Walking the forest path: part four.

Crossing the busy A6, we head into Monsal Dale for the final stretch.

“So, talk me through the stand-by pasta recipe, then.”

When we get back to the cottage, I shall be giving the cooking another shot; under close supervision, as ever. (Health and safety, you know how it is these days.) For the past two Sundays, K has been drilling me to produce steak and chips. The steak, the chips and the accompanying vegetables have been perfect each time, matching K’s exacting standards to a tee – but somehow, we’ve been missing the point of the exercise. Namely, that I should be working towards producing unsupervised meals: a challenge which calls for a simpler recipe.

(Yes, even steak and chips is a bit advanced for someone like me, with minimal basic knowledge on which to build. Hell, it’s been a while since I even peeled a spud.)

K’s “stand-by pasta” is the simplest meal that we can think of. Pasta, tuna, tomatoes, olives, garlic, chillis. What could be more straightforward than that?

We stop to snap a small clump of steers, peacefully munching in the late afternoon light, in the gap between the stream and the hillside. As K composes his shot, the steers at the front of the clump obligingly arrange themselves into a neat line, fanning out from the centre with pleasing symmetry.


Just ahead of us, a lone walker in a bright red anorak is crouching in the undergrowth, by the right hand path which runs off into the bushes. Opting instead for the left hand path, we stride briskly by, not looking sideways.

A few minutes later, just after the paths have re-converged, we pause again to sample the view. K attempts another shot with his phone, but the light isn’t good enough. As he fiddles with the settings, the walker re-emerges. He is still a good few yards behind us, safely out of earshot for now.

“Come on, let’s move. She’ll think we’re waiting for her.”

“Who, her in the red?”

“Yes, her. Miss Scarlet…”

“The Scarlet Pumpernickel…”

“Scarlet O’ Hard On…”



Monsal Weir looks especially beautiful this afternoon, in its secluded clearing at the foot of the wooded slope. Mist is already beginning to form in the rapidly cooling air at the bottom, whilst sheltered patches at the top are still frozen from the night before. This place must look wonderful at daybreak, we agree. Perhaps we could come out for an early morning winter walk, some time next month?

This thought lasts for all of five seconds, before we concede that it will never happen. Besides, when would we find the time? It’s not as if I’ll be here over the Christmas holiday, after all. Perhaps K could make the trip without me, with friends from the village who keep earlier hours?

“I’m having a twinge.”

“What sort of twinge?”

“Oh, you know: wishing I was going to be here, rather than working out in China. Typical contrarianism, basically. You’re a Gemini, you should know all about that.”

K bats me a knowing smile.

“You are going to be OK without me, aren’t you? I know we’ve talked this through, but I still have to check.”

“Of course I will. Anyway, you know what I think about bloody Christmas. I’ll probably go and see my family on the day. It would be a good opportunity this year, especially with… you know. It’s a shame that I couldn’t arrange to be out there with you – after all, Ningbo’s practically up the road from Hangzhou – but it’s just not the right time, what with everything that’s scheduled for January.”

“I know. It’s going to be such an experience, though. I can’t wait to get over there. All that interviewing will be a challenge – imagine having to decide whether you’re going to employ someone, when you’re so unfamiliar with their whole culture and background – but I feel so ready for it. Especially with JP posting daily reports from the office in Hangzhou – I’m hanging on every word. Perfect timing in many ways, even if it is over Christmas and New Year. Anyway, what’s three weeks? We can save up the holidays and go somewhere nice in the spring.”

“And you’ll have time to do some writing.”

“Exactly – see whether I’m up to it, whether it’s any good or not, whether I can knuckle down to it. That middle week is going to be so quiet, on my own in the company apartment with the laptop. Perfect opportunity. Eyup, she’s coming. Onwards and upwards!”


By the time we emerge at Monsal Head, the sky has turned a glorious red, with dark clouds forming mountain ranges beyond the furthest hills. While K lines up some shots, I get myself an award-winning “99” from the Fredericks of Chesterfield ice cream van.

“I bet that’s delicious. Damn that dairy intolerance.”

“Poor you. I bet that’s torture. Go on, a couple of mouthfuls can’t do you any harm.”

“I guess not. OH GOD that’s wonderful.”

“Wow, look at that vapour trail, coming over to the left. It looks on fire, like a comet.”


“Cobwebs gone?”


We leave the empty car park and walk the short distance back to Little Longstone, pausing every now and again to gaze back in awe at the dying glow of the sunset. When we get back to the car, I’ll put the first half of the Madonna album on. The beatier, dancier half. Works best in the dark. He’ll be able to cope with it now.


Comedy interlude.

Yes, of course this is displacement activity for the final part of the f**king never-ending Walking The Forest Path series of posts. (See below. And, eventually, above.) Hey, you should know me well enough by now.

1. Via new-to-me (but actually going for ages) Nottingham blogger Lisa Rullsenberg, some howler fun which made me howl: Actual Analogies and Metaphors Found in High School Essays. Oh, I’ve just Googled and this one is plastered all over the Internet. Doesn’t make it any less funny, though.

2. Just in via e-mail from Miss Mish: Dork Tower, on the subject of de-linking. “Saw this… and thought of you“, she says. Whatever does she mean?

Walking the forest path: part three.

“Come on then, you devious bastard. Next stop, Sheldon.”

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no group of two or more gay men may walk through the village of Sheldon without passing comment on the name of its public house. This is not a convention which K and I are about to flout.

“What’s the name of this place? The Cock and something?”

“The Cock in Hand?”

“No, that’s not it. But I’m pretty sure it’s got Cock in it somewhere.”

Ah, here we are…



As we start the long descent into Deep Dale, I catch the disused lead mine out of the corner of my eye, about half a mile away to the left. Oh, was that part of the same walk? Although I recognise everywhere we have been, my memory has been as a series of disconnected fragments, which I am having to stitch together from source all over again.

Over the summer, we had bickered our way down this hill, arguing the toss with every fresh field. This time – certain of our way, hitting our stride, fully up to speed – our conversation swerves off into an animated impromptu plot conference. By vocalising my sketchy ideas for the first time, I can feel flesh starting to draw over bones. Thought leads to thought; chance suggestions are toyed with and acted upon; new characters emerge from the ether; existing characters take on names, faces, back stories. We’re buzzing, on a roll, eager imaginations churning and melding.

I had forgotten what an effective sounding board K can be, particularly when it comes to his favourite area: plot. (I tease him over it, positioning myself as if on a higher literary plane – but we both know that’s bullshit. Anyway, complementary skills and all that.) It’s like the planning stages of Chapter Three of The Naked Novel all over again – only bigger, broader, freer.

Somehow, we’ve avoided the wrong turning: the one which I harped about incessantly last time (after K had insisted and I had yielded), and which had added a pointless half a mile to our route. Reprised as caricature, my extended “told you so” nag rings in our ears once more. Chuckling, we veer rightwards into Deep Dale.

Striding through the wildlife sanctuary, still dotted with seasonally redundant little marker boards, pointing out rare – and now vanished – wild flora on the hillside, I coax K into delivering a brief company report, strictly in layman’s terms. (Proteomics? The very word makes my head spin.) Caught in the middle of all the little day-to-day dramas and stresses, it’s easy for me to lose track of the wider picture. Consequently, I hadn’t quite realised what a key stage this is for him – indeed, for all of them. Viewed from a certain angle, I guess we’re both poised on our respective brinks.

Having left the binoculars at home this time, there is little to detain us here. Before we know it, we’re at the car park by the A6, where the last of the Bright And Early Brigade are busily de-booting themselves before the four o’clock lock-up. Just outside the toilets, someone has dumped an old PC monitor: damp, useless, too big for the bin. We tut.

