Friday, 16 December 2016

That Was The Year That Was: 2016

2016 was a good year for the ReaperIt's mid-December and so, with the weary inevitably of a celebrity death, it must be time for a recap of what's been good this year. Not much, I hear you say.

This is the sixth time I've recapped a year like this (for completists, here's 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011) and, taken together, all these reviews really do is demonstrate how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Only worse, this year. Still... onwards.

Best album

Going Going by The Wedding Present - much respect is due to the right honourable David Gedge who, even after plying his jangly guitar-based indie trade for 30+ years, still wants to try new things. The whole album is a joy, and the first four tracks are as innovative as anything you'll have heard all year.

Honourable mentions: hotly contested this year, with Everything At Once by Travis, A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead, Night Thoughts by Suede, The Bride by Bat For Lashes and Head Carrier by Pixies all being worthy of repeated plays.

Best song

Idlewild by Travis featuring Josephine Oniyama - this is a seductive earworm of a song, and reminds me a bit of various Morrissey duets (step forward Siouxsie Sioux, Chrissie Hynde, Nancy Sinatra). I could listen to this over and over and over.

Honourable mentions: Burn The Witch by Radiohead, which very nearly took top spot; the gut wrench of Dollar Days by David Bowie.

Best gig

Another win for The Wedding Present with their low-key, intimate gig at The Royal Function Rooms (a misleadingly grand name if ever there was one) in Rochester. A blistering, up-close and personal set, with Mr Gedge or especially fine form. Nice to chat with him before the gig too, in particular about the track Secretary, and to get my Going Going lyric book signed. All this, topped off with exemplary company as ever from The Man Of Cheese made this the gig experience of the year for me.

Honourable mentions: having said that, the sheer feeling of something special I got from watching Paul Simon at the Royal Albert Hall made that evening a very close second; Travis were terrific value, as always; Ben Watt with Bernard Butler was also very good (top tip: you should always take any opportunity you can to see Bernard play guitar up close).

Best book

For the seductive prose and remorseless sense of the uncanny, this year's nod goes to Slade House by David Mitchell. It's one of those that you want to race through, but don't want to end and, as a wannabe author myself, something I wish I had written.

Honourable mentions: a bit of a cheat here because it was published in 2005 but I got around to reading In The Miso Soup by Ryu Murukami and it blew me away; Mark Kilner's run of short story excellence continued with his third collection, Process Of Elimination; Adrian J Walker's End Of The World Running Club also kept the pages turning; non-fiction wise, I also very much enjoyed That's Entertainment: My Life in the Jam by Rick Buckler, despite the lack of an index and the need for a better editor; oh, and another old book, The Promise Of Happiness by Justin Cartwright, is worth a look.

Best film

A difficult category, mainly because I haven't been to the cinema as much as I'd like this year, but the nod goes to The Witch, partly for Anya Taylor-Joy's standout performance, partly for the superb evocation of time and place, partly for creeping out the entire cinema and partly for Ralph Ineson ensuring we'll never think of him as Finchy from The Office again.

Honourable mentions: this year has been all about films I wanted to see but didn't get around to (I, Daniel Blake and Nocturnal Animals, take a bow) but at least Room adapted well to the big screen; the Q&A afterwards didn't add much (aside from the odd cheap laugh) but Louis Theroux's My Scientology Movie was quite an accomplishment, especially considering the challenges faced making it.

Best television

Another fiercely contended category. The award goes to series three of Line Of Duty, for keeping me on a knife-edge throughout, and adding the phrase "urgent exit required" to my permanent pop-culture lexicography.

Honourable mentions: another good year for TV (it's the new film, don't you know?), so there are lots. Deutschland '83 very nearly scooped the top prize; series two of the BBC's Happy Valley lived up to its predecessor; Channel 4's National Treasure, in which not one of the excellent cast put so much as a foot wrong; and for documentaries, Louis Theroux's Drinking To Oblivion, shocking and heart-breaking in equal measure; I've enjoyed the second series of Humans, although it's hard to see how it will end. Oh, and series two of The Missing would doubtless have featured, except I haven't got around to watching any of it yet.

Best comedy

Last year's winner, Modern Life Is Goodish, retains its title, as Dave Gorman continues to explore the ridiculousness of our 21st Century, post-truth, post-Europe, post-everything world.

Honourable mentions: I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue on Radio 4, not least because Jack Dee seems to have really found his feet as host. Never fails to raise a smile.

Best theatre

Rodrigo Pardo's Flat, a show about one man in his apartment, might not sound too inspiring. But stage that show high up on the side of a building, using wirework for the actor to move around (and shift your perspective), and it turns into something truly memorable.

Honourable mentions: this might sound sappy but I don't care - I took the family to see The Lion King at the Lyceum. We had amazing seats, became totally immersed and it all got a bit emotional. Another theatrical moment I will not forget.

Best blogger

Retaining his title for the fourth consecutive year is Andrew Collins, whose Telly Addict video blog, ditched by The (foolish) Guardian but rehoused by UKTV, is twelve minutes a week of essential viewing. It should be on actual TV, if you ask me. On top of this, Andrew also writes, albeit very sporadically, the music blog Circles Of Life, in which he seeks to catalogue his favourite 143 songs of all time. Oh, and the excellent "other" blog, Never Knowingly Underwhelmed. Andrew is, once more, my blogger of the year.

Honourable mentions: blogging is dying art - a blog is to Twitter as vinyl is to MP3s, sadly. There's still some good stuff out there, not least Crying All The Way To The Chip Shop from Lee; The (New) Vinyl Villain from JC; My Top Ten from Rol; and a new entry, A History Of Dubious Taste from Jez.

Man of the year

Irish senator Aodhán Ó Riordáin, whose speech in reaction to Trump's election success neatly articulated what so many people were feeling. And he stood up and said it in a front-line political setting, not over a pint in the pub. What was it he said now? "Trump is a fascist and I’m embarrassed by the Government’s response." Or something like that, anyway. Good man, Aodhán; the world could do with a few more politicians like you.

Honourable mentions: in a year of so much misery, it's hard not to admit that Ed Balls has had a good twelve months. Okay, so he's not an MP (for now) but his book has done very well, and he's the new chairman of the football club he loves. Oh, and what's that, you say? Dancing?

Woman of the year

Abigail Bamber, who epitomises everything great about the NHS, in demonstrating that lifesavers don't have days off. In a year of awful news, click her name for a positive, life-affirming story, to whit: "most nurses go into nursing because it is a vocation - not a job."

Honourable mentions: Hillary Clinton, naturally. She fought the good fight, kept out of the gutter however often her opponent tried to drag her down to his level and, in the end, polled more votes than any male candidate in US election history. And when, soul-crushingly (for her and basically the whole world), she still lost what she must surely have felt her whole life had been leading up to, she managed to do so with dignity. #ImStillWithHer

Tool of the year

Everything that is wrong with contemporary politics, 21st Century hate crime and the normalisation of extreme views is summed up by Breitbart-peddling Milo Yiannopoulos. Ye gods. What an utter tool, the sort that only a mother could love. As a nation, we should be ashamed to have produced Milo. And what a pity that sixth formers from his old school were prevented from debating with him - they'd have given him a damn good grilling.

