troubled diva  
 

My freelance writing can now be found at mikeatkinson.wordpress.com.
Recently: VV Brown, Alabama 3, Just Jack, Phantom Band, Frankmusik, Twilight Sad, Slaid Cleaves, Alesha Dixon, Bellowhead, The Unthanks, Dizzee Rascal.

On Thursday September 17th, I danced on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
Click here to watch, and here to listen.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Consequences: Post 18

Posted by Martin

England, my home.

Well, not really. But that's how it felt when I stepped off the plane at Terminal Four, into that building that reminded me of a temporary shed, constructed to house refugees, the unloved, the unwanted. That's how I'd been feeling all the way back from Delhi. I was undesirable, unloved and unlovable and that's what I deserved.

And this in spite of an upgrade. Maybe it was the champagne. Champagne always makes me maudlin.

Delhi had been fantastic. I'd been there with Hari, meeting some of his cousins, doing a bit of travelling and a bit of sight seeing. We'd met the guy that first taught Hari massage, and he'd treated us both to a full tantric massage. We'd seen the sun rise over the Taj Mahal, and we'd drunk ourselves silly on gin and tonic as the evenings fell. I got a great tan. And then it all went horribly wrong.

We're talking almost three months ago now, but it really hurts, still. I had to change terminal at Heathrow, and I had a long weight, so I went to WH Smith for something to read. And I started crying. Fuck it, a 27 year-old guy bursting in to tears in Smith's for no good reason.

I think it was the familiarity, really. The feeling that I was home. The previous two weeks had been so great, so exciting, and at the end so awful. And it had all been going so well.

We'd had a drink or two. We were having dinner at the Oberoi, celebrating our last night in Delhi before we flew back to Scotland, and Hari had been ordering all sorts of things from the menu that I wouldn't have picked for myself, but I loved every mouth full. Good food and good wine get me romantic, so I was doing the whole flirting thing, and I told him I loved him, and I was looking forward to a damn good session when we got back to our room. And over a spun sugar dessert I asked him to marry me.

And he didn't say yes. He didn't say no, either. He just took a big breath.

I don't even know where the question came from. Civil partnerships had been all over the newspapers before we'd left, but until the words tumbled awkwardly from my mouth I hadn't thought about them. And suddenly I was all excited, because it was actually what I wanted and I was just waiting for him to answer when he said nothing. And then he swigged down his wine. And then he said - and I remember these words better than any of the argument that followed them - "Where on earth did you get that idea from?"

And then the argument. I'll distil it down because frankly I'm not certain I want to recreate it in my head. But. I wanted to make a commitment. He already was committed and didn't need a piece of paper to prove it. I couldn't believe that he didn't want to marry me. He couldn't believe it mattered. And after that, it got nasty, and it got personal, and he left. He told me to move out. I had no doubt that he meant it.

I went back to the room. I cried myself to something near sleep. I got up at three in the morning and cried my way to the airport, and downed my sorrows in cheap champagne.

By the time I got to Heathrow, my head was all over the place. Part of me was plotting how to get him back. Part of me never wanted to see him again. Part of me was still wanting that drunken shag that I'd been looking forward to, and I ended up satisfying that part with the help of a nineteen year old baggage handler. That didn't help anything at all, and the flight back to Scotland was as awful as the flight from Delhi, but with extra guilt thrown in.

I've seen Hari once since then. From a distance. I moved out, and into the spare room at my friend Cal's place until I can get myself somewhere new. It's helped me get some perspective, I think. I'm not shagging Cal. I'm not shagging anyone except for solo practice sessions. It's still Hari that I think about, but it's Hari as he would be ten years from now if we were still together. I talk to Cal about it, though, and he kind of understands.

I thought I had it all, really I did. In a sense, I did have it all, but I wanted more. Before I met Hari I was pretty heavily in denial, and Hari showed me that I was a better person for being true to myself. In the end I was true to myself, and it left me here. Fucked up, pissed off, and bitter. And better? Who knows.

Is there a lesson to be learned from this, something for me to share with the lovely Mike and his lovely readers? I think there is, and it's not about me, or about Hari, or about the sweet baggage handler at Heathrow whose skin tastes of honey. It's about the press, about tabloids, about hype, and about following celebrity trends. Because they're not real people, they don't live in the real world, and although they probably have the same fights and tears and hugs and ineptitudes as the rest of us, we don't see them. We see their airbrushed lives where two men can promise to commit and it all works out fine and makes the front page and turns the head of impressionable guys like me. Everyone's different, and I wish them the best of luck for the future. But part of me still blames Elton John and David Furnish for the end of the best relationship I have ever had.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Consequences: Post 17

Posted by Clair

But I knew she wanted to. I didn't want to believe it, wanted to dismiss it as something immaterial that given a bit of time she would get over. But really, I knew it was more than that. I knew she wanted, no needed to move back to England. For my mum the homesickness and loneliness in Germany, of five years of living there, away from her family, without ever learning the language to a degree she felt confident with, had just become too much.

Now, I need to say this straight away: I love my mum, completely. She's the best mum in the whole world that I could possibly have. But at the time, I resented her making me move away from where I felt was my home. I was only five when we moved to Germany, dad's job as an engineer forcing us out there. There wasn't a great deal of my life before then that I could really remember, not compared with the last five years of my life anyway. We weren't even going to be moving back to the same area were we used to live! We were moving to a different area, I'd be joining a completely different school system, I wouldn't know anyone at all.

