What I got.

(Or in some cases, what we got.)

From K: A multi-coloured cotton dressing-gown, in the sort of snazzy Paul Smith stripes which have become my sartorial signature. This will be my “city” dressing-gown (I already possess a “country” dressing gown), and will save me from making mad sprints downstairs in the nicky nacky noo, past the large uncovered window on the half-landing with a view over the street below and the flats opposite, and thus affording eagle-eyed neighbours and passers-by the chance to catch a lightening flash of my willy and/or bum-bum. From next week, such treats will no longer be on offer. For a man at my time of life, this is all to the good.

From K: As has become customary over the past five years, a selection of four CDs from nominated artists in next year’s BBC Radio Three World Music Awards (follow the link to stream complete tracks from all the nominees). It should be noted that K has a pretty good track record for picking the winners; this year, he has given the nod to Etran Finatawa, Ben Harper, Nuru Kane and Gogol Bordello. (He also gives the nod to K’naan and Ska Cubano, whose CDs he was unable to source in time for Christmas.)

From K: City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London, by Vic Gatrell. A fat hardback tome, generously illustrated with caricatures from the Golden Age (1770 to 1830), from the likes of James Gillray and the Cruikshanks. Our continued love and fascination for the Golden Age of caricature remains one of the great unbloggables, mainly because I can’t see my way clear to writing about it without coming over all dry and historical, and telling you things which you could find elsewhere, described and discussed by genuine experts in the field. For now, suffice it to say that we love the vulgarity and the grotesqueness; if ever you think that contemporary cartoonists like Steve Bell “go too far”, and that modern-day news values are being dumbed down by salacious, ephemeral, personality-based tittle-tattle, then these works will show you that there’s nothing new under the sun.

From K: A boxed set of 11 DVDs from the ground-breaking, brilliant, magical film-making partnership of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, dating from the 1940s and 1950s. I already knew (and loved) A Matter of Life and Death, I Know Where I’m Going and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp; yesterday afternoon, I made a start on the rest of the collection, and promptly fell in love with The Red Shoes. There’s a weirdly resonant quality about these strange, singular films, which somehow tap into some of my earliest thoughts and memories. In particular, Joan Maude as the serenely magisterial “Chief Recorder” in A Matter of Life and Death is the spitting image of the woman whom I visualised as my inner “conscience”, aged around three or four (yes, I was a “deep” toddler) – and I really do wonder whether I might have lifted her image from a TV screening of the film.

From my darling sister: The Best of Smash Hits: The ’80s. How well she knows me. You could barely get a peep out of me after Christmas dinner. While K and his extended family nodded off in front of Funny Face, I was lapping up Tom Hibbert’s bizarre 1987 interview with Margaret Thatcher (“Brotherhood of Man? Lovely!”), and wondering how they ever got away with putting the long-forgotten likes of Matt Fretton and Jimmy The Hoover on the cover, and still selling shedloads in the process.

From my darling sister: A boxed set of all 19 of the Clash’s UK seven-inch vinyl singles, in their original sleeves – even including, ohmygodgetthisgetthis, the limited edition “Capital Radio” EP which you could only get through the NME (eek!), which I sent off for and never received. At last, a great historical wrong has been righted. Really, the whole package is commodity fetishism at its most heightened, and probably the antithesis of everything that The Clash originaly stood for – but hey, we evolve. Of all the many lovely presents which I received this year, this was the one which scored highest on the instant reaction squeal-o-meter.

From my darling sister: A pocket-sized Etch A Sketch. How well she knows me, Part 3. I seem to have got better at this in the thirty-year gap since I last used one of these devices, as I have become more patient with its limitations, thinking creatively around them rather than letting them defeat me.

From K’s mum and dad: An engraving by the caricaturist George Cruikshank, in a nice old Hogarth frame, entitled Dandies and Dandyzettes. Dating from 1818, this depicts close-up versions of several of the figures from Cruikshank’s Monstrosities of 1818, which we already own (do take a look; it’s fab) – but the colouring on this engraving is unusually rich and vivid. Really, these people were the frightful, graceless, over-done Versace-clad harpies of their day. There’s nothing new under the sun, Part 2.

From K’s mum and dad: Some rather elegant wine glasses and champagne flutes – but rendered in plastic, and hence suitable for picnicking. They must have spotted the need for these over the summer, when the four of us struggled with our fancy glassware during a picnic in the grounds of Chatsworth House, prior to an open-air concert from Jools Holland and his band. Good spot, the In-Laws!

From K’s mum and dad: A book token, part of which I shall be spending on… but no, that would be telling. All in due course. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

From my mother: A beautiful beech food bowl, made by Liam O’Neill for David Mellor, accessorised with a couple of wooden-handled salad servers. This looks so much better on the refectory table in the cottage kitchen than the hand-painted jug from Marrakech ever did. (The jug has been moved to the kitchen window sill, in case you were worrying. It’s a lovely jug, but the yellow was too cloying against the pine.)

From my mother: Modern Phobias: A litany of contemporary fears, by Tim Lihoreau. I’m sure that neither my mother nor Mr. Lihoreau would be offended if I described it, in the nicest possible way, as “toilet reading”. It’s a dipper-inner.

From K’s glamorous (and newly single, ladies!) lesbian cousin P: a gift set of Kiehl’s pampering products. Kiehl’s, Kiehl’s, where have you been all our lives? One senses that after seven years of unswerving devotion to Molton Brown, that devotion may be drawing to its natural close. (I mean to say, they even have Molton Brown in the loos at Buckingham Palace – and frankly, can you get more dismally Middle England than that?) We are particularly struck by the “Face Fuel” moisturiser (so tingly!), and the “Original Musk” eau de toilette (devised in 1920!).

