Saturday, February 28, 2004

it's a bit nippy out... (the piranha files vol.1)

Look here! I've had 150 hits today from people looking up piranhas. What's with you? I mean, I like piranhas too, but... What's happening!? Is there a piranha epidemic that I've missed? I mean, don't get me wrong, you're very welcome, but I'm disturbed. If I knew how popular piranhas were I'd have written about them more. Well, before you shoot off there's another post at the top of my blog - with more piranha links - if you want to have a look: click here and then scroll down a wee bit. And feel free to say hi in the comments box below... Cheers. (Jonathan, 03/08/04)

---original post---

Wow, this article points out that

"Experts say [the piranha's] reputation for attacking humans is exaggerated"

which is a pity, already. Yet they go on to say

"it is thought a shoal of the fish devoured up to 300 people when their boat capsized and sank near Obidos in Brazil in September 1981."

Now that's what I'm talking about! Fantastic stuff.

More on piranhas, my new favourite animal, here:

(And a later post on the subject is here)

In case you didn't follow the first link, they found a piranha in the Thames today. Hence my sudden and explicable excitement.

Moving house tomorrow, so have to get my broadband switched over. True to form, I found a couple of links which feature things I now want to download, pah. El Mundo Perdido is a great, Blissblog-esque weblog with plenty of good music stuff on it (Scissor Sisters, Liars and 8-bar all mentioned in the last couple of entries), and Code Blue posts her tracks of 2003 and makes me want to go back to Limewire all the more. Ah well - next week.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Guardian Unlimited Politics | Special Reports | Testosterone politics rules OK?

A very good article in the Guardian today:

Guardian Unlimited Politics Special Reports Testosterone politics rules OK?

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The Observer | OMM | My first love

An excellent article from Sunday's Observer Music Monthly. Helen Walsh on raving - kind of a literary companion to The Streets's 'Weak Become Heroes'....

The Observer OMM My first love

A woefully un-updated blog in the last few days, argh. We moved house on Saturday, trecking as ever from one end of Brighton to the other, with appreciated help from Pete, Mark and Andrew; the move itself was as swift and hassle-free as I've ever experienced, and Pete's van-packing was Tetris-like in its efficiency. The new flat is lovely, although it hadn't been cleaned, which was a bit disappointing - still, we had Monday and Tuesday off so we rolled up our sleeves and did a fairly major imposing-of-order, and it all looks great now; significantly smaller than our last place, which was positvely cavernous, but somehow better for it; snug and handsome. Living back in Kemptown means more incidental noise and more crazies; after the neighbours from hell experience in Seven Dials we're kinda edgy and cautious at the merest sign of intrusive volume. But so far it's all been isolated - the car alarm, the passing revellers, a bit of sound from the re-decorated and newly-awful Sidewinder. So no sign yet of persistant noisemakers, but we'll see. Actually, having said that, someone further down our road was playing Guns and Roses at 2.30 in the morning last night, which was outrageous, but I refuse to believe anyone could do that regularly and not get shot by his or her neighbours. Surely?

Friday, February 20, 2004

animals on the underground

currently loving:
1. Wiley - What Do U Call It?
2. Selfish Cunt - Britain is Shit
3. DJ Danger Mouse - Grey Album
4. Scissor Sisters - Comfortably Numb (Tiga Remix)
5. The Futureheads - A to B

and my favourite link in ages:

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Robert Irwin - not the painter or the real-estate expert

Having got somewhere with searching for more information on Pamela Hansford Johnson a few days ago (having failed to turn up anything previously), I've been inspired by my participation in the work Book Group to seek out some more information on Robert Irwin, the other (mostly) out-of-print novelist whose writing fascinates me. Without much luck.

