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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

488: sleep and conquer

I (yes, this is about me;no, I'm not bothered if you wander off) got the laptop out, turned it on, checked my usual online spaces, getting readied for a wee blog post, then at the very last second, instead of opening a new word document, I opened Civilization IV instead. Here's where we are: The year is 1984 (read no significance into that), and I am Kevilgamesh, Eternal Leader of the mighty Sumerians. 

I control almost 50% of landmass having hundreds of years ago conquered the Zulu lands, and recently having overrun all of the Chinese cities on my continent, leaving them only a single city on a tiny island, forcing them into capitulation. They now wallow as an unwilling vassal to my malevolent benevolent warmongering liberal dictatorship. I also liberated many cities from the Byzantine Empire, and have recently declared unstable paper-thin peace. I control the UN and am just about to finish the Manhattan and Apollo Projects. True story.

Then it occurred to me that there are two or three more important things I could be doing. The first is blogging, the second is reading, and the third is sleeping. None of these sound like pressing matters for the Invincible King of Sumeria, Conqueror of Worlds, Master of Technology, Great General, King of Scotland, MA, BSc, MD, etc. But I'm not him, I'm the bespectacled chap whose mum bought him a "book worm" t-shirt for Christmas, that's me.

It's 2003 now, and I've just expanded lebensraum into Byzantine lands...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

487: 486 and forward

Last I posted was number 486, reminding me of my first computer which did not require cabling up to a television set, did more (but not much more) than play Sonic and Toejam & Earl, and didn't come with a small plastic handheld box of buttons. The 486 gifted to our family by my grandmother and her husband had its own weighty monitor, separate speakers, a boneshaking earbashing inkjet printer, Day of the Tentacle, Sherlock Holmes & the Case of the Serrated Scalpel and Civilization, and the small plastic box with buttons rested on the tabletop and was called a mouse. The 486, unlike the Master System and Mega Drive which I have previously alluded to, came with a typewriter keyboard, and had two things called Operating Systems; Windows '95 and a clumsy scary and fascinating mess called MS Dos.

I had almost no experience with non-game systems, proper computers. At primary school, which I attended from some time in the mid eighties until ninety-three, I vaguely remember their being one computer and being allowed once to do some one fingered typing. I remember the room the computer was in, placing me I think in the second year, making me aged seven or eight. I don't recall seeing it, or hearing it mentioned ever again, let alone getting a go on it. Years later, at high school, there were DOS-type computers in an English room, and two of the Design and Technology rooms. These were BBC computers with no Windows-style interface, and slots for 5 1/4" floppy discs. I never saw a disk. The computers in the D&T rooms were never used, we got no instruction on. Sometimes someone would turn them on and type, in the white pixels on black screen, a rude word.

The computers in the English room were used once or twice, but with trepidation and reluctance from the teachers. I doubt very much that the teachers really knew what was going on. When I came to do my GCSEs we were given a small amount of instruction on Information Technology, which was limited entirely to making a basic spreadsheet; most of the time was spent trying to get the document to print via the network to the printer locked away in a teacher-only room. We were then given the opportunity to choose a half-GCSE in Information Technology. I declined and did Religious Studies instead. Some time in ninety-six or -seven-ish I remember seeing the internet for the first time. There were computers in a science room, but we weren't allowed to use them. I remember secretly looking at a geocities page about Nine Inch Nails, and being giddily excited about seeing such a thing at school.

There was no mobile phones back then either. Now my four-year old niece can play Angry Birds on an internet connected touch-screen iPhone. I will have to struggle to keep up if I don't want to become a confused old Luddite.

Here's a map of the internet (to view larger, click here):

Now you'll never get lost

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

486: Bits of Belfast viewed from the Back of the car

"Balls on the Falls", Rise, by Wolfgang Buttress

We drove down the famous Falls Road where murals depicting things I know nothing about, turned left onto the A12, passing I guess Shankill Road nearby, then turned left again onto Clifton Street heading towards Crumlin Road and Antrim Road. On the roundabout, Carlisle Circus, from which Crumlin and Antrim roads begin, is a church in terrible state of disrepair. I didn't know any of these place names while exploring the locale from the back seat of the car, except Falls Road, and have found the rest of the places mentioned here from googlemaps and google street view.

As we moved down the A-road I saw a smallish spire with a fascinating series of geometric windows (I really don't posses the language to describe anything architectural, so I doubt I'll be able to convey what it was that drew me to it). As we turned onto Clifton Street I was able to catch a glimpse of the building up close. Adjoining buildings were named Orange Hall, and Indian Community Centre, and were in a middling state of disrepair meaning I couldn't really tell whether they were still in use or not.

The spire and church are a wonderful sad pile of stone, smashed windows and trees. The trees grow out from the stonework, above the doorways and out of every orifice, nook and cranny, giving the impression of a dishevelled old man in serious need of a shave and some care and attention.

Earlier in the journey I had seen RISE by Wofgang Buttress, the largest piece of public artwork in Belfast, commonly know as Balls on the Falls. It's a giant ball, reminiscent of a Bucky ball, with a smaller similarly constructed ball suspended inside. The whole thing rests on a bed of steel prongs like a bubble sitting on grass, or the sun rising viewed through a reed bed. It can be seen for miles around, and is beautiful. As good as, and infinitely more practical than the ridiculous B of the Bang sculpture formerly of Manchester, which began collapsing every time the wind picked up.

485: Christmas day

The blog I should have posted on Christmas day.

Here is a quick Christmas morning post: Happy Christmas to friends, family, and all the people in the world I've either met, or haven't met. "Happy Christmas," or as we atheists say, "Happy Christmas!" The day that can quickly cure the worst of headachey hangovers, but then requires a nap at 11am just to get over the morning's excitement. The day that requires a black bin bag situated in the middle of the room, which quickly fills up with multicoloured paper and small pieces of used sticky tape. A day of celebration in tribute to the king of kings, the king of sunday roasts, the great and the glorious Christmas dinner. A special dinner for a special day.

Everything I think and like and love about Christmas is summed up in the Tim Minchin song White Wine in the Sun. I posted it last Christmas, and I will post it next Christmas:

I really like Christmas
It's sentimental, I know, but I just really like it
I am hardly religious
I'd rather break bread with Dawkins than Desmond Tutu, to be honest

And yes, I have all of the usual objections
To consumerism, the commercialisation of an ancient religion
To the westernisation of a dead Palestinian
Press-ganged into selling Playstations and beer
But I still really like it

I'm looking forward to Christmas
Though I'm not expecting a visit from Jesus

I'll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun
I'll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun

I don't go in for ancient wisdom
I don't believe just 'cos ideas are tenacious it means they are worthy
I get freaked out by churches
Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords but the lyrics are dodgy

And yes I have all of the usual objections
To the miseducation of children who, in tax-exempt institutions,
Are taught to externalise blame
And to feel ashamed and to judge things as plain right and wrong
But I quite like the songs

I'm not expecting big presents
The old combination of socks, jocks and chocolate is just fine by me

Cos I'll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun
I'll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun

And you, my baby girl
My jetlagged infant daughter
You'll be handed round the room
Like a puppy at a primary school
And you won't understand
But you will learn someday
That wherever you are and whatever you face
These are the people who'll make you feel safe in this world
My sweet blue-eyed girl

And if, my baby girl
When you're twenty-one or thirty-one
And Christmas comes around
And you find yourself nine thousand miles from home
You'll know what ever comes
Your brother and sisters and me and your Mum
Will be waiting for you in the sun
Whenever you come
Your brothers and sisters, your aunts and your uncles
Your grandparents, cousins and me and your mum
We'll be waiting for you in the sun
Drinking white wine in the sun
Darling, when Christmas comes
We'll be waiting for you in the sun
Drinking white wine in the sun
Waiting for you in the sun
Waiting for you...

