…and we’re back. AGAIN.

Welcome back to what will henceforth be (hopefully) a stable, uninterrupted service, here at troubled HYPHEN diva dot com. Now with added hyphen. Which I can’t help think it should have had all along.

(The RSS feed is here, by the way.)

Warmest thanks to Sasha for inviting me to squat at her place for the past week; I have enjoyed it immensely. If you didn’t manage to track me down at Sashinka, then the guest posts start here, and continue upwards. These include:

So, you know, a quiet week.

Right then – it’s back to trawling through the site for broken links, and other similarly enthralling chores. (Although actually, after all the recent excitements, I’m finding the comparative banality of site maintenance strangely soothing.)

Don’t you go forgetting that hyphen, now!

 

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Sashinka: Dry your eyes, mate

I tried, I really tried.

But.

We had just finished watching the so-so Michael Douglas thriller on Sky. As I needed to check the progress of the match before heading out to meet A in the pub, I successfully negotiated a lightening-quick flick over to BBC1, in the few available seconds before Big Brother.

Only to witness, at that precise moment, Portugal’s extra time goal.

“Oh my God!” we shrieked.

“That’s it then”, I authoritatively declared, still labouring under the delusion that extra time operated on a sudden-death principle. “England are out of Euro 2004”.

And texted A in the sports bar:
I'll get my coat. 😦

And finally looked up again, and realised that the game was still going. A-hum.

“I feel like we’ve jinxed the match”, I wailed.

“Better watch the rest of it, then.”

Within seconds, the last two effete footie-phobes in town had metamorphosed into standard issue Come On Englanders. Why, I could hear our very vocal chords hardening over, even as our vocabulary contracted into guttural monosyllabics.

Shoe-horned into the collective consciousness. Helplessly abased before the Higher Power of Speuuurght.

As Engerland equalised, some deep-seated Pavlovian impulse caused us to rise up off the sofa as one, making those tight little fist-stabs as we did so.

“It’s going to penalties!”

I text A again:
Cheadling hell! 🙂
He texts back:
My heart!
We’re not built for this.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Striding into town to make it to the Roberts for last orders, deftly weaving my way through the shell-shocked crowds spilling out of the sports bars, I am struck by the weird, subdued atmosphere that prevails. It’s so… quiet. Everywhere I look, lads are perched on the edge of the pavement; or stretched flat out on it; or slumped against walls, absently texting. Directing my own video-montage, I start mentally overdubbing the soundtrack.

Dry your eyes mate / I know you want to make her see how much this pain hurts / But you’ve got to walk away now / It’s over.

Snatches of conversation:

“I wanna see Sweden f***ing smash them in the semis. No, even better; I wanna see them get to the f***ing finals, think they’re gonna f***ing win, then…”

“Can’t believe they just played that Britney Spears song at the end. Like that’s gonna cheer us up…”

“Yeah but, you gotta admit, it takes a lot of guts to come back and equalise like that, right at the end…”

I give K a quick call, just to bear witness.
“Honestly, you’d think Princess Diana had just died.”

Even in the Roberts, the queens are all a-twitter. At the bar, I tell the story of how my Nokia – the gayest mobile in the whole world, like, ever – had changed footie to ennui. People start checking their own.

“No, it just comes up with foothe.”

“Darling! Ennui simply isn’t in my lexicon!”

As the beers kick in, a sort of refractory queeniness has begun to steal over us. A necessary corrective process, no doubt. Excitedly, A starts to tell me all about his new bit-of-rough builder friend.

“Darling! Lucky you! How rough exactly?”

“Well, just before Euro 2004, the police called round to his house and confiscated his passport. I think he must be on some sort of List.”

“Darling! The sex must be fabulous! But does he know that you’re a native Portuguese speaker? He doesn’t? Oh, I don’t think you should tell him. At least, not unless you’re up for some extremely adventurous role play…”

In the late bar over the road, the mutual healing continues until stupid o’clock. Even the regular Thursday night trannies are bitching about that silly Swiss hem-hem of a ref. As ever, the more slurred and messy everyone gets, the more fulsomely articulate I become. (Why is this?)

It’s the landlord’s last night, so the final rounds of drinks are on the house. The wiry little skinhead in the corner has hitched his T-shirt up, his beltless waistband down, and is distractedly stroking the area in between, over and over and over again; the effect is quite mesmerising. Pints are sloshed onto the carpet, nonchalantly; arses are grabbed, inappropriately; no-one can understand a word that anyone else is saying, but no-one seems to care.

Good grief. We’re not even like this over Eurovision.

As you were, sisters. As you were.

The Summer Burn 2004.

