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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

November 28, 2003

Floor Moores

My teenage record buying was done in F L Moore Records in Dumpstable (not the sort of shop that has its own web site). It used to be in High Street North, below street level, a shop unit that frequently flooded, hence their later move to High Street South (though I don't recall ever entering the High Street South shop).

F L Moore's was poky, darkish, damp-smelling, and the staff there, typically, acted like some Royal Family in Exile, forced to mix with plebians. And of course there was a girl. I don't think I ever knew her name (so I'd be like the vast majority of Americans in The Onion piece), but I think she was a year or so older than me. She had, in the fashion of the time, long, curly, dirty blonde hair, an extremely pale face, fine bones.

The only time I ever spoke to her would have been when I had something on special order. Otherwise, they were silent transactions. I took the record from the bin, handed it to her at the counter, she rang it up, I handed her the money, she put it in a bag. I'd then cycle home, conceal the record on the front doorstep, walk in the back door empty handed, say hello to my old man, then grab it off the front step and run upstairs. It couldn't have been more sordid, had it been one of those other silent transactions.

Believe it or not, I had to special order several Beatles records, as well as The Doors, Who Live at Leeds, Velvet Underground and Nico, and other so-called classics.

The Beatles albums were, quite often, Greek imports, costing £2.76 to buy, and featuring slightly different cover art.

She never ventured to suggest that I had exquisite musical taste, though I obviously did. Records I purchased there included Exile on Main Street, Born to Run, Help! and Rubber Soul.

Roy once said to me, when I was slightly sweet on a girl in a coffee shop in Urbana, Illinois, "They're paid to be nice to you." This is often all too true, but in the case of the F L Moore's girl, she was paid not to be nice to anyone. She was like every snooty guitar shop casualty, or hi fi emporium dwarf, rolled into one, stunning, package.

As Dylan Thomas once wrote, even though I disagreed with everything she said and did, I knew I loved her.

On the Onion today

Nation In Love With Girl From Record Store. I like this bit especially:

"'I wanted to get the first Modern Lovers album, but I didn't want her to know I didn't already own it,' said Jody Osbourne of San Diego. 'To cover up, I told her some big, long story about how my friend is such a jerk because he borrowed it a long time ago and never gave it back. When I was done with this four-minute spiel, she just said, 'I hate Jonathan Richman. He's boring.' I wanted to curl up in a ball and die.'"

Right there. That's the story of my life.

Sunny Summary

A lot of you have written to ask what the fuck all the little bits of fiction add up to, in slightly less polite terms.

I don't want to explain myself too much, obviously, because it would destroy the aura of mystery that surrounds everything I do.

But I guess a quarterly summary wouldn't do any harm.

Here goes.

Our narrator, a semi-retired musician/songwriter, just divorced, has returned to England after a period of several years spent living and working in the States of United America. One day, in his inbox, he gets an invite to a school reunion, which is to take place at a holiday complex in France owned by one of his former school acquaintances.

The email circulation list includes the name of his ex-best friend's ex-girlfriend, Lucy. There is history between the narrator and Lucy. He'd previously treated her extremely badly, due to jealousy, and now wants to take the opportunity to put things right.

Actually I quite enjoy explaining myself.

This morning on the way into work, I listened to "Woody Allen - Standup Comic." God. Has there ever been anything funnier than this? What's beautiful about it, it's not angry humour. It's relaxed, apparently effortless, pure genius that anyone can enjoy.

I got a job on Madison Avenue in New york, a real dyed-in-the-wool advertising agency on Madison Avenue, wanted a man to come in, and they pay him ninetyfive dollars a week, and to sit in their office -- and to look jewish.

They wanted to prove to the outside world, that they would hire minority groups...

So I was the one they hired... I was the show jew at the agency. I tried to look jewish desperately... I used to read my memos from right to left all the time. They fired me finally, because I took off too many jewish holidays.


So the narrator tentatively "replies all" to the circulation list, and (as he hoped) Lucy replies and accepts a lift to the reunion in his car. So they have a chance to talk about their shared past, and what went wrong with it. Lucy is working as a University teacher/researcher, with a speciality in soil erosion and land reclamation. There's a great deal of emotional baggage between them, Lucy deeply hurt (not to say betrayed) by the narrator. Underneath it all, they used to love each other, but the question is, can the narrator redeem himself enough in her eyes to make it possible again?

So her interest is piqued by the location of the reunion, which is in the Vendée region of France, large parts of which have been reclaimed from the sea.

So they go to the reunion and meet up with some people. This is part I haven't spent too much time on yet. On a day out, they discover a little village called "St Guthlac Sur Mer," which used to be a fishing port, but is now several kilometres inland. Lucy is fascinated, because St Guthlac was a Lincolnshire hermit who lived on the fells, in around the 9th century. So she starts to wonder how a French fishing port has adopted his name.

That's basically the story so far. Lucy and the narrator are spending more and more time together. For the narrator, the Guthlac investigation is an excuse to spend more time with Lucy. For Lucy, it's something more. She tried to explain that, because Guthlac lived on the fens, and made them holy, he reclaimed them as worthwhile land. Before Guthlac, the fens were seen as wasteland, badlands, not worth anything because they couldn't be farmed or built upon. But once Guthlac makes the land holy, people see it as something worth rescuing.

You see there's a really heavy-handed metaphor going on here.

So now we're at the stage where they're back in England, and Lucy wants to visit Lincolnshire and find out the connection between Guthlac and the small village in France.

I suspect it will have something to do with saintly relics.

Next month, I'll post a summary of this summary.


Took Elodie to nursery this morning, for a change. They've got some new fingerprint recognition security system, which I suggested on a customer survey as a joke. But now everyone is supposed to get scanned so they can use the new system. Except they weren't doing it this morning.

I was under instructions to remember to wave to Elodie when I got back into the car park. I asked her, inside, if she was going to wave to me, and she shook her head. She always feels betrayed when I drop her off, because it's unusual, so she thinks we're going to Sainsbury's or something.

So although she said she wasn't going to wave, I should have checked the window to see if she was there, but I forgot. In the 30 seconds between leaving her in nursery and stepping out into the car park, I forgot.

I'm going to feel terrible all day.

November 27, 2003


We climbed up the path into dunes, slipping in the soft sand, and then zig-zagged down onto the beach. Somewhere along the way, Lucy reached out and took my hand.

The beach was small, mostly sandy, and totally empty of people. The sea was breaking over some black rocks, and there was a line of stranded seaweed halfway up the beach, and three of four lines of pebbles, larger sizes further from the sea. There was the usual tide-blown detritus, broken crates, pieces of fishing nets, and your traditional driftwood.

We walked along by the side of the sea, carrying our shoes, and dodging in and out of the water as the waves came in.

"Home tomorrow?" I asked, watching clouds beginning to form out on the horizon.
"I suppose. But. I don't want to sound like Dave, but... we should formulate some plans. I want to make some plans."
"Weren't there some things you wanted to follow up? You know, St Guthlac Sur Mer kind of things?"

"It almost seems like a dream now, but yeah. A couple of days ago it was almost all I was thinking about, but now... Something about this place, and being here with you, and being away from all those reunion people. Seems less important now."

"Still interesting though. Not everything interesting has to be important too."

"That's a very you thing to say. But you know? I've seen him a couple of times, that bloke that nobody knows, and I'm beginning to think he was nothing to do with the reunion, but that he was following us."

"You kidding?"

"No. He seems... for a start, I think he's the wrong age to have anything to do with us lot. He's too young. And he looks all wrong. I can't explain. But he didn't fit the picture."

