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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

June 30, 2004

Captain Berk

Please god no, what a ridiculous idea. I tell you, the only thing they need to do to boost the Enterprise ratings is to have more scenes of Jolene Blalock having no clothes on.


Okay, at last, finally, Henman has choked, England are eliminated from the footie, and we are rubbish at cricket again. Please now put the fucking flags away, people.

I've sensed a certain amount of xmas-decoration-style grim hanging on, being embarrassed to be among the first to lower the flags, but the dream really is over now. And we're not Americans, are we, so we don't want fucking flags flying everywhere for chrissake. Next thing you know, angry minorities will be burning the flaming things. As if we care.

Patron Saint of Mid-Life: Part 16

Latest installment just published: Don't Let Me Die Now.

Sorry it took a while. I don't want to talk about it.

June 28, 2004


This is funny: Guardian Unlimited Books | The digested read | At Risk by Stella Rimington

It's like being there.

Running on the spot

Martin Amis in the Guardian today: English football is just no good. He's not wrong, and it's only collective delusion that leads people to believe England, in their current state, could ever win anything.

They only play anything approaching well when they go a goal down; the performances in Euro 2004 against France and then Portugal were the very opposite to that. An early England goal succeeded by 90 minutes of frantic down-the-park football. Amis makes a good point: in 2004 the game isn't about dribbling (bye bye Stanley Matthews) and it isn't the airborne game, the long ball from defence, over the top of mid-field, towards the small man in the box.

I downloaded the England-Portugal 1966 World Cup Semi Final from British Pathe. I remembered it as an exciting, crucial, historic game. After all, to win a final, first you have to be in the final, and that game, with the two goals scored by R. Charlton, was exactly the kind of performance that England have failed to deliver in the 38 years since. You need your Big Game players, you need your semi-final hero, before you can have your final hero.

But the Pathe footage, heavily edited as it is, reveals a game marked by the ball in the air, the midfield head-tennis, and not much ball-to-the-foot at all. And no mention, of course, of the brutal treatment meted out by Nobby Stiles to Eusebio, the Zidane of his day. Seeing Eusebio's ecstatic and passionate reactions during the penalty shootout at the end of the 2004 quarter final, you could tell he was tasting sweet revenge for the Nobby nobbling.

Two things strike me about this aerial style. First, the ball was heavier then, so when hoofed up the field, it didn't go as far, and fell more naturally to the players n the middle of the field. My childhood playing of football was characterised by a fear, when playing in goal, of not being able to achieve the first hurdle of the goal kick: getting it out of the area. A drop kick up the field was lucky to achieve the centre circle.

With the modern, lighter ball, the goalkeepers could spend the afternoon passing it to each other, and the clearance up the field invariably overshoots the midfield players, leaving the small strikers to struggle against a well-tuned defence, trying to "hold it up" so that support could arrive. It's a crap way to play, and from now on anybody praising a player for being able to "hold the ball up well" should be shot.

The other thing about this is that our best players are supposed to be the midfielders: so why spend so much time avoiding giving the ball to them by hoofing it over their heads?

The answer is not a happy one. It's this: they're not that good. I've heard them described as being "comfortable on the ball." Well, they don't look that way to me. In fact, they appear to me like nervous young boys who don't want to be given the ball. "Don't pass it to me!" They have a get-rid-of-it mentality, and are happy to concede possession over and over again, rather than attempt to keep the ball a moment and play it. They don't stand comfortably over the ball and stroke it around, like all the other teams. They run on the spot like they're trying to shake the shit out of their shorts. Lampard, Scholes, Gerard, all guilty of this.

As for Beckham, well, he's got the Yips hasn't he? You have a Beckham, combined with a Rooney or a Shearer, because the one will score goals or win free kicks and penalties, and the other will score from free kicks and penalties. But not when he has the Yips. Blame the new ball, blame his personal life, but he just didn't have the touch.

And we can't rely on one player to win games for us. It's a team game, a squad game.

which brings me to the much-vaunted manager. A foreign coach, we were told, would bring with him new ideas on tactics and strategy, a cooler style in the dressing room. Why was it, then, that their tactics and strategy have been so abysmally bad? The hoofing up the field, the running on the spot, the defending too deep: was Ericsson the brains behind all this? Their complete inability to defend set pieces? They worked this all out in training, did they?

English football is infected with the stupid shit the boys get taught by the stupid shitheads who run PE lessons and park football clubs up and down the country. You hear it in the impatience of fans who want to see the ball played forward, over and over again, who get restless when players pass it around "too much".

June 25, 2004

Lari, not Barry

Enjoyed listening to Green Eyed Soul, by Lari White on the way into work this morning. As the Suunday Times puts it:
To make a great soul album requires more than just a voice. It demands emotions actually lived: to have experienced pain and longing, love and lust, triumph and despair. Which is why the finest soul album this year comes not from Devon’s teen prodigy Joss Stone, but from Lari White, a 38-year-old mother of two, failed country singer and occasional actress.

I knew Lari well as a country singer, have all her records. They were the kind where you always had one or two absolutely cracking cracks, but then the rest of the album was a bit weak or half-hearted. Her voice, whilst not being straight out of Fame Academy "Soul" singing, was certainly more bluesy, more Gospel, more soul, than the usual kind of Country style.

