... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Saturday, March 31, 2012

560: "If we haven't got it you don't need it."

"If we haven't got it you don't need it," lies the advert. It's a stupid advert. So stupid in fact that I think it deserves a swear word. It's a fucking stupid advert. (Aside: would the phrases 'fucking stupid advert,' and 'stupid fucking advert' have notably distinct meanings?) A bald shop assistant draws attention to a little speaker hanging off his earring, music blares, long curly hair explodes from his scalp, then he turns to his side and thrusts his genitals away from the customer. The gist of the advert is that you don't need a speaker earring and The Range (for that is the name of the shop) doesn't sell what you don't need.

I dispute that claim; blatant false advertising. And no, I'm not going to explain my reasons, tenuous and unrealistic as they are, why I am in desperate need of a speaker earring. Those reasons are my own. Here are some of the things that people need on a regular basis that The Range does not sell: milk (but it does sell milk jugs, and milk bottle holders, which I dispute anyone ever needing), shampoo (unless for car or carpet), tampons, laptops, clean water, nappies, broadband, a holiday, a drink (but they can provide for those in desperate need of a Dr. Who drinks bottle, pheww).

My jaw has just dropped. One of the important and unlikely necessities I have searched for they actually do supply: Ibuprofen. But, it's one of those offensively overpriced name brands bought by idiots with too much money. Why spend £1.89 on Hedex when the exact same compound is available for 41p in a Tesco own brand box. Repeat: THE EXACT SAME COMPOUND. So The Range still cannot provide anything actually needed. I need to pay 41p or less for Ibuprofen, ideally in as minimal packaging as possible; not £1.89 for a brand. This is not like getting supermarket own brand bread where there may be a difference in quality.  It's the same fucking thing.

Stupid advert.

559: Inside

Thursday night was the opening of 'Inside', Blank Media Collective's first Arts Council funded exhibition, and their most ambitious so far. The participating artists are Claudia Borgna, Philip Cheater, Drop Collective (Blair Zaye, Anna Louise Hale, Adam Dahrouge and Alison Thomson), Gill Greenhough, Rosie Leventon, David Ogle, Emily Rubner, Liz West and Chris Wright.  

"Within the insular and atmospheric setting of BLANKSPACE gallery, Inside explores the psychological connections we form with our environment, placing the participant within a collection of works that disturb, envelop, and engage."

OK, that's the spiel; the off-the-shelf opening paragraph expected of the unimaginative arts reviewer, the symptom of being a critic and not an artist. That's me; hello. I compiled it from cliches, links and press releases; the word is churnalism. I made a churn. I digress, I do.

Inside is the first time for a few months I've been down to BLANKSPACE since I stopped working with them last year. Michael Thorp, me and the rest of the blankpages team always fancied doing a printed issue. I'm reliably informed that one is on the way in the near future, and I look forward immensely to seeing this, but in the meantime BMC have released the Inside tie-in limited edition zine-like non-zine magazine not-a-zine zine. It's limited to 375 copies, goes at three quid a pop, and is well worth every penny. Illustration, flash fiction and poetry from a range of contributors, hand screen printed on big thick paper (you know, the kind that feels nice). Go to BLANKSPACE and buy one.

When you are entering BLANKSPACE to buy your zine (for want of a better word), don't stumble over the intricate wooden sculpture surrounding the front door. Look at it instead. Seriously, my words are flippant and silly, but the work in Inside is not. They are varied in their interpretation of the brief, and the show is coherent and engaging. I hope it will draw in more visitors to BLANKSPACE, and I hope this is the start of more printed material from Blank Media Collective.

During the launch I was taking tiny millisecond video clips that I've been editing together into a little sort-of teaser promo type thing. I expect it will win an Oscar or something. There's not enough major documentaries made using Windows Movie Maker. In case you were wondering, this isn't a review of Inside; I'll leave that to the serious arts blogs. This is Saturday morning, blanket, sofa, cup of coffee; the yawns and aches of a week at work. Have a nice weekend. Go and see Inside. It runs until Sunday 29th April. Go on, get!

558: Space...

Monday night. The sky was clear, the weather was calm and unseasonally clement. Oh, it was, wasn't it. It was, don't you know. What, what. It's a couple of weeks since the rare close alignment of Venus and Jupiter, that I first spotted hanging beautifully over the roof of Aldi. Ahh, the supermarket carpark, between the wonky-wheeled trolleys and the chatty beggars and the honking cars; the natural home of the spotter of astrological phenomena.

Monday night, and the close alignment of Venus and Jupiter has passed. Jupiter remains low in the sky and Venus has risen a few degrees higher, making its gradual getaway, across the solar system and eventually back again. Venus, where the days are longer than the years and the sun rises in the west. Jupiter could now be seen with a new partner in the sky. Our closest celestial body, illuminator of the night, sweeper of tides, major contributor to the conditions on Earth perfect for evolving life.

Monday night and the moon sat close beside Jupiter. A special moon – a crescent moon, illuminated by Earthshine where otherwise it would be blackness. And all I've got is a bog standard digital camera. No special lenses. My position is in the centre of Manchester, at the northwest point of the Blue Banana, the European Megalopolis, where the sky is next to invisible as an indistinct backdrop to street lights and tower blocks.

I photographed the sky from Seymour Park in Old Trafford and got three faint and blurred spots of light. Much less distinct and clear than was seen with just the naked (admittedly spectacled) eye. The photographer of this picture clearly knew much better, and was much better equipped for snapping lunar landscapes:


And here're my little pictures:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

557: District 9

I have a craving for cat food. My finger nails are falling out. To paraphrase the liar Bill Clinton, "I have never had relations with a Prawn". However, unlike the lie told by Bill Clinton, my claim cannot possibly be untrue. 'Prawn' is the offensive slang used by the population of Johannesburg, South Africa in the film District 9, to describe the aliens who arrived in the city in mysterious circumstances. Trapped in a derelict space craft hanging motionless above the city they are rescued, brought to Earth, and stuck in a walled slum, District 9. Separated for their own good, segregated, apartheid-ed, ignored, attacked, misunderstood, hated.

