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.

Friday, February 15, 2008

"I don't read blogs, but I DO read..."

There's no interview today, and there's nothing scheduled for next Friday either. These things come in fits and starts, and I'm glad to be taking a little rest for a while. The transcriptions alone take bloody hours; it usually takes me ten minutes of typing for every one minute of recording, and most interviews clock in at between 15 and 20 minutes each. And that's just the raw transcript, before I start the editing process. Not complaining! Just saying!

Anyhow, the next published interview looks like being Gary Numan, in a fortnight's time. (A surprisingly excellent interviewee, and I have high hopes.) In the meantime, I'll be starting Year Six (SIX!) of the Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? Project next week, with the first instalment hopefully appearing on Monday evening. In which case, I'll need all the free time I can get.

Yeesh, when did life get so busy all of a sudden? At work, the new bunch of clients are working me hard, with the additional burden of daily conference calls at 9:30 every morning. Nine chuffing thirty! Crack of bloody dawn! It is Hell.

Yesterday, I mailed my submission to You Are Not Alone (see next post down for details). It's a re-working of something which appeared on the blog in 2006, and I have to say that the re-editing process was something of an eye-opener, in terms of how my writing style has tightened up in the last couple of years. Having become accustomed to the rigours of word-count-driven economy, I was startled to discover how darned waffly the original was. It's much better now, I think.

Yes, I know what you're thinking: you'd rather return to having daily blog posts from the old Waffly Mike, in preference to a couple of freelance copy-and-paste jobs per week from the new Professional Mike. Well, we have discussed this before. And I'd love to oblige you - but this isn't 2003, and my priorities are re-aligned.

(And my life is, in every respect, much improved. I was talking about this with friends the other day, who reminded me of how unhappy I used to be with certain aspects of my lot. In this respect, we agreed that the China trip in late 2005 marked something of a turning point.)

Onto the meat and potatoes of today's post, then. Amongst my non-blogging offline friends, who merely use the web for sensible things like shopping, banking and the gathering of practical information, very few have been converted to the Joy Of Blog over the years. Sure, they might follow Troubled Diva (in the vain but touching hope that one of these days, I'll post another jolly heart-warming ramble about the cottage garden, or another racy confessional tale of nightclub debauchery), but that's pretty much as far as they'll venture into the blogosphere.

That said, I've had a number of people tell me that while they "don't read blogs" in general, they have formed an attachment to the odd one or two. So, for instance, my sister doesn't read blogs, but she does read Petite Anglaise. "Bob" in the village doesn't read blogs, but he does read Girl With A One-Track Mind. A work colleague doesn't read blogs, but she does read Non-Workingmonkey. And so on.

(Meanwhile, although K has yet to start following any other blogs at all, he always reads my Twitter home page, to find out what my pals are up to. He's even got a little crush on one of them. Not saying who! Are you mad?)

This got me to wondering: have any of your offline friends latched onto a lone favourite blog? And if so, which one? Answer me, do.

We're off to Aunty and Uncle's in Kent over the weekend, regrettably missing Gordon's London Blogmeet in the process. Have a lovely weekend yerselves. The next fortnight will be mainly devoted to Which Decade. Such excitement!

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

So, that was 2007 then.

After the extreme highs and lows that characterised the year before, 2007 was an altogether smoother affair, but not without significant moments of Personal Growth and Development. I'll be remembering it as the year when I published a blogging anthology, in a week, for charity (aided and abetted by a fine band of helpers, of course) - and also as the year when I started interviewing singers, musicians and random celebrities of various hues, for the Nottingham Evening Post, whilst continuing to attend as many live shows as humanly possible. (I've said it before and I'll say it again: where else do you get to hear analogue?)

It was also the year that Post of the Week got off the ground - and although I'll be taking more of a back seat with it in 2008, in order to concentrate on getting a community blog for our village off the ground, its future looks reasonably assured for now.

Other than that, I gave a talk on blog-writing versus book-writing at a literary festival, I had a couple of fun weekends in Amsterdam, and continued to visit London whenever suitable excuses presented themselves; most notably when Danish Eurovision fans, Portuguese illustrators and Belgian blog-celebs came to town. (Oh, and for the occasional film preview as well - for this was the year that the pushy PR peeps came sniffing around some of us bloggery types in earnest, and I'm not above accepting a freebie or two in certain circumstances.)

On the home front, we saw a lot of K's warm and wonderful family, as the loss of his sister in the spring of 2006 continued to cast a long shadow. A surprise gathering of the clans to celebrate K's dad's 70th birthday at a country pile in North Wales was a particular highlight, not least for the chance it gave me to get to know our two bright, charming and delightful young nieces. The cottage garden (aka PDMG#1) had its best year ever, and will be appearing in a magazine in the next couple of months or so (hey, you know what we're like). Over in Nottingham, the old concrete yards were replaced by a brand new garden (PDMG#2), and a new kitchen was installed, amidst much corporate f**k-wittery and call-waiting stress (and this latter was another of the year's less welcome themes). In the cottage, with viciously inappropriate timing, a ceiling collapsed on the day that Shaggy Blog Stories was published, and the deafening roar of de-humidifiers duly ruled our lives over the next few months.

At work, I changed both clients and desks, moving into a lively corner of the office and ending six years of aloof semi-isolation. This was definitely a Good Thing.

In August, I compiled a list of "Twenty-Five Things I Want To Do Before I Die". By the end of the year, I had accomplished two and a half of them (and as far as one of them is concerned, thereby hangs a lengthy and significantly perspective-shifting tale, but that's for another day, if indeed at all).

And then there was dear old neglected Troubled Diva, which slid ever further away from its 2002-2004 heyday, becoming little more than a repository for freelance music reviews and interviews. In the past few months, the issue of What To Do About Troubled Diva has dominated my thinking in a way that has yet to yield any firm answers. As the rigours and disciplines of print journalism have taken root and soaked up most of my spare energies, so I have moved ever further away from the "Troubled Diva" persona of yore. Although I remember him with affection, I am already looking upon him as another person, from another lifetime.

All of which begs the question: whither blogging, and whither this blog? As ABC's Martin Fry warbled, a generation ago: I don't know the answer to that question. If I knew, I would tell you. Ooh, how enigmatic!

To the few long-suffering regular readers who remain, and to anyone else who might happen to be passing: may I wish you the happiest of new years.

And now I am off down the pub. Some things never change.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

"As seen on Channel 4."

K and I really enjoyed the recent Channel 4 documentary "The Sex Blog Girls", starring our very own Zoe One Track.

Needless to say, this was my favourite part of the documentary. Two whole seconds of immortality (rounded up to the nearest whole number)! Why, I nearly wore out the pause button...



And then, just a few minutes later, this popped up:



"Darling!", I squealed at my best beloved. "How could they have got you so wrong?"

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Grandad's on the guest list.

It's a strange age, 45.

Even up to a couple of years ago, taxi drivers would occasionally call me "young man". (Usually at journey's end, as I squiffily fumbled for change. They know what they're doing, the little tarts.)

Last week, as I was heading into town for my lunchtime cob (local vernacular; means "bap"), some old boy blundered round a corner, rather too quickly. "Sorry, youth", he muttered myopically, as our guts briefly barged. I can surf off such slip-ups for days.

But there again, see. On my way into the Bodega Social Club the other night, I was kindly spared the effort of walking all the way round the corner to the back of the roped off entrance walkway. As he chivalrously unhooked the front section of rope and beckoned me through, the smirking doorman bestowed this deadly rite of passage upon my stooped shoulders:

"Step this way, Grandad! You come on inside, and take the weight off your feet!"

"Grandad's on the guest list", I icily retorted - aiming for Imperious, but landing somewhere around Huffy. Yeah, that told him.

I always knew this would happen. Right from the age of 14, as my occasional dates with Uncle John Peel ("Britain's Oldest Teenager!" I joked, in the letter I never wrote) became nightly, unbreakable ones, I knew I these were no mere passing generational fancies. No, these passions were for life. (For a fickle little madam, I can be surprisingly steadfast.)

The other night at the Foals gig, with 95% of the audience under the age of 23 and a significant proportion in their teens, I counted just two other middle-aged men, up on the balcony, away from the fray. "Let's stand at the bar and look like we're Industry!", I muttered to Sarah as we wedged ourselves in, dizzy from the fug of Biactol, rotting trainers and two-week-old T-shirts.

I don't attend such events to be Down Wid Da Yoot, to leech off their energy, or indeed to feel much in the way of collective connection. I go because, on a good night, I get to witness a certain freshness of spirit - an instinct, an attitude, an attack - which has yet to be dimmed by recognition, repetition, routine. By them, or by me.

And besides: I was 19 once, and it hasn't really changed that much. (Just don't tell them that. Best if they don't know.)

That's why 45 rocks. Halfway between 20 and 70, and close enough to feel you can touch it all.

Caught up in the middle, jumping through the riddle, Grandad's on the guest list tonight!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Status update.

I'm "between clients" this week, and hence engaged in little of overtly economic value. It's at times like these that the office becomes more like a Day Centre than an actual office. (It gets you out and about; you can get yourself a nice cup of tea whenever you want; there are like-minded souls to chat with; and even the occasional piece of light occupational therapy, just to keep those brain cells ticking over.)

As someone whose default setting is an unspecified low-level anxiety and a vague sense of impending doom (which will somehow involve being "found out", although I couldn't tell you what for exactly), this comes as sweet relief indeed. Last Friday night, as my inner anxiety-butterfly did its usual fluttering about, in search of somewhere upon which to alight and tremble, I realised that for once, I had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT WHATSOEVER, EVERYTHING IN MY LIFE REALLY IS AS FINE AS CAN BE. Which was almost disconcerting, as if my security blanket (*) had been snatched away. (Yes, readers: I can even feel anxious about not feeling anxious. It's a rare skill.)

(And in actual fact, I woke up at around 3:00 on Tuesday morning in a complete state, having just dreamt that I was in major trouble at work... for, um, typing "joy division" into my office manager's Google. Bearing in mind that I never normally get nightmares - the worst that normally happens being a tedious, never-ending series of Public Transport Frustrations - this was clearly a case of my anxiety glands having to work the night shift.)

So, anyhow, I'm using the time to get through all manner of overdue items on my to-do list (once a certain Procrastination Quotient has been factored in, of course - why, I'm even catching up with long-ignored blogs - hello, everybody!) And the old freelance side of things gets ramped up a couple of notches in the process, of course, to the extent that I can be quite the Picky Madam: why, this very morning, I turned down a last-minute interview with the drummer from the Kaiser Chiefs, no less. (The reason being that I dislike the Kaiser Chief with a rare intensity, particularly that godawful "Ruby-Ruby-Ruby-RUBAY!" effort, which remains my most loathed song of 2007 to date.)

Life of Riley, basically. Which soon shall pass, obv. So I'm loving it while it lasts.

(Reader's Voice: "So, does this mean a return to your earlier, funnier, me-me-me posts? We liked you when you did them!")

(Author's Voice: "I wouldn't bet on it, Buster...")


(*) Bad metaphor. Anxiety-butterflies don't land on blankets; they land on... I dunno... toadstools or something? Sorry, I'm out of practise at this kind of thing. Anyone got any spare pop stars?

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

"K would like a Waggledance Shandy, please."

No, we've not been to a dodgy strip club; instead, yesterday saw me taking K to his first ever blogmeet, at a formerly gay (and now much improved) pub on the Bayswater Road. Waggledance was their guest beer - and at a whopping 5%, it was a fine ale indeed - but since K was going to have to be driving us home from Derby station that evening, shandies were the order of the day. I'm sure you can picture the amusement.

Perhaps I shouldn't even be calling the blogmeet a blogmeet, since it wasn't an openly publicised event. Rather it was a gathering of The British Blogpals Of Lucy Pepper From Portugal - who, amongst her many more celebrated achievements, is also responsible for the first two images at the top of my sidebar.

Most of the blogpals were familiar faces; others I was meeting for the first time. K had never met any of them before, and he doesn't read blogs anyway, so I did a certain amount of discreet "background" hissing - but it wasn't an easy social situation for him to step into, and he did well to last the course with such good grace. (Tellingly, he formed an immediate alliance with Lucy's Professor, one of the two other non-bloggers in the room.) Perhaps I should have dragged him round the table with me, showing him off and making sure that EVERYONE LOVED HIM. But that's not our style. So I was rather pleased when Bob (hooray, another Gay at a Blogmeet for once!) took me aside and told me that K was "lovely". Because, well, he IS. And it always pleases me when people agree.



(I always operate on the default assumption that everybody who meets K is madly jealous that I got in there before they did. Yes, I might be delusional. But at least my delusions are romantic ones.)

(Example: the nice older lady on reception at our hairdressers, who didn't realise that we were partners until it came out in passing a couple of months ago:

Nice older lady (with feeling): I love him.

Mike: So do I. But I saw him first.

Our hairdresser: Yeah, but she had him last.

You have never seen two people rouge up quite so swiftly. But I over-parenthesise.)



As for me, the usual phenomenon occurred, whereby I left the pub feeling I hadn't spent nearly long enough talking to people, even though I had been there for over five hours solid. How does that happen?

We would have packed swatches (see posts below; way to fill a comments box; updates as we get them), but they'd never have fitted in the day sack.

I am very tempted to give you neatly turned pencil portraits of the bloggers I'd never met before, but perhaps discretion is the better part of valour.

I had one Waggledance too many, and ended up burbling. But that's all part of the experience.

Mike loves meeting bloggers!

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Twittering the Leicester Summer Sundae festival.

Feeling slightly amazed that I've already been up for 2 hours. On a Sunday morning.

Worrying about the weather.

Nipping round the Myspace pages of the acts which I haven't heard before. Hmm. Really wish the Hold Steady hadn't cancelled.

Heavy showers forecast. Packing lightweight waterproof, Gore-tex lined cap, fleece & mat into day-sack, along with optimistic sunglasses.

Still agonising about the one major clash in the Summer Sundae line-up: Fujiya & Miyagi versus Spoon. It's not easy having leftfield tastes.

Questioning the purpose of wearing my "lucky pants". (Olive green Aussie Bum, white piping, curiously flattering.) (TMI?) (TMI.)

Sunday drivers plus traffic jams equals missed train. It's only a 30 minute wait though. And chill...

The Lea Shores. Jesus fronted post baggy/shoegaze, Ride meets Roses. With violin.

And that was our first mention of the word "shine". With stuff like this, it's a statuory obligation.

Now rhyming flyyy, hiiigh and "you're my butterflyyy". Time to move on.

Vetiver: a perfect sunday lunchtime band. Nothing to disturb the Observer readers mooching on the grass.

Foxy busty blonde lady, to me and Dymbel: "I fancy you. And you. It's for a dare... but maybe I would have done anyway." Oh dear!

Packed tent for The Strange Death Of Liberal England, possibly benefiting from We've Not Heard Of Any Of These People, So Let's Go For The Ones With The Interesting Name Syndrome. Ooh, 10 out of 10 for youthful energy and exuberance...

Ben Taylor. Son of James. Similar lack of hair. Acoustic. Droll. Best so far.

Ben Taylor throwing out so many Myspace addresses that one wonders if he's on a Murdoch kickback...

Cherry Ghost: the word "solid" could have been invented for him. Overly precarious trousers for a man in his 30s. Not his "lucky pants", one feels. Earnest, mildly dishy supply teacher rock. All very 6music/word magazine. I'm not won over.

In the market area, resisting the urge for a Tracy from Big Brother makeover.

Stephanie Dosen: seen her before, supporting Tina Dico was it? Kooky and lugubrious. Cameron Diaz goes folk.

Koop: pleasant Gilles Peterson approved mellow jazzy funkiness. And still no rain! Result!

Mm, tinkly vibes. Rob is texting me crap jokes from the cabaret tent. I shan't share.

Koop remind me a little too much of my snotty soulboy acid jazz years. I'd have loved them in 1992.

And the vibes tinkle on. Not the most emotionally expressive of instruments, are they?

Spoon: again, solid. Better than Cherry Ghost, but I am unmoved. Dymbel loves 'em though. Shall try Fujiya & Miyaji instead.

Spoon were improving as I left. But Fujiya & Miyaji are more my thing. Funky krautrock from Brighton.

People are dancing! And about time too. Young people are holding up cardboard signs. FREE ANAL HERE! (plus arrow) and GET YOUR OWL OUT! Surreal...

Fujiya & Miyaji deffo the best yet. And now, the generic & wildly popular indie sounds of the Pigeon Detectives. Hmm, Johnny Borrell lite, anyone? Yes Virginia, there is such a thing.

Aw, I shouldn't be such an old curmudgeon. They're the right band at the right time and they're working it well. Cross generational respect!

Gruff Rhys of the Super Furry Animals: performing solo inside a giant TV set, with cartoon test card. Experimental!

K is stuck on the phone with my aunt (a chatty woman), and sending increasingly angsty text messages.

Gruff Rhys now joined by lady singer inside TV set, both seated behind desk, news reader style. Oh, and now there's a band.

There's a bit of a lull, so I'm relaxing in the run with a beer. Nice day, if a little short on epochal, life changing music. Pleasant innocuous vibe.

Cheerfully ignoring Echo and his Bunny Men, to whom I fell asleep at the London Lyceum in 1980. 40-something blokes with eyes half shut are gyrating drunkenly in the evening sunshine.

Ok, The Cutter, I'll give them that. I was young once!

Polytechnic: competent guitar band, but I am developing indie indigestion. It's been a long day.

Oh! This one sounds like Los Campesinos: "You! Me! Dancing!" I can get behind this.

Spiritualized Acoustic Mainline. As my friend says, perhaps I've never taken the right drugs. That said, their symphonic lugubriousness is appropriately crepuscular.

Ah, me old mate Duke Special, headlining inside the De Montfort Hall. Nice to be on familiar ground. As cosy and comforting as a steaming mug of cocoa, and hence just what these aching old bones are in need of.

