In The Dock: The Eurovision Song Contest.

Over at collaborative music blog The Art Of Noise, the second of their “In The Dock” features sees Eurovision being prosecuted (by drmigs), and defended by… well, who do you think?

Having studied the cases for the prosecution and the defence, you are then invited to leave your verdict in the comments box. I won’t say any more than that, in case I am accused of unduly influencing the jury – but I think we all know where the balance of justice lies in this instance, don’t we? I SAID, DON’T WE?

Continue reading “In The Dock: The Eurovision Song Contest.”

The Five in Five Days Project – Part Five.

November 2005.

The first of ten Post Of The Week competitions is hosted, with a series of guest judges.

In a rare encounter with public speaking, I give a talk about blogging to a writers’ conference at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema, followed by a Q&A session and a series of creative writing exercises. My notes for the talk are posted on the blog.

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.”

A Bob Dylan concert leaves me cold. However, as the therapy begins to kick in, I am moved to observe that the times they are a-changin’.

K starts his own moblog. (Now long defunct. Some of us just don’t have the staying power.)


“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.”

At a contemporary ceramics gallery, the purchase of bobbly fruit and pillows causes some raised eyebrows.


Walking the Forest Path: a weekend ramble in the Derbyshire Peak District is blogged at great length, over several episodes. Buried within the wildlife descriptions is a major nugget of news.

Frizzy diva! Amdist much discussion of “what is mauve” and “what is puce”, qB creates an exciting new bespoke shade.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, a Sons & Daughters / Vincent Vincent & The Villains / Ralfe Band gig review helps to land my next journalism gig.

A remembered quote from an old John Peel show, which I transcribed from memory on I Love Music, makes it into his wife’s section of the Margrave of the Marshes biography. Sheila, take a bow. I always knew I’d make it into hardback one day.

December 2005.


A three-column layout is trialled, and swiftly withdrawn.

And you may ask yourself: how did I get here?” Troubled Diva becomes a finalist in the Best Poof category at the grandly titled Weblog Awards 2005, where it finds itself in distinctly gung-ho, yee-hah, right wing company.


The final nail is hammered into the coffin of my unreconstructed 1980s student politics radical chic. (Look, it was a drag hunt, OK?) All of my newly acquired gung-ho, yee-hah friends must have loved that one…

Tom Worstall’s 2005 Blogged anthology is reviewed – needless to say, at some length.

The Sum Of All Years meme requires me to pen a year-by-year autobiography, in which the number of words for each year matches my age at that time.


After drunkenly attempting to channel the spirit of Jarvis Cocker at a karaoke evening in a lesbian pub, the only honourable course of action is to leave the country. I therefore spend the next three weeks – including Christmas and New Year’s Eve – working in the Chinese city of Hangzhou.

My time in Hangzhou gets off to a wobbly start, all alone in a freezing apartment, but improves immeasurably once I acquire a flatmate (J, now in London, still reading the blog).

Christmas Day winds up in an over-priced nightclub, watching go-go Santas gyrate to a gangsta rap version of “Jingle Bells”, and avoiding unsolicited While-U-Wee back massages from the toilet attendant.

January 2006.

New Year’s Eve is spent at the closing night of Hangzhou’s only venue for live rock music, watching a selection of local bands.

Oh God, the trippy Korean twigs. Flashbacks, maan. Flashbacks!

I get an unsolicited lapdance from a singing waiter in an extravagantly camp Thai restaurant. Man magnet, me.

A fantastic weekend is had – but not blogged – wandering the surreally futuristic cityscapes of Shanghai.


There is a rather fine cake shop.

A diary-style write-up of my Hangzhou experience (entitled “Go-go Santas, turkey and twigs”) is published in the Nottingham Evening Post.

The first of several “Open Mike” sessions is held, in which readers’ questions are answered almost as soon as they arrive.

As a long-list judge for The Bloggies, I discover that cup-cake blogs are huge news o’er the pond.

Some online agony-aunting is indulged in, as I attempt to offer some dating tips to a perpetually single 25 year old.

Upon returning from a business trip to the States, K’s business partner finds that a live bullet has been planted inside his suitcase.

What would it be like if I really did “just do it for myself, and if anyone else happens to like it, that’s a bonus”? To find out, Troubled Diva Xtra is semi-secretly launched.

The Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions are concluded.

Following a meeting with the deputy editor, the Nottingham Evening Post invites me to join its team of freelance music reviewers.

After a couple of weeks’ inactivity, a gig is secured with a new London-based client. Apparently, I am to spend “between four and six weeks” working in Canary Wharf. Little did I know that this was to expand to five months…

February 2006.

“Post of the Week” is discontinued – but plans are made to set it up on a dedicated site. Sadly, the planning fizzles out during the spring, as other commitments get in the way…

Troubled Diva is a finalist at the European Satin Pajama Awards (hosted by Fistful of Euros), in the category of Best Personal Weblog.

The London Phase commences, with four or five nights a week being spent at the Britannia Hotel at Canary Wharf. Sunday evenings see me at Horsemeat Disco in Vauxhall; Wednesday nights are spent at Get Yer Kecks Off And Win A Hundred Quid Nite at the White Swan in Limehouse. Other than that, I’m out every night – more often than not, with friends that I have made through blogging. So it wasn’t all just shouting into the void, then. Never have I felt more grateful of the social blessings which the medium has bestowed.

Meanwhile, and inevitably, blogging itself becomes decidedly thin on the ground.

(Note to self: one of these days, when you’re no longer concerned about maintaining any sort of reputation whatsoever, tell them about The Night Of The Five Cs.)

My 44th birthday is spent at an night, with my middle-aged gut squeezed into tight leather kecks, having balloons filled with laughing gas shoved down my mouth while dancing to It’s A Sin by the Pet Shop Boys. How deliciously age-inappropriate!

K buys me an exercise bike for my birthday. Shamefully, it is still sitting in the entrance hall, inside the box that it came in.

March 2006.

The month begins with two diametric opposites. At the White Swan, Ian and I witness a sixty-something Latvian transvestite called Viola do a full strip-tease. The following night, I meet qB for exceedingly posh nosh at a sleek Conran joint: the Plateau Bar & Grill. This is just the sort of contradictory existence which I love.

“Also, Mike – wieviel wiegst du?”
“Er, zwei oder drei mal pro Woche…?”
Over dinner in an Islington gastropub, a long-buried memory resurfaces.

Down at the BBC Television Centre, I attend the live recording of Making Your Mind Up, in which the UK’s Eurovision entry is selected. Following this joyous re-absorption into the Eurovision brotherhood, I become a regular at the monthly Douze Points nights at the Retro Bar.

A hatchet job on an Osmonds concert (“like being beaten repeatedly round the head with a Hallmark greetings card“) causes protest letters to be written to the local paper.

Pop Quiz Theme Week sees David (ex-Swish Cottage) and I winning the Retro Bar quiz – and lumbering ourselves with a drunken madwoman “team mate” in the process, who develops a worrying habit of knocking our drinks over and falling off her chair. A couple of nights later, the I Love Music message board crowd holds their own music quiz, which our team is winning… until I have to leave early, at which point the lead crumbles. (Not boasting! Just saying!)

My cousin, who is a Something at the House of Commons, gives me a personal, access-all-areas, in-depth guided tour of the Palace of Westminster. We nip out onto the roof, where I stand only a few feet away from the illuminated clock tower of Big Ben. In the main debating chamber of the Commons, I stand at the dispatch box and pretend that I am running the country. Shortly afterwards, we have a drink in the suprisingly poky Members’ Bar, rubbing shoulders with the Honourable Members. I find myself in utter awe of the mad Gothic splendour of the place.

Loving London. Absolutely loving it. But then, I thought my time down there was nearly up…

April 2006.

With my stay extended for an indefinite period, being out every night starts to lose some of its initial sparkle. Down at Canary Wharf, I am showing signs of becoming assimilated into the matrix – why, I’ve got the “business casual” T.M. Lewin shirts, and everything.

I am interviewed live on BBC Radio Nottingham for a second time, talking about blogging again – but at considerably greater length, and with considerably greater articulacy and confidence. My contribution is made at the BBC studios in Westminster, which is frankly pretty bloody exciting (especially when I accidentally blunder into the ITN newsroom).

A jolly little mini-blogmeet is hosted in Soho, at the Duke of Argyll on Brewer Street.

A stag weekend – incorporating another jolly little mini-blogmeet – is held in Manchester, starting in the Northern Quarter and ending (where else?) on Canal Street. It is by no means a typical stag weekend; we spend the afternoon shopping for outfits in Selfridges, and I have invited GIRLS out for the night as well.


On Friday April 28th, K and I register our civil partnership. Or, as I put it late that night, I’M FOOKIN MARRIED!!! Friends join us for early-doors drinks; this is followed by a lavish multi-course banquet for our respective immediate families.

That we should have lived to see the day.


The following afternoon, we fly off to the Maldives for a blissfully relaxing not-a-honeymoon-actually in a tropical island paradise.

2006 is fast shaping up to be the best year of my life.

May 2006.

Just five days after returning from the Maldives, I fly off to Athens, where I am to be covering this year’s Eurovision Song Contest all week, on behalf of Slate magazine in the USA. As a member of the official press pack, I get access to the rehearsals, the press conferences and the parties, along with a massive bunch of fellow journalists fellow fans on the blag. This is the week which I have been looking forward to for well over a year, and it doesn’t disappoint – although filing my daily dispatches proves to be my most challenging writing assignment to date, by a long long way…

…not least when my laptop irretrievably crashes, just as I am mailing my first article to my editor, and forcing me to a) blag a higher level accreditation (already once denied me), so that I can use the PCs in the press centre, and b) re-write the entire article from scratch, immediately and without delay. (It had taken me over four hours to write it the first time round.) One of the most stressful days of my life – I finished the evening drenched in sweat, not having eaten since breakfast time – but also one of the most fulfilling, as the re-written article was a significant improvement upon the original.

On the afternoon of the finals, I blog the final dress rehearsal live from the Press Centre.

However, I omit to mention the news which I have received by telephone from K in the UK that morning. K’s sister – whom we only saw a couple of weeks earlier, at our civil partnership – has suffered a massive stroke, and is in intensive care.

This casts a long shadow over the long-awaited finals night. I drink myself through it, stay up all night at the winners’ press conference and the after-party… and generally rely on Denial to see me through.

Upon returning to the UK on the Monday, I learn that all hope for K’s sister’s survival has been extinguished. In the meantime, my fourth and final Slate article has – has – to be written. It takes me all day, and I miss my last train. This is when I realise that professional journalism is no walk in the park.

By the time I make it to K’s parents’ house on the Tuesday, M is dead.

June 2006.

It is my great honour to deliver the main eulogy at M’s beautiful, extraordinary, moving funeral.

I am still working three days a week in London – when I should be at home, supporting K.

2006 is no longer the happiest year of my adult life.

July 2006.

My five months in London come to an end – but not before I have been reunited with a school friend who I haven’t seen in over 30 years, a cousin in his thirties who I haven’t seen since he was an infant… and J, my flatmate from Hangzhou who is now working for the same client in Canary Wharf.

Oh, and there is the week where every evening seems to start with complementary glasses of champagne at some Do or other… and my introduction to the ABSOLUTELY BLOODY FANTASTIC Phoenix Arts Club on Charing Cross Road (one of London’s last outposts of true Bohemia, which evokes warm memories of the late lamented George’s Bar). So, you know, not all bad… not by a long chalk.

Upon my return, I do my level best not to start every sentence with the words “When I was in London…” But frankly darlings, Nottingham has never looked shittier.

As you will have observed from the lack of links in most of the above, the separation between blog and life has never been sharper.

Back on the blog, the first embedded Youtube video is posted – after which, Troubled Diva Xtra makes a brief comeback as a clicky-on-the-piccy Youtube blog.

Year Four of Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? kicks off, five months later than it should have done. This year, the 1970s emerge victorious for the second time.

August 2006.


Three years after the original photo-shoot, our weekend cottage is featured as the cover story in Period Living magazine. A few weeks later, Alan Oddverse pens a parody which is several shades more entertaining than the original article.

The podcasts re-commence, as have the Stylus Singles Jukebox reviews (but not for long), and the gig reviews for the local paper.

My first pair of vari-focal spectacles are purchased. Can it really only be three and a half years since I danced topless in a nightclub for the very last time?

A Madonna concert is attended, and a rather grudging, oh-must-I review posted.

Suddenly, and after many many months, the blogging mojo returns. (Here at Troubled Diva, these things are more cyclical than at most normal blogs. God, what what must it be like to have a normal blog? I guess I’ll never know.) Arbeit macht frei, an account of a nightmare holiday job in a wholesalers’ warehouse, is the first decent bit of non-music writing that I’ve done since China.

Who’s for a melon martini, Mike and K style?

My first feature-length article for Stylus magazine is published.

Troubled Diva is featured in .net magazine’s cover feature on The Top 50 British Blogs.

September 2006.

I pledge to make at least one post per day for the whole of September. If I succeed, then I shall buy a webcam and make an inaugural vidcast. If I fail, then the name of the blog will change to Clapped Out Has Been from October 1st. The tension of it all, eh readers?

A nasty attack of groin strain leaves me stranded in the city centre, and unable to walk, until K picks me up and takes me to hospital. A post explaining this earns me a measly three comments. A follow-up hissy fit (“Nobody cares. I hate you all.“) earns me 26 comments. Much more like it.