The film opens with a brief bit of exposition, essentially saying what I've just covered up there^, then goes straight into the first act. MNU, Multi-National United, the arms manufacturers in charge of containing and controlling the extra-terrestrials, are barging into District 9, heavily armed, to issue eviction notices to all 'Prawns'. They are to be moved to a new slum far from the people of Johannesburg. The wimpy wee fellow in charge of the operation, the film's human lead, is a disgusting shit of a man. Upon discovering a house full of alien eggs he gleefully rips out the life support, orders the place burnt down, and yelps with joy at the unborn babies audibly popping in the heat.

This is a brilliant film with many awful and unpleasant aspects. There are strong and clear themes of abuse, colonialism (such as forcing the aliens to adopt European names; the alien lead is named Christopher), and racial hatred. Humans have the unfortunate ability to think of other humans as being less than human then using this position to excuse awful behaviour. The aliens are not human, but they are sentient and highly intelligent; they have familial love; experience hunger, thirst, ambition, fear, hatred, addiction, extreme poverty...

District 9 is genuinely one of the best films I've seen in ages; I don't know how I missed it when it came out. It was recommended to me a couple of weeks ago as a shining example of thoughtful modern science fiction, then jumped out at me from among the dregs of the HMV sale. Between the teetering stinking towers of Bridget Jones' Diary and Twilight was District 9, Moon and a large selection of Jackie Chan classics. I picked up Wheels On Meals and Twinkle Twinkle, Lucky Stars. The guy at the counter raved about District 9; "have you seen it? No! Oh my, It's amazing! Do you like sci-fi?! You're in for a treat." He was right.  Sequel please.

"Hell, this is nice cat food, you know."

Sunday, March 25, 2012

556: Scrimpton

He's the genius who answered the question, what would you do with your last moments on earth if you knew the world was going to end in eight hours, with the immortal answer "I've always wanted to kick a duck up the arse." Karl Pilkington.

Some time soon The Ricky Gervais Show returns with series three. It's HBO's animations of the classic podcasts which have been entertaining us for years. Instead of doing anything important this Sunday I have wallowed about the place watching these silly little hilarious cartoons. There hasn't been a new podcast since the Red Nose Day special last March. The cartoon is just animated discussions I have heard many times before, but the characterisation is so perfect it breathes new life into the old drivel.

New series on it's way. Teasers on YouTube. Here, have:

555: Observations to Barnoldswick

We took a drive out into the previously undiscovered North Yorkshire town of Barnoldswick. An old school friend is a jeweller based there, and we are in the market for his-and-hers wedding rings. So off we went. The night before had been one of drunk dancing in close vicinity to excessively loud PA speakers. I was hungover and semi-deaf to the point of delirium and obsessively pointing out odd little scenes spotted by the roadside. I expect it was rather annoying, but nevertheless:

A derelict farm outhouse with holey slate roof. The crumbling walls, at the point they reached from the ground to the bottom of the sloping roof, can only have been a couple of feet high. From the ground to the top point of the gable it must have been only four or five feet. Looking down on the building from above, as though studying an architects plan, I estimate the shape of the building to be a rectangle measuring two metres by six. There is no way a person could comfortably work or move about in a building like this, and its original purpose is an utter mystery to me. Presumably it is also mysterious to the current owner and this explains it being left to ruin.

Blue shipping containers were stored stacked three high. Perched atop was a bright clean yellow Robin Reliant three-wheeled car. A loose-weave net covered the car, anchoring it to the shipping containers and preventing it from blowing away.

A colourful graffiti tag spelling out the name BOOBS. The OO contained nipples so the word looked like BOOBS! It was good; I liked it.

A pub, in between somewhere and somewhere else, called FANNY GREY. Could be named after a race horse; could be named after an elderly ladies reproductive organs... possibly the landlady. Thinking about it the pub sign, which is of a grey horse, perhaps provides the clue I need. Forget I mentioned it.

A tiny outhouse beside a countryside cottage. The door of the outhouse was open and inside could be seen shelves and shelves of suspension files stuffed full of paper. I only caught a glimpse, but saw nobody about. We should have stopped to investigate.

The inside of my eyelids.

Today my fiancee returned home from work with a likely story about seeing a motorbike with a dog in a cage balanced off the back. As she passed the bike she turned to glance at the drive who was dressed as a chicken. Double take. A chicken!

554: Floating

A cubical magnet levitating over asuperconducting material
(this is known as the 
Meissner effect) 
My alarm went off at 06:45 in the AM. I pressed snooze. I was worried about floating too far towards the ceiling that I wouldn't be able to reach the alarm once snooze time had expired. To rectify the situation I tied a piece of string around my big toe. The other end was attached to an automated winch set to start reeling me in when the alarm next went off. I did float as predicted and luckily the winch worked a treat, so I was within arms reach of my mobile phone to stop the annoying jingle at 06:50 in the AM. I may have been dreaming.

I wasn't dreaming. I really was floating. Apparently these things can happen some times. It's rare, but it does happen. Something to do with a person sleeping funny and filling up with methane gas. I think it's what killed the dinosaurs, and I expect it had something to do with the disappearance of Atlantis and the people of Easter Island. There's no such thing as coincidence where such matters are concerned. I don't snore, but I do float. And so do the aliens from Roswell. It's all happening.

Some people have dreams about freedom and equality. I have dreams about toe string and floaty snoozing. Time well spent.

The levitation of Daniel Dunglas Home atWard Cheney's house interpreted in a
lithograph from Louis Figuier, 
Les Mystères de la science 1887 

553: Politics makes me feel stupid

Remember when Richard Nixon said "When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal"? No, me neither. It was before I was born (Aside to self: would it be too arrogant to rephrase "before I was born" as "BKE: Before Kevin Era"? ... undecided ... ); back when it was all black and white. Way back in 1977; the year Elvis the King died and Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols was vomited onto the Queen's face. History. And that megalomaniacal utterance (the one from Nixon, not my stupid BKE thing) is one of the reasons he will be remembered as one of history's great big bell-ends. Much in the same way as Britain's current coalition government will be remembered after events of this last week.