Here at work there's a group of about fifteen of us who meet up every month to discuss a book; yes, I know, rather a second-hand concept, and rather restricting reading books you wouldn't ordinarily read (but also quite surprising). But it's as good an excuse for a drink at lunchtime as I need. Anyway, I have to suggest a 'horror' novel tomorrow so I was casting about for something suitable ('...Confessions of a Justified Sinner?', erm... 'Jane Eyre'!?) and thought about suggesting Irwin's remarkable 'Satan Wants Me' - not really horror of course, but dark and satanic, as well as being hilarious and unconventional. Anyway, that got me thinking about what a wonderful writer he was, and that in turn reminded me of the occasion when I first heard of him.

I'm a complete hoarder - always keeping newspaper cuttings, leaflets, flyers, old cassettes, magazines etc - so it comes as no surprise that I once had in my possession a dog eared article about Robert Irwin which I lost long ago. I'd found it in a copy of something like The Times or The Telegraph on a tube train about six years ago, and it was basically a story about the journalist who, sometime in the mid 80s, had encountered a short novel by Irwin (at that point, even more than now, very much an un-celebrated writer) called 'The Mysteries of Algiers', which had amazed him. He, despite this, and like the rest of world, remained in a state of pretty much ignorance about the rest of Irwin's work, until he published the incredibly successful and absolutely wonderful 'Satan Wants Me'. So the book charted his re-discovery of the author. At the time, it inspired me to read Irwin so much that I sought out the new book (kind of Adrian Mole goes Satanic in the 1960s) and an earlier one, 'Exquisite Corpse', (which was set in the surrealist movement of the 30s) both of which I loved.

Since then, sightings of Robert Irwin have been few and far between, although, as one of the most celebrated scholars of Arabian art and Muslim thought he has come back into fashion post 9/11, in an academic sense, at least (he recently wrote a well received non-fiction study of the Allhambra). What I just tried to do was find that old article, or anything else I could - interviews, reviews, articles. Well, I found almost nothing. Still, Dedalus Books, his publisher, does at least have a bibliography of his fiction work on their website, and looking at Amazon, they've some of his books second hand. So far I've resisted putting my hand in my pocket, but it may be just a matter of time.

Most bookshops stock Satan Wants Me, however. There aren't many books I recommend more.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

other blogs...

Know your enemy. Actually, the author of Conservative Commentary, a young, ahem, tory maintains one of the best political blogs I've come across, even if he makes me furious at every twist and turn. Still - his site is interesting and full of good links.

You'll notice I've been updating my links list, which is how I keep dredging up blogs at the moment. The ones on the left are all good; particularly ...greyblog..., which is Chichester based, and which delves into blog radio a little, no rock and roll fun, which is great for pop music news and links (it has a picture of The White Stripes in the top left corner, but don't let that put you off), and linkmachinego, which is just lotsoflinkstointerestingstoriesalltightlyjumbledup. There's a good link to recently updated uk blogs, too, which is hosted at the same site. And I just joined the Blogging Brits blog ring, too.

Monday, February 16, 2004

twisted keyboards...

How cool is this!?

Under eights v middle eights

Ah, this is just truly, truly brilliant :-)

Guardian Unlimited Arts features Under eights v middle eights

das erste wiener gemseorchester

Unfortunately I've just noticed that the link to the Danger Mouse mp3s which I posted the other day has gone dead; Andy Baio at has posted the 'cease and desist' letter he received from EMI on his blog; I think we can assume the mirror site I linked to had a similar message, or at the very least, exceeded ats bandwith. Ah well. Good news is that the files are alive and well on Limewire. Get to it.

In the meantime, The Guardian says art rock is back, so it must be true, and John Sutherland is even deconstructing Franz Ferdinand's lyrics.

But let's be honest - as good as FF are, there's still something missing, no?