Duke Special was a lovely end to 10 hours of good, if not often great music... and my first festival to boot.

Searching in vain for meteor showers on the drive home. 45 degrees south, if you're looking...

See also: Lisa Rullsenberg's proper joined-up review of the same day. You know, with proper paragraphs and everything...

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

"I never drink anything other than alcohol after 6pm."

Wise words from my beloved K, who memorably reduced an entire posh country house dining room to an awed hush, merely by declaiming them, with some measure of force, when offered a post-prandial coffee by the well-meaning waitress.

Would that I had heeded them last night, at the blogpals' get-together at the Secret Mystery Location. But, no. Fearful of peaking too soon (for the wine had been flowing from earlier than I am used to, bearing in mind the louche bohemian hours that I am wont to keep), I thought that a tall mug of fresh-from-the-cafetière would Perk Me Up and help me Stay Focused.

Which is probably why I woke at 4am this morning, and stayed restlessly semi-conscious for the next three hours, until knocked up by my Secret Mystery Hostess for a lift to the railway station.

(Two small pieces of information that I might safely divulge: Secret Mystery Hostess keeps a superlative cheese board, and she makes a mean chocolate tart. Honest, I thought it was from Marks and Sparks!)

Zee to the oh to the onked, that's what I'm feeling right now. I might not even be able to make it all the way through Big Brother tonight, let alone the totally ace, are-you-watching-it-yet, oh-you-should-you-should, Studio 60 On Sunset Strip (which does require a good deal more concentration than "does Amanda fancy Brian back", or "they're all being mean to Amy, especially that Carole, ooh you wanna watch her, she's taking over").

So, let mine be a cautionary tale.

Hey, at least my reasons for crappy half-hearted posts are varied ones...

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Prince at the O2 Arena: The Great Funk & Soul Swindle, Part Two.

The 2000-odd capacity Indigo club - whoops, sorry, IndigO2, can't be missing a Brand Reinforcement Opportunity - is billed as the Arena's, ahem, "intimate space". And fair play to their design team: it's a swish-looking, well-appointed venue, which does its level best to make you forget that you're actually still trapped inside a corporate hell-hole in the middle of nowhere. OK, so some seats would have been a nice touch, but they were strictly reserved for the 75-quid-a-pop "VIP" crowd, separated off from the rest of us in their own dedicated balcony area.

But hey, we proles in the £27.50 (incl. booking fee) standing area - some of whom had been queuing for over an hour (but not us, diligent researchers that we are), only to discover that we all had equally good views of the stage anyway - didn't care about any of that. After all, we had gained admittance to the hallowed inner sanctum, and to the opportunity that some of us had been dreaming of for years: to see Prince in after-hours mode, kicking loose and jamming with his band, all in the name of pure musicianship rather than stadium show-boating. As I said before, these Prince after-shows are the stuff of legend.

The atmosphere in the Indigo2 was buzzing. On Wednesday night, the band had played for an hour and three quarters, with Prince joining them for lengthy sections. Sure, we didn't expect him to be on stage for the whole period. We knew that. There would probably be 30 or 40 minutes of warm-up first, that kind of thing.

For now, Prince's dedicated DJ was spinning a set of predominantly funky house over the superbly crisp and warm sound system, mixed with the occasional "special", such as an exclusive new mix of Sexy MF, cut up with samples from the C&C Music Factory's Gonna Make You Sweat. Chelsea Rodgers, my favourite track from the new album, got people smiling and even a few of us dancing. Not too much of a crush in front of the stage, plenty of people chilling out on the floor towards the back of the venue, saving their energy for later.

At around 1:15 - same time as Wednesday, nice bit of consistency there - the lights went down. "Please welcome, from New Orleans, Dr John and his band!"

Woah, tres tres cool! As the veteran New Orleans performer settled at his piano, leading his band through a delightfully rolling Iko Iko, the four of us exchanged grins, marvelling at our extra luck. Fancy Prince being able to land such an impressive special guest! That's influence for you.

(Well, how were we to know that Dr John had already played a scheduled concert at the same venue, earlier that evening? We can't all be experts.)

I wondered how the rest of the show would pan out. Dr John's band were over to the right side of the stage, with most of the left side left empty, including spare microphone and instrument stands, and even a spare keyboard. Presumably the John band would hand over to the Prince band at some stage, maybe with some combined jamming. Woah, a Prince and Dr John collaboration would be something special all right... we'd just have to wait and see.

Time passed. Dr John's old favourite Such A Night got an airing, but I didn't recognise much else. Actually, my attention was starting to wander. So far, so Jools Holland. We needed to step up a little.

My attention was wandering so much that I didn't particularly notice the stage hands clearing away some of the unused equipment on the left hand side, even as the band played on... although was it just me, or were they beginning to flag now? Did I detect an uncertainty, an awkwardness, a reticence to hog the whole show?

As one number finished, a figure in the wings made a motion to the band with his outstretched fingers. It looked like the international sign language for "five more minutes". Phew, and not before time.

A couple more numbers later, the same figure made the same hand signal. And was it just me, or was the end of each song being greeted by ever louder applause, as if to hasten the end of the set?

At around 2:30, after about an hour and a quarter on stage, Dr John finally called it a day, "so that Prince can come on and do his stuff". Big cheer. About bloody time and all! I noted with some amusement that Dr John hadn't played his best known song, Right Place, Wrong Time. That really would have been rubbing salt in the wound. Two chuffing thirty in the chuffing morning! Ee, the accommodations that we make for genius!

The curtains closed, and the music came on again. A notably less scintillating selection than last time, but we were barely concentrating. Although, hang about, did we really need to hear Chelsea Rodgers again? And why were they starting to focus more on Prince's biggest hits? What a strange way of building the mood for a jam session...

Time passed. A good forty-five minutes or so, I'd say. And then, a friendly word from a young guy who was just on his way back from the bar.

"Thought you might like to know. They've just told me at the bar that Prince left the building about 20 minutes ago. He's tired and he won't be playing."

Even as we began to process the news, the music started to fade and the house lights started to flicker on and off. No announcement, just a general numbed-out bemusement as word slowly began to spread. Nearly three chuffing thirty in the chuffing morning, over four and a half hours after our last sighting of the man, and now, NOW he deigns to tell us.

I stared at my £27.50 ticket again. "PRINCE AFTERSHOW", it said, in big capitals. By the exit door, a member of the Indigo2 staff was all placatory apologies, they weren't to know, he just upped and went, etc etc. And by the way, sir, you can't take that out with you. I handed him the flat dregs of my plastic mug of lager and stumbled out of the venue, still in a daze.

The reason that we bought the tickets in the first place? There was an item on Radio 4's Front Row, telling their listeners that Prince would be playing a late night set after each one of his 21 London dates.

Throughout the complete online ordering process, via the O2 website and Ticketmaster, at no point was it ever suggested that Prince might not play.

During the whole of that Friday night, not one announcement was made to that effect. Oh, of course, they never actually said that he would be playing, either. We were just rather led to assume that. Because, you know, who would pay £27.50 for a DJ, an act that we hadn't come to see (who was already in the venue anyway), no seats, no food, and the chance to buy the only alcohol left on sale for miles around?

As to how much money Prince himself will be earning from lending his name to this rather costly ongoing lottery (the following night, he joined his support act Nikka Costa on stage for just one number), one can only speculate.

Over on the main fan forum, the hardcore faithful had little sympathy for our collective plight. These aftershow no-shows are commonplace, apparently. It's all part of being a Prince fan, apparently. God, didn't we know that? This was an aftershow party, a chance for like-minded souls to hang out together and discuss the tour. If there was no atmosphere, that was our fault for not making an effort. In fact, it was probably our fault that Prince had decided not to play. Not enough dancing, everybody squashed in front of the stage, how uncouth! All those drunks, slumped on the floor, how disrespectful! How could he be expected to face that?

And, for heavens sakes, hadn't we read the posting on Prince's official site? (Posted on Monday July 30th, well after we had bought our tickets, but that's by the by.)
After each gig in London, walk over 2 the indigO2 (which will be renamed 3121 of course) 4 the official aftershow parties. This will be the white hot place 2 hang 4 those still in need of some serious grooves. Prince and the band are not guaranteed 2 per4m, but as we all know with these cats - xpect the unexpected.
Oh, it was unexpected, all right. Can't fault 'em on that one.

Over an hour into our homeward journey, at Toddington services on the M1, the four of us finally found somewhere that served food. Desultorily chowing down on my egg mayonnaise roll and smoothie (£6.48, plus a free apology from the cashier at the ruinous expense), a few yards away from the heap of prostrate bodies on the floor of the amusement arcade, I wondered whether, at that time of the morning, there was any more desolate place to be found in the British Isles. Cheers for that, Prince. Cheers for that, O2.

My final waking thought, as my head hit the pillow at 7:00 am: I am too old for this shit.

I mean to say. A well respected and much admired, nay loved, figure of immense cultural influence, who earned his reputation years ago but who has been coasting ever since, now well past his peak, teasing his remaining supporters with half-shows and no-shows, and arrogantly assuming that they will put up with whatever shit he deigns to throw at them? Whoever heard of such a thing?

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Prince at the O2 Arena: The Great Funk & Soul Swindle, Part One.

It was an ill-starred evening from the off. A section of the southbound M1 was officially closed, with an accident to the north of it causing traffic to crawl for miles before coming to a complete standstill. Fortunately, or so it seemed, we could see the standstill kicking in just beyond the last-but-one junction before the closure, allowing us to leave the motorway in the nick of time.

Less fortunately, the crawl continued, bumper-to-bumper solid, all the way into St. Albans, and through it, and out the other side again. By the time we hit the unexpectedly and blissfully empty M25, we had less than an hour to get from Hertfordshire to the O2 Arena in North Greenwich, in time for the predicted show-time of 20:30. I was already mentally preparing myself for missing the first thirty minutes of Prince's set. Not to worry, though; we also had tickets for the after-show, and so could expect many, many hours of music ahead of us. What was the odd half hour or so? A drop in the ocean.

At 20:25, we screeched into the O2 car park (advance cost: £22.30 including booking fee). By 20:45, we were in our seats, beers in hands. Given that our four-and-a-quarter hour journey had allowed us no time to stop for food, a liquid dinner (plus one banana each, smuggled through security by Dymbel) would have to suffice.

Three minutes later, the show began. Bless him for waiting for us. Our luck was changing. Smiles all round.

Just under two hours later, the band left the stage for the last time. During those two hours, Prince had been absent for the opening number, two lengthy instrumental interludes, two teasingly over-streched intervals between the two encores, and the first number of the first encore: a good 25 minutes, at the most conservative estimate.

Of the 20 songs performed, just 7 of Prince's 37 UK Top Thirty hits were represented: Cream, U Got The Look, Peach, Kiss, Purple Rain, Let's Go Crazy and Take Me With U, plus a spirited version of I Feel For You. Four other numbers were covers, with Prince performing on just one of them: a perfunctory slog through Wild Cherry's Play That Funky Music, for which he forgot nearly all the words.

The sound quality in the O2 Arena was abysmal: booming, sludgy and echo-laden, with a general absence of top-end clarity. However, our seats gave us a good overall view of the stage, which bore the shape of that funny little squiggle from the "Artist Formerly Known As" years. Although billed as an "in the round" show, the main performance area was the extended catwalk formed by the squiggle's downwards arrow, with additional curly runways running off to each side. However, for those of us who were seated at the top of the squiggle - a circular area, with the band seated in the middle - Prince's face-forward appearances were limited, and frustratingly brief. About once every ten or fifteen minutes, he would quickly trot round the uppermost circumference, barely pausing to acknowledge us. No matter; we had an excellent view of the screen, and much better all-round vision than the people down on the main floor. A shame, then, that the spot-lighting was so poorly arranged, with Prince all too often cavorting in near-darkness.

For a large chunk of the audience, getting the beers in seemed to be of equal importance to actually watching the show, with what amounted to a mass exodus during the first and longest of the instrumentals (Maceo Parker from James Brown's old band, parping his way at leisure through a languid and syrupy What A Wonderful World). The people directly behind us swiftly reached the Totally Shitfaced stage, but at least their noisiness was benign. (Elsewhere in the Arena, a spectacularly inebriated woman threw up over the backs of the people in front of her. We wuz lucky.)

Oh, but we mustn't grumble. The show had its moments, and the band were shit-hot - especially the four-piece brass troupe, as led by the aforementioned Mr. Parker, and especially during the set's "funk" section, with Black Sweat and Controversy scaling the very heights of tightness. For the diehard fans, following the seldom heard Joy In Repetition (from Graffiti Bridge) with Parade's Anotherloverholenyohead was altogether A Bit On The Special Side. For the more casual crowd, solid, bankable tracks from Purple Rain dominated the end of the show, and it was fun to hear an updated Kiss: "You don't have to watch Big Brother, to have an attitude..."

Only one track - the straightforward old-school rocker Guitar - was performed from the new album, copies of which were handed out to everyone who entered the arena, just in case our ideological scruples had prevented us from picking it up with the Mail On Sunday a couple of weeks earlier. Hearteningly, it turned out to be one of the strongest and best received performances of the night, already sounding like a bona fide hit in its own right. Saving it up for the last song of the last encore was a bold but justified move.

But oh dear, what a pointless palaver those encores turned out to be. We already knew that on the opening night of his 21-date run, two days earlier, Prince had fooled half the crowd by waiting until the house lights were up and the venue emptying, before dashing back on stage for a seemingly impromptu third encore. So we weren't about to be fooled again. A stand-off ensued, with absolutely no-one budging, even though the house lights had been on for ages. And yes, oh GOODNESS what a shock, back on he bounded, for a repeat version of the same stunt. Which of course meant that we certainly weren't going anywhere after the next exit. After all, there had been three encores on Wednesday, with nearly two and a half hours of playing time, so surely he wasn't going to call it a night after two encores and less than two hours?

No such luck. After another expectant stand-off, during which we noticed our nearest camera operator patiently sitting tight and checking his text messages (so THAT was a sign, right?), a tannoy announcement was made, asking us to clear the venue. Which of course prompted a certain measure of booing. Oops. It was a ragged end to what had sometimes felt like a ragged, under-powered and half-hearted performance. Two dates into the run, wasn't it a little early for Just Another Day At The Office Syndrome to be kicking in?

Despite being urged, via a special reminder e-mail, to "hang out" in the O2 after the show, the crushing reality was that, at a couple of minutes before 11pm, seemingly all of the venue's food and drink outlets were closing for the night. If there was a funky little after-hours joint to be found in this gargantuan, antiseptic Branding Opportunity of a venue, with its faintly menacing air of regimented slickness, then we certainly didn't stumble across it. Back to the car park we trudged, vainly casting around for non-existent burger vans, for the only sit-down we were likely to find between now and the after-show party, queues for which were already stretching far outside the building.

Ah, the after-show party. The anticipatory buzz was palpable, even in these corporate hell-hole surroundings. Prince's after-show sets are the stuff of legend, after all. Our night of mixed fortunes was about to get very special indeed. Of that at least, we had no doubt.

Jump straight to Part Two.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

I've let you down, I've let myself down, I've let the whole blogosphere down.

Well. So much for the brave new "one blog post per day for the whole of August" initiative, which spluttered to a premature halt yesterday, on Day Four.

My excuse? Yesterday was my first day over at the cottage in three weeks, the first decent weather we've had in living memory, and the first chance to get to grips with the unkempt wilderness that PDMG#1 has become since our last visit. Oh, and I hadn't actually gone to bed until 7am on Saturday morning, for reasons that shall be made abundantly clear in my next post, to be titled "Prince at the O2 Arena: The Great Funk And Soul Swindle." All things considered, it just wasn't a day for switching on a laptop. The Germans have a word for it: Hitzefrei. And quite right too.

So, yeah, I owe you one extra post in recompense for my lapse. Consider it banked.

I am writing this from the cottage kitchen, upon our return from an uncommonly agreeable "early doors" at the Hartington Youth Hostel, of all places. No, really, you'd be surprised. Beautiful old Elizabethan manor house, locally brewed beer (I started with the "Hairy Helmet" and progressed to the sublime Hartington IPA), outside seating in the capacious and leafy gardens... a hidden gem, so it was.

The bright pink rose on the boundary wall of PDMG#1 is nothing short of spectacular this year. Here's what it looked like, ten minutes ago.

pink roses

And now, if you'll excuse me, it's al fresco supper time. (Oh dear, when did our meetings become so rushed? It's not you, it's me...)

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

The benefits of being Class Of 2001 Old Skool...

...are that, when you make rash promises about blogging every day for a month, you don't actually have to follow through with beautifully constructed vignettes in a tightly defined Site Style, that will have everyone sighing and cooing and wishing they could nominate you for Post of the Week (for which I'm doing this week's shortlist, so please get over there and nominate).

Oh no. Instead, you can just switch the damned thing on and burble until your time's up. Which, in my case, will be when K gets off the phone to his mum. (He's a dutiful son, and rings her every night. She's a "chatty" sort, and phone calls rarely last less than 20 minutes, bare minimum).

What can I tell you about today? Well, we've landed ourselves another magazine cover story, as the oh-so-aspirational Derbyshire Life has seen fit to lead their August issue with a lengthy article about our village, complete with a photo of the cottage. I'd link, but the "This Month" section of their website is currently displaying a scan of the March issue. Ah, bless.

On the freelance front, I've conducted three interviews this week: one with a local hip-hop label, another with a "turntablist" who records for the same label, and another with the guitarist out of Hard-Fi, whose new album arrived by post at the start of the week. How do you conduct a courteous and respectful interview with someone from a band whom you used to love ("Hard To Beat" was my Fave Single of 2005), but who are just about to release an underwhelming follow-up? Well, I tried to accentuate the positive. Other than that, it looks like I've secured an interview with Andy Bell from Erasure (having talked to Vince Clarke earlier in the year), but wasn't quick enough off the mark to bag the Super Furry Animals. You win some, you lose some.

