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

Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

April 30, 2004

Ribena Oooohh, Aarghh

Crazy idea. Just had a Ribena Aarghh - Ribena Lite with added chilli (!) and ginger. It's certainly very "spicy", just like Buffalo/Bison meat.

Not unpleasant, but kind of pointless. Not exactly thirst-quenching either.

In other news, I'm having a brown-face afternoon. Had a bacon and hot tomato (i.e. heated tinned tomatoes) cob for lunch, complete with HP brown sauce. And though I have checked the mirror, I still feel as if my face is covered with crushed locusts.

April 29, 2004

The Fishing Song

Brad Paisley's I'm Gonna Miss Her is such a great song. The lyrics on the page don't do it justice because (a) it contains just exactly the right kind of Telecaster playing/sound and (b) the pause between the end of the first verse and the first chorus is what the entire song is about.

Paisley looks like a twat, in his stupid Hat Act hat, but he's got a great collection of paisley patterned Teles (warning: this picture features Tele Abuse and Silly Clothes) in red, black, and blue - and he's a great player.


They were talking about "best gigs ever" on Five Live last night, not that I listened much. My saucy tanner's worth is that the best I ever saw is Ms Maria McKee at the Town and Country Club in Camden Town, 25th March 1991. Her voice was utterly fantastic - about 10 times better (and louder) than you ever hear it on record. Which is what you want from a gig, after all, something you'd never hear on a disk of any description. I suppose these days it's theoretically possible to record such a voice using 24 bits, with the extra dynamic range that allows, but that wasn't the case in 1991, which might as well be 1901.

I wouldn't even buy a bootleg of this gig, because it just wasn't technically possible to capture her voice in all its glory. I think this is almost certainly the case with most legendary singers, and those of us who can't see what the fuss is about, judging from old and scratchy recordings, just need to remember the sublime Maria.

First gig? For me, it was either the ELO at Wembley (my older sister bought tickets and took me - it was about the time of Mr Blue Sky) or Toad the Wet Sprocket, doyens of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, at some pub in Dumpstable (my other older sister fancied the bassist, now my brother in law and former member of my old band Go Dog Go).

Worst gig? That would probably be one of the 6 Bob Dylan gigs I attended, though they all blend together in my mind. Springsteen at Milton Keynes bowl was awful, just because it's a horrible venue, something like a school fete with biker gangs. But for sheer unalloyed anti-climactic disappointment, almost certainly the worst gig of my life was the Stones at Wembley stadium, an occasion burned into my memory for quite another (and also negative) reason as the last time I saw someone who meant the world to me. What a shitty day that turned out to be: also the last weekend of freedom before I started my first full-time job.

Some of you have written to ask, re the Phases entry of yester, why I completely forgot about Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. So for the sake of completeness:
1977 - 1995: Lou Reed/Velvets (the 1995 is stretching it a bit, and I should point out the the phase dips in places - as many of them do).

April 28, 2004


Life is a succession of phases. At the moment, Didi is a bit of a monster, with cute interludes. She has three categories of toilet, for example. She goes for a wee, for a poo, or for a poowee.

Musically obsessive phases I have been through include but are not restricted to the following:

1976 - 1981: Les Beatles*
1977 - 1995: Bob Dylan*
1978 - 1996: Spruce Bringsteen*
1988 - 1992: Tom Petty
1989 - 2000: The Band
1987 - 1991: Country Music (mainly male)
1991 - 1994: Van Morrison
1992 - Date: Country Music (mainly female)

*This is to ignore the occasional, brief revival of interest due to some thing or other.

Girl and chocolate phases tend to be both more complex and overlapping and more fleeting. With a couple of exceptions. I could probably break it down at a push.

As far as cars are concerned, I've been on Volkswagens since 1984.

I have a question

iTunes 4.5:

"Apple will also include a Lossless Encoder in the new version of iTunes so users can 'import CDs into iTunes with sound indistinguishable form the original recording but at half the size.'"

My question is, if they can make them half the size without a loss of quality, why don't they make them half the size to start with?

On second thoughts, I don't want any 2-hour albums, thanks.

April 27, 2004

Allison Moorer

Allison really is prolific, which is something I admire. It doesn't seem that long since her last studio album, and it definitely isn't long since we had the Show live album and DVD.

But here she is on a new label, with a new sound. I'd say it's as guitar-heavy as her second (and so far best) record, The Hardest Part, but (as the bio indicates) it's got a more raw, dirtier sound. There are distorted guitars here, but no "country" instruments to speak of. It's guitar, bass, drums, piano, and vox. Is it a country record? Absolutely, even if the most country thing about it is her red hair, these are the kind of songs you won't find anywhere else. I love a pedal steel, and I love to hear fiddles and mandolins and banjos in a mix, but more than anything I stay in the country section for the songs.

She sings her own, which makes her unusual; and they're good; and she does them justice with her extraordinary voice. The guitars on here are great - and the arrangements are spare and spontaneous. The single, "All Aboard" is fucking brilliant (you can hear it on the home page of Allison's site).

3 years ago, I noticed that Ms Moorer was playing a gig at a pub down the road. I'd not heard her records yet, but I had one on order. Still, the idea of going out drinking in Snottingham was anathema to me, so I skipped it.

What an idiot.

UPDATE: On this site, you can download a recent gig in MP3 format. It's bootleg quality, but has a certain atmosphere.

April 26, 2004

So true

EducationGuardian.co.uk | higher news | ID card scheme 'will be costly fiasco': "To demonstrate the point, which has been well established by psychologists, he recently staged an experiment. Aston students filed into a room, put their ID cards on a table watched by a security guard and then sat down. The guard had to hand the cards back to the right students - and only got seven out of 17 right, despite doing it several times for television cameras. Even individuals from different ethnic groups - Asian, Chinese, white - were muddled up."