We moved back to England in february. I think I can remember there being a snow storm as we left. I definately remember having a cold at the time, which had got worse when I had insisted on going swimming with my friends one last time. So, february, half way through the school year and I was going back into junior school, when I had been in senior school in Germany. Everything was so different, so confusing, particularly the teachers, who I never got my head around, who told me off for doing things the way I had been taught them for years. I never settled into that school, making only one friend in the whole time I was there (and she was american!)

Fortunately things got better when I went onto secondary school. Looking back (hindsight is such a wonderful thing) I can see that returning to England actually did me a lot of favours. The differences in the school systems meant that I had changed from being the youngest in the class, to the oldest. From being an average student, to the top of the class. I think that shift helped my confidence in myself a lot. (My confidence in me as a person anyway; my confidence in actually dealing with new people and foreign situations is still a bit dodgy even today.)

So, while I still treasure the time I spent in Germany, and still feel, from time to time, homesick for the place where I spent a good part of my childhood, I now feel that I belong back here. England, my home.

Troubled Diva Podcast 02

My second podcast is now available for download, "excessive sibilance" and all (thanks for that, K)... and once again, there's an exciting "interactive" element. Hope you enjoy it. God, I am SO late with the packing for the weekend. He'll KILL me.

Pride and shame.

Over in the Big Blogger house, we're down to the last six contestants. However, with two of them (Alan and NML) already having won immunity from next week's eviction, there are only four of us who are up for the public vote: myself, Miss Mish, Vitriolica and Zoe. This gives each of us only a 50% chance of survival of making it into the final week. Such tension!

As for our tasks: they are getting both more frequent, and more challenging. Which is as it should be, at this advanced stage of the game. Our most recent task has been to give detailed accounts of "a) the moment in your life you are most proud of, and b) the moment you are most ashamed of". The collective results have changed the character of the game entirely, and I recommend all of them to you. (As of today, they are all available on the front page of the site.)

My own contribution was split into two sections. The "pride" entry basically riffs upon a familiar theme, but the "shame" entry tells a significant childhood story which I've never told before. It also features a rare appearance by that most elusive of figures on this blog: my mother.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Consequences: Post Sweet Sixteen

Posted by PB Curtis


A loss of innocence. That's the downside.
A shag. That's the upside.
Done.

Having thus thought critically and comprehensively about the consequences of my actions - as far as the current blood flow permitted - I went ahead and lost my virginity. I didn't lose much innocence, but then it wasn't much of a shag. Indeed, I was rather put out by the tiny dribble of innocence that was forfeit. I had expected a much grander shift in my perceptions, more akin to the seismic shudder of an entire nation as it hurtles into post-modern cynicism upon the discovery that trusted politicans are routinely duplicitous and venal. I had expected sex to be like Watergate; instead it was like... well, like eating an apple.

And boy, that whole situation was really wearing sandals in the pigsty. An apple? Eve may well have rued, back in the Garden of Eden. Of all the bland, jejune foodstuffs to be busted for! she may well have exploded. Why I oughta! she possibly added, although no-one would have been paying enough attention to her to stop and wonder why she was turning into Jimmy Cagney. God would already be elsewhere, having puffed off in a huff; Adam, newly gifted with sight, would be all like Whoa! Check out those babies!, and the snake would be all like Dude! Where's my legs?

"What are you thinking, PB?" she whispered, her face so close to mine that we were both cross-eyed as we looked at each other.

Damn. I was thinking... but no, I can't. Here we are, two freshly-minted ex-virgins, still attempting to bask in the communal glow of what neither of is is ready to accept was absolutely not a momentous experience... surely, this above all others, this is the time for honesty? Isn't it?

"I was thinking about how rubbish apples are."

All she actually said was "What?", but what she actually meant was "I hate you." And there it was, bang! There was my loss of innocence. Lying was not a sin; it was good, it always had been, it always would be, and I was going to have to make up for lost time.

"I was thinking how much I love you right now, and trying to think of the very opposite of what this feeling must be, and thought that would have to be the dullest, blandest thing in the world. So, er, apples."

There. I felt that that was at least as good as Tricky Dicky saying "I am not a crook", but she looked unconvinced. She was too young to say harumph with any conviction. But I knew she wanted to.

Consequences: Post 15

Posted by Jonathan


'But then we’ve just gone and got a Playstation 2’.

‘Oh, really, young Jack? And how are you finding it compared to the original?’

‘Oh, much better! For a start, it’s much smaller so you can carry it about in your pocket’.

‘So you can play DVDs on the bus?’

‘Well I don’t catch buses- but I can play them in my dad’s car, down the shopping mall- anywhere! And it’s got an integrated ethernet port, you know, and a modem connection for online gaming, and-‘

As my 10 year old cousin Jack breathlessly extols the virtues of his new (and no doubt very expensive) toy I nod in what I hope is a sage, avuncular fashion, while hoping it is not too obvious that not only do I have no idea what an ethernet port may be when it is at home, but that my lifetime experience of video games extends to a brief flirtation with a flatmate’s portable Pac-Man machine sometime in the early 90s- back when ‘portable’ meant anything you could plug into the wall that was smaller and lighter than a housebrick.