Now we’re at the actual spot, K can’t resist teasing me about the bird-watching for the umpteenth time. When we were last here, I had amused myself with the binoculars while he went for a pee.

“Shh!”, I had cautioned, as he emerged from the toilet block. “There’s something in the trees over there. I’ve been tracking them. They’ll probably emerge in a minute… ah, there they are. The two black and white birds with the long tails. Any idea what they are?”

“Mike, they’re magpies. Haven’t you ever seen a magpie before?”

“What, are they quite common?”

“You could say that.”


“HAHAHAHAHA! Ooh, ooh, keep still, I’ve just seen a very rare magpie. HAHAHAHAHA!”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We can’t all be Children of Nature. I mug obligingly, riding out the storm, until K’s attention is caught by a tree over to our left.

“Good grief, look over there: the catkins are coming out.”

“So they are. Er, that’s supposed to happen in spring, right? Oh, don’t start all that again. Anyway, what about those daffodil shoots coming up in the cottage garden? It’s all so wrong!

“Doomed… we’re all doomed…”

“I blame the government.”

“I blame Thatcher.”

Crossing the busy A6, we head into Monsal Dale for the final stretch.

Bobbly fruit and pillows.

Because I know you were curious: the ceramic masterpiece, repaired (can YOU spot the two damaged fronds?) and revealed.

And before you say anything (because someone already has): no, we haven’t become smack dealers in our spare time. Really! What do you take us for?

kmobbobbly1 kmobbobbly2

(Image via K’s moblog, still going strong, even if I have to make up my own descriptions every time he’s afflicted by Blogger’s Block, which at this early stage of the game is frankly a little previous, don’t you think?)

Post of the Week #5

With nine out of twelve (or 75%) of last week’s nominations penned by female bloggers, this is the first time that the gender split has been anything other than more or less equal. God, that’s not an easy sentence to write at 8:30 on a Monday morning. Let’s quickly crack on, shall we?

From the under-represented male wing, we’ve had sharp and timely political metaphor, a raddled former beauty-queen, and a football hero with feet of clay.

Meanwhile, from the ladies (hello ladies!), we’ve had cellos pushed into sternums (enigmatically), pianos dragged into the jungle (heroically if uselessly), rages so fierce that they have seen off tropical storms, murders in the neighbourhood and drugs busts in the home. We’ve eloped to London with lesbians, we’ve woken up with toddlers in Paris, and we’ve been out on a photo shoot with a disorienting new lens (discovering in the process what the word “bokeh” means).

All of which leaves the only post this week to have picked up votes from all three of our judges (myself, Anna and Green Fairy). Yes, this week’s winner – the fourth out of four from a female writer, and a piece which speaks for itself, without need of further justification – is:

Baghdad Burning: Conventional Terror.

Please leave your nominations for this week in the comments box below. Rules of engagement are here.

Patita will be helping with the judging, but there is still room for one more judge: if interested, please e-mail mikejla@btinternet.com. All applications welcome.

1. Boob Pencil: Transportmentally Challenged.
(nominated by guyana-gyal)The AA told us to get out of the car and wait on the other side of the barrier. They didn’t know about the panther either. Luckily we decided it was too cold for such nonsense, and we stayed in the car. After all, the AA said they would be at least an hour and a half, and it was the middle of the night for God’s sake. And cold. And foggy. Did I mention the fog? It was very foggy.

2. petite anglaise: singing in tongues.
(nominated by Rob)This is an audio post.


3. Boris Johnson MP: Bush and Al-Jazeera.
(nominated by mike)If someone passes me the document within the next few days I will be very happy to publish it in The Spectator, and risk a jail sentence. The public need to judge for themselves. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. If we suppress the truth, we forget what we are fighting for, and in an important respect we become as sick and as bad as our enemies.

4. Joe. My. God.: Pray Lady Day.
(nominated by mike)The air in the car is getting a little stuffy. I’m already overdressed for this entirely-not-caused-by-global-warming 70-degree-almost-December morning, but I don’t even have the room the pull my arms out of my jacket and hold it. I can feel sweat running down my sides, in little sticky Pray Lady-hating rivulets. Of all days to be iPod free, it has to be today. On Pray Lady Day.

5. Izzle pfaff: No Parking.
(nominated by patita)Environmental theater, you see, eschews such pedestrian trappings such as audience seating. No, in environmental theater, you, the audience member, wander like a bedouin around the spaaace, maaaan, being careful not to f**k with the actors who are totally right there begging to be f**ked with or to kick over their water bottles or anything. Exploooore the spaaaace! Whoops, not that space or that space or that space, though, because those are for acting.

6. Waitress Dreams: fear dot mom.

(nominated by Pam)Later, while washing her big blue sweatshirts, some covered in teddy bears, others in Christmas trees, I thought about how numb I’ve become to my mother’s emotional outbursts. I couldn’t remember where I was when I stopped feeling anything when she started her pointless praying, chanting, bitching, moaning. I couldn’t remember what triggered, or didn’t trigger, my flat response.

7. JonnyB’s private secret diary: Friday, November 25, 2005.

(nominated by Rob, who has also nominated the comments, even though that’s not really allowed, but they are rather funny comments, it has to be said)”I’ve backed the Land Rover right up,” says Short Tony, as I stand in the old kitchen, my bent finger covering my mouth in that particular way that has been scientifically proven to help you think. I decide that if I stare at the washing machine for long enough then it will become a bit lighter.

8. A Sorry Existence: Voyeurism.

(nominated by mike)I am considering baking a basket full of morning goods and popping over to the new residents, you know, just to do the neighbourly thing. I’d quite like to make friends with some gays, as they can be such fun.

9. Londonist: SCOOP: NME Album Of The Year.

(nominated by mike)
It has come to our attention that this year, NME may have chosen to publish a doctored version of the aforementioned poll. According to our source, the list of albums printed in this week’s publication does not reflect the opinions of its writers, as you might expect. Instead, we’re told you’ll find a heavily edited version which, we have on good faith, takes some commercial and political factors into consideration.

Post withdrawn: background here.

10. Spaghetti and Truthballs: Santa Claus is coming to town.

(nominated by Pam)His christmas CD collection now takes up a 200 disc CD changer… and I kid you not, they broke an artificial tree because they overweighted it with ornaments. We don’t just have one advent calendar for our household…. We have one for every room.

11. Tiny Pineapple: Colin Ithn’t a Firth-Rate Kither.

(nominated by Rob)…in this case, the director appears to have pulled Mr. Firth aside and said, “Look, Colin, your agent just called to remind us about the ‘no mandible movement’ clause in your contract, so in this scene just try to keep everything else moving, OK? Open and close your jaw, turn your head from side to side, clutch her skull in ever-more-awkward ways. Just do whatever you have to do to disguise the fact that you kiss like a haddock.”

12. A Hand Full of Stars: toxic parents.

(nominated by Green Fairy)It is 1976. I saw a man regretting his past actions and attempting to correct the course his young life had taken. I saw him cruelly desert his English wife and three children. For a few moments, he had taken a risk and stepped out of that circle his ancestors had drawn around themselves. He had married for love, the riskiest of all. And he deserted her for comfort, for tradition. For safety.

Sheila, take a bow.

From the magnificent “Favourite John Peel quotes” thread on I Love Music, shortly after Peel’s untimely passing:

Autumn 78: after playing the debut Undertones EP in full for the second (?) time that week (I know it wasn’t the first time, ‘cos I heard that as well), he went into an extended speech along the lines of “People sometimes ask me what I do this show for. I don’t do it for the credibility or the cool, I don’t do it for the major record labels, I don’t do it for the music industry, I don’t do it for (etc etc)… I do it for people like (pause) The Undertones.” It was all very impromptu and impassioned and emotional, and had quite an impact on me.

