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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

May 30, 2006

Magnum Photo Essays

Magnum In Motion do a great line in photo essays. I've just finished checking out the Chernobyl Legacy episode. It's really quite harrowing stuff, the kind of thing you don't often get to see through the normal media - especially since our wonderful Mr Blair has called for a re-think on our future energy strategy.

May 26, 2006

Grumpy Old Sodcast

In a bold experiment, I have recorded some of the opening pages of my eagerly-awaited novel, The Patron Saint of Mid-Life (for want of a better title) as a podcast. Right-click (or control-click) to download.

It's an 11.8MB file, 64kbps MP3 (mono), and lasts just under 25 minutes. Science* has proven that 25 minutes is the national average commuting time, so you should be able to listen to my dulcet tones (yes, I am available for voice over and broadcast work, I have the perfect face for radio) on your way to/from work.

I've missed off chapter one, which is just a one-page conversation, so it starts on chapter 2 (also short) and includes about 3/4 of chapter 3. If there is "popular demand", I will do more.

It is also here as a Castpost, and you can right- or control-click the link below to save the file if you want.

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*Made-up statistic


I had a two week period a while ago, filling in application forms that made me want to slit my wrists. It was a coincidence, really, that so many of them were for public sector organisations, and those people really take the biscuit when it comes to making life as hard as possible. Trying to put you off.

It was filling in all those, with the accompanying feeling that it was all a pointless waste of time (because I wasn't in a positive frame of mind, following a couple of disappointments), that made me just want to give up and go live in a cardboard box in the middle of the road.

Ironically, in the week I've finally sorted myself out, I've been invited to three other interviews. I already told you about the one they couldn't shortlist for and decided to, what the hell, interview some people anyway. Another company has invited me for the Monday after we get back from holiday. They were American and I didn't really want to work for an American company (I hate US corporate culture), so I'm relieved to be blowing that one out. And there's another one...

I was just talking to Roy about this. One of the many, many, sections on the application form was a bit that said, "Please give any dates you will not be able to attend interview." So, of course, I told them I was away next week. The invite letter reads like this:

I am pleased to invite you to an interview on Thursday 1 June at 12.30pm. I note that your application form states that you are unable to attend an interview this week. Unfortunately we are unable to offer any alternative dates and if you could make it on 1 June we would be very pleased to see you.

For pleased, read surprised.

The letter goes on to talk about the process. That paragraph begins, "The morning will consist of a tour..."

The morning? But you've invited me for the afternoon. On a day that you know I can't be there anyway. It's like something out of Kafka.

See, on paper, it looks like they've got a proper shortlist and, due diligence and all that, invited qualified candidates to interview. In reality, they've given themselves an afternoon off during half-term.

I wouldn't have gone anyway, but don't you just love the idea of working for an organisation that's so inflexible that they can't even postpone an interview date for three working days? You can almost hear them moaning about their colleagues in other departments from here.

May 25, 2006

God is Dead

Did I really just hear Jonathan Richman's "Egyptian Reggae" on the soundtrack to an advertisement for Weetabix?

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, and nothing is sacred. These bastards have no standards at all, and will go to any lengths to piss all over the quiet little corners of our cultural lives so that there's nowhere to hide.

If you want me, I'll be on MySpace listening to unsigned artists. Please knock before coming in, so I can compose myself and wipe the snot from my face.

The hair wasn't that bad

blog photo

Nope, I haven't read the book. I wasn't bothered about going to see the film either, but my lovely lady friend had read the book and did want to check it out. Being 'Orange Wednesday' (BOGOF) we decided to hit the multiplex. I hadn't noticed our local UCI had changed to an Odeon, when did that happen? You can probably tell I don't get out much.
So what did I think? Well I don't usually like these blockbuster type films at all. All style over substance, action and effects with little in the way of story line. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. It seemed (to me) well cast and acted with a fantastic lack of over the top love scenes and romantic involvement. The story moved fast with lots of information to take in, even when the speed slowed the information kept coming. Not really the sort of film that you can get up and grab yourself an extra hot dog and still be down with the plot - and that's a good thing.
It is overly long but I would hate to have taken any of it away. The worst bit for me involved Tom 'Forest' Hanks imagining large spheres, globes and solar systems and the like, while working out a puzzle, but it is Hollywood, so you do expect some poor bits. Okay, so you do know, quite a way before the end what the outcome will be, but that didn't really seem to matter. Did mention it starred Audrey Tautou? Surely somebody's secret girlfriend. My girlfriend thought that it should even keep the 'It's not as good as the book' crowd happy as well.

Recommended? Well, if it's possible to remove yourself from the hype and not go expecting the world then YES, It's a excellent waste of a night.

And I'd also like to state for the record that Tom's hair isn't as bad in the film as on the poster.

Virgin tagger says what?

I am, not as handsome, talented or rich as I could be
I want more time and less stress
I wish for a long and happy life with those I love around me
I hate the grey days
I love most of my life and all of my friends (even the ones who sometimes don't deserve it)
I miss my dog when we go on holiday
I fear maths
I hear workmen, and they give me a headache
I wonder what it's like to leave everything that makes you feel secure, to dare to do the things you think you can't
I regret nothing, not really, sometimes I think 'oops, my bad' but this stuff makes me , me. even the fuck ups!
I am not alone, I've not felt alone very often, Alone is not a good place for the human mind. I'm not talking about a bit of 'space to breath', or some 'me' time. I'm talking about the state of mind.
I dance all night. but not often, and always with friends who don't care that I look stupid when I dance - not as stupid as them though
I sing too loudly in the car
I cry, but not often and not when I wanted to most
I make people happy, I hope.
I write with bad spelling and, worse, grammar; but with a smile.
I confuse my dog, it's funny!
I need a holiday, I want it by the sea and relaxing for a change. No cars, no schedules, no fuss, just sun, sea and fine wine.
I should book it, soon.
I started writing on here because Bob and Simon gave me the encouragement, those guys are great. Most people are good, not many are great.
I finish first
I tag sign posts, underpasses, community centres and bus seats*

*not really.

The Bad News Hammers

Travis writes a lovely piece about coaching 6 year olds in T-ball.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe T-ball is the version of soft/baseball in which the ball is not pitched but balanced on top of a (shoulder height?) giant golf tee. So the kids can get a good swing in and stand a chance of connecting.

Good stuff.

Celebratory Pro Tools Sesh

To celebrate my freedom from job hunting, I fired up Pro Tools for the first time in an age. For a few scary moments, it was as if I'd forgotten how to use it, but it turned out the microphone wasn't plugged in.

Here's the result. A demo of a recent composition called "Outside My Window." It's on my MySpace page (see link on the right) as well, if Castpost is being rubbish.

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Tagged by Marie. Again.

I am about to go on holiday
I want to read Marie's novel
I wish I was friendlier
I hate lying, cheating, selfishness and greed
I love my wife and kids and Joy Lynne White's voice
I miss Linda Riley, Loui, James, Simon, and every other episode of NYPD Blue
I fear moving up a trouser size
I hear Trisha Yearwood singing "Everybody Knows"
I wonder if one day we will all turn into nanotech grey goo
I regret too many things to list
I am not very serious
I dance with movements that are indiscernible to the naked eye
I sing my own songs and a (very) few party pieces.
I cry too easily and too often, and at surprising things, like live music. And not live music that's supposed to make you cry, just anything that's good. Keith Urban doing the riff to "You Look Good in My Shirt" makes me cry. Odd.
I make my own pizza, and it is very, very good
I write too easily and too often
I confuse names, especially short ones. Pat, Jan, Dan, Stan, whatever
I need to spend time alone because I am an introvert
I should go for a bike ride this afternoon
I start with a blank sheet of paper
I finish at the bottom of the page
I tag Pat, Jan, Dan, or Stan.

Lessons of Experience

I've come to the conclusion, after about three months of job-hunting, that all of the jobs you see advertised are fictitious. Or rather, they're fictitiously described so as to ensure that no matching candidate will ever be found.

You see, after filling in all those application forms and sending off those CVs, and spending hours writing Personal Statements that showed how I fitted the Person Specification - after all that, I got a job with a nod and a wink. A quick turnaround: 24 hours of hurried activity. Someone doesn't turn up for an interview, and suddenly all the hoops and obstacles and crap that stands in your way is removed. I decided about a week ago to stop fighting the inevitable and go into teaching. Yesterday, I was asked to deliver a sample lesson. A 20 minute interview later, I was in.

