Monday, January 31, 2005

phantom callers

Does anyone else get phantom phone-vibrating? By which I mean that paranormal experience where, expecting or hoping for a text message to liven up a boring day at work, or hoping someone will interrupt your trip to town on a Saturday afternoon with an invitation to the pub, you feel a clear and familiar vibrating from your inside coat pocket. Brrrrrrrr (once). Brrrrrrr (twice). And so you reach inside your coat with your tired from typing hands or your windbitten hands to get the phone and.... there is no message, and there is no missed call. You willed the vibration into existence, but you can't prove it happened.

Anyway. I get that all the time.

bad news for polar bear fans

Many Arctic animals, including polar bears and some seal species, could be extinct within 20 years because of global warming, a conservation group said yesterday.

a concerned polar bear, this morning.

Sorry, that was just a gratuitous excuse to show a picture of a polar bear, an animal which is really cool.

That said, I read last Friday, with a degree of surprise, a news item in the Guardian which reported on "the UK's first dedicated meeting of climate change sceptics", which was held in London last week. At it, the paper said:

"...the consistent message is that global warming will not have a catastrophic effect, and if it does there is little the world can or should do about it.

The meeting, held yesterday at the Royal Institution in London, was billed by organisers as "a valuable opportunity for debate on a topic frequently obscured by angst and alarmism". Climate change, they said, was a topic "that has been subject to widespread misrepresentation and politicisation".

Speakers included David Bellamy, the former television botanist and a special professor at the University of Nottingham; Richard Lindzen, professor of atmospheric science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Benny Peiser, a social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University."

Thinking it odd that the Guardian seemed to pass up the opportunity to challenge these conceptions, my immediate response, not knowing much about the subject, was to wonder if perhaps these people weren't right after all. But Mark Lynas, writing on his blog on the same day, seems to be under no illusions. And he writes,

"This unwelcome appearance of the American far-right in London is unlikely to convince many people that all the scientists are wrong, but it may at least confuse non-experts - which is precisely what the climate change deniers intend."

And which is precisely what happened.

Reading the Guardian article back, one quote leaps out, from David King, the chief scientific adviser to the government.

"It's very important to know where these sceptics are coming from and to identify lobbyists as distinct from scientists."

Making that distinction is not always easy, however.

Assistant: heads up once again

Having talked at length about something which you really need to hear rather than read about yesterday, I'm happy to confirm that Assistant are playing The Cable Club once again soon - we're playing with Kingsomniac on March 14, another Monday night but not such a dark and forbidding one as the last, seeing as by March we should be a little into spring. The last Assistant gig was a wet, cold Monday in December - not the kind of night where people think, "hey, let's go out!".

I think we're the middle band of three, so should be onstage around nineish or so, and - as ever - we'll do our best to have a new song or two ready, and we'll certainly make sure we have the new demo to hand for you to take away with you, assuming, of course, that you can come.

I'll post further details nearer the date, of course.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

guitar rock, hot cross buns

Assistant convened today to record our new demo, something we've been meaning to do for a while. In the past we've done stuff at rehearsals, using Ali's 8-track recorder and a bunch of microphones, slowly doing individual takes and overdubs, a slow process.

But recently Ali has updated his equipment to a laptop, a copy of Cubase and a pod, which is a kind of big effects processor which acts as an amplifier between one's guitar and the computer; it means that, without actually making any noise, one can choose from a bewildering array of amp sounds and route them straight into Cubase. When these decisions are being made I feel awkward while the others suggest sounds. "A fender 1962", Pete says. "OK. Which cab should we use?", replies Ali. "Well, if we're using a fender amp we should really use a fender cab", Andy chips in.

I have been playing guitar since 1989 and I still don't know what a cab is. "Oh Pete", I say, "I've read this book".

Not needing to make a racket, we can do all the recordings in Pete's flat, so while sounds are identified I survey the titles in Pete's bookshelf. Geoff Dyer is good, I note, and Andy borrows that. But Ali's new set up is devilishly easy to use, so there's not much standing about. In roughly three hours we record all the guitars and bass for four of our best songs, 'What It Means', 'Drinking With You, 'Theme', and 'I'm Shit', Ali having recorded the drum tracks in advance. Anne-Sophie is on holiday so we have to wait to add the keyboards, and we'll do the vocals once they are done.

Only having done about 3/4s of the recording, then, I'm wary of declaring it a complete success. Nevertheless, it goes very well. For 'I'm Shit', which is first, I record a guide guitar line in one take before Ali and Pete record their own, more complex parts. Once done, the whole thing sounds so good that we leave my take in place. The recording sounds tight and proficient; it's a song with stops and starts, so full of holes which, live, tend to bleed outwards. Recorded they are much more exact, moments where the song hangs tantalising in the air. The song is tuneful, too, and I wonder, not for the first time, if my slightly manic vocal line will not sound incongruous. Guitars twang and chime and there's me, on top, having to sing "If you're still lying, then I'm not trying", and "fuck off" - which I may have to change. I am faint of heart.

'Theme', ah, now that one is more agressive. It has its origins in one of the first songs we wrote, and it somehow re-emerged as a very short, simple instrumental which we open the set with. We decided to record this quickly and keep it loose. In the end it sounded much more frantic than we expected, my two note intro collapsing into 20 seconds of heavy riffing before the same two notes lead the song out into an awkward collapse. We are all pleased with this, having never made an Assistant song finish on its knees before.

We stop for tea and hot cross buns. If you take a look at those photos of Pete Doherty smoking heroin at the Babyshambles recording sessions which appeared in the News of The World today, but substitite the hard drugs for sticky buns, you'll get the idea.

'Drinking With You' is incredibly easy to record. Well, for me, at least. The song has got quite an awkward rhythm, difficult to play, but I circumvent that issue by neglecting to join in - people who've seen Assistant live will recognise it as the one where I put my guitar down and do a self-conscious indie shuffle around the stage, feeling like an idiot. But Pete and Andy do a really amazing take of it; the song is surprisingly heavy, a bit crazed. At one point we try to listen to the bass line on its own and all agree that doing so makes us feel a bit sick. It is, we agree, a particularly amoral piece of bass playing. The final version will have big synthesized strings on it (no, not like that new Athlete record or whichever indie ballad that is you're thinking of) and I can't quite imagine how mad that will make the song sound. We all agree that the recording sounds better than we imagined.

Lastly, we record 'What It Means', the song which most misses Anne-So's keyboards. Her piano line holds the song together, and it's hard to imagine recording without it. But we do, and my immediate reaction was that, bit by bit and all together, this is our best song. Andy's bass line sounds sufficient on its own, and Pete's chattering guitar line and the slight melody which I play evoke something really self-assured and memorable. I'm very biased, I know, but it sounds like a hit, for god's sake. There, now everyone will hate it. I've cursed it.

