... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Album review, The Ensembly Line by Ill-iteracy

I was asked by the mysterious vanishing North West Style Collective to write a review of an album called The Ensembly Line, by a Virginian hip hop crew called Ill-iteracy.  Not sure what they have got to do with North West England, but I gave it a go anyway.  Having nearly finished the first draft I discovered NWSCollective's disappearing act, but thought what the hell.  I rattled a quick ending to the review, forgot about editing and redrafts, and decided to stick it on here as today's Block Chop (no 39).  Here:

Everything about this album primed me dislike Ill-iteracy.  Firstly I received beats to review – not completed songs, just beats.  The kind that every witless T-om, D.I.C. and Dr. Haz buys off the internet so they can delude themselves that their homophobic and misogynistic babble is battle rap.  Slow speed, saw-tooth synth, shuffle drums and sampled soul; it’s all the same everywhere you go.  The beats on their own are overwhelmingly uninspiring, but with the right rapping and production could be well utilised.

Secondly, the name Ill-iteracy...  Say it over and over, roll it around your tongue.  Ill iteracy. Ill iteracy.  It’s clearly supposed to be a play on the words ‘illiteracy’, and ‘ill’ meaning good.  But the way its put together is so clumsy. ‘Iteracy’ is not a word.  How can iteracy be ill?  If I was in the crew, I would pipe up a suggestion: “Excuse me lads, how about we call ourselves Ill Literacy.  At least that means something.  Ill-iteracy just looks like one of those meaningless misspellings so often degrading the credibility of hip hop with tragic attempts to look street.”

I can’t review beats, I thought, which eventually led me to Ill-it.com.  An ugly badly designed website with too much nonsense and no useful stuff (like a biography or an about us page).  But don’t think I’m full of negativity and immediately hostile to anything new.  The thoughts in the Weigh With Words blog speak of a possible better world.  A world different to our own in which sadly the commonly portrayal [of street cred] includes obscenity instead of class, violence in response to disrespect, and self above all else.”  These are the things that drag down hip hop, and to see this explicitly stated by Ill-iteracy is as good a sign as I could hope to see.

Elsewhere on Ill-it.com were the magic words ‘Click here to download’. And here the review can begin.  Their album The Ensembly Line is available in its entirety, free from advertising, as a .rar download.  Don’t let negative value attribution bias you; in this case free certainly does not mean worthless. 

The opener, Intro-spective, is glorious.  A hi-hat roll and a reverse reverb crash eases us into a perfectly simple drum line, soaring guitar sample, and the slightest of ‘yeah yeah yeah’ vocal scratches; not too showy, just perfectly executed. “It’s everything you thought it would be.”  Fortunately it’s nothing like I thought it would be, given my low preconceptions.  The carefully considered lyrics are skilfully expressed, with beautiful sentiment occasionally stepping forward:

“Before you point a finger at the judge, closely examine the person in the mirror with the straw in their nose.  Dirty little secrets; embarrassed once y’all are exposed.”

An oft heard criticism of hip hop is its inability to express non-physical emotions of joy, love and spirituality.  Intro-spective takes its place alongside Kanye West’s Never Let Me Down and Ice Cube’s It Was a Good Day to join the mounting evidence against this criticism.  They are soulful, in a spiritual, life-affirming, gospel music sort of way.  Hints of devotion and religious allusions create a rising beauty.  The spiritual awakening some people experience is the same chemical and emotional experience as falling in love, and for me this song brings this together almost as much as the music of Sam Cooke.  The sacred and the profane go together so well:

“How ironic and epiphinal: step into the church, sinning and unforgivable.  Physically blessed earth angel in a tight dress alters my focus; that easy to digress, yes even with the best intentions, hell seems less in the distance”
“Even though I don’t rock the rosary, closer to god is where I’m supposed to be.  Many steps remain but with each one I take a little strength is gained, so I dig a little deeper, work a little harder, understand a little bit more about my partner.  Finding motivation, time and dedication, things that’ll better me during the separation.  Working on my music, skipping all the parties, choosing who I hang around, no Kens or Barbies.”

Unfortunately the rest of the album is less noteworthy than the opener.  It drives along nicely; some tracks pretty good (Is That What’s RiLL?, Money) some tracks are pretty bad (Shawdy Wassyname, You Can’t See Me), but it’s all fair to middling.  I will give the album repeat listens, as I sense it is a grower, and with 21 tracks there is a lot to take in.

Ill-iteracy defiantly take their inspiration from the best hip hop has to offer (Kanye, Jay-Z, Common, De La Soul, etc), but have a long way to go before they reach their levels.  Lyrically they are already there.  It is the quality of the music that holds them back.  Step away from the tuneless-chorus for tuneless-choruses sake, auto-tune for auto-tunes sake model of making hip hop, and find your own sound.  This album shows signs of a burgeoning maturity, and I can’t wait to hear what comes next.    There is so much worthless rubbish flying the banner for hip hop and in a just world Ill-iteracy would be making money, and N-Dubz would be desperately giving away music on their website.

What has happened to North West Style Collective?

It was an exciting new "blog about all things arty/stylish/music related/etc, fresh from the style incubator that is the glorious N-West" according to it's twitter account.  It had an active and interesting website with exciting articles (including one about me), and a healthy (for a new venture) 212 followers on twitter.

Moments ago I followed a link on my facebook back to the website only to discover the blog has been deleted. More searching has revealed the twitter account has also been deleted.  A concerned email to the editor (who only six days ago was sending me regular emails with regard to an album review I was doing) was returned by Mailer-Daemon; the email account is closed too.

What on earth is going on here?  It almost feels like an extravagant practical joke!  Why start this whole thing up, get loads of people interested and actively involved, and then suddenly and with no prior warning, delete everything?  Who is the mysterious editor Laura@NWSC, and where has she gone?  The website may have looked plain, but there seemed to be great plans for the future, and lots of activity up until Wednesday.

Thanks to google cache I have salvaged a couple of screen grabs, preserved for prosperity (god I am such a geek!).  Click on the images to view larger.