All I would add to this is that I'm almmost certain David Blunkett would do no better than the security guard.


I was listening to Blonde on Blonde on the way to work this morning. Or BoB as it is known to me and mine. It's the original mono mix, which I purchyased from Sundazed, a vinyl specialist.

You may be wondering, how can this person play mono vinyl in his car on the way to work? Is it Elvis? Does he have a record player in his car? These questions are stupid.

I have never bothered to buy BoB on CD, nor indeed much else from Mr Dylan. I have always argued that I played them all to death many years ago, and, besides, Sony/Columbia have generally provided extremely poor value for money with their reissues. It's hard to go from a luxurious gatefold vinyl to the crapness that is the bog-standard CD case.

But I bought the Sundazed reissue because I was intrigued that, in 1966, around 90% of all BoB sales would have been of the mono persuasion -- and that I had only ever heard the (UK) stereo version. (There is a full history of BoB on this site.)

But I still don't play it much (it being a bit of a pain to manoeuvre the record player into the car), as I kind of knew I wouldn't. And this morning I realised why. Because to say, "Played it to death my dear" is to come across as a little bit superior, not to mention burned out. I don't play it because it's a bit painful, really.

It takes me right back. Because there was a summer, I think it was my 18th (i.e. I was 17.5), that BoB was soundtrack to. And I mean, I can't hear the record now without being taken back. And though there have been times of my life I've felt low (and yes, I'm thinking about you), that summer was the lowest of the low. That summer was the depths; I was surrounded by ugly looking fish with lights on their heads.

Every track on BoB conjures up an image, a feeling, a face. I imbued most of the songs with my own imagined meanings, transferring every line, every enunciation, onto one of my obsessions. It's the perfect album for the lonely and dejected teenager, the perfect album to aim at the girl(s) who rejected you. Because the closest thing to a popular love song on it is the hungry, desperate, needful, "I Want You."

It's not just that it brings back the pain and the loneliness, the suicidal feelings, the desperation and the anger. But it brings back the pain of the pain, the embarrassment, the rueful acknowledgement that I was a little bit over the edge, a little unstable.

I'd love to be able to hear this mono mix fresh, to put myself into the imaginary frame of mind that I had just purchased it in 1966 and was playing it for the first time - because it is one of the marvels of the 20th century. But there is too much baggage, I was too much of a twat, and it is too much like the wrong kind of time travel.

More Than Music

I swear to god that I used to have a Yellow Submarine picture book when I was a nipper. I also had a die-cast moel of the Yellow Submarine, which I played with in the bath. Later, my brother crayoned on all the pages of the YS book.

But here they are talking as if it had never been. Presumably the book was published by a company other than Apple. Ah yes, here it be. Looks like my brother owes me £75.

April 23, 2004

PSoML Part 9

Part 8 is here.

Part 9: fantasy planet

It was still fairly early, so after cleaning up the breakfast things Ronnie and Lucy went outside to sit on a hardwood seat in the early morning sun and wait for signs of activity from the other houses. Still before nine, the day was showing every sign of being a scorcher. Ronnie sighed his contentment.

Lucy plonked herself down next to him and gave a sideways look.

"I don't know why, but I feel an urge to confess something," she said with a smile.
"Confess what?"
"Just an embarrassing little thing. Nothing like... I mean, there have been occasions... What I'm trying to say, some of what I went through with this business of you cutting me off -- shhh, wait, let me finish -- some of that wasn't funny, you know. But in the years after I sort of got over it, I've had this recurring -- fantasy is what I guess you'd call it, a recurring thing."
"And it's embarrassing?"
"Yeah, because. I don't know, the kind of thing you think about when your head hits the pillow and you close your eyes at night, the kind of thing that sends you into a contented sleep, a made-up dream before your real dreams begin."
"I know what you mean," Ronnie said. "When you fantasise about the waitress in the coffee shop instead of your gorgeous and successful country singer spouse. Or is that just me?"
"That kind of thing, yeah," laughed Lucy.

"Go on then," said Ronnie. "Confess it all."

Lucy turned to face forwards and smiled to herself. "A funny thing, as I said, but I used to fantasise -- and this is a bit odd -- but I used to fantasise that aliens came to earth and kidnapped me. They wanted me and some others to set up camp, or colonise, this other planet. Doing it in a benign way, something I never really specified to myself, but it was along the lines of being concerned that earth was the only planet we had and that we should have others, in case of a disaster. That kind of thing."

She paused.
"Do you read a lot of science fiction?" asked Ronnie.

"Not proper science fiction, no, more kind of fantasy things, dragons and elves, that kind of thing." She laughed at herself.

"Yeah I read some of that stuff, too," said Ronnie, feeling he had to make her more comfortable with it. "No need to be embarrassed. I mean, millions of people do. I mainly read more space opera kind of things, but I like the odd fantasy for a change of pace."

"Well," said Lucy. "I suppose I was influenced by the beginning of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. That kind of, out of the blue, oops, you must leave Earth immediately kind of thing. So. They pull me up into their ship, and they communicate with me without showing themselves, because they don't want me to be shocked by their appearance. They explain what they're doing, and I think, what the hell, I had nothing on that weekend anyway.

"Then they say to me, we're planning on taking about two hundred people. Sometimes it was more. I was never sure what a viable population would be. Sometimes it was more like two thousand. Anyway. Then they say, we don't want you to be lonely, so you can take someone with you. Sometimes it was more than one person. But mostly just one. And they said, just give us the name, or just think about whoever it is you want to take, and we'll go and get them. And it was always you.