After a quietly beautiful afternoon on the beach, looking for mica and poking dead jellyfish with sticks, it was appropriate that the weather had turned for the drive home.
Because we'd missed our original ferry crossing, we just drove straight up to Calais Coquelles and dived onto Le Shuttle. It was an easy drive, punctuated by a couple of rest stops and the odd toll booth. At Le Pont de Normandie, Lucy wanted to stop and take some photos, so we did that.

The sky was moody and it was windy and cold, though it had temporarily stopped raining. She took some shots, and then we headed off again, watching the rain sluice off the windscreen, but not really wanting the journey to end.

Back in Blighty, the roads seemed impossibly frantic and other drivers stupidly aggressive and selfish, the usual story. We drove up the M20 and then round the M25, and back down the M3 again. After starting fairly early in the morning, we'd now been on the road 12 hours, and I was punch drunk, seeing the road roll by every time I blinked my eyes.

"Stay the night," she said, so I did.

And then the next day, she said, "Stay a few days," so I did.

After a couple of days, she left me to look through her record collection and her bookshelves while she went to work. I spent an hour or two talking Jill, her lodger, but didn't really have much in common with her. Jill asked me if I was going to be a permanent fixture.

"Not yet," I said.
"Maybe someday," I said.
"I hope," I said.

Eventually I had to go home. One night when she came home from work and we were eating, I said I ought. She nodded, finishing her mouthful.

"At work, I've told them I've got to go on a field trip to Lincolnshire, do some research. And that after that I want to go back to the Vendée, do some more research. You're not too far from Lincolnshire are you? One over?"
"Yeah... you mean?"
"I could use your place as a base. For a while. I mean, if you don't...?"

I didn't.

So it turned out that I stayed a couple more days, and after Lucy had left a few instructions with Jill, we headed north.


Just had a Cadbury's Banoffi, which seems to be a new thing. Not mentioned on their web site. I'm convinced the shop down the road is being used to Pilot crazy chocolate ideas. Banana and Toffee cream filling. I prefer the Banoffee spelling myself.

Banoffi reminds me of one of those Lindt bars, with the same kind of creme filling. Except with Lindt, you get better than 20% cocoa solids. This was quite nice, though I feel a bit sick now. I give it a qualified thumbs up, though I disapprove of the way Cadbury have been rebranding everything as Dairy Milk recently.

I live in hope that one day Nestle will see fit to pilot the Caramac Kit Kat in the shop down the road.

November 26, 2003

More fees please

Polly Toynbee bangs the nail on the head:

"Spending is already badly warped in favour of the graduate elite: the under-fives, where futures are all but decided, get just £1,800 per child. Primary schools, where children might still be saved from failure, get just £3,200 a head. But university students, already destined to be the high earners, cost a walloping £5,300 each. New figures show how our top quarter of school pupils score highest in the world, while the other 75% fall right down the league table in this most class-divided society. Any wise minister would concentrate any new money on the poorest and youngest first."

The other thing to say is, it's not necessary for an 18 or 19 year old to go straight to university. Making it more expensive (though this isn't an upfront fee, and if you can't pay you won't pay it) should concentrate the mind. I think I had a better experience and got a better result by going, as I did, at the age of 28.

It's easy to forget how lacking in common sense the average 18 year old actually is; university (and I don't just mean the learning part) is wasted on them. Sure, the ones I saw were mostly privileged, spoonfed, and ignorant. I know that the students who go to "new" universities tend to be brighter, more original, and harder-working.

Wait until you're older, know what you want to do, know what you want to get out of the experience, and then go to university and piss all over the rich 18 year olds you find there.

Vodka Drinkers

Calling them Internet Refuseniks either makes them sound like hero-dissidents or stubborn old fools. At least some people have a bit of empathy, and understand that, if you can use the phone (and I'd add, listen to the radio), using the innernet might not seem all that compelling.

I read this story yesterday, and thought of it last night when I caught the end of Watchdog. The scandal of the moment was bootleg vodka, some brand I'd never heard of, the sort of thing you can buy in your local Booze Busters for £7.49 a bottle. The spokeswoman from the company wanted to give out a Customer Care telephone number, for people to dial whilst dying from methanol poisoning. But Nicky Campbell stopped her and said, "Before you do that, we'll put the number on our web site, and people can log on and get it from there."

Which is a stunning example of an innernet-aware person having absolutely no empathy with either the audience, or the kind of the people who like to drink vodka that costs £7.49 a bottle, or 3 for £15.

Not that I wish to stereotype people, but if the shaggy, bearded bloke I saw walking along the street drinking Special Brew at 9 a.m. yesterday morning is an habitual web user, I'm Nicky Campbell's aunt.

What technology boosters can't quite get their heads round is the fact that, from a certain point of view, the internet is a load of old rubbish. Computers are rubbish, email is rubbish, and the web is rubbish. It's been said before, but say it again, till it gets through: If you compare a reliable piece of established technology -- like a battery powered radio -- with a computer, the gulf is so wide as to be ridiculous. Let me just boot up my radio and log on, and then wait while the latest news downloads. Oops, I have to restart my radio and then run Radio First Aid to see what the problem is.

Which is why my blood slightly simmers everytime they give out the BBC Five Live web address and suggest that people log on to listen to sound clips, or "Email the programme." You're driving in your car listening to the radio, or you're standing in your kitchen peeling the spuds, and you hear that, "log on to the web site and..."; it makes me spit. What the fuck do they think people are doing while they listen to the radio?

And do they really think John on the M68 is keen to spend three quarters of an hour trying to download and install the free version of Real Player?

Oh the humanity. (Incidentally, I do hope they'll stop this ridiculous game of encouraging people to text messages constantly. "John on the A42 just killed a pedestrian, and wants to know...")

My work inbox this morning was full of messages from Stacy, offering me pictures of ti+ht t++nage p***y stretched tight by unf^*+ably large..." (I blank out the words, not just because they might cause offence, but because I don't ever want this page to appear if someone types that in as a search term.)

So you have to ask yourself, what will the government say, when they have persuaded everyone to get on the innernet in order to access government web sites (which don't function with Macs), when their inboxes are filled with utter filth? Er, yes, we told you it was a Good Thing, but we didn't mean the bit that everyone was excited about for the first five years. Not the porn, no, nor the illegal downloads. Just the government web sites. What? You use a Mac? Oh dear. Have you thought about using a PC? You have? And decided against? I see... Would you like to buy some V+agra? No? How about a degree from a Mexican University?

I use the internet all the time, I do, at work at least. I'm a data miner. I go home with my face blackened with filth and my mind full of interesting business opportunities, suffering from Keyboard Vibration White Finger. But at home? No thanks. It's rubbish, isn't it?

November 25, 2003

blast from the past

The episode of Enterprise they showed on Channel 4 at the weekend, could have been one of the original Cap-itan Kirk episodes, it was that silly.

But as the reviewer on the page (see link above) says, it was frothy, but fun. As soon as you saw the two aliens who had made the distress call, you knew they were up to no good. And you knew there'd be some beautiful princess trapped in the stasis pod. And that she'd clash with Trip, who clashes with anyone who has to spend time with him in a confined space.

And of course she made him take his shirt off so she could dress a wound, and then they were all over each other. I couldn't stop laughing, it was so James Tiberius. Scott Bakula is good at this sort of thing. When he arrived on the planet to rescue them, finding them half naked, he says, "Bad time?"

I don't care what anyone says, I like Enterprise, it's got a sense of fun about it, and it's sexy in the way that Star Trek was always supposed to be sexy. I'd rather watch a couple of episodes of this than any one of the dire Star Trek movies.

Also, T'Pol is my secret girlfriend.


