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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

March 31, 2004


Had a half day yesterday and went on a nice bike ride in the afternoon, the usual circuit. It was breezy, but it was a warm wind, and it was blowing behind me on the first half of the circuit, which is the hardest part, the hilly part.

It felt great. With the wind on my back, wearing summer shorts and summer gloves, I felt like all the hard winter training was paying off. And to feel the sun on my face, to have a drink of water that was somewhere above freezing point, to smell cut grass in the countryside; to be wearing sunglasses, was just brilliant.

Then I went home and played with an Adrenalinn for an hour, so it was a perfect day.

March 30, 2004

iPhoto Book

My first iPhoto book arrived today. Supposedly shipped this time last week, but came from Germany, via the asteroid belt, apparently.

Two things to say about this. After making us wait 2 years for the European book service, they could have at least sought to localise it by country. Seems ridiculous to have to pay shipping costs from Germany when there must be plenty of companies in the UK capable of producing a book of prints. But I expect it was all about the cut offered to Apple.

Which is the second thing. The quality just isn't there, not with this one I have on my desk right now. The pictures, which I know are good, high resolution, and which I have previously printed on my Epson inkjet with excellent results, in this book they look like screen grabs, with that television screen effect of softness and lines. I suspect possible corner cutting due to the hard bargain driven by Apple.

So, for me, a bit disappointing, not to mention expensive, at around 26 quid including shipping from Ceres.

On the other hand, for the grandparent and other non-perfectionist relative in your life, still a potentially great present.

March 29, 2004

How to Make a Pizza Pie


The perfect home made pizza can be an elusive thing. The fact is that the domestic oven is simply not hot enough to do pizza properly. If you're like me, you have rejected the supermarket fresh and frozen pizza; not fresh enough, I say. A frozen pizza can't cook evenly, nor quickly enough, and the one from the chilled cabinet can be inadequate in a variety of different ways.

A fresh pizza, freshly made, with fresh ingredients, is what you want. And not the greasy, homogenised fodder served up by the chains or by the local kebab vendor. That stuff is junk, and deservedly lumped in with other kinds of junk food.

Your ultimate ambition should be to build a small pizza oven, a brick chimney insulated with sand, with an opening sufficient to cook pizza au feu de bois directly on the oven floor.

In the meantime, the best you can do is get yourself a stone. Forget metal trays, even round ones with little holes drilled in them. The holes are trying to cure the problem of the undercooked crust, which is somewhat alleviated by a stone. What a pizza wants is direct contact with the source of heat. You heat the stone in the oven while you are preparing your pizza dough etc. Start by warming it gently (as you set the dough to rise), and then heat it up as hot as your oven will go. Your kitchen should get uncomfortably hot during the pizza making process, which is why you want a proper oven in the back garden.


I always make enough dough for 3 pizzas; but the 3rd is guaranteed not to be as good as the first two, because opening the oven as many times as you do will cause too much heat to escape - it will take too long to cook, and the crust will get black.

I use about 1lb, 500g, of strong white bread flour. Sometimes I cut this with Italian 00 flour (do a 50/50 mix). Use fresh yeast if you can get it, and if you're prepared for the speed at which it will work. Otherwise, keep a few sachets of dried yeast in the cupboard and start early.

I mix my dough in a food processor, because life is too short to do things manually. But use the plastic blade if you have one, because cold metal and bread dough is not a good combo.

Add the flour to the processor, with salt to taste (I use about a dessert spoonful), a sachet of dried yeast (or half an ounce if using fresh, mixed to a liquid state with a small amount of sugar, if you want). Start the processor going and add a couple of dashes of olive oil. I don't measure this so you're on your own, probably a couple of tablespoons.

Then add a 50/50 mix of warm milk and water, about half a pint. Run the processor until the dough is formed, flexible and soft, yet not sticking to the sides of the bowl. Run it for a couple of minutes once it comes clean away from the bowl sides, to ensure it's thoroughly mixed.

Then leave the dough in a warm place. If you're already heating your stone in the oven, your kitchen is probably going to be warm enough. It'll take about an hour to rise, or half that time with fresh yeast.

When it has risen, tip the dough onto a floured surface and knock it back, knead till all air pockets are removed, then divide into thirds and knead each piece some more. Leave for a few minutes if you have the time.

I then use a wooden rolling pin to roll out the first circle of dough, big enough and thin enough to fit on the stone, which I set upon a wooden peel. I don't do deep dish or any of that rubbish. To ensure that the base doesn't stick to the peel, I rub the peel with a mixture of flour and cornmeal (not much), so it has a slippery surface. It will need another 10 minutes or so to rise a little (just so that some air pockets appear within its texture), which gives you time, not to have a Mars, but to prepare the toppings.


It's up to you, but I start with either tomato sauce or creme fraiche. I use half fat creme fraiche these days, but obviously things go considerably better with the full fat version.

But let's start with tomato sauce. You want it to be thick and rich, so you can get away with using as little as possible. Not a tin of chopped tomatoes, not passata, but something along the lines of a jar of pasta sauce, a fairly bog-standard one. You can either buy pizza topping in jars, and this doesn't hurt, though they tend to be over priced. Or you can make your own, with onions fried in olive oil, tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, basil, and a good deal of time to allow the sauce to thicken and reduce.

Buy a jar.

Per pizza, the most sauce you want to use is about 3 tablespoons. Spoon it onto the now-risen dough, and spread it thinly.

Next apply the cheese. Cheese should not be the last topping. It needs to react with the tomato sauce. I use either the hard (Danish) kind of mozzarella, which I grate, or the proper kind that comes in bags with liquid, which I dry thoroughly using kitchen towel and slice thinly. About 100g of the hard cheese per pizza is enough, though you can get away with 1/3 of a 200g block; or two bags of proper mozza between 3 pizzas. You don't need to completely cover the base: just use enough cheese so that when it is melted everybody gets some. Remember, cheese is the worst part of a pizza in terms of saturated fats and calories, so use it wisely. Don't create a pool of melted grease, but use the cheese as it is meant to be, as one of a variety of pizza toppings.

What else? The rest will be up to you, but if you're doing for friends, it helps to offer a variety of toppings. Use thinly sliced red onions (sparingly), pineapple pieces, black olives, thinly sliced or finely chopped red and green peppers, frankfurters, smoked sausage, chopped ham ends from the deli counter, pre-cooked lardons (bacon bits), pepperoni, capers, anchovies, shrimp, sweetcorn. Personally I shy away from tuna, minced beef, sausage meat, turkey, chicken, baked beans, spaghetti, and other horrors of student pizzas. Toppings you might be surprised to learn that I always avoid are fresh tomatoes and mushrooms, because they both release too much liquid onto the top and prevent the crust from cooking properly.

Don't go overboard with the toppings. Slice fine and use sparingly. It's not an excuse just to eat a load of meat, but a whole dish in itself, so go for texture and colour, with a different taste sensation in every bit.

Top each pizza differently, ham and pineapple with green pepper here; red pepper, sweetcorn, and lardons there.

Using the creme fraiche instead of tomato sauce, you can avoid cheese altogether and do the classic Alsatian Tarte Flambee, using sliced onion and lardons. You can even use something like Gruyere cheese instead of mozzarella, and throw small pieces of cooked potato into the mix.

I like to do a hybrid, with a creme fraiche base, a little mozzarella, red onions, lardons, green pepper, and pineapple. It looks very colourful and tastes delicious.

Another wrinkle you could try would be to mix equal parts tomato puree with creme fraiche for your base. In Alsace, you'll also see a variation whereby slices of apple are placed on the creme fraiche and cooked in the same way. Then you pour on a little Calvados and set it alight.

Once the topping is on, you need to work quickly so that the oven is not open for long. Make sure the pizza is loose on the peel by shaking it gently, then quickly open the oven door and slide it off the peel onto the stone in the oven. Close the oven door and cook for about 10 minutes.

You may need one or two minutes extra at the end, to make sure all the cheese is bubbling and golden, and (you hope) the crust cooked all the way through. Again, speed is of the essence. Get the pizza off the stone and onto the peel as quickly as possible. Slice it with a wheel, and put it onto a serving plate. Then quickly roll out your next ball of dough (without kneading it again - the smaller air pockets will be retained) and get the next one in the oven.

Your pizzas should emerge with a dry, crispy, crust. You should be able to see the fine air pockets within each slice of the base, and the colour should be flour white. If it is grey and soggy and seems undercooked, it was either not adequately risen, or the oven not hot enough.

It can take years to learn to do it properly, and of course it takes a lifetime to master. But the first time you make a good pizza, it will be better than those from the supermarket, and better than the crap you can get delivered at home.

When eating pizza in a proper pizzeria, endeavour not to be too early, because it will take the restaurant time to get its oven hot enough. Being the first customer of the night will lead to disappointment. Always choose a pizzeria that is already crowded with customers.

March 26, 2004

iPod mini launch delayed

BBC NEWS | Technology | Global iPod mini launch delayed

"'It's been really popular with people exercising, with women, who are an important demographic, and with teens.'"

I'm sure American women are delighted to learn that they're an important demographic. But not more important than European men, surely? Americans, eh? They'll be giving them the vote and allowing them to wear shoes next.

If Apple were any more right-on they'd be Germaine Greer.

I'm glad the delay isn't to do with the usual monumental management cock-up in estimating demand for a new product.

March 25, 2004

PsoML Part 6


Ronnie had always imagined Hazel would turn out blowsy. Part of that was because he couldn’t imagine her blonde hair worn in anything other than the kind of Farrah Fawcett flickback style that she had in the late 70s. Standing dumbstruck on her doorstep, trying to force words into his mouth and motion into his limbs, Ronnie realised he wasn’t prepared for this at all. His mind had been focused on seeing Lucy again; he hadn’t thought about anything else.

