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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

April 30, 2006

The Great Debate

So the big Reunion episode of Doctor Who has passed. I mostly enjoyed it. Found a little tear creeping into my eye, because there was quite a powerful emotional pull to it, and Elizabeth Sladen was great.

But as the credits rolled, and I casually remarked to my wife - for only the 16th or 17th time - how fucking great Ms Sladen was looking, considering ("She's 58, you know"), and it didn't look as if she'd had plastic surgery, didn't have that weird stretched look those people get (qv. Faye Dunaway in last week's CSI). But my wife disagreed, saying that plastic surgery is cheap, anyone could have it, and if it was done properly, you wouldn't necessarily look like a freak.

So now I don't know. Plastic surgery, or not? Entirely trivial, but I Would Like To Know.


In other news, it's happened. I've ordered my first CD (from CD Baby, natch) based on discovering someone on MySpace. Sarah Beth Keeley is a Canadian Singer/songwriter with a Country flavour, and her stuff (check out the samples) sounds great. Clearly a cut above most of the chancers (people like me) on there.

It's good to support independent musicians like this, and because of all the good karma points I've accrued by ordering the album through CD Baby, I am officially allowed to strangle a kitten this evening.

April 29, 2006

Fetchin' Gretchen

Some time ago, I mentioned that "Imogene" by Gretchen Peters is one of my favourite songs at the moment.

imogene she lives in Reno
all alone with thirteen cats
every night she passes the casino
imogene don’t fool with that

imogene she drives an old Camaro
but she hardly ever takes it out
if it’s true God’s eye is on the sparrow
she’s got nothin to worry about

Gretchen Peters writes the kind of songs that tell a story, I suppose you could say. Things like "Souvenirs", which Suzy Bogguss covered, and "Ships" (Patty Loveles), or "The Secret of Life" (Faith Hill). The good news, as of right now, is that you can hear "Imogene" and "Souvenirs" (her version) if you check out Gretchen's MySpace Page. The other good news is that if you like what you hear she'll be touring the UK in the summer, playing Gateshead, Salford, Barrow-in-Furnace, Milton Keynes, Bliston, Norwich, Burgess Hill, Swindon, Bath, and Cardiff (check the full tour itinerary on her MySpace page too).

Predictably, I'll be at the Milton Keynes gig (The Stables, 16 July). You have been warned. £16 a ticket, from The Stables Box Office. See you there, yeah?

April 28, 2006


i've got the guitar riff to january by pilot doing my head in. so i thought i'd mention it in the hope that someone else could catch it. why should i suffer alone? if you don't remember the guitar, how about the words?

january sick and tired you've been hangin' on me

that should do it.

top of the poops

i've just found the running order for what must have been the shittest top of the pops ever - 10th may 1984. nadir doesn't even come close.

• Belle & The Devotions - Love Games [Performance]
• Bob Marley & The Wailers - One Love (People Get Ready) [Promo Video]
• Duran Duran - The Re-Flex [Promo Video]
• Flying Pickets - When You're Young And In Love [Performance]
• Pointer Sisters - Automatic (& Zoo Insert) [Promo Video]
• Queen - I Want To Break Free [Promo Video]
• Terri Wells - Ill Be Around [Performance]

me too also also

a couple of things i already knew about the day of my birth: 6th May 1966

1. the beadles were recording overdubs at abbey road studios - i'm only sleeping. which is one of those songs which i think is a verse too long. or a chorus. 19th nervous breakdown also does that, don't you think?

2. bob dylan was playing a show in belfast. the song i don't believe you, the live recording on biograph, is from this particular night.

i've got the same birthday as tony bliar, graeme souness and sigmund freud.

i discovered that ian brady and myra hindley were sentenced to life imprisonment on the actual day of my birth.

it was a friday. that means i'm loving and giving. i was born at 6pm. just in time for the weekend.

Me too, also

I too have stolen the Wikimeme thing from Numptie. These are all things what happened on my birthday, December 3rd.


▪ 1904 - The Jovian moon Himalia is discovered by Charles Dillon Perrine at California's Lick Observatory.

▪ 1937 - The Dandy, the world's longest-running comic, is first published.

▪ 1973 - Pioneer program: Pioneer 10 sends back the first close-up images of Jupiter.


▪ 1930 - Jean-Luc Godard, French film director

▪ 1948 - Ozzy Osbourne, British singer


▪ 1984 - Bhopal Disaster: A methyl isocyanate leak from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, kills more than 3,800 people outright and injures 150,000-600,000 others (some 6,000 of whom would later die from their injuries) in one of the worst industrial disasters in history.

Now the challenge is for you to go to Wikipedia, type in your birth date (but not year i.e. 25 Dec), then list three events that happened on your birthday, two important birthdays and one interesting death; then post this in your blog.

Bored Brand

If I'm honest, the main reason I went with BT for my broadband service was because I was fundamentally against the privatisation of the company back in the 80s, and also against market liberalisation and competition. Same thing goes for the post office, gas, electricity, railways. I think a situation in which an infrastructure exists and was set up and owned by one provider, but which is then artificially broken up or rented out to third parties to give the illusion of competition, well, it's ridiculous, and wasteful.

So I still proceed as if BT was my only option, and I am blinkered as to alternatives.

You might well think I'm an idiot for paying over the odds, but I couldn't possibly comment on that. Yesterday I upgraded my 2Mb broadband to "up to 8Mb", with no extra cost. In fact, I've downgraded to a slightly cheaper option. They tell me I should experience speeds of around 6Mb. That should be fun.

I wanted to say something more about MySpace, going back to the major artists on major labels who have their own pages. I was talking to Roy about this yesterday. You can add these people as your "friends". People like Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, if you are so inclined. That John Corbett bloke from Northern Exposure and Sex and the City has, like Van Morrison, Gone Country. He's got a lot of friends. You basically make the request to be their friend, and the monkey they have doing the admin approves you.

So now I've got my secret girlfriend Matraca Berg as my "friend", as well as Gretchen Peters, Julie Roberts, and the lovely Chely Wright (pictured). What you do, when you have a lot of such friends, is edit your Top 8, to reorder them, and put the celebs up front. Because of course having pretend celebrity friends is so much more important than having real ones. Matraca is my number 1, of course. I'm afraid any of the Little People who get kicked out of my Top 8 will just have to deal with it. Chely and me, we're like that. And me and BT, well, we're good.

April 27, 2006

A fun day out for all the family

You may be interested in the following unrelated events.

1. There is a two-day auction of musical instruments, equipment and accessories at W & H Peacock, auctioneers, in Bedford, on 13th and 20th May. Includes Electric (13th) and acoustic (20th) guitars, and something called "base" guitars. Those sound interesting. Keyboards and stuff on the 20th.

2. The Milton Keynes Collectors Fair, this coming weekend, is going to be Up Your Street if you like celebrity spotting, even if you don't want to queue for and pay for autographs. You might see, for example:

Alan Tudyk and Ron Glass from Serenity/Firefly (all weekend)
Jonathan Frakes, Levar Burton, Kate Mulgrew from various Star Treks
Corey Feldman (what happened to him?) from things like The Lost Boys, the 'Burbs and Stand By Me
Mira Furlan from Lost and Babylon 5 (she's the French woman in Lost, by the way)
Elisabeth Sladen (yes!) from you-know-Who (Monday only)
Katy Manning - also from you-know-Who (Saturday)
Jenny Agutter (another fantasy come true for men of a certain age!) (Saturday)
Anthony Head from Buffy etc (Sun and Mon)
Glynis Barber and Michael Brandon from Dempsey and Makepeace (Mon)
...and the ever-lovely Clare Grogan from Red Dwarf and Gregory's Girl and Altered Images (Monday).

As if that wasn't enough, you would also get to see the wonderful new city of Milton Keynes, including its MILLION TREES and interesting wildlife. Anyone wants directions to the concrete cows, just ask.


I can't believe it happened, but this morning I had an absolute fucking disaster in the kitchen.

About a year ago, we got John Lewis to fit a nice Marmoleum floor. I don't know how much it cost. About a grand, I think. It's got a nice, natural, warm feel underfoot, cleans up well, and looks fantastic.