One of the most welcome improvements to Mac OS X Panther has been the return of the startup and shutdown schedule. I know some people advocate leaving computers on all the time, but doing this with one computer for one night uses as much energy as a small Peruvian mountain village does in a whole year.

Or something.

So it's great not to have to wait for startup every morning, and the Mac is up and ready to go when I get in to work. Except Tuesdays.

On Tuesdays, it never starts up automatically. Peter will confirm that I mentioned this last Tuesday and the Tuesday before. It's a mystery.

November 24, 2003

Domain Maims

Blocking individual email addresses is pointless, when it comes to coping with spam, so I've taken to blocking whole domains. Anything Hotmail, Yahoo, or MSN, anything ending in .net; any domain used more than once by spam relays. In the end, nobody at all will be able to email me; there are already some family members who can't.

I'd block certain words, too, if the crappy AOL software would let me (don't ask, it's not even worth asking). I'd block "prescription" and "degree" as well as the more obvious words like "bigger" and "relaxant." Something strange will happen to language in the next few years. I already delete anything that says "business opportunity" without reading it. And anything that sounds friendly and conversational, which is already making me more suspicious and paranoid than I really want to be on a daily basis. Emails with friendly and conversational subject lines are equivalent to those begging letters you get from charities which look (at first glance) to be handwritten and personally addressed.

Email: a noble experiment that failed. I delete more emails than I duck phonecalls, and that's saying a great deal. What with pretending I'm not in when someone knocks at the door, slamming the phone down on cold callers and deleting 95% of my email, pretty soon I'll be uncontactable; reclusive, like Howard Hughes.

Next step will be to stop shaving and put napkins over all my food. When the day comes that they start beaming adverts at you as you walk round the shops, I'll take to wearing an aluminium foil hat.

Walking Shoes

Finally got around to doing some kind of final mix on Walking Shoes this morning. Spent about 20 minutes on it. The next one, I might take even longer (Rutles joke). I've left a sort of synthy sound at the beginning, which hopefully fades into the great wash of the background.

One of these days I might feel inspired enough to do some BVs on it. Thanks to Roy for playing bass, and to Mr Groove Agent for the drums.

Career Movies

Sometimes I wish I could take Sarah Michelle Gellar to one side and explain why it is that TV is better than the movies. But it's too late; she already quit as Buffy, and she's destined to make awful movies like Harvard Man. Probably the amount of money you get for the amount of work you do is better, but christ this is awful.

The Rotten Tomatoes reviews say it all. Bad script, bad casting, pointless, interminable dialogues about the meaning of life, TOO MANY JUMPCUTS, and, really, not enough SMG. There should be a sticker on the box that says, "No, she doesn't take her clothes off, you dirty old man."

Also finally got around to watching Signs at the weekend. This was a bit better than I thought it was going to be, but not worth anywhere near the 78% of the RT review. It was good in parts; the kids were good, the script was fairly witty, and I liked the thing about his daughter leaving glasses of water everywhere.

But it was candy floss, only slightly less substantial. And the Big Theme it tries to bring across, like the crap about philosophers in Harvard Man, seemed more like a bolt-on than an integral part of the film.

You read about Hollywood philistines taking the blue pencil to movies, and shattering their integrity, but when you see rubbish like Harvard Man, something that, somehow, slipped under the radar, you wish a philistine had got involved at some point and insisted on making it less wordy, pacier, funnier, more violent, sexier, or something.

I hope SMG is beginning to appreciate the genius she's been working for for 7 years as Buffy.

November 21, 2003


I've been a bit slack with the posting, past couple of weeks. Which means I've been busy with things that require a bit more long-term concentration. Not to mention.

Reminds me of how you end up not writing to people. How you can go a year or so with regular letters (younger readers note: like emails, but with paper and stamps); and then you encounter some life-changing event, and suddenly you can't fit letters into your schedule any more.

Things need to settle, like Nesquik(tm) in the box. Or Cornflakes(tm). I haven't been sleeping well this week, either. Elodie keeps waking up and coming into bed with us, and she likes to have her head touching Babette and her feet kicking me. Before you know it, two hours have gone by, and you're lying there feeling consumptive with the dawn.

With the St. Guthlac thing, I'm at a stage I often reach with writing, where I need to transition between one section and another,and I need to build a bridge, something to get me there. But I'm not sure at the moment if where I'm going is that interesting. I've found in the past, that the bridge ends up being more interesting that where it leads to. Used to be what I called my half-bottle of John Daniels passages, bits I wrote on autopilot, or when slightly squiffy, and you come back and read them later and they seem better than what you usually write.

But I don't do half-bottles of anything, except low alcohol beer, these days. Not even a half bottle of milk.

And then, sometimes, people just stand at your desk and hold an impromptu meeting, and you can't blog with freedom. That's happened a lot lately, too.

150 minutes

Instead of the usual 25 minutes, it took me two and a half hours to get home last night. It was one of those "Doh!" moments. I always look up at the motorway as I approach the junction, just to check the traffic is actually moving.

Last night, I could see it was stationary, so I had the option of seeking another route home, but I chose instead to trust to luck. It'll clear up soon enough, I thought to myself, it'll mean 10 or 12 minutes instead of 5 or 6.

But no.

It's not the sitting in traffic. We can do that. You listen to the radio, you put on some CDs, you sing along to Joy Lynn White.

We're gonna party
Till the sun comes up
I'll ride you in my hot pink pickup truck

Is it me, or does that sound dirty? Why hasn't she got a record label? It's a crazy world.

No, it's not the sitting in traffic, but the beastliness of other people. People in cars don't act like human beings. They are mean, aggressive, selfish, nasty. I had to swap into the outside lane, not because I'm an inveterate lane swapper, but because the truck drivers were aggressively closing gaps too fast and too close, in order to prevent people from moving around. The outside lane wasn't faster, but at least you could see more than the back of a truck in front and the front of a truck looming in back.

And then, after two hours sitting in traffic, average speed 5 miles per hour, people started driving up the hard shoulder to get to the junction. You see, they were special people. The whole motorway was closed at the junction, so everyone had to leave there. And everyone had been sitting in the queue, relatively, for the same length of time. But there were some special people further back who had to get off first. It must be such a burden, being both special, and remembering to be completely selfish and oblivious at the same time. There's a word for that, isn't there? Oh, yes: shitbird.

November 20, 2003

Famke - she's gonna livke forever

Deep Rising was on BBC3 last night (now, that's a very 21st C thing to say). Had to watch it of course, because my secret girlfriend Famke is in it. She makes a point of being in the trashiest films possible. Deep Rising is one of those, and yet for all its horror clichés (and its sinking ship clichés, and scenes where you have to swim under water and the monster might get you clichés) it's a cut above the usual, because it has Famke in it.

She makes it more fun. If it was just a bunch of blokes running around shouting at each other and shooting, like a lot of these boy-films are, it would be tripe. But Famke makes it interesting, and she has the most beautiful face. Playing a character called Trillian St. James.

It's not just that she's in all these trashy movies, but you just know she's actually very smart (she has an intelligent bone structure) and it's wonderful chemistry. The trashier the film, the more intelligent the female lead, the sexier it is. She speaks Dutch, German, English, and French. Like me, apart from the Dutch, German, and French. A bit.

November 19, 2003

Leave it Be

Well, I'm surprised to have to admit, I don't like it very much. Sure, it's best thought of as a different document altogether, a different take on the same events, but all the same, much has been lost.

It's obvious I was wrong, but I thought I'd be hearing more or less the same record, give or take a few tracks, remastered, remixed, and with post facto overdubs removed. Actually, several of the tracks sound different not just because of any remixing or mastering, but because they're different takes, different vocals, different guitar parts. Different, you understand, but not better.

