Thursday, August 31, 2006

Dissent into Madness

Um...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/5297822.stm

As it stands at this moment the very first paragraph of that article reads as follows:

An architect of Iraqi descent has said he was forced to remove a T-shirt that bore the words "We will not be silent" before boarding a flight at New York.

"Iraqi descent"?

Proof if any were needed that BBC News needs proof-readers. And fast.

Das War Sehr Gut

Oh yes, it's all been flooding back this weekend. The occasional snatch of German and a whole dollop of history. I've been quite taken with it all.

In fact, I have an overwhelming urge to learn German properly this time and move to Berlin.

The weekend was busy and boozy. We wandered up to the Reichstag to take a look at the view from Norman Foster's dome (gorgeous, quite quite gorgeous and as for his panorama...), and mooched round the Topographie Des Terrors, an excavation of the land which used to house the SS HQ and where the Holocaust was masterminded from - it was quite a sobering experience.

We also "ooh"ed and "aah"ed at the Berliner Dom which houses the most bizarrely bright and airy crypt I've ever seen, did a few markets, ogled the architecture (the new British Embassy for example is amazing, but Berlin's regenerating nicely with much in the way of exciting new buildings) and ate and drank copiously.

Two odd things, however:

First was the sign in the hotel which read "do not use the lift in case of fire" which I think was going a bit too far really.

The other was the artist's installation in the Schwules Museum. Some kind of darkened room where you went in on your own and got some spiritual schtick thrown at you. Chris and I didn't go in, but we did see one person enter and then judging by the sound they apparently get set upon by either a pair of maraccas or rattlesnakes.

I'm afraid to say we burst out laughing and had to flee to the next floor.

Anyway, it was all very nice and very relaxing and I'm already planning next year's trip. I've totally fallen for Berlin in a big way, it must be said. It may have a more subdued nightlife than London, but that kind of suits me - it's still busy and vibrant, mind, it just has a slightly more relaxed attitude to fun, with a less densely packed population to get in the way.

And everything actually works - coming back to London on Monday night I was struck by how badly London fares by comparison. I mean, don't get me wrong, I still have a lot of affection for the place, I'm just increasingly finding that trying to live here is becoming more of a chore than a pleasure.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Well Packed

I've got the day off. So far it's not quite the relaxing day I had planned though.

We're off to Berlin later, back Monday night, and as previously mentioned I have to go on the evil business trip on Tuesday morning, so at the moment I'm just taking a break from trying to make sure I've got everything I need for that too.

All of which involves madly washing and ironing stuff (whoever decided that a shirt and tie were appropriate workwear should be shot), pulling together panelbeating stuff, arranging meeting points for later and so on and so forth.

Plus I just had to delete stuff from and recompile the device, and reback that up since I hit the 5Gb limit - much to my surprise I must say.

I've been up two hours and already my head's spinning.

Still, looking forward to getting away for a few days. The business trip of course means the shadow of work may weigh heavy on the horizon, but I'm going to try not to let that get to me and just have a nice weekend of food, mooching and relaxing in foreign climes.

See you on the other side people.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Rejection

Ladies and gentlemen, Dangerous Muse.



They're a bit Fischerpooner but although it's been done before, it bears doing again.

And to be fair, the video does feature a male locker-room scene.

Ah, Sweden. We do love you.

I heard a while back that Universal Poplab were releasing a new single, and verily became somewhat excited. The lovely Darren had accidentally ordered two copies of their eponymous debut album from Sweden, and had thus bequeathed his spare copy to me thinking I might enjoy it.

And enjoy it I did. Okay, it's quite light electro - the synths are quite pure, rather than dirty - and the songs occasionally have a slightly charming approach to lyrics but I can cope with all that. Besides, it's churlish to complain about the latter when English is the band's second language isn't it? (Even if the verb conjugation sometimes makes me wince: "I believe in love but love do not believe in me" indeed).

Stylistically I suppose you could say they're like a Swedish Erasure, but with sex, drugs and swearing. Despite a few flaws the first album was rather good and did manage to offer up what has become one of my favourite pop songs, the wonderfully bitter "Lover's Lane"; light and shiny polished pop with a mercenary self-loathing core.

"I know it's time to change,
but I was born on fucked-up lover's lane."

And, frankly, I've had my fair share of moments like that.

So, one record label change and an extra band member later - and what is it with duos becoming trios? What with them and Client there's a definite trend - and their website said the single was ready.

And then I heard nothing, only to find out at the weekend that "I Could Say I'm Sorry" had come out ages ago and I'd missed it. CDON didn't have it (shame on them!) so I've had to try importing it via other means. In the meantime though I found a download site and got it there.

