Post Of The Week.

In lieu of the annual “Troubled Diva has been going for x years today” post (four years yesterday, as it happens), I thought I’d commemorate the happy occasion by, um, shamelessly ripping off another idea from someone’s else’s blog.

This time, I’m going to revive the much missed “Post Of The Month” feature, which used to run on Uborka (now sadly in stasis). Except that, in what may prove to be an act of reckless over-optimism, I’m going to re-title it Post Of The Week.

Here’s how it’s going to work.

1. If you come across a great post which you’d like to big up to the Troubled Diva massive, then please supply details in the comments box below. The deadline for submission will be Saturday morning.

2. You can nominate any post from any weblog, providing that it’s recent, ie. no more than a couple of weeks old. (There’s no restriction on subject matter, so if you really think that a 5000 word deconstruction of the “Scooter” Libby scandal will interest the readers of TD, then be my guest).

3. Please feel free to nominate more than one post during the course of the week. (But don’t be greedy.)

4. You are not permitted to nominate one of your own posts.

5. Voting will take place over the weekend, and the winner will be announced on Sunday.

6. The winning post will be linked at the top of this page (and at the top of all the archive pages) for the following seven days.

7. Once the week’s winner is announced, nominations will start all over again in a brand new comments box.

8. Voting will take place in a secret sealed chamber, using a judging panel of myself and two guests. The guests will change every week.

9. If you’d like to be a guest judge, then drop me an e-mail at mikejla @ btinternet dot com. Your duties will involve a) reading all the nominated posts and b) e-mailing me with your choices some time on Saturday or Sunday.

This might all flop horribly. On the other hand, it might be an entertaining and worthwhile exercise in “online community building”, or some such pompous piffle. Up to you!

I’ll be listing the nominated posts as we get them, along with short excerpts from each, in a series of little boxes… like so.

1. Musings from Middle England: My First Trip
(nominated by mike)

“I had been shown how to turn the ribs of beef in the huge ovens and I was to replenish the three sauce boats for serving with the grouse. The larder chef had carved from ice an aeroplane with the caviar in the cockpit for the table of a famous airman. Assistants were arranging garnishes and supplementary sauces. The soup chef was exercising his large vocabulary of obscenities – his consommé had not clarified.”

2. Blogadoon: Parallels between the Cinderella myth and my regular Sunday jaunts to Horse Meat Disco.
(nominated by mike)

“After a very pleasant evening involving, amongst other things, friends’ revelations pitched at a degree of surreality so extreme that I propose to wipe them from my mind plus a live demonstration of traditional Japanese men’s underwear (no, really), I willed myself off the premises at 11.30 sharp.”

3. Captain Crisps and FagEndBoy
(nominated by guyana-gyal)

“How am I supposed to take you seriously?” Said the litterbug. “You’re a crisp packet”
“I’m a crisp packet who’s about to fine you £50”, said the crisp packet.

4. JonnyB’s private secret diary: There is a knock on the door!!!
(nominated by anna)

“It is important to avoid a scene. Much as I like the foxy Vegetable Delivery Lady, we must both keep a stiff upper lip about our parting. I hope that she does not do anything foolish that we will both regret later.”

5. Vegetable Delivery Lady: I knock on the door!!!
(nominated by anna)

“It is important to avoid a scene. Much as I loathe delivering vegetables to this pervert and would love to tell him what I really think of him on my last day, I just want to get out of here alive and not end up locked behind a bookcase or something.”

6. Symbolic Forest: The creature
(nominated by Clair)

“You should watch out for them, and be particularly wary if you hear their distinctive hunting cry: ‘Arrg kxrrt!'”

7. (yes, her again): cometh the hour, cometh the confusion.
(nominated by Clare)

“I now realise why the summer is short. It is short because some bastard has been rifling through my hour-drawer and has made off with what, let’s face it, could have turned out to be the most important, most pleasant and summarily most summerlicious hour of the whole summer.”

8. Ramblings of a Yidchick: Warning: adult themes.
(nominated by JonnyB)

“Usually I have the luxury of showering before my appointment, but today I am too busy rushing to doctors to manage it. So I do what wise streetwalkers have been doing for generations. I spurt a bit of perfume on my knickers so that my hoo-ha doesn’t hum when the waxer is doing her thing down there.”

9. Mimi In New York: Queen of the Night.
(nominated by Tokyo Girl)

“There’s one in every club. You know – the patently shit stripper, the girl who can’t talk English, gets on stage and goes red, covers her breasts, mutters Hail Marys under her breath, prays Daddy can’t see her now.”

10. GUYANA: The holy grail.
(nominated by mike)

“Abroad got glittering malls. Abroad got streets that sparkling clean, and Abroad got bright, bright street lights. Abroad got jobs that put shiney money in you pockets, and you can buy all kind o’ fancy things that don’t cost you house and land, arm and leg.”

11. what’s new, pussycat?: fright night.
(nominated by asta)

“Just when you think you ken everything there is to ken about living in Scotland, you get a rude awakening.”

12. RudderPosts: Accessibility.
(nominated by asta)

“Now I protect myself from contributing a “running plug” to some yahoo by making sure there is a good bit of tumblehome in the stern of my little skiffs. Most chopper gun artists don’t want to have to fool with a split mold so they pass up my boats for something a little cheaper to “produce.” From the examples I see all over the place, it doesn’t make any difference how plug ugly the plug is.”

13. Diamond Geezer: Single life.
(nominated by Girl)

“If it’s quarter past seven on the morning of the first Wednesday in November then I’ve been single for exactly six years. (Yes, I know I posted this particular post last year, the year before and the year before that, but I have updated it a bit, and I intend to keep posting it every year on this date until my situation changes. Not that I care if it doesn’t, you understand.)”

14. Gay Nazi Sex Vicar In Schoolgirl Vice Knickers Disco Lawnmower Shock!: Friday 28th October 2005. (scroll down a bit)
(nominated by stressqueen)

“I like Kendal. Lots of reasonable people talking in RP to their little girls, who wear moss green tights and have those old-fashioned metal grips in their hair. I had four halves (that’s meant to indicate how restrained I’ve been, by the way), and two massive doorsteps of that grey “artisan” bread, with some Stilton. It was old people and oddbods mainly, so I fitted in well.”

15. (you know, I’m beginning to suspect some payola scandal here): I make a birthday tea!!!
(nominated by Clare and Karen)

“A lot of cooking happens in this flat, but not much of it is done by me.

This is not because our household subscribes to outmoded gender role stereotypes dating back to the second-wave new man movement of the late 1990s, oh no.

It is instead because I am bad at cooking. I might go as far as to say “very” bad.”

16. Trouser Browser: Should I stay or should I go?
(nominated by ian – WARNING: this one’s quite rude)

“We all breathed out, stretched, sighed and eventually giggled. Guys shift from absolutely deadly seriousness to silly hysteria so quickly. We introduced ourselves”

17. greenfairydotcom: Tube tips for women.
(nominated by annie and anna)

“London Underground have published a new guide for women on using the tube. I am sure you, like I, have been simply yearning for someone to explain to us how the fundamentally different way we use the underground from men can be best coped with. And this leaflet has been produced ‘by women for women’, so it is sure to be packed full of useful ‘tips’ on how us girls can ‘get the best out of the tube’.”

18. this too: When last we met.
(nominated by Karen)

“I am angry with myself for agreeing to this. I shut myself in the bathroom with a bottle of whisky. Keep warm by staying under water. Get very drunk, then very sick. Alarmed by this – I don’t usually drink a lot – my wife tries to be pleasant, but cannot. She opens her mouth and the frogs and serpents of a lifetime’s bitterness rush out. Her sister, who looks depressed and clearly wishes we hadn’t come, cooks an inedible Christmas dinner. When not snowing, it rains. I walk on the long grey beach. It is a nightmare.”