From K’s auntie and uncle: a gift set of Espa pampering products, more slanted towards the bathroom. But I have to say: the packaging for this stuff takes “unnecessary” to a whole new level. Boxes within boxes, all purely for the sake of the “reveal” moment, and fit for nothing but the bin afterwards. (But we’ll stash them in the garage, Just In Case.)

From K’s late sister’s partner R, who joined us for Christmas Day (along with his almost unbearably handsome brother W): a half bottle of 1988 Sauternes… from… oh, hang on… ohmyf**kingChrist-itisn’t-itIS-itf**kingIS… Chateau de bloody Yquem, sweetie! And then, a couple of hours later – since we couldn’t possibly be expected to share it around the table with the foie gras starter – a second bloody half-bottle of bloody Chateau de bloody Yquem, if you please. Oh my good Lord, that shit rules.

From MissMish: a double-sided picture-frame – essentially a sheer rectangular perspex slab – containing two photos of me and him, taken on the day of our civil partnership registration. As we didn’t have any don’t-say-wedding photos on display, this was an altogether wonderful surprise.

From NewEngland in the village, quietly left inside the garage while we were away in Cambridge, and meant as a “thank you” for ferrying her partner OldEngland across from Nottingham every Friday night: a “Hip Hotels (Escape)” guide, and a beautifully packaged and labelled home-made hamper of produce, all made by NewEngland’s own fair hand. Pepper jelly! Green tomato, onion and cucumber pickle! Brandied tangerines! Three-coloured “harlequin” cubes of home-made marzipan, coated with dark chocolate! And some of those “Blue Diamond” imported Californian almonds which we love so much! Of all the many uncommonly well-chosen gifts which we both received this year (one of our best hauls in ages, it has to be said), these were the most unexpected, the most personal – and therefore possibly the most cherished of all.

“Excuses have their uses, but now they’re all used up, all used up…”

1. The trouble with only being at work for two days in the week before Christmas is that you end up trying to cram a week’s worth of unfinished tasks into the paltry time available. Because, obviously, the Christmas/New Year holiday period marks The End Of Time As We Know It, and all things must be signed off before then, in order to ward off a catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions. Even if that catastrophe is wholly self-invented.

2. As if Twitter wasn’t already enough of a compulsive attention-hoover, I got sucked into “alpha testing” something which has proved to be equally addictive. It’s still being developed, so I shouldn’t be linking just yet – but the fruits of my labours may be of some passing interest. Ee, the things I do to avoid writing proper blog posts!

3. I spent most of yesterday evening working on my third set of “Best of 2006” lists. First there was Stylus (singles here, albums here, and if you look closely you’ll find a couple of my blurbs lurking within) – then there was the US music blog Idolator’s “Jackin’ Pop” poll (an uppity new rival to the long-running Village VoicePazz & Jop” poll; results to be pubished in a week or so) – and most recently, t’local paper asked me to pen a few choice words on the cream and the crap of 2006. If you’re local, it’s out on Friday. My fourth and final set of lists will appear here in the fullness of time.

4. I also spent most of yesterday evening trying to source music for the “trot” section of a dressage event – as it looks as if A from the village could be dressaging for England next year, and I have volunteered my services as a musical advisor. We’ve already been working on the “walk” and “canter” sections, but “trot” is by far the hardest. What’s needed is fast instrumental music (between 136 and 150 bpm), with a strong rhythmic pulse, but which still sounds light and nimble – i.e. no skull-crushing dance beats, and nothing that will, ahem, frighten the horses. This rules out just about all 9000+ tracks in my iTunes library. All suggestions welcomed. (Light orchestral classical music, particularly from film soundtracks, is a perennial favourite – but it shouldn’t surprise you to know that my knowledge of such areas is practically zero.)

5. Did I mention that K has ordered a “Three Bird Roast” from a posh nosh mail order catalogue, with which to grace our Christmas table? Such taste! Such discernment! I was bragging about this to my co-workers yesterday lunchtime, when one of them gently informed me that Ian Beale from EastEnders ordered the same thing for his wedding banquet the other week. Y’know, much as I eschew snobbery in all its forms, this has taken some of the shine off the event…

6. For those of you who don’t tend to scroll down below the most recent post, can I just point out that I have answered all six of last Friday’s song-title questions? I’d so hate for them to go to waste.


Tell me what you want. What you really, really want.

Mike answers: To know what I want – what I really, really want – and to be guided by that knowledge.

What are you doing Sunday, baby?

Mike answers: Preparing for the arrival of K’s family – for on Christmas Day, after a couple of years of ducking out of the occasion altogether, we shall be playing hosts to them for the first time. I like the way that we have varied our approach to the holiday season over the years, never settling into a fixed pattern. It gives us the freedom to opt in when it feels right to opt in, and to feel comfortable about lying low when that’s all we want to do.

I bet we all get right pissed on the Sunday night, though. Pacing? What’s that?

Do ya think I’m sexy?

Mike answers: Do I think I’m sexy? Hmm, tricky. I have occasionally had the s-word said to me – but usually to fairly specific ends, and at a time and a place when certain people (and why am I even being gender/orientation non-specific about this, I mean GAY MEN of course) will say most anything to achieve those ends. So we can count them out for starters. The mercenary little scallywags.

There again, there was that one time in Finland, in the summer of 1994, when that awfully good-looking chap picked me up at a gay disco on a boat, and whisked me away to a wooden cabin on the edge of a pine forest, way out of town – and as we tumbled amongst the freshly-laundered linen while the soft magenta fingers of dawn stole through the shutters, he leant his face close into mine and, with that same disarming, shining-eyed, sincerity that had so won me over, breathed these words:

“You’re beautiful.”

(slight pause)

“But you’re not sexy.”