K and his mum are still nattering, and I'm stalling. Ooh, tell you what right: BT have been giving us the runaround summat shocking. We've been trying to order BT Vision at both addresses, but they've not only accidentally cancelled both orders - they have also posted us fifty, yes that's right, FIFTY, bills to the cottage, on the same day, in separate envelopes, only to have them intercepted by K's mum and returned straight to the postman. What kind of madness is that?

I just heard a click downstairs. Either she's on one of her longer monologues, or they're all done and dusted. So I'll be off, then. But before I go, a big shout-out to z of Razor-blade of Life, who has promised to match my one-post-per-day with one-comment-per-day. Do feel free to play along, won't you?

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like there's nobody watching. And blog like you can't be arsed.

Oh, it's YOU. Hello, you!

It's been Can't Be Arsed Theme Week, here in Trodiland. Not so much at work (that's actually been quite fun this week, mainly because I have been assigned a task that people actually Care About, with a deadline that Actually Matters, with a difficulty level that's Stretching But Not Impossible), but my downtime has been just that for once. No commitments. No diary dates. No freelance assignments (ah, the good old Music Biz Summer Lull). And, what with K gadding about the US all week (contemporary art in the Catskill Mountains, TV interview in Pittsburgh, watching Little Feat in Missouri, the Richard Serra exhibition at MoMA in NYC), I've been all on my ownsome, and, well, lovehimtobitsandallthat, but it's been NICE. A rest is as good as a change.

Telly. Pooter. Doing some mix CDs for this weekend's Big Fat Civil Partnership Engagement Party in Clapham. Preparing mentally for predicted excesses of said forthcoming weekend. Recovering from predictable excesses of the last weekend, spent visiting Alan "Won A Blogging Award, Can No Longer Be Arsed" Reluctant-Nomad in Amsterdam.

Ey, it were great in Amsterdam. Bar crawling on the Friday, ending up down the Cockring, as you do. I've changed my mind about that place. Sure, you get a lot of drunk desperate people, stumbling around upstairs in the Last Chance Saloon - but down in the clubby bit in the basement, the vibe is relaxed and friendly. Stripped down funky tribal house, with warm, throbbing basslines and no cheesy breakdowns. Kinda womb-like. On an even level.

My New Best Friends were from Eindhoven and Leicestershire. Mr Eindhoven was all Boggle Eyed Thumbs Aloft Wa-hey, so I assumed heavy pill-age. Not so, not so. Somewhat unecessarily, Mr Leicestershire warned me about his rampant sluttishness. "That's cool!" I reassured him. "I am taking it for what it is!" I do so love flirting, when there's no question of a sticky follow-through. You know where you are. It's a kicky little ego-tickle, and sometimes that's all you need.

Over to my right, a blandly handsome and very drunk young man in a sewn-on singlet was not taking Alan's No for an answer. (It might have been a Maybe, until certain rather outré, not to say messy, sexual suggestions were hissed in his ear.)

Opting to beat the 5am rush, we stumbled home, Alan once again displaying a quite astonishing lack of direction. How many months has he been there now?

Saturday shopping was quite mass market, by my foofy standards. A short sleeved check shirt from Dockers, and a slight variation on the same theme from H&M. Hell, I know my range. People of a certain age do tend to restrict themselves to the outfits that they wore in their heyday, and I seem to be no exception. Gorgeous, gorgeous Diesel jeans, just the business for that night's Big Gay Circuit Party at the Odeon.

Dinner with my new desk neighbour E, also visiting for the weekend. She and I had hatched a plan to introduce our respective ex-pat Britgay friends, and it all seemed to work rather well. We were also joined at the dinner table by a couple of charming heterosexual pornographers, who run their own special-interest website (caveat clickor).

"And do you... sometimes... er, possibly... appear in front of the camera?", I asked the female half of the couple, a petite Thai lady, choosing my words carefully.

"Of course I do! Well, come on, look at these!"

Goodness, I had quite failed to spot the capacious boobage below. Quelle faux pas! She seemed almost affronted.

(Etiquette tip: when meeting lady pornographers, a suitable compliment upon "the rack" is considered de rigeur.)

(Remember when One Track outed me as a knocker clocker? Perhaps I've been trying a little too hard to mend my ways. You can't win, can you?)

The Big Gay Circuit Party was agreeable, if initially a little up its own arse. But then Amsterdam doesn't have any regular major gay dance clubs, so there was bound to be a certain over-awed sense of occasion. Things loosened up nicely, though, despite a dodgy "retro hour" of the sort of horrible late 1990s/early 2000s trance which sent me scuttling off to the sanctuary of rural Derbyshire in the first place. And we did like the go-go dancers, led as they were by a middle-aged, barrel-chested, overweight Grotesque, be-wigged and be-horned, who revelled in a kind of imperiously sinister auto-eroticism throughout. As if to say: I Am Your Future, Circuit Boys, and I Care Not One Flying F**k What You Think. A neat and necessary little subversion of the proceedings, so it was.

Our new ex-pat Britgay chum danced "ironically", on a raised step, going through every move in the handbook. He's big - nay, evangelical - on something called Neurobics, which involves stimulating the brain cells by peforming everyday tasks in unexpected ways. Getting dressed with your eyes shut, that kind of thing. We tried Neurobic dancing, me pump-it-pump-it-pumping with my left fist instead of my right. Hmm, still not convinced. Alan and I beat the 5am rush again, and got drenched to the skin for our trouble. Yes, they've got the rain over there as well.

Sunday was spent in Smart Café Recovery Mode, firstly with Caroline (celebrating an impending change of job), and secondly with Non-Workingmonkey, with whom I conducted the official Post Of The Week Exit Interview (N-WM was one of our regular judges for a while). N-WM has been flat-sitting for friends, in The Most Gorgeous Canalside Apartment That One Could Possibly Wish For. It's going up for sale soon, and Alan's looking to buy. Ooh, serendipity. Contact details were duly exchanged. I am going to be staying there next time. No, I think you'll find I am, actually.

It's Nottingham Pride tomorrow. There was a preview piece in t'local paper today, liberally furnished with quotes from myself, but it's not online and I didn't write it, so you'll have to manage without. (It was basically an edited remix of this old post, which basically says it all.) I won't be attending (Clapham, remember), but you should. It'll be fabulous! We've got Bananarama and everything!

Right, that's your hour's worth. Beer time. Also, Boots "Shapers" Salad Time. (I've been losing weight for the London boys, and dipped under 11 stone for the first time ever yesterday morning. Major milestone.) Is it Big Brother yet? Busy busy!

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Michael’s Big Day With The “Creatives”.

Life in a medium-sized city does have distinct advantages. “Large enough to be interesting, small enough to be friendly”, that’s what I always say. And so, when some bright sparks suggested arranging a photo-shoot in the Market Square for all of Nottingham’s “creative” types (writers, artists, musicians, designers, and yea, even unto can-we-say-humble bloggers), word was bound to get through.

All togged up in the nice smart Gieves & Hawkes jacket that I wore to the Lowdham Book Festival, I toddled along to the square just in time to squeeze myself into the back of the shots. Within seconds I found Dymbel, who was soon introducing me (as “blogger extraordinaire”, gawd bless him) to various authentically rumpled, literary-looking types. (Those crisp, tailored lines were such a giveaway.)

“Hello, I’m Mike! I’m an integral part of the mass amateurisation and dumbing down of culture, which threatens to obliterate the last shreds of respect for an intellectual elite! And you are....?”

Well, I could have said that. You know, all waspish-like, for laffs. But instead I came over all Aaargh This Is A Networking Opportunity I Cannot Cope, and fled back to the sanctuary of the office.

First thing I did: Google for the guy that Dymbel first introduced me to. (“You must know each other. No? Well, maybe you move in different worlds.”) Oh crap, he was only one of the most senior and well-respected members of the Nottingham literary community. And I’d just shaken my head and blinked. Well, he hadn’t heard of me either. Cuts both ways, dunnit?

An hour or so later, loins duly girded and best face forward, I was over at the Broadway Cinema for the official post-shoot canapé-and-fizz bash, getting there just in time for the last few seconds of the last speech. Basically, this was a launch event for something called the Nottingham Creative Business Awards 2007, which you can read all about over here. All neurotic passive-aggressive snark aside, I wish it well.

Before long, I found myself talking to a couple of published writers: Clare Brown (who doesn’t have a blog) and Nicola Monaghan (who has two: a fiction blog and a “creative process” blog). Naturally, both conversations homed in on the bloggers-with-book-deals phenomenon, the are-blogs-for-writers-a-help-or-hindrance question, and so forth and suchlike. Most enjoyable.

While Nicola clued me up on the Bookarazzi website, another resource for bloggers with book deals, a familiar face sat down opposite. “Just relax”, he said, pulling out his pad and pen.



This wasn’t the first time that Brick had drawn a caricature of me – his splendid James Gillray pastiche (“All Broad Street trembled as he strode”), as commissioned by Dymbel and Dymbellina for my fortieth birthday, still enjoys pride of place in the cottage – but it was the first time that he, or indeed anyone else, had done so impromptu.

If you’re one of those people who comes over all self-conscious and coy whenever a camera lens is wafted in their general direction, then imagine having that feeling extended for ten minutes or so, while you try and make interesting conversation with nice bright creative types at a Networking Opportunity, with blues music blaring into your left eardrum, just loud enough to block out what was being said diagonally opposite. But I coped, really I did, maintaining both my posture (ooh, three-quarter face on the left hand side, the best angle!) and my brightest, most engaged smile.



An hour or so later, and we were on the top floor of Waterstone’s, awaiting the arrival of Armistead Maupin.

“Look at my new digi-dictaphone!”, I chirped to Dymbel and Dymbellina. “I hope it can pick him up from this distance.”

“Er, Mike, you do know that you’re not supposed to quote writers without their express permission? It’s not exactly ethical.”

I instantly rouged up. Call me naïve, but surely public events like these were, by their very definition, on the record? Evidently not. Well, too late to go asking around at the eleventh hour. I’d make the recording anyway, and then have a word at the signing session after the talk.

As expected, Armistead Maupin was pure delight from start to finish. (The article appears in the Evening Post on Friday, and on t’blog soon after that.) As the final applause died away, the woman to my right leant over. I’d noticed her looking over a few times, and had assumed that she was glaring at the digi-dictaphone, not so subtly wedged between my Pradas.

But no. This was K, a fellow German graduate of the class of 1985, whom I hadn’t seen for over twenty years – even longer than Armistead, come to think of it. With so much to catch up on, I didn’t make my way to the signing queue until perilously late in the day.

When Mike Met Armistead, then. It wasn’t quite the communion of souls that I’d hoped for. By this stage, over a hundred eager punters down, the great man was clearly flagging, and unmaskably disengaged from his immediate surroundings. I tried, of course – and in giving me his permission to quote him directly for the article, he was the very model of graciousness. Signatures were procured, for me and for sadly absent “fag-hag extraordinaire” MissMish (her suggestion, his dedication).

Ah, the creative life, how it takes its toll. The article took three hours, the recording just the right side of audible, the copy filed just before 1:00 a.m. Bloody difficult, but enormous fun. And I’m not complaining neither. It's turning out to be quite a week...

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Lowdham Book Festival blog-talk: supplementary links.

Mike at the Lowdham Book Festival

Yesterday's little blog talk went just fine, thanks for asking. It was a modest turn-out, but certainly enough to make the event worthwhile, and thanks are due to my hometown posse (including JP, MissMish, Rullsenberg and Cloud) for turning up, lending support, and pouring ale down my neck in the pub over the road afterwards.

However, being my own harshest critic and all and all, my immediate post-talk thought was annoyance that I hadn't managed to squeeze all my material into the allotted 45 minutes. As it was, I spent too long on the first half (essentially a 2007 remix of the talk I gave at Broadway Cinema a while back), and ran out of time to get stuck into the all-new second half, thus spluttering to a rather abrupt halt. Which was a shame, as the second half was all about bloggers and book deals, and the differences between blog writing and novel writing, and I'd spent a long time researching and assembling the material. In fact, it was the second half which I was looking forward to the most. Lesson learnt: do a timed run-through in advance, and chop your material accordingly. (I did this last time, but got a wee bit too complacent this time.)

That said, the talk went well, and I managed to strike the right balance between scripted and off-the-cuff material. It would also have been fun to have extended the Q&A session at the end, which did give me the chance to shoe-horn a couple of sections from the overly abridged second half. And it was good to meet Sally Morten (one of the Shaggy Blog Stories contributors), as well as a previously unknown regular reader (who asked me some rather penetrating questions about blog stalkers, before re-assuring me that his presence at tomorrow night's Ted Leo & The Pharmacists gig didn't mean that he was one of them, ahahaha, dear me no, thanks for reading, see you at the gig).

I left Lowdham with a very strong urge to do this sort of thing on a more regular basis, preferably with at least a 60 minute timeslot. So, readers, if you're hiring, then I'm ready, willing and able...



Anyhoo, since I promised to do this yesterday... for the benefit of those who turned up, here's a quick link-list of various points arising.

· Technorati: The State of the Live Web, April 2007.
· The "Online Disinhibition Effect".
· Heather Armstrong on being "Dooced".
· The Bloggies: 2007 Weblog Awards.
· Bloglines: personalised site feed aggregator.
· Hallam Foe: official blog for the forthcoming movie, which received a special preview screening for bloggers last month.
· Belle De Jour - the first UK blog-to-book success story.
· Girl With A One-Track Mind and Petite Anglaise - bloggers turned writers, whose stories both made international headlines in 2006.
· E-mail from Nicholas Hellen of the Sunday Times to Abby Lee (Girl With A One Track Mind).
· Random Acts Of Reality: ambulance worker's blog, now available in book form.
· The Policeman's Blog - another "job blog", now available in book form.
· Wife In The North: offered a £70k book deal less than 6 weeks after starting her blog. (News story in The Times, February 2007.)
· The Friday Project: independent publishers who specialise in the blog-to-book market.
· Lulu.com: self-publishing service.
· The 2007 Lulu Blooker Prize: literary prize for blogs-to-books, aka "blooks".
· Shaggy Blog Stories: self-published UK blogging anthology, conceived and executed in seven days, to raise money for Comic Relief.
· Post of the Week: set up by myself and others, in order to promote great writing on personal blogs.
· Felicity Lowde sentenced to six months' imprisonment for online harrassment of blogger Rachel North: BBC news story; Times news story; Rachel North's reaction; interesting background article on Lowde and "Narcissistic Personality Disorder".
· Blogger.com: allows you to set up your own blog in minutes, at no cost and with no technical know-how.

Mike at the Lowdham Book Festival

See also: Lisa Rullsenberg's and Sally Morten's write-ups of the event.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

The news in "brief". At least, that was the intention.

BING-BONG!

After just over twelve years of so-called “casual” smoking (for which I have my mid-1990s hardcore clubbing phase to blame, ecstasy having turned out to be my gateway drug to nicotine), I stubbed out my final cigarette on Wednesday May 23, just before midnight. Interestingly, and I have to say surprisingly, I could barely wait to finish the godawful stinky thing – despite having smoked my penultimate cigarette with more or less total equanimity, mere minutes earlier.

That, my friends, is the genius of Alan Carr, whose “Easy Way To Stop Smoking” book comes heartily recommended. His is the first (and hopefully the only) self-help book that I have ever read, and it is quite unquestionably the worst written and most annoyingly repetitive book I have ever read – but nobody said that medicine had to taste nice, and its overriding virtue is that, bugger me sideways with a Camberwell Carrot, IT WORKS.

Sure, the actual “method” itself could be condensed onto three pages – and in large type at that – and you do find yourself wondering when Carr is going to stop droning on and Get To The Bloody Point Already, but the ground has to be prepared for the subtle but significant cognitive shift which you will be performing upon yourself, and there simply isn’t a shortcut.

If the likes of Alcoholics Anonymous insist that their members accept the existence of a so-called “higher power”, into which they must place their trust, then the same holds true with the “Easy Way” method – except that in this case, the “higher power” in question is Mr. Carr himself. It is my hunch that people who fail to stop smoking after reading his book do so because they have failed to take this initial leap of faith, clinging onto the belief that they are uniquely different in some way that he has failed to address. In this respect, some degree of humility is called for. Perhaps that’s the book’s greatest demand of all.

The most remarkable discovery which I have made – and until completing Carr’s instructions, I never believed it possible – is that deciding never to smoke another cigarette again, and sticking to that decision, is an absolute walk in the park. Honestly, it’s a doddle. The addiction under which I suffered turns out be more of a psychological than a physical one, and once its psychological aspects have been exposed and blown out of the water, then its physical aspects present only the most minor of challenges. Sure, there’s the occasional twinge – but these are invariably momentary, and swiftly dealt with.

Perhaps the course of cognitive behavioural therapy which I took some eighteen months ago helped pave the way – for there are certain aspects of the Carr method which seem markedly similar to CBT techniques. Well, whatever. All I know for certain is that I’ll never spark up another fag again, and that feels f**king fantastic.

My thanks once again to darling Peter at Naked Blog for turning me onto the Carr method in the first place.

(Oh, and if you’re wondering whether there was any significance attached to the date on which I chose to give up, then here’s your answer. Let’s just say that it seemed like a highly appropriate occasion upon which to stop killing myself.)

BING-BONG!

PDMG2 (the Nottingham version) has been planted (by one of the gold award winners at this year’s Chelsea flower show, as we were more than a little thrilled to discover), and is already looking delightful, despite being little more than a collection of differently shaped leaves separated by large expanses of soil, brick and stone. With PDMG1 reaching full maturity in its fifth summer, we can now look forward to the same pattern of steady growth repeating itself in a new location.