— mike t-diva (mikejla@btinternet.com), October 27th, 2004.

A rough paraphase to be sure, but the general gist and thrust of it certainly accords with my memory, and I’d wager that it was about 75% accurate, word for word.

From page 312 of the even more magnificent Margrave Of The Marshes – Peel’s unfinished autobiography, completed in fine style by his widow Sheila after his death – which has had me alternately fighting back tears of laughter and emotion most lunchtimes for the past fortnight:

“People sometimes ask me what I do this show for”, John said. “I don’t do it for the credibility or the cool. I don’t do it for the major record labels. I don’t do it for the music industry … I do it for people like The Undertones.”

Nice one, Sheila! (And there are several other quotes from the same “dimly lit corner of the Internet” – heh! – dotted around her splendidly written half of the book.)

I always knew I’d make it into hardback one day.

Sons & Daughters, Vincent Vincent & The Villains, Ralfe Band, Nottingham Rescue Rooms.

First, the disappointment: no Clor! To be honest, it was Clor that I was most looking forward to seeing last night: they made a likeable debut album this year, with a couple of ace singles. In their place, I was faced with the prospect of slogging through two completely unknown support bands. On my own. With naught but draught cooking lager and guilty fags for company. Suddenly, I had a flash of empathy with Pete Ashton, and his noble Going Deaf For A Fortnight project. This could be tough going.


First up, Ralfe Band (note the lack of “the”). A five-piece outfit, with a drummer and four multi-instrumentalists, all neatly lined up along the front of the stage. From left to right:

  • mandolin/pedal steel
  • violin/keyboards
  • semi-acoustic guitar/electric piano/lead vocals
  • bass guitar/snare drum & cowbell.

Consequently, every number they played in their short set featured a different instrumental line-up, with band members sometimes swapping instruments mid-song. This worked extremely well, not least because all the band members turned out to be fine, skilled musicians. In particular, there was a fantastic snare drum & cowbell/mandolin break in the middle of one of the faster songs, which earnt the band their first whoops from the audience. (Audience whoops when you’re third on the bill being a pretty impressive achievement round these parts.)

Influences? Hmm, very difficult to pin down. There was an overall Celtic/folky feel, à la Waterboys/Levellers, which made me feel that the band would do particularly well in the south-west of England – but thankfully, they didn’t overdo the raggle-taggle-gypsy-oh crusty-isms (or else they would have quickly lost me). There were also elements of country and blues, a smidge of Bad Seeds/Kurt Weill theatricality, and even a hint of early Cockney Rebel here and there. Without wishing to damn them by association, I could easily imagine a Ralfe Band track on a cover-mounted CD for Uncut or The Word. The readers of Mojo would definitely like them.

They were also being street-teamed to death: promotional postcards quite literally everywhere, and a bunch of Nice Young People wandering round the venue with clip-boards, collecting names and e-mail addresses in return for badges. (Unfortunately, the Nice Young Person I spoke to, having thoroughly enjoyed their set, knew next to nothing about them – which slightly spoilt the effect.)

Ralfe Band, then. Not what you might call bleeding-edge, but they could potentially do very well. A likeable bunch, who clearly love what they do, but perhaps they need to work a bit more on their stage-craft if they’re going to raise their game. (F**king hell, I’m starting to sound like Louis Walsh.) Hope they don’t get chewed up and spat out as nice safe corporate indie-lite; they’re too good for that.

During in the interval, I bumped into two former colleagues – I & J – whom I have often hung around with at gigs over the past few years. Hooray for company! Billy lots-of-mates!


Vincent Vincent & The Villains were on next: a cheerful bunch of piss-takers, whose refusal to take themselves seriously made them impossible to dislike. Sure, the songs themselves were pretty daft – fast and snappy new wave power-pop, with comic lyrics and distinct rockabilly influences – but this didn’t stop the band performing them as if they were stars in their own private universe, whilst also being well aware of the absurdity of their preening and posturing. In particular, the be-quiffed lead guitarist (playing in his home town, with his family in the audience) seemed absolutely convinced that he was some sort of hugely shaggable Rock God – and hence, because he believed it, he sort of was.

God, I’m making them sound like The Darkness. They were nothing like The Darkness. Got that? Good.

The singer was one of those unlikely looking types who often make unexpectedly effective front men. Think 1970s Howard Devoto crossed with 1970s Tom Verlaine, with a cross-strain of 1970s Wreckless Eric. Bulging eyes, high forehead, a Dave-Hill-out-of-Slade fringe (with some suspicious evidence of an incipient comb-over), and bearing a home-made logo on the back of his jacket, which spelt out THE VINCENTS in what could easily have been white gaffer tape. I liked the way that, straight after the first number, he called for the sound engineer to turn down the volume on the lead guitarist. Ooh, power struggle! We like!

Earlier on, I & J had witnessed one hapless member of the band being refused entry to the venue, and actually being chucked out of the front door by the bouncer. This gave them a perfect opportunity to dedicate a song to him – which turned out to be a scathing, sarcastic attack on the pathetic nature of the existence of all bouncers everywhere. So witheringly apt that it could almost have been made up on the spot, this had the band grinning from ear to ear throughout at its startling appropriateness.

Over on the merchandise stand, Ralfe Band had CDs, 7-inch singles, more badges and more postcards. Meanwhile, Vincent Vincent & The Villains had… combs. Yes, combs. Which kind of says it all.


And finally, onto Sons & Daughters – a band whom I had last seen supporting the Fiery Furnaces, at one of the best and most enduringly memorable gigs of 2004. I had a lot of time for last year’s Love The Cup mini-album, which I played incessantly for several months – but having heard both singles from their latest album The Repulsion Box, had felt rather let down. Gone was their distinctive gothic country rockabilly, and in its place was something which sounded a little too close to bog-standard, NME-friendly, typically 2005-style garage-rock. It all struck me as rather short-term, opportunistic, and a waste of the band’s potential – and so I was there to give them one last chance.

Well. I stand corrected. Yes, Sons & Daughters are quite a different proposition now than in 2004 – but in a wholly positive way. There’s a new energy and focus to their sound and to their stage presence: having sharpened up their act, they’re now performing like a proper rock and roll band, as opposed to a nervous bunch of indie under-achievers. There’s confidence there now, and a real sense of attack.

This was especially apparent in lead singer Adele Bethel, who stalked the stage like an avenging fury. Constantly rocking herself backwards and forwards, looking and sounding fantastic, she still managed to hold just enough of herself back to retain that vital sense of mystique.

And guess what: the new stuff sounded spot-on, and a perfectly logical progression from the old stuff; everything blended together seamlessly, with the Love The Cup songs toughened up a bit, in order to match the rockier Repulsion Box material. In fact, the highlight of the whole set was one of the newer singles: “Taste The Last Girl”, which came across like The Au Pairs covering “What Difference Does It Make”. Yes, that good.

Sons & Daughters, then. I sense that this is a band who are now ready for larger stages, and who will know what to do once they’re on them. Next time they play Nottingham, I’ll be less apologetic about going to see them, and more determined to drag my gang of regulars out with me.

Ah, good old-fashioned guitar bands. They may not inspire quite so much semi-intellectualised purple prose as certain other musical genres, but on a freeze-your-bollocks-off Wednesday night in Nottingham, I can think of no better way of spending an evening.

Walking the forest path: part two.

Now for the Big Climb.

The last time we scaled the incline on the south side of Ashford, it was high summer, and we were sweltering and struggling. It’s a long ascent, whose true length only gradually reveals itself over time – but the diligent climber is amply rewarded by stunning views back over Ashford, and the fields, hills and dales beyond.

