.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

December 30, 2003

And yet ironically

They're closing their post office, because people are talking about politics too much. Apparently.

Dixie! Part 2

So the Dixie Chicks have been given an ACLU award, and here's the speech their manager gave on accepting the award.


A thing I frequently remark upon when watching French TV is how old-fashioned it looks. It's not just that it's crap, oh no, but it looks like it comes from the Ark.

The main thing is the microphones. We're spoiled in the UK, of course, because the production facilities are probably among the best in the world (thanks to the licence fee, I would say). So you might barely notice the microphones in use. Everybody in the studio will be wearing tiny lavalier mics, like this Sennheiser MKE 2-1053-C (catchy name). We're talking "sub miniature" in terms of size, and extremely unobtrusive on-screen.

But in France, you'll find people on chat shows holding microphones in their hands. They might be wireless, and they're not even necessarily cheaper than the lavalier type, but every guest sitting round a table will be holding their own microphone. And even a Parky type chat show, the guest will sit in the chair holding his/her own microphone. Switch over to Swiss or German TV, and you'll see a more modern look. It's the French, and possibly the Italians, who utterly refuse to update their technology, because TV is such a degraded form of entertainment anyway.

Apart from feature films and made-for-tv movies, French TV consists of quiz shows (the same as you get in any other country, Qui veut gagner des Millions and the Weakest Link - forget what it's called in French, I don't think it's "Le Lien le Plus Faible*") and round-table chat shows. Doesn't matter what the subject is, serious or light-hearted, they'll have a bunch of celebs and/or intellectuals, sitting round a table with a host (or two hosts) and passing comment.

For example, your standard funny video clips show, like "You've Been Framed", will consist of a few clips, followed by people sitting round a table, holding big microphones, saying something vaguely related to the clips, in front of a studio audience. Some of the people round the table, you recognise from other shows. Like the host might be the host of "Question pour un Champion" and one of the guests will be the fat, French version of Anne Robinson. And there's some comedian who always wears a stupid red hat, you see him a lot. And gorgeous looking women who never say anything, but sit there looking beautiful.

It's awesomely bad.

Ironically, on the quiz shows, the contestants aren't trusted to hold their own microphones and wear lavaliers, except they're like lavaliers from the 60s. And they have to wear two of them. So instead of one sub-miniature, they wear two rather preposterously large lavaliers, which drag downwards on their clothing, because of their weight.

I've been watching French TV on a semi-regular basis for 10 years now, and it still looks like it was made 40 years ago. If I lived there, I think I'd get desperate. It's not even that easy to get something decent on Satellite, because they still think films are worth having on, so it's not like you get a special Buffy Contre Les Vampires channel.

It's odd that the French will make Norman Wisdom and Benny Hill culture heroes, but they don't appreciate things like Buffy. So completely up their own arses with their own culture, without any real appreciation of the rest of the world.

*Ah, it's "Le Maillon Faible."

Mio nome è Nessuno, Il

Saw this Spaghetti Western in France over Xmas. What a strange film it is. Dubbed into French, and with the volume so extremely low I stood no chance of catching any of the dialogue. As such, saw it as what you might call "pure film," a series of scenes and visuals, some of which went on and on.

1973, eh?

Some of it was very funny, in a slapsticky kind of way, especially the scene in the bar where Terence Hill kept taking the gun of some guy and slapping him round the face before he could draw.

December 29, 2003

The Road

You know well by now my paranoiac linkage of disparate things. Something heard on the radio yester twigged this. I was going to write something amusing about driving in France, but after a week and 24 hours total driving time, I'm not as amused as I could be.

Somebody on the radio was talking about Michael Howard, and whether he'd be able to make people forget that he was part of the last conservative government. And one of the contributors said that he knew too many people who were personally and professionally affected by the 79-97 Tory era, and who bitterly resented that period of our political history.

I agree. Personally, I think the fabric of our society was thoroughly unstitched by Thatcher and her inheritors. Tony Weasel's government of a slightly different shade of blue is continuing the process. If we thought it was bad in the mid-late 70s, we knew nothing of what was to come, though there were plenty who warned against it.

Monetarism, supply-side economics, whatever you call it, was responsible for destroying jobs and disrupting lives, buggering communities into the ground. We were left with a service economy based on retail parks and call centres, and even the call centres are flowing their inevitable way to countries with lower costs and standards of living.

But it's the micropolitical aspects of it that will get you in the end. The 60s feminists identified the personal as political, and it's the ongoing, every-day, repetitive hammering of selfishness, ignorance, obliviousness, and virtual solipsism that grinds your spirit into the dust.

So take driver behaviour. Sure, there are a lot more cars and drivers on the road than there were in 1979. But actually, this should make people more, not less, courteous and thoughtful. Because living in society means learning how to be social. And social, as any anthropologist will tell you = moral. To be antisocial is to be immoral. Except the Thatcherites managed to convince people that society didn't matter, that only the individual matters. What, did they think that each individual had his/her own moral compass and would know how to behave?

Current trends in driving which are the sign of all this are the following:

  • Dazzle
  • Frazzle
  • Hassle

What could I possibly mean? Dazzle, folks, is the bane of my driving life. I'm so fucking sick of the tits who drive around all fucking day with their fog lights on. Front fog lights. You know who I'm talking about. People who leave their back fog lights on are just dumb as a sack of tacks, but the front fog light is a fuck-you to the world. They go with the baseball cap and the sunglasses as the accoutrements of the shit driver, the essential fashion accessories of those who are concerned with how they look in their cars. They're not even useful in the fog, because, hey, they just light up the fog. The only safety feature you need for the fog is to slow down, remembering the rule that you should be able to brake to a stop within the distance you can actually see.

Front fog lights are bad enough, but they're joined on my list of things to hate by those stupid blue-ish (and stupidly expensive) ultra-bright headlamps, which are another fuck-you to the world. They're so stupidly bright and dazzling that you forget your rear view mirror is on the dimmer setting. I wish there was a way of having a mirror pop up at the back of your car, James Bond style, and dazzle the bastards back.

There used to be a public service announcement on the telly, back in the day, the "Don't Dazzle, Dip" one. But even if you showed it now, even if you ran a campaign, I'm convinced it would only encourage people to worse feats of hot-poker blinding and dazzling. Because it's not just that they're selfish and ignorant and stupid, but they're aggressive and nasty with it.

Frazzle is what happens when you're in that crowd, that jam, that gridlock, as I was on Saturday afternoon, driving back from France. After a totally smooth and trouble-free journey, with the best possible timing of arriving at La Cocquelles and getting straight onto Le Shuttle, 3 hours ahead of schedule, we hit the M25 and ground to a halt. We were all in the same boat, but some of us had to sit and watch the lane swappers, the hoppers, the queue jumpers, nipping in and out, back and forth, sneaking up here and there. And it's not just that you're watching them, but you're watching the same ones, for two hours, because actually all their swapping and nipping and pushing in and cutting up does nothing to advance their cause. They just piss everyone else off. And they don't care.