"Get Back" starts it off and sounds more or less exactly the same. To my ears, on my car stereo. Louder, yes, following the current trend for louder CDs, but not appreciably different. I imagine that unless you are Bob Hi Fi with virgin ears from Hi Fi Town, you're going to be pushed to spot the difference. With the rumbling of a diesel engine, road noise, and all the other traffic, "Get Back" sounds the same. Except. As advertised, all the chatter and background comments have been excised.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that the ethos of Let it Be, as Mother Mary intended, was to sound more "live," with no fancy pants overdubs, just raw Beatles. Part of what made the original record was the very aliveness of the between-song moments. All cleverly edited in, which is maybe the objection, but at the same time, cleverly edited in so as to give the illusion of liveness. And it worked. I can't hear certain songs without also hearing, "Oh, my soul... oh, it's so hard..." And, "The picker, picks with his fingers..." And complaints about the cold, and a snatch of Danny Boy, and, of course, the falsetto "Ooooh," to close "Get Back," followed by, "I'd like to thank you all on behalf of the group..."

It's all gone, and it is missed. Because it worked beautifully, not just to create that Live Illusion, but because it was quintessentially The Beatles. It was the sort of thing they did.

"Dig a Pony" sounds pretty much the same. I'm not going to get all trainspotterish about whether it's different takes edited together. Why does it follow "Get Back"? Because it's a John song to follow a Paul song. One of the problems (for Lennon) of Let it Be is that he was reserving his own songs (already) for his solo album. Interesting to read on the sleeve notes almost exactly the same statements (on different days) from George and John about possible solo projects. For George, it's an opportunity to clear his backlog, because he could fill Beatles albums for ten years with his "quota". So All Things Must Pass makes perfect sense in that context.

But then when John parrots George and says almost exactly the same thing, it's for a different reason: because he wants to hear what his songs sound like next to each other - as opposed to taking turns with Paul.

"For You Blue" starts off sounding the same, and then becomes, well, shambolic. You can hear too much, it's too clear. Whereas with Country musicians hearing everything they do is part of the pleasure, the pleasure of the best rock lies with what you can't quite hear. It's the fadeout solo, or the almost-below-perception thing. The beauty of analogue tape was its ability to mush things together in a blend of sounds that was better, really, than being able to hear every squeak and rattle.

Then we have "The Long and Winding Road," which I never liked before, and still don't like. It's a de-Spectorised version now, but it's still naff.

Probably the best-sounding song on the record is "Two of Us," which sounds more lively and upfront. So they've actually done a good job on that one. But we're halfway through the record before you really get a positive. And I'd still prefer it to begin, "I dig a pygmy..."

All the same, I was mostly enjoying the experience... until it came to "I've Got a Feeling."

We're back now to what's wrong with this overall, it's lack of aliveness. The true beauty of "I've Got a Feeling" was that it sounded incredibly spontaneous and improvised, because John got one of the lines wrong on his countermelody. But, after moving his mouth away from the microphone for a second, he brazens it out and carries on. And that one moment, more than anything, when the singer backs off from the mic and makes his voice fade away, made it sound live, quick and dirty, spontaneous.

But on this new version they use a totally different vocal, and it sounds wrong. And my good cheer starts to crumble, because I can see now who I'm dealing with. It's a funny thing, but the anal retentiveness of audio engineers often runs counter to those things that make music good. Like the slightly bum note, the not-quite-there solo, the forgotten lines. When Lennon laughs at himself on Live at the Hollywood Bowl, during "Help," when he sings the lines wrong (as usual), it's superb.

But we're dealing here with the kind of people who think that a wrong line is better corrected.

Skip towards the end. "Across the Universe" is better in this version, because it's more up-tempo, and it rattles along at a decent pace. Which brings us to "Let it Be" itself, which starts off sounding as if it's more or less the same, but then they choose to use a different guitar part. This may be more in keeping with what George was doing at the time, playing through a Leslie, and I like that roto mod sound, as you know. But now they're using a solo that sounds more like the one on the single, and the slightly gritty one that was on the album is banished. There may be reasons for this. Was it overdubbed later, under Spector's supervision? Whatever, not everything Spector did was bad (like the snippets of "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae" and the banter - I liked all that), and I especially liked the guitar on the title track. It's probably my favourite guitar part on any Beatles song, give or take "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party."

This Leslied solo is not as good, and it goes away and doesn't come back in under the vocal like the original did. And it's just not as good.

Now, this bloke tried desperately in the Guardian yesterday to be provocative and controversial, and he certainly provoked a response. But I'd have predicted he would get a lot of support. Back in the 70s, when I was at school, I was one of two people I knew who really liked the Beatles. Everyone else was into what kids are always into: what was in the charts, and what their friends liked. This would be Slade, yes, and later the Pistols, the Clash, and the Damned.

Sure, they've become a money-making machine since they split, but I suspect that was only really because they never made much money back in the 60s (these things are relative, of course - they still made more than my old man). They pissed it all away, as pop stars tend to do, and only Macca had a sustained and successful solo career (Lennon's lasted 5 years and then he came back to it and died quite quickly). Anyway, the point I'm making is that this Simpson geezer is not a voice crying in the wilderness, but the voice of most people, most of the time. Even now, sitting here, I can think of only one person in the whole office who is slightly interested in Let it Be... Naked. Really. Sure, they're going to sell a few million around the world, but the population of the world is twice what it was in 1963.

Even in the sixties, there were always plenty of nay sayers who were waiting (and waiting) for the bubble to burst. A lot of what the Beatles did has to be seen in the context of intense competition and criticism. People like Simpson, the kind who think shouting, "Bum!" in the school assembly makes him a unique Johnny Rebel (here comes Johnny Rebel), always object that everybody's parents liked the Beatles, but that was only true to an extent. I think they probably preferred them to the Stones, but then went off them when, around the end of 1965, they went "all funny."

Post "Help!", post weed Beatles were a different breed, and everything they did after "Help!" is a kind of reaction to it. At the same time, their career was a series of what-have-we-got-ourselves-into-now moments, whether it was psychedelia era projects that never happened, boutiques, record labels, trips to India, or high-concept film-the-rehearsals television specials, there was always something they wished they hadn't started, something they had to extricate themselves from with grace and style.

They survived the sixties, and all the carping, and all the cock-ups, and the NME asking every few weeks if they'd lost it, and here comes the next Big Thing, because they had that grace and style. Because they could turn a quickie rooftop concert, (more of a "happening" than a concert), into a crowning glory, a farewell to the sixties, and provide closure to a Bad Vibe.

What I like about Let it Be, the film, is that they're clearly uncomfortable, and awkward, and maybe going a little bit mad due to the isolation and the pressure they've put themselves under. And then they do the rooftop concert, and there are people standing around on the roof looking bored, and there's a bloke with a flat cap, and George and John are wearing fur coats (real fur?), and Ringo is wearing a raincoat, and it's January and everyone is cold. And there's a bloke in the background with a flat cap (did I mention that?). For me, that symbolises the end of the sixties. Here we have one of the biggest news stories of the 20th Century (not the rooftop concert, the Beatles themselves and their achievements), and there we have four long haired rock stars, some of them - allegedly - hooked on smack, who were hated by the establishment (this is the era of all the arrests and harassments), and they're creating a stir, as usual, in the middle of London, hip as you like, but there are people down on the street, in this era, still wearing pinstripe suits and bowler hats. In fact, hat wearing was still a thing. Flat caps and bowler hats, and the Beatles, beautiful, singing "Get Back," and "Don't Let Me Down" in fur coats, and getting some of the words wrong.

