enough women in it. It's the cinema equivalent of playing rugby. If wanted that much testosterone, I'd go and stick my head between some bloke's thighs. But I don't, so I won't. I always ask, has it got women in it? Otherwise, I'm keeping my money.

I particularly have a fondness for Maria Bello, who was excellent in ER, but who seems to make a career of being in bad movies.

It's funny, but since I believe that television is better than the movies, I also think that television stars are bigger stars than movie stars. Film actors are a Big Wash to me, just a parade of pretty boys and girls who ricochet from blockbuster to blockbuster, the odd arty film to maintain integrity, but in the end all blend into one another. Sure, I know a few names, many of which probably date me. The Cruiser has assembled a body of work, but someone like Matt Damon (to pluck a name from the air), I just can't see the point of. He could be replaced, in my mind, by any number of similar-looking actors.

All the fuss about Kate Hudson comes down to a species of Hollywood sucking up and nepotism, simply because her parents were once considered big stars. Whereas, Maria Bello and others, like Gillian Anderson, Dennis Franz, and Marg Helgenberger, are in your mind a lot more, and develop their characters over years, sometimes, in fantastic tv series.

So it was funny that Maria Bello, as a supporting player in Coyote Ugly was not just the only face I recognised, but also the only quality player. People who do television learn to under-act, in that Steve McQueen kind of way, and are much more impressive because of it.

October 15, 2003

bean me up, scotty

I don't drink much coffee, about one cup a day usually, sometimes not even that. Caffeine puts your body under stress, so it can really put you in a foul mood to drink too much.

Then there is the coffee I won't drink. Given that it isn't very good for you, and yet not wanting to give it up entirely, I insist on replacing quantity with quality. I like a nice espresso, for example, but a cheap espresso machine will produce a weedy brew, not fit to be called coffee. If you don't produce a good crema or mousse on the top of the cup, it's not worth having.

For work, I use a one cup gold filter thing. By a strange coincidence of flukeish correct water temperature from the boiler in the kitchen, and the properties of the gold filter (which doesn't absorb the essential oils of the coffee, as a paper filter does), this makes a cracking cup of filter coffee.

I attempted to replicate this by getting a gold filter for my home filter machine, but it just doesn't taste the same. The water's not the right temperature, or something. Odd that a coffee machine designed to make coffee and nothing else should fail in the basic requirement of having the water at the right temperature.

So that sits unloved on the windowsill at home, and instead I use one of these. This is a remarkably simple system, using individual doses (in paper filter bags, natch), and forcing the water through to make a very good cup of coffee with an excellent crema. There's so much mousse, you can just add a dash of milk and sprinkle chocolate powder on, and fool yourself into thinking it's cappuccino. The coffee doesn't come out tremendously hot. Add cold milk and it's ready to drink straight down in one gulp.

You'd think the lack of availability of the little dosettes in the UK would be a problem, but it's just not. I only drink coffee at home and the weekend, Babette barely bothers with it, and the multiple packets I buy on trips to France last -- I haven't run out yet. When I first got it, there were only 4 varieties, including a decaff, but now 3rd parties are getting in on the act, so there's more variety.

Don't misunderstand me, this isn't the holy grail. But it makes a decent cup of coffee in about 30 seconds, so it's convenient, quick, and clean.

But my ultimate machine would be a Gaggia. They do models that grind the beans, make a cup of coffee, then throw the used grounds away in a bin at the back - all with the push of a button. Built in filters to prevent scaling, and some of them will even make a cup of tea. They do models that use the Nestlé dosette system (for convenience and cleanliness, but inevitably sacrificing choice). Costco have one of their models for £199, but I'm not buying anything for that kind of money without a demo. There's a slightly fey looking geezer runs a Gaggia stand in the House of Fraser dept store. I like the idea of button pushing. Not for me, the fiddly acoutrements and faffing around with bits that you have to wash out between brews. Push button machines and dosettes are the future landfill I hope to pass on to my children.

It would be a selfish act, though, to buy one, a 3rd coffee machine in a house where only one person really cares. Babette sometimes prefers a cup of decaff instant. But you can't trust these high street places; there's little chance of a decent cup of coffee when you go to Starbuck's, and a touch of luxury is always nice. The only thing that really really puts me off a cappuccino/espresso machine is the mess that the milk frothing bit makes (dried milk that stays forever if you don't wipe it off straight away). Still, she will be mine...