We have the whole thing wrapped up in three hours. The Stone Roses took how long in the studio? Amateurs, as Ian Brown once said. As soon as the demo is complete I'll post it here. Hopefully that won't be too long.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Yo-Yo of Doom

For Christmas, one of the more incidental but highly useful presents I received was a pair of earphones, bought to replace several previous pairs which have been lost in the mists of time and several house moves. What was particularly delightful about this gift was not the earphones (Philips), but the circular case in which they came. The earphones came tightly wound around an invisible central spool, with earpieces carefully recessed into snug plastic mouldings. I thought the packaging was excellent: neat, compact and clever. No trailing wires would hang out of my bag or snag upon my keys. Ideal.

But then I tried to unwind the earphones and couldn't do it. In fact I tried several times. Jonathan gave me a lengthy tutorial on the appopriate methodology and I thought I had mastered it. But no. I have just tried to take them out of the case for the first time on my own (to listen to Radio 4 online) but couldn't do it. Not even to save my life.

I have grappled with the bloody thing for a full ten minutes now. I decided that the case must be destroyed and would have to be sacrificed, such was my determination to release the headphones. I tried to prise it apart with a ruler, then I tried using a pair of scissors to try and lever the infernal plastic spindle apart. Either someone has superglued the bloody thing together or I am weak and defeated. They won't come out. Well the earpieces come out a bit, and so does the plug bit, but everything in the middle is trapped. I just plugged them in with the plastic casing still grasping most of the wire, forcing me to lean forward with my ear inches away from my computer screen. Luckily no-one saw.

[Guest blogging by Vic]

links clearout #2

Two rather more serious links now, and both a little out of date; both come from sources (Harry's Place and the Adam Smith Institute Blog) which are well worth regular visits, although you'll get very different messages from each. Harry's Place, like a lot of other blogs, has spent a lot of time musing over Islamophobia in recent months; to get the full gist you'd need to read through the archives. But having watched 'The Power of Nightmares' this week (it bears repeating, that programme is dazzling) this phrase jumped out at me as one worth preserving:

"The islamophobe regards extremism and oppression within islamism as somehow special in nature. Muslim extremists - like the jew or "zionist" of fable - have fantastic powers. They are plotters, dissemblers, manipulators, murderers of children, fanatics. Anti-gay rants in parliament and the press are one thing, but in the mouths of bearded clerics they are something else.

The point is this. There is nothing alien and exotic about islamism, in either its content or its style. The extremists of the islamic and christian/post-christian worlds share a common heritage; they are both self conscious revolts in the romantic tradition against modernism and liberalism."

As Adam Curtis intimates in the final part of his excellent documentary - the threats offered by 21st century terrorism are not new threats. We've survived them before. The final moments of his documentary saw him saying:

"But the fear will not last, and just as the dreams that politicians once promised us turned out to be illusions, so too will the nightmares."


The Adam Smith Institute is a 'free market think tank', meaning I get really annoyed every time I read it. One article which was published on their blog recently did interest me, because it was on the subject of 'happiness', or rather an idea about happiness which is put forward in Richard Layard's new book (which takes the word as its title). There is a paradox, he writes, 'at the heart of our lives':

"We all want more money, but as societies become richer, they do not become happier. This is not speculation: It's the story told by countless pieces of scientific research. We now have sophisticated ways of measuring how happy people are, and all the evidence shows that on average people have grown no happier in the last fifty years, even as average incomes have more than doubled."

Predicting that progressive taxation might help naturally incurs the dissaproval of the Adam Smith Institute.

"Many philosophers have proposed that happiness lies in moderation, and that the best goal is an above-average level which avoids the peaks of ecstasy and the troughs of despair. Few have followed Layard in suggesting that our personal happiness should drive public policy."

Most of the commenters agree:

"Jealousy of others is a destructive human weakness; taking from others (for example, through the tax system) to make yourself feel better is analogous to the school bully who pulls another down in order to build himself up."

It seems rather depressing that people still peddle this idea that jealousy is a result of human weakness, as if it is quite unreasonable in the face of excessive unfairness to feel hard done by and angry at your treatment. To label taxation of the well-off as bullying, and to do so while insinuating that such an action is in itself unfair is sheer lunacy. In modern society it is the rich and powerful, benefiting from low taxation, who are the bullies, building up their privilege at the expense of others. That's unfairness.

And if we do have an interest in happiness it is impossible to achieve without fairness. And only public policy can deliver fairness when the difference between rich and poor is so great. Perhaps one consolation to the free marketeers is that - even if they have to put up with a progressive tax policy (not that there's much chance of that under this useless government) - they might find an increase in fairness sees jealousy (which they hate so much) fall by the wayside. Maybe.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

links clearout #1

Okay, I'm going to have another links clearout, as I've got loads of bookmarks and drafts I want to delete and lots of rubbish or semi-rubbish links to make: perhaps I ought to make my apologies now to all the people in my RSS feeder, most of whom provided the links in some way or other via their own, original, posts, only for me to steal them and not keep track of where I was getting them. Most of them turn up in my blogroll to the right which hopefully you flick through every now and again.

So, first one: I haven't opened up the movie yet, and this link has been sitting in my draft folder for a couple of weeks, which makes it possible that I just won't every get round to it, but perhaps someone here can and let me know if it's something I ought to prioritise. What it is, is... well, this might sound kind of frivolous, I dunno, but this company, Spit Your Face, have made an alternative animated version of 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' using only lego. Heaven knows what it's like, but the screenshots are marvellous.


Elsewhere, interesting examples of early Apple marketing seem to turn up with surprising frequency; this one is of more interest than most, retaining the now familiar kitsch factor we're used to reading into the distant past of computing, but combining it with the artistic skills of a young Matt Groening, who did the illustrations - click here to see his 'student guide' Apple advert from 1989.


Sticking with Apple, there have probably been millions of great posts and articles about the direction the company are taking in these post iPod days, but I've pretty much reached saturation point with them and have been steering clear (this post notwithstanding) - however, this brief article from Complete Tosh I did see.

"The arguments supporting the company's long-term survival now go beyond the fantastic loyalty of a core group of fans. Indeed, the argument has moved beyond the decades-old "can Apple survive" debate to "where will it go next"? Tom Yager's perceptive piece in Infoworld (thanks Lloyd!) goes as far as to suggest any company attempting to sell in a market that Apple has its eyes on should feel scared. That would have sparked some hilarity only two years ago, but today the piece makes a very strong case. "

Increasingly Apple doesn't seem to me to be a Computer company at all - it is a digital media company; as at home making music devices as hard drives. In many respects it as serious a threat to Sony as it is to Microsoft.

Elsewhere, more idle gossip. A couple of days after Pete Doherty announced that...

"I've really found love with Kate [Moss]. I think it will last. She's good for me because she's got a beautiful soul and I think I can trust her. I believe her when she says she love me and I know I mean it when I say I love her." seems that she has dumped him. Ah well.