My own positive write up (how I will miss you):
The North West Style Collective home page at Word Press, last cached on Tursday 26th August 2010:
The @NWSCollective twitter page, lasted cached on Wednesday 25th August 2010:
Any ideas or information about what has happened?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Block Chop 38:

It turns out that after all these years of scepticism I have been wrong.  There is a force of good and bad balancing each other out in the universe; call it karma.  There is a perfect state of death; call it heaven.  There is an omnipotent force to be discovered; call it god.  Today I have experienced two of these, and indirectly glimpsed the third.

An unfortunate experience in my girlfriend’s car, the breaking of the clutch cable, in busy traffic can only be the result of bad karma.  Shaken but unharmed we made it to safety by the recycling point at Baguley Tesco (Tesco seems to be getting an awful lot of passing mentions in my blog; they’re assimilation rate increases exponentially).  We were all extremely hungry, driving as we were to get a Sunday carvery in Altrincham.  I set off to get us all MacDonald’s to fill our empty hungover bellies, and my girlfriend contact our car’s guardian angel.  By the time I returned bearing chicken burgers and happy meals, the watchful seraphim had arrived and was attaching the tow bar.  Our plans of a carvery were well out of the window.  We were towed to Altrincham to have the clutch cable replaced, and killed time with an aimless walk around the back streets of Altrincham.

And here the bad karma we had received was balanced out by the best of karma; we glimpsed the heaven in death.  More precisely we discovered, in a basement down an alley, a beer bar called Mort Subite (translates as Sudden Death).

Curious I walked in, down the steps and through a curtain into an almost pitch black room.  Before my eyes could acclimatise we were greeted by a waitress and shown a table.  I bumped into people and chairs as I struggled to find my bearings in the dark, but gradually I saw the light and was able to read the extensive beer menu before me.  Pages and pages of rich and delicious beers from Belgium, Scotland, Netherlands, Czech Republic and elsewhere.  After much deliberation I ordered a 7.5% Belgian blonde called Nounnelle.  As she arrived I began to see more and more details of the gloomy bar.  The only lighting came from candles, and the decor was all Art Nouveau (lamps and framed prints, etc).  The place was pure luxury.  It reminded me of the Better Than Life interactive computer game from Red Dwarf; a game which burrows into your brain creating a perfect virtual reality world based on the gamers private idea of perfection.  I had no memory of entering the game but this is a feature of the game; the very reason it is so addictive.  The perfect essential bar has been extracted from my fantasy and exists in Altrincham.

As well as a massive selection of beer there is also a three quid cheese and German sausage snack board, and a 79% alcohol black absinthe.  And this heaven amongst bars is also host to a bona fide omnipotent God.  This god has not existed for ever, as proponents of other god mythologies may have you believe.  This god is the result of a process.  A process of brewing.  To be more precise it is a quadruple Indian Pale Ale, with four times the hops, brewed in Scotland by the magnificent Brew Dog.  This is not just your ordinary run-of-the-mill god.  This god is a beer called Sink The Bismark and it weighs in at a staggering 41%.

I am a believer.  I have seen god and god is an insanely bitter hoppy beer containing 41% alcohol.  Sadly I have yet to taste god, because god costs £61 (at least it does in Mort Subite; on the Brew Dog website it is £40) for a tiny 33cl bottle.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Block Chop 37: Continued creative nadir...

Almost identically to this time last weekend, I sit staring at a blank Word document unable to pick an interesting topic.  “Wow what an exciting opener, I must read on.”  And the credits roll at the end of yet another episode of Top Gear on channel Dave.  I have keenly observed the hair-lengths of the Top Gear presenters jumping up and down randomly indicating the episodes are out of sequence.  I have spotted another advert ripping off the Ricky Gervais podcast. Advertising just-eat.co.uk a belly and a brain communicate in the style of Ricky mocking Karl Pilkington’s bizarre anthropomorphic interpretations of bodily functions.  Now a programme, Trawlermen, wastes time by showing us the CD collection in someone’s glovebox.  Shameful isn’t it, the way some people will waste time on irrelevancies in order to fill up a quota, and other’s will shamefully steal other peoples work because they have none of their own ideas.  You’d certainly never catch me doing that.  Or resulting to tedious clichéd self-referential jokes.  Oh how I long for the glory days of three weeks ago; those halcyon days of the post about the bin men being shit.

I’m aware that this is fast becoming the diary I never intended it to be.  Not only that, but the diary of someone not doing or thinking much.  Almost as boring as Bill Bryson Neither Here Nor There.  But I look to the future.  I will continue to write every day, and this will keep me anchored to the act of writing.  I will never again get so far removed from writing, mentally and physically, as I was a couple of months ago.  When the ideas return, I will still be a well practised writer able to capture thoughts on paper as they emerge.  For me the most notable benefit of this daily blogging is that I can now directly type my thoughts.  Previously all my writing was done on paper, and then typed up.  This is an extremely long winded process, although it does force an initial redraft.  I’d left writing at the wayside for so long that my hand began to hurt after just a few moments scribbling with a pencil.  I just couldn’t get the words out fast enough, yet I was still averse to writing directly using a keyboard.  Gradually it has become the natural way, and my speed and accuracy have increased, as has my ability to transcribe thoughts into bits and bytes.

As fast as I can type now, it does me no good whatsoever if I have no thoughts to get down.  It’s almost as though I can feel the draft blowing through my ears, the creaking door to the Last Chance Saloon of my brain, the well flogged horse corpse...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Block Chop 36

I have spent the day up to my crown in crosshatching, obsessively drawing thin black line after thin black line.  My drawing style appears stark and simple, but the amount of time I spend on single crow’s feet around the eye of a distinguished scientist is ever increasing.  On the day’s I draw (that is when I can muster the requisite patience) my behaviour becomes positively OCD; almost as though comfort is derived from the repetition, and the world outside the paper fades away.  As soon as a picture is finished the usual outcome is that the world crashes back into place and the drawing reveals itself to me as a pile of shite.  This happens way too often for comfort.