The experience moves me to change my comments box strapline, from the age-old “Purge yourself – go on, purge yourself” to the much more descriptive “Transitory fluff, yoo-hoos, woo-hoos, poor-yous and me-toos.


A two-page colour feature on Troubled Diva appears in the magazine section of the Nottingham Evening Post, complete with a coquettish, FHM-style photograph and a list of Blogging tips for the newcomer.


A series of photographs from the “social linchpin years” of 1990-92 show me at my very gayest.


There is a major discussion on the whys and wherefores of comment box etiquette, an account of a gig by a New York band which took place on the day after 9/11, a list of 100 things which make me happy, and – since I have just started receiving promo CDs on a regular basis – an exclusive track-by-track lowdown on the forthcoming Scissor Sisters album.

My duties for the local paper have stepped up a couple of notches, as I am now reviewing as many gigs as I can squeeze into my schedule, as well as semi-regular album reviews for the Friday entertainment supplement. Meeting the deadlines can be tough – but I am deliberately pushing myself, in order to derive maximum benefit from the experience. Besides, I still get an adolescent kick from being on the guest list.

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 get into a right old strop about the current proliferation of Sky Mirrors from that mercenary old tart major contemporary artist, Anish Kapoor.

Telegraph Poles on Snob Alley: a four part comic memoir of the nouveau riche 1980s, and my favourite work on the blog this year. Hands up who remembers Cliff and Olga? Come on, it was only five minutes ago!

My friend and colleague JP is seriously injured in a traffic accident outside our company’s Hangzhou office.

As the month ends and the pledge is successfully met, I take suggestions for September’s final post – finally opting to list 10 Reasons Why I Think I’m A Clapped Out Has Been And 10 Reasons Why I Think I’m Not.

October 2006.

A snapshot is provided of my whereabouts, circumstances and states of mind in October 1996, 1986, 1976 and 1966.

A Journey South concert review is potentially compromised by my proximity to the artists’ parents. Well, a hatchet job would have been too predictable…

My favourite albums of the 1970s are listed, year by year. A request for reader recommendations unearths a previously hidden coterie of Jake Thackeray fans. Who knew?

Look, I’m bruising. This is a vicious sport! Why was it never banned? OK, I’m getting a tea-towel and wrapping it round my… stop LAUGHING, will you!” K and I go conkers bonkers.

As promised, an inaugural vidcast is posted. However, the second one is much more like it – and it goes on to spawn its own caption competition – which in turn goes on to spawn the most remarkable spoken word MP3 from a certain Scottish blogger of note. In such surprising ways does our chosen medium manifest itself.

mikeandfriendBack down in London for the evening (hooray!), I make it over to Girl With A One Track Mind‘s debut book signing, and stick around for drinkies afterwards. But which other Midlands blogger of note ends up sharing my hotel room?

The local paper prints my first lead album review: a 500 word hatchet job on the forthcoming, tatty, lazy, half-baked so-called “greatest hits” compilation from George “Penelope Pitstop” Michael.

My colleague JP returns to the UK (and today, to the office), already well on his way to a full recovery.

And finally…

On October 30th 2006, Troubled Diva celebrates its fifth birthday.

It has been a fascinating experience, reviewing the past five years of my life in such depth. Not having kept a diary since adolescence, I have never had access to this level of detail before, and it is remarkable how long-forgotten blog entries can trigger such powerful memories.

I have also realised, with a force that has never really hit me before, that Troubled Diva really is a very peculiar weblog indeed. In fact, it’s a f**king BONKERS weblog, if you ask me. Where do all those mad surges of energy come from, and why do they have to alternate with all those periods of near inactivity? Why can’t postings be regular, and moderate, and normal? Jeez, you lot must think I’m bi-polar or summat! I’m not! Honest! I’m just a neurotic, narcissistic, self-obsessed drama queen, that’s all!

There also been times over the past few days where I have observed myself almost as a cartoon character: tearing around the place, squawking and squeaking, and living a life which seems packed with an uncommonly high number of “incidents” – good and bad, clever and stupid, sorrowful and triumphal, important and trivial.

(Particularly the latter. “Doubled Trivia”, someone once called this place.)

I have also been reminded of the extremes of self-aggrandisement and self-deprecation which peremeate these archives. Both can, at times, make me cringe. Hopefully – and at least over time – the one will generally balance out the other. And besides, if there’s one thing which the tragic events of this otherwise fantastic year have shown me, it’s that moments of pleasure, joy, excitement and fulfilment should be savoured as they happen, and never taken for granted. So if that comes sometimes across as “Gee, isn’t my life amazing!”… well, I guess that’s because my life frequently amazes me.

This blog has taken me to places that I never thought I would go. Backstage at an annual music event that I have loved since childhood. In front of a writers’ conference. Onto live radio, and onto the printed page. And it has introduced me to many, many wonderful new friends – who, in varying ways, seem to be capable of tuning into my way of thinking, making sense of it, and making sense of me. (And vice versa, many times over.) As a former Neurotic Boy Outsider who felt for a long time that nobody truly “got” him, and that he wasn’t much good at anything at all, this kind of collective mutual validation is something to which I ascribe the highest value.

But I’m delirious, and gushing… and knackered. (This little exercise took far longer than I had expected, but then I never was much good at doing things by halves.) Time for a congratulatory glass of something cold and refreshing. The sodding album reviews can wait until tomorrow.

Cheers, readers! Here’s to blogging!

The Five in Five Days Project – Part Four.


November 2004.

Only four posts are made during November: a slagging of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty (premature, as I ended up loving it); an account of my first Reiki session (a major help on my path back to mental serenity, even if it is just Placebo effect smoke-and-mirrors); an ode to the joys of my newly purchased iPod (which earns me a good kicking in a forum for iPod-h8erz); and an announcement that, from December 6th, Troubled Diva will return to a full regular service.

December 2004.

A week’s holiday at the luxurious Banyan Tree resort in Phuket – essentially, a holiday to get over the previous holiday – proves immensely therapeutic. Upon our return, regular posting does indeed resume.

A doomed attempt is made to convince my readers (and indeed myself) that the Band Aid 20 version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is superior to the 1984 original.

Love your work!Another London blogmeet is attended, back in the basement of the Green Man.

Finally converted to the superiority of Firefox over IE, and to the delights of Thanks to Adrian, the “Linkrack” on the sidebar becomes powered by for several months, before collapsing in an ungainly heap when changes the rules.

Commence an extended series of postings about music, in which I write (in frequently laborious detail) about my 100 favourite singles of 2004.

January 2005.

News of the tsunami disaster prompts a lengthy Phuket retrospective, disguised as a Maroon 5 review.


A competitive element is added to the “100 singles” write-up, as readers are invited to guess my favourite single of 2004.

As attempts to explain the new-at-the-time genres of crunk, glitch and microhouse to my readers fall on stony ground, the acronym NMC is introduced, in order to flag posts with significant non-musical content. I have a slight strop about this.

Steve of My Ace Life re-works the 2004 Xmas photo in a Gilbert and George style.

Troubled Diva is nominated as Best UK Weblog in the The Queery Awards, hosted by the US site Queer Day (now defunct). Curiously, one of the other nominees isn’t even British…

Over on the I Love Music message board, I mark the occasion of the 1000th UK Number One by hosting a poll of the board’s favourite Number Ones of all time. The Top 100 singles are posted in real time during Radio One’s Sunday afternoon Top 40 show, and archived on Troubled Diva.

Troubled Diva becomes a finalist in the Best GLBT category at the 2005 Bloggies. Distressingly, I am still in the middle of my interminable series of music-related posts, few of which have much in the way of gay-related content. Whoops.

A think-piece is penned on the changing usage of the word “f**k”.

End of an era: George’s Bar closes its doors for good, with an unforgettably debauched final night.

February 2005.

One hundred music posts down the line, my favourite single of 2005 is revealed – as correctly guessed by Leith reader chav gav.

Fellow “World’s Best Poof” Bloggies nominee Siobhan (of Tranniefesto) and I have an in-depth discussion on the politics of cross-dressing.

The acronym CBATG (Can’t Be Arsed To Google) is introduced. At the last count, Google returned 1,280 results for it…

K and I subscribe to the Lovefilm DVD rental service. I duly solicit my readers for movie recommendations – which we are still working through to this day.

Is it that time of the year already? Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? gets going again. (This year, for the first time, the 1980s win it.)

“I WANT MY F***ING APPLES!” The boot is put into another swanky hotel – this time, it’s the Cumberland at Marble Arch.


On the occasion of my 43rd birthday, someone at Merchants Restaurant is Having A Larf. Is he Having A Larf?

March 2005.

This year’s Comic Relief stunt involves making your selection for the Bloggers’ Disco.

In anticipation of the Bloggies results, I am interviewed for the BBC’s website.

My “proper” music journalism debut is made on the Stylus Singles Jukebox, reviewing the week’s new releases. This becomes a regular weekly gig for many months – and a major writing challenge, which takes up large chunks of my Sundays.

It was an honour simply to be nominated. It was an honour simply to be nominated. It was an honour simply to be nominated.” At the Bloggies, the World’s Best Poof award goes elswehere.

Good morning Bulwell! How’s it hanging, Arnold? Coming atcha, Top Valley!” I am interviewed live on the BBC Radio Nottingham breakfast show. Ee, it’s all going off, intit?

The Troubled Diva Parallel Universe Top 40 becomes a regular weekly feature for a while.

A pedometer is purchased, and the Troubled Diva Keep Fit Club gets underway.

The Write Like A Diva contest is hosted, with is-it-me-or-isn’t-it entries on the subject of My Gayest Ever Moment. Clare, JonnyB and Peter pit their entries against one of my own. A lack of entries also causes me to throw an April Fool hissy fit.

April 2005.

I Can Pick ‘Em Department, Parts Nine and Ten: early plugs are made for Joan As Policewoman and The Long Blondes.

A dramatis personae is published, detailing some of the more regularly mentioned non-blogging Friends of Troubled Diva.

The blog notches up its 500,000th page view.


K and I celebrate our twentieth anniversary as a couple, by seeing Bebo & Cigala at the Royal Festival Hall, shopping for outfits (and an uncommonly nice hat) in Selfridges, and having a posh meal at Harry’s Place.

A CD-length Back To Mine mix is posted.

May 2005.

I Can Pick ‘Em Department, Part Eleven: the day after the General Election, and before Michael Howard has resigned, I tip David Cameron to be the next leader of the Conservative Party.

The year’s Eurovision coverage kicks off with my first piece of proper print journalism, as Time Out‘s music section leads with my previews of the 2005 entries. For the second year running, I watch the finals with friends in the Peak District. My reactions to the televised contest are published by Stylus magazine.

I Can Pick ‘Em Department, Part Twelve: become one of the first bloggers to link to Mimi In New York.

Troubled Twat, or My Boyfriend Is A Diva. A week’s guest blogging commences at My Boyfriend Is A Twat.

June 2005.

The start of the month finds me in a rather flat state of mind: pissed off with Nottingham, and living for weekends in the cottage. But it’s only a mini-wobble.

Seasonal maxim: You know that spring is ending when you tire of the smell of asparagus in your urine.

An exhaustive Readership Survey is issued and analysed. Lyle is duly awarded the dubious accolade of being, statistically sepaking, Troubled Diva’s most typical reader.

I become a contestant on Big Blogger 2005.

A scathing review of Les McKeown’s Bay City Rollers ruffles feathers in Rollerland.

In an attempt to win one of my lovely mugs, Anna produces a review of the 40 In 40 Days project… in verse.


The PDMG is opened to the public once again, and a commemorative photographic tableau is published.


Quickos comes to stay with Mike and K.

July 2005.

I am loved, ergo I am worthy of love.” At an REM concert, I am ambushed by unexpected emotion.

fancydressThe above post serves as the kick-off for a chain of 26 guest-written Blogging Consequences, which occupies the rest of the month – as does the Big Blogger 2005 competition, during which I post a photograph of my one and only dabbling in drag. (And it weren’t pretty, neither.)

“There has long been a repressed radio presenter in me; take a listen, and see whether you think it should have remained repressed, or whether I have a future in broadcasting bright and breezy “drivetime sounds” to the blogosphere.” The first podcast is published.

My last European business trip takes place, to Vienna.

August 2005.

An sizeable excerpt from the blog is reproduced (sans permission, natch) in the pages of The Independent, as part of a two-page spread on “Citizens of the internet”. However, the piece wasn’t actually written by me. Instead, the dear confused old Indie lifted one of Vitriolica’s Consequences pieces, crediting the author of Troubled Diva as “Anonymous woman”. Oh well!

Vitrolica then goes on to win Big Blogger 2005, leaving me in second place. Oh well!

Ten years ago, I was led by my dick; now I’m being led by my stomach. It’s all moving up the body, you see. Who knows: in ten years’ time, it could be my head…


The blog is briefly renamed troubled nitro-diva power plus 4 (with active fructose micro-ingredients). Ooh, satire.

The overall effect is akin to reading a travelogue of an exotic far-off country which you know you’ll never visit. As a result of the Big Blogger experience, I make the online acquaintance of Girl With A One-Track Mind.

A parody of Naked Blog wins me a Port Of Leith T-shirt.

