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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

May 31, 2005

Slow day in history...

I like the BBC news website and I especially like the 'On this Day' section.

May 31st has seen some historic events but friend of George Michael and all-round media attention deficit disorder sufferer Geri Halliwell leaving the Spice Girls sitting amongst Cambodian bombings, Arthur Miller's guilty verdict, English football teams being banned from Europe and a vietnam buddhist burning to death can only be explained as the theme for a new sculpture by Jake and Dinos Chapman.

I can even see their model version of the betitted, former union jack dress wearing, talent free vacuum urging the 17 year old buddhist girl who burned to death in 1966 to get in touch with her 'Girl Power!' if she wanted to make a difference.

Standard posture




Here's my son demonstrating official driver's posture for Nottingham.

Of course, his gun is under his coat.

And the rest of his gear is stashed under the dashboard.

No producah!

May 27, 2005

Nude subbuteo (warning - contains nudity)

These are actually available at the official subbuteo web site.

This is excellent. Officially it is the streaker set, and there even rules for the employment thereof.

We're not fooled though, are we? It's a thinly veiled exercise in self-ravioli-warming. Nudity and uniforms, eh?

And just to prove that we ain't sexist, here's one for the subbuteo gamers who are ladies or hairy-man-ladies, The male streaker.

That would be a good theme party wouldn't it: everyone does vicars and tarts but what about a streakers and policemen subbuteo party.

Birds and footie

I saw somewhere that the tabletop football game Subbuteo took it's name from the scientific name for a bird of prey (more on which in a moment).

Every boy had this game when I was a young fella. I expect it has gone the way of the dodo now though as a popular game for kids.

For a start it is completely unrealistic. And your parents always trod on the "players" and broke them. But crucially for youngsters nowadays, there is a real showstopper: playing the game involves some actual physical movement.

Anyway, the bird in question is the hobby, Falco Subbuteo (Geddit? Subbuteo = hobby).

Lots of birds of prey are on the increase in the UK. Which is good. And some species that were considered very rare and threatened thirty years ago are now see-able again in this country.

I'd never seen a hobby before. I've seen buzzards, sparrowhawks, marsh harriers, kestrels, red kites, a merlin, and even a peregrine, but never a hobby.

This all changed when I looked out of the kitchen window on Wednesday and saw one flying westward over the estate. Unmistakeable: like a very large swift.

Boffins baffled

Not much to say really, but the following article about Saturn's moon, Titan, caused the above title to come into my head, and I just had to use it. It's so "news headline".

Spot on Titan

I see the shuttle has broken down again. Fan belt keeps slipping or something.

Potential insurance write off of your vehicle due to lack of economic viability and depreciation

Lard

Have you noticed that, by the time they get to the age of eleven, most girls are so fat that they have tits and a round enough ass to scream, "I'm on heat", at the monkey man's hypothalamus.

They probably think it's great, and that they are all grown up and like Jennifer Lopez, but I just think that it is sad.

May 26, 2005

Garth to Marry Trisha

There's always been something going on between them. Note: BBC story features picture of Garth Brooks Without A Hat - from behind! Thinning - and grey.

The End

That frog advert has been causing me actual pain for a while now. It's not so much the ding ding ding ding ding of the lyrics and music. It's the fact that they've blacked-out its cock. It's just plain rubbish!

Yes, they'll take your money in return for their useless services, but they can't even be arsed to re-render the advertising for consumption by children who, let's face it, constitute the actual market for the product. Why did they put a penis on it in the first place?

Anyway, the really sad thing is that it is now number 1 in the music charts! An advert for some virtual "product" fabricated to dupe children into parting with their parents' money is actually the most popular piece of music in the UK.

Stoopid fules all of us.

As far as I am concerned the music industry is finished.

Rubbish!

vendee_2
vendee_2,
originally uploaded by mcmrbt.
M'lud, I refer the Court to the 5-day forecast of just 4 days ago. Now it seems the 32° of sunshine predicted has been revised to a mere 22°.

Bloody charlatan weather forecasters! How much did the Met office spend on their shiny new supercomputer? How much of my money? The jokers over at meteo.fr even dare to charge for forecasts more than 24 hours ahead! Charge! Money! For total bollocks!

I'm going to set up my own weather forecasting service based on seaweed, clouds shaped like animals and common sense - not necessarily all at once.

Buckets and spades now unpacked. Kagouls and welly boots packed.

Is this a record?

The-most-unwatched-6-minutes-of-football-that-everybody-will-be-talking-about ever?

======

In other news, even though I didn't put 500 notes on 'pool to win at Xmas (at 80-1), I did win £1.50 on the office Grand Prix sweepstakes at the weekend.

And I've won £20 on the Thunderball in the past two weeks, as well.

B3TA PHALLIC LOGO AWARDS

Everybody should look at this and laugh for 18 minutes.

My favourite is the Wakefield City Council. Just because I'd love to have been a fly on the wall of the PR/Marketing dept when it was pointed out to them. Is there a secret cock in your company logo?

May 25, 2005

Please pay attention at the back

Here's a minor annoyance, something that always bugs me. You often read sentences like this in software tutotials. This one comes from the latest edition of Digizine, which is about all things Pro Tools.
Next, return the gain and threshold controls to their default settings by Alt-clicking (Win) or Option-clicking (Mac) on them, and try increasing the compression ratio.

I've got a fairly old Mac keyboard in front of me now, and it says "alt" not "option" - and has done on ever Mac I've owned for the past 5 years.

I'd go as far as to say that any Mac capable of running Pro Tools is using a modern, USB keyboard with an "alt" key. My 3 designers have more recent G5 machines and all say "alt" on them. I think every Mac I've owned since 1998 has probably said "alt".

In other words, I think it's misleading and confusing to even mention the ancient notion of Option-clicking! I wish these people would wake up.

Kenny Chesney Without Hat

artists_impression
artists_impression,
originally uploaded by mcmrbt.
Since so many visitors are arriving at Hoses of the Holy searching for pictures of a hatless Kenny Chesney, I am obliging with an artist's impression of what he might look like without a hat. If he was, you know, bald. Which I'm sure he's not.

Super Super-U, Where Are You?

super_u
super_u,
originally uploaded by mcmrbt.
The picture shows locations of Super-U in part of the Vendee. The circled one is in Bretignolles-sur-mer - and there are Huper-U stores in St Gilles and St Hilaire. Further inland, a Marché-U in Coex - but be aware that smaller stores like this will be closed from 12.30 to 2.30 in the afternoon, which is usually the time you want to go.

===================
With the weather picking up in the Vendee I'm now officially excited about our trip. It's showing 24°C and unbroken sunshine for tomorrow. Which is Super, and makes me think of one of the other pleasures of France, the supermarkets.

I used to think you could somehow find a correlation between French supermarkets and British ones, but it makes my brain hurt to try. It's hard to find an equivalent to Waitrose, for example. Waitrose type shoppers in France tend to forego the supermarket altogether, and buy their fresh produce from a proper market.

And there are regional variations. In the urban areas of the East, where my in-laws live, Super-U tends to be a kind of grubby pop-in supermarket, generally of smaller size and less well stocked than the bigger Cora and Auchan. But on the West coast, in every other seaside town, you'll find the only supermarket in town will be a Super-U, and they're much better (apart from their complete inability to stock pasteurised milk)*. Oddly, you can get completely "raw" milk - straight from the udder place, but not your traditional pinta.

Super-U, Hyper-U, all part of the holiday experience, and I can't wait to get there to buy turkey kebabs for the barbecue, maybe a capon, Petit Louis soft cheese for the kids, and raspberry ice tea etc. Another holiday taste is Bückler, an alcohol-free beer brewed by the Heineken/Stella people but not imported to the UK. It's got a great flavour, doesn't give you a headache, and is perfect if, like me, you love the taste but will probably have to drive - or just can't cope with hangovers any more.

Back in the East, we tend to go to Cora or Auchan - though I still haven't really forgiven Cora for the time we were stuck in their car park for 45 minutes on an Alsatian bank holiday. A fatal combination of a public holiday in one part of France causing a lot of rigidly Germanic people to (a) cross the "border" to go shopping on their day off and (b) all try to leave the supermarket at the same time because it was 5 pm and they all intended to get home for their evening meal, which they always, always eat at the same time of day, no matter what the circumstances; oh, and (c) to be complete bastards about organising themselves to get out of the car park. But the joke was on them, because we were just inconvenienced whereas they had to eat late.

10 years or so ago, when my Mrs first took me back to her home village, the first supermarket I visited was E Leclerc but it's not one we go to much these days. After a while you realise that, of all the supermarket visits you make, it's in E Leclerc that you encounter the smelliest people. A certain class of French men don't think it's macho to wash regularly, and France is the only place I've seen deodorant boasting that it will last 48+ hours. If they do wash, they'll put a smelly shirt back on afterwards. These people all shop in Leclerc.

One we haven't mentioned is Casino. Just as Super-U have their larger Hyper-U and smaller Marche-U, Casino cover everything, from your village shop (as in Plancher-Bas) to a Géant. They also own Spar and Monoprix, which is a kind of shitty department store you'll find in town centres.