Today however, out of the five drawings completed, two of them are extremely satisfactory, with the other three being pretty good.  I was able to enjoy a few moments gazing with pride at my creations.  The drawings are being done for the Papergirl Manchester project in which art is distributed free to the public by bike riders.  The impending deadline for submission is 1st September (next Wednesday).  I am printing runs of 10 of each picture (on Tesco value paper), individually signed and numbered.  Despite my using the cheapest refilled printer ink, a terrible scanner/printer and flimsy paper, they still look pretty good.  The colours have not turned out as intended, but that doesn’t really concern me.  Colour is colour; there is no important distinction between any of them.

Today I have also been enjoying the artwork of Yamataka Eye from Osakan noise band The Boredoms.  His album covers, art, music, painting is raw, lo-fi, ugly and ace.  His most well known artwork is the relatively sedate cover for Beck’s Midnight Vultures album.  His 80’s band Hanatarash was known for extreme onstage violence and venue destruction.  Check out this blog for some fantastic hardcore gig massacre photos – like the aftermath of a Combat Zone Wrestling tournament of death final.

Drawing days and writing days don’t seem to mix.  Seems like they are controlled by different parts of my brain, and when one rumbles into life it short circuits the other.  As I have spent the day drawing and thinking about art I don’t seem to be able to write anymore.  Every word is a struggle, and the unusual flows and effortless aversion to clichés aren’t presenting themselves.

To make it worse I made the mistake of reading a Bill Bryson book called Neither Here Nor There.  What a waste of time.  For some reason Bryson’s travel books sell by the billions to critical and popular acclaim.  I have previously read, and reread A Short History of Nearly Everything and Mother Tongue, a general science primer and a history of English language, respectively.  Both of these books are fantastic, not because Bryson is a particularly exciting writer, but because the subject matter provides its own fascination.  In these books his writing voice doesn’t stand out particularly, but he has structured the information extremely well.  Really the only negative with either of these books is that Mother Tongue contains some info which seems very much like rumour or urban legend presented as fact.

Neither Here Nor There is the first of his travel books I have ever read.  It falls into the category of gonzo journalism; he talks about places and events using himself and his own experiences as the main narrative thread.  This style of writing can work fantastically, but very much relies on the personality of the author.  And here lies the problem; Bill Bryson is fucking boring.  In this book he travels around Europe writing about his experiences.  In every single city he arrives in we get a brief description of his hotel room, an account of buying and drinking a cup of coffee, a walk around a park, an observation that there is/isn’t a MacDonald’s, something about a museum, and a loooong long story about queuing.  Queuing for train tickets, queuing at government offices, queuing, queuing, queuing.  It’s not exactly Hunter S. Thompson.  There is more excitement and love of life in a single sentence from The Great Shark Hunt than there is in Bryson’s entire European tour.  He talks to almost no one and does nothing.  I regret reading Neither...  Bill's crap attempts at humour and stupid prose have poisoned my writing brain.

For me by far the most annoying thing about the book is his obsessive lack of interest in exploring foreign foods.  He complains if the food is too familiar and he complains if it is too foreign.  If he can’t read the menu he won’t order anything on the off chance that he is served something ‘weird’.  His fear of anything odder than coffee, coke or pasta makes him, in my mind, a twat.  That his travel books are so popular only indicates that the majority of people are excruciatingly ‘normal’ and boring.

Block Chop 35:

I missed an anecdote a couple of blog posts ago; The tale of the worst possible type of customer.  I wandered into Tesco Metro on Burton Road, Didsbury a few nights back to stock up on beer and pork scratchings, and in the queue was the oddest looking man I ever saw.  I would guess he was between forty and fifty, shoulder length hair, general scruffy demeanour, and wearing the biggest baggiest technicoloured woolly jumper.  He struggled under the weight of a basket with not much in it.  Instead of standing upright and proud he slouched and cowered, hunched over a stack of beer crates.

I thought little of him, other than noting he was the sort of person to avoid eye-contact with.  I wandered around choosing my items, and then returned to the till.  By this point he was being served by the friendly young lady with the Scandinavian/Germanic sort of accent.  She had an unsure expression, as though curiosity was about to turn into fear.  His shopping consisted of a small random selection of beverages; a can of this, a bottle of that.  His empty rucksack sat open on the counter in front of him beside his wallet.  At first I thought he was studying the contents of his wallet as he was still hunched.  

Leaning right over, hands firmly placed on the counter to steady him he wobbled and stammered, “The water.  Get me the water.”
“Which water?” the cashier asked nervously.
“The water,” he barked.  “The tall one.”

She quickly stepped out from behind the tills and returned moments later with a bottle of water.
“No, not that one.  Get the man.”  His tone was world weary exasperated, but getting increasingly junky-desperate.  The poor girl was getting annoyed, and no doubt scared.

This customer didn’t seem to have any sort of mental or physical disability, and so I feel it’s probably fair to mock him.  Really he just seemed to be a fussy dickhead who couldn’t remember his shopping list or communicate reasonably to shop staff.  Having said that there was something really strange about the way he continually hunched over.

She returned with a male member (tee hee) of staff, but before either of them could speak, our weird friend spoke, “Not him... the tall one.”
Eventually the tall one came over and luckily seemed to be aware of this special customer’s special water requirements.  He presented with a bottle of soda water.
By this point ol’ hunchy was in the middle of barking more incomplete thoughts.
“Where’s my cigarettes?”
“What cigarettes?” she reasonably asked, as there had been no prior mention of them.
“The strong ones.”
“errrr,” she looked at me nervously and I noticed her increase her distance from him.
“What are the strongest cigarettes?” he demanded of the tall one.
“Maybe Marlborough,” the tall one supposed.
“No it’s Benson and Hedges.  Where are they? 20.”
She got them quickly from the shelf.

He spent an incredibly long time retrieving notes from his wallet, packing his shopping into his rucksack and putting his change away.  Then he dragged himself, still in his bent double posture, over to the trolleys between the tills and the door.

I quickly paid for my goods, hoping to make it out of the store before the strange man.  I didn’t want to get stuck walking the same direction as him, in accidentally close synchronicity.  As I went to leave he was still hunched over the trolleys, his rucksack on the floor beside his feet.