Which is not to criticise the Country style, because I love it. And I love the machine, the Nashville production line, love the (female) mainstream, top-40 country pop sound. Martina McBride, Trisha, Sara Evans: these (and more) we have loved.

But it was disappointing to see Lari "fail" (if having a couple of gold records is failure, which it is, in this age), and I thought she was just going to be acting from now on. Nice to see her come back with a home-brewed Pro Tools manifesto.

Strangely akin to Shelby Lynne's post-country work, "Green Eyed Soul" is very Ally McBeal: Barry White and The Reverend Al Green all over the shop. But it's also personal and different. The musicians are allowed to play, to really play, together. There are a couple of extended outros with Hammond and guitar etc; and the singing is great, as ever. She always went for that fashionable ultra-dry vocal sound, and it's here in spades. It's all very similar to Shelby's recent home-made record. But whereas Shelby recorded everything on analogue equipment, Lari is Pro Tools through and through.

Now, Shelby would have argued she prefers the analogue sound, but Lari's effort sounds every bit as good. And of course, to be on CD at all, Shelby's tapes had to be digitised somewhere along the line. Lari sounds "warm," obviously using the right voice channels and plug-ins to achieve that "analogue" sound, possibly, even, recording at 192kHz on Pro Tools|HD. Now, it may be in inverted commas, but it sounds plenty good enough, testament to how much you can do for yourself, independent of major record companies, these days.

Colour management lets her down though: her eyes look blue on the cover.

June 24, 2004


Obvious things missing from the iTunes music store:

  • The Beatles

  • The Stones

  • Lucy Kaplansky

  • Madonna

  • My Boomerang Won't Come Back...

The list is pretty extensive, actually.

PJ Tracy and the Pyjamas

I don't need to recommend P J Tracy's Want to Play? to you, because everybody already has, even the Radio Times, but it's a cracking read, and available at a supermarket near you for about £2 less than Amazon are charging.

P J Tracy is a mother+daughter team, which is slightly uncomfortable-making, but the plot is good. My one criticism is that the mostly male cops all seem to talk and think like women (I should say, they don't talk and think like men). They notice women's clothing and hair, and think fat is somehow sexy, which it is not, on the whole, and they talk too much. But I still went on and ordered the follow-up, so I must have enjoyed it.

June 23, 2004

Brand Values

Now that's funny. Tony Blackburn suspended for playing Cliff Richard. This is on one of those godawful "classics" radio stations, that plays nothing but regurgitated tripe for baby Puffins. But Cliff "doesn't match their brand values", apparently. Which are what, I wonder? Playing shite on heavy rotation, hour after hour, but no room for the "melodic pop" of Sir Cliff? I would have thought he was almost paradigmatic of what a radio station is all about.

Protesting too much, maybe, deep in denial. It's like when the French football squad failed to include Eric Cantona. Like excluding players for being too good. Cliff is just too perfect a fit for them, so they don't want him.

Do they really think that someone who tunes in to Classic Gold and voluntarily listens to Tony Blackburn is going to object to "Summer Holiday"?

Alias, Audacious

I've been watching Season 1 of Alias, borrowed from someone I persuaded to buy it, and it really is a cracking show, one of the best reasons for Channel 5 to exist. What is has is a sort of audacious confidence that is so often lacking in the play-it-safe noughties.

They have to play it straight-faced, of course, because it's just so ludicrous, but I love it because the way they put an episode together is so different. For example, the cliffhangers are outrageous - especially as it's often like watching the first 15 minutes of the next episode. What I mean is, there'll be a rounding off of one plot-line, and even a little catharsis or some kind of conciliation (or reconciliation), but then it will kick into a whole new sequence of action and adventure - 10 or 15 minutes' worth - and only then stop on the cliffhanging moment.

And the beginnings can be as amazing. You will sometimes literally be halfway through an episode before you get the title sequence. Not 3 or 5 minutes, but 20 minutes, and then: title. Nobody else makes television like this.

It's brilliant, and unsettling at the same time, keeping you unsure of what is going on, which, of course, is exactly what the show is all about. You can't trust anyone, you don't know who or what anybody else is, and, no, there are no easy conclusions.

They pulled a brilliant stroke at the end of the season recently ended on 5, when they had Sydney wake up in Hong Kong, two years after she "went to sleep", and her whole world had changed. Again.

It's one of the best things on TV today: watch it.

June 22, 2004

Customer Services

I was talking to one of the other parents at CJ's school this morning, who happened to mention that she'd deliberately visited Tesco last night during the football, anticipating that it would be quiet.

I said that I'd tried a similar thing, choosing to drive home last Thursday and listen to the first half on the radio, hoping the roads would be quiet. No such luck, of course. The roads were full of women on their way to Tesco, apparently.

In Tesco, she was shocked to hear them giving out score updates over the tannoy. She said it really annoyed her, because anybody in there obviously didn't care about the game. I suggested it was probably for the benefit of the staff...?

She said, "That's what they said to me when I complained. But I told them, 'Tough. I came here to get away from the football. I hate it and I'm fed up with it...'"