Tin Bath

I had an almost out-of-body type experience last night. I'd recorded an electric guitar track and I was messing around with Altiverb (Impulse Response Reverb software plug-in). I downloaded some novelty impulse responses from here a few weeks ago, but I hadn't bothered with them.

They've got IRs for telephones, portable radios, washing machines, flower pots. It's great. Years ago, Pete and Curly set up his guitar amp in the bath and we recorded the guitar that way for "Love With the Proper Stranger," which was my second Natalie Wood song. Anyway, with Altiverb you can do that kind of thing really easily, no amp lugging.

So one of these novelty IRs was a tin bath, which of course I had to try over the guitar track. What happened next is hard to describe, but suddenly it was as if the headphones were no longer on my head and I was listening to the track through the amp and speakers, which were switched off (it being late at night and the kids in bed). So I thought I must have kicked the on button of the amp or something, because it absolutely sounded completely unlike the guitar was coming through the headphones. Total transparency. Which took me back to the first time I heard Altiverb, and it knocked me out.

Usually, I just use the Bill Putnam Echo chambers as my reverb, because I don't really kno what I'm doing with this kind of stuff. But I know Pete and Curly would love it.

October 14, 2003

Sea Side

What happened that evening? It was a sea of faces, an ocean of voices. I didn't drink much, a few glasses of wine, and I circled around, but never far from Lucy. She talked to Didier for a long time. I saw a couple of shrugs, and after a while his frown deepened, and then he just laughed and appeared to want to end the conversation.

Eventually she found her way back to me.

"What a slippery character."
"I started off by saying that we'd been to see St Guthlac Sur Mer. Blank look. A if he'd never heard of the place. I told him where it was. I said about the land reclamation..."
"And then I got more crap about working holidays and not being able to relax. Which we've heard before. And I explained that I was the kind of tourist who liked to learn about the area I was visiting, not just sit on the beach. Although, would you like to go to the beach tomorrow afternoon? After stopping off for a quick visit to the church again?"
"Sure, we'll make a day of it. Let's go to Super U, too, because I'm the kind of tourist likes to look at the different varieties of crisps you can get."
"All right then, we'll do that."

She suddenly grabbed me and pulled me close to her in an affectionate hug.

"It's so lovely to be around you again," she said.
"Ditto. So?"

"So then I eventually managed to squeeze out of him that when he was in the seminary there had been an old priest who..." She tailed off, obviously struck by something.
"My granddad Jack. Not really my granddad but my great granddad. He died when I was about 9 or 10. We used to visit him. Which was in Lincolnshire, on the coast. I just remembered it, I'd forgotten."
"So what about it?"
"I'm not sure. Anyway, there was this old priest who believed some strange things. The whole thing blew up because they wanted to install some electric lights in the church, and he threw a wobbler about them not being able to dig anywhere on or near the church."
"So what was the outcome?"
"He claims he doesn't know. But I'd like to take one more look at the tombs, to see if I can decipher anything."
"What are you looking for exactly?"
"I'm just thinking there might be some connection, this is going to sound crazy, but my granddad Jack's village, half of it had disappeared off the edge of a cliff. I'm wondering if there's some connection between something like that and something somebody believes is buried under the church in St Guthlac Sur Mer."

October 13, 2003


I re-purchased Their latest album, "Home," because they're now including a bonus in-concert DVD with it.

Having already been knocked out by Allison Moorer's "Show," which showed how even a limited budget for a concert DVD is more than enough if the musicians can actually play, it was without hesitation that I bought "Home" again. They do the entire set live, in order, and the follow it with an encore of 4 of their older songs. You can't knock it.

Sorry to sound snooty, but I've seen enough rock bands and artists in concert to know how very poor it can all be. Start with the bad sound and work your way through the laziness and drunkenness, and even the so-called greatest rock and roll bands in the world are rubbish when you see them live.