It's good. Possibly their best yet. Much more accomplished production-wise than their last singles, and with a beautifully callous killer chorus about dumping someone:

"I could say I'm sorry, but I'm not.
Whatever I promised I forgot".

I knew it was good of course because it can be streamed on their website, but actually having it on the Device makes all the difference. I've been enjoying it enormously. Joyously bouncy and at the same time dark - just what the doctor ordered.

The b-side's good too. Even as one who has never (and almost certainly will never) fallen prey to vegetarianism, I find "Vampire in You" wonderful.

"Slice it up, and again.
Let the funeral begin.
From the cage to the plate,
Their blood on your hands"

Now I'm positively frothing about the next album. Hurry up guys, pull your fingers out.

This isn't just food...

After the complete non-gossip-worthy events of the Sauna Party on Monday, a few of us headed to a nearby Pizza Express to continue nattering about rubbish for a bit longer.

Well, there's something about steam and sauna that starts to make me hungry, and it appears I wasn't alone.

Strangely when faced with the menu I lost all interest in Pizza, and found myself ordering one of their new salads instead, the Pollo Verdure. The description had me sold in a moment:

A warm feast of torn chicken and chargrilled Italian vegetables with our Sicilian lemon and watercress dressing, tossed with rocket and baby spinach, then drizzled with balsamic syrup, served with baked dough sticks and a wedge of lemon

It was such an M&S description. You know, one of their "this isn't just a voiceover, this is a salacious voiceover" type of adverts.

Try it and see.

And besides, I found the combination of "tossed", "drizzled", "wedge" and "torn chicken" to be amusing in itself.

And, incidentally, it was absolutely gorgeous.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Totally Steamed

So, last night a group of a dozen or so Thingboxers wove their merry ways to Chariots "Gentlemen's Health Spa" near Liverpool Street to partake of the waters and indulge in what had been billed - inaccurately as it turned out - as the "Thingbox Rampant Sauna Party".

I wasn't going to go, but about one hour into the working day I was so miffed generally that I suddenly felt the urge for a massage and, since several people I knew were going to be there anyway, I thought "oh what the hell?".

As it turns out I didn't have a massage, since I arrived and found the price for half an hour hoiked up to £39. Frankly it really wasn't worth that - although it has given me some ideas for a career change should I need one. (Let's face it at that rate I'd be raking it in.)

It turned out to be a remarkably social occasion too. We were pretty much in packs the whole time, scaring the regular punters with our jollity (it's an unwritten rule of saunas that no-one speaks, let alone does anything other than look either determined or shifty) and larking around no end.

I even had the unusual - and oddly affirming - experience of having to turn some random punter down. Not because I wasn't interested, mind, but because I currently have a rather inconveniently placed mouth ulcer which meant even a snog would have created a whole world of pain. (Somewhat annoyingly it's feeling much better today, darned thing.)

Still, it was just nice to be silly with people I know, swim a bit, detox and relax. I feel remarkably cleansed this morning.

I think I should go more often. I feel it may be good for me.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Here It Goes Again

The song's quite fun ("Here It Goes Again" by OK Go), but the video's genius.

Ordinary Letter?

The example given at the top of the page here is apparently an "ordinary letter".

Remember kids: if your letters don't contain a big gay badge, they're just not normal.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Spotted a Trend

I have taken to playing my "Camp Old Nonsense" playlist on The Device when I'm at the Gym.

Regular readers will not be surprised to discover that this customised list contains pretty much most of my collection, but they should note that generally it's restricted to the bouncier faster-paced ones since these are more useful to me when I'm puffing away on the cross-trainer.

I noticed a strange thing though. In the space of half an hour I had three entirely separate tracks served up to me which began with the sound of rolling waves and seagulls.

And arguably they were the campest of the lot. Army of Lovers' "La Plage De Saint Tropez" (genius: "crying as I empty my last bottle of Chablis") was one, the Pet Shop Boys' "Go West" was another, and finally moments later I received Lonnie Gordon's "How Could He Do This To Me" (an unreleased little novelty which some readers will probably know better from its cover version in Queer as Folk UK).

I'm wondering now if the sound of rolling waves and seagulls on an intro are an indication of the campness of the song.

Someone should do a study.

Damn and Blast!

I have to spend three weeks out of the next six in Den Hague on business trips.

I hate spending huge chunks of time at client sites. And I hate business trips. And because I'm in Berlin for the August Bank Holiday Monday it means I also get to do two flights in two days.

And I hate flying.