Friday, January 21, 2005

the art of selling out

Pete writes, over on his Powerful Pierre Goes Forth blog, about an interview with KT Tunstall in the Independent the other day, where she explains that "To be frank, the overall sound of the album isn't what I would have delivered had I been left to my own devices," , and he notes that "I personally think this is a shame, as it seems she hasn't really made the sort of album she would like to".

I appreciate that on one level there's nothing as romantic as the album which is free of industry influences, but part of me, faced with this, just thinks, well, that's the way it goes. The writer, by way of comparison, depends upon his or her editor in the early (and sometimes late) stages of his or her career as a moderating influence, as a sounding board, and as a critic. A great many novels are substantially edited and re-worked on the advice (and insistence) of the editor or publisher. Later on, when they are established, perhaps they dispense with this advice (and not always for the best). But we don't tend to see the music company in the same benevolent terms as we do the publisher; they 'get in the way'.

Equally, until comparatively recently, no-one really gave much thought to the notion of a 'director's cut' of a movie. It was understood that certain pressures were brought to bear upon a film and these had to be overcome by the director. These days a film can be sold to us twice, and arguably both formats are devalued. In the first instance the standard version is exposed as lacking some 'artistic vision' and compromised because of it, and in the latter, where the director can display that vision, we feel a significant disappointment that such a version tells us a story that we didn't want to know: that the first time round he couldn't negotiate with external influences: they defeated him.

Lastly, there's the question of why people make art or music, of course. It's easy to invest in an artist like KT Tunstall (who I've not heard, incidentally, so I apologise if I get her wrong in any way) this idea of creative freedom; we can well imagine her writing an album which is unarguably 'hers', and done to her own design. And doubtless that's how plenty of the greatest records do get made. But there's another side of art which is projected outwards, the part which is collaborative and social, which seeks to tick as many boxes as it can; which is interested in the dynamics of fashion, and its following. We often instinctively regard this kind of music as somehow 'meaning less', because we value the internal dialogue over the external. Yet often I find music speaks to me because it is trying to do just that - speak to me, not ramble incoherently at itself. (Here I am, your target demographic). And y'know, sometimes an artist gets to do what they like and they make something that's just unspeakably awful, and you want to know why no-one said 'hang on a minute'.

Perhaps Tunstall's album would sound better if it were more the record which she wanted to make. But I'm reminded of Andy Partridge's experiences in XTC, where he allowed his determination to retain complete creative control at every stage of the recording process to - frankly - damage every record he made for the first ten years of his career. Only when he was persuaded to let Todd Rundgren take the reins on 'Skylarking' did he create his true masterpiece. And for years afterwards he detested it, although now he repents (though maintains his control freak-streak).

A couple of years ago I submitted a poem to an online magazine which got back to me saying that they liked it and would like to include it in their next issue - provided I agree to remove one line (which I considered key) from the poem. At first I felt quite affronted, feeling that the poem was mine and shouldn't be changed. But I quickly got over that vanity and let them alter it, and I'm glad that I did, although I still dunno if their change improved it. Probably it did. So anyway - maybe I'm just cynical. I compromised my art, so I'm damn sure everyone else should have to.

I remember a band a few years ago called Sammy - who actually made a really good debut album - who were much criticised for being a fairly shameless Pavement rip-off. Pavement had just released their magnificent 'Watery, Domestic' EP and Sammy's shtick was that they were the Pavement who were happy to sign to a major label (Pavement were very much indie darlings at this stage) and 'sell out'. Then Pavement signed to a major themselves and Sammy had to resign themselves to being the Pavement who would stay indie.

Pavement knew it was much better to sell out.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

a quick reminder

Could anyone have predicted the perplexing developments in the career of perma-tanned bigot Robert Kilroy-Silk a mere year ago, when he was just an easily ignorable daytime television presenter? He seems to have gone through more re-births in the last year than most politicians do in a lifetime. Until last year, no-one seemed to much notice his bile, partly because he was published by the Express, where his cretinous views fitted right in - yet it is still remarkable to think that he got away with a litany of abhorrant articles before his racism was detected. When it was, and he was sacked, it seemed his career was over.

A year on, he's gone from being a political outcast to a powerhouse of campaigning energy. He's been credited with turning round the fortunes of a hopelessly disorganised political party - his visibility clearly helped UKIP to their success in the European elections. For a short time the Tories were running scared. He would 'kill them off', he said. His UKIP, he implied, was the future of British politics. Then things started to go wrong. His maniacal grip, it appeared, was fastened not to the collar of his party but to its sleeve; when he tried to increase his grip the party bolted. Today he announced that he is leaving UKIP (having all but destroyed their credibility by exposing them as comically disorganised and desperately incapable of operating like a political party, a kind of Fathers-for-Justice for alzheimers afflicted landowners) and he will - we are told - shortly start his own party, Veritas - which is the latin for truth.

When he does he will doubtless portray UKIP as old-fashioned and past it, reactionary and - probably - racist. His new party, he will say, is not caught up in right-wing dogma (although it will of course exploit it) and has the ambition of revolutionising British politics. When he does, it will be interesting to see which version of Kilroy the media gives us. Will he be presented once more as the celebrity taking on the politicians (as he was in the early days of his UKIP campaign)? Or as the firebrand kicking up a storm and winning people over (as he was after the European elections)? Or will it be the slurry-covered Kilroy, the man who couldn't even persuade his party that he could do a better job than Roger bloody Knapman? Whose ego, unassailable, all but destroyed his new party?

Either way, it's worth going back to those old Express columns, so we can remember - when Kilroy tells us he's a modern man, not a reactionary fart - just which side he's on.

Starting close to home, Ireland, he said, was "a country peopled by peasants, priests and pixies".(9 Nov 1992), with Scots fairing little better. In fact, "Scotland is dying." (9 Mar 2003). He wrote that the French were "devious" (2 Feb 2003), "treacherous... not to be trusted" (16 Feb 2003), that the plight of Africa is "mostly the fault of Africans," (5 Oct 2003), and that "Most of what is good and decent in Africa has been provided by Europe and the United States." Pakistanis, he said, just "want to generate hate" (7 Jul 2002). Why didn't people understand, he wondered, that "Scots are British, that Geordies are British, but that Pakistanis are not. They’re Pakistanis!" (23 Dec 2001).

Iraqis, apparently, are "not worth the life of one British soldier, not one. All they seem to do is moan, incessantly" (29th June 2003), and that paratroopers should be employed to "herd the immigrants together and cart them off to Dover where they are dumped on a secure slow boat to -- wherever" (17 Mar 2002). He complained steadily of "pushy blacks" or "talentless blacks and Asians" (19 Aug 2001.), complaining that "bleating blacks and Asians... [should] stop whining and get a life" (7 Dec 2003). On HIV, he is adamant that "The indigenous population is not responsible. The diseases are being brought here by refugees, immigrants and tourists... It is the foreigners that we have to focus on" (1 Dec 2002). Finally, of course, he said of Arabs, "Apart from oil -- which was discovered, is produced and is paid for by the West -- what do they contribute? Can you think of anything? Anything really useful? Anything really valuable? Something we really need, could not do without? No, nor can I."