The French supermarket, er, market goes deeper and further. There's Champion, and Intermarche, which many people will be familiar with. You find these stores, like Super-U, in smaller towns and on the edge of rural villages. I think the Coccinelle stores have mostly been replaced by Colrit, which is a Lidl like el cheapo place, with odd checkout procedures.

While I like to visit Cora and Auchan for the sheer size and scope of what they do (everything you might find in a big Asda or Tesco Extra, and more - a fuller range of CDs, DVDs, and books, computers, digital cameras etc. I think I've even seen food in there), it's Super-U that lives closest to my heart, because Super-U means holidays, beaches, Bückler, and sunshine.

*Here's a clue, French people: Pasteur was French, you dolts. You don't even have your usual nationalistic excuse for drinking that UHT pap.

May 24, 2005

scabs

i would be interested to see which bbc employees crossed the picket lines yesterday. i believe terry wogan is one, but don't sue me if not. i want to know who they are, so i can mutter "scab" under my breath whenever they are on telly.

reminds me of my recently departed grandmother, who could be depended on to badmouth leslie 'dirty den' grantham when he appeared on the screen, on account of he killed a german taxi driver when he was a young lad in the army and should not be allowed a career in tv.

More curtains without furniture

In terms of currency in the big conscience payoff that most of us undertake for being Conservatives in all but vote, recycling is top dorrar.

Because my wife has been a Green loony (irony) for some time, we've been recycling for a while now. Since before it became quite so easy.

We're lucky in East Leake. We've got two extended bottle banks that take everything from, er, bottles right through to shoes and clothing.

The only stuff they won't accept is actual rubbish (food and carrier bags) and garden rubbish. The council provide bins for and collect both of those anyway.

However, it always makes me laugh that there are clearly those people whose conscience is shallow enough to be sated before they finish depositing all their recycling. They come in various types. You can detect them by the tracks they leave behind.

a) Those who, having brought their recycling in carrier bags, decide just to drop the emptied bags on the floor for the wind to collect.

b) Those who are too important to empty their bags and just leave them full of recyclable materials in front of the bins (Let me add that I can't remember the bins EVER being so full that you couldn't put objects into them). Useful potential employment, though, for the criminal classes, as I'm sure you'll agree (irony).

c) Those who, having gone to all the trouble of recycling stuff in the first place, think that they are owed a little bit of indiscretion on credit, and since nobody is looking it's fine to dump, say, six bin liners of grass cuttings on the floor near the recycling bins.

Who do these people think they are? Why would anyone bother to scrub their arse clean with emery paper but still shit on the living room carpet?

Remember, there's nobody so selfish as the middle-income monkey within snatching reach of something, who thinks nobody is looking.

Heart attack sauce

We went to Salsa lessons last night after a break of nearly five weeks.

Jesus! I must have lost two pints of sweat. It was hot anyway, and by the time we'd finished throwing ourselves around I was sodden.

At one point a woman walked by me and said "you look how I feel". Thanks for that.

I should have replied, "at least I don't feel how you look." But that's not my sea, man.

Hmmm. It did cross my mind that it would surely be enormously humiliating to die while doing salsa turns. Probably fortunate therefore that I am drinking caterpillar tea.

"Well Played."

shelby
shelby,
originally uploaded by mcmrbt.
"This is easy, this is gravy, I feel like a little baby, this feels like a natural fade, I won't die alone."


As I write, I'm listening to Suit Yourself by Shelby Lynne (at last). Having subscribed to her email newsletter I was of course bound to fall victim to a careful programme of marketing hype, and over the couple of months I've been looking forward to this new record I've grown more convinced than ever I was that Ms Lynne is the Real Thing.

But what do we mean when we talk about the Real Thing? I remember having a discussion with Roy over 10 years ago about the concept/construct of authenticity. I said then that I didn't really believe in authenticity in that existential sense, that instead I tended to believe that things were somehow always-already received and processed.

Dr Dave, of our lecturers at University, talked about this sort of thing in connection with early encounters with Native Americans. Somehow, didn't matter how early it was, but the "discoverers" of the New World always seemed to find a native who could already speak Spanish or English. In other words, and to generalise wildly from an apocryphal tale, one man's authenticity is another's construct.

Keith Richards has said that there's no such thing as a recording of an acoustic guitar. Because a microphone is a kind of pick-up, so as soon as you stick one in front of an acoustic, it's an electric. Anyone who has struggled with the problem of recording an acoustic guitar successfully will know what he means. You can make a "nice" recording of an acoustic guitar, but you can never make it sound the way it does in a room as you are playing it.

When we receive music, then, it is always-already produced and processed, even when it is made to sound "live" and spontaneous. One of the reasons I loved Springsteen bootlegs was the feeling that hearing an entire concert, warts and all, was a more authentic experience of the man's music. But don't kid yourself that there aren't people intervening all the way down the production chain.

Suit Yourself starts with some studio chatter. This is not entirely a new idea. What song is it starts, "Okay, here we go..."? Dylan says, "Is it rolling, Bob?" at the beginning of Nashville Skyline and Lennon shouts, "I've got blisters on my fingers!" at the end of Helter Skelter. But though those moments are put there, a conscious decision made to include them, they do add to the life of the music, make it seem more authentic.

What's the opposite of authentic? Well, we all know: pop idol type things, Children Who Audition doing karaoke versions of hits of the past. I was listening to some Shelby in the car last night, and I was thinking, some of this is the kind of music they do on Pop Idol; but the crucial difference here is that, even if someone did do one of these songs, the viewing public wouldn't have heard it all before.

Because with overexposure even the best music becomes inauthentic, doesn't it? That's why I hate those radio formats that drive "Classic Tracks" into your brain. Reducing a musical era to the half-dozen songs that everybody knows. That's why your Dawson's Creek/OC/Party of Five type TV programmes grate on the nerves after a while: wall-to-wall product placement of the kind of music people who like that kind of show are supposed to like.

There's a chance you might hear a Shelby Lynne track on a programme like that, I admit the possibility. As Nick Hornby wrote in 37 songs, the problem now is that the people who grew up in the same era as I did, and later, are now producing adverts and television shows. And they put the music in that they like, obviously. For some reason, they are unable to detect that they are destroying any pleasure you might take in that music by glomming it into a glorified soap opera. It becomes as cheesy as the music played at Jason and Kylie's wedding, all those years ago.

So what am I saying? Ms Lynne isn't exactly obscure - I know in the States she's been on the Tonight show, and she's won a Grammy. Ironically, she won a Grammy for "Best New Artist" for her 2000 record, as if it was a debut, and as if she hadn't been recording for Epic in Nashville for fucking years before that. She even, ironically, won an Horizon awards at the CMAs about 7 years before she won her "Best New Artist" Grammy.

She's a dues paid musician who has circulated around the music business, who has recorded Country, pop, rock, soul type music, and who continues to work in a climate that legislates against that sort of thing. I read somewhere recently that some record execs had been overheard talking about how "disappointing" sales of Sheryl Crow's last record were - because it only sold a couple of million copies. As that other musical maverick, Steve Earle, has said, two million records is a lot. And you can make a good living selling 50,000 or so, and playing live.

I don't know how many copies of "Suit Yourself" will sell. I've bought two myself (!). But it does seems amazing, in an industry that sucks the life out of talent and spits it out after a couple of records, that Shelby Lynne exists. You hear the studio chatter on Suit Yourself because she produced it, and she wanted people to know she'd produced it - first at her home studio and then at her bass player's home studio.

You know she's doing her own thing, because the music doesn't fit a radio format. It's certainly not country, and it's too spiky and personal to be pop; it's traditional "rock", as invented by Dylan and the Beatles, but the only radio formats who play that sort of thing in the States are the sort that only play the likes of Dylan and the Beatles. It's got a lot of soul, but it's not Soul music. It's kind of folky and down-home at times, but doesn't really fit a mould.

On "I Cry Every Day", about halfway through the song, you hear some studio chatter again, this time, talking about the backing vocals: "Yeah, something like that," you hear her say. It's brilliant to hear that kind of thing, so why don't you hear it more often? The answer to that is a long one, but the short version of it is that the engineers and producers who run the music industry really do suck the life out of everything.

Take the obsession with noise, for example. Your out-of-the-mould engineer type will go to great lengths to eliminate noise. The instinctive creative type, however, knows that eliminating all the noise is (a) impossible and (b) undesirable, because taking away the noise destroys the original. It's always-already there, the noise, as Michel Serres said, the rat in the foundations.

To summarise, there's no such thing as existential authenticity, because some kind of mediation is always-already there; on the other hand, if you make no attempt to eliminate the actual process of mediation, you can provide as much authenticity as it is possible to have in recorded music. She leaves the sound of the crickets outside the window. You hear her arriving at the final arrangement, concluding, "This is easy, this is gravy..." at the end of a song she wrote in half an hour.

Suit Yourself is laid back to horizontal, sounds fantastic, and simply packed with superb songs. She's a great singer with good taste, and a very musical sensibility. The bonus track on iTunes, by the way, is "A Rainy Night in Georgia," which you only get if you buy the whole album. It's acoustic, clean, very laid back, and after the excellent acoustic guitar solo near the end, you hear a male voice say, "Well played."