Thinking back, when I was fresh from my PhD and applying for (University) teaching jobs then, the same set of obstacles and hoops stood in your way, as potential employers made it as difficult as possible for a candidate to get through. Realising it was going to be a bit of a slog, I sent off a letter to a local computer dealer. A short interview later, I was in. No job advertisement, no application form, no person specification.

Thinking further back, when I was just out of school, having dumped my 'A' levels and left home, I spent 18 months trying to get a job - any job. In the end, it was after I'd been called in to one of those "how many jobs have you applied for this week?" interviews with the (then) DHSS. I mentioned I'd just applied to one in the Tax Office (which I'd done because I knew the DHSS interview was coming up). The guy wrote down the details, and lo and behold, I was in. There's not a doubt in my mind that if the guy from the DHSS hadn't pulled some strings, I'd still be unemployed.

So, what I'm saying is this. If you're out of work, you might as well sit around doing nothing, because something will turn up.

I'm convinced that all the jobs advertised under the rubric of employment agencies (in trade mags like Media Week, Marketing Week etc) are completely fictitious. They just want people to register with them, so they can do database matching for quick fixes. An employer goes to them with a genuine opening, they run a search on the database: bong. Two grand, no legwork.

As to the other ads you see in the press, well. I recently received a phone call from a very nice guy who was advertising what might have been an interesting marketing job in the performing arts sector. I'd initially sent for the application pack, read through it, and decided not to apply: because there was no way I could tick all the boxes on the Person Specification.

A month later, I got a letter asking if I'd reconsider applying. The letter indicated that they realised that a lot of possibly suitable people had been put off by the requirements (they basically wanted a Steel Drum Orchestra leader with about 10 years experience of marketing and fund-raising - it was very specific). They said, even if you haven't got all that Arts experience, if you've got the marketing, we want to hear from you.

So I applied. This is no mean task, and quite a commitment. Some of these jobs, it'll take you all day to fill everything in properly, writing that personal statement.

And then he phoned me. They couldn't shortlist, he said, because nobody met all the requirements. But they had decided to meet four of the more interesting candidates, the obvious self-starters, to see if they could find someone who could grow into the job.

Well, well. A common sense approach. Somewhere, somebody has managed to get hold of the Human Resources process in this country. They've invented a set of rules, procedures, standards, probably created a trade association of some kind, a professional body. Tried to turn Human Resources into a science. This Is How To Recruit. And all the universities, councils, charities, arts bodies, and most larger companies have bought into this science. And I can't help thinking that they're tying themselves in knots trying to weed out candidates. And I can't help thinking that, as in most walks of life, 90% of them are blagging, faking, and don't know what they're doing.

And they're so crap. I've been down to the last four or five on a couple of occasions recently. Around five interviews, one of them a second interview, and I knew it was a short shortlist. But, of the five, only one bothered to write to tell me I'd been unsuccessful. For the rest of them, a phone call, an email, or a short note (after all the effort you have to put in to applying): they can't be bothered.

So. About two months after originally advertising the job, this guy ended up on the phone, having a 5-minute chat with (presumably) several candidates, inviting them down to have an informal interview to see if someone was going to fit. Well, duh.

It's obvious that too much emphasis is placed on experience. I've started to learn the codes. A lot of jobs ask for such specific experience that it's obvious - for example - that they're looking for someone very specific, who can walk into a job on day one and already have all the contacts, industry expertise, a full phone book of people to tap up for cash or good press. That's what I meant by saying it was fictitious. They may have an obligation to advertise, but actually they know damn well who they want.

I've seen jobs advertised that paid between £18k and £25k, but the person they wanted should have already been earning £40-50k. Some organisations clearly operate a "me too" attitude to advertising jobs, not realising that they'd save a lot of time and money if they made it a little less specific and got in someone who could "grow into the job." Because, in the end, that's what everyone has to do.

It's funny. That five-minute phone call with the guy, I felt there was an immediate rapport. We were having a laugh, and he seemed like a nice bloke. I know a lot about him already. I know he's disorganised: it was eight o'clock at night, and nobody organised would be working that late. And the follow up email came through around nine o'clock the following night. So I already know they need me because - ask James - I am very organised. Unfortunately, they've missed the boat, because I just got a teaching job.

May 23, 2006


Those of us who can't pay or won't pay for Sky are only just getting to see HBO's Deadwood on Sky 3 (Freeview channel 10).

It's a slow burner, but by the fifth episode, you are hooked. David Milch's research has obviously been painstaking, and the attention to detail in the language is superb.

I've always loved the stylised street argot of NYPD Blue. I never felt, due to the compromise of it being on a major network, that the absence of real swear words was a handicap. In fact, the creative use of made-up slang on NYPD Blue was one of the best things about it: hump, whipping your skippy, etc.

But being on HBO means Deadwood can use whatever language they want. Your mum and dad might complain that it's too much. My dad even argues that "they didn't talk like that in those days," but of course they did. The peculiar mixture of Victorian gentility and Anglo-Saxon gutterspeak is realised brilliantly.

And Lovejoy is great in it.

One of the things I like best about it, a lot of the characters look like members of The Band.

stay in your place, little man, and buy this while you're about it

yay it's world cup time again and we all love football, and all big companies love football and they are proud to support our brave boys. yes there are loads of adverts on the telly about football.

i don't mind the one with the blue monkeys (simon our nature correspondent can tell us what they actually are) because that is one crazy song, dude, some sort of sixties stones thing going on, i don't know what it's called and my crippling rsi prevents me from googling it.

i don't like the one voiceovered by that talentless whore jack davenport. i hate the way he roughens up his posh voice because he's talking about football. it's so insulting. the odds of us ever having a revolution in this country are so slim, i reckon it's got to happen. and i'll be happy to pop a cap into davenport's brain when that day arrives.

make the punishment fit the crime

yesterday my six year old son was telling me what to do if a bully smashes up your snowman. next time, build your snowman around a postbox. when the bully kicks the snowman he breaks his foot. excellent.

which got me thinking. why not design robot boys and girls to wander about so that when gary glitter and his ilk put their dicks or fingers in they get electrocuted. and leave cars lying about which explode when people steal them. etc etc. but i suppose it would be entrapment or something.

it's probably something i read in 2000AD back in the seventies, coming back to me as an original thought, like what simon was talking about.

Your questions answered (OR: The Mysteries of Search)

Hello and welcome to another trawl through your questions.

First up today, Ocado in Trouble. Although Ocado are clearly the best exponents of online grocery shopping, in my opinion, the business model is wrong. First of all, very few people plan out a week's shopping on a proper list. You do not see people walking round Saino's with a shopping list. There are so many in-store offers these days, people adjust their plans as they shop. So having to fill a virtual shopping trolley without being able to see what's on the shelves is very difficult.

Secondly, as I've said before, no matter how much they reassure you, most people aren't comfortable with the idea of a complete stranger choosing fruit, veg, and cuts of meat for them. So that's the sort of thing you want to get in person. And if you're going anyway...

I have no idea if Ocado really are in trouble, but I will say this. I used the service once (as advertised, except 600g of my 5kg bag of potatoes was completely unusable), and they've emailed me every week since, offering me £5 off or a bottle of wine. And I've never gone back. They will have shown growth while people (like me) experimented with the service. But once the tyre kickers have been by.... tumbleweed. Ipso Fatso, as Wellington would say. I rest my case.

Turn into search engines. I have no idea what this means.

Kenny Chesney Without Hat. Yes, he's bald. He really is. Can we move on now?

Holy anal. You what?

Realistic beheading. You are either very sick or very dull.

Finally, a two-for-one. Five Live dumbing down and Peter Allen Five Live. It's unfortunately true that Five Live do a lot of dumbing down. I'm almost 100% certain they have researchers and backroom staff who are wet behind the ears, know nothing, and - knowing nothing - assume the rest of world knows as little as them. On the other hand, the Simon Mayo show (as previously noted) is very, very good. Nicky Campbell is an annoying Kent Hunt, but his co-presenter Sheilagh Fogarty is wonderful. And there are few broadcasting partnerships to match Peter Allen and Jane Garvey in the afternoon. Peter Allen: world-weary, cynical, bored, over-experienced, but basically compassionate; Garvey: witty, impatient, sharp, and daring. Neither of them knows anything about science, though, which is where the dumbing down comes in.