You'll excuse me, Kilroy, if I refrain from voting for your kind of Veritas.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

fahrenheit 911 on TV

Peter Bradshaw, in his entertaining review of 'Team America' in the Guardian last week, declared himself "a huge fan" of Michael Moore's 'Fahrenheit 911', and described his frustration - which I share - with "those grumpy and defensive pundits, writing their squirrelly little Hutton reports into it".

For anyone daft or apathetic enough not to have already seen it, it gets its terrestrial debut on Channel 4 on Thursday 27th January at 9pm. Annoyingly they're showing it in widescreen, but that aside it's essential viewing.

tim parks and matthew kneale

I recently read Tim Parks's 'Cara Massimina', which was the kind of book which demanded a one-sitting read, which it got. I started reading it shortly after breakfast on Saturday morning and finished it (some other tasks having necessarily interceded) late that same evening. Most of Parks's books demand a similarly intense burst of concentration, because they are books which need inhabiting, exhibiting such a strong voice that to dip in and out is disorientating.

His later books, notably 'Europa' and 'Destiny' are scrupulously and intimidatingly exact, and all his fiction that I have read ('Goodness' and 'Shear' making up the list) simmers with malice. Not that he is a bloody writer, merely one who has done exceptionally well at voicing thoughts which burrow well below recognition. Which is not to say - I hasten to add - that I feel unduly sympathetic to the psychopathic behaviour of Morris Duckworth, the central character of 'Cara...', who buries himself into Italian life with the ferocity of a surgeon scalpel-ing his way into a ribcage.

Nevertheless, Parks is the most under-rated novelist going, to my mind, and I note ruefully that he is reading from his new novel, 'Rapids' at the Royal Festival Hall on March 2nd. Alas, it is a date which I can't make. I heartily recommend it to any London based readers, however. And anyone who finds Parks's style excessively feverish will be soothed by the fact that Matthew Kneale, who wrote a magnificent, hugely entertaining (and deservedly popular) book, 'English Passengers' in 2001, reads from his new novel there too. Sounds like a brilliant night.

Monday, January 17, 2005

my big head

The irrepressible Fuji Heavy made their radio debut on BBC Southern Counties last night where - as winners of last week's demo review panel, garnering praise from no less than Tim Booth, who admired their un-self-conscious lack of choruses - they were entitled to ten minutes chaotic airtime being interviewed by Phil Jackson. Me and Vic tuned in at home.

Phil Jackson comes across as a nice enough chap - he's enthusiastic and sincere and a little conventional, and I'm not sure he was quite sure what to expect from the band. On the one hand, they won last week's show with their demo of 'Sunburn', which sounds especially raw on the radio, simmering with threatened malice. On the other, the band apparently turned up to the studio dressed in suits to a man; and I know Ali and Andy (who are the Assistant rhythm section, after all) to be exceptionally well-mannered young men, the kind you'd be more than happy to marry your daughter off to.

On air they veered between amiability and implied mischief. Jackson was audibly taken aback when Keith introduced himself as 'The Brown Bomber'. The band gave quite a good account, painting themselves as spirited rather than intense, suggesting imminent success not because of their drive but because.... things looked like working out that way. Me and Vic craned in towards the radio waiting for Andy to speak but events conspired to keep him silent, meaning that Assistant are gonna have to enter this demo clash ourselves so that we can get that man back on air. It's his destiny.

Vic suggested that if I got on the radio they'd have great difficulty ever getting me to shut up. For the rest of the evening, while I cooked and did chores, I interviewed myself excitedly, finding myself an engaging - if talkative - interviewee. Assistant, I remember saying, operate out of a sense of frustration that English guitar rock is so depressingly male. All our peers, I said, grandly, are excessively masculine or excessively cherubic.

I wiped dry a plate, feeling pleased.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

the new apple ipod shuffle thing

My first thought on the iPod Shuffle was that it was the kind of thing Apple don't need to be doing; extending a brand outwards because it could, not because it should. Memory stick style MP3 players have been around ages and I've never wanted one - apart from anything else, I don't consider the storage space they offer very appealing. Why would someone want to store 128mb of music on an expensive device when they could put 700mb worth on a CD? So instead of buying an MP3 player (or an iPod, which is miles out of my price range) I bought a CD discman which could read MP3 files on CD last year, and it's kept me more than happy. I don't that often burn MP3 CDs to use on it but this just reflects the fact that I don't want to be busily plugging things in and out of my computer every five minutes - more evidence that the likes of the iPod Shuffle are not for me.

That said.... I've just been reading the website.... It does look pretty good. I hadn't factored in that random element which they suggest, the idea of just ending up with a whole lot of songs to listen to by letting iTunes fill it up for you. And 512mb is almost a useful amount. And I, um, like the way that the Apple website warns 'Do not eat iPod Shuffle'.

That said, I don't think it's particularly attractive; too small. And what's with this '12 hours battery time'?? Can't Apple fix this idiotic problem (they have it with the iPod too)? My CD discman (made by Sony) can run on two AA batteries for well over 60 hours before I have to replace them; yet everything by Apple runs out in no time. Odd.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

new order back

I've been really loving those two Gwen Stefani New Order rip offs I downloaded last week - the Jacques Lu Cont remix of her 'What You Waiting For?' and her own 'The Real Thing' from her new album. They're both great. So I'm pleased to see that New Order's own record is out shortly (well, March28). Sadly, it looks like Gillian Gilbert is gone for good, meaning New Order are now a boys-only band, but the new material is supposed to draw heavily on their dancier side, which can only be good news. The album is called 'Waiting for the Sirens Call', and there's some more information here.

wait a minute...

"WISE MAN: Tell me, Old Man, if you had one piece of advice to give young students, what would it be?
OLD MAN: I would tell them to be neither too proud or too ashamed of their music taste. The music you hear when you are young will expand to fill the space you provide for it, regardless of how good or bad it is. Perhaps you will be lucky, and you will find that the music you hear at 18 remains excellent. Perhaps you will be unlucky, and your bloom of youth will be wasted on awful novelty indie records that if you screw up your ears sound a tiny bit like a Wedding Present B-Side. But do not congratulate or blame yourself - it is not your choice."

Read on here: I think this might be my favourite blog post ever.

clang! in steps clive!