Hooray Henry rah-rah we're going to smash the oiks braying their victory of public opinion and banging their destructive oily hands on their antique Bullingdon-battered tables. They destroy the NHS and the lives of Britain's poorest and most vulnerable with the wild abandon, social disregard, and lack of shame that Cameron and Boris Johnson destroyed restaurants in their student days. Cameron, Andrew Lansley and all other associated cunts and cronies are having the times of their pampered, privileged lives. The rich will get richer, and the poor will get poorer and deader. And the rich will not give a shit.

I don't know what I'm talking about, but perhaps that's the set trap I've fallen into. These things are supposed to be complicated and tedious and as a result I'm uninformed and ignorant. They are supposed to be unjust and infuriating and as a result I am confused, frustrated and angry. The upshot of all this is that the public (I'm speaking for myself, if even I am speaking for anyone at all) are helpless and impotent as the ruling class repeatedly punches down, smashing the oiks.

Political injustice is so easy to get furious about, but so difficult to do anything about. It's not even easy to get a basic understanding of what is going on and why. It's not even easy to understand if what is perceived as injustice actually is. Perhaps it is the lesser of all possible evils, a temporary step back, a regroup. Political decisions aren't for ever. But can they cause irreparable damage? Is there an alternative to the Coalition which has the strength and intelligence to undo the damage being done? Sigh...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

552: Spring

Yesterday was the first day of spring; the vernal equinox when the sun is at zenith over the equator. The earliest in over a century. Sorry Southern hemisphere dwellers; Autumn is upon you, Summer Dying Fast. Back here, in the North, we have the resurgence of life and a general increase in temperature to look forward to. You know the drill, you've seen spring before.

The local wildlife immediately began celebrations. When I opened the window I immediately had to close it again to prevent midge infestation. A huge amorphous spinning crowd of the little twats had formed right outside the window. As one they performed that seemingly meaningless random dance that presumably has some highly important social or sexual function. Staring at this swirling vortex of tiny wings my focus suddenly shifted to a flutter of feathers in the bare branches of the tree directly outside:

One Romeo pigeon leapt onto the back of his lovey dovey, depositing his spermatozoa into her cloaca, flapped about a bit, hopped off, perched beside her for a couple of minutes, then flew away to a higher branch. Love is in the air. I'm just glad birds don't reproduce in the same way fish do, otherwise it'd be more than the weather and the pollen count that we'd have to worry about. Fish, as it is so delightfully described on Wikipedia, reproduce "with the male and female fish shedding their gametes into the surrounding water". Delightful. I don't know about you, but I'm happy for birds to continue with their presently preferred method.

Today is the second day of spring, and as yet no wildlife have displayed their behaviour in my vicinity. Unless they have and I've already become desensitised to the naturalistic orgiastic filth crawling, slavering, slopping and slutting their immoral ways across the seas, surfaces and skies. So, er, yeah, spring is here. Good times.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

551: I Shouldn't Ponder! (or, It's Sorta Puzzlin'!)

You know when you awake with a fully formed thought that is slightly detached from reality? A piece of gibbering nonsense left over from the dream world that stays with you during your morning ablutions. Sometimes it could be the hauntings of a nightmare translating the stresses and strains of waking life into a surreal fantasy. Other times it could be the fantasies of sexual relations with unattainable figures – pop stars, or... aliens? Whatever thoughts you experience I'm sure you know what I mean, however presumptuous that might be.

I awoke obviously slightly puzzled; quizzical expression on my brow and everything. The question on my mind was "What are ISPs (Internet Service Providers) for? I mean, what do they actually do? And is this a stupid question?" So the stupid answer is "They Provide a Service called the Internet, duh, the answer is in the question". Well actually, no it isn't. Say I want to connect my computer to a digital camera. All I need to accomplish this is a USB cable (and perhaps a very basic driver). I don't need a USB cable and a DCSP (Digital Camera Service Provider). The physical connection is enough.

Why then does connecting one's computer up to the internet require more than just a lead? Why have BT, Virgin Media or whoever elected themselves gatekeeper to this thing, the internet, which is after all just a load of computers connected to one another? Why have we allowed this? I genuinely (as I write this, at 0730hrs, yet to awake fully) don't get what they are providing. It's like a protection racket – pay up or we'll cut you off.

Electricity, gas, and water providers offer a service worth paying for, because the providers have to find the gas, generate the electricity and clean and store the water. In some countries (including here in the UK) you have to pay for a TV license. This is used to fund the BBC to help them make the programmes ("generate the content", urgh, ugly phrase). Other channels, here and elsewhere, receive their funding through advertising. ISPs do not generate the internet's content, and nor is the internet noticeably lacking in advertising.

Yes, there are underground cables and junction boxes to maintain; but how long before the internet is accessed completely wirelessly, like radio has been since the beginning of recorded history?  And then how will ISPs justify their continued existence?

550: Patrick's Boxing Day

So, what were we celebrating with St. Patrick's Day? Is it a celebration of the life and times of St. Patrick, born in Roman Britain, c.387, died some time later, somewhere in Ireland - patron saint of Ireland, Nigeria, Montserrat, New York, Boston, Murcia, engineers, paralegals, and Melbourne. Or is it a celebration of that form of Irishness largely invented as a marketing tool for brewers and landlords, around the time when they took the English word crack, meaning a good time, and pseudo-Gaelicised it into craic.

So, is St. Patrick's Day a celebration of a saint but that shows no sign of celebrating the saint, or is it a celebration of a national stereotype? Perhaps, like Christmas, it is a mostly secular celebration that due to popular demand is ignoring its tedious Christian heritage. (Aside: next time someone accuses me of trying to take the Christ out of Christmas by writing xmas, I think I'll accuse them of trying to force the Christ into yuletide or trying to take the Saturn out of Saturnalia.)

Conclusion; I just don't know what St. Patrick's Day is supposed to be. Is it one of those weird things that America has fiddled with and then punted back to us, like that thing they call Halloween.