But Hazel had, in fact, been on his list, the list of girls he loved. There was Sally Sage, tall and striking, whom he obsessed over; there was Lucy, Love Triangle Girl, the girl he wanted to steal away from his best friend; and there was Hazel, with her dirty blonde hair, as it says in the song. He stepped into the darkened hallway of the old house and sized up her silhouette as his eyes adjusted. At the end of the hallway, he could see part of a long kitchen table, behind it a French window, with sunlight, now he was no longer driving out there, just beginning to stream through.

Hazel was looking good.

A long time before, before he’d unforgiveably blown her out of his life, Lucy had said she once walked into a newsagents in Brighton and Hazel was working there, behind the counter. That was the last news Ronnie had, more than 20 years before. He’d imagined she stayed beautiful for a few years, but that her kind of build, her kind of looks, would end up going a certain way, the blowsy way. A blowsy blonde who stays blonder with the bottle, wears a fake tan, and has put on a little too much weight.

But as Ronnie walked slowly towards the warm and crowded kitchen of Hazel’s house that afternoon, he didn't see any such thing. The silhouette resolved and his eyes took in a complete stranger: a small, intelligent-looking woman, wearing rimless glasses and with hair kept short, neat, and stylish.

"You've grown smaller and I’m all bigger, or something," he said. She looked back over her shoulder. There was laughter and affection in her eyes.

"Yeah, you look like you've put on about two stone,” she said. "All these years I've been thinking you were skinny as a rake with sprayed on jeans. I am actually two inches shorter than I used to be."

She smiled again, stepped into the kitchen and announced him. “Everybody, it’s Ronnie!”
“Ronnie!” A chorus of shouts.

Ronnie vaguely waved a hand. He counted the heads, looked at each face in turn. A big (obviously) French man: presumably Monsieur Hazel. A thin, balding, intellectual: Doug Kinross. A muscular biker wearing capped sleeves to show his tattoos, with thinning blonde hair: Dave? A beautiful redhead with film-star beauty resting her hand in that of an equally handsome guy: Ronnie had no idea. And a petite, slim, lovely, dark-haired woman looking intensely at him with a question in her deep brown eyes: Lucy Roberts.

Ronnie took a deep breath, feeling his blood racing through his chest. He stepped forward and went round the table, making eye contact, hugs, air kisses, hand shakes. Hazel’s other half was Didier: gruff, with passable English, quick to pour a huge glass of red wine. Doug Kinross was there alone, as was Dave, who said hello to Ronnie in the coolest possible way. Ronnie started to feel the old anxiety. Was Lucy here with Dave? Was that all kicking off again? But they didn’t seem to be together. Between them were Donna (Donna!?), the stunning redhead, and her younger husband, Mark, and Lucy only seemed to have eyes for him, for Ronnie. She hadn’t broken eye contact since he’s walked into the room.

A moment’s hesistation in front of her, but she quickly stood up and stepped into a hug, a squeeze, and she seemed to melt into Ronnie’s arms, lingering just a moment longer than anyone else. A step back. “Long time,” she said, with a small smile. Ronnie thought his heart had been pounding before, but to hear her voice.

“Too long,” was all he said.

He took his place at the table, close to Lucy, and Hazel explained that they were holding off on the potted life histories until everyone had arrived. No point in repetition. So they were talking about the weather, how the sleeping arrangements in the cottages would be settled, talking about what there was to do in the Vendée, other places in France. Ronnie settled back and sighed, resting his fingers at the base of his wine glass. He felt a lot of eyes on him, but he felt contented, not pressurised. He was used to it anyway; Ronnie knew he had a certain amount of charisma, but it never went to his head, and he personally felt that Dave had always had as much, if not more.

Apart from the capped sleeve t-shirt, Dave was still wearing his bike gear from the road, and what was left of his hair was showing signs of helmet head (was that a slight mullet?). Normally, this would worry Ronnie, because, as far as he remembered, Lucy had always been a little bit of a biker girl. But there had been something about the way she held him, and there was something in her smile and her glance, that told Ronnie she was more interested in him right now.

And as other people arrived, and went through the introductions, and the crowd in the kitchen grew, Ronnie took a good long look at Dave, at the state of his hair and his features, the way his face had settled into mid-life. There was no doubt that he looked slim and fit, not an ounce of middle-aged spread. But as the night began to fall and the farmhouse kitchen grew warm with laughter and the glow of recessed lighting, Ronnie could see it, and when she caught his eye with a sardonically raised eyebrow – at that moment, he knew Lucy could see it, too.

Dave looked like his dad.

March 24, 2004

Rinse, repeat

I've probably mentioned the subject of playing to death before. I've a tendency to leave CDs in my car for a long time, only swapping them when I actually feel rage to hear a particular song come on again. At the moment, I've got Faith Hill's Cry on heavy rotation - worse than that, I tend to play the first two tracks. I've also got Kelly Willis and Joy Lynn White, still, and I couldn't tell you what's in the other slots right now.

Amazingly, I don't listen to the words or anything. CJ asked me this morning, "Did that song have the word blue in it?" I had no idea. Of course, it had, and quite prominently, but (in my own half arsed and entirely non professional capacity) I'm tending to listen to the mix, the overall sound of the song, and not paying attention to much else. Except. Obviously, on some deep level, I'm respondng to melody and performance, because I prefer some to others.

This came into my mind this morning, as I was messing around with my guitar and harpmonica. There's a song I like to play when I'm in the mood to have a good blowout, and it's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" by Bob Dylan. But not the Byrds version, the quirky, different, Greatest Hits Vol. 2 version. I play it through and then, without pause, just start over again from the beginning, about 5 times in a row.

But I gotta say, I love the sheer insanity of the Basement Tapes version (it's the middle set of lyrics on the link above).

PSoML Part 5

Part 4 is here

Dirty Blonde Hair

If Ronnie had turned out more or less intact after 20 years, Hazel was spectacular. Blonde, but not too blonde, tanned, but not too tanned, and with a radiant smile for her visitor, she greeted him at the door enthusiastically. Not too radiant either: a little touch of natural human apprehension behind the smile: what was she letting herself in for?

Ronnie’s first memory of Hazel was of an extremely mean comment she made about him, concerning some girls he’d been quite keen on when he was 13. That had been on a sunny day in September, first week at the Big School. Later he saw her getting excited on the school stage listening for news about who was number one in the charts that week: David Soul. They were waiting for some kind of auditions for a school production. Ronnie took one look at her on the stage with her eared pressed to her transistor radio and walked away. School plays weren’t for him with girls like Hazel involved. He was going through a sensitive stage, and something about Hazel seemed hard edged, finished; where she should have been softer, cuter, more innocent, probably.
But after that very unpromising start they became sort of friends. It turned out in their second year in that school they did Latin, Maths, and a couple of other subjects together. Latin was a small group, and he sat on his own with Hazel and Lucy sitting right behind him. Languid youth that he was, he sat kind of sideways in that class, so they formed a sort of triangle. From there they connected, and it helped a lot that Lucy was there to soften Hazel’s naturally astringent character.
So whereas Ronnie had come to think of Latin as a dud of a subject that was no help with anything (not the way he learned it anyway), the fact that it had been such a small and exclusive group meant he was able to make friends with two of the loveliest girls in the school while his male friends were off doing physics with the nerdy kids. Hazel wasn’t so much hard-edged as quick-witted to a fault, often saying something out loud before her brain had a chance to soften it.

Hazel’s hair, back then, had none of the shining brightness of the bottle blonde, but was a soft and tending-towards-mousy colour, falling in waves down her back. She was several inches taller than Lucy and even at 15 had the best tits in their school: Ronnie’s opinion. If pushed, he would have ranked Lucy a close second, though he was never sure whether that was because he loved Lucy so much. With Lucy short and dark while Hazel was of average height and blonde, they were a cool contrast, and he considered Latin one of his favourite classes.
It was an odd relationship with Hazel, one that centred around Latin and didn’t extend itself into other walks of life. He was her Latin friend and she barely acknowledged him outside of that. Lucy, on the other hand, was in his form, and was therefore much closer to him. Hazel was known to be a bit of a fantasist, and would often just make things up on the spur of the moment. It wasn’t as if she thought she was going to get away with it, just that she couldn’t possibly give a straight response or tell the truth about something when a lie would suit. So on one occasion, after hearing a sequence of lies, he said something to her along the lines that she should see a psychiatrist. She said,
“My dad’s a psychiatrist.”
Ronnie thought that this explained everything. He said, “Really?”
She said, “No.”

What her dad was, Ronnie remembered, was much richer than his dad. He dropped her off at school every morning in a black BMW, and this was before the eighties, when every little snot with a big bonus got a 3-Series.

Summer holidays were always hardest for Ronnie. The summer between his GCEs and sixth form, he spent the entire time alone, with not a word from Dave, nor Doug, nor Lucy, nor Hazel. He locked himself in his bedroom and practised on his first guitar, an old acoustic with a bad action.
And then a strange thing happened. From being at best a casual acquaintance of Hazel, once they got into the 6th form, in a much smaller pool of students, he became one of her closest friends. Schoolfriends, that is, because he rarely saw her outside school. She greeted him that September like he was a long lost lover, and there was something of the flavour of that as she said hello to him now, on the front step of an old French farmhouse. Ronnie’s life was flashing before his eyes.

And, just as Lucy had done, Hazel wrote Ronnie letters for a while after he left school and moved away. Whereas Lucy’s letters were full of emotional content and the easy talk of friends, Hazel’s were like an ongoing serial: gossip about people he barely knew or remembered, brief details of her own life, her plans, and the different ways her parents were vexing her.