I really like Christmas
It's sentimental, I know...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

484: ...and at number something high!

I entered Xmas, I mean Christmas, with a huge amount of non-specific laughter and a in-the-background televised countdown of the best Christmas songs ever, hosted by Noddy Holder, the singer from Slade. I don't actually think he chose his own top fifty, and placed them in the exact order he deemed appropriate. However I have decide to level mild opprobrium on his top three. Obviously my reason for doing so is simply that it disagrees with my own. "He" put The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl's Fairytale of New York at number three. That is obviously wrong. It goes at number one, everyone knows that. It is a song about the entirety of human relations viewed through the lens of a confusing muddled traditional public festival and high drunkenness. It has that gorgeous lyrical interplay between the strong female voice and the broken male voice. As well as proudly sporting the line "happy Christmas, your arse, I pray to god its our last" it also contains the achingly beautiful summation of love in the couple-a couplets:

I could have been someone
Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can't make it all alone
I've built my dreams around you

John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Happy Xmas (War is Over) was at number two. I love the sentiment, but I don't feel it in any way. I view it as a bit of a let down, and would not put it at number two. If I'm honest Fairytale of New York is my number two (only just, and only recently), and Jona Lewie's Stop the Cavalry is my number three. Noddy Holder put this at number something high... certainly higher than that atrocity by Mariah Carey... I feel I have let down my parents by not emoting highly about the John and Yoko anthem. While I will not say much in favour of that song, I will say plenty in favour of Yoko and her relationship with John. I think The Beatles had had it anyway, but even if I'm wrong I still think its terrible when people moan about him finding love, and accuse her of ruining The Beatles. Pure class A bollocks. It's like giving Reagan credit for the fall of the Soviet Union: it was on its way down regardless of outside interference, rotting from the inside.

Like a big dumb wanker Noddy Holder put his own shallow cheese-fest tune at number one; you know the Slade song where he shouts It's Chrisssstmaaasssssss!!!! Yeah, that one.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

483: This happened, then this

My last post included the word "foccaccia", but the spell-check in blogger didn't like that word. Here is the complete and unabridged list of alternative spellings provided:


"Zealand" was also wrong. Preferred spellings are:

Zea land
Zeal and

I walked into a room where a family film was reeling its footage through the television. What's this? The answer I received is perhaps the single funniest, and most accurate one-sentence description of anything I have ever heard: "The Rock is the tooth fairy and Stephen Merchant is is his case worker." That literally contains every single piece of information pertinent to understanding the complexities of said film. It's called Tooth Fairy, and I highly recommend it; it's a way of life.

482: Christmas menus on the highstreet

If fast food restaurants are going to milk Christmas in their advertising they should make more of an effort with their Christmas menus.

"Sausage Roll & Soup: A Taste of Christmas" proclaims the poster in the window of Greggs the baker, as it competes for the prize of shittest least-Christmassy Christmas menu in a fast food shop. The picture of the soup looked suspiciously like cream of tomato; there were no big beautiful Brussels sprouts floating enticingly in the bowl.

The McDonald's Christmas menu is pretty weird. Here it is in its entirety; let's see if we can discern anything particularly (or even remotely) "festive". There is one beef burger: The Festive Deluxe: "Treat yourself this festive season! 100% beef patty topped with honey BBQ glaze, bacon and layered with cheese, Batavia lettuce, red onions and smoky peppered mayo, all within a mighty foccaccia bun." Such Christmas classics! How much does honey BBQ, Batavia lettuce and foccaccia remind me of all those happy childhood Christmases!

Next on the menu is Cheese Melt Dippers: "Delicious melted cheese dippers – served with the Festive Tomato dip." I've no idea what makes a McDonald's Tomato sauce "festive", and I probably never will, as when we ordered this Christmas classic last week they never bothered to give us the sauce. This is an all-year-'round tradition for McDonald's: order a side that comes with a dip and precisely 75% of the time you will not receive the dip. The manager is syphoning them away to feed the giant mutant alien monster that lives in his belly and controls his actions.

What says Christmas more than an After Eight McFlurry: "Delicious soft dairy ice cream swirled with After Eight dark chocolate shells topped with a mint chocolate sauce." With a twist of logic, squinted eyes and a slight touch of gentle brain damage I suppose it's possible to think of After Eight mints as Christmassy even though they absolutely categorically are not. Make them even less Christmassy than they already are by sticking them in freezing cold ice cream. Perhaps ice cream is a Christmas dish in the Southern hemisphere, and apologies to our Australian and New Zealand cousins (and anyone else I've missed out), but Christmas is mostly in the middle of winter.

That is the entirety of McDonald's severely failed Christmas menu. Burger King does little better. Its instore posters claim its current time limited offer is a Christmas menu, but the website totally fails to mention any of this. Probably for the best since its Christmas menu is Steakhouse Angus burger, Cranberry Chicken Tendercrisp sandwich, Hot Brownie, and Jaffa Cake Fusion ice cream. Points added on for including cranberries in something, and having a hot desert...

I've just remembered McDonald's had an instore poster for a hot sweet pie with, I think, mincemeat and custard, so at least that's a nod towards making an effort. I forgot about it because I saw no mention of it on the website's xmas menu, and I'm only prepared to do the most cursory research.

I propose that more of an effort should be made on the menu if it is to be described as "Christmas". It's not enough to just call it "Christmas" if it simply isn't "Christmas". I'm not suggesting Jesus Burgers or anything like that; any fool or genius could tell you Christmas has nothing to do with Christ, its a season that has always been celebrated and was adopted as Jesus' fictional birthday by the Roman empire. They used pre-existing pagan festivals to make the transition/cultural attack easier on the happy heathen population.

Anyway, my point is, I want to see a fast food shop brave enough to put on the menu something with Brussell's sprouts in it. I want to see someone come to the blindingly obvious conclusion that pigs in blankets should be on the Christmas menu: everyone loves pigs in blankets (or knows someone who does). KFC should replace all of their chicken products with turkey for as long as they want to milk Christmas in their advertising.