September 2005.

Of seating plans, turtle doves and symphonies in watered silk. A five-part series on weddings is published, including a couple of tales of satisfying karmic retribution. Hands up who remembers Horace and Doris? And how about Ron and Yvonne? (A printer-friendly Word document of the whole series is here.)

The Trash Boudoir mixes seek to recreate the atmosphere of a seedy backstreet 1980s gay club.

“All these years, I’ve been standing on the sidelines, the perennial Detached Observer. Sometimes sneering – sometimes spinning my wheel and muttering my incantations – but most usually dabbing my eyes, raising my glass, Wishing Them Every Happiness, and tearing up the floor at the disco afterwards.

Now it’s my turn.”

I come out as an opera hater. Minus fifty Poof Points!

K’s company receives a celebrity endorsement. In order to identify her, a game of Twenty Questions is played in my comments box. (Don’t bother clicking. It was Zoe Ball.)

A Secret London Gathering Of Extremely Nervous People With Weblogs is attended. I wonder whether we’ll ever have another one?

October 2005.


I start transcribing my mother’s detailed account of the first twenty years of her life, on a separate blog – but not before sharing an account of her experiences as a model for Vogue magazine.

Many months after first consulting my GP, I commence a three month course of cognitive behavioural therapy. (Excellent, and recommended.)

The Five in Five Days Project – Part Three.


November 2003.

Guest Month ends – with a “best of” round-up – as the weekly business trips expand from Paris to Cologne and (best of all!) Barcelona. Consequently, and after an extraordinarily prolific work-rate over the past 18 months (looking back at it all now, I’m actually quite astonished that I ever wrote so much) Blogger’s Block begins to bite, and signs of work-related stress start to mount up. It’s a tell-tale sign…

I Can Pick ‘Em Department, Part Four: ahead of her victory in the second Guardian competition, an early link is made to Belle De Jour.

A good month for culture: Mariza in Birmingham (and I know for a fact that she has read my review), challenging installation art in Barcelona, DV8 Physical Dance Theatre in Paris (with ex-pat Parisian buddy Sarah, my regular dining companion of the time), the Turner Prize exhibition in London (we liked the Grayson Perrys)… and an audience with lovely Kevin McCloud (sigh!) at an interior design exhibition.

K leaves the company which he founded seven years earlier, and starts from scratch all over again with his canine cancer venture.

Guest blogger Zena turns up, with a series of posts detailing all the “w@nkers” she has ever slept with. As soon as the series is completed, the posts vanish into thin air. (“Think of it like a fascinating woman you met at a cocktail party who left before you got her phone-number.”)

In parallel with Zena’s posts, a new competition is launched: Who’s The W@nker? (“Tell me the story of a relationship in which you were the w@nker.”) The competition is won by Sarah, with this story.

December 2003.

I Can Pick ‘Em Department, Part Five: an early link is made to PB Curtis: then at It’s Funny Because It’s Shit, now at Monkey With A Typewjkl;.

When satire falls flat: we still don’t talk about the which recreational substance am I on? project. Some people thought I was doing it for real, you know…

F**k off, I’m dead. Now go outside and look at the f**king flowers.” During another wild weekend in London (actually, it was on the dancefloor of the Two Brewers in Clapham), and just ahead of yet another a business trip (this time to Zurich), a major decision is made. Troubled Diva is put on hold for an indefinite period, and an emotional farewell speech is made…

January 2004.

The weekly business trips continue. The blog remains closed.

February 2004.

An article about a trip to Barcelona is published in the Nottingham Evening Post, and re-printed on the blog.

On February 23rd, the silence is once again broken, with The Great Troubled Diva Shall I Or Shan’t I Start Blogging Again? Potential Act Of Monumental Hubris Comprehension Test. Across the blogosphere, knowing eyeballs roll heavenwards.

March 2004.

The hiatus having lasted less for not much more than two months, full time blogging re-commences on March 8th.

In the meantime, I have become a regular on the I Love Music message board, and a tireless advocate of the Scissor Sisters, whom I go to see live at every opportunity.

The Nottingham house is taken off the market, and a decision is made to stay put for the forseeable future. Goodbye, architect-designed dream home! We were never worthy of you in the first place!

Midweek boozing sessions are back on the agenda, thanks to my new friend (and future blogger) Alan of Reluctant Nomad.

I’ve been to paradise… but I’ve never been to Bulwell.” Nottingham’s tram service is opened, and a bunch of local dignatories board it for an inaugural ride. Finding myself in their midst, I record the experience. (“Do you think they’ll have white wine in Hucknall?“)

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? returns, to cheers all round.

Simultaneously with this, an anonymous employee of News International attempts to “out” Belle De Jour in my comments box, ahead of a would-be exposé in The Times. (The comment is swiftly deleted, even though the “outing” subsequently turns out to be inaccurate.) The enusing intrigue and kerfuffle drags on for days, as I find myself thrust into the middle of all the fevered press speculation regarding Belle’s identity. Why, I even come up with an amusing (if highly fanciful) conspiracy theory of my own. As a result, March 22nd becomes the busiest day ever on Troubled Diva, with nearly 2000 page views. Way to make a comeback!


K goes public for the first time about his new business venture.

April 2004.


A hand-drawn version of the front page appears on April Fool’s Day; allegedly, I am testing a new handwriting recognition package. (But how did he do those links?)

Troubled Diva picks up a mention in Simon Garfield’s feature on blogging in The Observer. In brackets. In the middle of a list. On the second page of the article. But still, eh!

The Which Decade project, which has been dragged out for a few weeks on account of all the Belle-related excitement, is won by the 1960s.

A reader-compiled “Songs you have to hear” track listing is assembled.

At a “swanky do” in a Nottingham hotel, I experience my first – and, to date, my last – panic attack.


Arboreal porn alert! A walk through the Manifold Valley leads us to a spot which we christen Harlot’s Nook.

F**k off, you vaseline-arsed fairy.A scathing review of one of the Scissor Sisters’ support acts earns me my first (and hopefully my last) piece of hate-mail.

Easter is spent in Lisbon with Dymbel and Dymbellina, soaking up the fado.


Window Into My World: The Troubled Diva Pointlessly Detailed Journal Theme Week starts well, until midweek illness calls a swift halt to the venture.

A performance MP3 of the Boutique Hotel Casual Shag post is published. In many ways, this remains my favourite piece of work on the whole blog.

May 2004.

Blanket Eurovision coverage re-commences, with detailed song-by-song breakdowns of the finals and the inaugural semi-finals alike.


An attempt is made to live-blog the Eurovision semi-finals, in front of the telly, with a laptop. This proves to be tougher than it looks. The coverage starts well enough, before descending into drunken bitch-queen one-liners. (“State of ‘er!“)

The Eurovision finals are watched from the comfort of the cottage, with friends. Spookily, Zoe of My Boyfriend Is A Twat blogs the event before it takes place…

June 2004.

In the first of what would prove to be a spate of such ventures, I spend the week guest-blogging at Karen and Pete’s Uborka. The week ends with the hosting of Krissa and Stuart‘s online engagement party. Not a dry eye in the house…

A camp-as-knickers Bollywood MP3 (“One Two Cha Cha Cha” by Usha Uthup) gets Troubled Diva linked by mega-blog BoingBoing. The enusing traffic spike is well lush. More exciting still is the revelation that Usha lives on the same street as one of my regular readers.

There is speculation as to the mysterious privately pressed acetates which my stepmother used to keep under the bed. Could they really be lost recordings by The Beatles?

Regular daily traffic to Troubled Diva peaks. It has stayed at more or less the same level ever since.

A nasty run-in with the Hosting Company From Hell sees become permanently unusable. While the site is down, I guest-blog over at Sashinka’s place. A hyphen is added to the URL, which is re-launched under its new domain on June 29th.

I Can Pick ‘Em Department, Part Six: Become one of the first bloggers to plug Joe. My. God.

July 2004.

K and I experiment with different hairdos. While my hair is re-styled for the first time since the late 1980s, K decides to dally with the dreaded TUFTS. After vocalising my loathing for the TUFTS, a hideous pact is made…

K attends his first rock gig for 18 years – Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band at the Rescue Rooms – and survives the ordeal unscathed.

All of Nottingham mourn the passing of city centre busker Frank Robinson, better known as Xylophone Man. Over 3000 people petition Nottingham City Council (unsuccessfully) to erect a statue in his honour.

The foreign business trips are slowing down, but there is still the occasional jaunt to Paris to contend with. Annoyingly, my presence is required there only a couple of days before disappearing to Peru for two and a half weeks.

During my Peruvian absence, the blog is maintained by five guests, all of them local: Alan, Ben, Buni, MissMish and Nixon. Just as an earlier guest week had spurred the creation of Aprosexic, so does this fortnight eventually lead to the creation of Reluctant Nomad.

August 2004.

Directly upon returning from Peru, K and I crash the get-together that the guest bloggers have arranged during our absence. It is our first meeting with Ben, with Miss Mish – and with Nottingham’s last outpost of true Bohemia, George’s Bar on Broad Street. A new social era begins…

I Can Pick ‘Em Department, Part Seven: Become one of the first bloggers to link to Petite Anglaise: specifically, to this post. Although I am not yet to know it, I have already made my last business trip to Paris.

As is hinted, the Peruvian trip turns out to be more of an endurance test than a relaxing break. I arrive back in poor health, and remain in poor health (and off work) for some time thereafter.

This period of ill-health provides the trigger for my worst period of depression since 1999. Posting on the blog is severely curtailed, with posts generally appearing once or twice a week, if at all.

“Dog tired of the damnable persona, the expectations, the limitations, the repetition, the pop-up chorus line (sorry, nuffink personal like, luvyaloads), the dead weight of accumulated history.”

Less than six months after my last blogging “comeback”, is it now curtains for Troubled Diva again?

September 2004.

A very quiet month – although I am secretly blogging elsewhere, deliberately in a very different style, under the assumed character of “Neil”. The writing is stark, confessional, and fairly high on scandals and misdemeanours. Although the original host blog is still on hiatus, some of the main posts can be viewed here. (The stories are true, but the narrative voice is invented. Give a man a mask, etc.)

October 2004.

With the mental wobbles intensifying, I finally start to talk openly about the matter – although not on the blog – and pay a visit to my GP.

Some hand-drawn guest-blogging is accomplished at Guild Of Ghostwriters. This is the best one: a full page comic-strip, detailing my past as a child cartoonist.

K authors his first and last guest post: a guide to maintaining crisp lawn edges.

Compensation for mis-sold endowments is obtained, to the tune of over £8000.

Returning from a business trip in Amsterdam, news of John Peel’s death reaches me. He has died in Cuzco (Peru), where my physical ailments were at their most debilitating over the summer.

The wobbles show their first signs of abating.

The Five in Five Days Project – Part Two.


Still with no actual work to do at work, I continue to amuse myself with Nottingham, My Nottingham and the never-ending Shirt Off My Back Project, with daily photos all the way through the month. Midweek boozeathons have become the norm, although I have formed an age-inappropriate attachment to the podium in the middle of the dancefloor at the local gay club.

There is much activity in connection with Chig’s 50 Number Ones Project, with various MP3 medleys being made available.

A series of “defining vignettes of the 1980s” are posted, covering sanctimonious self-righteousness, greed, style fascism and dogma.

But really, November 2002 is basically about the shirts.


December 2002.

Horrified by the crap camera angles which I have been using during the Shirt Off My Back Project, my partner K breaks his silence on the blog.

A day later, as plans are announced for future legislation regarding same-sex civil partnerships, I go down on my knees in the bedroom.

K and I spend a day Doing Art in London, which causes me to post a major rant against Gunther Von Hagen’s disgusting Bodyworlds exhibition.

Now that K has taken over photographic duties for the Shirt Off My Back Project, the images start getting much artier.


On December 15th, after 10 weeks, asta is declared the winner of the 68th and last shirt in the project.

This is immediately followed by So you think you’re a Blogaholic?, a quiz designed to test my readers’ knowledge of the 56 blogs in my sidebar. The quiz is won by Amanda, who receives a set of Old Curiosity Box CDs.

Some of my co-workers discover my weblog, as I learn at the office Christmas party. Gulp.

The Christmas holiday period is dominated by illness. Not one of our best.

January 2003.

I successfully give up alcohol for the month. This turns out to be a good move, as the protracted illnesses of the Christmas period trigger a period of mild depression – as discussed here, with reference to the unsuitability of happiness as an interesting subject matter for fiction.

My spoken word guide to the gay Nottingham dialect causes quite a stir. Shent fookin gerrin enneh! Get kokkart!


F**k off, teal scum!” Those lovable little critters, the racist ducks make their debut.


The sidebar image changes, as does the strapline: “My fish always comes out wonky. It’s a curse.

Troubled Diva is long-listed in three categories at the Bloggies: Best European/African, Best GLBT and Weblog of the Year.

In a rare brush with political blogging, I state my opposition to the imminent invasion of Iraq.

I Can Pick ‘Em Department, Part One: Become the first blogger (outside of her own household, that is) ever – that’s EVER! – to link to My Boyfriend Is A Twat. The honour!

February 2003.

Return to drinking alcohol, while vowing “The days of cracking open a shared bottle of wine in front of the telly, night after night after night, are gone.” (Yeah, right.)