A harsh judgement, but then I’m not sure that I’ve ever really pulled off Sexy to any great effect. The sexy people – the truly sexy people – are the ones who are comfortable within their own skins, with an understated yet unmistakable confidence which allows them to forget about themselves and to concentrate on you. Well, that was never me. Back in my glory days – those ten years or so when my physical attributes were at their peak (and I’ll admit to not being at the back of the queue looks-wise, which must have helped) – my strongest suits were flirting, and teasing, and exuding a sense of fun that could sometimes rub off on others. But these were milder, lighter, more diversionary powers, fit only for their limited and transitory purpose. Under the right sort of lighting, and in the right sort of outfits, and provided that it’s-ten-to-two-you’ll-do desperation hadn’t set in, I could generally approximate a certain template of urban gay male foxiness. But true sexiness required a cooler eye and a steadier hand – and I knew the limits of my range, my scope and my aspirations. Flirting, teasing and mucking around suited me just fine.

As for these days – these days when I don’t even bother putting lenses in for an evening out, and when I’d rather be chatting in the corner than making an exhibition of myself on raised surfaces – sexiness barely enters into it. As Molly Parkin once put it, the post-sexy experience feels rather like being unchained from a lunatic – and I don’t miss that needy old tart one little bit.

Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with?

(And, oh dear, this was one of the Guardian Guide’s questions from two Saturdays ago.)

Mike answers: It all depends upon your definition of “falling in love”. From my early teens until my early twenties, I suffered my share of unrequited romantic obsessions – but with the benefit of hindsight, I’m not sure that any of them counted as being “in love”. Love’s a vibration, man. You send it out, and it returns to you. Loving someone without their reciprocation – or, hell, even their knowledge – is something else entirely. So I’m answering the question in the negative.

Is there something I should know?

Mike answers: My thanks to Clare Boob Pencil, who points out that I have a piece of spinach stuck in my teeth. Lately, I have been fighting a losing battle with recalcitrant foodstuffs, to the extent where my hygienist has – just two hours ago – fitted my problem cavity with a periodontal chip. Before doing so, she was obliged to extract several goodly chunks of semi-masticated bacon from my lunchtime sandwich – which then she held up in front of me for inspection.

What does one say at times like these?

“Ah yes, the Atlas Deli, awfully good place. I expect it’s locally sourced.”

“Ooh, can I keep that? We’re having bubble and squeak tonight.”

(I tried to go for a lovably roguish, devil-may-care, what-can-you-do shrug, of the Hugh Grant rom-com variety – but being flat on my back at the time, I fear it lost a little in the execution.)

Where’s your head at?

Mike answers: Actually, my head has been fairly scarlet over the last couple of days – as I hadn’t realised that The Guardian‘s Saturday “The Guide” section has just started a new feature, in which well-known people are asked a series of questions in the form of song titles. (Indeed, “Where’s your head at?” was even one of this week’s questions.)

The unfortunate consequence is that people will be thinking that I’ve ripped the idea off the newspaper, when – but of course! – I was first on the block with it, years and years ago actually actually I think you’ll find.

Apart from that, my head is feeling somewhat done in by the demands of the season, as is customary.

Twitter-speak is infectious.

Haven’t got a lot to say for myself right now, but feel I should check in with you anyway.

That “too much soy turns you boy-on-boy” link (see below) is now all over t’blogosphere. It’s so two-days-ago! Such is the nature of our medium.

(I like Siobhan‘s comment: “You just watch, as every tranny in the country starts drinking Alpro.“)

Après-Twitter, all my thoughts are manifesting themselves in the present continuous, with a 150-character maximum. Brevity’s as good as a rest.

Random surfing has unearthed a great new hand-drawn blog, documenting its author’s attempts to get a job in the UK advertising industry. Start here, working up from the bottom; then go here.

K and I (but mostly K) are still reeling from yesterday’s entrance into the third circle of MFI Fitted Kitchen Hell, which commenced when the fitters turned up and discovered that key parts were undelivered.

Sparing you the details of K’s quest to extract redress from MFI’s intransigent “Customer Care” wonks, but suffice it to say that they’re buying us a new washing machine. God, he’s good.

Hoping that K has recovered from the ordeal, which stressed him so much that he filled his diesel tank with petrol and ended up stranded in Sainsburys car park for 2 hours, awaiting the recovery people.

Interrupting this post to read Tom “Random Reality” Reynolds writing about Twitter on his brand new “anything but ambulance stuff” blog. (via)

Streaming new-to-me music from Calvin Harris (“Acceptable In The 80s“, also via) and Johann Johannsson (lush Icelandic orchestral electronica, recommended by the chap who made my lunchtime sandwich).

Playing newly bought CDs from Amy Winehouse (Fopp impulse buy, as it sounded “seasonal” over their speakers) and Beirut (orchestrated yet loose Balkan folk with mariachi trumpets, from 19-year old multi-instrumentalist).

Remembering how much I enjoyed seeing Shortbus on Tuesday. Beautifully acted; emotionally astute; explicit but not gratuitous; accurately portrays a recognisable attitude to sexuality which I have not seen represented on screen before; much gayer than expected (woo); can even forgive it for the unconvincing bolted-on happy ending.

Realising that brevity is rapidly deserting me, and so deciding to crack on with the rest of my evening.

Using Twitter as an aide memoire for an old-school “What I Did On Saturday” diary piece.

12:20. Outside the village shop, our friend P opens the glass door which covers the communal noticeboard. A loose sheet of paper flies straight out at me, landing at my feet. I stoop to pick it up. It is a hand-written notice, advertising a terrier for sale.

