Courtesy of the Guardian's US election weblog:
The Michael Moore media machine received a boost yesterday when the leftwing documentary maker was booed at the Republican convention. The jeers were prompted by one of the keynote speakers, John McCain, who denounced the director of Fahrenheit 9/11 as a 'disingenuous film-maker' from the podium of Madison Square Garden.
Presumably overjoyed about the inevitable extra publicity for his movie, Moore laughed and waved from the upper levels of the hall at the booing GOP delegates . As the crowd chanted in unison for 'four more years' of the president, George Bush, he tipped his stars-and-stripes baseball cap, raised his fingers and replied: 'Two more months'."
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Courtesy of the Guardian's US election weblog:
Saturday, August 28, 2004
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Having mentioned the art of music reviews the other day, I thought I'd post a link to the review of the new album by the Prodigy which appeared in the Observer last week, not because I'm interested in the prodge at all but because I remember thinking when I read it last week 'that's what a record review should read like'. Not that it's especially well-written but just in that it actually goes some way to describing what it sounds like, low snares, hairy caterpillar bass lines and all. I won't reproduce it all here, but it's worth a look.
"Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, for all its laptop use and Howlett's decades of programming nous, feels very retro, using samples in their naked form and abandoning the studio-based, 12-bar song structure he broke with 'Firestarter'. It is anti-dance in some ways while being trammelled by the same reliance on programming as the rest of the genre, but also anti-pop and anti-pretty much everything else. It's the most elaborate invitation to sod off you'll hear for some time."
Read the whole review here.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Before you do anything else; you can now download the Assistant set at the Pavilion Tavern from last week. Six songs and the band sounding better than ever.
Right click and save as usual...
1. Theme from Assistant (LIVE)
2. I'm Shit (LIVE)
3. Drinking With You (LIVE)
4. Easy to Leave (LIVE)
5. What It Means (LIVE)
6. Engines and Anvils (LIVE)
Please let me know what you think in the comments box below. Cheers.
Saturday, August 21, 2004
As we get ready to leave London to return south the weather - miraculously - improves; sigh - it has not been the sunniest of breaks, then. Still, the return of the sun offers further proof that Brighton is the place to be - looking forward to getting back there. But just getting up at the moment: opening blinds, putting away last night's washing up, and clearing up the four piles of cat shit which my parents' pet left us in the night. She is the most nervous, jumpy cat there ever is; but in this instance the fault lies not with her but with her catflap, which malfunctioned in the night.
Waking around oneish, Vic assured me that someone was trying to break into the house. Hearing a light pattering I told her it was the rain and went back to sleep; leaving her awake and cursing me. For a start, it isn't even raining. In retrospect it must have been the cat bashing her head on the catflap. I would give her a reassuring cuddle (the cat, I mean) if she didn't look at me with utter horror every time I approach, clearly having decided that I have come here to kill her.
Well, will probably be back to sporadic blogging for the next week or so as our new flat doesn't have broadband yet, and I'm planning to try to spend a bit less time in front of the computer anyway. Vic says I'm addicted. I refute the allegation, but all the same.... I did wake up and log straight on. Hmm. Anyway - you can keep going, of course - so start with Andrew's report of last night's Oom gig and then watch this for me for confirmation that Spurs have signed Michael Carrick - I gather it should be announced soon. Yay.
Friday, August 20, 2004
Ah, having had my fill of modern classical music, it would be remiss if I didn't mention that the new Girls Aloud single is pretty damn brilliant, too. It's over at FluxBlog, if you want to hear it, although I recommend the Top of the Pops repeat, replete with colourful, forgetful clothing and lipgloss.
A good link via Tim's Rambler Blog; Iridian radio looks (and sounds) great;
"If you want to hear really provocative "new music" that actually is new, or at least created in the last couple of decades, then check out Iridian Radio. You'll hear music of artists such as John Adams, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Iva Bittova, Tan Dun, Kronos Quartet, Meredith Monk, Steve Reich, and many more".
I'm listening to it right now; currently they're playing a wondeful piece by David Lang; Cheating, Lying, Stealing, which is well worth hunting down. The composer describes it as follows.
"A couple of years ago, I started thinking about how so often when classical composers write a piece of music, they are trying to tell you something that they are proud of and like about themselves--Here's this big gushing melody, see how emotional I am. Or, here's this abstract hard-to-figure-out piece, see how complicated I am, see my really big brain. I am more noble, more sensitive, I am so happy. The composer really believes he or she is exemplary in this or that area. It's interesting, but it's not very humble. So I thought, What would it be like if composers based pieces on what they thought was wrong with them? Like, here's a piece that shows you how miserable I am. Or, here's a piece that shows you what a liar I am, what a cheater I am. I wanted to make a piece that was about something disreputable. It's a hard line to cross. You have to work against all your training. You are not taught to find the dirty seams in music. You are not taught to be low-down, clumsy, sly and underhanded. In Cheating, Lying, Stealing, although phrased in a comic way, I am trying to look at something dark. There is a swagger, but it is not trustworthy. In fact, the instruction on the score for how to play it says: Ominous funk."
Andrew has had his poems online for a year or two, and we've always been able to spy them floating around on bits of paper when we've gone round his place, but until now he's not really publicised them, although he did publish a few on his blog when it first got started. Well, he's finally decided to mention them, which is a very good idea considering they've had people in stitches whenever they've stumbled across them, although the odd look of bafflement and near-horror indicates that they remain a selected taste, like olives or Dave Gedge's voice. Nevertheless, I'm a big fan, and am reproducing a few in case it inspires you to go and search through his poem database for some more.