Receive a comment from a member of the Estonian girl band Vanilla Ninja, having just raved about their (sadly failed) Eurovision entry, Club “Kung-Fu”. “Troubled Diva – the blog that the STARS read!”

Attend my first public London blogmeet, downstairs at the Green Man on Great Portland Street. You know: the famous one, where Pete met Karen. (Meg took a great photo of their historic meeting, in which I appeared either to be giving Pete dating tips, or else passing favourable judgement on his bride-to-be’s cleavage.)

The weekend – which I refer to as “Apotheosis Of Blog” – ends with me dancing topless in public, for what was almost certainly the last time ever (barring the odd cartoon representation here and there).

The first of the fully interactive, MP3-enabled instalments of Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? is launched (causing a major intra-blog kerfuffle over the relative merits of Whitney Houston’s and Dolly Parton’s renditions of “I Will Always Love You”.)

I earn my first sneery, snarky, who-the-hell-does-he-think-he-is reference on another (now defunct) blog. A year or so later, we’re exchanging friendly e-mails and linking to each other.

March 2003.

Following a nail-biting tie-break round, the first Which Decade? contest is won by the 1970s.

redmikenoseThreatened by possible redundancy, I hide out in my comments box until the all-clear is sounded. This morphs into the Let’s Get More Comments Than Wil Wheaton Project (yeesh, me and my Projects), which sees me receiving over 235 comments in return for a £100 donation to Comic Relief – but without leaving my comments box for the duration, meaning that publicity for the stunt has to be raised by others on my behalf.

(Commemorative photo-doctoring by Zoe.)

As a reward for reaching the comments target, the ex-blogger most recently known as Somewhat Muchly gives me the domain name of

A poetry reading in Beeston is dissected at length. (One of my favourite posts, but it’s a shame that I didn’t give it a proper ending.)


The month ends with the first Troubled Diva Guest Week, in which I am joined by Anna (, D (Acerbia), noodle vague (The World, Backwards), Faustus M.D. (The Search For Love In Manhattan) and Mr.D. (whose experience during Guest Week inspired him to start his own blog, Aprosexic).

April 2003.

Passing quickly over the ear-bashing horrors of the Match The Intro competition…

…we arrive at Apotheosis of Blog (slight return), in which a secret cabal of bloggers steal the official A-list from the filing cabinet, and replace it with their own.

The Troubled Diva merchandising range is introduced.

The long period of professional activity draws to a close, as I fly off to Paris for the first of many, many business trips.

I Can Pick ‘Em Department, Part Two: become one of the first bloggers to plug Call Centre Confidential – arguably one of the first examples of a new approach to personal blogging, which sees tightly themed and constructed writing come to the forefront, in place of the usual links-and-commentary paradigm.

My first audio-blog: a “performance art” recitation of… well, you’ll see. (Remember audblogs? They were all the rage…)

An article on Troubled Diva appears in Web User magazine’s regular Blog On column, based on this interview.


Installation Art Thursday takes place, as I stage The Perpetual Impossibility Of Sensory Gratification.

May 2003.

Hard house is danced to, on beer, for the last time ever. Farewell, hard house.

The Which Is The Best Madonna Album? Project gets underway, as I experiment with stepping the music criticism up a notch. (Music and Bedtime Stories end up tying for first position, in case you were wondering.)

Fye-ya! Diz-eye-ya!

Over at the cottage, the PDMG (Princess Diana Memorial Garden) is installed.

Discover that Troubled Diva is an anagram of Voidable Turd.

But in the morning, with all done and dusted, and what remained of the spell completely broken, this awful quietness and retreat descended upon the room. A shuffle back from intimacy to cordiality. From “oh yeah, me too, absolutely” to “do you want a shower now, or wait till you get back?” From new best mate, to cipher, to statistic. No phone numbers. No point. Respective little black books already bulging, with page after alphabetised page of half-smile memories, mild accusations, slowly fading obligations.

A casual shag in a boutique hotel forms the basis for one of my absolute all-time favourite posts.

To Riga, for the second Troubled Diva Eurovision Takeover – including a Latvian fireman, on the beach, in wet pants, rescuing a sopping wet beaver.

June 2003.


After mocking a US Care Bear blog for ripping off my site design, and dolling up the blog with Care Bears a-go-go, karmic retribrution strikes, as I find myself trapped inside a Care Bear for a whole week. Only the intervention of The Blessed Esther Rantzen saves me.


K and I flirt with the idea of buying a new house in Nottingham. It’s an over-ambitious conceit, which comes to naught.

Blogspot is abandoned for good, as I migrate to my fourth URL: Just to keep everyone on their toes.

July 2003.

A Blog Hiatus Of The Month competition is hosted.

The 100 x 100 project is launched: a series of 100 posts of exactly 100 words in length. Yes, I know… doomed. A project too far?

Ah yes, the Diva Rhyming Slang quiz. My, I was full of ideas back then.

The Old Curiosity Box series splutters to a close, as I belatedly realise that nobody is actually downloading my super-rare MP3s. Puh.

August 2003.

The ill-fated 100 x 100 Project – my first serious misfire – is put out of its mystery, via a marathon weekend Blogathon.

Ah, the Zbornak interview. What fun that was – especially the autobiographical musical.

Will I be cooking lunch, or will I be cooking dinner? A photo shoot takes place for Period Living magazine. Little did we realise that it would take another three years for the article to be published…

September 2003.

The Nottingham house is put up for sale. We don’t sell, and opt to stay put instead.

I Can Pick ‘Em Department, Part Three: The Rolling Stones at Wembley are followed by an extraordinary club gig by the then unknown Scissor Sisters. Nottingham Pride was fun, as well.


How often does your partner read your weblog? An in-depth survey is conducted. (The answer? Not a lot.)

Troubled Diva – the blog that the STARS read! Babydaddy from the Scissor Sisters sends a “thanks for the gig review” e-mail.

Oh God, the Sambuca drinking game. How young we all were.

October 2003.


I appear in a local am-dram production, playing a camp stereotype in a reality TV show. To this end, I adopt a bleached blonde “Hoxton fin”.


And then there were the costumes…


Directly following my thespian triumph, I am dispatched to Paris for the forseeable future. To cope with the absence, Guest Month is launched. Frankly, darlings… it was a triumph. Hands up, who remembers Aunt Cyn?

Down at our local gay club, K’s drink is spiked with DRUGZ. Not big. Not clever.

Enter Danny, my sex-hungry “guest blogger”. Except it was me all along, you fools! Hands up, who remembers The Spritzer? Ee, we’ve done some bonk-blogging in our time…

The Five in Five Days Project – Part One.


October 2001.

On my second day of blogging, I “out” a nascent super-chef as a mardy, aggressive git, pushing my fledgling blog into the Google Top 10 for his smart Ludlow restaurant for several years to come. Indeed, I am still in the Google Top 10 for the chef in question. The story subsequently went all around town, as we were amused to discover. Sorry, Claude – but you were unacceptably rude to my partner in public, while remaining perfectly happy to take his money. Revenge is, indeed, a dish best served cold.

November 2001.

Following an e-mail from a “concerned” friend about my new venture (“Are you having a mid-life crisis?”), I adopt his withering summary (“Dermot O’Leary does the South Bank Show”) as my first strapline.

Receive my first external link from a total stranger. Feel curiously validated.

December 2001.

Receive my first ever search engine referrals: for “biker gaydar”, and (hah!) “cute bum”.

After decades of self-repression, come out as a fan of prog-rock, following this admission with an ecstatic gig review of my favourite prog-rockers. The experience feels like coming in from the cold…

Coin the medical terms “The Fist”, “The Screwdriver” and “The Spasm”.


First appearance of my future avatar: James Gillray’s “A Voluptuary under the horrors of Digestion“. One of these days, I might get around to telling you more about our Gillray collection, which has been strangely under-represented over the years.

no_1 (1)

The first photo of myself appears (caught in the act of winning 200 quid on a Channel 4 game show), swiftly followed by the first of the legendary Christmas photos.

January 2002.

Discover, with some measure of dismay, the existence of blogging awards and the concept of “A-list bloggers”.

Forty days shy of my fortieth birthday, embark on the autobiographical 40 In 40 Days Project.

Stop buying the NME, after 28 years as a loyal weekly reader. Discover, with some measure of surprise, that it is still possible to “keep up” without it.

Begin a period of involuntary work-related exile, stuck in a wind-lashed Portakabin in the middle of a car park in the industrial North East. The Project From Hell has commenced…

February 2002.


Attend my first blogmeet: a gathering of London gay bloggers, down at Pop Quiz night at the Retro Bar.

Clean up my act, and stop hot-linking to other people’s images. (NAUGHTY! DON’T DO IT!) Start receiving over 100 visitors a day, and have a bit of a “Sally Field moment” about it (success being something of a novelty, after decades of mediocre underachievement).

After making one lengthy autobiographical posting every day, without fail, for forty days, I reach the end of the 40 In 40 Days Project. The next day, I turn 40. A party is held.


Abandon the basic Blogger template design (see above), in favour of the mauve-flavoured template which persists to this day. Farewell, fat opera singer in red dress!


March 2002.

A crude early prototype of the Which Decade Is Tops For Pops project makes its debut – without MP3s, and without reader participation. Actually, it’s all rather half-baked and crap. But a milestone, none the less.

The underscore changes to a hyphen, as moves to

A good eighteen months away from the birth of MP3 blogging as we now know it, the Troubled Diva Old Curiosity Box is opened for the first time, with a posting of Cristina’s “Is That All There Is?” Over the next eighteen months or so, around 140 rare MP3s are posted, generally on a weekly basis.

“Electroclash” is suddenly all the rage, and I’m quick to jump on board the bandwagon.

My multiple personalities are introduced: Country Mike, Office Mike, Gay Mike, Rockin’ Mike, Stylish Mike and Web Mike. Posh Mike, Scary Mike and Baby Mike are unaccountably absent from the list, Sporty Mike and Ginger Mike more understandably so.

April 2002.

nn_button2Chapter Three of Peter’s collaborative fiction project, The Naked Novel. To this day, this remains the only fiction I have written since adolescence. To this day, I’m still rather proud of it. Hmm, there’s a message in there somewhere.

Home broadband arrives in Nottingham. Goodbye, 56k dial-up! I only have to suffer you at weekends now!

My first international business trip takes me to Amsterdam for the night. Within a couple of hours of landing, my (straight) clients have unwittingly dragged me off to what turns out be a gay bar. Coming out at work was never easier.

Spend most of the rest of the month in the wind-lashed Portakabin, growing progressively more over-worked, miserable and lonely. The “Portakabin Diary” becomes a regular weekly feature for a while, as Troubled Diva briefly flirts with angst-blogging.

An unfairly bitchy early post is discovered by a friend of the people that I was unfairly bitching about, and is quickly removed. The blushes remain for the rest of the month, as an important lesson is learnt the hard way.

Make my first of many visits to the one-time spiritual home of the London gay blogger: Sundays at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, where The Dame Edna Experience ruled (and still rules) supreme.

Add a Tag Board to the site, for a short while. Does anyone still remember Tag Boards? Oh, they were quite the rage.

May 2002.

On May 4th, Troubled Diva welcomes its 10,000th visitor.

Ohmigod Kylie at the NEC YOU GO GIRL.

To Tallinn, where I attend the finals of the Eurovision Song Contest for the third time. To the horror of some of my more cultured regular readers, Eurovision-related content dominates the blog for a good couple of weeks – and not for the last time, either.

June 2002.

Install the YACCS commenting system – which remains in place to this day, with all 17,000+ comments still archived and available. Peter of Naked Blog is the first reader to leave a comment.

At the Royal Concert Hall, Brian Wilson delivers one of the most touching and memorable concerts that I have ever attended, including a complete run-through of the Pet Sounds album.

Portakabin-related angst reaches fever pitch – and then is no more, as I am finally released from the Project From Hell. In its place, a lengthy period of professional inactivity commences. With little else to do, blogging takes centre stage, as Troubled Diva enters what I have long considered to be its twelve-month Golden Age.

This gives me time to research and post the first ever list of the UK’s most linked weblogs. Surprisingly, only four blogs from that first list (Plastic Bag, Blogjam, Rather Good and Interconnected) are still present in the most recently published Top 50.

July 2002.

The month starts with great excitement, as a technical fault with the then all-powerful Blogdex sees me sitting at Number Two on its listings for a day or so, earning myself my first major traffic spike. (Well, as major as traffic spikes ever got in those dim and distant pioneering days.) Oh, it was all about the Blogdex and the Daypop back then. Technorati? Wassthatthen?

(Traffic spikes? Popularity charts? How soon was that early innocence corrupted?)

The Stations Of The Diva series starts: another set of autobiographical posts, based around the various addresses I have lived in. Who knows, perhaps I’ll finish it one of these days?

To London, to watch Madonna upon the West End stage… followed by a chance encounter which ushers in a most unexpected temporary return to London hedonism, mid-1990s style.

The Guardian’s “Best British Weblog” competition is launched, with a deafening crash which splits the UK blogosphere in half. Honestly, you wouldn’t believe the kerfuffle which this caused – indeed, it was all that anyone could talk about for a few weeks. Myself included. Oh dear. I still blush a bit over that one.

Over at the Nottingham Arena, Neil Diamond rocks my world. Of all the gig reviews that I have written over the years, this one is probably still my favourite.