Earlier in the week I cooked a lamb casserole in the oven. I'd slightly overfilled the casserole, so when it started bubbling, it started dropping stuff onto the bottom of the oven. Which started to smoke.

Usually this kind of thing plays itself out in a couple of days, but every time I've used the oven since, there has been the same sort of burned gravy smoky smell. So my wife requested that I give the oven a clean.

Enter Oven Pride, which I've had in the cupboard for ages. It's that slightly lethal stuff that you apply (to a cold oven) and leave overnight or for a few hours. They also supply a giant plastic bag for you to soak your racks in the stuff.

So I scrubbed it onto the oven, and then - ultimate foolishness - closed the door. Some of it started to drip down, so I immediately grabbed a cloth to wipe it up, opened the door again, and laid down some paper towel to catch further drips.

Two hours later, what do I find? (a) Quite a lot had dripped onto the paper towel, got absorbed, then soaked through to the floor beneath. (b) one stray drip had somehow reached the middle of the kitchen. Result? FUCKED UP FLOOR.

This stuff has eaten through the Marmoleum like acid through skin, and where it has, the floor is ruined. And no matter how gutted I feel now, the flan doesn't really hit the fan until my wife gets home tonight. Kill me now.

April 26, 2006

Johnny .com lately

As an old boy, it takes a long time for things to filter through to my consciousness, so, no I didn't have a MySpace account before Murdoch bought it, and I'm not about to set the world on fire with unprecedented numbers of downloads of my fantastic songs.

But I've got a page, which is here. It's a good place to store demos, and sometimes people might even listen, which is all you can ever ask. But the reason I'm writing about it now is that I find it completely fascinating that so many major artists are now listed on it, following the you-know-what of the you-know-who. These are the kind of people you wouldn't expect would need that kind of outlet, or that kind of affirmation.

It seems like we've moved, almost overnight, from a situation in which major artists usually had their own professionally designed dot com web sites (Faithhill.com, martina.com, brucespringsteen.net etc), which were maintained by their record labels, fan club organisations, or something in between; to one in which major artists now have their own MySpace pages, which are maintained by their record labels, fan club organisations, or something in between.

The key difference here is that on MySpace, it seems to me, you can't hide. For example, I was delighted to find that the world's greatest songwriter and world's most beautiful woman, Matraca Berg, has a page. Now, Matraca hasn't released a record of her own since 1997, and she's obviously a bit of a specialised taste, so it's hardly surprising that she has a mere 1624 (as I write) profile views and "only" 729 "friends" (in the special MySpace sense of the word).

Faith Hill, on the other hand, has racked up 809102 profile views, and has 54164 friends. All over to Faith's place! Faith's top friend is someone called Tim McGraw, and I bet she's never even met him!*

(Incidentally, and quite amazingly [given that it's 2006 and not 1996], MySpace is the home of the garish, slow-loading, page design shocking background monstrosity we thought we'd left behind. Faith's page is a prime example.)

Anyway, I think it's all very interesting. Probably the best thing of all is that when you're talking about some music that a friend might not know, there are almost certainly plenty of samples on MySpace, which makes checking out recommendations so much easier. For example, you can visit Matraca's page, link above, and play "Along for the Ride", which is one of her best songs. And try to ignore the gushing message from me, because I can't help myself. I've been in love with Matraca for 10 years, so she's my number one secret girlfriend.


*Yes, a joke. Who knew I had it in me?

Integral to the plot

Further to the smurking ban, BBC NEWS reports that ac-tors on stage and in studios may be allowed to smoke, even though it would be oooh illegal and dangerous, for non-Equity members. It's all about doing your own stunts, you see. Some actors are happy to get a stunt smoker in, whereas others feel it compromises their art not to be lighting up. Good to know that a government spokessmoker says,
"Exemptions are now being considered where smoking is integral to the plot."... and adds: "We will be consulting with the theatre industry on what they consider integral to the plot."

Stage hands, on the other, er, hand, will have to go and stand outside in the Smokers Corner by the bins.

But I'm a bit confused, because I seem to remember that joke (or jurk) shops used to sell fake cigarettes that were filled with talc, so you could puff on them to simulate smoke. It would be quite funny if people used those instead. They could stock up on squirty flowers and whoopee cushions at the same time.

Imagine the scene. Winston Churchill returns home from the Commons after giving a rousing speech about the war news. He pours himself a brandy (coloured water), sits down in his favourite chair (whoopee cushion lets out a fart), and "lights" up a "cigar" (blows talcum powder out of a brown cardboard tube). Lady Churchill walks in to ask what he wants for tea, and he squirts her with his comedy button hole carnation.

Another quality drama from the BBC.

April 25, 2006

Moron (or more on) Flags (with added multimedia)

I hear that recycling is good for the environment. Here is a recycled blog entry then, dating from the last big football extravaganza to afflict these islands. Updated to the full multimedia experience, 1996 style.

I thought that during the coming football festivities it would be quite useful for drivers to display their flags in accordance with the International Maritime Signal system. In most cases, these flags would give a far clearer warning to other road users, rather than the general "I am a moron" indicated by the cross of St. George.
For example, the following, Which means, Keep clear of me, I am manoevering with difficulty:

For drunk drivers:I require a pilot:

Especially for Simon: Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals:<
For the outside lane of the motorway crew: My engines are going full-speed astern:

And finally, for those motorists who hate to be overtaken: Do not pass ahead of me:

I will of course be displaying the latter throughout the tournament, fully confident that absolutely no right-thinking Englishman will mistake it for the French flag.

Sarah Jane

Forget the cybermen, forget CGI, forget everything. I think it's safe to say that the episode of Doctor Who I'm most looking forward to is the one on this Saturday, featuring 58-year-old Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith.

Yes, I am a man of a Certain Age all right. She caught me at just the right time, she was The Assistant when I was between the ages of 10 and 13, and she will forever be imprinted on my psyche as the embodiment of sexual desire. Or something.

I have of course carefully avoided watching her in old Doctor Whos, lest my fragile hold on reality be broken once and for all. This coming May bank hol it is Collector's Fair time again in Central Milton Keynes (Anthony Stewart Head will be there, along with the likes of Jonathan Frakes and Kate Mulgrew). It's not my kind of thing at all, but we were shopping there this time last year (Didi still talks about the Daleks), and Ms Sladen was in attendance.

That's the one and only time I've ever been really excited by a celebrity sighting, and that includes the obviously short-sighted Sally Phillips saying hello to Roy in Starbucks. And, you have to say, for a 58-year old: not at all bad.

guitarGAS: Simon rocks the Hendrix pedal

It's a big download, but Simon Holy Hose has uploaded an exthelente audio demonstration of the Digitech Jimi Hendrix Pedal. A bit of blog cross fertilisation that's worth checking out if you are at all interested in That Kind of Thing. It's the kind of thing you'd never get in a shop.

On public funding of political parties

I've always been against the idea of taxpayer funding of political parties, and I think the solution to the spending problem is right in front of our eyes. Let's just make sure everyone knows what they actually spend all that money on.

I heard this yesterday on the radio, but the Guardian reports on how political parties might spend taxpayer's money if they were publicly funded.

Over half a million squid, for example, paid by the Labour party to Mark Penn, Clinton's former spin doc. Ker-ching. Talk about money for old rope. "It's the economy, stupid," was public domain, though, wasn't it? So why pay the geezer? Sheesh.

The bloke who organised those lovely focus groups, Philip Gould, got £143,000. Ker-ching. Alastair Campbell, no longer officially Tony Blair's press secretary, still netted £47k for consultancy. I wish someone would consult me. I'd be a lot cheaper.

We already know about the £275 per day that Cherie Blair spent on her hair, but Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy spent over £5k between them on make-up.

Talking of costumes and make-up:
Labour bought five Star Trek costumes for £299 by Labour in order to make a political point against the Tories' Mr Spock figure, John Redwood. The Conservatives spent £3,500 on animal costumes and hired five actors to be "groundhogs" to emphasise that Labour had said everything before.

Those groundhog, costumes, by the way, had to be imported from the United States. You've got to admire that kind of profligacy. Imelda Marcos would be proud.