"I never had this fantasy about anyone else. With other people I invented different ones, you know, so this one was special to you. I don't know what it says about what I think of you that it always had to be this preposterously unrealistic plot about aliens and being kidnapped, but there you go.

"So anyway, either I spoke your name, or I thought about you. Sometimes I thought about you accidentally, and it was all, oops, I didn't realise I still cared about you. Sometimes they just went and got you without even consulting me. They just read you in my mind; or they read each of us in each other's mind. Then we're on the ship. Usually they have to freeze us, like in Alien, so that we can travel the vast distance without going mad or getting old. And sometimes you'd wake up and be sitting there in the kind of rest room, on your own, with absolutely no idea why or how you got there.

"Sometimes I have to calm you down, to talk you through what's happening. Other times you're just relieved to see me. We get woken up as we enter the system of the planet they've picked out for us. There's some orientation. Sometimes, they've trained us in our sleep, with kind of hypnosis tapes, so we all have skills we didn't have before. Other times they're just throwing us in at the deep end, so they can see how we cope. Usually you come through when they do that. You turn out to be very practical and resourceful. You're a carpenter or something, you can help build cabins and furniture; I'm a healer, or a doctor. I'm like the one everyone comes to when they've picked up a rash from an alien plant or eaten something they shouldn't, or picked up a virus.

"You build us a cabin, and we move in together. Gravity is slightly less than Earth's, so we all feel lighter, and we're able to build flying machines that you can pedal to get off the ground and stuff like that. Anyway, I don't often get that far. I usually fall asleep about the time we meet up for the first time. I spend a long time getting there and then we're face to face, and about to tell each other how much we love each other, and then I'm asleep and having nightmares about not being able to stop my car."


Agnetha is one of those characters, isn't she, one of those people who have too much integrity for the world.

I hope she doesn't get forced back into the liimelight. I like the mystery, she harks back to the seventies, when, as my colleague Si put it this morning (apropros of Led Zep) it was possible to be incredibly famous whilst not being very much in the public eye.

You're getting all this conventional wisdom wheeled out, that the comeback album is going to be a commercial disaster and Warner Bros are going to be out of pocket, just because she's not going to do the Parkinson show.

I don't see this at all. People will buy the record because it's by her, and because she is so mysterious. People who love mystery don't watch Parkinson, in my opinion.

In other news, the BBC were reporting a Korean death toll of 150-something at lunchtime. Though it might turn out to be one person blown into 150 pieces. Oh, and it wasn't a train collision, but an attempt to move dynamite-laden carriages from one train to another interfacing with live electric cables.


The world is full of garbled reports. Yesterday, we were told, apropos of nothing, 3,000 dead. Today, it's '54 dead' in North Korea blast. Yesterday, two trains, one with gas, one with gasoline (subtle difference there), had collided. Though some were sceptical, saying that trains in N. Korea travel so slowly that he couldn't see how such a collision could happen.

Now we're told that one of them had explosives on it, which would explain the explosion.

Most of all, it seems less like an accident and more like a botched assassination attempt. I'm just making that up, but that's what most journalists appear to be doing, most of the time anyway.

One of the pleasures of my life, as you know, is Five Live Drive, with Peter Allen and Jane Garvey. I love Jane Garvey; she's no oil painting but she has the best voice on Radio. I especially love it as she's reading a news item and suddenly finds humour (usually in the one she previously read), and you hear an extra dimension to her voice as she swallows the laugh.

Last night, someone texted in to say that he'd seen her picture in this week's Radio Times, that she was gorgeous, and that Peter Allen was very lucky to work with her. Did they offer signed photos for sale? Peter Allen said, "Which one do you want, the one in the Radio Times, or a more recent one?"

Garvey: "Why? Which one did they use in the Radio Times?"

Allen: "I don't know. Just guessing."



Hovis Lorries are everywhere, had you noticed?

I see at least 3 every morning. It upsets me when I see two going in opposite directions. It doesn't seem right, like some kind of deep inefficiency is affectiing the nation.

When I searched Google for Hovis Lorries, it helpfully suggested that I might have meant to search for Hovis Larry.

Which is funny, because it goes to the heart of why I called this blog Hoses of the Holy.

April 22, 2004

Photo to Movie

Here's a nice thing. Obviously you can already use the so-called "Ken Burns" effect in iMovie (UK listeners hear "Ken Morse"), but this little software package does rostrum camera effects so much better. You can quickly throw together a movie of still photos, with titles, and a sound track, and the results are much more interesting and professional-looking than you get with iMovie

Floods threaten 4m Britons

I've always been of the opinion that we have quite the wrong attitude to flooding in this country. Since it's inevitable, we should bow to it. They worry about building houses on flood plains: why not build them on stilts? Or build them like many French houses, with basements and put the living areas on the first (and second) floor(s). It makes sense to me.

Rivers silt up, cliffs fall into the sea, things get wet. Get over it.

April 21, 2004

Hello? Beautiful?!

Everywhere you look in Provence, like the village of Gordes in the Luberon, for example, it's a sight to behold.

Just spent a week staying in a Gite, close to both St Remy de Provence and Les Baux, and everywhere we went, everywhere I looked, I felt like Meg Ryan in that movie French Kiss where she's walking down a street with Kevin Kline and just stops in her tracks, saying, "Hello? Beautiful?!"