Really. at first I thought this was a little over the top, but then I thought, well, no, there are a huge number of people being oppressed with the Nazi flag waving and the hyperbole and the stupid Rooney-based headlines, not to mention the goldrush to cash in on the young porker (see link above). And it's all bound to end in tears at some point, either for the team, or the player himself, overburdened by hype and expectations and doomed to go the way of Best, Gazza, and other Jesus-like figures in the game.

Even Pele wasn't as good as Pele was supposed to be, was he? All good players go the same way in the end. They get hacked to pieces by the opposition, and start to go to ground early, as a defensive measure, until they end up with the reputation of a diver and a play-actor. In the whole history of the game, only Bobby Charlton took the lumps without taking the dives, and he's ended up on the telly advertising some kind of cake or something.

June 21, 2004


I'm disappointed to note that the new UK version of the iTunes Music Store does not feature the favourite record of my childhood, the George-Martin produced "My Boomerang Won't Come Back" by Charlie Drake..

Possibly the lyrics are a little non-pc for them, but no Beatles fan should be without this early example of George Martin's studio genius.


Growing up, village fetes and church fetes were anathema to me. But I've been to a couple over the past couple of years and quite enjoyed them. This is surprising to me. At first I thought it was because of having kids now, and anything you can do with them that doesn't involve screaming and fighting can be a relief.
But the one we went to on Saturday, Didi wasn't feeling very well, so she didn't exactly sparkle.

It was only small, in a vicarage garden, and it rained, so we cut it short. There was a brass band, and a tea-and-scones tent, and a bouncy castle, and a tombola. And a second hand book stall. There were things to do, like wooden skittles and quoits, and kicking a ball into a hole. It was all good fun, and in spite of my hereditary anhedonia, I found myself relaxing and kind of enjoying myself.

And I thought, it's not because I'm getting older, and it's not that I've got kids - it's simply because when I did this kind of thing as a youngster, it was with my mum - and she was always miserable, so we were all always miserable. Which probably means anhedonia, in my case, is a learned behaviour, not genetic.

So, late in the day, I lighten up.

June 18, 2004

Note to self...

Don't pick up the phone on Friday afternoon. It might be some kind of American sales person type calling from America to encourage you to buy stuff. And being British, you're just too polite to tell him he's a bunter, and to please fuck off.

I'm on "no calls" for the rest of the day.

A lot of you have written to ask, why is it that I like those leaving-town Country break-up songs so much?

Well, I don't exactly know. It goes deeper, as to why I love the female vocals, and disdain most of the male. Am I possibly gay? I don't think so, but stranger things have happened.

Whipped, possibly. I grew up in a house full of women, and generally prefer their company. I don't like watching boy's action films that don't have girls in, and I only really watch Star Trek for the tight tops. It always struck me as, well, odd, that boys get all enthusiastic about the wrong bits of Star Trek and similar, as if the whole *cough*enterprise*cough* was a diversionary tactic, convincing their mums they're interested in it because of the science and not the sex. And Buffy, y'know, is a complex metaphor about adolescence and high school, and the demons we all have to conquer to become whole...

Anyway, what was I saying? Sometimes when I listen to those songs about leaving everything behind, I suppose, I'm thinking about those whom I have loved and lost. Country is a conversation between women and men. The women are walking out and the men are left behind; sometimes, the other way around. The women are regretful, and the men are terribly sorry. And I think about NP, who ran away to London; or AV, who ran away to Australia; and others who have run away to points of the compass, wherabouts unkown, alive or dead, unknown, christian or infidel, unknown.

Anyway, don't pick up the phone to Americans on a Friday afternoon.

Patron Saint of Mid-Life: Part 15 - Party Animal

Just Published over at the other place. Sorry it took a while. It's been one of those weeks.

Week Ending

It's been a funny old week. Quite stressful, both at home and at work, and Not At All Nice. There's been the football, which is depressing for a variety of reasons, and there's been nothing on telly, and there's been a certain amount of tension in my life.

Apple finally launched a European iTunes Music Store, which I found underwhelming. There's a difference between what you're willing to accept for free, and what you're willing to pay for. I find I'm disinclined to pay for compressed music. I buy plenty of CDs. What the iTMS is good for is checking out quick samples, but a trawl through the Country section revealed nothing of particular interest that I didn't already have. The UK chart for country downloads from iTMS is already suitably embarrassing, all Johnny Cash and no trousers. I just can't be bothered.

June 17, 2004

Ah, here we go

It's on page 87:

We're all familiar with the bits of glass, rubber and animals that line major thoroughfares, and I could have contributed a thoughtful foreword to Chrome Alone: The Lost Hubcaps of France, but it was intriguing to note the range of objects that motorists discard voluntarily. Why all these hundred-yard lengths of cassette tape?

