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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

September 30, 2005

Call Centre Staff Names

You thought I was going to complain about how foreign call centres only employ people named Rose or James didn't you?

Quite the opposite. I just spoke to a call centre in Romania and the guy's name was Trajan. This opens two thrilling possibilities: either they use their real names or they are operating on codenames based on a theme (in this case Roman Emperors).

I like this idea. Wonder if there's a Caligula?

But maybe other Call Centres should adopt this idea of themes; famous guitarists; biblical characters; politicians; shakespearean characters, and so on.

So, can anyone think of any exciting possibilities?

Mulva? Gipple?

I've been watching Season 4 of Seinfeld on DVD. Maybe not quite as funny as Season 3, but it's hard to say. There are still a fair share of classic episodes, like the Handicapped Space, and the one where everyone thinks George and Jerry are a gay couple... not that there's anything wrong with that.

The one I watched last night was the one in which he's dating a woman, but he doesn't know her name. Absolutely fucking brilliant. Everybody must have been in the situation at least once, of being on quite friendly terms with someone and then realising you don't know what to call them.

Instead of asking, "What's your name, by the way?" Seinfeld tries to fish for it, telling of the names he was called at school. She tells him that, of course, the kids at her school were merciless, because of her name rhyming with "a part of the female anatomy."

The look on his face after she said that was genius. So he tries all these different names on her, the joy of which is that they aren't remotely close to being names. When she finally twigs that he doesn't know, she challenges him, at which point he says, "Mulva?" As she's storming out, he calls after her: "Gipple?"

I tell you this because I know a lot of people won't have seen Seinfeld in the UK, buried as it was in the late-night BBC2 graveyard. The DVDs are definitely worth a look, if only to marvel at Elaine's clothes.

Only after she's left does the penny drop for him, and he shouts out of the window: "Dolores!"

Which is even funnier, because it doesn't really rhyme with anything. Apparently, the line was supplied by an audience member: in other words, they hadn't even thought of the payoff. Which is a bit like the story of Lennon writing "A Day in the Life" and having the line, "Now they know how many holes it takes to..." without knowing the end of it, "...the Albert Hall," which was supplied by someone else (Mal Evans? can't remember).

Elizabeth I

I watched a docudrama or infosoap or whatever they call them last night about Elizabeth I. On Channel 4.

Starring Helen Mirren, who's getting to be a bit of an old bird now, but nevertheless an established part of British theatre. Plus one or two other famous people. Obviously none of them took their pants off.

Big negative points for the ultra-cheesy speech before the battle with the armada; "I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the stomach and heart of a king."

My gripe is not with the fact that they did it at all, because that speech was perhaps her greatest hit and stayed at number one for almost as long as Bohemian Rhapsody, so it was a necessary inclusion in the drama.

But just the build up to it - that it wasn't her idea but was put in her head by the Earl of Leicester while they were all loved up. Elizabeth, by all accounts, was well keen when it came to sharpness of intellect and quite capable of writing such a speech off her own back.

Very positive points for showing a wincingly realistic beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots (you see the blade of the axe only go half way through her neck, and watch her choking and moaning until the second blow falls - excellent CGI and true to fact as well).

Also worthy of mention was the graphic portrayal of people being hung, drawn and quartered. Once again, authentic and bad enough to make you go "uurrrgh!" - especially seeing them having their intestines wound out of their abdomen while they are still conscious and in extreme pain.

Imagine watching your own guts being burned beside you. Makes beheading seem quite urbane.

"There's nothing to worry about if you've done nothing wrong."

When you hear those weasel words from apologists for identity cards and draconian anti-terror laws, just remind them, gently (or with a fist to the throat, if you prefer) of the story of Walter Wolfgang, which we talked about yesterday.

For doing nothing more than shouting, "Nonsense" at some here-today-gone-tomorrow Labour empty suit, this man was not only forcibly ejected from the conference hall, which was bad enough, but also detained by the Police under the anti-terror laws, and refused re-entry to the hall under those same laws

So, in case it wasn't clear enough for the morons who support identity cards: daring to shout at a politician (let alone throwing eggs or manure, which is what they deserve) gets you branded as a "terrorist." As Simon Hoggart pointed out on yesterday's Guardian, people weren't even allowed to take sweeties into the conference hall, lest they choose to throw them at the "Four legs good, two legs better" piggies on the top table.

As we know, you're also a terrorist if you complain in a shop, at an airport, or in the bank. Not only will there often be hired thugs to bully you, but there will always be some shitbird public official who will treat you as a criminal and demand to see your papers - for no other reason than that the law says you have to carry them. Some skinny little individual with a Hitler moustache in the Post Office, for example, will demand them as a proof of identity for something you ordered from Amazon. You might not think that's so bad, but then they'll ask to see them before they'll let you into the Congestion Charge Zone, and when they stop you for having one headlight, and where will it end?

There's an over-used quotation about this sort of thing. "First they came for the Jews, and I said nothing." And so forth. But how appropriate it is here, and how stunningly inept of them to pick on a Holocaust survivor as one of their earliest, and most public, victims.

The only saving grace about corruption is that the corrupt are often inept. They have too much power, so they don't have to be clever about wielding it. So this is the first sign that all those promises about not abusing their anti-terror powers were so much hot air.

Don't let them get away with it.

September 29, 2005

See if this is not familiar to you:

From The Onion: Guy In Philosophy Class Needs To Shut The Fuck Up:
'I have no idea what Plato's ideal reality is, but I bet it doesn't include know-it-all little shits.'

Wald added: 'If he uses the word 'dialectical' one more time, I'm going to shove my copy of The Republic down his throat.'

It gives me chills. Like being back in my MA Critical Theory class. O yeah.

Dark Magic

This was originally an add on to my post about stressful jobs, but it got a bit too long for a PS, and then Rob mentioned that I suffer from moon-madness when it comes to computers, so it feels quite topical now...

I suppose I should also add one that's prolific in high-tech work. Dark Magic. Computing, like science, used to be clear cut. It had rules, and so long as you followed the prescribed path the results would be predictable. And just as in science there was a gradual dawning that the picture wasn't quite complete, and that the more you looked the more you realised the enormity of what it was that was missing, so it is in computing.

Scientists now think that as much as 80% of all-the-stuff-that-there-is is actually missing. So to contain it and make it sound slightly less frightening to non-boffins they call it "dark matter" and "dark energy".

The computing equivalent is called Dark Magic. Here's how you can infer its existance.

You follow the installation instructions meticulously and it doesn't work. Repeat with the same result. You check the Internet to discover that 254 other people have had an identical problem and that if you want to know how to fix it you have to pay a $30 subscription fee. After subscribing you discover that they fixed it by using different software altogether.

So you phone the techies at the manufacturer and after having checked that you've plugged it in, they tell you it's a conflict with your media-player software.

You remove the media player software and that seems to work. Until you reboot the computer. Or, rather, you discover that the OS won't load because a library is missing named mplayer.lib

And your directors are looking over your shoulder, asking how many more people you need to get it fixed immediately because the business is loosing money. And you are starting to work up a sweat.

So you reinstall, exactly as you did in step one. And it all works. With no troubleshooting or tweaking...

(??????? Eh?) ...So what changed?

Nothing. Just the Dark Magic that pervades all computer hardware and software silently shifted somewhere else like a swan on the lake that goes gliding by.

Venus and Mars

I tried to get some people at my company interested in blogging a while ago. A great way to give information to our customers on product availability, information about "known issues" (i.e. shoddy products that don't work properly), compatibility (ditto), carefully selected case studies etc.

One of the great ironies about working for a technology-based company is that you'll find more technophobes per square metre than on the Clapham Omnibus. Simon, who is the person I know who has the most in-depth and extensive knowledge of computers, is also the person I know who hates them the most. There's a clue for you, if you care to think about it.

Anyway, the short version is that nobody got involved, so the whole company blog thing never took off. And it's one more thing I'm associated with that sullies my good name.

But it's not the end of the world. And nor is the fact that The Observer Blog, that bold mainstream newspaper experiment with blogging, is to be mothballed. The Guardian still has a fair share of blogs, but none of them are quite as much fun, nor give quite as much insight, as The Observer one did.

But, you know, the Beatles may have split up, but we can still have Wings.

I'm not a great newspaper reader. I don't like the black finger thing, and I don't really have the time. I used to buy the Guardian religiously, but then realised I could buy the Radio Times and get the telly listings for the whole week. Sunday newspapers are a different beast. Much as I'd love that "New York Sunday Morning" kind of lifestyle, where you crawl from bed, grab the paper, make a bacon sarnie and a cuppa, and sit in bed reading the newspaper looking fabulous in your Boden pyjamas, I've never had it. My youngest wakes at the crack of dawn, regardless of the day of the week. And she wants her Weetabix and her CBeebies, and after that, well, I've got the album to finish.

That said, we'll sometimes walk round my sister's on a Sunday afternoon, and I'll read her paper, if she has one. Or one that's a week old, if it's all she has.

In fact, I'm more interested in the newspaper production process than I am in the newspaper content. It's like being more interested in cooking food than in eating it; or, to ride another hobby horse, wanting to know more about how a record is produced than about the personal life of the artist concerned. I'll happily read those long articles in Sound on Sound about how some crappy Sting record was recorded - though I'd never in a million years buy the album.