Daffy, scatter-brained, pinko actress, Diane Keaton,
Whilst in England, precipitated a strike meeting
At her studio flat on Chillingham Road in the Newcastle suburb of Heaton
As plumbers refused to tackle the decrepit 19th Century central heating!
With thousands of screaming girls following him wherever he goes
Young Prince William housed a terrible secret which only he knows
But he confronted his parents the other day:
Mother, Father, I now realise that I am a semi-literate, inbred, parasitical, toffee-nosed little shit.
After watching "The Sound of Music"
Lucy bought a Nun's uniform and was determined to use it.
She re-interpreted the classic film
Guiding some Southwark children over Telegraph Hill to the safety of Lewisham.
After his humiliating Wimbledon defeat, Henman
Was told by his father, "You are not my son."
He now sleeps in a sack underneath a bridge
Living on scraps stolen from Sue Barker's fridge
Prince William is now so popular with elderly women
That several Shropshire pensioners conspired to grab him.
He was imprisoned by them in a padded study
And, when Police eventually found his corpse, several hundred gallons of tea had to be pumped from his body.
Read more of his poems here. And, while you're at it, there's a couple of new Bedsit Bomber songs up now too.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
I never did get round to writing anything about Assistant's gig last week; not because it was unmemorable but because I was so busy the next day and I've been away from my computer since. All the same, now a bit of time has passed I don't think I need to provide too detailed a description; suffice it to say that, despite us not getting round to rehearsing for this one, it went as well as we could have hoped and we were arguably a bit more forceful than usual; we didn't play a particularly heavy set (we never do), but we had nice loud synths and Pete's guitar derailed into feedback on a few really satisfying instances. The new song, which I've started calling 'Theme' now, in the absence of anything more concrete, went much better than it did in London and the rest of the set was punchy and tight. I've got a recording of the show which I'll put online later this week. To anyone who came along; thanks for doing so. I'll have to get the next gig sorted out, now...
The author of Smoking Women are Sexy takes issue with the idea that he is doing anything wrong on his website, where he is "trying to get to grips" with his smoking fetish. Unfortunately, one of his habits is taking photos of women in public (without their consent) and posting them on his site. Still, it sounds like he's getting a bit of stick and I don't want to add to that; merely to mention that his site, which has got interesting recently due to an unforeseen (but surely inevitable) incident, here, is worth a look.
All Consuming is another website which provides access to some interesting reviews, although not (generally) by professional journalists. What it does is search people's blogs for links to books on Amazon, and provides links to those blogs. Perhaps understandably, most people seem to be linking to books on American politics, although the Da Vinci bloody Code is still up there, sigh.
Tom, over at his New York London Paris Munich blog posts an interesting set of comments about music reviews, and whether or not they should be more practical. The concept of not reviewing bad records is one I can never decide about. Part of me enjoys reading (good) journalists ripping into a bad record, although I find it annoying when someone ostensibly talented and with a good reach (like Alexis Petridis) takes a full page to attack the new record by someone like Shaznay Lewis when he could be using his somewhat limited space more usefully to alert the reader to a truly great record (like, incidentally, The Junior Boys LP, Last Exit, which he gave a tiny review to, and which is one of the best records I've heard in years). Generally speaking, I think it's not worth taking lots of space to tell us something self-evident (new J-Lo album not that hot, etc). But small, pithy reviews I rather like. Over at The World is Full of Pisswits, Vik has found a great site which collects together bad reviews, although of films, not records.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
I'm sitting writing this in the studio of my parents house in London, where it is - sad to say given that this is my summer holiday - not sunny at all (something which Pete probably minds as much as I do, seeing as his blog suggests that his visit home will consist of nothing much more than reading in the garden. Pack a jumper, Pete.)
The house move on Saturday passed off with a lot of effort and aching, primarily down to the contribution of Pete and Andrew who helped us all the way - several van moves and a trip to the tip. For some reason I found the whole moving experience more tiresome and tiring than usual, perhaps because of the sheer volume of stuff we have accumulated, but probably also because we seem to move so often that the normal rewards of moving (sense of peace, sense of calm, sense of purpose and - most importantly - sense of permanence) no longer seem quite so reliable. So we listen out for noise, eccentric pianists, ravers, shouting loons and passing louts. None come out of the woodwork, so far, although Vic is on edge.
We somehow squeeze into the schedule a back-breaking 3 hour cleaning of our old flat on Monday night which near kills us - well, near kills Vic, who is brained by our shower, which has a dodgy attachment and has threatened to wallop one of us for months without doing so. On our final hurrah, and with crushing inevitability, it does, falling from its perch onto the top of V's forehead as she cleans the bath - so we have to delay proceedings while we look for signs of concussion. Date of birth, please? What's our new phone number? Who's the prime minister? Who's winning the war on terror?...
That done, we return our keys to the estate agent, who tells us that new tenants are moving straight in although we are still under contract 'til Friday (but have moved out). Is this ethical? No, of course not! Do we make a stand? I thank him for his help over the last year (as Vic says, he is no better than he should be) and leave. Ah well.