'Gérard, we love Johnny Halliday, right?'
'Everyone loves Johnny. Go, Johnny!'
'Yeah. Go! But I was thinking - why is that?'
'Well, because he's a global pop-rock legend who just happens to be French, that's why.'
'Even though no one else in the world has heard of him.'
'Well, yeah.'
'And even though he looks like a chain-smoking old tramp in mascara.'
'Yeah. But you know: go, Johnny!'
'Right. I mean, I really love Johnny too, but the thing is, all of his music is just so utterly, utterly abysmal, that I was wondering if we could carry on doing the whole love bit while at the same time throwing all his tapes out of the window.'
'Fair enough. We'll do it when we stop to crap in the next lay-by.'

Amazon.co.uk: Books: French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour De France

June 16, 2004


I've been sucked into the national obsession with property, because we've been trying to sell our house since April, and really, really need it to happen now.

It was bad enough anyway, but the obsession is being fed now by fucking hundreds of cheap television programmes, all to do with buying houses, selling houses, doing up houses, all with the ultimate aim of making money. In a nation that doesn't make anything, the only way to make any dough is to artificially inflate house prices so you can cash in and buy a new car. Partly, these programmes seem to satisfy some kind of need, whereby people no longer feel they actually have to go look at houses.

First of all, mmkay, it's immoral, in my view, to buy a house purely to make money. When you think of the poverty that still exists in this country, the homelessness, the sink estates, for the middle classes to be happily buying cheap houses just to "do them up" and sell them on is plain wrong.
Dear landlord,
Please heed these words that I speak.
I know you've suffered much,
But in this you are not so unique.
All of us, at times, we might work too hard
To have it too fast and too much,
And anyone can fill his life up
With things he can see but he just cannot touch

And while I think it's best to buy once, not before your thirties, and stay in that house, of course I am moving this year for about the 13th or 14th time in 25 years. Crazy but true. I hate hypocrisy, naturally, but I'm always prepared to make an exception in my own case.

Moving swiftly on, perhaps the worst thing about all these moving houses programmes is that they create unrealistic expectations in people. It's like those gardening makeovers, where they show you 4 people doing something over 30 minutes that actually took 12 people to do over several days. People turn up at your door expecting you to have redecorated in neutral Magnolia throughout, with tasteful new furniture and tasteful ornaments, complete with the latest aspirational luxury items like taps with little hose attachments and Dualit toasters and coffee machines.

You really do feel as if you are dealing with people who will not buy your house if they don't like your ornaments and picture frames. Television has dulled their minds so that they don't even possess the imagination of a squashed squirrel. They walk in, and if they don't see exactly what they saw on TV the night before, they walk away muttering.

Ironic, because one of the programmes is called "Location Location Location," which is supposed to be the three most important things to consider when buying a house. Now, I happen to think our house is perfectly located, which is why we bought it in the first place. But people just ain't thinking right.


June 15, 2004


The group stage is such a slog, isn't it. Usually, only the last game in the group means anything, effectively making the last group game a knockout game.

I'd rather see a 32-team tournament, with 16 seeds, and the first knockout stage taking place over 4 days. 4 games a day for 4 days, and by the end of that process, you end up with 16 teams, another 4 days for 8 games, and it's knockout sudden death all the way through.

It would be easier, less painful, and less boring, to qualify, and the tournament itself would be shockingly exciting from the word go. England, if seeded, would not be drawn against France or Italy, but would risk exposing their limitations in front of the world by losing to an unseeded side. Or they could be knocked out by France in the second round.

FIFA and UEFA, it seems to me, are hopelessly corrupted through having their snouts in the money trough for too long. Qualifying groups are a load of arse.

Stuck inside of Mobile...

After exhaustive research in my own record collection, here is the ultimate compo for that sub-genre of country music I was talking about the other day: the leaving-everything-behind genre. I could have cast my net wider than this and included songs about driving towards places, but that's a whole nother compo really, isn't it, so songs like "Two Days From Knowing For Sure" and "Four-Thirty" are excluded on the grounds of keeping it pure. Also there are songs about proposing a journey with a significant other, like "Heads Carolina, Tails California," and "Alabama Song," but these two are excluded. I limited myself to 10 tracks, because it keeps the riff raff out.

1. Shut Up And Drive - Chely Wright, from Let Me In
2. Georgia - Carolyn Dawn Johnson, from Room with a View
3. Ford Econoline - Nanci Griffith, from Lone Star State of Mind
4. Leaving Houston Blues - Bobbie Cryner, from Bobbie Cryner
5. A Little Past Little Rock - Lee Ann Womack, from Some Things I Know
6. Hello, I'm Gone - Trisha Yearwood, from Everybody Knows
7. Too Gone To Care - Joy Lynn White - from Wild Love
8. Cry On The Shoulder Of The Road - Martina McBride, from Wild Angels
9. The Knot Comes Untied - Sara Evans, from No Place That Far
10. Break Down Here - Julie Roberts, from Julie Roberts...

...which is where we came in.

Rock and Toll

So. A couple of fans died at the Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, Tn. I wonder, looking at the line up, if they weren't suicides.

June 11, 2004

Two things

Before the weekend, we need to talk about a couple of things.

First of all, you just came back from your holiday which I'm sure was very nice. But that tan you think you have? That tan makes you look like a wrinkled old hag, like a mediaeval peasant woman who's had a hard life lifting sheep.