“Are you ok?” I asked.
“Fine, mate.”
Then he turned to the counter and shouted “Get me the chair.”
“What chair?” said cashier lady and the tall one.
“The one I sat on.  Over there.”
The tall one brought over a kick-stool; presumably the chair in question.  He placed it on the ground but it remained un-sat in.

Out of curiosity and concern I was still watching the proceedings, but out of self interest edging out the door, and peering in through the window.  I made the decision to leave it to the good staff of Tesco.  I reasoned that my curiosity would never fully be satisfied without resorting to consulting his medical notes and psyche evaluation.  And that if he was having some sort of episode then the Tesco manager would have a procedure to use.
Off I went, and now I’ll never know who this odd man was, and what his strange malady was.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Block Chop 34: More rubbish

After last night’s inexcusably rubbish blog post, I have a duty to redeem myself.  I haven’t had a particularly interesting thought or experience today; it’s been a slow one.  The most exciting thing was going to the dentist for an appointment only to discover I was 24 hours early.  Oh and I rode a motorbike 360 degrees inside a spherical cage.  No wait that was Homer Simpson.  Nevermind.

To top off the exciting day I watched John McCririck on TV walking around in what appeared to all to be a giant nappy.  Yes I watched Big Brother Xtreme, or whatever it’s called.  As Robbie would put it, I am not cool, I am a bumder.  Anyway, bear with me; I’m sure this is going somewhere, and isn’t just another space-filling digression.  John McCrickrick, the smelly-looking man who makes a living shouting near horses, was televised getting out of bed at 2.45am, wandering nearly naked into the kitchen and gorging on some mysterious nosh.  Maybe it was pate, maybe it was horse bile or fox foetus; who knows.  But whatever it was he didn’t seem to be enjoying it too much.  He was on autopilot.  He wasn’t having this midnight snack because of hunger, merely from bad habit.

And it made me hungry.  I immediately ran to the kitchen, dove into the freezer and returned missing a few fingers to frostbite, but clutching a bag of Co-op salt and pepper chicken wings in my bloodied fist.  These anorexic, industrially farmed chickens gave their lives (or at least their arms) so that I might have an un-needed nibble at a quarter to midnight.  Poor things; forced to grow up too soon by concentration camp farmers administering regular doses of hormone, antibiotic and mysterious marvellous growing medicine.  And am I, the benefactor of their unwilling and unwitting sacrifice, a little bit grateful.  Yes.  And am I consumed with guilt.  No.  No, I’m not.  Even when I am eating for no reason other than late night peckishing, or plain boredom, I want to enjoy my food.

As I ate my cheapo midnight snack, I slurped and nyom-nyom-nyomed, as though audibly involved in an altogether other kind of eating.  Not like John McCrisrock and his fat, grumpy, bald, bored face.  He seemed to hate his food as much as he hates every other thing he sees or thinks about.
Where am I going with this?  Nowhere really.  I like food.  John McCriririck is a twat.  Or at least pretends to be.
It’s times like this when I miss Japan.  Back in the land of the rising sun, which as the months tick by seems more and more like a dream, I could nip out at 2.45am to one of many 24-hour restaurants.  A minutes walk in any direction and I could get a big bowl of meaty, ricey, raw-eggy delight and a beer for a couple of quid.  I suppose I could walk fifteen minutes in Fallowfield and get a steaming soggy kebab puke, but it’s just not the same.  Sleep.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Block Chop 33: Meaningless ramble; don't read me.

This is crap>>>>>>>>>

So...?  The Bourne Identity; not as good as Die Hard.  24?  Not as good as Deadwood.  Ok, I have no way of comparing 24 with Deadwood, as I have never seen 24 and I’ve already firmly convinced myself that Deadwood is the finest piece of dramatic television ever formulated.  I suppose, at a push, I might concede, a slim, tiny possibility that 24 might be ok.  It might not just be a Nazi torture fantasy strung out over way too many hours.  But as I have already implied, who am I to comment.  I have never seen 24, but yet I still profess to know exactly what I am missing.  Woohoo, Jack Bauer loves torturing people, and I love watching Jack Bauer torturing people.  But I’m a 24 fan, so I can distinguish torture from drama by one subtly televisual conceit - a timer!  Yes, that’s the difference between torture and television: a time limit.  At this point I must remind you once again: I have never seen 24.  I have no idea what I am talking about.  PS Deadwood is better.  Some people will have you believe it is just a lesbian shouting ‘cunt’ over and over.  And yes, it does seem to be this, but it is also so much more.  It is also an old guy who used to be Lovejoy beating up whores, especially one particular whore called Trixie who he is obviously in love with but won’t admit it.  He also owns a disabled woman who he often chastises and calls the gimp, yet he seems to love her like a sister.  There is a Chinese gangland boss, who can speak only one English word: Cocksocker.  There is the rich cunt, I mean rich woman from New York, whose husband was murdered by Lovejoy’s right hand man Dan. She makes a fortune from her dead husbands gold claim, then opens a bank.  There are an ex lawman and a Jewish stereotype who run a hardware store.  The ex lawman has a big cool moustache, makes friends with Wild Bill, fucks the rich cunt, and becomes the new lawman.  The Jew does the accounts, then fucks the whore that Lovejoy loves.
I’m churning through this nonsense, trying to get it finished before I fall asleep.  My girlfriend (who I never refer to as “my girlfriend” in real life) is staring at me in a mad giggle, because she is using her slanket in bed.  No it’s not something rude, it’s a blanket with sleeves.
And as I settle down to sleep, the people of Deadwood awake as though at a debauched festival. They make their way to The Jem to spend their stream-panned gold dust, or their road-robbed dollars on pussy and whiskey.  And even though writing about Deadwood popped into my head by default, it’s now obvious what sort of crap I will dream about.  Sleep tight.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Block Chop 32: Internet and other distractions

When all is quiet around me, and my brain winds down to a standstill, the cooling fan in the back of my head slows to a gentle breeze and one of my mental screensavers springs to life.  The theme from the film Gremlins regularly prevents psychological screen burn in these quiet moments.  My second most common earworm is the theme from Dad’s Army.  Who do you think you are kidding Mr. Hitler if you think we’re on the run?  We are the boys who will stop your little game.  We are the boys who will make you think again.  Who do you think you are kidding Mr. Hitler, if you think old England’s done?