November 17, 2003

Buffy man tops 'next Dr Who' poll

How peculiar that the Great Unwashed should agree with me. I'm filled with all kinds of doubts now. At least Sean Pertwee didn't come in second.

Actually, they should go the whole hog and ask Joss Whedon to script/produce a Dr Who comeback. I have no faith in the bloke that's doing it now. I suspect he's planning some kind of camp buffoonery. Whereas Whedon would probably produce something better than the original. Him or Chris Carter. Both of them have struggled to replicate their initial successes. In combination they could produce a Who that would be both comical and dark, with sharp, witty scripts, and plenty of scary moments to get the kids behind the sofa. Also a musical episode or two.

Goodbye Bruce, you sing too long

I was watching old iMovies of the kids yesterday, and I was reminded of how excited I was before Springsteen released The Rising, summer before last.

This excitement was based on the quality of the pre-released tracks, which were the title song, Lonesome Day, and Into the Fire. Based on those, it looked as if the record would be superb. Unfortunately, they were almost the only tracks worth having.

The record is boring. And long. Long and boring. My trajectory with The Rising has been a bit like that bit in Hop on Pop, where it goes,

What is that thing?
That Thing can sing
A long, long song
Goodbye Thing, you sing too long.

There are 15 songs on The Rising. Had there been just 9 (or 10 at a push) it would be tighter, better, and shorter, though still too long. I reckon 8 of its songs would make a good record - and I'd have not been disappointed at that.

In it's new incarnation, Let it Be is just 35 minutes long. This is perfect. An album should be no longer than 40 minutes. Anything more is just self-indulgent flab. My 8 track version of The Rising would come in at about 39 minutes:

Lonesome Day 4:08
Into The Fire 5:04
Waitin' On A Sunny Day 4:18
Nothing Man 4:23
Mary's Place 6:03
You're Missing 5:11
The Rising 4:50
My City Of Ruins 5:00

Even here I'm being generous, including Mary's Place, just because it's a nostalgic throwback to 1973. And Waitin' on a Sunny Day is only included because it's Chloé's favourite. And yet the record company would probably sue your ass if you made yourself a copy of The Rising with just these tracks.

And of course some artistes get all pissy at the very idea that you might only download a selection of their tracks from the iTunes music store. But serve them right for producing filler.

November 14, 2003

times of trouble

Anticipating delivery of my copy of Let it Be... Naked from Hong Kong some time soon, I've been listening to the original in the car this week.

There are many records that suffer from played-to-deathness, as far as I'm concerned, and playing things in the car can exacerbate the situation, because you can be too lazy sometimes to swap CDs and keep listening until you're ready to throw it out of the window. I've only relatively recently listened to the Beatles again, after many many years in which they were all used up.

I first got Let it Be in 1978, for my 16th birthday. At the time, it completed my Beatles collection. By then I had all the albums and all the singles (the latter in a box set). I also knew every word to every song on every record I had. I'd sing them all to myself, in order, when I was doing my enormous Friday night paper round. Obsessed much? On that Sunday in December 78, I'd never heard Let it Be, and every time I've heard it since, I'm reminded of the first time.

It was not the best listening experience. Had to put it on my dad's old radiogram*, at very low volume, and still attempt to do my household chores (to this day, I never understand people who take a day off "Because it's my birthday." I never had a day off, even when I was young enough to warrant one). So I remember working in the hallway with the vacuum cleaner blaring away and only being able to hear, oh so faintly, the warm sounds of the Beatles, almost below perception, in the front room. I may have looked into the hallway mirror a time or two and commiserated with myself.

Let it Be soon became one of my favourites, maybe just because some of it was a little less familiar, and even now I don't think any group has done anything cooler than that rooftop concert. I must have seen the film on TV not long after, and saw it at the cinema a few years after that, and I love the film too, in spite of all the misery. Because, in their misery, they were still brilliant. And Let it Be was a brilliant, raw, honest document. To release something like that, whatever the reason, seems so far from the fraudulent pomposity of current "serious" rock acts-who-think-they-are-Jesus.

I know many people object to the whole enterprise, and like to point the finger at Macca the control freak, but I'm behind him all the way, I don't care how ...Naked ends up sounding. It was as if, in 1969, the Beatles set out to make a black and white film, their Manhattan, and Phil Spector came along and colorised it. And I use the American Spelling advisedly. And I don't care if John Lennon thought it was all right, he was being a twat.

(*A Radiogram, for younger listeners, is something like a sideboard with a record player, radio, and a valve amplifier built into it. The valves got so hot that the plastic frontage of the radio tuner was always a bit melted in the corner. Sounded great though, "warm" in more ways than one. We never, ever, had anything resembling something modern or the fi that is hi in my house.

Until the advent of the Radiogram, which was twelfth hand when we got it, I'd only ever been able to listen in mono, on a record player that had been in the family as long as I had. It didn't have a cartridge that was "wired for stereo," so the first time I heard, say, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," I didn't even know it had an electric guitar on it. I thought George was being ironic.

Anyway, when people say that vinyl sounds better than CD, they're probably remembering the sound of valve amplifiers on radiograms. And, yes, I admit that my anti-stereo prejudice probably dates from the time when I felt cheated by stereo records sounding half-missing on my mono record player.)

November 12, 2003

Enthusiasm Duly Curbed

We've had digital telly (terres-tree-al) for a couple of weeks now. As you may remember, my main motivation was the opportunity to watch Curb Your Enthusiasm. Well, I've seen a couple of episodes and I'm largely unmoved.

As far as I can make out, half an hour of Curb... is equivalent to 5 minutes of Seinfeld (or 3 minutes of The Simpsons, for that matter). Improv is hard work, and they make it seem so. You can see all the joins.

Last night's episode, in which some guy from HBO eats the prawns out of his Chinese takeaway after a mix-up. Quite funny, and when you tell it to someone else, quite funny. Except it takes 30 seconds to tell it, and the episode was 30 of our earth minutes long.

In Seinfeld, it would have been George, Jerry having received the wrong meal, would have eaten the prawns out of it before returning it to the restaurant. Jerry would have made disapproving noises, and then Newman would have burst in, having picked up his meal, to complain that someone had eaten all the prawns out of it. And he'd have blamed Jerry, the original recipient. And like that.

And we laughed over it, and Hemingway punched me in the nose.

Anyway, the best thing about digital telly so far is the opportunity to stick the kids in front of CBeebies between 6.30 and 7.00 pm, so that Babette and I can eat dinner in peace. This is a Blessing.

Variax 700 Series

I hadn't paid any attention to the newLine 6 Variax 700 Series till today. I thought the original Variax looked horrible, missing some of the point about why people want to buy guitars.

So they offer all those different modelled tones, but it doesn't make you want to pick it up. But the new ones look lovely, in a fashion-victimy way, and you'd definitely want to pick it up and play.

I'm not sure I wouldn't prefer it with some fake pickups on it, but it's great improvement.

Le Roi Lion | Skip Intro

One of Chloé's birthday presents was The Lion King on DVD. The first disk has two versions of the film on it: the original, and the new so-called Special Edition. The second disk is full of rubbish, as far as I can see, but whatever.

The subject here is... DVD menus. Why are they so bad? The current trend in DVD menus is equivalent to the web-design trend in lengthy and pointless Flash animations. Except, and here's the point, whereas with a flash intro you occasionally still get the plonker who omits the crucial "Skip Intro" button, on a DVD the "Skip Intro" button is always missing.

Please stop now.

Two versions of the film, right? But where is the second? Er... If you choose "Set Up" and then "Languages", voila. You can choose among various confusingly named versions: Special Edition DTS French, Special Edition Dobly Digital French, Special Edition Dobly Digital English, and so on with the original version.