Came a point, shortly after Lucy had paid him what turned out to be a tumultuous visit, Hazel too talked about coming to see him. Ronnie found it strange to look back on it now, about to celebrate Hazel’s 40th birthday, to realise they had been barely 18 years old, still children in many ways. Hazel went to great lengths to organise her trip, elaborating details to the point where she asked if one of his flatmates would pretend to be his dad, phone her dad, and tell him that they (his fictitious parents) were travelling down to see him over the May bank holiday and would be happy to give Hazel a lift.
It was extreme.
But he was now immersed in the fantasy world of Hazel, so he went along. Ronnie’s flatmates thought it was hilarious.
The Saturday of the bank holiday weekend, Ronnie borrowed a bicycle and rode down to the station to meet the train that Hazel was supposed to be on. No show. He waited around for a while then cycled home. No phone call. Cycled back for the next train, and the next. Finally, he gave up and went into Safeway to buy a loaf of bread. While there, he stood at the cigarette kiosk and stared for five minutes, deciding whether to buy his first pack of cigarettes. That was the day he took up smoking, which became a 10-year habit. He did it to make himself feel better; there was no other way he could rationalise it. It was a thing to replace another thing that hadn’t come to pass. He was feeling like a disappointed child, his friend hadn’t come round for tea, and he sought comfort in nicotine.
Ronnie cycled back home with the Safeway split tin under his arm and the cigarettes and matches squeezed into a pocket. He went outside for the first one: stood staring at his reflection in a window while he smoked.
A few days later, a letter from Hazel arrived. She apologised. She was grounded, she said. Her dad had phoned Ronnie’s dad to ask if he wanted any petrol money. Ronnie’s dad didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.

Ronnie’s dad never did mention the incident to him, so he had no idea if it really happened. This is what Ronnie came to think of as the Hazel Hall of Mirrors, something like the world of international espionage, where you’re not sure anymore what’s true and what’s a lie. A few weeks after this, by coincidence, he was back home for a week. Ronnie’s parents were going on holiday and needed a house sitter. He went back. It was great for a week, to see the people he’d been missing quite a lot. Sally. Lucy. Dave. There was even an incident when he saw Julie Feint across a crowded public house.

But on his first day home, he went into town for a wander round, and he bumped into a girl, Helen, not anyone he cared particularly about. But she stopped him in the street and just had to tell him a story about Hazel. “Did you hear what she did?
“She told her mum and dad she was going to see you for one weekend, but it was a weekend her parents were going away, and she just told them that so they wouldn’t know she was having her boyfriend round. But they came home early…”

So that was where Ronnie was faced with a choice between two versions of the same story. One in which she never intended to come visit him, but allowed him to think she was; and one in which she did intend to come, but allowed her other friends to think she was planning something else. Ronnie didn’t know which was worse. Either he didn’t warrant a heads up on the parent deception, or he was too embarrassing for her friends to know about. At the time, he kind of believed the story this girl, Helen, told him.
He wrote her an angry letter, based on what he’d heard from Helen, but there was never a reply. He realised later that he’d flown off the handle about it, and he guessed she was affronted that he believed a mere acquaintance ahead of Hazel’s own explanation.

All of this flashed through Ronnie’s mind as Hazel came out to greet him, and he didn’t quite know what to expect.
“Ronnie Collins,” she said. “You really came. Are your ears burning?”

March 23, 2004

trad jazz

A meaningless title, not what I meant it to be, because of a typo. Sometimes my fingers just won't cooperate, sometimes I type like the wind (...would type, if the wind could type). And that's the way it is with a true Spaniard. Can't remember what I originally meant now.

I meant before now to have posted PSoML episode 5 (is it? I need to check), but I have had other things going on. My time at home for putting together 1000 words is shared with my time for printing out photographs, making iMovies, and recording and mixing. Needless to say, it's impossible to fit everything into the 20 minutes I have to myself in the morning or evening.

This week I have been experimenting with Lyson Small Gamut inks, trying to create some toned black and white prints on Lyson's satin paper. Not a great deal of success so far, it has to be said. You have to arse around with settings in Photoshop more than you'd really want to. Mainly, the silk paper has a texture that works really well for enlargements but not at all well on 6x4 prints.

Once you've installed a different inkset in your printer (Epson Photo 870, since you ask), you are of course prevented from doing any regular colour printing, because regular colour prints done with the Small Gamut inks, look kind of pasty. Retro. Like Lexmark prints of a few years ago.

The other thing that's been going on, I've taken 7 songs which I feel I've done enough with, and mastered them all onto a CD, and done a cover etc. It's about 26 and a bit minutes worth of music, made nice and loud with the Sony Oxford Dynamics and Inflator, with my colleague Si playing lead guitar on 4 of the 7. I'm pleased enough with it, and I need to move on to other things. I've got about 3 songs in the pipeline, but I want to leave a gap and maybe think about doing something slightly different. I'm torn between going for a stripped back acoustic sound or a hyped up loud guitar sound. Probably the former will prevail.

What else is new? Thinking seriously about moving house, taking it one step at a time. It's a good thing to do when you're not in a hurry to do it, I think. So if I start the process now, we might have moved by September or something like that. I'd rather do it now than wait till I'm forced into it due to circumstances beyond.

March 22, 2004

What confirmed it for me

Was not so much that BDJ is too well written to be real (I was convinced it was Martin Amis or some other bloke from the beginning). No, the final confirmation was the way she reacted to the various newspaper stories, like the one in the Times. She talked about the Times article as if all her readers would know what she was on about. Which confirmed that her real target audience is literary and media London.

Besides, she couldn't keep up the style, and it all started to get very Luvvie and Darling, so it's not even as if it's written by the same character any more. Shame. To really get my respect, they should have kept it up for years.

March 18, 2004

PSoML Part 4

Part 3 is here.

Part 4. Bad Habits

In terms of what people would think on seeing his name on schoolmates, Ronnie had reckoned about 10% would remember his brief flirtation with the album charts in 1989. Maybe a few hardcore music fans would know he’d been working in L.A. and Nashville, if they were in the habit of peering at the songwriting credits of their American cousins’ record collections.

It was a living. Some of the things Marianne and he wrote were worth a pension on their own; you can make a million dollars if your songs were picked by the right artists, or for the right films, and theirs were, and they did. Ronnie thought he’d seen a lot of money until Marianne went global, but that was something else. So since the divorce he’d been living on interest and royalties, not really hungry anymore, and with no really bad habits to do much damage to the principal.

Except for the not-a-mid-life-crisis Audi sports car, and the odd $10,000 guitar, Ronnie really didn’t have very much to spend his money on. Even while Dale Duff was drinking too much, he never had the inclination to join in and dissipate himself. Ronnie always put it down to the fact that he started at a very early age to get the kind of hangovers other people don’t get till they’re in their 40s, so he never really managed to build up the kind of tolerance for mind altering substances that you need to develop a habit.

Three days after sending a response to Hazel, he’d received an acknowledgement from her, and a “Hi, sorry they didn’t reply to your email before…” from Jane, who mentioned she’d be going down with her husband. She asked if he still had a guitar and would he take it with him? Then he got a short note from Lucy.

Would it be too weird if I came too?

And there, Ronnie’s realised, hung the tale. In that one, sad, short, question he saw the story of their relationship, and who was in the wrong, and who did wrong, and who had wrongs to right. Ronnie composed his reply with his laptop, sitting on the couch in his mostly empty living room. He’d already made a little vow to himself that, given the bullshit he’d tried when he was 20 (which backfired spectacularly), he was only ever going to be 100% straight with Lucy, no matter what. He wrote that she was his only reason for going. He added if she wasn’t going to go, then he’d think again about going himself; and that she shouldn’t have, wouldn’t have, had to even ask, if there had been a decent bone in Ronnie’s body twenty years ago. He said, in short, that they needed to talk.

He found it hard to put himself there, to imagine what things would have been like if he hadn’t done something particularly mean and stupid 20 years before. After writing the words and hitting Send, he sat staring out of the window at the crows, who were joyously ignoring the scarecrow in the cornfield on the other side of the trees. The room felt cold and unwelcoming, suddenly, and he made a mental note to buy some more furniture. The walls were covered with guitars, but the floor was bare, and the dining table only had two chairs. Ronnie wondered what it would be like if they decided to by-pass the reunion and just meet up. Something in him sensed that the reunion was exactly the excuse, and the protection, they needed.

Within a couple of days, Lucy replied that, okay, she’d see him there, and even mailed him a few days before the trip to confirm she was still planning to go. In his mind, he was already there.

The first time Ronnie noticed Lucy, they were standing in the corridor outside a classroom in the week they all started at the Big School. They were 13 years old. There were twenty, thirty, teenagers all milling around in the narrow space at the top of a staircase, between two locked classrooms. Ronnie was leaning against the outside window, and Lucy was leaning against the firedoor that led to the stairs. She was standing next to a taller, blonder, girl called Ella. Lucy had already developed the crooked smile that he came to love.

So while a lot of people had been there, Ronnie’s could picture just four in his mind. Elaine, Lucy, Jane Hinchcliffe, and himself.
So that was it, thin as it was. The first memory. He didn’t ever remember what they might have talked about. After that there was just a gradual process of growing closer, helped by the fact that Lucy and Hazel Brown and he all did Latin together, an elite crew of people who didn’t want to do Physics.
Later, in the sixth form, he used to do English with Lucy. By that time they were very close, and because Ronnie and he were inseparable, Dave got to know Lucy as well as Ronnie did. They used to talk about her together, how brilliant she was. And then, at some party or other, Dave asked her out. And came back in, from outside in the dark where they’d been seen kissing, amazed, both at himself for asking and at her for saying yes. For saying, I will.
That was the beginning of the end for Ronnie.