It's like that outside lane thing. You know, like yesterday on the M1, when there was a queue of cars in the outside lane, all too close to each other, and almost nobody at all in the inside lane, also known as the slow lane. This is a mild irritation. After many years of watching this moronic behaviour, especially the morons (call them optimists) who tear up the slip road to get on the motorway and then zoom across into the outside lane, as if being in either of the two "slow" lanes will kill them; it's the "I can't allow my BMW to be seen in the slow lane" syndrome; so after these many years, I've come to the conclusion that I might as well use the inside lane, and I do, and I overtake people on the inside. A lot. I know you're not supposed to do it, but I do it in the knowledge that it will enrage all the selfish fascists in the so-called "fast" lane, and that the person in the middle lane I'm overtaking is actually too scared to change lanes.

The easy solution to this would be to paint the words "BUS LANE" all the way up the inside lane, because then it would be a matter of pride for all the BMW and Mercedes and Audi drivers to drive along it.

And the whole thing's just one big unpleasant hassle isn't it? Because we all know that, whether you're doing 80 or 90, or 100, or 70, you're more or less going to arrive where you're going at more or less the same time. Because we're not talking interstellar distances here. It's not like you're going to get to Mars a week earlier. It all evens out. Sometimes you're just accelerating, really fast, onto the back of the next traffic jam. At which point, you can change modes and start swapping lanes and cutting people up.

So. Where does it leave us? Just as the deregulation of broadcast has left us without Doctor Who on Saturday tea time, the ongoing privatisation of transport has seen the shutters go down and the blinkers go on. We live without any hope of whole-family-round-the-TV togetherness, instead with lower and lower common denominator, trash TV, and without that sense of occasion at Christmas, when you'd have Big Films on TV at Christmas and Morecambe and Wise and all that. Every time I see the front foglight fucker, or the blue-dazzle headlight shitbird, or the lane-swapping wanker, or the aggressive, tailgating tosspot, I'm reminded that Thatcherism has led us to this, and I'm depressed to my soul.

December 19, 2003


I'd like to leave you with a positive message, before we reach the dog end of the year... well, would you accept two negative messages?

(c) Woody Allen.


Well, as the more observant among you will have noticed, I got a little confused with my Radio Timess a couple of weeks back, and prematurely announced the final 3 episodes of Buffy, when there were in fact 6 to go. Apologies to all of you who stopped watching because of me, and felt let down by the abrupt and puzzling ending.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, Buffy was one of the Golden Age programmes, and you frankly wonder if you'll ever see its like again. Like all the best shows, like ER, like NYPD Blue, Buffy was able to live with the arrival and departure of new/old characters and not only survive, but prosper. In a show that was so much about sex and death, there was also more humour than you'll find anywhere outside of Woody Allen: Standup Comic, and that includes shows that are supposed to be comedies.

Even at the last, in the final episode, which featured many moving moments, there were enough laffs to satisfy your average sitcom writer. It worked so well, just because the ethos of the show was about living out your emotional life in all its fullness, with all the metaphors and similes we use to describe our emotions taken literally, and the humour that we all find in life intact. The biggest mistake a drama writer can make is to forget that life, on the whole, is hilarious. Sometimes unintentionally.

A mildy unhappy teenager from a lower-income-bracket broken home, Buffy was Everygirl, and such a great role model, showing how strength and resolve could get you through the worst of your high school experiences - with spirit, determination, and the love of two or three good friends. And after high school, she coped with not really fitting in at college, with dropping out, with the paucity of decent jobs for college dropouts, the death of a family member and the increased responsibility that brings, the changes in her closest friends, in their personalities and circumstances; and finally with the realisation that, even in her 20s, she's not quite "done." And still with the humour:
"I'm cookie dough. I'm not done baking. I'm not finished becoming whoever the hell it is I'm gonna turn out to be. I make it through this, and the next thing, and the next thing, and maybe one day I turn around and realize I'm ready. I'm cookies. And then, you know, if I want someone to eat— or enjoy warm, delicious cookie me, then...that's fine. That'll be then. When I'm done."

Even the death of Anya, one of the main characters, was touched by the trademark joke. The last word she speaks is, "Bunnies," which as we all know were Anya's greatest fear. So. Some of the best acting, the best writing, the best television, there has ever been. With the bravest dramatic decisions, the funniest lines, and most disturbing moments. And, all the time, the constant play with genre conventions, with long-running drama conventions, with soap conventions.

Who can ever forget the episode where Dawn first appeared, the sister out of nowhere? Guaranteed to lead to letters from the less bright members of the audience, of course there was a point to it all. And (possibly its most moving moment), the death of Joy Summers, and the stunning moments after, as Buffy zoned out to the drone of the paramedic's comforting words; or the episode called "Hush," or the musical one, or the one in which Buffy confesses she is my secret girlfriend.

Surefooted to the end, the last few episodes were superb, and pitch perfect. "I love you," she said to Spike, and he said, "No, you don't. But thanks for saying it."

Review of the Year

I'll not be blogging for a week or so after today, so it's time for the review of the year.

January: Can't remember
February: Also can't remember
March: Pretty sure March happened, but I can't remember anything about it
April: Was Eastre around here? I can't remember.
May: Last week of May was nice. A holiday in the Vendee was very enjoyable
June: Mum died
July: Another trip to France, can't remember much about it
August: Can't remember
September: This is the month I bought a new bike, so I could do some exercise and therefore not die
Octover: It's over
November: Was it only a month ago?
December: I've had a stinking cold all month long, one after the other, and my body is a mucus factory.

So there you have it, the best and worst of 2003. A year we won't remember in a hurry.

December 18, 2003

Scream of the Shalka

The final episode is up today, so you can watch the whole thing. I've fair enjoyed it. Not keen on the animation style, but I tended not to watch so much as listen, and the sound quality was fairly good.

Some idiot has arsed up the theme music with stupid drums, but that kind of thing seems inevitable in this era of the don't-know-they're-born. Richard E Grant would not be my choice for the Doctor, but he was passable; but I liked Sophie Okonedo as the possible new assistant.

The plot was a trifle thin, and fairly disjointed, but in spite of all this, it passed the time easily enough.

It's a Thursday, so I've got a headache, which is why I'm quiet today.

December 17, 2003

I sort of hate

This kind of thing. Y'know, people who feel that it's important to review things from some kind of religious perspective. I'm suspicious of the intended audience for the review, who are basically a bunch of people who need to be told what to think. And I'm suspicious of the one who will stand up and tell them what to think.

I like this bit: "Click here if you... forgot what the first two films were about."

Oh yeah... And click here if you forgot to tie your shoelaces this morning.

Another photo of the day to gasp over

Taken with an Olympus C-740 Ultra Zoom, which is a 3 megapixel camera. I rest my case (see below). The 4 megapixel successor to the C-740, the C-750, can be had for around 400 UKP.

It's all in the ultra zoom lens. Ultra zoom is the way to go.