Ah, this is what we're after! Fantastic.

quick update on where we are with recording the demo:

Easy to Leave: done drums, bass and guitars - still to do keyboards and vocals
You Should Know: done drums, bass and guitars - still to do keyboards and vocals
It's Alright: done drums and guitars - still to do bass, keyboards and vocals
A Century: done drums and guitars - still to do keyboards and vocals
Vine to Vine: done drums and guitars - still to do bass and vocals
Engines and Anvils: done drums - still to do 303, guitar, melodica, keyboards and vocals

Friday, February 13, 2004

free meals

sorry, I must be coming over as some dreadful new Labour apologist at the moment, but another excellent idea announced today.

Guardian Unlimited The Guardian Meals free to all primary pupils

Thursday, February 12, 2004

the tyranny of the english flower farm...

An odd sentence in an article about the cocklers in Morecombe;

Meanwhile a group of 54 Greek gypsies returned to Greece this week after a rescue mission led by the Greek Embassy freed them from what they called "slave labour" on an English flower farm.

Danger Mouse vs The Beatles

So, Danger Mouse (one half of DM and Jemini, whose 'Ghetto Pop Life' is, apparently, one of the better underground hip hop albums of recent years - I won't pretend I've heard it) has just had his new LP, 'The Grey Album' shelved because of legal threats from EMI. Why? Because the album marries the entire acapella version of Jay-Z's 'The Black Album' to DM's twisted, cut-up remix of The Beatles 'White Album'. Apparently every note is traceable back to the original LP, and I've just sought it out online and been listening to it. In short - it's absolute genius. It may be true that I'd sooner gnaw my own leg off than listen to the Beatles(s) version, but this is well worth the effort DM expended. There's some info on the LP here, and if you hover your cursor around a bit you might just find a link to the album itself too.

I steal all my content from the Guardian...

For those of us who are completely caught up in Erwin James's Prison Diaries in the Guardian, today's entry comes as a warm and pleasant surprise. Read the good news at

Guardian Unlimited The Guardian Erwin James: A life inside

A couple of interesting Blogging links are worth a look too,

Presidential Race Goes Offline

Audible Revolution

and the Guardian gives us new bands, hurrah. With the exception of Black Wire, they all sound great. More on Danger Mouse to follow....

Stars in Their Eyes

and finally, a thought-for-the-day style aside from G2's sidelines...

· God gave us a booty, so surely she meant us to shake it, don't you think? Our long-held philosophy has this week been supported by Beyoncé, who has thoughtfully been explaining how she reconciles her raunchy stage act with her devotion to Christianity. "I honestly believe [God] wants people to celebrate their bodies, as long as you don't compromise your Christianity in the process," said the vigorous-thighed chanteuse. Absolutely, Ms Knowles. We're sure God herself is partial to the odd bit of spandex and groin-writhing from time to time.

Well, quite.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

a spot of "afters" in a gymnasium bathroom

Not sure why I'm linking to this, but it's quite interesting...

Guardian Unlimited World dispatch A real handful

And I just read that Atkins (inventor of the diet) died grossly overweight and beset by heart problems. Funny, that.

Space Boy Happy Time Pop

Pete's just drawn my attention to the fact that the lovely Girlinky, below, have put up a review of the the last gig's proceedings up on their website - we get the following mention...

First up are Brighton's Assistant who play the game with aplomb, delivering a glittery sparkly set of offerings; an auricular Heptathlon with angular and meandering guitars running alongside warm and swirling electronics and a vocal tag-team relay to boot.

Which I'm more than happy with :-)

Girlinky at the Spice of Life

Pamela Hansford Johnson

A couple of months ago I spent about an hour trawling the web, in vain, for information about Pamela Hansford Johnson, the out-of-print author of three of my favourite books (if not my three favourite books) - The Humbler Creation, The Holiday Friend and An Error of Judgement. Now, either my google skills are far worse than I thought they were or this site has sprung up recently.

Either way, it's worth mentioning that, while you won't find her books in Waterstones, you can still get most of them through your local library catalogue. Do.

No looking back!