But it's not all Plane Trees and Umbrella Pines; not all Wild Thyme and Roman Antiquities. In these mediaeval towns and villages there is such a strong sense that everything would be perfect if not for the automobile, and streets clogged with cars and noisy, dirty traffic took the lustre off somewhat. Places like Les Baux, you have to park down below and walk in, but in Arles, for example, not only were there too many cars, but they tend to park all over what passes for pavement, making life very difficult, especially with a pushchair.

And Avignon, beautiful as it surely is, was spoiled not only by cars but by graffiti, on every available wall. And if there's one thing I can't stand. I would rather see the remnants of some tagger's face, smashed into a bloody pulp against a stone wall, than his moronic, pointless, ugly signature. Still, we went in the Palais du Papes and onto the Pont, singing the song with the children and getting rained upon.

We turned up in Arles, the city centre was closed off. Parking some distance away (which we don't mind) we walked into the town to find Bodegas everywhere and wall-to-wall Paella and Mariachi-type bands. It was the last day of the Feria, the Easter bullfighting festival. My favourite moment of the holiday was this.

We've just eaten Paella (her) and a Bull Chop (moi) underneath a mounted Bull's head in a restaurant on the square, and we walk up the hill towards the Roman part of town.

And here in the South of France, where Van Gogh and others had their gaffs, on the steps of the ancient Roman amphitheatre, where the bullfight is going on, is one of those Mariachi type bands, lined up on the steps, surrounded by punters eating Paella, and they're playing Madonna's "Like a Virgin."

Canon fodder #2

It's just been a day, but I think I'll be keeping the Powershot S1 IS. While the images still look like they came from a Canon, they're nowhere near as soft and misty looking as those from other Canon models I've tried. The image stabilisation seems to work well.

I'm still not 100% sure. I have qualms. There's no Macro mode, for a start, and compared to both Minoltas I've tried, its autofocus struggles. I don't know if I can live without Macro, and there's little point in countering camera shake if the thing doesn't focus in the first place.

The full screen movie mode is very useful - very good quality, and you can really capture quite a lot of footage if you have a big enough memory card.

I took some portraits of the kids this morning at breakfast and I'm pleased with them - with the caveat that a couple weren't quite in focus, something you can't really see on the LCD or the electronic viewfinder. But the colours were rich and the good photos were very god indeed.

So what are you gonna do? No camera is perfect, and I don't want to spend any more than this.

April 20, 2004


So. On holiday I dropped my Minolta F300 onto a ceramic tiled floor while the lens was extended and it is knacked. As you may have noticed, I've had a hankering for a 10x zoom digital camera for a while now, though I hasten to add that the droppage was a genuine accident and not me being sneaky. I don't carry holiday insurance (I'll have non truck with racketeers), so it's not as if I can claim it or anything.

Also I was without a decent camera for the rest of the holiday, so I'd hardly have dropped it on the 2nd day, would I?

Two choices for a replacement, then. The Minolta DiMAGE Z2, 4 megapixels and 10x zoom. Or the Canon Powershot S1 IS - just 3 megapixels, with a 10x zoom and image stabilisation. And at least £100 more expensive.

I sat and looked through the specs and thought I had it cold. All the Canon had going for it were its looks (subjective, but it looks like something you'd feel comfortable holding) and its image stabilisation, which, with a 10x zoom, is not to be sniffed at.

But the Minolta offers higher resolution, a lower cost, faster startup, and faster autofocus, and less time between shots. And it has a progressive capture mode, ultra high speed capture, and other fun features.

So I got one out of the warehouse this morning and ended up profoundly disappointed. It is an ugly duckling, and unfortunately my shooting style means that, more often than not, the results are unsatisfactory. I should use a tripod or monopod, I even own a tripod, I even took my tripod on holiday, but I never once used it. Just screwing the camera into it takes too long. I don't do that kind of slow, careful setup. I just take lots and lots of photos and hope to get a good one. I'm a 300 photo a week kind of guy.

So, with regret, I put it back and got out the Canon, which feels heavier, better made, and is easier to handle. And it has an image stabiliser which will, probably, get me out of many a tight spot. It is a bit heavy, but on the other hand, it does full screen movies, so I can leave the camcorder at home a lot of the time.

Self Portrait

I always liked Bob Dylan's Self Portrait, because I dig the era he was in, the simplicity of the songs he was writing. The album has a spontaneous, live, feel to it, and his voice was in the "Lay Lady Lay" era of mellow woolliness.

On holiday, I got to thinking about recording some songs in a similar vein. Not spending a lot of time over it, but covering songs I love, which speak to me. The #1 rule should be, you shouldn't change the lyrics in any respect.

So what would I record?

1. You Aint Goin' Nowhere (Dylan - More Greatest Hits version)
2. The Cryin' Game (Sara Evans)
3. I'll Follow the Sun (Beatles for Sale)
4. I've Just Seen a Face (Help)
5. Where I Used to Have a Heart (Martina McBride)
6. If I Left you (Kelly Willis - and I think I'd give...)
7. Get Real (...a go as well, though I might have trouble singing it)
8. Tears of Rage (The Band)

Others might occur to me as I'm going along.

Start at the beginning

Our journey home, Sunday, has to have been the worst ever.

France was fine, as it always is, even in the rain. You know, my car ticked over to 15000 miles on the way back, and at a rough estimate 6000 of those miles have been driven on French roads. Crazy, but true.

It started to get bad at Les Coquelles, the channel tunnel port. There were mega security checks (prolly because Israel have assassinated some geezer. Again). So there was a queue at the check-in, then a queue to get into the carpark, and then 5 or 6 queues bottlenecking into one to get out of the car park*; then a queue at French customs; then a queue at British customs (which are now on the French side). But in spite of the crowds of cars, they only had two of a possible 5 lanes open. So it was like being in Tescos on a Saturday with not enough checkouts open.