Well, OK, that is not entirely true. In the early 80s there was the odd visit to the Plaza Amusements on Fenham’s West Road to feed primitive Space Invader machines with precious pocket-money 10p pieces, and later on, when we had paper-round wages burning holes in our pockets and were allowed to get the bus on our own into the seething metropolis that was Newcastle City Centre, there were a couple of hot, sweaty Saturday afternoons spent fighting for a place at the line of tiny screens up above the badminton courts at Eldon Square sports centre, where you could zap incredibly lifelike 3D spaceships out of the cosmos to your heart’s content, at least until your three lives ran out and you had to hand the plastic gun over to the next set of clammy adolescent palms wielding a 50p piece to push into the slot.

But the truth is I never really got into these new-fangled amusements. In fact we were a bit snooty about them in our house, possibly because we couldn’t afford the bulky technology you needed to play them with. Our cousin Neil’s house, on the other hand, was full of the attendant vulgar paraphernalia, and on one memorable weekend visit we tiptoed aloofly around the assorted green blinking computer screens and tangled wires, while our hosts attempted vainly to interest us in blasting tiny technicolour aliens out of the North Tyneside sky with their personalised joysticks. Back at our spartan, book-strewn home our dad biroed a screen full of spacemen onto the underside of a man-size hanky box and handed it to my sister, mimicking Uncle Stuart’s humourless monotone: ‘Here love, see if you can get ten thousand on that!’.

The cardboard space invaders was the nearest our house ever saw to an Atari set. I contented myself with subbuteo and paperbacks and grew into a pallid twentysomething with a thorough grasp of Sartre but no command whatsoever of a joystick. The advent of Playstation, Nintendo and the X-box passed me by- and now cousin Jack, just like cousin Neil 20 years before him, flummoxes me with his new-fangled talk of ethernet cables and interactive fantasy gaming.


And neither will it stop there. Now I have a child of my own- a darling, innocent one-and-a-half year old named Frank. But just how long can this innocence remain, in today’s hi-tech, gadget-dependent world? Already we have had to buy the little feller his own TV remote control (without batteries in, mind) to stop him grabbing a hold of the real one and turning over to the Welsh-speaking channels when we're not looking- and he is showing a dexterity beyond his years at the outsize buttons of his various musical baby toys. How long before our precious baby is coming home from school and demanding a Playstation X-Box Five, just like the ones everyone else in his class have got? And will we be strong enough (or like my own parents, just downright skint enough) to stand firm and tell the boy there is no need for such new-fangled, obesity-inducing flim-flammery while there are perfectly good climbing trees in the field outside, and a pile of wooden planks in the back yard that can be fashioned, with the aid of the sort of basic carpentry skills one picks up at the Boy Scouts, into a serviceable go-cart that will be the pride of the neighbourhood?

We’re fooling ourselves of course. Looking out on the back field this summer evening I see the trees are strangely bereft of clambering pre-adolescents, and I don’t suppose any of us have seen a go-cart since 1975. All the local kids, like my cousin Jack, are presumably ensconsed in their bedrooms, little thumbs going thirteen-to-the-dozen at the controls of their Playstation Twos. It seems sad. A loss of innocence.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Audi-Oh: Vibrate Your Music.

Ladies! This has to be the ultimate iPod accessory. Also works with podcasts! (Bringing yet another dimension to the Troubled Diva experience.)

Being unfamiliar with "that part" of the world, I need someone to "talk me through" the design. Could The Girl help me out here, perchance? (Don't get too technical on me, though. I get easily confused.)

Come to think of it, "Kim" in the accompanying photo seems a tad confused by the contraption as well. I don't think they're supposed to go there, love! But hey, whatever gets you going. Who am I to judge?

Update: The official site (minus the lovely "Kim") is here, with a lot more supporting documentation. Strangely, it is still safe for work. That's the "discreet" approach for you.

Consequences: Post 14

(posted by Will)

Schpongggg!

A lisping Big Ben reminds me that time is passing, and I can feel it. My weight won't go down. My sensible side parting has returned. Staying in is becoming more attractive than going out. Circumstances have replaced my hi-tech mobile phone - the sort that can launch nuclear missiles with making calls as optional extra - with a brick that can do little more than send texts and is so 2002.

Is 26 too early to have a mid-life crisis?

There was a time when I'd always be in the first few rows of a gig, bouncing up and down, hoping that my specs wouldn't fall off during a particularly vigorous number. Two years ago I went to a gig at the Brixton Academy and tried the same; halfway through I was so exhausted I had to go to the back and lean against a wall.

Last year, I went to a concertgig and leant against the bar throughout. And as if that didn't make me feel old enough, both bands - stars of the 1995/6 glory days of indie music - then split up.

Schpongggg!

Age could be a good thing. A few grey hairs might lend me the look of a debonair executive - if I can work out how to stop slouching. A middle-aged smart-casual look might give be an air of quiet authority. And bit of ageing to my voice - ideally lower and more gravelly - would make me more assertive.

That would be a nice change. If there's something I don't like about me when I see myself on TV, it's my voice. Oh, and my stomach. And my chubby arms. (Mental note: if going on TV, wear a long-sleeved shirt.) OK, if there's something I don't like about me when I hear myself on the radio, it's my voice.

Schpongggg!

In retrospect, maybe I'm not exhibiting any of the outward sounds of a midlife crisis. I haven't started wearing skinny tops that unwelcomingly show off my paunch. I've not started learning Greek "just in case". I haven't taken up extreme sports or started secretly listening to R&B.