I wrote all that ^^^ on Sunday during Patrick's Boxing Day, Hangover Day, and felt it too combative, tiresome, arrogant and aimless to post. Then I just forgot about it. There was too much lying about in my dressing gown to be done. Now, many days later, I've just decided to whack it up there on the internet for all the imaginary people to read. No further comment. Aside: there is further comment, and it is this: St. Patrick's Day was bloody good crack.

549: Be a Sport

Rules of sport. Once they were made up, now they are dogma. Discuss.

Once I was a boy, at school, in shorts and shin pads, covered in mud. Running about the place. A little bit. Kicking, throwing or hitting a ball with a stick. Just once, I think. It was utterly tedious, and eventually I discovered it was easily avoided with an obvious excuse poorly forged onto a scrap of paper. "Kevin can't do P.E. today because yesterday a bee landed on his hand and it upset him." "Kevin can't do P.E. today because his gout is playing up." "Kevin can't do P.E. today because it's 1996 and we are still using dial-up modems to access the internet." "Kevin can't do P.E. today because he is shit at it and finds it unpleasant and embarrassing." All of those are not genuine excuses and you can have them, feel free.

So, we were encouraged to take part in organised physical competition in games, the rules of which had long been codified by 19th Century public school masters. And now because some toff decided that an oval ball can only be thrown backwards with a sort-of baffling twisted arm, I get a whistle blown at me every time I think I am throwing it like that, but apparently am not. So what I don't understand is why sport seems to have become stuck in the past. In that sense (and many others, e.g. the disgusting fanaticism it inspires) sport is like religion. It has selected an arbitrary date long ago and stayed there.

Science, for example, moves on continually, getting quicker and quicker, bigger and better. Sport has stopped. All the rules were made up and then just left to fester. Where are the new sports? Why do schools insist on forcing kids (me, fifteen years ago) to take part in sports, the rules or structure of which they have no say over? When studying science the eventual aim is to make a contribution, as discovery; to advance the field. When playing those silly sport games there is no eventual aim; all achievements are re-set the moment the final whistle blows.

A science student can, and should, ask why why why constantly, and receive enlightening answers in return. A sport student, stood in goal during a football match cannot ask why he or she may not pick up the ball if passed to them from a team-mate's foot. The only answer would be "because that's the rules". This is the same enemy of reason that gave us "because I said so," and "god did it".

But maybe sport has finished. All of the sports have already been discovered and there is no more work to be done. Just endlessly repeat the same steps again and again. If that's the case maybe we can move on leaving sport as a relic of the past. If that's not the case, maybe it's time we moved on to some new, as yet un-invented, sports.

Just a thought.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

548: Lá Fhéile Pádraig shona daoibh!!

Ahh, St. Patrick's Day. Happy St. Patrick's Day. The one day of the year when all Irish people wear green and get drunk. The only day. Just one a year. Happy St. Patrick's Day to all my Irish friends and family, to all my alcoholic friends and family, and to all my Irish alcoholic friends. So English, Welsh and Scottish people, what will you be doing on St. Patrick's day? Oh, that's nice. What were you doing on St. George's, David's and Andrew's Days? No, me neither. Americans? How about you? What were you doing on whatever your National Saint's day might be... St. Innocent of Alaska, or Joseph, or ... Samuel Colt?

OK, I think that is all of the lazy stereotypes and unfunny crap jokes I'm contractually obliged to make today. For me St. Patrick's Day will combine elements of those two native-born Irish Saints, Cóemgen of Glendalough (Caoimhín, or Kevin), and Brigid of Kildare. Post-modern, shallow dickhead that I am, I will pick and choose which bits I like, and disregard the rest. From Cóemgen I take my name Irished up for the day, and from Brigid I pay my respects to her apparent miracle of turning her dirty bathwater into delicious beer. Slainte!

My almost-wife is Irish (Northern), and we both like a cooked breakfast on a Saturday, so I started the day by cooking up a Full Irish. Essentially it's the same as a Full English. In fact, it's exactly the same, because 'Full English' seems not to have a set definition. Depending who makes it it contains different stuff. When I make a cooked breakfast, English or Irish, it needs black pudding (preferably Bury, the best black pudding in the world, probably). I also enjoy hash browns. Today I also fried up a couple of pieces of Bury white pudding. One problem however: I didn't get any Soda bread. That would have been the one ingredient that would have prevented any Irish/English confusion. Never mind, there was potato cakes, so don't panic.

OK, I'm off. Make mine a Guinness. Slowly. No logo. :p

Here, have some Irish hip hop:

547: I can do an English speaks

Question, quest, quench, quorn, quesadilla, queue, quibble, 
quince, quiche, quick, quickest, quickie, 
quack, quid, quidditch, quite, quiet.

Qi, Qabalah, faqir, Qatar, qat.

Key, Kabalah, faker, cutter, Kat.


I wonder if we can get rid of the u that nearly always follows the q in standard English words. It seems like a redundancy to me. By that I mean that Qu contains no more information than q. Observe: A q on its own, as when saying the alphabet, is pronounced kyew, like the first sound in cute. Qu is usually pronounced kw, as in queen or consequences. But sometimes Qu is pronounced as kyew, as in queue or quay. Admittedly I don't have a qlue what I'm talking about, but the more I think about it qu and q seem redundant.

The English language is a bizarre and beautiful beast, and its nuances and idiosyncrasies, so difficult to explain to non-native speakers, seem to be the result of accidents of history. Mixing the pronunciation from one region of Medieval England with the spelling from another when the movable type printing press became a thing. This leaves us with oddities such as "an hotel" which is a mixture of the apparently correct "a hotel" with the once correct pronunciation of "an 'otel" from the French dropped 'h' where the word comes from.

I can only assume now that the Q and the qu combo come from one of the invaders that have taken this land in the last thousand or so years. Why should queen not be spelt kween? Why should
not be anglicised as ki instead of qi, and why should قطر not be anglicised as Katar instead of Qatar. Is this simply to inform the reader that this is a foreign word, recently admitted to the language, like the Japanese habit of using a seperate syllable set, katakana, for non-native words. (Notice katakana, not qataqana.) Anyway, I thought that, in English, foreign words were usually indicated by using italics.