What? We're deep deep here into head-up-arseness on the part of the DVD production team. How many people ever go into the DVD setup menu to choose another language? Huh? We do, because some of us are English and some of us are French, but most people I'd have thought will stick with whatever comes on by default, unless they happen to be anal home cinema buffs, which I dearly hope is a tiny minority.

No explanation on the DVD packaging, by the way, on how to find the other version(s) of the film.

But worse than this (?), all DVDs punish you with poor interfacing and shoddy menus. First of all we have to sit through the copyright warning. And if you try desperately to skip it, you get, "This Operation Prohibited By Disc."

What? Haven't I just paid for this? I've paid for it, and every time I use it you're going to make me sit through this?

And then the trailers, particularly on Disney discs, many of which still don't allow you to skip directly to the menu.

And then the bloody menu itself, preceded by a seemingly interminable and pointless animation or mini movie. By this time, steam is coming out of my ears. I JUST WANT TO PRESS PLAY AND SEE THE FECKING FILM PLEASE.

It's as if you buy a book, and turn to the first page, and then have to wait for all the words to appear, one by one, in reverse order, before you can start to read.

Here's a tip, 12-year-old interface designers: Just because you can do a thing, doesn't mean you should do a thing. Please spare people your genius. Small doses please.

The animation belongs in the film, not in the menus. Even if it's cute the first time, it's certainly not by the 20th play.

November 11, 2003

Radio Times

"After the excitement of last week, Alfie and Kat now work quickly to establish themselves formally as a couple and announce their engagement."

Thank god for that. Now I don't have to watch it for the rest of the week.

November 10, 2003


So the party on Saturday went okay. My eardrums were bleeding by the end of it, but with just one spilled orange drink and a few bumps from the play area, I think we got away lightly. Elodie then slept till 5 o clock, and we had a very peaceful Sunday, because they had plenty to keep them quiet. I do think that it would be much nicer to have a few kids round our house, because ultimately it's a bit impersonal and regimented, and it would be a lot... calmer and more enjoyable to play traditional games like Pass the Parcel and Musical Chairs.

Maybe next year.

Strange incident though. There're a couple of girls in Chloé's class who look almost identical (I don't know their names). But really. If I'd been told they were actual twins I wouldn't have batted an eyelid. One of them was a bit hot and thirsty at some stage, so I gave her a drink. Half an hour later, talking (as I thought) to the same girl, she said she was thirsty. I said, "Where's your drink?" She didn't have one. "But I gave you one didn't I?" She shook her head.

So I'm thinking, why is she lying to me so blatantly? A few minutes later, realised it was a totally different girl. So... same class, same village? Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Things I bought and wish I hadn't part 2

I got The Very Best of Sheryl Crow for Babette, because we fancied that Ms Crow was the kind of person, a Greatest Hits is all you'd ever want.

Way back in the mists of I was an early adopter of Tuesday Night Music Club, which I liked for a while and then stopped playing, in the way of these things. And I remember standing in a record department trying the follow up a couple of years later, and deciding that it was far too rockist for my tastes. Should have been warned. A self-titled follow-up is a sure sign of a career re-launch and personal reinvention, as we've previously discussed.

These years later I found it strange to listen again, especially to the ones I once liked, and... just not like it very much at all. Her signature sound, for the most part, is a very dry, very compressed vocal. I have previously enjoyed this modern trend to the ultra-dry vocal, especially on the debut album of Carolyn Dawn Johnson.

When she sings, "If I'm not over you/ By the time I get to Georgia/ Then I guess I'll be/ Alabama bound," it's as if she's right next to your ear, perhaps in the passenger seat of your car.

But on Sheryl Crow, in spite of the fact that this has been her sound since the beginning, it just sounds reedy and thin, like a nervous karaoke virgin not drunk enough not to care.

This comes across most strongly on Crow's duet with Kid Rock, "Picture," which starts out like a bog-standard country song, with his pleasant-enough voice singing the first verse and chorus. But where on a proper country duet the female vocal would come in... a belter like Martina or Trisha perhaps, you suddenly get this pathetic, thin not-up-to-the-job, Crow's voice, and it's like you walked into another song.

Backing singers, in my experience, are generally pretty good at what they do, so how Crow ever got work as one, I'll never know. Her voice actually sounds its best when surrounded by supporting layers of harmony, so perhaps people just couldn't tell.

So it seems an act self-loathing career destruction for her to attempt to sing something even a little bit Country. The song might be good, but the singer ain't up to it. You can almost hear the Pop Idol judges saying, "That's a very difficult song to sing, and a bad choice for you."

And talking of songs, is there any more pretentious line in rock than, "She was born in November 1963/ The day Aldous Huxley died..."? Nobody should be allowed to get away with that kind of tripe.

November 07, 2003

Sooner or Later (One of Us...)

When we got into the car, I wasn't sure whether we'd drive for a few hours towards the ferry ports and then find a motel, or look for something closer. Once again, I was leaving it entirely up to Lucy what happened next. I was starting to annoy myself.

I started to turn the key in the ignition, then just froze.

"What?" she asked, concern colouring her voice.

"I don't know. I have to say something. I'm afraid to say it, but I've got to anyway. Do you really want to go home? Because I could stand another day or two."
"What are you saying?"
"I mean, are we going to drive for home and stop on the way, or shall we just find somewhere close to here and do something else tomorrow?"
"Like what?"
"What about going over to the island. What is it, Noirmoutier? Is it worth a trip?"

"I mean, does it matter? Let's go anyway. Yes."
"You don't have to be back at work?"
She waved a dismissive hand. "I'm off for the week anyway. And I can always justify this in the name of research. Well, I'd like to come back anyway."

I let out a breath. "Okay." Started the engine. "Let's find a bed for the night."

"Just the one," she said. Not as a question, but as a full-stop to the conversation.

I drove out of Bretignolles through the little town, and then headed North on the coast road, up past St Gilles Croix de Vie and St Jean de Monts. We were in the Marais Breton, and much of the land around us had once been under the sea. Just before Fromentine, we saw an attractive-looking Chambre d'Hote with a restaurant next door. Lucy told me to keep the engine running while she popped in to see if they had a room. When she waved that it was okay, I went to park, and carried the bags inside. Lucy met me at the door.

"They seemed quite stuffy, so I didn't correct them when they called you my husband," she whispered. I laughed.

So, though they weren't really that stuffy, we booked in as man and wife, and enjoyed the pleasure of exploring the room and flopping onto the bed, tired from the day's exertions. The restaurant, it appeared, was actually run by the owners of the bed and breakfast. Very small, with a policy of serving whatever the Chef was cooking that night. The only other people eating that night were obviously locals, known to the owners. We were the only actual guests, because it was still off season. One of the locals asked Lucy a question, something about were we in the area for long, and she started a conversation with them, in French too fast for me to follow.

Every now and then she'd stop and explain something to me in English, and the diners smiled indulgently and paused the conversation. Lucy told them we were planning a trip over to the island in the morning, and they told her that it would be low tide around 9.30, meaning we could go across the Passage du Gois, the crossing that was only available at low tide. Coming back, we'd probably need to use the bridge, depending when that was.

The conversation seemed as if it would go on till the early hours, and through several bottles of wine, but soon after coffee, Lucy leaned over and told me to take her to bed.

So we went to bed.

There was still a chill in the air as we drove to the Gois in the morning. You could see it's path across the tidal plain, interspersed with wooden emergency refuge towers. Lucy remarked that it would be quite hard getting up one of those with a couple of kids in tow. Once on the island, we drove along the main route, a strangely configured dual carriageway that crossed the salt marshes -- not really an island proper yet, it was strange to see the occasional commercial building sitting in the middle of what was basically a swamp. There were a few people out working in the salt, but the road was quiet.