Gah. It bites it really does.

[Goes off to find a puppy to kick.]

Sometimes I wonder why I do support. I'm really not a supportive person.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Quizzes, Lies and Novelty Condoms

Went once again to the Settle Inn last night for their regular Tuesday night pub quiz and had an enjoyably odd time. Our team, the "Weeping Tigers" (we didn't specify which bit of the tiger was weeping) wiped the floor with the competition, winning no less than four of the five rounds and reaching the overall first place - all of which was extremely gratifying.

To be fair much of this was due to Tom whose breadth of general and non-general knowledge is by turns impressive and intimidating, backed up by the flatmate who is similarly inclined. YetAnotherRob and I therefore had to wait until the Entertainment round (oh yes, how giddyingly intellectual) to prove our mettle, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

And since there were four team members and four rounds won, each of us got a prize. The prizes however, merely served to show how straight and sports-bar-ry the Settle can be: there was a Boddingtons t-shirt, a Stella Artois t-shirt, a video game and a deflated rugby ball.

I got the rugby ball. I commented it could probably be used as a novelty condom, but the flatmate suggested that given my current dry spell I really had no use for such a thing.

Still, I got the overall prize of a bottle of wine too, so frankly I don't care. Besides, I now have something to offer any prospective Rugby players I may bag.

- "Tell you what, hold that and I'll tackle you."

Crash.

- "Oh dearie me, however did I end up under you?"

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Terror Threat Levels

From B3TA's boards is this wonderous piss-take of the threat levels which made me veritably guffaw.

I also particularly like the suggested levels further down that thread:

  1. No threat. Everyone starts looking into what's wrong with the government. They might vote us out.
  2. Slight threat. People pissed off with us for not protecting them better.
  3. Real threat. They're beginning to get behind us. Supporting us against the terrorist.
  4. High threat. It's their fault the Bloody foreigners. We can arrest anyone who doesn't agree with us.
  5. Great. Let's have martial law and ban elections.

Sounds about right to me.

We are the Gays. Hear Us Roar.

From Ethnologue, a quick summary of Polari:

"An in-group language among theatrical and circus people. Speakers are gays. Some observers trace its roots to sailors and seafarers, alleging that it derived from a maritime lingua franca. Second language only."

Speakers are gays?

Yay for academic thoroughness and careful phrasing.

World of War

I wish I had the sort of mind that could come up with this.

Middle East 'World of War' Server to Undergo Maintenance at 7am Monday

Genius.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

On the Turn...

Well, okay, I'm not, but I found this fantastic shot of the brilliant Client online and I have to say I was just stunned into silence.



Talented and stunning. What more could you want in an electro-pop duo, eh?

(Yes, yes I know. "Trio". It's just taking some time to adjust to.)

My Name Is Sue and I'm a Singer...

There's a French and Saunders sketch - one of their sadly increasingly rare moments of real humour - where a couple of opera singers start singing Kylie's "I Should Be Lucky" with a full orchestra backing them.

It's an odd moment of operatic madness, the crystal clear soaring voices appearing slightly incongruously amongst the poppiness of the song.

Which is what makes today's obtaining of some lesser-known tracks by Aneka so wonderful. This is the woman (real name Mary Sandeman - she's a Scot) who gave us the #1 hit "Japanese Boy" way back in 1981. Her pure clear almost operatic voice soars over simple disco track, the effect turning out to be quite compelling.

Turns out there was an album called "Japanese Boy" too. Two of the tracks off it have made their way to me and I have to say if those are anything to go by it's a scandal the albumen is out of print.

"Ooh Shooby Doo Doo Lang" is a wonderful little tale about a singer who only gets to do backing vocals, and has a very nice post-modern reference to "Japanese Boy" in it too. And there's the amazingly crystal-glass-endangering "Come Back to Me" too - a song which caused my flatmate to wander into my room going "what the Jesus Buggery Christ is this?"

I've spent a few hours cleaning up the recordings (they're from vinyl) and can barely stop playing them. These two new tracks alone put Ethel Merman's disco album into a hatted cock and no mistake. I suddenly find myself wanting to licence the recordings and reissue them myself.

Obviously this will never happen, but I want to.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Family Values

The Daily "Hate" Mail today has a promotional headline on its front page announcing the presence in its bile-filled pages of an article detailing "Why Married Couples Live Longer".

I haven't read it (since that would involve paying money for the sordid little rag) but my jaded and cynical inner spinster already knows why this should be the case.

It's simply because misery loves company.

So now you know.

No! Ow! Pain!