Clearly the English language is full of contradictions, redundancies, errors, mistakes, pointless rules and downright gibberish. Makes me wonder why it took so many hundreds of years for the Bible to be rendered in English; seems like they make obviously perfect bedfellows. But I digress. Again. Anyhoo... I started off thinking I'd solved some long problematic error in the English language. Turns out I'm an idiot. Interesting.

I wonder how many millions of years it would take to comprehensively document all the oddities of the English language. Just look at all the different pronunciations of gh: ghost, cough, enough, hiccough, laugh, daughter, bright, dough, through, and plough. Not to mention its unusual use for creating past tense verbs: caught, taught, bought, etc.

Exit, pursued by a bear.

Friday, March 16, 2012

546: Return of the Warlord

Song of the day:
Manowar, Return of the Warlord

"Time to burn, you losers better learn
No one controls our goddamn lives,
We do just what we feel,
riding horses made of steel,
We're here to burn up the night"

I remember when this was new. My friend would tape Headbangers' Ball of MTV and then we'd watch it 'round at my house. It was presented by some random blonde. I think it might still be on now, but its probably crap what with all this lame ass pussy pop-metal that all the kids, with safety pins in their school ties, are bopping to. Back then metal was Pantera, Metallica, Sepultura; it was Judas Priest, Iron Maiden. It was Napalm Death, Cannibal Corpse, Anal Cunt. All the greats. And suddenly it was Manowar, a band I had never heard of; get with the 90s grandad. We had giddy fits of laughter at this unbelievably cheesy video; bikes, big-titted blonde bimbos, leather, shooting pool, counting dollar bills on saddles, and pointing. Lots of pointing. He's pointing at you, ha ha ha, we'd laugh and tease each other. No, he's not, fuck off. He's pointing at you.

Fifteen years later and I'm still rocking the Manowar. They're like a good version of Led Zepplin, without all the shitty bongo bits and meaningless hippy-drippy soundscapes. Led Zepplin suck, sorry people, it's true. Anyway, why am I going on about Led Zepplin? (I bet in ten years time I'll be writing a blog about how I've just discovered how great Led Zepplin are. I used to hate The Who, and you know what? Now, I don't think they are too bad. I digress.)

DEATH TO FALSE METAL is the phrase so associated with Manowar, emblazoning their album covers and peppering their lyrics like themes and sword wounds. DEATH TO FALSE METAL. Say it loud, I'm metal and I'm proud. If Manowar wrote national anthems we would all be nationalists. Warriors of the World United should be the national anthem for a United Earth to help stir the blood in defence of this great planet against the attacking might of the Moonmen from Mars. With their green skin and their weird facial suckers. And that nasty probiscus thing they've got. And that what-the-hell-is-that hanging between those... leg... things:

We alone are fighting,
for Metal that is true.
We own the right,
to live the fight.
We're here for all of you.
Now swear the blood
upon your steel will never dry.
Stand and fight together,
beneath the battle sky.

Brothers everywhere
Raise your hands into the air.
We're Warriors.
Warriors of the World.

Soon after discovering Manowar, I went to the Market in Lancaster (which used to be great, before idiotic mismanagement killed the decades old trading ground), to the record shop run by the big sullen long-haired old headbanger in the Metallica t-shirt. That guy. He had three 12" records tucked away behind the counter, in his special spot. They were Sign of the Hammer, with it's boring cover art, and Fighting the World and Into Glory Ride, with their magnificently silly macho-barbarian band pictures. Into Glory Ride contains, to this day, my favourite Manowar song, Gloves of Metal. At one point the music stops and singer Eric Adams screams five words which sum up Manowar and 80s Metal better than anything:


"We are the undefeated,
We're not living in the past,
We're here tonight to
Feel the power of the wheel,
Let's drink to riding steel,
-Manowar, Return of the Warlord

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

545: Mick Foley, Cactus Jack

Mick Foley, Mankind - to me he'll always be Cactus Jack. My favourite wrestler since I can remember, around 1990 when he entered WCW as Cactus Jack, a heel monster to feud with Sting, the blond-haired big-money babyface at the time. He immediately provided everything I hadn't known I was looking for in a wrestler; a dark aggressive character, as good on the microphone as he was at bleeding, taking bumps, and being hit full in the face legitimately with a snow shovel by a Nasty Boy (twice in two minutes – here and here).

Sadly his time in WCW was fairly short, and I was soon to grow out of wrestling anyway. Years later, in the late 90s I again fell in love with the sport, the art, the entertainment of wrestling, and Mick Foley was now in WWF as Mankind. A heel monster who gradually changed into a human Muppet, by turns terrifying, death defying, electrifying, exciting, touching, hilarious. In all my years of watching wrestling I have never seen a more highly skilled performer.

Upon entering WWF he made these interviews in which he tells his genuine life story, but in the first incarnation of the character of Mankind; a jaded, disturbed, paranoid, self-harming monster. His improvised performance is mesmerising; Mick Foley is far far better than he need be to be a professional wrestler. As a result he was given free-reign to develop his own character, improvise interviews, and plan the course of both his matches and his career – a rare privilege in an industry dominated by steroid-addled, brain-damaged, meat-heads.

During the course of his career he has been key to many of the best matches, bumps, interviews and "bits" I have ever seen.  He has lost teeth, blood, and even an ear.  He has gained countless scars, cuts & burns, even the odd title or two.  To this day I am still the proud owner of a Cactus Jack, Wanted: Dead t-shirt.  Anyway...

This is that interview.

This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the King, Bedford, and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
-Henry V, Shakespeare

544: Unexpected instructions

On arriving at work today I was presented with this ˄˄˄ piece of paper, accompanied with the verbal instructions to google this, I'm saying no more. But just don't watch with children in the room. At this point, as I write, I have not yet searched for AZIS – "MRAZISH", the mysterious as-yet unknown words. I'm expecting a music video, and doubtless it will be something odd, unusual or amusing. OK, here goes: YouTube loaded, Azis Mrazish searched, top result clicked on, and...