As with the cost of the NHS and everything else, the point here is about how much people get away with when charging for their services. Spin doctors are like plumbers, I think. If the parties are desperate enough, they'll pay anything.

But you also have to admire the cheek of the people who charged £3,500 for the hire of some tables and chairs for a 90 minute meeting. Including half an hour to set-up and the breakdown, that's about £1400 per hour. Ker-ching!

April 24, 2006

So so slow slow

I'm printing out what I'm going call my second draft. It cometh out as 138 pages of A4. And it taketh all bloody day on my crappy little Canon. With inkjet printers, you can get pretty excellent quality on the cheapest in the range, but if you want extra speed, that's when you pay more. And it's only when you come to print something of any length that you realise how damn slow slow can be.

One of the quirks of my Canon is that text is more or less unreadable on quality settings less than "detailed." It's shite, otherwise. So, on "detailed," it's been chugging along since, I dunno, 11 this morning? And it's about half done, at time of writing, which is just gone half four. It's taken over five hours to print about 50-60 pages.

Worse still, I had to interrupt the job to print something else, worrying that the ink would run out, and when I restarted it, instead of starting from where it had left off, it started from the beginning again and printed half a dozen pages before I noticed. Half a dozen pages that took about 30 minutes to print! Bugger!

Bloggerrrrr has been on drrrrrugs today, so there may be a sudden flurrrrrrry of posts.

Uncharacteristically Quiet

Simon is having trouble posting today, and I'm busy elsewhere, which is why we're not bringing you exciting news that is also good for the environment.

April 22, 2006

Loving the Alias

So I treated myself a while ago to Alias season 4, because it seems obvious that - if Channel 5 ever get around to showing it - they'll do so at some unearthly hour and I'll either not notice or forget to record it.

Thinking recently about what would be my favourite TV show out of the many I love, I think Alias comes out on top, probably for the very reason that it became something of a minority sport in the UK.

If you've never seen it before, the premise of the show is a little bit like Mission Impossible (it was what JJ Abrams did before Lost), but with a female lead (Sydney Bristow, played by Jennifer Garner). You'd probably point to high-kicking marshall arts style Buffy as an inspiration, too. So Alias is the love-child of Mission Impossible and Buffy: a corking combination of action, adventure, sci-fi, thriller, mysticism. It's 90° proof hokum, in other words.

Aside from the gripping cliff-hangers, great action scenes, and Jennifer Garner in a variety of costumes and wigs, what's there to like about Alias? To me, it comes down to the layers of complexity. Its title points the way: Alias is about questions of identity, just as much as Buffy was about making the demons of our adolescence real.

Sydney is a college student, except she's not. She works part-time in a bank, except it's not a bank. In the beginning, she's an agent for SD6 - a division of the CIA - for which the bank is just a front. Except it's not. Quite soon, she's a real CIA agent working undercover as an SD6 agent, because SD6 is a renegade organisation, part of a criminal network. Most of the people who work for SD6 think they work for the CIA, but they don't. Sidney's dad, Jack, works for SD6 and she thinks he's one of the bad guys, except he's not. And she thinks her mum is dead. Except she's not. She thinks her mum was a CIA agent, too. But she was a Russian agent. And now she's still a Russian agent, except not, more like a criminal like Sloane, head of SD6 and former CIA agent who might - possibly - be Sydney's father. Except he's not, he's the father of the half-sister Sydney didn't know she had, who lives in Argentina.

There's more. Sydney lives with two friends, who think she's a college student who does way too much work for a bank. Except one of the friends gets killed and replaced by a lookey-likey agent for another criminal syndicate. And more: one of Alias' deliberate bold strokes is to have several characters who look quite similar to each other. Sydney's closest friend, her CIA handler, and one of her adversaries: all three have similar looks and colouring. Sydney herself looks a lot like her sister, and her mother.

In Alias, in other words, nothing is what it seems, and nobody is what they seem. You can trust nobody, except you can. Sometimes.

A lot of the plot gets hung around the search for secret artefacts, created by a Da Vinci-like Renaissance genius called Rambaldi. They chase manuscript pages, secret plans, or items left by Rambaldi in hard-to-reach locations. Sometimes they turn out to be weapons, or some kind of miraculous serum that causes the person injected with it to speak in a secret code. The CIA and SD6 and countless others chase all over the world looking for Rambaldi artefacts. Sydney is always on a mission for SD6, but she usually has to pull a swap and give the real thing to the CIA, or make a copy first. And she works with a partner with whom she trusts her life, except he only thinks he works for the CIA and begins to suspect Sydney is one of the bad guys.

As you can tell, it's an absolute hoot, so complicated that it would make most peoples' brains hurt. Let's admit it: Alias is only of appeal to someone with the intellect to keep up with it all, and it's still preposterous, ridiculous 90° proof hokum.

It pulls other bold strokes, like having her wake up, after everything has come to a head, and two years have passed - and she doesn't have any memory of those two years. Or she ends up working for a CIA black ops unit commanded by her former arch enemy, the evil, manipulative, renegade Arvin Sloane.

Season 4, or so I've read, takes a while to get going, and it's true that a few of the early episodes are a bit so-so. But Alias is a programme that isn't afraid to leave you hanging, and lets things build to ridiculous heights. It's all over now, I think season 5 is the last, but it is, officially, one of the Best Things Ever.

April 21, 2006

What a day Dad had.

[groans] I'm having one of those days. Plan of action was a quick walk into town this morning to get my car tax; then another walk in for the dentist this afternoon.

It was pleasant enough, first thing. The sun was trying to poke through. The amount of birdsong in the woods on the way down to the main road was extraordinary, including one bird that made a noise like a rusty hinge.

I got to the Post Office: no queue, which is a result. Had everything I needed, or so I thought. In 25 years of buying tax discs, I've never yet taken the wrong thing. Until today. I'd pulled out my statement of insurance, and not the certificate. What's the difference? I must have known once, but now I obviously don't.

So, that mission aborted. Walked back up the hill, had a cup of Illy (we don't say "coffee" round here, except I just did) and some biscotti, read the local paper. Walked back down to town with the correct documents. On the way through the woods, noticed a dead pigeon. Are we supposed to report that kind of thing now? I mean, birds must die all the time, and it doesn't have to be...


But you never know. So, what, do I dial 999 and report a dead pigeon?

Having sorted my car tax, I decided to get some cash from the machine. Hesitated before accepting my card (the HSBC machine in Buckingham High Street has always been dodgy), and then ate it, threw up an error message, and told me to contact my issuer.

So I phoned my bank, cancelled the card, and they offered to sort me out some over-the-counter cash. I declined, saying that I'd use my joint account card to get some cash back at the Tesco Extra. Then I heard some bloke from the bank fiddling around at the back of the machine. Walked into the bank, and he handed me back my card. Ha ha!

I phoned my bank again, asking if the cancellation could be cancelled. Negatory. And apparently the geezer from the bank should not have handed my card back, because I "could have been anybody." Oops.

Went into Tesco Extra, got some baps, went to pay with my other card, to get cash back. Negatory. Tesco Extra don't do cash back.

So now I'm cashless. And I realise I should not have been eating my rock-hard home-made biscotti on the day I've got a dental appointment. It's just asking for trouble.
In other news, yesterday on the way into Aylesbury I went through some interesting roadworks. Speed limit was 30 mph, fair enough. But instead of just a flashing SLOW DOWN sign, they had electronic signs telling you how fast you were actually going. So now I know that when my speedo says 30 mph, I'm actually doing 28 mph.

Next time, I'm going to drive through at 70, to see what speed I'm actually doing then.

April 20, 2006

Rashbre Explains the Holy Hose Thing

If you've ever wondered what the Holy Hoses project is all about, you could do worse than read Rashbre's Scholarly Essay on the subject.

It's most excellent, and a straighter answer than you'd ever get off me.

Speed Reading

Via the Guardian Technology Blog, I came across this report on web reading patterns, which argues that the dominant pattern drawn by the eyes as they scan a page is an F-shape.