So perhaps this isn't a midlife crisis - it's the bit that comes before. In order to desperately attempt to recapture lost youth, you first have to lose it. Shedding the accoutrements of the young could be what the early-late-twenties were invented for.

But then we've just gone and got a PlayStation 2.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

That Rough Guide To World Music tracklist in full, then.

I've added "buy" links to the albums in question. There are sound samples attached to most of these links.

Artist names in bold indicate albums which I can personally recommend in full. Of the albums listed, my top five recommendations would be: Tinariwen, Miguel 'Anga' Diaz, Boubacar Traore, Bebo & Cigala, Amadou & Mariam.

1. Yamaryo - Djelimady Tounkara (Mali)
2. Chatma - Tinariwen (Mali/Sahara)
3. Sudani - Abdel Gadir Salim All-Stars (Sudan, 1991)
4. Exilé - Jagdish & Kreol Konexyan (Mauritius)
5. Chaco - Chango Spasiuk (Argentina)
6. Woman In Hell - Warsaw Village Band (Poland)
7. Tive Razao - Seu Jorge (Brazil)
8. A Love Supreme - Miguel 'Anga' Diaz (Cuba)
9. Don't Let Me Down - Charlotte Dada (Ghana, 1971)

10. Era - Vakoka (Madagascar)
11. Hornonia - Boubacar Traore (Mali)
12. Touramagan - Mandekalou (Mali/Guinea)
13. Corazon Loco - Bebo & Cigala (Cuba/Spain)
14. Montras - Mariza (Portugal)
15. Monte Cara - Cesaria Evora (Cape Verde)
16. Beaux Dimanches - Amadou & Mariam (Mali)
17. Rock El Casbah - Rachid Taha (Algeria)

Consequences: Post XIII

(posted by Em²)

I mean - we've all got genitalia here, haven't we?

When I started to write this, the last line of Post 12 read "I mean - we all genitalia, don't we?"

It was like Have I Got News For You?'s missing words round (featuring one or more headlines from this week's guest publication: Punning Weekly) and I had a well-crafted flow of thought, working through the various options for missing words - "have", "enjoy", "get let down by". Oh well, c'est la vie.

The content of my InBox would suggest while we undoubtebly do all have genitalia of some description, spammers are working on the assumption that few of us are overly happy with them. Taking this morning's guff as an example:

What's that? Why yes, there are times when I've trickled when I wish I'd blasted. All that effort and build-up for that? Such a let down for a girl. Delete.

And what's this next one? It's true - I suppose an extra few inches1 or so would be useful to block that irritating draught, to frighten my cat/neighbours or as an ice-breaker at parties.2. Delete.

I'm not so sure that remaining hard for hours is such a good thing though - maintaining decorum would be difficult, for example, in my occasional social interactions with Scantily Clad Girl on the station platform of a morning. Could be quite useful as a temporary coat hook, I suppose.

While there's so much about the human body that is poorly designed3, male genitalia are a definite case in point.

Mine ruins the crisp lines of my smart designer-label suit (or would do, were I to own one4).

It gets roused by the slightest thing (and often I can't even tell what's woken it) or refuses to stir when its presence would be welcomed.

It pays no attention to feverish mental commands to go back to sleep (in fact, this tends to make it even more stubbornly attentive).

It even seems to be able to send words to my mouth bypassing my brain completely.

It's no wonder that most men treat their tackle as if it's a not-particularly-benign symbiote.

Wouldn't it be so much easier all round if we could dispense with these fiddly bits and breeding was simply a case of filling in Form 37D(ii), ticking your preferences on Form 175-8 (revised 06/96) and then allowing up to 30 days for delivery? I'm sure we could come up with acceptable alternatives for genetalia's recreational applications, couldn't we? A nice mug of cocoa and a hob-nob, for example?

Oh bugger - I said "nob".

Schpongggg!



1 Although I happened upon a TV programme last week in which an expert was explaining that all the pills and vaccua in the world can only ever alter - and then only slightly - the dimensions of the dormant member.
2 Not that I'm ever invited to that sort of party, more's the pity.
3 Where's the 360 degree field of vision or, at the very least, an owl-like flexibility to the neck? Where's the charcoal-like gas filter for vegetarians? Why can't body odour be more agreeable? Unerodable teeth? Wouldn't an extra pair of hands make Ikea a far more viable source of furniture?
4 A smart suit that is.

Other podcasts of note, and a How I Did It guide for the curious.

Now that the technical barriers are being lowered: the podcast revolution, she is a-rolling.

Andre from A Beautiful Revolution has put together a charmingly idiosyncratic 20-minute broadcast. (If "charmingly idiosyncratic" doesn't sound too much like I'm damning it with faint praise. 'Cos I'm not.)

Pete Ashton has been knocking them out for so long that he's practically the grandaddy of the scene. Here's his 14th broadcast, and here's his feed. This man knows his music.

As to how I recorded mine: tempted as I am to say "smoke and mirrors" and retain the mystery, there have been so many queries about this that I feel obliged to share what little I know.

How to record a Podcast, Troubled Diva style. Offered up with all the wisdom and experience of ONE broadcast!

Caveat: This is merely a record of how I did it, in a very low-tech, quick-and-dirty manner. It is absolutely not meant to be some sort of definitive guide. There are zillions of ways of doing this sort of thing, and many, many guides to doing so. (All of which I have cheerfully ignored. Mea culpa.)