...and, I wasn't expecting that. A dull plodding pop song with an Eastern European folk-like melody sung by a mysteriously muscular effeminate man with a little beard that reminds me strongly of Richard Branson. Azis looks like a transsexual body-builder advertising a new product or service from Virgin. It's an unusual sexuality designed to make sensitive people, with too much time on their hands, feel uncomfortable, similar to Pete Burns or Kevin Rowland. Part of the ever changing landscape of humanity with all of its similarities, differences and idiosyncrasies. Also I don't think it's at all unsuitable for children; they would either not pay any attention, or ask a couple of curious questions then get on with their lives.

I think I've said just about everything I can think of with regards to that. If you are sufficiently piqued to want to watch, here, enjoy:

Monday, March 12, 2012

543: Inappropriate close-ups

I just started watching the 1984 Frank Zappa concert video Does Humor Belong in Music? The band, one of the tightest and most able in rock music history, open with the complex guitar driven song Zoot Allures. Immediately this gives Zappa the opportunity to show off his magical mastery of that lumpen wood tied up with steel string. The camera ambles around introducing us to the musicians; the director clearly has no idea what he's doing, even if the director is Frank Zappa, a man whose artistic attainment I would never normally question. I have paused the video at just over five minutes in and am weighing up the risks, to my mental health, of continuing to watch.

There have been, so far, three prolonged close-up camera shots of Zappa as he's plays his blistering opening guitar solo. The first was a shot of Frank Zappa's face; concentrating, looking downwards at his instrument, oscillating back and forth ever so slightly, the occasional twitching eyebrow or lip. I find this deeply unpleasant. Don't get me wrong, he's a good looking guy, but were I in the room with Frank Zappa playing Zoot Allures I would not be staring directly into his face from a near distance. After moving around the other musicians for about a minute we see our second close-up of Zappa soloing. This time the camera zooms right in to his picking hand. All we see is his plectrum wiggling up and down.

Facial close-up, followed by picking hand close-up. These are, as far as I'm concerned, the two great unforgivable sins of videoing guitarists. The ideal shot frames the guitarist from the waist up and includes both hands. Their face is not necessary but I suppose can be included if you insist. If the camera really needs to get further in than that then the only allowable close-up is of the fretting hand, the hand that moves up and down the fret board. That's where the action is. I've lost count of how many times I have seen these simple, but immutable, laws flouted disgracefully on concert videos.

My fiancee, a dancer, has a similar bugbear regarding videoed dance. Especially in modern TV programmes, like talent competitions, music videos, etc, the dancing is made utterly unwatchable by furious camera cuts, awkward close-ups, swooping shots. Every trick in the videographers book is played when really there should only be a single fixed camera placed at the centre of the stage. Anything more than that steals away from the efforts and talent of the dancers.

When I see unnecessary close-ups during a guitar solo I find myself moving sideways in a futile attempt to push the camera to the guitar, the focus of the action. There was an art film, called Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, made about the footballer Zinedine Zidane. It depicts a non-fictional entire real-time football match, filmed using 17 cameras, every one of which is focusing entirely on Zidane. A 90-minute football match comprised entire of close-ups of one footballer. There is a reason that this is not the norm for televised football. It ignores the larger picture, the true action, instead focusing on a tedious picture of a man's face looking sweaty and serious. Zappa, Zidane, or... Arnie Zane, I don't want to see that.

Missing the action because of inappropriate close-ups...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

542: Die Antwoord

Maybe I'm not old. This is young persons' music and I'm excited. Can I remember the last time I got this excited about hearing something new? Well, when I was sixteen I heard for the first time The Great Milenko by Insane Clown Posse. Later that day I went to my first big concert -The Prodigy (supported by Foo Fighters, a shit band)- but the most memorable thing on that great day was the feeling of epiphany experienced when Hocus Pocus dropped. And when I was a teenager, excited by new music there was One Hot Minute (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Antichrist Superstar & Portrait of an American Family (Marilyn Manson), Astro Creep 2000 (White Zombie), The Downward Spiral (Nine Inch Nails), The Great Southern Trendkill (Pantera), Experience, Music for the Jilted Generation & Fat of the Land (Prodigy), The Great Milenko & Riddlebox (ICP), and Mostasteless (Twiztid) to incite new feelings. Teenage feelings. Confused, excited, nonspecific minor rebellious energy.

Yesterday -keeping on top of the washing up while cooking roast sea bass and fennel with new potatoes for my fiancee, drinking bottled Original Guinness, a thirty year old man with unfulfilled dreams of being a rock star, a rapper, an artist, a writer- I listened to two albums by a new band. $O$ and TEN$ION by South African hip-hop/rave trio Die Antwoord. And amongst the trappings of approaching middle age, came the aggressive, beautiful reminder that I am alive, imaginative, and with the rest of my life ahead of me. Teenage feelings. An assumption that things will end up fine. Idyllic ambition and nihilistic positivity. Perfection. Stupidity, shouting, violence, fucking, electric noise, shouting, fucking stupid fucking funnydumbshit. Imagination; the spider squashed and flicked away. The note pad, typewriter, paint brush, spray can, camera, pen, pencil, pulled in toward me, embraced, picked up and used again.

I watched video's on YouTube. Never mind being pro-active. Watching music videos is the shit bitch. Die Antwoord's videos have all the elements of every music video I ever loved. Take any music video from any song off any of the albums I listed in the first paragraph and you will see similarities with any Die Antwoord video. Arty pretension resulting in aesthetically beautiful ugliness, smashing, bleeding, tattooed bodies. Unfettered creativity. Fuck, I'm glad there is new music that can still make me feel like a kid. Remind me to keep experimenting, growing without growing old, changing, moving, being inspired, being unoriginal again and again until one day maybe accidentally stumbling over originality.

All the bands I once loved, that I listed above, have all burnt out long ago – nothing good from any of them in over ten years. These things happen. In the case of Insane Clown Posse, there once complex and original music (supplied by producer Mike E. Clark) has been ditched, their playful cartoon rap-shouting has been replaced with witless self-conscious attempts to be 'serious' artists with pathetic results. I was once proud to be an ICP fan – now the embarrassment is palpable, painful. Die Atwoord exhibit the perfectly produced, aggressive, stupid fun that I once got from ICP & Twiztid. Maybe I haven't grown up... just sideways.