Fitting everything into the new flat, meanwhile, looks near impossible. We toil, however, and after much re-ordering and a couple of excellent temper tantrums on my part, we are finished. *opens beer, sits back*.
So now, in lieu of a holiday abroad but taking note of the fact that we have two weeks off, I end up in North London for my summer break, in the home I've lived in since I was born (Vic expresses undiminishing astonishment at this, still) thinking, how did things come to pass that I am spending my summer migrating from the sea to the suburbs??? It used to be the other way round, didn't it?
Friday, August 13, 2004
Ah, I had meant to do a bit more blogging today but I've been too busy. Sad to report that, with my broadband disconnected and two weeks holiday starting, er, 8 minutes ago, I'll be pretty far away from the internet for the next 14 days or so, so apologies if you come here looking for new posts and just find this message sitting here, staring at you. Will try to get online a few times if I can, though.
In the meantime, the links bar to the right is full of good reads. Particularly recommended, and shiny in its newness, is Powerful Pierre Holds Forth, which is Pete's new blog and which means, therefore, that there are now two bloggers in Assistant. Twice the value.
A big big thanks to everyone who came down to watch the band last night; we had a really good night and hope you did too - I'll try and jot down a few thoughts about the gig later.
In the meantime, I'm pleased to say that the tracks from our latest demo are finally available online, should you wish to listen to them. Right click on the links below and choose 'save target as' to download them. Let me know what you think.
Easy to Leave
Vine to Vine
It's Alright (new version)
You Should Know (same version I've been linking to recently)
Me and Victoria are going to spend a few days cat-sitting for my parents in London next week. I just spoke to my dad, who said "Now I don't want you and Vic to get too upset if the cat ignores you next week, which she may well do. What we find is that if your mother and I go into the garden she will often come and sit with us, and she likes that. Although she'll always insist on having a radius of at least six feet between herself and either of you". Makes you wonder what the point of cats is! Strange creatures.
But then I read that "a plane was forced back to earth after a bad-tempered cat attacked the pilot. Gin was travelling to a cat show when he escaped from his cage after his owner fell asleep.
He found his way into the cockpit, where he took an instant dislike to the co-pilot, reports Sky News. The cat was "very aggressive and scratched the co-pilot", forcing the crew to return to the airport, a SN Brussels spokesman said. The plane, carrying 62 people from Brussels to Vienna, had been in the air for 20 minutes when it was forced to turn back". Excellent.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Dizzee is interviewed in the Independent today. I've still not managed to get Dream out of my head - it's magnificent; Dizzee's music is just brimming over with ideas. And not just his music. In the paper he reckons he can make rappers of Princes William and Harry. Hmm.
Dizzee in the Independent
"They would rap about the trials and tribulations of being royalty. There's plenty of material there. They went to Eton, didn't they? So their English skills must be amazing. I reckon they could do it."
I dunno if this is just me, but quite a lot recently when I've tried to load up blogspot pages (including my own) it's come up with a 'cannot find server' screen. It looks like blogger is a bit overloaded. All the same, I've always got round it by just pressing refresh. So if you visit here again and get a blank screen try refreshing before you give up; this blog's not going anywhere.
Just a quick reminder that Assistant are playing tonight at the Pavilion Tavern in Brighton and that your support would, as always, be much appreciated. Unless you made it up to London last month tonight should see the unveiling of two songs new to you; a fast instrumental (which I played really badly in London) and a reworked version of Engines and Anvils.
And the usual Pav Tav rules apply besides; in other words, we’re on first (at 8.30), it’s free and you can buy cheap drinks apparently, although pubs never seem to offer the drinks you want in these promotions, do they? Hmm. Well, if you bought me a drink you could make it a cheap one? How’s that for a sales pitch? No, maybe not.
Other bands playing are Decora and Elite. As usual if you collar one of us and say hallo we’ll be happy to give you a CD – and if you want one and can’t make it tonight just email me or leave a comment and I’ll sort it out.
the Royal Pavilion Tavern,
7–8 Castle Square
Tel: 01273 827641
Download You Should Know or What It Means (live) or Freaks.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Ace Brighton pop group La Momo have picked up airplay on XFM recently (*jonathan pauses to seethe with envy*) but they deserve it, so that's alright. You can listen to their song at the following link, and if you vote for it then they get more airplay and you get... erm... a rosy glow of goodness. And justice prevails. So do that, OK?
I didn't think I could care less about the Stone Roses anymore, so comprehensively has their memory been sullied by second albums, solo careers and the fact that the likes of the brothers Gallagher and Richard Ashcroft have stolen wholesale the reference points of what used to be my music, leaving one to remember the Roses as, depending on your time scale, mop-headed 60s revivalists or hoary 70s rock merchants.
It takes time to remember that the Roses were better than this: in the early days Brown and Squire were thoughtful, fiercely intelligent young men, not scallies, and half of their debut album and the couple of singles which followed it were quite exceptional. Fool's Gold, in particular, is pretty much unequalled. Nevertheless, I don't think I've listened to a Roses record since 1996 or so, and Ian Brown's solo stuff, with it's invocations of reggae, funk and hip-hop is of far more interest to me.
So I was surprised to feel strangely stirred when Ian Brown played a set of early Roses tracks last week, and reading the setlist was like being transported back in time. Songs I'd completely forgotten about spring back to me; Sally Cinnamon, Mersey Paradise, Standing Here...