PDMG2

BING-BONG!

After many long months of snail-like progress (and they told us it was going to be a quick in-and-out job, HAH), the Nottingham kitchen has finally been finished. (Apart from the new light fittings, and a replacement for the over-large dining table, but those are but mere trifles.) It’s been a while since we dabbled with the nightmare world of the mid-range mass market design solution, but the budget was tight and we were determined to stick to it. Oh, the frugality! There is hope for us all.

PDMG2

In the final analysis, and despite all the buckets of shit which their various logistical cock-ups threw at us along the way, MFI (yes, you read me right) actually provided us with a smart, attractive and well-designed set of units, which make far better use of the limited space. Decent products, shite service, but all matters satisfactorily resolved in the fullness of time. (We even managed to get a free top-of-the-range washing machine out of them. Long boring story, but a tribute to K’s negotiation skills, his saint-like patience, and his disarming capacity for charm.) You gets what you pays for, basically.

PDMG2

BING-BONG!

As even the least observant of you will have spotted by now, this blog has now become Flickr-enabled, thanks to the Sony DSLR camera which I gave K for his birthday, right at the start of last week’s holiday in Derbyshire. As it’s fully compatible with his existing collection of pre-digital Minolta lenses and filters, he has been having lots of fun experimenting with techniques, and seeing what can and can’t be done.

Consequently – and not entirely without a degree of self-interest, as this blog has always been somewhat lacking in original photographic material, and it’s good to be able to bring his skills on board – I spent much of last week working as K’s picture editor: downloading, rotating, re-sizing, advising on what to keep and what to chuck, suggesting new ideas for shots, and doing all the uploading to Flickr. Well, what else is there to do on a rainy day, when you haven’t brought any books and your partner refuses to play board games? (As far as I’m concerned, this latter is our most glaring and troublesome incompatibility as a couple.)

So, from now on, TD will be more of a team effort than before. I do words, he does pictures. This is what we call “synergy”.

BING-BONG!

The holiday, yes. Chiefly characterised by hour upon hour of sodding rain, interspersed by brief breaks in the weather during which K would eagerly scamper into PDMG1, in pursuit of yet more “raindrops glistening upon new growth” macro shots.

PDMG2

Also characterised by a succession of house guests – both family and friends alike – and finishing with a visit by Dymbel and Dymbellina, who walked with us to The Gate in Brassington for Sunday lunch...

BING-BONG!

...which turned out to be my last square meal until Wednesday evening, thanks to a dodgy prawn in my baguette which wreaked its hideous revenge over the course of Monday and Tuesday. The positive spin: at least this gave me an unexpected extension to the holiday, even if much of it was spent in a horizontal position (amongst others more distressing to mention).

BING-BONG!

And finally: a plug, a moan and a thank you.

The plug is for my forthcoming talk at the Lowdham book festival at the end of the month, in which I shall attempt to yak on about blogging for thirty-five minutes or so, with particular reference to Shaggy Blog Stories and the whole “bloggers with book deals” phenomenon. (Dontcha just love the bit in the blurb which says “How come they get them but I don’t?” Like I’d know the answer to that one...)

There will then be a question-and-answer session, and possibly an opportunity to purchase a signed copy of the book (should you not already have one, by some strange twist of fate). Entrance is free, and it’s a lunchtime gig, giving you the rest of the afternoon to pootle around what I am reliably told is a damned good book festival. (Blake Morrison! Rosie Boycott! Simon Hoggart! KIKI BLOODY DEE, sweetie! And ME!)

The moan is at you miserable lot, for failing to shell out two measly quid for the Shaggy Blog Podcast. Wanna know how many we’ve sold so far? A pathetic SEVEN copies, that’s how many. Come on, readers! Hands in pockets! Dig deep!

The thank you goes out to those of you who were nice enough to vote for Troubled Diva in the "Best Personal Weblog" category at the Third Annual Satin Pajama Awards... in which I am proud to report that we finished in joint last place, with 2% of the vote. Congratulations to Petite Anglaise, who romped home in pole position.



Coming up tomorrow: a Freelance Friday with a difference, as Troubled Diva proudly presents an exclusive interview with Marc Almond.

(Apart from the bit that’s going in t’local paper, but that’s only a fraction of the finished article. Let's just say that I was lucky enough to catch Marc in an expansive frame of mind.)

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

"Maybe tomorrow, maybe some day..."

During the past few weeks, I have been struggling to complete what must be the most boring work assignment that I have ever been given. It’s a massive documentation exercise, which involves picking my way through over ten thousand lines of COBOL code, and it requires copious and sustained usage of the search, copy and paste functions. The level of creative thought involved is minimal, and is generally confined to finding the most efficient ways of crunching the data, with the minimum keystrokes. And yet, for all the dumbness inherent in the exercise, it has also proved to be a huge personal challenge.

The biggest difficulty for me is sustaining concentration. The work is so brain-numbing that I find myself unable to stick at it for much longer than twenty minutes at a time without being driven to distraction (and you can probably guess the nature of the distractions). Music helps, of course – particularly uptempo, optimistic and strongly rhythmic music, and particularly when I can get the tempo of the music to match the tempo of my copy-pasting. The cupboards have been duly raided for “banging” DJ-mixed CDs from the 1990s, most of which have been languishing unplayed for the best part of a decade: Pete Tong’s Essential Selection, Danny Rampling’s Lovegroove Dance Party, Fantazia’s Restrospective Of House, and the occasional Orbital CD for relaxation. If you lay music down for long enough, it’s remarkable how it refreshes itself.

Nevertheless, this exercise is in danger of killing off more brain cells than my 1990s hardcore clubbing phase ever did. Which is another reason for the paucity of updates on this blog, and another reason for the continued delay of The Great Troubled Diva Meditation On Class.

I have paced around the perimeters of this vast subject for days now, staring up at it and looking for a convenient way in. Since no suitable entrance point has been forthcoming, I am left with no option other than to charge blindly in, and to let the words steer their own course. F**k it. It’s a blog. Directionless busking is what we do.

*pause*

*writes a couple of sentences*

*deletes them*

*stares into space*

*checks Bloglines for updates*

*cleans the kitchen*

*returns to laptop*

*re-opens MS Word*

*stares at screen*

*sighs*

*says yes to a sandwich*

*decides to do what he’s best at: copying and pasting*

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sunshine, balance, lurrve.

Sunday night, Derbyshire.

K, getting into bed: I don't think I like the tone of your latest Twitter.

Mike: What, because you were away for most of it? But darling, your return was the shattering climax to the whole weekend! The cherry on top of the cake!

K: God, you're good at thinking on your feet...

Mike: That's not fair! I thought it up five minutes ago, doing my teeth. I knew you'd sneak a peek on your way up...

K: Hahahaha!

M: Hahahaha!



Friday evening, Nottingham.

With K away at a Vet Fest in Brum, the city's nightlife is mine for the plucking. Why, I could go anywhere.

So, the Lord Roberts then.

I'm trying out my new(ish) vari-focal contact lenses again, for the first time in several weeks, because I'll be damned if anyone's going to see me in a gay pub on a Friday night with specs on. I don't like this slow drift towards becoming a full time specs wearer, even though these are the best pair of specs I've ever owned. Not that I have any aesthetic objection towards full-time specs wearers per se - reader, I married one - but unlike my fragrant Civil Partner, my specs are not a fundamental part of who I am. Quite the reverse, in fact. And in any case, I'd quite like to be in with a theoretical chance of being cruised. Even if only for a split second: ooh he's nice, whoops, bit older than I thought. Yes, that would do me for the evening. Simple needs. Unchained from that particular lunatic a good few years ago. (*)

Trouble is, these lenses have half-blinded me. The gas lamps in The Park were the trippiest; great whooshing coronas flickering all around, like rushing on a pill, sans the anxiety attacks. In the pub, I can barely see JP's mouth across the table. He's a fast talker, and I'm struggling with ambient noise, and my ears must be due a sluicing anyway. I didn't realise how much I'd been relying on lip-reading. Half-blind, half-deaf, and for all I know I could be the Hottest Stud in the pub, except how would I know a thing like that in my condition?

I settle for being the Enigmatic Stud in the corner who never returns glances.

Not that I'm in the right place for that kind of caper. As a gay venue, the Lord Roberts has possibly the most de-sexualised atmosphere of any bar I've ever visited, in over 25 years of Outness and Proudness (excepting maybe the Retro Bar in London). That's a large part of why I like it here. You can come down with your mates, get a decent pint of bitter (I know!), grab a table and settle down for an extended natter, and all without any of that ghastly business whereby everyone keeps glancing distractedly over your shoulder while you're talking to them. Soft lighting, comfy chairs, traditional theatre-pub decor, no belting club music, no selfish superficial arseholes... how many other British cities are blessed with a gay venue like this one? We take it for granted, but we're lucky to have it.



Friday night/Saturday morning, Nottingham.

(*) Believe that, and you'll believe anything. Dot. Dot. Dot.



Saturday afternoon, Derbyshire.

This is the first time I've ever taken a taxi from Derby station to the cottage, and on this hot, sunny, glorious day, I'm enjoying the raised view that the Hackney carriage seating affords, adding extra detail to the familiar journey. As the bulky vehicle pushes further into the countryside, leaving its familiar city-suburb-city routes ever further behind, and looking ever more incongruous with its surroundings, so my awareness of jumping between two worlds is similarly heightened.

Past Kedleston: hotel, golf club, National Trust hall, and that fine old red brick wall which even now refuses to yield what lies inside. Through the bland commuter village of Weston Underwood; through Mugginton - Lane End, with its perplexing, mildly irksome free-floating hyphen and its closed-for-refurb pub with the Oo-er Missus name; left at Hulland Ward, gateway to the Peak park; right towards the ersatz Countryside Leisure Experience that is the Carsington Water reservoir (a useful trap for the Derby day-trippers, plodding dutifully in their hundreds along its featureless banks); a wiggle and a twist, and aah, here's where we start, on the approach to Bradbourne, as the landscape closes in around us on the narrowing lane with its treacherous bends, and the green becomes greener, and the hills steeper, and the valleys deeper, and the blossom whiter, and the lambs friskier (mmm, locally sourced shanks from the White Peak butcher!), and here's the church where Alan Bates is buried, and it's not far to go now as the road descends and the home valley opens up ahead, offering the first faint glimpses of the village, and is the cab driver enjoying this as much as I am, thirty minutes outside the city, not a clue where he is, but what a perfect afternoon for a mystery tour, and here we are at last, thirty quid and five for your trouble, you're best off heading back towards the A515 and straight through Ashbourne, ah you know it from there do you, good stuff...

...and the garden looks a picture. Best year yet. We're beginning to know what we're doing at last, we started preparing in good time, and as it enters its fourth year, the planting is coming to maturity. The mulch is down; the roses are pruned, trained and sprayed; the bare patches on the corners of the lawns are filling in; the hardy geraniums are creeping through the circular grid supports; the smaller daffs are still in full bloom; the first of the tulips are popping out; the hot reds, dusty purples and dusky pinks dotted down one side are melding together and making sense; and for now, there's nothing to do except pull out a chair and relax, letting it all get on with the simple process of growing.

So glad I came. Even as recently as a year ago, I wouldn't have bothered, seizing my chance for two nights on the razz in preference to all of this wonder and delight. Our pride and our joy, truly.

Tune out, switch off, settle down.

I don't even bother rigging up the laptop.

Post-jadedness ensues.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

When Twitter is your only friend: a txt-based essay in desolation and despair.

Messages texted to Twitter between 1900 and 2120 last night:



Back in nottingham for tonight's sugababes show.



Walking past beverley knight's performance in the new market square. Damn, that girl can sing...



My plus one appears to be a no show. His loss!



Having a moment of existential alienation in the half empty cheap seats. How dare they? Sharpening my blackest pencil. Also, cold.



Have just discovered that there's another support act to endure after this one. Kill. Me. Now. I could still be in derbyshire, dammit...



They've locked the outside smoking area, and aren't allowing pass outs. Bastards! Bang goes my one chance of fleeting pleasure...



Existential alienation swiftly converting to a generalised misanthropic loathing. I had more fun running for the train at derby station.



Anyway, where are the gays? I see no gays. They're probably half a mile away, down the front, in the good seats.



I have seen a gay! He is wearing a sparkly silver cowboy hat and is waving glow sticks. I feel a warm surge of kinship.



Oh. The "gay" is actually a glow stick seller, working the pre teen market. I feel a cold twist of betrayal.



Woo! It's sugababes time at long bloody last! I shall shut up now. Thank you for "being there" for me during this time of trial.



...and here's my decidedly sour review, which originally appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post.

The Sugababes – Nottingham Arena, Sunday April 1.

With sixteen Top 20 hits under their belts over the past seven years, including five Number Ones, The Sugababes can lay claim to being Britain’s most successful girl group since the Spice Girls. To mark this, their first arena tour has been billed as a Greatest Hits show, and thus a celebration of their achievements to date.

After a long wait, and just as the audience’s patience was wearing thin, the girls finally took to the stage at 9.20, and proceeded to rattle off nineteen numbers in just over an hour and twenty minutes – a bare minimum of performance time for a show of this scale. Backed by a simple four piece band, and surrounded by a barrage of wonderfully stylish computer-generated light patterns, they quickly proved themselves as confident, powerful live singers.

That said, there was little of interest in the vocal arrangements, which stuck fairly rigidly to the melodies, leaving little scope for creative flair. Although the three voices meshed together well, the three personalities behind the voices seemed oddly detached throughout. For a girl group to succeed on stage, there needs to be some sense of a team spirit – that this is a gang of best friends, who stick together and support each other. Bananarama and The Spice Girls had it; Girls Aloud have it in spades; but The Sugababes seemed all but strangers to each other, occupying their own separate spaces, and barely acknowledging each others’ presence.

As the sole remaining original member, Keisha seemed very much the leader of the group, with the strongest vocal presence. Balancing her aloof attitude, Heidi was all smiles throughout, while “new girl” Amelle stayed mostly in the background, never stealing the limelight, knowing her place.

Only during a stripped-down Ugly did anything resembling true passion bubble to the surface. The rest was competent, professional, but disappointingly sterile.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

He is oh, oh, ohhhhhh....

Towards the end of yesterday's Official Office Night Out, my esteemed colleague and newly acquired desk-neighbour JP (page 54) told me his full job title: the frightfully butch-sounding Information Security Compliance Officer.

I so want to be his Deputy. Just for the kicky little acronym.

You'll have that going round your head for the rest of the day, you know.
Well, I don't see why I should suffer alone.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Fragblog.

Following an extended weekend of punishing physical exertion, I seem to be struck down by a severe case of Can't Be Arsed-itis. Therefore, I shall be blogging in fragments.



K was working from home for most of yesterday, which afforded me a brief glimpse into the maelstrom of his professional life.

Firstly: his phone goes off ALL THE TIME. It's a minor miracle if he even makes it as far as the loo. More often than not, he'll be halfway up the stairs before being twanged back into the room, as if attached to an invisible elastic leash.

Secondly: he habitually ends phone conversations with his colleagues in the style of a husky Southern Belle. ("Baa-ah!") Given that he's not a particularly camp man, I find myself somewhat startled by this periodic transformation into Jerry Hall. Where did it come from? Are they all doing it too?



Mulching. Such a nice, cosy, middle-class, Friday-night-on-BBC2, Monty-Don-in-The-Observer kind of word. When actually, it's muck spreading. And I f**king hate it. I was not put on this earth to fling filth at Spring Growth. All the Crabtree & Evelyn Gardeners Hand Scrub in the world ain't gonna fix these grime-encrusted pinkies.



Since stumbling across it in Bob's Shaggy Dog Stories piece, I have developed a growing obsession with the word "kicky". Particularly when used in conjunction with the word "outfit".

Thus, while pruning the roses yesterday morning, and in place of the usual random selections from my well-stocked mental jukebox, the phrase "kicky little outfit" kept running through my head, like some sort of nelly mantra. I became really quite tormented. As if the pruning wasn't bad enough.

(I was tackling my old nemesis: the sprawling, vicious rambler on the wattle hurdles, which doesn't yield without a struggle. You could hear the Yaroohs and the Yowch You Little F**kers all the way up the lane.)



Following the debacle of the collapsed ceiling, the cottage has been equipped with an array of great big f**k-off de-humidifiers, which have to be left running for at least eight hours a day. My dears, the hum is simply deafening. I tried to cover it with the forthcoming Maria McKee album (sent to me by her PR people in advance of a "phoner", as we professionals call it), but K's yelps of objection effectively drowned out all of them. She's a bit histrionic for his tastes.

(Good album, though. I'm quite pleasantly surprised.)



And then the dishwasher sprang a leak. All through the cupboard under the Belfast sink, and out over the York Stone floor. A couple of minutes later, and the hand-woven "Boujad" carpet that we brought back from Marrakech would have been a total write-off. As it is, a soggy-bottomed box of Ariel has left ink stains on the elm worktop. Sanding is our only option.

(Note the transparently insincere use of the word "our". I can hear K's snorts from here.)

To think we once graced the cover of Period Living! How that photo-shoot comes back to mock us! Oh, the hubris!



On arriving at The Cottage Beautiful on Friday evening, I was fully expecting to find one hundred envelopes waiting for me on the doormat, containing one hundred signed sticky labels from the one hundred contributors to Shaggy Dog Stories. Frankly, it would have been a comfort during this trying time, and the prospect of spending an agreeable evening attaching each sticker to its relevant entry filled me with warm anticipation.

Do you want to know how many envelopes had actually arrived? Can you even hazard a guess?

Thirty-six.

This is where I am forced to wag a school-marmish finger at the Internet. Success doesn't come without responsibilities, you know. I'll bet that the two hundred unfortunate souls who didn't make the book would have had their stickers in the post straight away. So think on.