Honourable mentions: Trump, Farage, all the usual suspects ... what a depressing year 2016 has been.

And that's it. The year is nearly over, thank goodness. There's been a lot in to to loathe... but what have you loved?

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Clandestine Classic XLVIII - Bad Ambassador

The forty-eighth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

The trouble with any kind of long-running blog series (and 48 isn't especially long, but it's getting there) is that eventually you start to repeat yourself. Not necessarily in content, but insomuch as certain tropes start to appear... and reappear. For the Clandestine Classics, that trope is the question, "What do you think about when I say <insert band name here> to you?", after which I'll rattle through the obvious choices for that band and then pull a rabbit out of the hat, a non-obvious choice that is, hopefully, a belter. So, on that basis... what do you think about when I say The Divine Comedy to you? National Express, probably. Generation Sex too. Becoming More Like Alfie, hopefully. Maybe Something For The Weekend too and, with luck, the theme tune from Father Ted. And unless you're a big fan, that's probably about it.

When I think about The Divine Comedy, I think about all those songs too, of course. And I think of how their 90s flirtation with the big time, for want of a better phrase, was probably made possible, indirectly, by the sudden, unexpected but zeitgeisty prominence of Common People-era Pulp. If Jarvis could be a star, record labels doubtless mused, then so could Neil Hannon. There's probably some logic in that too, as there are doubtless similarities in their approach to the so-called rock star life, their performance style, even musically. But there are plenty of differences too, not least Neil's love of a good croon. But I digress - what about today's classic?

Bad Ambassador dates from 2001; the crest of the Britpop wave that scooped up Pulp, The Divine Comedy and so many other bands, had long since broken, there was no TFI Friday to plug your songs on anymore, no more Shine compilations to showcase your work, and no Radio 1 playlisting for Neil and his crew. Record label Setanta were replaced by Parlophone, the quirky suited look was ditched, Nigel Godrich was drafted in on production duty... it all got a bit serious, in other words. The album Regeneration was the result - less twee, less quirky, slightly harder sounding, the critics lapped it up, but the record-buying public...? Not so much. The Divine Comedy would split soon after its release.

Today's classic was the second single to be drawn from Regeneration, and it limped to a lowly 34 in the UK chart, and that's a shame because, regeneration or not, all the hallmarks of what made The Divine Comedy great were still there: whip-smart lyricism, knowing delivery, great melodies... Were there really 33 better songs in the chart that week? I find it hard to believe.

Anyway, Mr Hannon has reformed The Diving Comedy, and I had the pleasure of seeing them live in October. Let me tell you, in a live setting this song really takes off - it properly rocks out! Or, to put it more eloquently, this song works on many levels and, if there was any justice, would feature in the first five songs you mention when I ask you what you think of when I say The Divine Comedy to you. Always assuming you don't go down the Danté route...

You can pick up Regeneration on Amazon, and you won't regret it. Bad Ambassador is not on the obligatory best of compilation though, as that only mops up the Setanta years (a.k.a. the glory years). So instead, courtesy of YouTube, here's today's clandestine classic in video form. Enjoy.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Hear some more different Christmas music this year...

Last year, I threw together an alternative music advent calendar. It seemed quite popular, so I've tried to repeat the trick. There are a lot of festive cover versions this year though, so be warned... anyway, here's the patent-pending, minutes-in-the-making 2016 New Amusements advent calendar...

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

"His name sounds good in your ear, but when you say it, you mustn't fear!"

There aren't many crumbs of comfort to take from Trump's ascent from buffoon to president-elect. So when I discovered, from reading this Trump-related story, that there is a CNN journalist called Wolf Blitzer, well, I was grateful for small mercies, and had to share it...

Footnote: the title for this post comes from The Simpsons, the episode in which Homer changes his name to Max Power. All together now...

Friday, 11 November 2016

Darker is dark enough

I will write about the US presidential election, at some point. Not today though. Today, just this.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Tosh I've Learnt Today - I

Part one of what may become an occasional series - Tosh I've Learnt Today, or TILT, if you prefer (you won't).

The shape of that line of toothpaste, Aquafresh's logo since the year dot, is called a "nurdle". Honest. And it's trademarked by the pharmaceutical behemoth that owns the Aquafresh brand, GSK.

Who knew, eh? Or cared?

Monday, 24 October 2016

He shouldn't even have made the shortlist

For some time, I've had jobs that require me to recruit people, and that involves shortlisting and interviewing. It's a process I really enjoy and, without sounding too modest, I have quite a good record in that everyone I recruit seems to turn out okay. Fortunately, I've hired no clunkers. In US parlance, I have an excellent batting average when it comes to recruitment.

Now it seems to me that the US election is a lot like an interview process - Clinton and Trump are the applicants, and there are 319 million people on the interview panel.

A common feature of just about every recruitment I've done in the last ten years is that the advertised post has a job description and person specification - respectively just written descriptions of what the post-holder will have to do and what skills/attributes they need to have. Applications are held up against these documents to do the shortlisting, and then at interview the requirements get drilled into in more depth. You know how it works.

A really good way for a candidate to not get shortlisted, or to fail at interview, is to not demonstrate how they meet the person spec. So for example, there might be a requirement that the applicant has the ability to organise, prioritise and co-ordinate the work of themself and others. And here's the thing - I score a candidate zero for just saying, "Yes, I have experience of that." It's not enough. You need to demonstrate it, show that experience, perhaps by talking through a recent example of doing that, highlighting the tools and techniques you might use. What went well, what you'd do differently next time, that sort of thing.

And so, by extension, if you view the US presidential race as a giant job interview, when being quizzed on your record with respect to women, simply saying "No-one has more respect for women than I do"1 is never, ever going to be enough. And if you don't answer the question, you can only ever be judged by your actions. Oh dear, Donald...

Similarly, a judicious use of buzzwords might get a candidate through shortlisting but should never be enough at interview. So, whilst just saying "Gantt charts" and "Microsoft Office" over and over might be enough for the shortlister to give you the benefit of the doubt on project management experience, it should never be enough at interview. The same goes for just saying "Mosul", "bad hombres" and "ISIS" over and over again.

When you stop to think of it this way, it's incredible that the presidential race is still competitive. Why isn't it effectively over already? Sure, Trump's opinion poll ratings are lagging behind but that tends to happen when one candidate is perceived as unpopular or controversial, due to so-called "shy" voters who are reluctant to commit when surveyed but come out of the woodwork on voting day. Witness the Tory party's outright win at the last UK general election and the triumph of the Brexiteers, despite pre-election polling evidence to the contrary in both cases. Trump supporters have more to be embarrassed about than most, I'd say, so sadly I expect his performance on the 8th of November to improve on his current poll rating.

Anyway, my point. If you have a vote in the US election, please use it, and use it wisely. Vote HRC. And with luck, in four years time, you'll be able to vote for Michelle Obama...

1. A statement indicating an over-inflated or grandiose sense of self and self-importance like this really ought to be indicative of something, I think.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Memory card housekeeping

Found this on an old memory card. It dates from August 2007, when the camera phone in my pocket was a Sony Ericsson K750i. It took decent pictures, as I recall, and if you still have one in good nick, it'll fetch a decent price on Ebay. But anyway, what I don't recall is the name of the artist responsible for this installation, but I can tell you it was in Ashford, Kent, on the grass verge at the side of that town's constrictive inner ring road.