Obviously, one of the key reasons for this pattern is that web sites often have SHITE in the way of your eyes at the top of a story. The Guardian, for example, gives you a short paragraph followed by a huge ad, followed by the rest of the story. Inevitably, my eyes are going to skate over the ad and into the second paragraph, and - as any fule kno - people stop reading after 2, 3 paragraphs.

Which means you're probably not reading this far, so I can say what I want. I'm reading a Garrison Keillor book at the moment, Wobegon Boy. Picked it up at my dad's house the other day. It was on a bookshelf, still with its fancy little red banner wrapped around it, obviously never read. It had about an inch of dust on the top of it.

It's the sort of thing my mum would do. Because she only ever really read thrillers, so even if she did like to talk about how wonderful Garrison Keillor is on the radio, she would never in a million years read one of his books.

Actually, I have quite a few of them, all of the ones up to Wobegon Boy, in fact. I loaned Roy Radio Romance recently. GK is a very funny man, but it's the kind of humour, you have to get into it first, because otherwise you might not notice. It's true. His anecdotes are as long and rambling as they need to be, and they're stuffed full of details that make you laugh once you understand where it's coming from.

I recommend the radio show, which is on BBC 7, Saturday lunchtimes. Or you can listen on the internet. It's an odd mix, sometimes with excruciatingly cute musical interludes. Other times he'll have someone decent on, like Jerry Douglas. This coming Saturday, it's the Del McCoury band. And there's always a quarter of an hour of Lake Wobegon stuff, which can be very funny. But you need to get into it first, and I can't help you with that. It's like learning the guitar. If you don't practice, you just won't ever get it.

But you didn't read this far.

April 19, 2006

Why is this so funny?

I'm a bit of a secret petrol head, in spite of my spotless environmental credentials (I hate hypocrisy, but I'm always prepared to make an exception in my own case), so I do like to read the motoring pages in national newspapers on the web. I'm currently struggling with a mid-life-crisis urge to buy an Alfa Romeo Brera, which just has to be the most beautiful thing on 4 wheels ever (even if it is bound to break down). So what if the kids have to hunch up in the back, and there's no room for more than a token Tesco carrier bag in the boot? I'll just shop every day instead of once a week.

Anyway, I check out the Telegraph and Times motoring pages, as well as Top Gear on the web. I even occasionally buy an actual magazine, though why would you? But of all the motoring sections, the funniest one is, of course, The Guardian's, where they feel obliged to balance the yin of every car road test with the yang of a column about cycling.

It makes me chuckle every time. Follow the link above for an hilarious incident involving a wicked white van and a hapless cyclist.

The Lost World of Friese-Greene

The Lost World of Friese-Greene, first episode of which was on BBC2 last night, was very interesting. And - shock horror - not a single dramadoc moment in the whole hour. What were the BBC thinking? How can people possibly understand something that happened more than 5 years ago without some ac-tors dressing up and acting it out?

Claude Friese-Greene (Or Claude Greene, if he'd known me, since I will not tolerate a double-barrelled name in my presence), made films with black and white stock and colour filters, then colourised the frames, alternately with red and green. Played back at faster than normal speed, the effect tricked the eye into seeing (sort of) colour pictures. The effect worked best, of course, on strong reds and greens. Friese-Greene sported a Hitler-style moustache.

They said in the documentary that these films, had they been experienced in cinemas of the day, were a little hard to watch, given the equipment available, which couldn't show the film quickly enough. But the BFI have obviously been able to restore the effect. As it was, the films were only ever shown at trade shows, so never seen in cinemas proper.

Presenter Dan Cruikshank comes across as a bit of an idiot, though not too annoying, as he retraces a journey (in a similar vintage Vauxhall) through Britain as filmed by Greene in 1924 and called "The Open Road". The original film was a snapshot of a brief moment in history, shortly after the First World War but before the General Strike, at a time when some people - young women in particular - were experiencing a sense of freedom they'd never had before.

At times, it seems that mere minutes after Greene's cine camera stopped rolling, buildings were being torn down, roads widened, hedgerows flattened etc. All a bit depressing.

The old film was fascinating to see, and - in this first episode at least - the researchers had done their work well, and Cruikshank was able to talk to people who recognised some of those in the film. But this was in Cornwall and Devon, mostly, and I wonder how that will play as he gets further into the industrial areas.

The shame of the programme was that we were only shown short snippets of film at a time, and then lots of shots of Cruikshank driving along telling us how much things had changed. In case we hadn't noticed. But, thankfully, you can explore the archive online. Doesn't look as if Greene ventured to the Eastern half of the country, apart from some bits in London.

April 18, 2006

Neutron Bomb

I needed a photo of Olivia Neutron Bomb for entirely innocent purposes, and I found this one. I just thought I'd share, because it's easy to forget the loveliness of Olivia, and it might make your day.

She was named after a kind of vegetable oil, you know.

Where you see a problem...

Other people see opportunities.

While some of us lie awake at night worrying about the ice-caps melting and the UK becoming some kind of archipelago (spelt correctly first time, I'll have you know) the Guardian reports that melting ice-caps are creating a frenzy among oil prospectors and others.

It turns out that, from one point of view, those pesky ice caps are just an annoying inconvenience. It's a kind of strip-mining view of the world, isn't it? That hillside is just getting in the way, so let's hose it down with high pressure jets of water, and see what's underneath it.

In a just universe, the world would fight back and start crushing these people under advancing glaciers. Archaeologists of the future would find, not hairy mammoths, but whole oil prospecting teams, frozen in the ice complete with laptops, digital cameras, and a copy of the Rough Guide to the North Pole.

April 17, 2006

Sold and sold!

For a while now I've had a hankering for a proper bread or pizza oven in my back garden to complete my life-long quest for pizza perfection. Last Saturday, to celebrate the return of Doctor Who, it was of course pizza night in our house, and I happen to have made three in a row that were absolute crackers, with a brilliantly crisp crust and the best toppings (in one case, cream, bacon, onions, pineapple, olives, mozza).

There's nothing like the crust you get when you use fresh yeast, as opposed to the sachet kind. It's a whole different - and much faster - ball-game. There have been occasions when I've badly underestimated how long the dough takes to rise with sachet yeast, so I've ended up feeling rushed and hassled, with starving kids and spouse. With fresh yeast (that is, fresh yeast), the dough rises brilliantly, and the rolled out base will continue to rise quickly, so you can shove it in the oven immediately.*

Just recently, my kids have grown fond of a topping that includes potatoes, cream, cheese, and lardons/bacon, which is the kind of topping we regularly get at La Martina in Plancher Bas. You pre-cook the potatoes, sliced or cubed finely, and sprinkle them on the top as you would any other topping.

Verily, it is good, but how much better could it be if I had one of these Blistering Beehive Ovens? Fan-bloody-tastic! £370 for the large size, plus £120 for the stand, £17 for the cover, and £19 for a paddle. That's five hundred and twenty six english poinds.

Shite! A lot of money, but it has to be done. She will be mine, and then you will smell my delicious pizza concoctions for miles around.


Here's a tip (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Whereas Sainsbury's charge you for fresh yeast in 50g quantities (about 38 pence), Tesco just give you a great lump of it for free. Free! Now that's a freakin' bargain!

Smug Gites

Different people will have different things that remind them of holidays. For some it will be hotels, pools, late nights in clubs, sleeping all day on the beach.

Most of the holidays in my life have been cottage/gîte hires for a week, self-catering. Since having kids, we've tried to have a beach holiday every year, even if we do spend too much time hanging round at the in-law's in the East of France. "Self-catering" is a phrase which will send ice through the heart of anyone who thinks of it as having to do your own cooking and washing up when you're on holiday, especially if you are the person who ends up having to do it.

For me, it means choosing what you eat and when. It means toasted brioche for breakfast with melted Président butter, and it means eating out, a lot of the time - but not in the same place every day. And it means staying in a place that feels like home for a week, somewhere with a terrace or garden to enjoy in the evening, with a bit of privacy and the scent of honeysuckle.

And it means that other smell, that sort of seaside holiday seasalty seaweedy smell, the musty smell that infects an accommodation that isn't used all year round, that belongs to someone who only uses it for a few weeks in the year, and who rents it out the rest of the time. It means Super-U plates and bowls, cheap plastic drip coffee makers, budget cutlery, and someone's old saucepans. Sometimes, too, it means signs of Englishness imported into a sunnier clime - like a plastic tea strainer; and it means paperback books left by previous occupiers or an insight into what someone else thinks a holiday is all about: a scribbled recommendation for a local restaurant, or a nice bottle of wine.