A couple of hundred yards short of the summit, we settle ourselves on the sloping grass and have our packed lunch. Whilst munching, we amuse ourselves by spotting the aeroplanes coming in and out of Manchester airport, another thirty miles or so beyond the horizon, over to the far left of our field of vision. With the clear, cloudless skies and the particular quality of the autumn afternoon sunlight, each vapour trail is unusually easy to spot. At one point, we can count a full ten planes ahead of us – and that’s not counting the ever-widening vapour trails left by earlier flights, criss-crossing the sky in spectacular fashion.

Falling into an awe-struck reverie – punctuated only by occasional murmurs of “wow”, and “so beautiful” – my gaze falls upon a group of three birds, flying around in the near-side fissure with the A6 at its base. Mesmerised, I continue to trace their path as they swoop up, down, and off above the high ground over my shoulder. By now, my neck is craned right round to the left – and as I keep gazing, my eyes meet those of an elderly lady, beginning her descent on the path which we have just climbed.

As I am smiling, and as I am turned awkwardly in her direction, she takes this as a form of greeting, and approaches us. Her smallish, friendly-looking dog trots ahead of her, making straight for K.

“Can Charlie come and say Hello?”, she inquires. “He seems to prefer men. I don’t know why.”

By now, Charlie is all over K, and K is all over Charlie.

Charlie doesn’t give me a second look. Clearly, he is well acquainted with the difference between friend and foe.

We chat briefly about the lovely weather, before the old lady calls Charlie to heel and sets off again down the hill. Charlie keeps gazing fondly back at K, who is returning his gazes with equal fondness.

Two or three minutes later, another dog appears to our right, on the upward path. This one is of an indeterminate breed, with a demeanour which suggests a bright friendliness, and an alert perceptiveness. Once again, it makes straight for K’s lap, walking straight past me without so much as an acknowledgment.

The dog’s owner comes into view, head stooped, climbing up the hill. Another elderly lady, again with something of a “county” air about her. She smiles over at us, every bit as genial as her predecessor. K calls over to her.

“We were just wondering what breed of dog he is?”

“No idea, I’m afraid! I was rather hoping you’d tell me!”

“He looks a bit like a German Shepherd, doesn’t he?”

“Yes, a lot of people have said that. I think there must be some German Shepherd in him somewhere. Glorious afternoon, isn’t it? You’ve picked a lovely spot for lunch…”

Her cheeks are flushed with enormous patches of vivid crimson: either a result of her sustained uphill exertions, or of a stiff gin-and-dubonnet after the morning service. Or maybe a bit of both.

“He’s from Animal Rescue! Third one I’ve had! I went to Bakewell Market to buy a cabbage, and came back with a dog in a cardboard box! Oh well!”

As the two of them disappear off to the left, I hiss seditiously at a still beaming K.

“What’s going on here, then? Is this another one of your carefully staged I-want-a-dog ploys? I’m going to have Sharp Words with the script-writer, I’m telling you…”

He beams back at me, in that particular bare-gummed way of his which I always take to signal smug triumphalism.

“Come on then, you devious bastard. Next stop, Sheldon.”

To be continued.

Pouffey borders.

I do hope you’ve all been enjoying my colourful new image borders. Having noticed them first on Dooce, and second on Blogjam, I quickly twigged that these were this season’s “must have” blog accessories – and so spent chuffing ages working out how to code them.

(Don’t ask. Very boring, and I’ve been told off for talking Tech before. Trial and error, basically. Probably lots of better ways of doing the same thing – but now I’ve got it working, I’m sticking with it.)

Anyway, in the course of a recent comments box discussion, I foolishly referred to my border colour as “mauve”. Not so, apparently.


Which, I have to say, bears no resemblence to any “mauve” which I’ve ever seen before – but who am I to question the wisdom of Wikipedia?

qB of frizzy logic – by now my official colour consultant – posited that the colour might be closer to lavender. Which would make it even more pouffey than mauve, but no matter.


Not to be thwarted in her colour matching quest, qB then suggested the rather more old-lady-ish lilac.


However, having consulted the full Wikipedia colour list, I have concluded that my borders most closely resemble thistle.


“Thistle” it is, then. Or at least, “faded thistle”. (Dried thistle? Pressed thistle? Wilted thistle?)

In the meantime, qB was busy developing and naming a brand new shade – a process which she discusses in mind-boggling detail on her own blog. Thus honoured, I can now present the first ever image border in the exciting new colour for Fall 2005…

… frizzy diva!


You can all wake up again now – we’ve finished pissing around with pouffe-assed palettes for today. Keep it pastel, blogpals!


Billy No-Mates.

Er, I don’t suppose anyone reading this is going to the Sons & Daughters/Clor gig at the Nottingham Rescue Rooms tonight, are they?

I’d hate to give you the impression that I have no social life, but none of the usual gig-going gang could be persuaded to come along to this one, and I do prefer a bit of company at these things.

God, that sounds tragic.

Well, if you’re down there this evening and you spot me – down the front, left hand side of the stage as you look at it, somewhere around the far corner of the bar, pint in hand, guilty fag in mouth (they’re my only company!) – then please do feel free to march up and introduce yourself.

(Please note that the preferred form of address is: “Oh my God you’re TROUBLED DEEE-VA you blog is AMAAAA-ZING I read you ALL THE TIME!” I shall then graciously acknowledge your presence, dipping my head bashfully as if to bury my face beneath a non-existent Lady Di fringe. Them’s the rules. Don’t get out a pen and paper, though; that would just be unseemly.)

Walking the forest path: part one.

I want to walk the forest path. And then – if it’s within my range – I want you to walk it with me.” (Peter @ Naked Blog, August 2002.)


As we leave the cottage, I craftily start the Madonna album at Track 6: just where the pace calms down a bit, after the opening salvo of gay-as-f*ck thumpers. Perhaps that way, I could ease K into the album gradually.

Ten minutes down the road, and still no reaction. I try the conversational approach.

It’s fascinating: while the album was being recorded, the producer – who’s a club DJ in his own right – would take demos of the backing tracks out with him, to incorporate them into his DJ sets. That way, he could precisely gauge the dancefloor reaction to each track, and then go back and make tweaks to the… you’re not remotely interested in any of this, are you?”

“Not even remotely.”

“I could tell by that stony-faced expression. Puh. Thanks for taking a f**king interest. I mean, you could have pretended. Remind me to do the same thing back, next time you start blathering on about bloody proteomics…”

He doesn’t take the bait. I fall silent. God, I need this walk. Clear away a few cobwebs.

As we turn a corner, the music softens to a light trotting pulse, overlain with sweet, simple melodic phrases. Right on cue, a group of horse riders come into view, causing K to slow the car down to a quiet crawl. The up-and-down movement of the horses and riders synchs in perfectly with the tempo of the track. Clip-clop, clip-clop.

“Actually, this is a good one.”

He’s smiling. We’re getting there.

With the large car park at Monsal Head already filled up by the Bright And Early/Can’t Park Efficiently For Shit brigade, we find one last roadside space down at Little Longstone. Which is actually more convenient, now that we think about it. As we change into our walking boots, the CD switches back to the beginning – thus ensuring that “Hung Up” will stay looping round and round my head for the next however many hours. Extended remix, and then some.

It’s only the second time I’ve worn gaiters, and I’m having a hard time working out how to put them on. K assists, but I’m in a brittle mood. Why can’t I do anything practical? Also, the straps are too long: flapping out either side of each boot, dangling in the mud, swishing annoyingly against the side of my trousers with every footstep. I try to tuck them in, but the gaiters aren’t designed that way and so they keep popping out again.