As regular readers will remember, K has been hankering after a dog for months years, in the teeth of determined opposition. He’s playing a long game. It’s a war of attrition, in which K’s considerable powers of finesse (he won’t be satisified unless the suggestion comes voluntarily from me) are pitted against my immutable stubborness.

Despite being a near-evangelical atheist, K has evidently enlisted The Almighty onto his side. How mercenary. Truly, he still stop at nothing.

Defiantly, I shake my fist at the heavens. You’re going to have to do better than this, God! Cheap conjuring tricks aren’t going to change my mind!

12:30. Returning to the cottage, I check K’s moblog for the photo of the rainbow which he has just taken (see two posts below). As I do so, a bootleg mix assembles itself in my head, in which Over The Rainbow (Judy Garland) is “mashed up” with Girlfriend In A Coma (The Smiths, as performed by Morrissey at Nottingham Arena a few days earlier). It’s a bit of a mess – but as my mental jukebox has yet to be upgraded with Pro Tools, a rough manual mix will have to suffice.

12:40. We decide against trekking out to the Staffordshire Antiques Fair at Bingley Hall, as our advance party has declared itself unimpressed.

14:10. A simple bread and soup repast, before heading into Ashbourne to poke around the shops. P has tipped us off about a place called Eclectica, on the edge of town by the demolished Nestle factory. The owners run it mainly for fun, and so it only opens on Saturdays.

15:10. Leaving Eclectica, we experience a mutual rush of blood to the head, having just bought five darling little glass stopper bottles and an oil painting.

The painting, dated 1995, is by an obscure artist from Moscow, and was originally picked up as part of a job lot at a clearance sale at a now defunct Manchester gallery. It depicts a large ship, seemingly abandoned in an icy ocean, with wisps of white emerging from it that suggest the outlines of birds, or of escaping spirits. In the foreground, indistinct dwarf-like figures are standing on the ice. One is in the sea, arms aloft, drowning. While most of the ship is realistically portrayed, its rear section abruptly blurs, before fading away into thin air. The style is slightly naive and outsider-ish, but not without appreciable technical merit. It is a more realistic painting than we would normally go for, but its weird supernatural qualities have intrigued us and reeled us in.

16:40. Staring into space like a moody teenager in the fruit & veg section of Sainsburys. Decide to Twitter my mood from my mobile.

K (hotly): What on earth are you doing?
M (listlessly): ‘S boring innit. Texting me mates aren’t I.

16:45. Cheering up now that we’ve reached the cake section, because I get to choose. My sunny disposition is easily bought.

17:45. Judging by the admittedly scant information on the web, it would seem that, for once, we have landed ourselves a hefty bargain. It’s a difficult one to hang, though. Stylistically, it’s such a departure that it doesn’t really fit anywhere. We may be looking at a mini-rehang.

18:10. Enjoying a respite from bickering over where to put the painting (it’s all part of the ritual), as K’s mum has rung and she, um, likes a chat.

18:30. Clapping our hands with delight, having successfully positioned the darling little glass stopper bottles on the landing table. Aw, cute.


19:20. Have just missed most of Leona performing Over The Rainbow (equal parts Houston, W. and Cassidy, E., and sensibly sans mash-up) on The X Factor, as I was mixing gin and tonics in the kitchen.

19:45. Chig and I have decided to give next year’s Eurovision a miss. The tickets, which go on sale tomorrow morning, are expensive and in scarce supply; all but the very dearest hotels in Helsinki are already fully booked; and I don’t much fancy going through all of the many hassles involved, and booking more time off work away from K – and more importantly, so close to the first anniversary of the death of his sister M – merely so that I can repeat the experience which I already enjoyed in Athens earlier this year. It never does any harm to skip a year.

20:15. Flushed with triumph at the end of a particularly delicious supper, K insists that I Twitter the full list of ingredients, and proceeds to dictate them to me. Pork escalopes, Madeira, tarragon; watercress salad, lemon, porcini; and rye bread, for dunking. All the way through the day, he has been displaying a surprising interest in Twitter, often stopping to check my auto-refreshing “With Friends” page as he walks past the laptop on the kitchen table. He’s normally only like this when I’ve mentioned him on the blog, and people are talking about him in the comments.

20:50. Pacing around in my posh clothes (stone coloured Gucci civil partnership jacket, brand new Paul Smith shirt, indestructible six-years-old Prada shoes), in readiness for L&M’s 10th anniversary party at the memorial hall. This won’t be our ususal crowd, and we’re both a little nervous. A quick fag in the garden while K applies the finishing touches, and then we’ll be off…

21:25. Down at the memorial hall, we are watching a loud six-piece semi-professional rock band from Liverpool called The Laze, whose members include M’s brother. This isn’t exactly what we’re used to on a Saturday night in rural Derbyshire. Fab!

21:35. The band are playing a number called Your Poppa On Poppers. It is ace, especially with the sax. K and I are brain-storming their influences. Bluesy, rocky, jazzy and proggy. Shades of Little Feat, with a splash of Gong?

21:45. Oh my God, a recorder solo! Adding Jethro Tull to the list, I briefly step outside to get a signal on my mobile. A lone chuffer is out there already. He also mentions Little Feat – the fourth person to do so. Must be official, then.

21:50. They’re getting heavier – and proggier, which is surprising for a band so young. The only contemporary comparison which I can make is with fellow Liverpudlians The Coral, whose live sets can also tend towards dense free-form psych-outs.

22:30. The band have finished, and I’m talking to L. He is a landscape artist, whose studio is also in the village, and we have bought several of his paintings over the years. L is telling me about the band, and of their shared reverence for Frank Zappa (of course, Zappa, duh, slap), and that record labels have been up to see them, but haven’t known what stylistic bag to place them in for marketing purposes, and of the frustration which that causes.