I was off work yesterday with a neck which inexplicably decided to freeze in the night. Thus I spent most of my time high on industrial strength quantities of Codeine and Ibuprofen until finally - with a noise not unlike a ratchet screwdriver - I managed to click things back into place.

It's still not quite right since I don't have full mobility to my left, but I'm almost there. (I'll see if the sadist can do something about this a little later on - he's very good at that.)

What's most gratifying, though, is that in my absence my colleagues were apparently having a lot of fun speculating on how I'd damaged it. I'm vaguely flattered they think I get up to anything interesting to be honest so I'm just letting them carry on.

Amusingly though, the postman chose yesterday - when I was physically incapacitated - to deliver the details of my company's super-duper new healthcare package, including my free starter bonus of 50 "vitality points".

Nice timing that, I thought.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Doctor Morris and Mister Hyde

It appears I may have had a rather more debauched time in Brighton than I actually remember.

Today I was told by a friend of mine that I ran into another mutual friend while I was down there, grabbed said mutual friend's boyfriend and snogged his face off.

I remember none of this. I know I was fairly slaughtered during much of the afternoon, but even so.

I'm currently convinced it was my clone. No really - I do have one. Many's the time people have said they've seen me on the train, in a club and so on - even once at a Goodies DVD launch party - and I end up staring at them like they've dribbled on their shirt.

One of my former colleagues actually met him on the train and spoke to him a few times. The resemblance was apparently uncanny (and as it turned out he'd been getting vaguely weirded out by people seeing me and attributing my actions to him).

And for years now I've been convinced that he's having a lot more fun with my life than I have been. There must, surely, only be so much sex out there so he's clearly been using up my allocation - and now to add insult to injury he's going round snogging my friends' boyfriends right in front of their faces.

Of course the other explanation is that he's actually not having more fun with my life than I am, but that actually I have a whole secret life that even I don't know about.

Which I suppose is possible.

Ge-orge! Don't do that!

Good to see that Joyce Grenfell made it onto the Radio Times' "Queens of Comedy" list.

The "Nursery School" sketches, for example, are wonderful shining examples of comic monologue - and just the sort of thing which I would love to have written myself.

If you can find a CD containing them I heartily urge you to get it at once. If you have a funny-bone in your body you'll love them.

She's also probably single-handedly responsible for me realising the comic potential of the respectable elderly lady. So without her Vitriol and Old Lace just wouldn't exist.

Here's to you Joyce: may your talent be well-regarded always.

Names, Names, Names!

I am, as many of my friends are well aware, an appalling snob at times.

My long-held and unlikely-to-shift disdain for various TV channels is a case in point. When it comes to the various ITVs I don't think I'm alone in thinking that the material they output is pretty universally appalling, so this is probably reasonably justified, but in the case of BBC Three and Channel Four, I'm afraid to say it's just my blind prejudice against vast chunks of their target audiences.

Well, anything which targets itself at the "yoof" market is invariably typified with forced wackiness and attempted cool, that frankly makes my teeth itch. It is a constant source of regret that by indulging weekly in the viewing of that strand of entertainment known as T4, my own flatmate is directly contributing to the continued employment of Vernon Kay.

So yes. I am guilty of a extreme - and frankly unjustifiable - superiority complex when it comes to vast chunks of the population. It will surely count against me come the day of judgement but there we go. I'm too set in my ways to change that now.

Strangely, though, I've noticed that I also suffer from a kind of inverse-snobbery at times too. As regular readers of this blog will be well aware when it comes to music and "cult" (as opposed to "yoof") TV, for example, I revel in the cheap and the naff and would invariably defend any such element of pop culture to my last breath.

Equally when it comes to clothing I normally couldn't give a fig about labels or designer-ware and generally would be mortified if anyone thought I would wear something which could be vaguely construed as fashionable.

But this weekend even I had to pause and sit back as my snobbish and inverse sides fought a short battle for the upper hand.

As the flatmate and I wandered through Brighton on Saturday we stopped outside a shop and found ourselves admiring a couple of t-shirts in the window. Chris liked one of them, I liked the other. We searched out the price and discovered to our surprise that purchasing even both at once would still have left us change from a tenner.

Suspiciously we looked up at the shop sign.

It turned out that we were admiring - nay e'en coveting - clothing on display in a Primark window.

We had to rapidly find a pub to take the edge off the shock.

The following day we went back and got them anyway, reason finally having prevailed over condescension: if it looks good on you, we decided, it doesn't matter where it's from. And since I think I look good in lemon, I wasn't going to let the source of it put me off.

Our only concern now is whether the t-shirts will survive the first wash without dissolving.

