10 Reasons Why I Think I’m A Clapped Out Has Been And 10 Reasons Why I Think I’m Not.

(Suggested by Hg; seconded by dg)

Now fully updated.

Oh Gawd, me aching head. So much for yesterday’s “midnight curfew and don’t let me go to the club“…

…which became an “OK, 1am curfew, and how often am I in town on a Friday night anyway, I DESERVE a little fun in my life”…

…which became an “OK, I’ll just wait until they play the Scissor Sisters, because IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO MY PERSONAL GROWTH AS AN INDIVIDUAL THAT I DANCE TO THIS SONG IN PUBLIC AT LEAST ONCE IN MY LIFE”…

…which, and why did I ever pretend to myself that it would ever be otherwise, became a stupid o’clock stop-out…

(…and they never even played the Scissor Sisters, curses curses, what sort of a gay club are they anyway…)

…which would have been fine, except that I’ve been providing weekend cover for work since 9:00 this morning, as previously arranged…

…so, yeah. What an incredibly daunting list of suggestions this looked like this morning. But I shall go with the “list” option. When the going gets tough, etc.

Still. TEN reasons apiece, you say? Making TWENTY reasons in all? Well, now that my professional labours are done for the day, I shall give it my best shot.

10 Reasons Why I Think I’m A Clapped Out Has Been.

Coming soon, after a shower, a train journey to Derby, a lift to the cottage, and lunch. And a nice sit down with a cup of tea and the papers. And a little lie-down. And a little snooze. And, um, nearly two hours’ sleep. And a pub supper.

And a nice relaxing morning reading the papers in bed with a cup of tea. And, um, oh I know, let’s watch last night’s X-Factor while K’s out entertaining une grande fromage from Les États-Unis. And… oh bugger, this isn’t going away, is it? Right then: sleeves rolled up, palms spat into, let’s do it.

1. After a big night out, it takes me more than 24 hours to recover coherent thought patterns.

(“Recover coherent thought patterns?” Hmm. Well, let it stand.)

2. As Leonard Cohen once said, with an admirable economy of expression: I ache in the places where I used to play.

3. The blight of middle-aged Man Hair has descended: ears, nostrils, and yucky sproutings of pube-like growth on my formerly baby-smooth chest. As a long-time staunch opponent of chest-shaving, having to run a Philshave round me nips kills me, man.

4. Running with this theme: ten years ago, I wouldn’t have had the slightest compunction about entering myself as a contestant at the White Swan’s Amateur Strip Nite (my regular Wednesday night haunt during the spring and early summer). Hell, it would have been only right and proper to “give something back” to my community. Because – and my heterosexual readers will simply have to take this on trust – it’s really not that big a deal, and un-erotic almost to the point of wholesomeness. In any case, it’s not as if I haven’t been naked in public before: in German parks, Ibiza beaches, and… oh, all manner of places really (ahum). At the end of the day, it’s just a willy. Nothing that we haven’t seen before, many, many times.

However, and pushing the willy to one side for a moment: to expose my flubbering baps to all and sundry at this time of life, whilst arguably “liberating” in certain respects, would really be too cruel an imposition upon the good folks of Limehouse. Why, I haven’t even danced with my shirt off in over four years. There comes a time, doesn’t there?

5. I am now of the firm opinion that Top 40 chart music will never again regain the standard of excellence that was set during its golden period: namely, from January 1979 to June 1984. In particular, 90% of all commercial hip-hop, and an increasingly large proportion of contemporary R&B – two genres which I used to love – leaves me stone cold at best. As for current trends in dance music – a genre in which I used to be an expert – I haven’t got the faintest inkling of a clue. I’ve become the guy who only dances when they play something massive like the Scissor Sisters (if they play the Scissor Sisters – see above), reserving my longer workouts strictly for wedding receptions.

6. My grip on celebrity culture is rapidly fading. I have no idea what Lindsay Lohan looks like; I would struggle to recognise Jessica Simpson; and when Orlando Bloom appeared on Ricky Gervais’s occasionally brilliant but worryingly patchy Extras a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t realise he was the celebrity cameo until someone mentioned his name. Hell, I couldn’t even name any of the members of Westlife – and they’ve had twelve Number One singles, for crying out loud.

7. In blogging terms, I’m strictly ancien régime – and my site layout is now so old that I have to apply for planning permission in order to make even the slightest change. (That recent upgrade of the RSS feed logo? Months of paperwork. Months.) As today’s bright young things whizz past – sometimes pausing to pay their respects, en route to the studio – I am left with readership figures which have remained more or less static since the first half of 2004. I’m like the local government middle manager who has been promoted just above his natural level of competence, while his former graduate trainees have all landed sexy positions in the private sector.

8. After twenty-one years in IT, I’m still making my living from IBM mainframes – occasionally dipping into something really daring and modern like creating an XML file, so that the cool web kids can snatch it off me, run away with it, and make it look all sleek and gorgeous on a browser. Object-oriented programming? It gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it. Look, it’s quite simple. Data consists of fields, held on records, stored in files, and accessed via index keys. End of!

9. A lot of my “best” clothes are over three years old, if not five. (My best shoes are a whopping six years old.) I’ve stopped putting my lenses in every time I go out for the evening, and have become so lackadaisical about trying to look hot and shaggable that I even go to gay bars with my specs on. (Or “cruise shields”, as I used to call them in the 1980s.)

10. I am automatically suspicious about every new technological advancement, partly on the grounds that “we didn’t need that sort of thing in my day”, and partly because new functionality scares me. (My upgraded phone handset has been sitting unused in the bottom of my satchel for the past two months, while I muddle along with my decrepit old black-and-white Nokia.) I’m going to become one of those impossible old people, who resist all attempts from well-meaning younger relatives to make their lives easier. (“Remote control? Very kind of you dear, but I like the exercise…”)

…And 10 Reasons Why I Think I’m Not.

1. Although it might take over 24 hours to recover from them, at least I still have big nights out from time to time. In the past year alone, I’ve partied in London, Manchester, Athens, Hangzhou… and I’ve stopped in the village pub until nearly midnight on, ooh, at least a couple of occasions. Ever the circuit boy, me. Buxton, Bakewell, Ashbourne… you name it.

2. I still get to play in the aforementioned achy places, even if it’s more crown green bowling than snooker these days. From “potting the pink” to… oh, I can’t be arsed. I’m sure you’re all more than capable of making up your own ball-based double entendres. Do I have to do all the work around here?

3. There might be unsightly pube-like sproutings on my chest, but at least they’re not compensating for any thinning on top. My grandfather on my mother’s side retained a more or less full head of hair into his nineties, so there are grounds for hope. Not that I have any aesthetic objection to hair loss, when neatly groomed (quite the reverse, in fact – grrr!), but I’ve got the wrong shaped head for a zero crop. Honestly, it would look awful.

4. The baps may be flubbering, but the abdominal jut has been arrested and the arse is still firm and pert. (Did I ever tell you that my bare arse once ended up advertising a safer sex awareness campaign? Ooh, there’s a story for you. I shall add it to the list.)

5. The singles charts may be in irreversible decline, but my enthusiasm for new music is undimmed, and I can still get all worked up over a good gig by a hot new band in a small venue. Now, some people might say that this was arrested development, or an attempt to cling onto my lost youth – but I simply don’t see why one has to subscribe to a youthful lifestyle in order to enjoy youthful music. In fact, I positively thrive on the contradictions.

6. Who needs an externally imposed celebrity culture anyway, now that we are all self-created micro-celebs in our own nano-universes? The spirit of punk lives on! This is an HTML tag, this is another, this is a third. Now form a weblog!

7. Once a highly respected and influential destination blogger, always a highly influential and respected destination blogger. That’s just the way it is. Some things will never change.

8. Having “heritage” IT skills is actually rather retro-chic. After all, nothing dates as quickly as the currently fashionable. “Push” technology, anyone?