Politics is vastly complex, and sometimes very simple. All the talk about Blair and Brown an the endless rounds of briefing against each other clearly fascinates a great many people, and - right now - is clearly posing a serious threat to party unity and the way in which people see Labour as a party of government. Brown wants to be prime minister. Blair's quite happy where he is. And Brown, apparently, will apparently no longer believe a single word the prime minister says. Leaving aside the fact that Brown finds Blair reprehensible not because he sanctioned the slaughtering of a hundred thousand Iraqis, but because he broke an eleven year old promise made in an Islington restaurant, one wonders quite why so many people so enjoy speculating over this 'feud'.

David Aaronovitch (who looked so thin on Question Time last week!) says there's a Shakespearean parallel there, but that comes as little surprise as old Shakey tended to have these things pretty much down pat. Much of it, he says, comes down to this curious culture of 'camps' in downing street circles, which is certainly true. But for all the waffle elsewhere, I'm confused that it took this long to find an article like today's sketch by Simon Hoggart, who, although off my christmas card list after recent activities, gets pretty much right to the heart of the matter.

"The point about the Brown-Blair problem is this, and it has nothing to do with a bad marriage. When they both came into parliament in 1983 and shared an office, Brown was very much the senior partner. He knew about economics, and - even more important - he knew about the Labour party, how it worked, who pulled the strings and levers. He knew where to find the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain.

Once he and Tony's plans had succeeded, he assumed that he would be the first of the pair to become leader. So when he learned in the Granita restaurant back in 1994 that he wasn't going to get the job, it came as a quite horrible surprise.

Imagine being the eldest son of a wealthy peer, and being told on the old man's death that not you but your younger brother was to inherit the title, house and land - and all because he looked better on TV! You would receive the consolation prize of being estate manager.

It's hard to comprehend just how enraged you would be, how embittered, how frantically anxious to find fault with almost everything your little brother did.

And if he had, perhaps, hinted that he might, all things being considered, possibly get just a tad bored with the job and hand it on to you, well, you could hardly wait for him to stick to his word and bugger off to perdition.

Gordon Brown feels deprived of his birthright, and he will never find peace until the day he gets it back."

Someone else apparently sick of all the murmerings and keen to get the facts straight and the house back in order is my fellow blogger Clive Soley, MP, who ended his last post with ominous warnings that

"I am getting angry about the manoeuvrings between the Blair/Brown camps. It is very demoralising to Party activists and just wipes the many good news stories off the front page. I predict a reaction at the next Parliamentary Labour Party meeting!"

Now I pick up my newspaper to see, on the front page, that

"Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were last night subjected to a "blistering" dressing down by Labour backbenchers furious that their renewed squabbling over the party leadership could jeopardise the government's hopes of a third term in office."

and that...

Last night's attack was led by Clive Soley, ex-chairman of the parliamentary Labour party (PLP), now its unofficial shop steward, in terms which some witnesses later described as "blistering" and "a gold-plated bollocking".

Although the quote, mystifyingly, does not appear on the online version of the story, Soley apparently told the PM and Brown

"Unless it stops I will start naming the briefers. Put it right and put it right fast". Yay! Go Clive. It's about time someone goes in there and starts clanging some heads together. Clang!

Monday, January 10, 2005


In Italy,

Centre-left politician Enzo Foschi said: 'That salute... gives legitimacy to fascism, a murderous and tyrannical ideology. I take my cap off to Di Canio the footballer, but Di Canio the fascist is a disgrace.'

Di Canio the fascist!?? Well, it appears that Di Canio made "a stiff right-arm salute to the Lazio fans" at a recent match.

He has denied it was a political gesture, but The Observer (who printed this story yesterday) point out that "In his autobiography the trouble-prone Italian said he was 'fascinated' by Mussolini, whom he described as 'deeply misunderstood' and 'basically a very principled, ethical individual'."

More on the story here.

In 2000 Paulo Di Canio made the headlines by opting to catch a cross which he could have fired into an empty net so that the opposition team's injured goalkeeper could get treatment quicker. I think this is the gesture I prefer.


quite a good Martin Rowson cartoon in the Guardian today, but I don't think it'll fit in my template if I paste it in, so here's the link, instead. It's worth it.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

From Ronson

In his blog, From Ronson, today, Jon Ronson writes that...

"Master Peter Brusso, the US Marine martial arts trainer and inventor of the Predator, as featured in The Men Who Stare At Goats, is launching a new weapon, and it is to be named after me. So Iraqi insurgents are soon to have their eyeballs gouged out by the Jonronimo. Whilst I am glad that one of my interviewees is sufficiently pleased at the way he has been portrayed that he wants to name a weapon after me, I can't help thinking that this is not good."

That's wonderful.

records of the year, fin.

Ah, I really never quite got myself organised to finish my records of the year list (here and here); I'll append the other records that really impressed me this year:

1. !!! - Louden Up Now: By all accounts, the new LCD Soundsystem album is pretty marvellous, although I've only heard a few tracks so far. Either way, for all James Murphy's band's sheer impressiveness, I know that I'd rather go to a !!! gig anyday; they're 2004's best party band - exuberant, esoteric and sheer good fun. Easily one of the best albums of the year.

2. Wu Tang Clan - Disciples of the 36 Chambers: a real late entry, seeing as I only got this yesterday; nevertheless, it's just incredible, the best Wu Tang group cut since the first album as far as I'm concerned. It's pure Wu Tang hip hop, dark, dirty and inspiring - and surely hip hop's best live album ever? And god it makes me feel stupid for missing them when they came to Brighton in the summer.

3. Infinite Livez - Bush Meat: on the other hand, if US rappers won't come to you... Further proof that UK rap can - occasionally - match the best from the rest of the world. Bush Meat was daft, inventive and funky, a brilliant LP.

4. Bjork - Medulla: Vespertine was the first Bjork album I had that I just wanted to play again and again and again, the one where she really came together for me, although I appreciate that I was behind the rest of the world in that respect. Medulla is almost as good, I think, and brilliantly original. I haven't gone back to it as many times, but it's a stunning album all the same.

5. Junior Boys - Last Exit: I thought this was potentially an absolutely magnificent record, but was initially a little underwhelmed at the lack of memorable songs. Since then I've settled down into thinking it hugely impressive by nature of it's pristine execution; the idea - flat electro-pop in a jerky, Timbaland template - is beautifully, minutely executed. A shame that only 'Birthday' sounds truly life-changing.

6. Dizzee Rascal - Showtime: In many ways better than Boy In The Corner, Showtime somehow boasts less memorable moments, but at it's best it's miles ahead of everything else in this - or any other - list. Definitely the most compelling artist in the world right now.