481: so yeah

It's officially xmas, Christmas, yule, das vinterfest; I declare it so, for I am now off work for ten days, and paying visit to my inlaws' house, which is warm, cosy, festival and fantastic. I'm not convinced it is christmas on the first of December, when certain songs and tints and hints of tinsel materialise around the borders of advertisements; but ignore the advertisers, the commercial cunts I mean clowns, i can now confirm it is christmas hoozah hoorah hooray hoozay. All I'm going to do for the duration of this post is make non-specific ramblings about being relieved to have a week and a bit off work, and excited to spend christmas with family (new), and excited to spend xmas & new year with family (original). Dear my niece, if your reading this, which your not, because you're too young, perhaps you can correct my spelling on the first and second "your/you're" of this sentence; and perhaps you could stop reading now because I am about to ruin the surprise of your xmas present: you're getting some dinosaurs – awesome.

I really hope satan brings me some dinosaurs too, and a rocket, and Mouse Trap board game, and a hat, and a cat, and a coat, and a hotel, and – no that's it. No more no less. I really struggled to get the start of this paragraph out. I intentionally wrote satan instead of santa, intending it to be a silly easy-to-miss throw-away joke, but now I've messed that up by going on about it. The only reason I started on about it, is because I struggled so much forcing out that crappy list of "things I want" that I've just sort of gone off the rails and am no longer concerned about the words, their splellink or even the meaninging of my jar ham space tortoise. See, I say, see, writing "comedy" lists is funny, I mean not funny, not funny i.e. unfunny. And since when did I start thinking I could be funny or whatever or summin.

Like someone drinking themselves to death could be conceived, understood to be, a protracted suicide, this blog post is obviously a protracted attempt at saying "I am very tired, too tired to write a coherent blog post, a little drunkin tooo too, and really outta zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

480: Frank Sidebottom, Manchester's Frank Zappa

Frank Sidebottom: 
Manchester's Frank Zappa
A Tale of Two Franks, you know it is, it really is!

Frank Zappa is a legendary rock guitarist and composer known for his technical mastery of his instrument and his staggeringly complex music designed to challenge his band and listeners alike.  

Frank Sidebottom is a man in a papier mache head dancing around a Casio keyboard with a little cardboard puppet of himself, singing "...you know it is, it really is". I can't believe I've never noticed the wealth of similarities between the two. Just as I was chopping vegetables for my tea, and listening to Frank Sidebottom's album 5:9:88 for the fifth time this week, it hit me.

First let's get the massive difference out of the way; one which I have already alluded to. Zappa's music has a major focus on complexity and technical perfection, whereas Sidebottom's is exceedingly simple and often poorly played. But none of that really matters when there are so many similarities. I think I might use bullet points, yes I will; you know I will, I really will.

Frank Sidebottom is essentially a stand-up comedian. Chris Sievey, whose real head was located under Sidebottom's papier mache head, began as the singer in a punk band The Freshies. He created the Sidebottom character as a support act for his own band; eventually it became more popular and took over. Sidebottom is childish, creative, naive, and endlessly silly.
Frank Zappa was obsessed with silliness and humour

"American way, threatened by us," wrote Zappa on 'Concentration Moon' from We're Only In It For The Money. "Drag a few creeps away in a bus. American way, prisoner – lock. Smash every creep in the face with a rock. Don't cry, gotta go bye bye, suddenly die die. Cop kill a creep, pow pow pow."
"Hey you, riot policeman, have you got the time?" enquired Sidebottom on 'I Said, Hey You, Riot Policeman'. "They always say ask a policeman, so I am asking you. See I need to catch a bus to Wythenshawe hospital. In the mayhem and confusion, I've lost all track of time. Hey you, riot policeman, I think you do a wonderful job. It's a fabulous public service, and I think you deserve a rise. Cos bullets and guns and gas are cheap, and what's with the price of truncheons? It's fifty pounds for a couple of tickets to the riot policemans' ball."

Frank Zappa's stage shows allow room for long passages of improvised technically sophisticated music, whereas Frank Sidebottom's Channel M test card is an hour of improvised talking to himself and playing around on his keyboard.

As well as composing in a wide variety of styles of music, Zappa was also a producer, record label executive, and A&R man; his shows often included bizarre props used as Dadaist art somethings. He also made films and even animation. Sidebottom drew and painted prodigiously, and made a huge amount of props including his own head! He made radio shows, YouTube videos, animation, music videos, and a TV series; he had a beautiful website, communicated with his fans on MySpace, and apparently even wrote an award-winning episode of Pingu (click here for his own words on the subject) called Pingu's Bedtime Shadows.

Albums by both the Franks contain strange sound effects, skits, audio plays, conversation, comedy dialogue in between the more traditional song songs

Well-known "proteges"
Sidebottom gave us some well known names such as Caroline Aherne as Mrs Merton, Graham Fellows (John Shuttleworth), journalist Jon Ronson, and apparently Chris Evans was his driver. Zappa supplied Captain Beefheart, Steve Vai, Wild Man Fischer, G.T.O.s, and Alice Cooper.

Frank Zappa is called Frank. Frank Sidebottom is also called Frank. They are both called Frank.

Silly-voiced sidekicks
Frank Sidebottom has Little Frank accompanying and obstructing him everywhere he goes. Zappa liked to make puppets or pets out of his band members, turning them into characters, such as Jimmy Carl Black "the Indian of the group", and Ray White "the assistant Illinois Enema Bandit".

Music about music
The first song on Sidebottom's album 5:9:88, Airplay, documents his attempts to get a hit record and explains how he gently subverts the cliches of pop music in order to do so. The song is fantastic; the lyrics are too. A cursory search of the internet can't find them, so I'll work them out myself and stick them here for your enjoyment (at least as much as I can discern from listening through cheapo speakers):

Breakfast time again
Switch on your radio
Here it is again
Airplay, they're playing my song again
Airplay, there's nothing wrong with
Catchy little hooks
You hate but just can't seem to shake
They're going 'round your head
Right 'round
There's nothing you can do
To stop yourself
From latching on the bridge, and singing
Airplay, they're playing my song again
I'm heading for the one
Airplay, take it away!
[guitar solo]

That's the solo gone
I stuck it early in the song
To make the structure different from the last one
That's the sort of thing that you consider
When you're going for
Airplay, we're on the hook again
I'm washing your brain
Airplay, a simple refrain
But a tricky middle-8
You have to wait a few times to hear
It's not as easy on the ear
I'll take you right back to
Airplay, now you're tapping your foot again
I'm taking it up
[key change]

Airplay, I'm blowing all the stops out now
And making subtle changes to the verse
The worse is yet to come
It's the obvious ---type harmonies
----, Dollar and Bucks Fizz
Everything you wish for
Airplay, keep the chorus coming
I'm pushing it home
Airplay, Airplay
['Airplay' by Frank Sidebottom, (p)1989 In Tape, licensing Stirling Sievey & Gemma Woods]

Zappa wrote a lot of music playing with the forms of recognised genres. For example We're Only In It For The Money ridiculed the hippy movement using subverted psychedelia, and Cruising With Ruben & the Jets played with the forms of doo-wop.
In The Real Frank Zappa Book he says "Without deviation (from the norm), 'progress' is not possible. In order to deviate successfully, one has to have at least a passing acquaintance with whatever norm one expects to deviate from".

Both artists reference their own influences explicitly over and over, both lyrically and stylistically. Sidebottom likes Sex Pistols, Freddy Mercury and Queen, and the Beatles, especially Paul McCartney. Zappa likes Edgard Varese, 50s doo-wop, Johnny 'Guitar' Watson.