1. Ingredients: a microphone and some recording software. I simply used the kit that came with the Dell machine. It took a bit of digging around to find it, but it wasn't too difficult to fathom out.

2. Ingredients: some MP3 mixing software. I've been using Mixmeister for nearly six years now. There may be some more sophisticated tools on the market, but it's dead easy to use and does groovy things like beat-synching into the bargain. The cost has gone up a bit since I bought it: it's $49.95 (dollars not pounds), but there's also a free trial version which lets you muck around with all the features.

3. Ingredients: some web space, and something which will let you convert WAVs to MP3s, such as the freeware CDex.

4. Give yourself between two and three uninterrupted hours to record the broadcast. Don't do it in bits, or you'll lose the flow and the sense of time/place.

5. Decide on your playlist. I did this fairly quickly, working on gut instinct. There's no point in over-thinking this sort of thing: spontaneity is key. Otherwise you mind end up with a rather dull and worthy list of things you feel you "ought" to play. Also, bear in mind that most people will only listen to the podcast once, so there's not much point in scheduling "growers". Think of it as a radio show, not a mix CD.

6. Import your chosen MP3s into Mixmeister, and create a new playlist.

7. Set up the microphone. I rested mine on a little china dish, just behind my keyboard. Too close, and you'll get distortion on your plosives (and, I dare say, hiss on your fricatives). I also set my recording levels to max: you need the speech sections to be nice and loud.

8. Record each link separately, and save it as a WAV or an MP3; Mixmeister recognises both. I didn't record mine "live" as the songs were playing; instead, I played bits of the two songs that I was linking (especially the beginnings and ends), and had a quick think about what I was going to say. But only a quick one, mind: over-think, and you'll lose the spontaneity and run the risk of sounding overly self-conscious.

9. Other tips: try and do each link on the first take, without giving space in your head to the possibility of a re-take: the tension and adrenalin this produces will concentrate your mind and improve your flow. Besides, do you really want to be sweating over this thing all day? You should also try and speak loudly, clearly and confidently, minimising any apologetic mumbling. Own the airwaves! You're the star! If in doubt, fake it!

(To this end, it helps if you're alone in the house/flat, without any fear of being overheard or interrupted. You know, like when you're impersonating Mick Jagger in the mirror, or enjoying a leisurely auto-erotic interlude... for successful podcasting contains elements of both these skills.)

10. Each time you complete a link, drag the file into Mixmeister and insert it into your playlist between the desired songs. My style is to start each link over the end of each preceding track, and to let it run over the intro to each following track, usually stopping just before the vocals kick in. If you're using mixing software, then this is wonderfully easy to accomplish.

11. Once you've finished the show, export it as a "mixed file", ie. save it as a WAV, then use something like CDex (quick and easy freeware) to convert it into an MP3. I recommend changing the "Settings" in CDex to encode the MP3 at 128k. Any bigger, and the file will start getting too large for some people to download.

12. FTP the MP3 to your web space, and post the link to your blog.

13. Job done? Yeah, but all you've really done so far is create a great big MP3. To call yourself a proper podcaster, you have to create a feed for your MP3s, so that people can subscribe to it and have all your subsequent podcasts download automatically. There are probably all sorts of clever techie ways of doing this, but here's an easy way.

14. Go to del.icio.us, and set yourself up with a username and password.

15. Now go to the del.icio.us "post" feature - or better still, use the "post to del.icio.us" bookmarklet on your toolbar (oh look, you'll work it out soon enough). Enter the full filename of your MP3 in the URL box, e.g. http://www.troubled-diva.com/troubled-diva-podcast-01.mp3.

16. When prompted for "tags", enter something unique, that no-one else is likely to use: I used "divacast". It doesn't need to be particularly catchy or memorable.

17. Del.icio.us will then automatically set up a feed for your brand new, unique tag. The URL of this feed will be http://del.icio.us/rss/tag/system:filetype:mp3+blahblahblah, where "blahblahblah" is the name of your unique tag.

18. Post the URL of the del.icio.us feed on your blog, so that people can grab it and subscribe to it.

19. Next time you do a podcast, repeat steps 15 & 16, using the same unique tag as before. This will automatically update the feed, meaning that the new podcast will automatically download onto your subscribers' hard drives.

20. To subscribe to a podcast from iTunes, see my handy guide below.

Heavens, so much tech talk! I feel quite wrung out.

Nationwide Mercury Music Prize 2005 shortlist.

As this year's shortlist is due to be announced in 20 minutes, I had better get my predictions in quick:

Bloc Party, British Sea Power, Futureheads, Hard-Fi, Jem, Kano, Magic Numbers, Malcolm Middleton, MIA, Roisin Murphy, Roots Manuva, Saint Etienne.

Other possibles: Coldplay, Doves, Duke Spirit, Four Tet, Goldfrapp, Gorillaz, Go! Team, Kaiser Chiefs, Lemon Jelly, Maximo Park.

We shall see.

Update: The actual shortlist is:

Antony & The Johnsons (British born, y'see), Bloc Party, Coldplay, Go! Team, Hard-Fi, Kaiser Chiefs, Magic Numbers, Maximo Park, MIA, Polar Bear (token jazz, sorry, "post-jazz"), KT Tunstall, and somebody called Seth Lakeman (folk, self-released).