May 23, 2005

Dead caterpillars

As you know, since I hit 35 I've been a fat bastard.

Something to do with an obscene ability to consume alcohol and changing metabolic rates. It happened overnight. I was once more "scrawny" than a smack addict. Girls used to comment on how thin and tall I was. Looking even more like a little-boy-lost street urchin than Pete Doherty. Then one day a drunken stranger on the train said to me in a moment of in vino veritas, "you're hardly thin are you?"

And lo! I wasn't.

All you slightly fat youngsters should take note therefore. At 35 you will suddenly quadruple in belly radius without any change in your lifestyle at all. And it'll happen when you aren't looking.

Anyhows, that's enough preamble. I want to talk about tea. Green tea.

Like, in this modern age when all the amphetamine producers around the world flood your mind with guerilla marketing to make you feel guilty about being a fat bastard, you find yourself undertaking detox and slimming diets.

Tea and coffee are well poisonous and fattening, so you have to have green tea. Made of things like rhubarb and bramble, or cabbage and rosehip, or old sock.

Today I've got nettle tea. It doesn't actually taste that bad. But when I put hot water on it, it smelt of old wilted leaves, like whenever I had caterpillars in a jar full of plucked leaves as a child.

Wonder if any of my old school friends can remember the deadly nettle beer that Julian made, with bleached dead caterpillars floating gracefully around in the demi-johns like frozen spacemen?

And the catchphrase "Jeff Pukes a Pint"?

Dirty Linen

I've come to the conclusion that women have much higher expectations of their partner than men do.

I try very hard to be a good husband and father.

I'm not perfect: I play guitar too much: I don't cut the grass enough: I have too many weekend benders that involve more than 2 cans of Softlad Lite Lager: I'm insensitive enough to ask when she shouldn't have to be telling me what to do, or what it is that's wrong. That sort of thing.

On the whole I do feel that I make an effort.

But most of the time I feel like I'm the enemy within, even though I don't know what I've done wrong.

I haven't said anything to her about her credit and debit cards. I don't complain when she drags me off to three Salsa events a week. I don't say anything about the state of the house when I get home and she has been off work, or that I am expected to sort the children out at bedtime at least six nights a week while she goes up her allotment for some quality time.

But, even so, I walk eggshells and still feel like I am hated.

Is this unusual? I get the feeling that it is normal. Is it just what you automatically get after the first ten years of being with someone?

vendee BBC 5-day forecast

vendee
vendee,
originally uploaded by mcmrbt.
Have to say, I like the BBC's optimism for the 5 day forecast. We can expect it a degree or two cooler in Bretignolles (a bit North of La Rochelle). But I can live with 30 degrees or so. Buckets and spades already packed.

It's a trap!

Housing is much in the air. Be good if it actually was. Floating houses will surely come when we have anti-gravity.

There's a couple of reasons I think things like shared ownership schemes don't work. As a caller to Five Live mentioned last night, the banks have it all their own way with shared ownership. First of all, they demand a higher-than-usual deposit from the punter.

So the punter scrapes begs borrows a deposit and borrows enough from a bank to buy 50% of a house. The bank is happy, having covered any economic downturn with your deposit, they can evict said punter and sell the house again to get their money back.

Meanwhile, the punter pays the mortgage on the 50% of the house and pays rent on the other 50%. In other words, it's not about a smaller monthly payment, oh no. In fact, if you add together the rent and the mortgage, what's the point? You're still on a low income and you still can't save any money.

What's the point? The point is that in owning the 50% of the house, you stand a chance of making a bit of capital to use as a deposit on your next house purchase.

So the scheme only works if the market value of the house increases substantially. In other words, the punter hopes to make 10 grand on their 50% and then buy a whole house, which means that the next punter on a low income can't even afford the original 50%, let alone the 50% plus the rent on the other half, which will no doubt increase too.

The sickness in this country is that people need a roof over their heads, shelter from the storm, warmth in winter, a place to rest, cook, eat, sleep. Everybody needs that, but they forget the utility and insist on viewing a house as an investment, a get rich quick scheme.

I think this government (and the one before it) pays far too much attention to getting people onto the so-called property ladder. Our towns are full of shitty little one- and two-bedroom so-called "starter" homes, which are ugly and cramped, not fit for one person to live in, let alone two or more.

So unfit are they for habitation that people can't wait to get out of them, and the market plays along with this by artificially inflating the price, so they can grab a profit and move on - except all of this is play money - not real money. All houses increase in price, and you still cripple yourself with debt in order to proceed.

My opinion, people should get used to the idea that they won't be getting a mortgage till their mid-30s. Until then, live with mum and dad or rent, yeah rent, and try to save. Believe it or not, our nation is more or less unique in Europe for this ridiculous Starter Home mentality. Knock down those shitting 1-bedroom insults, those crappy 2-bed places, and increase the rental stock. Council houses, remember those?

On a bright May morning in the middle of June

Sounds like a folk song title yes? And strangely, May mornings did occur in the middle of June until the calendar was corrected about 200 years ago.

I love this time of year: the countryside has turned green finally, and the hedgerows are stardusted with the blossom of Cow-parsley and Hawthorn (which was often known as "May" by the way).

It was once reckoned that Hawthorn blossom has the scent of an aroused woman. Probably connected too with spring and fertility rites. Because that's how superstition and folklore work.

But nature doesn't reflect what is going on in our lives like in some huge Thomas Hardy novel.

This weekend after I'd cleaned the house downstairs (notice that I am not over-ambitious enough to use the word tidied) one of the kids tipped a binliner of rubbish over at the bottom of the stairs.

In amongst the rubbish I found a forged letter from one of the kids to their games teacher excusing them from PE due to continued bronchitis. Interesting. I lectured them along the lines of it being wrong to use lies and cheating to get what you want. I doubt I convinced them: that's pretty much exactly what most people do to get what they want.

Also, I saw on the news an interview with a former Conservative party leader. He was analysing the reasons for their failure in the recent elections and what they need to do to achieve success. I have to say I agreed with what he was saying.

His opinion was that, pretty much, his party has the policies stitched and that they are offering what most people actually want: lower taxes, limited immigration, stronger law and order. All the traditional conservative values in other words.

But he said the problem that Conservatives have is that voting for them gives people a bad conscience: it makes them feel selfish.

That's exactly right, isn't it? Our society is full of selfishness, buried under a carpet of fooling our own consciences. We live in a society of rotten woodwork under a fresh coat of paint; of bitter pills with a sugar coating; of cardboard fast-food contained in beautiful packaging; of buggy computer software running under a flashy GUI interface; of useless gadgets that allow you to play catchy ringtones; of perfectly formed fruit and veg supplied via a mechanism that requires exploitation of immigrant workers.

It's all curtains and no furniture in other words.

Trust Shelby



Because I've been waiting for the new Shelby, I've been listening to some of her older stuff.

I know I said I didn't like it all that much. Really, what I should have said, I didn't like her last album all that much, although I admired the spirit in which it was recorded. Going back to her two albums before that, they're both excellent.

How excellent they are, you realise when you try to do Roy a "best of Shelby up till now" compo, and you find yourself wanting to include just about everything from the albums I am Shelby Lynne and Love, Shelby.

2001, she released Love, Shelby which has got a real commercial sheen, unlike her last two (including Suit Yourself, released tomorrow), and I was disappointed in it when it first came out. Which is great, because getting it out now, it's so refreshing. Probably Lari White's Green Eyed Soul from last year prepared me for it better.

If you've owned it for 4 years like me and played it only once or twice since then, you get this frisson from the opening track ("Trust Me," written by Shelby Lynne and Glen Ballard) as it comes on in the car: who's this?. You hear the solo piano, and then the voice, with a long delay: "Faith - Trust..." and you know you're listening to some slick commercial pop. But it's just so damn good, you forget about it being commercial and just enjoy it for itself: a great song, performed brilliantly, with the highest quality production values (the fashionably dry vocal, the fashionably processed drums etc).

Even so, a couple of tracks later comes a song you just wouldn't expect on such a commercial-sounding record: "Jesus on a Greyhound" (same writers), so you do have to keep adjusting your brain.

Anyway, here are the 18 tracks for the ultimate Shelby compo up till today:

Trust Me - Love, Shelby
Bend - Love, Shelby
Gotta Get Back - I Am Shelby Lynne
Your Lies - I Am Shelby Lynne
Telephone - Identity Crisis
Leavin' - I Am Shelby Lynne
Thought It Would Be Easier - I Am Shelby Lynne
Wall In Your Heart - Love, Shelby
Jesus On A Greyhound - Love, Shelby
If I Were Smart - Identity Crisis
Why Can't You Be? - I Am Shelby Lynne
Lookin' Up - I Am Shelby Lynne
Dream Some - I Am Shelby Lynne
Gonna Be Better - Identity Crisis
Buttons And Beaus - Identity Crisis
I Can't Wait - Love, Shelby
Killin' Kind - Love, Shelby
All Of A Sudden You Disappeared - Love, Shelby

May 20, 2005

No parachutes will be issued

Rob's post below just made me chuckle.