It interests me that there are people on the other side of the world listening to Five Live Drive (at - obviously - the wrong time of day) who wonder who the people are behind the voices. There are bios on the BBC web site of course (click the link that says Presenters). Peter Allen used to work for ITN, and I think even did some time in Australia. The key thing about him, he's not very tall and he has a lot of hair. I always think of him as a stern but basically decent father-in-law. Whereas Jane Garvey is the plain Jane you fall in love with because she makes you laugh a lot.

May 22, 2006

"They fuck you up, your mum and dad..."

I've been thinking about paradigm shifts. I spent some time this weekend looking through some of my old research. For my PhD thesis, I did some work on Thomas Kuhn. And before that, for my MA, I did some work on Freud's abandonment of his Seduction Theory in 1896 which led directly to Freudian psychoanalysis as we know it. And I related that to The X Files. Otherwise, it wouldn't quite be me, would it?

I was interested in Kuhn, because he argued that so-called paradigm shifts (like the so-called Copernican Revolution) do not, in fact, happen overnight. It can take years and years (hundreds of years, in the case of Copernicus) of things not adding up for people to wake up to a new way of looking at the world/universe.

Kuhn argues, for example, that for Einsteinian physics to be right, Newtonian physics have to be wrong. And yet, people still behave - most of the time - as if they live in a Newtonian Universe, and not an Einsteinian one. This played into my hands, thesis wise, because I was writing about the way people tend to see double. For example, they will continue to be shocked by an event, even when all the things leading up to that event have been exposed, so that it comes to seem - not shocking - but inevitable. I called it, for want of a better phrase, the eventhood of the event, persisting in the same ways that old local gods can persist, even when superseded by a new, all-conquering religion.

The interesting thing about Freud was that - until 1896 - he had a lot of patients (18 in total) who were neurotic because - it seemed - they had been sexually abused.

Now, these days it's generally accepted that sexual abuse (by parents, step-parents, responsible adults and other carers) is depressingly common. In other words, what fucks you up is real trauma and real abuse by real people. Freud accepted this, and called it Seduction Theory. And we know, from contemporary writings, that it goes back to the ancient Greeks. Lots of those old speeches and rhetorical flourishes were designed to seduce little boys (see The Phaedrus, for example).

Anyway, Freud changed his mind, and instead invented the Unconscious, fantasies, and the Oedipus Complex. Conveniently for him, these new theories found general acceptance, whereas Seduction Theory was violently opposed. Why did he change his mind? Funny story.

Emma Eckstein was a patient of Freud who suffered from severe menstrual pain and difficulty with walking. Freud encouraged his friend Wilhelm Fleiss (an ear, nose and throat doctor), to operate on her nose to remove some of the bone. Such an operation was based on Fleiss’ conviction that the nose was intimately connected with the genitals, and that ‘sexual’ neuroses could be ‘cured’ by such an operation. Things went horribly wrong, with infection and severe hæmorrhaging going on for several months afterwards. At one point, another doctor discovered to his evident disgust that Fleiss had ‘inadvertently’ left a length of gauze in Eckstein’s nasal cavity. The result of this unfortunate case was that Freud, unwilling to jeopardise his intimate friendship with Fleiss, started to blame Eckstein’s symptoms on her hysterical nature: she hæmorrhaged, not because of an incompetent and unnecessary surgery, but because she had certain ‘longings’; she bled because she was a ‘bleeder’.

This case was crucial in Freud’s abandonment of Seduction Theory. He made an absolute U-turn in his attitude towards Emma not because of any change in her condition, nor even because he had learned anything new, but because he wanted to massage the ego of his friend. In order to make the case that Emma’s symptoms were caused by her unconscious longings towards her doctor convincing, the doctor had to reassess all his other cases. The neat trick Freud pulled off was in convincing Emma that it was all her own fault, and she continued to trust and rely upon him.

In other words Freudian psychoanalysis was built on a lie - a U-turn adopted in order to save face. Freud's neurotic patients, he went on to say, were neurotic because they had sexual desires for their parents, and had built fantasies around these sexual desires (iin which their parents abused them) which were making them neurotic.

Amazing, isn't it?

And yet a lot of people still behave as if they lived, as it were, in a Freudian universe.

like dreamers do

this guy forgot more than lennon ever knew. or something.

Sartorial Elegance

One of the pleasures of the Perishers in the 60s were the ever-changing fashions adopted by Marlon, the slightly thick member of the toupe.
In 1964, he sported the early Beatles look, a smart jacket:
Quite soon this was superseded by a mid-60s Beatles look, a nice polo neck:
Moving on, things started to get a bit whacky. The stripy t-shirt and cap look was like something out of the Monkees. And check out Maisie's brief foray into bell bottoms (which Wellington points out don't bell in the same place that she does).
Then there was a kind of Carnaby Street groovy look with a wide tie, still with the fetching cap (I love this strip, which features Maisie's indecision at having sixpence to spend - we've all been there):
Following Sgt Pepper, he adopted a uniform, which as Wellington points out, is more Odeon than Military
And then for some reason, Marlon gave up on fashion and adopted a racing driver's overalls, for the rest of time. Note also that the two constants of his 60s look, his trousers and Beatle boots, are also gone:

Blunt Objects

Like many men, I have spent most of my adult life in search of the perfect shave. I'm always willing to experiment, so of course I popped a Wilkinson Sword Quattro Titanium in my trolley.

The problem with even the 3-blade razor is always the clogging. The blades are so close together that they get clogged with bristles, and it's v. difficult to flush them out, even with a pressure hose (and don't try running your fingers across them).

Imagine, then, the problems I was expecting with a 4-blade model. As above, but even more stubborn. Also, Wilkinson Sword put horizontal wires across the front of the blades, in a misguided effort to prevent nicks and cuts. It sort of works, but it does so at the expense of the closeness of the shave. It's one of those razors that leaves you looking like you still need a shave. Apologies for the multiple use of the word shave there.

The other problem with the 3- and 4-blade razors is around the nose and nostril area. These razors are too fat and unwieldy get into the difficult-to-reach places around the bottom of your nose. You either end up with a Hitler-style moustache problem, or you end up cutting yourself. In spite of the safety wires.

Nul points, is what I say. Back to the drawing board.

The best I've tried recently, notwithstanding nose and clogging problems, is the extreme3 disposables.

It's an expensive business, though. And I only shave once a week or so. Imagine the expense if I did it every day!

May 21, 2006

Perishers Revisited

Finding my old entry about the wonderful Perishers for the Book Review Blog prompted me to buy a couple more of the Omnibus collections. I've just received #2 (which covers the period 1964-1966, nostalgia fans) and I'm awaiting #3 (1966-1968).

They really are priceless. Enormously funny, beautifully drawn, chock-full of social commentary, and yet as fresh today as they were forty years ago. Miles better than Peanuts, I think, and also as beautifully drawn as some of the Calvin and Hobbes. Click on the images below for a full-size view!

Here's one that completely sums up my attitude towards career, work, and ambition:

And another that explains why I'm thinking of going into teaching:

For Doctor Who fans, here's one from 1964, which must be one of the earliest examples of Doctor Who's impact on our culture. I think the dustbin is a fantastic drawing:

And finally, an example of the beautifully rendered full-strip artwork (they also often did the same thing across several panels). It's a shame, but the quality of the Perishers was diminished greatly when original artist Dennis Collins retired in 1983 (he died in 1990). Post-1983 strips were drawn by writer Maurice Dodd himself (who'd previously only sketched the strips roughly for Collins to work from), or any one of several others, none of whom could draw as well as Collins. Maurice Dodd died at the end of 2005. So I leave you with another classic Baby Grumplin' moment:

May 20, 2006

Eurovision Voting Explained. Again.

I've posted this as a comment over on Martyn's blog, but I have to post it here, too.

I'm waging a lone campaign to try to get people to understand what goes on with the Eurovision Song Contest voting since they introduced the telephone voting, but I'm a voice in the wilderness. Maybe I'm even wrong, but that's never happened before!

Your media and your Wogans call it tactical voting or political voting, or neighbours voting for neighbours, but that's not what goes on.

Neighbours don't vote for neighbours. I think history teaches us that Bosnians actually hate Serbs, and vice versa. We hate the French and the French hate us. Ditto the Irish. The Danes hate the Swedes. The Germans hate the Turks and everybody hates the English.