I had call to test an Adrenalinn (by Roger Linn Design) last night. It was one of the original, blue ones, not one of the new yellow ones. But still fantastic fun.

I didn't have time to open the manual and learn how to use it properly, and I doubt I'd ever have the patience to programme a 32 step sequence of drum patterns and effects, which is what you can do with it, but just plugging the thing in and dialing up a couple of the presets gave me a couple of hours of happy fun.

It's hard to describe what it does. In simple terms, you don't need to be a good guitarist (good for me), because all that's required is one chord per bar (or less than that), and the filters and modulation effects do the rest, in synch to a drum beat. A whole song to the one drum beat could be a bit monotonous, which is why you'd want to programme a sequence, so that the pattern changes (and the effect on the guitar).

I'd recommend this to anyone who wants something just that little bit different. My one criticism of it is that it could do with multiple outputs, so that you could record the drum beat seperately from the guitar. It's something they could have addressed with the Adrenalinn II, but haven't. I guess the trick is to treat the guitar drums as a single effect, and record other percussion and guitar separately.

I'm certainly more alive to the possible uses of delay and modulation effects now. Where is that copy of Spektral Delay?


Here's a dilemma for the Digicam manufacturers. This was something I was thinking about not long ago. Whereas Sony announced their technological leap forward next-generation CCD not long ago, with 8 megapixels, it makes more sense from a marketing point of view, to make smaller incremental jumps, which is what Sharp are proposing with their new 6 megapixel CCD.

The numbers game here makes the same kind of sense that it does in the computer industry. A faster processor in a computer can be meaningless without other improvements in the architecture, like bus speed, hard drive speed, memory speed etc. (I'm anti-laptop simply because, no matter how fast the processor of a laptop is, the low energy consumption s-l-o-w hard drives compromise performance).

With a Digicam, putting more pixels into an image-capturing CCD of the same size will almost certainly lead to a loss of quality, as noise interferes with the image - unless you develop a new lens to work with the new CCD. I've noticed the same thing on my DV camcorder. Its compact size is coupled with a physically smaller CCD so that a standard-size lens can offer a greater optical zoom. But the ability of the camera to work in lower light conditions is not so great, and the pictures are noisier, a long way from the "broadcast quality" you can get with some DV camcorders. Next time, I'll be looking for a physically larger camera with a bigger lens.

Phil Askey on DP Review comments that more megapixels doesn't make a better camera, and I agree. We've talked about it before. For your standard photo album print, 3 megapixels is all you need. For A4 prints, 5 megapixels is more than adequate. And to capture more detail with more megapixels, you need to improve the lens on the camera first. Photography is about capturing light, not pixels, so always look to the lens first. And then look to useability aspects like startup speed, read/write speed, burst mode, autofocus speed and accuracy etc.

It's what has always annoyed me about the Fuji range of cameras, because the biggest claim made by Fuji is their interpolation of the captured image to double the file size. Well, whoopee to that. My tests of Fuji cameras, and the sample images I've seen, confirm that all you get is a softer, less detailed image when you do that.

I got 4 words for ya. Nikon. Minolta. Canon. Olympus. These people know lenses.

December 16, 2003

Raised by dingos

It is kind of reassuring, for those of us with an entirely negative view of human nature, to note that the crappy docu-drama on the so-called MMR controversy received about a quarter as many viewers as a programme on one of the other channels about children supposedly raised by animals.

Given a choice between sensationalist issue-led drama and sensationalist documantaries about fantastic (as in hard to believe) events, people go for the fantasy every time. What's the difference between an autistic child and one raised by dogs? Don't answer.


I enjoy Alias, it's my kind of show. On one level it's eye candy; fast, loud, pretty. On the other, the plot is so convoluted and its play with identity so complex, that it provides the kind of food for thought that made The X Files and Buffy such long-term successes.

Jennifer Garner plays a woman who is a student whilst also an agent in the CIA who pretends (for the first 2 seasons at least) to be an agent within a shadowy organisation called SD6, which itself pretends to be a branch of the CIA. Whilst she has to lie to her friends a lot, one of her friends has recently been killed and replaced by a convincing double.

It's one of those shows where you can't trust anyone, and if you miss a couple of episodes you don't know what the hell is going on. Also one of those shows you think will inevitably end too soon, because it's too hard to get into if you've never watched it before - so it's difficult to build an audience.

Channel 5 are making it harder too. First they moved it to Saturday night, when it's obviously a midweek 9 o clock-ish kind of show, and now they've relegated it to the the middle of Sunday night. Odd, because recent epsidoes have featured guest appearances from the likes of Christian Slater and Ethan Hawke.

She does a lot of her own stunts too, which is kind of dumb and admirable at the same time.

December 15, 2003

Home printing options

Saw an Epson Stylus Photo RX500 demonstrated on Friday.

A lot of you have written to ask if I'd recommend a multi-function device like this, so here's my opinion. A few years ago, you may remember, we made the mistake of buying a television with an integrated VCR. In the fullness of time, after enough flat food and wooden toys and jigsaw puzzle pieces had been inserted by the kids, the video stopped working.

But to get the VCR fixed, we'd have had to do without the tv, so we just bought a new VCR.

This is more or less my attitude to the integrated scanner/printer. On the one hand, you have a very posh photocopier. On the other, you've got several devices in one, just waiting for one of them to go wrong.

The RX500 is actually very good, if bulky. It's got an integrated camera memory card reader, so it can be used completely independently of a computer. I saw it produce an index print from a card; then you mark off the prints and size/quality you wanted on the index print, and it scanned the index, and then printed the photos (from the card) on the right paper. In other words, it is in fact a computer, with a very specific set of functions.

It's even got built-in original correction facilities, so scanning a damaged/fading print and producing a new one is idiot proof. All of these things are reasons to buy, especially if you are an idiot.

It really is very good, and the ink cartridges are all separate, so you only replace the colour that runs out.

But in the end, you have to decide whether you're going to use it. I haven't used a scanner in more than a year. I actually photographed the last couple of documents I wanted to "scan" with my digital camera. And if I do any colour correction, I tend to (try to) do it properly, in Photoshop.

Me, I'm holding out for the next generation of Epson photo printers, like the R800, which will include Red and Green inks, matte black, and a glossy varnish, in addition to the standard CMYK. Till now, Epson have included Light Cyan and Light Magenta in their photo printers, as a way of enhancing the range of tones that can be produced. The one colour inkjet printers have traditionally struggled with is green, and the idea of red and green inks seems really radical. I can't wait to see some sample prints.


As all readers of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance know, the intermittent fault is one of the biggest gumption traps there is.

Saturday morning, woke up and switched on the heating. We don't do it on a timer; we set the thermostat around 16 degrees before going to bed, so if it gets very cold in the night, it'll come on. Otehrwise, we switch it on and off manually. So I switched on the heating, and I heard the boiler fire up.

Half an hour later, I put my hand on a radiator and it was still cold. The boiler lock out indicator is lit up, meaning some safety feature has cut in, or something.