As well as being funny it is absoutely spot on.

I well remember a job I had at British Telecom in the eighties. There were two teams sharing an open plan office. There were two "EOs" in the office. Let me tell you, if you don't already know, that in the English Civil Service hierarchy an EO is roughly equivalent to a corporal in the army. Basically two up from canon fodder.

But, remember that at the time British Telecom was a business, not an invasion force.

Being a lowly CA (canon fodder) I asked the EO on the other team a question. That was my error. And his response... through his teeth, in front of the entire office, he growled, "it is not your place to speak directly to me. If you wish to address me with a question you should escalate it through your own EO who will then address the question to me".

And yes, that is as stuck up and preposterous as it sounds. I couldn't beleive it. It still sticks in my mind as the worst example of auto-sodomy that I ever came across in a place of work.

And then, at Boots in the early nineties, I asked why there were no chairs in the factory where I worked, even though several processes involved standing still, monitoring a chemical reaction for upwards of an hour. The answer: "they don't provide chairs because that would encourage laziness in the workers."

I jest not.

Nottingham girls

A colleague just recommended the following site called Nottingham Girls.

At first I just thought it was a shameless marketing ploy by a local modelling agency. However another colleague (RH) has rightfully pointed out that the site seems to have been hijacked and redirects your browser to pie-eating-munters.com

Yanks for the memories

I've been discussing the Great Manchester United Robbery with Eric over at Diderot's Diary and something he said made me think about British attitudes to ownership and entrepreneurs.

There's always been a paradox in this country, with a strong contingent of forelock tuggers who think that share ownership, entrepreneurism and business are "not for the likes of us" (like the person who claimed that the "ordinary working class" people who watch Manchester United could never have bought enough shares between them to protect their club from the sharks); by the same token, we show very little respect for successful businessmen and women in this country - past a certain point.

Clive Sinclair, for example, who could have been a Jobs or a Gates, is really just a figure of fun in the UK, based on his ill-fated C5. Even though Steve Jobs claimed that cities would be designed around the Segway, people are still willing to take him seriously - yet nobody paid a blind bit of attention to Sinclair after the C5. Richard Branson, too, there's another one. Everybody hates him, don't they? And you just think of him falling out of balloons, when you think of him.

And everybody hated Robert Maxwell, even before it was discovered that he'd robbed the Mirror group pension fund blind.

One of our problems has always been that, once in a position of influence, wealth, or power, most people can't wait to stick it to everybody else. Management of British Companies is always conducted in a "them and us" atmosphere, which is why there were always so many stupid industrial disputes about whether windows should be open or closed, or whether it's acceptable to wear shorts.

I remember one manager at my first job who criticised me for not wearing a collar and tie. "When I was starting out," he said, "You might - might, if it was a very hot day, be allowed to open a window and hang your jacket on the back of your chair." When my next girlfriend encouraged me to wear a certain kind of shirt and tie, he called me back in his office to tell me that he didn't like my collars (buttoned down, it was the 80s) and he didn't like my ties (er... it was the 80s).

Another manager called me in to say that he'd seen me searching through files with one hand, that it looked too casual, that I should use two hands, in order to look busier. He was personally embarrassed, he said, to have employed me, when other managers were making remarks about my casual attitudes and appearance.

I like to think I was ahead of my time.

My point is that this is the kind of conversation that traditionally takes place in the British workplace. Not, "How can we make this better or do this better?" But, how can we manipulate the appearance of things to it looks like everything is going really well? No matter what your talents or abilities, if your face didn't fit, you were consigned to the mental trash can, while management went about the national business of mediocrity.

That's what the Thatcher era was all about: appearances. They gave the appearance of a strong economy by selling stuff off and using the money raised to plug the gaps. Never mind that for every 100 people living here, only 4 were engaged in actually producing something (probably 2 or 3/100 by now). As long as you could drive a flash German car and sport a flash Japanese mobile phone, wear a flash Italian suit, everything is righerrtt with the world.

But it's hard to get really worked up about anything when you know that, in the end, when the oil runs out, it's going to be horses and carts and growing your own vegetables. About that time, I will be living off blackberries from the brambles at the side of our house.

Eur-no

Looks like the French are 50/50 yes/no over the UE constitution. This article from The Guardian talks about pro-EU ministers blaming Chirac for the lacklustre and confused Yes campaign.

The problem here is that the French aren't really saying No to the constitution. They're saying, er, no to the Euro. The same Euro they said, er, yes to a few years ago.

But now they've been living with it for a while and they still hate it.

They still mentally translate prices into Francs and know that everything is more expensive now. Their economy is in the basket, and people are losing jobs all over. And they blame the Euro.

When you do that quintessentially French thing and sit at a corner cafe for a cup of coffee and know that every time you do that you're being ripped off, you start to have negative thoughts.

I'm sorry kiddies

But Star Wars is to Science Fiction what Rentaghost was to Horror; or what George and Mildred was to Romantic Comedy.

It's being so cheerful...

Dear Dogface,

Win a Mac Mini worth £340

As a registered user to the MacUser website, we would be delighted if you could spare 10 minutes of your time to complete an online survey.

MacUser exists because you read it. So to make sure you keep reading the magazine, we want to know what you think about MacUser, the Mac industry and the types of Mac hardware and software you use...

You know, using hilarious log-in names for web sites never gets old.

In my professional capacity yesterday, I was called upon to test a couple of computer displays. It's something I do occasionally. Over the past several years, most of them have been of the flat screen variety. In spite of their inability to match the colour space of a CRT display*, everybody wants a TFT these days, and manufacturers like Sony (first) and NEC-Mitsubishi have even stopped making CRTs.

So I've tested a variety of TFTs, just as I've tested a variety of different digital cameras etc. I've seen it all, from a blurred screen that makes you think you're going blind, to a crisp, bright, sharp display that made the whole world seem brighter and better.

A while ago, for example, I tested one of the phenomenally expensive Eizo displays. Fantastic quality, better than the Apple displays for example, though considerably more expensive. Considerably more expensive, indeed, yet with an enclosure having the build quality of a £1.99 bookshelf. I said to the rep - fantastic display, but in this market (Mac design, publishing, video etc), people expect it to look expensive, too.

So yesterday, I got a couple of displays from a manufacturer better known for other things. Let's call them X***x to spare their blushes. Presumably, some Korean manufacturer offered them the chance to put their brand name on a generic display. They looked quite trendy, anyway, with one of those mirror-like glass fronts. I don't know how much they cost. Probably considerably cheaper than Eizo and Apple, though looking like they cost more.

Booted up the 19" - shocking. Only word to describe the piss-poor colour. Everything looked blue. Spent some time with the Apple calibration tool, something I've done many many times, and couldn't get a good result. A grey scale image displayed with all the colours of the rainbow showing up as artifacts. Couldn't live with it. It was bright and fairly sharp (except with anti-aliased text which looked awful because of the colour interference) and would probably fool a Windows user into buying it.

What I mean by that is, if you had Windows XP on it in a PC World showroom, it might look bright and sharp enough to make someone think, "Wow!" and part with their cash. But for anybody dealing with graphics and photography, any attempt to make colour look remotely accurate is doomed to failure.

X***x later claimed they had messed around with the settings on that one, to which my reply was: if you want a dealer to test a display with a view to stocking it, don't fucking mess with the settings before you send it out. I actually dispute whether they really had, as I'd used the on-screen controls as well as the Mac calibration software.

As for the 17" one they sent, which they asked us to try to see if the colour was better: there was no power supply for it in the box. So a double gong for X***x. Thanks for trying.

===

*It's one of the great ironies of the Mac graphics market that the best display for colour accuracy was the good old Shadow Mask technology. You could get blacker blacks on Trinitron and Diamondtron displays, but Shadow Mask displays were much better for colour. Barco still made very expensive Shadow Mask displays until relatively recently. But people liked the flatness of Trini/Diamondtron, in spite of the black line you got across the display (part of the built-in technology) and in spite of the fact that the flatness often gave the optical illusion of being curved outwards. Even less accurate for colour than the 'trons is the TFT LCD display - which is what everyone uses nowadays. This is an Important Lesson: you can bleat about colour accuracy all you like, but people will still buy something less good as long as it looks better and is more expensive.

May 19, 2005

Sophists

Every now and again Lawyers and IT guys get together and come up with some sort of preposterous sophism that would have made the lawyers of ancient Rome big-up some total admiration and respec' for them.

We've had British Telecom owning the Hyperlink, SCO owning LINUX, and so on.

Latest is that Microsoft own "doing things with email addresses". Funny stuff.

They don't 'arf keep me laffin'.

TAXATION (Slight return)

I've moaned resignedly about tax and its complications before.

But something very strange and out-of-the-blue happened yesterday.

But first some more background.

This year I filled out my tax return and posted it on the day I got my P60. I must be one of the first to return the form this year.

In due course I received a letter saying that I owed them £1.60 and that they would contact me later in the year regarding payment. I thought, "fuck that!" and paid immediately on-line.