9. Lackadaisical about hotness and shaggability I may have become – but then, people are so much more attractive when they stop trying so hard. As I was reminded on… well, never you mind.

10. At least I know the names of most of the scary new technological widgets, even if I run a mile from actually using them. How many of the rest of you got to fondle a pre-release Nano, huh? Huh?

Nearly there now. But first, a competition…

As tomorrow marks the last instalment of the “One Post Per Day, Or Else I Turn Into A Clapped Out Has Been” project, I’d like to make it extra-special in some way. Therefore, I have decided to solicit ideas from you lot, in yet another of the interactive “community-building” stunts which have made this blog what it is today.

In the comments box, please suggest a title for tomorrow’s post. I will then select the title which appeals to me most, and will endeavour to construct some relevant words to match it.

One title per person only, please. Look, I know how over-excited some of you can get. So don’t go rushing into anything, OK?

The deadline for suggestions is tomorrow (Saturday) at 13:00 (UK time).

HANDY HINT: To save any wasted effort on your part, here are some examples of what not to suggest.

  • “Are those curtains machine-washable?” – my most embarrassing sexual experience.
  • “Shit for brains!” – the 10 most useless prats that I have ever worked with.
  • “Automatics or gearboxes?” – a comparative study.
  • “Man of the match!” – my greatest sporting achievement.
  • “How did you get that texture into your dumplings?” – my most memorable culinary triumph.

Got the idea? OK, pitch!

When the going gets tough, the blogger makes a list.

1. That Charlotte Church EXCLUSIVE that I linked to a few hours ago? ‘Twas an ingenious hoax, apparently. All credit to PB Curtis for stirring just the right amount of plausibility into the brew.

2. I’m a bit flat and miserable today, so thanks to Cliff of This Is This for making me laugh out loud with two consecutive posts: Just A Cup (an anti-saucer rant), and Just A Coffee (an anti-milky coffee rant).

3. Cliff (eek, I just realised) and Olga aren’t their real names, you know. I mean, come on, really.

4. OK, a bit more detail, now that things are calming down a bit. My friend and colleague JP was hit by a bus, just outside the office in Hangzhou where I worked for three weeks last Christmas. He sustained head injuries, but following a series of CT scans, an operation has not been deemed necessary. His partner has flown out to join him, and they’re being transferred by air ambulance to a super-duper private hospital in Hong Kong on Saturday. dB in the Hangzhou office has been supplying me with regular updates on his condition, and has been doing a fantastic job all round. Alan at Reluctant Nomad has more details.

5. I’m doing mad amounts of music writing this week. A feature length album review for Stylus, which I’ll link to when it’s published. Two gig reviews for t’local paper so far (Bugz In The Attic on Monday, Hidden Cameras last night), and another tomorrow night (David Essex).

6. And as if three gigs in five nights wasn’t enough, I’m attending a proper grown-up Serious Music “recital” this evening: yer Steve Reichs, yer Terry Rileys, yer John Cages, that sort of thing. Talk about a busman’s holiday. (Note to self: avoid the Big Clapping which gave you away as an alien interloper last time round. For “recitals”, dainty little clappity-clappitys are the accepted order of the day.)

7. Today is quite an important date for K work-wise, but we don’t talk about such matters. I’m just leaving a reminder for myself in the archives, that’s all.

8. I’m currently trying out some new-fangled vari-focal gas permeable contact lenses. The methodology is still being developed, and so these kinds of lenses aren’t yet generally available for purchase. However, not having worn lenses at all for the past five or six weeks, I’m having difficulties with them. They’re also bigger and thicker than my old gas permeables, which makes them harder to get used to. I can see myself reverting to the standard models, and using reading glasses as and when necessary. It’s nice to be in the vanguard, but I’d rather be able to see properly, thanks all the same.

9. All I want to do right now is kick my shoes off, lie flat out on the sofa, and stare at whatever moronic telly happens to be on at the time while thinking about as little as possible – which is highly untypical, as I’m usually super-fussy about what I watch. (As a habitual Big Brother addict, I am well aware of the inherent irony of this last statement.) Anyway, I did this for all of ten minutes yesterday evening, and it felt wonderful. Cabbage therapy! Brilliant!

10. Why is it important to drag these lists out to ten items, anyway? I’ll fill this one in when I think of something. Don’t hold your breath.

“Big Brother reminds you that it is strictly forbidden to discuss events in the outside world.”

Maintaining a personal blog sometimes feels a bit like being a contestant on Big Brother. With so much of our Big Important Stuff off-limits as subject matter, we end up wittering on about the colour of our socks, or the price of stamps, or the nice late summer weather that we’ve all been enjoying.

If Troubled Diva really did contain a full and accurate representation of the main events in my life, then you would be reading an altogether different set of posts. Sometimes, the frustration gets to me, such that I feel like digging a tiny virtual hole in the blogosphere and whispering into it – but then we all know what happened to silly old King Midas, don’t we?

The events of yesterday are a case in point. Suffice it to say that a friend is in intensive care on the other side of the world, but thankfully past the critical stage, and steadily improving. As a by-product of this, I found myself caught up in a complex network of e-mails, phone calls and texts, which saw me take on the role of central information bureau for a sizeable number of people, all desperate for up-to-date news. At the height of the drama, I was more or less constantly relaying messages for nearly three hours solid.

One thing which struck me about the experience is how calm, clear-headed, focussed and energised I became – to the extent that I actually started to get a peculiar kind of euphoric buzz. It was only during a short break in the proceedings, during which I nipped outside for a “calming” cigarette (the self-justifying delusions of the “social” smoker really do know no bounds), that I started getting what might be considered the more “appropriate” reactions: anxiety, shakiness, a lurching sense of dread. (There again, it might just have been the nicotine rush.)

Although I don’t tend to talk about this much, I do struggle, on a more or less daily basis, with a generalised, low-level, tired-all-the-time feeling. I guess it’s my default setting. So it did rather creep me out that it took a serious crisis to shake me out of my torpor, and that I was, in a certain sense, almost benefiting from someone else’s suffering.

(At this point, I should pause for a moment, in order to reassure you that many, many other more important and relevant thoughts were also passing through my brain at the same time. I might be a blogger, but I’m not that self-obsessed.)

I experienced the same sensation in late May and early June, in the immediate aftermath of the tragic loss of K’s sister. Again, there was a good reason: there was so much to be done, and so many people to support, and it turned out that I was actually quite good at staying calm under that kind of pressure – in which case, maybe that emotionally repressed boarding school upbringing did me some good after all.

I do understand where these spiritual energy surges come from, and why they have to happen. I’m also well aware of the human capacity for manufacturing guilt at times like these. I only wish that it didn’t take an event of this nature to send the blood coursing through my veins with such productive efficiency.

Get well soon, JP.

Telegraph Poles on Snob Alley – Part Four.

As we entered the capacious knock-through living-cum-dining area, with its mahogany panelled integral units running down the full length of one wall, Olga’s husband Cliff stepped forward to greet us. A self-made man and proud of it (“I’m a money maker, not a philosopher!”), Cliff ran a company which supplied raw materials to the building trade. Then, as now, these products were in great demand, due to the burgeoning mid-1980s property boom.

“Michael! How are you, young man?” Cliff raised and tilted his whisky tumbler toward me, expansively. “What is it you’re doing these days? Computers, is it? Champion! Well, they’re the future, aren’t they? I mean, ha ha, I know nothing about them myself, but you young uns, you’ve got to get in there, haven’t you? Now, have you all met our friends Ray and Molly?”

The group divided. Towards the rear of the room, my father, Cliff and Ray fell into business talk, with Molly looking on. In the lounge seating area at the front, girls’ talk was the order of the day, as S and Olga began to catch up. Naturally, K and I gravitated towards the latter group. Olga was holding forth about the delights of the estate.