Which is not to say you don't notice how horribly smug some English people are when they stick the label from a bottle of wine on a noticeboard. Or that the chip on your shoulder doesn't itch a little bit to be staying in someone else's second home in France (if the owners are British). Still, when that happens I just get another Bückler from the fridge. And chug it down.

April 15, 2006

ABC.com: Grey's Anatomy

Thursday night is now medical drama night, with E4's preview of ER, plus House and now Grey's Anatomy. You'd be forgiven for thinking that three such dramas in one night would be too much mush, and you're probably right. But they're all worth recording and, after two episodes, I'm quite keen on Grey's.

She's a first year surgical intern (ER has trained us for years in the slow career progression of doctors) at a Seattle hospital whose mother is a famous surgeon, now suffering from Alzheimer's, or something similar. And of course she has a group of peers/friends, has a one-night stand with one of her bosses the night before she starts work and realises who he is, and like that.

I like Ellen Pompeo as Meredith Grey, and Patrick Dempsey works well too as Derek Shepherd. And Grey's gets top marks for remembering to have black characters from the top of the first hour: talented surgeon Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington); chief of surgery Richard Webber (James Pickens, Jr.); and senior resident Miranda Bailey, aka The Nazi (Chandra Wilson). So they won't have to do what so many series do and undergo some hasty re-jigging of the cast when they realise they forgot to have any black characters. Again.

ER is probably looking a bit stale in comparison, though House still trumps everything for its one-liners: "How d'you know my wife is pregnant?" "I'm doing her." Class.

April 12, 2006

Frank Gardner

I see that nice Frank Gardner has a book coming out. Probably worth a read. I always admired his reports on Five Live before the horrific shooting incident. He has a quiet authority about him, a no-bullshit approach, and he obviously wasn't the kind of reporter who hid in his hotel room and watched the news. Think I'll give it a read, though I doubt I'll be able to get through it without bawling my eyes out.

Here are some on-line prices for this book. Blackwell's: £18.99. Amazon: £12.53. Tesco: £14.24. Hmmm... Blackwells it is, then.

Gone Country

I note that Van's gone Country. Comes to us all, I say. Welcome to the Country Club, Van.
Well the folk scene is dead
But he's holding out in the village
He's been writing songs speaking out
Against wealth and privilege
He says 'I dont believe in money
But a man could make him a killin'
Cause some of that stuff dont sound
Much different than Dylan
I hear down there it's changed you see
They're not as backwards as they used to be

He's gone country, look at them boots
He's gone country, back to her roots
He's gone country, a new kind of suit
He's gone country, here he comes

(Alan Jackson)

Just in Case

The Iranians were having trouble getting started, The BBC has published a handy guide.

Next month: the BBC Guide to Locating Israel on a Map.

Movie Pitch

I've had this idea for a film. It's a version of The Graduate, but set in the 18th Century. The Dustin Hoffman character is the oldest son of a family who have joined the United Society of Believers, a Quaker splinter-group based in New England. Principally known for their ritual communions with the dead and their ecstatic shaking movements, they're also known as the Shakers. It rhymes with Quakers, don't you know.

At this young man's graduation party, a stranger from the future sidles up to him and says, "Just one word: kitchens."

I couldn't help noticing, as I was browsing an on-line furniture catalogue the other day, that they were offering a Shaker Coffee Table. I wanted to phone them up and ask, "They drink a lot of coffee, then, these Shakers? Coffee mornings and all that kind of thing was it? Very nice. But what on earth did they keep their TV on, back in the 18th Century?"

Your Questions Answered

I'm afraid our logs are still too dominated by people for some reason following a link to a picture of a carrot that isn't even there for any meaningful dialogue to ensue. *Sigh* I miss those times.

One interesting image search today came from Quantico, Virginia, which is where the FBI HQ is isn't it? Whoever it was seems to have a fascination with Morris Traveller cars. Shouldn't you be saving the free world or something?

To the person from T'bilisi, Georgia, I have to say that there are so many things wrong with the way you have searched for "free photos ladies fucking vith horse" that I don't know where to start. But, for example, I don't think this is the kind of thing that ladies actually do.

Annelise Hesme is still very popular, I see. As is the old chestnut about how to pronounce Epiphone.

To the person searching for the lyrics to Shelby Lynne's song, "I Cry Every Day," I wouldn't have thought they were hard to make out. She doesn't exactly mumble.

To the person from Atlanta, Ga., who seems to have entered the entire lyric to a Tim McGraw song ("Something Like That" from A Place In The Sun) into Google, I'm assuming that the artist/song title was the information you were looking for. It's nice when you hear a song on the radio or at the end of a film and absolutely have to know who it was, isn't it? I did this recently with a song at the end of that awful Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas film. You gotta love radio stations that play 50-in-a-row without telling you who you're listening to.

Fact of the day: according to a book I just flicked through in the Borders in Ox-ford, Houses of the Holy was the 10th best-selling album of the era they are already starting to call The Seventies.

In Borders, I also came to two inescapable conclusions about life. The first is that bookshops stock WAY TOO MANY Terry Pratchett Books, and also TOO MUCH TOLKEIN. Nothing against the guys, you understand, but too much is too much.

The other is that, if I worked in Ox-ford, I would spend all my income on obscure / arty magazines and journals.

bbc four discussion group

the thistle hotel in bloomsbury was the venue for the bbc four discussion group i attended last night. there was alcohol, sandwiches, and tortilla crisps. each of us was given a small brown envelope containing £50.

i can't reveal too much of what went on there, or i will contravene the conditions of the official television secrets act. but i can tell you that bbc four is planning to extend its broadcast hours, by starting earlier than 7pm.

April 11, 2006


Twenty Tracks

Since it's Easter (see below), and nobody is posting anything here, and more importantly, because nobody is around to read it, I'll steal this meme thing.

1) A track from your early childhood
I Feel Fine by the Beatles. This was released when I was nearly 2 years old, which is pretty early. But the childhood memory I associate with it is a bit later. I was walking home (alone) from school, either primary or early juniors (those were the days). I was probably around 7 or 8, and I was singing the riff to myself.

2) A track that you associate with your first love
So many first loves, but I don't really associate songs with people (which is going to make this meme a tough one) unless I write them myself. So probably it's a little ditty I wrote called "Please Forgive Me (I Was Insane)."

3) A track that reminds you of a holiday trip
God, is this really what people do? Associate songs with holidays? Maybe if your holidays involve going into those nightclub thingies, which mine never have, and never will. Anyway, there's a Lee Ann Womack song I used on one of my iMovie edits of a holiday in the Vendée, so I guess that would be it. It's a duet with Vince Gill (I just wrote diet instead of duet, which is funny if you know of Mr Gill) called "Some Things I Know".

4) A track you like but wouldn't want to be associated with in public
If I'm fine with admitting to liking the likes of Brad Paisley, there can't really be anything in this category, can there? I quite like "Nothing Ever Happens" by Del Amitri, does that count? Whatever happened to them?

5) A track that accompanied you when you were lovesick
"Most of the Time" by the Dylan

6) The track you have listened to most often
In my current iTunes line-up, it's "From Where I Stand" by Vince Gill, because I'm trying to learn to play it. Over my lifetime, probably "Thunder Road" by Bruce.

7) A track that is your favourite instrumental
Easy! "Jessica" by the Allman Brothers Band.

8) A track that represents one of your favourite bands
"I've Just Seen a Face" by the Beatles

9) A track which best represents yourself
Probably I feel most myself when listening to something like "Up to Me" by the Dylan or "The Weight" by the Band

10) A track which reminds you of a special person
See above for my thoughts on associating songs with people. But "You Look Good in My Shirt" by Keith Urban. Only it was my jumper. And, well, I wish.

11) A track to which you can relax
I'm going to have to say "Blue Sky" by the Allmans, Ron.