I tried Reset a few times, switched it off and back on at the mains. Ran through the boiler startup sequence. All to no avail. It's out of warranty, so I phoned the fitter, who asked me to try all the things I'd already tried. He'd do his best to get to us on Monday. In the meantime, we have just the gas fire in the living room, an electric shower, and the cooker in the kitchen.

Saturday was cold. In the middle of Sunday afternoon, with the temperature falling and set to fall further, I tried Reset again, on the off-chance.

Boiler fired up perfectly, and worked for the rest of the day, and this morning. The fitter came today and charged us fifty quid for a quick service, but otherwise did nothing.

Once again, none the wiser about this indoor plumbing business. How long will it be before there are considered too many plumbers, and market forces drive the call-out charges down? Not holding my breath.

Nice guitar

Pete came round at the weekend, and I got him to play my Washburn bass on this. I was going for a very laid back feel. Guitar is by my colleague Simon, drums by Groove Agent. So I end up not doing very much on this at all, which is probably all to the good.

December 12, 2003


It's the office xmas party tonight. Given my general curmodgeonness at this time of year, I always find the forced jollity and unacustomed camaraderie a strain. It's amazing how much you talk about work while you're, you know, at work. And how hard it is to have some other kind of conversation.

I only tend to go now and then. This is only the second I've been to since I worked here.

A lot of you have written to ask what it is that I've got against Christmas. It's hard to explain without sounding too maudlin. Suffice it to say, there was always a bit of an atmosphere in our house at this time of year. Xmas morning usually dawned to the worst kind of emotional blackmail family crisis, and it was after a particularly fraught Boxing Day incident that I made a snap decision to leave home (and school, in the middle of my 'A' levels). So that affected the rest of my life - in a variety of ways, good and bad.

You should grow up and leave that stuff behind, but I'm kind of conditioned to avoid occasions which feature forced jollity. I can't just switch it on and off like a tap, I'm just not built that way. And I think a lot of people agree with me: it's not a question of being able to stick a piece of tinsel on your head and everything's right with the world. But whereas most people go along with the thing for a peaceful life, I'm more stubborn. No matter how many xmas cards you send me, I don't send them out. Hallmark (or whoever) can go without my pennies.

A few years ago, I thought my kids might be missing out on the traditional English Xmas morning, because we tend to be in France (at the in-laws) and they do things differently over there. Instead of opening the presents on Xmas morning, they do it on Christmas Eve, which is when we eat the big meal. Christmas day is a real anti-climax, which is something I've come to expect anyway. And Boxing Day doesn't exist.

So, in my confused state, I thought it was wrong that my kids weren't getting the excitement of a Xmas morning stocking and presents under the tree, the way we always did it, but who am I kidding? In France, there's a better chance of snow, a grandad and neighbours prepared to dress up as Santa and scare the kids shitless, and pate de Foie gras, which I'd happily eat every day, including Xmas day. With all that going on, hopefully they won't remember their dad struggling not to look miserable. In France, I can actually take a little bit of a back seat, let the grandparents make the running, and luckily my mood doesn't drag everybody down with it. I'm ignored, which is a blessing. And being ignored, I find it matters less and less, and one of these days I might actually start enjoying it.


I'd like to add, reference yesterday's post, I don't really like taking a video camera and/or still camera to kids' events. I'd rather just relax, watch, enjoy, treasure the memory. But somehow you feel driven to record it, so you've got something to look at after. I suppose I hope that in 20 years Didi and CJ will be able to rediscover their childhoods. So it won't have quite the same magic as 8mm film does, but mini DV is the 8mm of the future.

I was smart enough, when I got the DV camcorder, to transfer all of the footage I had on analogue Video8 tapes, before selling on the old camcorder. I've probably got about 25 hours of mini DV footage by now. I edit it down occasionally to 5-minute iMovies, which we put on DVD, but I'm determined to keep the original tapes.

Tapes are cheap, universal, fairly reliable. I'm storing them in an aluminium case (I'll need a bigger one soon), and I suppose it would be the object I'd try to remember to save from a burning building, once the actual people were safe.

But given the rapid development of technology and the determination of Sony to bugger up everyone's attempts to create long-lasting universal standards, we'll have to give serious thought to the future storage of all these memories. I'm fundamentally against DVD camcorders, because there is no agreed standard for DVD, and because the disks are too small for slot-loading computer drives, and because the disks only store 20 minutes of highest-quality video, and because the standard battery only lasts about 30 minutes. I think all these flaws represent a great barrier to success.

But listen to me; I'd have probably chosen Betamax over VHS. The trick with technology is under no circumstances be an early adopter. No matter how it makes you appear to the outside world, be a late adopter. That way you pay less, you make fewer mistakes, and you're more likely to future-proof your recorded events.

I'm already fairly unhappy at the sheer number of digital photos I've got. They're on CD, they're on DVD, they're on my hard drive. It's a long way from the Oxo box full of snaps that my mum and dad had; a long way from the box of 35 mm slides.

What I foresee is that, every 5 years or so, people are going to have to do mass transfers from one (dead or dying) medium to a future dead medium. I'll get a DVD recorder and transfer my 25 or 30 hours of DV footage onto DV, unedited, so it's there for the future. And then a few years after that I'll copy it all onto the postage-stamp sized plastic card. It's all ones and zeros, so it should remain fairly portable.

That is, unless we are invaded by nazi aliens to whom the concept of ones and zeros is foreign, and they impose their own numbering system upon us.

December 11, 2003


...meetings, all day.

One of the meeting rooms is cold, and my core temperature has dropped. I'm hypothermic.

In case you're wondering where I've been.

I've also had one of those all-day headaches. I have at least one day a week of this. No amount of pain killers makes any difference (though the chicken and mushroom pie and chips with ginger beer I had for lunch helped a bit). I drink loads of water too, because pain killers make me thirsty. I don't know the cause. I'd say lack of sleep, but I dunno. I had the same amount of sleep last night I usually do.

Maybe I slept tense because of all the meetings.

At CJ's christmas concert this morning, one of the teachers managed to position her head directly in front of CJ, so I couldn't get a decent shot of her through the camcorder. 45 minutes of trying to snatch a glimpse.

December 10, 2003

...which reminds me

At my middle school, there was a bunch of boys who were at once great friends and mortal enemies. They rotated loyalty and cruelty as a shared resource. There were 5 or 6 of them, and 1 or 2 of them would be out of favour at any one time, subject to cruel pranks and hilarious practical jokes.

I was not involved, but an observer of all this in my Rupert The Bear school trousers and unfashionable shoes.

I don't remember many of the names. Still, one morning one of the guys (let's call him Dave) came into school claiming to have placed a ladder at the side of another one's house. Let's call him Anthony. So Dave claimed that, having placed said ladder at the side of Anthony's house, he'd climbed up to the bathroom window and listened while Anthony was having a shit.

Dave said Anthony was sitting there with his eyes closed, right fist held up to the side of his head, calling out, "Operator, operator, send me some down."