Noirmoutier the town was compact and occasionally pretty. Being off season, there were a few places that hadn't bothered to open, but we spent a relaxing morning browsing in the shops, taking photographs in the port, and looking round the castle. Opposite the toilets near the castle walls, there was a tree with a natural forked shape which made a good seat, so Lucy persuaded a passing German tourist to take a photo as we balanced precariously together.

We ate lunch in a quiet pizzeria on a side street (not very good, because we were the only customers and the oven obviously wasn't hot enough), and then Lucy bought a map of the island and proposed we go off to find a beach. The island of Noirmoutier is somewhat nondescript, as flat as you might expect a sandbar to be, with a slight sense of hilliness around the town and castle. But while the town was charming enough in its quiet way, it was when we ventured into the even quieter interior that the beauty of the island smacked us between the eyes.

It's hard to describe. It's not like driving into a picture book, where the houses are all perfect, and the streets are clean and the people noble and friendly. It was pretty in the way a lot of French villages can be pretty. First you'd drive down a long straight back road, past low fields and hedges, then you'd see a few houses gathered together. But it was as we approached the coast again, through a small hamlet along a winding lane, that the feeling overtook me of being in the midst of beauty.

We passed a few houses, under a stand of pine trees which were between us and the sea, and the road then turned left and inland again. I used a narrow entrance to turn the car around and drove back down the lane to park underneath the trees. We paused a moment then got out of the car. The day had grown warm by now. The sky was blue and cloudless, and there was the sound of grasshoppers. Opposite was a white house with blue shutters in the classic Vendéan style, and we'd parked near a route onto the dunes, with a No Parking sign from the Sapeurs Pompiers. Apart from the creaking from the engine as it cooled, and the sound of grasshoppers, it was absolutely quiet, a shimmering kind of quiet that quickly invaded your soul and put you at peace.

"Oh beauty," said Lucy. "Can we live here?"

I glanced over at her with a smile, and saw that she was serious.

"I mean it," she said. "I'll sell everything I own and live on baked potatoes and porridge, but I want to live here. With you."


My Washburn XB120 arrived today. It's a nice looking thing (made in China*, in spite of the Stars and Stripes waving all over the Washburn web site). The transparent red finish looks much better than it does in the picture, and even unplugged it seems to have a good tone, and plenty of punch. This is in contrast to the Squier PBass I recently borrowed, which I could't even hear when it was unplugged (40-year-old male hearing being my speciality). Battery included, too (for the active pickups), as well as a cheap cable, which is unusual.

Comes in a smart cardboard case (I jest). I took it out and leaned it against something for a couple of seconds, which means I've already dropped it of course.

I bet Babette makes me wait until my birthday. On the subject of which, we're having a party for Chloé tomorrow, which will be the first one we've done for her which isn't just family. Only two hours, but it looms large over the weekend like a thunderhead.

*There's a general guitar-related bigotry at large, which argues that American made guitars are always better. I don't share this, and don't think I'm missing a nice warm feeling from having a "Made in the USA" sticker on it. Having seen the quality of American white goods, hi fi equipment, etc., I don't think it's much of a recommendation.


Now this is my kind of guitar. I wonder how much it costs? They're very coy about prices on the web site, so I don't s'pose it's cheap. It has the look of some of the Fender Custom Shop Artist models.

I didn't like the thinline body shape at first, but I'd love to have one now. Problem with the Fender ones is they don't look quite right with regular humbuckers, but I like the look of the pickups on this because they have proper Tele proportions.

Funny, I don't mind gold hardware on a guitar, but I don't like gold taps in the bathroom.

November 06, 2003


I always think blokes who call themselves "Drew" are having a laugh. If you're called Andrew and you want people to call you Drew it's like wanting to be called Bert if your name is Robert. Or Oy if your name is Roy.

Drew, they want you to think, is a more interesting person than a mere Andrew would have been. Or an Andy. But I always think Drew should be short for Drusilla, as in Buffy.

There weren't any Drews when I was growing up. You were Andy or you were nothing. If you didn't like Andy, then you were your surname, like it or lump it. It's always interesting to me how people decide, at a certain age, to tell people to call them something new. I imagine it happens at University age. How long does it take to get used to the new name?

Anybody tells me his name is Drew will be called Drusilla for the rest of his life, I promise.


I've decided, in my almost complete ignorance of physics, that the unseasonably warm temperatures we're experiencing (yesterday was pleasantly spring-like, or September if you prefer) are all to do with the high level of solar flare activity. You mark my words: the moon is unusually bright (if you can see it at all through the haze of firework smoke), the weather is warm. As soon as the sunspots/flares die down, we'll have a massive drop in temperature which will take everyone by surprise.

Except me.

Scientists will argue that the earth's atmosphere and weather systems are chaotic, complex, and it's impossible to directly relate solar activity to earth temperature. But I say, pah, it's common sense, innit?

Talking of fireworks, had to watch them from the upstairs window last night, because Elodie is a scaredy cat when it comes to loud bangs. Which was great, really. Saved me £1.50, and we had a good view across the park to the display, and I didn't get mud on my shoes, which is nice.

Even while the ever-excellent display was going on in the Park, there were still some local dummies who chose to let off their own. So you'd see these enormous colourful blooms in the middle of the park, and pathetic, wheezy little fizzes going off over people's houses. Why? It's not just that certain people have lost all sense of self-restraint when it comes to letting off fireworks willy nilly and throwing them at old ladies and cars (doesn't anybody watch Blue Peter anymore?), but home fireworks are a waste of money and effort. They're rubbish, and they cost a freaking fortune. Even sparklers are rubbish these days. But I still love the smell.

The overwhelmingly depressing thing for me is that summer fireworks are better. Sure, it's unseasonably warm, and the sky was clear last night, but more often in November it's damp and cold, windy and dark, and the clouds are low in the sky. Best fireworks I ever experienced were those in Champaign-Urbana on 4th July 1992. It was so lovely to lie on my back in the football field, drinking a pokey pola and watching fireworks in the summer sky. Can't we celebrate Midsummer's Day with FireWorks and just light fires on Samhain, like we're supposed to?

November 05, 2003


The Windmills have just released their 3rd album, Now is Then, and my favourite track is "Something Spring," which has nice 12-string guitar on it and a good tune.

I'm not really qualified to say much about this kind of music, because I had my head up my arse in the 80s and don't really understand where it's coming from. A bit like the Guardian attempting to review Sara Evans or Martina McBride.

But I really like "Something Spring," it speaks to me from a far off place; it's exactly the kind of song, you'd buy the soundtrack of the film (or Episode of Buffy) it was in just to get that one track. But Roy claims the other band members see the song as a bit of fluff, some filler for the album. Whereas for me it's the main reason to have the album.

All of which reminds me of a conversation I had with Simon yester, about how, from the centre of a "scene" there are always some things/bands that everyone laughs at. And these are the bands that go global. For example, I was well acquainted with Toad The Wet Sprocket, part of the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The Sprockets were okay, if you like that kind of thing, and happened to have a bassist and guitarist who were truly excellent, but they never went anywhere, beyond the odd Tommy Vance session.

On the other hand, you might have heard of bands like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard, also part of the NWOBHM, who everybody in the "scene" probably laughed at. In fact, I remember laughing at Def Leppard's preposterous attempt to choose a name that was a little bit along the lines of Led Zeppelin. But not quite. You knew they'd never make it, in the same way that the internet will never catch on.