“God, I hate these gaiters. What’s the point of them anyway?”

“Look: as soon as we get to Ashford-in-the-Water, we’ll stop at the shop and buy a pair of scissors. Then I can cut the straps down for you.”

Patience of a saint. But I’m still stomping through the thick mud, failing to fall into an easy step, making heavy weather of it all.

“My f**king boots look like f**king Cornish pasties! How can I walk in these!”

K looks down at my clag-caked soles, and giggles. I giggle back, the drama-queeniness softening just a touch.

To be honest, I’m still upset with myself over last night. I should have left the unwrapping of the ceramic bobble-fruit-and-pillows to him, like I usually do. You know, get a grown-up to do it for me. But instead, I only had to Challenge the Assumption of Incompetence, didn’t I? Stepping Outside The Comfort Zone, like I’m supposed to be doing, on a day-by-day basis.

Which would have been fine, until the moment that I lowered the bobble-fruit into the special dimple on the top pillow. Well, how was I to know that it would only fit one way? Stupid bloody thing.

And now there are two fragments of green china frond sitting in the top drawer of the sideboard, waiting until we get some glue, which we’ll NEVER DO, because we ALWAYS FORGET that sort of thing, and it will be MONTHS before we even, in fact we’ll probably NEVER, and it’s all my fault because I’ve DESTROYED A MASTERPIECE, and I DON’T DESERVE NICE THINGS, and now I’m over-reacting because I CAN’T COPE, I mean f**k’s sakes nobody’s DIED, and…

Time goes by / so slowly / time goes by / so slowly…

In no time at all, we’re in Ashford. It’s a neat, well-heeled place, with a character all of its own: quite at odds with the surrounding villages, with its smart Georgian sandstone facades and its almost Cotswolds-like feel. All of which is marred by the constant roar of traffic from the busy A6 at the bottom of the village. Perhaps they all learn to tune it out. Handy for commuters, though: Bakewell, Sheffield, Derby. And you can sense there’s old money here.

The village store is quaint, but crowded and claustrophobic. I wait outside while K queues, kicking my muddy heels against the kerb, dodging the passers-by on the narrow pavement, feeling in the way no matter where I place myself.

The store owner has kindly lent K his own pair of scissors. The straps are snipped, the scissors returned, the walk resumed, a new spring in my step.

Now for the Big Climb.

The long rambling post about our walk in the Peak District will be along shortly.

(But first, this.)


It is the first time that K and I have taken Mrs “Bob” out shopping for Lovely Things For The Home. Looking at her now, trapped motionless in front of the exquisitely turned chinaware, I realise that Mrs “Bob” may never have had Gentleman Friends Who Shop quite like us before. Perhaps it is all rather a lot to take in for one afternoon.

She was absolutely fine in the Gorgeous Kitchenware Shop at Hathersage (whose other branch is in Sloane Square, don’t you know), coming away with a nice little raft of kitchenalia. (Meawhile, I bought a beautifully turned birch tray – along with a Swedish milk jug, co-designed by a professor of ceramics and no less than five of her students.) However, now that we have unexpectedly fetched up in the Gorgeous Ceramics Gallery at Rowsley, I sense that a certain trepidation may be threatening to cloud her enthusiasm.

Her eye has fallen upon a trio of tiny little china receptacles, in a sort of grey-green. Supportively, I draw myself towards her. This is no time to be faint-hearted.

“Nice, aren’t they?”

“They’re gorgeous. But Mike, what are you supposed to do with them?”

“Oh, you just have to love them.”

“That’s all?”

“That’s all.”

“Good answer. I’m going to remember that.”

She’s looking thoughtful. I smile to myself. Already, I sense that she has commenced her journey towards becoming a fully-fledged snapper-upper of the Beautiful But Useless. This is what we do to for people. It is a noble calling.

In the centre of the gallery, facing you as you walk in, some exciting new work from a promising young ceramicist is prominently displayed. It’s surreal, vibrantly coloured stuff. Bold, witty, more than a touch whimsical. To the left, a battered pink sofa perches on top of a desert island, complete with palm tree. To the right, a “bobbly fruit”, rather resembling a pineapple, squats on top of three pinky-blue pillows. As K points out, there are strong similarities with the work of the celebrated (and highly collectable) Kate Malone – but at a tiny fraction of the cost. Frankly, this stuff’s a steal. We’d be daft not to.

Fetching the gallery owner over to the display, I point decisively towards the bobbly fruit/pinky-blue pillows composition.

“That one’s our favourite. In fact, all three of us independently came to the same decision”, I explain – beaming with pride at our connoisseurial unanimity, gaily unaware of any troubling subtext.

The gallery owner is too much of a professional to betray his feelings – but as he reaches for the selected objet, I sense the merest flicker of confusion dancing across his fractionally creasing brow.

A-hum. Well, he’s not been there long. His colleague has been selling to us for years. She’ll put him straight. Perhaps I need to work in a few more loud remarks to Mrs “Bob”. “Look, over here! Your HUSBAND would LOVE THESE!”

After a few more conspiratorial circuits of the gallery space (“Tell Bob about the coffee spoons, boys!”), we drain our wine glasses, pick up our goods, and head for the door.

Back over at the till, the gallery owner can contain himself no longer. As the door opens, he calls over to us.

“So, er, who is the bobbly fruit for exactly?”

“Oh, it’s for us”, I beam, wiggling my index finger back and forth between myself and K. “Thank you so much!”

As the last of the sun sets beneath the blood red sky, the three of us giggle all the way through to the B5056.


Long rambling post about a walk in the Peak District coming soon…

…and, judging by the two pages of handwritten notes which I made last night, it will be very long, and very rambling. Unless I hire an editor between now and this evening, that is.

In the meantime, here is a picture of some cows.


(Image taken from K’s moblog – oh, did I not say?)

Post of the Week #4

Bloody hell, Monday mornings. This is another Breakfast Time Special post, written at precisely that time in the week when my mental processes are at their foggiest. (It’s that 6:25 am start what does it. Not natural, I’m telling you.) Still, there’s work to be done, so let’s crack on with this week’s results.

In this absence of an obvious show-stopper this week, it has been more difficult to predict which way the votes would fall. Consequently, we’ve had the widest spread of opinion so far, with most posts picking up votes along the way, and only two posts receiving votes from all three of us (myself, JonnyB and Zinnia Cyclamen).

In this week’s batch of nominees, we’ve sampled the cuisine of East Dulwich, feasted ourselves upon The Gayest Cake Imaginable (with pictures!), and investigated the properties of albino ketchup (not a euphemism, but a Soho burger joint reality).

In our international section, we have photographed morgues in Kyiv (eww!), and gone for wee-wees in rural Zambia whilst being covered in termites (double eww!).

We’ve examined our priorities in life, had a damned good rant about NaNoWriMo, and have surveyed the visual evidence of what too much love can do to a neon-coloured bear.

At this point, it’s worth giving a special mention to an entry which, realistically, was never going to qualify – as it’s actually a series of fourteen consecutive posts in which Pete Ashton attends fourteen consecutive gigs by small bands in his home town of Birmingham. The resulting “Going Deaf For A Fortnight” project is a wonder to behold, and I commend it to anyone with a bit of time to spare.

This leaves just two posts, separated by just one vote. In the runner-up position, we find Mimi in New York, “dodging the slap” in the strip joint. As one judge said:

This is a beautifully written post. It writes of important issues and writes of them well, brings them to life. It’s also a fascinating glimpse into an alien (to me) lifestyle.

But nudging ahead by a whisker, we have this week’s winner:

The Marvelous Garden: THE ART OF SEDUCTION: A Short True Story.