Read Polly Toynbee on the 60s: a time of liberation and enlightenment. Excellent stuff.

In the meantime, it's heartening to see the Labour government putting forward a truly radical, revolutionary proposal - the concept of providing universal childcare is a staggering one, and the government intends to open schools from 8am to 6pm and charge a top-up fee for the service. Payments for the out of school hours provision would be means-tested, with affluent parents paying up to £80 a week while others would receive the service for free. A ministerial source apparently says

"This is one of our big ideas for the third term. Real legacy stuff. We are determined not to compromise on quality. Someone with a teaching qualification will be on hand all the time".

Teachers, perhaps understandably, are voicing concerns - yet if the government can make adequate provision we'd actually be witnessing that rarest of things - a labour government acting like a labour government.

On the other hand.... Jack Straw didn't know either. Gosh, I really feel good about putting my trust in this people...

Sharks and toddlers

With Chris moving to Australia yesterday, I thought a bit of topical news wouldn't go amiss. Don't let this happen to you, CB!

Australian man drives for help with shark attached to leg

and while we're in the world of rather comical stories...

Octogenarian sues toddler over Shanghai park incident

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

More on computer music...

Well, this looks rubbish, surely.

And yet I read on MacMusic....

Another suggestion, here in England there is a kit consisting of Logic Hit Kit (a baby version of Logic - but has 8 audio tracks, 8 virtual instrument tracks and as many MIDI as you want) a manual and a microphone (the mic is cheap...). It is published by a company called Dorling Kindersley (I don't know if it is availiable elsewhere) and sold from their site or from and costs 20 pounds sterling (about 30 USD). I have been using it, and for a light program, it is brilliant - but then I had Logic Platinum on OS9, but couldn't afford to upgrade it.


Bedsit Bomber and Tracktion

Andrew has posted a new song, 'Twinkle', on his blog, and it's good enough to warrant a link, I think - for me it really gets going towards the end, with its almost MBV feedback style effects. Really good. I see that he's also downloaded Tracktion, which is exciting - looking forward to hearing how it goes. I won't post another tracktion link after this, because they're doubtless boring to everyone but me and A, but one quote from the digitalprosound website all but persuades me it's the way to go:

Tracktion features unlimited audio tracks, decent FX, and VST plugin capability. Tracktion also features huge icons pointing to input sources, output sources, FX, Volume, Panning, Metering, and a screaming loud helper/popup feature. (this can be disabled by clicking the Help button) Hovering the mouse over any aspect of the application immediately pops up not only a help file, but also tips and tricks related to that file.

Tracktion also is unique in that it supports MIDI files as well, ported to outputs whereever you'd like the audio to come from, be it a soft synth, sound card synth, or external device. While the MIDI functionality is basic, it's also Reason-ably complete. It's got ReWire® support for tools that can take advantage of it. For the price of the application this too is a huge yet welcome surprise.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Computer Music pt. 45369

Some more on Tracktion...


Considering trying to use Tracktion as part of my software/hardware set up. Here's r a a p i e ' s review. He makes it sound worth a try. Hmmm.

Being Charlie Kaufmann

There's a persistant clanking noise outside and I can't concentrate. It sounds like a hammer being struck against a lampost. What is it??

Oh well. Another weekend over. Started packing for our house move this weekend, which - combined with associated chores - pretty much took up all our time. Still, there was always 'Carry On Matron' on the telly and the distinctly odd 'Adaptation' on video, which starts off brilliantly, loses it's way with a boring sub-story and veers alarmingly into chaos as the script effects a clever joke towards the end. Nicholas Cage plays a script-writer struggling to adapt an uneventful book and writing himself (and a perhaps-fictitious brother who serves as a kind of successful doppelganger) into the story, eventually writing himself out of a hole by handing over the script to his conventional side, the side which satisfies with bombastic Hollywood cliches, not finely-wrought micro-dramas. So the film ends in the same way, complete chase scene and happy ending. It's a tremendously over-clever concept and one that doesn't work at all. I don't like a film that I have to sit and figure out afterwards (without Pete's pointing out, I would have missed the handing-over-the-reins element of the story entirely, to be honest), or at least, not this one. Ah well. At least Carry On avoided feints and twists, and was much the better for it :-)

I won't go into last night's telly consumption - this must be really boring, and I'm ashamed. Suffice it to say, you offer me clever-clever art films? I take I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. I can't explain.