Finally back on British soil, we headed up the M20, everything seemed to be fine. But then we saw the 40 mph matrix signs, which are an indication that you're about to dream of doing even half of 40 mph. Junction 9, the M20 is closed due to an accident. So then we pootled across country to get to Junction 8. Again, all seemed to be going well, until we got to the other side of the Dartford tunnel, and hit slow moving traffic, all the way round to Junction 21, the M1. Plus the roads are inundated with rain and you can't see because of the spray.

Took us an hour and a half longer to get home than it should have. It wouldn't be so bad, but whatever time we arrive home, whatever day of the week, the contrast between French and British motorways is just intense. ~It was a fookin Sunday evening for chrissake. Where the fuck had everybody been? Out spending money they don't have, probably.

*I call this the Cora syndrome, after a particularly bad experience in a Supermarket car park one French bank holiday. I don't like to talk about it.

April 08, 2004


I'll be mostly away from my desk for a week or so. Don't go thinking I'm not paying attention. In the meantime, be fruitful, and multiply.

And if you find yourself asking why you do it, you do it for the eggs.

Corsa Boys

Corsa Boys are of course the natural successors to the Nova Boys; they are in fact one and the same. It doesn't even have to be a Corsa: just a cheap car which can be modified to look stupid and driven whilst wearing a baseball cap, or one of those tea cosy things which are currently fashionable in the thug community.

The ultimate Corsa Boy, hard core to the point where you harbour a sneaking admiration for them, is the one who finally gets to the income which means he can afford a brand new car -- and buys a Corsa.

I'm almost disappointed in myself that, as a one-time Beetle Boy, I didn't, in fact, go and buy a new VW Beetle when they came out. Nor did I go back to Brookes (sp?) Beetles in Princes Risborough, as I once promised myself long ago, to buy a brand new old Beetle, lovingly restored. Instead I graduated through a Polo and a Bora to a Passat, which I'm not even sure how to spell. I am officially a Sad VW Victim, but not a Beetle Boy.

April 07, 2004

PSoML Part 8

Part 7 is here

Early One Morning

Ronnie woke early, the sun streaming through the window in the living room and across his face. He tested his head and found he was slightly hung over, but not too much. Arriving late the night before, Lucy and he had agreed that they wouldn’t stay up talking, but would take some time in the morning to catch up. Lucy insisted they toss for the bed in the bedroom, as opposed to the sofa bed that Ronnie ended up with. Ronnie had quickly tossed a coin, and Lucy called heads. He just glanced at it as it landed and said, “You win.”
Tired (and slightly drunk) as he’d been, Ronnie had forgotten to close the window blinds, hence the early awakening. After staring at the white ceiling for a few minutes, he made to get out of bed and was halted by Lucy’s voice.
“I hope you’re decent,” she said from the kitchen counter. “Coffee? Tea?”
“What’s brewing?”
“Cup of tea. But with UHT milk,” she said.
“Go on then.”

Ronnie had a quick shower and then sat in a fresh shirt and jeans at the kitchen table as Lucy pulled at the Vendéean plaited brioche she'd found on the doorstep first thing.
“So tell me about it,” she said.
“About what?”
“Your life.”
“You first.”
“I asked first.”
“I don’t know where to start.”
“Start with why you stopped speaking to me.”
Ronnie felt like Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon. “Why, Mr Spade, you certainly are a man who likes to get straight to the point.”
“Stop stalling.”
“I have to say to you, it’s a hard place to start.”
“Because I’ve thought about it over and over again over the past… years, you know, and apart from saying I was fucking insane there’s not a whole lot of reason I can find for why I did that.”
“Why were you insane?”
“I was jealous.”
“You’ll have to explain that. I don’t understand that.” Lucy looked across the table at him imploringly. Ronnie realised she had been up for a while, because she didn’t have any of the look of someone who had just woken up with a hangover. Her hair, which had been short and dark when he first knew her, was now just long enough to reach the top of her shoulders, and obviously treated with a deep red colour, possibly to conceal grey. She was looking good, Ronnie thought. In fact, she was looking great, green eyed and fresh faced.

Ronnie didn’t know where to go next, so he drank some of his tea, which was about the right colour, but tasted too creamy due to the UHT milk. Then he said,“I was jealous of you and Dave. Which I thought was obvious."
“Of the two of us, or just one of us?”
“I don’t know how else to put it. I wanted you, he had you, it destroyed me.”
“But you had… You know… You were…”
“There were others.”
“Yeah. What about…?”
“Sally, for example?”
“Yeah. Her.”
“She… she was never really interested in me, though was she? I mean, she tolerated the fact that I was all puppydog about her. But it was also safer for me that she wasn't interested.”
“And I wasn’t safe?”
“You were my friend. I could actually speak to you and get along with you on an equal footing. Aside from Dave, you were my best friend. You were part of my life. If I could rewrite history I would say you were, in fact, my best friend, more than he ever was. Then suddenly you were Dave’s girlfriend, and he had access to parts of you, to times of the day with you, that I didn’t have. He knew what you looked like on a Saturday afternoon. He knew what it was like to kiss you, to touch your skin. He knew what your house looked like, what your family was like. He knew you at school and that was it. And afterwards, I knew you through him only. Suddenly this really important part of my life was behind a door marked, ‘Property of Dave.’ I know that’s not the right way to say it, but I had to go through him to get to you.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“That’s how I felt.”
“But that’s… what about all the letters we wrote to each other? Did you think he was reading them over my shoulder? Or dictating the replies?”
“Of course not. But you’re assuming rational thought at work. There was none. I was like a baby who wants something but can’t reach it. I just felt like--” Suddenly, Lucy interrupted:
“Shall I tell you what I felt like?”
“When you stopped speaking to me.”
“Like I’d smacked you in the face?”
“Like you’d kicked me in the guts. I felt like the worst person in the world, that I’d done something terribly, terribly wrong."
"And there's nothing I can say to put that right. There are no words. I've regretted it for twenty years, and another twenty years of the same regret still won't make it right."