Click the above link for Zappa's explaination of his concept of the Project/Object. It's basically the idea of using many of the same flavours, references, in-jokes, etc and sneaking them into an artist's entire output. He references "a little poodle over here, a little blow job over there"; his deep voiced MOO-WAH is heard often, and we get lots of songs about stupid men, sexual jokes, hair cuts, dancing, etc, etc, etc.
Sidebottom's Project/Object includes football, Altrincham, Altrincham FC, Timperley, Little Frank, NASA, space, rockets, Paul McCartney, television, his mum, his tea, being sent to bed with no tea, not even a great big bowl of cereal.

Zappa collected magnetic tape of every remotely musical sound he ever made or heard, and he collected musicians. Sidebottom collected He-Man figures and crudely drawn pictures of himself.

That's enough for now. You know it is... IT REALLY IS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, December 19, 2011

479: BPM 37093

Before I start, let me just say, that if you got here via a google search for BPM 37093, and are expecting an informed article about that particular carbide crystalline (I just made up that term, I hope its right, it sounds good to me) white dwarf -or diamond star- then please try to conceal your disappointment. I only say this because my blog's stats indicate that my most popular recent posts have been one with an aside mentioning Gary Speed, and another mentioning Craig Charles and Coronation Street. It seems that hundreds of people a day have been directed to my blog by google in order to find the answer to the question "has Craig Charles left Coronation Street?" I don't actually know, my only information on the subject coming from Wikipedia, the source of which I have not verified.

I have not checked recently, but I think it's probably safe to assume that the ever-oscillating relationships of the characters on Coronation Street remains more popular amongst the general public than the technical specifications of alpha-numerically designated stellar inhabitants of the Centaurus constellation. From that I hypothesise that I will not receive hundreds of misguided hits from minds inquisitive about the latest goss' regarding BPM 37093. Anyone who has got here via that route, sorry, but you are welcome to come in and have a drink; just take your shoes off at the door, and don't stay too long. And don't move anything.

Now that I've cleared that up I'd also like to inform any of my regular readers that they would do well to google BPM 37093 for information, not about an incredibly fast piece of music but, about one of the beautifully bizarre and improbable, but actual real phenomena that our amazing universe throws up. Forget the ghost that your uncle thought he saw, or your friend's mum who went to a psychic and was told about her dog being happy on the other side. Forget about all that; it's not real, therefore it's not interesting. It is inconsequential. However BPM 37093 is real, and it's fascinating. I'll say no more. Except I advise you to watch Prof Brian Cox leading up to an explanation of BPM 37093, via a description of the entire universe, in tonight's lecture A Night with the Stars. Every syllable he speaks contains more truth than all the utterances of spirits through mediums, and all the bibles, and all that crap combined. Plus every crappy word of this endless blog of mine.

Sorry again for the disappointing let down about the Coronation Street thing. If it's any help to anyone I believe Craig Charles will return, in his guise as the love-lorn beer-drinking cheeky chappy Lloyd, after he has filmed another series of Red Dwarf in which he plays love-lorn beer-drinking cheeky chappie Lister. I just hope that I don't get hundreds more people drawn here on a daily basis due to incidental appearances of popular search terms, e.g. Justin Bieber beaver Green Bay Packers Kansas City Chiefs Alvin and the Chipmunks Mission Impossible big hot sex tits porn Christmas kardashian hannukah holidays lindsay lohan. I wouldn't want that to happen. No, I'm more interested in BPM 273939, or whatever it was called.

Friday, December 16, 2011

478: The racist joke

Today I was told a racist joke, the gist of which was "aren't black people like monkeys". Before the joke I was asked "do you want to hear a funny joke?" Of course, I love funny jokes. Then came the ugly set-up line, which I have decided not to extend the life of by reproducing here. In the space between set-up and punchline, I said "I don't care, I don't want to know," but still the stupid racist punchline came. Nasty, vile, shitty, ignorant, hateful, stupid and deeply pathetic, all squeezed into eight words, ten seconds and one mime.

Stony-faced I replied "That's horrible, racist, and not funny." "Yes it is, other people laughed," I was corrected. The thought that people I know would laugh at that makes me sick to my stomach with shame. The joke wasn't funny (obviously that's not the point); there was no wit concealed beneath the racism, only a shallow reiteration of a hundreds-of-years old stereotype. "That's a joke for an idiot. Only an idiot would find that funny. Anyone who tells that or laughs should be ashamed of themselves." I am right.

The joke was told to me in private, one on one, but word obviously got around as someone else approached me later with a sort of "I hear you didn't like the joke. I've got a worse one. Do you want to hear it?" What the hell is wrong with people. You would not make these jokes among black people because you know it is wrong. Why do you think that because I am white I will happily be complicit in racism? Insult someone to their face with a joke like that and you would deserve the punch you would probably get. "People tell jokes about other people all the time," I was informed as if to justify it. Because something is common it can't be bad? Cancer is pretty common too.

"No, I don't want to hear an even more racist joke." I can't believe I actually had to say that. I said it to the people concerned, and I'll say it again: Telling jokes like that, and laughing at them, is disgusting, pathetic behaviour. You should be ashamed of yourselves. You have a right to say them if you think that's the way you want to live your life, but don't be surprised if people look down at you; don't be surprised if you lose friends.

I was brought up to respect people. To not accept stereotypes, to question preconceptions, to not join in with bullying and hateful baaing, to not be scared of the new and different, to treat my fellow humans like humans, to learn and always strive to know and understand, to be polite and considerate, but to challenge ignorance and injustice.  (That makes it sound like my parents had me in super hero training.)

I get the feeling that people seem to think its a good thing to laugh at racist jokes, even (or especially) when you don't really agree with the sentiment of the joke. That is fucking dumb. These kind of jokes are always about reinforcing crass generalisations and ugly stereotypes. Where is the humour in that? Surely the point of a joke is that it is funny. If you know a joke is "wrong", but it is not actually funny, why are you laughing just at its "wrongness"?

Laughing at or telling racist jokes doesn't necessarily make you a racist. At best you are thoughtless and inconsiderate; at worst, yes, you are just a racist. Even if you are not a racist, but you are laughing at or telling a racist joke, you are still doing something racist, and how is that any better?

Also, when you tell a racist joke you are making a very strong assumption about the listener. You have decided "this looks like the sort of person who would laugh along with me at my nasty little stereotype"; let us share a sordid giggle at the inferiority of other races. That is an insult, not just to the people who are the butt of the joke, not just to the human race as a whole, but to the individual you have assumed is stupid enough to laugh at your shitty joke.

And I'm still owed the "funny joke" I was promised.

477: The obituary I never wanted to write

Christopher Hitchens is dead.

I have spent the last hour reading old articles by Christopher Hitchens, and poring over sad and respectful obituaries, looking for quotes to open this blog post. I wanted one about his own attitude to death, his own loathing of the semi-mythical "deathbed conversion" so often attributed to public unbelievers. But instead I just read and read and read. His words are brilliant. His sentences and his thoughts all perfectly constructed.