541: Out Of Order

There is a sign extant, printed on plain white A4 paper and affixed with clear sticky tape, that contains entirely more information than is neccessary for its purpose. This Cash Machine Out Of Order – Do Not Use. There is a commonly used phrase, custom-made for this situation, which would be much better; more concise, using less ink, and taking less time to write, print and read. Out of Order. That's all that is needed. Granted, in this blog I tend to use way more words than is needed. The world at large doesn't need any of these words. It may be that I am the sole beneficiary of this endless stream of words.

The sign is stuck onto a cash machine, one that isn't working, one with no light or digits on the LCD screen. The phrase This Cash Machine is clearly superfluous as it's obvious which cash machine is the subject of the Out Of Order. Once one is aware it is non-functioning there is no need for the phrase Do Not Use. Even if you didn't initially noticed it was out of order you would soon learn that attempting to use it was not much use. I argue that the phrase Out Of Order may even be superfluous, however I will admit that it does have social function as a polite piece of advise.

In Manchester town centre, Piccadilly Garden, there is a help point. A button, speaker and microphone built into the side of a building. If something happens, something serious, for example I don't want to think about it, it's too awful, then one can press the button and speak to someone. Someone? Who? A local bobby, a bored phone operator, a security guard, a council worker away from her desk on a biscuit run? All those and more.

The problem is, that for more than a week now the speaker has been omitting a constant squeal of feedback. Someone has severed a wire or short-circuited a brain cell and now the help point screams itself for help. Nobody helps. The blonde woman who hands out The Metro newspaper on the corner, has moved a few metres from her normal patch. She attempts to escape the squeal without abandoning her paper distribution location. Nobody comes to help. Most people walk past hearing the squeeee for a split of a second. Nobody whips out a toolkit and offers a fix. Nobody prints Out Of Order on plain A4 and sticks it up with sticky tape.

540: The Spaniards are Coming

Today is Thursday (not Sunday, like you think. In fact, if you are reading this at some unspecified time in the future, I suppose there is a one in seven chance today is Thursday. But never mind that, it's not important. The point is Thursday was a while ago and I didn't get around to posting, or even fully writing this blog post. But I'm writing it now, aren't I, so quit complaining) and Manchester United are hosting Athletic Bilbao. Their fans swarm Manchester city centre with their red and white striped, oversized comedy berets, waving flags, kissing their shirt emblems, chanting songs in a mysterious arcane language, and doing a bit of sight-seeing before the evening kick off.

I take my usual seat upstairs on the bus, making my way home after work, and up front the Athletic army are pointing, ohhing and ahhing at the Manchester things they see. The biggest gasp of excitement comes when one of them spots the white structural pylons which tower from the roof of United's Old Trafford stadium. This is a big day for these guys; they are having the time of their lives. Good for them.

The next day, in the street, one lone man, with wrinkled face and xxl football shirt stretched tight over his belly's bulging dome, steps to me in the street. Not like step up, mutha fukka, but like when you almost walk into one another, then I step to my left, he steps to his right and we both move together remaining face to face, like an odd couple. The old Spanish football fan, and the 30-year old skinny English four-eyes, dancing in the street. He leads, then I lead; we are an equal opportunities couple. Our eyes meet, then part, and so do we, with mumbles; we co-ordinate navigating around one another, and move on with our lives. Neither of us mention his oversized comedy beret, or my Smurf hat. Too polite, and even after the ice was broken with the shared intimacy of an impromptu dance in the street.

I believe the resultant number of goals accrued by Manchester United was insufficient to be classed as a victory over Athletic Bilbao, but who's keeping score. They should, if they don't already, have people who's job it is to write down the number of goals. They could have some form of point system or league table based on the amount of goals a team does, or makes. If they don't already. They might do this already but I have no way of knowing. What with the football being such an obscure and niche interest. I think you have to join some sort of mail order list; send off a self-addressed postcard and a postal order for £1.25. If you know anyone interested in football perhaps you could let me know.  

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

539: Noise

What is this weird music I can hear? It is a band called Oxbow. Until today I had never heard of this Noise-y, avant metal jazz, experimental band, active from 1988 until the present day. A few minutes ago they were relaxing me with cerebral, folky acoustic sounds, before that they were amusing me with Frank-Zappa-Ship-Arriving-too-Late-to-Save-a-Drowning-Witch-or-The-Illinois-Enema-Bandit-style yelps and squarks. Now they are freaking and unsettling me with a dodgy dirge of pitiful dying croaks and drones. Speaking of folkiness and drones, I do believe that today is the day I am missing the godlike Earth playing in Manchester today. Damn-fuck-it, I completely forgot. What a fool I am to miss this. As a music nerd, which I claim to be, missing Earth playing a gig not four miles from my front door is a serious faux pas; one that I am already feeling serious regret over.

If you don't know Earth -the legendary noise band who released the three track drone album Earth 2: Special Low-Frequency Version in 1993 then eventually morphed into a (still drone based) folk/noise band- you probably know of Earth's main man Dylan Carlson by reputation. An unfortunate and morbid claim to fame of Carlson's is that as a friend of Kurt Cobain, the former bought the latter a gift of a shotgun, later used in the latter's suicide. Not that Carlson actually claims-to-fame this; he didn't know it was for a suicide; it was for defence... I never meant to start going on about suicide of all things. Drone music can be a little depressing (see Sunn 0)))'s Black One album for example), but I find Earth strangely uplifting and meditative. Not at all depressing. It's not for dancing though, so had I gone to tonight's concert I would have been nursing a pint and stroking my beard.