“Of course, all the other houses have only the one telegraph pole in their back gardens – but we’ve got two telegraph poles in our back garden. Oh, S darling – let me get you an ashtray for that…”

My stepmother, not exactly on her first drink of the day, was waving her dangerously ash-laden Embassy Slim Panatella around, with reckless disregard for the state of the shag-pile. Or, if I am to be strictly accurate, a reckless disregard mixed with a certain veiled, f**ked-if-I-care contempt. Oh, I knew her too well.

The talk turned to cars, which gave Olga another excuse to lament the state of the back-seat cigarette lighter in the Rolls. Sorry sorry, one of the back-seat cigarette lighters in the Rolls. Just in case we hadn’t picked it up the first time.

“So what’s that you’re driving?”, she asked K, who proceeded to tell her all about his pride and joy, the 1972 MG Midget. With chrome bumpers. And round wheel arches. (Amongst the community of MG owners, such details are critical. Chrome bumpers wave at other chrome bumpers, but never at rubber bumpers. The very thought.)

Olga looked unimpressed. “Well, I’ve just picked up that new MG Maestro”, she explained. “You know, as a little run-around. It would leave your thing standing”, she added, with an air of dismissive finality, allowing herself a sharp little victory puff on her Players No. 6.

With her elaborately lacquered and bouffanted jet-black hairdo, with “beauty spot” to match, Olga cut a singular figure in the village. Her early 1960s Elizabeth Taylor look, unchanged for the past two decades, flew right in the face of prevailing fashions, and was the cause of much comment. Apparently, Cliff had some sort of “thing” for women who looked like this, and had insisted that the look be maintained at all times.

People sometimes spoke sympathetically of “poor Olga”, and not without reason. An essentially sweet-natured woman and a loyal friend to many, Olga was, it was felt, trapped in her role. Still, she was allowed considerably more stylistic freedom in her clothing, today’s ensemble being “golfing casual”: a black V-necked Fred Perry sweater over a polo shirt, and matching pegged trousers.

My step-sister C had recently announced her engagement, and plans were underway for a big summer wedding, with a reception at one of the local country clubs.

“She must be so excited!”, beamed Olga. “Oh, I’ve had an idea. Would C like to be driven from the church to the reception in our Rolls Royce? It would be such a thrill for her on her special day! Of course, we’ll have to get that back seat cigarette lighter fixed first – I don’t know what we’re going to…”

For the first time that afternoon, Molly piped up from the other end of the room.

“Or there again, maybe C would like to be driven in our Rolls Royce? Because of course, our Rolls Royce is open top.”

If daggers could kill, as one of my barmy line managers at the council once said.

On our way out (Cliff’s parting shot to me: “Get climbing that ladder, son!”), K shot me a stricken, what-the-f**k-was-that-all-about glance, which I returned with a rueful, welcome-to-my-world, better-get-used-to-it-darling glance. To this day, it remains one of his favourite stories – which is why I have retained such an accurate recall of its salient details, none of which (lest you should think otherwise) have been exaggerated for effect.

How very unlike the home life of your own dear author and his beloved civil partner, in their stylish and elegant “new rustic minimalist” weekend retreat in the Derbyshire Peak District. (As featured in Period Living magazine, and did I ever tell you about that?)

Telegraph Poles on Snob Alley – Part Three.

Cliff and Olga lived on the new estate: a winding cul de sac of sizeable detached red-brick houses, which had undoubtedly been described by the estate agent as prestigious, if not exclusive. To most of the kids in the village, it was known more colloquially as Snob Alley.

Although architecturally unremarkable in most respects, many of the properties distinguished themselves by their use of selected “heritage” elements. In Cliff and Olga’s case, this meant juxtaposing the quaint bull’s-eye panes in the bay windows with a pair of imposing neo-classical Grecian columns, which flanked the entrance porch. Reproduction carriage lamps on either side of the front door completed the look.

It was a Sunday afternoon in the late spring of 1986. K and I had been together as a couple for barely a year, and were still some distance away from disclosing the nature of our relationship to our respective families. As far as my father and stepmother were concerned, he was my new flatmate – albeit a flatmate who did seem to have the habit of accompanying me everywhere, even on weekend visits back up to the north of the county.

K found instant favour with them both. My father, being fond of coining nicknames for those whom he liked the best, dubbed him “Kevin the Gerbil”, after the popular breakfast television puppet of the day. My stepmother simply called him “Darling”, and flirted with him heavily, as was her wont.

Cliff and Olga had invited us all to join them for afternoon “drinkies”, in order to fill that awkward gap in the day between lunchtime last orders and evening early doors. Despite their house being not much more than five minutes’ walk from our own, it would have been unthinkable for us to arrive by foot. Hell, my father would often drive from our front gate to the nearest pub, less than a dozen doors away.

Seizing her opportunity, my stepmother asked to ride with K, in the passenger seat of his immaculately restored 1972 MG Midget. (Mallard green exterior; ochre interior; chrome bumpers; round wheel arches; sold eighteen months later, before the prices started going mad; still much missed.) Meanwhile, I travelled behind in my father’s chocolate brown Rover, with its odour of stale cigar smoke and dog hairs all over the seats.

As the two cars pulled up in front of Cliff and Olga’s des. res., Olga emerged from the front door to greet us. With a cut-glass champagne flute in one hand and a Players No. 6 in the other, she arranged herself betwixt the dual Ionics and flashed us her most winning smile, every inch the Lady of the Manor.

“K, darling – kiss me!”

Before K could raise an objection – assuming he would ever have dared – my stepmother leant over to his side of the open-top car, lunged her upper body forwards, planted her lips onto his, and held them there. As a free spirit trapped in a petty world, she had to take her pleasures where she could find them, and these sorts of épater la bourgeoisie stunts were a regular source of delight.

Whatever Olga might have thought of the spectacle, she didn’t so much as flinch.

“S! Lovely to see you! And who is this young man?”

“Oh, this is Michael’s… friend, K.” (She had a way of pausing before “friend”, just for a split second, but just long enough to let you know that she knew, and that she knew that you knew that she knew.) “How are you, Olga?”

“Flourishing, thank you! But we’ve had such problems this week, you couldn’t imagine: one of the back seat cigarette lighters in the Rolls Royce has broken. I don’t know what we’re going to do! Now, in you come. What can I get you? Campari and soda, or a nice glass of bubbly?”

Telegraph Poles on Snob Alley – Part Two.

My father’s social re-alignment within the village was mirrored by the nature of his two marriages. With my mother, he had forged a propitious match, marrying a good couple of notches above his status. (Let us not forget how important these distinctions were in middle class English life of that period.) Ill-prepared for the comparative coarseness of life “up north”, my mother kept an inscrutable distance from most of the village, only integrating herself to the extent that was deemed necessary and proper. When she left her husband, her children and the village behind in order to re-marry (a local re-match, which caused something of a scandal at the time), it was generally felt that no-one had ever been permitted to get to know her properly.

In stark contrast – and this must surely have been one of the many causes of tension between them – my father was almost voraciously gregarious, in a way which cut through all class boundaries. Snobbery was never one of his flaws; instead, he would befriend whoever he happened to come into contact with, deploying a disarmingly effective equal-opportunities charm that was never based on social positioning. He would think nothing of walking into a strange pub on his own, and striking up conversation with the people next to him at the bar. Indeed, it was one of his great skills and pleasures, to the extent that he would visibly bridle if forced to sit at a far-flung table, away from the action.

However, this complete lack of discrimination on my father’s part was not without its drawbacks, as he was also a hopelessly bad judge of character. A complex and in many ways immature man, something in him constantly craved approval, and he would go to great lengths in order to generate it. Many, if not most, of the people with whom he associated were not used to enjoying the company, hospitality and generosity of a man such as this, with his law degree from Cambridge and his army officer’s background, his large house and his privately educated children. Not surprisingly, his popularity was immense. Equally unsurprisingly, his kind-heartedness was often exploited.