Anyway, the thing about both the Chicks and Patty Loveless, and I would guess all "bluegrass" type acts is that they play live with acoustic instruments in front of proper condenser microphones. There's none of that awful-sounding electro-acoustic rubbish. And there's something really quite moving about hearing people play that way. What I always disdained about MTV's so-called unplugged series is that it wasn't, it was a bunch of electro-acoustic guitars plugged into amps and sounding as horrible as they always do. And the problem for rock artists trying to sound acoustic was always that they don't really have the chops or the experience to consistently get the best out of acoustic instruments. Even a band known for their acoustic guitars, like Turin Brakes, just sound like rank amateurs compared to some of these bluegrass guys. I know it's a different kind of music, but it just sounds wishy washy and vague to me.

Now Bluegrass, as you know, suffers from the authenticity fallacy. As a musical form, it came into being in the 1940s, and developed alongside and in parallel with the more electrified kind of country. The problem for many bluegrass musicians is that they insist on treating it as an authentic traditional folk form, fol de rol, and they restrict both their techniques and the material they play to stuff that sounds authentic to their ears. Alison Krauss has pioneered a more forward-looking approach, and she's played both contemporary songs and pop hits of the past, bluegrass style.

But it's when you hear a hybrid form, such as on Loveless' latest, where you can hear all of the original bluegrass instruments and styles played along with telecasters and loud rock drums, that you can hear the possibilities of combining superb musicians with well-honed songs and a great vocalist. And the Dixie Chicks, with "Home," more or less abandoned the drums themselves, and the electric guitars, to play their brand of vocal harmony country pop with a bluegrass backing. And it sounds great.

It's all good, but it's not until you see them do it live that you appreciate how very good they all are. Natalie Maines is a kind of fashion disaster FBP, but you forgive her appearance the moment you hear her sing. And the backing musicians, as you'd expect, simply take your breath away.

It's a strange thing, but seeing this kind of music done live brings tears to my eyes, every time. It happened with Allison Moorer, and Patty Loveless (bonus DVD also included with her latest), and then with the Dixies. I can't contain the emotion. I was in tears throughout. And another wondrous thing is to see the audience, which though mixed, is predominantly made up of young women. And this gives you pause. Because here is this amazingly young audience, incredibly enthusiastic, and they're listening to close vocal harmonies and what is basically bluegrass music, if bluegrass had remembered to forget that it wasn't ever an authentic folk form and took advantage of some decent, contemporary songwriters.

And in spite of the fact that we have difficulties with US foreign policy, and the Dixies themselves have been victims of violence, threats of violence, and the traditional heartland Amerika record-and-poster burnings for speaking out against the war in Iraq; in spite of all that, you can't help wishing you could be in such an audience occasionally - in the USA - because if you went to a Dixie Chicks concert in the UK, you'd be surrounded by old blokes dressed in cowboy gear and Guardian-reading insecure trendies. Why is that?

October 10, 2003

Well, Martina

Strange it is when an established artist releases one of those "self-titled debut album" type things. Her last record was a Greatest Hits thing, so maybe she feels she's now re-launching her career. Well, whatever.

So. There are a number of things I like about country music. It starts with the production, and includes the quality of song writing, the singing style, the guitar playing, and the slightly different value system, in which the artist is recognised as being a part of a team, albeit a big part.

Production values in country music, for me, are the best in the world. They use the latest, most advanced equipment and techniques (like Pro Tools HD),and yet will also use traditional instruments, like mandolins, banjos, fiddles, penny whistles and pipes. There's a magic in the mix, and in spite of all the stringed instruments competing for the same frequency band, you can hear everything.

As for the songs, Country is where they went. It's not a question of artists "covering" songs, in a Pop Idol type way, but of songwriters and publishing companies working to persuade top artists to record their songs. The definitive version won't be the original writer's, but the one recorded by Ms Yearwood or Ms McBride. This works well, and the best performers get access to the best songs. You won't find someone like Martina struggling to fill an album with her own compositions, though there are a few decent artists who will perform their own songs. But even they will collaborate with a variety of people, so you don't end up with monotonous everything-from-one-point-of-view albums.