7. Michael Mayer - Fabric 13 / Tyrant - Fabric 15: Take your pick - two astonishing mix CDs which will make you want to forget about guitars forever.

and some honorouble mentions:

Brilliant in places
Miss Kittin - I Com
Skinnyman - Council Estate of Mind
Madvillain - Madvillainy
Dave Clarke - Devil's Advocate
Fennesz - Venice
Kanye West - College Dropout
Ghostface - The Pretty Toney LP

A little underwhelming but still pretty great
Interpol - Antics
Liars - They were wrong so we drowned
Afuken - Fabric 17
Graham Coxon - Happiness in Magazines
Radio 4 - Stealing of a Nation
The Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat

A bit disappointing
The Secret Machines - Now Here is Nowhere

Far better than anticipated:
The Cure - The Cure
The Stills - Logic Will Break Your Heart

Undeniably impressive but never quite made it on to my stereo more than 2 or 3 times:
Mylo - Destroy Rock and Roll
Nick Cave - The Lyre of Orpheus / Abbatoir Blues
Tom Waits - Real Gone

Great but quite shamelessly ripping off New Order
The Killers - Hot Fuss

Best songs of 2004, no fuckin' arguing:

1. Kelis - Trick Me
2. The Futureheads - Meantime
3. LCD Soundsystem - Yeah (Crass Mix)
4. Wiley - Wot Do U Call It?
5. Graham Coxon - Freakin Out
6. Franz Ferdinand - Take Me Out
7. Britney Spears - Toxic
8. The Streets - Fit But You Know It
9. Electrelane - The Valleys
10. Rachel Stevens - Some Girls
11. Johnny Boy - You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve
12. The Walkmen - The Rat
13. The Junior Boys - Birthday
14. The Killers - Mr Brightside
15. The Libertines - Can't Stand Me Now
16. Dizzee Rascal - Stand Up Tall
17. Annie - Chewing Gum

Ok. That's that. No more lists for a while, I promise.

the devil and all his little goblins.

Unable to resist doing this after seeing one on Quin's blog.

Behold! I have created hell...

there aren't any animals or trees
Circle I Limbo

The 5th day of facial hair growth when it really starts itching
Circle II Whirling in a Dark & Stormy Wind

second album syndrome
Circle III Mud, Rain, Cold, Hail & Snow

paintings going up in Momart warehouse style flames
Circle IV Rolling Weights

Tony Adams
Circle V Stuck in Mud, Mangled

River Styx

having a sore neck
Circle VI Buried for Eternity

River Phlegyas

People who design adverts for furniture stores
Circle VII Burning Sands

the Daily Mail
Circle IIX Immersed in Excrement

George Bush
Circle IX Frozen in Ice

Design your own hell

Saturday, January 08, 2005

rounder sale

The best record shop in Brighton, the redoubtable Rounder Records, held their annual sale today (prices starting at 19p per CD), which meant I got out of bed early and struggled down the hill in a tremendous gale so that I could be amongst the first in the store. To no avail. It was busy already, and getting to the racks involves much careful feinting. In the end, I completed my dash around with the following CDs in my hand ready for evaluation and whittling down:

1. St. Etienne - Foxbase Alpha: wonderful record I never upgraded to CD.
2. Faust Vs Dalek - Derbe Respect, Alder: left field rapping krautrock crossover.
3. Tyrant - Fabric Mix (CD1): gorgeous packaging, and the (second) best mix CD of the year but...
4. Tyrant - Fabric Mix (CD2): ...mystifyingly separated into two CDs, meaning hardly any saving of price, sadly.
5. Wu Tang Clan - Disciples of the 36 Chambers: wonderful live recording and presumably one of ODB's last stuff on tape.
6. Wedding Present - Hit Parade: Another one I never got round to getting on CD.
7. a Javanese Gamelan collection which looked ace.
8. Kathy Davey - Something Ilk: I was impressed by a Kathy Davey track I heard on fluxblog so tempted by this one.

Couldn't buy them all, obviously, but trimmed the selection down to 3 which I'm pleased with. More interesting is this year's 'hall of shame'.

Jonathan's Rounder Records Hall of Shame*:
1. Claire Sweeney LP
2. second Electric Soft Parade LP
3. Westlife sing Brat Pack LP
4. some Stereophonics LPs
*participants being the five cheapest, most often-seen CDs on the racks. The Bargain Bin, in other words.

Friday, January 07, 2005

orange consumption in brentford, 2005.

Quin's blog is frequently brilliant, but not always as brilliant as it is today. He starts with a simple enough price comparison.

a. Cost of each orange at Sainsbury's, January 2004: 23p
b. Cost of each orange at Sainsbury's, January 2005: 19p
c. Difference in price: 4p.

I promise you that his route from that point onwards is quite inspired.

Quin's blog and that fascinating oranges post in full.

reckless and oppositional music

A nice article on the newly reformed and spellbindingly fantastic (then, and probably now too) Gang of Four in today's paper. They 'stumbled upon' their sound, a kind of furious, jagged funk, the article relates, when

"[Andy] Gill attempted reggae and came up with a unique feedback-ridden racket once described as "pigeons crashing through a grand piano".

Which is an excellent description. Elsewhere the article tells how...

"Once Gill and Allen had a fist fight after the bassist placed his foot on a monitor, which Gill perceived as 'rockist'."

Fuckin' right. Anyone in Assistant try that and they'll be in trouble.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

panic in the message centre

Ben makes some really good points about the reaction to the Asian Tsunami over at SWSL today, and links over here, contrasting my post earlier with Nick's, at Auspicious Fish. Nick writes:

"Yet more Diana-isation, yet more commodification of anguish, yet another dick-measuring contest to see who is more upset, yet more public shows of pain instead of practical help. Get over yourselves. There's nothing wrong with a bit of British stiff-upper-lip, and it's infinitely preferable to this selfishly adolescent melancholy show-off contest."

But picking out that quote in particular belies the more serious points he makes, which add up to the fact that a minutes silence, let alone three, does absolutely nothing except make its participants feel better about themselves. "Three minutes? Fuck off. Give three more pounds."

Ben says...

"Nearly one million people were slaughtered [in Rwanda] in the space of less than a year, and the lives of so many more were irreversibly changed. Yet the international response was practically non-existent. Why? Did those million lives not matter as much? And was that because Rwanda is a small country in central Africa and not an idyllic playground for Westerners?"

How would we be reacting if western holidayers were not implicated in this disaster? Before I wrote my blog post about my reaction to the three minute silence I noted that Blake Morrison had - again - written on the value of silence in in article titled 'A time to Mourn' in the Guardian. I say 'again' because I remember that he has written before about the value of imposing silence (at football games, if I remember rightly), and when he did I never found myself especially moved by either side of the argument.

I can see Nick's point, and half agree, that this prescribed version of 'grief' is unsatisying and often hypocritical (do nothing, say nothing) and anathema to real, spontaneous grief. But I find these moments oddly moving anyway - not because I imagine them to be actions of real significance, but because they resemble significance, and so often life does not. I rejoice when my life is briefly cinematic. So I don't begrudge the silences, nor think them that important. I tried not to talk about the worthwhile-ness of it all.