22:40. E is telling me about his newly launched organic meat mail order site, and asking me how to boost its Googlejuice. I duly pledge a link. Every little helps.

23:50 S and I have just discovered that we were exact contemporaries at Nottingham University in the early 1980s, and that my major subject was her subsidiary subject. So that’s why I have spent the past six years wondering why she looked naggingly familiar. Does she remember him and her? Of course she does! Do I remember her and him? Of course I do! We continue excitedly in this vein for some time.

00:20. I am talking with the couple down the road about Devendra Banhart, the Aphex Twin, raving in the 1990s, and the way that young children particularly respond to bass. Evidently, there are sides to this village which I never knew existed before. It is all coming as something of a revelation.

00:55. After hours jam session, yeah! The hall has thinned out, but the remaining lurching stragglers are doing a good job of filling the space. Is it just me, or is everyone here steaming drunk?

01:10. The five remaining band members are thrashing out a cover of Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King. People are hurling themselves off the front of the stage.

01:50. We’re back from the party, and I have tracked down the band’s Myspace page. Turns out that they have supported Damo Suzuki, the former lead singer of Can. Buzzing around the kitchen as the music blares from the laptop, we still cannot get over just how good they were, and what a great night it was, and how this extraordinary village never ceases to amaze us.

Parish news.

Marcello has started counting down his Top 50 albums of 2006; meanwhile, my mate Dymbel is episodically blogging the contents of his annual Best Of The Year mix CD, in a rolling post which expands more or less daily.

Diamond Geezer spotted an Olympic cock-up; the newspapers were alerted; the council apologised. Ever the provocateur, DG is now arguing in favour of closing 20% of Britain’s post offices.

Why are bin bags so flimsy? Gordon posts the definitive answer.

JonnyB has been nominated for “Best UK Blog” by a bunch of yee-hah, woo-for-war neo-cons. As a result, a concerted collective attempt is being made to get him to win, thus striking a blow for… well, I’m not quite sure what, but a blow most certainly would be struck. Oh yes. At the time of writing, he is in second position and rapidly closing the gap on the current leader. In a thrilling twist on the principles of democracy (but hey, it wouldn’t be the first time for this lot), you are permitted to cast a new vote every day. Hint. Hint.

And on a similar theme:

The Insignificant Awards is the world’s most unheard of blog competition. It’s a place for the undiscovered to be discovered.”

“As the annual weblog popularity competitions begin once more, we at The Insignificant Headquarters wish to praise, encourage and salute the unknown blogs that sit in the unrewarded wilderness. Those blogs that will never be voted for by the masses. Those bloggers who will never be nominated for anything (but should be).”

“Remember the golden rule of The Insignificant Awards: it’s the taking part that counts – not the winning.”

(I wanted to nominate that funny American lady who lost her job and has a daughter, but I couldn’t remember the URL.)

Rainbow’s end.


Strolling back from the pre-hunt gluhwein-and-sausages do, where I narrowly avoided being interviewed by BBC Radio Derby on my so-called “support for hunting”, a subject upon which I have studiously avoided forming a coherent opinion (as I explained, I was just there for the wine and sausage, and anyway, I could have added – but didn’t, becuase you only ever think of these things after the fact – this was a legally compliant drag hunt, and who but the most rabidly misanthropic self-styled Class Warrior could possibly object to a chuffing drag hunt?), a exceptionally large and bright rainbow started forming above the hill – closely followed by a fainter double, sadly invisible on this camphone shot.

Unusually for a rainbow, K and I could see where this one ended: on the lane towards the left of our cottage, and slightly uphill of it.

We decided against an undignified scramble for the pot of gold, which we left by the roadside for the poor and needy. Just call us the Brothers Bountiful.

I’ve been updating the sidebar this week.

Yes, I know that my sidebar is basically one great big pimpfest for the archives, and I know that you stopped looking at it months – if not years – ago, but I still adhere to the principle of keeping as much material as possible just one click away, rather than burying it away on never-visited sub-pages. The theory being that as newer readers scroll down the posts, something or other in the sidebar will catch their eyes, luring them into a bout of speculative clicking. (Judging by my stats, this would seem to happen reasonably often.)

Anyhow, I have added a new section which might be of interest, as it will lead you to EXCLUSIVE NEW SELF-PENNED CONTENT! (of an uncharacteristically “Web 2.0” nature for Little Old Luddite me, but it’s the old-school “Spirit of 2002” aspect which hooked me in).

Let’s see how long it takes for you to spot it. And once you have spotted it, do feel free to join in…

ADMIN: An embarrassing oversight regarding e-mail.

I received an e-mail from my hosting company the other day, telling me that I had exceeded my 200mb space limit. To my surprise, 107mb of those 200mb were taken up by my mailbox.

Butbutbut, I didn’t know I had a mailbox for this domain! I never asked for one! Nobody ever told me I had one!

After much ferreting around, I finally managed to open my mailbox via webmail. Jeepers! There were over 7,700 unread e-mails waiting for me, all addressed to something-or-other at troubled-diva.com!

What’s more, on the very first page of results, there was an incredibly kind and thoughtful e-mail from a reader of this site from over two years ago, and – haha! – an invitation to Belle De Jour’s book launch party, would you believe. Who else had I snubbed? What else had I missed? How many BOOK DEALS and MAGAZINE COLUMNS had I unwittingly thumbed my nose at? What GILDED EXISTENCE had my ignorance cost me?

Obviously, I couldn’t delete any of these e-mails until I had read them. Every last one. Via a clunking webmail interface. With a strict limit of 25 e-mails per screen. Hey, that’s only 308 screens to wade through. Piece of piss.

Two hours and endless spams later – and not having unearthed one other e-mail of any interest whatsoever – I gave up and hit Delete All.