So I enjoyed the Observer Blog, and I'll miss it, and the generally cheery discussions that went on there; there were hardly any flame wars, and only the occasional, "Share a biscuit with an Ethiopian Child," which is pretty unusual for something so public, with such a large organisation behind it. But, just as most of the best Beatles songs, post 1966, came from Paul McCartney, most of what made the Observer Blog so enjoyable was down to the person who did most of the work: Rafael Behr.

So we'll still have Wings, is what I'm saying, and we've got C-Moon and Silly Love Songs to look forward to, and Mull of Kintyre 8 weeks at number one.

Stressful jobs

Rob's made a comment elsewhere in relation to "to do" lists and getting jobs done.

It's a topic I've thought about quite a lot.

I imagine that I'm no different to everybody else in that I frequently find myself confronted with tasks that, frankly, I'd rather not have. It's not because I'm lazy: nothing gives me more discomfort than thumb twiddling. I think it's more to do with control and knowledge.

I often wake up thinking that I wish I could go back to sleep rather than have to go to work. At other times I might put things off and do something else instead.

The reason why I was thinking about it is that it struck me as odd that certain tasks can be stressful.

I mean, either you can do them , in which case "no problem", or you can't. But I suppose that probably simplifies things too much. Quite often we get pushed out into the unknown and it's very difficult to express concerns to an employer because of the fear that you'll get shown the door and someone who doesn't express concerns will get your desk.

It usually helps to break things down into smaller steps and handle things one bit at a time, otherwise tasks can seem amorphous and unwieldy.

So here's a list of some of the things that can make working stressful for me:

1) Uncertainty - the classic one of being given a broad strategic task rather than a tactical one. "we want you to make us more successful..." "More successful at what?" "Well, that's up to you, but we'll let you know when you get there."

2) Mismanaged Expectations - you've completed a computer installation for a customer, for example, and they pipe up "so where do I add new email addresses to the server?" What? "That's what a server does isn't it? That's what I paid you for."

3) Involving Other People - they've got their own agendas and deadlines, so you may get let down. Or, sometimes people can be obstructive because their own empire and its boundaries take precedence. Indeed, knowing who can and who will do something for you is a key skill.

4) Promotion (or demotion) to your Level of incompetence. "So where are we with IRIX mainframe clustering across continents over laser technology?" But when you think about it, the real problem here is time. If you have enough time then you can learn what you need to know. Not knowing how is a symptom of a problematic task; not the cause.

5) The pointless Things - "you can't go home until it is fixed." There's a whole psychology thing whereby if you aren't manning the pump, you're deemed to be disloyal, even when there are already too many of you to physically help, or if you don't have anything helpful to contribute. It's about being seen to be there. The classic fallacy that one more shoulder against the wall is all that's needed to overcome a problem.

Oh yeah; and sharing hotel rooms.

By way of a slight return, another biggy has to be staying away from home. I'm not as young as I was, and regardless of the logic and explanations it never goes down well with your partner, who gets lumbered with all the housework and the kids, while you (in their imagination) are swanning off to some luxurious hotel where you don't even have to move a hand to wipe your own arse.

Custom Shop iPods*

Taking a leaf out of the Fender book Apple Computer announced yesterday that they had released a series of "pre-distressed" iPods, for customers who want their 'Pods to have that "lived-in" look.

Apple VP in charge of marketing, Shill Philler, said that "in response to customer demand" they had released a series of iPod Nanos in various states of disrepair. "Some customers want them to look totally shagged ," added Philler, "whereas others merely want a hint of scratching and slight wear and tear."

The Fender musical instrument company has for some years been selling "distressed" guitars from their custom shop. These range in appearance from "New Old Stock" - meaning it shows signs of age but has never been played - through to "Relic" - meaning the guitar has scratched and chipped paint, a worn fingerboard, and oxidised hardware. in the middle sits the "Closet Classic", which looks as if it is very old, but has been lovingly stored in a cupboard for many years.

There is undoubted caché attached to owning an iPod Nano that is obviously older than those owned by everybody else. Apple warned, however, that the customising took time to do properly, so that there would be a price premium and constrained supply of scratched, dented, and cracked iPod Nanos. "First come, first served," said Philler.


*Note to Apple lawyers: fuck off.

Customer Service is our Watchword

The story of the 2,000 Year Old Heckler makes me angrier than almost anything I've heard on the news recently. Because it's a symptom, isn't it, of the disease that affects our political culture, and more:
Walter Wolfgang, of London, was ejected after shouting 'nonsense' as the foreign secretary defended Iraq policy.
Party chairman Ian McCartney later apologised to Mr Wolfgang, calling the manner of his removal 'inappropriate'.(emphasis added)

Older readers will remember that, not long ago, I suffered the indignity of being treated like cattle at Luton Airport, as two passport control officers slowly worked through about 6 planeloads of passengers' passports, glancing (cursorily) at each one, forcing people with children and hand luggage to stand for over an hour in a cramped arrivals hall.

That night, the woman standing behind me completely lost it and started shouting - and she wasn't the only one. Police were called, and they joined the many other airport staff who were standing around enjoying the spectacle of tired and angry people being forced to wait. The police stood there with their "riot" expressions on; you know, looking as mean and angry as possible while the people who pay their taxes to pay their wages were being herded slowly through. It didn't help that nobody was queuing, that it was every man for himself, so that those of us with young kids were being squished and pushed around from all angles; but neither did it help that the police who are there to serve us were looking at us like criminals.

Anyway, the woman who was heckling from behind me was accosted by a fat not-laughing policeman as soon as she finally got through. I didn't wait to hear what the tosser said, because it was near midnight and the kids and we were tired. But the first thing he said was, "RIGHT..." as he stood in front of her, arms folded, and a Ray Winstone Angry Face on him.

Fuck off, I thought. Fuck off you shitfaced jobsworth no-empathy bastard, fuck off and die.

But I didn't say anything, oh no. As Bruce Springsteen once sang, "You end up like a dog that's been beat too much, spend half your life just covering up."

A few years ago, when our oldest was just a baby, we were once stuck in the queue at the Channel Tunnel, waiting to board. And were in a moving queue of cars to get on the next crossing. And this had never happened to me (before or since), but as we reached the front of the queue (where the traffic light is), an official stepped in front of us and stopped us, waving some motorcyclists through who had arrived a long time after we had.

We'd already been waiting quite a while, and the baby was in the back of the car getting restless, and, well, I was absolutely livid.

I find the whole queuing-to-get-on very stressful. It fills me with anxiety, and I hate being behind faffers. You know, people at the queue to check-in, who arrive at the front of the queue and appear not to have anything ready. No booking reference, no credit cards, no passports. You see them arseing around in their cars looking for things, and then asking lots of questions. "We'll be going on a train will we? And it will be under the sea will it? And is it a steam train, a diesel, or electric? How does the electricity get under the sea?"

And so on. So I get stressed by that. And I get stressed by the Mr Casuals. The ones who get out of their cars and wander around in their chinos and then are not in their cars when the queue starts to move, so that you have to wait for them to get slowly in, fumble with their seatbelt, look for their keys, start the engine find the right gear, etc. Which is why - when you've been behind Mr Casual, and you finally get to the front of the queue, and you see him waved through and then you get stopped by the guy in the reflective coat - which is why you get angry.

So I lost the plot, on this occasion, and got angry, and shouted something at him. Like what the fuck is going on? Etc. And immediately regretted it, because the tosser decided to punish me for getting angry. He shouted at me to get in my car and got on his radio and was trying to get me chucked off. It was obviously touch and go - we could have been removed and banned, and the whole holiday would be ruined, and it would be my fault.

We're not a nation of complainers, are we? Your Watchdog programmes on the telly encourage you to stand up for your rights and complain when the service or the treatment is bad; and we have laws to protect our rights as consumers. But when it comes down to it, if you send your meal back in a restaurant, you might as well get up and leave, because the kitchen staff will spit in your food.

And if you make a fuss in any public place, you will be punished. The delay you've been complaining about will be made worse. Your humiliation will be compounded.

I lost it in the Doctors surgery once. We were getting married, and we needed some signature from a doctor for some reason. I can't remember if this was because we were getting married in France, or if everyone has to do it. So we had an early appointment to see some doctor - it was 9:15, so you'd think 2nd or third appointment of the day? We were kept waiting till 10:35. Again, I lost it. "How can you be running an hour and a half late after fifteen minutes?" Words to that effect.

Oh, the looks.

I appreciate that the staff in these situations must sometimes fear for their lives and safety. Angry customers are scary, I'm sure. But then all the focus is on how wrong it is to be angry, and there is never any focus on what caused the anger in the first place. Sometimes anger is the only appropriate response.

So when the foreign secretary is up on the podium uttering a load of cant and bilge about the Iraq situation, a cry of "Nonsense!" seems polite in the circumstances.

And shouldn't our political leaders be occasionally confronted with people who disagree with them, don't believe them, who think they're doing a pretty shoddy job? But express dissent and two burly security guards with Ray Winstone Angry Faces come and forcibly eject you from the hall.

The manner of his removal was inappropriate, was it? How about the fact of his removal being deeply wrong? How about it being a sign of dishonestly and corruption, to silence dissenters like that for no other reason than that it might not look good on the 6 o' clock news to have a disagreeable voice on the soundtrack?

Well, too fucking late, and too fucking bad.

September 28, 2005

More home sickness

I've been watching a lot of space footage from NASA recently. Pure nostalgia on my part and a hankering for a time when I was younger.

That got me to thinking about other things in a similar vein and I got round to thinking about an aircraft called the Avro Vulcan.

Unless you've seen one it's difficult to imagine how "against nature" they look. Something like I imagine a large flying saucer to be. It just goes against experience to see something that large in the sky.