What actually happens is that expat communities or border-crossers, or people with particular allegiances vote for their "home" country from the country they happen to be in at the time. You can't vote for yourself if you stay at home, and the English, on the whole, stay at home. There could be any number of reasons why expat Brits might not choose to vote in the same way. A disdain for Eurovision; language difficulties; or maybe our national characteristic of "playing by the rules" just means that Brits won't vote for themselves, even if they're in a position to do so. And expat Scots would only vote for a British entry if the singer was a Scot. You know I'm right.

Bosnians who still live in Greater Serbia (or whatever it's called now) vote for the Bosnian entry. The Irish in the UK vote for the Irish entry. Danes and Swedes cross the bridge and vote away from home. The huge Turkish population in Germany votes for Turkey.

Please don't make me explain this all over again next year. That is all.

Interview with Roger Morris

Bob's Book Reviews has already been called* "the most important book review site on the web", so it's only fitting that we have already posted up our first author interview.

Roger Morris, author of Taking Comfort answers 10 questions set by Rashbre. Follow the link above.

*by me

May 19, 2006

The shape of the year

Now that we've been going since September 2003, I'm starting to enjoy the pattern made by the archive months as they snake down the page. If you blur your eyes, the year has a pleasant shape, like groovy vases sitting on top of each other.

The autumn/winter months have long names. Spring/Summer months have short names. I wonder how that came to be?

Must be good then

Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian gives it one star.

Given his track record, makes me suspect it might be quite good fun. My wife is making noises about going to see it. W H Smiths are already selling Tom Hanks-style Da Vinci Code wigs.

Can't wait to hear what Kermode says about it this afternoon.

Yesterday, that nice Simon Mayo was interviewing Jorja Fox from CSI. I do enjoy the Mayo show. His interviews are always superb, and he deserves more recognition for what is one of the best shows on British radio. Jorja was fielding questions from listeners about CSI. Some obvious ones, like, "Why don't you turn on the lights?" and "What was the story with Nick Stokes' two-episode moustache?"

She also revealed that in the USA (where CSI is a lot more popular than it is here), the programme has completely changed courtroom culture. Things that used to take several days of testimony to explain, juries now understand in fifteen minutes. Also their expectations of standards of evidence gathering are very high.

She's over here casting some play she's producing, at the Riverside Studios, or somewhere like that. You can hear her interview if you go to Five Live's front page as of now (there's a button there). The Daily Mayo is also available on iTunes. I tell you, it makes that Radio 4 look like the Hyacynth Bucket of crap that it is.

May 18, 2006

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

When Raf was more or less running the Observer blog solo, it was quite good fun over there. It was how I discovered Marie, for example.

But now that blog is more like all the other Guardian group blogs, and the commenting system is all rolled into that "Comment is Free" thing they do. I made a mistake earlier. I posted up a half-baked opinion, which was followed by a certain amount of vitriol and abuse. Sheesh.

I prefer my opinions half-baked, because then - like half-baked bread - they have the illusion of freshness. The question concerned a sex column in the Observer magazine which was - to put it mildly - a load of old wank, written by the kind of people you should be exempt from prosecution for killing. The Obs pulled it after reader complaints, and the blog was asking whether it was the right thing to do.

My own opinion is that with porn coming out of the walls (and hand-wringing articles in the likes of the Guardian about whether people aren't degrading themselves because wall-to-wall porn really has lowered people's standards of behaviour and raised expectations about what is do-able), and plenty of sex advice available in just about every single fucking magazine on the newstand, it was hardly necessary for the Observer to chime in. The key difference is that if I want to read bollocks about sex I can go buy a copy of Cosmo or FHM. But if I choose to buy a Sunday newspaper for news and interviews, I don't necessarily want to field questions like, "Daddy, what's anal sex?" from my 8-year-old, who might have been looking at a picture and read something I'd rather she hasn't.

So I posted my half-baked opinion that I believed in protecting the innocence of my children as long as possible. Of course people who don't want or don't have kids aren't going to sympathise with this point of view. What do they care if my kids still believe in Father Christmas? And I agree with them: wouldn't society be so much better without other people getting in the way with their opinions and feelings? And you get that other opinion, too, from people who think that our record-breaking rates of teenage pregnancy are something to do with the fact that our Sunday newspapers don't discuss anal sex enough. I can't follow the logic there, but apparently all the 15 year olds who get pregnant, its All My Fault. I never touched her, your honour!

I am a prude, I know I am. Always have been, always will be. I'd rather, as the saying goes, have a nice cup of tea. And, yeah, I do think it's wrong to see half-dressed dancers on what is a children's TV programme (TOTP) thrusting their crotches at the camera and shaking their asses at each other. I don't want my under-tens wanting to dress like that for their pass-the-parcel parties and dancing at the school disco like that. So sue me. But being abused by the nasty people who populate those Guardian comment-is-free pages is hardly going to change that opinion.

I do have a lot of sympathy with those who have to moderate all those comments. It must be like being drowned in raw sewage, to have to live, day after day, in that stream of rage and hatred from all those angry people.

MySpace Comment Translation

A lot of you have written to ask for help in understanding some of the comments that get added to people's pages on MySpace. I'm happy to oblige with some sample translations based on comments I have received.

They say You have a good style.
They mean All style and no substance. And not much style.

They say I will be checking out your music tonight when I get home from work
They mean We'll never speak of this again

They say Glad to have you as our friend/Thanks for adding me as your friend!!
They mean ... sucker. Now I can add an enormous graphic advertising my next album/gig

They say I really like your voice!
They mean ...er, everything else sounds horrible

They say You rock!!!
They mean I literally can't think of anything nice to say.

They say love the harmonica, I'm determined to learn how to play!
They mean ...maybe you should, too.

They say Great tunes!
They mean There are some great tunes elsewhere on MySpace

They say we wish you all the best with your music
They mean Yeah, good luck with that.

Public Information Broadcast


The best pre-packed sandwich award goes to Sainsburys 'World Flavours - Moroccan Inspired, Moroccan Style Chicken and roasted red pepper'

Best Sandwich Award

Small print description reads: Cumin and chilli moroccan style marinated chicken breast dressed with harissa spiced chutney, roasted red peppers and rocket on white multigrain bread.

It's quoted as having 405 calories and 4.8 grams of saturated fat, but who cares when it tastes this good, and besides I've got a box of brownies for this afternoon.

I'm so glad I didn't have chance to make a packed lunch this morning, I'm feeling all continental now, I might just ride my camel home like a crazy person.

Thank you for listening BING BONG!

Guest Book Reviews

Regular reader Rashbre has contributed some back catalogue reviews to Bob's Book Reviews. There are three over there. I'll leave them unmolested for a day before I start adding more of the holyhoses back catalogue.

If you choose to contribute, it would be nice if - like Rashbre - you included a link to some cover art. Also, unless you're happy with me making up categories, you might want to think about issues such as genre/category, since this is something quite easy to add with Wordpress.

May 17, 2006

Press Red for Bruce

Digital viewers who press red this week are able to access a couple of snippets of Springsteen from the session which will be on BBC4 on Friday. It's looking quite good really. His version of John Henry is most entertaining, although the sound engineer deserves a good kicking.*

It always amazes me, watching him play, that he doesn't break strings all the time.

You can also watch a 20 minute preview here. 20 minutes! That's a third of what's scheduled! Might be a bit of a slow download with a 28k modem, though.

On this evidence, I might have to buy the album after all, if I see it cheap.


*UPDATE: The sound engineer is forgiven, because the mix was fixed for the actual broadcast, which was clever.

The whole gig was great entertainment, and judging from the bizarre content of some of the Google referrals today, was viewed by people who had never seen Broooooooce before (as I explained on another post, no they really weren't booing, folks). I do hope they stayed on for the 1975 concert afterwards. Springsteen gave all the trad material a shot of adrenaline, and the ensemble was pretty decent, if a bit too polished(!). There was much to please me there - two fiddles, pedal steel guitar, lap steel, organ, accordion. I thought the acoustic guitars were a bit weedy in the mix (what does Patty Scialfa do? 4/4 time all the time?), and it was odd how quiet Springsteen's Jumbo sounded even compared to the smaller bodied model he used on "We Shall Overcome."

Great stuff.