As for the sixty-three of you who "haven't quite got around to it yet", I have a good mind to stick you all under a "hilarious" Gunge Tank, in front of a video montage of weeping children, set to a soundtrack of something "poignant" by Keane. That'll learn you.



And finally, a Troubled Diva Product Placement, totally gratis and uncalled for, because - like Joanna Lumley in the old soap adverts - I simply believe in the product. Indeed, you'll find me quite passionate about it.

Montezuma's Chocolate. Best. Chocolate. Ever.

Free samples would be nice, though. Contact details are at the top of the page, on the right hand side. Or would rival chocolatiers care to try and convince me otherwise? My loyalties are easily bought.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Inland Empire.

Yesterday, I attended a morning press screening of the forthcoming David Lynch movie, Inland Empire. An extravagant use of my precious annual leave entitlement, I grant you – but then I’m not often invited to these things, and it sounded like a fun little experience to tick off the list.

Although I make a point of never reading film reviews, in case they reveal more than I need to know, I was aware that Inland Empire is three hours long, complex, and plotless. I decided to take this as a challenge.

(Sitting on my own, in silence, for three uninterrupted hours, trying to concentrate on something impossibly complicated, without really having a clue as to what’s going on? Hmm, sounds familiar. Talk about taking a busman’s holiday.)

The film started with a few disconnected scenes, high on surrealism but low on tangible meaning. A needle on a scratchy record. A hooker and a john in a hotel room, their heads smudged out, speaking in an Eastern European tongue. A family of three, with rabbit heads, speaking in non-sequiturs, with an audience laughter track. That sort of thing.

This was all fine. The scenes were slow-moving, and I was primed for weirdness, and so I purposefully committed all the details to memory, for future reference. Weird bits at the beginning have a habit of making retrospective sense, don’t they?

And then, lo and behold, a story started developing. An odd story, to be sure – but rooted in narrative logic, and with properly drawn characters, and an absolute doddle to follow.

The story was about a successful movie actress (played by Laura Dern) being offered a lead role in a movie, and commencing rehearsals, and of an ambiguous relationship developing between her and her male co-lead. There was a supernatural mystery/suspense element, and some nice interplay between the outer story and the plot of the film-within-the-film. This being David Lynch, there was also a vague sense of looming peril. It was all rather enjoyable. Jeremy Irons was in it. Harry Dean Stanton played an amusing cameo role. William H. Macy made a fleeting appearance. There were even a couple of scenes where I was able to successfully predict what was about to happen.

At around the thirty or forty minute mark, I had a flash of insight, as the inevitable arc of the story suddenly became clear. This was followed by a stab of disappointment. Two and a half hours to go, and I basically knew what was going to happen, and why. How on earth were they going to fill the time?

Minutes later, the chaos kicked in, as Laura Dern’s character began to wander between different realities, with ever-decreasing connecting logic. Locations and time scales dissolved. Dern’s personal circumstances altered, as did her mannerisms, and indeed her whole character. Certain familiar faces re-appeared, in varying guises (but not Irons, or Stanton, or Macy, all of whom disappeared). The sense of looming peril ratcheted up a good few notches. All certainties vanished, to the extent that I found myself longing for the film to return to its original story. The longer that the chaos continued, the more my nostalgia for the opening thirty or forty minutes increased.

This bewildering entropy went on, and on, and on, for two and a half trippy, dream-like hours. My concentration lapsed, badly, to the extent where I kept chastising myself for my inability to keep a grasp of the details. If only I could have committed that scene to memory, then this scene might have made more sense.

However, for all the wheels within wheels and world within worlds, all the earlier dramatic tension was lost. Dern’s previously subtle, compelling performance was reduced to a clutch of stock expressions – in particular, an expression of uncomprehending, open-mouthed terror, which became progressively more irksome.

I stopped caring, and started yawning, fidgeting and clock-watching. Hours passed.

There was a fun little formation dancing scene, set to Little Eva’s “The Locomotion”.

Etta James’s “At Last” popped up on the soundtrack. It was nice to hear it again.

There was a suburban barbecue scene, slightly grainy and oversaturated, like an old home movie. Something happened at a circus. I forget what.

There were occasional pieces of relatively straightforward dialogue or monologue, which teased me into hoping that they might explain something or other. I would prick up my ears for a while, before slouching back into itchy exasperation, or glazed ennui. These sometimes took place in a grimy, low-rent office, with Dern explaining her plight to a man behind a desk, who never spoke.

Was there ever a resolution? Of sorts, yes. But only a partial one. I’m saying nothing else.

For about half an hour afterwards, as I ordered and consumed my late-lunchtime coffee and sandwich in the Atlas deli, I felt disorientated and spaced out. Everything had a slightly surreal sheen to it, as if I wasn’t quite physically present. I went shopping, caught a cab home, then mooched about on the computer for a bit.

My prediction: critical panning, commercial flop, cult longevity – especially with the sort of 19-year stoners who delight in spotting and swapping arbitrary and entirely accidental “clues”. (“But the number on the door was 47, man! Think about it!”)

No, I don’t recommend it. Glad to be of service.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Imminent ghettoisation alert.

After spending over five and a half years sitting at the same desk (no, let's not even think about it), I am shortly to be moved to a new location in the same office. Nearer the entrance, nearer the reception, nearer the kitchen. You know, nearer the action. Dead hip spot to be in, probably.

This is to allow all the people who work for one particular client to be grouped at the far (unhip) end of the office, so that the rest of us don't get to snoop at them when we walk past. It's a client confidentiality thing. We're thinking that maybe they could wear T-shirts with the client's logo on the front, to remind the rest of us to bow our heads when passing them. That way, we'd minimise the risk of instigating any potentially compromising form of social contact - which could only lead to troublesome questions like "How are you", "How's it going"... and, fatally, "So, how's work?"

Over in the Hip Zone, I'll be sitting at a bank of six desks. One desk will remain unallocated. Two others have been assigned to co-workers who are on permanent secondment in other cities. Another belongs to a colleague who is on maternity leave for the next few months. (She's just dropped. Congratulations, S!)

Which just leaves me and JP, The Pair Of Poofs, all alone in our own fabulous little ghetto. Talk about exclusive!

I'm seeing major accessorisation here. Kylie posters! A mirror ball! A dry ice machine! Multi-coloured rope lighting! A podium! A door-whore! ("Sorry love, but you just wouldn't Fit In.")

Ooh, ooh, and all the heterosexuals will have to run our Fashion Gauntlet, on the way to and from the kitchen.

"State of 'er!"

"Is she wearing that for a BET?"

"LOVE the hair, LOSE the belt."


F**k it. We've had nearly six years of assimilation. Time to unleash the stereotypes.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Vaingloriousness-burying placeholder post.

Hmm. It has been a busy week, but it hasn't been the sort of week that has inspired much in the way of bloggable thoughts. Nevertheless, since I'm sick of the sight of that vainglorious ONE MILLION PAGE VIEWS! post perching at the top of the page, I've been feel an increasingly burning urge to bury it with something, however content-free.

So what's been on my mind these past few days?

Lots of music-related stuff, for starters. I've been taking on work for t'local paper to the point where I'm in danger of over-committing, but it's all been good fun so far. Interviews are imminent with Duke Special and CSS, and I should have a couple of pieces in Friday's entertainment supplement.

I'm also hoping to squeeze in some time to pen a few reviews for the Stylus Jukebox, which has recently re-launched itself in a blog format, updated daily. Under the new regime, contributors won't be lumbered with vast numbers of singles to review in one fell swoop, which means that weekends are no longer in danger of sinking under the pressure of deadlines.

And then there's the Nottingham kitchen project, which lumbers on into its second week, coating all of our surfaces in a light film of dust. But we're nearly there now, and it will be good to have the additional floor space.

Meanwhile, over at the cottage, we've been doing up the "snug" area which leads off the kitchen, and which we had never got looking quite right. Thanks to a generous cash donation from my aunt and uncle on the occasion of their golden wedding, which came with specific instructions to spend it on something lasting and beautiful, we've purchased an old wooden sideboard (or "server", to give it the correct technical term), and an old Windsor chair, and a weathered leather chest which is being put to use as a table. (Hand-made by the man who makes similar pieces for Ralph Lauren at vastly inflated prices, but ours was sensibly priced.)

We've been benefitting from a renewed spate of hospitality in the village, and have strengthened some friendships in the process, widening our social circle beyond the usual suspects.

The dressage-to-music sound collage is slowly assembling itself, and I shall look forward to seeing it being put to practical use during the spring.

Oh, and I've re-instated the "We Listen" chart on the sidebar, temporarily retiring the "Recently Spotted" section in the process (we have Post of the Week for that sort of thing now), and have made the long-dreaded switch to New Blogger, which turned out to be mostly painless. Gotta love those labels! I could become obsessed.

And now it's time to head off to Saltwater, to celebrate MissMish's birthday.

This has been my week thus far.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Oh, for goodness' sake: let's get Amsterdam Part 3 out of the way, and then we can all move on with our lives.

Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here. This will be somewhat shorter.

Long post-Cockring lie-in.
Aching bod, thick head, brave face.
Out for pad thai, in an almost deserted wok bar.

Not at my chattiest. Thankfully, Alan and I have known each other long enough to be comfortable with companionable silences.

Quick peek at the flower market; obviously not at its most colourful, although some of the stalls had still managed to rustle up some tulips from somewhere. How does that work?

Shortcut through the chi-chi fine art galleries, and on to the Rijksmuseum; currently undergoing renovation, but with a condensed "greatest hits" show on display round the back. This worked in our favour, as there was just enough to see without having to skip anything. Besides, an hour and a half is all you need at the best of times. The exhibition climaxed, inevitably, with Rembrandt's The Night Watch. Yes, I know it's a Masterpiece - but this was at least my third viewing, if not my fourth, and I still retain no abiding visual memory of it.

Tea and biscuits, bought from the grocery opposite Alan's apartment. Spotted on display by the till: cannabis flavoured lollipops, in a suitably "herbal" shade of green. You know, just so the "Little 'Uns" don't feel left out. Only in Amsterdam, eh readers?

Early evening beers in a surprisingly busy Twinksville, our ears once again battered by late 1980s/early 1990s commercial dance hits on endless shuffle. Don't twinks listen to contemporary music any more?

Goodbye hugs and thank yous, as I head off to the airport and Alan heads straight back to bed. But I thought I was trying to keep up with him, not the other way round? Ah well, no matter. That's a good couple of months worth of Gay Points usefully accrued in advance. Lovely weekend. I'll be back.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Amsterdam, Part 2.

(You might want to read Part 1 first.)

Saturday afternoon. After lunch, Alan and I wandered northwards to the temporarily relocated Stedelijk museum, now stuck out in a "post-industrial space" near the Central Station, and accessible via a series of wind-lashed pontoons. Regrettably, the museum's fine permanent collection of contemporary art was not on display. Instead, we had to make do with a load of half-baked, indifferently executed, wilfully obscure and largely clueless pile of ropey old conceptual-art-wank toss-bollocks. That most wretched and aesthetically bankrupt of genres, "video art", dominated much of the space - but it was surpassed in pointlessness by a vast installation of crudely scrawled "political" graffiti which would have shamed an SWP convention for the under-12s. However, the overall disappointment was at least redeemed by some stunningly powerful and disturbing photography, shot in South Africa and Israel, which landed some massive sucker-punches to popular perceptions of both nations.

Our cultural duties fulfilled, we rewarded ourselves with leisurely early evening drinks at the Queen's Head on Zeedijk, which connects the Central Station area with the Nieuwmarkt. The street is reassuringly chi-chi at the top end (K would have been in his element), before yielding to some funkier shops and bars, and a mini Chinatown. We liked the moderately chi-chi Queen's Head, which benefits from not being a "destination" gay venue, but more of a low-key regulars' haunt. It's the sort of place which you could visit regularly on your own with a newspaper or a book, slowly building your relationship with it.

Saturday night. Our half-hearted plans to pay brief lip-service to "coffee shop" culture ran swiftly aground, as 30 seconds inside the raucous Bulldog on Leidseplein were enough to signal that it wasn't our scene. On we trolled, to the campy bars around the Amstel, for a restorative contrast to Twinksville and the Dead Cow Zone.

Monmartre was quieter than we had led to expect - that mid-January effect again - but there was still enough residual jollity to spread around, and a much higher ratio of smiles to pouts than we had become used to.

Around the corner, the venerable Amstel Tavern instantly felt like home, with its traditional decor, its Delft mugs hanging from the ceiling, its welcoming bar staff and its camp-as-tits musical playlist. Disco-pop classics merged into singalong Dutch schlager (and boy, did people sing along), taking in a healthly dollop of Eurovision along the way (Teach-In's "Ding Dinge Dong" in its original Dutch version, woo-hoo, I have found my level at last!). Best bar yet.

Up the road and off to the west of Dam Square, it was nipple-to-nipple at Prik, the city's newest gay venue, which was celebrating its six month anniversary with half price drinks all night. A solid and seemingly impenetrable wall of flesh had to be squeezed through in order to get much more than two feet inside the doors - but we are nothing if not persistent, and minor irritations like having half a glass of lager sloshed down my cleavage weren't going to hold us back. Prik is the nearest thing that Amsterdam has to a lively and pumping Soho venue such as Bar Code, with a more cosmopolitan and recognisably Urban Gay Scene crowd to match. It is, without a doubt, the biggest Destination Venue of them all right now.

Wedged into the back bar, Alan and I spent the next couple of hours benignly observing the bobbing throng, as they jiggled their bits to an eclectic mix of classic and cheesy hits: Blondie, The Cure, Kylie, New Order, and MC Miker G & and DJ Sven's lost classic "Holiday Rap". A clump of drunken Irishmen handed out glowsticks, before brandishing inflatable guitars and roaring along to "Copacabana". Oh, it was a scene and a half.

On the way out, I remarked to Alan: You know, that would have been most people's idea of sheer bloody Hell, and I can't even explain why I enjoyed it. I mean, all we did was stand there with drinks in our hands while getting pushed and shoved by a crowd of total strangers - and yet it was great. What's that all about?

The night ended back in - oh look, shall I just spell it out this time - COCKRING. There, I've said it. Cockring. We went to a club called Cockring. Is everybody here OK with that? More of the same, only for longer. Heaps of fun. But let's not dwell, eh?

(I'll wrap this up tomorrow.)

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Oh darlings, Amsterdam has pooped me good and proper.

Try as I might to deny that I'm getting a little too old for Good Old Fashioned Big Gay Weekends, every nerve and synapse is currently telling me otherwise. Pack it in, Grandad, they screech, woundingly.

But I still have my drives and my juices, I protest, unconvincingly. And anyway, look at Alan. He's got a couple more miles on the clock than me, and he can still do it.

Yes, but even Alan knows when to call it a night. Remind us, what time did you leave the club on Sunday morning? 5am, wasn't it? So what was that all about?

Oh, but I'm incorrigible. It's that blasted Second Wind, coupled with the feeling that since I don't get out much any more, I should try and squeeze every last drop of experience from the situation. And now, as Michael "Mouse" Tolliver once memorably said in Tales Of The City, I am all Gayed Out. Don't want to get within sniffing distance of those awful places - at least not until the next time that our newly depleted gang congregates in the Lord Roberts for one of our midweek sessions.

Here's where we went.

Friday night. We commenced our tour of inspection on Reguliersdwarsstraat: the spiritual home of Amsterdam's twink brigade. Think Kouros, think CK1, think... well, what is the fragrance of choice for the C21st twink, anyway? I am out of touch with such matters.

The Soho bar was all faux-antiquity and "repro" stylings, with all the charm and individuality of a Wetherspoons or an All Bar One. Their attempt at cosiness was fatally sabotaged by the deafening soundtrack: a numbing parade of late 1980s and early 1990s commercial dance music, which set the musical tone for most of the weekend. Those Dutch queens sure do be loving their Crystal Waters, their Rozalla, their early-period Whitney 'n Mariah.

The April bar has expanded since my last visit, and is now dominated by three vast circular bars, with seating around each circumference. This doesn't work too well, as the arrangement puts too much distance between each punter, and the in-between areas feel like wasted space. Consequently, the ambience felt a little too stark, remote, impersonal.

Over the road, the newish Arc bar was packing them in. It is clearly one of the major Destination Venues, attracting an arrestingly high number of stylishly turned out beauties. We stood, we gawped, we paid all due deference.

A couple of doors down, Exit is one of the city's only two gay dance clubs. It hasn't changed at all in the 17 years since my first visit - but on a Friday night in the middle of January, numbers were somewhat thin on the ground. We hung out in the bar at the top of the main stairs, waiting for the late surge - but when none materialised, we moved on, leaving the antiseptic comforts of Twinksville behind for the sleazy raunch of Warmoestraat.

Most of the Warmoestraat bars are destined forever to be closed doors to me, catering as they do for the Dead Cow brigade. I don't have the outfits, and would hate for my Paul Smith stripes to cause an outbreak of mass detumescence. However, the city's second gay dance club is situated halfway up the street, and despite its somewhat alarming name (which modesty precludes me from spelling out), its relaxed door policy welcomes all comers (ahum) to the party. Dance floor in the basement (pretty decent dubby funky house), bar in the middle, and yup-you've-guessed-it on the top floor. Despite the undeniable sexual crackle in the air, we found this to be the most relaxed and unpretentious venue of the night.

Saturday daytime. Alan and I hooked up with Caroline for coffee in the Nieuwmarkt district, followed by a long, lazily paced and delicious lunch at a nearby Chinese/Japanese restaurant. (Bubble tea, that's a new one on me. I particularly liked the tight little jelly tapioca balls at the bottom of the glass, which you suck up through your straw.) Special mention should also be made of the the steamed (?) oysters with ginger, finely chopped shallots and soy sauce, as recommended by Caroline. They were sensational.