12) A track that stands for a really good time in your life
I feel like I've answered this one before. "Along for the Ride" by Matraca Berg (daughter #1) and "Let's Dance" by Sara Evans (daughter #2)

13) A track that is currently your favourite
Joy Lynn White's version of "Just Some Girl."

14) A track that you'd dedicate to your best friend
"Something Spring" by the Windmills for my current best friend; and "I Don't Want To," which I wrote about my ex-best friend.

15) A track that you like especially for its lyrics
"Imogene" by Gretchen Peters

16) A track that no one likes but you
Does this ever really happen? If it's been released on record, someone else must like it. So it would have to be one of my own, since I'm pretty sure nobody likes them but me.

17) A track that you like that's neither English nor German
"Raphael" by Carla Bruni, and others by her, but I can't be bothered to learn the titles

18) The track that best lets you release tension
"Mud on the Tyres" by Brad Paisley. That's a kind of joke, which would come under the heading of "things that you think are funny but no-one else does." Now that happens a lot.

19) A track you want to be played at your funeral
"Mud on the Tyres" by Brad Paisley.

20) A track that you'd nominate for "Best Track of All Time"
I'm going to have to go with "Blue Sky" by the Allman Brothers Band again, Ron.

This Time It's Personal

It's sort of Easter, or as it is known round here, Christmas II: The Return, so activity has dropped off a cliff. You may have noticed. It feels like a Thursday, doesn't it?

Simon is on holiday. I am, unfortunately, busy doing things I don't want to talk about. And the nation, exhausted after three months of frenzied hard work, has clearly shut up shop for the next fortnight.

Funny. A long weekend used to consist of a Friday and Monday, plus the usual weekend. Now a long weekend starts on the Monday before and drags on as long as possible. In the same way, the working week has contracted so that Tuesday is the new Monday, and Thursday is the new Friday. My traffic monitoring confirms this. People talk about how hard they work, but actually everybody is arseing about on the internet and taking extra long weekends.

In the future, May will also be one long weekend, stretching from one bank holiday to the other.

You may have heard that Marks and Spencer are showing a bit of a revival, with a strong sales quarter. The 6.8% increase in sales was all down to me, because I spent a fortune in there during February and March. Just thought you ought to know.

April 10, 2006

Plumbing the Depths

I've never had a Blue Peter badge, not being That Kind of Person. I saw someone at the local swimming pool with one the other day and thought, it's the sort of thing that the truly cynical person might fake for a CV or something. You wonder, sometimes, if there are no depths to which people won't sink in order to pretend they're something they're not.

Or, in the case of the BP badge, Get Free Stuff.
Blue Peter announced on the programme last month that it was to suspend the perk after it was revealed that unsentimental owners were selling the badges on eBay, some openly bragging about the free entry that the badge permits.

There are estimated to be 500,000 genuine badge holders, who are allowed free entry to attractions if they are under 15. But the eBay trade came to light after staff at Edinburgh Zoo noticed that children seeking free entry were younger than the badges they were wearing."

It somehow seems worse than one of the 1966 World Cup squad having to flog his medal to pay the bills. I'm not talking about the people doing the buying, but the person who wakes up one day and decides to sell his/her Blue Peter badge.

That's just tragic, to reach that level of self-loathing and cynicism, don't you think?

April 07, 2006

Knowing Me Knowing You

Snaffled from BondWoman

“What you are supposed to do is copy this entire blog entry and paste it onto a new blog entry that you’ll post. Change all the answers so they apply to you, and then publish! Leave a comment if you do this. The theory is that you will learn a lot of little (random) things about your friends and readers, if you did not know them already.”

Sounds simple enough.

What time did you get up this morning?
7.15 am. Didi always comes into our room around quarter to 7 (or quarter to 6 in winter), and I switch on the radio and pull back the curtain to wake up.

Diamonds or pearls?
I am jewellery-free, myself, and rarely buy it for my wife, because I think it’s a colossal rip-off. I don’t mind spending the money. I just don’t want to spend the money on that. But pearls, probably.

What was the last film you saw at the cinema?
Very good question. It was a very long time ago. Might have been I Heart Huckabees. I didn’t enjoy the experience, because cinemas are smelly and noisy places full of blaring noise and rowdy teens.

What is your favourite TV show?
I have lots of them, but probably Alias because it’s such a hoot and I was willing to pay for the DVD set of Season 4, because it hasn’t been shown

What do you usually have for breakfast?
Toast or crumpets, but I hate to have the same thing too many days in a row. This morning I had blackcurrant jam on toast, and got a bit of a Proustian Rush from it, because we used to have a HUGE blackberry bush in our garden back home, and my mum would make loads of jam every year.

Favourite cuisine?
Probably Italian, because pizza and pasta are things I can eat a lot of. Fish and chips only when it’s done proper, which is too rare.

What food do you dislike?
I don’t like fussy food, with lots of bits and pieces involved

What is your favourite CD at the moment?
Joy Lynn White, One More Time.

Morning or night person?
Definitely morning. I would like to start my working day early and finish at around 4. I never quite got over the culture shock of leaving school. I’d still like to be home in time for Blue Peter

Favourite sandwich?
A bit of baguette with a big lump of cheese

What characteristic do you despise?
People who take pride in ignorance

Favourite item of clothing?
Brightly coloured socks

If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would it be?
I immediately exclude anywhere that hasn’t invented the flush toilet yet. And anywhere it takes more than a couple of hours to reach by plane. I actually love the Vendée region of France, and I’d happily go there every year. If I was rich, I’d just go more often. I love it at the end of May, when the beaches are empty but the weather is still (often) fantastic.

What colour is your bathroom?
Now you’re asking. It’s not the sort of thing I notice.

Favourite brand of clothing?
A brand that isn’t a brand. Some of John Lewis’ own-brand stuff is okay.

Where would you retire to?
The Vendée, but not necessarily right on the coast, because I consider that a mug’s game.

What was your most memorable birthday?
My 8th. But birthday’s aren’t generally something I suffer from.

Favourite sport to watch?
Almost none of them. I certainly wouldn’t pay for one. Formula 1, but in the 70s, I reckon, when there was still room for gifted amateurs.

Who do you least expect to complete this?
Linda Riley. Or Bob Dylan.

Person you expect to complete it first?
I nominate Simon

Person who is least busy?
I want, “He wasn’t very busy” engraved on my gravestone.

When is your birthday?
December 3

What is your shoe size?
43, same as my age. Yikes!

My kids have fish, and a neighbour’s cat thinks he lives with us, even though we don’t feed him or pay his vet’s bills.

Any new and exciting news you’d like to share with us?
Not today, but maybe soon.

What did you want to be when you were little?
Well, an astronaut or a racing driver. But realistically: a writer

What is your favourite flower?
Blue ones, like bluebells in woods and cornflowers in fields

What date on the calendar are you looking forward to?
None at the moment.

One word to describe the person who you snaffled this from?
Somebody I don’t know who has feet the same size as mine. Oh, that’s more than one word, sorry.

Political Correctness Gone Mad

No, this is not a post about the Daily Mail paying High Court Judges to read idiotic statements off prompt-cards.

I just went into the town with the kids to get a gingerbread man cutter, so we can do some baking together. I said to the woman in Steamers, "We're looking for a gingerbread man cutter." She said,

"You can't just get one, you have to have a whole family."

And it's true: you have to buy a pack of four, with one large man, one large woman (you can tell it's a woman because she's wearing a dress) and two smaller versions of the same. But, I thought, why could it not be a short-haired woman wearing trousers, or (let's face facts) just a naked person of either sex, with hair that might be long or short, you can't really tell, especially if it's tied back?

Nobody needs four cutters, it's just bloody silly. You can only cut out one at a time. And with a dress-shape, it just looks like a great big lump of nothing. *Sigh*

"What's that dog got on its head?"

We took the girls to Woburn Safari Park yesterday. Our county is on holiday and a lot of others aren't, so we thought we'd beat the rush. Just over £50 for our 2 adults and 2 children. Still, it keeps the riff-raff out.

You do get quite a good day out, better than going to most city zoos. There's a difference between seeing a bear sitting depressed in a poky little enclosure, and seeing one strolling up a hill, or crossing the road in front of you. The most amazing sight of the day for me (which I hope is captured on video) was seeing the giraffes running along in that curious slow-motion way they have.