When I say "large" it's that huge delta wing shape that does it.

As a child I spent a lot of time in the Welland Valley in the Rutland/Northamptonshire area. It's one of those places that has become rose-tinted in my memory. I don't remember an unhappy moment there. It was one of my dad's favourite fishing spots too.

Sunny Summer Sundays (soz about the alliteration) - there was the river, and the fields, and a disused railway line (of course... every countryside valley in England has a disused railway line). There were always lots of butterflies: the first time I ever saw an Essex Skipper was on a lane round there. That was before they started to expand their range North-westward.

The whole place had an other worldly feel about it. It also had the unfeasibly long viaduct at the end of the valley. Harringworth viaduct I think it's called. Surreal to stand underneath it.

And then there was the quarry on the South East side of the valley. It had an enormous crane that you could see from miles away. One day we walked up there and took a look. It was sunday so the quarry was quiet. We went up to one of the cranes. It was named SUNDEW. The bucket was as big as a small house. The bit where the driver sat was four stories high. And the jib must've been 500 feet long. It gave me vertigo just looking up at it.

Apparently it was built by a company called Ransom & Rapier who made these dragline excavators. It might have been the largest in the world at the time.

And yes, those are steps up the side, just in front of that black wheel.

But the main thing I remember there were the Vulcans. They used to be loud and fly low. They'd make you jump. They were fast you see: this huge shape would shoot over your head followed by an almighty roar.

And I even saw one do a loop-the-loop once. I thought it was going to crash, but it didn't. It just kept on going. And I just stood there thinking "wow!"


** As part of my PhD research, I read a lot of Michel Serres. Everyone has a favourite French intellectual/polymath, and he is mine. You can get a lot of PhD mileage out of a few pages of Michel Serres. He's the New Blue Car of Academia.

Simon mentions below that he liked Bob Dylan's comments about being a "song and dance man." It's a good description of Dylan, maybe, apart from the bit about dancing, which seems to have been more Allen Ginsberg's bag.

Michel Serres wrote a book called The Troubadour of Knowledge. Here's a bit from the publisher's blurb:
Like a swimmer who plunges into the river's current to reach the opposite bank, the person who wishes to learn must risk a voyage from the familiar to the strange. True education, Serres writes, takes place in the fluid middle of this crossing. To be educated is to become a harlequin, a crossbreed, a hybrid of our origins--like a newborn child, complexly produced as a mixture of maternal and paternal genes, yet an independent existence, separated from the familiar and determined.

He likes the image of the Harlequin, because of the costume, which is either a kind of chequerboard pattern or of many colours.

. Dylan, as we saw in the documentary, was a sponge, absorbing influences and techniques rapidly, and then spitting them out in an extraordinary hybrid form that was something entirely knew. In this, I think, he is the very embodiment of Serres' Harlequin (and of course, he famously wore whiteface makeup on the Rolling Thunder Review, making himself seem even more Harlequin-like).

Harlequin can also be pictured as the Fool from the Tarot deck, dancing too close to the edge of the cliff, or as the Joker in the playing cards. "When the Jester sang for the King and Queen," sang Don McLean in American Pie, and many people think that "the Jester" refers to Bob Dylan.

Harlequin is a magical figure, and I think he lives among us in the body of Bob Dylan. But the lesson for us all is that we shouldn't be afraid to let go of familiar things in order to learn (and become) something new. "Always in the process of becoming," as Bob said. Wonder if he's read any Serres?

**The Harlequin image comes from Qosmiq For the People

With Thanks to Steve Jobs - an explanation

I wouldn't have been clear to us here in the UK, where the documentary was on the BBC, but in the Boo-nited States of America (see what I'm doing there with the boos?), the PBS presentation was underwritten by Apple. Thanks to The Unofficial Apple Weblog for the info.

Bob and Bob

Just read Bob's intro to Bob.

I watched the program last night. I nearly missed it as I'd expected the second part to be on next week, rather than the night after the first. But I guess none of us have the right sort of attention span for that long, and we move much too fast now to wait a week to find out how he died.

Anyway. I have to say I really enjoyed it. Brought back lots of memories because I'd forgotten just how many songs of his I've heard.

I indeed started with the first greatest hits combo, and I believe that is the only one I have in CD format. You see my record buying days were in the days of vinyl. I think I must have had at least three Dylan albums. I had Blonde on blonde, and, I think, Live at Budokan.

But you know what? I got into it because all the girls I knew were way into Dylan.

I really felt for the guy with all the booing thing. Was it really like that? Or is this a bit of Scorcese legend spinning? I just thought how stupid all those folkies sounded. Judas? As Dylan himself said, "I don't believe you." And all the stoopid journo questions too.

And those tracks with Mike Bloomfield! Feck, I had my guitar out and was bluesing along. I loved it.

Anyone who thinks he couldn't sing is just wrong. He could and did reach all the notes. I'd like to see a modern singer sound like him with their bag of pitch-fixing tricks.

My all time faves are It's all Over Now, Baby Blue and Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.

Just disappointed that a lot of my CDs are still boxed in the garage, pending the house move that never was.

Immaculate consumption

I'm not normally in favour of the modern world and how everything is so... virtual. However, my new old blue car is making me think twice.

Yesterday I was dismayed by the fact that the fuel gauge went from a quarter full to orange lights and beeping in the space of my 15 mile journey home.

I had to make an emergency detour to "fill up". £52 worth! That's the most I've ever spent in one go on fuel.

This morning was different though. I made the entire journey without the fuel gauge moving at all. In fact I started out with the car telling me that I had 351 miles of fuel left, and by the time I got to work it had miraculously increased to 362 miles worth.

Aren't computer controlled cars great!

September 27, 2005

Ultimate Bob Compo

A super thread going on over at the Guardian Culture Vulture blog, with 240+ comments from people all around the world on the No Direction Home thing. Fantastic that so much interest can be generated by a TV programme, however flawed, with such passionate opinions on display.

Now, a lot of you have written to ask, what's the best intro the Dylan? There are probably more than 240 opinions on this subject, but here's my two pence.

To begin with, I don't think you can do better than the original "Greatest Hits," which is the single album that I started with myself. Side 1, as was, is a bunch of acoustic stuff; side 2 is the '65-'66 electric stuff, including essentials like "I Want You," "Like a Rolling Stone," and "Just Like a Woman."

If that doesn't convert you or make you want to hear more, give up. Simple as that.

Now if you came to me and said, Rob, do me a CD compo of what you consider to be the best of the Dylan, what would be on it? Well, I'm a contrarian, so I like to go for slightly off-beat stuff. Assuming you will at least buy "Greatest Hits," here's what I would add:

  • Don't Think Twice, It's All Right - because it's a lovely song with some great finger picking guitar (as a bonus, add the reggae version from Live at Budokan, because there's no better illustration of how Dylan deconstructs his myth in concert)

  • All I Really Want to Do - because it's a great example of the fun he put into his early acoustic works - again, the Budokan version is worth having

  • Love Minus Zero/No Limit - because it's another lovely song, - the Budokan version has a nice (I think it's a) flute motif going on, too

  • Desolation Row - a fine example of Long Dylan, with his wonderful, resonant voice, and beautiful imagery. You can let images like "Cinderella, sweeping up, on Desolation Row" wash over you for the pleasure of it. Or you can listen more closely at the way people are being sent into and out of Desolation Row, and try to work out who belongs in, who is out, and why, and which is best?

  • Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again - one of the quintessential tracks from Blonde on Blonde, packed with imagery, studded with humour. Typical Dylan humour: the senator comes down, handing out free tickets to his son's wedding, and - just his luck - Bob is caught gatecrashing without a ticket. Superb. And the organ on it is brill. Either that, or Absolutely Sweet Marie

  • To Be Alone With You - from Nashville Skyline, if only because of the cool way it begins. "Is it Rolling Bob?"

  • All the Tired Horses - from Self Portrait. And you'll understand just how laid back his life in Woodstock was!

  • Sign in the Window - from New Morning, for his voice on it, and because it's a wonderfully melancholy song

  • Hazel - from Planet Waves, another great love song

  • Up To Me - from the Blood on the Tracks sessions, finally released on the Biograph collection. Because it gives you the flavour of those sessions without wrenching any tracks from the set.

  • Isis - from Desire, at the height of Dylan's second wind, his second Never Ending Tour, the height of the personal crisis that saw him convert to Christianity

  • Precious Angel - one of the great performances from his first evangelical set, Slow Train Coming

  • Brownsville Girl - from Knocked Out Loaded - written with Sam Shepard, it's a long shaggy dog story featuring Gregory Peck. Great mythmaking

How many's that? You should be able to get them all from iTunes, anyway. I note that "Desolation Row" is available only if you buy the whole album (Highway 61 Revisited) - so you'd be better off getting that from Amazon, because you can get it for under a fiver.

The Corporate Tent

Attentive readers will remember my unrest about the company policy of sharing hotel rooms. This reached its peak in a recent event where three men and a woman were required to share a room.

Recently I've been employing humour in the workplace in order to question this policy and indeed to get others to question the policy.

This reached its acme today, when a couple of the technical guys actively questioned the management on the matter.

So, must we share rooms when required to stay away on company business?

The answer was a firm and unequivocal "yes". The policy is re-established. All's well with the world. Order prevails.