Roadsigns artwork, Ashford, Kent, 2nd August 2007
Give me a sign...

Friday, 23 September 2016

Proof that this blog is increasingly pointless, but anyway...

Yes, it's a nonsense post but then arguably so is everything else I write on here. So. Given that there is a new movie out, it seems timely to remind ourselves that Bridget Jones wasn't the first woman of note (see what I did there?) to wear big pants.

Note: it is also acceptable for Wonder Woman to look like this. Maybe this too, but I'm not convinced. If I were you though, I wouldn't go Googling WW images too hard - there's some deviant stuff out there, don'tcha know?

Thursday, 22 September 2016

He sold the heat

Somehow I missed the news that Prince Buster died a fortnight ago. Another for the reaping of 2016. Here's a more than serviceable obit.

Like a lot of people my age, I first got into Prince and ska as a result of Madness. They loved him - they took their name from one of his songs (Madness, obviously), they covered him (One Step Beyond) and even had their breakthrough hit with a song about him (The Prince). If you liked Madness, as I did (and still do), then it stood to reason that you would investigate Prince Buster. So when I saw a cassette copy of the album pictured here, deep in the Woolworths' bargain bin for 99p, I was intrigued. The Mod imagery on the sleeve drew me in further - it seemed out of place to my teenage brain but this was before the internet and I lived in small-town East Kent, so I had no way of knowing how popular the Prince had become with scooterists. Anyway, I bought the tape and immersed myself in songs about Orange Street, Al Capone, Judge Dread and more.

Some years later, I went to see Madness at day two of Madstock, their seminal reunion at Finsbury Park. Morrissey was due to support but was (in)famously bottled off on day one, so cancelled his day two appearance. I was gutted - if I'm honest, Moz had been more of a reason for going than Madness, much as I loved the Nutty Boys. But all was well, for Prince Buster graced the Madstock stage, and I felt like I'd seen a little bit of history. If memory serves, Ian Dury was also on the bill - I know, right?! Not even Gallon Drunk and Flowered Up could spoil the show.

Anyway, enough old-man reminiscence - here's a song, Barrister Pardon, in a live performance from Later that also featured the late Rico Rodriguez. The Prince was nearly 70 when this was recorded - how cool was he? Enjoy.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Great road-signs in European history, part 54

As spotted recently in Granada's beautiful old town; this is probably what happens when the local highways department uses Google Translate.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

MRIght about now

I had an MRI scan yesterday, on my increasingly decrepit knee. As you may know, the scanner makes a hell of a noise. A loud, repetitive, fast, atonal noise. Not for the first time, I couldn't help but wonder whether Norman Cook had an MRI before recording Praise You and, especially, Rockafeller Skank. Altogether now, Ri-Ri-Ri-Ri-Ri-Ri-Ri-Ri-Ri-Ri...

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

It also makes calls

Time to update the mobile phone chronology, as I have a new handset. And guess what - for once it is the same size as the last one!

I know it looks bigger, but that's an optical illusion caused by having a different colour bezel. It's actually smaller, being about half a millimetre thinner. But otherwise, it's the same. Hooray, I don't have to buy a new case...

What I have found is that it's getting increasingly difficult to get a high spec phone that isn't a behemoth. Aside from an iPhone, which I do not want, only Sony really seem to be pushing on with a compact flagship. Good for them, and lucky for me.

Lucky also for you that I don't post this rubbish often, no more than once every couple of years. Here's last time, the time before that and the time before that. Sometimes I wonder if I only ever really blog for myself.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Brexit and branding

You may have seen a news story recently suggesting people's brand loyalty and preferences are a marker for how they voted in the EU Referendum. If you haven't already read it, don't go Googling it just yet. Instead, let's test the hypothesis with a survey:

Okay, I'll help you search for the news story now.

Monday, 1 August 2016

The future is past

I went to the cinema at the weekend, to see the new Star Trek film, as much out of habit as anything else (although subliminal nostalgia was also in the mix, hardly surprising when even the film poster, left, is an homage to the original crew's first big-screen outing). The new film's alright - good, not great, entertaining without being award-winning. As I sat there, sipping my Pepsi Max (bought from the village shop beforehand - I'm not made of money, after all), a few things struck me.

First off, I think the Star Trek franchise is living on borrowed time. As good as these rebooted films are (and all three have been solid), and as undoubtedly wise a move as going back to Kirk et al has been (because, let's be honest, that's what everyone really wants, however many spin-offs and other crews there have been), I don't think the franchise is winning new fans. Specifically, I don't think it is winning the hearts and minds of kids, certainly not in the same way the Star Wars franchise continues to. I'm going to be generous and say there was no-one under the age of 25 in the cinema as I sat down to watch Star Trek Beyond. Truth is, there were only one or two under 30. Most of the audience looked like long-term fans, men (mostly) of a certain age, and their perhaps long-suffering/tolerant partners. There would be a raft of teens and younger in a Star Wars film, making the next generation of fans-for-life. I don't think this is happening with Star Trek, to the extent that the law of diminishing returns probably starts to kick in now. What Kirk, Spock and McCoy really need is a Lego tie-in... but sadly it seems that is a non-starter.

Secondly... well, after my first thought, it occurred to me that some of the more hardcore Trek and Star Wars fans might be upset by me referring to their sacred texts as franchises. Now don't get me wrong, I like both, especially classic Trek, but really they are both just franchises. They're not ways of life. I'm sorry if you feel otherwise, to the extent that my comments offend. They're not meant to.

And finally, I sat through a lot of trailers, most of which left me wondering where the new ideas are. Sky Atlantic's new TV version of Westworld is coming, apparently, despite the fact that it would be difficult indeed to improve in any way on the original 70s film. A remake of The Magnificent Seven is also on its way. Now I know the Yul Brynner version was, itself, a remake of The Seven Samurai but at least that changed/updated the setting. The imminent version is just another Western - I am already not bothered, preferring Brynner, McQueen, Bronson, Coburn, Vaughan, Wallach and Dexter, much as I like Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke. For God's sake, the new version has Vinnie Jones in - reason enough to stick with the original. And then there was a trailer for a new Jason Statham movie that appears to be an unnecessary sequel to an unnecessary remake - if you want to watch a film about an intelligent assassin for hire called The Mechanic, seek out Charles Bronson's original. It's excellent, in a way I struggle to imagine the Statham-powered version being. Oh, and then there was another trailer for another remake, this time for Ben Hur, of all things! As if that hadn't been "done" enough in the first place. I wish I was making this up.

So... remake, reboot, re-imagining, rehash... where, oh where, are the new ideas?

Maybe I should take a scriptwriting course. In the meantime, let's watch a bit of what one YouTube commenter calls "the closest Bronson ever came to making an art house flick".

Sunday, 24 July 2016

An update is required...

...as are visits to somewhere in Africa, somewhere in South America and maybe, Putin permitting, Russia.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Welcome Milwaukee visitors

If you're reading this blog, there's a good chance you're around my age. There's also a good chance that you grew up watching programmes like Happy Days on television and, later, Mork and Mindy. And even if you didn't catch them first time around, because the dearth of child-friendly programming led to endless repeats, you'll have seen them repeated many, many times (note: repeat, not re-run. Just like it's series, not season. That's how we do things here (and note: we do things, we don't roll. Unless pushed downhill).