Emigration and Photography

Recommended Reading: Chris's travels and travails can be spyed upon here, if you're nosy.

Curly Boy Goes Down Under

The photo albums contain various photographs of me in advanced states of disrepair. And a couple of the London gig...

click here for a photo of me

Friday, February 06, 2004

Assistant: demo progress

OK - an experiment that failed. I've just removed the comments boxes; ever since I added them I've had problems with a slow-loading page, which is really irritating, so I've removed them. Hopefully the site should be back to its zippy best now.

some bits and bobs;
1. Maybe I should try and lay off the politics for a bit. One last link though; Andrew picked up the education baton on his bedsit bomber blog.
2. Oh, and read this: the introduction to Vic and Andrew's dad's new book. It looks excellent.
3. OK - that's it. Next up: a quick band update....

Recording the new demo is going along, albeit slowly - so far we've done all our drum tracks and a few guitar and bass parts, and had a fair bit of (familiar) trouble with the 303, which is crackling, hissing, delaying and generally behaving very immaturely. What we thought would be a simple recording of Engines turned out to be rather more complicated, and we had to call a temporary halt. For obvious reasons, we didn't get anywhere near the electronic version of Easy to Leave. So I've been programming it on Reason this week, again without much success. The limitation of a big software package like Reason is obvious when you try to get something specific going. It's hard to keep it simple. So my simple synth line is now crammed with compressors, flangers and distortion modules, all without it sounding the way I want it to. I need to spend a bit more time on it, or better, go back and start again!

In the meantime, trying to get new songs finalised for once we've got the demo done; you can download an early version of one of them here. The track in question is 'Don't You'.

3 things to seek out and listen to:
1. Graham Coxon - Freakin Out' (new single; not bad, but not exactly 'Think Tank').
2. Electrelane - The Valleys (absolutely amazing)
3. Dave Clarke - Disgraceland (featuring Chicks on Speed - ace)

Monday, February 02, 2004

The Cost of Learning

Before we all got so hot and bothered about Tony Blair being exonerated in the Hutton Enquiry, it was still the issue of tuition fees which was making us all angry. Vic uncovered a good article in the Guardian, and I tried (and failed) to voice the argument for their introduction (although I remain far from convinced about it, and certainly oppose variable fees). Amongst all that, we had a conversation with Anne-So who pointed out the tiny fees which are paid in France, and which made us feel all the angrier about the situation here. This morning, however, I read in the Guardian that

Le Monde's front page headline recently was "French Universities on Point of Collapse". It reported that the Sorbonne now ranks 65th in world university tables. The reason is lack of money. European universities were once independent, arrogant, confident institutions with a wealth of income sources. Bit by bit, they became appendages of education ministries. As they ceased to be trainers of an elite the number of pupils entered increased but the salaries for professors and money for laboratories, books and kit got lower and lower. In both France and Germany, the percentage of GDP spent on universities is less than half that of the US. On Tuesday night, the Commons turned the key in the rusted-up lock of university finance. Britain is now in the van of EU nations in turning its university sector to the future.

In Time magazine, Michael Blumenthal writes

The French system of higher education is broken to the core. At the level of higher education at least, it seems to me high time for the old French revolutionary triumvirate of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité to open its doors to a fourth sibling: Modernité.