You can drive round the wild animal bit as many times as you like, although you're less inclined on the second go to sit at the side of the road and just stare at the tigers. But here's a tip for you: the animals first thing in the morning were mostly up and about and lively. Two of the tigers were even having a bit of a fight, and lion cubs (they were born in October) were frolicking around. Later in the afternoon, almost all of them were lying around having a snooze. So go early, and go soon if you want to see the lion cubs before they grow much more.

pollyAfter the drive, there are bits you can see on foot, like lemurs and squirrel monkeys, wallabies, and the penguins (which lined up, as you can see, for a photo op). Or you can go in the bird house with cups of nectar and watch your kids freak out as the birds land on their heads.

The Woburn park itself is quite lovely, and if you go to the deer park alone, it's cheaper - or you can even cut through and see deer for free. Years ago, my then-best-friend took his girlfriend through the deer park. She was a London girl. They were driving along, and she suddenly said, "What's that dog got on its head?"


She actually thought that deer were extinct in this country. There are a few more amazing wildlife photos (which I travelled 20 minutes to take) on my flickr account.

April 06, 2006

Ride a White Swan

So, one day they just happen to be conducting a "simulation" of their response to a bird flu outbreak, and - surprise! - the next day they find a dead swan. Except, of course, it wasn't today they found it, or even yesterday, but at least two days ago, possibly longer.

So the time-line actually goes like this:
1. Dead swan spotted by locals in Fife, washing up and down on what they laughingly call a beach. Seagulls are seen pecking at the corpse.
2. Several days later, somebody bothers to retrieve it.
3. Tests run: whoops.
4. Here's that bird flu outbreak simulation we've been talking about running for about 18 months, folks.
5. Oh, by the way, some Swan somewhere appears to have died from some kind of flu-like virus. Of course "we don't know if it's the deadly H5N1 strain yet."

Prediction: dead seagulls, d'you think?

Another prediction: record numbers of poultry will now be rush-transported around the country in attempts to pre-empt any ban on their movements.

April 05, 2006

norwegian blue

as you can probably tell from my (occasional) posts, i'm quite a fun guy to be around. if, for instance, you were to ask me if i had any painkillers, i would probably say no, i haven't, because the parrot ate 'em all! geddit? see, fun guy...

i mention this because i get through a lot of paracetamols. i get headaches, and paracetamol has got caffeine in it or something so it keeps me awake. i've been on the interweb and apparently it's not bad for you and not habit-forming, so that's ok. i get nosebleeds, not from picking, it's a bright reddy colour, i don't know if there is any connection.

so what i want to moan about now is the fact that i can't buy more than one packet at a time. because if i wanted to kill myself, i wouldn't realise that i could go to 5 or 6 different shops and get the required fatal dosage, would i?

we all suffer because of the selfishness of the depressed few. like the suicide who throws himself in front of the rush hour tube train. or something.

we all must stay behind after class.

kulchur innit

scott walker's first four solo albums are pretty fantastic if you like that sort of thing. these days, i like the idea of him and the things he does a lot more than the reality. but i'm very glad that he exists and i shall probably buy his new album when it comes out next month.

the culture show on bbc2 is written and presented by a bunch of twats. they left the pub just long enough to knock out a short piece, broadcast last week, on scott and his new opus. my dad was in the army for 20 years or so. whenever something about war or armies came on the telly, he would point out all the inaccuracies on display. so i felt a bit like my dad as i watched the culture show.

according to the culture show, jacques brel was french. even my mum knows he was belgian (you always have to mention jacques brel when you talk about scott walker, you see). and the voiceover said that scott's 1980s album was called climate of the hunter. no it wasn't. just climate of hunter will do it actually.

this sort of casual, lazy, couldn't-give-a-shit, pass-the-charlie ignorance isn't that important in the big scheme of things, i know. but it bugs me because i'd like a job like that, i'd like the money and i'd like to get paid to do something that i'm actually interested in.

i always forget that tv is shit.

only a fool breaks the two feet rule

get your snake oil here. just make sure you always stand more than 72 barleycorns away from anyone.

25 years later

In France, you know, it's only just 1981.

That was the year of the riots. I was living down near Herne Bay at the time, an idyllic period for me, and I was unemployed. The national crisis got to such a state that there were rumours, one day, that there were going to be riots in Canterbury. Shopkeepers were boarding up their windows. Old ladies were hoarding toilet rolls and sugar.

I cycled down there. That was my way of getting around in those days. Those bloody Canterbury hills! Anyone who knows the town will appreciate what I'm talking about. I was so fucking fit in those days! We lived on a long, mostly empty country road. I had a bike then, it only had 5 gears, but it was so well balanced, you could ride without holding the handlebars for miles and miles. I used to turn off the main road, let go of the handlebars, and just freewheel, mostly, all the way down to our house.

It was so quiet, I could probably have read a paperback book, like people do in the gym.

Anyway, I cycled down to Canterbury on the day of the rumoured riots. There were a few boarded up shops, but there was nothing going on.

What the French need, to diffuse the situation, is a big Royal Wedding. So, find the heir to the French throne, re-institute the monarchy, fix up an engagement, and then give everyone the day off for the wedding. Voila. It's a sure-fire formula.

p.s. In the caption to the photo above, Charles is saying, "Threesome?"

April 04, 2006

"Her hair was not like silk, her skin was not like milk"

Being a resolutely out-of-touch kind of guy, I didn't have too much awareness of Phil Lee until Joy Lynn White released his song, "Just Some Girl" on her recent release One More Time.
She was just some girl, she was plain and stout
She was nobody's dreamboat, nothing to write home about
Her hair was not like silk, her skin was not like milk
To the civilized world, she was just some girl

It's interesting to hear the contrast between White's version and Lee's own, which you can download (yay) from Lee's site (follow the link above, which takes you to the music page). Lee sounds a bit like The Dylan, or one of those guys, and his version is solid, workmanlike, kind of home-made sounding. White, on the other hand, uses more or less the same arrangement but brings to the song her vocal gifts (not to mention the backing vox), and production values that are several degrees up the scale.

I like both, and what I like especially about Phil Lee is that he's got some miles on the clock:

Lee released his debut The Mighty King Of Love in 2000 when he was 49. That's about when other rockers start to lose their grip and think about retirement. In the title cut on the new release he sings "You should have known me when I had all my teeth," but Lee consistently proves that while the old dog may be getting gray, he's still got plenty of bite.

There are quite a few samples on Lee's site, so you can get a good flavour of his slightly shambolic country rock, which is quite good if you like that kind of thing.

NT Hell acquires Virgin Mobiles

Dammit! I knew something was in the offing, when I got a text from Virgin yesterday telling me that texts to other Virgin phones were free until September. One of those offers they think you won't be able to refuse. Little do they know that (a) I don't have any friends; (b) never* text anyone; and (c) never receive texts. MediaGuardian.co.uk reports on the �962m Virgin Mobile deal:
NTL has concluded a �962.4m deal to acquire Richard Branson's Virgin Mobile, creating a 'quadruple-play' communications company offering broadband, fixed-line and mobile phone and television services under the Virgin brand.The US-listed cable TV company has agreed to license the well-known Virgin brand for 30 years as part of the deal and Virgin Mobile's management will stay on and run the business.NTL said the new company will have around 9.5 million customers and will be rebranded as Virgin over the next 12 months, although the immediate priority was integrating Telewest, the cable firm with which it merged earlier this year after announcing a �3.4bn deal in October."

So now I've got to go through the inconvenience of changing my mobile. They think you won't do it, especially if it means that you change your number, but my secret weapon is that I probably receive one incoming call a month, if that.

*Well, not quite never, but hardly ever, and I've got some friends, but we don't indulge in txt.

April is the Foolest Month

As is so often the case, April Fool's Day no longer ends at noon on April 1, but continues for 30 days, in a month-long celebration of hoax, scam, spoof, and the preposterous news story.