In the words of the Incredible String Band,
For my delight
Swift as the wind flies
His chariot and wings
Shine in the light of a thousand suns
For he comes from the land of no night
He comes from the land of no night

There is no land
The night is all around my child
You must stop imagining all this
You must stop imagining all this
For your own good
Why don't you go with the rest and play downstairs

Closing my eyes
I see him so clear
The blood on his sword
Flashes so bright as it
Falls to the skulls by his feet

But his eyes they know all things
His eyes they know all

There is no blood
No-one knows all my child
You must stop imagining all this
You must stop imagining all this
For your own good
Why don't you go with the rest and play downstairs

Swift as the wind
Stay if you will now
Seeing you again will be in your castle so fair
But I make take some time on the way
And I may spend some time downstairs

I'll be getting the words "keyboard monkey" tattooed on my forehead in the corporate font then.

More pronunciation fun

We went to Spanish again last night.

It's going well. Still enjoying it, although, as is the case with all evening classes, there are several annoying clever dick pensioners who clearly have nothing to do except spend the entire week reading up ready for the next lesson.

They steal the wind from one's own glorious sails of showing off by knowing everything already. They also have the knack, like swotty students, of asking a question about something that the teacher/lecturer is obviously about to cover next, so the teacher/lecturer has to say, "ah! We're about to cover that next."
I once heard a lecturer respond to this sort of question correctly and succinctly with the comment, "look, if you don't have anything useful to contribute will you leave the room, please." Excellent.

My attitude to that sort of thing is to ask why, if they are so clever, they are attending classes. Is it just to show off?

Anyway, we came across our first word that is completely unpronounceable. "Costarriciense", which means "Costa Rican".

We once got a Welshman to lose his chewing gum by asking him to pronounce the name of the place "Chwillog".

Similarly this spanish word has a combination of syllables that are like chalk and cheese. The double rr is hard and rolled (straight away that's three quarters of the class fallen by the wayside) but it's followed by an immediate soft c, which is pronounced like the "th" in "thin". Try putting those together yourself. Impossible.

I also had an argument with the teacher as to whether the phrase "a pair of shoes" was singular or plural. I said singular. He said plural. Hmmmm. So just which should I use: "how much is that pair of shoes?" or "how much are that pair of shoes?" He told me not to worry about it and just accept that it was plural.

Nobody has said that sort of thing to me since I was at university. The old "I don't care what you think: if you use that argument in the exam I'll deduct marks from you" skit.

Or, with gritted teeth the bored lecturer says, "don't use the subjunctive. I will mark you down for bad grammar!" No doubt I was pushing the boat out far enough into the sea of archaisms to be in danger of falling off the edge of the world.

And let's not even think about using the unamerican semi-colon.

Car cost confusion

I'm in the process of swapping my very old red car for a not-so-old blue one.

The blue one also allows you to play CDs so I can get round to listening to all the ones I've bought that offend wife and children, but it also uses fuel so quickly that you can see the gauge moving.

Things haven't been as smooth as I'd hoped either.

First I've ended up having to be insured for both vehicles during the interim, which, because of my bus-shelter-demolishing activities two years ago, means I've had to remortgage the house to meet the payments.

I also noted that the tax and MOT on the blue one expire at the end of October, and it was due a service. No problem: booked them in. So you see, already having a newer more reliable car has cost (excluding the cost of the vehicle itself and fuel) several hunderd of squids.

Oh, and it failed the MOT on two counts. Something to do with brakes and suspension. So that'll be another cuppla hunderd of squids, thank you.

But while I was looking through the documents I realised that the MOT had just run out on the old red one. BONG!

Fortunately I didn't get busted with a producer from the local police, but now I have to MOT that one as well before I can sell it. That'll no doubt be about another hunderd of squid plus.

KERCHING! Proof again that no attempt to make the world a better place when you're part of the hoi polloi comes cheaply.

No comprende

Why did it say "special thanks to Steve Jobs" on the closing shot of the Bob Dylan Scorcese thing last night?

Apple Continues Exploiting Dumb Indie Rockers

Thanks to Pootergeek for this link to a great blog post about iPod addicts and their spending habits: Apple Continues Exploiting Dumb Indie Rockers. Very funny.

One for Sorry, Two for Job

I don't believe in an either/or view of the world, as you know, but a lot of people do, so, oddly, sometimes you find yourself surrounded by people with fixed ideas about things. Beatles vs. Rolling Stones; Raquel Welch vs. Brigitte Bardot; Blue Peter vs. Magpie.

We never had Magpie on in our house, because it was on ITV, and we tended not to have ITV on. I think my mother subscribed to the theory that ITV meant the End of Civilisation as We Know It. I still fucking hate advert breaks, but they're easier to avoid now, what with time-shifting and all that.

Anyway, we were a Blue Peter family. Those that preferred Magpie tended to say that Blue Peter was patronising, dull, and stuffed full of middle-class worthiness; from the other point of view, Magpie was tacky, commercial, and surrounded by advertising. On Blue Peter, they always took the time to put black tape on all the brand names. Though it could be confusing; I still don't know where you were supposed to buy "sticky-back plastic."

So, that was then. The world grew up, and the intellectual Magpigmies won. That means that everything has to be commercial and tacky, and nobody is allowed to be middle-class, patronising, or, god forbid, worthy.

Documentaries now follow the style of not telling you what the hell is going on, lest the producers be accused of "telling you what to think." The recent, beautifully filmed BBC compilation of bits from The Blue Planet, Deep Blue was fatally flawed by the almost total absence of patronising/worthy/middle-class commentary. So you saw all these beautiful fish and other creatures of the deep, all fantastically filmed, but you had no idea what any of them were, or where they were.

Jesus and Lord preserve us from people who want to tell us things, eh? God forbid we should learn something while we watch the eye candy with our iPods stuck in our ears and our mobile phones on vibrate up our arses.

My daughter came home with maths homework that was completely unfathomable yesterday. She's seven years old, she's doing addition, but she has to use some crazy methodology involving drawing some weird box thing and linking up lines and making numbers jump over each other. Fucking hell, I thought, it never ends, does it? When I was her age, and younger, I was forced to go through the entire ita reading scheme with its crazy gobshite spellings and fucked phonetics - even though I could already read.

Our kid can already do addition the traditional way, believe it or not, but now she's hopelessly confused by some crazy maths method created by morons on meths. See what I'm doing there?

Anyway, so this is my opinion on the first part of No Direction Home: deeply flawed by the lack of a script, informative commentary, narrative. Instead we get Scorsese's flashy jump cuts and match cuts and vulgar montage moments (which is all he had available to him, given that he didn't film any of the actual footage). Bob Dylan, we should all know by now, is the very definition of an unreliable narrator, and most of the other talking heads had their own agendas, too, so what we really needed was someone to pull it all together, to give it a coherent chronology, to tell us what was going on.

I knew what was going on, don't misunderstand me. I know the story inside out already. But I kept thinking about those who might have been roped into watching by their friends and lovers, who probably sat through the whole thing thinking, that bloke on that blog said he had a beautiful voice, but it really does sound nasal and whiny.

Scorsese jumped back and forth, interrupting the black and white stuff with the colour stuff (to keep it interesting for the Magpites, no doubt), but he gave us no real sense of the chronological trajectory of Dylan, the constant, restless, assimilation and growth. It was all too impressionistic for me. So he's an auteur, big fucking deal. He also has absolutely no taste or subtlety.

I enjoyed watching and listening to Bob, as I was bound to, but I felt the presence of "the direc-tor" too keenly, and wished for a more sedate, patronising, worthy, educational tone. So sue me. Teach me crazy maths and ita, but you can't make me enjoy Magpie, because it's rubbish.

September 26, 2005

Watch With Mother

I was traumatised at a very early age by the funeral of Winston Churchill. I was 2-and-a-bit at the time, and I remember sitting in the living room at home waiting for the children's programmes to come on, but instead there was this s-l-o-w procession and solemn commentary that went on for hours. It was all in black and white, too, but that would be because we had a black and white telly.

I made a note to my future self: state funerals: not good television. Unfortunately, the career as Controller of BBC1 never materialised.

That sort of thing, the state funeral, the wedding, the Big Event, it always strikes me that the people who are really interested will go there and stand in the rain watching the horseys go by; therefore the rest of us shouldn't be subjected to it. But what do I know, as I so frequently ask?

Apollo launches, as Simon mentions below, now they were good telly. Apart from the delays, which even so added to the tension. There was even great telly in the whole business about the Dark Side of the Moon and Being Out of Radio Contact (the Floyd got an album title out of it); and of course, the primitive re-entry procedure was marvellous. Long, long hours, spent watching helicopters hover over burnt-looking capsules.

The astronauts were always put into Quarantine afterwards, in case they'd bought back some horrible space-borne virus that would spread like wildfire with no cure and kill us all, apart from the one or two people with natural immunity, who would be burned at the stake as alien interlopers.

There was a thing on the radio yesterday about the possible return of nuclear power. A lot of the history of it in this country is fairly recent. It was only during the reign of Thatch that the nails started to go into the coffin. But like Count Dracula, nuclear power isn't really dead unless you hammer a stake through its heart. Its return may be prompted by the, you know, oil running out. That kind of thing.

There was some bitter old geezer being interviewed. He was saying how the power station at Sellafield (which I still think of as Windscale) has run without a problem since it was commissioned. As he said those words, I said out loud, "But what about the fire?"

This geezer was especially bitter about Tony Benn, who had a Road to Damascus experience and turned from a Nuclear Booster into a Nuclear Hater. Benn said something like, "I once said it was cheap, clean and safe. Well it's not cheap, it's not clean, and it's not safe." He recounted how he was once embarrassed at an international meeting of energy ministers when the Japanese delegate said, with some sympathy, "How is everything at Windscale?"