He didn’t go for the convertible with the Audi. He didn’t think England had the climate for it, and though he wouldn’t necessarily stay there for ever, for the time being he felt he was curing himself of a long-term homesickness caused by too long living in the States, two divorces and impending middle age.
Hazel’s holiday homes were in the Vendée, the Atlantic coast of France, which is warm, flat, and tranquil; except during the July and August French holiday season, when it’s hot, flat, and crowded. In May and June, the weather can be wonderful and the wide, sandy beaches almost empty.
After flirting with the idea of offering Lucy a ride and deciding against, Ronnie went over to France alone. Besides, there wouldn’t have been the room in the back of the car for all the luggage – and the guitar he’d been asked to bring. The time between February and May was a blur; apart from checking his inbox several times a day to see if Lucy had been in touch again, there wasn’t all that much Ronnie could recall.

He took a Plymouth-St Malo crossing and covered the last bit of the journey without paying too much attention to where he was, listening to Martina McBride and Sara Evans records as loud as they would play without making his ears bleed. It was mostly raining. The last few miles, Ronnie was punchy and could have left the road at any time on one of the many hairpin bends; the roads twisted and wound through the flat countryside as the sky began, finally, to clear. Ronnie’s eyes were drooping when he finally saw the sign for the holiday cottages -- opposite the church exactly where Hazel’s message had said it would be.

There was a narrow, tree-lined dirt track up to the old main house, and the smaller, newer, cottages could be seen dotted around the grounds, a couple of them with their Gites de France wall plaques visible. There were a couple of cars with UK number plates parked outside the main house, and Ronnie breathed a sigh of relief and a silent prayer to the patron saint of mid-life crises that he wasn’t the first to arrive.


Go find another fool to love you,
The world is full of girls like me.
Find a fool take care of you,
Now that's a girl I'd like to see.
Who'll be the one, when all is said and done.
'Cause I know you will find another fool.

See if this is not familiar to you. You're in your car, and you've got your 6-CD thingy fully loaded, and on shuffle play. (Or you could be listening to your iPod, same thing, shuffle play, but I don't think it works in quite the same way.) So you get a few tracks of one, then a few tracks of another.

And then a song comes on, usually from a CD you don't hear that much. You've put it in for a change, but it's not something you've ever played to death. And it just sounds so fantastic, so beautiful, and song after song from it, random order, are not only good songs, but performed in a sublime, understated way, beautifully produced, stunning.

Kelly Willis' album Easy is like that for me. It's a largely acoustic affair, but it sounds like it was recorded in a fantastic room with the best microphones and sound engineer in the world. And everything about it is easy, it sounds so relaxed, nothing urgent about it. These songs sound like they were recorded by people who had all the time in the world, with nothing else they'd rather be doing.

Willis is one of those country music redheads who deserves a wider audience, but somehow manages to be too quirky, or something, to get mainstream appeal; and yet too Country for the Guardian don't-really-like-country-music crowd who will adopt the likes of Steve Earle and Gillian Welch, by dint of their worthy-but-dullness (when you see Steve Earle performing on the same stage as Joan Baez at some Radio 2 folkie do on BBC4, you know you've come to a Very Bad Place).

She did 3 albums on MCA, from 1990-93, the last of which was one of those self-titled career relaunch records. It was a good album, with one song, "Get Real" which is one of my all-time favourites:

Get real:
This ain't the way we used to feel;
What we once earned, we have to steal.
Conceal. It ain't real.

Come on,
We've been defending for so long.
I don't know who we're trying to con.
It's gone, so come on

It's a song that builds and builds, with the chorus being only subtly different from the verse, just slightly more intense, so that after the chorus it drops back into the verse like a sigh.

Since then, she's only recorded sporadically, on independent labels (which are probably owned by MCA, who knows, we've all seen the Wilco documento). Easy came out a couple of years ago.

Without being scientific about it, I'd say MCA were responsible for dropping more high-quality redheads than any other label. It's not just that they're evil, they're also stupid. Others in the same category as Willis are Bobbie Cryner, Lari White, and Joy Lynn White.

In fact I listened to both Joy Lynn and Kelly Willis on the way to work this morning, my CD collection being full of people who have been dropped by major labels. See, you might think you're trendy and exclusive, Mr Guardian Reader, but you only like people who have record deals.

I know what the problem with Kelly Willis is. She's got a great voice, but it's different, kind of nasal at times, with a bit of a yelp to it. It can grate a little on her less well produced records, but on Easy they've got it just right. Apart from "Find Another Fool," I think my favourite track is the opener:

If I left you, I wouldn't stay gone so long.
If I left you, I'd worry how you got along.
But you left me,
Alone here in my misery.
That's not somethin' I would do,
If I left you.

It's easy, is Easy, but it's also fresh, and it comes on in the car and it's like you've never heard it before, but you love it immediately. I've had it for quite a while now, and it's growing and growing on me.
There's something Nick Hornby wrote, in that 31 Songs book, which struck a chord with me, and I've been meaning to mention it for a while. Way back in the beginning of this blog, we talked about mystery as relates to music. I've long felt that young people today have it too easy, where discovering stuff is concerned, because in the age of the CD and the innernet, everything has been re-released, and everything is available. You don't have to search for things any more.
But Hornby points out that it doesn't make it easy, it makes it hard, because the problem with music these days is that all the shitbirds who work in marketing and advertising have this stuff available to them, and anything is likely to be picked up for an advert, or a movie, or a programme trail, or one of those "This year's Wimbledon" 5-minute edits, and the stuff is just coming out of the walls at you, banal in its ubiquity. I may be not as expressing it as well as him. But it means that the Velvet Underground, say ("I'm Sticking with You") can be as overexposed as one of those dull logo bands like Coldplay or Stereophonics (I don't know these people's music, but you see their logos everywhere, so I think of them as logo bands).

And the only alternative to all the crap coming out of the walls at you, on one of the millions of television channels or heavily rotated radio playlists, or in shops, is to seek out stuff by people too obscure to be picked up by the marketing guys.

When I was a teenager, I sort of looked up to my older sister and her group of friends, who were mostly male. And they had this thing about music, they were always looking for the heavy stuff, the difficult stuff. They had contempt for the Pink Floyds and the Genesises, they went for Focus and god knows what else. I didn't get it. But they used to call me a Thin Kid, because I liked the Velvets and the Stones, and the Beatles. Thin Kid music. Which I was quite proud of, because, back then, all my peers, as peers were wont to do, were into the stuff that was on the radio at the time, or on Top of the Pops, which I never have been.

But it's not about wearing your obscure tastes like a badge of pride, just because it means you can be snooty about Guardian readers and Stuart Maconie; and it's not about trying to make a career of it, like Andy Kershaw. It's about taking refuge, as Nick Hornby says, in areas of underexposure, about getting away from the Great Wash of noise that is the legacy of the MTV generation.

And it might mean you have mates in bands who aren't widely known, who record their own stuff and sell it at gigs, or it might mean you have impossible yearnings for obscure redheads who don't get to release many records but who make music that is just perfect. But it's a refuge, and it's a statement: you're never going to sit in the NEC, in that great barn, ever again, or the Milton Keynes Bowl, or a big stadium, because you've had enough of it, because it's everywhere and you don't want it to be.

March 17, 2004

Patron Saint of Mid-Life - part 3

Part 3 – RTS-VP

And, yes, there was the fact that he was single again, but he wasn’t thinking what it was natural to think. Sure, it looked as if Lucy was still using her maiden name (for email at least), but an academic is likely to do that, his experience. Plus, one of Ronnie’s ex-wives had used her dog’s name for email rather than use his or her dad’s. That was a short relationship.

Ronnie had walked away from school when he was just 18, didn’t take any exams, sold the computer his parents had bought him a year before in order buy a Telecaster (an unfashionable guitar at the time), and went off to sleep on people’s floors for a few years. He was planning to call this period The Years of Hygiene in his autobiography, because there wasn’t much of it. Then he met Annie, who became his first wife and first top 40 record. Annie was the first in a string of red heads Ronnie hooked up with, and took over the management of his band, in classic Spinal Tap fashion.

Having signed a record contract and made a critically successful first release, the band he was in fell apart in what must have been record time (i.e. it happened in between recording the record, and releasing it). So he toured with a pickup band, which didn’t go too well, then recorded solo, which was (if anything) a slightly better record than the first one had been.

Ronnie always said that the whole sorry affair would have made a good documentary, but didn’t make for very good music.

Then Annie and he got divorced, she took the master tapes when she left, and he spent a couple of years in LA not getting into films and playing the odd bit of guitar on other peoples’ records, sometimes as Ronnie, sometimes as Simon Collins, and sometimes as Colin Simons. And he did a soundtrack, which didn’t win any awards and wasn’t adopted by an premiership football clubs.

Then, by chance, he met Dale Duff, a country singer who was living and recording in LA – in exile from Nashville because he’d said, “Kiss my ass,” on the radio or something. Dale was looking to record with some “rock” musicians, and in Ronnie found a sympathetic spirit. This was in the early 90s, just after the boom in “New Country” and just before the short boom in “Female New Country” which commenced about the same time Ronnie started writing songs with his second wife, Dale’s sister Marianne. They met on the sessions for Dale’s soon-to-be-flop “rock” album.
Marianne was a redhead with a beautiful voice and an attitude to match her brother’s. Together they wrote 15 top ten country hits between 1992 and 1997. Then they got divorced, and (business being business) wrote 3 more, before Marianne finally hit the top with her own release, the Divorce Record, the one they wrote together when they couldn’t stand to be in the same room and couldn’t say a civil word.