So, if you have ever e-mailed me at troubled-diva.com and wondered why you never received a reply – my sincere apologies.

I have now tweaked my settings such that all future e-mails to the domain will be automatically bounced – and I have moved my real e-mail address up to the top of the sidebar.

(That’s the one with the absolutely top-notch, super-duper, ultra-efficient webmail service – honestly, it’s brilliant, I haven’t touched Outlook in yonks – and the kick-ass spam filter to match. BT/Yahoo, I kiss you.)

Oh dear. They don’t teach you this sort of thing at Blog School, do they?

Open Mike #6 – Question 10.

…and, yes, I think that the rattle must have rolled underneath the sofa. No, that’s fine, I can reach it from here…

Good. Now that the pram has been fully re-furnished with Items of Play, we can bring this popular little series to its conclusion.

Lucie enquired after my holiday reading. Well, since we were only away for five nights, I only completed the one novel – but that in itself is a rare achievement these days. Tell you what: let me list all the books which I have read (and, crucially, completed) this year.

1. Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris.

Lent to me by J, my flatmate in Hangzhou. Loved it. Hysterical. Howled my head off.

2. Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim – David Sedaris.

Bought and consumed immediately upon completion of #1 above. Lunchtimes in the sandwich shops of Canary Wharf wouldn’t have been half so much fun without it.

3. A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian – Marina Lewycka.

Nice retro-style cover art, which meant that it kept catching my eye in the tube. (In the early part of the year, it seemed as if all the nice, I-could-imagine-being-your-friend people on the tube were reading this book at the same time. You know, like Captain Corelli before the film, and that Donna Tartt book from the early 1990s.) Terrific stuff. Finished it on our not-a-honeymoon in the Maldives, and then embarked upon:

4. Johnny Come Home – Jake Arnott.

An early 1970s period piece, with references to gay London life and the commercial end of glam rock – but it was also clear that the author was fractionally too young to have had any of the experiences from himself, so everything felt a fraction too stylised and at one remove. Readable, but ultimately slight and forgettable. Also, the biographical details of the fictional glam rock star were based far too closely upon Gary Glitter (with a dash of Alvin Stardust), which betrayed a slight lack of imagination.

5. Girl With A One Track Mind – Abby Lee.

But of course! Haven’t we all! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: like reading a travel guide to an exotic, far-off destination which you know you’ll never visit. In a word: educational.

6. Nul Points – Tim Moore.

In which Tim Moore, a man with no particular prior interest in Eurovision, sets himself a mission: to track down and interview all of the artists who have scored “nul points” in the contest since Jahn Teigen brought it home for Norway in 1978. The results are a good deal more absorbing, illuminating – and sometimes profoundly disturbing – than he could have imagined, and it is interesting to see these darker undercurrents reveal themselves, subverting the originally intended light comedy, and wiping the smile off Moore’s face. You don’t have to be a Eurovision fan to enjoy this one – and as such, it stands head and shoulders above anything else which has ever been written about the contest.

7. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger.

And this was the one which I actually read on holiday in Marrakech. Not having genned up on it beforehand, I hadn’t actually realised that it was about, er, a time traveller and his wife. Whoda thought it? Some very clever plotting towards the beginning (I frequently found myself gasping with wonder at the sheer boldness and complexity of it all) eventually gives way to a more conventional – and, to be honest, rather anti-climactic – love story. Fascinating throughout, but some of the later scenes felt as if they had been written on auto-pilot, and the book could have done with more concentration and concision. It felt as if the author had rather knocked herself out in the first half, and couldn’t sustain the required momentum for an equally dazzling second half. But I’m niggling. It was good.

Seven books in one year? Actually, that’s not bad going for me these days. I know, shocking…

Let’s play “Guess How Many Comments (Excluding Spam) Mike Has Received Today!”

It is now 8.45 in the evening.

So go on, hazard a guess.

Bearing in mind that I have made no fewer than SEVEN new posts to this blog today.

Any ideas?

Shall I tell you, then?

Shall I tell you how many BASTARD comments I’ve received since midnight last night, brackets excluding spam brackets?

ONE. That’s how many. Bastard ONE bastard comment.

(Thank you, Alan. You’re a gent.)

Am I doing something WRONG?

Have you all had a meeting behind my back? Are you all trying to teach me a lesson? Have I been sent to… wait for it… BLOGventry?

Blogland can be a bleak and lonely place at times like this.

And I can pout for England, I’ll have you know.

You don’t DESERVE me.

Open Mike #6 – Question 9.

Of course, when you pledge to answer any question that your readers might throw at you, there is always a danger that some nutter (in this case, basil) will ask you something like this:

so did jimmy saville ever say jingly jangly er uh er uh er uh er uh?

I despair, I really do.

(Incidentally, there’s only one “l” in “Savile” actually actually I think you’ll find. It’s a common enough error. So don’t go beating yourself up about it, basil.)

To answer your question: I should have thought it fairly unlikely. Although the catchphrase “Er uh er uh er uh er uh” was often heard to pass his lips, I have no recollection of Savile ever using the phrase “jingly jangly” – which was merely an onomatopoeic description, applied by others, of the legendary disc jockey’s ur-bling taste in jewellery.

More interestingly, did you know that Savile has been credited as the first person ever to play records in public using two turntables and a microphone, back in the 1940s? (I gathered this fact from reading one of the best books ever written about popular music: Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton.)

(Slightly less interestingly, K and I used to know someone who appeared on Jim’ll Fix It in the mid-1980s. Her particular dream-come-true? To sing backing vocals with Paul Young. As dreams-come-true go, it does rather smack of the cut-price. Maybe that’s why they had her on the show.)

Open Mike #6 – Question 8.