Daddy, what’s sex?

August 2002.

THAT London weekend. The one where I… where we… where they… nope, still can’t blog about it. Maybe I’ll blog about it in another five years’ time.


The following weekend, K and I spend a disillusioning night in a past-it “boutique” hotel (OK, it was the Hempel, and here’s my hatchet job), before heading off to Vietnam for two amazing, incredible, best-holiday-ever weeks. Troubled Diva duly takes its first hiatus, before returning with a detailed day-by-day diary of the Vietnamese experience.


The day before we depart, a chance meeting at a cricket match inspires K to start his next business venture. Nevertheless, it will still be over a year before he is in a position to make his move…

Post titles are introduced, in dinky little title boxes, thus bringing to an end the quickfire, hit-and-run, linky-love, one-or-two-line posts which used to be such a major feature of this, and of so many other blogs. The tide, it was a-turning…

The site acquires its first RSS feed, making it a relative early adopter – and the Mozilla browser is tinkered with for the first time (we hadn’t yet started calling it Firefox).

September 2002.

The long-defunct Isabella’s Teddy blog points out my alarming facial similarity to… erm, yes.

Oh God, Stylistic Tic Eradication Week. The era of the scary-bonkers blog stunt had just commenced…

The mammoth 100 things about 100 bloggers which also apply to this blogger series gets underway.

In the name of experimentation, I write a lengthy gig review whilst four pints the worse for wear. It turns out to be really rather articulate.


The Guardian “Best British Weblog” competition conspicuously fails to shower me with glory.

October 2002.

The infamous – and bafflingly popular, considering a) how much it makes me cringe to this day and b) how often people still refer to it, in strangely wistful “ah, them were the days” tones – Shirt Off My Back Project gets underway…


(I’m wearing this one today, as it happens.)
…and as if this wasn’t enough, the Nottingham, My Nottingham series is launched. Wow, I really did have a LOT of spare time on my hands back then…

First mobile phone purchase, unwillingly made. Four years later, and I’m still using the same handset. Well, if it works, right?


My first full year of blogging ends with a wild, wild, wild (but also rather upsetting) weekend in London. In the midst of the maelstrom, I sneak off for a couple of hours’ relative normality, at Sashinka’s party

Yes, I know full well that you don’t come here for the music stuff…

…but I need to archive these reviews somewhere, and here’s as good a place as any. These all appeared in t’local paper in the last couple of weeks – but either they never made it to the website, or else they were only published in a heavily edited state.

The Automatic / Mumm-Ra – Nottingham Trent University, Wednesday October 18.

With the sold out NME Rock’n’Roll Riot Tour lined up for tomorrow, and The Divine Comedy scheduled for November, Nottingham Trent is clearly serious about re-establishing its Shakespeare Street building as a venue for “name” acts. After a gap of over a decade, this is welcome news, as the hall lends itself superbly to live music. The stage has been shifted onto the long wall, allowing the crowd to spread itself out, visibility is excellent, and the acoustics are spot-on.

None of this was enough to lift Mumm-Ra’s support set out of competent mediocrity. The band cut their teeth with two-hour experimental Krautrock jam sessions in village halls – but such experimentalism is long gone, replaced by the sort of tame orthodoxy which has characterised far too many of this year’s bands. They need to get their Krautrock back, and fast.

Thankfully, The Automatic took the evening to a new level, aided by excellent lighting from the impressive rig, and an inventive series of brain-scrambling animations on the cinema-sized screen behind them, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Super Furry Animals last came to town.

It would have been understandable if they had been weighed down by Monster, their ubiquitous mega-hit of the summer. (Indeed, it was cheekily introduced as a “Status Quo cover version”.) However, a tight, energetic, confident set showed that the band have stepped up to the mark admirably, and are already at ease in larger venues.

An unexpected highlight was a cover of Kanye West’s Gold Digger, which had the irrepressible keyboardist Alex Pennie rapping over vocalist Rob Hawkins’ flute, in a kind of hip hop/Jethro Tull soundclash (ask your Dad).

If straight-up, student-friendly, NME-approved guitar rock has begun to bore you, then The Automatic are the hugely enjoyable exception to the rule.

Duke Special – Songs from the Deep Forest. (V2)

When first encountering Duke Special – the stage name of Peter Wilson, an outlandishly dreadlocked singer, songwriter and pianist from Belfast – the inevitable first point of reference has to be Rufus Wainwright. Not only do both singers use similar phrasing (complete with that same slightly nasal quality), but they also share a certain theatricality, with deft orchestral arrangements and stylistic nods to Gershwin, Weill and vaudeville traditions.

What sets Wilson apart from Wainwright – aside from his pronounced Irish brogue – is a lighter, warmer, more straightforward approach to his songwriting. There’s little arch, artsy self-consciousness to be found in these instantly accessible melodies – alternately rousing and reassuring – which engulf the listener in a kind of genial bear-hug. For despite a certain wounded quality here and there, the aim of Wilson’s songs – like those on the new Badly Drawn Boy album – is to tell you that everything is ultimately going to be okay. In his own words: “I want to capture something that sounds like Christmas smoking through an old wooden radio.”

Sean Lennon – Friendly Fire. (Capitol)

When you consider how much mileage could have been extracted from his family connections, it is to Sean Lennon’s credit that he has followed a more low-key, unassuming career path. Indeed, this is only the 31 year old’s second album, and his first in eight years.

Unlike its more stylistically adventurous predecessor, Friendly Fire sees a move towards more conventional song structures. The overall mood of these ten mid-tempo love songs is gently plaintive, as a resigned Lennon sighs over the loss of his girlfriend, and the betrayal of the friend who snatched her away.

Perhaps this would have been an angrier album, were it not for the real-life fate of the friend in question, who died in a motorcycle accident shortly after Lennon penned the vengeful opening track, Dead Meat. Consequently, most of the album is drenched with a regretful melancholy, which – despite some attractive arrangements from Jon Brion – becomes increasingly monotonous.

None of this is helped by Lennon’s puny, strained, curiously inexpressive vocals, which – like the album in general – are a pale shadow of his father’s grit and passion.

The Datsuns – Smoke & Mirrors. (V2)

Stand by your bass-bins: it’s the Battle of the Retro Rockers! With those flash-in-the-pan upstarts The Darkness already a fading memory, there are only two serious contenders left standing. Representing Australia, it’s Jet, with their newly released second album. And in the New Zealand corner, plucky underdogs The Datsuns are trying to claw back lost ground with their third, self-produced effort.

Jet may have the cheekbones, the column inches – and, well, the sales – but at least The Datsuns have a comparative maturity, and a deeper commitment to the core values of head-banging, hard rifffing, Jack Daniels swigging, Led Zep ripping, Good Time Rock And Roll. Unlike Jet, there are no sappy Beatles-esque “sensitive” ballads to be found here. Perish the thought!

Instead, this is a swaggering, stomping, merciless assault, with hefty dollops of slide guitar and swampy Southern boogie thrown into the usual hard rock stew. You will search in vain for subtlety, substance, originality, or indeed any sense of musical history much beyond 1975 – but if tunnel vision’s your thing, then Smoke & Mirrors will serve you well.

Bugz In The Attic – Rescue Rooms, Monday September 25.

This multi-racial seven-piece collective from West London specialises in something called “broken beat”. If you thought this was an esoteric sub-genre, of interest only to serious-minded chin-strokers, then think again: there is nothing “broken” about this good-natured, accessible and thoroughly likeable music, which mixes the best elements of funk, soul and electronica into an infectious brew which deserves a wider audience than the clued-up Gilles Peterson crowd from which it originates.

Now promoting their long overdue debut album Back In The Doghouse, the band are finally taking their live show to the rest of the country. After a competent but lukewarm start, heavy on the groove but light on actual songcraft, things clicked into place from the fourth number onwards.

Despite the large number of people onstage, the music was mainly generated from three keyboardists and a live drummer. In the back corner, the band’s resident DJ had the cushiest job. Never touching his decks, he contented himself with occasional light percussion duties. Nice work if you can get it.

The Bugz belong to that fine tradition of eclectic home-grown funk which stretches back from Basement Jaxx to the Brand New Heavies and Soul II Soul. Some of their most effective material evoked classic early 1980s acts such as Shalamar and Evelyn King. Their powerful re-working of Don’t Stop The Music ignited the crowd, as did all the material which is currently showcased on their Myspace page – an increasingly common phenomenon.

An encore of Sounds Like turned into a celebratory extended jam, with three band members attacking the drumkit, as the DJ cheekily lapped up the applause from centre stage. With Basement Jaxx beginning to falter, and the reformed Brand New Heavies desperately trying to claw back lost ground, the opportunity for the Bugz to break through is wide open.

Coming soon: New album releases from Isobel Campbell (a respectful shrug) and George Michael’s latest “greatest hits” collection (a well-deserved kicking).

Not coming in a month of Sundays: My wince-makingly corny David Essex gig review. There’s “respecting your target readership” by not being a sneery snobby show-off… and then there’s stepping over the line, into full-blooded Light Entertainment cheese. (“The enduringly fantastic Gonna Make You A Star sent us home smiling.” Aaargh! My soul, my soul!)

This week’s extra-curricular schedule.

Monday. Book holiday for late November. Gig: The Long Blondes at the Rescue Rooms.

Tuesday. Album reviews: Isobel Campbell and Duke Special.

Wednesday. Gig: The Automatic and Mumm-Ra, Trent University.

Thursday. A drinks do in London.

Friday. London art gallery crawl. Gig: Camera Obscura, The Social.

Something tells me that blogging might be quite light this week. Advance apologies.

Conkers bonkers!

It’s a strange omission, considering that there was a huge horse chestnut tree in our garden when I was growing up – but until tonight, I had never played a game of conkers. For me, it was always a spectator sport: something which I enjoyed watching in the school playground at this time of year – but, well, it was a sport, wasn’t it? I never was a one for sport, no matter how loose the definition.

Oh, I used to gather conkers, and jealously hide them in little stashes in the garden where the village kids couldn’t find them (they were always breaking and entering, and it made me slightly cross), but I never knew what to do with them once they were gathered. It involved sharp objects, you see – tools, most probably – and I wasn’t much of a one for tools, either. It was a “get a grown-up to help you” scenario, and I didn’t quite like to ask.

So when the subject came up this evening, I suddenly found myself possessed of a strong desire to right this great historical wrong. “Let’s go and get some now!”, I urged a somewhat puzzled looking K, in an all too rare attack of mid-evening spontaneity.

Off we went, peering our way down the gas-lit crescent unti we found a stash, just beyond the first crossroads to the right of the house. Well, until K found a stash, his conker-gathering instincts being more sharply honed than mine.

Back in the kitchen, I let K do the manly stuff with a meat skewer and some lengths of string.

“Hey, we could video our match and put it on YouTube!”, I chirped, eagerly.

“I am NOT playing conkers on the world wide web”, he retorted, crisply.

K gave me first dibs on choosing my conker. I went for the small shrivelled gnarly one, as I remembered that the large glossy ones were always the first to fall apart.

I was then given instructions on technique: instructions which I found quite baffling.

“No, you’re assuming knowledge”, I huffed. “You’ve got to take it from first principles. So I hold it like… no… well, WHAT then? Like that? But how’s that going to… well, you show me first, then I’ll copy you.”

K’s first shots were of a terrifying physical force. I never knew he was so butch. “You’ll have somebody’s eyes out! Is it safe? Shouldn’t I be wearing protective clothing? A rubber armband or something?”

As it turned out, I did need protection. For every shot which hit – or rather, gently tapped – at K’s conker, there were two or three more which missed it entirely, sending my conker smashing into my wrist.

“Look, I’m bruising. This is a vicious sport! Why was it never banned? OK, I’m getting a tea-towel and wrapping it round my… stop LAUGHING, will you!”

My only saving grace was the impermeable hardness of my chosen conker. No matter how hard K smashed into it, he couldn’t force so much as a hairline fissure. Eventually, his own conker started to crumble.

“Look, you’re winning”, he smiled, indulgently.

“Oh, don’t give me that. Are you deliberately cheating to let me win, like my grandmother used to do when we played cards?”

Ten minutes and dozens of queeny yelps later, K’s conker had flaked all over the kitchen floor.

“You’ve got a one-er there, Mike. If you win again, it will be a two-er.”

But the fight had gone out of me. This was just further confirmation, if any were needed, that I’m just not cut out for one-to-one combat.

Conkers, pah. ‘S for kids innit?

Nursing our wounds, we padded off to watch telly.

My favourite albums of the 1970s.

Hooray, it’s another lists-in-lieu-of-content, let’s-create-arbitrary-order-from-randomness-because-it-feels-good post!

I’ve weighted these lists as even-handedly as possible between objective and subjective considerations, and between “loved them at the time” and “didn’t discover them until later in life”. However, they’re basically subjective lists, because who wants to read some boring would-be tablets of stone anyway? We’ve got Q magazine for that!

Each list goes down until it feels right to stop, i.e. when some notional threshold of quality is reached. There’s no point in padding things out with crap to get to a nice round number, is there?

Some of these albums are compilations, which I have included (or indeed excluded) for all sorts of highly complicated and very boring personal reasons. If their presence offends you, then please delete and re-number accordingly.

OK, let’s tabulate!