For some tormented souls, the term “Summer Music” will conjure up lurid notions of daft Europop in naff discos; for others, the grim sceptre of Bangin Eye-Beef-A Choons may be raised. But for me, “Summer Music” has always meanst sinuous, sultry, low-slung grooves, wafting through an open window on a hot, dark, sticky night. As such, it has long been one of my very favourite musical aesthetics.

On one such night earlier in the week, I stayed up past my bedtime in order to compile my submission to the Summer Burn 2004 project, as hosted by the guys at FunJunkie.

(Simple, effective concept. Burn a summer-themed CD; send it to two random participants as selected by the organisers; receive CDs of new music from two other random particpants; hey presto, everyone’s a winner.)

Inevitably, since I seem to be congenitally unable to do anything by halves, this ended up being a 2CD compilation. Here’s the track listing. For maximum effect, do not play until after nightfall.

CD ONE.

1. sparkle city – shuggie otis
2. back to the world – curtis mayfield
3. voz d’amor – cesaria evora
4. it’s alright now – eddie harris
5. reasons – minnie ripperton
6. strawberry letter 23 – shuggie otis
7. upside down – carol cool
8. clean up woman – betty wright
9. express yourself – charles wright & the watts 103rd street rhythm band
10. give me your love – sisters love
11. turned on to you – eighties ladies
12. be thankful for what you’ve got – one blood
13. ain’t no time fa nothing – the futures
14. moonshadow – labelle
15. easy money – dee dee sharpe gamble
16. light my fire – shirley bassey

CD TWO.

1. want ads – the honey cone
2. expressway to your heart – margo thunder
3. how can you live without love – jean terrell
4. you got the love – rufus with chaka khan
5. a toda cuba le gusta – afro-cuban all stars
6. he venido a decirte – omara portuondo
7. who is he and what is he to you – bill withers
8. no letting go – wayne wonder
9. my sensitivity (gets in the way) – luther vandross
10. star – earth wind & fire
11. what are we gonna do about it – mercy mercy
12. annie mae – natalie cole
13. disposable society – esther phillips
14. primavera – mariza
15. solid air – john martyn
16. chelsea morning – joni mitchell
17. l-o-v-e (love) – al green
18. make me believe in you – patti jo
19. cucurrucucú paloma – caetano veloso

The Troubled Twenty.

1. phoenix – holding on together
2. caetano veloso – soy loco por ti, america
3. youssou n’dour – cheikh ibra fall
4. kelis – trick me
5. kanye west/syleena johnson – all fall down
6. style council – long hot summer
7. jc chasez – all day long i dream about sex
8. emma – crickets sing for anamaria
9. prince – illusion, coma, pimp & circumstance
10. ojos de brujo – tiempo de soleá
11. harpers bizarre – witchi tai to
12. faithless – i want more
13. magazine – a song from under the floorboards
14. girls aloud – the show
15. esther phillips – disposable society
16. usha uthup & chorus – one two cha cha cha
17. company b – fascinated
18. one blood – be thankful for what you got
19. scissor sisters – laura
20. ce’cile – hot like we

What’s currently Number One in your personal chart?

Daft meme thingy, because it’s hot and I’m feeling lazy…

…and because I enjoyed reading them over at Stuart’s and Elsie’s. I luvva bitta Meta, I do.

1. Do you try to look hot when you go to the grocery store just in case someone recognizes you from your blog?

(“hot…grocery store…recognizes…” You’re from o’er the pond, aren’t you? Oh, I can always tell. It’s a gift. )

I certainly do try to make myself look reasonably attractive and presentable whenever I leave the house, for whatever purpose; in this respect, I am my mother’s son. The only exceptions are hiking and gigging, when I dress for practicality and comfort alone.

(Ironically, the only time that a stranger recognised me from the blog was just after a gig. I dare say that I looked extremely hot by then; just not in the way that the question implied.)

2. Are the photos you post Photoshopped or otherwise altered?

Like so many pieces of functionally rich software (Access, Flash, Movable Type), the thought of Photoshop scares me so much that I don’t even own a copy. This state of denial can last for yearsIrfanview serves my needs perfectly adequately, thank you.

I have a copy of Paint Shop Pro at work, but am stuck at the stage where super-imposing text onto an image (see doctored Beatles pic below) feels like the last word in daring creativity. De-gaussing? Raster layers? The mere sight of such terms is enough to bring me out in hives.

I can, however, crop for England. It’s an overlooked skill. I should add it to my CV.

3. Do you like it when creeps or dorks email you?

My pathetic need for self-validation is so great that any unsolicited e-mail from readers is welcome, irrespective of creepiness or dorkitude. Yes, even the one which called me a “vaseline-arsed fairy”. Hey, at least I provoked a reaction.