PM, if you're reading this blog again

Following on from what Rob has said below. Please Prime Minister what on earth are you thinking when you could be taking a leaf out the Scandanavians' book. It's little wonder that I have so much love for our northern friends. They even do good architecture, shame about the food though…

Nuclear Foolklear

Just before Dan Cruikshank on BBC 2 last night, there was (the final?) part of a series called It's Not Easy Being Green about a family who went Old Testament environmental, from the input to, er, output, as it were. I didn't see much of it, but what they were doing last night was installing a wind turbine in their (large) back garden. It was on the top of a tall frame rather than being affixed to their roof (which is what you have to do in an urban environment), but it really was quite straightforward.

In one of their sheds was a big green box containing - I assume - storage batteries and power transformer. This was connected to the turbine. And then from the green box - liderally! - a simple power cable and plug, which just went into the mains. It still gobs my smack, but it really did seem ridiculously easy.

So why aren't we all doing it? Why, instead, is the prime ministrone areseing on about what his posh friend George calls the nukular option?

As Tony Benn said, nuclear power is not clean, it's not cheap, and it's not safe. Doesn't matter if it runs for fucking fifty years without a mishap. Or sixty. Or a hundred. Eventually, Something Will Go Wrong. Leaks, explosions, negligence. And you always have the problem of the waste, which they want to bury in the ground. There's even talk of sending it to Australia (because it's so geologically stable) and burying it in the ground there. But first you have to get the waste to the place where you want to bury it, and for that you need transport. And containers. And you need to get it into the containers, reliably and safely, for year after year, and transport it, reliably and safely, year after year, to where it will be buried - and have to remain, reliably and safely, until the end of the time, or until Arsenal win the Champions League, whichever is sooner.

Now, have I missed something, or has someone invented a container that will never, ever, corrode or leak, for 50,000 years? Because, if they claim to have done, did they invent it 50,000 years ago and have been testing it ever since?

Transport to Australia? What in? An aeroplane that might crash? Or an "unsinkable" merchant ship manned by drunk Philippino or Russian sailors? A Royal Navy ship manned by drunk British sailors? What? Through the Suez Canal, yeah? Or round the Horn?

These issues don't matter to Mr Blair, because soon his mothership will return to Earth and take him back to his home planet.


In other news, has anyone seen How I Met Your Mother on BBC2 Sunday night (before Top Gear)? Quite nice, I think, and it's got that Alyson Hannigan in it.

My other blog is a Porsche

Today I saw the new Alfa 159 for the first time. Very nice looking car. Saw two of them actually, and the blue one looked nicer.

This is not a post about anything. Just saying hello. As I just commented on my other blog, yesterday I got my bike out for the first time in an awfully long time. I've been suffering back, hip and leg pain (which I suspect is sciatica) and it finally drove me to try to create so much pain elsewhere in my body that I no longer notice the sciatica. (If you've ever suffered from sciatica, you'll know what a funny line that was!)

I had a headache all day yesterday, too, so it was an attempt to blow the cobwebs away. I have to say, it worked a treat. My leg hasn't hurt since and my headache was cleared up after the ride (and a short nap!). My legs were terribly wobbly and weak from quite an early stage, however, and I had to use the granny gears to go up some mild inclines. O the shame!

I was just thinking, for a laugh, how funny it would be if I pretended to have some form of dementia, and turned up at my old employer, demanding to know why someone was sitting at my desk. My great uncle Ted used to do this. He played for Reading FC when he was a young man, and in his old age, he used to turn up for training. Hilarious! I would just love to see the faces on my former colleagues as they tried to fathom why I thought I still worked there.

Maybe not, though. Three hours drive for a conceptual joke: too much. In other news, I did just drive two hours (one each way) for a twenty minute meeting.


I've mentioned Guarro over on Guitargas, but thought they were worth mentioning on Holyhoses too. They already have quite a following on MySpace (over 15,000 plays of their top track), but clearly Holyhoses is "more popular than MySpace", so they'll get the exposure they deserve through us.

It's rock music with Flamenco guitar, innit? A little bit different, and quite special. Marcos D'Cruze, the singer and Flamencist, has a decent voice too.


May 16, 2006

Book Review Blog

Since September 2003, when this blog started, we've posted up a fair few book reviews. I've been thinking for a while that these reviews are one of the few useful things we actually do here, so I decided to collect them all together.

I've created a new blog: Bob's Book Reviews (all the catchy titles were taken!), and I'll begin to collect our musings on books, writers, and book-related things on there.

You, dear reader, are welcome to contribute your own book reviews - whether entirely original or copy-pasted from your own blog. Initially, I guess it's easiest to drop a line, but if it becomes a regular thing, you can join the official contribution list.

That is all.


You think a book's been hyped to death, and then the film comes out.

Even my Mrs is reading it now. I looked at the first few lines: turgid, badly constructed sentences, didn't make me want to read it. Here are two facts:
1. My wife confessed that it took her about 140 pages to "get into it."
2. Tom Hanks' hair looks exceedingly strange in the stills I've seen from the film.

These two facts are unrelated. Or are they?

I will not read The Davinci Code. I will not read it on a boat, I will not, will not, with a goat. I will not read it in the rain, I will not read it on a train. Not in the dark, not in a tree, not in a car - you let me be. I will not read it in a box, I will not read it with a fox. I will not read it in my house, I will not read it with a mouse. I will not read it here or there, I will not read it ANYWHERE!

May 15, 2006

Still a failure

It's starting to become embarrassing. As a 32 year old man who can't even put a shelf up without becoming extremely agitated by his own inability to do any DIY jobs either quickly, neatly and without any fuss. Why can't I be more like my old man, he just knows how to do everything. I'm never going to learn. I am a DIY failure. Happy now? Well I've said it. I AM A DIY FAILURE.

Still, he'd be screwed if I withheld IT support, so it's not all one way.

Addicted to Meg

It can't have escaped your notice that some of the digital telly channels are run on a shoestring. If it's not repeats, it's cheap imports (some of which are rather good, hooray!), and if it's not either of those, then it's a film you've seen 90 million and a half times.

Just recently, I've caught the same bit of You've Got Mail a couple of times. It's the bit from just after Tom Hanks has put her out of business, and he meets his father down at their boats. Then he goes round to Meg Ryan's house and takes her daisies, drops a couple of hints that he's her mystery man, and leaves her with a puzzled look on her face.

The film then rapidly accelerates towards the end, as Tom and Meg keep bumping into each other and then arranging to meet, and she finally arranges to meet her online friend, who turns out to be Tom Hanks' dog Brinkley.

I like this film, I don't know why. I'm a big softie, basically, and I love Meg Ryan in this, and in French Kiss and that one with Matthew Broderick, what's it called? She's a bit mad in that. She's a bit mad in all three films, really, because who in their right mind arranges to meet up with an online friend without at least taking a chaperone? In French Kiss she pursues and stalks her ex-boyfriend and hooks up with a bit of a crim. In Addicted to Love (looked it up) she's completely unhinged and does some serious and wouldn't-be-funny-in-real-life stalking. That's a beautiful film that tries to have a lot to say about film too.

Anyway, that bit of You've Got Mail I keep seeing. Like Addicted to Love, it's a bit creepy, when you think about it. Tom Hanks has known for some time that his online friend was Meg. But not vice versa. Not until he drops a couple of hints (gives her daisies and she says, "I love daisies," and he says, "You told me.") and then he repeats something else from online and she gets that puzzled look on her face and thinks about it.

But then for the remainder of the film he plays a bit of a game with her. His online self says things to her, which she then reports to him in real life. And then he takes the piss out of what his online self has said, undermining his internet alter-ego in order to make her favour the real him.

Joe Fox: So what's his handle?
Kathleen Kelly: Uh...
Joe Fox: I'm not going to write him, is that what you're worried about? You think I'm going to e-mail him?
Kathleen Kelly: Alright - NY152.
Joe Fox: N-Y-one-five-two. One hundred and fifty-two. He's... 152 years old. He's had 152 moles removed, so now he's got 152 pock marks on his face.
Kathleen Kelly: The number of people who think he looks like Clark Gable.
Joe Fox: 152 people who think he looks like a Clark BAR.
Kathleen Kelly: Why did I ever tell you this?
Joe Fox: 152 stitches from his nose job. The number of his souvenir shot glasses that he's collected in his travels.
Kathleen Kelly: No... the number... His address? No, no. He would never do anything that prosaic.

Now, if that happened in real life, if you and I were friends online but I knew who you really were, and played a kind of game with you, would that be creepy? Of course it would. At the very least, it's controlling behaviour, and he's already controlled her out of business.