And now Brown has spoken to the NME about it and I find myself wondering where my Roses CDs got to - back in London with my parents, I suppose. Me and V are going to stay in Barnet for a few days next week while my parents are out of the country, so perhaps I'll have to dig my copy of Elephant Stone out while I'm there.
Ian Brown talks to the enemy
As Pete will testify, it's pretty appealing letting a boiling hot Saturday pass by without venturing into the centre of town, and we often manage it, leaving Churchill Square to the masses and the peruvian pipe bands. A sunny weekend in Brighton, naturally, seems to sap the space from the streets and the air from the pavements, as London spills over into the sea.
Last Saturday was gloriously bright and Brighton was more packed than ever - the result being the most sunny and cheerful Pride I can remember seeing. That said, I seem to have developed a habit, in recent years, of needing to go to the shops on the morning of the parade. So on Saturday, when everyone else was standing, grinning in the sun watching all manner of colourful and interesting floats, I was pushing my way through the crowd trying to get to Churchill Square. Still, last year I had to buy a suitcase and was forced to struggle back through the crowds with it. This time my shopping list was more compact.
All the same, it seems as if every year I am the only person battling to get to the shops (it really isn't easy advancing up through town when there are upwards of 90,000 people on the streets), ironic when I spend the rest of the time trying to avoid it. Having got through, Churchill Square was like a graveyard, and eerily cool. In the shops I was frequently the only person in there (literally, as invariably the staff themselves were standing outside the door trying to see the parade). Leaving one shop I saw an elderly woman nearly bump into a shop assistant who had climbed on top of a stool so that she could see. The woman berated her, intensely, complaining that it was bad enough to have her path blocked by 'queers', let alone shopkeepers. Ahem.
Yet, (miserable old women aside) it's damn neer impossible to be intolerant about Pride. I saw gangs of lads standing with their faces broken into wide grins as they watched the floats pass, cheering and clapping along to the music. The synchronised dancing on the parade itself was, I need scarcely add, a joy to behold.
Ten hours later, the pubs operating late licenses, people kept fighting and falling over outside our flat. But I think that's what 12 hours of drinking does to you.
Meanwhile, we packed.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
...but for all that, I'm so glad. Fluxblog is hosting a track from the new Dizzee Rascal album, Dream and it's awesome. And far from being clattering and obtuse like I had imagined, it's sparse and lovely, Dizzee seemingly learning a thing or two from Wiley's approachability and spinning a bright, intelligent rap around the sample from Captain Sensible's Happy Talk. It's part of that wondeful tradition of hip hop cuts which tell the story of the rapper's rise to fame, although it's anything but self-aggrandising. Matthew Fluxblog compares the track to one of hip hop's finest moments, Biggie's Juicy (Vic's favourite song, fact fans), but it reminds me of another great UK track - the criminally under-rated Blak Twang's Ain't Done Too Bad from his excellent 'Kik Off' LP, where he raps something like the following (transcribed from memory, alas):
"I used to claim benefits every fortnight,
do some part time cash-in-hand chores for a couple of scores
in stores, where the managers were always white,
the customers were always right and employees always fight.
In spite of the madness, man still had some jokes,
checking girls in my tight black strides and long coat,
lame shoes, cheap dicky bow tie, name badge and paper hat."
Here, Dizzee raps:
"I used to dream about crazy little things like fame
in the days hanging outside the off license.
We used to run around the streets, reckless with no shame,
mainly up to no good, a whole world of nonsense.
And when the girls walked by we would try to catch their eye
and if they didn’t show a face we would act immature…
A coupla west girls on my radar – I was raw."
Lyrically excellent, engagingly good-hearted and so simple you can't believe no one has done it before, the track is just (oh god, I can't resist the pun) dreamy.
Fluxblog Is Not Essing Around: Dream
Monday, August 09, 2004
OK, No more MP3 links after these ones (today, anyway).
- A Seattle based radio station with a massive archive of live recordings in WMA format.
- And another in Texas with a whole bunch of live MP3s.
These are, I almost feel ashamed to say, all legal downloads. What is the world coming to?
Thanks to One Man and His Blog for the links.
Now this is an absolutely brilliant, thoroughly unscrupulous bit of advice, courtesy of The SaltwaterPizza Blog.
To quote this most public spirited of blogs:
1. Go to Google.com.
2. Type in one of the following two phrases (try the first one; if you're not happy with the results, try the second one on your second search):
"index of/mp3" -playlist -html -lyrics
"index of/mp3" -playlist -html -lyrics
3. If you'd like, add an artist's name or song name to the end of the phrase, then click the Search Button.
Why this works:
All around the world, but particularly in the United States, students accumulate MP3s. Many of these students leave their collections in searchable directories on school networks. Once Google indexes these sites, they become accessible via Google's search results. If you don't believe this to be true, wait till the end of August (the time of year students traditionally return to school) and watch this method's success rate improve dramatically.
Of course, it isn't just students leaving their files unprotected. Many small (and surprisingly, sometimes large) businesses have 100s of MP3 directories available to the public. A word of warning: Once one of these sites begins getting lots and lots of hits via the web, the SysAdmin for the site will discover the security hole and remove access. So be quick! And again, only download legal content. ;-)
Uncovering some fabulous stuff, today, quite by accident. Take this. Pete Ashton's Weblog points me to an MP3 of... well, I'll let him explain.