So I'm quits and bang up-to-date, with no possibility of getting any fines for late payments, underpayments, lost forms or anything.

Yesterday I received a letter from the Inland Revenue. I opened it thinking "here we go" and getting ready to see how many hundreds of nicker that I mysteriously now owe due to a miscalculation in the 18th century.

(shocked silence)

"After reviewing your account we have decided that you do not need to complete a self-assessed tax return for us each year."

Amen! It's only taken seven years for them to come to the same conclusion as me.

Well, how do you use the web?

The usual crew of argument pickers and nay-sayers over on The Register's letter page, poo-pooing the idea that Google's much-discussed web accelerator will mean they end up owning the innernet.

People are claiming they use the internet for certain special purposes which have nothing to do with cached web pages, and more to do with chat, gaming, and home networking.

Well, I guess. Last night Roy and I attempted an iChat, you know, audio chat. A telephone conversation without a telephone basically. Frankly, it was complete bollocks. The night before, he could hear me but I couldn't hear him. Last night, I could hear him but he (mostly) couldn't hear me. We tried taking turns talking ("Over") and we typed-and-talked (ironically, he could hear me best when I was typing the words as I spoke them, like an audio description of a subtitle).

All in all, a total time-waster. Not saying it wasn't a little bit fun, or fascinating, but it struck me as one of those things where the novelty will soon wear off, and you'll go back to emailing.

But how do you use the web? Email, for example? I try to stay in touch with people via email, but it's about as much use as it used to be trying stay in touch with pen and paper - a method I'd still prefer. So email is mostly a business thing for me; I rarely get emails, except from trekkies writing to correct me on a fact or three. I've ended up with way too many email addresses, too, and my address book, as usual, is scattered across several accounts and machines. Sure, you could aggregate them all together, but since people don't actually give a shit about staying in touch, why should I bother?

Shopping I do a lot of. Too much. Buy too many books and CDs; buy shoes; once bought a car; shampoo, supplements, a teapot. I'd buy anything over the innernet, I would. And you'd be doing me a flavour if you took it all away, thanks. Cheers.

Chat I'm not bothered with, because I'm not a teenage girl and I don't really need to discuss the latest episode of Star Trek with my geeky friends. Games I've got no time at all for. I'll play Tetris if you hold a gun to my head, but not a multi-player Tetris over a network.

Listening to the radio? Well, I've got a radio in my car, one in my kitchen, one in the bedroom, and one in the bathroom. Where else do I need one? At work? Having the radio on at work makes me want to kill myself, and anyway, people always complain.

TV? I watch it in the living room at home. I don't want or need one anywhere else. There's not so much on TV that I feel like I need to be able to have it on the 'puter, thanks. There are enough celebs and luvvies and media whores coming at me as it is, so I don't need any more of that. Anyway, time-shifting with the hard disk recorder attached to the TV will suffice.

I grow old, I grow old. What do I use the internet for? Blogging, which is the same as writing, which is something I've always done, ever since I was a nipper. And Flickr, for photos; again, something I've always done.

I use my computer for loads of stuff, but whole evenings will go by without me needing to connect to the innernet. It's a useful information source for work, as it was when I was studying.

Do I care if Google, or whoever, takes it over? Not really. If there turn out to be too many ads, I'll go and do something else.

May 18, 2005

Your Questions Answered

Thanks to the good people at The Observer Blog putting us in their rolling linklog, Hoses of the Holy has had a few more visitors lately - and we seem to be up in search engines, which is a mixed blessing. Because of the anything-goes nature of this blog, I think we cover a huge variety of subjects, which leads to some, er, interesting conjunctions.

I'm not laughing, really, I'm not, but an insight into what's buzzing out there is always fascinating. People keep arriving at the site having searched for "Kenny Chesney without a Hat" - presumably because he married that skinny actress, and presumably because someone started a rumour that he's bald.

I'd like to start the rumour that all men who are frequently pictured wearing headgear are actually bald. I'd also like to start the rumour that wearing a hat makes you go bald. We've had people searching for "Tim McGraw Without Hat", too, for the same reason, and also Garth Brooks. We know Dwight Yoakam is bald, so I expect they all are. Imagine how hilarious Alan Jackson looks without his hat, with those long golden curls... and a bald head. Possibly. Perhaps country music makes you go bald - though in my case it just makes me fat.

Another search was for "What does a Turnip look like?", which is quite possibly the most bizarre thing ever. It looks like this, since you ask.

Someone else wants to know, "Is Simon Le Bon unfaithful"? Well, I don't know. Our Simon-the-good is not the same fellow at all. Let's not be mistaken about that. Simon le Bon of Duran Duran is probably not into bumble bees and birds. Our Simon is not unfaithful.

I also don't know the answer to the question, "did didier ever get married"? Seriously now: do you people know how search engines work? By ignoring words like "did," "ever," and "get", for a start.

As to how to make a non-soggy pie base, the answer of course is to blind bake it in advance. You do this by filling it with dry kidney beans or ceramic baking beads. Do not attempt to use rice, as I once did. That's a stupid thing to do. Anyway, my sister is the one for baking tips. So mail them to me and I'll pass them on to her.

Finally, to the person searching for "harder than I thought hallmark apart love you," here's an idea. Nothing says you don't give a shit more than sending a Hallmark card. How about writing a letter, on a blank sheet of paper, telling him/her that being away from him/her is harder than you ever thought it would be and that you love him/her? As the possibly bald Tim McGraw says in the song,
I'm just a blank sheet of paper
This fool's about to write you a letter
To tell you that he's sorry
For the way he did you wrong
To ask for your forgiveness
For leavin you alone

He's been lookin down at me
It seems like forever
He takes the top on and off his pen
It's like he can't decide
What he wants to say
If he'd just tell the truth
I'd be on my way

Hope this helps. Any more questions, let me know.

Heh

I just sold my copy of the book about Apple T-Shirts, which has been sitting on my shelf for several years. Bought it for 39 dorrar a few years back (including a free Apple t-shirt), just sold it for 39 quids. Could have charged more, obviously, because it was less than 2 hours between listing and sale - Amazon clearly had a buyer waiting in the wings. More than one, perhaps, because it said the average price they were willing to pay was 49 quids.

Still, my first rule of selling things is that you're better of selling it than not selling it. I've put my Telecaster on eBay, and with less than 24 hours to go there are no bids on it, which means that 300 squid was probably too high. I should have at least remembered the second rule of selling things, which is that people really are fooled by prices that end in 9 or 5. 279 was probably the way to go, so maybe I'll try it again at some point.

It's amazing what people will pay for things related. Over at Red Light Runner they sell all kinds of things. An original iMac t-shirt, par example, 35 dorrar. I had one of those. Original iBook t-shirt -13 dorrar. Bargain! I had one of those, too. Unfortunately, I was stupid enough to actually wear them. In fact, I could prolly net 100+ dorrar just on the Apple t-shirts I've had over the past few years. My now-broken Apple mug, I don't know, but one of the three Apple watches I've still got somewhere: 70 dorrar.

Original Bondi iMac poster (there was one in the office at one time): 100 dorrar; 1984-2004 poster (hanging somewhere in the office): 50 dorrar; the Frank Sinatra "Think Different" poster: 180 dorrar; Ghandi: 180; Hitchcock: 250; Maria Callas: 250. All of which hanging around the office. You can even get 3 dorrar for one of those white Apple logo stickers you get with Apple products. Guard them with your life!

I've got a cheap 'n' nasty Apple key ring somewhere in the house: 60 dorrar. Apple logo lapel pins, of which I have two: between 20 and 25 dorrar.

When I first came to work here, they had in reception one of the original "picasso" mac display lights. I wonder who swiped it when they refurbished the reception area? Not me, unfortunately, 1300 dorrar to you, sir. Buyer collects.

I think I may have to dig out some of these Apple things and flog the hell out of them on eBay.

More bees

It seems we have our own little ring of guerilla marketing of bumble bees going down here, and I like it.

I was walking to the car park last night with James and Loui, and Loui made the indiscretion of telling me that James tries to stroke bumblebees.

What a great idea. It should be promoted to a full blown sport.

big bee

there was a big bee in our kitchen yesterday. it was like a yellow and black stripey tennis ball - i'm not exaggerating.

this shitty cold weather has taken all the fun out of fly-swatting. they woke up a few weeks ago but can't get any speed up in the dense, cold air (i think that's the reason) so they're sitting duck-flies. still, people won't think of that when they admire my stats in future generations.

May 17, 2005

Full of crap

Men can be divided into two types. Those who have no shame and those who feel that certain sights, sounds and smells are best kept behind a locked door and stud partition.

Yes, we're talking about shared toilets.

Here at work we used to have several cubicles, each with its own self-contained micro-environment. Sometimes you had to suffer the agony of breathing in the aroma of the Anonymous Maggotty Arsed One. But at least some semblance of dignity and privacy was upheld.

However, in a sweeping bout of improvements the toilet walls have been replaced with smaller wooden partitions with air above and below them. I suppose that is advantageous if someone tries to commit suicide and you have to knock the wall down quickly to get access to them.