As one judge commented:

This does something I think blogs do best: it documents a few minutes of someone’s life from an unusual angle in an entertaining, thought-provoking way.

Speaking for myself, I’m pleased to see something lighter and more amusing/observational sitting at the top of the pile this week, after two winners from the heavier end of the spectrum. I’m also pleased that, for the third week running, the winning post comes from a blog which I wasn’t reading before.

Here we go again, then. Please place your nominations for Week Four in the comments box below. Rules of engagement are here.

Our judges for this week are Anna out of little.red.boat, and Green Fairy out of Green Fairy.

1. Rafael Behr: Nation to Tony: ok mate, I think you’ve had enough.
(nominated by JonnyB)

But after a few more drinks he’s crossed the line. Instead of being funny, he’s just being rude. He’s bumping into people and spilling drinks. People start to peel away from the group. “It’s getting a bit late”; “Gotta be at work tomorrow.” But Tony hasn’t noticed, he still thinks the party is in full swing.

2. This Is My Body, This Is My Blood: Reefer Madness.
(nominated by daisy)

I’ve decided it’s not worth the trouble to score a little weed. Besides, the adrenalin rush ought to last for at least another week.

3. Making Light: The story’s in the NYPost.
(nominated by patita; mike suggests that you read this bit first)

How I found out it was murder: One of the detectives asked me whether I’d heard anything that sounded like someone playing with a cap gun. I looked at him for a moment in polite disbelief, then said, “You mean, someone popping off with a .22.”

He ducked his head and mumbled that yes, that was what he’d meant. “We recovered a fragment,” he said—that’d be the bullet lodged in the tongue—then added, “We still haven’t ruled out suicide.”

4. Real E Fun: Sophie – Part Three.
(nominated by Clare; mike also recommends Part 1, Part 2 and Part 4.)

Marianne said we would never live apart after we left London, and we’d tell everyone we were sisters. I said that would never wash because we looked so different. No problem, she said, we’ll say I take after father and you take after mother. She always had an answer for everything.

5. meanwhile, here in france…: peace.

(nominated by Clare)

When will I stop marking out my territory like a cat on heat?
When will I be able to share a breakfast table without clenching my teeth?

6. Musings from Middle England: Football Memories.

(posted by asta)

It so happened that the Captain was a family friend so always greeted me by name. If the term ‘street cred‘ had existed in the early sixties, mine would have shot off the graph every time this happened. Despite the fact that I could have got his autograph whenever he visited my parents, I still made him sign my book at the Players’ Entrance every Saturday afternoon. It was as rigid and meaningless a ritual as going to church on Sunday.

7. GUYANA: How the piano got into the jungle.

(nominated by Zinnia Cyclamen)

They play it for a while, but in the end, the piano sit silent in the wooden church at the top o’ the hill. Some folks in Guyana now call it a white elephant, a big useless thing, sitting silent and deaf, can’t sing, can’t hear, can’t do nothing.

8. Reluctant Nomad: Mad Dogs and Englishwomen…
(nominated by mike)

In 1932, she was crowned Miss England and was the toast of London’s high society when she came out at that year’s annual debutante’s ball. Two years later she’d married a South African doctor, my grandfather, and was living in Livingstone, Zambia, a colonial backwater. What a grande old bitch she was – I loved her unreservedly!

9. Mimi In New York: The Rage.
(nominated by guyana-gyal)

I flame-thrower those I care about like kebabs, caught in the electric frazzle of this fury. All f**ked up, screwed, twisted beyond redemption – you’re losin’ ’em, but you can’t explain this suicidal hell-bent mission of destruction. It’s not personal, you gotta understand. Not about you anymore.

10. Baghdad Burning: Conventional Terror.
(nominated by Zinnia Cyclamen)

Few Iraqis ever doubted the American use of chemical weapons in Falloojeh. We’ve been hearing the terrifying stories of people burnt to the bone for well over a year now. I just didn’t want it confirmed.

11. petite anglaise: waking.

(nominated by mike)

Familiar knots tighten in my stomach as my mind predictably turns to the office. Will it be a neutral day, or a stormy one? Weather map symbols swim before my eyes. Where once every day was dry with light cloud and sunny intervals, nowadays there are, at best, ominous grey clouds gathering; at worst, a violent storm.

12. little.red.boat: Sneeze at your peril.

(nominated by Pam)

Should I just carry around the contents of my under-sink cupboard so I can clean the living hell out of anyone who has the audacity to cough in my vicinity?

(Sorry: Anna’s a judge this week, so I’ve had to disqualify this one.)

13. Paula’s House of Toast: Through The Looking Glass.

(nominated by asta)

Today, back at work, I was buried by an onslaught of tasks and demands. Late afternoon, sitting at my desk and writing, I suddenly came to. There I was, sitting there, looking at my hands as they wrote. What were they ? Who was I ? It was one of those awful, disorienting moments of Sartrean nausea, keener than usual. I felt poised and teetering on an abyss; a small panic fluttered inside. The Big Lens — the wild, wide, all-seeing, goitrous eye of the Beast — had turned inward.

Stylus UK Singles Jukebox: The B-Side Special.

As part of Stylus magazine’s special B-sides week, the UK Singles Jukebox team (of which I was once a member) were asked to cast aside the new releases for once, and to turn their attention instead to a bunch of recent-ish B-sides. More specifically: cover version B-sides.

Having resigned from the team earlier in the year, I was delighted to be asked to re-join it as a Special Guest, for one week only. (This made me rather feel like Farrah Fawcett-Majors re-joining Jaclyn, Kate and “new girl” Cheryl Ladd for a “special episode” of Charlie’s Angels.)

Settling down to review all fifteen tracks last night, I was quickly reminded of just what a tough gig it is, producing reviews for such an intimidatingly music-savvy readership. (They’re not like you lot. I can’t just toss out semi-informed drunken bitchy rants and hope to get away with it. Oh no.) Painful memories re-surfaced, reminding me of just how much blood I used to sweat over those damned singles reviews, perched over the kitchen table for hours at time on Sunday afternoons, snapping whenever the phone rang, or if friends dropped round, or if K had the temerity to walk in on me. (“How dare you try and boil a kettle! I AM CONCENTRATING!“)

However, five hours later, and just ten minutes before the submission deadline, I was rather pleased to discover that, for the first time ever, I had managed to bash out reviews for every single track. And this morning, I was absolutely thrilled to discover that, also for the first time ever, Stylus had seen fit to use every last one of them. Ding dong, full house!

(You do need to remove the first “effortlessly” from the Sophie Ellis Bextor review, though. How slapdash.)

The times they are a-changin’.

I cannot remember a time when life (inner, outer, same difference) felt so frustrating, and yet also so full of possibility. I could be approaching a crossroads. It is all very… interesting.

I embrace change, I embrace change. Based on past experience: do I heck as like. But keep saying it, and it might start sticking.

Something within me is slowly being unlocked; the rusted mechanism creaking, as the shiny new key turns.

Ooh, DEEP.

Bob Dylan, Nottingham Arena.

Oh dear. As this was the first date of Dylan’s UK tour, and as the concert finished less than two hours ago, I might very well be in the awkward position of Scooping The World with this little report. Never have I felt so ill-equipped for the task in hand.

Because, you see (and random Googlers might want to stop reading right here), I’ve never been what you might call a Dylan fan. Oh, I fully respect his position in the iconography of popular music, and I recognise his vast contribution to blah-di-blah-di-blah… but, well, I’ve just never been able to form any sort of meaningful emotional connection to his oeuvre. It’s the voice, you see. And what I perceive as an unfathomable aloofness. His work kind of intimidates me, what with its Immense Cultural Significance etc etc… and the sheer reverence in which he is held doesn’t help much, either.