My future stepmother burst onto the scene in the fabled long hot summer of 1976, in a flurry of back-combed hair, rattling jewellery, plunging cleavage, earthy language, and thick, choking cigar smoke. The village had never seen anything like her, and many felt distrustful, even threatened. Accompanying my father on her first visit to the nearest pub, one of the local matriarchs bent over and hissed in her ear: “So, are you his screw for the weekend?”

Her riposte – as she delighted in reminding us for the rest of her days – was to smile sweetly, flutter her thickly mascaraed eyelashes in a parody of the wide-eyed ingénue, and breathily reply: “No darling, I’m just here for the night.”

Shortly after their engagement a few months later, and on their way to the same pub one Sunday lunchtime, the two of them approached the vicar walking in the other direction. My father, a faithful church-going man during his first marriage but now somewhat lapsed, seized the opportunity.

“Vicar, can I introduce you to S? We’re looking forward to getting married in the near future.”

Without breaking his stride, the vicar replied, in the iciest of tones: “Ah, that would explain why you’ve left your car headlights on” – and carried on walking straight past them.

At around the same time, a deputation of concerned friends paid my father an unannounced evening visit, with the express intention of talking him out of what they saw – correctly, as it turned out – as an over-hasty, ill-matched and dangerous union. It didn’t make a scrap of difference.

As it turned out, my louche, theatrical, outrageous step-mother carved out more of a niche for herself in village life than my impeccably well-bred mother ever did. But then, times were changing, and the people who ended up standing next to my father at any one of the village’s four pubs were beginning to emerge from altogether different stock.

People like Cliff and Olga.

Of whom more tomorrow…

Telegraph Poles on Snob Alley – Part One.

When K first suggested moving out to the countryside at weekends, my initial reaction was a cautious one. Having spent most of my childhood and adolescence marooned in rural North Nottinghamshire and longing for escape, I knew all too well the pitfalls of village life.

The village I grew up in was not typical of its surroundings. In an area dominated by collieries to the north and agriculture to the south, and nestling in the shadows of the local slag-heap, it represented a tight, plucky little enclave of Conservatism in a diehard Labour heartland. North Nottinghamshire may not have boasted of much in the way of a “county” set, but our village did its best to uphold the values of church-going, fete-holding, tweed-jacketed and navy-blue-pleated respectability. For several years during the 1970s, a sign on the village green proudly declared our status as the “best kept” village in our part of the county.

By the middle of the 1980s, the ground had started to shift. With the coal industry clearly in decline, and Arthur Scargill’s striking miners newly defeated by the Thatcher government, the chill winds of recession were blowing over us. Nevertheless, Thatcherism was not without its winners, and such winners as there were seemed to be headed in our direction. As the aging tweed-and-pleats set continued to merrily tootle along, with increasing irrelevance, so the “new money” moved in.

Returning to the UK after a year in West Berlin, I could instantly feel the sea-change. New dogmas had taken root, social divisions had widened – and amongst the emergent ranks of the newly successful, attitudes had hardened.

As a freshly politicised would-be radical myself, eager to position myself on the other side of the fence, the village provided ample fodder for my withering scorn. It’s like a downmarket Dallas, I would sneer to my student housemates in Nottingham, blithely unaware of my own crashing snobbery. But not without reason, for the place felt stuffed full with slippery philanderers and tinpot tycoons, gin-soaked lushes and tear-streaked tragedy queens – high on conspicuous consumption and surface gloss, barely concealing the ruthlessness and desperation which bristled beneath. Brittle, incestuous, claustrophobic and philistine: this was my perspective on village life, and I assumed it held equally true of all villages everywhere. No wonder that I baulked, however momentarily, at thoughts of returning.

There again, my perspective was inevitably skewed by the shifting fortunes of my own family, and my father in particular. Of which more tomorrow…

But who said what?

– While you were in the shower, I thought I’d save some time for later on – so I’ve packed your socks and pants for the weekend.

– Thank you. But did you pack my weekend socks?

– I don’t understand…

– Let me have a look. No, these are all wrong. You did this last week as well. Those are my boring weekday socks. Haven’t you ever noticed? I wear my multi-coloured stripey Paul Smith socks at weekends.

– Sorry, I’ll change them…

– Hang on, hang on – I still need a boring pair for Monday mornings. So that’s two pairs of stripey socks – plus one spare – and one pair of boring socks. Can you remember that in future, please?

– OK. What about pants? Do you have weekend pants?

– Of course. They’re the dark blue Turkish (*) ones, with the yellow lettering on the bum. They’re roomier than the others, so I can get nice and comfy and relaxed in them.

– So, you want your snazzy socks and your jazzy leisure pants?

– You got it. At the weekend, the Real Me comes alive. Goodbye, dull workaday drabness! Hello, SNAZZ!

(*) A friend of K’s parents owns an underwear factory in Turkey, so there are free samples to be blagged. God, we’re well connected.

Update: So, who did say what? The answer’s in the comments…

Trying out Skype.

Now, I am fully aware that all the Hip Kids have been using Skype for, like, years. Not being so much of a Hip Kid myself, I have only just got round to installing it. Goodness, it really seems quite easy to use! What a relief!

Trouble is, I don’t actually have any Hip Kid friends who use Skype themselves. Nobody. Not one. So I’m stuck making test calls to the nice automated lady. I think she might be getting a little sick of me.

If you’re a Hip Kid and you’d like to be my Skype buddy, then please e-mail me. (I’d tell you my Skype User ID here and now, but I sense this might be Asking For It, in some as yet unknown way. Best to tread cautiously.)

Look, how’s about I cut you a deal?

1. No “proper” blog post today. Every well of inspiration needs the odd refill.

2. And definitely no fifth consecutive mention of Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror. Even the most severely thrashed of equestrian corpses must fall apart some time.

3. In lieu of the above, here’s something I prepared earlier: a feature-length review of the third Hidden Cameras album, AWOO. (Synopsis: still way above average, but in danger of running out of ideas. Plus I miss all the rude gay sex stuff.)

4. Still not satisfied? OK, here’s something which I knocked up last night: a gig review of The Victorian English Gentlemens Club (their lack of apostrophisation, not mine) for t’local paper. (There were times last night, perched on my own at the back of The Social, when I wondered whether there weren’t better ways of spending an evening. On the other hand, I’m committed to getting as good as I can get at doing this sort of stuff, and even a dull night can still make decent copy.)

So. Deal? Or no deal?

People Power in action. Yes, it’s yet another post about the Sky Mirror.

It’s not often that I am moved to write letters of complaint. A crap holiday cottage in Scotland and aggressively rude service in a Nottingham bar spring to mind, but that’s about it. Until today that is, when an article on the BBC news site sufficiently inflamed my ire.

Under the heading “Sky Mirror unveiled in Manhattan“, some anonymous hand at the BBC saw fit to say the following about Anish Kapoor’s sculpture:

“Kapoor said there were some “good conversations in progress” as to where it would be appearing next.”

“It has previously been placed in Nottingham, where it caused concern over whether it could set people or birds alight.”

Now, as I explained at some length yesterday (in the post directly below this one), the New York mirror is nought but a cheap knock-off of our own fine (and extremely expensive) original, still standing proud and tall outside Nottingham Playhouse. So what got my goat about the BBC article was the implication that the New York mirror was somehow the Sky Mirror. It’s not. It’s a Sky Mirror. There is a big difference.

So busy was I, working myself up into a froth of righteous outrage over this attempt to air-brush the Nottingham mirror out of history, that I clean forgot to get equally outraged over the second inaccurate assertion. I mean, honestly. We might be provincial, but we’re not totally thick. Spontaneous combustion of innocent passers-by was never one of our fears.

True, there was an issue surrounding pigeons – but the “danger zone”, as laboriously calculated and triangulated by the astronomical experts, was way above the heads of even our tallest citizens. A simple protective screen, mounted on the roof of the theatre, was all it took for danger to be averted.

Off went my e-mail. Less than a couple of hours later, I checked the BBC article again. Lo and behold! The text had been altered to read as follows:

“[Kapoor] has created a number of Sky Mirrors, the first of which was unveiled in Nottingham.”