When I took my compulsory two-minute glance at twitter before getting in the shower this morning I saw the top trend "Christopher Hitchens" and immediately I knew. Since his diagnosis, in 2010, of esophageal cancer his thoughts on mortality and cancer have been lucid, touching and public. His wonderful televised interviews showed the same sharp mind, even as the head that contained it lost its hair to the ravages of chemotherapy. Despite the public knowledge that he did not have long left his death was still able to take me by surprise. He continued writing and publishing at a rate far exceeding most healthy authors (see Slate and Vanity Fair), and it seemed to me that he might go on for ever.

I, I suspect like many other similarly-minded people, am not ashamed to admit that I shed a tear on more than one occasion today. First upon hearing the news this morning, and second when I returned home and read Peter Hitchens' (Christopher's brother, and his political polar opposite) touching obituary In Memoriam, my courageous brother, 1949-2011. It was the following few words that got me:
At one stage – and I am so sad this never happened – he wrote to me saying he hoped for a ‘soft landing’ (code, I think for abandoning any further attempts to combat his disease) and to go home to his beautiful apartment in Washington DC.
There, he suggested, we could go through his bookshelves, as there were some books and other possessions he wanted me to have. I couldn’t have cared less about these things, but I had greatly hoped to have that conversation, which would have been a particularly good way of saying farewell.
But alas, it never happened. He never went home and now never will. Never, there it is, that inflexible word that trails close behind that other non-negotiable syllable, death.
My brief tears were not the hysterical mania of those weeping over the death of Princess Diana, but a sign of respect shown to a great intellectual general, and a sign of respect shown to that unbeatable and eternal abstinence, death. Death, unfortunately is the end, and Christopher proudly succumbed knowing that full well.

Soon after his diagnosis Christopher wrote Topic of Cancer, an article for Vanity Fair, about his recent thoughts and experiences. In it he briefly considered:
Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Centre rise again? To read—if not indeed write—the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity.
and now we must deal with the fact that all future events in the worlds of politics and religion will be spared his sharp analysis and unflinching criticism. Sleep a little easier, peddlers of bullshit and oppression.

Thank you Christopher for a lifetime of wonderful words and insightful analysis. Thank you to the doctors that treated you, the nurses, the research scientists, the fund-raisers, the charitable donaters, the doctors that didn't treat you but treat others every day. Thank you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

476: Christmas and Craig Charles

Creeping up to Christmas and the urge to make everything "Irish" is back. Irish coffee, etc. I blogged the other day about drinking whiskey and milk; that is basically Irish milk. I've seen it; they all have it on their breakfast cereal, the Irish do. I've seen it with my own overactive imagination. Were it not for the importance of being upstanding, hardworking and respectable in life and in the day job it might be nice to start a cold winter morning with an Irish coffee. So as I said before, I've recently blogged about sticking whiskey in other stuff. I don't want to portray an image of a whiskey sloshing sop, but you know; so be it...

One week left of work and then that amazing thing is upon us all: ten work free days of family, food, and heavy digestion on the sofa in front of Gremlins and It's A Wonderful Life. Tenuous link of the day: Coronation Street is on telly right now, Lloyd played by Craig Charles just appeared, Craig Charles shot to fame as Dave Lister in Red Dwarf, in the Grant Naylor novel Better Than Life based on Red Dwarf Lister's favourite film is It's A Wonderful Life, and when he is trapped in the eponymous fatally addictive virtual reality game he lives in the plot of said Christmas film. Glad I got that out of my system. Do with that information what you will.

Craig Charles has just left Coronation Street to film a new series of Red Dwarf. I've long, looonnngg since given up any hope for a decent new Dwarf. Not since the end of series six has a good series been made; not since the recasting of Kristine Kochanski from the awesome, funny, sexy Clare Grogran to the useless somebody someone. Erm... final Craig Charles thought: my fiancee used to teach dance and/or drama to his two wee kids. She's met him; I haven't. He was my hero when I was a wee kiddy nerd for BBC comedy/sci-fi. I even bought his poetry/stand-up comedy VHS Craig Charles Live. He has fantastic music taste.

475: Folk (English)

When Stewart Lee talks, about anything really, I listen. Occasionally he will put out a radio documentary about something or other, interesting to himself, and I will think ooh that's interesting and follow along with piqued interest. His 2005 episode of the radio show Chain Reaction where he interviewed graphic novel author Alan Moore was almost solely responsible for creating my interest in Moore's output, and in modern graphic novels as a whole. Before that my interest in comics had dwindled as I grew up and left Asterix, Tank Girl, and Beano/Dandy behind me. Thank you Mr. Lee.

Watching his Mastermind appearance with the specialist subject of improvisational guitarist Derek Bailey, helped push along my re-interest in Captain Beefheart and its companion interest in avant garde and general weirdness. Stewart Lee's radio documentary White Face, Dark Heart, on the obscure phenomena of the Hopi Native American Clown Ceremony during which the nominated clowns break all normal conventions of behaviour, got me interested in the intellectualisation of the base nature of comedy (or whatever): stuff is funny... why... Anyway, point I'm trying to make is that Stewart Lee is interesting, interested in disparate subjects, and able to make strange and unexpected subjects exciting.

Stewart Lee's latest radio documentary is It's Got Bells On, part of Radio 2's Dance Season, is on the subject of Morris, rapper sword, clog, and other forms of traditional English folk dancing. Now, I must at this point state that I am a Morris dancer; it's true. OK, it's not true, but it once was. At primary school we did a Morris dance and performed it at Lancaster town hall, probably circa 1989. We had little white costumes, like cricketers but you know cool. Bells on our knees, and wooden sticks we clashed together like sparring martial artists. That fact allows me to say I was doing it before it was cool; so fuck you hipsters. Etc.

Strange how English folk is uncool (except amongst mustachioed hipsters who are all to aware of its cool/uncool paradox, and people interested in steam trains who are oblivious to coolness), yet American folk and Irish folk is very cool, and other traditional forms of World music are always popular. English folk, especially Morris music seems highly accordion based. To me this is very reminiscent of shanties, chanties, sea music. England was a seafaring nation; Ireland wasn't. Maybe the distaste for English folk is a kind of post-colonial guilt. Perhaps it is part of the same phenomena that makes a traditional fish n chips hard to find whereas Chinese food, curry, pizza, burger and fries, and even sushi are incredibly easy to find. The fact that so many "full English" breakfasts are missing the black pudding.

As with anything now, in order to make old things relevant again, the go-to cliched way is to mix everything with hip hop elements. As with English folk, clog dance has been mixed with hip hip dance. The documentary has led me to Time Gentleman Please, a recent collaborative effort 'tween cloggers and hip-hoppers, and watching the following video it works so amazingly unexpectedly well. It shows how hip-hop and folk are both raw, improvised, un(high)cultured, competitive.