4. Do you lie in your blog?

Sometimes, I wish I had the nerve (it could be such fun!) – but I am burdened by having a major, major beef with dishonesty in all its forms. The ensuing guilt would simply be too much to bear.

The nearest I have come to lying on the blog was when I invented a fictional guest contributor, for the purpose of telling true stories which I didn’t fancy putting my name to. Despite filtering these stories through a fictional persona, the ensuing results were, paradoxically, amongst the most honest pieces of writing I have produced.

A couple of years ago, I toyed for ages with the concept of blogging a piece of fiction as if it were fact, building up a story over several days, and only ‘fessing up afterwards. I had a cracking good story all lined up, and came very close to writing it. In the final analysis, it felt like too much of a betrayal of trust, and so I shelved the idea.

5. Are you passive-aggressive in your blog?

Passive-aggressive: what a ghastly pop-psychology concept that is. In real life: I suppose that I have my moments. As for the blog: exactly how can one be passive-aggressive on a blog? Does not compute. This question perplexes and annoys me. I shall move on.

6. Do you ever threaten to quit writing so people will tell you not to stop?

Good God, no. As manipulative, attention-seeking strategies go, it is too crass, too obvious, too transparent. I can do much better than that.

7. Are you in therapy? If not, should you be? If so, is it helping?

Not in therapy; never have been. I do sometimes wonder if it might be beneficial, but cynicism and inertia always prevail. I also suffer from the narcissistic delusion that my hang-ups are so uniquely complex that no therapist could possibly know how to deal with me. (Of course, I also acknowledge that this is probably one of the most common syndromes of all.)

8. Do you delete mean comments? Do you fake nice ones?

The only mean comment I have ever deleted was at the subsequent request of the commenter. I have also deleted a comment which threatened to compromise someone else’s privacy. Other than that, I adopt a fairly laissez-faire attitude. So far, I’ve been pretty lucky.

The concept of faking nice comments has never occurred to me before. There have been a couple of occasions where I have been polite through gritted teeth, though.

9. Have you ever rubbed one out while reading a blog? How about after?

I can honestly say that I have never been sexually stimulated by anything I have read on a blog, ever.

Well, maybe the occasional photo, slightly. But the question referred to “reading”, not viewing. Besides, any ensuing stimulation stopped several yards short of, ahem, “rubbing one out”.

(Is that a new expression? Now that I have banished the image of pencil erasers from my mind, I must concede that it has a certain graphic potency.)

10. If your readers knew you in person, would they like you more or like you less?

That’s hardly for me to say, is it? To dwell on such matters is fatal.

11. Do you have a job?

“Job” is certainly the mot juste in my case. As opposed to the spurious dignity inherent in the word “career”. Let’s not fool ourselves.

12. If someone offered you a decent salary to blog full-time without restrictions, would you do it?

In the blink of an eye. (It sort of happened for a while, didn’t it?)

13. Which blogger do you want to meet in real life?

There are so many. However, the first person that springs to mind is Anna.

14. Which bloggers have you made out with?

One. However, this was several years before blogs were invented. We didn’t need no fancy computers to cop off with in them days! We made our own entertainment!

15. Do you usually act like you have more money or less money than you really have?

I think I give a fairly accurate representation of this, wouldn’t you say? Occasionally, I worry about how this might be perceived. But I have to say that it is only a minor, tangential worry.

16. Does your family read your blog?

My sister keeps up with it on a regular basis, particularly on the brief occasions when she is back in the country. As she is now. (Hiya, sis! See you on Sunday!)

I believe that my cousin dips into it from time to time.

My mother doesn’t own a computer, and has no desire to do so.

After many years of prolonged nagging from the rest of us, my aunt and uncle have finally gone online, and are probably going through their Honeymoon Period as I speak. My archives have been duly checked for Googlability.

17. How old is your blog?

It blends the noisy attention-seeking of a seven year-old, the self-questioning angst of a sixteen year-old, and the cocky swagger of a nineteen year-old.

Let’s see, then. 7 + 16 + 19 = 42. Ooh, coincidence!

18. Do you get more than 1000 page views per day? Do you care?

This has happened six times in the past month, although my usual figure hovers somewhere between 600 and 900.

Although it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that it wasn’t a source of some satisfaction, I have also been knocking around long enough to take this sort of thing with a hefty pinch of salt. All those pop-culture references get me a lot of Googlers; my traffic spikes always occur for bizarre and unpredictable reasons; my above-average number of references to other blogs generates a certain level of interest; and I’m a frequent updater, so people come back and check more often. Oh, and I’ve got all sorts of sub-pages beneath the main page, including two and a half years of weekly archives and separate pages for everything in the 40 In 40 Days Project. Plus there are all the Google image searches, which count for a hefty slice of traffic, and…

Hmmm.