Anyway, back on track. Chances are your playground was full of boys going "Aaaayyyy" like the Fonz, maybe saying "Sit on it!" and, later, "Nanoo nannoo" and "Mork calling Orson." In later life, you may even have described something as "jumping the shark". All of these idioms have entered your life from these shows, so if you watched them, and maybe Laverne and Shirley too (which I enjoyed, even though it didn't make the trans-Atlantic crossing quite so fluently), you'll be sad to learn that the creator of all these great programmes, Garry Marshall, has died. Did you know that he also wrote for the excellent TV version of The Odd Couple? And went on to direct Julia-Roberts-powered blockbusters Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride? Learn all this and more from a fine obit, courtesy of the BBC.

All that classic TV... guess I'd better embed some videos. The obvious choice for most people blogging or tweeting about this will be something involving the Fonz and Happy Days, perhaps riffing on how this is a sad day. Or maybe some Mork and Mindy, showcasing the late lamented Robin Williams. I loved both these shows. But because I try to do different with this sorry excuse for a blog, here's the equally classic title sequence from Laverne and Shirley (ring any bells now?), followed by the excellent and affectionate parody of same from Wayne's World.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Clandestine Classic XLVII - Dover Beach

The forty-seventh post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Today's song was a serendipitous find for me. I bought an album on a whim because I had a massive crush on the lead singer. Don't judge me - I was in my mid-teens. But what do you think about when I say "Bangles" to you? Manic Monday, I expect. Walk Like An Egyptian, quite possibly. Eternal Flame, too. Maybe you'd trot out your Bangles pop quiz fact about Manic Monday being written for them, under an alias, by Prince. All fine, and perfectly understandable. But before all that commercial success, there was another story and another kind of band. The Bangs, formed by Susanna Hoffs and sisters Vikki and Debbi Peterson, were a spiky post-punk trio with a penchant for harmony-led Sixties music. When guitarist Michael Steele joined she brought a whole lot of crunchy guitar riffs with her, and the band changed their name to the slightly more straightforward Bangles, a name that still played on their femininity but in a less double-entendre-prone way.

Commercial success was still a little way off though. Early EPs performed unspectacularly, and their debut LP, from which today's clandestine classic is drawn, hardly fared better. Released in 1984, All Over The Place showcased the prototype Bangles sound and style perfectly, with Rickenbacker guitars chiming over four-part harmonies and just a little bit of an edge... you know, the sort of edge that later gets sanded off by record labels in the quest for mainstream success. But this LP, together with appearances on TV shows like Rock and Roll Alternative (and let's now forget, this is the kind of show that R.E.M. were also doing at the time), led to the band supporting Heart and Huey Lewis and the News, and catching Prince's eye/ear. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today's classic is a perfect example of that 1984 sound and style I was rambling about. There are big, crunchy, open chords and deceptively simple riffs, even a nice solo. And even, once, the merest trace of feedback. It's not Eternal sodding Flame, is it? Vocally, it's a case of harmonies, harmonies, harmonies. I'm trying to think of another four-piece band who all sing and whose voices mesh as well, in the same greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts way, and I can only really think of Queen. That's high praise.

Lyrically, the song seems to me to be about lost love, specifically lost through bereavement. Witness the second verse: "Late last night you cried and I couldn't come to you. But on the other side, you and I, inseparable and walking." Okay, so it's not Morrissey, but it's not girl-band pap either. Anyway, I don't know if the ladies have been to Dover, probably not since it's hardly famous for its unremarkable beach, but since those words are not even mentioned in the lyrics, who cares? Maybe the lost love of the song chucked themselves off the rather-more-famous white cliffs. Who knows? If I ever meet Susanna, I'll ask her.

You can pick up All Over The Place on Amazon, and you really should because it's far better than you'd expect. Nothing will prise my vinyl copy away. In the meantime, here is today's clandestine classic. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

"Thank you for reaching out with us"

I'll write about the referendum soon, when I can decide what, if anything, I can add to the existing conversation. I may write about Top Gear sometime too, and the Euros, and Wimbledon, and lots of other exciting things. Soon. Maybe. But in the meantime, let me return to the subject of live support chats on websites. I've been here before, but having tried to engage my mobile operator on the subject of a new phone at the weekend, it's time to go there again.

Backstory: I will soon qualify for a free handset upgrade. I like a smaller smartphone, because it fits in my pocket better, and have a long-standing brand preference for Sony. According to their website, my provider has just stopped selling the smaller Sony models I like. On the basis that, in years gone by, the provider has retained limited stock of discontinued models, or had open-box/refurbished handsets available, I thought I'd chance my arm. The black text is the honest-to-God transcript of the live support chat I had on my provider's website at the weekend - I've added comments in red to show you why I hate live support chats.

12:13Info:Thank you for choosing to chat with us. An agent will be with you shortly.
12:13Info:Hello, you are now chatting with Charles. How can I help?
12:13Charles:Hi Martin!Easy with the exclaiming there, mate.
12:14Charles:How are you doing?Fine until you used a Joey-from-Friends pick-up line on me.
12:14Martin:Hi. Is there any way to get either the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact or Z5 Compact from you? Other smartphones are so big and unpocketfriendly.Admittedly, I hate myself for typing 'unpocketfriendly'. This is what trying to play the live support chat game does to me.
12:16Charles:Thank you for reaching out with us Martin.WT actual F?
12:16Charles:The Sony Xperia Z3 is out of stock due to popular demand however we have many handsets that you might fancy of.Hmm, I asked about the Z3 Compact, not the Z3. Let's see if I can make that clearer without being patronising.
12:17Martin:Indeed. However, I was specifically looking for either the Z3 Compact or Z5 Compact because they are compact.Damn. I was patronising...
12:18Charles:What specification of Xperia Z3 do you love most Martin?...but it's water off Charles's back.
12:19Martin:The small size. Not the Z3 but the Z3 Compact - it's a different model.Okay, polite but clear.
12:21Charles:Great! Can I interest you with other mobile handset that has a small size too.What's great? The fact that you've finally twigged the compact phone thing?
12:22Martin:For example?This is me humouring Charles. If that's his real name.
12:24Charles:Our Apple iPhone 5s has a 4 inches screen display. How's that sound Martin?
12:25Martin:It's sounds appalling, I dislike Apple products in general and the iPhone in particular. Sorry Charles!My own fault for not saying "I want another Sony." But how do you like my exclaiming?
12:27Charles:No problem Martin. What brand do you love aside from Xperia compact Martin?Stop over using my name....
12:30Charles:Are you still there Martin?No, I've gone, but have left the chat window open in my browser because I am a child...
12:32Charles:Thank you for chatting with me today. We value your feedback, please take a moment to complete our customer satisfaction survey at the end of the chat. Thanks and have a good day!...and I really doubt you want my feedback on this.
12:32Info:Thank you for chatting with us.

I'll write some grown-up and interesting blog posts soon, I promise (although my fingers are crossed behind my back...)