There was a long pause. Lucy’s momentary fury seemed to have subsided. Ronnie’s ears were throbbing with the sound of his own blood gushing through his veins.

Finally, she reached across the table and took his hand, and there were tears in her eyes. He decided to plunge in.

“Lucy, there’s only one reason I’m here. You’re it. And everything else, every body else, can go on hold as far as I am concerned. There is nothing else in my life that matters more than you. I don’t want that to be too much pressure. There’s no plan, no agenda. You were lost to me, I thought forever, but here we are, the internet really does change everything. And I’m just asking, what can I do for you?”

She sighed. “Okay. I know you mean it, I know you’re sincere. The main thing is, we can talk to each other, we can try the talking cure. But what you did back then, it wasn’t a small thing that happened to me. There are a lot of things you need to know about before you really understand that, I think. But we can talk.” She paused, still holding tightly onto Ronnie’s hand. “And Ronnie, whatever else happens, I came here for you, too. So we’re even. We’ve got to deal with the rest of them, because otherwise it would be too weird. But let’s find the time we need.”

School Dinners

It'll be good to be able to pay for school dinners online. Even better when the parents can set the menu, preventing chip n burger overload. CJ came home the other day claiming that there were no vegetables to eat that day. Apologies to her future self if I'm doing her an injustice, but according to the schedule we were given, there are supposed to be veg every day.

I used to go home for dinners when I was her age, on my own too, but you don't see that these days. There was some twat on the radio yesterday claiming that he had to drive his kids a quarter of a mile to school because the school wasn't allowing them to ride their bikes, due to lack of storage space. A quarter of a mile? Does he have to lift them into the boot of his car with a crane?

April 06, 2004

Varied Axe

Overall, I'm extremely pleased with my Variax 500. As it turned out, I managed to get my glasses repaired FOC, but I don't regret going for the cheaper model. It plays well, no set-up probs, and even from the little time I've spent with it, I can tell that it's going to be very useful.

I love the Strat and Les Paul models, especially the soap bar pickup setting, and I think the resonator sounds, of all the acoustic sounds, are the best. While the standard acoustics (based on a Gibson Jumbo, and couple of Martins and a pair of 12-string examples) sound exactly like acoustic guitars with piezo pickups (which is the Great Leveller as far as acoustic guitars are concerned), the resonators and the banjo, even the sitar, don't suffer from piezo harmonics to quite the same extent.

I'm thinking that to get the best out of each model, a particular playing style is best adopted - a hard plucking attack for the banjo, for example, and the avoidance of too many string bends on 12-string models.

If there's a down side, it's just that I now feel I have too many options, what with all the guitar models on the Variax, and the amp models on the Vox Tonelab, not to mention all the different ways I can effect sound in pro tools or simply by using different recording methods (directly into the MBox, or through the JoeMeek channel etc.). It will take a long time to get to grips with the various sounds and it'll be quite hard to decide what to use on which song, unless I happen upon a sound that inspires a song in the first place, if you know what I mean.

With all these new sounds I feel like I want a whole new me. I want to use different chords and progressions. And change my hair.

An expert writes

I always think my colleague Si should have his own blog, but in the absence of said item:

Is the internet finally dead?

Not only is all that stuff happening with search engines where everything is just a pretext to an offer to sell you ringtones and posters, but I've seen some stuff to suggest that email is taking up to a day to reach its destination because of the volume of viruses and the measures in place to control them.

The internet truly is a piece of shit floating along in a very dark place.

Yesterday I connected my laptop outside the firewall (so it was live on the internet in effect) - I had a pukka IP address rather than a private hidden one but was not registered in DNS (so I didn't have an Internet name as such) but within five seconds NAV detected that a virus had attempted to install itself on my computer. That means that going live on the internet without a firewall is like the electronic equivalent of going "over the top" of the trenches. And when you get out there you are faced with a rain of shrapnell in what is a landscape of mud, excrement, and rotting corpses.

And I suppose it can get even worse still. Will the Internet continue to shit on its own doorstep? It doesn't show signs to the contrary.

April 05, 2004

I got a D

The farcical idea of ID cards plods on like a blind rhino in search of a watering hole.

First of all, as I'm sure you realise, I'm totally against ID cards. It just introduces a whole new dimension to the lives of self important bureaucrats, who can impress upon you their status by asking to see your ID. In France, this equates, almost, to a whole extra police force, the gendarmerie, which exists purely to stop motorists and ask to see their documents. Does this make France a safe place? Not when you consider that some of the people dressed as gendarmes and flagging down vehicles on the motorway aren't, in fact, gendarmes.

So, apologies in advance to anyone I punch in the face thinking they are a criminal looking to rob me when they ask to see ID. I also reserve the right to be extremely rude to any person who asks to see ID. Part of the job description, is what I say.

On the other hand, I'm under no illusion that this scheme will work. It's just going to be a colossal waste of money, which I applaud. It will stand with the West Coast Main Line, the Channel Tunnel, Wembley Stadium, multifarious government computer upgrades and the Millennium Dome as a monument to incompetence.