So, 4 out 12 correctly predicted, and 4 more from the "others" list. The biggest surprise is the lack of "urban" music on the list, MIA excepted (although she's as much "arthouse" as she is "urban").

I never was much good at this sort of thing...

Consequences: Posty 12

Posted by anna.

I'll just say "sod it!" anyway.

No matter how hard I try. Because no matter how ladylike I try to be, no matter how much I bite the inside of my little lady cheeks and pinch the pink bits of my little lady-palm, at the end of the day, I might as well admit it, I'll just say "sod it" anyway.

And you realise when I say "sod it", I don't actually mean Sod it, don't you?

I do wish that I only ever said "Sod it" when I got annoyed. Sorry - is anyone offended by the term "Sod it"? Well, sod it if you are, it's far too late for apologies. I'll warn you if anything worse is coming up. If I only ever said "Sod it", I'd count myself as moderate. But no. I wander through the bodily functions: "Oh piss/ oh peff/ oh semen", the bodily accessories: "Oh tits/ oh dingle/ oh pap-wanking-schlong-wobble/ oh bumhole/ oh my chins", via the semi-quasi-religious damniologies: "Oh heck/ Oh hell/ Oh Christ-in-a-strap-on", and headfirst into the jumbling jiggyfied genetalia section (words for sex - we'll not go into those, obviously. I mean, I'm not here to offend).

Time was - and there are few delicate ways around saying this - when I used to work in a Christian Community. Granted, it was a liberal type of place, and it was widely accepted that I was *kind of* a ginormous Humanist/Agnostic, but they kept me there all the same, because I was good with kids, and made good candles.

Well, I say good with kids. I was good with kids as long as no one was watching.

OH MY GOD, That sounds Awful!

What I mean is, kids love me. Kids loved me because I acted around them in a way that their parents would never act.

Oh dear god, you know, actually, you know, that sounds terrifying too. Hnag on.

Sometimes - and this is great if you're someone who gets to deal with kids but doesn't actually have to take them home and live with them - kids like it if you swear. Only a little bit. And not out of hand, or violently, directed at someone - but if, when trying to deal with a twelve-year-old youth group who could only see an employee of a Christian Community Centre in front of them, sometimes, it would be difficult to get them under control. And then, perhaps, you would drop something. "Oh bollocks", you would say. And suddenly - and I know this is cheating, and I'd never make it as a teacher - they'd love you.

I would never, ever swear, of course, in front of the little ones.

Well, I say never. I really would try. I don't like swearing in front of small children. I don't want to teach them words that they don't already know - or at least words they couldn't identify a picture of the meaning of if - god-forbid - someone gave them a book with those pictures in. No, I would try very very hard not to swear in from of innocents. And children.

But sometimes, that would make it so much worse. Because, you know, when you're a swearer, your natural reaction to saying something wrong is to swear. However, when the thing that you've said wrong IS swearing, the whole thing can descend into a horrible, horrible spiral.

"Do, be careful not to spill this, because if you... Oh, shit! Oh, fuck, sorry, I said shit! Oh! I said it again! And then I said fuck! Shit, sorry, crap! Oh, bollocks, I... Jesus! Sorry, I... Oh hell, I said Jesus! Jesus, I said Hell! Oh, Shit, I...! Fuck!!!"

And after about five minutes, you may as well just settle into your career as a professional swearlady, as you just sit there, softly cursing and rocking, reacting to each 'bad word' with three more bad words in a row.

Ooopses. I forgot the warning there. Be warned. There are swearwords above.

But what is a swearword? It's so hard to tell. To some people it's only words describing an action, to others it's only words describing a body part.

Actions, I can kind of see the violence in. I'll argue vehemently with people using certain action words, but, for some reason, have very little argument with most 'body part ' words. There are great exceptions to this rule, I admit, but, not being on my own site, I'll refrain from conversation about axe-wounds or beef curtains. Oh bugger. Oh, shit, sorry, I didn't mean to say bugger. Oh fuck. Argh! Shit! Sorry! Oh, tits, I said...

Seriously though. If you use genitalia as an exclamation, particularly if you use the genitalia of your own sex, how can anyone be offended? You are only calling on the things dearest and closest to you, damning it for not helping you in your time of need.

It's a visceral, total, primal, human instinct - and the simplest expression of it ever, the closest to hand. I mean - we've all got genitalia here, haven't we?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Failed experiments in fancy dress.

Big Blogger task #9 required us to select a costume for a fancy dress party, along with a suitable piece of music. This led me to ruminate upon my unhappy relationship with the whole concept of Dressing Up Daft, and also to post a choice selection from the astonishing Ethel Merman Disco Album (which soundtracked the entire second half of 2004, in the late lamented George's Bar on Broad Street).

The post also contains the only documented photographic evidence of myself in drag, circa 1991. Yes, I thought that would get you clicking.

How to get Troubled Diva podcasts to download automatically to your iPod.

I promise this is going to be easy. Ready, class?

1. Download the latest version of iTunes (4.9 or above).

2. Open iTunes, and select Podcasts from the menu on the left hand side. (It's the second option down.)

3. Click on the Advanced option, then Subscribe to Podcast on the drop-down menu.

4. In the little pop-up box, enter the following:
http://del.icio.us/rss/tag/system:filetype:mp3+divacast
5. iTunes will start downloading the latest podcast. Wait for it to complete.