To be concluded on the morrow. In the meantime, take a look at Alan's account of the weekend.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

This week's pre-occupations.

1. Once again, K and I have become Big Brother's bitches. Once again, Grace Dent provides the sharpest commentary. Also on the telly tip, I was able to identify the precise moment when the hitherto flawless Shameless jumped the shark: namely, when an unconscious Frank Gallagher was dragged from his burning kitchen by his pet dog. I mean, really.

2. As the Hellen Affair rumbles on, Zinnia Cyclamen provides a neat rebuttal of his rebuttal.

3. Much to my surprise, since I'm not exactly Mister Gadget Man, I have been completely sucked into the Apple iPhone hype, and now find myself pining for ownership. Engadget has the most thorough explanation. Unfortunately, K's plans to surprise me with a Blackberry on my birthday now lie exposed and in tatters. If only he was going to Florida in June...

4. ...rather than today, six months short of the device hitting the shops. In preparation for this, my valeting services have been in great demand this week. We had a lovely time picking out fresh shirt-and-tie combinations for him a couple of evenings ago (does pink scream "Spring 2006", or can we get away with it for a while longer?), and I have never been far from an ironing board. Oh, I do have my practical uses.

5. Alarmingly, K will still be out of the country when the kitchen fitters arrive next week, thus leaving me as de facto Site Manager. But what if they ask me technical questions about, I don't know, angle brackets or something? I shall be all at sea. Thankfully, K's business partner's wife E - who is something of an expert in this field - has volunteered her services as Relief Manager. She knows her way round kitchens, does E. I don't usually stretch much further than the fridge, the kettle and the microwave.

6. Facing the prospect of being home alone with no working kitchen for a few nights, I intend to be Out and About as much as possible next week. Owt good at t'flicks?

7. My intensive pre-interview research into the Life and Times of Will Oldham/Bonnie 'Prince' Billy is yielding rich dividends. In particular, his most recent album The Letting Go is a quiet revelation. I don't have many alt-country moments these days, but this is one of them.

8. With the Amsterdam weekend imminent, blogging might be light, but Twittering will hopefully be moderate-to-heavy - so keep your eye on the newly expanded "we twitter" box on the sidebar. (I am SO PROUD at having hacked the code around for this, although it has rather buggered up my archived unordered lists.) In the meantime, why not refresh your memories with details of my previous visits in 1991 (in which I found myself the unwitting star of a Benny Hill sketch at a *cough* "men-only event") and 2002 (in which cracks appear in my carefully constructed professional facade)? Ah, for those heady devil-may-care early days, when Troubled Diva was still a byword for Too Much Information...

9. Preparations for Which Decade Is Tops For Pops and Post of the Week have taken up most of the rest of my spare time - and at the time of writing, there is still one more vacancy for another member of the Post of the Week editorial team. More details below.

10. If spin the list out to a nice round ten, I'll make myself late and miss my plane. Have a good weekend!

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Working the night shift.

It's 1 o'clock in the morning, and I'm on after-hours support, waiting for The Phone Call which lets me know that it's time to check stuff on the mainframe. The Phone Call was supposed to come at around 11 - but I've been told that there are delays, and that I won't be hearing from anyone until at least 1.30. So I might as well bash out a rambling blog post to pass the time and keep me awake.

What can I tell you? Well, yesterday was a nice day out. K and I took a day trip from Derby to London, to attend my aunt and uncle's Golden Wedding luncheon at the Savoy Grill. The train arrived 40 minutes early in London (I know!), which gave us an extra hour to kill - so we swung by the National Portrait Gallery and went to see the David Hockney exhibition, all smartly togged out in our best suits. Does Hockney count as High Art? I don't know; there's something lightweight and decorative about him, and I'm not sure that he particularly Illuminates The Human Condition with any great profundity - but it's pleasantly familiar and diverting stuff, which lifted our spirits. The usual cast: Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark, his grey-haired mam looking a tad self-conscious (and latterly a bit doolally), various handsome young men with brooding eyes, that bearded New York art bloke whose expressions give nothing away.

For the luncheon, we found ourselves at the next table to Preston from the Ordinary Boys, who was on Celebrity Big Brother this time last year. You know, the one who married Chantelle, the non-celebrity winner. She wasn't there - but no need to alert Heat magazine for a scoop ("PRESTON AND CHANTELLE: IS IT OVER?") as I think she was doing Celebrity Big Brother's Little Brother at the time, so maybe Preston was just kicking his perfectly formed little heels in town with his man-friend. Yes, that would be it. He's skinny and slight, and hence right up K's alley. K chose his seat well, and got to gawp at Preston all the way through the meal. I was happy for him.

Our golden wedding present to the aunt and uncle was a bottle of 1956 Armagnac, so they could have a taste of the year they were wed. (The anniversary itself was December 29, but they were cross-country ski-ing in Austria at the time, which isn't bad going for two people in their late seventies.) They seemed delighted with it. My cousin was there; she's a Something at the House of Commons, and K was duly invited to take the personalised access-all-areas tour of the Palace of Westminster which was such a highlight of 2006 for me. (Clambering onto the roof for great views and an up-close-and-personal with Big Ben; necking a quick post-adjournment pint in the surprisingly cramped and unadorned Members' Bar with the MPs; standing at the dispatch box in the debating chamber and pretending I was running the country.)

K flies to Florida on Friday for the big annual vets' conference - and so, rather than being stuck on my own at home over the weekend, I have decided to pay my dear friend and erstwhile midweek drinking buddy Reluctant Nomad Alan a visit in Amsterdam. It will only be his second full weekend there, and so everything is up for discovery. Hopefully we'll get to hook up with Caroline Eachman (née Prolific) as well. Introductions are better when they're face to face.

I have just received my first interview assignment from t'local paper. I'm going to be interviewing Will Oldham, aka Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, in advance of his Rock City gig on the 23rd - which will also be the first date on his first tour of England in twelve years (Scotland and Ireland got him last year). Gulp. Better start genning up, then.

I spent the earlier part of the evening assembling the tracks for next month's instalment of the Which Decade Is Tops For Pops project, which will be entering its fifth year. I had got it into my head that this year's crop was going to be a total shower of shite - but, actually, it's not too shoddy after all. Two of the tracks from February 1987 have been disqualified, as they are 1960s re-issues that were being used on TV adverts, and so I have substituted the songs at #11 and #12. The 1967 selection is pretty decent, the 1977 selection markedly less so (punk/new wave had yet to cross over commercially, and disco was thin on the ground that week), the 1987 selection is more nostalgic than I was expecting, and the 1997 selection is all grown up and credible, thanks to that brief period when Radio One also decided to be all grown up and credible.

It is now 1:40, I am all rambled out (there's only the stuff about our forthcoming Nottingham kitchen refit to tell you, and I don't propose to bore you with the details), and the Big Call has not yet happened. If I wander outside for a crafty fag, it shall surely happen, and so I shall try and induce it via the power of nicotine. So let's do that.

No editing, no revisions, no sprucing up. Totally old school. G'night!

Update: The Big Call has been put back to 2.30. Thank goodness for the 250+ spam comments that some kindly passing Italian has just left me to deal with. Couldn't have happened at a better time!

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Motoring with Mike and K.

Friday evening. We're half way along Brian Clough Way, en route to the cottage, OldEngland in the back of the car as per usual. OldEngland and K habitually spend the first half hour of the journey catching up on Nottingham gossip, and picking over the latest movements and machinations of the city's great and good, before suddenly morphing into a pair of latter-day country squires as we turn left into rural Derbyshire.

During a brief lull in the conversation, I have put a CD on: not for us to actually listen to, but merely to keep the stereo ticking over, so that K can pick up work calls on his hands-free speaker phone.

"Who's this depressing f**ker?", sneers K, no more than half way through the first track. OldEngland has no interest in pop music, and I know he's playing to the gallery.

Oh God, oh God, he's handed it to me on a plate. Calm, Michael. Calm.

"It's one of the CDs which you bought me for Christmas, darling. You know, the ones that you personally select each year from the Radio 3 World Music Awards? The ones which bridge the gap between our respective musical tastes, and which unite us in a shared..."

"OK, OK. I walked straight into that one, didn't I?"

"I only put it on because it was gentle and low-key. Because I'm fully aware that your ideal form of music is one that approximates as closely as possible to silence."

Oh God, oh God, the mileage I'm going to extract from this one over the weekend. As the business wonk chit-chat resumes around me, I settle back into my equally habitual reverie, with a dirty smirk that will see me all the way through Derby.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The vinyl count-down.

Yesterday evening, back in Nottingham and hence re-united with my turntable, I started working my way (in chronological order, obviously) through the boxed set of Clash singles which my darling sister gave me for Christmas.

I tried combining this with some simultaneous ironing, but had forgotten how short singles are. Especially early Clash singles. You don’t get this problem with iTunes playlists, do you? Nevertheless, I did enjoy re-acquainting myself with the rituals of sleeves, lids and needles, which lent a strange sense of significance to each single I played.

(Word to the lapsed vinylist: remember, you should always put the previous single back in its sleeve before placing the needle on the next single, or else your attention will be disrespectfully divided. Also, it’s OK to leave the turntable lid up for single track 7-inch sides, as the accumulated dust levels will be negligible, and you’ll only make a distracting clunking noise through the speakers, however softly you close the lid.)

Yes, significance. Something about the physical act of choosing each successive piece of music leaves you with the feeling that you “own” your listening experience, on an altogether more direct, personal level. Because you’ve put the work in, you are more minded to recoup your investment by paying closer attention to what’s playing.

And then there’s that lovely, warm, rich, bottomlessly muddy analogue sound, with its irreducible curves. Just as you cannot express Pi in a finite set of decimals, so you cannot compress the infinity of musical sound into a series of rigid binaries – at least, not without excising a crucial component of its essential mystery. With analogue sound, no matter how often you listen to a piece of music, you will never quite hear all of it – and so you will keep returning. With digital music (and I’m with Neil Young on this one), if you play it once then, somehow, you’ve heard it all.

However, none of this stopped me from momentarily pausing over the fading notes of “Jail Guitar Doors”: a B-side of no great distinction, which I was in a hurry to dispense with as “White Man In Hammersmith Palais” was next in line. As my impatient hand reached down to lift the needle, a little voice inside cried caution.

“No, don’t do that. Let it play out in full, or else you’ll screw up the Play Count.”

How quickly we adapt.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Nice Things that have happened in the last few days.

1. Towards the end of our New Year’s Eve “safari supper”, the six of us were joined by J the church warden (who had missed his flight to Pisa due to the massive security queues at Gatwick airport., but I’m not here to talk about that; “return to work” day is grim enough as it is, so let’s focus on the Nice Things). At five minutes to midnight, glasses in hand, we traipsed out of OldEngland and NewEngland’s cottage, through the church yard next door, and into the village church itself – where J unlocked the door, climbed the stairs to the carillon, bonged the bells for midnight, and knocked out a quick impromptu rendition of Auld Lang Syne into the bargain, as the rest of us chinked and hugged below. Best NYE midnight moment ever!

2. “Dressage Diva” A and I have settled on three pieces of music for her forthcoming competition, subject to final approval from the horse. Professional confidentiality forbids me from disclosing our choices – but I can reveal that we have chosen a jazzy, swingy, Blue Note-y direction, with all electronics and drum machines firmly ruled out, as metronome-strict rhythms don’t suit this particular horse’s swishy, sassy gait. The next step is to re-edit the music to match the floor plan, and to sequence it into a seamless five-minute suite, with as little abruptness as possible between the tempo changes.

3. Out in the PDMG, a local woodpecker has started nibbling our nuts on a regular basis (we hang them from the malus tree which faces the kitchen window). Never having seen a real life woodpecker before, I have been getting VERY EXCITED about this. Wide-eyed child of nature, me.

4. Congratulations to my darling sister, whose Suzi Quatro impersonation won her the New Year’s Eve “Stars in Their Eyes” competition in her local pub. Apparently, there is a video clip. No, you can’t.

5. All those long, lazy lie-ins. Cups of tea going cold beside the bed, as we read, or doze, or surf, occasionally making well-intentioned but half-hearted muttering noises about Getting On With The Day. Given half the chance, I reckon we could cheerfully live like that indefinitely. Sigh. January the second's a right bugger, intit?

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Sunday, December 31, 2006

What I got.

(Or in some cases, what we got.)

From K: A multi-coloured cotton dressing-gown, in the sort of snazzy Paul Smith stripes which have become my sartorial signature. This will be my "city" dressing-gown (I already possess a "country" dressing gown), and will save me from making mad sprints downstairs in the nicky nacky noo, past the large uncovered window on the half-landing with a view over the street below and the flats opposite, and thus affording eagle-eyed neighbours and passers-by the chance to catch a lightening flash of my willy and/or bum-bum. From next week, such treats will no longer be on offer. For a man at my time of life, this is all to the good.

From K: As has become customary over the past five years, a selection of four CDs from nominated artists in next year's BBC Radio Three World Music Awards (follow the link to stream complete tracks from all the nominees). It should be noted that K has a pretty good track record for picking the winners; this year, he has given the nod to Etran Finatawa, Ben Harper, Nuru Kane and Gogol Bordello. (He also gives the nod to K'naan and Ska Cubano, whose CDs he was unable to source in time for Christmas.)

From K: City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London, by Vic Gatrell. A fat hardback tome, generously illustrated with caricatures from the Golden Age (1770 to 1830), from the likes of James Gillray and the Cruikshanks. Our continued love and fascination for the Golden Age of caricature remains one of the great unbloggables, mainly because I can't see my way clear to writing about it without coming over all dry and historical, and telling you things which you could find elsewhere, described and discussed by genuine experts in the field. For now, suffice it to say that we love the vulgarity and the grotesqueness; if ever you think that contemporary cartoonists like Steve Bell "go too far", and that modern-day news values are being dumbed down by salacious, ephemeral, personality-based tittle-tattle, then these works will show you that there's nothing new under the sun.

From K: A boxed set of 11 DVDs from the ground-breaking, brilliant, magical film-making partnership of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, dating from the 1940s and 1950s. I already knew (and loved) A Matter of Life and Death, I Know Where I'm Going and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp; yesterday afternoon, I made a start on the rest of the collection, and promptly fell in love with The Red Shoes. There's a weirdly resonant quality about these strange, singular films, which somehow tap into some of my earliest thoughts and memories. In particular, Joan Maude as the serenely magisterial "Chief Recorder" in A Matter of Life and Death is the spitting image of the woman whom I visualised as my inner "conscience", aged around three or four (yes, I was a "deep" toddler) - and I really do wonder whether I might have lifted her image from a TV screening of the film.

From my darling sister: The Best of Smash Hits: The '80s. How well she knows me. You could barely get a peep out of me after Christmas dinner. While K and his extended family nodded off in front of Funny Face, I was lapping up Tom Hibbert's bizarre 1987 interview with Margaret Thatcher ("Brotherhood of Man? Lovely!"), and wondering how they ever got away with putting the long-forgotten likes of Matt Fretton and Jimmy The Hoover on the cover, and still selling shedloads in the process.

From my darling sister: A boxed set of all 19 of the Clash's UK seven-inch vinyl singles, in their original sleeves - even including, ohmygodgetthisgetthis, the limited edition "Capital Radio" EP which you could only get through the NME (eek!), which I sent off for and never received. At last, a great historical wrong has been righted. Really, the whole package is commodity fetishism at its most heightened, and probably the antithesis of everything that The Clash originaly stood for - but hey, we evolve. Of all the many lovely presents which I received this year, this was the one which scored highest on the instant reaction squeal-o-meter.

From my darling sister: A pocket-sized Etch A Sketch. How well she knows me, Part 3. I seem to have got better at this in the thirty-year gap since I last used one of these devices, as I have become more patient with its limitations, thinking creatively around them rather than letting them defeat me.

From K's mum and dad: An engraving by the caricaturist George Cruikshank, in a nice old Hogarth frame, entitled Dandies and Dandyzettes. Dating from 1818, this depicts close-up versions of several of the figures from Cruikshank's Monstrosities of 1818, which we already own (do take a look; it's fab) - but the colouring on this engraving is unusually rich and vivid. Really, these people were the frightful, graceless, over-done Versace-clad harpies of their day. There's nothing new under the sun, Part 2.

From K's mum and dad: Some rather elegant wine glasses and champagne flutes - but rendered in plastic, and hence suitable for picnicking. They must have spotted the need for these over the summer, when the four of us struggled with our fancy glassware during a picnic in the grounds of Chatsworth House, prior to an open-air concert from Jools Holland and his band. Good spot, the In-Laws!

From K's mum and dad: A book token, part of which I shall be spending on... but no, that would be telling. All in due course. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

From my mother: A beautiful beech food bowl, made by Liam O'Neill for David Mellor, accessorised with a couple of wooden-handled salad servers. This looks so much better on the refectory table in the cottage kitchen than the hand-painted jug from Marrakech ever did. (The jug has been moved to the kitchen window sill, in case you were worrying. It's a lovely jug, but the yellow was too cloying against the pine.)

From my mother: Modern Phobias: A litany of contemporary fears, by Tim Lihoreau. I'm sure that neither my mother nor Mr. Lihoreau would be offended if I described it, in the nicest possible way, as "toilet reading". It's a dipper-inner.

From K's glamorous (and newly single, ladies!) lesbian cousin P: a gift set of Kiehl's pampering products. Kiehl's, Kiehl's, where have you been all our lives? One senses that after seven years of unswerving devotion to Molton Brown, that devotion may be drawing to its natural close. (I mean to say, they even have Molton Brown in the loos at Buckingham Palace - and frankly, can you get more dismally Middle England than that?) We are particularly struck by the "Face Fuel" moisturiser (so tingly!), and the "Original Musk" eau de toilette (devised in 1920!).