1. Metal Box – Public Image Ltd
2. The Undertones – The Undertones
3. Off The Wall – Michael Jackson
4. Singles Going Steady – Buzzcocks
5. London Calling – The Clash
6. Broken English – Marianne Faithfull
7. Armed Forces – Elvis Costello
8. Fear Of Music – Talking Heads
9. Three Imaginary Boys – The Cure
10. Do It Yourself – Ian Dury
11. Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division
12. The Specials – The Specials
13. Eat To The Beat – Blondie
14. The Roches – The Roches
15. The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle – Sex Pistols
16. Setting Sons – The Jam


1. This Year’s Model – Elvis Costello
2. Music For 18 Musicians – Steve Reich
3. The Modern Dance – Pere Ubu
4. Parallel Lines – Blondie
5. The Scream – Siouxsie and the Banshees
6. Ambient 1: Music for Airports – Brian Eno
7. Another Music in a Different Kitchen – Buzzcocks
8. More Songs About Buildings and Food – Talking Heads
9. C’est Chic – Chic
10. Germfree Adolescents – X-Ray Spex
11. All Mod Cons – The Jam
12. Sir Henry at Rawlinson End – Viv Stanshall
13. Love Bites – Buzzcocks
14. Destiny – The Jacksons


1. Low – David Bowie
2. The Clash – The Clash
3. Aja – Steely Dan
4. New Boots & Panties – Ian Dury
5. Lust For Life – Iggy Pop
6. Leave Home – Ramones
7. Never Mind The Bollocks – Sex Pistols
8. Trans Europa Express – Kraftwerk
9. Live Etc – Gong
10. Zombie – Fela Kuti
11. Pink Flag – Wire
12. Saturday Night Fever (original soundtrack)
13. Rocket To Russia – Ramones
14. Rumours – Fleetwood Mac
15. Love You – The Beach Boys
16. Marquee Moon – Televison
17. Suicide – Suicide
18. One World – John Martyn
19. Damned Damned Damned – The Damned
20. Rock ‘N’ Roll With The Modern Lovers – Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers


1. Black & Blue – Rolling Stones
2. Rastaman Vibration – Bob Marley & The Wailers
3. Ramones – Ramones
4. Odd Ditties – Kevin Ayers
5. Songs In The Key Of Life – Stevie Wonder
6. Shamal – Gong
7. Music From The Penguin Cafe – Penguin Cafe Orchestra
8. Stupidity – Doctor Feelgood
9. Good Morning – Daevid Allen & Euterpe
10. Station To Station – David Bowie
11. Howlin’ Wind – Graham Parker & The Rumour
12. Olias Of Sunhillow – Jon Anderson
13. Hejira – Joni Mitchell
14. Desire – Bob Dylan
15. Yes We Have No Mananas, So Get Your Mananas Today – Kevin Ayers
16. Teenage Depression – Eddie & The Hot Rods
17. Heat Treatment – Graham Parker & The Rumour
18. Wind & Wuthering – Genesis


1. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
2. The Hissing Of Summer Lawns – Joni Mitchell
3. Live – Bob Marley & The Wailers
4. A Night At The Opera – Queen
5. Horses – Patti Smith
6. There’s No Place Like America Today – Curtis Mayfield
7. Venus And Mars – Wings
8. Ommadawn – Mike Oldfield
9. Zuma – Neil Young
10. Indiscreet – Sparks
11. The Rotters’ Club – Hatfield & The North
12. Sweet Deceiver – Kevin Ayers
13. 24 Carat Purple – Deep Purple
14. Discreet Music – Brian Eno
15. Young Americans – David Bowie
16. Lady June’s Linguistic Leprosy – Lady June
17. Ricochet – Tangerine Dream
18. V – Various Artists (Virgin sampler)
19. Velvet Donkey – Ivor Cutler
20. The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table – Rick Wakeman


1. Inspiration Information – Shuggie Otis
2. Grievous Angel – Gram Parsons
3. Court & Spark – Joni Mitchell
4. Veedon Fleece – Van Morrison
5. Kimono My House – Sparks
6. Feats Don’t Fail Me Now – Little Feat
7. Queen II – Queen
8. Autobahn – Kraftwerk
9. Diamond Dogs – David Bowie
10. Waterloo – Abba
11. The Hoople – Mott The Hoople
12. The Psychomodo – Cockney Rebel
13. Fulfillingness’ First Finale – Stevie Wonder
14. Natty Dread – Bob Marley & The Wailers
15. Pretzel Logic – Steely Dan
16. Old New Borrowed and Blue – Slade
17. Propaganda – Sparks
18. The Confessions of Doctor Dream and Other Stories – Kevin Ayers
19. Before The Flood – Bob Dylan
20. Tales from Topographic Oceans – Yes
21. You – Gong
22. June 1, 1974 – Ayers/Cale/Nico/Eno
23. Caught Up – Millie Jackson
24. Sheer Heart Attack – Queen
25. Now We Are Six – Steeleye Span
26. Relayer – Yes
27. Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Rick Wakeman


1. The Dark Side Of The Moon – Pink Floyd
2. Innervisions – Stevie Wonder
3. Selling England By The Pound – Genesis
4. Call Me – Al Green
5. Bananamour – Kevin Ayers
6. Solid Air – John Martyn
7. Angel’s Egg – Gong
8. The Singles 1969-1973 – The Carpenters
9. Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye
10. Flying Teapot – Gong
11. The Human Menagerie – Cockney Rebel
12. Tubular Bells – Mike Oldfield
13. Stranded – Roxy Music
14. Band On The Run – Wings
15. Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player – Elton John
16. Aladdin Sane – David Bowie
17. Sladest – Slade
18. The Plan – The Osmonds
19. Matching Tie and Handkerchief – Monty Python
20. GP – Gram Parsons
21. Masterpiece – The Temptations


1. Close To The Edge – Yes
2. Whatevershebringswesing – Kevin Ayers
3. Ege Bamyasi – Can
4. Talking Book – Stevie Wonder
5. Transformer – Lou Reed
6. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars – David Bowie
7. Saint Dominic’s Preview – Van Morrison
8. Clear Spot – Captain Beefheart
9. Foxtrot – Genesis
10. Individually & Collectively – Steeleye Span
11. Harvest – Neil Young
12. Below The Salt – Steeleye Span


1. Camembert Electrique – Gong
2. Hunky Dory – David Bowie
3. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
4. Fragile – Yes
5. Tapestry – Carole King
6. Blue – Joni Mitchell
7. There’s A Riot Goin’ On – Sly & the Family Stone
8. Mythical Kings And Iguanas – Dory Previn
9. The Yes Album – Yes
10. Tupelo Honey – Van Morrison
11. Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy – The Who
12. Meddle – Pink Floyd
13. Led Zeppelin IV – Led Zeppelin
14. Bananamoon – Daevid Allen


1. Shooting At The Moon – Kevin Ayers & the Whole World
2. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel
3. Moondance – Van Morrison
4. Greatest Hits – Sly & the Family Stone
5. Andy Williams’ Greatest Hits – Andy Williams
6. Atom Heart Mother – Pink Floyd
7. After The Goldrush – Neil Young

Over to you. What other 1970s album should I have included? Tell me in the comments, please…

So, Mike, what are you listening to these days?

Final update: Tuesday late night.

A few days ago, I said this in the comments:

Strange as it may seem, I’m not listening to much recorded music at present. The iPod is bust, and I’m seeing a lot of live music right now (how else does one get to listen to analog?), and spare time is often spent researching the acts I’m reviewing. Plus I’m going through a phase of enjoying silence – which is a bit like when Iggy Pop went sober, explaining that it was the one thing left that he’d never tried…

Of course, these things are comparative; by most normal people’s standards, I’m still devouring new music by the crateful. With that in mind, let us take a random peek into my current crate (actually an orange shoebox, which follows me from Nottingham to Derbyshire and back), and see what we can find.

Note 1: None of what follows is ordered by personal preference. These are merely the CDs which got picked out of the crate first.

Note 2: Artist links are to Myspace pages, wherever possible. This will generally allow you to sample a few tracks off each of the albums. If there’s no Myspace page, then the link will take you to YouTube instead.

Note 3: I’ll gradually be adding albums to the end of this post, as I get the time to write about them.

wayl01The Chronicles Of A Bohemian Teenager – Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.

When given this on promo a couple of months ago, I dismissed it almost on first sight. (“Well, that’s the last we’ll be hearing from him.”) Which shows you how much I know, as this has since hit the UK Top 40 album charts, and a blown-up version of the sleeve is currently on prominent display in the window of our local Virgin Megastore. How did this happen? And why was I not consulted? It’s Ray LaMontagne all over again!

A couple of hasty “actually I’ve been into him for ages actually” replays later, and I can sort-of see why Young Master Cape (for he is in fact a solo act) is doing so well. This is articulate, spikily engaged acoustic singer-songwriter stuff, beefed up from time to time with more contemporary sonic flourishes. Capey’s extreme youth is highly evident; there’s a pronounced precocious streak, which makes me think of the sort of earnest young people who sit up until 4 in the morning round the kitchen table in their shared house, debating the meaning of life. Hey, most of us go through that stage; I’m not knocking it. But this wears its cleverness a little too self-consciously; sometimes it attempts to deconstruct itself as it goes along, which can be an amusing trick, but it’s a bit played out for me.

However, it’s the vocals which are my main stumbling block. The Capester has a decent enough voice, but he does have a habit of over-singing most of his lines, in a guttural, throaty, veins-throbbing-on-reddened-temples style which isn’t necessarily called for in the lyrics. This gets increasingly jarring as time goes on, especially as it isn’t underpinned by much in the way of emotional range.

I’m nit-picking, though. I suspect that quite a few of the people who read me, but who skim-read through the music bits, will find plenty to enjoy here.

wayl02Writer’s Block – Peter Bjorn And John.

Containing as it does the fantastic “Young Folks“, one of my favourite singles of the year thus far, it was inevitable that the rest of the album would be a slight disappointment. However, having absorbed that disappointment, I find myself warming to this with every repeated play (usually very late at night, when my objective critical faculties are not necessarily at their most acute). There’s something sincere and tender-hearted at work here, which sneaks up on you from behind – and if you can get past the indie dirge of the opening track, there are also some fine tunes. Gorgeous packaging and all.

(Related aside: I recently read someone complaining about the current rash of decent albums with scrappy, off-putting opening tracks, and it’s an observation with which I have some sympathy.)

wayl03Smoke & Mirrors – The Datsuns.

Another promo, for review purposes; this isn’t released for another week, which gives me a couple of days’ grace to form a considered opinion about it. I used to like The Datsuns quite a lot; their debut album got played quite heavily, and they were excellent on the NME package tour in early 2003, when they headlined over Interpol, The Thrills and the Polyphonic Spree. But then the second album got poor reviews, and my personal tastes started wandering off in a less rocky direction, and so our paths diverged – only to re-merge a couple of days ago, leaving me looking at the band as one might at a dimly remembered crush/shaggee, struggling to remember what the attraction was in the first place. I’m rusty at this “New Rock Revolution” (as the NME called it at the time) stuff, with its nods to AC/DC and Led Zep – but I can sort-of grasp what’s going on here, and that when it rocks hardest, it rocks best. And it’s a damn sight better than Jet, that much I can tell you.

wayl04Walk With Me – Jamelia.

I like Jamelia on principle, and I like the strain of British R&B pop which she represents. (“Superstar”, “Thank You”, “See It In A Boy’s Eyes” – what a great run of singles that was.) First impressions of this are good, and I like the breadth of influences; The Stranglers (“Golden Brown”) and Depeche Mode (“Personal Jesus”) are both sampled, and successfully so.


The Eraser – Thom Yorke.

After the let-down of Radiohead’s Hail To The Thief, I wasn’t going to bother with this one at all, until repeated listenings to “Harrodown Hill” made me change my mind. Personally, I think this is Yorke’s best work since Kid A – as long as you can accept the incessant whining, that is.

(Feeling nervous at a party a few years ago, I once found myself trying to describe Yorke’s vocal style as “I want a toffee apple”. The puzzled looks can still make me wince to this day. That’s actually, physically, wince. I’m not talking figuratively.)

Once the whining has been absorbed and compartmentalised, the other elements in the music can start to take effect, such as the skittering funkiness of the electronics, and the intricate syncopated tickle of the rhythm tracks. This is great Saturday morning hangover music, ideal for scratching the itches of a gently fuzzed over brain. Best dressed album sleeve of the year, as well. (I am old enough to remember when music magazines still had “best dressed album sleeve” categories in their annual Readers’ Polls. Roger Dean must surely lament their passing.)

wayl06Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor – Lupe Fiasco.

You know what I was saying about being alienated by 90% of current commercial hip-hop? Well, this belongs with the other 10%, in the bag marked (albeit by snarkier souls than I) “Hip-Hop For People Who Don’t Like Hip-Hop”. Move over, Outkast and Kanye West! There’s a new “conscious”, “thoughtful” rapper in town!

wayl07Friendly Fire – Sean Lennon.

His first release in eight years, and a move away from typically 1990s Beck/Beastie Boys eclecticism, towards a more conventional songwriting style. Ace arranger and soundtrack artist Jon Brion has been drafted into the project, but not even his skills are enough to save this unsurprisingly under-par bunch of mid-tempo, moderately earnest, mildly woeful, totally forgettable scraps of well-intentioned but hopelessly unfocussed nothingnesses, which merely come across as the disengaged doodlings of someone who has never really needed to struggle. OK, so it’s easy to project that kind of easy criticism on the poor chap, who is never going to be able to escape the weight of his parental legacy – but Lennon Junior’s reedy, weedy dilution of his father’s singing voice doesn’t exactly help you to place much useful distance between the two.