I prefer the country singing style, because it's at the other end of the continuum from the emotive, inarticulate woah woah aaaaiiiieeeeeeee type singing you get with R&B and Soul, and most modern pop. It's a style of singing that goes back to similar roots (gospel, testifying) but instead of being all about the emotion and the awe and tremendum before god (which is ultimately all about huge egos and look-at-me), it's about articulation. The country vocal style isn't yee hah and nasal, but about expressing yourself clearly, and letting the lyrical content and other aspects of the performance speak of the emotions.

See, there's always another way of doing things, and what I dislike about the UK mainstream can be summed up in that people always think something is missing if it isn't either a "gritty" rock voice or a up-and-down-the-scales, show-offy pop/soul voice. Singers like Yearwood and McBride are somewhere else, offering perfect articulation along with 100% commitment to the material. Does it matter that they didn't write the songs? Listen to Trisha singing "Down on My Knees" and tell me that it does. You'll also find that Yearwood rarely improvises yelps, yeahs, and woahs. It's all there, in the original song, which is all she performs.

Martina kicks off this new album with her trademark upbeat happy song, something she's good at, and "So Magical" put a smile on my face this morning, in spite of the tribulations of the day. Earlier this week, I stumped up £6.99 for Faith Hill's "Cry," something I'd been avoiding paying full price for, because I knew she'd crossed over to the dark side. Ironic that she's gone from her own self-titled "re-launch" 3rd album "Faith" to this bombastic divatastic powerballad po(m)posity in a few years. What is she chasing? When huge success in a genre of music isn't enough, people make the mistake of chasing the lowest common denominator. This music is like an American supermarket's cheese counter. You can have Swiss, or American, but it all comes from the same (rubber) factory.

So in this day of rampant greed and laziness, it's refreshing to see Martina sticking to what she's good at, and putting out an album of (other people's) songs recorded in a state-of-the-art Pro Tools HD studio facility. It sounds fantastic, her voice is stronger than ever, and even the record company's attempts at so-called "copy protection" can't spoil my day. It says it won't play on a Mac, but of course it does. And I've imported the songs into iTunes, too. I call that fair use, I don't know about you.

What the fuk is up with the world?

I'm a placid kind of guy, as you know, but as of this moment, I have steam coming out of my ears. All right, I'm not that placid usually, but still.

First of all. The postman. Lazy freaking bastard. So I have 3 CDs coming from amazon, and I forgot to change the delivery address to work, as I usually do. My bad. But still. It's a flat packet, not heavy, not bulky, not large. He comes early, our postman, before I leave for work, usually, and definitely before Babette thinks of going out on a Thursday.

But does he bring the packet? No, he's too lazy to carry it, so he puts it on the van. The van comes some time after ten, and nobody's home, which means I had to go out early this morning to pick it up.

So far so inconvenient, but now I find that instead of the usual 4 parking spaces outside the delivery office, there are double yellow lines. Fantastic. And they no longer allow public parking out the back, but why?

Here's why. When I was working as a postie, it was only 6, 7 years ago, there was one lazy fat bastard who drove a car to his "walk" (his mail delivery route). Everyone else rode the company bike. You get up early, you cycle to work, you sort your route (only putting the most impossibly to carry items on the van), and then you cycle to your route, deliver, and cycle home. Easy. I was home before 9 a.m., most days.

But now, I kid you not, there must have been 20 cars parked around there, all going in and out containing lazy fat bastard postmen/women and their bags. And there's nowhere to park, so they're up and down on the pavement and blocking the road and reversing in dangerous places and parking where it says DO NOT PARK and shit like that.

What's wrong with people? Here is a fantastic job that gives you exercise and sees you home before most people are starting their day, and they're all adding to the misery of the world by driving to fucking work.

And that's not all. So I drove to work, and when I get here there are two fucking trucks parked on double yellow lines, with a car parked on the opposite side of the road, on a double yellow, and I can't get past to get into the car park.

This morning, faced with double yellows and lazy postal workers, I turned my car round and went into the market place car park (which they could have done, had they not been too lazy to even carry their bags that far) and walked across the road. When I see a double yellow, I don't park on it. I look for what is called a parking space. What's wrong with these people? It's not just that they're parking where they shouldn't, but they're doing so knowing that nobody can actually use the right of way.

I promised myself I wouldn't use this blog to rant. In a while I'll talk about Martina, who made me smile this morning.