Money may not buy us love, or even happiness, but it can go a long way toward buying things for which we have, as yet, no other currency. A culture that takes pride in its intellectual achievements also needs to create a university system it can be proud of. And — though it may sound unapologetically capitalistic to say so — there are times when even a certain crass Americanism has the ring of authority: you get what you pay for.

Where does that leaves us? We didn't vote for a Labour Party that would introduce tuition fees, and we probably won't forgive them for doing so. Yet are we prepared to contemplate commercial funding? Do we think we have the slightest chance of persuading the government to channel money from it's ridiculous and immoral war-mongering budget over to Higher Education? And why did we never have to pay before? Why now?

David Chaytor writes in the Guardian that we need to examine some of the slogans we use when we attempt to defend the notion of a free higher education system. First of all, we say that we don't want to encourage a two-tier education system. But, he points out,

Since when did we have a single-tier university system?

From Oxford to Essex, from University to Polytechnic, there has always been a hierarchical structure in British higher education. And what of the claim that under the new system the working classes would not be able to afford to go to University?

The fact is, however, that when full-time undergraduate tuition was free, the proportion of working-class students in our universities was close to zero. The key factor in widening participation is not low cost, but appropriate entry qualifications. Ninety percent of students with at least two A-levels continue to university.

These points don't make the idea of a market-based University Education any more appealing. But they do point to some of the fictions which hover around the edges of the argument. Chaytor concludes, damningly, that

a university system financed wholly or largely out of general taxation can only ever be a system designed for an elite.

He goes on:

Those of us who were the first in a thousand generations have got to recognise that our privileges were paid for by those we left behind. If we want to see a university place for everyone able to benefit from it, the old ways must change. That's why the higher education bill is so important. Far from being a betrayal of everything that Neil Kinnock spoke about, the new policy is a necessary, logical and practical act of redistribution of educational opportunity that should be welcomed by all socialists.

Now, invoking the 's' word in order to get the labour party back on side is a tactic well practised by Tony Blair, so it comes as no surprise to find Chaytor doing the same. And I disagree; the new policy of the labour party promises nothing in the way of distributing education more fairly. Assuming we buy the notion that it is considered advantageous for us to be aiming for a higher education system which is accessible to all and which produces thousands more graduates every summer (and as socialists, if not graduates, we must), we then have to cope with the fall out. If my qualifications (2:1 in English Literature) were enough, in 1999, to get me a low-paid job in the Publishing industry (but not much more) then how far, in five years time, would those qualifications get a similar graduate who is now awash in a sea of other graduates. What will the starting salary be then? And if having a degree is no longer a safe route to a modestly paid (let alone well-paid) job, how does one justify putting these hundreds of thousands of adults into unmanageable debt. If I had taken student loans at University (and luckily I didn't have to because my parents supported me financially) I would only just be starting to pay them off now. And I'm 26. How old will the graduates of the future be before they hit that ceiling and begin a long climb out of debt (if they get out at all). The pitfalls are obvious. For all the talk of education being further distributed, at the end of the day the same people will feel able to go (those whose background can carry the financial burden) and the others will demur.

Yes, there are arguments that a shift towards vocational degrees would help many future graduates (and might have got me a better paid job by now), and in part I agree with this. But (the wonderfully named) Stephanie Merritt writes that

perhaps the Government means that as many people as possible should have the opportunity to benefit from the experience of higher education regardless of the 'usefulness' of their degree, and all the qualities it encourages - self-motivation, independent thinking, the capacity for questioning and debate - which can only contribute positively to the wider society. If they really believed that further education had a value beyond enabling the individual concerned to make more money, they should have maintained the principle of free university education for those who show themselves to be motivated and able, because all the sophistries of their proposed bursary system will not override the fear of half a lifetime's debt in the minds of a great many young people.

All roads seem to point the same way - that there is no alternative, and that the solution is painful. Not so, of course. But until we learn in this country that we will never make progressive social change without changing the top rate of tax, we will grow to hate our governments, and rue our finances, all the more.