Only time will tell.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Victory for the Comic Muse

I'm on a bit of a Divine Comedy kick at the moment. All part of my annual musical "palate cleansing", where I drift away from my normal obsessions and discover (or at least rediscover) something which doesn't involve dance beats, odd noises or simple tunes. Last year I immersed myself in Kirsty MacColl's works, this year it's Neil Hannon's.

At first glance they'd appear an odd choice for me. The Divine Comedy's keyboard parts are usually piano or harpsichord rather than synths, the arrangements dominated by acoustic guitars and string sections, with the occasional brass, or woodwind section added (even going as far as a full orchestra on occasion).

So in many respects you'd probably not expect the Comedy to really be "me".

And yet I'm a big fan. Hannon's songs can be by turns poetic, bittersweet, darkly comic, cutting, critical or whimsical, and always performed in a way which blends pop and chamber music to unique effect. In my mind there's the same qualities in his work that I so admire in the Pet Shop Boys' material: it's arch, literate and quintissentially English and so there's a definite sense that no-one else is doing stuff quite like it.

His debut album Liberation, for example has a pop song based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald ("Bernice Bobs her Hair"), lyrics lifted from a trilogy of Wordsworth poems ("Lucy") and even a song about Mister Benn ("Festive Road"). And who else would come up with a title for a song like "The Pop Singer's Fear of the Pollen Count" and still make it one of the best and most joyous summer anthems ever?

The last album Absent Friends was something of a dissapointment to me on its release in 2004. I found myself comparing it unfavourably to Fin De Siecle, which gave us his biggest hit "National Express" and was until recently my favourite of his releases. Now I find Fin De Siecle's orchestral arrangements too overblown and brash, and instead find myself enjoying the subtler albums like Liberation and Promenade instead.

Absent Friends still seems too sombre and flimsy for my tastes, though, so it doesn't compare too well to those favourites - despite a couple of enjoyable tracks - but I decided to buy the new album Victory for the Comic Muse anyway, and I'm damn glad I did since I'm convinced that it contains some of Hannon's very best work.

"Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World" is probably my favourite track on the whole CD. Taking its cue from the defunt documentary series, Hannon elaborates on the bizarre ideas of his girlfriend, suggesting she might be a suitable subject for the series to study, but still emphasises it doesn't change how he feels about her. Pop culture references, a knowing eyebrow raised and a soaring melody - to me this is Hannon at his very best.

And there's other humour too in the forms of "To Die a Virgin" (I haven't heard tissues described as "Handy Andys" in ages and as a result I almost blew cola out of my nose) and "Diva Lady". The picture of the twilight years of "A Lady of a Certain Age" is probably the saddest moment on the album, but also one of the most beautiful and still manages a couple of wry smiles along the way.

Then there's the optimistic post-breakup song "Light of Day" which is just stunningly beautiful. "When there's no more lies to hide behind and no more tears to cry, I know we'll be alright" indeed. Should have closed the album in my opinion, but hey.

Of the others "Mother Dear" veers dangerously close to mawkishness, but narrowly scrapes by and is really rather touching, and the instrumental "Threesome" (so called because it's played in one take by three people on the same piano) provides an unexpected and enjoyable interlude.

The other tracks I have to say are not quite to my taste and fail to grab me in the same way, but are still very accomplished in their own right. And in any case I think a 7/11 hit-rate is pretty good for any album.

I always hesitate to use the phrase "return to form" when you're dealing with artists capable of such breadth, but I certainly think this album achieves a degree of consistency, texture and sensitivity that it's recent preceding efforts have lacked.

A victory indeed.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Never mind Mondays...

...I don't like Wednesdays.

The last few Wednesdays I've had have been typified by their heavy-going, fragmented and unproductive nature. For the last couple of weeks I never quite seem to get anything done on a Wednesday.

Oh, I'm busy, don't get me wrong, but I never get anything finished. Every time I start something, somebody wants me to do something else, look at this, help fix that, or answer a "quick question". (And of course they are quick questions - it's just the answers that take forever.)

All of which is par for the course really in support, natch, but the problem with my recent Wednesdays is that they seem to be even more so, and so I find myself spinning in circles and unable to focus.

Frankly I hate nothing more than feeling hellishly busy whilst knowing that nothing is actually getting done. If I'd wanted activity without any danger of an actual result I'd have set up some meetings instead. (Meetings are, after all, the natural enemy of direct action.)

So Wednesdays, of late, have been putting me in a foul foul mood.

Pretty much from 8.40 A.M. onwards in fact.

I think they should be abolished. Who's with me?