Much more like it, I purred to myself, in satisfaction with an act of public service successfully executed.

However, the outrages were not yet over. I’ve been wondering why Anish Kapoor chose to replicate his Nottingham sculpture, six years after the fact – and in this article from the New York Times (hidden behind a registration wall, so good luck), maybe I’ve found my answer:

“…as Mr. Kapoor puts it, “I don’t think I’m done with it yet,” he decided to revisit the Nottingham “Sky Mirror” in more monumental form in New York.

“Who ever goes to Nottingham?” he added mischievously, when asked whether he worried about repeating himself. “Who’s ever seen it?”

Well, Mister La-Di-Dah Famous Artist, I’m only sorry that we weren’t good enough for you. Off you jolly well trot, then. I’m sure they’ll all love you in New York – but never forget the Little People who helped put you where you are today, eh?

We didn’t pay for a mere prototype, you know. We thought we were getting something unique for our £900,000. Ah well, that’s show business.

I’m not sure whether my home city can take many more of these indignities.

A profusion of mirrors.

I never expected to mention Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror in three consecutive posts – but then, I have only just discovered that a third version of the sculpture was unveiled today, this time on Fifth Avenue in New York.

For once in our lives, we humble Nottingham folk are way, way ahead of you NYC hipsters. We’ve had a Sky Mirror in Nottingham since April 2001 – and what’s more, ours was the original, so yah boo sucks.

I have to say that this sudden mushrooming of mirrors has caught me off-guard, as I had always had the original version down as something of a misfire. For starters, the project ended up running many months overdue, and coming in some way over its original estimated budget. As I recall, there had been various problems with the manufacturing of the sculpture, as tiny but significant imperfections demanded correction in a variety of far-flung locations. (“It’s gone to Finland for extra polishing” was one of the excuses that sticks in my mind.)

When the Mirror finally arrived, a few days ahead of its official unveiling, I remember my initial awe being tempered by a certain measure of disappointment. As as a great admirer of Kapoor’s work, this was a bitter pill to swallow – but the work lacked the dramatic presence of some of his other major pieces, and I particularly disliked the slight but inescapable distortions in the reflections on either side of the dish. I had expected these reflections to be perfectly smooth, not broken up by the faint concentric circles that could be made out on the surface. Furthermore, I didn’t feel that the images produced in the reflections were of any great note: an inverted church spire on the concave side, and an empty paved area on the convex side. Was this really Nottingham’s answer to Antony Gormley’s Angel Of The North: an iconic must-see, that would bring tourism to the region? Well, hardly.


My suspicions were amplified when Kapoor failed to show at the opening ceremony, his place being taken by that well-known patron of the arts, the ex-boxer and panto regular Frank Bruno. Nevertheless, Bruno worked the crowd effectively on the afternoon itself. He had only accepted the gig on condition that no big speech was to be expected of him; rather, he would “mingle” with the invited dignatories, whose ranks were somehow swollen to include K and myself.

Thus it was that K came to feel a tap on his shoulder from behind. Pausing in mid-sentence, he looked behind, and some distance upwards, to see Bruno smiling back down at him.

“I just wanted to say, that’s a great suit you’re wearing. Makes you look very regal, hur hur hur!”

Well, one takes one’s compliments where one finds them.

Apart from the cost involved – £900,000 of public money, prompting all sorts of local outrage (“What’s that in school books and hospital beds?”) – the Mirror was also touched by controversy of a different kind. As the project’s own consultant astronomer himself warned:

“The mirror will focus light, just as does a magnifying glass, down to a particular point that moves as the sun moves.”

“You need to stop the sun from falling on it in the first place. If you don’t there’s a potential danger. Any pigeons which fly through the beam could be instantly barbecued.”

The press duly had a field day, with all sorts of nightmare visions of dead, roasted pigeons tumbling from the sky and landing on the heads of the public.

Alas for the doom-mongers, no pigeon to date has been so much as singed. Indeed, the whole story was brilliantly squashed on the opening day itself, as the chairman of the Nottingham Playhouse Trust solemnly conducted his own “experiment” in front of the assembled press. Brandishing a long wooden pole, with a bird cage mounted on the end of it and a toy canary perched inside, he held it up in front of the mirror. As the canary failed to topple, so the Sky Mirror was pronounced officially safe.

I’m keen to know what New Yorkers will make of their own version of the Mirror. If the initial photos (here, here and here) are anything to go by, then it looks as if their reflections will be rather more dramatic than the ones which I see almost every weekday, on the way to buy my lunchtime sandwiches. And of course, the New York sky is just that little bit higher than our Nottingham sky, what with all those tall buildings and all – so the impact of seeing it reflected back at ground level will be all the more dramatic. (Here in Nottingham, we barely have to tilt our heads to cop a load of cumulo-nimbus, any time we want.)

We’ll soon be regaining our unique status, though. The New York mirror is only on view until October 26th, and the Chatsworth House mini-mirror (of which more below, two posts down) will disappear a day later. But is this to be the start of a whole spate of intinerant mirrors, springing up in prominent locations all around the place, and fatally diluting our brand in the process?

Ach, who cares. You lot can keep your second generation, after-the-fact knock-offs. Here in Nottingham, we prefer to originate, not imitate.

Hah! Made it again! But only just!

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a subtle but significant re-alignment of my hour-by-hour visitor stats. As midnight approaches, there’s a pronounced upwards blip, as regular readers swing by to see whether I’ve met my self-imposed daily deadline. On some days, such as this one, it can be a close, nail-biting call. Especially when, after spending the entire evening slaving away over a feature-length album review for Stylus, I find myself quite, quite drained. Ah me, must they drag my words from the core of my very soul? What more do they want from me: blood? Blogging can be a harsh, pitiless mistress.

Nothing else of significance has happened today, it has to be said. The usual agonising start-of-week wrench away from the comforts of the cottage. (Why do Monday mornings in the Derbyshire Peak District have to be consistently f**king picturesque? Someone up there is mocking me.) A morning spent in fraught near-panic over a new and seemingly impenetrable work assignment, whose mysteries were kindly and patiently unlocked for me over the course of the afternoon. A lunchtime spent in the usual spot: basking in the windy sun-trap of the Playhouse courtyard, beneath Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror, alternately giggling and wincing over a hard copy of the last couple of months’ postings on the ever-magnificent Forksplit. (I like to save them up, and then indulge myself with a marathon splurge.)

After a whole month of four day weekends, this return to a five day working week still feels like a monstrous invasion of my freedom, and Friday still feels like an age away. Whatever shall I find to write about between now and then? Funny how these things always end up taking care of themselves.

Right then. Load the dishwasher, finish my beer (just the one tonight), and then bed, sweet bed. Some days, it can be a real struggle to force myself upstairs, as I have inherited the family penchant for the late evening Second Wind. But not tonight. Tonight, I can hardly wait.



(Photos taken yesterday afternoon at Chatsworth House, courtesy of dearest Dymbellina. I told you those dahlias were dazzling.)

Two hits and a miss: weekending with the Dymbels.

HIT: Our second visit to The Bull’s Head at Ashford in the Water confirmed it as our new favourite country pub with food. I don’t want to say “gastropub”, as that’s not really what it aims to be – despite having been named one of the country’s ten best towards the end of last year. (By persons unknown, but a list’s a list for all that.) Rather, it’s an unassumingly traditional place, with no fancy decor, a straightforward chalkboard menu, no advance table reservations, quick service, and a fairly rapid turnover of tables: you arrive, you eat, you leave, but there’s no unseemly pressure to vacate your places, either. The welcome is an uncommonly warm one, the low-key buzz of the place puts everyone at their ease, and the food is flipping fantastic.