Seven

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

A little European history

Before you vote, here's a nice reminder of how what you're voting on came to be.

Monday, 20 June 2016

"Facts" vs "facts in isolation"

A clever image courtesy of The Economist, taking the UK out of the EU and leaving both in tatters

Had a leaflet through the door last week entitled "THE UK AND THE EUROPEAN UNION: THE FACTS" (capitalisation and colouring theirs, not mine). It was not immediately obvious that it came from Vote Leave, although that is mentioned right at the end in the small print on the back.

I read it all, and recognised some of the facts though others were new to me. It was an interesting, if provocative, read.

What interested me most, however, was this leaflet's depiction of itself as the unequivocal purveyor of truth. After all, it was presenting THE FACTS, right? Not opinion, rhetoric, propaganda or flim-flam, but THE FACTS. Except, guess what, some facts are, it turns out, more factual than others.

Here's a fact from the leaflet:

"The EU costs us £350m a week. That's enough to build a new NHS hospital every week of the year. We get less than half of this money back and we have no control over the way it's spent - that's decided by politicians and officials in Brussels, rather than the people we elect here."

How many things are wrong with this so-called fact? Well for starters, the gross weekly cost to the UK of being in the EU is £361m, not £350m. But we get £115m back to support public and private sector schemes and £85m rebate (the oft-mentioned deal struck by Thatcher). So we get £200m back out of £361m, or 55.4% ... when I went to school, that was more than half, not less. And we control how the Thatcher rebate money is spent, if not everything else.

Here's another claimed "fact":

"You don't have to be a member of the EU to trade with it. Switzerland is not in the EU and it exports more per person to the EU than we do."

Yes, there are some facts here. in 2014, the Swiss exported around £16,250 worth of goods and service to the EU per capita. For the UK, it was about £3,550. Factually correct. But Vote Leave can't have it both ways. For a start, Switzerland has to contribute to the EU budget, and gets the trade deals in return. So to be like Switzerland might not cost the UK £350m per week, but it would still cost something. Oh, and Switzerland also signed up to the Schengen Agreement, allowing free movement across borders. The UK opted out of Schengen. To imagine that, after leaving the EU, the UK might continue to trade with the EU in the same way just because Switzerland does is therefore an invalid argument. It's like me saying, "If you like apples, you must like bananas because, after all, they're both fruit."

I was going to go on and point out the half-truths, logic holes, incompleteness and inaccuracy of every "truth" in the flyer but I don't have to because the BBC has already conducted a reality check, as has Full Fact. I'd read both of these if I were you, not because I have a particular political allegiance nor because I am advocating one choice or another in Thursday's referendum. No. But I am interested in the truth. Thursday's choice is so complex, ironically so for a single-issue ballot with a yes/no answer, that I find I am reluctant to bang the drum one way or the other; I will, however, continue to read as much as I can on the issue between now and when I cast my vote, and hope you will too. And I hope we can all discern the truth, wherever it lies.

To read a more balanced representation of some pertinent facts, try this. Note that this still has a bias, even if only subconscious, as it comes from pro-Remain title The Economist. At least they declare this, in the introductory paragraph.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

One thing we should all agree on

Whether you're pro-Remain, pro-Brexit, in, out or shaking it all about (like me), there's one thing we should surely all agree on. And it's this:

Whatever your views on John Prescott, he has nailed this as sweetly as the jaw of an egg-throwing protester.

Voters of Britain, be under no illusion that Murdoch's interest in the EU referendum is for anything other than how it affects him and his commercial interests. Bear that in mind when you read or watch anything on the subject from any of his many media outlets...

Friday, 10 June 2016

There will never be another like this...

If you didn't watch it last night, Parkinson Meets Muhammad Ali is on iPlayer for another 29 days. I'd get on that, if I were you.

Yes, the contrast between 1971 Ali and 1981 Ali is sad, especially with the hindsight of knowing what was to come next (and I'm not just talking about Trevor Berbick). But Ali in 1971 ... what a man. What a character. And what a dream for Parky, in this interview.

Some might say that even the 1974 appearances burn a little less brightly, and they'd probably be right. But oh, to ever burn like this at all.

In the ring, everyone always talks about the incredible achievement of regaining the title at 32, at the Rumble In The Jungle, or the brutality and bravery of the Thriller In Manila. Maybe shaking up the world against Sonny Liston. But if you really want to see Ali box in his pomp, watch his fights with Cleveland Williams and Zora Folley.

Best heavyweight boxer ever? Maybe, maybe not. But greatest of all time? Without a doubt.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Billy Bragg and the ridiculously long shot

This is such a long shot, someone had better call Norris McWhirter.

To fill a hole in my gigography, I'm trying to work out when Billy Bragg and the Red Stars played Brighton. I think it was 1992 (might have been a year either side), and I think the venue was The Event (or it may have been Event 2). Any ideas, anyone? It's one of the few gigs I don't seem to have kept the ticket for.

As a bonus, to keep you interested, here's what they sounded like back then. Worth skipping forward to the 46 minute mark for the curio that is a thirteen minute version of Groove Is In The Heart. Yes, really.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

"Why am I here?"

I've been writing this blog for more than eleven years. It's never been wildly successful - I have a few (a very few) regular readers, and that's it. Nothing I've ever written on here has taken off, let alone gone viral. My most popular posts have less than 100 page views. Put another way, I do not have to worry about the comments getting unseemly. So why do I bother?

I don't really know anymore.

Let's look at how the blog has changed over those 11+ years, with a nonsense graph I made up:

Yes, what I write about has changed - fewer opinions and feelings, more music and pop-culture ("other stuff") but still no-one gives a monkey's, not really. And why should they? If you want a music blog, try The (new) Vinyl Villain, My Top Ten, Crying All The Way To The Chip Shop and Circles Of Life. If you want well-reasoned opinions, try Cultural Snow and Never Knowingly Underwhelmed. And if you just want rants, well, the Internet is hardly short of those.

But hang on a minute? If the only people interested in this blog, out of the entire world, can be counted on my fingers, why have I ever bothered?

I used to have a theory about this. Some time ago (eleven years, coincidence fans), for reasons you'll forgive me for not going into, I moved away, geographically, from my family and closest friends. Opportunities to ramble on over a pint with The Man Of Cheese - to "have a life chat", as we used to say - are few and far between. Similarly, I can't think when I last bantered over the green baize or shared a movie night with Cinders. These things, these friendships, matter. So my theory was, I think, that I was blogging to fill that mate-shaped hole: I was throwing my half of the conversation out there, hoping that something would come back. I could still ramble on about whatever had caught my attention, or say "you've got to hear this album/read this book/see this film", and maybe that would soften the impact of my social life going so off piste. And maybe it did.

Now though, despite my trying to be a bit more prolific on here, and even (at times) trying to be a bit more of the moment, heaven help me, readership is at an all time low. Comments likewise. I might still be throwing my half of the conversation out there, but I'm talking to myself.

For old time's sake, I'll offer +1 kudos point for identifying the film quote that has given this post its title. It's tricky, but the only clue I can give makes it very easy. Maybe I should offer +100 kudos points for anyone who actually claims the +1?

The only question left is, how long do I go on talking to myself? Isn't that the first sign of madness?