October 09, 2003


She was, or would have been, the perfect woman. Probably.

Item: she was good-looking, slim, blonde.
Item: she was intelligent and articulate with an edge of naughtiness.
Item: she was a year older than me.
Item: she was available and obviously interested.

The only slight flies in the ointment centred around her friends and family. I met her because she worked in a shoeshop at the precinct on Saturdays (she didn't go to our school, another bonus). But Karen, a girl from my school, did work in the shoeshop, and I didn't like her very much. She was chippy and a bit loudmouthed. She was one of those girls with freckles. As for Sara's family, all you need to know is that her mum knew my mum, so there would have been no privacy had we got involved.

Not that I was ever likely to get that far, given my attitude.

Anyway I was working in the frozen food shop, she was in the shoeshop, and Karen happened to introduce us one Saturday lunchtime. I'd have been wearing my blue overall thingy and out collecting trolleys from the car parks. I ventured increasingly far afield, which you could always justify because you always ended up finding one. I used to visit Dave who worked in another, posher, supermarket, and trolley collecting was a bit of a social hour. So we were introduced.

My first impression of her was that she was quiet and shy, because half of her face was hiding behind her hair, Human League style. She looked a little bit like Natalie Wood around the time of Love with the Proper Stranger - except with the blonde hair, of course. You'll have to take my word for it.

Natalie Wood was the number one box office star at the time, which a lot of people forget. Steve McQueen was, too, on the male side. So they were the Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks of their day, except I never wanted to be Tom Hanks. Natalie Wood made films with Warren Beatty, McQueen, Robert Redford, and Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in the early 60s. Before that she'd been in movies with John Wayne and James Dean. She was known for her ability to do hysteria, so she did that in most of her films, had histrionics.

Anyway, this is the kind of freckle-girl Karen was, and why I didn't like her. She used the obvious attraction between myself and Sara as a pretext to get herself a free ticket to the sixth form party, which I was involved with organising. So in getting Sara a ticket, I also had to get one for Karen, or she'd have not passed Sara's ticket along to her. Blackmail, basically.

Natalie Wood was the Meg Ryan of the 60s. She was sweet and attractive in that not-very-sexy way. The sort of woman, instead of lusting after her, you just wanted to marry her.

Perhaps this was part of the problem with Sara. She was just too perfect by far. She was the kind of girl you imagined might get knocked up early in life, because that's what you wanted to do with her, have babies.

Anyway, she came to the party. I was with her but not really with her, if you know what I mean, because that was the night I spent the whole time obsessing about where Dave was, where Lucy was, were they together, and what were they doing together. So I more or less totally ignored Sara, apart from dancing with her for one slow dance, during which I stepped on her toes. All in all, I couldn't have picked a better way to blow an opportunity. I did everything but puke on her dress.

In all the turmoil about Dave and Lucy being together, and me not speaking to Lucy, I forgot all about Sara. Until.

A strange symmetry to my bout of mononucleosis (aka glandular fever). At my first doctor's appointment, Sara's mum happened to be in the surgery, and recognised me. She said nothing to me, but mentioned it to both my mother and Sara. And at my final appointment, when I went in to get the all clear, I happened to meet Sara, for the first time in a few months, because she was in with an annual bout of bronchitis or laryngitis (whatever it is makes you lose your voice in a semi-sexy way).

She said a husky "Hello." She still looked a bit like Natalie Wood, but now she was a sexier version, with extra husk. We talked briefly, about why we were there. I'd been off school with mono for a month or so (and never went back, in fact). She was now working, with a proper job, but she was taking a day off with the husky voice thing. That would have been it, but we happened to bump into each other in town, about half an hour later. From the doctors, I'd gone straight to Martins, to buy a copy of Playboy. It was a few days after John Lennon had been assassinated, and it was the posthumous publication of one of his last major interviews. So I'm standing there in the precinct with a copy of Playboy in a brown paper bag, about as self-conscious as it's possible for an 18 year old to be, and I bump into the should-have-been girl of my dreams, 19 years old and Natalie Wood-like, with a husky voice and a definite interest in seeing more of me. She probably thought I was on my home to masturbate over centrefold Terri Welles, which I almost certainly was.