From K's auntie and uncle: a gift set of Espa pampering products, more slanted towards the bathroom. But I have to say: the packaging for this stuff takes "unnecessary" to a whole new level. Boxes within boxes, all purely for the sake of the "reveal" moment, and fit for nothing but the bin afterwards. (But we'll stash them in the garage, Just In Case.)

From K's late sister's partner R, who joined us for Christmas Day (along with his almost unbearably handsome brother W): a half bottle of 1988 Sauternes... from... oh, hang on... ohmyf**kingChrist-itisn't-itIS-itf**kingIS... Chateau de bloody Yquem, sweetie! And then, a couple of hours later - since we couldn't possibly be expected to share it around the table with the foie gras starter - a second bloody half-bottle of bloody Chateau de bloody Yquem, if you please. Oh my good Lord, that shit rules.

From MissMish: a double-sided picture-frame - essentially a sheer rectangular perspex slab - containing two photos of me and him, taken on the day of our civil partnership registration. As we didn't have any don't-say-wedding photos on display, this was an altogether wonderful surprise.

From NewEngland in the village, quietly left inside the garage while we were away in Cambridge, and meant as a "thank you" for ferrying her partner OldEngland across from Nottingham every Friday night: a "Hip Hotels (Escape)" guide, and a beautifully packaged and labelled home-made hamper of produce, all made by NewEngland's own fair hand. Pepper jelly! Green tomato, onion and cucumber pickle! Brandied tangerines! Three-coloured "harlequin" cubes of home-made marzipan, coated with dark chocolate! And some of those "Blue Diamond" imported Californian almonds which we love so much! Of all the many uncommonly well-chosen gifts which we both received this year (one of our best hauls in ages, it has to be said), these were the most unexpected, the most personal - and therefore possibly the most cherished of all.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"Excuses have their uses, but now they're all used up, all used up..."

1. The trouble with only being at work for two days in the week before Christmas is that you end up trying to cram a week's worth of unfinished tasks into the paltry time available. Because, obviously, the Christmas/New Year holiday period marks The End Of Time As We Know It, and all things must be signed off before then, in order to ward off a catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions. Even if that catastrophe is wholly self-invented.

2. As if Twitter wasn't already enough of a compulsive attention-hoover, I got sucked into "alpha testing" something which has proved to be equally addictive. It's still being developed, so I shouldn't be linking just yet - but the fruits of my labours may be of some passing interest. Ee, the things I do to avoid writing proper blog posts!

3. I spent most of yesterday evening working on my third set of "Best of 2006" lists. First there was Stylus (singles here, albums here, and if you look closely you'll find a couple of my blurbs lurking within) - then there was the US music blog Idolator's "Jackin' Pop" poll (an uppity new rival to the long-running Village Voice "Pazz & Jop" poll; results to be pubished in a week or so) - and most recently, t'local paper asked me to pen a few choice words on the cream and the crap of 2006. If you're local, it's out on Friday. My fourth and final set of lists will appear here in the fullness of time.

4. I also spent most of yesterday evening trying to source music for the "trot" section of a dressage event - as it looks as if A from the village could be dressaging for England next year, and I have volunteered my services as a musical advisor. We've already been working on the "walk" and "canter" sections, but "trot" is by far the hardest. What's needed is fast instrumental music (between 136 and 150 bpm), with a strong rhythmic pulse, but which still sounds light and nimble - i.e. no skull-crushing dance beats, and nothing that will, ahem, frighten the horses. This rules out just about all 9000+ tracks in my iTunes library. All suggestions welcomed. (Light orchestral classical music, particularly from film soundtracks, is a perennial favourite - but it shouldn't surprise you to know that my knowledge of such areas is practically zero.)

5. Did I mention that K has ordered a "Three Bird Roast" from a posh nosh mail order catalogue, with which to grace our Christmas table? Such taste! Such discernment! I was bragging about this to my co-workers yesterday lunchtime, when one of them gently informed me that Ian Beale from EastEnders ordered the same thing for his wedding banquet the other week. Y'know, much as I eschew snobbery in all its forms, this has taken some of the shine off the event...

6. For those of you who don't tend to scroll down below the most recent post, can I just point out that I have answered all six of last Friday's song-title questions? I'd so hate for them to go to waste.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Is there something I should know?

Mike answers: My thanks to Clare Boob Pencil, who points out that I have a piece of spinach stuck in my teeth. Lately, I have been fighting a losing battle with recalcitrant foodstuffs, to the extent where my hygienist has - just two hours ago - fitted my problem cavity with a periodontal chip. Before doing so, she was obliged to extract several goodly chunks of semi-masticated bacon from my lunchtime sandwich - which then she held up in front of me for inspection.

What does one say at times like these?

"Ah yes, the Atlas Deli, awfully good place. I expect it's locally sourced."

"Ooh, can I keep that? We're having bubble and squeak tonight."

(I tried to go for a lovably roguish, devil-may-care, what-can-you-do shrug, of the Hugh Grant rom-com variety - but being flat on my back at the time, I fear it lost a little in the execution.)

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What are you doing Sunday, baby?

Mike answers: Preparing for the arrival of K's family - for on Christmas Day, after a couple of years of ducking out of the occasion altogether, we shall be playing hosts to them for the first time. I like the way that we have varied our approach to the holiday season over the years, never settling into a fixed pattern. It gives us the freedom to opt in when it feels right to opt in, and to feel comfortable about lying low when that's all we want to do.

I bet we all get right pissed on the Sunday night, though. Pacing? What's that?

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Using Twitter as an aide memoire for an old-school "What I Did On Saturday" diary piece.

12:20. Outside the village shop, our friend P opens the glass door which covers the communal noticeboard. A loose sheet of paper flies straight out at me, landing at my feet. I stoop to pick it up. It is a hand-written notice, advertising a terrier for sale.

As regular readers will remember, K has been hankering after a dog for months years, in the teeth of determined opposition. He's playing a long game. It's a war of attrition, in which K's considerable powers of finesse (he won't be satisified unless the suggestion comes voluntarily from me) are pitted against my immutable stubborness.

Despite being a near-evangelical atheist, K has evidently enlisted The Almighty onto his side. How mercenary. Truly, he still stop at nothing.

Defiantly, I shake my fist at the heavens. You're going to have to do better than this, God! Cheap conjuring tricks aren't going to change my mind!

12:30. Returning to the cottage, I check K's moblog for the photo of the rainbow which he has just taken (see two posts below). As I do so, a bootleg mix assembles itself in my head, in which Over The Rainbow (Judy Garland) is "mashed up" with Girlfriend In A Coma (The Smiths, as performed by Morrissey at Nottingham Arena a few days earlier). It's a bit of a mess - but as my mental jukebox has yet to be upgraded with Pro Tools, a rough manual mix will have to suffice.

12:40. We decide against trekking out to the Staffordshire Antiques Fair at Bingley Hall, as our advance party has declared itself unimpressed.

14:10. A simple bread and soup repast, before heading into Ashbourne to poke around the shops. P has tipped us off about a place called Eclectica, on the edge of town by the demolished Nestle factory. The owners run it mainly for fun, and so it only opens on Saturdays.

15:10. Leaving Eclectica, we experience a mutual rush of blood to the head, having just bought five darling little glass stopper bottles and an oil painting.

The painting, dated 1995, is by an obscure artist from Moscow, and was originally picked up as part of a job lot at a clearance sale at a now defunct Manchester gallery. It depicts a large ship, seemingly abandoned in an icy ocean, with wisps of white emerging from it that suggest the outlines of birds, or of escaping spirits. In the foreground, indistinct dwarf-like figures are standing on the ice. One is in the sea, arms aloft, drowning. While most of the ship is realistically portrayed, its rear section abruptly blurs, before fading away into thin air. The style is slightly naive and outsider-ish, but not without appreciable technical merit. It is a more realistic painting than we would normally go for, but its weird supernatural qualities have intrigued us and reeled us in.

16:40. Staring into space like a moody teenager in the fruit & veg section of Sainsburys. Decide to Twitter my mood from my mobile.

K (hotly): What on earth are you doing?
M (listlessly): 'S boring innit. Texting me mates aren't I.

16:45. Cheering up now that we've reached the cake section, because I get to choose. My sunny disposition is easily bought.

17:45. Judging by the admittedly scant information on the web, it would seem that, for once, we have landed ourselves a hefty bargain. It's a difficult one to hang, though. Stylistically, it's such a departure that it doesn't really fit anywhere. We may be looking at a mini-rehang.

18:10. Enjoying a respite from bickering over where to put the painting (it's all part of the ritual), as K's mum has rung and she, um, likes a chat.

18:30. Clapping our hands with delight, having successfully positioned the darling little glass stopper bottles on the landing table. Aw, cute.

Darling little glass stopper bottles.

19:20. Have just missed most of Leona performing Over The Rainbow (equal parts Houston, W. and Cassidy, E., and sensibly sans mash-up) on The X Factor, as I was mixing gin and tonics in the kitchen.

19:45. Chig and I have decided to give next year's Eurovision a miss. The tickets, which go on sale tomorrow morning, are expensive and in scarce supply; all but the very dearest hotels in Helsinki are already fully booked; and I don't much fancy going through all of the many hassles involved, and booking more time off work away from K - and more importantly, so close to the first anniversary of the death of his sister M - merely so that I can repeat the experience which I already enjoyed in Athens earlier this year. It never does any harm to skip a year.

20:15. Flushed with triumph at the end of a particularly delicious supper, K insists that I Twitter the full list of ingredients, and proceeds to dictate them to me. Pork escalopes, Madeira, tarragon; watercress salad, lemon, porcini; and rye bread, for dunking. All the way through the day, he has been displaying a surprising interest in Twitter, often stopping to check my auto-refreshing "With Friends" page as he walks past the laptop on the kitchen table. He's normally only like this when I've mentioned him on the blog, and people are talking about him in the comments.

20:50. Pacing around in my posh clothes (stone coloured Gucci civil partnership jacket, brand new Paul Smith shirt, indestructible six-years-old Prada shoes), in readiness for L&M's 10th anniversary party at the memorial hall. This won't be our ususal crowd, and we're both a little nervous. A quick fag in the garden while K applies the finishing touches, and then we'll be off...

21:25. Down at the memorial hall, we are watching a loud six-piece semi-professional rock band from Liverpool called The Laze, whose members include M's brother. This isn't exactly what we're used to on a Saturday night in rural Derbyshire. Fab!

21:35. The band are playing a number called Your Poppa On Poppers. It is ace, especially with the sax. K and I are brain-storming their influences. Bluesy, rocky, jazzy and proggy. Shades of Little Feat, with a splash of Gong?

21:45. Oh my God, a recorder solo! Adding Jethro Tull to the list, I briefly step outside to get a signal on my mobile. A lone chuffer is out there already. He also mentions Little Feat - the fourth person to do so. Must be official, then.

21:50. They're getting heavier - and proggier, which is surprising for a band so young. The only contemporary comparison which I can make is with fellow Liverpudlians The Coral, whose live sets can also tend towards dense free-form psych-outs.

22:30. The band have finished, and I'm talking to L. He is a landscape artist, whose studio is also in the village, and we have bought several of his paintings over the years. L is telling me about the band, and of their shared reverence for Frank Zappa (of course, Zappa, duh, slap), and that record labels have been up to see them, but haven't known what stylistic bag to place them in for marketing purposes, and of the frustration which that causes.

22:40. E is telling me about his newly launched organic meat mail order site, and asking me how to boost its Googlejuice. I duly pledge a link. Every little helps.

23:50 S and I have just discovered that we were exact contemporaries at Nottingham University in the early 1980s, and that my major subject was her subsidiary subject. So that's why I have spent the past six years wondering why she looked naggingly familiar. Does she remember him and her? Of course she does! Do I remember her and him? Of course I do! We continue excitedly in this vein for some time.

00:20. I am talking with the couple down the road about Devendra Banhart, the Aphex Twin, raving in the 1990s, and the way that young children particularly respond to bass. Evidently, there are sides to this village which I never knew existed before. It is all coming as something of a revelation.

00:55. After hours jam session, yeah! The hall has thinned out, but the remaining lurching stragglers are doing a good job of filling the space. Is it just me, or is everyone here steaming drunk?

01:10. The five remaining band members are thrashing out a cover of Grieg's Hall of the Mountain King. People are hurling themselves off the front of the stage.

01:50. We're back from the party, and I have tracked down the band's Myspace page. Turns out that they have supported Damo Suzuki, the former lead singer of Can. Buzzing around the kitchen as the music blares from the laptop, we still cannot get over just how good they were, and what a great night it was, and how this extraordinary village never ceases to amaze us.

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Rainbow's end.

Rainbow over the cottage.

Strolling back from the pre-hunt gluhwein-and-sausages do, where I narrowly avoided being interviewed by BBC Radio Derby on my so-called "support for hunting", a subject upon which I have studiously avoided forming a coherent opinion (as I explained, I was just there for the wine and sausage, and anyway, I could have added - but didn't, becuase you only ever think of these things after the fact - this was a legally compliant drag hunt, and who but the most rabidly misanthropic self-styled Class Warrior could possibly object to a chuffing drag hunt?), a exceptionally large and bright rainbow started forming above the hill - closely followed by a fainter double, sadly invisible on this camphone shot.

Unusually for a rainbow, K and I could see where this one ended: on the lane towards the left of our cottage, and slightly uphill of it.

We decided against an undignified scramble for the pot of gold, which we left by the roadside for the poor and needy. Just call us the Brothers Bountiful.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I appear to be all out of Words.

No matter. Write Them, And They Will Come.

(I'd cop out and do you a vidcast instead, but I sense a looming backlash in the air.)

Marrakech was lovely. Next to no street hassles (we dressed smartly, which helped), a beautiful Marrakech riad (I promised the nice Dutch owners that I'd bestow the gift of Googlejuice), good shopping (once you leave the souks), stylish restaurants (Dar Moha and Foundouk were our favourites), pleasant weather (fractionally too cool to sunbathe, hence perfect for wandering about)... ack, holiday-blogging, who needs it? But thank you for your recommendations; many of them were acted upon. (Ooh, that Yves St Laurent cactus garden was lov-er-ley.)

I have taken up a new hobby. It is called Reading Books. They might be the next big thing after vidcasts - but they do take rather a long time to read, when you could be skim-reading blogs instead, and it's difficult to read them at work, so maybe not.

The tired-all-the-time syndrome is improved, but it hasn't altogether disappeared. However, Positive Steps are being taken, so fret not.

And how are you?

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Whacked.

I feel whacked out.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a couple of sick days, with what I took to be a viral infection. Constant fatigue, aching limbs - but no other symptoms. It passed, and I returned to work.

In the last few days, the fatigue has returned - but in a more subtle way, that I can't really attribute to a virus. I go to bed at a sensible time, sleep for 8 or 9 hours - and wake up feeling as tired as when I went to bed.

During the day, everything feels like an effort - even the most straightforward of everyday tasks, even getting up from my desk to make a cup of tea. Give you an example: even when busting for a pee, I'll stay at my desk until I'm absolutely desperate - because I can't even be bothered to go upstairs to the loo.

And it's not only fatigue. My piles have flared up; a couple of days ago, I was in severe pain just walking home from work. I'm back on the bum bullets and the prescription gel. They're under control now, but I'm having to be careful.

The eczema on both ankles has also flared up. I've treated the affected areas with hydrocortisone cream, every day for two weeks. It brings the eczema under control, but not to the point where it actually vanishes.

I went to the dentist today. The "nasty" area around my bottom left cavity has been giving me grief. The dentist says it's the early stages of gum disease, to be treated with a high-powered mouthwash to stop it spreading and doing damage.

Work has been tough for the past few months. I'm been out of my comfort zone all year. Every new task involves areas which are largely new to me, and the information which I need isn't readily available. The work is difficult, but not unsurmountably so. It's just taking a lot of will power to apply myself.

I started the year in China. Shortly after returning, I started commuting to London. For five months, I lived out of a suitcase. Keeping on top of things at home was another struggle, when all I wanted to do was flop out. In the middle of it all, K lost his sister. He has needed a lot of support, and so has his family.

Outside of work, I have taken on a considerable amount of freelance music journalism work. I've reviewed nearly thirty gigs, over a dozen albums, several dozen singles, and the Eurovision Song Contest in Athens. Most weeks during the Autumn, I've been doing two gigs a week, sometimes three.

So the physical problems that I'm experiencing: as K gently pointed out this evening, they have to be stress-related. I may not be climbing the walls with stress, but that doesn't mean that it's not taking a steady toll.

Mercifully - and I have last year's cognitive behavioural therapy course to thank for this - none of this has led the sort of depressive relapse which plagued me in the last half of 2004. I'm proud of this fact. Sure, there has been the odd wobble - but nothing which I haven't been able to challenge and rationalise.

Next week, we'll be on holiday, in gentle, tranquil, relaxing... Marrakech. Hahahahaha! But hey, a change is as good as a rest. I can't wait, and neither can he.



In amongst all the helpful comments which people have left me (see next post down), these two (from Boz) have particularly struck me.

"Expect to get lost - but don't mind if you do. Going with the flow is part of the fun."

"All the traders will be out for your money, but actually, it's part of the craic. Pretend you're Indiana Jones."


Excellent and much needed advice - because, by default, both situations could all too easily stress us out. I shall bear them in mind, Boz.



And finally, and just before I retire for the night: in amongst all the madness, we've still found time to cultivate a garden which looked like this, just before the village gardens open day in June. (It's a professionally taken photograph, which may be appearing in a garden design book some time next year. I'll tell you when I know more.)


I'm proud of this, as well.

In fact, I'm proud of the way that I've handled a lot of situations this year.

But oh my darlings, I'm whacked.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

An opportunity missed.

Yesterday, K declined an invitation to be photographed - in his guise as "prominent local businessman" - for a promotional campaign that would have seen his beaming visage plastered all over town: billboards, bus stops, public transport, the full works.

