17 things which I love about my beautiful, bouncing new iPod.

(This started out as a list of 12 things, but I keep thinking of more.)

1. The design. Sleek, sexy, fully functional, and manifestly created with love. You can just tell that sentient, compassionate, dedicated professionals who take a true pride in their work have taken the time and trouble to think through every last little detail along the way. So THAT’S where all you slavering Apple junkies get your hitherto mystifying brand loyalty from. Well, why didn’t you SAY?

2. “Shuffle Songs”. The Killer App. Instantly turns your music collection into a decent approximation of your own personalised FM radio station. But without the DJs and the adverts. Meaning that…

3. …just as with the mythically perfect radio stations of your youth, you can once again experience the surprise and delight of being stopped in your tracks by something unexpectedly apposite to your current state of mind…

4. …but without the corresponding inevitability of having to sit through all those dud tracks in between. Because, naturally, there are no duds on your iPod. And even if there are, you can just reach over and skip them.

5. iPods breathe fresh life into disappointing purchases, and can make played-out albums sound good again. You know all those CDs which your fingers automatically flick past, because you can’t countenance the thought of being stuck in their company for the next 45+ minutes? All of a sudden, they’re no longer dead weight, but rich seams of unexpected treasure. (Notable examples from the past week alone: Junior Boys, Micah P. Hinson, Feist, Sondre Lerche.)

6. Playlists. Last night, I dragged and dropped a stack of albums (taking care to omit any duff tracks along the way) into a “Banyan Tree” (see next post below) playlist of suitably laidback holiday music. After no more than twenty minutes, I then had a customised sequence of music which, if played end-to-end without a break, would take a full six days to listen to.

7. The next level: smart playlists, which automatically update themselves based on the selection criteria which you have supplied. Example 1: every track which I’ve ranked with five stars (an accolade which I only use very sparingly). Example 2: every track bearing a date stamp of 2004. (I’ve already got 1140 of them, and I haven’t even finished going through some of the stand-alone MP3s.) This is going to be an enormous help when drawing up those all-important Best Of 2004 lists, and when compiling the annual Best Of 2004 double mix CD. (Don’t look at me like that. These things matter.)

8. Rolling compilations. Thanks to playlists, you can keep that Top Forty Favourite Tracks Of The Moment compilation constantly updated with new favourites, dropping the songs you’ve grown tired of at the very instant they begin to bore you.

9. The accessories, which you can pick up at the Apple store in the (deep breath, because I can’t believe I’m going to say this) Broadmarsh shopping centre. (Top level, near the escalators that bring you out by Oddbins and Limeys.) Stock up on the right accessories, and you then have…

10. Portability (hardware). If I’m in the bathroom (or lounging by the pool in Thailand), then I can use the cute little lightweight speaker system, with a docking station between the speakers. If I’m near the hi-fi, then I can use a cable with a headphone jack at one end and phono plugs at the other end. Or if I’m near a radio, or in the car, then I can use the iTrip: a simple gizmo that plugs into the headphone jack and converts the iPod into a short-range FM transmitter. There’s no need to plug anything in: just select a free frequency on the radio, and Troubled Diva FM becomes a tangible reality.

11. Portability (software). No more stressing out over what CDs to pick for long car journeys, or for weekend breaks, or to take to the office. No more bulging bags and briefcases, stuffed with far more CDs than are strictly necessary, “just in case”. No more tatty shoeboxes stuffed full of CDs, endlessly making the journey to and from the cottage.

12. Format compatability. Now all your Soulseek and Fluxblog MP3s can mutually co-exist on an equal footing with your album collection. (Because let’s face it: when have you ever got round to burning your favourite MP3s to CD, as you always said you would?)

13. Similarly, you need no longer be tyrannised by the demands forced upon you by your singles collection. Say goodbye to Getting Up And Changing The Disc Every Four Minutes Blues!

14. Peace of mind. Show the door to Pre Middle Class Dinner Party Angst! Simply load up your “Middle Class Dinner Party” playlist on shuffle, and press Go. This also saves you the inevitable panic-stricken dash to change the CD just as the soup has been put on the table. (Ah, gentle observational comedy. You can’t beat it, can you?)