Update: OK, so there’s a good deal more substance to it than that: the album documents the real-life disintegration of a love affair, as Lennon loses his girlfriend to one of his best mates. However, the burgeoning vengefulness (“You’re gonna get what you deserve”) of the opening song “Dead Meat” is nipped in the bud, as the close friend is promptly killed in a motorcycle accident a week after the song is written about him. (Um, instant karma anyone?) What follows is an exercise in muted, melancholy regret, with the mild-mannered, self-effacing Lennon unable to give vent to darker, wilder emotions. However, neither the songwriting nor the vocal performance are strong enough to sustain the concept. The Marc Bolan cover “Would I Be The One” almost cracks the veneer towards the end, but it’s still too little, too late.

wayl08Someone To Drive You Home – The Long Blondes.

I’ve had half an eye on this Sheffield band ever since a sharp-antennaed pal in the biz tipped them for future success, around 18 months ago. Last year’s limited release single “Appropriation (By Any Other Means)” was fantastic, all the “right” people have been raving about them, they sound great on paper… but this, on the strength of just two listens, comes as something of a let-down. I’m surprised that Pulp’s Steve Mackey was involved with the production, as it’s the production which intially disappoints: it’s too generically indie-dour, and could have used some added studio zing and sparkle. Also, where has all the promised art-school wit and sassiness gone? Basically, I was expecting Blondie but I got Sleeper instead. (K’s comment: “I don’t see the point in this album”.)

I might yet be wrong, though. If it turns out that I am, then I’ll be back here with a more positive update.

wayl09Ege Bamyasi – Can. (1972)

“What’s that you’re playing?”, I asked K on Friday night, after he had picked me up from the office (a rare, serendipitous treat).

“Aha! You don’t know it, do you?”

“But you don’t buy rock… go on, who is it?”

Several guesses and several huge hints later, I settled on Can. K’s musical tastes are a frequent source of surprise to me. Just as I think I have him pegged, he shifts the goalposts. There was the Northumbrian Folk phase of a few months ago (Rachel Unthank, Kathryn Tickell), and then the unexpected surge of enthusiasm for the Young Knives: the first guitar band since the Arctic Monkeys in which K has expressed anything other than bored disdain.

As there has long been a massive Can-shaped gap in my musical knowledge, this is a welcome arrival. What strikes me first of all is how little the music sounds rooted in the early 1970s. It stands outside of time, ahead of its time: timeless. It’s also more physical, less esoteric – funkier – than I was expecting. I want to hear Tago Mago next. And then a bit of Neu.

wayl10Boulevard De L’Independance – Toumani Diabate’s Symmetric Orchestra.

Recorded at the same time as Ali Farka Toure’s Savane, in a mobile studio at the Hotel Bamako, on the banks of the River Niger in Mali, I envision this lot as manning the night-shift, while Ali Farka’s crew worked the day-shift. In this day vs. night respect, the two albums complement each other well. This is kora-led West African dance music, upbeat and richly arranged, and a departure from the unadorned contemplative stuff with which I have always associated Diabate before now.

Incidentally, BBC4 are currently repeating The African Rock And Roll Years, which opened last week with a look at Mali and Senegal. Acts included Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal, Orchestra Baobab, a surprisingly campy Salif Keita, and indeed Toumani Diabate. The next show airs on Wednesday October 11 at 7pm, and will be looking at the development of South African music during the apartheid years. Highly recommended, particularly if you don’t know much about African music and would like a comprehensive crash course.

wayl11Milkwhite Sheets – Isobel Campbell.

Another promo; this doesn’t come out until October 23rd. Considering that Isobel Campbell must still be basking in the critical and commercial glow of her recent Mercury Music Prize nomination (for her album of duets with Mark Lanegan), then this is a brave move indeed. These are stripped down Old English folk songs, many of them re-arrangements of traditional numbers, and most with dark/gloomy/morbid undertones. (I want to say “noir”, but I’m not quite that pretentious.) Campbell’s high, frail, fractured voice combines oddly with the genre. On the one hand, I feel she’s over-reaching herself technically; hers is a rough indie voice, not a trained folk voice. On the other hand, maybe that’s the whole point. I suspect that the 4AD/Dead Can Dance art-goth brigade will warm to this one, even if it is destined not to be a major commercial breakthrough.

And here’s the rest of the current crate, with pithy capsule reviewlets.

Voices Of Animals And Men – Young Knives.

Straight-up, concise, snappy, choppy, song-based mainstream indie, with enough interesting ideas to set it apart. The best of its kind since the Arctic Monkeys?

I Cry Demolition! – Punish The Atom.

A local band who have just split up. This was shoved into my hand outside The Social last week, by one of the former band members. (Either he had a load of spare copies to shift, or else he mistook me for a man of influence.) Noisy post-post-post-punk. Usual influences, but decent enough.

Through The Windowpane – Guillemots.

I have tried, and I have failed. They should work on paper, but they don’t in practice. Too clever-clever, lacks focus, and I really don’t like the harshly abrasive widescreen-epic bits.

Ta-Dah – Scissor Sisters.

Now that the initial “Woo, I’ve got a promo!” excitement has subsided (I need to watch out for that in future), I find myself undecided. (Ooh, Track 3!) I miss the electro-disco, my tolerance level for vaudeville is low – but I have no issue with the 1970s AOR-pop influences. Part of me says the songs aren’t strong enough – but when half the songs have turned into unshakeable earworms, I have to question that.

Back In The Doghouse – Bugz In The Attic.

Like a funkier, mellower Basement Jaxx, with added 1980s soul/funk influences. A good getting-ready-to-go-out album, and also a good all-back-to-mine album. In other words, it sets an “up” mood, without really standing up to close scrutiny (as the grooves have a habit of overpowering the songs). The new single, a fun re-working of Yarborough & Peoples’ “Don’t Stop The Music”, may raise their profile considerably.

Desire – Bob Dylan. (1976)

K’s other surprise Friday purchase (“I’m a twenty-three quid bloke!”), and the only Dylan studio album I’ve ever liked. (The mid-1970s live set Before The Flood also has nostalgic attractions.) The driving fiddle on “Hurricane”, the carefree syncopation of “Mozambique”, the melodic loveliness of “Sara” – it’s as good-time as Dylan ever gets (at least in my shallow, can’t-be-arsed-to-follow-the-lyrics understanding of the man), and hence it’s the only Dylan for me.

Let’s Get Out Of This Country – Camera Obscura.

Nice tuneful Glaswegian indie-pop, from a bunch of self-evidently pleasant and well-adjusted nice young people. Which sounds horribly damning-with-faint-praise snarky, except… well, it actually works very well, with a beguiling warmth and heart to it. A few people from the Peter Bjorn & John album are also involved with this one, and the two pieces of work are a good match for each other.

CSS – Cansei De Ser Sexy.

OK, so it’s something of a shambling mess, from a bunch of Brazilian art-school pranksters who could barely play their instruments when they formed the band – but there’s a rough, good-natured charm to it, and a sense that personal limits are being pushed. Contains another of my favourite singles of the year: “Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above”.

The Warning – Hot Chip.

Having originally dismissed it out of hand as ugly, noisy, jarring and all over the place – and hence not a patch on the languid, low-fi, beer-and-smokes-on-a-summer-afteroon charms of their previous album – I am coming to accept that this might well be this year’s slowest grower. “Over And Over” has just been re-released as a single, and I suspect that it’s going to do rather better this time around.

Real Life – Joan As Policewoman.

Look, you just need to buy this, OK? It’s going to be neck-and-neck between Joanie and Ali Farka Toure at end-of-the-year list-making time, that much I do know.

Son – Juana Molina.

Tenderly strummed Argentinian folksiness, underpinned by lightly dissonant electronics. Haunting and atmospheric. Quiet unhurried mornings, and lonesome late nights in.

We Are The Pipettes – The Pipettes.

Some cool retro-girl-group singles, but too shrill and wacky over an entire album, like eating a bag of sickly sweeties all in one go. Also, a bit too Brighton for me, if you know what I mean. (You don’t, do you? Well, never you mind.)

Stadium Arcadium – Red Hot Chili Peppers.

By The Way was my guilty pleasure, but this sprawling monstrosity of a double album kills its memory stone dead. UGH. WHAT WAS I THINKING? Also boasts the ugliest album sleeve in living memory, which doesn’t help.

Old New Borrowed And Blue – Slade. (1974)

A re-mastered re-issue, and a joyous reunion with an album I loved and lost many years ago. There was always more to Slade than “Skweeze Me Pleeze Me” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”, and this shows them starting to get it back, after nearly losing their way to reductive formula. (Of course, the hits didn’t last much longer either, but theirs was a graceful, dignified fading away.)

Norman Jay MBE presents Good Times 6.

(Ooh, get him with his “MBE”, yes yes, great honour and all that, but there’s no need to flaunt it quite so brazenly.)

The appearance of the latest Good Times set every August, just ahead of the Notting Hill Carnival, is becoming one of the (cliché alert but it’s LATE and I want BED) highlights of the musical calendar (SORRYSORRYSORRY). I could have lived without “Rock The Casbah” and “The Israelites” yet again, but the likes of Lena Horne’s “Maybe I’m Amazed”, Pentangle’s “Light Flight” and Chris Montez’s “The More I See You” at the start of CD2 more than compensate.

1000 Years of Popular Music / Front Parlour Ballads – Richard Thompson.

My K’s on a Thommo kick right now – which surprises me (again), but when he’s happy, I’m happy. WHAT a guitarist that man is.

White Bread Black Beer – Scritti Politti.

Ooh! I forgot I had this! Much better than I thought it was going to be. Can I go to bed yet?

Show Me How The Sceptres Dance – Liam Frost & The Slowdown Family.

I haughtily ignored this on promo, but Hg tells me I should give it another chance, so I will. Right, that’s it. BED.

We now return you to your regular programming.

Membrillo, cottage style.

If you still haven’t decided what to do with your crop of quinces this year (and God knows, we’ve agonised), then help is at hand! K and I are here to tell you how to convert your quinces into “membrillo”: a delicious paste, which can be enjoyed with cold meats and cheeses.

K says that you’ll need to set aside about an hour for the main work – but I think you’ll need a little longer than that, as we got all the way through Joe.My.God’s “morning music” playlist, and the first half of the Bugz In The Attic album.

You will need: quinces, caster sugar, cinnamon sticks (optional).

1. First, gather your quinces. You can safely discard the tiny knobbly runty yellow ones; they’re neither use nor ornament.

2. As quince-washing is too dreary a task for the likes of you or me to contemplate, why not get a well-meaning visitor or house-guest to “volunteer” for you? They’ll feel so much more useful, and you get to do something more interesting in the meantime! Do make sure they give them a good hearty scrub, though: the object of the exercise is to remove the downy furriness from the skins.

3. Chop your quinces coarsely, aiming for around eight chunks per normal-sized quince. You don’t need to peel them or core them, but it’s as well to remove their seeds as you chop. Don’t stress up about removing all the seeds, though – just prise out what you can easily manage.

They look gorgeous, don’t they? Go on, have a sniff. But no nibbling just yet, as your raw quince is to all intents and purposes inedible. That’s why we’re making membrillo!

4. Place your chopped quinces in a pan, cover them with boiling water, place the uncovered pan onto your Aga’s simmering plate, and leave the fruit simmering until it softens. In our case, this took around 15 minutes.

5. Drain the softened fruit, and pass it through your mouli. (For the mouli-deprived, a simple sieve will do the job – but expect to use plenty of elbow grease.) A nice smooth purée will emerge on the other side, looking a little bit like apple sauce.

6. Weigh the resultant purée, and add an equivalent weight of caster sugar. K always sets aside a jar of caster sugar mixed with vanilla sticks, in case of spontaneous initiatives like this – but between you and me, the vanilla doesn’t really add anything to the flavour.

7. Stir in the sugar, so that it dissolves into the purée. At this point, you may be permitted your first taste of the membrillo-in-the-making. Good, isn’t it? Yes, tangy. We thought that.

8. If you really want to – and having tasted it, we decided we didn’t – you may also add freshly squeezed lemon juice at this point. But come on, the quinces are bitter enough as they are, surely? Let our cuisine never be over-ornamented.

9. Return the sweetened purée to a clean saucepan. Add a cinnamon stick or two; for our 1.5 kg, we added 4 inches. However, this really isn’t mandatory; the cinnamon adds little of substance, although it’s nice to know it’s there. (A little foretaste of mulled wine, perhaps?)

10. Place the pan back on your simmering plate, and heat the mixture until it thickens and darkens. During the early gloppita-gloppita stages, not much stirring is required – but as the paste solidifies, you need to be stirring constantly in order to avoid sticking and burning. This took us 30 minutes, although the recipes suggested that it would be less.

11. During the final stages of thickening, move the pan over to the boiling plate for a little caramelisation.

12. Remove the cinnamon stick (or sticks) (optional). Turn the mixture out into a lightly buttered dish, and allow to cool and set for around two hours.