An early start this morning, Didi was up drawing pictures downstairs. I woke when she dropped a pen with a clatter at around 5.45. Got up, gave her some breakfast, and went to have a shower. I was getting out of the shower and she came in as I was drying myself. She has always had more of a fascination with the male anatomy than CJ. She stares and stares, and makes helpful comments, like, "Look at your bum!" Meaning what she would think of as her front bottom.

"Look at your bum! It's like a poo!"

I was guilty

In my teens and twenties, I was as guilty of anyone of holding up John Lennon as a saint, and The Cool One, and Macca was a bastard. But I got over it. Nobody's perfect (except me), and Paul was no worse, or better than John. They all came out of that madness pretty sane, considering, Paul possibly saner than he should have been. And he wrote some great songs, especially in the last few years of the Beatles, there were a lot more good Paul songs than there were John songs.

And people are just shitty to him, and he doesn't deserve it. Love this quote:
"Another thing was Heather's too old to wear above-the-knee boots. I said, 'Do you actually know why that is? She's an amputee, love. That's why she wears those boots.'"


June 10, 2004

Oh Yoko

There is a picture of John and Yoko in the office toilet.

I sometimes, whilst peeing, find myself making rude gestures at Yoko.

Cheese 'n' Twang

Listening to Brad Paisley's Mud on the Tyres on the way into work this morning. You end up, or I end up, with a big grin on your face. It's cheesy, but it's high quality cheese, and I forgive a lot of cheese, given the quality of his guitar playing.

Listening to country, anyway, you've got to get over yourself if you have an aversion to cheese, just because it's not cool. You also have to get over hearing mention of God and Jaysus, and that's a good thing. Because being cool isn't everything, and I realised many years ago that I would rather listen to someone who sings about Jesus than someone who thinks he is Jesus. Hence my rejection of 20-something year old boys singing rock, and my embrace of mostly 30-something women and a few men singing country.

And honestly, Brad Paisley has my respect, not just for his guitar twang, but for his lyrics too, which are right on the money. I love this opening of "Celebrity":
Someday I'm gonna be famous, do I have talent, well no
These days you don't really need it thanks to reality shows
Can't wait to date a supermodel, can't wait to sue my dad
Can't wait to wreck a Ferrari on my way to rehab

'Cause when you're a celebrity
It's adios reality...

"Can't wait to sue my dad." Hilarious.

It's when country songs take you inside your life and reflect it back at you with deceptive ease that you begin to appreciate the craft. A lot of the time this happens in terms of complete heartbreak and loss, the bits and pieces of things left lying around the house to remind you of someone; or it's songs like Julie Roberts' "Break Down Here", with the minutiae of coughing engines and running out of cigarettes. Or it can be sheer, unadulterated fromage:

Ain't nothin' like watchin' a bunch of young'ns
Run screamin' through the sprinkler in their little bare feet
And ain't nothin' like finding twenty dollars
In the pocket of the britches that you wore last week

And if you can get over the fact that you'd be embarrassed if one of your mates was in the car with you, that little bit of cheese 'n' twang get set you up for the day.

Also listened this morning to Gretchen Wilson's record, and it too is very good. She's obviously paid her dues in Nayushville as a session singer, and there's a lot of self-written/co-written songs on this debut. Sony are pitching her as a party girl, with tracks like "Redneck Woman" and "I'm Here for the Party" opening it up. But if you go away from it and come back from, say, track 4, there's a different atmosphere. Cheese comes along in the form of some awful country rap on one track, but that's forgivable in an otherwise strong set. It's what the skip button was invented for.

Final track is an oddity, an obviously autobiographical thing called "Pocahontas Proud" - all about how she's the biggest thing to come out of her home town and she's determined not to let people down. Finishes with an excellent guitar coda, but it struck me that there's a huge gulf between that and one of Matraca Berg's better songs.
There's one she wrote about a waitress called "Good Old Girl," and the chorus goes,

She's a good ol' girl
And she won't let you down
She's got a picture of Elvis
When he came to her town

So there we have the paradigmatic small town girl, whose closest brush with fame and fortune came when Elvis passed through many years before; in contrast with Gretchen singing about herself leaving Pocahontas, Illinois, and heading off to Nashville to make her home town proud. Two sides of fame, I guess, with Brad Paisley's "Celebrity" poking fun at both of them, with a bit of Parmesan sprinkled over the top.

June 09, 2004

3 Days

3 days without chocolate. It's quite hard. Also Caramac. On the one hand, I'm a firm believer that it is Wrong to suck all enjoyment out of life; and I think that things that you like, that make you feel good, in moderation, are always good for you. On the other hand, I really need to lose several kilos. According to my good friend the Google Calculator, I need to lose around 6.35029318 kilograms, and then I will be in the safe range of the BMI.

Mind you, all the chocolate on display in the shop down the road looked a bit melty this lunchtime. are we having a heatwave or something?

I spent two weeks not walking down the road, because I was on the waiting list for the operation. You know, the operation where you have your olfactory receptors removed, the ones that identify fried food. So now I can safely walk down the road without wanting to eat chips. My nose is a little sore, and I have a great big bandage round the middle of my head, but at least I am not tempted to order a bacon sarnie,

As long as I eat my packed lunch first.