"Fine," said Benn.
"You've not had any problems since the fire?"

In other words, they tried to keep it secret even from the government minister in charge (it was Labour after all). And some of them are still in denial about it, all these years later.

Harold Wilson, who was prime ministrone in 1965, the year of Churchill's funeral, was of course famously impeded by the Security Services, who saw a Labour government as a threat to national security. It's a laughable idea now, isn't it, but you can't help thinking that the same groups, over and over, seek to do damage to a Labour government in power. Viz:

  • The Farmers (if it's not fox huntng, it's the price of subsidised agricultural diesel; if it's not that it's just all the bloody Brian Aldridges whinging about tax or somesuch)

  • The right-wing unions. Like the firemen, top civil servants, head teachers, police officers, lorry drivers

  • The security services

  • Toffs and ultra right wing political groups

Tony Blair must be absolutely steaming by now at the right-royal stitch up he received from the security boffins over Iraq. "Oh, it's only Labour, they'll believe anything, because being in power scares them stupid." I wonder if it'll all come out in his memoirs - or if they'll secretly slip him the Alzheimer's Pill before he can write them?

If you grew up in the 60s, it was all about that. Interminable state funerals; rocket launches; endless war; and money being poured into huge projects like Concorde, nuclear power, and the railways (instead of spending a lot less on a readily available off-the-shelf solution from another country that had already spent all that money). And it all came to a head in 1969 with a "man on the moon" in the Arizona desert and the Windscale festival of Peace and Love, at which Bob Dylan performed "Blowing in the Wind" to an audience of radioactive dolphins in the Irish Sea.

Why they won't get to the moon

I watched those DVDs about the Saturn V rockets over the weekend.

The thing that really struck me was how much work, and therefore money, went into the project.

We're talking several centres the size of small cities. And all the tooling. And the research, the testing. The computers... Most of the technology had to be invented.

It must have cost an absolute fortune to get those men on to the moon.

And that's the problem. Buzz Aldrin is on record as saying that the Apollo program was 30 years ahead of its time. You see, it worked because money was no object: they poured money into it like cement into a river.

And I don't think that there is that same motivation or ability, even, to commit that much cash to going to the moon anymore. They'll have to take big shortcuts, and make lots of compromises.

Apollo was the biggest firework display ever; past or future.

I Read the News Yesterday, Oh Boy

The party conference season is not something I find terribly compelling these days. The tight control exercised by the Conservatives of old, stage-managing the conference and making it a back-slappng exercise for the most part, has been extended by the Labour party over the past 10 years. Controversial motions aren't even debated; the troops are rallied, drinks are taken. Fringe meetings are where it's at, but their very existence speaks of their non-relevance to the corporate politics going on in the main hall.

If I were a politician, I don't think I'd been too keen on conferences, in much the same way as I'm averse to trade shows and conferences, training days, and product launches.

Some of our vendors are still in the habit of launching products with a big fanfare, hiring a boat, or a marquee at Silverstone on qualifying days, and they reveal their new printers/cameras/whatevers as if expecting collective gasps of astonishment. It's time warp behaviour really, because we've all read about said products, long in advance, on this thing called the internet.

We had the slightly bizarre experience the other day of phoning a vendor to ask about a new flagship product that was all the buzz on the 'net - and it was the "first they knew" about it. Apparently. Which I don't really believe, any more than we believed the other vendor, who said, abruptly, "Never head of it mate," in similar circumstances.

The control of the flow of information, the timing of product launches, the general buzz of news and politics - all changed by the web.

I said a while ago that there are some thing you just can't, or shouldn't buy on-line. Shoes being one. I'm twice bitten thrice shy on internet shoe buying. If you can afford Ocado/Waitrose, maybe you can get your groceries from them (but with the Ocado brochure suggesting bottles of wine at £19.95 a pop, I hardly think so.

I'm pretty sure I'll rarely buy clothes from a shop again, or CDs, or DVDs, or books. And magazines are becoming increasingly irrelevant. The fortnightly MacUser is getting skimpier and skimpier, and all the news is old news. Same is true of Macworld, but being monthly, they have more chance to be analytical.

Steve Jobs recently cancelled his European keynote address at the Paris Expo. I don't think for any other reason than that he'd already launched iPod Nano. In the past, he's given keynotes in Paris that basically reproduced recent American ones. And for why? Now we get the news about new products as it happens, usually before, so these staged events are pointless.

As are party conferences, really. Why bother? It's all thrashed out in the media for weeks before. Sometimes things happen. Year before last, when Duncan-Smith (yet another Smith taking on airs by double-barreling his name) gave his "quiet man" speech, the media had spent so much time trailing it in advance that they completely missed the fact that his delivery was utterly inept, signing his death warrant before he sat down. Instead, they went into the scheduled "post-analysis" of the speech content, and it was only, what, with long hindsight that the speech was seen as the abject failure it was.

But such events are increasingly rare, the single track on the album that you actually like. And these days, instead of buying the whole record, you'd just download the one song, wouldn't you?

September 24, 2005


Stayed up late to watch The Last Waltz. What a lovely film. The Band's Let it Be - so full of warmth and love of music.

I've got it on DVD - so why stay up late to watch? Can't switch it off. So many highlights. People whose records I'd never buy. Dr John: ace. Neil Diamond: fantastic. Eric Clapton: just love that number, him and Robbie trading solos.

Van Morrison doing "Caravan": brilliant. And at the end, Bob Dylan comes on and starts with "Forever Young." He's supposed to have said - just before he went on - that he'd changed his mind about being filmed. And yet the whole night has this building-up-to-Bob-Dylan vibe. in the same way that the 1969 Woodstock concert was somehow predicated on the idea that Dylan "might" show up (why else name it after the place he lived rather than the place it was actually held?). Instead, perverse as ever, he played the Isle of Wight. With the Band.

The Last Waltz is Bob in his Rolling Thunder guise; looking more like a mystic Jew than at any other time in his life: his hair in ringlets, his nose with a seemingly more pronounced hook; the white hat. He looks fit and skinny, loose and lithe, comfortable on the stage. It's only, what, a couple of years since he last toured with them?

Neil Diamond's supposed to have walked off the stage after his superb song and said, "Follow that, Dylan."

Er, okay then. Whereas Diamond's song was tightly rehearsed and arranged, Dylan comes on and just plays with his band.

I love Robbie Robertson's guitar playing. He's got a Strat with it looks like just 2 pickups - humbucker at the bridge and single soil at the neck. The thing about The Last Waltz is that the band prove they can play anything with anyone, and sound like the best backing band any of those artists ever had. They do it all in an unusual self-effacing way - and yet their own songs are so beautiful, too. Rick Danko singing "It Makes No Difference" makes me cry every time I see it.

If you haven't seen this film, go out and buy it immediately on DVD. Approach without prejudice. It's not really about Bob Dylan. He does 3 numbers. You get Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and The Staples, too. Everything is equally brilliant, because the common element (The Band) makes it so.

September 23, 2005

Side Effects

One of the unexpected delights of the current media interest in Bob Dylan (this Scorsese docu is an event sho'nuff), is the feeling of cosmic superiority one feels whenever a prominent (or less prominent) journo Gets Something Wrong.

A similar thing happens with Apple Computer, of course, wherein tech journalists take their lives in their hands when they pontificate upon Things Apple, knowing, surely, that they will receive 20 billion e-mails from aggrieved Apple fanatics.

I sheepishly admit that I contacted the Observer after reading Caroline Boucher's howler last weekend, in which she confuses Sara Lowndes with Suze Rotolo. Rotolo will appear in the docu, but you can smack me in the face with a sea bass if Lowndes is anywhere in evidence as a talking head.

Even more satisfyingly, in yesterday's Guardian, none other than TV heavyweight Mark Lawson commits the following error to paper:
After going slowly through the childhood years and the young Robert Zimmerman listening to his folks' stereogram - "the sound of the record made me feel that I was someone else" - the pace accelerates towards 1966 when, at Manchester Free Trade Hall, a fan called Keith Butler shouted "Judas!" when the singer picked up an electric guitar. Later that year, Dylan had a motorcycle crash and didn't perform for eight years. Scorsese takes four hours to get from 1961 to the motorbike hiatus. Scorsese and Dylan seem to believe that this is the key creative period.

Two things about this. Firstly, er, what was Bob Dylan doing with the Band at the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1969?

He meant to say "tour" instead of "perform," of course, but what journalist can resist a little embellishment and exaggeration? The other thing is that I thought we'd got past, long ago, the very idea that the so-called motorcycle accident was anything more than a convenient excuse to extricate himself from commitments and re-assess his career? Because The Basement Tapes were made the following year weren't they? No official release till 1975, but there they were, nevertheless, with Bob sounding pretty chipper and having a good time making wonderful music.

So any elision in Dylan's ability to "perform" or his rate of productivity is surely a figment of the imagination. In a way, the tendency to focus on the pre-'67 era is understandable, because the extraordinary achievements can be easily seen and described. But to even attempt to encompass all that his 1967 recordings encompass is beyond any mere mortal. The Basement Tapes are some weird shit - in the manner of performance, in the voices used, in the lyrical content, in the nature of the music. And it's even weirder when you try to understand how Music From Big Pink and John Wesley Harding fit in with it all.