13. Your membrillo is now ready for dividing and storing. Cut it into thick slices, wrap them in clingfilm, and store them in an air-tight container. These will keep for anything up to a year.

14. You have just made one hell of a lot of membrillo – more than you could possibly get through in a year. So why not take some of the excess slices, wrap them in grease-proof paper, tie them up with raffia, place them in a basket, and distribute them amongst the needy? Charity begins at home!

The lip-smacking membrillo flavour is particularly well complemented by a mild Spanish cheese such as manchego fresco. It can also be spread on bread, like a jam. Alternatively, we recommend adding some membrillo to some pork chops, for a memorable supper-time treat. Or maybe you have some suggestions of your own? Go on, let your creativity run riot! The only limit is your imagination!

Alternative titles #3: What means more to me: Tony Blair’s Civil Partnership legislation or his Age Discrimination legislation?

(suggested by Chris, the cheeky mare)

If we’re to emphasise the “to me” part of the equation, then the Civil Partnership legislation has had, and will have, a much greater personal impact upon my life. This can be summed up in three decidedly unromantic words: no inheritance tax. Which sounds base and craven, but it does make a serious impact on the way we view our long-term futures.

However, although this was our primary reason for forming a civil partnership, I have been slightly suprised to discover that, over 21 years into our relationship, being civil-partnered does feel different. Not massively different, but subtly yet significantly different.

Firstly, there has been a slight re-alignment of intra-family relationships: a coming together of the two groups, and an increased level of recognition for our status as partners. I feel just that little bit more bedded down within the family structures, and that’s an agreeable, secure feeling.

Secondly, having a legally recognised status means never, ever, flinching even for a split second, no matter what the situation, in declaring our partnered status, and in referring to each other as partners. It’s the final shedding of the few remaining flakes of the underground/alternative sub-culture. From twilight to daylight, and all that.

As for the age discrimination legislation, it’s certainly true that ageism has long been rampant in the world of IT. On the other hand, we mainframe COBOL dinosaurs do tend to be of a certain age in the first place, so I can’t see myself being affected for the remainder of my time in the industry.

Would I ever have the nerve to launch a challenge under the new Act, though? Such cases must be difficult to prove, and I also worry about specious challenges from crafty chancers, playing the game for their own ends. I once witnessed a former colleague doing this in an analagous context, several years ago: playing on people’s fears of being seen to be discriminatory, and greeting his eventual victory with a suspiciously gleeful triumphalism. On the other hand, it’s irrational and intellectually dangerous to extrapolate a whole position from one incident, just because the incident happened closest to where you were.

All of this ties in neatly with the French comedy which we watched last night on DVD: Le Placard (The Closet), in which a mild-mannered accountant, when faced with redundancy, gets his job back by pretending to be gay, and hence the victim of homophobic discrimination. It wasn’t a deep film – quite the opposite, in fact – but it neatly satirised the new-found caution of those who once would have abused their power. And if that abuse of power is occasionally – very occasionally – to be exercised in the opposite direction, then maybe this is a small price to pay for redressing an altogether larger and more wounding iniquity.

Regarding regards.

Maybe this is a skewed observation, based on my own atypical experience – but since when did British office workers start feeling obliged to add “Regards” to the end of all their work-related e-mails? This seems to have happened quite suddenly, and I’m not entirely sure why, or how.

It can get a little wearing at times. Nowadays, if I don’t append “Regards” to every single message, no matter how brief – or “Best/Kind regards”, if the recipient has actually done something substantive for me – then I feel like the rudest person alive.

Even during a mad panic emergency, with urgent e-mails constantly bouncing back and forth, you’ll still find that nobody quite likes to be the first person to drop the word. If you were regarding them ten minutes ago, but you’re not regarding them now, then this implies some sort of deterioration in your relationship. Better to keep up the regards, rather than plough on regardless.

Inevitably, an increasing number of people are getting around the issue by adding “Regards” to their signature files – which only increases the utter vacuity of the exercise. Automated felicitations are worse than none at all, surely?

My working theory is that this all originates from working with people in mainland Europe, who have always tended to a greater formality in their e-mails. As this threatens to place the terseness of the Brits in an unflattering light, so we have adapted our language in order not to appear rude to Johnny Foreigner.

In some ways, this is a good thing. Terseness can be read as indifference, whereas politeness may be taken to indicate respect – and if we all feel respected by each other, then we’re more inclined to collaborate and co-operate.

But, really. All this mutual regarding is starting to get silly. Couldn’t we adopt an unwritten convention whereby, after say a couple of dozen “regards”, the individuals concerned could agree to drop them? This could be taken as indicative not of a lack of respect, but of a shift in the relationship towards a more relaxed, friendly level, similar to the way that the French might shift from vous to tu, or the Germans from Sie to Du.

Should we? Dare we? May we?

Kind regards,

Alternative titles #2: Where was I on this date? 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago.

(suggested by Alan)

10 years ago:

Ah, the joys of overnight emergency cover. It is now 3:48 in the morning, and my brain is just starting to fuzz over. Even we night owls have our limits. So let’s knock this one off, as a means of keeping my mental faculties ticking over.

October 1996. Living in the same house in Nottingham that we’re in now. Working for the council, supporting an absolute pile-of-bollox mainframe system which processed bus pass applications for school children. The job basically involved de-bolloxing the hideous cludge of spaghetti code that my predecessors had left for me, before swanning off to sexy jobs in the private sector. Hideously difficult, but strangely stimulating in a masochistic sort of way.

K had just left paid employment in order to start up his own company, and was working out of a shoebox with paper-thin walls. Exciting, pioneering times.

Making regular visits down to Trade, the legendary Sunday morning hardcore techno club in still-ungentrified Clerkenwell. Posting on the uk-motss mailing list, an e-mail discussion group for GLBT types (but mostly G), where I had acquired the nickname “Nice Mike”. Card-carrying urban queer conformist, with my Ben Shermans, 501s, biker boots and petrol blue zip-fronted padded nylon bomber jacket (oh, we all had them).

Records confirm that my Tune Of The Week was “You’re Gorgeous” by Baby Bird.

20 years ago:

Had just started working for the council as a junior programmer. Slightly fazed to discover that there were no actual computer terminals on our desks, just pencils and “coding sheets”, upon which we scribbled our COBOL source code, to be typed in by the data entry clerks. Actually getting computer access meant booking slots on a little sheet of paper. Jolly exciting when we got it, as well. A relaxed team, with a manager who secretly watched the horse racing on a little portable telly in his office.

Renting a rather poky little flat with K, just off Sherwood Rise. Despite the pokiness, we had tarted the place up with lashings of lacquered black ash furniture from Habitat, and named it the Matt Black Dreamhome, after an article in The Face magazine.

Big tune in the clubs: “Love Can’t Turn Around” by Farley Jackmaster Funk. We were very quick off the marks with our Chicago house music in Nottingham. Favourite home listening: Anita Baker’s Rapture. (Wonder whether it still holds up today?)

30 years ago:

Back at boarding school in Cambridge, for the start of the main O-level year, although I had already taken a couple early. Puberty in full flow, hormones running riot, and really bad acne breaking out all over my face (it took another four or five years to clear up). Still in love with the boy in the year below, with ardour undimmed after the long summer break. Father on the brink of announcing his impending marriage to my stepmother – wedding conducted on a weekday in term time – none of their respective offspring invited.

Sharing a study with two classmates during the day, but still sleeping in the dormitories. Enjoying the relative freedom and privacy, away from the junior common room. Leisure time, as at all boarding schools, revolved around brewing instant coffee, making toast, and playing albums. Just discovering punk – a musical paradigm shift which was to piss off my prog-loving study mates severely. Most played record, by miles and miles: the Live At The Marquee EP from Eddie & The Hot Rods. (At least we could all agree on that one.)

40 years ago:

Six months away from starting school, I am already learning to read, somehow managing to do this with the minimum of assistance. (How do children DO this?) I can still remember a rather doomed reading lesson with my mother, which I don’t think was ever repeated.

(Patiently) “Now Michael, what does this say?”

“They’re in a tent!” (Feeling a bit foolish for saying this as it can’t be correct, but it was my best guess.)

(Noticeably less patiently) “No darling, try again.”

The caption, below a picture of two children in a tent said “We are here”. How silly, I thought to myself. How is any child supposed to work that one out?

Instead, I bombarded everyone in sight with constant “What does that say?” questionings. Advertising billboards were major source material: “Go to work on an egg” (copy written by Salman Rushdie Fay Weldon, no less), “Beanz Meanz Heinz” (3/10 for spelling, see me after class), and “Heinz Souperday Heinz” (a bad pun for canned tomato soup, advertised by a little boy of my age in a tomato-red woolen jersey with buttons on the shoulders; my grandmother knitted me a copy, and I was thrilled).

I can still remember My First Book: Kitty And Rover. I particularly remember getting stuck on one page for several days:

It is a pretty ball.

Not knowing that the “e” was pronounced like “i”, as in “bin”, I was completely baffled. What sort of word was “pretty” (rhymes with “Betty”) anyway? My best guess was that it was a paté ball – a pleasingly surreal idea, if a little far-fetched, but we had recently been staying with my grandparents in Dorset, who packed us paté sandwiches for our picnics. My grandparents being quite posh, paté was pronounced “petty”. I didn’t know any different.

The “pretty” issue having been cleared up – I must have given in and asked someone – I raced through to the end of Kitty And Rover without further complication. On reaching the last page, I was ecstatic – I can still remember racing down the staircase and shouting “I CAN READ! I CAN READ!” to old Mrs. Barthorpe who was doing the cleaning in the hall, and I can still remember her smiling gummily back at me. (Dental care amongst the domestic classes still had some distance to travel.)

Phew. The end of the post, and also the end of my emergency overnight support – it’s now 5:21, and I think I’ve reached the jibbering, delirious stage. Can you tell?

God knows how this is going to read in the morning. Well, no matter.

Alternative titles #1: It’s better to want something and not have it than need something and not get it.

(suggested by Cliff)

Well, I suppose it is – simply because needing something is a more powerful urge than wanting something, right?

Let’s have a real life for-instance. As of right now, I want a beer, but I need a night off the booze. So, clearly, it would be better to deny myself the beer. (Whether I do or I don’t is quite another matter, obviously.)

Then again, let’s imagine that it was a Friday night instead of a Monday night. On a Friday night, as we all know, sobriety ceases to be a relevant consideration – meaning that I could crack on and enjoy the beer, without fretting about petty matters such as my long-term physical well-being. This is clearly the superior situation.

So, if I might be permitted to upgrade the original premise: it’s better to have and don’t need, than need and don’t have.

This philosophy lark’s a doddle, innit?

The pledge is met!

As promised a month ago, I have somehow managed to post to this blog at least once per day for the whole of September, thus averting the self-imposed sanction of renaming this site “Clapped Out Has Been”. Phew-wee, and yay me.

I also dimly recall promising that if successful, then I would post an inaugural vidcast. Well, a promise is a promise. Bear with me while I source the equipment, and all will be revealed. From the neck up, at least.

I now find myself wondering how many more days I can continue to post, without taking a break. Hmm, there’s a sweepstake in there somewhere. What do you reckon?

A status update on JP.

Last update: Wednesday afternoon. Updates will be sparser from now on, but I’ll append anything important to the end of this post if needs be.

For those that know him: my good pal and colleague JP arrived safely in Hong Kong on Saturday, and will remain in hospital there for at least the next couple of weeks, under close observation. His partner Big J is there with him, as is DT from our company. Here’s the address of the hospital.

To our considerable amusement, JP has made it into one of the Hangzhou newspapers (*), who somehow managed to “pap” him at the airport, being lifted onto the air ambulance in a stretcher. The accompanying article is, shall we say, something of a work of speculative fiction. As well as giving JP the wrong surname, it claims that he is a 29 year old (he’ll love that!) tourist, who was on a sightseeing bus at the time of the accident (he was knocked over on the street while leaving the office), and that he had a three hour operation (there was none) in the wrong hospital (he was transferred to another one almost immediately).

dB from the Hangzhou office, who has been giving me daily phone updates for the duration, and who has generally been doing a magnificent job all round (as have a whole host of volunteers from the office, who have been maintaining a constant 24 hour vigil at JP’s bedside), has more to say on the events of the past week on his own blog.

(*) It’s a 1mb PDF and the photo’s a bit grim, so caveat clickor.

Monday afternoon: JP is no longer fully sedated (a precautionary measure while the swelling near his brain was at its worst), and is reported to be in his best condition since the accident took place last Tuesday. He is becoming a lot more alert and observant, the swelling is going down, his neck brace has been removed, and – although obliged to remain horizontal at all times – he is able to move around a lot more. Meanwhile, dB has posted a translation of the Chinese newspaper article on his own blog.

Tuesday afternoon: JP’s condition has continued to improve, and he is now able to take medicine orally. He is sitting up in bed, but is not expected to be able to get out of bed for another two weeks.

Scans have shown that the swelling caused by the bruising to his brain is now subsiding. The doctors have said that his neck is now OK (there were some dislocations) and that his shoulder fracture does not require them to immobilise the shoulder.

Wednesday afternoon: JP has had his first proper meal since the accident – fish and chips – and is going to start receiving physiotherapy. From here on in, he is basically going to be spending most of the next couple of weeks sitting up in bed and watching TV – so here endeth the daily updates.