Last night, all four of us chose a minted pea mousse for starters: served warm, on a bed of watercress and rocket, with a spicy tomato sauce. There was nothing remotely showy-offy about it, and yet the clever combination of simple ingredients added up to something stimulating and new, yet wonderfully reassuring at the same time. My baked plaice came in a thick, creamy sauce, and was… hell, I can’t bloody well remember what it looked like, I was too busy enjoying it. Sheesh. The four of us (myself, K, Dymbel and Dymbellina) then shared two puddings: a something (with chocolate), and a something else (with pastry). They were both completely scrummy, and the fact that I can remember nothing else about them (apart from the pastry), should not be read as any sort of indictment. Whoever said that all memories should be catalogued for future reference, anyway?

MISS: Although, before their departure, Dymbel and Dymbellina expressed their wish to publicly disassociate themselves from my slaggings, I have to say that our lunchtime visit to the newly opened “Design Museum” (plus attendant café) at the David Mellor kitchenware shop and factory in Hathersage singularly failed to delight me.

For “museum”, read a single wall of display cabinets, plus a letter box, a rubbish bin, a few chairs, some bollards, traffic lights and a Pelican crossing. Mellor designed them all, you see. My word, but the geographic and functional re-contextualisation of the Pelican crossing… well, it made it look like a Pelican crossing, basically. Still, it was nice if you like looking at old knives and forks.

And many do, don’t get me wrong. It was just that I was hungry, and cranky, and in no mood for delayed gratification.

The attached caff looked stunning, granted: a beautiful row of tables and chairs against a long glass exterior wall, its panels opened to the warm afternoon sunshine, with divinely turned wooden benches spanning its length both inside and out. But, oh, the service. An age to take the order, and at least 35 minutes to bring it to the table – and we only wanted salads. It’s not even as if they were swamped with other food orders; we barely saw another table served while we waited. Then, the coffees: a cafetiere so weak at to be undrinkable, and a nasty, bitter espresso which perfectly matched my mood.

HIT: The gardens at Chatsworth house are currently playing host to an exhibition of modern and contemporary sculpture (yes Virginia, there is a difference), with works provided by the Sotheby’s auction house. All pieces are for sale – but God knows who’s going to be able to afford them, as this is serious stuff. Dali, Miro, Moore. Gormley, Hirst, Kapoor. Names, names, names, sweedie.

The positioning of the pieces around the extensive gardens is bold, ingenious, and frequently quite magical. A Gormley stick figure perches on the roof of the house itself; in the landscaped rock garden, a scaled down version of his “Angel Of The North” looks down on passers-by from either side. A custard yellow Keith Haring figure sits on the main lawn, with Robert Indiana’s bright red “LOVE” letters halfway up the water cascade behind it, and Damien Hirst’s intricately gruesome “Saint Bartholemew, Exquisite Pain” off to the left. Down by the canal pond and the Emperor fountain, there’s another miniature: this time, it’s Anish Kapoor’s “Sky Mirror”, looking even more effective than it does outside Nottingham Playhouse. At the pond’s end, Dale Chihuly’s “Sunset Boat” radiates bright yellows, oranges and reds: the colours of the bizarre glass objects which fill its hull.

It’s not all hits: Joan Miro’s slapdash assemblage “Femme Et Oiseau” causes me to coin the phrase “objets plonkées”, and the space-age optimism of Juan Dubuffet’s “Arbre Biplan” looks as tired and shabby as its cultural contemporary, Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. However the vast majority of pieces complement their settings so well, that you find yourself longing for them to remain there permanently.

(Oh, and the dahlia garden by the entrance to the maze is quite, quite dazzling, my dears; almost as good as the lupins of a couple of months ago.)

The exhibition runs until October 27th, and I commend it earnestly to the group.

Update (1): I agree with most of Richard Dorment’s review of the exhibition for the Telegraph (don’t miss the slideshow), with two major exceptions. Firstly, the Dali sculpture is not on the same axis as the Hirst; they’re at opposite ends of the garden, and the Dali is hidden up a narrow walkway. Secondly, I couldn’t disagree more with Dorment’s suggestion that Manzù’s seated cardinal should be swapped with Condo’s Miles Davis – the current location of both pieces suits them quite wonderfully.

Update (2): Justin has more photos: the LOVE, the Miles Davis and the Salvador Dali.

The Scissor Sisters: Ta-Dah. Rough tasting notes.

scistad1. I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’.

The brilliance of this song, currently the Number One single in the UK, is to a large extent due to the way that it is made up entirely of “good bits”. What’s more, each separate “bit” is so good that, even as you’re enjoying it, a part of you is tingling with anticipation for the next “bit”. And it has two consecutive choruses, which is something of a masterstroke.

This is possibly the first single since Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is In The Heart” to enter that select canon of unassailable, Everybody To The Dance Floor Now, You Can’t Possibly Go Wrong, Wedding Disco Classics – and as such, expect it to be soundtracking Happiest Days Of Our Lives for at least the next thirty years. It’s also destined to be the hit for which the Scissor Sisters will always be remembered: their standard, their show-stopper, maybe even their albatross.

(That debut album, as fine as it was, was rather short on tracks which stood up as hit singles in their own right. Maybe that’s why we all got to the point where we couldn’t bear to hear “Take Your Mama Out” one – more – bloody – time – thank you.)

As the lead track from the album, “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin'” also sets a false trail. None of the twelve tracks which succeed it aspire to quite that level of unabashed celebratory glee (the plaintive melancholy of the lyrics notwithstanding) – or indeed, and let’s get this pesky little term out the way right now, campness. (Sigh.)

2. She’s My Man.

Which isn’t to say that some of them don’t come close. Stylistically, this is pitched somewhere between the Elton John of Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player/Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and that short-lived strain of “rock disco” which popped up in late 1983/early 1984 (Michael Sembello’s “Maniac”, The Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited”, that sort of thing). As indicated in the title, there’s also a healthy dollop of gender perversity – but you’ll search in vain to find much more in the way of obvious queerness during the rest of the album. Like The Hidden Cameras with Awoo, the Scissors appear to moving away from the arguable limitations of the sexual-orientation-specific, and towards a more general universality. Timid sell-out, or natural progression? Oh, I know which side of the fence I am with that one.

3. I Can’t Decide.

And with the crisply enunciated line “f**k and kiss you both at the same time” in the first verse, Ta-Dah automatically crosses itself off the list of nice jolly albums for the kids to sing along to during the School Run. Now who’s being timid?

As with so many songs on the first half of the album, there’s a yawning chasm between the carefree jauntiness of the music (here enlivened by a twanging Jews Harp, and Graeme Garden’s son on barrelhouse piano), and the bleak miserablism of Jake Shears’ lyrics. (“My heart feels dead inside; it’s cold and hard and petrified.”) As already alluded to in interviews, some deeply personal shit-storms are clearly being documented here. Unfortunately – and here’s another parallel with the Hidden Cameras – they’re sometimes couched in such private, personal language that it’s difficult to work out just what’s going on. However, the bitter vitriol on display here is hard to miss.

4. Lights.

An absolutely ravishing pastiche of mid-tempo Seventies-style pop-funk (“Couldn’t Get It Right” by the Climax Blues Band springs to mind), enlivened by sassy brass stabs from Bob Funk and Larry Etkin of the Uptown Horns, and lifted into another dimension by the immediately recognisable guitar/bass contributions of longtime Bowie collaborator Carlos Alomar (there are clear echoes of “Fame” in the opening bars of “Lights”). Alomar picks up a co-writer’s credit for his efforts, and it isn’t the last that we’ll be hearing from him.

5. Land Of A Thousand Words.

A surprising choice of future follow-up single, if the sticker on the front of the CD case is to be believed, as this is a big production ballad of the “Mary” school. It’s tedious to harp on about the Elton John comparisons – but really they’re inescapable here, both stylistically and in terms of Jake Shears’ vocal phrasings.

Once again, there’s a pronounced juxtaposition between words and music. While the music carries all the stock certainties of the Big Ballad, the lyrics describe a relationship whose future sounds far from certain. Shears and his lover appear to be hanging on by the skins of their teeth, not ready to give up just yet, but straining in opposite directions none the less.