Then again, isn't she supposed to know by this point? Has she really not worked it out? At the end she says, "I wanted it to be you. I wanted it to be you so badly." So maybe they're as creepy as each other, or they're playing a mating game, having fun with it, so who am I to criticise? It's an interesting thought, what I started out to say. Because there is a huge difference between the kind of things that seem right to - er - write, and the kind of things that sound natural and real when you speak them. A couple of times, she repeats things to him that she's said online, and it jars, it does. Because you just don't talk like that.

I've struggled all my life with this dissonance, because I can never quite find a form of words. You know you sometimes get that problem with people online being unable to detect irony? Well I sort of have the reverse of that, because people often don't detect sincerity when I speak. Ha ha! Seriously.

But Tom Hanks, though. Was there supposed to be some kind of chemistry between the leads? By this stage, Hanks' features look like little currants stuck in the middle of a podgy gingerbread face. It's hard to find this slit-eyed individual charming. Meg, on the other hand, was at her peak in this '95-'98 period. I haven't seen any of her post-millennium pictures, mind, which says more about me than about her. Mind you, she let herself down with that Parkie interview, and the ridiculous fat lips she had on at the time. I know he had her on with Trinnie and Susannah, which is about the ultimate insult, but a true professional should rise above that kind of thing.

By the way, I find it deeply upsetting, when you go looking for a picture of Meg, that there are so many undignified and unlikely fake nudes of her out there. Her and Gillian Anderson seem to have suffered more than most from these sick people who take delight in pasting a fake face on a porn star's body. For me, Meg should never be the subject of this kind of thing, because it's not about seeing her naked, is it?

Sobbish Nobbish

There's an interesting snippet in the Guardian today about the premature demise of "fifty quid bloke", aka the mythical creature who habitually dropped fifty notes onto the counter of Selectadisc or HMV and walked away with an armful of CDs. Apparently, he's been replaced by Download Woman, who likes to avoid record stores because they're populated by nerds who look down their nose-hairs at people with lesser tastes. The majority of Kerrang readers are women, it say here. Half of Q readers are women, too, even though all these magazines like to pretend to advertisers that they've got Fifty Quid Bloke sewn up like a good'n.

Download woman likes to keep her musical taste secret. The reason for this becomes apparent when you learn what Marie listens to on her iPod.

Far be it from me to poke fun. I used to visit every single record shop in town every time I went to town, and I hated the bloody lot of them. Especially Selectadisc, which is one of the few retail environments that actually made me want to kill both staff and customers. What a joy it was when Amazon started up. I no longer had to suffer under the whim of corporate buyers and could seek out my own slightly embarrassing musical choices unmolested by supercilious shitbirds with a heroin-chic fixation. They could barely conceal their contempt at my purchases, and I always wanted to ask, What you stock this for if you don't want my money?

Now, if only you could download guitars.

Emperor: The Gods of War by Conn Iggulden

This fourth (and supposedly final) book in Conn Iggulden's Emperor Series picks up the fictionalised telling of the life of Julius Caesar just after his crossing of the Rubicon and takes it to the end, to the stabbing in Pompey's theatre. There is no aftermath: the assassins walk away, and that's it. You don't find out "what happened next" unless you read the Historical Note in the back of the book, in which Iggulden tells you some of the liberties he's taken with the story.

From the very first book in the series, which retells the boyhood of Caesar, Iggulden has refused to let the facts get in the way. This is fine by me. But rather than embellish the facts, Iggulden has in fact simplified them. The real story of Caesar is so much more complex, so much more amazing, that it probably just wouldn't be believable in the form of fiction.

In the first book, the author went into painstaking detail in telling the tale of Caesar's youth, sparing none of the brutality and visceral detail. This level of detail seems to have been toned down in the later books, especially in this last. Caesar's decisive battle against Pompey in Greece is told almost offhand, a mere sketch rather than a detailed oil painting. Possibly, this is because it's just impossible to imagine how Caesar might have won. Pompey had twice as many foot soldiers and four times as many cavalry. And yet he was routed. In the novel, Iggulden proposes a number of reasons for this. The principal one is that Pompey was so ill that he just wasn't functioning; this failure of leadership caused morale within his ranks to be low, so it was ridiculously easy for Caesar's forces to prevail.

Probably the detail that vexes me most is the friendship between Brutus and Caesar. According to history, Brutus was 15 years younger than Caesar, and within Roman politics was on the opposite side. They weren't Brown and Blair, then. More like Kinnock and Hague(!). It's hard to believe they were all that close; Brutus fought with Pompey because they were in the same political party, if you like, rather than because he was angry with his bestest friend. I don't know. I'm no historian.

In the end Iggulden's story is about the love of two men, one of whom ends up betraying and killing the other. It's a kind of homoerotic, Roman, 1984.

As an ending to the series, this is disappointing. The truth is, so much goes on in the period covered by this book that -- had Iggulden maintained the pacing and detail of the earlier books -- there should have been six in the series and not four. Too much is covered - the civil war, the adventures with Cleopatra in Alexandria, Caesar's Grand Tour, his attempts to reform Roman politics, betrayal, political intrigue and death. Too much for one book.

May 14, 2006

James May's dilemma

James May in The Telegraph wonders whether he should sell his Porsche 911 to his doctor.
"Apparently, the Chinese invented everything. While the West was still emerging from the primeval slime - some of which can still be glimpsed around Richard Hammond's house in Gloucestershire - they already had gunpowder, printing, optics and the Ken Hom presentation wok set."

Nice rambling piece with a great punchline.

May 12, 2006

Don't mention the pensions

Let's pause for a second to reflect on these headlines. New deal ends deadlock over pensions... Blair and Brown agree link with earnings, retirement age to be 68. So says The Gonad. And the BBC have been saying it all day: Brown and Blair in pensions deal... A deal on pensions has been agreed between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown following months of wrangling, the prime minister has confirmed.

So what are we talking about here? Hugh Scanlon and Tedward Heath? Arthur Scargill and Mrs T? Implacable enemies, on opposing sides, incompatible ideologies? General Strike averted? It would seem so. Except this is supposed to be the Prime Ministrone of this future archipelago and his right hand man, the chancellor of the ex-pecker. They're supposed to be, historically and traditionally, you know, on the same side, part of the same team.

Now, I'm not so naive as to believe that this sort of thing hasn't gone on since the Magna Carta, but c'mon. This is important stuff. Pensions. Death. Taxes. And yet the only story that's going on is the wrestling match beetween Blown and Brair. It seems to me that we're either being badly let down by our news media, or our national politics has degenerated to a ridiculous low point, more Billy Smart's Circus than anything else.

Personally, I've got no time for either of them. Blair is a gimlet-eyed weasel from another planet and Brown is a tinkerer, a fiddler, a Babbage who works on strange, complex machines and makes stupid errors (Child Tax Credit, anyone?). Keep it simple, stupid.

Fridays Best Joke So Far

Question: What do you get if your friends girlfriend tries to sell your bosses house?

Answer: Hopefully not the sack…

It can only end in tears, probably mine.


2NullVintage Calculator Key - 0K+E leroy penPpOuntitledadd a TAG!soulbrakes.JPGfull stopHURuntitledAy oh whyExclamation mark

Move along now, nothing to see here. Spell with Flickr. Thanks to Rashbre for the link.

jean-jacques pissoir

Pissoir in Chinatown
Originally uploaded by doglas mccake.
i don't get out much, so when i saw an open air toilet in the middle of london i had to get a picture of it.

it would be fun waiting around for rob to squeeze one out - anyone within a mile radius of him and he just can't do it.


Moulin a vent a la maison

Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

I heard some geezer on the radio yesterday talking about how easy it is to put a domestic wind turbine on your roof at home.

Apparently the cost can be as low as £1500, which is closer to £1000 if you get one of them there grant thingies.

He reckoned it was so straightoforward that it won't be long before you can buy the things in B&Q and fit it yourself... "As simple as plugging it in to a 3-pin socket."

You what? Surely not that easy?

With that kind of cost, you'd get a return on your investment in around 3 years, plus you could have electric everything, couldn't you? Electric carving knife, breadmaker, coffee stirrer, toothbrush, hairbrush. And you could leave the iron on all day, as I did yesterday, and the only cost would be your house burning down, as mine didn't yesterday.

Er... I think that's #1997

May 11, 2006

How to Join Holyhoses

Since HolySwerve has joined this blog, a lot of you have written to ask, how does one get to join? Well, it couldn't be easier!