So at this moment, while its firmly in my mind I am totally pro-Morris, pro-English folk. I want a big tankard of ale and some bells for my knees. Let's, in all seriousness, have 5000 Morris dancers for the opening ceremony of London 2012.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

474: wot im reding

A quick post tonight about all things being connected, everything must be viewed holistically; any one thing, no matter how seemingly impossible, improbable, unlikely or irrelevant can and does have startling consequences in unseen and unconsidered areas of activity. I'm reading a fantastic charity shop find: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams, soon to be followed by The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, which I believe is the sequel. Many people my age, and of my ever-so slightly geeky disposition, probably got into ol' Douggie in their young youths reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I never read that until I was an adult, but loved it and gradually read all three, four, or five of them. They are very funny, packed full of incredibly bizarre and exciting ideas, but it's all over the place; huge story arcs that take half a sentence to happen, very little plot, just bumming about the galaxy stumbling in and out of strange scenarios passively. Good though. And thanks for all the fish. Dirk Gently is all together different, although written in very much the same comic voice. It has some sci-fi elements, some mystery/whodunit stuff, and great depths of weirdness. So it's not that different, apparently I was wrong. It's very similar. It does seem more plot driven, and I'm very excited to find out how all the storylines will pull together. You see, everything is connected. Every disparate detail of the universe is actually part of the same sequence of events; this is part of that and that is part of the other. There is an electric monk (an appliance designed to conveniently believe stuff so the owner can get on with more important things) from another universe, a strange Cambridge don with a mysterious abacus and rooms, a horse, a computer programmer, his bos who is murdered by the monk, the ghost of the murdered man, a former magazine editor, a thing with a salt cellar embedded in a fake ancient Grecian pot, hypnotism, an ex-secretary, an holistic detective called Svald Cjelli, and a bunch of storylines excitingly and amusingly coming together. Right, that's enough of my own shitty writing. I'm off to do some reading. Soz. Bye.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

473: Book review: The Cure for All Cancers (!)

On Saturday last (whenever that was) I ordered three super-cheap, super-shit books off Amazon, as research for an aspect of the novel I am gradually writing... very gradually. Of the three books I ordered two turned up within the predicted time, and the third has yet to turn up a week after ordering. If I was the paranoid type, which I may be (I daren't look at myself closely enough to find out, in case it triggers a mass mental breakdown of a kind usually only seen in the moving pictures), I would believe that the third book had been intercepted by agents loyal to the author and founder of a particular group, said group's current leader, or fringe acolytes desperate to penetrate the inner circle.

I am researching a variety of cranks, crackpots, (s)CAMmers, and general predators on the credulous or vulnerable. The two books that have arrived are The Biggest Secret by David Icke, apparently "the conspiracy theorists' Rosetta Stone", and The Cure For All Cancers, a poisonous and tedious faux-medical textbook by Hulda Regehr Clark, who sadly died of cancer despite "discovering" that all disease, cancer and AIDS included, are caused by parasites which can be eradicated using a "zapper" electric shock device. The third book, which was filtered out of my post by North American movie-star high-ranking OT levelled ninjas, was Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health by L. Ron Hubbard, a book which having not read I am entirely unable to make comment on. I'm sure its pseudo-scientific language, and empty content, will be invaluable to me.

The Cure For All Cancers may be the weirdest book I have ever seen. It starts with Part One: The Cause which includes the bizarre claim that the hazardously multiplying cells in the cancer patient are caused by multiplying parasitic worms and bacteria which usually live in a pond full of snails. It includes some basic information about the life cycle of the fluke, then for no particular reason links that to cancer. On the very next page is the claim "Cloves, black walnut and wormwood. These three herbs, taken together, can cure all cancers. These three herbs must be used together". Followed soon after by the sickeningly irresponsible instruction, "Do not try and substitute drugs for herbs". She is talking about 'parasiticides', as opposed specifically to relevant drugs, you know, chemotherapy, but still, when compounded all together this makes for murderously misleading information.

There are lots of numbers littered around the pages, functioning as blinding and supposedly impressive pseudo-science intended to trick the scientifically-illiterate reader into believing they are looking at actual evidence. Most of the numbers however relate to measurements for teaspoons of herbs. I can just open the pages randomly to find mad claims about all sorts of things, backed up by no evidence: "Clothes dryers are our biggest source of asbestos." "Your lungs will not heal if there is any radon. Pamphlets are available at drugstores to tell you how to seal your home from radon." "Cook your food in glass, enamel, ceramic or microwavable pots and pans. Throw away all metal ware, foil wrap, and metal-capped salt shakers since you will never use them again."

Part Two: Getting Well Again. The whole thing combined serves to make the author seem utterly confused, and desperate to pass that confusion on to the reader. One moment she is blathering about trace amounts of alcohol in breakfast cereal, the next she is claiming that benign tumours and cysts have fungus in them. There is suspicious claim piled on suspicious claim. Not being a scientist I do not know the truth or untruth behind many of these claims, but being an avid and moderately-careful reader I can plainly see that her claims are not backed up by adequate references, and no effort is made to communicate the genuinely scientific truth behind her bizarre and unrelated claims. It's just so weird.

Part Three: Case Histories is where it dredges new depths of tedium in a hopeless attempt to pass off suspect case histories as actual evidence. Case histories, especially such inconsistent ones as those presented here, are not real evidence: they are stories, anecdotes. Double-blinded placebo-controlled studies are evidence; lots of them combined and viewed together as a meta-analysis. Here instead we have 150 pages of anecdotes about cancer patients needing their teeth cleaned, drinking orange juice, feeling sick, taking herbs, having tests for parasites (or in many cases not being tested, the presence of parasites simply being assumed by the author to back up her hypothesis), getting a bit better over a short span of time.

There is no account for any of the variables that must be accounted for in the real world: the placebo effect, spontaneous remission, misdiagnoses, reaction to standard accepted treatment, tester bias, regression to the mean, etc. There also appears to be little concern for the fact that 'cancer' is actually an umbrella-term used to describe a huge variety of different diseases, with many different causes, effects, and chances of survival.

Part Four is seriously seriously seriously... weird. It begins with a couple of paragraphs which seem to be attempting to guilt-trip any sceptics still reading into believing her authority: "It is only through years of experience testing every product clients brought in [...] But obviously no one can test them all. Maybe your brand is OK!" To me this reads as "I'm the scientist, this is my book, I have eh-vee-dense, ehhh,veee,densse

I bought this drivel second hand so hopefully there is no channel by which any of the few pennies I spent can get to the author's estate or publishers.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

472: I could do better, I just don't want to

The Manchester Evening News (or it might have been the Metro, I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention really) had a headline Drama as Cameron vetoes change to European treaty. Irrelevant of the content of the story (which repels me at the thought of distancing ourselves from Europe, but doesn't anger me due to my complete lack of knowledge on the workings of international economics) I was deeply annoyed with this headline. In fact I was unable to get past the headline, partly because I was reading it over the shoulder of someone on the bus, but mainly because it is indicative of the switch in news reporting from a focus on actual news to a focus on trivial details, sensationalism and human emotion.

The headline should have been Cameron vetoes change to European treaty: that, and that alone, is the actual news story. What purpose does the Drama as serve? Why the unnecessarily sensationalistic preamble? Grr, I hate it. Where is this drama: I suppose it exists in the mind of the cretinous hack sub-editor who spawned that piece of shit headline, but where is it in the real world, and even if it is there somewhere, who the fuck cares? Right, that little bit of anger is out of my system, so let me see if I can actually think straight about the issue.