First of all, it will involve computers, which are rubbish, as we have pointed out before on these pages. So it won't work. And second of all, it seems it will involve biometrics, which also won't work. For example, the finger scanning door locks on my children's' nursery haven't once worked for me, and anyway, I can't remember by now which finger I had scanned. So I have to ring the door and ask a member of staff, which finger did I have scanned? And they can't remember either.

It's one thing to watch CSI and think you can establish identity in half an hour. In the real world, there will be an embarrassing backlog to flush the face of the most weasel-hearted government minister as questions are asked in parliament. It will make the passport office backlog, and the new teachers backlog look like poohsticks in comparison. These backlogs will be giant redwood in proportion.

And as the Reg article points out, a document in front of you with a fingerprint merely confirms that the fingerprint on the document matches the finger of the person standing in front of you. All these things will be forged.

Well, good. Eventually all forms of ID and border control will be impossible, so lets just have free movement across borders. Border controls don't stop terrorists, they just inconvenience everybody else. And when they've wasted all the money implementing the scheme, they'll be forced to make money by sacking a few thousand civil servants, and they can start with Customs and Excise. Oh,
they already started.

I wonder if anyone has made the connection that promising all these job cuts and then implementing an expensive white elephant of an ID card scheme doesn't really compute? Probably not.

So I'm not worried, it won't work, and it'll just mean lots of spending, which means pounds in pockets and job creation, albeit temporary. And because everything is the opposite of what it is, we'll all be that much more free because of its very unworkability.

By the way, when I made a face scanning identity device for my 'O' level Design Technology course in 1979, complete with primitive computer programme to measure facial reflections (due to oil in the skin, do you like butter?), it also didn't work properly. Didn't think it would, didn't care, and I got a D.

Variax has arrived

Obviously a massive distraction to receive a guitar whilst at work. First impressions are: fantasic value for money. Costs less than a Mexican Fender, yet you get a decent gig bag, a quality cable, plus the power supply and footswitch.

All in all, looks nice and seems to play nice, no setup problems. The neck is smooth and not to wide, and it's well balanced and quite light.

Forgot about the footswitch. Using the single cable, you can have it plugged in both to a desk/interface and an amp/modeller, and just flick between electric and acoustic sounds.

Itching to get it home now.

I can confirm

That after 10 years of my own particular entente cordiale, that some French people do indeed sound angry when they speak. Particularly my father-in-law.

I've noticed too that peculiar phenomenon of the English who go out of their way to suck up to the French, as if doing so somehow lessens the usual contempt shown by the French to the English - especially on the roads. So instead of a GB sticker, people have those little European flags with GB in the middle. Which in the case of a lot of French people, just gives an additional reason to hate someone, especially when they think about how prices have risen since the Euro was introduced.

April 02, 2004

Jesus Christ, spare us puhlease

Ecclestone on Dr Who:

"'My concern, without getting on a soapbox, is that the show can address social issues, and address what's going on around us.

'You can parallel things with a science-fiction scenario, threats to mankind can always be highlighted.'"

Nononononononononno. No. Oh please. No. What's wrong with all the Star Trek movies? They always have to include some element of a threat to humanity, so that morons will understand. Ecclestone goes on to say how there will be a "strong emotional story" for the companion, to explain "why she chooses time travel."

Yeah, because nobody would, would they? Unless they had a strong emotional reason. And you'd have to have a strong emotional reason to want to use a jet pack or anti gravity boots.

Yes, I had my suspicions when this Davies geezer was put forward as the writer/producer. Writer of worthy-but-dull Channel 4 dramas for trendy Londonites to discuss at their Sushi parties.

Fuck off back to RADA now, luvvies.

Snackspot: Nestle KitKat Summer Pine/ Caramel Chunky

Close, Nestle, but no cigar

PSoML Part 7

Part 7 - How we came to this

Part 6 is here
Part 5 is here
Part 4 is here
Part 3 is here
Part 2 is here
...and Part 1 is here

Before anybody had a chance to forget why they were really there, it came time to announce to all present exactly what you’d been doing for the past 20 years. Ronnie was relieved not to go first. There was much talk about being non-judgmental, but he knew that when it came to his life story, people would not be able to resist asking questions: not about himself, but about Marianne, sometime global superstar.

Hazel went first; it was her party. Instead of going to university, as planned, she said she left home after a huge row with her parents and went to live with an aunt in Brighton. Lucy piped up that she remembered seeing her there once. Hazel said that she worked in her aunt’s shop for about a year, then went to college to do a catering course, a complete change of tack for her. After a couple of years of that course, she went to a cookery school in Paris for a further year, which is where she met Didier. Didier held up his hand and everybody cheered. They both got jobs as sous chefs in restaurants, before deciding to start their own quiche restaurant in the Vendée, with help from Didier’s parents, who lived there and owned property. The quicherie hadn’t been a great success, but had evolved into the successful holiday lettings business.

There were murmurs of thanks and approval at that; then Didier said he had nothing to add to that story except more wine.

More was poured, and the next to go was Jane Hinchcliffe, one of the most recent arrivals. jane and her husband had arrived with their three children, and the kids had already been packed off to bed in the largest cottage. Ronnie looked Jane over. She was slim and still attractive, her previously mousy-blonde hair was now lighter, and streaked with grey. He’d liked her a lot when they were teenagers; but he had a terrible habit of rejecting anyone who showed the slightest bit of interest in him, reserving his energies for the pursuit of girls who either wouldn’t give him the time of day, or happened to be in relationships with his best friend. Because Jane seemed to like him, he’d manufactured some reason to be mean to her, and that, at the age of 14, was that. Ronnie spent the next 3 or 4 years regretting it, but he never really got close to her again.
Jane took a sip of her wine and a deep breath.