Trouble is: this kind of material works best when everyone can access the emotions they describe. (Think “Victims”. Think “Angels”. Think “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”.) The impact of this song, lovely as it is, is severely diminished by its lyrical obtuseness. So we’re probably not looking at a second consecutive Number One.

6. Intermission.

In which the previous track’s tastefully restrained string arrangement from Joan Wasser (aka Joan As Policewoman) is cruelly superseded by the sumptuous orchestration on display here, as provided by no less a figure than Van Dyke Parks. Now that they are in a position to do so, the Scissors are choosing their famous collaborators wisely.

Speaking of which: here’s Dame Elton of John on piano again, fresh from tinkling the “old Joanna” on the album’s opener (and picking up another co-writing credit along the way, the greedy bitch).

For all the heavyweight talent on board (not to mention some glorious piano work from JJ “son of Graeme” Garden, rapidly emerging as Ta-Dah‘s unsung hero), “Intermission” styles itself as just that: a short, frivolous distraction, with vaudevillian nods to the likes of “When I’m 64”, Lou Reed’s “New York Telephone Conversation”, and some of Freddie Mercury’s camper (sorry!) moments on A Night At The Opera. And that would have been that, were it not for the continued bleak bite of the lyrics, which peak with the jaunty refrain of “Tomorrow’s not what it used to be, we were born to die, happy yesterday to all, we were born to die”.

It’s a turning point, of sorts.

7. Kiss You Off.

Actually, if Ta-Dah does have an interlude, then this is it. Scything through all of Jake’s accumulated angst over the first six tracks, pistol-packin’ mama Ana Matronic gets her one shot at a lead vocal: and she ain’t pussyfootin’ around, neither. Working an amusingly extended lipstick analogy, she declares “I’m gonna buy me a new shade of man”, and “it’s standing room only for a piece of my pigment”. You Go Girl, etc etc.

However. The Goldfrappy schaffel-stomp of the rhythm track is watered down to the point of inspidity, the song overruns by at least a minute and a half, and Matronic, deeply lovely as she is (we’ve met twice, and I adored her on both occasions) simply doesn’t have the requisite vocal authority. Occupying a similar tonal range to her co-vocalist, Matronic cannot help but come across as Shears Lite.

Maybe mindful of this fact, Stuart Price has been drafted in, fresh from the triumph of Confessions On A Dance Floor, solely to provide something called “additional vocal production”. Hmm. It might have worked for Madge, but all the “treatments” in the world can’t supply the presence which “Kiss You Off” inescapably lacks.

(God, I feel horrible for saying that.)

8. Ooh.

Having reached the pits of despair, and with Ana having crisply dispatched the source of the problem on Jake’s behalf (she’s good to him like that), we’re now climbing up the other side, and back into the light. And so, at last, here’s a straightforwardly happy party tune, free from any contradictory undercurrents. It’s nifty, it’s frisky, it’s funky, it’s the Bee Gees with a dash of Prince, and it’s Ta-Dah‘s nearest equivalent to “Filthy/Gorgeous”. F**k art, let’s dance, etc etc.

9. Paul McCartney.

Actually, scratch that thought immediately: with its speedy two-note electronic bass throb, this is Ta-Dah‘s nearest equivalent to “Filthy/Gorgeous”. (I told you that these were rough tasting notes.) Carlos Alomar and the Uptown Horns are back, although their presence isn’t quite as keenly felt as earlier.

Shears, you sense, is getting his shit together here. “There’s an urgency I’m feeling for the first time”, he tells us, in the song’s opening line. “Do we dream about each other at the same time?”, he muses, with a giddy optimism that is sustained for the rest of the song.

None of which explains its central mystery: why, pray, is the song named after Mister Fab Macca Wacky Thumbs Aloft? “Intermission” I could have understood – but not this one, not at all. Someone needs to ask, don’t they?

10. The Other Side.

Now, what was I saying about other sides? The soft disco chug of the guitar echoes “Comfortably Numb”, just some of Jake’s phrasing echoes that of Roger Waters – but that’s where the comparisons end. Instead, this is a tender declaration of love, made all the more tender by the lower, more confidential register that Jake adopts, in one of the album’s best vocal performances. There’s still a sense of distance between the singer and his lover – between the Big Star and the Ordinary Guy, perhaps? – but unlike “Land Of A Thousand Words”, Jake is trying to accommodate the inevitable gap, and to bridge it as best he can.

Oh, and if we’re going to invite our new famous friends along for the ride, then we might as well go the whole hog and rope in Judy Bloody Garland, sweedie. Yes, you heard. 500 extra Camp Points duly awarded. Oops!

11. Might Tell You Tonight.

The natural companion piece to “The Other Side”, this continues in much the same vein of tender romanticism, with Shears retaining that same intimate lower register, and now plucking up the courage to declare his undying love for his new-found beloved. The effect is genuinely touching (or at least it is if you’re an old softy like me), and the song has enough directness and universality to be adopted as an “Our Tune” for any number of courting couples, of any orientation that you might care to mention. If they wanted a change of pace for the second single, then maybe they should have gone with this one instead. (Or maybe they’re holding it back for Saint Valentine’s Day. I wouldn’t put it past them.)

12. Everybody Wants The Same Thing.

With our emotional journey complete, all we need now is the Big Anthem at the end – and this number, first performed at Live 8 in 2005, duly obliges in spades. Having learnt his life lessons, Shears now turns to face us, his audience – and he’s got some Big Questions to ask of us, hoo yes indeed. Yup, it’s a Message Song – and hence maybe not to everyone’s taste, but I find it rather uplifting, in a self-helpy Pick Up Thy Bed And Walk kind of way. Then again, I’m easily led like that.

Bonus Track: Transistor.

Oh, please. Do you want me to do all the work for you? Our friends have arrived, and it’s time to go and make them feel welcome.

But if you’re still wondering whether to purchase Ta-Dah on Monday lunchtime: Mike Troubled Diva, he say Go For It. This is going to be inescapable over the next few months, so you might as well start getting used to it.

Boney M and Gillian McKeith are running amok inside my head. Please make them stop.


Show me your motions, tra la la la la…”

Yes, well. Let’s just leave it there, before too many thoughts of brown wotsits in the ring intrude. One wouldn’t want to Go Too Far.

Just be grateful I didn’t start riffing on this weekend’s other crap pun:
Partum Perineum (The Gentleman’s Relish).
Look, it was FUNNY IN THE PUB, OK?

Sooner or later in the lifespan of My Solemn Pledge, this was always going to happen.

Yes, it’s the inevitable Contractual Obligation holding post, written at great speed, purely to avoid the ignominious fate of being cast as Clapped Out Has Been in perpetuity.

A bitch of a day, redeemed in just two ways. Firstly, my mood has lifted immensely after popping in for Early Doors at the Red Lion at Hognaston, en route to the cottage. Early Doors (#65) + Marston Pedigree (#6) + first sight of village (#5) = Temporary Abatement Of Self-Invented Angst. A simple equation for a simple soul.

Secondly, I am now the proud owner of an official advance promo copy of the new Scissor Sisters album, Ta-Dah. I’ve just played it for the second time, and fear not, ’tis a good ‘un. I was hoping to blog some rough tasting notes for you this evening, but time constraints mean it ain’t gonna happen just yet. In the meantime, you can listen to it for yourselves – legally, mind – via the band’s Myspace page, available via the link on the right. K says he’s disappointed with it, but I think he’s wrong.

OK, dinner’s on the table. Ooh, dressed crab. I’ll have me some of that!

Catch y’all on the morrow, peeps.

Happy happy happy stream of consciousness brain splurge.