I view this, perhaps, as being indicative (as I may have already mentioned) of a major dumbing down in news reporting. The boring facts of what actually happened are of no concern, as the news outlets weep in fear of the public switching the channel or leaving their free newspaper untaken from the vendor's hand or the bus's seat. How could we, the dipshit dribbling public, possibly be interested in a news story that isn't entirely focused on human emotion? The irrational over-reactions of clamouring sweaty humanity is all that matters. Fuck what happened. How did people feel after whatever it was that did or didn't happen? That's all that matters.

This is the reason that all science reporting in the mainstream press, from The Sun to the Observer to the BBC, is worthless nonsensical gibberish. We are spared those tedious facts in favour of the knee-jerk reactions of biased and ill-informed bystanders. Political news is similarly reduced. Surely a basic and honest understand of the workings of science and politics is the most important thing a human can have in a world where it is occasionally extremely important to make huge decisions about, for example, medical care or voting. How can we be expected to make these decisions, or even understand their meaning and value, when all the information we are served is washed away under a stream of opinion and emotion? These should be almost entirely (if not entirely entirely) unemotional and factual subjects for which to make decisions on.

But people like Drama don't they? And who really likes vetoing, Europe, or treaties? No one. Hollyoaks is, I think, a drama, isn't it? How many people watch that? And how many people watch The European Treaty Veto Show? No one. Not even me. Stupid world.

471: Whisky and milk

Whisky and milk. Yeah. There was a programme about the emergence of white (mainly) middle-class British fans of black American blues, and how that lead to bands such as The Rolling Stones. There was mention of one of the Slims – I think it was Memphis Slim, but I wasn't really listening – and how, during a visit to London, it was noticed that he enjoyed drinking whisky and milk to line his stomach in preparation for the proper drinking that would comprise the rest of his life. Despite the fairly fascinating nature of the documentary I was more focused on the idea of whisky and milk, which I had never tried before.

I googled it and came up with a recipe for whisky milk punch cocktail: two parts whisky, three parts milk, five ice cubes, ground nutmeg, and one teaspoon of sugar syrup. By the time I got to the kitchen I had forgotten about the nutmeg, but I made myself a whisky and milk otherwise following this recipe. I did have to use Golden Syrup instead of the sugar syrup, and I stirred thoroughly with a chopstick instead of using a cocktail shaker. I took my first sip with trepidation and more than a little excitement. And, fuck me with that self-same chopstick -!- whisky and milk is delicious.

While I was making that, the wife was using the rest of the whisky to make her special I've-got-a-cold hot toddy (cheapo fizzy lemonade heated in a pan then poured into a mug of whisky and honey), resulting in me sitting with a glass of iced whisky milk punch in one hand and a hot mug of toddy in the other. They tasted very different going down but ended up in the same place: my happy sleepy contented stomach sinking into the pit of my heated-blanket bed. If that's not festive I don't know what the fucking buggery is.

Whisky and anything. Whisky and broccoli. Whisky from a rusty tin can. Whisky from a shoe. Whisky dripped on my forehead. Whisky and ice-cream. Whisky for breakfast. Whisky and toothpaste. Whisky and beer. Whisky and whisky. Whisky and whiskey. Whiskey and whiskey.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

470: Bus Station Observations

A group of people – two women and a man – stand around a pram containing the babiest fourth member of their group. One of the women held a lit cigarette directly over the infant as she yammered on about whatever crap such morons talk about. She took occasional drags, moving the cigarette to her own face, but always returning it to its position above the baby. Not once did she look in the direction of the hot smouldering fire in order to check it wasn't raining down on that innocent wee head. The man took out his own cigarette and, finding himself want of a lighter asked to borrow her cigarette for lighting off. She passed directly over the baby and he lit his from hers over the pram, leaning over with both cigarettes as he passed hers back. Two lit cigarettes waving blindly about above a pram, as the unbelievably selfish idiots gab gibberish blindly.

A black-skinned lady wanders through the large crowds of rush-hour bus-waitingers seeking out other black people. When she finds them she hands them a little leaflet; it looks to me like one of those little churchy 'remember Jesus this xmas' type things. She approaches a group of friends, one who is black and the other two are white. She hands one to the black man and he accepts it; the other two, a man and a woman, hold their hands out and she says, "No, not for you". "Sorry," says the man, and she walks off. I lose her in the crowd, plus my bus arrives and I am about to fall asleep.

The biggest recovery/breakdown vehicle ever created by man or by god is pulling a sad kaput double-decker bus up on its back two wheels. For buses to get out of the station in Piccadilly Garden they have to double back in a u-turn and head off the way they came; it's the only way out due to tram lines and one-way systems. As the breakdown truck tries to tow the double-decker around this tight hairpin-ish corner it becomes jammed in. It can't reverse and it has only inches in front before it hits the barrier. It inches hither and thither for five or ten minutes, with an ever-growing queue of buses running far behind it. Eventually it escapes, moves forward a few metres then has to stop at a zebra crossing... eventually it moves forward a few metres, then has to stop at a red light...

469: Uncaged Monkeys

So what were you doing last night? Watching football? Buffing the soles of your feet? Eating cheese and crackers? Drinking three cups of tea, going to bed then waking up a bit later needing a big wee? Well done, good for you, it sounds like you had a lovely time. Who, me? Oh, yes! Well I was watching Tim Minchin live performing 'White Wine in the Sun' on guitar, accompanied by Professor Brian Cox on piano. It was the glorious, sentimental, schmaltzy and perfectly perfect in every way ending to an evening of comedy, music and science, with jokes from Tim, Robin Ince, and Helen Arney; science lectures by Prof Brian, Ben Goldacre and Simon Singh; and an amazing short film by Adam Rutherford editing together NASA footage from all 135 Space Shuttle missions.

I laughed, I cried, I learnt about the enigma machine, publication fraud in medical trial data, the history of the universe, and the pope being a motherfucker protecting priests when they were getting fucking fiddly. I heard many jokes about Professor Cox's fondness for pointing and gazing wistfully up toward the heavens. I was amazed and gladdened by the crowd of 2600 people that had turned up for three hours of science lectures and in-jokes about scepticism in a rock venue, the Apollo, where I have previously seen Judas Priest, Kraftwerk and Zappa Plays Zappa.

Simon Singh, with his hair in a hi-top fade, showed us a genuine original Enigma machine, and used an emulator from his laptop on the big screen to describe the inner workings of that legendarily tricky-to-crack message encoder. Seeing one explained using the emulator – and hearing about how after the war the British government kept the cracking secret, gifted machines to allied governments like Australia, and then spied on them – was very interesting and enlightening. It was also a bit like, hearing a new one, to use a rock gig term. Much of the discussion from Cox and Goldacre was not new to me, but it's always good to be reminded and to relearn in different ways, and they are both entertaining in their knowledge and presentation.