And the fact is, I'm sure Scorsese would have added another couple of hours to the documentary if there had been any film of Dylan and the Band in the basement of Big Pink. But he really did hide himself away for those years, reappearing in the mid-1970s to make Renaldo and Clara with the Rolling Thunder Review. Shame the BBC couldn't dig that one out for next week's Dylan orgy on BBC4.

Rolling stoned gathers no Moss

You cannot even start to imagine the almost galactic sense of pleasure it gives me to see that Kate Moss's ill advised publicity stunt of pretending to be a demon coke sniffer has spectacularly backfired on her.

She must have switched over to the same PR people has her husband, the attention seeking, Pete 'Shelley' Doherty.

You can imagine it can't you...

Kate: you're doing a grand job for Pete. He's getting maximum publicity with your campaign to make people think that he's like some poetic urchin who's gonna die from taking drugs.

PR: (snorts) Yeah.

Kate: What ideas do you have for getting me some of the limelight as well?

PR: Yeah, well, see... we've got this fucking bang-on sure fire idea. What if... (pauses to gather up the anticipation)... we make out that you're this poetic urchin who's gonna die from taking drugs!

God! It's so mindless it makes you want to slap yourself in the face as hard as you can. Thank god that she's getting ditched by ad agencies and punters more frequently and faster than the Titanic did, by rats.

It never rains but it pours

Americans, eh? If it's not a moral panic, it's some other kind of panic. I wonder if any pennies are dropping about now, if people are starting to realise that driving a gigantic SUV that only does 7 mpg isn't such a fantastic idea when you're trying to get out of Dodge?
Traffic snarled to a standstill across coastal Texas yesterday amid reports of petrol shortages as more than a million people attempted to flee Hurricane Rita.

People were stuck in a long queue of traffic (stuck in first gear, other words), many of them no doubt in vehicles that only manage about 14 miles per (US) gallon at the best of times. So then they were running out of gas and causing yet more traffic spontaneous self-organisation. What they want is a nice Golf that does about 60 mpg

September 22, 2005

hair aware

the story of the mullet is similar to that of the tuberculosis strain. let's face it, we all got complacent, and in recent times the mullet has returned, mostly sneaking in under cover of the fin. if you know anyone with a finhead, now is the time to whisper quietly in their ear that this ridiculousness must stop. let's stamp out the mullet once and for all.

Cock up book

Remember the Spanish course? Well, we were told to invest in a dictionary (a mini one and a more comprehensive one).

I was rubbing my hands together: any excuse to buy new books.

My wife is fed-up with books in the house. They take up too much room. They make the house look like a dusty lecturer's office, and not as though the interior design was done by the Bauhaus or something.

So she said to me, "don't get one of those very big dictionaries."

I ordered the two dictionaries and a grammar as well. I love language grammars. That's where a lot of the interesting stuff lies; the guts and bones of a language.

I was careful to choose a bigger dictionary that looked medium sized: say A5 size.

They arrived this morning, mail order, but it was indeed a mighty BONG! in the face of book sizes. The more comprehensive book is about the size of a sheet of letter paper and 3 inches thick. I couldn't have picked a bigger one even if she'd said to me, "choose the biggest dictionary you can find."

I am so in the doghouse. I'm going to have to try to sneak it into the house, and we will look such twats, sitting in the class with a doorstop of a book on the table.


This post isn't going to be about anything much. Just me rambling.

Had to drop the car off at the garage this morning, because the bonnet-rlease lever wasn't working. I remembered to check my oil yesterday lunchtime. But sod's law and all that. The other sod's law aspect is the fact that this is Thursday - potentially my last commute-to-work day of the week for the 3rd week in a row. First such Thursday: motorway closed at J21 - both directions - so I had to take a wide and time-consuming detour and had a shitty journey to work.

Second such Thursday: motorway closed after J26 - queues going back to J25 when I first heard about it, so I made another, slightly less wide detour.

And today: can't open bonnet. Except. When I was on the phone to the garage, it came out as, "I can't open my boot." I know it's not a boot, but the word bonnet doesn't come out very easily. It's like the skirt/dress thing. You say, "Take your skirt off and make it look like it fell off..." And she says, "It's not a skirt, it's a dress." And you say, "Whadever."

A bonnet sounds like something you put on your head. Americans call it the hood. Which is also something you put on your head, if you are a yob, or an outlaw of some description.

I might as well take a camp bed and live at the VW garage. I'm practically an employee. Next time I might get a different brand of car, just so I meet some new people.

When I worked in the tax office, many years ago, I used to have a lot of trouble with various bosses. I've spoken about it before: people who criticised me for the way I walk, the way I dress, the way I look for files, and so on. The most mindblowingly petty, insignificant things. I was the very definition of the face that didn't fit. I still have the same kind of problems. People who don't know me from Adam Ant, decide they don't like my accent, or my little jokes and cutting remarks. I'm certainly guilty of having an always-on joke reflex, and I don't guard secrets well, and have a low tolerance for preciousness, which is all around you.

One time, I had a direct supervisor who hated me because his girlfriend fancied me more than she did him. This is true, I swear to god. It's one big reason why you shouldn't date people from the office. There was this girl, I don't remember her name now, though I remember the boyfriend's name, my supervisor. She was not my type, I hasten to add. She was High Maintenance. Pretty, but lots of make-up, and, you know, hairspray and high heels. That kind of thing. It was the 80s. Probably.

Anyway, we were sitting near each other. The flipside of people hating me when they don't know me is that - surprisingly - they find they get along with me quite well when they work with me and/or know me better. Obviously, from a distance I give off the wrong kind of signals. I'm vibrating in N-space or something. So she was sitting across from me or something, and we chatted away, and started to continue our chats in the pub at lunchtime. This was the civil service, remember, and flexi-time (yay), so 2-hour lunchbreaks in the pub were, *cough*quite common*cough*.

Anyway, Truswell, that was his name, my immediate supervisor, was supposed to be engaged to her or something. And she was clearly looking for an escape route, via me, her stepping stone. I thought about it all this morning because I saw a lorry from a company called Truswell Transport on the motorway. So I didn't fancy her, but I liked her, and it was fun talking to her, and she was into it. And he was jealous.

So, if you can imagine, that was another year that I didn't get promoted, though I was doing my job as competently as anyone. Since then, I try to avoid involvement. People will still take a random disliking to you, or do a character assassination for their own purposes. And sometimes it's as blatantly selfish as the jealous boyfriend thing. So I get sick of it and just withdraw.

So I dropped off the car and walked up the hill, and I'm feeling a little warm from the unaccustomed exercise. I'm wearing a sur-chemise or overshirt that I got from Boden. Years ago, I hated with a passion the Boden catalogue and its smug (and self-promoting) models. But now I look at the clothes and realise they are my kind of thing, and I like the kind of service you get from Boden - the tailoring on the trousers to the length you want, etc. Not that I know the length I want. And I like these shirts, so I got two of them.

Looking through the catalogue, a couple of things struck me. One was that they do what I want to do with the catalogue I work on, which is to have two "fronts" and have one end upside down, meeting the other in the middle. So the women's side is one way up and the men's the other.

The other thing is that they still do that smug thing with the models, which doesn't bother me as much. The women are mostly gorgeous. Some of them obviously French, and I love French women (and married one). And they answer their questions in a certain way. Favourite indulgence: red wine; Favourite Chick Flick: Breakfast at Tiffany's. Innocent enough (still smug though), and likely to make you want to shag them all the more.

But the blokes are all answering in "jokey" ways, trying to be funny. Sartorial hero: Tarzan that kind of thing. And it is of course very annoying.

So I can see myself there, can't I? Wearing the Boden clothes, and giving jokey answers. And being annoying. So I understand why people dislike me. But I'm quite likeable when you sit near me, honestly. Just don't let your girlfriend too close, especially if she's French.

September 21, 2005

Waking the Deaf

No, we don't understand us, either

Talking of Radio Times in this week's "Dylan cover" issue, TV Editor Alison Graham has some pertinent words to say about the BBC's prime-time high-profile drama Waking the Dead.

As she correctly states, the overall effect of a double episode (most of the stories take two hours, Sunday and Monday night) is that you switch off the telly with the remote control, thinking, "Well, I just wasted 2 hours of my life."

It is hard to express just how CRAP Waking the Dead is. It's not just that it's so bad; it's that it thinks its so good. It was bad enough before, with that blonde bird from Casualty in it (the one with the nice balls), who had absolutely nothing to do except sit there and look... blonde. So they killed her off, you're thinking, because after French and Saunders took the piss out of it, they couldn't continue with it the way it was. So now they've replaced The Blonde One with The Brunette One, who also has nothing to do.

And the forensic woman, who does the autopsies (and does scene of crime, and makes the tea); the previous one wisely left the series, so they've replaced her with a complete clone who is exactly the same character, but with a different Equity card.

Sue Johnston, who seems to get more respec' than she absolutely deserves in life, is totally wooden and rubbish in it, too, clearly not understanding a word of any of the scripts. To be fair to her, this is probably because not a word of any of the scripts makes sense, so she flounders about quite a bit.

And Trevor Eve. Please. Can you spell "chewing the furniture"? What a load of old bollocks. Over-acting, clearly improvising a lot, he tries to steal every scene he's in.

And because he does so much over-acting and improvising, scenes tail off into silence, as all concerned realise they've lost their place in the script, and gone past the moment when they could have said the lines that would get them out of there. So then they have to cut out (I'm assuming) huge chunks of the story, which is why you can never tell what's going on.