See, I love fish and chips, but I don't really love it from down the road. On an exceptional day, you might get a freakishly nice bit of fish and some well cooked chips, but this is a rare occurrence. So when I eat fish and chips, not only should it not be several times a week, but it should always be from a place like George's Tradition, with their award-winning fish and chips. This I am endeavouring to do.

In the same manner, I should save up my chocolate eating for some decent chocolate, some Lindt or something. I've spoken of this before. I shouldn't even look at the Cadbury and Nestle shit.

With the interminable summer of sport about to start, the British people are hunkering down for a long summer of pizza and beer in front of the telly, and I'm obviously going to be avoiding as much of this as possible. I have a hole dug ready in the back garden, and I just need to get the sand from the garden centre, or Toys R Us.

The tragedy is that a lot of people still think that, because it involves tomatoes, a pizza is a healthier option. This is along the same lines as arguing that crisps count as one of your five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. I remember seeing a TV programme on which a woman who was being critiqued on the contents of her fridge, and she said, in all seriousness, "Does orange squash count?"

Which is like the Homer Simpson question, "Does whiskey count as beer?" And, indeed, does tobacco count as a vegetable, because it is made of leaves?

Google Calculator

While I've been half aware that you could perform calculations with Google, and I've known about some of the other features (like searching within domains and finding pages that link to another page, or using the language tools), I'd never tried to use the calculator before today.

Just reading the latest MacUser with its tips for OS X feature (I guess they think Google is an OS X feature because it is built into Safari), prompted me to try. Wahey! It's the best thing I've discovered on the internet for, literally, days.

It's not so much getting it to do 2*2 and other bits, nor even mathematically esoteric stuff like , er..., things I can't even remember what they're called. But asking it to tell you what "half a cup" is in ml: now that is fantastic. Because how many US-based recipes are there on the innernet? And now you can just say put "half a cup in ml" into the google search and it'll tell you (118 ml). Or 15 miles in km or 1973 in roman numerals.


June 08, 2004

Julie Roberts

Just purchyased Julie Roberts by Julie ("not Julia") Roberts - and it's just lovely. She looks like Faith Hill looked around the time of her first record, and the whole package is very evocative of countless similar records. She even sounds like someone else: especially breaking into choruses, her voice is very similar to somebody else in my vast collection of female country artists. The name is on the tip of my tongue.

But in spite of all that, this is a superb record. And the packaging is what gives you the confidence to buy without hearing it. Sure, I could grab a 30 second snatch of a song or two on the iTunes MS, or I could listen to low-quality samples on-line (if I was insane enough to install Real or Windows Media Players), but it's the packaging that tells me it might be worth a try in the first place.

It's been a while since Nashville put out someone new who is as good as this. They've been busy chasing redneck shitkicking good ol' boys since 11/9, like the always-offensive Toby Keith.

But in spite of all the flag-waving nonsense, I can forgive them that when I hear this. The song, "Break Down Here", which can be heard on her web site, is in my favourite sub-genre of country, the leaving song, the driving a long distance to get away song, like Carolyn Dawn Johnson's "Georgia," Matraca's "Cry on the Shoulder of the Road" (recorded by Ms Mcbride), Trisha Yearwood's "Hello, I'm Gone," and Sara Evans' "The Knot Comes Untied".

"Break Down Here" is as good as all of those - almost too good. Because when I hear it I immediately want to play it again, and it's the second track on the album, and I sort of didn't want to hear the rest of the record, just that one, over and over, until I got sick of it. But it was okay. I got over that hump, and there are other great songs on the record, and all is well with the world.

England are out

Seems obvious to me that all you need to do to get England kicked out of Euro 2004 is provoke a few fans with a few chants and gestures, and, bob's your uncle, Englandland is disqualified.

Really smart opposition fans will even buy Englandland shirts and walk around smashing things up, shouting, "Tally ho!" "Old Bean!" and "Fish and Chips!"

As John Ketley said on 5 Live this morning, it's nice of people to put out the St George's Cross to celebrate England winning the test series against New Zealand. Otherwise, this will be remembered as the summer that flags flew everywhere but then England got kicked out and disgraced, and we'll forever associate the red cross with the psychopathic drunken louts who bring shame on us all.

So no change there.

June 07, 2004

MIDI - doesn't matter

I was absent from the earth when MIDI was invented. Around the same time, the 4-track cassette "portastudio" came along, and that I thought was a good idea. And, like many people still do, when I thought of "computer music" I thought of bips and bleeps and bops and plops. I always hated it. Hated in the way that -- for a very long time -- I hated the sound of an electric piano.

I've come a long way since then, tend not to think in black and white terms, and I've even found MIDI quite useful to me over the past couple of years. Because as soon as computers were powerful enough, finally, to handle multi-track audio without falling over (I'd say from the G3 400 MHz onwards, in Mac-speak, you could record 8-10 tracks without needing a PCI card full of DSP chips to help you out). But although I have used native Instruments B4 and other software instruments, I still think of MIDI as a last, rather than a first, resort.