Some people don't mind, like my bro Neil, who I reckon wouldn't mind curling out a smoking chocolate banana in full view of the ladies in Sales. But I don't like it. It triggers the same sort of unease and insecurity that chimps probably get when they are taking a shit close to a pride of lions.

At first I got round this by using the disabled toilet, which is rather palacial, and would probably make a good shelter in the case of a full-on nuclear strike.

However, in a shocking near miss of potential shame I discovered that the lock doesn't work properly on the downstairs disabled bog, and that the door is liable to open out onto Reception's doorway and the main Technical Department corridor without any warning.

I only use toilets at home now. No lions there. Or snakes.

The Beiderbecke Thing

I used to have a thing for Barbara Flynn, in particular because she came across as so witty and smart in The Beiderbecke Affair and it's less successful spin-offs.

They've been showing it on ITV3, The Beiderbecke Affair. The original series finished last week, but the The Beiderbecke Tapes starts on Thursday. The nice thing is I don't think I watched the third one, The Beiderbecke Connection, so that'll be nice for me, won't it?

Written by Alan Plater, and set against a backdrop of the warm and cuddly mythical North in Thatcher's Britain, The Beiderbecke Affair had a charm all its own, and could lull you into thinking there were still decent people in the world. Corrupt policemen and councillors got theirs, and even though Jill Swinburn only received 54 votes at the election, she still demanded a recount. And it had James Bolam in it, so you watched it because you knew it would be good. These days, they think you'll watch something because it has someone who used to be in EastEnders in it.

There were some great lines in the final episode. The graduate policeman who turned out to be "all right really" arranged to meet Trevor and Jill on the 4th floor of the multi-story car park. "That information you gave me has turned into a very high level investigation."
"If it's such a high level, shouldn't we meet on the fifth floor?" she said.
"Or the sixth?" added Trevor.

I was reading Mark Lawson (log-in required, I think) on the 50th anniversary of ITV in the Guardian yesterday, and he said in the article how ITV had confounded its critics by broadcasting some of the best dramas - something it's easy to forget when you see the current schedule with Celebrity Media Whore Island or whatever it is called.

Watching The Beiderbecke Thing felt luxurious. It took several weeks to tell a very gentle story, with interesting characters and witty lines. In today's Hallmark Universe, they cannot bear to broadcast anything like it. Dramas take place on consecutive nights and tv executives fear the short attention span. Although the Inspector Morses now seem sedate and quaint, they were pretty damn good at the time.

The thing about The Beiderbecke Affaird, that it was on ITV, was that the advert breaks seem to have been written into the script. It was like a curtain opening and closing, not like someone just got interrupted in the middle of a sentence. When I watched Star Trek in me youth, my mum would call out, "Advert," when the screen went black between scenes. With the Beiderbecke Affair, you never resented the advertising, because each scene came to a gentle close.

One of the nicest things about it was the way each episode was titled after the first line spoken: "We are at the brink of a new era, if only..." It was all very well done indeed, not that they need me to tell them that. But why can't modern day execs look at it and think, "Yeah, that's when we used to do things properly. Let's do it properly again."? Why is that? Why is everything so crappy now? You'll say commercial pressures, but I just told you, I even enjoyed the fact it had advert breaks, didn't resent it - whereas modern commercial breaks just make me resentful and angry.

Celebrity Ratings #1

Roy's discussion of my ratings scale (see The Scale for details) the other day popped into my head at the traffic lights recently, when I saw a huge poster of Trinny and Susannah. So as part of an occasional series, I thought I'd dish out some celebrity ratings. Look away now if you plan to be offended by this. Frankly, these people shove themselves into the limelight, attention seekers the lot of them. So here is some attention.

By default, of course, most celebrities are going to be 1 or 0 on the scale. Almost every celebrity of any gender requires a sock in the mouth, and many also require a paper bag on the head (I've added in brackets the prop required by the celebrity to achieve their score).

  • Trinny - the skinny, flat-chested one, always more attractive to me. She gets a 1 (sock).

  • Susannah - not actually fat, but next to the skinny one can be mistakenly identified as fat. 0.

  • Kirstie - the property programme woman. I was going to say 0, but then there are some quite foccy pictures of her in this weeks Radio Times. So, go on then: 1 (sock)

  • Billie - far too young to warrant anything over 0

  • Kylie - this lantern-jawed small person is a 1 (paper bag)

  • Shelley Wordsworth from Storymakers on CBeebies - this radiant beauty scores a 2.

  • Maura Tierney - Maura is a 5, if ever I saw one - hope I never meet her, because it would ruin my life

  • Jolene Blalock from Enterprise is a 1 (paper bag), but a 2 if she keeps her Vulcan ears and wig on

That is all.

Not below the radar

Just in case you should still harbour doubts that there is something fundamentally fucked with the climate, I offer the following observation.

Andy spotted a flock of waxwings in Nottingham yesterday.

I know we've been getting frosts overnight and we're only two weeks away from Summertime, but a quick glance in a book about birds reveals the following information about waxwings.

i) They are a winter visitor to the UK.
ii) It is estimated that several hundred appear in the UK in an average winter.
iii) In winters where Scandinavia experiences extremely harsh weather they may become temporarily more abundant in the UK.

So lets apply the numbers to the equation. Two weeks from summer we are seeing flocks of birds in the UK normally associated with extreme winters in Scandinavia.

Birds don't normally tow the party line or act in the interests of the global economy. Likewise they don't wait for scientific evidence to confirm what's going on.

Go figure. As they say in the ghetto.

Lost in translation

Recent events have got me thinking on how a word can have very different connotations for different people, even though they speak the same language.

What I mean is, there are many languages that are international; English, Spanish, and Portuguese, for example. And the lives and experiences of people who are united under a common tongue may be very different. Equally the meaning, and even the value, that is attached to a common word may be different.

It's very easy to assume, given the globalisation of business, that culture is also globalised, and maybe it is becoming that way. But it ain't necessarily so.

It's also easy to assume, when you write something that is open for all to read, that your readers will be like-minded with yourself, but again that ain't necessarily so.

As a result, it's quite possible to be condemned by somebody who doesn't even know you, and be generally condemned by his or her peer group. And it's possible that they will make up their minds about you without giving you the opportunity to convince them otherwise. Without even wanting to know you. To find out what you are really about.

Should it matter? In spite of the words you choose to use, and in spite of intentions, providing no harm is done, does it actually matter?

And even if a word is used maliciously and harm is intended, if no harm actually results, does it matter? Can a word be bad in itself? Is there such a thing as a bad word; one that is universally bad throughout time and culture?

I'm not sure.

So how do you account for idiom?

It's like the apocryphal advertising story, in which a highly successful ad campaign for a soft drink was ported to the far east. The basis of the campaign in the West was the catch phrase "it tastes wicked!" The translation in the new campaign in the east meant something more akin to, "it tastes like witches' piss". It failed to catch the imagination even in a comedic sense. Japan didn't think it was funny. The product bombed.

And burning books isn't wrong, if they contain offensive material, is it?

May 16, 2005

Dear Suzie,

Have we met? I think not, and yet I feel I know you intimately. When your email landed in my inbox today with its subject header of Auf Striefe durch den Berliner Wedding, I felt I knew you very well: the kind of person you are, the kind of thing you like to do.

And Suzie: such a sweet name; probably sexier for its use of the letter z, and a more exciting name than Cecilia, Leroy, Garrett, Barry, Matt, or Mick, who also sent me emails with German language subject headers today, and over the weekend.

Suzie, I feel we've made connection. And now I've got your email address, I look forward to cyberstalking you for years to come.

Love, Rob.

Direction blindness

Just been reading Rob's post on the Roadrage blog in which he mentions, among other things, the poverty of geography in the general knowledge of the UKs driving populace.

He's absolutely right. Most people have no idea where places are anymore. If you showed somebody a map of the UK in outline and asked them to point out where their town is, they'd be clueless.

And as a result most people would be lost if they had to detour away from the motorway conveyor belt.

It's weird. If you built a logical map of the UK based on the motorway network you'd end up with something highly virtual indeed. Very much like the underground map, where design triumphs over reality.

Motorway routes are designed to make you go the way that planners want you to go. Sometimes the motorway route from A to B is a hideous detour. Indeed several times, I've been utterly confused in my map reading because road signs point the long way round. It's no wonder that most people have absolutely no sense of direction at all.

PS. I received the field guide to bumblebees this morning. It's enlightening: I've come to understand why nobody has bothered to product a photographic field guide before. Basically all 22 species are identical.

May 13, 2005

Oil be seeing you

Couldn't help but be fascinated by this story, some of which I heard on Five Live this evening on the way home. While the US were issuing press statements asking for restraint and blaming "extremists" and muslim "terrorist groups", a sequence of guests on the Drive show told Peter Allen that (a) it wasn't about Islam; that (b) it wasn't really about democracy as such; (c) that the people released from prison were really just businessmen who'd been trying to gain some economic freedom from a repressive regime; (d) that the repressive regime had been in place for years and that it was being propped up by enormous amounts of US money; (e) that there are oil reserves in Uzbekistan; (f) that the former British ambassador had resigned his post because of the lies he was being asked to support, and that he had investigated unexplained deaths in custody and found evidence of torture - including one guy who was boiled to death.