If only there was some way of filtering out the constant racket of annoying tunes I haven’t heard for decades.  Actually there is, but it’s not much help either.  Internet and television.  Two welcome distractions from the background noise in my head.  The only problem with them is they are intrusive distractions from everything else.  Because of the television I can’t properly understand what the barking dog downstairs is trying to tell me.  Because of the internet I can’t look at a blank Word document for long enough to start writing.  Before the sentences fall into place the irresistible pull of the World Wide Web has drawn me in.  With its podcasts and programming and... other stuff (he implied coyly) offering instant oblivion from thought.  Curse you internet and TV for distracting me this way.

As far as creativity is concerned these media are a permanent thorn.  It’s all very well and good to say “work on a computer not connected to the internet,” but whoever heard of such a thing.  And even if this mythical technology did exist where would I go to reference the details of obscure allusions?  The Great Library of Alexandria was destroyed millennia ago, probably by Julius Caesar.   Modern day Ptolemys don’t construct buildings to house their great collections of human knowledge; they build datacentres.  Information accessed not via travelling by trireme to the furthest corner of the known world, but simply by logging on and trying to focus on the required information. 

Under the assault of targeted advertisements and stupid pictures of cats and pornography and billions of hours of unwatched animation and comedy and unbelievably well made American drama one attempts to remain focused.  And here is my problem.  Without the internet perhaps I could concentrate long enough to write.  But without it I would be lost; trapped in a geographically tiny corner of the world, while everyone around me flings data across rooms and vast oceans.

Then again without TV and internet what would we have to aim for?  All of us need these media to give us aspirations and career goals.  That’s you and me; everyone reading blogs and writing blogs.  All of us hope to hear our song in the Skins soundtrack, or our script on BBC3 after Two Pint, or our digital animation on the Viva idents between episodes of Sweet 16.  Or we want some of that internet money, and we don’t want to believe that every idea has been done already. 

But it’s true every idea no matter how pointless or trivia has already been tried in an infinite variety of permutations.  For example, my friend Ned writes an amusing and occasional ranting post on Face Book for his friends who enjoy his humour.  Out of curiosity I checked to see if nedrants.blogspot.com was available and guess what... someone had already taken it.  Look at it here.  It’s not written by our ranting Ned, but by one of the worlds many other ranting Neds. 

This particular ranting Ned is called Ned Mettleton and on the 21st December 2009 he decided that the world needed to know he “thanks God for having a penis,” and that “I’m honestly scared to fuck, no kidding, I mean shit!!!”  I love this guy.  He confessed all in one blog post and then disappeared without another post.  I wonder how the little guy is doing; I hope he got laid.  Let's comment his blog for an update.

Perhaps we all know that every internet idea has already been done, but think we can do it better.  It does happen.  A few years ago everyone was on MySpace, then Face Book came along doing exactly the same thing in a slightly better format.  En masse we dropped MySpace and became bum-chums and bosom -buddies to the newer sexier FB.  Poor little MySpace, lost out in the cold, confused “where has everyone gone”.

But all the revolutionary internet ideas of the recent past are created by technical nerds playing with clever programming tricks, not by graduates of vague humanities degrees with none existent practical application.  And that raises another question.  How do the people who build the internet concentrate on work, when their very job is 100% internet?  Can an internet programmer escape the distractions of the internet for long enough to build a little bit more internet?  “Dammit, I can’t stop browsing circuit bent Furbies on eBay;  I had better get off the internet so I can get back to my job of programming eBay...”

All this talk of the internet is inciting cravings.  It’s like sitting before a recovering alcoholic with a bottle of Glenfiddich, pouring a glass, dropping in a single ice cube, swirling it, hearing that ice clink, breathing deeply that oaky scent with a hint of pear, taking a gentle sip, tasting its oh so rich flavour, before swallowing that comforting warmth.  What was I talking about?

This blog post was brought to you by the good drunkards at Glenfiddich. 

Last months Blank Pages illustrations

Three of my illustrations from (almost) last months issue of Blank Pages (issue 25).  Make sure to check out the stories and poems they accompany over at Blank Pages.  More to come next month (which reminds me...).

Block Chop 31: Night out and nearly in a fight

Over 24-hours away from my laptop and internet seems like an almost insurmountable aeon.  Having returned home from a day away the BT internet keeps cutting out in the middle of watching Futurama on TV Shack.  It’s usually been reliable, if overpriced, but recently has been playing up.  Hopefully it can keep it together for me to rattle off this blog post, possibly watch something else before retiring with a book and a brew.

We went out in Hanley (Stoke-on-Trent) last night for a friend’s belated birthday celebration.  We arrived at her house in a new build estate, surrounded by tiny show homes and sprawling building sites peppered with cement silos.  Beer and punch were quickly and copiously imbibed before piling into taxis and riding into town.  Hanley is hideous.  The worse thing I can think to say about it is it reminds me of Preston.  The town centre is nice-ish, as are the outlying suburbs, but the areas between are scary crumbling hovels and pointlessly complex roundabout-obsessed road layouts.

At Walkabout my girlfriend and another female friend were having a little dance on a slightly raised area beside the dance floor.  Nearby a group of four men began leering and made a move in her direction.  They looked like Sid the Sexist’s group of friends.  Looking resplendent in their finest tracksuits, either rough looking for their age, or pushing too old to be behaving like that.  One of them, a wiry ugly looking fucker, reached out and grabbed my girlfriend’s leg.  I immediately stepped up.  That’s right; it was on.  

I knock his arm out of the way and stepped in front of him.  The details of the conversation are mostly vague, but I remember some of the exchange.  I definitely told him to behave like a gentleman, perhaps not in those exact words.  He said, “There’s four of us, and one of you.”  I said something brave and manly like, “I don’t care how numerous your gang of ruffians are, you don’t touch her.”  