I often do this myself, for old times' sake.

Brown plasticine

A typically fun incident this morning when I picked up what I thought was a small piece of brown plasticine from the floor in the hallway. It was softer than slipperier than I expected, so I dropped it at first and had to pick it up again. Hmmmmm.... Not plasticine [smells] but poo.

Didi this morning had announced (at the bottom of the stairs) "I need a poo," but on arriving at the top, said simply, "I done one."

My wife, apparently, saw fit not to investigate the absence of poo from the child's nappy (she still wears one at night) after those two statements. Thanks for that, Mrs.

Seems she "done one" and then slipped it out the bottom of her nappy for comfort purposes.

You think you couldn't possibly, ever, but then you have kids and you can, and do. And do do.

December 09, 2003

Steve's Digicams Photo of the day

This is nice. I like a good macro shot. This is a particularly striking set of colours. Taken with a Sony S75, which is not a camera I know a lot about. Steve's Digicams gave it a positive review, back when 3.3 megapixels was a lot of pixels.

If I've got a problem with Sony (and I have) it's that their product naming is particularly bad. The S75's successor would seem to have been the S85, but even that was a couple of years ago, and after that the S-series seems to have run out of steam. Sssssssssssss...

Sony might offer you a DSC or a DCR or a Mavica range of digicams. I expect they know what they mean by all the different acronyms, but I certainly don't. This kind of random chopping and changing of product names and ranges is not unique to Sony, but they probably lead the world in it.

I generally don't like Sony's styling, and their cameras always strike me as being gimmicky consumer electronics things before they are tools for taking photos, but I know that side of things does appeal, and the results (see link) speak for themselves.

The other problem I have with Sony is their "Not Invented Here" philosophy. Memory sticks? Puhleaze. If they used one of the other industry standards I'd look more kindly upon them.

Digital photography opens up whole new worlds, simply because you can take your time getting the good shot. What always used to bore me about keen photographers was the amount of time they spent setting up shots. But when you're paying for the film and the developing and printing, and don't know how it's going to come out until it is developed, then that's a natural consequence.

A natural consequence of instant gratification digital photography is that you can keep shooting until the ideal shot turns up on the LCD screen. And then take a couple more for good measure. So you suddenly find yourself crawling around looking for grasshoppers, or dewdrops on flowers, and you can keep doing that until you achieve satisfaction. So that's one reason so many of the Photos of the Day are macro shots. And you can do it with the most basic of cameras.

The other thing I see people getting into over the next year or so is underwater photography. Say you're on the beach next year and you see some crabs in a rock pool. Why not stick a camera in the water and take a few shots? You've been able to buy single-use underwater cameras for a while, but again, you can't see the results until they're developed. You can get cheapo underwater digitals now for under 100 GBP, or you can buy an enclosure (say, for the Fuji F410) that you can use when the occasion demands.

Sony do a little 2MP model for underwater use, which is just over 220 GBP. I think once you can get 3 megapixels for about the same money, people will latch on to it. Look out for pictures of seaweed, coral, anemonies, and unbarbecued prawns turning up on Steve's Digicams.

"Get a Producer."

I've got mixed feelings about Springsteen and the E Street Band Live in Barca. Parts of it are very good; parts of it are not. For the first couple of songs (both from The Rising) the sound seemed to be of bootleg quality; it ebbed and flowed. But then they went into Prove it All Night, and all was well.

Except now I sound like one of those fans who only likes the older stuff, which is not a cap I like to wear. All you need to know about me was that I was one of the few who really loved his 1992 releases, Lucky Town and Human Touch, so it's not a usual thing for me to dislike something just because it's different to what came before.

But a couple of things Bruce has done recently don't sit well with me. One concerns the trendy new producer, Brendan O'Brien, who certainly gave a slightly newer sound to the record, but not exactly better. A deal of clarity has been lost. There was a story I read once about Springsteen meeting up with Phil Spector, after all the praise heaped upon Born to Run and it's Spector-like wall o' sound. Spector is reported to have said something like, "If I was working with you, your records would be better, and clearer."

And the follow-up, Darkness on the Edge of Town was substantially clearer. So clear, in fact, that it took on a sort of nightmare hyper-real quality. There was an alive-ness and edge to it that was very different to what had gone before.

Springsteen will always have that, something few artists get the chance to have, that trajectory from messy-but-interesting first two albums, through breakthrough Born to Run, succeeded by the powerful negation/affirmation of Darkness. Take the 3 central records of his career, Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and The River, and you have his version of Dylan's Bringing it All Back Home to Blonde on Blonde trilogy. Everything after that is so much more difficult.

But whereas Dylan live is more often than not disappointing (I'd say that about 5 of the 6 times I saw him play), Springsteen has always been able to give his songs something extra on stage. This was always true of the Darkness songs. You hear the bootlegs from 1978, and you get something of the flavour, something of the reason his shows are always described as "legendary." It was always better when he had less material to draw from. A 3 hour show based on the first 4 albums (and unreleased songs) was miles better than a 2 and a half hour show based on 12. The long, long intros you used to get were wonderful. And Darkness songs still form the backbone of his live set.

When "Prove it All Night" kicks off on this DVD you don't get the long intro anymore, but you do get a sense of things coming right. The arrangements are well worn now, but the band and the song fit together so well. The problem with some of the newer material, for me, is that he is obviously having trouble singing it. His voice is all over the place. You'd think he's lost the ability to sing in the way that Dylan did (wouldn't be a surprise after Springsteen's career), but then he sits at the piano and sings "Incident on 57th Street," and you realise that it isn't the singer, but the song.

The new songs are wrong. Whatever he's been doing, using different chords, capos, or whatever, forcing himself to sing in an unfamiliar register, is adversely affecting his ability to perform well. That said, the two best live songs from the newer record are two of the so-so ones. "Mary's Place" and "Waiting on a Sunny Day" fit right into the set as if they've always been there.

In places this is very moving to me, and I've no regrets about ownership. But close your eyes and listen to the best songs, and they're the old songs, played in the old way. As for the Band, they are a great road band, and always have been. But there are probably too many of them. Too many guitars on stage, and no thought seems to have been given to arranging the songs so that all the guitars fit. Bruce, Nils, Steve, and Patti are all playing guitar at some points, and you can't really hear what's going on. It's just a mush. Springsteen's guitar playing is not what it was, and Nils Lofgren is underused. When Steve Van Zandt steps forward to shout his vocals along with Bruce, it seems unnecessarily aggressive and ugly. Lofgren is a much more understated performer, standing on tip toe at his mic, and gently crooning his BVs... and he's clearly, by now, the best guitar player in the band.

By way of contrast (and unfair comparison) Shania Twain - Live In Chicago shows how good a big road band (with lots of guitars) can be. These players know when not to play, and the sound on this TV special is excellent. You don't quite get the emotional connection, and there's no "Promised Land" in her repertoire, but it's a lot of fun. It was nice, too, seeing one of her guitarists (Brent Barcus) playing a Variax. If only Shania got quite as sweaty as Bruce, this would be the complete entertainment.