Monday, 16 May 2016

Music for a man out of time

Tracklisting:

  1. Strangelove - She's Everywhere
  2. Damien Rice - The Blower's Daughter
  3. Maria McKee - If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags)
  4. Elvis Costello - Man Out Of Time
  5. The Smokin' Mojo Filters - Come Together
  6. David Bowie - All The Young Dudes
  7. Morrissey - I'm Not A Man
  8. Gene - Where Are They Now?
  9. The Who - I've Had Enough

If you like the sound of that lot, here's the download.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

In case you missed it ...

... during the celebrations of everyone's favourite non-familial nonagenarian's 90th birthday. Attenborough, the BBC, Aardman - what's not to like?

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Clandestine Classic XLVI - It's Only Life

The forty-sixth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Now I don't know too much about The Feelies, beyond what can be gleaned from Wikipedia. Their entry in that mostly-correct encyclopaedia of our times suggests they grew out of the American post-punk/new wave scene, but that what distinguished them from their peers was the complexity, intricacy and layering of their "shimmering" guitar work. On the evidence of the only record of theirs I've ever heard, 1988 album Only Life, I'd go along with all of that.

There's a little bit of a story, actually, for me and this album, if you'll allow a digression. Back in 1992, in my last days as a full-time student, in that period of drift between the end of exams and graduation, I spent a lot of time in the University library, specifically the tiny record and CD section. I'd fill an enjoyable part of my days taking CDs out of the library and, despite the fact that home taping was still killing music back then, I'd make poor-quality cassette copies with an unbelievably chunky Philips personal CD player and a secondhand Panasonic boombox. I still have the latter, in the loft, and it still gets occasional use; the former, by contrast, didn't last five minutes. I haven't bought anything Philips-branded since. But now I'm digressing from my digression. Back to the story. So there I am, in 1992, unsure of my library choice but subconsciously yearning for Americana as a substitute for une Americaine. Looking back, I rather suspect I chose The Feelies because the name appealed. Now, I've already written about how I have gone back to that university recently, as my new place of work. And I'm frequenting the library CD section again (the vinyl has all gone). Imagine my surprise to see the exact same Feelies CD, sitting there. Naturally, I borrowed it again, 24 years later. I wonder how many others have borrowed it in the interim; from the condition of the booklet and disc itself, I'm guessing not too many. I've ripped it to MP3 this time, allowing my old, oxidised tape copy to retire from service. It's still a half-decent album, even though it still doesn't do quite enough to qualify as great.

Today's classic does, however. It's track one, side one, entitled It's Only Life. What's so good? Well, it has the Wikipedia-endorsed shimmering, layered guitars, and several subtle ear-worm hooks. It also employs the Talking Heads Road To Nowhere trick of being deceptively simple, with only two chords, but despite (or maybe because of) this the song has a slightly hypnotic effect. Soporific, maybe. And then there's the lyrical intent. There's nothing too high-brow here, nothing Morrissey-esque in its cleverness, simply a nice idea, to whit: don't worry about the bad stuff, it's only life. An admirable, if overly simplistic and ultimately naive, sentiment.

You can pick up Only Life on Amazon, though it's not cheap these days. Why not see if your library has a copy? In the meantime, here is today's clandestine classic. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Re-running the Waterloo Bridge Handicap

The old Odeon, now a theatre again

Growing up in small town East Kent, I was spoiled for choice with two cinemas. Two! One, the old Odeon, betrayed its theatrical roots, with a balcony and actual stalls at the rear of the lower tier. It was by far my favourite place to see a film. The first I can remember seeing was the Walt Disney animated version of Robin Hood - I vividly recall being given a poster of the titular fox in the foyer afterwards, which I proudly took home and Blu-tac'ed to my bedroom wall. I also remember another time, going with my school friend Alex's family to see a James Bond film, probably For Your Eyes Only. The film clearly was lost on me. What wasn't lost on me was the fact that my friend's older sister, Denise, on whom I had a prototype crush, sat next to me. This may or may not have been a factor in what happened when, during the interval between supporting and main feature, a collection box for the Red Cross was passed around. Now although Alex's family had taken me out, my parents had not wanted me to go empty-handed, or with empty pockets, so had packed me off with a crisp new £1 note. When the collection box came to me, I felt pressured to put something in, just like everyone else - it seemed the right thing to do, the grown-up thing to do. And I had no change. So the whole £1 went in. Had I hoped to impress Denise? Maybe. Was I subsequently unable to buy a Kia-Ora? Definitely.

The old ABC, now the Odeon!

Anyway, whilst the old Odeon (now defunct - the cinema closed and went back to being a proper theatre soon after) was my favourite, it's the ABC I need to talk about today. I didn't like the ABC as much. It felt a bit grubby, a bit tatty. And whereas the Odeon has a circle and stalls, the ABC was just an enormous terrace of seats for its single screen. To give you an idea of how things were, my last visit there was in the Nineties for a late-night screening of Reservoir Dogs. They let the audience sit there for nearly an hour before cancelling and offering refunds because the bulb in their projector had blown and, incredibly, they didn't have a spare.

So, we've established I didn't much like the ABC but in those days, when there was far less choice, you took what you could get. And what I got, one day, was the Waterloo Bridge Handicap.

Now IMDB tells me this film was made in 1978. If I Googled hard enough, I could probably find out what films it was shown as the support feature for in the years that followed. But I'm not too bothered about that; the very fact that I can't remember what the main feature was tells me all I need to know. But The Waterloo Bridge Handicap stuck.

It's a simple tale of commuters, haring over the eponymous river crossing in the style of a horse race, complete with commentary from a young Brough Scott. He's not the only notable name on show either. Leonard Rossiter plays the lead, Charles Barker, whilst Lynda Bellingham, Patricia Hodge, Gordon Kaye and Zoot Money all put in appearances too.

The reason this film stuck, and that I've been thinking about it lately, is that I now have a 10½ minute walk from where I park to my office. Note, 10½. Not 10, not 11. That's how much I've refined the walking leg of my commute. And the thing is, if there's anyone further up the path than me, I try to walk them down. I have a notional finishing line. I even talk to myself about it (in my head, not aloud - don't panic). It becomes a little race for me. I know how that sounds, but when you walk the same 0.8 miles twice a day, every day, well, what would you do to make it interesting?

I'm going to embed the film now, courtesy of YouTube. Even if you think I'm a bit sad with my walk to work, this is worth a watch, partly for its time-capsule illustration of how much things have changed: in film, with the leisurely (pedestrian, you might say) pace of the opening; in London, with buildings and street furniture that are consigned to history; in transport, with British Rail rolling stock; and in people, not only in dress but in technology, with not a mobile phone in sight and people either talking to each other or, at least, looking where they're walking. And if the Thames station ident at the start of the clip doesn't get your nostalgia muscle flexing, nothing will.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Dumbing (Watership) down

Bright Eyes - no longer 'burning like fire', probably now just 'glowing with warmth'.

As I may have said before, Watership Down is just about my favourite book. Certainly it is the book I have read more times (fourteen) than any other and, in the unlikely event that I ever go on Desert Island Discs, it's the book I would choose to take with me. It is terrific.