Noise/drone/noise-music (whatever it's called) takes a lot of time and sometimes effort to appreciate. Sometimes it goes nicely in the background, sometimes it intrudes unwanted in the foreground, sometimes it deserves to be in the foreground. But when, like on Earth's Earth 2 album, there are three songs per album totalling 80 minutes, or when, like on Merzbow's Merzbox, a 50-CD album, it becomes clear that noise is a nerds' pursuit. Plenty of time, and an anal appreciation of subtle difference and the intentionally difficult, is required. Life is too short for the Merzbox, but not for Earth.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

538: Outbreak of Earworms

Pointless observation: Some TV programme I watched earlier contained a nice, probably coincidental dichotomy. The narration said "Never enough hours in the day", while showing footage of someone putting stuffed owls in a crate. Never enough hours in the day; never enough owls in the crate. Just had to get that out of my system. The phrase was repeating in my head and writing it down was really the only way to get rid of it. Never enough owls in the crate, hours in the day, owls in the crate, hours in the date, owls in the cray. It was an earworm of sorts. The type that keeps me awake at night, and the reason why I must keep a paper and pen beside my bed.

Speaking of earworms, there is a good article on the BBC website today: Earworms: Why songs get stuck in our heads. It's something that interests me, and I have blogged about before (here, here and here), because I experience them on a more than daily basis:

Dr Williamson, a memory expert at Goldsmith's College in London, found that scientists use a range of terms to describe the subject - stuck-song syndrome, sticky music, and cognitive itch, or most commonly "earworm" -a word which some people misunderstand.

Williamson collaborated with a BBC radio programme, Shaun Keaveny's Breakfast Show on 6Music, which asked its listeners what earworms they were waking up with.

She also collected more stories and experiences through an online survey at her website, earwormery.com.

I filled in the questionairre. I just had to tell someone about the constant repetition of the zuh-zuh-zuh zuh zuh, zu-zu-zuh zuh z-z-z-z-zuh zuh zuh zuh refrain from Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force's Planet Rock I get every time I walk home from the bus stop after work. Every day. Sometimes two or three times. Maybe more. Last weekend I remember waking up with Rocking in the Free World by Neil Young rocking out. I still dread Friday's in case anyone does something to remind me of that blasted song. Even the baby baby baby chorus sung by that strange Bieber boy sometimes intrudes itself upon me.

Reading articles about the phenomena, as I just have, has induced waves of varying earworms; my own from past and present, and new ones that I have never been troubled with before. Hints of Faith by George Michael (or Limp Bizkit if you swing that way. Aside: it was actually the Limp Bizkit one I heard first as a baggy-trousered teenage scruff bag) with splashes of Funky Cold Medina by Tone-Loc. Am I really that suggestable. Bloody earworms. They should invent a cream or something.

537: Squirrels... again

I think I might be obsessed with squirrels. In the last week I have written two blog posts featuring prominent participation from squirrels (three if you include this one), and having just sat down to write a short story I seem to have written a few hundred words from the perspective of a squirrel. Of course squirrels cannot write, nor understand any form of human language (except maybe the amazing trained ones from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; yes, they are real squirrels...except the CGI ones... I obviously wasn't talking about those...), so the majority of the squirrel soliloquy is an explanation of the unlikelihood of a squirrel being able to write a story, and the request that the reader suspends their disbelief and imagines it in squirrel language. Squeaks, or whatever. It's rubbish really, but even when all you write is rubbish it's necessary to push through, to keep going. So stubbornly I will pursue the confused, apologetic squirrel soliloquy debating with itself whether it is actually speaking human or squirrel. I will pursue it and emerge the other side with either a pretty good piece of flash fiction, or as just a slightly more experienced writer with another shit short story.

Anyway the squirrels around here are rarely seen with laptop open, or even a pen and notepad, and even if they were I question their ability to use or understand the function of these advanced writing tools. If I grabbed hold of one of the bushy-tailed rodents, presented it with the gift of a stylus and wax tablet, I suspect that even that primitive and ancient technology would be far to complicated for the little squishy squirrel brain. Rather than jotting down a few words, writing E=MC2, or doodling a fish with two heads, I expect little Mr or Missus Nutkin would refuse to accept the equipment into their little squirrel hands, and instead simply run away in terror at the giant alien mammal forcing mysterious objects upon it. The most advanced piece of equipment I've seen one of the local squirrels with was a paper plate, and even then it wasn't using it for anything, merely standing near it in the park. The paper plate was wedged into the iron railings of the boundary fence, and the squirrel was doing some squirrelling in the soil at the base of a great oak. I was minding my own business.

Can't promise I won't be blogging about squirrels again, but on the flip side, I can't imagine why I would. Not much left to say, and they are not among my short list of specialist subjects (kept in my wallet at all times should I ever need to go on Mastermind in an emergency).

Monday, March 05, 2012

536: A bit about something, then it sort of trails off ...

There are Flash Fiction competitions all over the place it seems right now. Apparently, according to some self-appointed internet people, there will be National Flash Fiction Day on 16th May 2012. Here is a list of Flash Fiction competitions. You can enter if you like but I wouldn't bother if I were you. Anyway I'm off right now to watch Dirk Gently on BBC Four. It'd better be good; I have extremely high expectations.

"Why would the Pentagon have him under surveillance?"
"They are the default setting of all conspiracy theorists."

So far, I approve, but we're only three minutes in. I'd better start watching it instead of typing this. Last point before I start watching properly: Why did the continuity announcer keep calling it a drama? It is clearly supposed to be a comedy. BRB. Ok, I'm back, and if anyone's interested my verdict is that it was excellent. It was good; I liked it. That's how I review things now. No hyperbole, just good or bad. Very powerful words if used properly. I imagine.

I was thoroughly prepared for a massive let down because my expectations for a filmed version of Dirk Gently were exceptionally high. Odd really since it's not a beloved story from my childhood. I only read the two Gently books a couple of months ago, and didn't read the other Douglas Adams classic -the Hitchhikers' Guide books- until I was well into my twenties. It's just occurred to me that there was a pilot broadcast a couple of years ago and I never watched it at the time. Hello, UK Nova? Nothing. Maybe tomorrow.

This is one of those blog posts that really I'm just trying to sweep under the carpet. My heart isn't really in it, and neither should yours be. Can't decide whether to watch Deadwood, listen to AIOTM, or read my book. Either way it's time to click 'post'.