15. iTunes. Suddenly, Winamp seems so primitive as a playback device, and CDex so laborious as a CD burning device. And I’ve even heard that you can do something called “purchasing legal downloads”, whatever that is.

16. The surprisingly intense surge of paternalism which I experience before leaving the house each morning, as I squeeze my iPod into its bendy “skin” in order to protect it from the ravages of the outside world. “Come along, my lovely; let’s wrap you up nice and warm in your matinee jacket. Easy does it. There’s a good boy.” Followed by the corresponding evening routine, as I gently prise off the matinee jacket (or is it a Babygro?) and place my baby back into its cradle.

17. The ooh-ing, aah-ing and coochy-coochy-coo-ing of friends and co-workers, as they crowd appreciatively around the new arrival. “Isn’t he lovely? Lucky you! Can I have a quick play?”

I only wish that I’d never heard about this, which reached me by e-mail from a concerned well-wisher only yesterday.

Sixty gigabytes, not 40? Up to 15,000 songs, not 10,000? Fifteen hours of battery life, not 12? And with the capacity for storing photos?

Suddenly, I feel so… impoverished. So… second generation.
Emergent technology can be such a fickle mistress.

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Tickets, money, passports, new sandals, AA batteries, cancel the papers, shorts still need ironing…

Diamond Geezer doesn’t do holidays. Initially, I was shocked. But after the experience of the last few days, I’m beginning to think that he might have a point after all. Because this morning, frantically trying to tie up all the loose ends at work while grimly contemplating the mad dash round the shops that will constitute my lunch break, I experienced something of an epiphany.

We don’t take holidays to recover from normal life, with all of its soothing routines and established divisions of work and labour. Normal life we can cope with, for the most part. No: we actually take holidays in order to recover from the hellish weeks of preparation which precede them. It’s one of those self-perpetuating circular thingummybobs, innit.

Tomorrow lunchtime, K and I fly to Bangkok, and thence to Phuket, where a week’s stay at the über-swanky Banyan Tree spa resort awaits us. Basically, everything about this trip has been conceived as an antidote to the rigours of our recent Peruvian “experience” (vastly worthwhile in so many ways – but ultimately draining, both physically and spiritually). So sod authenticity, stuff your temples, and give us the artificial luxury bubble which we so deeply crave!

Orchids on the pillow at turn-down time! Therapeutic “treatments” involving liberal lashings of wickedly over-priced aromatic gunk! Somewhere to plug in the iPod! Freshly opened coconuts with little umbrellas sticking out of them! Our own private outdoor sunken bath! Our own private swimming pool, for f**k’s sake! Even though I can’t swim a stroke! Because I can still f***ing PADDLE, OK! Al fresco breakfast and afternoon tea, served daily to our villa by impeccably courteous liveried staff! A choice of eight international restaurants where we can swan around in our diaphanous layers! The new Tom Wolfe novel! It’s had crap reviews! But I don’t care!

Oh, just bring it all the f**k on, why don’t you. My needs might be crass, but at least they are well defined.

Peru and Thailand. Thailand and Peru. Bookends to an interregnum.

Which reminds me to make the following announcement:
From Monday December 6th, Troubled Diva will revert to a full regular service.

Stumbling into the light.

I have just completed my first Reiki session in one of the upstairs meeting rooms.

I feel strange. Pleasantly strange. But oddly non-verbal. So I can’t really tell you much about it. Except that it was strange, and pleasant, and yes, “things” did happen. Mostly around the face and the soles of the feet.

Of course, I do realise that people whose only contact with me is via this blog may raise their eyebrows at the use of the word “oddly” above. Considering the oddly non-verbal state of this blog over recent weeks. But maybe this experience will have unblocked my Blogging Chakra, or summat. You never know. It would be nice, though.