Now they want us t believe that they grew bladders in a dish in order to cure incontinence. Yes, because it would be the incontinence guys who got in first, wouldn't it? Not the heart, liver, or kidney specialists, oh no. That would be too obvious.
The cells were then placed onto a specially designed bladder-shaped scaffold and left to grow for seven to eight weeks.

Architects all over the world are now planning whole estates of bladder-shaped housing.

April 03, 2006

Tagged by Marie

Hmmm. Marie really hasn't been blogging enough lately, but I'll do this anyway, because it's in a good cause.

1. Briefly describe an aspect of your life for which 'The Dying Of Delight' [Clare's book] would be an apt title.

Probably this title best refers to the day I picked up Don Delillo's The Body Artist to read, after having spent 3 years writing my PhD thesis on his previous 5 books (The Names, White Noise, Libra, Mao II, Underworld, plus his pseudonymous effort Amazons). That was the day I realised that I'd destroyed my ability to enjoy his work, and could never read him again - or, at least, not for a very long time. In the space of a few years, I went from laughing out loud at White Noise to throwing The Body Artist across the room because it was pants.

2. Pick another book whose title has some resonance in your life, and write a little about it.
Hmm. Probably this would be The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan W. Watts. I'm no religionist, nor a mystic, but I found Watts' work on Zen Buddhism, and of course Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, extremely helpful in getting through life. The Wisdom of Insecurity essentially tells you to stop worrying about things over which you have no control, and to waste less energy trying to control those things. I'm not saying I'm able to live like this all day and every day, but it's never far from my mind.

3. Write one more short personal piece - one which matches the book title chosen (in part 2) by the person who tagged you. - i.e. "Fight Club" (from Marie)
This title doesn't really evoke anything for me, apart from the memory of the film, which I just didn't get why people loved it so much.

4. Take your favourite little-known book and plug it to your readers. Authors need incomes, and word of mouth is one of the best ways to sell books.
Well, I do this kind of thing frequently on this blog. I especially champion writers who – for reasons I can't fathom – don't seem to get UK publication. So, once again, I'll mention Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm, which is a classic of 70s SF (for Speculative Fiction, in this case), and only seems to get more relevant as time goes on.

5. Sit back and marvel at the magnificence of this meme. It was brought to you by an out-of-breath author, reduced (on account of her publisher* having expired) to trundling copies of her book across the internet on a rusty old trolley with one wheel missing, sweating and shouting "Buy me book, Gov?" Now visit TheDyingOfDelight and see if you'd like a copy for yourself.

6. Tag five people with this meme.

I honestly, really, don't know enough people. I need to get out more.

Top tip

Although I never intended to write my novel in a month, NaNoWriMo-style, I did buy the book written by the founder, which is called No Plot, No Problem. I don't know why I did, possibly because I was looking for ways to get over the hump. It's the first time in around 30 years of writing that I even considered buying a self-help book. I personally blame computers, because when I was using a typewriter, you had no option other than to complete a draft and then start again; there was none of this temptation you have with software, to go in and start revisions before you've finished.

Roald Dahl, we learned yesterday, wrote all his books out in longhand, with a yellow pencil and a yellow legal pad. Whatever it takes, I suppose.

The book is in fact full of such useful tips, things that focus you on churning out the first draft, and stop you from worrying about trivia like time-lines, internal consistency, and so on. He calls it keeping your inner-editor on a leash, and it's right, because there's no point worrying if it was Spring or Summer in the beginning bit, and therefore it's wrong to be talking about it being Summer now, because it would be Autumn, wouldn't it?

All that stuff is for the second draft.

One good tip is that when you come to print out that first draft, to read it through and make your notes, etc., you can format the page so it looks more book-like. So you print it landscape mode, with two wide columns, so each page looks like a spread from a book. I've just done that, and it does look great (I used Bembo, which is my favourite classic combination of Roman and Italic - there is no Italic more beautiful), something like a book you've photocopied, if you know what I mean.

Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre

CJ is a big Roald Dahl fan, though I could never see the appeal, myself. At the weekend, we took the kids to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, which is not too far from us, in Great Missenden, Bucks.

It was quite good really, I thought. Lots and lots for kids to do and play with, like stamping machines, things to cut out, dressing up clothes; and they hand out little booklets and pencils as part of the "write down your ideas" experience. Even on a quiet Sunday early in the season, there were visitors from all over the world there, so it was good that they'd got it about right in terms of it being worth the trip. There was easily more than a couple of hours' worth, and when the café is open, too, there'll be that. The little book and gift shop has some interesting things, and there are activities going on, like chocolate bar decoration sessions.

At busy times, they advise booking in advance, as they only allow so many people in at a time. I think they expect 800 visitors a day in the high season, but at the weekend, I think it was more like 200. It costs £16 for a family ticket (up to 3 kids), and the choc bar decoration was £3 per bar. Parking for up to 3 hours costs around £1.50 I think, and of course you'll likely spend another £20 in the café when it's open. But the staff are friendly and helpful, and the experience is really centred around children, with the assumption that they're familiar with the body of work.

It's certainly a long way from the so-and-so sat at this desk school of museum that I remember from my childhood.

April 02, 2006

"I'll see him in anything, so, I'll stand in line."

Well I'm standing in line in the rain to see a movie starring Gregory Peck
Yeah but you know it's not the one I had in mind
He's got a new one out now, I don't even know what it's about
But I'll see him in anything, so I'll stand in line.

Just watched Roman Holiday, which is one of the five films in the Audrey Hepburn collection. But you don't just watch it for Audrey, because Gregory Peck has as much class as she does.

This is pretty much my perfect film. It's got romance, it's got comedy. I'm going to invent a new term for it: Romantic Comedy. Or Rom-Com for short. Thank me later.

How classy is Gregory Peck? Cary Grant turns it down, having read the script and decided the film was really about the girl. So they send it to Peck, who says that whenever he received a comedy script, he got the feeling Cary Grant had seen it first. No room for ego in those circumstances. Still, he advises the producers to put her name above the title, as well as his, because he knew it would look silly in years to come. Now that's class.

How serendipitous, too, that they filmed it on location instead of doing the usual Hollywood thing (for the time) and back-projecting it. As such, it hasn't aged one bit, except in terms of the amount of traffic on the streets of Rome. Italians should watch the movie and weep for what the car culture has cost them. How did people manage before they had cars, eh? But, somehow, they did.

I think the strongest scene in the film, the one packing the most punch, is the one at the end where she just walks slowly down the line of press and shakes each one by the hand, sometimes thanking them or greeting them in their own language. It's so understated, so beautifully done, the very definition of the price of duty. One by one, shake hands, hello, until she finally reaches Joe, the one she wanted to be close to one more time.

And of course, I envy my wife because she saw it this afternoon for the first time. Imagine that!
There was a movie I seen one time, I think I sat through it twice
I don't remember who I was or where I was bound
All I remember about it was it starred Gregory Peck, he wore a gun and he was shot in the back
Seems like a long time ago, long before the stars were torn down

April 01, 2006


I'm listening to Joy Lynn White (she brings tears to my eyes, I love her stuff so much) and drinking AppleBocq (is the sun over the yard arm yet? It's only 3.1% alcohol), and working on the novel. A few days ago, I'd managed about 45,000 words, which was about 5,000 more than a month ago. As of now, I'm up to 56,000, which means I've knocked off 11,000 words in a couple of days. Nice. It's good to know you can still pound it out, after all.

I'd been trying to work my way over the hump I'd reached - let's face it - a year ago, where I had no idea what had happened, or why, and what was going to happen next, and over the past few weeks I just forced my way through it. The acceleration over the past couple of days was the downhill bit. Another 4,000 words, I reckon I'll have a first draft, something to knead into shape, pulling it up to the 80,000 words or so I think I'll end up with.

AppleBocq is delicious, refreshing, a fantastic summer drink. It's not summer, but it was reduced in Sainsbury's, so what the hell. It's got an acid bite to it, but it's not like cider. It's like the difference between pressed apple juice and the reconstituted stuff, a pressed apple juice beer.

That, and the 56,000 words, has made me feel mellow enough that if I had all my readers' addresses, I'd be sending off Joy Lynn White YOU MUST LISTEN TO THIS samplers, so it's prolly lucky I haven't, eh?