1. Paul Smith shirts.
2. Fat buds on roses.
3. BLTs with slices of hard boiled egg, and plenty of mayo.
4. Audrey Hepburn.
5. The first sight of the village on Friday evenings.
6. Marston’s Pedigree.
7. K’s cooking.
8. Clambering into freshly laundered bed linen.
9. Trashy tarty looking men, who aren’t quite aware of it.
10. The puppy-dog enthusiasm of young posh people.
11. Crossing the threshold with a Bridget Riley.
12. Saint-Véran and Viré-Clessé.
13. Fast wireless broadband.
14. Doing a really good beat-mix on Mixmeister.
15. Pub fish and chips.
16. The perfect communion of shared laughter.
17. Introducing the right people to each other, and watching them hit it off.
18. Re-reading an old blog post, and discovering that it still stands up.
19. Man cleavage.
20. Shaved backs of necks.
21. Pruning the geraniums.
22. Agas.
23. Contemporary ceramics.
24. Semi-abstracted landscapes.
25. Thirst-inducing tulips.
26. Blowsy dahlias.
27. Salacious gossip, safely shared.
28. Al fresco sandwiches at Cast Deli.
29. Hitting Send on a gig review.
30. The comforting orderliness of iTunes.
31. Meeting other bloggers.
32. Jon Ronson’s column in Guardian Weekend.
33. Boiled eggs on weekend mornings, with Gentleman’s Relish on toast.
34. Powell & Pressburger.
35. Choosing presents.
36. Active listening.
37. The total elimination of homophobia as acceptable behaviour in mainstream British society.
38. Everything neatly put away.
39. Art fairs.
40. Dressing up for a smart meal.
41. The creative brain-fizz of a happy hangover.
42. Being a good drunk.
43. A catchy tune with a good beat to it.
44. The rolling twenty-year echo in my head.
45. Making social plans in London.
46. K in his best clothes, leaving the house for a meeting.
47. Getting in on the guest list.
48. Dancing round the kitchen to my new favourite song, knowing that no-one is watching.
49. Discovering things before everybody else does.
50. Spreadsheets.
51. Making people laugh.
52. Snappy phrases which appear from nowhere.
53. Serendipity.
54. Fulfilling a fantasy, then ticking it off.
55. The equidistance of being in one’s forties.
56. Finding common ground with a bright, eager teenager.
57. Finding common ground with a gently subversive pensioner.
58. Freedom from desire.
59. Empathetic feedback loops.
60. Ridiculously tenuous name-dropping.
61. Pop trivia quizzes.
62. An unexpected compliment from someone you admire.
63. Friday nights in front of the fire, decent telly and a good bottle of red.
64. The Social and the Rescue Rooms.
65. Friday early doors.
66. David Sedaris.
67. Classic Al Green.
68. Flirting.
69. Harvest moons.
70. Five-star luxury with a human face.
71. Being a pair of right snarky little madams, knowing that no-one is listening.
72. Cracking the surface of a foreign city.
73. Being in the right place at the right time.
74. Good manners.
75. People who don’t claim to have all the answers.
76. Doing a really good poo, with a cup of tea and a newspaper.
77. Molton Brown (talk about guilty pleasures).
78. Everyhit, YouTube and Wikipedia.
79. Innocent smoothies.
80. Six Feet Under.
81. Horse Meat Disco.
82. Tate Modern.
83. Eurovision.
84. CBT.
85. Seven-mile hikes.
86. Pho for breakfast.
87. Umami.
88. Freshly grated Parmesan.
89. Being the centre of attention.
90. Being part of the gang.
91. Sitting back and letting everyone else do the talking.
92. “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing“.
93. That secret blog that I’m not allowed to tell you about.
94. Friends becoming successful.
95. English wit.
96. The trash aesthetic.
97. The love of my man.
98. The hunky plumber off Desperate Housewives.
99. Bursting into tears during Desert Island Discs.
100. An extra hour in bed.

The world won’t end.

(I meant to post this yesterday, but no matter. One day’s delay shouldn’t make too much difference, in the overall scheme of things.)

The band sounded more like Dymbel’s cup of tea than my own: well crafted, neat and tidy US college rock, and the sort of thing that Uncut magazine were big on at the time. If you liked REM, Wilco and Big Star, then you’d probably be into them. Dymbel loved all three acts – still does, for that matter – and so we decided to give them a punt.

It felt odd, and strangely inappropriate, going out to a gig on the night after the news event which had locked us all in front of our TV screens for hours on end, in slack-jawed, dumbfounded horror. Especially since the band were American themselves. Far too early to contemplate a rocking good night out, surely. But what else were we to do? In any case, the tickets were already purchased. Might as well, then.

The Social was far from full. A subdued smattering of diehard music geeks, mostly male, stood around, making quiet conversation. Everything felt slightly unreal. We were all still in that initial, shell-shocked, calm-eye-of-the-storm phase: trying to absorb the enormity of what had happened, but still some distance away from being able to analyse the background, predict the implications, super-impose our own world-views. It was enough, at this stage, to feel the loss.

The band took to the stage. Unassuming, non-starry, dressed-down, regular guys, with solemn, somewhat distracted expressions.

The singer grasped of the microphone, and said something like this.

“Obviously, we’ve been thinking all day about the terrible events that took place yesterday, in our home city of New York, and trying to make contact with our friends and families over there. We don’t want to say anything more about it, though. The only thing which makes much sense to us right now is our music. So all we really want to do is play our music. Thank you. And if anyone’s buying, mine’s a Jack Daniels.”

Within the first few bars of the opening song, a member of the audience had placed a glass of Jack Daniels at the front of the stage. Every time that it was emptied during the set – which was more than a few times – a new glass materialised.

Having vaguely expecting some sort of Major Statement, I couldn’t help but feel a guilty twinge of disappointment. This wasn’t the sort of music that fitted a tragedy of these dimensions. Too polite, too constrained, too rooted in seemingly small, everyday concerns.

The band played on, brows knotted, eyes to the floor. The crowd applauded, in diffident moderation. The bar did a steady, roaring trade.

Slowly, the mood of the crowd and the mood of the band converged. An intensity grew in the room, of a nature that was over and above the material being played. Something was passing between us, that could not be expressed in words. Words were immaterial.

Towards the end of the set, someone shouted for a song off the new album. The singer dismissed the request with a quick, momentarily appalled shudder.

“No, there’s no way we can play that tonight.”

The set ended, to sustained, fervent applause. Everyone in the room was steaming drunk – but drunk in a contained way. Like at a wake.

“F**k it, let’s do it anyway.”

The encore commenced. It soon became clear that this was the song that was requested earlier. The lyrics were about someone dying in a plane crash. It was jarringly inappropriate and yet horribly pertinent, like that heartbreak song on the radio which wasn’t exactly about you, but which you related to anyway, because you needed to universalise your pain.

The song concluded – but the band played on, seizing its basic chord patterns and jamming on them, with steadily increasing noise and ferocity, losing themselves in the music. With every repetition, they moved further and further away from the neat-and-tidy college-boy politeness, and out into something quite other, above and beyond themselves.

The singer bent himself double over his guitar, his face contorted and crimson, thrashing furiously yet purposefully. His thick, nerdy spectacles fell off the end of his nose, toppled onto the stage, and remained there. He didn’t even seem to notice.

The jam drove ever onwards. This no longer felt like a gig. It was a communal catharsis; a doomed exorcism, which could only hope to hold the demons at bay for as long as the band kept playing. Perhaps they would never stop.

In a squall of feedback, stepping back from the brink, they stopped. And humbly stepped straight off the stage, and into the sparse crowd, who tentatively edged around them, still roaring their applause, but not wanting to intrude too far.

Behind me, sensing my hesitation, a tall stranger nudged me forwards.

“Go on, mate! They f**king deserve it!”

I smiled, but stayed put, keeping a respectful distance: drunkenly dazed, but keenly aware that we had witnessed something unprecedented – and hopefully never to be repeated.

I doubt that the band would want to be remembered for this, so I shan’t mention them by name. You probably wouldn’t have heard of them anyway.

Besides, it was, in a strange way, private. Just between us.

Exactly five years ago, plus the one day.