OK, your turn. Share the love! And don’t be backwards in coming forwards!

Update: This week’s guest judges are asta and Karen. Next week’s judges have also been appointed.

Rev-chron diary, bashed out until I get fed up or forgetful.

Thursday 27th.

Installed our super-duper new cordless digital phone (Panasonic, John Lewis), which we bought to replace the crap so-called “digital” phone with the constant buzzing noise and the hopeless sound quality (BT, Dixons, half an hour of wrangling to get a refund).

(Hmm, maybe we don’t need to go to quite this level of detail. Otherwise we’ll be here all week. They’ve got all my mother’s stuff to wade through as well, remember?)

Met an old friend for a meal at the Kean’s Head pub in the Lace Market. Catering to a polite, well-heeled older crowd (as evidenced by the music: The Stranglers’ greatest hits at a discreet volume level, oh how times change), the Kean’s Head was Nottingham’s first ever non-smoking pub.

For the benefit of certain establishments on St James’ Street who are currently making grandiose claims to the contrary (blackboards on the street, the full works), I’ll repeat that: the Kean’s Head was Nottingham’s first ever non-smoking pub. (And just round the corner on High Pavement, the Cock & Hoop was the second.)

Until last night, we hadn’t seen our old friend for nearly two years. We’re seeing her again this evening (early evening pint at The Gate in Brassington), and again on Sunday (picturesque autumnal hike twixt the mellowing and ripening hues of the Peak District National Language, hem-hem descriptive language that should go down well at the la-di-da “writers’ conference” next Thursday I’ll have that book deal now please). With us, it’s famine or feast. ‘Twas ever thus.

Wednesday 26th.

Woo, political comedy! To the Nottingham Playhouse, to see Rob Newman and Mark Thomas.

Now, I’m OK with political comedy so long as a) it reflects my own particular prejudices back at me and b) it actually remembers to be, you know, funny. The first is easily achieved, as there are in fact no successful right wing (or even Blair-ite) comedians that I can think of this side of Jim Davidson (or even Ben Elton), thus PROVING that MY LOT ARE BETTER CHEERS CHEERS HOORAY THE ANGELS ARE ON OUR SIDE. The second can be more of a hurdle, as evidenced by the dreary box-ticking orthodoxy of your Mark Steels and (sorry to say this) your Jeremy Hardys.

(We saw Hardy perform a particularly hang-dog, lugubrious set last year, which mostly consisted of him moping on about how depressed he was about the war in Iraq. Fine, but YOU’RE A COMEDIAN, that’s what it SAYS ON THE TIN, and we’ve come out to HAVE A GOOD LAUGH AND CHEER OURSELVES UP, blinkered dupes of the system that we are.)

Thomas and Newman succeeded on both scores, with Thomas (despite his best efforts) only managing to offend me twice: by making a cheap crack about the size of Charlotte Church’s arse, and by DARING to slag off, for NO VALID REASON WHATSOEVER, the daytime television GODDESS that is Auntie Lorraine “Hooray for Eurovision! I love The Gays!” Kelly. Scratch his right-on surface, and you’ll find that he’s really quite the unreconstructed Geezah underneath.

(My much-valued readers from overseas, are you following all of this OK? I’d provide explanatory links, but time is tight.)

Newman, on the other hand, was impeccable. Having chosen a diametrically opposite career path from his erstwhile comedy partner David Baddiel, he has turned his back on stadium-filling mega-stardom, and is now to be found delivering eloquent, erudite, well researched, factually rich salvos of brain-spinning polemic, as filtered through an arch, dandified, deceptively insouciant persona which charms as it impresses as it provokes. (Precis: European foreign policy towards the Middle East has consistently been all about controlling the oil supply, ever since the start of the First World War; but when the oil runs out, we’re all going to be seriously f**ked. Boom! Boom!)

Tuesday 25th.

Our fifth anniversary of moving into the cottage (and thus also of my last ever wild night down at Trade). Five years ago, I could never have predicted that what was intended merely as a weekend bolt-hole would eventually come to feel more like home than our place in central Nottingham. This is a massively welcome development, and all credit to the village itself for facilitating it; for there’s no doubt that we live in a special place. If this is middle age, then God knows what I was worrying about, as I careered recklessly (and frequently shirtlessly) through the extended mid-life crisis that chewed up most of my thirties.

To the cinema, to watch Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit. Wholly delightful, but you don’t need me to tell you that. So disarmingly charming and inventive, that not even the distinctly ragged, under-developed plot denouement could shift the big grins off our faces.

Monday 24th.

Absolutely sod all of interest happened on Monday. Work, telly, bed. Yes, let’s stop there.

(Oh, but I did call up my mother, in order to read her all of your lovely kind comments, which both stunned and delighted her. So thank you for that.)

God hates fags.  But New Labour are a little more equivocal.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has defended the plans for a partial ban on smoking in public places in England.

Critics and health experts have said plans to exempt private clubs and non-food pubs from the ban are bad for health and will prove “unworkable”.

OK, full disclosure. As mentioned in a recent comments box, I am a living (still!) breathing (just!) example of that great oxymoron, the “social smoker”.

On average – and obviously this varies considerably, in both directions – I get through about 20 cigarettes a week. Most days, I don’t smoke at all. Roughly once a week, on a Wednesday or a Thursday evening, I’ll meet up with my going-out buddies in a city centre pub. As almost all of them are smokers (funny how we all stick together), and as K almost never joins us (we’ve always maintained slightly separate social lives, even if there is a large overlap), I will invariably join in and light up.

During these evenings, I will generally chuff my way through about one fag every 20-25 minutes. The later I stay out, the more frequent this gets. So we’re talking around 10-12 fags in a single night. I think of this as getting in touch with my inner laboratory beagle.

Other than that, I usually smoke three or four in the cottage on Friday nights: late on, after K has gone to bed, and before I’ve started to feel tired. It’s my little weekly treat. The cottage is well ventilated, so there’s virtually no residual stink on Saturday mornings.

I also smoke at gigs; we’re talking maybe four or five in the course of the evening. Well, one has to maintain one’s Rock and Roll credibility somehow. Goes with the territory, doesn’t it?

I never smoke during the daytime, and never feel the slightest urge; the thought of having to carry the residual taste in my mouth for the rest of the day is enough to put me right off the idea.

I never smoke without alcohol in front of me, except for a single cig when I’m walking down to the pub on my own.

If the majority of people I’m with are non-smokers, then I won’t smoke (unless I’m very drunk). I don’t smoke inside people’s houses, or in restaurants.

In summary, I bend with the wind. If the opportunity presents itself, and if there’s no-one around to express disapproval, then I’ll succumb to temptation. If I’m going to piss people off, then I’ll refrain.

Am I addicted? The word feels too extreme.

Do I have a habit? Yes, I do.

Do I enjoy smoking? Yes and no. There are conflicting feelings.

I like reaching into the packet, putting the fag in my mouth, lighting it, and taking the first drag. That’s the best bit.

I hate the effect that the first fag of the day has on my body: dizzy head, fractured brain, heartbeat up, clenched butt, sweaty feet. That’s the worst bit. But it goes away if you smoke a couple more.

I enjoy the feeling of participating in a shared ritual with other happy, smiling, carefree smokers. That’s when I like smoking most of all.

I also like the “private late night treat” feeling which I get on Fridays; but this is invariably accompanied by a little shudder of guilt and shame, which I can’t quite shrug off.

I hate climbing into bed next to K, and knowing that I haven’t got rid of the smell (even if I’ve just taken a shower), and having to turn away from him so as not to envelop him with my fumes. That’s when I feel the most ashamed.

I hate the stink on my fingers and clothes, and the taste in my mouth the next day.

Would I like to stop? I have stopped, several times. But as I’ve never been a daily smoker, I’ve never felt a particular danger in starting again. I always like to feel that I can take them or leave them. After all, I’m not a Smoker with a Capital S. Am I?