Between them they had managed to pick up 3 CMA awards over the years, and now they won another. She was the one went on the stage in a designer frock and gave the speeches, which was the kind of thing she enjoyed. There was a perception in the industry that Marianne wrote all the words and Ronnie did the music, but it wasn’t like that. She wrote on the piano and he wrote on the guitar. The way they worked best was, usually, to find a way of finishing each other’s songs, often by saying the one thing the other person was trying to avoid.

Marianne and Ronnie jointly wrote around 300 songs over the years, most of which were only ever recorded as demos, many others stuffed onto albums by artists major and minor (all of them generating royalties, which is what paid the rent). Marianne even made a couple of albums herself, but the record companies were never behind them, and she never wanted to tour with them, “for health reasons.” Which is the reason usually given for not touring. Ronnie continued to play guitar a few times, he was known for his 12-string work, and produced a couple of albums for other people, neither of which were very big. A bit like the film soundtrack, it was enjoyable but not lucrative. The soundtrack wasn’t a big hit, though he got more letters about that than anything else he ever did, usually from students on college courses entitled Scoring for Picture or similar.
Along the way, Ronnie realised that being a jobbing musician and songwriter was more rewarding and less exhausting than any attempt he’d made to be a star, which is possibly why Marianne’s huge success stressed their marriage to breaking point. Suddenly, she wanted to do all the things that Ronnie had begun to enjoy not doing, and the differences drove them apart.

Somewhere in between the time Marianne moved to Switzerland to be a Tax Exile, and Ronnie moved back to England, he got married for a third time. He didn’t remember too much about it, but she was the one didn’t want Ronnie’s name on her emails, or her headed notepaper, or her utility bills. There were no kids, so it wasn’t messy, though he still had to make the occasional trip over to Swissland for “business meetings” with Spouse number 2. Marianne had recently proposed they work together again to write songs for her next album, and Ronnie had promised to think about it.

He had two vague plans, now he was on his own and back home. Plan A was to try to write some songs on his own, after having collaborated for so long. He suspected he’d end up sending them over to Marianne to finish, and receiving a bunch of hers in return. Plan B was to track down Annie, wife number one, and see if he couldn’t recover his lost master tapes without getting lawyers involved.

And now Lucy. If there was a plan above A, then Lucy was it…


Seen a truck this morning for a haulage company called Quaker Transport or something. So I'm assuming it's some kind of pacifist lorry driver.

On the side of the truck it says, "Give ya head a shake." On the back of the cab, only visible to drivers when he's not towing a trailer, it says, in script, "I don't give a shiny shit."

So now I'm thinking, a pacifist truck driver with attitude.

Patron saint of Mid-Life - part 2

[Part 1 is here]

Part 2 – R for Regret, much?

While Ronnie thought of these people as being on an A-list, a B-list, and a C-list, he knew at the same time that if there was a list above A, Lucy would be on it. There are people you’d pay a fiver to get in touch with, and there are people who are worth your very soul. Lucy was part of the alphabet before there was an alphabet. She was a hieroglyph.

Lucy R. The R that stands for Regret.

Lucy was one of Ronnie’s favourite people, one of the best he’d ever met. Sweet natured, kind, funny, smart, she was everything you could ever wish for in a girlfriend. Which was why he was eaten up with jealousy when she started going out with Dave. What happened between them was an emotional roller-coaster (on Ronnie’s part at least) that ended badly, with Ronnie’s disasterously misjudged tactics, and he lost touch with her about 18 months after he left school, before he was even old enough to appreciate how much she meant to him.

He hadn’t thought about her every day since then, but in twenty years the feeling never faded that he had lost an important friend. And what does every day mean, after all, Ronnie thought. The way he felt about Lucy, he knew, was what people meant when they talked about every day.

He desperately wanted to know what had happened to her.

As soon as he saw the email was actually from Hazel, Ronnie’s mind was racing. This was the most promising of all the half-hearted contacts he’d made through schoolmates, and not especially because of the content of the mail. It was simply that this was the first positive A-list response in the 6 months since he’d been registered.

The first actual response came soon after he registered, from a guy he’d completely forgotten about since leaving school. They exchanged a couple of mails, a bit of news, and that was it, honour satisfied. The stranger actually put Ronnie in touch with a couple of other people, including Dave. Dave, so it turned out, was working as a civil servant for the Customs and Excise, which is more or less what he’d been doing (and hating) the last time Ronnie had spoken to him. Ronnie tried not to feel superior about this.

Ronnie had a technique, established since school, of keeping his head down to size. Part of it was in being called Ronnie in the first place. His real name was Simon, but for about six months when he was about 13, he’d borne a distant physical resemblance to the comedian Ronnie Corbett. He’d been short, dark haired, and wore black-rimmed NHS spectacles. Some wag had started calling him Ronnie, and in spite of a later growth spurt, and the adoption of John Lennon-style NHS glasses, he was called that, or Ron, forever more.
As a musician, it actually proved an advantage, because all his peers knew him as Ronnie, a classic musician’s name, and yet he could do some work, work he was less than proud of, under his real name, which nobody really remembered.

The Friday afternoon that Ronnie got in touch with Dave, and exchanged three messages, he kept reminding himself of the feeling of having the piss taken out of him because he was small and wore cheap glasses. He remembered that Dave had been something of a friend to him then, so he swallowed any impulse he had to crow.

Dave asked what Ronnie had been up to, and he just filled him in on what he’d been doing for 10 years, making it sound as dreary as possible, which he suspected Dave may have been aware of. Dave had been to the pub at lunchtime and was feeling quite relaxed, otherwise Ronnie was sure he wouldn’t have received the time of day. Something told him that when Monday morning came around that radio silence would fall, and so it proved.
Ronnie mailed Dave one more time, with some comment about someone who died, and never got a reply.

In fact, not getting replies was something of a habit when it came to any mails he sent himself through schoolmates. There must have been half a dozen people who ignored messages from him, including Jane H and Sally B. Of those who replied, most (like Ronnie himself) were only interested in exchanging news and forgetting about it.

So the gist of Hazel’s mail was surprising: using her husband’s registration details, she’d been in contact with a fair few people, though she’d never bothered to register herself. The distribution list (which she hadn’t BCC’d) included a smattering of B list (Dave), and the whole of the A list, as well as one or two others who’d slipped off Ronnie’s radar, like Doug Kinross, who was also a good friend of his. So good that he forgot all about him.
It was fascinating, and a little heart-stopping, to see what looked like an address for Lucy R: lucrob@uch.ac.uk certainly gave the game away (and an academic address, too, which was promising in ways he couldn’t have explained).

The way of things was that Hazel and her husband had been buying property in France for 15 years before anybody else did, and had ended up with a large house surrounded by a complex of smaller cottages, which they ran as a profitable gîtes business. They were prepared to write off a week’s rentals to put everybody up, with attendees pooling resources for catering and entertainment. Everyone was asked to RSVP with details of how many people (spouses, kids) might come along with.
Ronnie’s hands were shaking as he hit Reply, not even thinking about doing it. Then he scrubbed that and hit Reply All, because he especially wanted Lucy to know that he’d definitely, almost certainly, be going. If that was okay.

That was January. The event was late May; arrive from Thursday for a long weekend, depart Wednesday or Thursday (presumably depending on how disgracefully this bunch of 40 year olds behaved), giving Hazel time to clean up the presumed mess in time for paying customers the following weekend, which was a French bank holiday.

From that point on, he really couldn’t think of anything else. It was true he’d been at a loose end, but this was so much more. This was something that had been lurking at the back of his mind for 20 years. Ronnie had made his living writing songs (for other people to sing) for about 15 years, and he was pretty much well off. But he was also divorced, and recently returned to England, and looking for something to keep him interested in life that preferably didn’t involve chasing women and embarrassing himself.

Except if the woman was Lucy R, apparently.

March 16, 2004

Canon Compo

For those of you who have written to ask, did I win the Canon photo compo mentioned a few days ago? The answer is no. I got 3rd prize, which, apparently, is a compact 35mm film camera.

Er... thanks. I think.

The Patron Saint of Mid-Life

Okay, I'm going to have another go at the fiction thing, starting over again from the beginning. This time, I'll try writing in the 3rd person for a change. This will make it easy to distinguish regular entries from fiction. I'll do it in 1000-word chunks. Ish.


The Patron Saint of Mid-Life, Part 1

Ronnie Collins was the last person to indulge in a mid-life crisis. In fact, he’d expended a good deal of effort in the arrangement of his life so as to avoid one. He’d seen people have them in their early 30s, and he’d seen that other kind, the mid-20s crisis, the ultimate self-indulgence; and he’d seen friends of both sexes go off the rails after a divorce. Or two. But Ronnie, he was exactly the right age, and he’d had exactly the right kind of problems, these past two years, that he could, no question, just drop one. But as far as he was concerned, everybody else could go first, then he’d have his.

He’d been planning it for a while. Building up to it. He’d already got the car.

The subject on the email was A TRIP TO FRANCE WITH OLD SCHOOL FRIENDS. Sitting in the small control room of his home studio, he almost deleted it without reading; it looked like spam, or possibly a virus, cunningly disguised to appeal to both the latest internet fad and the national obsession with cashing in a high-value British property and moving to the continent. But there was nothing attached to the mail, so he took a quick look.