I bet there are people in rock bands now who despise and disdain the Darkness. And I know someone who turned down a gig with Marillion, because he thought they were naff. Which they are, but that's not the point. The point is, that if you're too hardcore you sometimes can't see the universal appeal, and you will be forever left behind to plough your lonely furrow. In the meantime, the happy go lucky fluffy types go off and make a fortune. Which hopefully isn't the reason you make music, but still.

Maybe there isn't really a point, but it's fun to think about.

Talking of Buffy, I was just down at Confetti Studios for a Digidesign event. Confetti have a greeter who deals with clients (in this case punters arriving for the event). She is absolutely lovely, in a Buffy-like way. The kind of girl, as she's walking away, you want to say, in a small and plaintive voice, "I love you."

Steve's Digicams - Digital Photo of the Day

Steve's Digicams - Digital Photo of the Day

Final flight? My arse. I haven't commented, because I was frankly embarrassed by the obituaries and gushing and the crowds of people gathered to watch it land.

So they all landed at heathrow, and then they're all going by road to the various museums they'll be left to rot in, will they? Hmmmm?

And besides, they're talking about keeping one flying. I'm sure the French are very proud.

Personally, technological achievement aside, I think it was a bit scandalous that a bunch of rich people had their lifestyles subsidised by British and French taxpayers.

Nice photo, though, taken with the Canon EOS 300D, which is a digital SLR you can get for around £930 (or less), with lens. Seems expensive until you consider you'll never have to pay to develop and print rubbish photographs again.

November 04, 2003

It's 1974...

...And Robert Pirsig has just published Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which, as you know is one of my favourite books. While it was a huge success on publication, and for years afterwards, and is obviously popular on the innernet, intellectuals of a certain ilk tend to ignore it. It's even beneath contempt, because they don't choose to even give it a critical slagging.

But here we have an example of a book that could so easily be informed by Pirsig's thoughts of 30 years ago. "Zen..." is all about the differences between Western thought based on Greek philosophy and Eastern thought based on Chinese philosophy. Most importantly, he identifies the problem in the dialogue, the dialectic, which underpins the confrontational, competitive, destructive thought of the West.

As Michel Serres points out, dialogue is always meant to exclude. It excludes the 3rd person, the 3rd way, the lateral thought, seen as the parasite, which is why he is always so concerned with communications, and in-between-ness.

And Pirsig said all this, 30 years ago, and should be acknowledged at least for raising the subject. Interesting, now, how much you can find out about him on the innernet. Which goes back to an earlier theme. Until just now, I'd never even seen a photograph of him. I'm disappointed, in a way, to find that picture of him on a motorcycle with his son. Because it would be better, for me, for some mystery to be retained. If I am ever published, I would like to refuse to have a photo on the jacket of my book, and I would like to avoid being photographed in the press and on other media.

Not that it's likely to become an issue, but still. I believe in mystery.

mixing it

Digizine is always worth a look (sorry, link opens without the frames, which is the only way I could link to this article); there have been a lot of useful articles over the months. I've got David Franz's book (probably the first edition though, because the new one covers Version 6, which isn't all that different).

What I dislike about mixing is that it's all about using your ears, and my ears are rubbish. Also your listening environment is crucial, and you can mess things up by just having a desk that vibrates, or a room that's the wrong shape, or with surfaces that interact badly with your sounds. This is before you get started on the quality of your monitor speakers and what they're sitting on.


This seems like bilge to me. Kids eat the same now as they did 30 years ago, 40 years ago. We had Golden Nuggets and Coco Pops, they weren't invented last week. We had chocolate cornflakes and tony the tiger and sugar puffs.

What we didn't have were cartoon channels and playstations. We had whole days up the park playing tinpanalley and kiss chase and spraying each other with the water fountain. They sit in smelly bedrooms picking their noses and killing monsters by remote control.

We also didn't have canteen style school dinners with burgers and chips every day. We didn't go down the chip shop and have a 50p cone of chips instead of eating beef cobbler and semolina at school. We also had free school milk till 1974.

Yet more useless research, yet more scientists who would contribute more to society if they were on the dole.

(Also, and in addition, and I would like to add, everyone knows that the best breakfast, the most fillingest breakfast, the one that makes you feel you could skip lunch altogether, is the Full English, bacon sausages and eggs with fried bread and whatever else lard you can get hold of. And most parents spend their entire lives as parents trying to get kids to eat a proper lunch, not wishing they would eat less. So stick that in your research pipe and smoke it. I suspect these researchers were funded by Quaker's Porridge.)

November 03, 2003


This guy should get 25 yards swimming certificate rather than a PhD.

And there was I thinking that exclamation marks and multiple punctuation just made you look stupid.

Can you imagine the rage-inducing gobshite software package that would result from this "technology"?

Looks like you are trying to be angry in this email. Would you like me to help? Your attempt at irony will not work on those who left school after 1982. Try inserting the word "Not!" at the end of the sentence.

Space Audio

Space Audio. This is lovely, and so like a Dr Who special effect. You realise how ahead-of-their-time the radiophonic workshop were. Mysterious noises from the cosmos abound. Might be more aurora tonight.

And talking about being ahead of time, interesting article in Sound on Sound about the recording of Cliff Richard's "Move It" in 1958. He talks about the singer's voice, and how great it sounded through the Neumann U47. Then he says,

"During the past 20 years or so I've been disappointed to hear it sounding way, way thinner due to all of the effects being employed. They EQ things out of existence now, whereas back then everything was straight to mono with nothing in between. The record simply consisted of whatever was on the tape."

Now, I love my home recording set-up, and it's enabled me to do things I could never have dreamed of doing even five years ago, and I've discussed before the digital/analogue debate, but I've had a concurrent feeling that, with the widespread acceptance of stereo and onwards, everything has been going downhill.

Out of necessity, they used to keep things really basic in the studio. While some producers, like Joe Meek and that charlatan Spector used to invent strange techniques and get unique sounds, in the conservative environment of Abbey Road Studio 2, they just kept the cable runs short and kept things simple. I think "straight to mono with nothing in between" is going to become my watchword with recording. If I get things sounding good in mono, I can use the luxury of pan to open things out a bit.

Has it got a Dobly?

Finally got digital telly at the weekend, because it was killing me not being able to watch Curb Your Enthusiasm (bastards; it had better be worth it). Used my dad's old set top box, because he's now got satellite digital.

For weeks I had the box but not the remote control, so I couldn't set it up. Finally got the remote control off him, and managed to set it up after first being bewildered by the Parental Lock code, which looked like it wasn't going to let me do anything (dad can't remember ever putting one in). But I got round that, and then faced the Scart Nightmare.

So you've got a TV, a VCR, a DVD, a Digital decoder, and a surround sound amp. You need to get three (?) SCART leads into a single socket on your old TV (new one arriving this week has two) and you'd like to be able to route sound from TV, video, and DVD through the surround/stereo amp and speakers.

With everything all together in one place, even a 1 metre SCART lead is too long, but I couldn't find shorter. (And anyway, what is it with SCART? They always seem to want to go upside-down or the wrong way round. To get the thing to go into the socket you always seem to have to twist it against itself.) So I followed the hookup diagram that came with the digital box, but it takes no account of DVDs, so I ended up at one point with two pictures, one on top of the other, and at other times with (apparently) three different sound tracks (well, two). Also audio latency when using the amp.

It's amazing how I can keep in my head what you need to do to watch x, y, z, and record a, b, and c. But when it comes to coping with the speaker cable and scart lead and aerial lead and power lead tangle behind my tv, I'm all at sea. Sony offer some hookup diagrams, but in real life the cables aren't as straight and well-behaved as this.