I’m avoiding the question. Would I like to stop? Yes, eventually. But it never feels like a matter of urgency. I only started smoking ten years ago, and there have been extended periods during that time when I’ve smoked less, or none at all. I’ve certainly never smoked more. Therefore, when considering the health risks, I like to think that I’m still inside the safety zone. If there’s a fixed lifetime quota for the number of fags that one can ingest without incurring any significant danger, then surely I’m well within it. Aren’t I?

So, what is this mystical lifetime quota? I have no idea.

Has anyone close to me ever suffered through a smoking-related disease? Not so far as I am aware.

Besides, I’m invincible.

OK, I’d like to stop. But, you see, I was rather counting on the government to force my hand for me. By removing the opportunity, they would have removed the temptation. They’ve done it in Ireland. They’re doing it in Scotland. I simply assumed that England and Wales wouldn’t be far behind. After all, this hasn’t exactly been the most liberal of governments in recent years, has it? Nanny state? Bring it on!

And so, even though I’m a “social smoker”, I feel thoroughly let down and proper pissed off. My Tony, my Tony, why hast thou forsaken me?

As to the reasons for the fudge, my inner conspiracy theorist is juggling three possibilities.

1. New Labour is still in hock to the tobacco industry. Unlikely, in this day and age – Big Tobacco must surely have accepted its pariah status by now. Besides, it still has other, larger, less informed markets to conquer.

2. New Labour are scared of losing the tax revenue. Quite plausible. How else will they be able to balance the books, without the billions pouring in from the nation’s chuffers? When the Naional Lottery was introduced, lofty metropolitan commentators were quick to deem it a “tax on stupidity”. Wrong target, fellows.

3. New Labour are scared of alienating its lower income constituency. Christ, they’ve got to do something popular with the working classes, right? Plausible but silly, as the vast majority of middle class floating voters would appear to be passionately in favour of an outright ban in all enclosed public spaces.

And that’s the other bit that rankles with me. Have you noticed the sheer venom with which smokers are being denounced nowadays? Sure, they (OK OK, we) don’t have an even halfway plausible argument to call our own. Sure, we’re selfish, and we stink, and we make your clothes smell awful in the morning. But nevertheless, there’s a creeping edge to a lot of the recent debate which disturbs me. Self-righteousness is never a good look – and don’t give me that “it’s for your own good” claptrap, either. Society likes its easy scapegoats. Thin end of the wedge. There are worse crimes: alcohol-related violence, exhaust fumes… oh, but I’m not even going to go down that route.

Somewhere in the last decade – maybe even in the last five years – we’ve reached a tipping point. Thirty or forty years ago, the whole country smelt of cigarette smoke – so much so, that we barely even noticed it. (Besides, with the comparative levels of polluted air and questionable personal hygiene, perhaps the fag fug smokescreen was doing us all a favour, shielding us from even nastier smells.) Now, the air is clearing. As we lift our noses to the fresher, cleaner atmosphere, those few lingering traces of fag smoke suddenly strike us anew. What we barely used to notice, we now find intolerable.

And so, the hour has come.

But not just yet, it would seem.

Bugger. That only leaves me with will power and personal responsibility.

Basically, I’m f**ked, aren’t I?

My therapist says I should write thoughts down as they occur to me.

I don’t think he meant it quite like this, though.

Mmm, cuddle. Doh, he’s getting up. Shit, it’s late. Erm, have I already brushed my teeth? Oo-er, going senile. Groan, last weekend’s suitcase needs emptying before the cleaner gets here. Bah, why do we always leave this till Wednesdays? Bollocks, he’s left the wet laundry to hang up. Grr, that’s the next ten minutes gone. OK OK, fair division of labour. Yeah, but it still feels good to whinge. Ho hum, can’t be arsed with the paper. Well, just a look at the cartoons then. Christ, I’m shallow. Eyup, cleaner’s at the door. Harumph, that was a cheeky remark. What, does she think we’re alcoholics? Yikes, it’s late. Ugh, can’t be bothered to take the stairs. Boo, lift’s full. Sigh, how many more floors? Yeesh, getting on at Floor 9 to travel to Floor 10? Wow, lazy or what? Oops, there might be something wrong with his legs. Ouch, I feel a bit guilty. Now, quick surf before I log on? No, stop! Ah, go on then. Eek, someone coming. Quick, alt tab! Right, workity workity work. Woo, personal e-mail! Hooray, remembered my dental appointment. (God, remember last time? Oh, the embarrassment.) Good, there’s the taxi. Poo, stinks a bit in here. Blimey, that was a quick journey. Um, should I tip? Nah, what is this, London? Hee hee, what a squeaky voice that receptionist has. Goodness, they’re actually running to schedule. Hah, that must be a first. Yay, clean bill of health! Whoops, bus ahead of me. Aargh, I’d better run. Damn, he’s shut the doors. Erm, if I flash him a watery smile? Yes, result! Right, better send that nagging text to K. Huh, what does he mean by that? Phew, Pret A Manger haven’t run out of sushi. Hey, I was here first! Mmm, great John Peel feature in Word magazine. F**k, it’s really late. Look, I always take the stairs after lunch. So, I deserve to take the lift for once. Boy, this is a tedious piece of work. Ooh,new Scott Adams blog! Ta, BW! Eureka, just thought of something to blog about. Bugger, that took longer than expected. Aaaaaand, hit Publish.

Moral: beware of assigning “automatic writing” exercises to online diarists.
What’s that new buzzword? Tumblelog?

Fun Friday Music Quiz!

What do the following tunes have in common?

Arctic Monkeys – I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor
The Jacksons – Can You Feel It?
Del Amitri – Nothing Ever Happens
Reef – Place Your Hands
Salt ‘N Pepa – Push It
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
Madonna – Causing A Commotion
Betty Everett – Getting Mighty Crowded
Sly & The Family Stone – There’s A Riot Goin’ On
Talking Heads – Making Flippy Floppy
Gang Of Four – At Home He’s a Tourist
Joy Division – She’s Lost Control
Kim Wilde – You Came
Sugababes – Push The Button
The Smiths – I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish
Jimmy Ruffin – Farewell Is A Lonely Sound
Reynolds Girls – I’d Rather Jack
Kelis – Milkshake
Garbage – Only Happy When It Rains
The Beatles – I Want To Hold Your Hand
KWS – Please Don’t Go
Neil Diamond – Beautiful Noise
The Stranglers – Golden Brown
Marvin Gaye – Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)
Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers – Islands In The Stream
Coldplay – Yellow
Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Welcome To The Pleasuredome
Squeeze – Up The Junction
Les Rythmes Digitales – (Hey You) What’s That Sound?
Elvis Costello – Accidents Will Happen
Britney Spears – Oops I Did It Again

I apologise for the answer in advance. Look, it’s FRIDAY!

Blogging my mother’s early memories.

EAMS wearing the dress made by her mother, worn when presenting red roses to The Queen, Inner Temple Hall, November 13th 1952.
EAMS wearing the dress made by her mother, worn when presenting
red roses to The Queen, Inner Temple Hall, November 13th 1952.

The last time I visited my mother in Cambridge, she showed me the completed project which she had been working on for the previous several months: a detailed account of her early life, from her birth in 1940 to her marriage in 1960. Drafted in longhand and then written up on an electric typewriter (no new-fangled technology for this old girl), the binder – complete with numerous pictorial inserts – runs to around 120 pages. Completed to a painstaking level of detail and accuracy, the whole enterprise must have taken her many, many hours.

Immediately, I found myself engrossed in her story: her childhood split between the Inner Temple in London and a Georgian Palladian villa on the outskirts of Weymouth, her appearance as an extra in Dirk Bogarde and Jack Warner’s The Blue Lamp, the sudden death of her mother (and the equally sudden appearance of her stepmother), her six months of study in Paris, and her fateful courtship with my father.