By this point I noticed that although his friends still stood beside him, they didn’t seem to be backing him up too much.  I expect they realised she wasn’t available, and the path toward her was blocked by an impenetrable wall of Kevin... a short spectacled chap in glasses, who was also (in the spirit of our planned trip to The Club gay bar) wearing a touch of eyeliner.  Luckily for me I had completely forgotten about the eyeliner.  Perhaps this made me look a tiny bit mental. 
(P.S.  Not eyeliner... guyliner, apparently...  What’s mascara?  Misterscara... does that work? Lipstick becomes... chapstick... that doesn’t work...)

He continued on an angry rant, getting in my face and shouting.  Because of the music, and my conviction that he was an idiot, I couldn’t really tell what he was saying, but it was along the lines of “fuck off and mind your own business or me and my cohorts will lay a beating upon you”.  I remained stalwart; defending my fair maiden’s honour.  At this point my girlfriend began stroking the back of my hair and I could hear her cooing my name.  I thought this was strange behaviour considering the predicament I was in.  Soon he fucked off leaving me standing my ground, but with a nervous hyped-up energy.

My girlfriend seemed unperturbed by the stand-off, and the night continued to plan; drinks and a good time.  The next day (today) I asked her why she had started stroking my hair during the almost-fight.  She gave a reply which after a few hours of mulling over and simmering I still don’t understand.  She said, “I thought you were just chatting”.  Now the possibility is there that this groping idiot and I were so far from coming to blows that we actually did look like we were chatting.  But from where she was she couldn’t see my face, or that of the would-be attacker.  However the question remains; what the hell would prompt me to stand and have a chat with someone who had just grabbed hold of my girlfriend’s leg in a predatory fit of drunken perv.  Where is the logic?  I cannot make the pieces fit in my head; I cannot make her statement make any sense.
Obligatory tension and hormonal alcohol-fuelled idiocy aside, the night was a fun one.  My little victory felt sweet, but I feel bitter because the grand nature of my triumph is not properly appreciated by the very person I (nearly) fought for.  Boo hoo.
After the Battle of Walkabout, we threw some shapes.  Actually we made shadow puppets against the wall using the stark dance-floor spotlighting.  Then we went to the closing down/moving house party at The Club.  On the outside it is a gray concrete box; the sort of building that looks like a terrifying working men’s club, surrounded by razor wire and impenetrable to anyone except locals.  Inside however it has a friendly atmosphere, populated mostly by lesbians, gays, drag peeps, and us tourists.  The music was fun stuff like Queen and Grease (no surprises really), but the heat was unbearable and the air was pure sweat.  We staggered around for an hour then left, to find a taxi and recover from the stuffiness in the cool night air.  
And we all lived happily ever after.  The end.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Block Chop 30: About nothing...

Once again I’m being forced against my will to socialise.  What a trauma.  Tonight I’ll be rocking my socks off at The Club gay bar in Stoke with my girlfriend (notice my need to state girlfriend), some Uni friends, and a selection of other people I don’t know.  It’s not my ideal night out, but the music will definitely be more fun than your average underground hip hop night.  (Important note: not a dig at Surreal Knowledge and Tactical Thinking - they rock.  But definitely a dig at the nameless DJ’s playing the same old miserable shouty hip hop, overlooking funky stuff, and then resorting to drum n bass in a desperate attempt to liven up an uninterested half-empty room.)  And I would happily put money on it that there will be more women at The Club than at your average cellar hip hop hole.  It’s an odd phenomenon, but for some reason women prefer to go where Kylie and Beyonce are played, and where Guilty Simpson and Slaughterhouse are overlooked.  That’s strange (or put another way: how queer...).  Having said all that; home on my own I’d much rather listen to Wu Tang than J-Lo (remember her; did she die or something?).  Give me 36 Chambers any day.

Right now I’m supposed to be at a barbeque drinking punch and cold beer, eating burnt burgers and sheltering from the intermittent rain.  Mentioning punch has just reminded me I forgot to try the Guinness punch at the Caribbean festival last week.  I’ve still never tried that: Guinness, raw egg, condensed milk and vanilla, cinnamon or nutmeg.  I’ll have to try making that as the next possible excuse arises.  I’m not at the barbeque because the car is fucked, but should hopefully be fixed within the hour.  As a result I’m writing this and half watching ITV2’s flagship show XTra Factor: Best and Worst (Part 2).  It really is must see TV...  (in my language “...” represents sarcasm).  Most noteworthy thing about it is Holly ‘hulluwullubuy’ Willoughby’s cleavage; great, but not enough information to base a critical appraisal of the show on.

Next random thought: Insert here> I’m bored, and today I hope to spread that boredom to all my readers.  Just read that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been accused of rape.  I have nothing to say about this other than he looks less like a real human and more like a character played by Chris Morris (here).  If I wasn’t such a sceptic I would immediately jump to the conclusion that a conspiracy was unravelling.  As it is based on the paucity of evidence available I will reserve judgement. UPDATE: Now he isn’t a suspect.  Make you bloody mind up, 24-hour rolling news people.

Prize for the day’s weirdest, most disturbing news story goes to this.  Apparently a judge in Saudi Arabia is attempting to impose a sentence of paralysis by severed spine.  The accused paralysed another man during a fight, and the judge is pursuing an eye-for-an-eye.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Block Chop 29: Eyeballs and stuff

Today is definitely a not in the mood to write day, hence leaving it to the evening and feeling like I have to force myself to write.  I have been illustrating for Blank Pages today, and have struggled.  Pages and pages of dud scribbles, not helped by most of my Sharpie’s having run out and my decision to replace them with Sainsbury’s own-brand fine point markers.  Don’t get them; they are SHITE.  Fuck you Sainsbury’s – you owe me £2.99.  The pink ran out immediately and the red after only a few minutes use.  I spent most of the day sulking over a sketch-book and contemplating slashing my paintings in a fit of artistic self-flagellation.  Someone pay me to be an artist and then at least my grumpiness won’t be pretentious; I’ll be a real wanker... I mean artist.