Ben's point is more apposite. Three minutes here for South East Asia. Three for Bali. None for Rwanda. None for the earthquake in Bam in 2003. None for the 30,000 in Bhuj a few months before Sept 11. Two minutes for that latter date (the queen balked at three, apparently). How do we judge the scale of these events? How much should we mourn? Who makes these decisions? How would it be if the chaos of the Asian earthquake had not destroyed lands where English men and women holidayed? Had Bhuj been teeming with Brits, would we have cared more than we did? A positive spin might be that this is amongst the first international events outside the West which the British have recognised as truly significant and worthy of aid.

Like everyone else, I've watched so much news in the last few weeks that I'm finding it difficult to keep watching. But I had to give up on regional news a day or two in, it's instance on parochial angles, 'human interest' stories near-nauseating. Part of me realises that if there are 200 brits in danger that makes 400 horrified parents, countless children, friends and colleagues who need to know more, and I appreciate that that will always be the case. But it is sickening to see that headline, whenever it appears - 'massive earthquake in India, 4 British feared dead'.

When I wrote 'Can't we impose this silence more?', I didn't mean the imposition of silent tributes, although it may have sounded like that. I read the Blake Morrison article afterwards (several details from it have been appropriated here), and several other points of view which question the tribute. The person who seems to have got it worked out best is Nick, actually - not because I think his anger is necessarily the most valid response, but because he can say

"I went for a walk at midday yesterday, meaning that I was silent for a few minutes, but I'm silent for many, many more minutes every day, and feel no need to be pious and demonstrative about it."

And this tells me he's a step ahead of me. I'm never silent, and I never stop to think, because when I do a whole jumble of a world appears before me, countless, irrational thoughts, fears and ideas. An old friend asked me how I find so much time to blog and it occurs to me that I allow no time for thought, so blogging is easy. This is anything but an online diary; it is a loud speaking voice which keeps me from being stuck in a silent room.

Three minutes silence is three minutes of liberating panic.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

three minutes of silence

I sometimes wonder if I am short on empathy. World events don't always have the awful effects on me which they do on my friends. In the instance of the world trade centre, or the tsunami over Christmas I am shocked and fascinated, but my response feels as much intellectual as emotional. Much of what I think is how could all those people be 'gone'?, how decisive, how powerful was that event?, rather than how would I feel if that was me?. That said, there are always moments where you feel tiny and swept along with the awfulness of it. Lots of people criticised Michael Moore's 'Fahrenheit 911' but one thing I really admired about it was the treatment of the towers crashing in; just that black screen, the noise, the aching, shuddering music he had imposed on top. It was a moment when I felt really, purely moved. I'm quite one for crying at moments of yawning sentimentality in films and TV programmes, but those moment's don't compare with the real, clinging moments of grief. Yet I wonder if I suffer them too rarely.

We just did the three minute silence for victims of the Asian Tsunami at work and while it didn't make me want to cry, it was a valuable opportunity to think about what has happened. The office is big and there was no formal announcement that the three minutes had started, so the building seemed to wind down into a slowly imposed silence. But it wasn't until the last voice faded, rebuked, that the volume of the silence became apparent. It was chasteningly quiet; I didn't spend exactly three minutes paying tribute to the dead or anything so focussed, but I found the silence both intimidating and liberating. It made what I was doing here at work seem as nothing (whether that be: working, pointlessly, or timewasting, pointlessly - both different things) and the untidy hubbub of my mind seem just wasteful. Part of me posits this in the wider scale of things and part of me just thinks... what do we achieve by being so frenzied, so busy? Why was I fascinated by the story I posted earlier, the man adrift on a tree in the middle of the shifted sea? Maybe because he was so alone.

Can't we impose this silence more? There was no formal acknowledgmenet when it was over, either. For a little bit, it seemed that people wanted it to linger further, this unexpected moment of calm. After a little while people began feeling awkward, unwilling to be the first to speak yet now oppressed by the silence. In the end the strange silence was alleviated by people beginning to type, over-loud. So the silence here ended in a crescendo of relieved taps, and then we were back to normal.


A bit of a thin thing to post about, but I like this.

Unlike Anne-So, I managed to avoid most of the X-factor this year, especially when it became clear that - for all the stoked up psuedo-rivalry, - they had a clear winner from the outset. Steve, as housewife's choice, was always going to win.

So - offering further proof - I was amused to note Phill, over on his Danger... High Postage blog, mentioning that, on a recent night out,

"I saw Smiling Steve, the winner of X Factor. 'He smiled at me' I excitedly said to a friend. 'Yeah he smiled at me too' she said. Then someone else chirps up from across the room 'me too'. So this is how he managed to win, his face is like one of those paintings with the eyes that seem to follow you round the room, only it's his smile instead. Very sinister indeed."

Sounds about right.

the support structure

Some interesting stuff about South American footballers in an article on the BBC SPORT website today, which notes that it has often been the case that, where Brazilian and Argentinian players have been successful in England (as in the case of Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa), they have arrived in (mutually supportive) pairs. It paints the arrival of the solitary South American in leafy, grey Chigwell as a rather sorry and bemusing picture. Conversely, the German league boasts 38 settled and influential South American players.

"If South Americans can adapt to life on and off the pitch in Germany, then surely they can do the same in England. So why aren't they?

Perhaps part of the explanation lies in an interview Hernan Crespo gave to the Argentine press soon after he joined Chelsea.

"I have to go to the bakers, I have to go shopping, the electrician is coming round, I have to get the car serviced, and for all these things I have to go and speak in English.

"They might seem silly little things, but in reality it's not so easy. We're latins, and all through our lives we're used to someone giving us a hand. But that's not the anglo-saxon way. The cultures are different."

The English take notions of personal independence for granted. But the South Americans tend to be much more dependent.

In many cases they lack self-esteem, and can be terrified by some of the situations Crespo described above.

Juan Pablo Angel was bemused by the lack of support he received from Aston Villa when his wife fell ill.

Agustin Delgado never felt at home at Southampton. It is hard to escape the conclusion that English clubs have not done enough to help their South American acquisitions find their feet off the field."

This is interesting stuff, but I'm not quite sure what it means. Does it mean that these footballers are just used to being treated like children by their clubs and are horrified that they are not 'looked after' at all times, or is the suggestion that there is genuinely a cultural attitude towards independence which divides the 'latin' from the 'anglo-saxon'? I'm not asking rhetorical questions, I'm just being ignorant, and wondering if anyone knows anything else about this? In part I wonder if we're not just reading about men who are used to being protected by their families - wives and mothers, in other words.

three extraordinary stories

From Yahoo News:

An Indonesian has been rescued by a passing ship after surviving for eight days afloat on an uprooted tree in the Indian Ocean, Malaysian officials say.

Rizal Shahputra, 23, from the devastated province of Aceh, lived off rainwater and coconuts that floated by but apart from some cuts on his legs, appeared amazingly healthy when he arrived in Malaysia's western Port Klang aboard a container vessel.