Maybe it’s because I’m a child of Punk, forever kicking over the statues.

Or maybe it’s because I’m just too damned shallow. Where’s the fun, the wit, the sexiness? By rights, I should stick to being waspish and flippant about the new Madonna album. Hey, I know my place.

Also, I’ve had a few.

But here goes, anyway. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

I had primed myself for two possibilities. Based on what I had been told about his past form, either Dylan was going to be electrifying, incandescent, converting me in an instant… or else he was going to be an embarrassing sloppy mess. And I was ready for both. Hey, at least embarrassing and sloppy could be interesting, right? Heroic failures often can be. I’ve seen enough past-it wrecks in my time to know that.

But what I wasn’t prepared for was polite, efficient, bloodless blandness. Bar-room boogie. Pub rock. The sort of stuff that might have been all right down the Hope & Anchor in 1975. Think Eric Clapton. Think Dire Straits. Well, quite.

It wasn’t just me, either. Everywhere I looked in the Arena, people just seemed to be sitting there, slightly absent half-smiles on faces, occasionally popping out for pints from upstairs. No-one looked engaged, ignited, transported. Even the nostalgia factor wasn’t really kicking in. Lukewarm applause, even at the end.

(A predictably bitchy word about the audience, because I can’t help myself. Never in the past half decade have I seen so much high-waisted denim gathered together in one place. And I swear that every teacher and social worker within a fifty mile radius was in there tonight. If they had dropped a bomb on the venue, then all Pastoral Care in the East Midlands would have been wiped out in a trice. I know, I know. The comments box is that-away, folks.)

He’d started well enough: a rousing, rocking Maggie’s Farm (Thatcher Out! Say No to the Poll Tax! Ah bless, he knows what country he’s in!), followed by a stirring The Times They Are A-Changin’ – the latter bringing tears to my eyes, as I connected with the collective shared histories in the room, and remembered the song’s profound and enduring generational significance.

Oh, but then, but then. Was it just unfamiliarity with the material (quite possible, I fully admit), or did dull album track really follow dull album track, in a stodgy wash of “tasty licks” and snooze-inducing noodling? By the time we got to the interminable “jam session” that was Highway 61 Revisited, my eyelids (and those of my merchandising manager Rob) were drooping.

At which point, admittedly, things did start to pick up, as the band expanded their repertoire to include some more delicately worked country blues, playing around with the basic template at long last. At the same time, there was a discernable intensifying of emotional focus – a shift in the dynamics, which lifted me out of the Land of Nod and even got me vaguely twitching, so far as the unpleasantly cramped seating would allow.

I should do my duty, and furnish you with some specifics. Dylan played the entire set seated sideways on at his keyboard, in a black suit with red trimmings and a wide-brimmed black gaucho hat. He didn’t play guitar at all, and I think he only used his harmonica the once (mercifully, I must confess). His five-piece backing band wore matching beige suits, not terribly well fitted, with some of them sporting similar headgear to Bob. The drummer was the weakest link, we thought: too perfunctory, too mild.

Dylan’s voice sounded great, though. Never a fan of his 1960s folky whine, I like the cracked quality that age has bestowed; it lends a expressive range (well, comparatively speaking). Diction: good. Not excessively drawled, but surprisingly clearly enunciated, and delivered with a pleasing intensity. Why, I could even make out whole phrases at a time. This helped.

About ninety minutes in, after an unexceptional mid-set filler (I was miles away), the music abruptly stopped. Blackout, silence. Then the lights came back on, revealing Bob and the band lined up at the front of the stage. Huh, that’s it? Interval time maybe? (Rightly or wrongly, I had expected a marathon.) Comprehensively wrong-footed, the crowd were slow to cotton on that this was in fact Encore Time.

Encore Time, then. Like A Rolling Stone had us on our feet, but still the atmosphere fell several yards short of Exultant Mass Communion. (Of course, Dylan had long since ceased to sing anything so predictable as the actual melody line, preferring instead to deliver virtually the whole song in the same low-to-high interval, like an obscure Anglican psalm.) Ooh, All Along The Watchtower, MUCH more like it! This was genuinely great. I beamed, I wiggled, I bobbed, in the zone at last.

Blackout, bow, exit, applause, house lights still down, expectations high.

House lights up. Oh well, that’s that. Another icon to be ticked off the list. Glad I went, honestly. Because now I know. Dylan’s just not for me, never has been, never will be.

OK Googlers, do your worst. “There’s something happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Diva?” My shoulders are broad.

Update: Some other reviews of the Nottingham concert:

1. Tim Anderson, a serious Dylan fan, offers up a considered, detailed, respectful song-by-song breakdown. True “Bobheads” should head there immediately.

2. Tony Roe from BBC Nottingham was far from impressed… and the same goes for the bulk of his commenters.

3. Quick, before the article disappears behind pay-per-view: Andy Gill at The Independent thought he was OK. Four stars.

The new Madonna album.

The new Madonna album is, essentially, and provided you edit out all the usual aren’t-I-just-so-uniquely-fascinating fame-is-such-a-headf**k me-me-me-ness of the lyrics, one great big, non-stop-segued, spangly-disco-balled, glad-rags-on, hands-in-the-air, yo-DJ-pump-this-party, we’re-all-in-this-crazy-ship-together, ooh-these-are-good-ones, Christ-he’s-smiling-back-have-I-pulled-or-what, sod-the-attitude-let’s-SCREAM, (well-OK-just-a-little-bit-of-attitude-then), most entrancingly transiently transcendentally meltingly beltingly everything-just-SO, sometimes-life-is-just-like-the-movies, move-over-losers-Miss-THING-has-come-to-town Saturday Night Out of the year.

(Meanwhile, my partner K finds it all a little bit “full-on”. Quod erat demonstrandum.)

It immediately makes me want to doll myself up, squeeze myself into something irresistible, and go out on the razz. Preferably in 1994, if that could be arranged. I used to be a Great Beauty! My dance card was permanently marked! Gentlemen used to queue up outside my door!

(Or else my Oh What A Lovely Midlife Crisis! nostalgia glands are being expertly manipulated by one of popular culture’s most adept operators, who has recognised that now is the time to quit with the f**ed-if-I-care experimentalism, and explicitly target her core demographic of slightly past-it party boys d’un certain age. But hey, I’m cool with that.)

If I have a criticism – and, really, it ain’t much – it’s that the opening four tracks are just so deliriously, mega-tastically TISH-TISH SWOOSH, CHUG-CHUG THUD, UNHHH-UNHHH, WALLOP-WALLOP WHEEEE, that what follows must inevitably suffer by comparison. But it’s only a slight sag. The plateau after the rush, or something. I feel no need of further elaboration.

A prediction. At around 8pm this coming Saturday, every unattached, urban-based gay man in Western Europe and Northern America between the ages of 25 and 40 with Plans For Later On will be playing this as they get ready to go out, hula-dancing as they towel-dry, jiggling their tushes as they whip an iron over their disco tops.

Go on, ring round on the night, see if I’m wrong.

Post of the Week #3

Disaster averted! With Pam’s votes having mysteriously gone astray over the weekend, a last minute plea for a substitute was kindly answered by Ann Pixeldiva. Having pooled her votes with mine and Clair‘s, I can now reveal that the new Post Of The Week is…

Coming up after the break.

But first, let’s look back at last week’s other nominees.

We visited karaoke bars in North Korea and Saharan vomitoria (not to mention damp sand-pits) in Tokyo.

We learnt about gold carving in Guyana, and acts of altruism in Jordan, over cups of coffee in Washington DC.