The application procedure is set out as follows. Please mark each sheet of your application with your unique Holyhoses application reference number, which should be included on the outside of the envelope you threw away.

Please first complete Form A - Personal Details and Monitoring. This form is not provided to the shortlisting and interview panel, but is kept for statistical purposes, and will be used to invite you to interview, should you be shortlisted.

Please also complete Form B - Disclosure of Criminal Convictions. This includes convictions not spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and the Poor Spelling act of 1983, and the Inability to Detect Irony (Internet) Act 1996. Form B will not be provided to the shortlisting and interview panel.

Complete Form C - Education and Employment, continuing on extra sheets as required. Please mark all sheets with your unique Holyhoses application reference number.

Form D - Personal Statement is optional, and may instead be replaced by a supplementary sheet including your Personal Statement, or a copy of your CV that does not include your personal details. Again, please mark all sheets with your unique Holyhoses application reference number.

There are a number of supplementary forms to complete, viz: The Disabled Monitoring Form, and the Further Details Form, on which you are asked to provide your bank account details, your passport number, your driving licence number, your credit card number(s), security code(s), and your PIN or PINs. Please also complete Form E to confirm that you have completed all the other forms.

Please then provide three full-colour copies of your application, together with six (6) passport sized photographs and do make sure you put the correct postage on the envelope.

Closing date for applications is Midsummer Day 2006. Once all the applications are in, a shortlist of seven (7) candidates will be drawn up and invited for interview. Please keep the dates from 01 July through 30 September free for interview, as alternative dates may not be available.

Following a first interview, with a panel of Three, candidates successful in passing through to the second stage will be asked to complete four Tasks, each involving one of the four elements, Fire, Earth, Wind, and Water. Having survived all four Tasks, the remaining candidates will be called for a second interview, with a panel of Nine, which will last no longer than three hours. A presentation will be required, on the subject of Extradiegesis in Modern Russian Cinema. A projector and Magic Lantern will be provided, if required.

After all that, we'll pop down The Whale for a pint and decide whether we like you or not.

(Oh, and that's... 1995.)

Hi, my name is…

Well Hello. I'm HolySwerve, I'll be posting the odd bit of mundane, misspelt, uninteresting, gramatically incorrect word fop on these pages from now on so you'd better get used to it (please feel free to use your mouse and scroll over my texts by all means).

I've been called a lot of things over the years, but mostly in 'real life' I've been called James. Here in www land I've been known as sworth on flickr, (but I don't like to talk about it) or Lefthome on iStockphoto, but you probably need an account to view stuff there.

I go by the sign of the bull and born in the year of my birth (Tiger), which may or may not mean anything to any of you. I haven't got a clue, but I do like chocolate and wine.

Bruce on Four

In a parallel universe, the Tardis arrives to a Britain familiar yet strangely changed. The Doctor and Rose pick up a newspaper to see if they can put their finger on it. In a Guardian concert review, they read the following:
Springsteen, whose songs about white collar office workers struck a chord with a generation of Microserfs, once caused controversy by backing Californian Governer Ronald Reagan's failed bid for the US Presidency. Last night at the Hammersmith Apollo, he returned to the scene of his greatest triumph, thirty years ago. A strange noise erupted from the audience. It sounds like they're saying 'Brooooooooooooce,' but actually, they are just booing."

In other news, BBC Four features a veritable feast of Broooooce on Friday the 19th May, with a live set of songs from his new Pete Seeger-inspired album, followed by the 1975 Hammersmith Apollo live set.

If the mumbly folky stuff leaves you cold, you should at least catch the 1975 concert, which is extraordinarily good. In the era of Lieutenant Pigeon and David Dundas, the young Springsteen really was summat else.


UPDATE: Public Service Announcement. I can't believe I'm really having to say this, but anyone discovering this post after a Google search for "Bruce Springsteen Booing BBC4," they're not booing. They're saying Brooooooce. I am truly amazed that there are people alive in the world who didn't know this.



I couldn't help watching The Apprentice, because my wife got hooked on it.

They were a really slimy sample of humanity, I thought, but for reasons which should be obvious I did actually enjoy seeing them all come unstuck in the hard-nosed interview sessions in the penultimate episode. Getting caught out with their lies on their CVs, not researching the company they wanted to work for... You couldn't help thinking they'd been chosen just because they were like that, because it makes for better television.

The winner is an odd fish. Looks like she's got a face stuck on top of her normal face, and seemed to have difficulties pronouncing straightforward words. I can't believe they really talk like that in Hull. Perhaps she comes from an isolated and inbred island community of double-faced people. Is there such an island in the Humber estuary?

In other news, I just came back from an interview. Took me 13 minutes to get home. Thirteen. Minutes. I can't remember what the job was now, but I've never wanted anything so much.*

Isn't it a lovely day?


*A degree of irony included

May 10, 2006


By posting all those photos this morning as separate entries, I've inadvertantly put us perilously close to our two thousandth post.

And by just telling you about it, we're one closer again.

Ten to go.

dum de Dundas

Ah, remember this?
When I wake up in the mornin' light
I pull on my jeans and I feel all right
I pull my blue jeans on, I pull my old blue jeans on
I pull my blue jeans on, I pull my old blue jeans on

Yes, that's right. David Dundas' 1976 Brutus Jeans advert tie-in hit was revived a couple of years ago by none other than Keith Urban of that parish. It's a big number in his live act, too.

I was saying the other day how I loved my kids' taste in music. Being 5 and 8 respectively, they essentially go for anything that gives them a good bop, so of course they're unlikely to go for that song Faith Hill does about a baby that died, or any of that sort of tragic, divorce-death-and-taxes kind of thing.

No, they like a good beat and a catchy chorus, something with a hook. They absolutely love Joy Lynn White's version of "A Certain Boy" (originally "A Certain Girl") with its call-and-response lyrics.

But David Dundas? There's obviously no limit to what you might get into if you lose all your preconceptions and weren't born in 1976.

Le Corbusier's chapel

Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

Ronchamp is very near where my wife's family lives. Notre Dame du Haut was built to replace the previous chapel, which was destroyed by bombing or shelling.

2005 was the 50th anniversary. My wife's mum remembered that there was a lot of controversy when Le Corbusier built it, and a lot of locals didn't like it. But there are modernist monstrosities, and there are beautiful buildings, and this is the latter.

I was dead chuffed when Dan Cruikshank concluded his first programme with it. It really is worth a visit. It's in a less well known part of France, but you should see that as a bonus. You get a really peaceful feeling when you stand inside it, and the views outside are breathtaking.


Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

I love the nun's hat look

Etoile du matin

Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

Another interior shot

Another interior shot

Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

The little stained glass windows impress Didi


Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

The light in the interior, as Dan Cruikshank said, is absolutely wonderful. The concrete construction allows for a completely open space, with no pillars to obscure the view.

Notre dame du haut

Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

On the left, my mother-in-law with my wife and her brother. On the right, my wife and our kids, last summer

peace memorial

peace memorial
Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

I love little details like this. This is at the top of a platform outside the chapel. You can climb it to get a better angle to photograph the chapel, or just enjoy the fab view.

the bells

the bells
Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

These are the bells from the original Ronchamp chapel, which was destroyed in WWII

May 09, 2006

Wen Spencer - A Brother's Price

This is a bit of a strange one. There's nothing particularly science fictiony about this one, apart from the fact that the setting is Earthlike but not our Earth, and perhaps historical, but not our history. Wen Spencer's A Brother's Price takes place against a backdrop of 19th Century-level technology on a strangely altered world which is run by women. Men are in short supply, and this has created a sexist society in which men are traded and sold, married to whole families of sisters, and kept locked away or veiled.

It's uncommon for men to be taught to read or ride horses, and before they come of age they're expected to care for younger family members. When required, the men are decorated with braids and ribbons and paraded in front of potential suitors/buyers. There's an ever-present risk of inbreeding and disease, should, for example, a sister choose to use a so-called "crib", or brothel of forced male prostitution (use of v i a g r a-type drugs is common).

As the novel opens, Jerin Whistler is about to come of age, and fears being married off into a neighbouring family of inbred low-lifes. Circumstances, however, bring a high-born stranger into his home, and his life takes a turn for the adventurous.

It's part ripping yarn, part mystery story, and an entertaining, page-turning read. Not the sort of thing I usually read, but I bought it on an Amazon recommendation, and I'm glad I did.