"This is a Chipmunks record (y'know, from the cartoon) slowed down so the voices of the chipmunks are three normal blokes enunciating very clearly while everything else is a slow drone"
And it's brilliant. Well, the first time, anyway.
Here it is. Apologies, Pete, for stealing the link out of your site, but I couldn't find a way to link to the relavent part of your mp3 blog.
Slowed Chipmunks (right click and save as target, etc)
Pete's site is great, by the way, so go see for yourself.
Victoria warned me of over-eloquising my brief stint in the water this weekend, so I shall be careful and say just this. The sea is not quite as cold as it looks. Not quite. It's got so hot in Brighton in recent weeks that ordinarily sane men get driven to unforeseen lengths. The other week I sat by Chichester canal on my lunch break and half considered jumping in; so it's perhaps no surprise that after several hours of packing on Saturday (like Vik Blackwell, we're moving flat) I decided to go for my first swim in the English Channel. It was so pleasant that I did it again yesterday.
The actual shock of putting my shoulders under was not quite so great the second time around, but on Saturday it was startling. What's really hard is controlling your breathing; I ended up literally gasping for a good 30 seconds; trying to slow down and breathe normally but instead making these horrendous 'cccrrrrrggggggghhhhh' noises. Happily I had found a quiet spot where my hyperventilating could go unnoticed. That done, it was much warmer than I imagined, especially if you keep splashing about (yes, I realise other people swim. I merely splash about, that's fine).
None of which answers this question; every time I go to the beach I spy people who, like me, have their lofty ideas about a pleasant paddle in the water ruined by the fact that are largely incapable of doing so without darting straight back out of the water, crying "Jesus, that's cold!". And yet there are always plenty of toddlers playing unselfconciously and happily in the shallows, without raising so much as the slightest objection. Why is this? Have we just grown up, grown soft?
1. The Futureheads' version of Kate Bush's Hounds of Love was never meant to be on their debut album, originating as it did on a limited edition 7" and not really intended for mass consumption. But copies of the 7" started selling for outrageous prices on ebay and so they stuck it on their recently released, and absolutely excellent, LP. Now every article I read mentions it (and the chaps at Fluxblog provide the track for download) and you wonder whether getting this track out as a single is now on the agenda? Guessing that, however proud of the cover the band might be, the group are far keener on releasing their own material, one can't help wondering whether it'll be too good an opportunity to miss. Somehow it took a good year longer for the press to pick up on The Futureheads than it did with Franz Ferdinand. Now it's the Futureheads turn. And Hounds of Love is magnificent.
Visit Fluxblog and download the song.
Also listening to:
2. Afuken - Fabric 17 LP (brilliant minimal tech-house set)
3. Mark B feat Tommy Evans - Move... Now (fantasic uk b-boy / bollywood mash; download a clip here)
4. Sonic Youth - Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream (brilliant ode to Mariah Carey from the 'Youth's slightly patchy new album)
5. Liars - Broken Witch (awesome, demented first track from their ragged, brilliant 'They were wrong so we drowned' LP - listen to a clip here)
Friday, August 06, 2004
A good post on the Pavement biography, 'Perfect Sound Forever' over on the ace 'No Matter What You Heard', which I found courtesy of Ben's even better 'Silent Words Speaks Loudest' blog.
"And if you're a longtime fan, the biography helps explain the inner workings of the band and offers factoids you can use to, ahem, impress your friends."
Ah, now you see, now I've acknowledged the source of this my friends will know where I get my facts from and not be impressed. Damn.
NO MATTER WHAT YOU HEARD: Pavement
Thursday, August 05, 2004
Just thought I'd bring a few songs back up to the top of the page.
You Should Know (demo)
What It Means (live)
Next gig is at the Pav Tav next Thursday.
Details below somewhere, and at the Assistant website.
comments below always appreciated x
Is this not a magnificently frightening image; wonderful!
"Just as the last flying ants collapse, exhausted, after their spectacular aerial mating swarms, Britain's modest heatwave has brought a new insect plague to parts of the south and east coasts.
Millions of marmalade hoverflies have crossed from the continent on warm thermals, causing havoc on beaches and seafronts where children and families have mistaken their banded black-and-yellow colouring for wasps.
'It was just horrific,' said esplanade shopkeeper Jeanette King, a former mayor of Walton on the Naze in Essex where the 'marmalades' - harmless and the commonest of Britain's 270 species of hoverfly - came ashore at the weekend.
'Children were screaming, people were covering up prams and pushchairs. If you stopped still for a moment, you could get covered in them. I was told that it was the same all the way to Kirby le Soken, and that's quite a step [away].' Drifts of the hoverflies also piled up along the foreshore between Walton and Clacton, as insects which had failed to make the Channel crossing were washed up by the tide."
'When is a wasp not a wasp?'
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
Going to do a spot of plugging; just been catching up on recent posts by Vik Blackwell on her excellent 'The World Is Full of Pisswits' blog, and feel shamed into passing on anyone who's come here courtesy of Tim's kind link. For what it's worth, I think her blog is the best, funniest and most consistent blog on the block, so pay her a visit and tell her so.
Granted, it’s easy to quote verbatim from more talented and successful writers at the Guardian, and granted, it presents a rather narrow set of cultural references for my continually doing so, but in doing so I’m trying to forge links between the things I read and the things I think. The Guardian today inspires the usual mixture of emotions – from horror at the continuing debacle of Guantanemo to amusement at Simon Hattenstone and Fay Weldon’s articles in G2. And it’s easy to think that these things have nothing in common. But I love reading newspapers because threads begin to emerge.