“After fucking up my ‘A’ levels,” she began, and everybody laughed, remembering. In the final year of sixth form, Jane got very distracted by a secret boyfriend. Nobody knew who he was, especially Jane’s parents, but everybody knew he existed. Jane had finished school with just one ‘A’ level, E grade, and then went to further education college, at her parents’ behest, to retake the exams. With better grades, she went to a Polytechnic and did a vocational course in business management. “Then I landed a plum job with a building firm called Hinchcliffe & Sons.” Everybody laughed again.

It was well known, Ronnie remembered, that Hinchcliffe, Jane’s father, had three daughters and no sons, the name of his firm being wishful thinking from the start. After working for her father’s firm for 10 years, Jane suddenly inherited the whole business when he died suddenly. She was now married to her right-hand-man, James, the son her father never had, and he managed the business while she was taking time out to spend with their children.

So it went on, round the table, ever closer to Ronnie and Lucy. The quick potted histories, the gentle laughter, the self-deprecation. Doug Kinross was working in some high-powered risk assessment job, complete with his own private plane and several european properties. He was divorced, no kids. Dave was unmarried and had been working in his stop-gap job, in the Customs and Excise, for nearly 20 years. But he had plans, he said, to take a career break and travel the world. Ronnie seemed to remember him saying exactly the same thing 10 and fifteen years before.

Donna was working in publishing, editor in chief of a teenage music magazine. She was on her second marriage, obviously proud of her younger man.

Then it came to Lucy.

“Some of you might remember,” said Lucy, “that I had absolutely no idea what to do with myself when I left school.” She looked first at Ronnie, then at Dave. “There was the option of going to work for my dad, like Jane, but I didn’t really want to. Nobody in my family had ever been to university, and my parents weren’t very supportive of that. I almost went to the same catering course that Hazel did, small world, but in the end, after a couple of years of not doing anything much, I went to work for the Ordnance Survey.
“I was just an office assistant, but they encouraged me to develop my career, so I did eventually end up going to university, but instead of becoming a cartographer, I’m actually a lecturer.” A self-deprecating smile. “I originally went to university to do one degree, but I ended up with three. So I’m a PhD in geography, yay, and I teach and do research.”

“What are you researching right now?” asked Ronnie.
“Well, for years really, I’ve been doing research on coastal erosion and land reclamation,” she said. “So I can spend a lot of time at the seaside,” she added.

Ronnie’s turn. He wondered how quickly he could get through it.

“As some of your might remember,” he began, with a smile in Lucy’s direction. “I left school before the official end and went off to live in London with some friends, and we started a band. We messed around for a while, and then we got a contract and made a record, but nothing really came of that. So I went to the States, and I’ve really been there most of the time, playing guitar on other people’s records and writing songs for other people to sing.”

“Like Marianne Duff,” said Donna with a smile.

“Like Marianne, yeah, and others.” Ronnie took a deep breath. “Married three times, no kids. After my last divorce, I decided to give up on the States and move back to England.”

“Why?” asked Lucy.
“I’d been working in Nashville, mainly,” said Ronnie. “And being married to Marianne, and seeing all that success, that was great, but it blinded me to something. And after we split up, and I married Josey, I started to realise that all the people I really liked in Nashville, all the singers and musicians that I enjoyed working with the most, they’d nearly all of them left town. Most of my favourite people couldn’t get a record deal, so they’d gone off to places like Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon, I’ve no idea why, and they were doing their own thing, small scale, and they were no longer around for me to hang out with.
“I looked around and realised that I didn’t have any friends in town, and I suddenly felt… homesick.”

“What about Marianne?” someone asked.
“Well, she lives in Swizerland now, and we speak through our lawyers, mostly."
“What was that like, being married to her?” Lucy again.
“Odd, but it all happened so gradually, I barely noticed. I supposed that was the problem. She started to get all these offers, and began to want to do things we’d always laughed at, you know. I was just pootling along living my normal life, and suddenly realised we hadn’t seen each other for about six months. It was over and we hadn’t even had an argument.”
“Did you make a lot of money?” Doug Kinross.
“Well, Doug, let me put it this way. I’m comfortably off. But most of the time I was just earning a wage. So think of the Marianne thing as my pension fund. It’s about as exciting as that.”
“Who are the people you miss?” Lucy again.
“Musicians? Singers mainly, people whose records I liked to play on. There was a string of beautiful redheads, all of them fantasically talented. All of them made about three records and then got dumped by their labels. They’re all just running little web sites now. I can play on their records over telephone lines, but we’re all living in different places now.”

After Ronnie's story, there were just a couple more. Then an infection of yawning went round the table, and soon enough the sleeping arrangements were being discussed. By some miracle, or forward planning on her part, the last two to be allocated beds were Lucy and Ronnie. There was one small cottage left – with a double bedroom and an extra fold out sofa bed in the living area. Hazel handed Lucy a torch and she led the way across the grass in the moonlight.

Ronnie’s heart was about to burst through his chest wall.

April 01, 2004

Variax Acoustic Video

This really is amazing. It all sounds very "piezo", there's no getting away from that, but the things you can do with tunings and so on (see the video) are simply incredible, and you can see them getting people out of impossible situations. For example, downtuning the bottom E and A to make a "virtual bass" whilst leaving the top strings tuned normally - all without, actually, changing the standard tuning of the guitar - or the string tension.

The whole point of the variax acoustic is to please people who wanted the acoustic models of the original "electric" version, but didn't want audiences confused by the acoustic sounds coming out of an electric body.

There are plenty of acoustic sounds, enough for me, on the original 500 and 700 - you get a Gibson Jumbo, Martin Flat top, a National, a banjo, and a Dobro.