Still, the Americans were releasing statements talking about Muslim extremists.

We know we've been lied to, but I have never heard those lies being uncovered and revealed so blatantly on live radio before.

Fantastic.

To summarise:

Afghanistan: oil pipeline
Iraq: oil reserves
Uzbekistan: oil reserves.

The frightening thing here is that this naked and rampant pillaging of oil is serious and ongoing. These people aren't playing games, and they will not let up. And they obviously don't care any more about being consistent or even remotely truthful.

As the oil runs out, these wars for the final reserves will get more and more vicious. Who'd a thunk it? The world is full of people willing to die for ideas, and yet WWIII is being fought over people's right to choke the planet with SUVs and buy chinese microphones and guitars for peanuts.

They do it wrong, being so majestic

One of the nice things about this blog is that you never quite know what will come up on it. I was just thinking about Rob's post on weather forecasting. I know from previous conversations that he knows a fair old bit about chaos (the technical use of the word). And weather is mathematically chaotic. Or, possibly, just very complex.

For the last couple of hundred years we've come to assume that science could one day describe everything, and thus predict everything, if only we had enough initial data to feed into the appropriate equations.

And then along came the uncertainty principle in particle physics that suggested that in certain circumstances on very small scales, the idea that we can holistically describe everything, is mistaken.

Gratuitous and mildly funny related link.

But what if you feed "uncertain" data into a "chaotic" equation? So it all scaled up to human size. Could it be that some things are simply unpredictable, even if you have God's raid-array to hand, stacked with all the data that there possibly is, ready to feed into the equations?

I kind of like that thought. And now tomorrow's weather.... "well, actually we don't know what it's going to do because it is technically unknowable." Like there's no point in even trying. Which there probably isn't.

It puts things into perspective. We think we know most everything, but actually we're pretty rubbish at it.

And thinking about it, it would seem to imply that fatalism is wrong: that things can be different. Because if space and time are played out according to fixed rules, that doesn't leave much room for us to interfere with things does it?

So, maybe useless weather forecasts are the price we pay for having a free will.

It goes back to that thing Rob was saying again, about us having the minds of people living in the middle ages, underneath a thin veneer of modern scepticism. I quite like that. Apart from David Blaine majick.




Cool it, daddio! You're so square.

Maxine at work likes to have her radio on.

I'm not opposed to that. Anything that makes our shabby lives slightly more tolerable has to be a Good Thing. And music is one of the defining features of humanity so what could be better?

I don't know what Radio Station she listens to. It might even be a CD, come to think of it.

There are several songs that come up that seem, shall we say, repetitive. One sounds like the keyboard has got stuck. Then there was that song recently that sampled the Jefferson Airplane song Need Somebody to Love.

Now there's a new one. It features a sample from a Judy Tzuke track called Stay with me till dawn which was a staple of local radio stations' airplay at 3.30am in the early eighties.

As I remember she was a bit of a soft focus and patchoulli sort of singer, a bit like a poor man's Stevie Nicks.

Anyway, aside from aging blond singers, what I wanted to comment about was that to old gits like me these songs sound awful.

The samples are often so big that you can't help but wonder whether they just clicked the "start" button in the sequencer for a preset MIDI drum pattern and Control-V'd huge swathes of audio file straight in.

To younger listeners I'm sure that they are exciting displays of dubbing skills and music history knowledge. But when you know the original, and you remember vinyl with its annoying jumps and sticking, these songs sound comical and irritating.

The only time we used to hear that staccato repetition on the radio in my day was when the vinyl had a scratch and the DJ had nipped off for a sneaky dump mid-track, and then he'd have to apoligise when he came back, for the 2 minutes of stuttering.

Please then, no more of your stuck records, eh fellas. You remind me of Dave Lee Travis stumbling down a corridor with his clouts round his ankles, racing to get back to the boothe to lift the needle out of the rut.

Don't you want Don't you Want Want Don't you Want... come off it! It's not even the same Beats Per Minute!

Boomer of the gardens

I just ordered this book about bumblebees. There aren't many books about them because, basically people don't really notice them much. I have one guide to bumblebees that went out of print some years ago. As far as I know there has never been a proper fieldguide before.

It seems odd to me that people don't take notice of bumblebees. They're furry and brightly coloured.

And it's a shame because like several other creatures they are on their way out. So this book is probably a good thing.

Bumblebees aren't like honey bees: they don't swarm as such, and they keep themselves to themselves, making small underground nests. But they pollinate all our flowers just the same.

And one of the commonest species has a scientific name of bombus hortensis, which is latin for "garden boomer" (because of the loud hum it makes when it flies). I think that's great.

But there is a sad thing about bumblebees. Simply, they don't belong in the modern world and are in catastrophic decline. And it's always the way with these things. You take them for granted as always being around until one day you realise it's an awful long time since you last saw one.

There are many other such cases. All of these animals were very very common when I was a child, but ask yourself when you last saw one....
Water voles (near every canal or pond)
House sparrows (remember that familiar "chirrup" sound whenever you went outside?)
Skylarks
Wall butterflies
Small Heath Butterflies.













Gone now.

Bastard!

Bloody Greil Marcus in the bloody Guardian, writing about Like a Rolling Stone. Again. I'd hoped he was dead.

The really annoying thing about this, I was going to write something along very similar lines for the blog.

Anyway, younger readers should know: Greil Marcus articles should carry a health warning. Remember, this is the man who thought Self Portrait was "shit." On the other hand, I am the man who thinks Mystery Train (the book, not the song) is shite.

Born under a bad sign

Friday the 13th it be.

I can't remember the last time it was Friday the 13th. Now I have to admit that I'm currently more superstitious than a medieval beggar who hasn't got the plague yet.

Now why should it be that I haven't noticed Friday the 13th for as long as I can remember? The answer is simple. It's because whenever I asked myself what or who I was, computers always came into the recipe somewhere. And in the world of computing everyday is Friday the 13th.

Now that I've externalised my involvement in computers I am free to be superstitious again like the rest of the modern-dressing population.

Sometimes before I leave for work I watch the news because of its handy clock in the corner of the screen. So far as I can see that is the only actual use for television.

However, whenever I see the news I find myself irritated by the bi-polar nature of our society; the disparity between what we say and what we do as a society. It seems that nobody practices what they preach.

In terms of our laws and government and everything else like that we are so slack-arsed and namby-pamby sometimes that it makes me wince. And yet the most timid member of society behaves with a ruthless, voracious selfishness and rudeness that beggars belief.

This morning the Scooters-to-work scheme was featured. Apparently, the Employment Department and its sub-contractors are having great success in getting kids to go to work by giving them scooters. How fucking gay-hippy is that? What should be happening is that the selfish work-shy be-hooded wankers should be booted up the arse for NOT going to work.

And on top of that, the combination of an under-25 with a scooter constitutes one of the most dangerous and unpredictable animals to ever wander along the Queen's highway.

Giving these children scooters is irresponsible. And a baseball cap plus hood is no sort of protection when they have such terrible road accidents while stoned out of their faces on the way to work. They'll be having accidents all over the place: sliding under buses; going through garden walls at high speed; somersaulting through plate-glass shop windows. Reaper fodder! Flowers under the blade of the ploughshare! Oh, the humanity!

Actually, looking at the real benefits, I'm all for it.

Food Controversy Rocks Observer Blog

with_lemon_and_garlic

It's always interesting to see the things people get het up about over at the Observer Blog. This time it's to do with food, and one of those Sunday supplement lists. Most people either turn the page and ignore it or simply enjoy it on its own terms. Others get a bit hot under the collar that anybody would dare to talk about gastronomy while there's even one hungry child in the world.

There's that scene in one of the Woody Allen movies - can't ever enjoy himself if there's even one person unhappy in the world. Was it Anne Hall (Anhedonia) or Stardust Memories?

Or, as Bruce Springsteen once said, "Nobody wins unless everybody wins."

I enjoy a bit of food myself. I find that I regularly get hungry, no matter what day it is, and I end up eating something. Rather than eat grey mush out of a tin cup with a broken spoon, I tend to try to make something enjoyable and vaguely good for me.

Last night, for example, I made a tortilla with onions, pepper, mushrooms, and new potatoes - 4 eggs, but I only ate a quarter, so 1 egg.

But the people on the Observer Blog who criticise and carp on about starving people? Well, to me, they're more crass and offensive than the actual list itself could ever hope to be. First of all, yeah, right-on, but if you hate the Sunday Supplement middle-classness of it all, what are you doing reading the Observer in the first place? Frankly, I don't see many Snottingham working class types reading papers like the Guardian and Observer. Your broadsheet customer is, on the whole, middle-class by default, even if they did read one chapter of Das Kapital at University and think "we're all working class really."

The guy who posted "Share a biscuit with an Ethiopian child" 67 times must be great fun to know. I love people who go round the internet looking to pick fights.