May 08, 2006

Sarah Beth Keeley - Time

Around the turn of the century, I bought a record by a new Canadian singer-songwriter by the name of Carolyn Dawn Johnson. The opening cut of Room With a View, "Georgia," is a stone classic.
If I'm not over you by Georgia
Then I'll head to Alabama
Roll on to Mississippi
Or maybe Louisiana
I'll drive all the way
To California
Oh, I won't turn around
No, I won't turn around

It's a great song in a strong collection, but the thing that really hooked me about the record was the sound. There was something about the vocal I'd never really heard before. It was dry, but not in the sense that it had no reverb at all. There was a little bit, only you couldn't really hear it. The main thing about the effect is that it sounds totally natural. Quite a lot of the time in the history of recorded music, producers have been trying to artificially create a performance environment, whether a concert hall or an intimate club. "Georgia" just sounded like someone sitting in front of you in your living room.

All of which is by way of a long introduction to Sarah Beth Keeley, another singer-songwriter from the same Canadian territory as CDJ (Alberta). And that SBK was inspired by CDJ is clear to hear in the dry vocal, the smooth sound, the sweet vocal tone, and a nice collection of songs.

Check, check, check.

Except: CDJ's 2001 debut was on Arista, and produced by Paul Worley (Sara Evans, Dixie Chicks), so you'd be entitled to have high expectations of the production quality - which are met.

SBK, on the other hand, is her own record company. And, together with local producer/engineer Emre uNal, she wrote and arranged these songs herself, and recorded them in a Calgary studio with friends and session musicians.

Is there a difference in quality? No. In a blind listening test, I wouldn't prefer one of these to the other.

The major difference is that CDJ's MySpace page has had 31847 views and her songs 47606 plays. SBK has had 1617 profile views and 2930 plays.

We've had several discussions over the past week or so about MySpace, and the need to be "your own personal John Peel" and whether people feel they can really do that.

It brings to mind what Nick Hornby wrote in 31 Songs. The problem we music lovers increasingly face is that our cherished tunes are being gobbled up and fed back to us by the marketing industry. This has been happening for a couple of decades, of course, but the process is so accelerated now that (a) nothing is sacred and (b) time is irrelevant.

When I was growing up, it was unthinkable that an actual Frank Sinatra recording would be used in an advert. It just never happened. And you'd think, too, that bands like The Velvet Underground would stay off limits, but they don't. As Hornby writes, the people who work in advertising and marketing are the same as the rest of us, and for some reason they see nothing wrong with using sacred music in advertising. There is no line in the sand, and these people have no moral compass.

All of which means, your commercially released, classic and current, popular music is being hosed back at you 24 hours a day, wherever you go. They don't have muzak in supermarkets any more. They have fucking Tony Blackburn playing classic hits. Adverts, airports, supermarkets. I saw a CD in Tesco the other day, had five or six great classic tracks on it. 97 pence.

In such a context, MySpace is a lifeline to great music that is unsullied by major marketing campaigns, that is being produced by talented individuals with day jobs, the kind of people you might work with, who work hard by day and play every night; who scrape together money to record an album in a decent studio and then sell it through CD Baby. And, no, it doesn't cost 97 pence. It costs $15, plus postage (I got the artwork and supplied my own case).

Now, there's a lot of shite out there. It's quite heartening, for me, to come across people who are clearly less talented than me. And there are major artists on there too. But that's a good thing, because you can follow connections - like the one from CDJ to SBK - and pick up a thread. You really do start to build a network of music that you like because it's made by people who like the same (commercial) stuff as you.

So hold your nose and jump in, and get your hands dirty.

Panasonic TUCTH100 PVR

What do the following have in common?

CSI, Grey's Anatomy, ER, House, Without a Trace.

Yes, that's right. They're all shows I'd recorded on my PVR last week, planning to watch them over the weekend. I'd fallen a bit behind with the viewings because of Dr Tanya Byron's occupation of the 8-9pm slot on BBC3. My wife watches The House of Tiny Tearaways, you see, even though each hour of the show includes at least 30 minutes of soul-destroying repetition.

Anyway, my Digifusion PVR (combined hard disk recorder with two Freeview tuners) went horribly wrong. During the week, it started to have trouble generating the little thumbnail "scenes" that allow you to skip through programmes, and then on Saturday morning, it refused to start up. I'm assuming a dead hard disk. Grrr!

So I had to go over to John Lewis and buy a new one - a Panasonic this time. On the plus side, it's got nicer-looking menus than the Digifusion, though it cost £50 more for the same capacity. The remote is similarly shitty and badly thought out, and the user-interface, while more tasteful, is a bit of a nightmare.

For example, you push a button to get into the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG), and then you scroll through the channels to get the one you want. But then you have to push another button to get the programme list for that channel, and then another to add it to your record list. And then another to confirm. That's 4 button pushes, with no opportunity to edit the start/stop times, which you have to go through a separate menu to access. To me, that's pretty bad.

The Digifusion, while ugly, showed you a listing of what was on all channels by time, and you could separately access the complete channel listing, or just tab through the times. So finding what you wanted was quicker and easier. A single button push took you to the Record menu, where you could edit the start/stop time before adding it to the list.

To delete a programme you've already watched, you have to select it, unlock it, then delete, then confirm. Again, too many button pushes - and all over the remote as well, so tricky with one hand.

The other problem is with the idea of favourite channels. The Panasonic goes too far with this, offering you 4 different profiles, so four different people can select favourite channels. But it's nearly impossible to select a profile, so it's not very useful. You have to bring up the Info banner, then hit the blue button four times in a row - at least. But it's not even as simple as that, because the first four pushes take you through options you just don't want to be there (for example, you end up on a radio station). Even worse, once you're in a profile, you can only select channels by going up/down with the channel selector. Punch in the number directly (e.g. 3 for ITV or 70 for CBBC) and the unit bumps you out of the profile and into "all channels." Why? Not very pleased with that feature.

It doesn't automatically add scenes every 5 mins, so if you want them, you have to add them manually, which is time consuming, and so I'm never going to do it. On the other hand, it does remember the last time you stopped a recording, so you can jump straight to it.

The Digifusion had fast forward and rewind speeds of quarter-speed, half-speed, x1, x2, x4, x8 and so on. So you could get it to move very slowly when you wanted to, and I found x8 speed very useful for skipping ad breaks on Sky 3 and E4, dropping it back to x4 just before the end of the break (because it wasn't very smooth at coming off ultra high speeds). The Panasonic has x3 and then jumps to x12 which is too fast to be much use, unless you don't mind missing the beginning of each segment. On the other hand, it comes out of x12 speed quite smoothly and gets straight on with it, instead of stuttering badly as the Digifusion did.

So far so mostly negative, and now for the good bits. Picture and sound quality is excellent (though there's no option to over-compress so as to fit more on), and the programme guide downloads and updates in real time as opposed to doing it overnight. This means you can switch it off at night and save energy. It also has a better display on the hardware itself, showing the channel you're watching, or the title of the recording (e.g. "Doctor Wh").

Great features: picture-in-picture and/or picture-and-picture. Yes! Watch two channels at once, so you can monitor in a smaller window whether something has started or finished yet. Or just keep an eye on the score so you don't have to sit through dull football games. You can switch between the tuners using a Source button, too. And when you set recordings, unlike with the Digifusion, you can ask it to record it daily/weekly at the same time. All good.

All the other PVR features are there: pause/rewind live TV (and you can adjust the length of the buffer); watch a recording whilst making two more; and start watching a recording before it's complete, so you can time-shift by 15 minutes, say, and skip all the ads. It records the subtitles, so you can always access them in times of mumbling ac-tors or high background noise. Oh, and you can dub from this recorder onto something else, like a VCR or DVD recorder, so that's a plus. Another neat feature is the fact that it is very informative about your recording library, telling you which are recordings in progress, and also those you haven't watched yet, which is good when then menu gets crowded.

In summary.

Remote Control: horrible, 2/10
Menus and User Interface: awful, 3/10
Hardware design: not bad, 6/10
Features: mostly good: 7/10

There's a long way to go with these things. I'd say this is marginally better than the Digifusion, but there's still an opportunity for a Sony or an Apple to come in with a user-interface that's properly thought through and easy on the eye.

Recommended? Listen, you either get it or you don't. For me, once you've lived with a PVR (like Tivo, or Sky+, or one of these Freeview things), you can never go back. You just can't. It's too convenient and makes too much of an improvement to your telly viewing life. The hard drive will fail: it's bound to, but don't let that put you off.