6. To play the downloaded podcast in iTunes, click on it from within the Podcasts screen.

7. Next time you plug your iPod into your computer, the podcast will automatically load onto it.

8. To play the podcast on your iPod, select Playlists > Podcasts > Troubled Diva Podcast.

9. Every time I publish a new podcast, iTunes will automatically download it, without you having to lift a finger. Every time you plug in your iPod, the new podcast will automatically load.

That's all I know! Please don't ask any awkward questions, or I shall be exposed for the technical ignoramus that I am...

Consequences: Post 11

(posted by Vitriolica)

I dream of a life where I know what I'm doing.

That dream also includes a hillside self-build maniacally-eco-co-existent house, on the side of a beautiful valley in Portugal, no electricity or water bills... and there's me... pottering around my little self sustaining estate (most likely in dungarees, but for the sake of the dream sequence argument, I'm wearing a floaty diaphenous-but-not-pornographic dress), it's sunset, I have a gin and tonic in my hand and I knowing what I'm doing.

In the dream, I know what I'm doing for dinner, what I'm realistically going to accomplish in one day, what the children need from me, what my husband needs to hear to de-stress him, what I'm going to watch on the telly, which project I should stick with and which to jetison. I know my place in the scheme of things and I don't feel guilty for being an artist. In short, I have grown up. In the dream.

I hit thirty five a couple of months ago and I was fully expecting to wake up the next morning with a head full of wisdom and finally feel like an adult. I had been expecting it at 30, at 25, at 21 and 16. But obviously, it was taking its time with me.... but, thirty five came and went and I am no more a grown up than I was when I was thirteen. Bugger.

I still want to go to bed when I damn well want, want to get up when I damn well want, I want to work all day on whatever I want and not have to stop to make the bloody dinner. I want to say "sod it!", get in the car and sod off for a few days, take the kids with me, or leave them behind, they wouldn't mind either way. I resent having to do anything like housework, laundry, cleaning... can't see the point in most of it... it's just going to get dirty again. I still want to eat ice cream three times a day for a week (the week after, I'd be just as happy eating cabbage the same way). I still want to leave my hair unbrushed then shave it all off on a whim. I still want to go shopping and spend way too much money.

So, I think I shall just give up waiting to grow up.

I'll just say "sod it!" anyway.

td1

Consequences: Post 10

(Posted by Hg.)

So I wait, and I wonder. Standard approach #1. Do nothing, let's have a think about it. Like Hamlet declaring himself reborn as a man of deeds rather than words, then taking out his notebook. "When in doubt, do nowt," goes the Yorkshire saying. But what if you're always in doubt? What if nothing is ever certain? Is a life of deferral something to aspire to? I'm really not sure.

More and more, I find myself wondering. What's it all about, is usually the recurring theme. The Big One, the six million dollar manifesto. Like Natalie Imbruglia, I'm torn. Both blessed and cursed with the ability to empathise with either side of a dichotomy, I'm a living synthesis of every possible tenable position. It's tiring. I pray for certainty, but find myself doubting that anyone is listening.

This transparent theorisation is all smokescreen, of course. The simple fact is that I can't make up my mind. Man of action, or life of leisure? Thrusting, power-hungry exec or gen-x (just) dropout rejecting The System? I've given up many things to get where I am now, a driven hamster on a slightly bigger wheel than the others. I enjoy the exercise and although I don't seem to be going anywhere, the view is great. But with every passing month, the shirt and tie round my neck feels more like a noose.

Over in the corner I see the rats who've dropped out of the race and I envy them. I could do that, I think. This wheel's over-rated. I'd much rather be getting ratted. Bollocks to the Protestant Work Ethic; my tastes are catholic enough, I could find meaning in a low-budget life. I could stack shelves in the morning and happily spend the afternoons and evenings reading, swimming, playing with the nieces and nephews.

Around this time, fear and uncertainty usually take their place in the chorus. Many people would envy a lifestyle like mine. I worked hard to get here, could I really give it all up on a whim? What if I got bored and found myself trapped? For all its shortcomings, boredom is definitely not a feature of my current existence. Frustration, yes. Disillusion and unfulfillment, yes. But boredom isn't an option when you're trying to live three lives at once.

When in doubt, do nowt: the procrastinator's biggest justification. There's no need to do it now, because I will definitely do it better if I just have a little longer, to think about it, to analyse, to plan. The planets are not quite aligned, the dice might not fall as expected. Another shake, another flick of the wrist... better luck next time. Things are always better if you leave them to mature. Let's watch the pot while the paint dries.

So I wait, and I wonder, and I contemplate my next move. Locked in the prison of my thoughts, I hope for someone to bake me a cake with a life in it. Like a modern-day Hamlet, I reach for my BlackBerry. In its inane inbox, cryptic calendar, chaotic contacts and tepid tasks, maybe an answer must lie. Then I realise, all answers are lies. Nothing will ever be certain. I stare through the bars at the blue sky and my mind wanders to my recurring fantasy. I dream of a life where I know what I'm doing.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Big Blogger has reduced me to pimping my ass.

Now, believe me, I really don't want to do this. But Big Blogger has given me no choice.

This won't take long. Please follow this link,, scroll down to the fourth post (the one called Fine!), then leave a message in the comments box, naming me and giving a simple reason why I should stay in the Big Blogger house.