As for the gastronomy, I can take or leave your 238-course meal for 16 quid, or whatever it was. I've had multi-course meals on occasions in France, and I always stop enjoying the food after I've stuffed myself on h'ors d'oevres, which is always the best bit.

But - and here's the point - much of the list provided by the Observer and contributors to the Blog is all about local food, local produce. The best food is fresh food, and the only way to get fresh food is not to be down Tesco when it opens (it never closes, does it?) to get food that has trundled up and down motorways for several days. It's to be there, on the ground, in the locality.

As far as I'm concerned, and I think Simon will agree, the future lies in local produce. It has a lower impact on the environment and is better for us all - including that biscuitless Ethiopian kid - in the long term. So, if you think about it, it is kinda politically correct to sing the praises of local food. Sure, you have to travel to get there to enjoy it, but people do travel don't they? Sometimes the most right-on sandal wearing vegetarian socialist types travel the furthest.

But even if you don't travel, you can take from such lists the strong message that local is best, and apply it to your own life, in as many ways as you can. That way, everybody does win.

May 12, 2005

Does not compute

Hmm. So, according to Sky News : Britain Is In For A Scorcher This Summer. Which is all over the airwaves as well this morning. They say,
The Met Office says average temperatures in June, July and August will be unusually high

And of course el governmente spokesperson is warning old people to stay in the fridge.

But over at The BBC Weather Centre web site, I find the following (quoted in full from the end of the article):
Summer 2005 - Latest Update May 2005
The Met Office's Hadley Centre produces global experimental seasonal forecasts for precipitation and temperature, to get a picture of weather in the coming months. The forecast for this summer (June, July and August) favours a trend towards average to above average temperatures in Scotland and southwestern parts of England. For rest of the UK however, temperatures look to be around average.

For southwestern parts of the UK below average rainfall may be experienced, whereas elsewhere rainfall amounts are likely to be around average. These figures however, are the predicted general trends for the summer as a whole and what we must remember are the individual regional and temporal events which characterise our true British summer.

So which is it, Met Office? Scorcher, or "averagely average, depending on where you live"?

Anyway, what a load of crock. They can't predict the weather 5 days ahead, so why should we believe them predicting 3 months ahead? Stuff and nonsense, I tell ye. My prediction? Over time, everything will tend to be average. Which is why I so often say, "Average," when people ask how I am.

My other prediction: Everton will be relegated next year.

Sacré Bleu! Domage!

Non! It is raining in the Vendée today and tomorrow.

The little animations on meteo.fr for tomorrow show clouds moving across the face of the sun and then rain coming down, over and over again. Further south in Poitou Charentes, there is thunder and lightning, it's a little bit frightening.

The state of weather animation in France is clearly very advanced. Though I think they should add small buildings and people, like in Sim City. Then they could show them all running around panicking during the severest thunder storms. They could show them being washed away in floods, and dragged out to sea on rip tides.

May 11, 2005

Watch out you'll set your pants alight!

Tiger tiger burning bright?

Not that I am in any way qualified to talk about Apple computers, so these comments are a bit Def...

But my son has upgraded to Tiger. He loves it! Dashboard, widgets etc etc etc. He thinks its the dog's.

Rob's already given these features a resounding "But why", as you know. And I must admit that my own layman's impression from seeing it for 5 minutes was, "why are they trying to put Windows 98 Active Destop on OS X?"

Active Desktop was, and forever shall be, witches piss. Send it back into the 18-year-old coke-snorting geek internet-wanker no-lifer's imagination that it came from.

Who wants to live forever?

Sometimes things happen that make you understand why Bubby Lord Beelzebub kindly chose to make us mortal.

My wife has an amazing ability to loose my sunglasses. When I say loose, it would be more accurate to say "vaporise them miraculously when nobody is around, such that they are never seen again in the eternity of time hence."

It usually happens after she has driven my car. I keep my sunglasses in my car because the sun visor has broken off (the kids did that). So when it's sunny I actually NEED the sunglasses to drive. So I try to hide them if I know she'll be using my car.

My car's been broken for a week so I'd taken the sunglasses out and kept them in the other car, to stop the garage loosing them (like they did when I razed that bus shelter).

Anyway the car came back yesterday. I took my sunglasses out of the other car and FOOLISHLY took them into the house and placed them on the fireplace, with a view to putting them back in my car this morning.

Hah hah hah hah! Foolish mortals never learn! In spite of the sunglasses still being there when I went to bed last night, I forgot that my wife was on an early shift today, so this morning when I got up at 6.30 am it was too late. She had vaporised them.

Add to that, that my daughter forgot to feed all her pets this morning, so I had to do it at the last minute.

And the bus, dustbin lorry, and ambulance that I got stuck behind on the way to work.

And you realise that immortality would be really fucking irritating.

A cabbage into town

Simon's mention of misheard lyrics, vis a vis Gary Glitter (see below) put me in mind of my favourite misheard lyric, which is from Bob Dylan's "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" (on Blood on the Tracks): "Rosemary combed her hair and took a cabbage into town."

Bob Dylan has been in the air lately. I blame The Observer blog, for featuring a link to an "hilarious" flash animation about Robert Kilroy Silk, featuring a full rendition of "Mr Tangerine Man." Which is funny, until you realise that the spoof is as long as the original.

And it made me think about the original and want it really bad so that it hurt not to have it. Why didn't I have it? Long story.

Many months ago, I heard on the radio part of "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," and because it's something I think about a lot at the moment, I noticed how clean and clear the recording was. I've previously expressed the opinion that record production has been going steadily downhill since around 1975, and I'm entirely serious about that. Sinatra's Capitol recordings from the 50s, the Beatles in the 60s, and Bob Dylan's output (up to Desire) all sound far better than anything recorded since.

You might think, how could you go wrong recording something as simple as an acoustic guitar? But I can think of any number of records with shitty-sounding acoustics, and the quality of the Dylan stuff is extraordinary; his vocals have a stunning clarity to them as well.

So it was hearing the spoof Mr Tangerine Man that made me remember that, and I was filled with a need to get something. Why didn't I have it?

Well, I did. I had it all, everything by Dylan up to and including World Gone Wrong and something else he put out in the mid-90s. The term Played To Death was invented for me, and the way I play records. I had a whole Dylan collection and I'd played it to death, and I just didn't listen anymore. And I just do not keep things that I don't use/play, so I sold the whole lot at various car boot sales. Didn't even keep Biograph, the first box set they put out, which makes me as dumb as a day-old puppy, because I just went and purchyased it all over again.

I considered the original Greatest Hits (the one that had things up to Blonde on Blonde on it), and The Essential Dylan and others, but then I remembered that Biograph has "Mr Tambourine Man" on it - and, crucially, "Up To Me," which is one of his legendary unreleased songs.

He uses a great line on the Live at Budokan set: "Here is an unrecorded song... See if you can guess which one it is."

If Played To Death was invented for me, then Perverse and Mysterious was invented for Bob. So much is known. If it's hard to get across to the non-Dylan fan why you love his music, it's perhaps easier to explain if you can point out things like "Up To Me."

A perfect recording, this song (featuring just Dylan, his guitar and harpmonica, and a bass) rings out clear and strong from the opening line:
Everything went from bad to worse, money never changed a thing...

It dates from 1974, and the Blood on the Tracks sessions. I don't know whether it's from the first, aborted sessions (see The Bootleg Series for some of those recordings), but it does sound like it belongs on Blood on the Tracks.

Unlike most artists, Dylan had not just one, but two, golden periods. His early rock trilogy from '65 and '66, plus The Basement Tapes would sit in anyone's CV and make them one of the greats; the fact that he went on to do Blood on the Tracks and Desire almost a decade later makes him incredible; for my money you can add Planet Waves and even Street Legal (badly produced as it is) to the fold. In fact, for my money you can add Slow Train Coming too, but that's probably beyond the pale for most.

Blood on the Tracks is superb, but when you hear "Up to Me," you have to ask yourself just how fucking good it would have been with that on it. Because this isn't an out-take, or an aborted attempt. It's fully realised song, with some of the best verses he ever wrote. Like this one, that I bored Andrew with yesterday:
The only decent thing I did when I worked as a postal clerk
Was to haul your picture down off the wall near the cage where I used to work
Was I a fool or not to protect your real identity?
You looked a little burned out, my friend
I thought it might be up to me

But he didn't put it on the record: he left it off, and it was included as a bonus on Biograph. Not an isolated case, either, because Biograph is full of really quite wonderful - but unreleased - tracks from all periods of his career - like "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" (on which his voice sounds incredible) and "I'll Keep it With Mine."

(I can think of a couple of reasons he might have decided not to release it. He writes in Chronicles, his memoirs, about the recording of "Series of Dreams," another excellent song he left off Oh Mercy. Basically, he gets too close to things and if they don't match his original vision, he loses interest and moves on, forgetting all about them. The other thing is that the last verse is a little bit lame; possibly a little too obviously personal, too, and the sort of thing that might grate on you. But Bob: the previous verse would have made a great last verse, so edit it out, man.)

So, anyway, that's what I've been listening to in the car. It feels weird to be enjoying it again after so many years without it, but one of life's unexpected pleasures, I suppose.