But the thing I really really hate about these 2-hour consecutive night things (and the same is true of that crap about the paranormal that's set in Scotland - Sea of Souls), is that they tend to put anything good they have into the first part, and the second part is just padded-out crapola.

So this first episode of the new season of Waking the Dead had this huge build-up concerning people admitting to crimes they didn't do out of fear, and bodies being left in aeroplanes and on water towers, and the fear of some hugely evil, demonic, person/organisation. Who just turned out to be a little man who was fabricating fake pharmaceuticals. Hello? All that build up? For this? Where's the payoff? Where's the beef?

The other thing was the elaborate set-up at the beginning of the first episode, with Trevor Eve buying a load of model aeroplanes to act something out. They spend so much time setting this up, that you think, well, it must pay off in a big way later on, otherwise it's just bilge.

And you know what? It was just bilge.

So, in case you're wondering: children, don't do what I have done. Don't waste 2 hours of your life on this crap.

September 20, 2005

Getting with the hype

BBC News have a nice 8-minute puff piece on the forthcoming Bobumentary.

Nice. My favourite bit is where the 60-something year old Dylan says, "Both of these girls (early girlfriends) brought out the poet in me." And he just looks at the interviewer, suppressing a smile, for several seconds.

This week's Radio Times has him on the cover too. Top Gear Magazine has a piece about Dylan's cars, and BBC Homes and Gardens has something about Dylan antiques. You also get a Bob Dylan toy with a Happy Meal.

Gobshite Made-up Word of the Day

I read a few blogs on a regular basis. I pop in and browse around a few others semi-regularly. But I've never been much of a joiner, and my default mode is to opt out rather than opt in. In reading the comments on some blogs, I have come across the frequent use of a word which always puts me off visiting those peoples' blogs. That word is meme.

I fucking hate that word. I have a particular aversion to words which purport to explain something that already had a perfectly good word doing the explaining, sometimes for hundreds of years. In this case, the word would be "idea."

People have always copied and adapted ideas. Blatant, unacknowledged copying has another perfectly good word: plagiarism. Ideas that get picked up and turned into some kind of social movement also have a perfectly good word: ideology.

And so on.

A new coinage (1976-vintage) says more about the people using it than it does about the phenomenon it purports to describe. These people are iPod-sporting, herd-following, fashion victims.


One of the things that I love about languages is accents. At the moment I've signed up for a 30 week Spanish course. Mostly it's to please my wife who is in the process of re-inventing herself as a Spanish speaking, Cuban, salsa dancer.

We're learning Castillian Spanish rather than any of the other accents. We've also done an 8 week course in spoken Cuban Spanish.

But what fascinates me most is the pronunciation. Our teacher is Spanish. She told us that we should pronounce the Spanish "v" the same as the English "b". But it's not the same. It's somewhere in between. Like an English "v" but sounded with the lips instead of the teeth.

And the "j" and "g" can have that sound like you're hocking up from the back of the throat. And the "th" sounds from "c" and "z" - sounds just like the old English thorn and eth characters. And the rolled "r" is excellent fun.

The truth is that none of the characters are pronounced the same as in English: "ch" sounds more like "tsh", and "t" is somewhere between our "t" and a "d",

This sort of thing can be very difficult to get your head around. English people hate sounds that aren't English. It makes us go all self-conscious and silly when we try it.

You can hear someone trying... falteringly, they almost get there... and then, in an instant, we get an uncertainty collapse and it all comes out as a different English word.

I remember my parents in Austria. We stayed in Scheffau, first syllable pronounced like "chef" and the second to rhyme with "how?" but with my parents it always came out as "chauffeur". And "ausfahrt" for autobahn exits became, funnily, "arse-fart".

I love it.

Technology failure

Well, would you take a look at that! It's an artist's impression of the new moon/mars lander vehicles from NASA.

Sure looks nothing like the space vehicles that have been developed in the last thirty years. In fact, it looks remarkably like the one that was developed by the German nazis after the war.

I suppose it doesn't really matter what it looks like, because by then oil will be more expensive than solid gold. It's just a "feel good booster" for the American public, like the body politic version of a fat line of coke or a huge shot of smack.

Wouldn't it be a wheeze though if they discovered oil below the surface of Mars.

Actually, come to think of it, the outer planets are made of organic materials. Even the moon Titan has methane rain, for chrissakes! There must be an almost limitless source of organic fuel out there around Jupiter and beyond.

Nano à nano

So I saw the ad for the on telly last night. Just features someone holding it in their hand, looking at it, fighting over it with someone else who also wants to hold it.

Clever, because it shows you its size in relation to a giant hand. Advertising agencies have lists of these people in their Rolodexes: people with giant limbs, feet and hands mostly, but also giant teeth for toothpaste adverts and the like.

Yeah, it's neat, and shiny, and whatever. But I'm still not seduced. That's fine, because I'm not the target market. I'm not even tempted to get an "iPod-ready" car next time I buy, unless it becomes one of those things that makes a car hard to pass on, the in-car equivalent of Magnolia paint.

Anyway, it's clear what the selling point of the Nano is. They don't even bother to pretend it's about listening to music anymore. The one in the advert doesn't have headphones or earbuds attached to it. It's an object of desire for gadget freak fashion victims.

Do you remember seeing that old footage of Elvis in his pink Cadillac? He had a record player in it. One of those auto-changer things that would play up to six singles in a row. I bet that sounded great. And skipped a lot.

I was talking to Roy about the way the new Dylan Bootleg Series is mixed, how it seems to have been done in the "modern" way as opposed to them attempting to reproduce 60s-style mixing. So it sounds unnecessarily harsh in comparison to the original official releases. But then there's that CD thing anyway, the harshness of the sound - which isn't inaccurate, but which doesn't have the rough edges knocked off it in the way that music does on vinyl.

The black art of vinyl mastering is becoming increasingly rare. You have to do certain things to the sound in order to compensate for the effects of vinyl playback. Since the advent of the CD, records sound different, and not better. Nobody seems to try to do anything to mitigate the effects of digital playback - whether it be poor digital-analogue converters or just that ringing harshness that can get on your nerves after a while.

And it's not news, is it, that MP3 or AAC, compressed files of any filetype, sound even worse, thinner and harsher, than CD.

But it's not just that that puts me off the iPod. It's the whole walking around with headphones/earbuds thing. Alongside the people who insist on taking every call on their mobile and answering every text, you find yourself essentially surrounded by people who are cocooned in a private world upon which you cannot impinge.

And the whole style of listening, loading up a terabyte of tracks and just letting it wash over you on random play - that's not my style at all. It's a long way from the adolescent mix-tape of old, isn't it? The one you laboured over for hours, getting the gaps between tracks just right, fitting as close to 45 minutes of music per side as possible. Even if you weren't doing it for some girl/boy, you were doing it for yourself, to audition, to play back.

Getting things in the right order - that used to be important. Themes, question/answer tracks. Things being related. Now people like to pretend that their iPod knows what its doing, that "random isn't really random", and Apple have even put a slider into iTunes so you can adjust the level of randomness. Why did careful planning and attention to detail suddenly get such a bad name?

I miss those days, the mix-tape days. While making mix-tapes for women has to be among the most pathetic and annoying things that men do, I can't help being a man, and I couldn't help enjoying it.

Increasingly old-fashioned and out of touch, that's me. But I come with a guarantee: when you're with me, our conversation will never be interrupted by my phone, and I won't even have one earbud in any of the holes in my head. And if you're in the car with me, I'll almost certainly switch off the radio/CD player so we can talk.

September 19, 2005


I always feel as though the program schedulers for the television save all the remotely interesting programs for evenings when I'm out.

I'm out tonight, so I had a look in a TV guide for something interesting that I'd be missing.

Richard Starkey's Monarchy. Well, nobody likes a smart arse, especially when it comes to history, but I'd probably find that interesting.

Last night I missed the Europe: A Natural History program because I was out. It's an interesting look at our future.

The only other interesting program this week is that Space Race thing. And we know all about that already.

The Guardian TV guide had a funny comment about something on this evening; something about the success of eBay. To paraphrase them; "so just how did they convince us to buy all this junk online." My emphasis. Or something like that - "eBay: money for old rope" it's called.

It made me chuckle because of the irony. It must be one of the greatest fallacies in commerce that behind every business success, or rave product, there is a clever guerilla advertising campaign that has somehow influenced the great and stupid masses to part, involuntarily, with their cash.

Or is it.

I'm the one on the goat

Last night, I read a terrific story in my SF collection, which mght have been written for Hoses of the Holy.

"Falling Star" by Brendan Dubois is set about 60 years into the future, a time when there is no oil, no education, no national government or foreign travel because of a malicious computer "virus" that physically attacked silicon wafers and completely wiped out technology and sent society back to the 18th C. Horse and cart level civilisation, with no electricity, and ignorant peasants who blame technology for their problems, calling it "the Devil's work."

Civilisation lasted about 4 days, something you might have found hard to believe until the recent debacle in New Orleans, and it sure do make you think about how many of our essential systems depend on computers and silicon chips, and how little is in place by way of a disaster recovery strategy.

Arthur and Evgenia: a love story

I thoroughly enjoyed the BBC documentary about Arthur Ransome's adventures in Russia before and after the October Revolution, though a lot of it may have been old news to Guardian readers.

It was an absolutely fascinating story, anyway, told with great skill, and all the more satisfying because it had all the elements: romance, war, revolution, skulduggery, and more than a little bravery and guile.