Although this was written merely as a family chronicle, to be passed on to myself and my sister, and although its level of detail will probably render it of interest only to a very select audience, it seems far too worthy an endeavour to waste on the two of us alone. Also, I feel rather anxious about the lack of any electronic backup copy of what is clearly such a unique and irreplacable labour of love. I’m therefore going to release my mother’s memoir in blog form, typing up maybe two or three pages a week, and illustrating it with her collection of family photos, illustrations and other sundry archive material.

Here it is, then: EAMS: Early Memories, complete with its introductory quote from T.S. Eliot.

By way of an appetite-whetter, here’s my mother’s account of the time she found herself modelling for Vogue, aged nine.

In October that year [1949] I did my first photographic work for Vogue. This was to appear in the December number to promote children’s party clothes. For me it was almost as good as going to a real party!

There was a small group of us, of whom I was the eldest. It all took place in a rather nice house somewhere in the Kensington area. I was dressed in a splendid frilly, I think pink, organdie party dress – probably smocked, as most of them were then. Over this I wore a smart outdoor coat, and a beret for the outside shot of us all arriving at the front door for the “party”, complete with a nanny carrying the youngest child in her arms.

This took several shots because one little girl, aged about three, kept turning her back on the camera. Eventually she was tricked into turning round by the offer of a cracker which she quickly snatched and turned away again. Another cracker was waved and her name called, and in the split second as she half turned back, looking over her shoulder, the photographer got his shot.

There followed some discussion as to whether it was appropriate that she should be arriving at a party holding a cracker, but it was quickly decided that enough was enough.

Once inside the house, coats were taken off and we went into a room where a cine camera and screen had been set up. We all sat down to enjoy a Charlie Chaplin film. and barely noticed that photographs were being taken of us. After this, £2. 7.3. was added to my Post Office account.


Format firsts. (3)

First vinyl album:
1967-70 – The Beatles (1973)

beatles6770A few months earlier, my father had changed his old Fiat (registration WWW 187 G) for a new Fiat (come on, do you take me for some kind of FREAK). Out went the old in-car 8-track cartridge player, which we listened to on the school run in the mornings: Andy Williams, Simon & Garfunkel, The Carpenters, The Sound Of Music, Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, and the REALLY BORING one: Mario Lanza in The Student Prince. Instead, the new car came equipped with a radio/cassette player, for which new music had to be purchased. Easily my favourite of the new cassettes was the recently issued Beatles retrospective 1962-66, also known as the “double red” album. I had grown up with most of these songs, and so – even at the age of 11 – was experiencing my first kick of nostalgia.

As for its companion volume 1967-70 (the “double blue”), nothing would persuade my father to buy it – his reason being that 1967 was when the Beatles “went funny”. Long hair, weird music, dodgy Indian gurus, that awful Yoko Ono woman who RUINED John Lennon… and, of course, DRUGS. (My grandmother was firmly of the same opinion: “It’s such a pity, and they used to be such NICE boys.”) Attempting to catch him in a weak moment at a petrol station, I had almost succeeded in getting him to buy Sergeant Pepper. Only when scrutinising the cassette case did he suddenly remember that this dated from their “funny period”, and was therefore Not Suitable.

Of course, all of this only served to heighten my curiosity. As a boy, I was very much drawn to the aesthetic of the weird, the wacky, the surreal, the fantastic. I liked anything which broke the boundaries, pushing things further, stimulating my already highly active imagination. Thus the detailed, multi-coloured cover of Sergeant Pepper interested me enormously. This was one step further than The Sweet, Slade, T.Rex or David Bowie. It suggested a forbidden fantasy world of unimaginably rich possibilities.

So what could be better than a complete double album’s worth of The Beatles after they went weird? I was just beginning to understand the concept of an “album” as opposed to a mere “LP”, having heard a piece about the subject on Radio One. Albums existed on a more elevated, adult plane, as complete artworks in their own right. They were still a little bit advanced for me – but nevertheless, I thought it was about time I owned one.

At that time, I had just become aware of the albums chart. Top of the pile in the summer of 1973 was the soundtrack of That’ll Be The Day, starring David Essex and Ringo Starr: another double album, heavily advertised on TV, featuring many rock and roll classics from the 1950s. With late 1950s nostalgia starting to feature heavily in the chart pop of the time, I was interested in finding out more. Also, I did rather fancy buying the Number One album in the charts, merely for the sake of owning the Number One album in the charts. Once again, there was a little more at stake than mere access to a bunch of songs.

Back in the music department of Boots The Chemist, at the start of the long summer holiday, I dithered. Perhaps I should listen to That’ll Be The Day in one of the booths? My sister and I stood beneath the speakers, listening out for the songs which had been featured on the TV advert. As Jonny Tillotson’s Poetry In Motion blasted out (we knew that one), one of the shop porters paused in front of us, in his long brown coat, and did a little “rock and roll” comedy jig for our benefit. We giggled.

However, there was something a little dowdy about the album. It didn’t quite come to life, in the same way that all my favourite glam-rockers did. Black and white, not glorious Technicolor. Beatles it was, then.

And so it came to pass that Side One, Track One of my entire album collection was Strawberry Fields Forever, a song which I had never heard before. I can still picture myself placing the record on my little Bush player with the smoked perspex lid, and perching myself on my bed, lyrics in hand. Golly, was it ever weird! Creepy weird, sinister weird, nightmare weird – with a freaky coda that faded back in, startling and unsettling me. It sounded like how I imagined an LSD trip would be, and confirmed in my mind that I would never, ever try anything like that for myself. It was a blessed relief when Penny Lane came on next; I remembered Peter Glaze and the gang singing it on BBC1’s Friday afternoon kids’ show Crackerjack, and felt a strange shudder of longing for my own early childhood, and for the comforting security of the 1960s.

(Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that I bought this album only a couple of weeks after my parents told me they were divorcing, and my mother moved out of the family home. Interesting timing.)

Equally weird stuff was to come: I Am The Walrus, which embarrassed me by using words like “bloody”, “knickers” and “pornographic”, and disgusted me with images of semolina pilchards climbing up the Eiffel Tower, Lennon’s oddly pitched voice twisting with mockery and menace. But worst of all was A Day In The Life, whose two discordant orchestral crescendos I could scarcely bear to hear, filling me with an overpowering sense of dread. Again, something very dark and very wrong seemed to be taking place.

However, all of this was counterbalanced by sweet, playful, wistful songs such as Hello GoodbyeFool On The Hill, Hey Jude and many more: a clear majority for the light over the dark. By the end of the fourth side, the group’s collective journey through the madness was demonstrably over, as more conventional arrangements took over, and a sense of mellow, valedictory maturity came to the fore. It was scarcely possible to believe that this was the same group who had recorded She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand, and I presumed that such naive juvenalia must have embarassed them by its existence. That short reprise of She Loves You at the end of All You Need Is Love: they were obviously laughing at their pre-enlightened selves, jumping around for the Grannys and the screaming little girls, in their boring matching suits. Aged 11, on the cusp of being a teenager and longing to get there as soon as possible, I felt much the same about my own early childhood: silly Enid Blyton books, silly Play School and Andy Pandy on the telly.

Nostalgia for a lost idyll; impatience to attain maturity and win freedom; fear of the dark mistakes that adults might make; delight at the breadth and scope of the human imagination; curiosity for whatever might happen next. Not a bad way to start an album collection, all told.