I was listening with Didi to Barney's Favourites yesterday, and it struck me for the first time (not having really listened to it before) that it was a bunch of kids singing to some very very basic MIDI backing tracks. I mean, it was a MIDI sound module of no particular quality. And in my mind there isn't a lot of difference between that, between Barney's Favourites, and most electronic dance-type music, and all the loop-based stuff. I still hate it, and for mainly the same reasons. Sure, you have to have a certain amount of skill to programme it, but it's not a skill I'm ever going to admire. Might as well be opera or ballet, or something else I hate. Someone once tried to get me to appreciate the skills involved in whatever shit it is that those DJs do, but it's like watching One Man and His Dog. But if you shouted, "Get down, Shep!" they wouldn't know what you were talking about.

Since getting the Variax, and since deciding that it was okay to "cheat" on the drum track with Groove Agent, I've barely touched the MIDI keyboard, and haven't bothered using things like the B4 and other software instruments. Can't be arsed. I'm almomst full circle now. I'd really rather be working with 100% audio. I'll use MIDI as long as I don't have to be the one programming it. The nice thing about Groove Agent, it's all pre-programmed, and you don't have to have the annoying little nerds that programmed it in the room with you. Because you can tell they are idiots: hardly any of what Groove Agent contains is useable, and there are so many basic, essential, techniques and sounds missing. I'm always having to compromise when using it, never really happy with what it does. But still happier to use it rather than go through the sheep dog trial of programming drums myself.

Forgetful Mr Reagan

I'm always shocked when reports of a popular death are so, well, kind to the deceased. Affectionate, even. It's as if people didn't hate Reagan and Thatcher, and the Reagan and Thatcher era and all it encompasses, as much as I did.

The BBC, charitably I thought, kept reporting that he's been suffering from Alzheimer's for around 10 years, when it was obvious he was suffering from something from the date he took office, and before. Still, here's an ironic quotation from the Guardian leader:

"when he gave evidence on Iran-Contra in 1990 he used the phrases 'I don't recall' or 'I don't remember' a total of 130 times."

June 04, 2004

It's raining

At the French open. Maybe Johnny Halliday will be there, to give an impromptu performance (if they can find a winch to lower him into the arena dramatically enough).

Paramedics are on standby, which is good news, to give Henman the heimlich manoevre when he chokes.

Something for the weekend

Patron Saint of Mid-Life: Part 14 The Guy Nobody Knows (part 1) has just been published. I haven't properly proof-read it yet, though, because I can't focus my eyes.


We've created a new blog, the roadrageblog, so that my colleague Si can record all his frustrations. And me.


It's such a good idea for all the twattish drivers to have those red and white flags on their cars, as a warning to other motorists. I wonder who thought of that idea? It harks back to the early days of motoring, where the man with a red flag would walk in front of the vehicle. It's a much clearer visual signal, one you see before all the other compulsory warning signs they have to wear, like baseball caps, stupid number plates, and sunglasses.

June 03, 2004


The girls have been away for a week, visiting a new addition to the family in France, so I've been on my own. Only now approaching being able to get through a day without feeling vaguely guilty, leading the simple life of the singleton -- and the week is nearly over.

We've all spoken on the phone a few times. Didi was very excited about going on the elloplane, a first for her. It's basically just a bus in the sky, with slightly less legroom, but then she gets excited about going on a bus, too, so that's all right.

I hate being on my own. I mean, I feel the need to go off on my own to do things when other people are around, but when I am on my own, I almost hate to do the same thing. It's something to do with leaving an empty room behind me. Sometimes I leave the telly or the radio on, just for there to be some noise in the room. And I don't like to leave the empty house behind when I go out for a bike ride. It's funny, because I haven't got a lot to say for myself, and I can be fairly autonomous; it's not as if I'm used to having someone else to do the cooking for me. I'm just not good at being alone, and left to it for long, would start having Suicidal Thoughts.

It being summer, there being B+g Br*ther, there is nothing worth watching on TV. Things are slowly running out. ER finished last night, in much the same way as it has finished before. Didn't they end one season with Luca having some kind of car incident? Last night it was Twat, or Pratt, whatever his name is, getting into some Road Rage on the Chicago mean streets. Those people are so unlucky. And Angel and NYPD Blue are shown so late, I can't be arsed. I tape them sometimes, but I never watch the tapes, and I forget which one they were on, because none of my tapes are labelled.

So I've been trying to read; currently, Superluminal by Tony Daniel, which is not very good. I enjoyed the one before that, Metaplanetary, but this one just isn't doing it for me. Besides, someone already used the title Superluminal (Vonda Macintyre), and I hate it when titles get recycled. It gives you a strange feeling, like they've run out of nouns. It's like running out of oil. The price of nouns goes up, and they'll have to start using verbs to name things instead.

So I just stare into space. Or I put on a Buffy episode (working my way through season 2 on DVD). Or I go and look in the fridge.

On Saturday the elloplane comes home and all will be well.


Many moons ago, I pointed out that Saint Christina the Astonishing must be the patron saint of journalists, because they are so frequently astonished.

Staying with the religious theme, I have also noticed that they are always giving and seeking absolution. What I mean of course is that when they set up those fake one-on-one interviews with each other, the set-up question (e.g. "Did the government sex up the dossier?") is always greeted with enthusiastic agreement, beginning, "Absolutely..."