What an absolute hero Ransome was, risking everything to go in and get his girl, and what a superb film it would surely be - except, if someone outlined it to you, you'd just laugh at them. Cameo appearances from Lenin and Trotsky? Escaping from under the noses of the White Russian army by losing at chess? Children messing about on boats? You're having a laugh, aren'tcha?

It's the fact that he never talked about it that tells you how very serious it all was. With his wife's family still stuck in Russia under Stalin, it was a question of keeping your head down - or else.


The Lost World

Is it just me, or is it not faintly disturbing to see the cast of Lost picking up awards at the Emmys?

It seems wrong, somehow. They shouldn't be allowed to be seen in public till the whole series is finished in about 9 years, or whenever it is. I'd have written that into their contracts. Either that, or, for a laugh, they should have turned up to the awards ceremony looking dishevelled, dirty, and unshaven.

September 16, 2005

What the Hey?

We seem to have had a rash of visitors today, from Ypsilanti, Mi; Miami, Fla; Pittsburgh, Pa; Cleveland, Oh; Portland, Or; Raleigh, NC; San Antonio and Austin, Tx...

...All looking for pictures of "Kenny Chesney bald" or "Kenny Chesney Without Hat."

What on earth is going on? I wish I'd made a better job of my joke photoshopped pic, now.


Update: looks like we're the top hit in Yahoo for a search on Kenny Chesney without his hat. Which is nice. There's a little lesson for ya, bloggers. Just get yourself a bit of photoshop action, do a really bad job, and you too could be #1 in the Yahoo charts.

More phonephobia

I was wrong. When I got the phone home it became apparent that it is indeed one of the new style gadgets. It has a camera, plays videos, plays music.

As soon as I put the battery on charge I immediately received three useful product information texts from Vodaphone.

The screen is colour and has more pixels than my laptop.

The only consolation is that I am going to create my own obscene sounding ringtone. Like something off Bill and Ted's most excellent adventure but weird.

September 15, 2005

Stupid mobile phones

The new one has arrived. Well, actually I think it is two years old and handed down via the chain of more important colleagues who need the additional functionality of a new new phone; camera and MP3 player etc.

It's still full of unnecessary shite, but better than the current crop of gadgety crap.

So, why am I still complaining?

I've been given some weird headset thing that uses "bluetooth". I don't like the sound of this. It will no doubt involve some lengthy and abstract configuration progress.

On top of that it looks something like an aerobics instructor's "no hands" microphone, or a discreet vibrator and butt-plug combo.

The purpose of forcing this upon me is ensuring that I can be phoned while I'm driving. You may not know that I disagree strongly with people using phones while they're driving. I think it is both immoral and dangerous.

And, no doubt, if I fail to answer my phone, ever, from now on, I'll be subject to a disciplinary.

You see, it is wrong to use a mobile while driving because it is very distracting and thus dangerous. Whereas some might think it is wrong because you might get caught.

As far as I am concerned, twatty-hands-free-anal-exciter or no, using a mobile phone while driving is actual driving without due care and attention. In other words, it's a criminal offense.


I've just read the BBC news link about the man who shot himself this morning in a car chase and caused the already stagnant stretch of the M1 motorway to be shut while they wiped the mess up.

But I'm confused. It says the police fired at the man and then he turned the firearm on himself. Did he snatch the gun from the police?

South Yorkshire Police said officers fired a baton round at Graham Jenkins, 44, from Hereford, who then turned the gun on himself.

Is this a cutting and pasting error?

Post-modern science fiction etc.

Although I posted the quote from Overheard in the Office for a laugh, the idea of there being "no such thing" as post- or after modern does make you think.
I'm working my way slowly through Gardner Dozois' 22nd annual collection of the best SF, and as usual it's an absolute treat. Also as usual, non SF fans would be puzzled as to why many of the stories are even considered to be SF, but that's the beauty of it.

Some of the stories are moving, some intense, some funny. Some of them are weirder than weird, and others just do what so much SF does and extrapolate something that's going on now into an advanced (or nearer than we think) future.

Like the War on Terror and all it entails. Last night, I read the story "Leviathan Wept" by Daniel Abraham. If you follow that link, you can read the whole thing, it looks like, on scifi.com, which is pretty amazing.

Set in an indeterminate future, it features a "cell" of anti-terrorists who are targeting a "cell" of terrorists. So we're immediately at a stage when, to fight fire with fire, the forces of government set up semi-autonomous cells of agents to fight semi-autonomous terror cells. That's immediately an idea that gets you to sit up and pay attention. The members of the cell are networked together electronically with heads-up displays, watching - literally - each others' backs.

A sub-plot features on agent whose wife/girlfriend is dying from an immuno-deficiency disease. Her own white cells are attacking her healthy cells. Sound familiar? She's wasting away, and says at one point that it sometimes feels like being two people: one healthy person who wants to live being killed by the other, who is attacking for no reason, and wants to die.

A metaphor, of course, for the war on terror, and the sickness in our society it exemplifies.

Early in the story, the anti-terror cell undertakes an operation. In escaping the scene, they notice a young girl emerging from a building.
"Pauel! The stairs!" Renz said almost before he realized he'd seen something. There in Paasikivi's window, coming down from the building. He watched as Pauel shot the girl—five years old? six?

Time slowed. If they had been compromised, Renz thought, the girl could be wired—a walking bomb. There wasn't enough room in the parking structure to avoid her. If she went off, they were all going to die. Fear flushed his mouth with the taste of metal.

He heard Thorn exhale sharply, and the van sped past the stairway. The dead girl failed to explode. A dud.

"Jesus," Marquez said, relief in the sound of the word. "Oh, sweet Jesus."

Later, talking to his sick partner, the agent discusses her support group, and how they are coping with the disease:
"That's a matter of perspective. I mean, his immune system thinks it's being pretty heroic. Little white cells swimming around high-fiving each other. Hard to convince those guys to stop doing their jobs."

Renz shook his head. Anna's fingers found his, knitting with them. The air purifier let out a pop and then fell back to its normal grinding.

"Is everyone in your group that grim?"

"They haven't gotten to a place where they divide children into wireds and duds, but yes, there's a grimmish streak to them."

It's a moving story, and quite thought-provoking, so worth taking the time to read it. As to the Dozois collection, whatever the number on the jacket, they're always worth having, and you'll discover more great writing in one of them than you will in a whole year of newspaper literary supplements.

What you've always wanted to know but were afraid to ask...

Slate Magazine asks,: "Do bodies always float facedown?"

Very useful info. The latent thriller writer in me needs to know this stuff.

But there really is no such thing

From Overheard in the Office
"Patron: Can you please tell me where I can find post-modern American fiction?
Librarian: Post-modern? That would be in the future, there's no such thing.
Patron: Uh, okay. Can you tell me where science fiction is?

100 S. Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland"

Good to be back

Luckily I only do motorways on long journeys so I missed the really bad snarl ups and crashes.

However, even driving through people's front gardens, dukes-of-hazard-stylee, we had the mild drizzle, steamed up windows, blue flashing lights, and traffic jams.

I saw a nice bash at Gotham: three cars had gone bang bang bang into the back of each other. I laughed as I passed them.

This is all just proof be that the summer is officially over.

Space Crawl

So so predictably, the BBC 2 Space Race docu-drama (like all such things) was a load of ol' tripe. Last night's first of 4 episodes padded 10 minutes of story out to the full hour. Germany is falling, the Russians and the Americans race to capture von Braun, and the Americans win. But the Russians have an ace up their sleeve in the form of a rocket scientist who'd been stuck in a gulag after one of Stalin's purges.

The Russian side was an interesting human story, the tale of scientists denouncing each other to save their skins, and working, literally, under the gun. But then so were the Germans.

That the Russians got the first satellite and man into space (not yet covered in the slow crawl of Space Race) is probably a back-handed compliment to the United States, who weren't quite as ruthless and threatening, perhaps, to their captured Germans.

Anyway, I'd rather have watched lots of old footage of German/Russian/American rocket experiments than some ac-tors putting on silly accents. Those shots of rockets taking off and then going sideways are always entertaining. And don't patronise us: give us some technical details; tell us about the actual scientific and technological breakthroughs. Typical dialogue:

"Hmm. If we made it lighterski and more powerfulski, do you think it might go furtherski?"
"Yes, but Sergei the Builderski, can we fix it?"
"Yes we can! Er, ski."

Then again, maybe I didn't think much of Space Race because there was a trailer for Martin Scorsese's forthcoming Bobumentary No Direction Home, which I'm afraid is going to form something of an obsession on this blog for a couple of weeks.

I was totally buzzed after watching the trailer. It was like drinking 3 cups of espresso in a row. Not so much by the old footage, which I've seen bits and pieces of before ("Here's a song, it used to go like that, now it goes like this..."), but by brief snippets of Dylan speaking. Not cracking jokes in 1965 press conferences, but being a bona fide documentary Talking Head: Bob Dylan, aged 60-somethng, being interviewed by Martin Scorsese. That, and the old footage gets you me jumping around on the couch with excitement.

Note to 14-year-old TV producers: docu-dramas are docu-dumbed-down docu-crap. Martin Scorsese has sensibly chosen to make a traditional documentary with old footage and talking heads. Why? Because the subject of the documentary is interesting in and of itself, without requiring ac-tors and costumes to "entertain" the mythical 3-second attention span public.

You must have scratched your head, looking into the whole "Space" thing, wondering, "What can we do to make this interesting?" Well, gosh, I don't know. What about getting one of the CBeebies presenters to narrate it? No? How about an ac-tor, then? Robert Lindsay? He's always available isn't he?