Imagine my delight, then, to learn that the BBC and Netflix are partnering up to make a new screen adaptation, jam-packed with big names. Again, terrific, not that there's anything wrong with the excellent 1978 film version, jam-packed with John Hurt and Richard Briers.

Imagine my displeasure, though, to discover that the new version will be watered down, sanitised even, all so that it can be more family-friendly and not provoke a wave of protests, as the recent Easter Sunday afternoon screening of the Seventies version apparently did.

As you have probably already guessed, I do not approve of this. Nature is, as Ted Hughes famously observed, "red in tooth and claw". Richard Adams knew this when he wrote the book; there are so many threats to a rabbit in the wild, Adams christened the mythical rabbit El-Ahrairah as "Prince with a Thousand Enemies". If a rabbit is caught in a snare, as happens to Hazel in the book, it is going to be painful, bloody even, and potentially scary for very young viewers. If a farmyard cat corners a rabbit, as happens in the book, well, that rabbit is going to be in trouble: again, potentially scary for very young viewers. And if a rabbit has a dream about the fields being full of blood and the warren being visited by the Black Rabbit of Inlé (a sort of lapine Grim Reaper), as happens in the book, well, that's going to be scary for very young viewers too.

So I guess there are two choices: dumb the whole thing down, so nothing bad ever happens and nature is a sweet, neutered place of buttercups and friendly animals, where no blood is ever shed, and "wild animal" is an oxymoron; or maybe, just maybe, advertise the new programme as containing scenes some young viewers may find upsetting and then leave it to the parents to take an active interest in what their charges are watching. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently, it is.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

I like your manifesto, I'll put it to the test-o

I've been trying, on and off, to write a political post for a long time. So long, in fact, that some of the "things I would do if I was in charge" that were in early drafts of this post have now actually happened or are happening (step forward the carrier bag tax and sugar tax). By dubious inference, and in the manner of politicians for time immemorial, I will claim this as irrefutable evidence that my policies are all sound.

So if I really am the great lost statesman of our time, why have I never finished the "manifesto"?

Well, a small part of the reason it took so long, and never quite got finished, is that the political landscape keeps changing. A bigger part, though, is that I have been reluctant to get it finished; they say that you should never discuss politics or religion with your friends, and so by extension a blogger should never post about those topics for their readers. I don't have a massive readership, and I don't want to alienate any of you. I can only think of one person who agrees with every point I was going to make. And besides, who am I kidding, this is a pop culture blog, not Guido Fawkes ... So why did I even try?

In the run-up to the last general election, I wrote about how hard it is to identify with a specific political party when they've become so blended, so uniform, such similar shades of the same colour. I went on to speculate that maybe this was a factor in the gradual decline in voter turnout, and contrasted this to the high turnout at a single-issue vote like the Scottish referendum on independence, being a simple either/or choice - no shades of grey there.

Now, following the boy least likely to's ascension to Leader of the Opposition, politics is starting to polarise a little more. If what's left of the Liberal Democrats are able to reclaim the, presumably now vacant, centre ground, perhaps we're heading for a return to the 1970s and '80s, when you were either right, left or centre. Perhaps, perhaps...

But more likely not. See, here's the thing: I would suggest that people are, on average, more politically aware, if not engaged, than ever. 24-hour rolling news, the sheer speed of news coverage, the media channels now available to bombard inform the electorate ... it takes a concerted effort to avoid political news coverage. And with the sensationalist reporting of recent non-stories like Corbyn/anthem outrage and Cameron/pork incredulity (snoutrage?), even the red-tops are getting in on the act. And the trouble with such saturation, such coverage of the minutiae, such in-depth analysis, is that the days of being, for example, a Labour man just because you always have been are gone. There really aren't that many default positions any more. So you're left with trying to find the party of best fit. And then maybe you're like me, finding you're a little from column A, a little from column B, and so on.

It really does all come down to policies, then - finding a party with the most policies you can identify with, and/or the fewest policies you abhor. The least worst party, if you like. And so my intention, with the manifesto post, was to outline my thoughts on a number of policy areas. Maybe I thought, naively, that I could influence you, I don't know. Again, who am I kidding, right? On my two-bob blog that nobody reads ... but anyway, since I've gone to the trouble of finding some links for your further reading pleasure, I'll have to content myself with just making these two points:

  • Trident - simply put, we should not renew Trident. Whatever your views on the need for a nuclear deterrent or otherwise, at a time when UK public sector net debt is in excess of £1,500 billion (yes, really) it seems to me to be morally inexcusable to spend between £15bn and £100bn (depending who you believe) on what is effectively a luxury item. When you can't afford beer, you stop drinking cocktails, don't you? And show me someone, anyone, who doesn't agree that money could be better spent on the NHS, or schools. Besides, if large, developed economies like Germany and Japan can manage just fine without nuclear weapons, why can't we?
  • HS2 - the Beeb summarised the pro's and con's of HS2 better than I ever could but the fact that there are counter arguments or disputes over every claimed advantage the scheme is supposed to bring makes me very uncomfortable about spending £70bn to £80bn of tax-payers money on what, some argue, is effectively a vanity project. At the risk of repeating myself, when you can't afford beer ... Also, isn't throwing money at unaffordable prestige infrastructure projects derided in the developing world?

In case you were wondering, I was going to go on to talk about the deployment of British troops in overseas operations, foreign aid, education, public sector maximum wages, pension scheme review for MPs and firefighters, a child benefit cap, a trans-fats ban, cycle helmet legislation, incinerators, neonicotinoids, firefighters striking, EU membership and the global over-population crisis ... and now you can see why I've stopped. There is enough outrage in the bottom half of the internet. However liberal my policies, however well-argued and evidence-led they may be, you will inevitably disagree with some of them. Maybe all of them, and perhaps vehemently. And whilst I think most of my regular readers are pretty balanced individuals, I don't want to incur your ire. Or, more selfishly: I don't have many readers - I can't afford to lose any of you.

Seriously though, Trident renewal? What are they thinking?

Footnote: +1 kudos point on offer here for identifying the source of this post's title.

Great unnoticed headlines of our time - I

A corker from the BBC World News RSS feed:

Here's the story to go with it which, whilst good, can never quite live up to that headline.

Talking of news, the imminent closure of the New Day newspaper, after just nine weeks, should come as no surprise to anyone who's read it. Nice try, but it contains no news...

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The longlist

Last year, I managed to arrange a screening of Pulp Fiction at my local art-house cinema. I did it under the auspice of a birthday celebration, and lots of friends turned up, plus lots of people I didn't know but whose ticket sales were vital for making the screening happen. The bottom line is, it was a great night, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and I had a better time than if I'd tried to organise a birthday party. Thinking back, I blogged about it afterwards.

Anyway, it was such a success that I'm thinking about trying again this year. Once more, I'm constrained by the films offered by OurScreen, so I can't stage Cape Fear, Goodfellas, No Country For Old Men or Reservoir Dogs, however much I might like to. But they do offer plenty of good films to choose from. I had a look yesterday, and drafted the following longlist. Maybe you can help me choose - which one gets your vote?