I wish I was living the high-life as a well paid journalist covering the Edinburgh Fringe.  I’ve never been to Edinburgh (except in my mind in the pages of Trainspotting), let alone to the world’s biggest arts festival.  I’m absorbing all the year’s festival experience I’m going to get through the live Collings and Herrin podcasts.  As I do the washing up, Richard Herring’s voice travels from Scotchland via my mp3 player, regaling me with improvised anecdotes about Walt Disney raping Pinocchio (here), and other such rubbish.

Just seen some Big Brother guy with one eye.  In its place there is the shiny black void of an onyx ocular prosthesis.  I would go for one with a red light a la Terminator.  What could be better?  When I worked in Ryman (fucking Ryman, grrrr) we had an over friendly regular customer.  A tiny old lady who liked to sneak the occasional pinch of physical contact.  She wore glasses; one lens was transparent, the other mysteriously opaque.  The opaque lens expanded around the side blocking accidental glimpses to the horror behind the spectacles.

As she spoke to me I could see directly over her glasses and deep into the most disturbing sight of my life.  A vast gaping chasm; an unnecessary orifice, penetrating deep into the front of her skull.  No eyeball and no eyelid.  A tunnelling vent sucking me in; as I teeter on the event horizon I’m in danger of being lost forever in the vomit-educing gap of gore.  As she speaks to me I cannot hear, I can only stare into the pit.  I feel as though I am falling towards it and that fanged tentacles may burst out enveloping my face and ripping at my eyes.

My eye is pulled from its socket, the optic nerve and muscle wrenching from my face, in a crunch and a slurp.  My eye disappears deep into her socket where it feeds the beast within for another few hours.  She is out the shop door, and will return when it is time to feed once more...

At least that’s what it felt like.  It’s really not a very pleasant experience – staring into someone’s eyehole.  It’s also impossible to stop.  Try it, you might like it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Block Chop 28:

Woken up this morning by the screaming of the smoke alarm in the hallway outside the bedroom.  My girlfriend leaps from the bed as if expecting it, and runs from the room.  I groan and pull the covers over my head.

After using the shower the bathroom fills up with hot water vapour.  If the bathroom door is left open it takes a couple of minutes for the warm mist to trigger the alarm.  Our friend stayed with us last night and had not been informed of the oversensitive alarm.  Nothing to worry about.

After a few moments the screaming subsides, my girlfriend gets back into bed and I am able to drift back to an early morning slumber.  Seconds or minutes pass and the alarm on my mobile phone has a go at drawing attention to itself.  It succeeds and is just out of reach on a table, causing a hideous wooden drilling sound as it vibrates across the surface.  I reach out, press snooze and stuff it under the pillow to dampen the vibrations. 

Five minutes exactly later and the alarm starts again.  This time in my sleep I have pulled the pillow onto my head and the phone is pressed against my check.  The power-tool vibrations buzz directly into my brain via the zygomatic bone.  My hand flings itself at my face in a desperate grab for the phone.  My eyes spin and twist in a struggle to focus and my fingers wiggle and fing as they mash the phone buttons helplessly.  Thankfully the noise ceases.

I open my mouth to speak, but dehydration has crept over my lips, across gums and tongue, and is crawling down my throat like a horrific parasitic monster.  The monster speaks, “Ak urgh ak ak”.  My glass of water is almost empty and I half expect a mouthful of wet moth as I gulp blindly.  Moth free and moistened I feel mildly improved.  While I clamour around the floor beside the bed looking for my glasses and a pen and paper, my girlfriend has been out of the room, on the computer and returned with cheery words about cancer.  

Her ex-employer is currently suffering bladder cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy.  She went to the doctor worried about a UTI, and within a week has had her bladder removed.  She seems to be battling through it.  Another previous work colleague discovered she had cancer and almost immediately died.  It’s terrible how these things can happen.  My immediate reaction, given the ugly awakening I have had today, is to make this terrible news somehow about me.  To start worrying about how cancer could affect me, to run through every possible ailment either of us ever noticed and what might metastasise.  Bloody hell, what a self-indulgent and sorry start to the day.

Brushing my teeth and having a cup of tea will fix my troubles.  Donating to The Christie Charity will help to fix other peoples.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Block Chop 27, Homeopath application continues

I had a lot of fun applying for that homeopathy job the other day, but was concerned my application might get lost under the barrage of other similar applications.  Since posting my blog about it yesterday I have been sent links to forums discussing it, humanist and sceptic groups up in arms about it, other bloggers having a pop, and twitters and tweets all over the twitty tweety place.  The NHS Tayside recruitment office may need to hire a Specialist Doctor in charge of Specialist Doctor in Homeopathy Applications.  And lay off a few hundred more dedicated staff to pay for it.

Concerned as I was with showing my interest in the job I dropped them another email today (breaking the 3-day rule; I hope I don’t come across as desperate).

Dear Sir/Madam,

RE: Specialist Doctor in Homeopathy

I recently applied for the above position however I am concerned that I may have got my application in late.  Also I understand that there is a lot of interest in the role; even the media has paid attention (herehere).  Competition is stiff, but as I can see NHS Tayside is a forward thinking Trust (verging on avant garde), I would like to pre-empt your next move and express my interest in the following positions:

Specialist Doctor in Yoga and Tai Chi
Community Dispensary of a Cup of Tea and a Chat
Witch Doctor
Midwife of Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
Fanny Doctor
Hospital Chaplain
Pastry Chef

While I am aware that these positions are not currently available, I ask that you contact me when they do inevitably become available.  I understand the value of offering choice to the public, and understand that choice should be misinterpreted to include faith healing, untrialled medicines, sugar pills, holidays, etc.  I share your view that patients on the NHS should not be limited to reasonable choices pertaining to time, location and the treatment/side-effect toss-up.

I also share your view that doctors should be allowed to continue making medical claims without evidence of efficacy.  We are united in our vague feeling that the British Medical Association (here) and the Commons Science and Technology Committee must be wrong in their condemnations of NHS funded homeopathy.