His reasons for turning the offer down were reasonable enough: he wasn't dolled up in the requisite business drag, and in any case, he has people to do that sort of thing on his behalf these days. Besides, there's only room for the one media whore in our household.

Whilst applauding his modesty, I couldn't help but experience a slight twinge of regret. God, the mileage I could have extracted from that one...

"My boyfriend's got a face like the back of a bus! Quite literally! Look, over there!"

I feel quite robbed.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Things I have done in the last week-and-a-bit. (2)

I do make a rod for my own back sometimes. This post has been hanging over me like an overdue homework assignment, and I'm rapidly approaching the Can't Be Arsed stage with it. So here goes - but quickly now - and then we can all move on with our lives.

5. Went to Duckie.

Immediately upon arriving at my friends' house in Clapham - three and a half pints down, and beginning to wilt - I was informed that I was going to Duckie, and that I had better get a move on, as they were already waiting for me at Kazbar. Having successfully negotiated a brief top-changing window (nice smart Paul Smith stripey shirt OFF; interesting glow-in-the-dark Camembert Electrique T-shirt ON - it's the only vaguely "rock and roll" garment I possess, providing you don't peer too closely at the hippy-dippy graphic), I was summarily bundled back out onto the street, with barely even time to snatch a burger. Still, being told I'd been guest-listed put a spring in my step.

"Guest listed for Duckie!", I texted to K, with the customary glee which I reserve for such nano-triumphs. Duckie is the only gay club EVER, in nearly a quarter of a century of being made to suffer them, which K has genuinely enjoyed. (There had to be somewhere.) That's probably because a) they don't play "dance" music, b) nobody's cruising (at least not so as you'd notice), so there's none of that brittle, competitive sexual tension, c) tops are kept firmly ON, d) it's relaxed, friendly and mostly 30+ (at least), e) there are no vicious, self-adoring, sociopathic disco bunnies bouncing around on f**king E. I wish we could go more often.

As we walked in, the Readers Wifes were playing my second favourite single of the year so far: Peter Bjorn and John's "Young Folks". GOOD sign.

In the middle of what passes for the dancefloor, Amy Lamé was making popcorn from a little machine that she picked up from Argos during the week, and was handing it out in plastic bowls. ("Why am I doing it? Because we've been running this club for eleven f**king years and I've run out of ideas, OKAY?")

Cabaret Act #1 performed a routine that was vaguely based around The Phantom of the Opera. Gothic burlesque, you could have called it. A bunch of red roses was seized; the petals were bitten off, chewed up and spat out over our eagerly upturned faces; and the remaining stems were contemptuously tossed away, most of them landing smack in my face. (The honour!) Upper clothing was removed, leaving a pair of red love hearts, one covering each bosom. A large crimson candle was brandished and dangled above the performer's bare midriff, so that a third love heart could be etched upon her skin with the molten wax. Ooh! Aah! Hey, that's actually quite pretty!

Next, a tourniquet was applied to the performer's upper arm, a syringe inserted, and a blood sample extracted. (I couldn't look. I've got a thing about needles). The blood was then squirted into a half-full wine glass, stirred, and greedily gulped down. Erk! Eek! But hold up, we're not done yet!

Lower clothing (such as it was) was removed, revealing - you guessed it - a fourth love heart, protecting what little remained of the performer's modesty.

It was at this point that we noticed the string.

As the soundtrack changed to "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend", and even before a collective "Uh-oh!" could be muttered, the performer grabbed the string and yanked it downwards - extracting a length of large, threaded beads from her hoo-hah as she did so.

It swiftly occurred to me that this was only the second time in my life that I had been presented with a lady's hoo-hah at such close quarters - and that the first time had also been at a Duckie event, when Ursula Martinez had extracted a string of brightly coloured handkerchiefs from her "special place". Really, the place is an education.

Cabaret Act #2, a slender, bare-chested androgyne of indeterminate ethnicity (if pressed, I'd plump for Flipino), who had previously performed at Caesar's Palace and the Brixton Academy, proceeded to thrill us all with the most remarkable display of hula-hoop-manship that any of us are ever likely to see. To the strains of CCS's cover of "Whole Lotta Love" (used as the theme tune for Top of the Pops for most of the 1970s), he/she worked that hoop like a whirling dervish, spinning it from every limb, and at every angle, at dazzling speed - and somehow managing to avoid hitting the ceiling, the walls, and indeed us (it was a very small stage, and a very large hula hoop). Ooh, we went mental - all lingering memories of vaginal bead extraction banished, as we cheered him/her to the rafters.

The music was - as ever - eclectic, seemingly random, but never obscure (I recognised everything they played, even that "modern" one by The Fratellis) , and always perfectly chosen. Forget the Guilty Pleasures aesthetic; although many of the choices would have overlapped, their context was quite different. For the final run, we gave it up to: "Living Thing" (ELO), "Cannonball" (The Breeders), "Justified and Ancient" (The KLF with Tammy Wynette), "Teenage Kicks" (The Undertones) and "Get Down" (Gilbert O'Sullivan). As I say: perfect.

The day's total damage: seven pints of lager and one can of Red Bull - but spread out over eleven hours, allowing plenty of time for absorption and processing. At forty-four, I don't do shit-faced. So unbecoming in the slightly older gentleman.

Ah, London. You never let me down!

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Things I have done in the last week-and-a-bit. (1)

1. Seen the Puppini Sisters, at a Halloween "burlesque" evening down The Social.

This was one of those nights when I find myself thinking, "Writing teeny-tiny gig reviewlets for t'local paper: is it really worth standing around in the oppressive heat, for hours on end, bored and restless, and unable to pass the time by drinking more than the statutory maximum of two pints of lager (even half a pint extra, and Drunkard's Block sets in; been there, tried that, got the shit article to prove it), when the headline act in question turns out to as underwhelming as this lot?"

I'd say more - but I know you don't come here for the music, so I shan't. Suffice it to say that the Puppini Sisters - an immaculately coiffed and maquillaged trio of not-actually-siblings, who specialise in mixing Andrews Sisters standards with Andrews-ified novelty covers of modern pop numbers (Wuthering Heights, Heart Of Glass, Panic), who would have been fine as a three-minute interlude on a TV chat show, and might have been OK in a swishy cabaret bar, with proper chairs and tables and waiters and stuff - were utterly unsuited to performing in a packed, sweaty rock venue, at half past eleven on a Tuesday night, to a glammed-up but rapidly wilting crowd whose Halloweeny goodwill had been gradually eroded by a succession of alternately amateurish and ill-matched support acts, and by a tedious and unjustifiable forty-five minute wait with nothing to do except get into fractious arguments with each other (just behind us), or faint (just in front of us).

(Did you enjoy that last sentence? I know I did.)

Anyhow, Alan at Reluctant Nomad (currently enjoying his second massive traffic spike in a month, and really quite the belle of the Internet these days, not that it will change him in any way, oh dear me no, although 18,000 page views in a day would certainly turn my head, at least just a little) has posted his own report - and also some photos of the sexy ginger-haired double bass player, who made our ordeal so much more bearable. (Note: Don't get too excited. He was heaps better in the flesh.)

2. Collapsed in a heap in front of the telly for two days.

Finding myself possessed of an overhwelming desire to be horizontal, with an achey breaky bod to match, I promptly excused myself from all professional commitments, and spent a perversely agreeable couple of days watching old movies, in a fuzzed-out swoon of grateful surrender.

(Best movie: The Card, starring Alec Guinness. Biggest let-down: Our Man In Havana, also starring Alec Guinness. Those afternoon schedulers on TCM and More4 sure do be liking their Alec Guinness movies.)

3. Had a Good Old Fashioned Big Gay Night Out In Nottingham.

"Oh! I'm in town on a Friday night! Oh, and K's away! Well, I must Go Out On The Scene, then! It's my duty! I'm not ready for the knacker's yard just yet, ha ha! Maybe they'll play the Scissor Sisters! Maybe I'll dance! Maybe someone will flirt with me! Even though I've got my specs on! Or "cruising shields", as I call them, ha ha! Not that I care one way or the other, of course! I'm beyond all that!"

Thus did I rage against the dying of the light. At some length. With Belle of the Internet Alan ("Whoops, Mind My Spike!") and Nurse Alan - and special guest TGI Paul, up from London for the weekend.

4. Attended a Big Old Birthday Blogmeet in London.

I really must stop getting totally bladdered on the night before "society" blogmeets, such as the one held in honour of Andre's 40th birthday, last Saturday afternoon/evening. That way, I wouldn't have to spend the first hour telling everyone how knackered I was and how little sleep I'd had, and that I was "running on empty", and "faking it". No-one likes to be told that the person they're talking to is "faking it", do they?

However, by setting expectations of social fabulousness at rock bottom, I was actually freeing myself from the anxiety which they could have induced. This turned out to be quite an effective strategy, and one which I could usefully bear in mind for the future.

And so, one pint of lager later, and thus restored to full functionality, I was working the room like the hoary old tart that I am. Damn, but it was great to see some of my bestest blogpals again - and equally, to meet others for the first time. It was a good mix in that respect - and, indeed, in every respect.

Shall we do a roll-call? Or will it just turn into one of those icky displays of linky-love, that can be so off-putting when you don't know the people concerned?

Nah, let's do a roll-call. In alphabetical order, so that people don't start reading things into randomness. (We're a sensitive bunch.) Off we go!

Abby "One Track" Lee.
"I don't know what I should be calling her", someone said to me during the course of the afternoon. "Do I say Abby, or [real name], or Girl, or what?"

"Well, Andre calls her One Track. Why not go with that?"

As was only right and proper, One Track and I got to share a couple of agreeably fruity exchanges along the way. One was at my instigation, involved webcams, and contained the punchline "So what was I supposed to do: reply to them with my nose?" More than that, I am not at liberty to divulge. You'll have to invent your own middle bit.

The other was at One Track's instigation, and concerned itself with the lamentable lack of lube-awareness within the heterosexual community. (I didn't realise that it was ever required for front-door action - but then, why would I? My sexual knowledge operates mainly on a need-to-know basis.)

On my return journey, I noticed that One Track's worthy little tome is currently at Number Two in the "best sellers" display at the St. Pancras station branch of WH Smith. Awesome or what!

Andre Revolution.
Birthday Boy Andre was showered with cards and compact-sized gift-ettes - a "Head Boy" badge here, a freshly laid farm egg there - and from me, a hand-crafted CD entitled (wait for it) A Beautiful Compilation. (My days of sighing semi-recumbence were not entirely unproductive, then.)

If you would like to assemble your own copy of A Beautiful Compilation, then you will need the following ingredients.
1. I Started A Blog Nobody Read - Sprites
2. Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken - Camera Obscura
3. Young Folks - Peter, Bjorn & John
4. Casanova In Hell (live) - Pet Shop Boys featuring Rufus Wainwright
5. Everybody Wants A Little Something - Duke Special
6. Long Way Round - Badly Drawn Boy
7. Once I Was - Tim Buckley
8. Everything I Cannot See - Charlotte Gainsbourg
9. The Greatest - Cat Power
10. She's Gone - The Hidden Cameras
11. Giddy Stratospheres - The Long Blondes
12. The Decision - The Young Knives
13. Oops! I Did It Again (live) - Richard Thompson
14. Uncertain Smile - The The
15. Tower Of Song - Leonard Cohen
16. Crazy - Gnarls Barkley
17. Hey Man (Now You're Really Living) - Eels
18. If It Feels Good, Do It - Della Reese
19. The Only Way Is Up - Otis Clay
20. What A Wonderful World - Nick Cave & Shane MacGowan
(Yes, an "emotional journey". Well spotted, you.)

Anna P Boat.
Anna had a box of those little mini-photo-card things that you can get done off Flickr, and I have to say that they were absolutely gorgeous. I've never quite got the appeal of Flickr (especially when people stick Flickr pics on their blogs - they're so SLOW), but these little card things were enough to make me want to go off and take hundreds of photos, like, tomorrow or something.

Ann Pixeldiva.
Last time I saw Pix, it was in a "jazz curry" joint at Archway. We didn't chat for long enough this time, but you know how these things can be.

Anxious. (whose write-up is here)
I've been following Status Anxiety ever since the previous time we met (over a year ago), so Anxious was one of the people that I was particularly looking forward to seeing. We talked about all sorts, including - what else? - that ole devil called Anxiety. (She actually comes across as rather self-assured in real life, lest you should think otherwise. But I don't want to burst any bubbles. Invisible inner anx is still anx. Hell, I should know.)

Cheerful One. (who refers to the event, albeit obliquely, here)
I might be wrong, but Cheerful One was the only person at the meet that I don't recall even so much as saying "Hello" to. Bah! It's always the ones that get away that come back to haunt you...

Clare Boob Pencil.
Clare told us a long and involved story concerning her train journey to London, a sewing kit, various defective items of clothing, and a number of costume changes in the train's toilets. A little while later, she re-emerged in a different top. Is this evidence of some sort of compulsive costume changing syndrome?

Damian of Our Albion and Universal Critic. (whose write-up is here)
We had quite a long chat - but I was three pints down by that stage, and my memory had switched to RealPlayer streaming mode.

Girl on a Train.
She was on that bit of the table that I never quite managed to infiltrate, so we didn't do much more than wave and smile at each other.

Greavsie. (who avoids the subject here)
He got caught in the crossfire of my self-instigated and unpublishable webcam-related exchange with One Track - but coped with it manfully, I thought. Unlike someone else, of whom more in a bit...

Hydragenic.
Hg has been a Gentleman of Leisure for most of this year. I deeply envy his freedom, and the the unflustered serenity which it seems to have elicited.

JonnyB. (whose write-up is here)
We talked about blog sponsorship, and the Googlejuice which a carefully placed hyperlink can induce. (Until I linked to K's company's website with the words "canine cancer" the other day, the site was languishing in the 40s for the term in question. A couple of days later, it had shot up to fourth position. We bloggers don't always know what we're sitting on.)

Later on, as One Track and I steered our lube-based discussion onto foreskin-related territory (do circumcised cocks need more lube than uncut cocks?), something inside this sheltered East Anglian diarist cracked. Why, you could have heard his howl of trapped anguish all the way up to Covent Garden tube. How unlike the stoic sang froid demonstrated by Greavsie (see above). We do put our str8 boyz through the mill sometimes!

Karen Uborka, Pete Dot Nu and Baby Bernard.
As has been well documented, Baby Bernard could be said to owe his very existence to a blogmeet. The first baby of British blogging looked thrilled to be amongst us all, and gurgled merrily throughout. The cutest and most sunny-natured baby you ever did see - and I don't even like babies, so I speak without prejudice in this matter.

Leonie. (whose write-ups are here and here)
Again, we didn't really get past the nodding and smiling stage. She really is a very lovely looking lady, though. Is it OK to say that? Well, she is, dammit! I'm a big old poof-arse, I can say these things.

Mark Britblog-Technoranki.
"Are you here to arrange us all into alphabetical order?", I quipped, facetiously. Mark has just taken his fledgling Technoranki service to the next level - meaning that those of us Britbloggers who have registered with the site and added his thingy to our template now get a nice little PageRank graphic, and the chance to qualify for the Technoranki Top 200 chart. And as you should all know by now, I ain't half a sucker for a good chart. Especially one that puts me at Number... well, never mind about that.

Meg P Meish.
"I felt like a Betamax in a room full of DVDs", says the pioneering first-waver whom I have come to regard as the Dowager Duchess of British blogging. No, no, no. As Damian says in her comments box: Meg is like vinyl in a sea of MP3s. Wish she'd stayed longer; it had been ages, and I fancied a good long chat.

Mimi in New York.
Accompanied by her intrepid polar explorer boyfriend, and looking dazzling in a white woollen dress, Mimi was the afternoon's surprise guest. We could have chatted for much longer, were it not for the impertinent demands of a lager-swollen bladder (on my part) and the lure of Borat (on her part). We talked about her forthcoming book, and of the difficulties of sticking to one's literary guns when others would rather you dumbed down and sexed up.

Non-Working Monkey. (who briefly mentions the occasion here)
"Oh, you're Non-Working Monkey!", I exclaimed, brightly. "You're quite the Hot Blog of the moment, aren't you? Everyone keeps saying how good you are, and linking to you, and..."

"AAAARGH!", she squirmed, with what I took to be equal measures of embarrassment and delight. "Will people STOP SAYING THAT!"

Shiz good though, intshi? Are you reading her yet? Everybody else is!

Petite Anglaise. (whose write-up is here)
After Petite appeared on Richard and Judy a few months ago, we enjoyed a little e-mail exchange, during which she admitted that she "had kittens in the dressing room". As I reminded her, I then spent a full twenty-four hours thinking that Petite really did have real, live kittens in her dressing room, in best Mariah Carey diva-style - until K gently suggested that maybe, just maybe, she was using a figure of speech. I can be worryingly literal-minded at times.

Rachel Frizzy-Logic.
We talked world music, as we usually do, and I said "Have you heard of Tartit?" At which point, our high-minded cultural exchange somewhat collapsed in on itself. Hee hee, Tartit! Their new album's good, though...

Robin Parent.
We spent quite some time reverentially invoking the spirit of Peter @ Naked Blog, and its recent feline off-shoot. Have you seen Peter's debut vidcast yet? A master class in semi-inebriated eloquence, so it is...

Tim "Free Man In" Preston. (whose write-up is here)
Winner of the Best Personal Blog award at the recent inaugural Manchester Blog Awards, no less. Such exalted company we keep these days...

Unlucky Man.
Had to disappear early, due to reasons amply documented elsewhere. The "living up to the name of his blog" gag has been done as well. Hey ho!

Here is a photo of five of the above-mentioned attendees. Can you spot who is who?

(I have done other things in the last week-and-a-bit, but we'll be here all night. Part Two soon come.)

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