What was your first album?

title unknown – Abba (guyana-gyal)
Thriller – Michael Jackson (Buni)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John (d)
Inflammable Material – Stiff Little Fingers (Chav Gav)
Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy – Elton John (“bob”)
Songs In The Key Of Life – Stevie Wonder (
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (patita)
Parallel Lines – Blondie (annie)
Tapestry – Carole King (asta)
EITHER Safe As Milk – Captain Beefheart OR The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter -Incredible String Band (Tina)
Clodagh Rodgers – Clodagh Rodgers (Nigel)
Rio – Duran Duran (vit)
Transformer – Lou Reed (Debster)
Mud Rock – Mud (NiC)
Human Racing – Nik Kershaw (Adrian)
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap – AC/DC (bytheseashore)
Thriller – Michael Jackson (eric bogs)
Can’t Stand The Rezillos – The Rezillos (andy)
Sweet Baby James – James Taylor (Dymbel)
Love At The Greek – Neil Diamond (Alan)
Choke – The Beautiful South (Will)
Greatest Hits – Helen Reddy (looby)

Your writing sucks – Creative and Digital Writing.

I haven’t told you about this before, have I? (*)

Gulp. Wibble. Fancy paying good money to hear me witter on about Troubled Diva! No, it will all be fine. Besides, it looks like I’m on first, so there will be plenty of time to forget all about me.

I’m thinking of including an “interactive” element to my presentation, which would involve me setting you lot some relevant questions/discussion points, and then opening up the comments box in front of the live audience. Apparently, they have the technology. On the other hand, there’s only so much that you can cram into twenty minutes or so.

I’m usually fairly good at ducking out of public speaking. However, on the rare occasions when I submit to the ordeal, it invariably turns out to be rewarding and fun. Rewarding and fun… rewarding and fun… must hang onto this as a mantra for the next fortnight…

(*) I know, I know, “award-winning”. Bless them for that!

Some awfully good blog posts what I have been enjoying recently.

Because it’s always good to spread the love. Call me Old School Slash Ancien Régime, but I used to like it when bloggers were more in the habit of linking to their favourite posts.

(Not you, Ben. You do it all the time, and it’s much appreciated.)

Tokyo Girl: Park people: Everyone’s a friend at midnight. Nicely turned piece of social observation, which steers you off in unexpected directions.

Boob Pencil: Activity Changes Consciousness. Clare’s back, and dispensing motivational wisdom. (I also liked her piece on challenging writer’s block, which links in nicely.)

Girl With A One-Track Mind: Numbers. A spot-on deconstruction of the “how many people have you slept with” conversation. (Word to the faint-hearted: it’s one of her less explicit pieces, so don’t go worrying about stumbling across lots of big scary wobbly dangly bits.)

Guyana-Gyal: Trick or Treat? Naughty Ramadan scam exposed! (“Ramadan scam”… there’s a song in there somewhere.)

Finally, a couple of 60-second snacks for the severely ADD:

A Beautiful Revolution: Horoscopes. This only works if you pick the same number that I did. I’m thinking of it now. Come on, concentrate.

Conditional Reality: Control Valve. From a curious blog by an American poet, which contains exactly 100 words per day. (Sheesh, remember when I tried to do that? Actually, I’d rather you didn’t.) This isn’t necessarily the best post on the site, but I have linked to it purely for the amusement of a long-standing reader, Sarah in Paris. Hello, Sarah in Paris! This one’s for you!

Format firsts. (2)

First 7″ single (bought with own money):
Tom Tom Turnaround – New World (1971)

newworldIn 1971, somewhere towards the beginning of the long summer holiday, I started listening to daytime Radio One, following the singles charts, and watching Top Of The Pops with genuine (as opposed to passing) interest. At that time, there happened to be a whole clutch of records at the top of the charts which appealed to my nine year old’s aesthetics: happy, tuneful, catchy bubblegum which was easy to learn and fun to sing along with. It was an ideal moment to become hooked.

Leading the pack was the irresistible Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by Middle Of The Road – which, like Knock Knock Who’s There before it, was bought for me by my grandmother. Indeed, I have always thought of it as my official First Single – the one which (ahem) turned me on to rock and roll. Well, you’ve got to make a start somewhere.

Following closely behind were The Sweet’s Co-Co (steel drums, nonsense lyrics, increasingly shrill key changes), Lobo’s Me And You And A Dog Named Boo (kiddie-friendly acoustic folk-rock), Never Ending Song Of Love by The New Seekers (featuring some lovely choral interplay, all chiming doo-doo-doo‘s and shimmering ba-ba-ba‘s)… and, from another former winner of ITV’s Opportunity Knocks, New World’s Tom Tom Turnaround.

There was also Dawn’s jolly Knock Three Times (but that was going down the charts, so I wasn’t so interested); Greyhound’s pop/reggae plea for racial unity, Black And White (which I found facile and tiresome, even at that age); Diana Ross’s haunting I’m Still Waiting (which made me feel sad, but in a nice way); and two tunes which were still a little bit too wild and advanced for me: Get It On by T.Rex (one for the scary hairies, and I didn’t want to think too much about what they got up to), and Devil’s Answer by Atomic Rooster (whose use of the word “devil” shocked and embarrassed me; but then I wasn’t even allowed to say “Good Heavens” in front of my mother).

For several years, I had wondered how the people at Top Of The Pops compiled their Top Twenty. Did they get all the hippies to vote for their favourite song? Was it something to with being a member of the Radio One Club? As yet untainted by notions of vulgar commerce, it had simply never occurred to me that the chart was based on sales of singles. Now that I knew this, I was gripped with excitement at the thought of being able to walk into a shop and buy any song which I liked off the radio. Such freedom! Such choice! This was something which I had to experience for myself. I had some pocket money saved up. The next time that we went shopping in Doncaster, I would take the plunge.

What I didn’t know was how much singles cost. It couldn’t be very much, just for two songs in a paper bag. Guessing they would sell for around 20p each, I spent the next few days making calculations in my head. I had about 60p, so that would mean three singles, so that would mean I couldn’t have The Sweet and Lobo and the New Seekers and New World. Which one wouldn’t I buy? Probably the New Seekers. Well, they did have rather soppy smiles on the telly; the others were less showbiz, more groovy, more teenager. But then if singles were 15p, then I could buy all of them. Or if they were 25p, then I could only buy two. And so on, and so on.

I was taken to the record department on the first floor of Boots The Chemist, in Doncaster’s Arndale shopping centre. I was quite nervous about this, as all the trendy people and the hippies and the hairies probably went there, and they might laugh at me. To say nothing of that particular breed of impossibly cool girls who always appeared in the audience of Top Of The Pops, dancing with faraway looks in their eyes, never smiling because the songs were so deep and they were probably thinking about Love. (My sister and I did quite good impressions of them in front of the telly.)

In those days, you didn’t flick through the display racks to find the singles you wanted. The only ones in the racks were stupid babyish ones for children, or boring ones by people your parents liked. Instead, all the good stuff – the stuff from the charts – was kept behind the counter, and so you had to ask for them by name. But first, I had to find out how much they cost.

45p! (Nine shillings in old money.) I couldn’t believe how expensive they were! This meant that I could only afford to buy one single. I hadn’t reckoned on this at all. Which one should I buy? The Sweet, or Lobo, or New World?

“Please may I have Tom Tom Turnaround by New World?”

I don’t really know what made me choose New World. It just seemed like the best idea at the time. In any case, it didn’t really matter which song I picked; the concept of purchase was almost more important than the concept of ownership. It was from the charts, and it was played on Radio One, and I had seen it on Top Of The Pops, and that was good enough for me.

Thus, what should – under the established terms of rock mythology – have been a defining moment (young kid, caught in the grip of an unstoppable passion, impelled to buy Seminal Classic) turned out instead to be a rather arbitrary moment (nervous little prep school boy, intimidated by imperious cool of Boots shop assistant, picks random song from the charts in a state of mild panic). For not even the most wilfully perverse of present day pop contrarians could ever claim restrospective greatness for Tom Tom Turnaround.