If stuck for a reason, then may I suggest one of the following:
  • Call me a dreamer, call me a mad impetuous fool, but I want to have his babies. There's fine breeding stock in there, if only he knew it, and I feel it is my duty to help him propagate the family line.
  • He makes me laugh; he makes me cry; but he never makes me angry.
  • He's like totally not fake yeah, he's just like BEING HIMSELF and not being two faced and at the end of the day, right, that's what really matters, end of.
  • Sod the abdominal jut; just check out the ass!
As the person with the least number of supportive comments by the end of Tuesday will be automatically evicted, I am rather counting on your support in this matter.

Obviously, this is totally out of character, and strictly a one-off request. Blog-whore, moi? You must be confusing me with someone else.

As an added inducement, everyone who leaves a comment will be rewarded with a beautiful Troubled Diva coffee mug. Maybe there are limits to my desperation after all.

Update: It's okay. I have now taken matters into my own hands.

Consequences Post No 9

(Posted by Rob)

There I was, dangling from a cliff on a burning rope over a pit of tigers. I looked off to one side and there, growing from a crack in the rock, was a bramble bush. I reached out a hand (why worry about falling now?) and grabbed a berry, scratching my hand slightly on the prickles. How vivid the berry tasted. How much more alive I felt when this present moment was all I had, when the inevitability of death was not just a theoretical truth but RIGHT THERE.

That’s the way the Zen Buddhist parable has it, anyway. Of course, I’m not a proper Zen Buddhist. Not the bowl-of-rice-porridge-and-thirty-blows-from-the-roshi-with-a-stick-every-morning kind of Zen Buddhist. Not even a practising-sitting-meditation-thirty-minutes-a-day Zen Buddhist, though I did that for a bit and still meditate sporadically (these days usually walking meditation rather than sitting).

In fact, most of the time I’m not any kind of Zen Buddhist, though the part of me that grew up on Kerouac and Ginsberg would love to be able to claim I was. But sometimes - just occasionally - “living in the heart of the moment” has been more than a line from an Al Stewart song, and “Be Here Now” more than a disappointing Oasis album. Just a few times I’ve had a glimpse of what life might be like if I simply got out of my own way. If I stopped thinking of myself as an individual, personal ego wrapped up in a bag of skin and bones, and managed to identify myself with the whole of reality. No me, no you. No “me” being born, no “me” to die. What it would be like if I let that greater reality (call it God if it makes you happy) – which manages to grow my hair and push shit through my bowels without any conscious intervention from little “me” – take over the rest of my life, and the illusion that is Rob Saunders just would just shut the fuck up.

How very mystical and airy-fairy that sounds, as though I sat there going “OMMMMMM” and fasting while pondering the secrets of the universe until I became a Perfect Master. And how far that is from the reality (heh - the reality of reality). As it happens, I can tell you what it was like. As in so many of my blog posts, dear reader, the answer lies in music.

Let me take you to a rehearsal hall in Stockbridge, Edinburgh. Date: some time during 1999 or 2000. We are at a rehearsal of the Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra, and I am leading the second violins (the lovely Emma had yet to join us). We run through a piece (I forget what) with no unusual occurrence. Then we come to the main item in the programme, which is Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony. No need for me to describe it in any detail: it’s in two movements, technically quite challenging, and I’d played it once before some years earlier. The important thing isn’t anything to do with the sharps and flats, or the tricky counting. It’s that as we start playing the music, I begin to have the strangest feeling that I simply cannot play a wrong note. I can not go wrong. I certainly am not in fact playing any wrong notes: the music is coming out perfectly, the best I’ve ever played. And it isn’t “me” doing it. I am there, watching with fascination, but the music is…it seems a cliché, but let’s go for it: the music is playing itself. It lasts all the way through the first movement, and also the second. It lasts through all the stops, starts, and running over things that make up a rehearsal. And when we reach the end of the Sibelius and play something else? Back to “normal”. Back to “everyday reality”. I play OK, but it’s Rob the Bald Guy doing it, not The Force taking over.

And for all the other rehearsals of the Sibelius, and in the concert itself? Same story. Only for that one piece, but the instant we start playing, “I” vanish.

When I describe the feeling it sometimes feels pretentious to use Buddhist metaphors, as though I’m trying to give myself airs. So sometimes I say it’s like something out of “The Inner Game Of Music” (which it is). Or perhaps I use a jokey Star Wars analogy (as I did in the last paragraph). Or I describe it as like an out-of-body experience except that I hung around to watch. But that’s just window-dressing, to cover up the fact that if I’m honest I haven’t a clue what was going on. It felt as though some…..thing…. that knew much more about the music than I did had taken over for a while, as if on the dual controls in an aircraft. I was still completely aware of my surroundings, of the sensations of playing, of the sound; "I" just wasn't interfering with them. The eminent Japanese Buddhist D T Suzuki described enlightenment as “exactly like normal life, but a few inches off the ground”, and that hits the mark. It felt: scary; exhilarating; wonderful. I wanted it to carry on, but it only happened for the one piece. Every time I played it, but only the one piece.


I often wonder what will happen if I come to play the Sibelius Fifth Symphony again. Some smart Buddhist (maybe Suzuki again) once said that much of mankind’s unhappiness comes from the doomed attempt to make reality repeatable. I know I shouldn’t expect a burst of cosmic consciousness the next time, but human nature being what it is, I suspect I will be disappointed if this time it’s just like playing any other piece. Like a child who hasn’t fathomed why last time he turned on the TV it was the Teletubbies, but this time it’s the news.

So I wait, and I wonder.