So I read all this on the train and was left at the end thinking about the comfort and humour of British life and British culture. How everything I read somehow confirmed something about what I already knew about this country (stop me if I start talking about Albion).
Kit-Kats (and there’s nought more British than that) have, Fay Weldon writes, recently changed their slogan from the evergreen ‘Have a break, have a Kit-Kat’ to the considerably less charming ‘Make the most of your Break’. As an ex advertising copwriter she’s critical. She writes….
“Also, … the imperative form of the verb is old-fashioned. "Haven't you realised," I'd call out after them down the corridor, "that the present participle is the in, reassuring thing? How about 'Taking a Breather, Sharing a KitKat' (I offer that to Nestlé Rowntree for free, for old times' sake)? With a picture of a couple down a cave or up a mountain, or coming up from a shag (if you must), or a smiling doctor and a nurse in casualty” …
“You're in the business of spin, these days, lads and ladettes in the creative core of the ad world, not just thinking up ways of selling space for the client. You need to sharpen up your ideas. Doesn't the Home Office - from which unsafe, unjust and intolerant legislation flows non-stop - describe itself as "building a safe, just and tolerant society"? Does not my local county council, while the prisons fill up with humiliated old folk unable to pay the council tax, describe itself as "caring, enjoying, living?" Just take a feel-good word and add "ing" and you're away, these days: the Orwellian semantics of the new world order flow seamlessly through our brains.”
Far more comforting is the world which Peter Duncan (stay with me) inhabits; the ex-Blue Peter presenter has been recruited as Britain’s Chief Scout and, as such, is forever in use of the present participle; constantly climbing, doing, playing, working. He is outrageously youthful and enthusiastic. He is photographed up a tree and has, the picture shows, very small and delicate feet. The article ends
Duncan is in the garden climbing trees for the photographer. I ask him if he thinks of himself as a man or a boy. "Ermmm ... transition. I may become a man this year ... Maybe when I get inaugurated in September, maybe that will be my inauguration into manhood."
"Oh God, he's not in the tree is he?" Annie shouts from the kitchen. "Just be careful will you, Pete. Don't do anything silly."
From such fripperies to Guantanemo is an unlikely leap; but even in the Guardian’s exhaustive and upsetting coverage of the experiences of the Tipton Three there is a sudden moment of the absurd; we’re conditioned to think of Muslims as increasingly ‘other’ – when the three returned to England and exchanged their stories for payment they were roundly criticised and their stories pronounced as discredited, although no-one ever accuses the mother of Sarah Payne of compromising the truth simply because she is being financially rewarded for telling her awful story in print. The three, the intimation clearly runs, aren’t quite ‘one of us’ enough for us to care for their account. And it almost feels true. But the story runs that
“After months of questioning in coercive conditions, Mr Rasul admitted meeting Osama bin Laden and Mohammed Atta, one of the September 11 hijackers, in Afghanistan in 2000. In fact, he was working in a Currys store in the West Midlands.”
And all of a sudden he is the man in Currys who helped me choose my stereo. And the disparity between what we are told and what is true is more apparent than ever. The moral absolutes of a thousand political cliches bend and tear in the wind (and we don't want that!) Meanwhile, with the three back home, we are back in the Britain we know, of Currys, of Kit-Kats and Kingsley Amis - and we can forget about politics, but only for a moment.
We’ve moved on a bit from Wodehouse, too, while we’re talking national stereotypes, but I think he would have approved of Lucy Mangan’s article on the British love of a good battleaxe. A british man may no longer be a brit if he is a muslim, but an aunt is still an aunt. And aunts, lest we forget, are never gentlemen.
“Why this proliferation on screen of battleaxe women? Perhaps because there's something undeniably exhilarating about watching people who deal only in absolutes, and are untouched by the doubts and questions that plague the rest of us. They steam implacably ahead while the rest of us flail about in a sea of moral relativism and get nothing but mental cramp for our trouble.
I grew up surrounded by them. Multitudinous aunts of northern extraction, zaftig dimensions (it wasn't until I hit puberty that I realised that brassieres didn't have to be made by Govan steelworkers) and indomitable will have swept, stately as galleons, through my life. They quelled infantile riots, dispensed orders, enforced discipline and clouted you into the middle of next week if you disagreed with them.”
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
You can walk into practically any branch of Oxfam or almost any other charity shop in Britain and buy a copy of Kingsley Amis's 'The Old Devils'. And indeed also 'Lucky Jim', 'Stanley and the Women' or 'Russian Hide and Seek'. Indeed, with the exception of 'Stanley...', you should probably do so. But Kingsley Amis wrote over twenty novels and the vast majority of them have been out of print for many years. The TV adaptation of 'A Girl Like You' introduced one more book to the general public a year or two ago, but if you want anything more than that or 'Lucky Jim' you'll have to go second hand. And even then large amounts of his back catalogue are very hard to find.