She was cool about it. Invited me back to her house, which was in a row of terraced houses off the high street. We went in the back door, through the kitchen. She took the Playboy off me and placed it gently, definitely, on the kitchen counter, saying, "We'll just leave that _there_." Then we went through to what would have been called the parlour, where an ironing board was set up, and there was a little mono record player, quite similar to one I'd had.

She sat me down and went off the get a cup of tea and some biscuits. It was the sheerest class. We had Garibaldi's and chocolate digestives. I was sitting in a little arm chair, and she came back in and sat with her legs curled up under her like a girl from the Sixties having a slumber party. Having the Playboy turned out to be a good move, because we talked about the Beatles, and this led to her getting out her parents' collection of original 45s. So we spent a lovely couple of hours, playing all these great singles and EPs on the little mono player, which is how all the great music was originally heard. But, for whatever reason, I felt I had to go. Maybe her mum was coming home for lunch or something. We said good-bye, and it was all open-ended and vague. I know now she was waiting for me to say something, to arrange something, but I wasn't reading the signals. And anyway. Probably Terri Welles was intruding on my higher brain functions.

Within a couple of weeks, I'd left home and gone off to live in squalor and poverty with my band, and I never saw her again.

What kind of a name is Terri anyway? Within not very many months, Natalie Wood drowned in the sea. That same year, Meg Ryan made her first film appearance, in Rich and Famous.

Natalie Wood pictures, photos, wallpapers, posters, desktop themes, and links @ Alto Celebs

There are any number of things I like about this. First of all, I like the fact that they're inviting you to contact someone who died around 22 years ago. So that's nice, contact with the other side. But in addition to that, there's an IQ test link at the top of the page, which is a great idea for people who think that they can write to a dead celebrity.

Market research my arse

Nobody asked me or any of my brainwashed friends:

Thank you for your recent enquiry via email.

We are always pleased to hear what our customers want and your suggestion for Caramac Kit Kat was very interesting. At Nestle, we are testing and evaluating new product ideas all the time and often people send us suggestions for things we have already tried, either in this country or abroad. However the development of a new product is very complicated. It requires detailed market research to measure whether there is sufficient consumer demand, careful investigation of the production processes that might
be involved and analysis of costs, at the end of the day, people are not going to buy something if it is too expensive.

In fact, your suggestion has been considered but regrettably market research at the time indicated that the demand in the UK for such a product would not be sufficient to make it economically viable. However, we constantly review our policies and if the market trend does change we would, of course, reconsider the matter.

Thank you once again for taking the trouble to contact us and for the interest you have shown in our company.

Kind Regards

Karen Short
Consumer Services
Nestle UK Ltd
Freephone 0800 00 00 30

The Sara Connection

Lucy stood in front of Didier, talking earnestly. I was standing no more than five metres away, but I couldn't hear what she was saying, though I could hear the tones of her voice. His voice was much deeper, sadly below the threshold of my hearing, which is as good a reason as any of the many I had to stay out of the music business. I was about to step closer when Jane stepped in front of me.

"We meet at last," she said.

She'd been having this effect on me, and thinking back, she had the same effect on me at school too. My thing with Jane had followed a familiar pattern. I mentioned before that when we all started at the big school, there was a certain amount of clinging to people, a great deal of insecurity about the strange kids from all the other middle schools in the area. But Jane had been a little bit different. I guess she had better potty training than the rest of us or something, but she was confident and friendly, right from the off.

I suppose it helped that she had a couple of older sisters at the same school, as had I. So maybe she was familiar enough with my surname to approach me. Anyway, she was lovely, in her way, just opening right up and getting on with being friends. I can't remember what all we talked about, but I did actually spend several break times in her company.

But then there came a bit of peer pressure. Or, I should say, there was no actual peer pressure, except that which I invented. It was a question of having to reject anyone who was remotely interested in me. Show me affection, in those days, and you get to show it to my back. So, too soon, I turned on her a bit, or turned away from her, pulled the shutters down, and left her to go off and make friends with some other people. Which she did, of course.