The standout tracks on Live in Barcelona for me are the aforementioned "Incident on 57th Street" and "She's the One," both dating from the 70s. They have a freshness born out of having not been played for a few years, but they also fit in with the sound the E Street Band makes. Above all, they remind you what it is about this music that you fell in love with as a teenager, and what a rich vein of material Springsteen has to mine. It wasn't the Reagan years that made his career, but the Nixon/Ford/Carter years that came before.

December 08, 2003

Withheld art

Thanks to Roy for reminding me about Don DeLillo's Mao II and the following quotation:

The withheld work of art is the only eloquence left

In spite of the fact that the subject is something of an ongoing theme for me, and the rather more pertinent fact that I'm the holder of a qualification which is all to do with DeLillo, I'd forgotten all about it.

But he gets in your blood, obviously. Though I've blocked him from my consciousness and sworn never to read another one of his books, everything I do and say is DeLillo-filtered.

You get sick of the style, in the end. In the end you can't read another page without wanting to throw the book across the room. If he'd withheld The Body Artist, that would have been eloquent indeed. If he'd done that, I might still be able to read him. I hated that book in the same way that you come to hate Merry Xma2 Everybody by Slade.

Indoor plumbing

Plumbing Tips: "Ceramic disks in quarter turn taps will have to be replaced if they drip.  You’ll need to know the manufacturer as there’s no guarantee that another make of disc will fit your tap.   The tap handles of different manufactures have different dimensions, the ceramic disc fits the tap but the handle won’t fit the disc."

I know I'm not alone in finding no pleasure in DIY jobs. And if DIY is purgatory, then plumbing is hell. Even people I know who can do DIY, who enjoy it, hate plumbing.

We've got a bad kitchen. Designed by someone who doesn't cook, badly put together, not big enough -- all the usual British problems. One of the worst parts of a bad job is the sink area. There's a sink, and a waste disposal unit, and a draining board. Underneath the sink, there's hardly any room to arrange the plumbing for the dishwasher and washing machine, and the outlet pipes for both have been a problem. The compromise is, you can't use the sink, or the cupboard underneath floods. Or, you can't drain the dishwasher.

So we don't use the sink. Water has to run down the waste disposal bit in the middle, and any large quantities of water have to be emptied down there.

The sink and mixer tap are a tasteful beige colour, the height of fashion, surely, never. Our plan is to rip the crap out and do it our way, but first we have to solve the basic problems of space and layout without embarking on major building works.

Anyway, the tap has been dripping. Last year, the same thing happened, and a more competent neighbour took it apart and tried to fix it. But it turns out you can't get bits for a tap unless you know the manufacturer, and we don't. It's one of the quarter turn types, ceramic washer kind of thing. But our neighbour cleaned out the little bits of grit, put it back together, and cured the drip.

Only now it's dripping again. So, in the absence of neighbourly assistance, I tried to do what he did. Turned off the water, took it apart, cleaned out the grit (there was grit, which it's nice to know you're drinking on a daily basis), put it back together, and lo.

Not dripping any more, but running.

Rinse and repeat, 3 or 4 times, and I managed to get it to a state of drippage that was no worse than before. And I purchased a replacement tap, beige (hence cheap), as a temporary fix until we can afford to destroy the kitchen. I can't fit it, of course, so we'll have to get someone to do that.

December 05, 2003

Here's one then

I'm no fan of The La's, and don't subscribe to the "There She Goes" greatest record ever myth, but it's nice that there are still people around prepared to walk away.

And not come back.

And not come back, which is the important thing. Because you know without even thinking about it that, were J D Salinger to suddenly publish a new novel tomorrow, it would be rubbish. The Thin Red Line was not as good as Badlands, and never could be. And Double Fantasy was awful. Not in a good way.

To walk away and never to return, that is the object. That way, you've won, and they don't get to release and rerelease quantiturds of your not-so-good material to embarrass you for the rest of your life.

How to like Country

A lot of you have written to ask, what is it about Country music that I enjoy so much? How did I get into it? What on earth do I see in it? And variations on that theme.

As with many things, it's a question on finding the pleasure, learning to like it, rather than liking it immediately. You develop competencies, and also learn more about yourself. Knowing what you like can save an awful lot of wasted time.

The first thing to say is that it's almost impossible to get into Country music if you are below a certain age. You need to be, probably, on your second go around. By which I mean, you have to have at least one broken heart in your background. You have to understand what it means to have been with someone for quite a long time and then to find yourself having to cope alone. I'm not talking about your girl/boyfriend of the past 18 months; I'm talking about 5 years of your life down the drain. Sets divided, pairs split in two, empty spaces on the wall. For some people, I'm also talking about faces ripped out of photos and things you just can't do any more, or talk about, or read, or listen to. Bob Dylan once wrote, in the appropriately titled Idiot Wind, "I can't even touch the books you read."

Which is a good place to start. You'll sometimes see the line rendered as, "I can't even touch the clothes you wear." For, in spite of its appearance on one of the classic rock albums, Idiot Wind is a Country song. The things you'll find in Country lyrics are... things. Here's one that is almost archetypal, by the goddess Matraca Berg:

Yesterday at the hardware store
They said "I'm sorry, you don't have no credit anymore"
Well I walked out of there trying so hard to think
Of another way that I could fix the kitchen sink

Got into the truck and it wouldn't start
Is it any wonder that I'm falling apart?
Oh, I'm just another one
Of the things you left undone.

Well I got home and went out to get the mail
Walked back down the driveway with another pile of bills
I need a job, boy, one more than I have
Last night I fell asleep looking through the wanted ads.

Woke up this morning on the pillow you left
Laughed a little crazy as I made up the bed
It's just another one
Of the things you left undone.

I say "almost archetypal" rather than actually cliched, because Matraca really is being ironic when she puts the bit about the truck not starting in the song.

Things. Things left undone, objects left behind, possessions taken and not returned. Tear stained letters, cigarettes drowning in glasses of gin, faded photographs. Here's another fun example, from SheDaisy:

Empty hangers by the closet door
Lipstick tube on the bathroom floor
My little good-byes
Unpaid bills by the kitchen phone
I took the Beatles, left Billy Joel
Took your favorite Dodger's hat
Left the litter, but I took the cat
My little good-byes
Loaded up the TV in the back of my car
Have fun watching the VCR

And the Big Finish:

Change my voice on the machine
Or there'll be little good-byes with every ring
My little good-byes
Left the pictures and took the frame
I've got the umbrella, here comes the rain

My stock response to "What is it you like...?" has got to be, "What's not to like?" On one level, it's bubble-gum. It's commercial, poppy, bright, and yet those lyrics are right on the money.