An early composition by the mega-successful songwriting/production team of Chinn & Chapman (also responsible for The Sweet’s Co Co and all of their subsequent hits, as well as lengthy flushes for Mud, Suzi Quatro and Smokie), Tom Tom tells the story of an errant husband and an abandoned wife, before offering redemption (for the husband at least) in its final verse and coda. There’s also a faint subtext of criticism for the abandoned wife, as highlighted by her replacement’s subtly different choice of language. (In other words: ladies, if you want to keep your man, then don’t cling and don’t nag. ‘Cos a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.) As with Co-Co, there are endless upward key changes, which serve to heighten the drama. Other touches – the folk-rock inflections, the timbre of the strings, the subtle dabs of pedal steel – are pure 1971, already showing Chinn & Chapman’s characteristic grasp of the prevalent musical idioms of the day.

My love for Tom Tom – if we can call it that – didn’t last. Middle Of The Road remained my favourite act for the rest of the year, to be supplanted first by The Sweet, and then by Slade. As for my old 7-inch single: it got lost years ago. Until the advent of Napster in 1999, I hadn’t listened to the song in years. In a rush of nostalgia, I downloaded it, played it, burnt it to CD… and forgot about it all over again.

Until now, that is. Do you know what? Maybe it’s just the lateness of the hour, but listening to it again after a gap of nearly six years, it sounds kind of nifty. Here, see what you think.

What was your first single? Stone cold classic, guilty pleasure or childhood folly? Tell me. I like to know these things.

My Girl – Madness (Girl)
Dance With The Devil – Cozy Powell (dave)
Borderline – Madonna (Buni)
Telegram Sam – T.Rex (betty)
What Can I Say – Boz Scaggs (looby)
Rubber Bullets – 10cc (NiC)
Can The Can – Suzi Quatro (Alan)
Kodachrome – Paul Simon (
Long Tall Sally EP – The Beatles (Dymbel)
Magic Fly – Space (d)
Banner Man – Blue Mink (Junio)
The Man With The Child In His Eyes – Kate Bush (Chav Gav)
Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa – Gene Pitney (Tina)
Kings Of The Wild Frontier – Adam & The Ants (bytheseashore)
Step Inside, Love – Cilla Black / Me The Peaceful Heart – Lulu / Cinderella Rockefella – Esther & Abi Ofarim (Nigel)
Alone Again, Naturally – Gilbert O’Sullivan (“bob”)
Those Were The Days – Mary Hopkin (Debster)

The bug that won’t stop biting.

Oh, this is just sodding ridiculous. The flu symptoms are back with a vengeance, and the chesty wheezing won’t shift either. So I’m off work again, with a doctor’s appointment booked for Friday.

At mainly horizontal times like these, Sky Plus and the TCM channel are great comforts. Today’s viewing schedule has included:

  • In This Our Life. Good Sis (Olivia de Havilland) versus Bad Sis (Bette Davis, whadda BITCH!)
  • A Very Social Secretary. Bernard Hill does a cracking David Blunkett, in an expectation-exceeding satire which takes no prisoners.
  • Mildred Pierce. La Crawford at the peak of her powers, with Ann Blyth as the Ungrateful Brat Daughter from Hell.

So, you know, being at death’s door has its compensations. But, ah me, I have been sitting upright for far too long now. My couch beckons. I’ll buzz you if I need anything.

Mike’s cold! Now into its fourth record-breaking week!

There’s one good thing you can say about this cold: it’s full of surprises. Up one day, down the next. Nearly better, just a few renegade sniffles left, then WALLOP, and you’re back in the zone. Dry cough, tickly cough, phlegmy cough, wheezy cough, chesty cough: there aren’t enough brands of Benilyn in the world to cover it. Also, it’s always worst at weekends, i.e. when you can’t even grant yourself the compensatory luxury of a Sick Day.

OK, so going to a Goldfrapp gig with Neil, drinking five pints of lager (of varying strengths), and prolonging the “catching up” session with Alan until 1:00 this morning was never exactly going to flush it out of my system. And, um, I might have had the odd cigarette or two along the way. Just to be sociable, like. But f**k it – if I’m going to be ill anyway, then I might as well imbue it with a sense of purpose.

The upside of this hideous affliction is that it gives me absolute carte blanche to make crap, rambling, semi-delirious blog posts… because at least I’m Making An Effort, and can therefore be granted immunity from criticism. After all, it’s the one immunity I have left to my name.

So I might eventually regret telling you this story. However, as I’m in no condition to judge its appropriateness, I shall plough on regardless.

But first, in best Ronnie Corbett fashion, a preliminary digression. Please feel free to cast me in Golfing Casual wear, hunched forward on a Parker Knoll, fiddling with my glasses.

We had a rather random Saturday night. The plan was for K and I, OldEngland, “Bob” and Mrs “Bob” to grab an early evening pint and a simple bite to eat, somewhere we hadn’t been before. OldEngland had been tipped off about a place which sounded perfect: tiny, traditional, great beer, simple home-cooked game pies and stuff, in the Good Pub Guide, etc etc.

About ten minutes into the drive, we finally got round to mentioning the name of the place to “Bob” and Mrs “Bob”. At which point, “Bob” let out an agonised gasp.

“We can’t go there! It’s officially the worst pub in the world! Everybody I know says so!”

“But it’s supposed to be traditional…”

“Well, yeah. Traditional as in basic, scruffy, dog-rough, inbred, hostile, intimidating…”

Luckily, I had an Emergency Plan B. So we ended up in Longnor instead.

Longnor is a small place, but with four pubs in close proximity, and a chip shop. God knows how they manage to sustain so many. Maybe they just like their beer in Longnor. We ruled out the Robinsons pub, and the rather forbidding looking place with the steamed-up windows, and headed for The Horseshoe at the far end of the main square. Oh, oh, oh! Best Pint Of Marston’s Pedigree, Ever! Seriously! It’s my favourite beer anyway, but this was just perfect.


Next, we crossed the square to the Crewe & Harpur Arms. (I’ve grabbed a screenswipe from the “virtual tour” section on this link, as it shows the exact very same table where we sat.) This has been recently taken over and refurbished, with a smart formal dining room, a large, cosy bar, and an uncommonly welcoming and hospitable landlord: fresh out of the RAF (as of two weeks ago), full of infectious enthusiasm, and with major aspirations for the place.

The food, my dears, was sublime. I knew we were onto a winner when I tasted the lettuce which came with the chicken liver starter: proper, fresh, just out of the ground stuff. (This has been my big gastronomic discovery of the summer: the simple joy of the freshly plucked lettuce. Who knew that they had so much flavour? Or, indeed, any flavour at all?)

As we dined, the landlord revealed that he was also a professional calligrapher, and was there anything that we’d like him to inscribe? Still chatting, while almost absent-mindedly whizzing his nib across a piece of folded-up cartridge paper on the bar, he knocked this up for us in scarcely less than a minute:


And then, by special request:


But this was not the end of his talents, oh no. After our meal, he hopped over to the adjoining piano, and led the whole bar in a rousing rendition of Dame Elton’s Your Song, followed by Let It Be and Bridge Over Troubled Water. Traditional sing-songs round the old Joanna, no less! We Peak District folk still know how to make our own entertainment! You can keep your new-fangled “jukeboxes” and “disc jockeys”. It was jolly. We’ll be back.

The following afternoon, while I was pruning the honeysuckle out on the street, and K was doing complicated “putting to bed” things with the lawn, a couple of familiar faces swung by on their afternoon constitutional. Pleasantries swiftly exchanged, the husband cut to the chase.

“Chaps, I’d like to ask you something. Do you actually find penises attractive? Or are they just, you know, a means to an end? Because I can’t see the appeal.”

(I can’t be 100% certain that he actually said “means to an end” – but if he didn’t, then he certainly should have done.)