I take it all back re. The Line Of Beauty, by the way. Once Hollinghurst gets over his narrator’s breathless obsession with antique furniture (the Louis Quinze escritoire “with fronds of ormolu” that used to belong to Madame De Pompadour being some sort of campy apotheosis in this regard), the novel takes a sharp upward turn. From then on, it’s almost unreservedly brilliant: beautifully observed to an almost forensic level of detail, and quietly devastating. You think you know roughly where it’s heading, and it almost takes you there, but with subtle plot twists that have left me chewing over the novel’s morally ambiguous conclusion ever since. Proper Literature, indeed. A richly deserved Booker winner.

I really do feel quite altered right now, you know. This is all very interesting.

Lit crit bitch sesh.

For all my occasional cheap sneers at the dull, predictable tastes of the ten-CD-a-year crowd (Keane and Snow Patrol? Oh, the horror! I must reconsider our friendship immediately!) there is an instant, crushing comeback: when it comes to books, I am every bit as safe and slack. Evidence for the prosecution: my holiday reading this year consisted of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and last year’s Booker Prize winner, DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little – two choices which make Keane and Snow Patrol look positively underground. Because basically, if it’s not MASSIVE, then it simply falls under my radar.

All of which helps to explain why I’m now reading this year’s Booker Prize winner, Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line Of Beauty, despite finding his last two novels really pretty bloody irritating. We have an altogether strange relationship, Hollinghurst and I. Although he frequently drives me to distraction, I somehow feel compelled to read him, and I’m not sure I altogether understand why.

This was particularly the case with his previous novel, The Spell, which juxtaposed drug-f***ed urban scene-queenery with gracious gay living in the shires in a manner which sometimes had me openly hurling abuse at the page, and at its maddeningly pathetic central four characters. And yet, and yet: was a large part of my irritation not a reflex reaction against an uncomfortably sharp recognition of realities which the book all too accurately depicted? And if I hated it so much, then why did so many of its scenes continue to resonate within me for years afterwards?

Actually, my main bone of contention with Hollinghurst is probably much simpler: it’s that damned writing style. It’s dry, bloodless, and emotionally disengaged; but most annoyingly of all, it’s self-consciously “literary” in such a mimsy, precious way. For example, when one of the characters in The Spell sprays himself with aftershave, Hollinghurst has him “stepping into the costly mist”, if you please. Jeez Louise, it’s only a bit of pong!

This description has since entered our private repertoire of stock catchphrases, deployed whenever one of us catches the other brandishing a bottle of Eau Savage/Burberry Weekend in the bathroom (delete as appropriate).

“He stepped into the costly mist.” Titter, titter. Sets us off, every time.

Although I am only on the third chapter of The Line Of Beauty (and you should hear the way K scornfully pronounces that title alone) I have already started a small collection of similarly toe-curling phrases – which I delight in reading out loud, just to watch him squirm and howl in that peculiarly satisfying way of his.

Here’s what I’ve amassed so far. For maximum effect, these should be read out loud, in a voice pitched somewhere between Brian Sewell and Hyacinth Bucket.

  • “The first flight of stairs, fanning out into the hall, was made of stone; the upper flights had the confidential creak of oak.” (We already do rather a nice line in confidential creaking.)
  • “Nick would see him from the balcony and go down to join him, slightly breathless, knowing Toby quite liked his rower’s body to be looked at. It was the easy charity of beauty.”
  • “To Nick the whole house, as yet only imagined, took on the light and shade of moods, the life that was lived there as steeped in emotion as the Oxford air was with the smell of lake water.”
  • “…and at the far end the tennis courts, whose overlapping series of serves and rallies and calls lent a calming reminder of other people’s exertions to the August dusk.”
  • “He went over to the much neglected piano, its black lid the podium for various old art folios and a small bronze bust of Liszt – which seemed to give a rather pained glance at his sight-reading from the Mozart on the stand. To Nick himself the faltering notes were like raindrops on a sandy path, and he was filled with a sense of what his evening could have been.”

Oh, I’m being too cruel; it’s a perfectly good read, with some beautifully turned observations of the nuances of social behaviour along the way. Just so long as I can vent when I get to the poncey stuff, I’ll be fine.

As you probably know by now, it’s being sarky little madams that keeps us going.