Dear Ron,
Well it’s been over 20 years since most of us saw each other. Some of us have exchanged a few emails, but the time has come to organise a reunion. But one with a difference: rather than book the old school hall and hire a DJ, they thought it would be nicer to invite a select few to celebrate my 40th birthday and share a long weekend in our holiday home complex in France…

He scrolled to the bottom of the mail to see who it was from, because he didn’t recognise the hmbailey@frenchcountrylife.co.uk name at the top of the page. H M Bailey turned out to be Hazel Brown, one of the many girls he’d loved indiscriminately when he was 17. Intrigued, he read on.
Later, drinking coffee in the lightest and warmest room of the old house, staring at the crows in the stand of trees at the bottom of his garden, Ronnie thought about what he’d do concerning the email.
He’d registered on schoolmates.co.uk about 6 months before. A friend had forwarded the link to Ronnie, with the single comment, “Intriguing. I’ll join if you will.” It took a moment to decide to register his details. His thinking was simply that people would not expect to see his name there, and one thing that had characterised his life was a contnuing attempt not to meet people’s expectations. What he’d really wanted, immediately, was to know what had happened to the two or three people he’d really cared about. Assuming that they, like Ronnie, would normally not be interested in such a thing, he’d gambled on sticking his name on there as an advertisement. He knew they were likely to lurk and not register, otherwise.
It was partly arrogance, thinking of himself as one of the “cool” ones, one of the people too far above that kind of thing. Ronnie had always said to his ex-best friend, no way would he ever go to a school reunion. School reunions are for the happy clappy Christian types who wear matching jumpers, and for attention seekers like his ex-best friend’s ex-girlfriend, though he never said that out loud. The arrogance was all of a piece with the character he’d always been. Ronnie knew that all the people who thought him arrogant when he was 17, 18, would have been surprised to see his name there, would possibly click the link to read all about him, hoping he was living in a mobile home under a motorway flyover somewhere. Needless to say, he didn’t put anything particularly meaningful in his little biog. Just made up some stuff about living in a trailer park with his wife and their 14 kids. It would have been a little embarrassing to try to summarise the facts of his life, in any event.
Ronnie made a list of the people he’d be willing to pay a fiver to speak to again. It was a short list, all female.

Lucy Roberts
Jane Hinchcliffe
Hazel Brown

There was also a B-list, of people he wouldn’t mind knowing, briefly, what had happened to; perhaps people he’d have been glad to hear from, but not worth the registration fee.

Sally Broughton
Julie Feint
Dave Powell

And a (short) C-list, of people whose names he wasn’t clear on. There was a redhead who once flirted with Ronnie on a school trip. Unfortunately he’d been too obsessed with Hazel Brown at the time and paid her no attention. As he’d got older he’d realised that being both fussy and too far up his own arse when he was 17 had led to a lot of missed opportunities. There was another girl he’d been introduced to by someone else at a party. She was so clearly out of his league he’d treated the whole thing as a casual joke. Years later Ronnie wondered, did she really like me? He wasn’t exactly sure of her name, or what school she’d been to.
Ronnie gave some thought to the B-list. Probably 25% of his first hundred songs were about Sally B. She was a kind of early obsession, a reluctant muse. Unfortunately, she wasn’t at all interested, or impressed, and of course the songs turned out to be laughably bad. Julie F was actually from another school in the same town. He met her at his Saturday job, and she always made him think he’d picked the wrong school to go to, because the women at her end of town were obviously much more sophisticated and interesting. So she was a second-string obsession for his 17 year old self. This was before he even started writing songs, so all he wrote about Julie was what he came to think of as laughably bad poetry about her hair and her clothes.
Dave, the only male entrant, was Ronnie’s best friend. They’d been friends for nearly 10 years after they both left school. In fact, they grew closer in those 10 years than they’d ever been in school. But shit happens, and it had been another 10 years since they’d spoken. Dave wasn’t on the A list because all the years of good friendship had worn down to a natural conclusion. Dave was now a minor curiosity to Ronnie; Dave had always been the one with the big plans, the dreamer, and Ronnie wondered if anything had come of them, that’s all.

The A-list was easy to explain. They were the names of people – girls, obviously – he never really got close enough to. These were the intriguing ones, the distant ones, the ones who kept Ronnie guessing at their mysteries. Or not quite.

The biggest disappointment about oldschoomates was that after a period of rapid growth and expansion, it all died down, and the new names stopped appearing. It became clear after a while, too, that most of those registering were working in IT, or in jobs that put a computer in front of their eyes for the duration of the working day. For the rest of society, for the unwired, for the academics and non-deskbound, it might as well have not existed. A critical mass was achieved, and Lucy Roberts name failed to appear.

March 15, 2004

Bigger than worlds

I re-read The Ringworld Throne at the weekend. I seem to have lost my copy of the original Ringworld, and I don't own the first sequel The Ringworld Engineers. Throne is the 2nd sequel, with Ringworld's Children to be published later this year.

I've always loved this series, not because of the characters, nor even the plot, very much, but because the concept of the Ringworld is just so beautiful. It's a compromise on the Dyson Sphere, which is a construct that completely encloses a system's sun and maximises the extraction of energy from said sun. But as well as giving a mind-bogglingly massive land area on which to live, it renders the stars completely invisible and presents a real problem for creatures who require some period of night.

Niven's Ringworld concept rests on the premise that if you take all of the material within a system and mould it into a giant ring, not only do you get a thicker, more protected, underside, but you still get a mind-bogglingly huge area in which to live, whilst still being able to see the stars during the night created by the "shadow squares."

The original Ringworld was a high concept in search of a plot, because the events that take place in the novel seem hardly to do the size of the thing justice. It's almost as if the Ringworld is so huge that he couldn't picture any meaningful story that could take place there. In the same way, book jacket illustrators have never been able to render the concept in a convincing way. They either show you way too much detail for the scale of the thing, or show a concept of it from a huge distance away. Plenty have tried. You can spend a fun few minutes on the innernet looking at some of the concepts.

One clue to illustrators would be this: if you're far enough away to see that it is a ring, you're too far away to see any details.

But the great thing about Niven, it seems to me, is that he has always been willing to respond to criticism, and fans with too much time on their hands. The first sequel, Engineers, seemed to be about responding to criticism along the lines of, "How does the Ringworld maintain a stable orbit? Likewise the shadow squares?" So he invented an entire plot based around a need to repair the systems that kept the Ringworld stable, and looking further into who built the Ringworld and why. So the 2nd and forthcoming 3rd sequels follow on from that. In response to correspondence he not only improves on an original concept, but gets a whole franchise going - ker-ching.

Niven's ideas have always been too big to film. Imagining what his aliens look like, for a start, is going to be very subjective, and rendering them on screen without causing hilarity surely impossible. But hark at me, I thought that all the hobbity bits in Lord of the Rings were just silly, but that didn't stop people raving about it.

A film of Ringworld would have the same problem as the novel. It would take too long to introduce the Ringworld, because of trying to build it up for maximum impact, and it wouldn't have anything to do with it once you got to it, because everything happens in the sequels. No, like many things, it cries out to be a long-running television series. Episode 1, the recruitment of Louis Wu and companions; Episode 2 the visit to the Puppeteer's home world(s), with the climax being the first sight of the Ringworld. A double episode to launch the series, we're 90 minutes in, and we see the Ringworld. Episodes 3 - 148 the subsequent unfolding of the plot, with flashbacks to explain Protectors and other bits and pieces.

The various peoples that inhabit the ring are introduced slowly, ranging from human-like city people to giants who eat grass, hunters who eat nothing but red meat, amphibians who eat fish, tiny-brained vampires who... well, you know, and Ghouls, who eat the dead of all species. And inter-species sex is the basis for most diplomacy. The introduction of each type would eat up a 45-minute episode.

(Better than Ringworld, because they have a better story and characters, are the two books, The Integral Trees, and The Smoke Ring. Here, people don't live on a ring or a sphere, they just float around in an orbiting gas cloud on giant trees. Totally impossible to film, as well, but a great radio series.)

March 12, 2004


A friend at work loaned me Abraxas by Charlie Sultana. My problem with him has never been with his guitar playing... or even with the bongos and congas (what's the difference? I don't know. Don't speak to me of drums). No, the problem is always with the material, which is generally poor, and the singers, who are generally anonymous-sounding session singer types.

I know in recent years he's gone in for celebrity guests. I think this works one way around (i.e. Carlos guests on a Michelle Branch track, which I like), but not the other (a load of different people on one Santana record, because you're bound not to like most of them).

I despise Black Magic Woman. I hate the lyrics, I hate the tune, I hate the singer. The guitar on it is great, but what are you gonna do? It's like pouring chocolate sauce on dogshit.

The rest of the tracks on the album sound like warm-up material. They sort of start, never really get going, and then stop. It's muzak.

March 11, 2004

Epson R-D1 Digital Rangefinder Camera

This collaboration between Epson and Cosina is the digital camera equivalent of those Fender Relic guitars, new guitars made to look like old ones.

I reserve judgement, naturally, until I've seen the thing, because if it's as clunky as the Leica Digilux, it won't be something you want to pick up and use.

But I admire the attempt to apply a different kind of technology to the digital camera. There are all kinds of reasons why rangefinders can be superior in use to SLRs. I don't know an awful lot about the subject, but I've learned that the SLR mechanism itself, apart from hiding your subject from you at the very moment the photo is taken, can cause unwanted vibration.

Classic reportage type photography often stems from rangefinder use. You get those highly detailed, sharp, huge depth of field images that just leap off the page.

I think this is a sign that the industry is casting around for the a great leap forward in image quality.

Operating System By-pass Surgery

Here's another, for the sake of completeness:

I'm prepared to admit, by now, that Mac OS X has all kinds of benefits. If it had been like Panther (or even Jaguar) when it was first released, my negative feelings mightn't have been so strong. I'm still not fond of the look and feel of the thing, but the fact that it never crashes can't be ignored, and the occasional flaky application can just be relaunched, with no issues.