19. Do you have another secret blog in which you write about being depressed, slutty, or a liar?

I’ve often thought about doing this, but know full well that it would only end in tears. I’m absolutely crap at keeping secrets.

20. Have you ever given another blogger money for his/her writing?

No, but I rewarded my first set of guest bloggers with home-made mix CDs. So much more civilised!

21. Do you report the money you earn from your blog on your taxes?

I don’t think that the Inland Revenue would be overly troubled by the meagre income generated by my merchandising boutique. Meanwhile, my Amazon referrals have not yet been sufficient to convert into real earnings.

22. Is blogging narcissistic?

Yes, of course. But at its best, it’s also much more than that.

23. Do you feel guilty when you don’t post for a long time?

Tragically, I do. And then I feel guilty for feeling guilty.

24. Do you like John Mayer?

Now, you see, this is why I rarely bother with questionnaires like these. Because there’s always at least one supremely irrelevant question near the end, isn’t there?

Being only dimly aware of the fellow, it would be presumptious of me to venture an opinion. However, based on what little I know of him, I strongly suspect that he is Not My Sort Of Thing At All.

Sorry, John. Nothing personal. Keep on keeping on, and all that.

25. Do you have enemies?

None that I am aware of. I’ve had the odd fractious ding-dong along the way, but have always managed to reach a suitable resolution in due course. Long may this continue.

26. Are you lonely?

Hardly. My voices are all the company I need.

(It’s the penultimate question. I feel I’ve earnt the right to some measure of bleak flippancy.)

27. Why bother?

Because the benefits outweigh the botherations, many times over.

How to say “Alright!” in the countryside: a city-dweller’s guide.

Guesting on Naked Blog, Jonny Billericay describes the obligatory round of cheery morning greetings that every self-respecting village dweller must enter into when staggering, bleary of eye and fuzzy of brain, down to the shop for the morning newspaper. In our village (and maybe in most others), there is also a secondary, vaguely class-based convention to observe.

If you don’t speak with a local accent, then the correct form of greeting is a clearly enunciated “Good Morninggg!“, delivered in a sing-song intonation, with plenty of reverb on the final “ng”.

If you actually know the person you are greeting (that is to say, you have been formally introduced and have exchanged at least a few sentences of conversation with each other), then this may be shortened to “Mooor-ning!” – delivered with just the merest hint of hey-ho-here-we-go-again world-weariness.

If you do have a local accent, then the correct greeting is a simple, unaffected, I’m-just-a-straightforward-son-of-the-soil, no-frills-and-flounces-here-thank-you-very-much, “Ullo“.

And of course: if you live in the city, than do not, under any circumstances, attempt any of the above. They’ll only think you’re weird. Sometimes, back in Nottingham during the week, I have to make a conscious effort of will to remember this.

The Graveyard Shift.

Over the weekend, I somehow ended up spending three and a half gruelling hours raking the churchyard. Try as I might, I have no recollection of volunteering my services. I can only suppose that it must have been very late, and that I must have been particularly well oiled. This suggests commendable (and characteristic) shrewdness on the part of the person who enlisted me.

However, of one thing I am quite certain: I would never knowingly have volunteered for anything which started at 9:30 on a Saturday morning. (I was about to say “at the ungodly hour of”, before realising that it was quite the opposite. God thrives on Bright And Early Starts.)

Let me make something quite clear: I am, by nature, a self-confessed Effete Drawing Room Fop. Extended periods of physical exertion are anathema to me; for I have no wish to be brought face to face with my wide range of incompetencies. Show me a hoe, and I will automatically hold it upside down. Put me in charge of a lawnmower, and I will squeal with terror as it charges away with me. Hand me a rake, and I will deploy it in such a way that my entire body will hum with pain for days afterwards – as evidenced by my current pitiful physical condition.

The worst of the pain is centered around my lower back, and – thanks to a brief but debilitating attempt to wield a pair of shears – both of my wrists. “They’ve never exactly been my strong point”, I quipped, somewhat daringly, over lunch in the pub with the rest of the morning’s conscripts – carefully curling my delivery with the requisite degrees of irony. With gags like these, you walk a tightrope.

Dragging my rake directly over the top of the village’s former chief supplier of heterosexual pornography (we ate lunch together only three years ago), I was surprised – cheered, even – to feel not even the slightest of shudders. In a village, you can readily attain an easy familiarity with the cycles of birth and death.

Later that afternoon, hobbling round the cottage like an elderly arthritic, I caught sight of the bulls in the field opposite, and mused benignly upon the gastronomic pleasures that lie ahead. At times like these, one feels so deliciously elemental, my dears.