When someone leaves you, or dies, objects take on an aura. Everyone knows this, and Country is the music of the aura. People die in Country music. You get love songs to dead people, and to dead children. It's traditional, and maudlin, and sometimes it oozes syrup. But in case you hadn't noticed, that's a pretty accurate picture of what makes people tick. Pop music about will they won't they, will she won't she, do you don't you love me etc., can only take you so far. And let's not even enter the realm of the rock stars who think they are Jesus or something.

You can be in total turmoil about that kind of stuff in your teens and twenties, and I was. But then you're older and Bad Stuff happens, and that's when the syrup hits the fan. Here's one from a Trisha Yearwood album:

I went down to Austin, lots of beautiful people there
Could have had a better adventure, I just didn't care
Got a job in California, they sure like my style
But there's something about that California sun
Reminds me of your smile

If it was just money
Baby, I could make it
But living without you
I can't take it
All I see ahead of me
Is just melancholy blue
Cause I ain't got no future without you

Now and then I go back to Biloxi
Whenever I feel brave
Visit that little country church down there
Lay some flowers on your grave
You sure got a hold on me, I don't know what to do
I ain't got no future
I can't see no future without you

You get to a certain age, and people are suddenly dying all around you, or having cancer treatment, or surgery, or affairs and divorces, and all the things that you used to think about aren't important any more. You can't look at a photo album without weeping, you can't watch some stuff on the TV, or read certain books, because there's just too much emotion bottled up in there.

So that's the lyrical and thematic side. I've already talked about production values. Put the two together, it's a powerful combination.

End of a Golden Age?

Only 3 terrestrial episodes of Buffy to go. I know most "fans" have seen it already, either on video or satellite, but I've been patiently waiting for the BBC2 broadcast, because, hey, I like heavily edited episodes.

Yes, I could have got satellite, at any time, but the fact is the only channel I would have wanted is Sky One. And while you might get to see a season earlier than you would on terrestrial, once you have, the waiting is just the same.

I refuse to pay a subscription for a load of rubbish I don't want. No interest in watching filums on telly; no interest in sport on telly; no interest in repeats, lifestyle programmes, reality tv, quiz shows, DIY shows, moving to France shows, cartoons etc etc.

You'll be realising by now that I have a highly specialised enthusiasm for Golden Age series, for the era of Bochco, Carter, and (no, not Bert, Joss) Whedon.

But now? With programmes like Homicide, NYPD Blue, Murder One, X Files, Millennium, and now Buffy becoming memories, it's hard to see what's coming up. ER is still going, and Enterprise (but struggling for ratings), and there are odd seams of quality, like Alias, and CSI. But what Alias and CSI have in common is a flashiness, and instant-on, that makes them enjoyable, but already formulaic. CSI reproduced itself almost immediately with a Miami setting, and that ginger haired tosser who wears sunglasses indoors, but watching one is pretty much like watching the other, but with more sunshine.

And the same sorts of things are happening on both sides of the Atlantic, as far as ratings panic is concerned. First of all, for example, BBC2 built its X Files audience, week by week, year by year, until BBC1 felt they had to have it. BBC1 then randomly chopped and changed its time and day of broadcast, showed episodes out of order with utter contempt for the audience, held off showing episodes until people got fed up and went out to buy/rent the video. And then of course the audience figures fell and they panicked some more.

This happens in the States too. One network has a successful show, so the other networks sacrifice another successful show against it, trying to win back audience share for that crucial hour, for that crucial day of the week. In the meantime, the audience switches off, plays computer games, rents or buys a video, waits for the DVD box set.

Channel 4 bought Angel, wanting some of the Buffy success, but then they treated it as a children's programme, showed it at 6 in the evening before most of the audience are ready to watch, edited it to death, then showed it so late at night that only owls and unemployed insomniacs are watching. Time and time again, the audience is treated with disdain, pissed off to the point of apoplexy, and lost in huge numbers. Even Channel 5 have moved Alias, from prime time to graveyard slot on a Sunday night.

The West Wing, that's a good show. But Channel 4 show it first to subscribers, so they get a million or so less viewers for the terrestrial broadcast, so they stick it on late at night, so that they lose another million or so viewers. Then they panic.

I tell you, it is but a short step from the moron who wants to be famous and goes on a reality TV show, to the moron who ends up running the station. From children's tv presenter, to Top of the Pops producer. And all the idiots who run television stations have one thing in common. They probably don't watch TV. They don't understand "appointment to watch" TV; they don't get "Must See TV," because they're too busy stuffing their faces in posh restaurants and attending openings at the Barbican. All they see are numbers on a spreadsheet, audiences shrinking, audiences slipping out to the pub, because there's nothing but crap on, night after night.

Just as record companies no longer understand the concept of the career, the nurturing of talent, television companies no longer understand the concept of the audience that builds. It was only 10 years or so ago that the X Files, that quirky, different, shot in the arm, began to build its audience, but they've already forgotten. The Carters and Whedons of the future are not being given a chance to build plots, storylines, characters, whole worlds, in the way that they were even 5 years ago. Multichannel tv is what it was always going to be: quantiturds of channels and nothing on.


Just invented this new word, trying to write "quantities" whilst having a coughing fit.

Can't help thinking that an appropriate use for it is just around the corner.

Entries on a postcard please.

December 04, 2003

Patron Saint of Journalists, apparently.

Google finds about 300,000 pages featuring the word astonished. Change the search term to "astonishing" and you find another 675,000.

Strangely, it seems as if the most easily astonished people in society are journalists. For example, search for the word "astonished" on the Guardian web site, and "6640 articles match your search." Or 8954 if you just look for words that contain the string "astonish."

Obviously, the patron saint of astonishment has to be Saint Christina the Astonishing, who "[C]ould not stand the odor of other people because she could smell the sin in them, and would climb trees or buildings, hide in ovens or cupboards, or simply levitate to avoid contact."

This sounds like many journalists I know.

God knows, we're all guilty of that "most overused word or saying" syndrome. But whereas regular people might go through phases of using a particular word, or might over-use several, journalists in particular seem to exist in a constant state of bewilderment. You'll find 5200-odd instances of astonishment on the BBC web site, for example. On the other hand, there are just 3680 on The Independent, so perhaps the people over there are just that little bit more cynical than those at the Guardian.

I'm wondering, is astonishment a Liberal disease (hence overuse at the Guardian and BBC)? Because there seem to be only 1000 or so over at the Times. But no, for there are 4282 articles containing "astonishing" over at the Telegraph. I suspicion that the Times search feature is limiting itself somehow.

Over at the New York Times, you can search for the word in their archives between 1851 and 1995. Think of a number. The number I'm thinking of is 102,352.

I'm gobsmacked.

December 03, 2003

bad to the stone

Lord help me, in setting the video for Buffy last night, I happened to catch 3 minutes of the Rolling Stones, filmed at some recent gig (probably plugging their new DVD), on TOTP2. I couldn't tell you what song they were playing. Let's be charitable and say it was one I didn't know.

Jagger was doing his vowel movements - didn't understand a single word. Also seemed to be badly mixed or underperformed, because I really couldn't hear what he was singing.