Placing my secateurs and trug on the verge, and resting my hand lightly over K’s shoulder, I stood up straight and proud, and looked him in the eye. Man to man.

“That’s a simple question to answer, and I am happy to answer it. On behalf of us both, and indeed of our whole community, I can confirm that… yes, we LOVE cock.”

It was only at this point that the four of us glanced hurriedly round to check that there weren’t any children in earshot. (There weren’t.)

“I think it’s the fact that, if you get close enough to them, they change their whole shape. An outward visual manifestation of an inner state of desire. Most alluring. Beautiful afternoon, isn’t it? We’ve been trying to decide on next year’s tulips.”

I love village life, I do. You just don’t get the same quality of discourse on the streets of Nottingham.

Format firsts. (1)

First 7″ single (bought for me):
Knock Knock Who’s There? – Mary Hopkin (1970)

hopkinAh, who could forget the two-way diva-meets-diva Bitch Fest of the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest, as Opportunity Knocks winner and Beatles protegé Mary Hopkin was pitted against that lilting colleen from across the Irish Sea, Dana Provincial?

I was already a fan of La Hopkin, having seen her and Tommy Steele in panto at the London Palladium, where we all sang along to her big hit, Those Were The Days, as well as Steele’s “Junior Choice” favourite, Little White Bull. And I was already a fan of Eurovision, having watched Cliff Richard being pipped at the post by Spain in 1968, back when the contest was screened before my bedtime. This time round, as with Lulu in 1969, I wasn’t allowed to stay up late, and so relied on my grandmother’s account of the evening. She had been most unimpressed with Lulu’s allegedly scruffy demeanour (“Straight off the plane! The silly girl had no time to comb her hair!”), but was charmed by Mary – and Dana – in 1970. So much so, that she bought us copies of both their singles.

As my sister’s kindergarten class had been singing it at school (something which I considered terribly daring and modern), she was given Dana’s winning song All Kinds Of Everything, with the equally lilting Channel Breeze on the flip. Meanwhile, because I had been following the weekly Song For Europe qualifying contest so avidly, I was given Mary Hopkin’s single, on the Beatles’ Apple label – backed with the runner-up song, the even more jaunty I’m Going To Fall In Love Again (The Very Next Chance I Get).

There had been singles in our house before – the earliest being The Beatles’ She Loves You, which I regard as Side One, Track One of my entire life – but, aside from kids’ records (Johnny Morris from TV’s Animal Magic telling the story of Lorenzo The Llama; Vivien Leigh – yes, that one – reciting Beatrix Potter’s Tale Of The Flopsy Bunnies), Knock Knock was the first one that was actually, officially mine. A lifelong interest in Eurovision (apart from a few years when it went a bit crap in the 1980s) was born.

Looking at the lyrics now, my twisted 21st century brain can’t help wondering whether there hadn’t been a risqué subtext to this seemingly harmless ditty all along. Check this out:

Climb the stair, and then I say a prayer
For someone who could share my situation,
But instead, as I lay down my head,
I have to leave it all to my imagination…Knock knock, who’s there?
Could this be love that’s calling?
The door is always open wide.

Knock knock, who’s there?
Now as the night is falling,
Take off your coat and come inside.

Hands where we can see them please Mary, there’s a good girl. OK, so it’s no Sugar Walls – but, you know, slippery slope.

No such trouble for Dana the country girl, so pure and sheltered that she even lacked the descriptive language to articulate her innermost desires. (“Dances! Romances! T’ings of der Noight!“) Next to such innocence, the following year’s UK entry from Clodagh Rodgers, Jack In The Box (“I’m going to bounce up and down on my spring!”) looked positively debauched. How far we have come, ladies and gentlemen. How far we have come.

Eyup, Reluctant Nomad has discovered meme “tagging”.

Oh, bless those darling little newbies! My dear friend Alan – not knowing that I am far too important and influential a blogger to be bothered with such trifles – has decided to “tag” me with a meme thingy. To wit: he wants me to post a picture of my computer, and its immediate milieu.

Since it would appear to be Meme Week on Diva, and since I would hate to disoblige a friend (a real-life meatspace friend at that, not one of your namby-pamby Met You Once At A Blogmeet And Now We’re Like Sisters constructs), and since I’m still trying to will my blogging mojo back into life by any means at my disposal…

…here is an exhaustively annotated picture of the very place where a significant proportion of Troubled Diva is created, as snapped after I got home from work yesterday evening. (The annotations represent an attempt at Adding Value to what might otherwise be a deeply dull post. I do try and go the extra mile.)


1. Lovely Dell computer, as ordered online about 18 months ago. Easy to order, good on price, prompt delivery, doddle to install, no subsequent problems, happy customer, recommend them to anybody. K insisted that we splash out on the flat-screen monitor, and I’m glad he did; it’s vastly easier on the eye. (It’s also much better at displaying nice, bright, cheerful versions of my digital photos – unlike the machine I’m currently using, which has seen fit to render the above image in several shades of sludge. For optimum viewing results, please come round to my house and look at them on my computer etc etc.)

2. Not so lovely Dell printer/scanner/copier/fax – as ordered at the same time as the PC, in total ignorance of the Great Dell Ink Cartridge Scam. (Basically, no other makes of ink cartridge are compatible, so you have to keep ordering from Dell, at a hideously inflated price. Avoid avoid avoid.)

3. This is the very microphone which I use to record the Troubled Diva podcasts!

4. Brand new so-called “digital” phone, which K picked up at reduced price from Dixons on Monday. I know, I know. I wanted to warn him, but I was in a bit of a hyper-critical mood on Sunday (nasty touch of flu), and didn’t dare venture yet another negative opinion. So we’re currently lumbered with this absolute piece of shit: terrible reproduction quality, which makes it sound like you’re speaking from a padded cell, at the bottom of a well, while someone does the hoovering in the background. Digital my arse.

5. Horrible unaesthetic chair, reduced to clear in Office World about 6 or 7 years ago. Unergonomic in design, and it squeaks every time that you so much as twitch. Plus it’s grey, and so clashes with the entire room (and indeed the entire house).

6. Spare chair, for those Darling Let’s Surf The Web Together moments. (Consquently covered with random bits of paper for 90% of the time.) This was relegated from the sitting room, once its combination of wicker and curvy metal began to scream Early 1990s.

7. Jumbo spindle of blank CDs, ready for burning. If I’ve done you a CD in the last few months, then it will have been peeled off this spindle.

8. Sturdy beech-effect IKEA desk. (Yes, we do occasionally give house room to IKEA products. They’re particularly good on office stuff.) The drawers contain 95% crap which didn’t have a home elsewhere; I only ever open them to retrieve the digital camera, which lives in the middle drawer.

9. Exciting M15-approved electronic paper shredder, as purchased by K while he was still working from home. Because you can’t be too careful. (We’ve had someone go through our wheelie bin on a couple of occasions. Or maybe it was the local fox. Yes, the Park Estate has its own fox. It’s a wonder the residents have never taken up hunting. After all, it’s not as if they ever pass up a chance to be faux-gentry.)

10. Waste paper bin, which our cleaner never empties because it has scary modern technical stuff in it like discarded CDs, and she doesn’t like to tangle with such matters. Oh God, I’m blogging about our cleaner. Take me out and shoot me, before I morph into Polly Filler.

11. Terracotta mug, bought from IKEA in 1992 when we moved into the house, containing a freshly brewed cup of Twinings English Breakfast. Note the sad lack of Troubled Diva merchandising in the mug arena (and indeed in the mousemat arena). Because, believe it or not, I don’t actually own any of my own merchandise. Well, it seems a little masturbatory, don’t you think?

12. Painting, by Alicia Dubnyckyj, of the Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas. Let’s look at it properly, shall we?