Cliff asks: Name your 5 cities INCLUDING songs to go with them.

Working on the assumption that Cliff was looking for a list of my five favourite cities…

1. London.
Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks.
Need you ask why? Gets me every – and I mean every – time.

2. Barcelona.
Barcelona – D.Kay & Epsilon featuring Stamina MC.
Because it was a hit while I was working there, and it reminds me of some good nights out in the old town. My boss at the time liked this, and he was a nice guy, so it all ties together.

3. New York.
Peace (In The Valley) – Sabrina Johnston.
The Saint at Large Halloween Party at the Roseland Ballroom, October 1991. It was my first ever big night out in New York City, and I had accidentally stumbled across one of the major events of the gay social calendar. Sabrina Johnston sang this on stage at around 3am. One of those sometimes-life-is-just-like-the-movies moments.

4. Amsterdam.
Amsterdam – Peter Bjorn & John.
I’m looking forward to a few more visits in 2007, as my good friend Alan @ Reluctant Nomad will be working over there for 12 months, starting in January. I’m going to miss him horribly, of course – but at least there will be compensations along the way.

5. Stockholm.
Once In A Lifetime – Ines.
Fond memories of the Best! Eurovision! Disco! Ever! at the Tip Top club, Spring 2000, the year that “Fly On The Wings Of Love” won. Ee, the tales I could tell about that weekend…

Runners-up: Hanoi, Paris, Berlin, San Francisco, Boston, Marrakech, Riga, Shanghai, Lisbon, Istanbul.

Open Mike #6 – Question 7.

patita asks: Any interest in ressurecting postoftheweek.com?

Now, that takes me back. Remember the lively discussion we all had about this in February? Volunteer judges made themselves known, a working party was set up, a site design was implemented… and then… in early May, it all ran out of steam. Mainly because, for my part, Real Life got in the way, big time.

However, now that Real Life is basically back on an even keel, it would be good to pick up where we left off, and to get the site properly launched. To this end, I have just put out a call to re-convene the working party. If all goes well, then I’ll be re-recruiting volunteer judges in the near future – and I’ll be contacting last February’s volunteers, to see if they’re still keen.

It could be a whole heap of fun – it could be a disasterous flop – but unless we give it a bash, we’ll never know, will we?

Open Mike #6 – Question 6.

Kate asks: Have you read Birdsong?

No, Kate. No, I haven’t. But it’s worse than that.

Many Christmasses ago, I bought the debut novel by Sebastian Faulks – The Girl at the Lion D’Or, newly published in hardback – as a present for my mother. She loved it, and duly complimented me on my selection. We don’t share many cultural interests, and so she must have been delighted that, for once, we had been able to forge a connection.

The only trouble was: I hadn’t read the book, nor indeed anything else by Sebastian Faulks, other than his weekly columns for the Independent On Sunday. It merely had been inspired guesswork on my part. The cover blurb looked promising, the artwork was nice, and I couldn’t readily find any sex or swearing in it. It had said “quality middlebrow read” to me, and so I had taken my chances.

Unable to bluff my way through the literary discussion that my mother seemed intent on initiating, I gently fessed up. No problem. She seemed fine about it.

A few years later, as part of my birthday present, my mother gave me a paperback copy of Faulks’s third novel, Birdsong. She had read it, loved it, and was keen to share her reading pleasure with me. As I appreciatively scanned the back cover, she offered up a brief introduction to the book, and expressed the hope that I would enjoy it as much as she did.

I got about thirty pages in, before giving up. Not because of any deficiencies in the writing, but simply because I am a lazy reader with a tiny concentration span, and had put the book aside for slightly too long. In other words, the moment had passed. It happens quite often.

The next time we met, a few months later, my mother brightly asked me how I had got on with the novel.

Shit. I had completely forgotten, and was totally unprepared. I mumbled something about not having finished it, and quickly changed the subject.

She concealed her disappointment well.

I still wince when I think about it.

Open Mike #6 – Question 5.

z asks: Mike, honey, what makes you so Good? Not in the saintly sense of course.

Plenty of fresh food in my diet, the love of my man, nice socks, a sunny disposition and an enquiring mind.


A ready smile, a cute bum, a focus on the other person’s needs, and a great snogging technique.


Guilt, shame (or the lack of it), displacement activity, a neurotic fear of criticism, a competitive, heirarchical mindset and an ego the size of Leeds.


Peter Pan Syndrome, Olympic levels of denial, Molton Brown moisturiser and a resolute belief in Nirvana through Shallowness.


Let me take you by the hand, and lead you to my previous answer.

I’m warming up now, amn’t I?

Open Mike #6 – Question 4.

An Unreliable Witness asks:

Since getting out of medical chokey, I am completely and utterly and dreadfully uninspired by blogging. If I had something better to do with my time, I would do that. But I don’t. So help me, O Diva of the Troubled! What’s inspiring you in the world of blogging (I refuse to say blogosphere, or I may vomit copiously) these days? What should I be reading? What can I simply not miss?

Alas, alas, this is one of the perils of being Ancien Regime; for the days when I used to be able to spot Hot New Blogs before they Made It Big are long gone. These days, I’m more like the clapped-out old rock star who says things like “I’m getting into this great new band called the Kaiser Chiefs, have you heard of them?”

Consequently, all of my newest reads are the same ones that everyone else has been getting into: that chap who takes photographs of a bathmat, that unemployed lady who posts pictures of simian life-forms, that bloke who gets pissed off a lot… all very Hive Mind, I’m afraid.

(But do any of these “inspire” me? No, that would be the wrong word. Many, many blogs have inspired me over the years – not least because I’m a right old imitative bastard at heart – but currently, the bar for UK personal weblog writing is being raised so high that I’m finding myself rather over-awed by it all.)