But you can't have everything, and much has been lost. I feel sorry for you if you never had the "classic" Mac OS experience, because it was just beautiful. It all went horribly wrong when the innernet came along, of course, but I can still remember early System 7 and 7.5 experiences, when the operating system used up barely any RAM, and having 8MB felt like a luxury.

There came the day when I upped my RAM, expensively, to 12MB, and it felt incredible to have that much. I used to run the OS lean and clean. I switched off fancy graphics extensions (QuickDraw GX, which nothing important supported) and even QuickTime. I switched off Applescript, I turned off menu blinking, I saved nanoseconds here and there to make the thing feel slick and smooth.

The main problem with X is that you no longer get that level of control. The other problem is that you can't survive without things like QuickTime and AppleScript, because they've been integrated, bit by byte, in that Microsofty, "Oh, but it's part of the operating system" way.

And of course Safari looks like iTunes which looks like the Finder which looks like iPhoto etc. Everything is a database and everything looks like a database.

I hate the Dock, but I've learned to live with it positioned on the right hand side of the screen, but I turn off the genie effect and I turn off magnification effects. so my Dock is fixed and static. Personally, I long to have a tabbed folder at the bottom of my screen, which I have on my old OS 9 install. And I long for a proper, working Apple Menu. You can get a 3rd party thing, but it's not the same. It's not the same because my Apple Menu experience was about what I took out of the menu listing, not what I put in. I want to be able to remove everything I don't use, every little utility, menu item and icon. I like it when people come to play DVDs on my Mac at work and I say, "I threw the DVD Player software away."

I've a colleague who has shrunken his dock so that the icons are the size of lentils, but it's unusable that way, and you do need to use it. At the other extreme, I scream with rage faced with huge docks with huge magnifications, and Hiding drives me insane. People who hide the Dock (so that it pops up only when your mouse is in that direction) don't seem to realise that you still can't use that part of your screen, because the Dock pops up when your mouse is in that area. Anyway, I resent the processor cycles it takes to show/hide the dock.

Other things I'd turn off include the drop shadows on windows and that horrible brushed aluminium effect, which I have hated since it was introduced with QuickTime. Lord preserve me from the tasteless nerds who write software and say "cool" a lot.

Finally, the saddest thing is that the damn operating system doesn't work properly unless you have 1GB of RAM installed. I was just doing some recording on a Mac downstairs (Si was playing guitar, I was hitting "3" for Record), and it had just 256MB installed. Flaky, slow, with multiple instances of the Spinning Beachball of Death. Never again.

You May have to lean forward

Here's an entry from the temporary home, which I am abandoning, half built:

My back is aching because I was playing my guitar standing up this morning. I don't usually do this, but someone at work loaned me his Vox Wah pedal (the original and some would say best Wah, though I couldn't say). I'd tried it sitting down, but thought I ought to try standing up, which is the usual way of playing. My back hurts, I've got no muscles developed for playing upright. As Bob Dylan once said, "There's a certain kind of blues music you can play sitting down. You may have to lean forward a little."

March 10, 2004

Temporarily Relocated

I'm trying a temporary new home for Hoses of the Holy. We'll be over at Squarespace seeing if we like it over there.

March 09, 2004

this is not news news

It's not that kind of blog, after all, but when I read this a while ago, I did think I ought to comment, at some point.

I just made a major fuss (involiving two members of staff) at the shop down the road, due to the lack of Caramacs for the past month or so, which reminded me.

It seems to me that Nestle have two problems. One is that there's a bunch of ant-globalisation anti-capitalism people who seem to think that piecemeal boycotting of certain brands is going to make some kind of difference to the world, and good luck to them with that. Though, realistically, you'd starve to death, wouldn't you, before you had any impact. Personally I boycott things that I can't afford, like Gibson guitars.

The other is that Nestle gave me the bum's rush when I suggested the Caramac Kit Kat. I know it would work, and yet they don't seem to trust my judgment. I wonder why that is?


I Lik My School

I lik my scool I lik my scool
I lik my scool bcus
Wiy lun fings
I lik my scool
Wiy hav snactam
I lik my scool
Wiy hav frens

March 08, 2004

Softly Softly

Spent the weekend with a Canon Powershot A70, because there's some kind of reseller competition thing going on. I've used Canon models before, like the old G3 and a couple of others. The main thing I thought about the G3 was that it took a nice photo, but always left you feeling that the image was somewhat less sharp than it could have been.

The effect worked really well for some subjects, but with others you felt as if the lens was smeared with Vaseline or had a thin sheet of material pulled tight over the lens. In all other respects the camera works fantastically well, with beautifully exposed photos, even in difficult lighting conditions. My favourite test is always to take a picture of one of the kids against a large, bright window. With a Canon you never get an silhouetting effect, you get a well exposed face without an over exposed background, like magic.

The A70 did everything quite well, and I took some nice photos (none that will win the compo though I don't think), but when I see them side by side with pictures taken with my Minolta DiMAGE F300, there's a lack of sharpness there I don't think I could live with.

March 05, 2004

Top 5... er 6... er...

Top 5 women on tv

Somehow, to work, the sexiness must be tied into the character they play. And I try not to go for the obvious choices, because I like to think my secret girlfriends are exclusive. I make an exception in the case of Jolene, who can't help it.

Jolene Blalock (Enterprise - looks better with the vulcan ears on.

Maura Tierney (ER - nuff said)

Lexa Doig (Andromeda - I don't actually watch this, you understand)

Jennifer Garner (Alias - she has Elvis skin, but she likes dressing up)

Marge Helgenberger (CSI, o yes. ph*t*sh*pped?)

Charlotte Ross (NYPD Blue - and she's against animal cruelty, which is nice)

Er... how many is that?

The Pavilion

As promised, and in a blatant attempt to bump the word count for March, here is a story that was published in Slow Dancer in 1986.

I saw her in Safeways, it was close to five, the other day. I'd just bought the champagne for the other night, and a small loaf of bread with cheese to stuff myself with beforehand. You know the way she and I are, the way we feel about things like this. You like to act as if you know her better than I ever did, anyway. I was putting the things in a box at the checkout; I'd been looking at a trashy book of yours on the stand, I was thinking about that. She was with a basket and a bloke at the checkout next door. I looked at her and she looked at me, in that contemptuous way she has, and I just hurried away. I'd only paid for an hour in the car park and wanted to go over to collect my pictures from the Lab before it closed. I didn't know what time it closed. You know how seldom I get up town.

You're always looking at my face to get my reaction to things. Then you go and tell people I'm strange, you can never tell what I'm thinking. It's easy to tell what I'm thinking: for instance, I'm thinking about the pictures and all the captions I've got to write for the album: volume three for this year.

They were mainly of christmas and that day when it kept raining and had to keep wiping the lens of my camera; we drove by the park on the way to get petrol and you keep wondering why I always look at it.

I used to go down there when I was young. The park, you know. The one you was just talking about. Used to chalk on the slide with Brammer and I remember got chased by some bully on a bike. Never been so frightened in all my life, but nothing happened. When he caught us, he just talked big: things like that are never what you expect them to be. You're always mentioning Brammer like he was something we have in common. I know you like him a lot. I liked him a lot, too, when I was that age. But honestly you can't equate then and now. Talking to him now I just feel nervous and useless like I do with strangers. I didn't even spend much time up there with Brammer, the park. Not after a while.

I know I've spoken to you of it. You were only ever there that once, that day playing tennis when you couldn't play and I felt ashamed of you. You couldn't even hit the ball. I suppose in the same way you feel ashamed of me because I'm not flash and friendly. I mainly went there before I met you, when I was independent of you, as I almost am again. Really, you ask for statements like that when you turn up like this out of the blue with these fables tailored to make your life incredible and mine mundane. I happen to think my life is fine as it is. I'm a little more chary these days, a little indecisive and cowardly, but I'll get over that like I get over everything else. You know I do: you've watched me do it, often, with your tolerant eyes.

You remember you said about that old shed, with the green seats which got smashed up. Used to be the Pavilion till they built the new one, with the toilets.

Used to crawl inside that shed with her, you know. She had chocolate breath. This was before kissing with tongues was the vogue. Chocolate. I wonder what made me say that. She used to think she tasted of kitchens, but it was chocolate, albeit cooking chocolate, melted in a Pyrex bowl over a saucepan of hot water. So, you know her. You were only telling me about it yesterday, how she'd seen me in town and everything, how she is now and so on. I know I didn't say anything then, but I saw the way you looked at me, looking for a response. Practising your superiority again. You act as if all I ever wanted to do was keep in touch with all my old friends. Your eyes always thinking they're three steps ahead. So funny and naive, laughing at my artlessness. But I can tell you a thing or two about the way people are. You've always been the innocent, here: I've seen you thinly disguising your ignorance. Why do you think I always stuck with you? Because you know so much?

It was just because you didn't, because you always said and did the wrong things, thought you were being good when you weren't. You still say all the wrong things, in your books, but they've made you act differently in real life and it seems contrived, these days, as if you do it for effect. I've always been the sassy one, and now you're trying to make it the other way around and I suppose my ego doesn't like it. You see I never pointed out to you that you were being silly, I just held fast by your side and together we made the rest think they were dull. Nowadays you turn it all against me, with the tone of your voice and those eyes, frowning at my overdraft. I took a while to consider and now I think I will tell you something, though you're thoroughly undeserving and I can't afford to give things like this away.

We played "London" on the roundabout. She called it the Witches Hat, but I always hated that name. I hated playing "London" too, if truth be told. I didn't like it when they made it swing and banged it against the pole. There was never anybody like that lot for making me feel I was out of my depth.