One of her friends was a very disruptive girl. Jane claimed she was high-IQ, or some such nonsense, and found lessons intensely boring. But to me she was just intolerably selfish and rude, acting out in every class and wasting at least 10 minutes at the start of each lesson, while whichever teacher it was attempted to bring her into line. She always had this shit-eating grin on her face whenever she was being disciplined. She had long brown hair, I remember, but I can't recall her name.

Jane's own hair was odd, sort of pepper and salt, or mixed spice. My own hair is mousy, while hers was so very mousy that it was almost grey; but it had sort of low-lights and high-lights, and appeared to have the texture of wire. I don't remember touching it, which you would have done, but it looked like the kind of hair, she couldn't do much with it.

As soon as I "rejected" her friendship, and she went off with all the other people, I immediately became obsessed with getting her back, winning her back, however you want to put it. I suddenly wanted her, not just as a friend, but as a girlfriend. So she joined the list of girls I was interested in, girls I'd have any time, dropped everything, you know. So as part of this process of rejecting her because of her interest in me, and then deciding I loved her because she was no longer interested in me, I imbued her with a sense of mystery. In my imagination, she became both more intelligent than I think she actually was, and slightly tragic.

The tragedy I invented for her was based on a half-heard conversation she had with the disruptive girl. It was something about a doctors appointment, or hospital appointment, and to do with her back or spine, or something. I heard her saying that it would be fixed soon and then she'd be able to... do something she hadn't previously been able to contemplate. Which I understood as being about sex, naturally. I'm not even sure by now if I haven't just invented which part of the body it was. I may have decided it was her back simply because she had a kind of lopsided gait, as if one leg was slightly longer than the other, or as if she was in considerable pain when she walked. I decided that her bottom looked like it was odd, unbalanced, slightly flat. Not forgetting that I'm making all this up in a fevered burst of imagination. It was probably just a growing teenager's way of walking, of getting used to having breasts and all that kind of stuff.

There came a time when I happened to catch a brief glimpse of Jane in town one weekend, and she was wearing jeans, rather than her blue school uniform skirt. And she looked completely normal, of course, not to say sexy. There was no flatness or lopsidedness or anything other than just-rightness to her arse at all.

But this didn't stop her from being filled with mystery for me, especially as she continued to treat me with an ever so slight disdain, a just punishment for pushing her away in the way that I had.

By the time we were in our 'O' level year, this had been going on for the best part of 3 years. I remember that in one English lesson (or a series of lessons) the class as a whole read the Wesker Trilogy. So she had this one part, as did I. Not knowing the play of course, we weren't to know that it would end up with us two being the main characters, spending an entire lesson on one long scene in which the husband and wife talked for a long time about things, about everything. In my mind, this became pivotal, because it seemed to replicate the dynamic of our imaginary relationship. By the end of the lesson her voice had become very croaky and sexy, but the two of us read so well, I imagine it was mesmerising, though most of the kids were probably whispering about what they were going to eat for lunch, or picking their noses.

We never did get closer than that. In the sixth form, I pursued her, on and off, but she became very involved with another bunch of people and had no interest in me. She was one of the first girls in our year to get her own car, and she became very popular after that, and a bunch of them would go out at lunchtimes and not come back for the afternoon. Meanwhile, I was adopting a rock and roll arrogance, getting good at the guitar and beginning to put the band together. I needed a lot of unrequited love in order to write songs, and I had plenty of that going on.

And you're still wondering, probably, what the Sara connection is. Sara, you'll recall, was the lovely blonde girl I was with on the night Lucy and Dave got together. A few years down the line, she was as interested in me as Jane once had been, and I was about to summarily reject her because of that interest. In the meantime, it would have appeared to someone on the outside looking in that I was about to score.

I was beginning to realise that this is how Lucy had seen me. First of all chasing Jane, then possibly Sally Sage, and later, possibly Helen, and Sara, and all the others. Whereas Dave, fighting fit, wasn't such a flutterby, so that his obvious interest in Lucy was both powerful and sincere.

"So how long have you been with Lucy?" asked Jane, still standing in front of me.
"Depending on how you look at it, about 5 minutes. Or twenty-some years."
"What do you mean?"
"You know I've been making my living as a songwriter?"
"A successful one, I've heard."
"Fairly. Well, she was the girl in all the songs."