Unfairly stereotyped as either an 'angry young man' or a sexist old pig, Amis is rightly lauded for being the funniest British writer since Wodehouse. But he was also a magnificent writer with an ear for language (and sound) to die for and a wonderful imagination, and a fine poet to boot. Happily, I ducked into Waterstones on my lunch break (best air conditioning in Chichester; it's sweltering here) and discovered, first, that 'Jake's Thing' has been republished in a rather racy looking 'Vintage Blue' series (along with 'The Rachel Papers', 'Portnoy's Complaint', 'The Cement Garden' etc).
Better still, a glance at the shelves reveals that Vintage have gone further, and are finally reissuing his back catalogue. But if the packaging of 'Jake's Thing' suggests that nothing has changed in the public perception of Amis senior, the reissue programme tells a different story.
Beautifully packaged and tellingly branded on the spine not as 'Kingsley Amis' but 'AMIS', the designs seem to reinforce and encourage the notion that we should be re-thinking Amis's contribution to post-war fiction. One can almost imagine saying "Oh, you thought I meant Martin Amis? No. I meant Amis". Of the newly published books, I can say little; I've found it as hard to track them down as the above indicates. Should have no such problems now, though. Thank you, Vintage.
A big percentage of people who come to my site appear to be on the lookout for any story as long as there is some piranha angle, judging by my stats. Well, I sympathise. I like a good piranha story as much as the next man, and can only assume the surge in interest in recent days is down to the story of a boy who had his finger half-bitten off by one of the vicious little bastards in a public fountain in Hong Kong. However, assuming you've seen that story, I just dredged up another couple of links.
In the Guardian, a tale of fishy frolics down the Amazon with David Atkinson.
Hook, line and skewer ... David Atkinson hopes the piranha won't make a meal of him first. Photo: Patricia Portocarrero (The Guardian)
And elsewhere, courtesy of a random google search... the comic character we've all been waiting for.
See how this description grabs you: "The whole image of Piranha was the first thing to come...this crazy, mysterious, snarling and very dangerous looking woman with her huge metal coat and a giant fish for a hat"
Further to my Daily Mail post, I was reading a copy of The Times downstairs in the canteen just now and I noticed an odd-construction in one of their comment pieces; in the midst of an article defending the Pope from all those nasty feminists he so justly attacked last week (not literally - that's an interesting image), the characterisation runs something along the lines of "Islington based, Guardian reading, SUV-driving, career women and liberals". SUV-driving? Any readers of the Times out there? Do they normally add this to the normal anti-Guardian stereotype? Hmm.
Meanwhile, much Guardian reader-baiting over at Peter Cuthbertson's Conservative Commentary blog; where the term 'liberal' is used as a US style term of abuse. When Andrew tried to claim it back he was met with the following reply from one of the young tories who inhabit the comments boxes, looking for people to oppress: "If you are a small government, pluralistic, pro free market liberal (like me) you already have to qualify your liberalism by pointing that out, otherwise people assume you're just some morally limp, self righteous bedwetter who wants to let all the criminals out and give all our money to the chronically workshy. It's just easier to call yourself a conservative."
So now they're claiming the term 'liberal'! Where will it end...
Pete Ashton's linklog points me to the following site: Mailwatch: Watching them, watching us, which is a fabulous idea which maybe needs a bit of development; at the moment it's mostly poking fun at the front page and the odd-spoof, whereas the possibilities of making serious satirical points aided by this obscene and vulgar paper are near limitless.
When I commuted in London I would often pick up Daily Mails on the tube and I almost miss the attacks of gibbering fury and burst-out-loud hilarity that reading it would induce. Hopefully the bloggers behind Mailwatch can mine this rich vein of material. And if you spot any appropriate stories for them, drop them an email.
And, not meaning to brag, the banner line on the Mail on the 29th June ('Can You See an Elephant on the Underground?') refers to a website which I spotted and mentioned in February. Here's the link it referred to again...
Am quoting verbatim from today's link, because 'RobotPerson', another brighton-based blogger, has not got post links on his blog so I can't link directly to this entry; still, it appears on 29 June if you do want to click through and scroll down to it. I'd recommend you take a look anyway.
: "Today on the train I had my first encounter with the strange phenomenon known as sleep paralysis. One moment I was comfortably dozing, the next I was awake but completely unable to move. From my closed eyelids to my leaden limbs I was conscious, but utterly frozen. It was very, very strange...
Sleep paralysis happens when a normal brain function goes slightly awry: During normal REM sleep the part of the brain that controls movement becomes paralysed - a necessity, as otherwise we'd physically act out our dreams. I remember once seeing a clip of a sleeping cat who had this paralysis effect somehow bypassed. The dreaming cat was jumping around and swatting the air, acting out his dreams of catching birds (cats dreams must be good fun).
The sleep paralysis effect occurs when the switch that releases the paralytic hold on the body for some reason doesn't flip. An alert mind in a totally locked body is the result, and if you're thinking that this sounds pretty scary, you're spot on.
This morning I'd been drifting in and out of sleep all the way in - I'm feeling drained right now after the exertions of the stag. I remember coming-to somewhere around City Thameslink thinking that I had a few more minutes to doze. Next thing I know, I can feel and hear the train pulling into a station but can't move at all. Particularly worrying was not being to open my eyes, although it felt much more like I just couldn't see than I had my eyes closed".
In fact, I'll stop there. Click through to read the rest of the post. June 29th, remember.