We left answering machine messages in New York, swapped broken German with Swedish chefs, and inadvertantly flashed our bits at VIPs.

There were meditations on peace, angry rants at Texan voters (more background here), and – following directly on from last week’s winning post – an intensely moving personal testimony of the hurt that families can mete out over the decades.

In the midst of so much internationalism, this week’s winning post comes from closer to home. From North London, to be exact – where a survivor of the 7/7 tube bombings voices her opposition to the recent attempts to detain terrorist suspects without charge for up to 90 days, and lays into the idea that the Blair government were somehow acting in her name. As one of the judges put it:

…saying something that really really needed to be said, and saying it a way that will hopefully make people pay attention.

The second Post of the Week therefore goes to:

Rachel from north London: 90 days and 90 nights.

Please leave this week’s nominations in the comments box below, by Saturday morning at the latest. Rules of engagement are here.

This week’s esteemed judges are JonnyB and Zinnia Cyclamen.

1. The Marvelous Garden: THE ART OF SEDUCTION: A Short True Story.
(nominated by Sarsparilla)Beside me, an elderly woman gave new meaning to the term “stationary”, as she flipped noisily through the pages of Glamour, grunting and snorting despite her obvious lack of movement. Occasionally, she spun the pedals around for effect, so no one would think she hadn’t dressed up in gym clothes and slung a towel over her shoulders in order to carry on a loud argument with the editors of Glamour.

2. Acerbia: Burger Me.
(nominated by mike)”See? Albino tomato. Probably the runt of the litter. Struggled and fought to be like its brothers and sister and finally acheived its dream of being a ketchup dispenser despite its rough upbringing and a world full of superficial values.”

3. infinity: de-tox.

(nominated by Clair)This journey, this relationship has been wonderful because it has forced me to look at my life. Review my priorities and strip away the things that I don’t really see as success. Too often I have taken on other people’s ideas of success. People look at bits of my life, the bits they see and project from there to how successful they think I am. People think I am successful. But what if I have a different set of values? What if I don’t count success the same way?

4. frizzyLogic: Baby Bear.

(nominated by mike and Hg: don’t forget to play the movie)Obviously the risk of losing BB was too terrible to contemplate. So early on we bought an understudy. This unfortunate creature has spent all his life so far in the back of my wardrobe since he’s never been called upon to take centre stage.

Despite living entirely in the dark he has not become pale and etiolated. Quite the opposite. He has retained an enviable youthful vibrancy and vigour. So much so that, were he called upon to make an entrance, he would give a very unconvincing performance.

5. Geese Aplenty: No no.
(nominated by Pam)Okay, hold. Stop right there. Does that sound like a recipe for a good novel? When’s the last time you saw a cover blurb that read “Shortlisted for the Booker Prize because of its seat-of-the-pants writing style”? Try “A slapdash exercise in verbal logorrhea that made me physically sick.”

6. Neeka’s Backlog: Monday, November 14, 2005.

(nominated by looby)As I was taking yet another picture of something ugly, a man called out to me from behind a broken-down fence; he looked like someone who rides around in an ambulance all day. At first, I didn’t hear all that he said. But I thought I heard the word ‘morgue.’ The building behind him, which I had just photographed, could’ve been a morgue, I thought. He repeated: “Devushka [miss, girl], is that a hobby of yours to take pictures of morgues?”

7. Speaking as a parent: Give My Compliments To The Cashier.

(nominated by mike)It’s a very English thing, not complaining. I’m sure if I had been on the Titanic and a steward from the White Star Line had rowed alongside our lifeboat and asked “How’s everything for you, then?” I would have replied “Fine, thanks” and left it at that. Mel would have undoubtedly muttered something about sending a stiff letter to someone, a letter that would have hit a snag somewhere in the planning stages and never darkened a letter box, let alone anyone’s desk.

8. Pete Ashton’s Weblog: Going Deaf For A Fortnight.

(nominated by Ben)…a 14 day series of posts… in which I go to a gig in a small venue in Birmingham every night to see bands I mostly have never heard of before and then write about them here. By the end of it I expect to have attained a good overview of the Birmingham small gigs scene, to hopefully have discovered some good tune-smiths and to probably have descended into a nightmarish Gonzo-style meltdown. We shall see.

9. 360 Degrees of Sky: Termites.

(nominated by guyana-gyal)
IE users beware: DON’T click on any pop-ups or ActiveX windows – it’s fastusersonline trying to get you to install a porn toolbar.The torrent of water makes me want to pee, but when I look up from my page my exit is blocked. A wall of termites is between me and the door. Well, actually between me and everything else. But I need to pee.

10. Mimi In New York: The Slap.

(nominated by mike)The rot spreads, mould covering the sheen of life, dragging it down with cloying, asphyxiating stealth. Little Sasha, blonde and beautiful, six years old, laughing as Daddy heaves her onto his shoulders. Sasha, eighteen, sweet and clean, moving to New York to be a model and actress, excited, overwhelmed by the Big Apple. Sasha, 30, pawed by managers, sucking dick for approval, seeking out compliments like an eager puppy, but waiting, just waiting, always waiting, for the slap.

11. Glitter For Brains: The Gayest Cake Disaster Imaginable.

(nominated by Pam)And remember – baking goods also respond well to music. So if you’re baking The Gayest Cake Imaginable, why not start off with the new Madonna album? Oh, you can taste the glitter in the air!

Pithy capsule reviewlets #2.

Nov 08, 2005: The Burial At Thebes (Sophocles’ Antigone translated by Seamus Heaney), Nottingham Playhouse.

Classical Greek drama in contemporary relevance Shockah! Heaney’s unstuffy new translation strikes all the right notes, and the deceptively simple staging looks great when viewed from the Circle. A tightly staged production, with almost every movement choreographed with precision; even the folds on each actor’s robes somehow complement each other. It’s only short – not much more than an hour and a quarter, no interval – but this serves to heighten the sense of concentration, from players and audience alike. Proper drama, proper acting, proper art. For once. Highly recommended, particularly if (like me) you’ve not been to the Playhouse in a while and need your confidence restoring.

Nov 06, 2005: Steak & Chips, The Cottage.

In which, under K’s expert tutelage, Mike actually cooks a proper meal for once in his life Shockah! One of the undoubted highlights of the critically acclaimed Doing At Least One Thing Each Week Which Breaks Through Mike’s Comfort Zone season, the results were little short of spectacular: succulent steak (medium rare), crisp chips (washed, drained, dried, deep fried once, drained, deep fried twice), with peas and baked tomatoes forming a simple yet effective accompaniment. Can’t cook? WILL cook! (Repeated this Sunday, 19:00.)

Nov 05, 2005: Someone You May Have Heard Of’s Bonfire Party, three or four villages away, Derbyshire.

Last year, the assembled mix of political/media types (there were a lot of fearfully earnest, distressingly handsome young men in black sweaters and tight jeans, up from London for the weekend) and stout-hearted county folk (flat caps, rosy cheeks, sensible outdoor clothing in clashing colours) burnt an effigy of Robert Kilroy-Silk; this year, inevitably, it was the turn of George Galloway. Who, it has to be said, went down fighting. As the winds gathered force around him, so the great man’s flames (burning with a violent orange to match his permatanned skin) veered ever more dangerously sideways and up-field, towards the merrily jeering throng. A few minutes later, the transubstantiation from bonfire to flame-thrower now complete, the effigy was spitting hot fireballs above the heads of the rapidly retreating guests, and sending showers of sparks flying all over them, as they cowered in a huddle near the top fence. Standing safely below and behind, K and I could almost hear his self-righteous roar above the crackling timbers. “Yer lily-livered lickspittle popinjays, I’ll take the lot of yer down with me!”