And then it struck me. In the same manner as the urban myth (?) about them not miking up Brian Jones' instrument(s) in the last year or so, the sound engineers at a Stones gig have to tweak things so that only the vaguely competent members of the band can be heard.

Because I couldn't hear Keef and Ronnie's guitars either. Basically, you could hear the bassist, Charlie, and whoever was laying the keys.

Keith Richards has very bad posture, doesn't he? I mean, he doesn't hold the guitar like he knows how to play it. That man does not look cool with a guitar. He holds it like he's trying to look cool with it, but doesn't know what it is.

Bad memories of the Wembley concert in 1982. I still want my money back.

"The Forist"

The forist ws dock

bes were hanting

awull ws hooting

The beds wr sleeping

rabit ws snifing

The hejog ws snifing

The maws ws runing

all The anmalls gotup from The day

December 02, 2003


Tomorrow I will be 14974 days old. Or 1293753660 seconds or 21562561 minutes or 359376 hours. Or 41 years.

On December 28, I will be 15,000 days old.

I find it hard to enjoy enjoyable events. I never do anything special on my birthday. And Christmas holds a lot of bad memories, which I must not transmit to my kids. I think it's the hardest part of bringing them up, remembering not to be miserable at Xmas. Woody Allen called it Anhedonia, the inability to enjoy yourself. I have Anhedonia of special occasions.

Events coming up I wish I could avoid: my birthday; the office xmas "do"; Xmas; New Year.

The rest of the time, I find it very easy to enjoy myself. Honest.

offee opcorn

Treated myself at lunch to a bag of toffee popcorn that had gone past its best, with all of it sticking together in one big lump. The bloke at the checkout started to take it away to swap for one that hadn't "Gone funny," but I called out to stop him. "No! I picked that one deliberately. I like it all stuck together." Slight exhibition of myself in the shop, so no change there.

It was a blast from the past, reminding me of Pim's Toffee Popcorn (or was it Pimm's?), which was only ever available from the Italian shop on the corner near my parents' old house.

Pim's was chewier than Butterkist, softer, more like proper toffee or fudge, and you'd occasionally find a bit that was mostly toffee, which was heavenly. For a while, Asda was doing bakery toffee popcorn which had something of the flavour of Pim's but none of the softness. It was probably soft because it had been sitting in the shop for too long, but that didn't stop me.

Reminds me, Dumpstable had quite a big Italian community, something I never discovered until I was working in the frozen food shop on Saturdays. Because it was at that end of town, all the girls who worked there came from a different school, and they were mostly from Italian families. I think the pattern with the frozen food shop was that one person would get a job, and then all their friends would get any jobs that came up. So there were a couple of Polish guys from my school, and these Italian girls... and the lovely Juliet.

Why there was an Italian community, there used to be a cattle market there or something - or they all worked at the one in Bletchley, which was only a little way up the A5. Meat packers.

Those girls were gorgeous, but their dads used to follow them everywhere, so you had to watch yourself.

Chicken Himmler

A lot of you have written to ask whether I ever tried that Chicken Slick recipe I ranted on about in Octover.

It turns out I have. Sunday, after a roast hickie for lunch, I stripped off the spare meat, boiled the carcass with carrots n onions n stuff for stock, and set about making the slick dumplings, as directed.

First of all, there were far too many dumplings for the amount of stock (which was around 1.5 litres, or 5 cups in american parlage), and next of all, I decided at the last minute to scissor some flat leaf parsley into the soup. Which was a mistake, because it had obviously been in the firdge too long, and was overwhelmingly strong and nasty.

So the whole thing was ruined by the parsley, plus I prolly put too much of the white wine in, and then the slick dumplings weren't as I remembered them being.

Result: failure. And a very, very messy kitchen. Strange that the cheaper the food (it cost whatever the flour cost, which was pennies, and everything else was just hanging around in the kitchen), the messier it is.

December 01, 2003

Lindt removal

Had a couple of bars of new Lindt Excellence choccy at the weekend. One with bits of caramel (crunchy), and one orange flavoured. Made me realise what a waste of time and money it is to buy your standard corner shop chocolate. You know this, but still, compared to the Cadbury Banoffi, the Lindt Caramel thing was heaven on earth.

30% cocoa solids, which isn't extraordinarily high, but makes the Cadbury 20% look pathetic.

The Swiss making good chocolate eh? Who'd have thought...?


I'm an absolute sucker for this kind of thing. In the digital era, the Leica name no longer has the cache it once had. Whereas their ability to grind good lenses used to set them apart, modern production techniques mean that factories in the far east are churning out stunning optics for much lower prices.

A digital Leica, on the other hand, still has that little red dot logo, and probably costs about the same as the equivalent from Nikon or Olympus. I think it would give you pleasure every time you took it out of the bag, if you like that kind of thing.

The fundamental problem for companies like Leica in the digital age is that there's no percentage in developing your own digital sensor technology (whether CCD or CMOS), as Sigma have done. Once Sony or Canon have cracked it, that's all you need to know. It's much like Kodak and Fuji cornering the colour film market, and all the manufacturers making cameras that use 35 mm film.

Unfortunately, though, the choice of a digital camera doesn't come down to the quality of the optics, though of course it helps. I'd always recommend looking at who makes the lens as a primary factor. But the real trickery with digital cameras comes down to the handling of the raw image file created by the capturing sensor.

Those manufacturers who offer a RAW format have an advantage here.

But the real issue involves usability, which you can only get a hold of once you've experienced your first digital camera. How long does it take to start up, which is to say, between switching on and being ready for the first photo? And how long between pictures? How many can you shoot in a row before it has to move them from the buffer into permanent memory? How quickly, and how well, does it focus on the subject?

I've been recommending Minolta cameras for a long time, just because Minolta seem to pay more attention to these usability issues. They currently offer one of the fastest start-ups on one model, the fastest autofocus, and the best use of burst modes.

I'd like to see Leica come along with a camera with such stunning optics, and top-line usability, just to make people pay attention. This new model, for example, has an aperture ring adjustment, as on a traditional camera. For anyone who has faced the frustration of bleeping through menus and scrolling through options in order to gain manual control of a digital camera, this is a big selling point.

Let's wait to see some sample photos though.


Yester, I was feeling about 80% recovered from this cough the whole family has had for a couple of weeks. At around 9.30 in the a.m., the sky was bright and blue, not a cloud, and it was sunny and mild. So I decided to go for a 10 mile bike ride, my usual circuit.

Of course, as soon as I got out of the local microclimate, and onto the higher ground, I hit fog, which was only slowly being burned off by the sun, which was still low in the sky. And once I climbed the first hill, I had one of those coughing fits where you think you can taste parts of your liver in your mouth.

I got round okay, and felt quite good about it, but for the rest of the day I couldn't stop hacking, and it was one of those days where your brain seems to be shaking around in your head -- with shooting pain -- every time you cough.

It was quite hairy riding in the fog, too. In spite of the fact that I was wearing my special, all black, safety clothing.