There was Kent, you know him; he's still got a book of mine. Grace, sometimes her violent brother (bet he ends up in prison). Sometimes Migsy, always going on about the size of it, and way way too dangerous for you to know. Collins, who had curly hair and was white, but his skin was very brown, looked like his granddad might have been black. Andy-O, Baz, Ratty, Gibbo, but hardly ever them lot. In the main it was just the two girls (Bill and Ben) and her brothers: Simon, the boring one, and Patrick, the trendy one with the lisp. God, what a lovely name, I just thought. Not Patrick: Pavilion.

One day we were all down there, we were on the swings. She and I used to share the yellow and the blue one; I always had the yellow because she loathed that colour. I do, too, but you know what I'm like around girls. The other kids used to play on scabby wooden swings, banging around, swinging very high, standing up and so on. Ben used to stand near me and Bill, talking nine to the dozen, or whatever your expression is. Someone got bored and suggested a game of "Tinpanalley" over by the water fountain.

You know that game, that word, you must have played it. Draw a snake, this finger did THAT, count to a hundred, five hundred in fives, a thousand in tens, everybody hides except It, who has to find them and say, with one hand on Home, which was usually a pole or a corner, "Tinpanalley I see Fred!", or whoever, before Fred can sneak or run in and say, hand on Home also, "Tinpanalley in!"

You know over by the tennis court? We sort of played it round there, away from the swings, but we never went over the other side of the court, unless to hide. Somehow the magic wasn't there, in that corner with the compost heap and gardens. The people who owned those houses always seemed so indignant that anybody should want to play in the park. The reason we played it there anyway was because of the drinking fountain, which was in front of the bowling green and the Pavilion. It was very hot and we all wanted a drink. A corner of the Pavilion, at the back by the steps to the toilets, was Home. The drinking fountain was along an asphalt path, round the edge of the green. It was great fun. It was metal, about three or four feet high, and you had to press or twist (I can't remember) a tap on the side and the water tasted pretty metallic, but I don't think anything ever tasted so good on a hot summer's day. Water fights were always until the park keeper rushed out of the Pavilion and ordered us to stop.

We all went to hide, I went with her, and this time I think Deb and Debbie were there, although they lived over the other side of the Estate, Collins was there, and Kent, who was It (I don't remember how we decided who was It). Simon was home, Patrick and Andy-O were there (Andy-O always was with Collins), but not Grace. She hardly ever came. We ran off, different directions, round the bowling green, the Pavilion.

Kent was counting five hundred in ones because nobody liked him very much and we all knew he'd cheat anyway. She and I ran off to the old Pavilion where we kissed chocolate and waited on the lookout for Kent to go in the other direction. The best thing was, if you drew him far enough away you could run back and say, "Tinpanalley in," before he reached Home. But Kent was a very fast runner (whoever was caught first would be the next It).

There was a cricket match on that day. Although I love to play and you laugh at me, I never pay much attention when other people play, but I remember the teams had been walking in as we ran to hide. It was very hot, from the range of our vantage point, the Pavilion was in a haze.

Collins decided to climb on the roof. The tiles were red then, not black as now, and he was a very striking figure dressed in blue and white in a heat mist crawling over. You know how sometimes things happen and you can't believe they're real. Collins appeared on the roof, in the background, a tiny puppet, waving, pleased with himself, white teeth in a hot summer vapour. He kind of got on his knees and began to crawl across the roof, the red tiles. We were watching from a distance, she and I.

It was around four in the afternoon, about the time we'd all be on our ways home from school, but school was out, and teams were in the Pavilion having tea.

I can see from the look on your face that you've guessed what's going to happen, and you're enjoying the fact that you've guessed. That's what I mean when I say you've lost your innocence. You no longer enjoy spectating occasionally, you're itching, eager to join the rest of the dot-to-dot yourself. I don't think you could any longer watch me struggle with a jigsaw puzzle, you'd have to show me you could do it. If you can guess it now, can you even imagine that we couldn't guess it then? We just thought he'd get away with it. Just stared, she laughed in my ear, enjoying madcap Collins, a little bit wild, a little bit dangerous and cracked. Kent just peeped around the corner, we were watching Collins because
                                                                                                        just at the
moment Kent saw us
                              Collins put a foot through some tiles
                                                                                  and just as Kent smiled and began to turn for Home to shout "Tinpanalley I see...."
                                                                              Collins twists round in pain and out of control on the roof - wild arms waiving - tightly twisting - legs wrenching - tile slipping
                                                                                                        bone breaking
                                                                                                                                and Kent hears a noise above him and
                                             Collins rolls slowly - alarmed facial expression
                                                                                                             Kent puzzled
Jane and I shocked staring
                                      black fear in his eyes white teeth horror grimace
                                                                                                          Kent can't see what we can see
                topples off the roof, flying briefly in the air flapping arms in ineffectual wing movement and
                        landing inches from amazed Kent with bruises scrapes blood broken leg and arm and concussed head. She and I running over.

Cricketers disturbed during sacred cow tea ritual rush out puzzled and angry - see Collins lying there broken, you know. I can still see those faces. Middle-aged hateful businessmen, the same sort you and I are supposed to hate now.

While the fuss, she and I ran round and said "Tinpanalley in," all the others were there already, thinking this was Christmas and Kent was sadly lacking as an It and would have to be It again. We told them, come round, see this sight.

Best if we'd have run away, played innocently on the swings because the park keeper was mad like the rest of us and, after all, it was his park we were playing in and he personally had to pay for the repairs in the Pavilion roof (which was obviously overdue for fresh tiles anyway). Banned us all for the summer as if it was all of us had climbed on the roof and fell off.

We still went down there, ban not enforced, but Collins lying plastered up funny and tragic. Adults never remember kids unless they're their own, you know. It gave us a great laugh and a fright, and the wonderful feeling that went with meeting up again in the evening to talk about it as the sky turned red, it got dark, and dogs ran around while we sat on those green benches near the swings eating something someone had from holiday, just me and Bill and Ben, with insects buzzing round the trees and the fence of the bowling green, the metal water cooling in the pipes and the ground, the grass damp and tired, the orange streetlights of the main road winking on and knowing it was only over till the next day, but the best thing about it was that it changed nobody. There was no incredible seeing of the light, no lessons learned. Collins remained as psychopathic as ever, probably worse, having not died once he knew he wouldn't die again. The rest of us forgot about it was the weeks rushed by and school lumbered nearer. The cricket pitch, which had been scuffed up by spikes, was rolled and watered and within a couple of weeks looked as if nothing had ever occurred.

Although it seemed that summers like those would go on forever, and we turned up without fail having said see you tomorrow and kissed by the crossing opposite her house; although we always had that appointment to keep, really it was only one or two years we were friends, two very hot summers. One day we said see you, see you tomorrow, and never turned up, never knowing if the others were there because we never turned up again and at the new school we all felt a need to act like people with no past, to wrap around a tough cloak and pretend that nothing had ever meant anything to us, just to cope with all these new people from other parts of town. Summers like that over forever, just as summers like ours are maybe over forever. Next year will be, might be, different, better, or just indifferent. It's that special kind of change, the progress they call growing up, and perhaps we've grown up so much together we can't talk about it now, maybe not ever. Perhaps there'll come a day when I'll be telling someone about you and the things we did. I'll only do that if I can be sure of never seeing you again, mainly because I don't want to hurt you like I've hurt you tonight.

So although I loved her all that time ago and I love you now with all your weird ways and different selves to different people, your letting me do all the talking, and all the hurting, I can't really say I'll come with you to see her tomorrow. She and I would be shy I'm sure to see each other and have to make conversation with the past we shared. Both so changed, so much older, and not wanting to admit it was ever worth anything. I stopped turning up to see her a long time ago.


I drew Spoonface in the office Formula 1 sweepstake, which you'd think would be good news, come the end of the season, but we added a lot of our own rules to spice things up.

A lot of the rules I made up were aimed at making sure Spoonface couldn't win, viz:

Bonus Points:
Schumacher Bonus
2 bonus points awarded if any of your drivers baulk Michael "Spoon Face" Schumacher for more than one lap.
5 Bonus points awarded if any of your drivers take him out!

Crazy incident Bonus
2 bonus points awarded if any of your drivers are involved in a bizarre incident. i.e.. Pit mechanic run over (not fatally), tyre falls off, David Coulthard qualifies inside the top 6 etc (joke).

Team Mate Take out Bonus
5 bonus points awarded if any of your drivers take out their team mate

Team Order Victory Penalty
5 points to be deducted if any of your drivers are party to a team orders influenced victory

Unsporting Behaviour Penalty
2 points to be deducted if any of your drivers are deemed to have acted unsportingly (other than towards M Schummacher)

So, I see tough times ahead. Now we'll see who really wins the championship.

March 04, 2004


I wrote these sleevenotes a long time ago, 1985-ish. I love the word luscious

This summer night of luscious wind and rain. Across the water only we can see and only you can hear. It's the dead time of year. The lighthouse: three flashes then eleven seconds of blind silence during which you can fall in love or crash onto the rocks. Dark country roads, paths to the beach and strange ruins hidden in the dunes. She used to live there you can tell. The pier lights the water: it is too late and it is closed. Beg her to run away with you. Summer gone now and buried in my heart/but I remember (too well). These tired eyes and hers/these tired eyes and yours. It was a windy day, her skirt blew up not thinking. But she wasn't the one and I was never there. You end up walking endlessly in rain searching for the doughnut stand singing operator operator... you lose your sense of humour then the lighthouse flashes again and you recall.

I thought of them because I'm a couple of songs away from drawing a line under some things, sticking them on a CD and calling it, in my current half-assed manner, a record. I was thinking how in the days of Letraset and having an old man who was a printer, I used to put more effort into things than I do these days. It's all a question of putting in the hours.

Tomorrow, as a further treat, I will post a bitter little short story that was originally published in Slow Dancer magazine in the summer of 1986.