Apart from being a cliche (and once noticed, annoying as hell), it's an odd thing, in this world of shades of grey, for information to be continually presented as unquestionable, definite. It's another symptom, I suppose, of BBC dumbing down. See, they will insist on the high quality of their output, absolutely, but the people they are drawing from universities onto their trainee programmes, are all, clearly, morons.

It's celebrity syndrome. Everything is a route to somewhere else. Just as people don't become children's TV presenters because they like or care about children, people only see being a radio reporter as a stepping stone onto their real ambition, which is to front Changing Rooms, or get the Holiday Programme gig.

Anyway, the American Heritage dictionary points out,

For some time, absolutely has been used informally as an intensive, as in an absolutely magnificent painting. In an earlier survey, a majority of the Usage Panel disapproved of this usage in formal writing.

June 02, 2004


As Ibsen once said, the football pundits are always wrong. If ever there was a case for payment by results, theirs is it. They went on and on before the last world cup about France and how they were favourites to win. But with Zidane injured and Henry sent off in the first game, they didn't stand a chance. On the other hand, I correctly predicted that Brasil would win, and Brasil, in the shape of Portugal, will almost certainly win Euro 2004.

England are rubbish, and can't master the basic techniques of football, like controlling the ball, kicking it in a predictable direction, or keeping hold of it long enough to do something with it. It's all a bunch of 8 year old boys running around the park chasing the round bouncy thing that never seems to go where they think it will. And England goalkeepers never seem to get beyond the stage of hoofing it up the field in a panic, ceding possession and starting the dreadful cycle all over again.

June 01, 2004

Tesco in the 70s

Back in the days before out-of-town superstores, when the word "hypermarket" was a whispered wonder reported by those just back from France, supermarkets were much smaller places. Tesco was on High Street North, opposite what used to be Sainsburys and later became Bejam and then Iceland. Upstairs in Tesco they sold the non-food items, clothes and stuff.

What I'm trying to remember is the brand name of the Tesco clothes. It was like their version of the old M&S "St. Michael" brand. Not Trutex or Timex but something like that. I remember having a pair of jeans purchased for me there, and they came with a white belt, which I was very embarrassed about. Someone in the office just passed me wearing jeans in exactly the same style, with the white belt, and I wanted to call out "Tesco [blank]" which was the insult bandied around the school playground at the terminally unfashionable and poor... people like myself.

I have many childhood traumas concerning clothing and shoes. I was doomed to wear the home-made, the cheap, the sensible. It was all character-building stuff, obviously, but at the time I cursed the very name of Tesco and their cheap clothing brand. I bet kids are as cruel today over George from Asda. I was one of two kids left wearing short trousers in my junior school. And I can't even go into the horrors of home made trousers.

It wasn't all bad, of course. A home made jumper for school was always good to have - and I'm pretty sure that the shoes I chose for myself when I was paying for them out of my own money (earned in Bejams), were twice as embarrassing as any my parents forced me to wear.

But what was that brand name?


Didn't win the lottery on Saturday, big surprise. Of the 6 sets of numbers I had, I managed to match 2 numbers on one line, and "less than two" on the others. What are the odds of that? Probably quite high.

Six people shared the triple rollover jackpot, which I dunno, in spite of the £3.5m, must be totally gutting. For a few minutes on Saturday night, you think you might have won £20m+ and then someone nicks £17m off you. So the feeling must be more like losing £17m than winning £3.5m.

Not that I'd really complain, mind.

The more I fantasise about winning, the more real it comes to seem, until I start to feel as if I've won, and can afford anything, all those trivial little things that you put off because the credit card bill is already hefty enough for one month. Broke a guitar string yesterday (capo on 7th fret fucked me up), and instead of just ordering a couple of sets from Stringsdirect, I ordered five.

That's millionaire-style guitar string buying, that is.

Obviously, if I'd won, I'd have bought all of the following:

  • VW Touareg, top of the line, all the extras, and a tankful of diesel.

  • House in the Vendee - and another in Milton Keynes

  • Variax Acoustic.
    (Funny thing, I don't fantasise about buying £2000 guitars like Lay Pauls and Custom Shop Fenders, because I know I'm not good enough to get the best out of them. I fantasise about the mandolin sounds on the Variax acoustic, so I don't need to put the capo on the 7th fret, ho ho.)

  • Top of the line Gaggia coffee machine and a tankful of diesel.

I tried to hit upon a fantasy digital camera, just to bring all my little obsessions in, but there I have problems.

The more cameras I try, the more the Minolta F300 comes to seem a benchmark in digicam history. No matter how slick and quick Minolta makes them, they cannot better the F300. No matter how many megapixels are thrown into the pot, the quality does not improve over 5 megapixels. And no matter how small they get, the F300 remains the perfect size.

I'm returning my G600 today. Not just because the F300 has been repaired, but because it's just too small and I'll never be able to take good pictures with it.

As a multi-millionaire, I'll take a watching brief. I'm just not going down the SLR route, because I can't be arsed with lenses and flash units etc. Nothing on the market is good enough at the moment.