Bought (and blogged) in January 2003, this painting took on an added level of interest a year later, when the chapel in question was used by Britney Spears for her Whoops I’d Had A Few Too Many 24-hour marriage to “childhood sweetheart” Jason Alexander. Perhaps they have a commemorative plaque there now.

13. A bunch of recently digitised CDs. (The CD burner is out of sight, behind the nasty grey chair.) Top of the pile: a CDR of Jet Propelled Photographs by Daevid Allen’s University Of Errors, as copied by my mate Stereoboard, and consisting of latter-day space-prog covers of extremely early Soft Machine tunes. Yes, it’s a bit Niche even by my standards.

14. It’s very untidy of me to leave it lying around like that, but the iPod to USB connection cable is used so frequently, that there’s scarcely any point in tidying it away. Everyone’s allowed one area of the house where they can be a total slob, right?

15. The only bookshelves in the house, which run from floor to ceiling in this handily placed alcove. Unlike with music, we’re not great hoarders of books, unless they’re hardbacks or contain pretty pictures. Read ’em, pass ’em on, or bung ’em in a box for the charity shop. Anyway, just visible in this shot are: In The Fascist Bathroom by Greil Marcus, an original 1950’s collection of Ronald Searle‘s St Trinians cartoons, and a large number of signed and dedicated first editions of Dymbel’s Young Adult Fiction paperbacks.

Any further questions? And shall I “tag” someone this time round?

Yes, I shall. Peter, you’re It. Show us yer workings!

Lazy-ass music meme.

Cheaper and quicker than cognitive behavioural therapy: just stick your MP3 player on shuffle, and let it answer the following set questions, oracle style.

1. What do you think of me, Random Music Player?
Emily Snow – M. Craft.

I’m not sure how this got onto my iPod, but it turns out to be a wistful, mournful, slightly twee acoustic ditty concerning the impermanence of human relations.

Where do we go, now all the late night bars have closed, and our friends have turned to shadows? People come and people go… blink of an eye… we’re all gonna die… so what are we waiting for tomorrow?

Well gee, THIS is working. THANKS for that, iPod! Is there any point in continuing with this? Or with anything? Anything at all?

Also, I don’t take awfully kindly to being called Emily Snow. It makes me sound like some sort of coke-sniffing spinster, and I refute the comparison utterly.

Or perhaps this is some sort of “confrontational” therapy, deliberately designed to challenge and provoke? We shall see.

2. Will I have a happy life?
Six Days – DJ Shadow.

So does that mean that I can only expect six days of happiness in the rest of my miserable life, or that I’ve only got six days left on this benighted planet? F***ing hell, enough with the doom and gloom already! Where are we going with this?

You could be sitting taking lunch, the news will hit you like a punch, it’s only Tuesday… tomorrow never comes until it’s too late.”

This is one miserable dirge. I scarcely dare continue.

3. What do my friends really think of me?
Childrens World – Maceo Parker.

Good grief, this sounds even more mournful and tragic than the DJ Shadow track, as a lone sax picks out a ragged, forlorn solo over softly descending organ chords and understated, bluesy guitar chops. For, like, over ten minutes. Maceo Parker is best known for his sizzling, ecstatically funky work with James Brown’s band… so what happened here?

I have visions of my friends all standing round and shaking their heads in sorrow, in a kind of what-went-wrong way. “He could have been someone… if only… he never really grew up though, did he…

Towards the end, things reach a kind of frenzied crescendo of agonised wailing, with multiple horn solos all kicking off and singing their own disconnected songs of individual pain. Was it something I said?

4. What does my Significant Other think of me?
Od Yeshoma – Oi Va Voi.

Jeez, more lush downtempo lugubriousness. What’s UP with this iPod today? Where’s the DISCO, fer chrissakes?

Whatever it is that K thinks of me, he has chosen to express it in the form of a traditional Hebrew prayer. Well, we do pride ourselves on never doing Obvious and Slushy. Ah, here’s a translation.

Still will be heard in the mountains of Judas, and in the streets of Jerusalem. A voice of laughter and a voice of joy, A voice of a groom and a voice of a bride.

Well, I suppose that’s vaguely cheering, if a little obtuse. Or maybe he’s planning to elope with a nice Jewish girl, leaving me standing at the altar registrar’s table, sweating in my nice Paul Smith suit, nosegay already wilting in my clenched fist?

Moving swiftly on…

5. Do people secretly lust after me?
Yesterday – Matt Monro.

Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be…” I swear I’m not making these up. Still, that would explain the lack of shitty sticks down NG1 last Friday.

6. How can I make myself happy?
We’ve Only Just Begun – The Carpenters.

So many roads to choose. We start off walking and learn to run.

Following many months of referrals, screenings and false starts, my first proper CBT session took place yesterday evening. Mountains to climb, streams to ford, etc etc. Nuff said.

Talking it over, just the two of us. Working together, day to day.

Someone inside that infernal machine is HAVING A LARF.

7. What should I do with my life?
A Rose Is Still A Rose – Aretha Franklin.

Baby girl, you’re still a flower… darling, you hold the power.” This is WAY too Zen for a prosaic soul like me. Give me simple messages, dammit! And enough with the camp over-familiarities – a little professional distance would be appreciated, thank you.

8. Why must life be so full of pain?
Call Me – Feminnem.

There were times when I really doubted, if after stormy weather always comes the sun. But now I can see the world from a different side, yeah…

At last! It’s sunny, it’s bouncy, it’s breezy, it’s lively: it’s this year’s Eurovision entry from plucky little Bosnia & Herzegovina, sent to banish all sadness and fill my heart with gladness. For when a Eurovision song is playing, then nothing bad can happen to y…

Fifty candles on the party cakes, for many years of happiness.

Oh, just f**k off and DIE. I’M FORTY-THREE!

9. How can I maximize my pleasure during sex?
When Poets Dreamed Of Angels – David Sylvian.

She rises early from bed, runs to the mirror, the bruises inflicted in moments of fury. He kneels beside her once more, whispers a promise: next time I’ll break every bone in your body.

OK, now you’re just scaring me. May I see your certificate?

10. Can you give me some advice?
Every Party Has A Winner And A Loser – Erlend Øye.

Save your platitudes for Blackpool, pal. Do I even look like David Cameron? (Who was described by Rory Bremner on this morning’s Today programme as a political iPod, curiously enough.)

11. What do you think happiness is?
Doop – Doop.

Now we’re singing from the same hymn sheet. Happiness is… an instrumental novelty number. Indeedy-doody-doo!

12. Do you have any advice to give over the next few hours/days?
Peach Trees – Rufus Wainwright.

And I really do wish you were here next to me, cos I’m going to see James Dean. There I will be, under the peach trees with him.

This must be some sort of tit-for-tat reprisal for the nice Jewish girl. Frankly, I think I’ve got the better deal.

13. Will I die happy?
Small Song – Lhasa De Sela.

I made a small small song. I sang it all night long, all through the wind and rain, until the morning came. This song is my small song. I sang it all night long, and when the morning came, I had to start all over again. My song is so so small, I could get down and crawl, searching from wall to wall, and never see anything at all. How could you hate such a small song? If i was right, I would be wrong. Don’t be afraid, it’s just a small song.

Oh, iPod. And I thought we were on the point of a breakthrough. Same time in a fortnight, is it? Yes, I’ve got cash. No, I’ll see myself out.

Moral: Man, that machine has more issues than I do. Perhaps this was the point all along.

Don’t worry: I shan’t be “tagging” anyone with this, as I believe common parlance now has it. What is this, the school playground?

(Yes, I take your point.)

Update (1): guyana-gyal suggests playing some Donna Summer and doing the answers again. An excellent suggestion. Here are the (very different) results.

Update (2): Meg of me(ish) dot org takes the meme, mutates it a bit, then does her own iTunes-on-shuffle splurge. (Yay, John Martyn’s cover of Glory Box!)

(via various places, including here and here)