Monday, August 02, 2004
The Libertines - The Libertines LP
ME: It's just not very good, despite the hype. In fact, it's a shambolic, under-produced set of half-songs and demos which sounds unfocused and half-assed. And it's only got a couple of decent tunes.
me: That's true. You can see why Mick Jones, who produced the record, loves it though; it's a homage to the Clash, complete with faux-Strummer, half-illegible vocals and brittle Jones-ian guitars. It recalls that swaggering, almost effortless late-Clash period where 'Sandanista', 'London Calling' and 'Combat Rock' just oozed with new songs; half half-baked, half genius. Only without the genius.
ME: And that's not all. Anyone familiar with early, ramshackle Blur will hear plenty of echoes, too.
me: Yep. And 'Narcissist' is clearly an attempt to sound like The Kinks...
ME: 'Campaign of Hate', meanwhile, is just 'I am the Fly' all over again.
me: And 'Tomblands' is pure Clash. But it's pretty good, actually.
ME: You think? Blur's 'Think Tank' was a magnificent, inspired Clash-influenced album. This is just a photocopy.
me: Perhaps. But for all it's flaws I think it's a strangely likeable record - the stumbling, obscure singing, the loose guitar playing, the drums which sounds like they were recorded in a cardboard box, it all reminds me almost of...
ME: Don't compare it to 'Slanted and Enchanted'!!! Don't you dare.
me: OK. It's not a patch on 'Slanted and Enchanted', that's true.
ME: It's not a patch on 'Terror Twilight' either.
me: When are you going to admit that Pavement weren't as consistently brilliant as you'd like to believe???
ME: (says nothing).
me: Either way, some of the songs on 'The Libertines' are pretty good. 'Can't Stand Me Now', 'Music When the Lights Go Out', 'Tomblands'...
ME: 'What Became of the Likely Lads'?
me: Yes! Ok, so it's derivative, under-played and only has emotional currency because of the poignancy of the lyrics (Carl sings "If you pipe all summer long / Then get forgiven in a song / Well that's a touch, my lad") - but it's kind of fun! It has an energy and drive you won't hear in, say, 'Franz Ferdinand'.
ME: I'm not that bothered about that record, either.
me: You only say that because you're not sure whether it's cool to like Franz Ferdinand or run them down.
ME: OK. So it's got a couple of good songs on it. What about the grimmer moments? What about those awful melodies on 'What Katie Did'? The 'la la la' chorus on 'The Man Who would be King'? How about the Doors-like dirge of 'Road to Ruin'?
me: That one's awful.
ME: It is. And the pisspoor far outweighs the good on this record. As for energy and drive, they sound like they can't be bothered on half of this LP! Getting Mick Jones in again just means it's a tired re-run of the band's previous sound (and the sound of their heroes), a re-hash. I want to hear the lyrics! I don't want a song to fall apart half way through. Nor do I want a load of rusty, lackadaisical playing. Except on 'Slanted and Enchanted'.
me: But here's the question - will you listen to this album again?
ME: That's not the question. The question is, why are the NME proclaiming this lot the greatest band of their generation!?
me: Will you, or won't you?
ME: I will. Soon, perhaps. It's quite an intriguing record.
me: Told you.
ME: Hmm. But it's rubbish.
Sunday, August 01, 2004
On Thursday night I went to meet a selection of Brighton (and Hove's) finest bloggers. The notion of a blogging community is a slightly odd one, not least when you have not yet established yourself within the community. I have been, then, a member of the Brighton Bloggers web ring for several months, but in that time my interaction with them has been slim; I've linked to a few, and had the odd link back, and read a few, and - perhaps - been read by a few in return. But a community obviously works along some sense of 'togetherness', the suggestion of some sympathy, some mutual purpose or - more simply - friendship. Not knowing anyone, my being part of a 'community' is little more than a nice idea.
But the people I met were really nice, and talented too. I know that it's perfectly possible to create a community online (indeed Live Journal does all that stuff perfectly well) and thus make the meeting up side of things redundant, but I think there's a definite correlation between meeting people and reading about them; unless you are willing to dredge the recesses of every part of your personal life, one's blog will always be the equivalent of somebody's holiday snaps; momentarily revealing yet in need of some kind of narrative to make it mean something. Oh, I don't know, why, why should it have to mean something, I guess. But still...
Reading people's blogs, though, makes more sense after you have shared a beer - for me, if no-one else. I find that I stop scanning for information, for a start, and begin to just enjoy the prose for a while. Perhaps I am far too curious to be a good blog-reader, forever looking for proof, for identity, an inveterate google-searcher, utterly frustrated when no clues can be found. Maybe all it is is that meeting someone and saying hallo means I can skip the 'archive' buttons when I arrive at the site; feel more qualified just to sit and read, which is the fun of blogs.
Whatever, it's always slightly intimidating, slightly exciting and slightly peculiar introducing yourself to a new set of people (although it was nice that Andrew was there, who of course I know), but reassuring to find it pleasant, although I suppose I'm pretty good at getting on with new people. Sharing geographical location as a reference point rather than, say, an interest in american indie rock from 1989 to 94 or the novels of Martin Amis, the blogs of Brighton are a mixed bag, but meeting is testament to the fact that you can write about XML, XTC or ecstacy and it doesn't mean you won't get along.
Instead I find myself looking forward to the next opportunity to meet.
A short introduction to the Brighton bloggers; (and pictures here)
Jane and Richard's Yak and Natter
Bedsit Bomber Blog
and here's a photo of me, too, with a pint. And Andrew.