Adam Rutherford's Space Shuttle video was amazing (but his preamble talk was rambling and boring); unfortunately I can't find it online yet, so you'll just have to take my word for it. For a similar sort of thing I recommend the movie For All Mankind, which is edited together footage from all Apollo missions to the music of Brian Eno. Tim came on and did some of my favourites, talked about his wife (like he does) who he is attempting to rebrand as his VELP (Vaginaly Endowed Life Partner) and a very funny observation about how his 35 year old wife managed to escape the Nazis in Poland, 1939. Talking, laughing, singing, powerpoint... then I got on the tram, then I fell asleep: The End.

P.S. If you genuinely have no idea what I'm going on about I recommend listening to The Infinite Monkey Cage, Robin Ince and Brian Cox's BBC R4 comedy and science show.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

468: Skink!

A lady got on the bus with a King Charles Spaniel wrapped in a white blanket; just its little head peaking out, with its big round eyes and its long floppy ears. She sat on the sideways-facing seat at the front, and immediately another woman – evidently a stranger to her, and sat three rows back on the other side of the bus – started talking to her about pets. Oh I love your dog this, and he's so beautiful that. Soon they were having a competitive pet-off: well, I've got a blue-grey Burmese cat, and oh yeah, well I've got a St Bernard, but it's so big I can't bring it into town, you know, for obvious practical reasons. My aunty's got a this, my mum's got a that, etcetera, etc, &c.

Recently I've had the urge to get a pet; to get myself petted-up; to be-pet my abode; etcetera, etc, &c. A cat is the obvious choice, except I occasionally enjoy doing things other than sneezing, and I live in a tiny flat. So cats are out, unfortunately. Obviously not a dog; nasty, stinking, snivelling, vermin. I'm too old, and don't have kids, so gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs and the like are out. Plus they are crap, smelly, annoying and sneezy. Tarantulas are cool, but a little unsettling. Giant land snails are not great; ok, but not great. Fish are fantastic, and are a strong contender especially a bit further down the line.

At the moment, as far as I'm concerned (for the sake of discussion I'm ignoring hypothetical and actual objections), the top contenders are Snake, Parrot, Lizard, Raven/Crow. The last on the list is the least likely; in fact it's fair to say it's probably impossible. It'd be like trying to keep a pet dolphin in a bowl of water by the kitchen window. So that narrows it down to snake, parrot and lizard. I want to rule out parrot because I lack space and I've seen the mess and heard the racket that pet birds are want to cause. Snake or lizard? A certain special lady whose opinion counts has categorically said she never want a pet snake. She is wrong, but doesn't know it yet. For the sake of tranquillity let's (temporarily) rule out snake. Lizard! I would much prefer a snake; beginning with a corn snake or similar, and then perhaps working up to a boa constrictor. But -!- there is a lizard with many similarities to a snake, and that will be my new pet. Yes, decision made – I am getting a pet skink.

One day I will own an octopus, but until then the three of us – Me, Mrs Me, and Little Mr Skink – will be very happy together. Sitting on the bus, wrapped in white blankets.

Monday, December 05, 2011

467: ahh errr um?

Recently I've wanted so much to give up blogging. The whole every day thing is not appealing at the moment; I'm tired and stressed and finding it hard to pull together the energy or inclination. The only thing that's stopping me from giving up is the thought that I'm just hitting a wall, reaching a steep hill, and at the other side is easy and fun writing again. That's actually not the only reason; if I was to suggest giving up my wonderful and encouraging partner would certainly not allow it. It doesn't help that we have well and truly entered winter. The darkness as fallen, summer died fast, and every morning I awake in the dark; walk to work in the gloom, under clouds and in chill winds. In the evening I leave work in similar conditions. The occasions I leave the building, or catch sight of a window I see the cold flood waters, wash away us all, take us with the floods; the rash of negativity, is seen one-sidedly, burn away the day; the nervous, the drifting, the heaving; wash away us all, take us with the floods.

If I keep up this grimly depressing cloudhead I'll soon be preferring Eastenders to Coronation Street; god forbid. Instead of seasonal snow floating and settling, the sky fights back with heavy-hearted pelting hailstones, rattling the windowpanes and biting uncovered skin. Caught between the warring fronts of ice age and global warming with only a tiny flat in a damp old terrace in Old Trafford for protection. Armed only with a nice warm new coat; last years supply of cheap new gloves has predictably vanished so now my little fingers are chilly, woe.

Got a week and a bit off work at Christmas and I intend to come back rested and feeling as though time was well spent. For that I am going to need a Christmas cardigan and novelty bowtie (preferably musical and with a flashing LED), mulled wine, a few days with the inlaws and a few days with the blood-rellies, slippers, socks, slipper-socks, flip-flops, strike that, brussels sprouts, white wine in the sun, etc. So, yeah. Snow please.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

466: Hotdogs, pigs, politics and December

Waiting for a takeaway to arrive (wonton soup and shredded chili beef); watching a BBC4 doc about the history and culture of the American Diner; looking forward to Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror on Channel 4 in 25 minutes; communicating to the world in semi-sentences like facebook status updates. Communicating nothing of interest for no reason other than to communicate something. Fully aware that more blogging should be done; many days missed; much catching up to do. Fascinated by the fantastic imagery in this diner documentary. An artist who paints scenes of diners lives in a fantastic home full of tin toys, tiny Cadillacs, plastic hula girls, and old diner signs. America is a wonderful foreign fantasy land of endless roads, bottomless drinks, and towering platefuls of pancakes, eggs, and burgers.

I want a chili-dog, a corn-dog, a coca-cola; grits; coffee, black; key lime pie; biscuits and gravy. To travel empty roads with untouched horizon and crushed scorpion in tire-treads; to see and walk in the scenes of movies seen a hundred times, Goodfellas, Ghostbusters, Godfather, Natural Born Killers, The Blob, Psycho, Tremors; to live the lyrics of Tom Waits, the sound of jazz and blues and country; the desert, the bayou, the hills, mountains, creeks and gorges. From diner to diner, eating so much my picture ends up on the wall and I win a t-shirt and a certificate.

Had my takeaway (v. Disappointing, disgusting chicken, boring rice; the wontons were alright though); watched Black Mirror (the ITV news just came on now and I half expected the headline to be about the PM and a pig) and still not quite recovered from the trauma; then turned over to watch the end of An Audience with 'singer' Beyonce – a pretty disgraceful performance as far as I'm concerned in which she dances around, holding a microphone but not using it, to a recording of her own voice. Imagine going to see Pavarotti live, and instead of singing he repeatedly thrust his groin at the audience while a CD of his 'hits' played. Yes, I know Beyonce is a dancer as well as a singer, but what's the point of doing both if you can't do both at the same time. Elton John plays the piano and sings at the same time; he doesn't play the piano in accompaniment to a recording of his voice.

Imagine if she did it the other way round: instead of dancing to a mechanical recording of her voice, she actually sang whilst a robotic system of ropes and pulleys, hoists and harnesses manipulated her body in a dancing motion.

Now it's Heston's Christmas Feast followed by Father Ted Christmas Special on More4+1. This is absolute - Xmas, winter festival, yuletide, solstice, Diwali, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and my own personal favourite Saturnalia – luxury.