Friday, 22 April 2016

The reaping of 2016

Here's a non-exhaustive list of deceased persons of note thus far in 2016:

  • Natalie Cole - singing daughter of unforgettable Nat
  • David Bowie - starman
  • Alan Rickman - Hans Gruber or Snape, depending on your age
  • Glenn Frey - the heat is off
  • Colin Vearncombe - led a wonderful life
  • Dale Griffin - young dude, behind the scenes of Peel sessions
  • Frank Finlay - Porthos, Casanova
  • Sir Terry Wogan - Pudsey-loving, long-putt-holing, blankety-blanking airwave-master
  • Maurice White - earthy, windy, fiery
  • Harper Lee - killer of mockingbirds
  • George Kennedy - Cool Hand Luke's right hand man
  • George Martin - wrangler of seismic music genius
  • Richard Davalos - east of Eden, but central on Smiths sleeve art
  • Nancy Reagan - Rappin' Ronnies' better half
  • Cliff Michelmore - combined Holiday and the moon landings (sadly not simultaneously)
  • Paul Daniels - we liked it, more than a lot
  • Keith Emerson - a keyboardist in need of a Lake and a Palm(er)
  • Sylvia Anderson - your actual Lady Penelope
  • Frank Sinatra Jr. - slightly less Blue Eyes
  • Garry Shandling - comedian of two shows (eponymous and Larry Sanders)
  • Johan Cruyff - total football before total football
  • Ronnie Corbett - it was goodnight from him
  • Doris Roberts - Raymond's mother
  • Victoria Wood - beloved comic polymath
  • Prince - sexy purple MF
  • Percy Sledge - woman-loving (soul) man

That's a lot, by anyone's standards. And before you comment that I have omitted X, Y and Z this is simply a least of people I can remember dying this year that I also consider "of note". It's not meant to be inclusive, or dovetail with your definition of noteworthy, it's just illustrative. If you want exhaustive, the Telegraph maintains a celebrity death montage.

Anyway. Social media is awash with comments in the manner "what gives, 2016?" and rightly so - celebrity deaths are through the roof. So what's going on? What does give?

The simple answer is ... er ... nothing. Yes, this year seems an excessively grim year for the reaper, but it should be expected, and this trend will continue. Why? It's a numbers game, by and large. The post-war baby boomers are all getting old. The bulge in the population curve that they represent is now hitting old age. In other words, there's simply a glut of people who are now the right age to die, and this crosses all socio-demographics groups - however rich and famous they might be, the rich and famous are not immune from this. Equally, the growth in new media, social and otherwise, means that every death and every obituary is reported far more and far wider than at any point in human history. So not only are there more people to die, there are more ways for you to hear about it.

Typically, the wonderful BBC website has a terrific article on this. If the numbers are right, 2016 will continue to be a career highpoint for the Grim Reaper, only to be surpassed by 2017.

And for the morbid amongst you, Deathlist gives an idea of who might be next. Me, I still can't believe that Victoria Wood and Prince went in the space of 48 hours.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Surprising facts of modern life no.2481

Your toothpaste contains sweetener.

Sorbitol, to be more precise. And not just contains it but, more than likely, it'll be the second or third biggest ingredient by volume.

I don't understand why this must be the case. Anyone?

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Full disclosure

It's full disclosure time. I use StatCounter's excellent free visitor tracking code to provide analytics for this and other websites that I am involved in. I don't pay this data much attention - I am mostly only interested in how many visitors I have, how they get to me and which pages are popular. In the past, I've looked at the percentage of visitors who have JavaScript enabled before deciding to do something JavaScript-y. But that's essentially it. Here's a detailed look at a recent visit to this very site:

So what does this tell us? Some boring stuff first - the user in question was browsing with Firefox on Linux, with JavaScript enabled and a pretty high screen resolution. And before you think StatCounter and I are wizards for working this out, your browser tells all that stuff to every website you visit.

Other stuff is more interesting. IP address and location for starters. Now I've obfuscated these, to preserve the anonymity of the visitor. And if you're sat at home browsing through your domestic ISP, whether that's BT or Virgin or whomever, well, the ISP is pretty accurate but the location isn't always. The right half of the right country is about as accurate as it gets. However, and here's the full disclosure bit, if you're surfing from work, and your employer is big enough to act as its own ISP (as is the case in this example) then the location is accurate. So I know where you are and who you work for (also obfuscated in this example).

Fear not though, I'm not stalking you. I don't care who visits these little websites of mine - they're just a hobby, after all, and my only real concern is that there aren't enough of you. The only time I ever look even this deeply (and that's still pretty shallow) is when something unusual catches my eye... as in the example above. Someone geographically very close to me is having a good read, not just of this blog but of another I maintain too. And looking at where they work, that's only 800m from where I work, as the crow flies (according to Google Maps) ... but to the best of my knowledge, I don't know anyone that works there. So maybe I'm the one being stalked? Or maybe we have a mutual acquaintance? Or maybe it's just coincidence? (And for those who don't have much time for coincidence, read the lottery anecdote in this excellent interview with Stephen King.) Who knows, or cares? Not I. But at least you now know what I know and what I don't. Please don't let that stop you visiting, mind!

Right, enough. Time for bed.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

The room of requirement

To continue the theme of making myself feel old, here's a reminder that the undergraduates of today were mostly reared on Harry Potter:

Not sure about having a room number there though, sort of makes the room a bit too easy to find, doesn't it? Still, the spy-hole and fire door seem like good ideas...

Monday, 4 April 2016

It's like the Nineties never ended...

Tracklisting:

  1. The Breeders - Cannonball
  2. Depeche Mode - Enjoy The Silence
  3. Pixies - Monkey Gone To Heaven
  4. The House Of Love - Shine On
  5. The Happy Mondays - Step On
  6. The Soup Dragons - I'm Free
  7. The Prodigy - Charly
  8. The La's - There She Goes
  9. Sugar - If I Can't Change Your Mind
  10. Sultans Of Ping F.C. - Where's Me Jumper?
  11. Suede - Animal Nitrate
  12. Morrissey - Speedway

If you like the sound of that lot, here's the download.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Fool me once...

I'm not doing an online April Fool this year. I did one last year, about which precisely no monkeys were given, so really, what's the point?

A lot of the music blogs I read are posting The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again instead, which seems like a much better idea. But this is New Amusements, not Same Amusements, so here's a different version to the one you know and love.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

And it's goodnight from him

Very sad to hear of Ronnie Corbett's passing. Watching The Two Ronnies on TV was very much a part of my childhood, and watching it now is still terrific. It calls to mind a simpler, gentler and altogether more joyful age.

The thing that I remember most from The Two Ronnies is not "Fork Handles" or any of the more commonly repeated sketches. Instead, it is one of their mini-serials that was broadcast in segments, ten minutes a week as part of their main show. It was called The Worm That Turned. Looking back now, I guess the inspiration for its theme - women ruling, men subjugated - was somewhat obvious, given the coterminous ascent of one Margaret Hilda Thatcher. At the time, though, I was about nine or so, and was probably more struck by the Two Ronnies wearing dresses and the female secret police having PVC uniforms. Here's the first episode - you can watch the whole story here.

I also recall a particular Two Ronnies musical number, in which they performed their version of The Drunken Sailor. It included the memorable lines:

Hooray and up she rises,
She's got knees of different sizes.
One's quite small and the other wins prizes,
Early in the morning.

In later life, I would adopt and adapt this as a drinking song. Happy days.