The Science and Technology Committee claims that offering homeopathy is against informed patient choice because the pills are merely placebo and any further claims of their efficacy are deception.  I disagree; homeopathy is more than placebo.  It is magic.

Kind Regards,

“Dr.” Kevin Bradshaw

Just as I sent off my email, I heard letter-box flappage... followed by droppage.  Anyway, it was post.  And damned if I wasn’t surprised to see an application pack from NHS Tayside.  Apparently they are still accepting applications, but no longer want the standard application form.  I can only assume they must have been impressed by my application, and want to progress me to the next stage.  They even called me Doctor!

They require 4 copies of my CV, which I will fabricate and fantasise later today.  Closing date is 6th September, so it turns out my application wasn't in late.  Also they require 3 referees.  Contact me if you want to be a reference. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Block Chop 26: Doctor in Homeopathy? Of course I could do that.

Yesterday afternoon I applied for a job as Speciality Doctor in Homeopathy at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.  The salary is £36,807 to £68,638, apparently for eight hours work a week.  Online application through the website is currently closed, presumably because of sarcastic people like me, concerned about NHS funds being wasted on witchcraft.  If you too would like to apply for this job you can find all the info here and email your application to recruitment.tayside@nhs.net.

To help you with the application process below is what I wrote in my statement in support of the application.  I’m pretty sure this is the right sort of thing:

I have no medical or scientific qualifications and as such feel perfectly suited to the advertised role of Homeopath.  I notice that you are currently not accepting applications.  I assume this is due to overwhelming demand for such a cushy job.  Up to £69,000 of tax payers’ money for eight hours a week. (I assume the salary is pro rata however the description doesn’t make this clear.)  I would be willing to work as little as half an hour a week for a representative cut of the money.  It would be nice to do a job share so that as many people as possible may share in the spoils of this fraud against science and the tax payer.

As mentioned I am not a scientist or a doctor, but I do have experience in creative writing and sales.  I also have a medical dictionary and a copy of Grey’s Anatomy which I can consult for impressive jargon.  Dispensing pellets of water to credulous customers while spinning yarns and old-wives tales about miasms and remedies would be no problem for a chap with my experience.  I will even be happy to supply my own white coat so as to add that extra spot of vim and vigour to the placebo effect generated by my kindly words.  I wear glasses so look rather intelligent, and am prepared to turn my head slightly to one side and offer consolation to sufferers of a-bit-under-the-weather.  I am also qualified to refer anyone who appears to have an actual illness to an actual doctor.

I have plans to institute a money-saving scheme whereby all my medicines are produced using the cold tap in the corner of my expensive doctors office.  This will reduce costs of pretending to make medicine with all that tiresome diluting and banging bottles against leather boards.  Wikipedia and googling the term ‘provings’ will provide me with all the diagnostic tools I require; I assume I will not need to diagnose any actual diseases, merely recognise some obvious symptoms... feeling a bit icky, runny nose, that sort of thing.

I just hope the real doctors don’t feel upset.  After all what was the point in their studying science and medicine for all those years when any old fraud can step up and earn a fortune, conning the public and spreading confusion?  I hope to be that fraud.

P.S.  If the job requires it I am prepared to fundamentally misunderstand, or simply ignore, the most basic scientific principals and any evidence presented to me.

Wish me luck, although I don’t think I’ll need it; I’m pretty confident.  There have been a few other amusing applications; Science Digestive here, and Anomalous Distraction here.

Monday, August 16, 2010


OK, busy day afoot.  I got up 10.20 ish.  Much later than I intended and have much to do today.  Illustrations for Blank Pages next issue (my last as guest illustrator; but probably not the last contribution I’ll make), mystery shop reports for a day job I’m going for, artists CV and proposal for an installation at Nexus Art Cafe, mow the lawn, eat, get started on some writing I need to do, and of course write this here blog.  What a list; better get started.  This is going to require some Frank.  Let’s have disc three of Läther; Filthy Habits and The Ocean is the Ultimate Solution.  Carefully chosen so as not to cause too much distraction.  Distraction from the world: good.  Distraction from the word: bad.  So, no The Adventures of Greggery Peccary, “Oh here comes Greggery, little Greggery Peccary, the nocturnal gregarious wild swine...”  Nope, none of that.

Filthy Habits holds the dubious distinction of being the only Zappa song my dad can bear the sound of.  It has no musique concrète tape twists, no speedy xylophone solos, no 23/4 bass lines, no goofy MOO-WAH vocals, and simply not a hint of sarcasm.  Basically nothing to define it as Frank.  Except of course the fantastic guitar playing.  But Gary isn’t here complaining about my music (I’m a growed-up now).  So let’s have some Broken Hearts are for Assholes and The Illinois Enema Bandit.  Yes, that’s more like it.  Stoopid lyrics about idiots and bumming sung in mock Motown, backed by carefully composed solos, and intricately entwined in-jokes.  Three minute songs dragged squealing, wheezing and scrawling to twelve by journeyed spoo.  Frank’s three note vocal baritone range plods along, as the real singers take up the slack.  Notated drumming that turns the stave paper black.  Lemme Take You to the Beach with its hyper-ostinato twiddling, perfect for the annoying ringtone role.  It’s going on my phone right now.

Boring housekeeping stuff to do now; mainly tidying my desk.  Putting away stuff that has no home.  “This is a petulant frenzy.  I’m petulant and I’m having a frenzy.”  Ok, too much glockenspiel... Enough.  Now I’m just singing along to Big Leg Emma and can’t concentrate on writing.  Music off.  I haven’t checked the news today.  Let’s see what is going on in the world:

Coalition government to close mixed-sex hospital wards.  German pop singer deliberately infected men with HIV.  Axl Rose cancels Guns N Roses world tour on twitter, without first telling the band or the venues.  Ban Ki-moon tours Pakistani flood devastation with President Zardari.  Fire-fighters rescue boy with his head stuck in a toilet seat.  Overpaid children begin another year of kicking balls and pretending to fall over; men all over the country continue to think this is interesting and important.  Nick Clegg appears to be enjoying coalition government.  And all is well and good in the world...  Except all the bad stuff... But whatcha gonna do about it...