"When I saw him I was very surprised. He waved at me, he was standing on what look like a tree," said Huang Wen Feng, crew member of the Malaysian cargo ship that picked him up on Monday evening 100 nautical miles out to sea.

Rizal said he was cleaning a mosque when the tsunami struck his village.

"Everybody sank, my family members sank. There were bodies around me," he told reporters on Wednesday.

Huang, whose ship was returning from South Africa, said Rizal was healthy when picked up and had normal body temperature despite the ordeal, but he was later sent to hospital for checks.

From yesterday's Guardian: "The victims of the tsunami pay the price of war on Iraq".

But one obvious question recurs. Why must the relief of suffering, in this unprecedentedly prosperous world, rely on the whims of citizens and the appeals of pop stars and comedians? Why, when extreme poverty could be made history with a minor redeployment of public finances, must the poor world still wait for homeless people in the rich world to empty their pockets?

The obvious answer is that governments have other priorities. And the one that leaps to mind is war. If the money they have promised to the victims of the tsunami still falls far short of the amounts required, it is partly because the contingency fund upon which they draw in times of crisis has been spent on blowing people to bits in Iraq.

The US government has so far pledged $350m to the victims of the tsunami, and the UK government £50m ($96m). The US has spent $148 billion on the Iraq war and the UK £6bn ($11.5bn). The war has been running for 656 days. This means that the money pledged for the tsunami disaster by the United States is the equivalent of one and a half day's spending in Iraq. The money the UK has given equates to five and a half days of our involvement in the war.

From today's Guardian: "Corporate donations to the tsunami appeal are stunningly stingy".

Corporate Britain was quick to realise it needed to stand with the public mood and publicise its concern. The major companies doubtless feel proud of their generosity. They shouldn't. They should be ashamed.

Vodafone announced it would be giving £1m and matching all staff donations. A million pounds is a lot of money to you and me, but not to Vodafone, to which it is pocket change. The company's annual profit, registered last May, was £10bn. That means the company made substantially more than a million pounds an hour. Yet that is all they gave - less than an hour's profit. It is less than they gave their new boss, Arun Sarin, for his annual bonus.

Put another way, Vodafone has given a mere one tenthousandth of its annual profit. (Not its total revenue, mind, which would be a larger figure, just its profit.) Think of your own annual income, after you've paid off all your expenses. Now work out what one ten-thousandth of that sum would be. If you had given just that amount to the tsunami appeal, would that be enough? Would you announce it with pride?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

the indie talent gap

One of my new years resolutions is to go and see more films; I never get round to it and am often accused by Victoria of hating the cinema, and it's true that I do often resist a trip to the cinema when it's mooted without really figuring out why.

Looking back at 2004 I can name off the top of my head a whole host of really good films which I saw (Lost in Translation, About Schmidt, Eternal Sunshine, Dodgeball, Fahrenheit 911) and a load more which I didn't get round to seeing (Control Room, Capturing the Freedmans, Anchorman, I Heart Huckabees, Napoloeon Dynamite etc) for some stupid reason. Damn. I wish I'd gone out a bit more.

I also kind of wanted to see Garden State, but was vaguely aware that the reason for this was invalid; Lost in Translation got such good reviews that it was perfectly possible to go and see that film without letting on that Scarlett Johanson was the reason. Likewise Kate Winslet in Spotless Mind. Garden State has Natalie Portman in it but I could never think of a decent enough second reason to go. Perhaps I should have talked it up as the 'most indie film ever', with its soundtrack of The Shins and the Postal Service etc, which is what Nick does to great effect on his Auspicious Fish blog (found via Silent Words Speak Loudest), admitting

"as such it annoyed me intensely. I want to write about how much I Hate Indie"

Ah, I know what he means. What he calls the Indie Talent Gap, the kookiness, the emphasised vulnarability; indie as a 'coping mechanism with a flaw'... Great stuff. And 'the nasty little niggling aura of defensive condescension that cloaks and covers and permeates everything, the small-mindedness, the one-upmanship, the assumptions'.

Go read, he's on ace form.
Auspicious Fish: "the Indie Talent Gap"

links for a new year / jon ronson

A couple of slightly interesting links courtesy of New Links:

New Apple Mac forthcoming: According to Think Secret, "With iPod-savvy Windows users clearly in its sights, Apple is expected to announce a bare bones, G4-based iMac without a display at Macworld Expo on January 11 that will retail for $499". Outrageously cheap on the current exchange rates, obviously, although Apple will presumably screw UK buyers on prices like they did with the iPod. Ah well. Interesting anyway, kinda.

And Torrent Watcher looks useful for people who - unlike me - have figured out the whole bit torrent stuff. Sam, we talked about this a while back, this might help!

And a couple of tips from me: the marvellous Jon Ronson is now blogging happily away, and his thoughts can be accessed directly by clicking here. Great stuff.

"I'm excited about 2005. 2005 is the year they'll invent floating cars and walkways in the sky. I think we should call them SkyWalks."

And if you've missed his radio show recently and want to catch up, you can download previous episodes as MP3 files from this public-spirited individual. The one on being invisible is particularly good. The most recent episode is always available on the radio 4 'listen again' page for a week after broadcast, of course.

And if you like that, my last link of the day is to the homepage for 'This American Life', a US radio show which combines Ronson's gently humourous journalistic style with the community feel which John Peel fostered on his Home Truths. The shows are lovely, and well worth an hour of your time, if you've got it to spare.

ouch ouch fuck ouch

I hurt my neck really badly over Christmas, I'm not quite sure how - I think I slept in a funny position and somehow fucked it up. So I've had a week or so of really bad headaches morning and evening, and plenty of painkillers; the pain itself is extremely powerful, quite unlike anything I've had before. It starts a few minutes after I wake up and is at first a strong, throbbing grip at the back of my head, as if I've been hit there with some improbably heavy instrument; in these few minutes after waking it's impossible to notice anything except the pain; just a big, heavy lunking ache which locks everything else out.

After a few minutes more, it narrows out and calms down, not pulsing constantly but sitting waiting for me to move to my head right or left or - worse - take a deep breath in; this stretch or contraction of muscles in my neck flares into a sudden, sharp shock of pain. I don't exaggerate. That said, about this time I've normally woken up enough to have started to stretch my neck a little (gruesomely) and turned on the light to find my painkillers. Once administered they are like placebos - the half-sleeping panic abates and, if I lie still, I calm back down.

Half an hour later the brunt of it is gone and my head is befuddled, bruised feeling, but basically OK. The cycle repeats itself to a lesser or greater extent over the course of the day, but never so bad as it is with waking - presumably it's the stillness of the head while I sleep which causes the greatest problem. As a consequence, I did very little over the break, including updating my blog. I'm back at work today and - actually - not in too much pain. I sit and wait for the painkillers to wear off, and for it to pass.