(I’ll tell you what the above three new-ish blogs do make me feel, though. They make me feel nostalgic. Nostalgic for the days when I was still discovering, on a daily basis, just what I could do with this medium – fired up with energy and enthusiasm, on a roll, breaking rules, taking risks, posting like a madman, and building my audience. There’s a particular phase which a lot of blogs go through, somewhere towards the end of their first year of existence or thereabouts, where it all comes together and you can feel the buzz in the air. It’s a lovely phase, and I enjoy bearing witness to it.)

On the music front, I’ve been enjoying the weekly “In The Dock” feature on The Art Of Noise, which is currently deliberating over whether Birmingham has a musical legacy which is worth defending. It’s particularly refreshing to read a group of people talking about music without ostentatiously parading their knowledge, and without seeking to score points off one another.

However, if I am to target my recommendations specifically at you, dear Witness, then – having briefly paused to check your links page (and I see that Bathmat Boy, Monkey Lady and Furious Fella are already present and correct) – might I direct your attention to The Overnight Editor? I suspect that this will be Your Sort Of Thing… and indeed, many other people’s Sort Of Thing besides.

Open Mike #6 – Question 3.

Pam asks: What is the most embarrassing story you know about somebody else?

It has to be the one about the secret underwear fetishist who forgot to lock the bathroom door at his party. However, if you think I’m going to wantonly violate the Unwritten But Tacitly Accepted Bloggers’ Code in order to peddle a few cheap laughs… well bless my soul, what do you take me for? Away with you, temptress!

(But really, over his head? In front of the mirror? Goodness, how outré.)

Open Mike #6 – Question 2.

Milady de Winter asks:

Mike, as a gay man well versed in the modern world and this being World AIDS Day and all: what is your opinion on the archaic and, in my opinion, homophobic rule regarding gay men and giving blood? I’ve been on my soap box about this all day at work as the blood doners are coming round and I’m boycotting them.

Oh, lawks. This was supposed to be a bit of light-hearted fluff for a Friday – and now here I am, mentally knackered at the end of a rather trying Tuesday on the mainframe, and faced with the prospect of knocking out another extended essay on a Major Issue. You’ve got me confused with a Deep and Knowledgable Authority Figure Slash Spokesman For His Community, with carefully evaluated opinions on stuff that actually, you know, matters! Hay-ulp!

Although I have always rather shied away from making AIDS-related posts on December 1st (a.k.a. World AIDS Day), this doesn’t mean to say that the day ever passes unremembered. Far from it. However – and perhaps this is surprising for someone of my generation, who came of Gay Age in 1982 – my direct personal experiences with the full-blown illness have been few and far between – and for the most part, they have occurred at one remove. I have never lost a friend to AIDS, and I have never been to the funeral of someone with AIDS. There have just been the occasional slight acquaintances, and friends of friends – and, OK, there was that one guy I slept with after a New Year’s Eve party in the early 1990s, but we only ever met the once, and… you know how it goes, right?

Naturally, I have known (and indeed had sex with) a few HIV+ people over the years – and obviously many more whose positive status has never been made known to me – but (and how can I best put this?) their status has only ever hovered in the background between us: as an abstract piece of information, rather than as a tangible reality which has ever required a more direct personal engagement.

I have always, always practised safer sex, and have never been tempted to lapse. Not that this has been too difficult, given my historic lack of enthusiasm – in either role – for that particular act which is so often held to be virtually synonymous with gay male sexuality.

(In fact, that handy little phrase “Sorry, I don’t have any condoms” has saved me from several potentially awkward situations over the years – and so, if anything, the global tragedy has worked very slightly in my favour. Talk about Survivor’s Guilt.)

And so, as a mere remote observer, I have never quite liked to claim the disease for my own by dredging up some tangential reminiscences, seasoning them with a few well-meant homilies, offering them up on this site, and standing by for compliments in the comments box. It would feel a little stretched, a little forced – and even slightly exploitative. Such matters are best left to those with stories which are truly worth telling, and memories which should never be forgotten.

However, I do have a vivid memory of the screening interview which I attended about six years ago, at my previous place of employment, with the intention of donating my blood – and of the awkward surprise and embarrassment on the face of the rather ill-briefed young nurse, as she falteringly tried to explain why my blood could not be accepted. And yes, I remember feeling a sharp pang of wounded embarrassment of my own. After all, I prided myself on being clued up in such matters. So how could I not have known that all gay men – or indeed any men who had ever had even one same-sex experience, of any nature, no matter how long ago – were still being barred from donating blood, even though all donations were now being screened for possible infection?

Did I feel unfairly discriminated against? Hell, yeah. Any straight person who had ever had unprotected sex could donate, whereas Lil’ Ol’ Goody Two-Shoes Me couldn’t. Where was the fairness in that?

Was it – indeed, is it still – evidence of institutionalised homophobia? In the light of all the recent legislative changes in this country, it is a viewpoint which has progressively become more and more untenable. Not so much homophobic, as hyper-cautious – maybe excessively cautious.

But is this caution truly excessive? Reading the explanatory document “Why we ask gay men not to give blood“, as produced by the UK Blood Transfusion Service, I cannot help but feel that their case is, by and large, a sound one. Yes, all donated blood is screened – but this is not a perfect process, and infected blood can still slip through the net. It’s a tiny risk, but a real one – and so, arguably, any measures which can significantly reduce that risk should be followed, regardless of the feelings of unjustified exclusion which they might cause. After all, what’s more important here: sparing hurt feelings, or saving lives?

Of course, I could always choose to treat this exclusion as evidence of my continued status as a member of an Oppressed Minority – but in this case, I have actively chosen not to do this. In my experience – and counter-assimilationists amongst My People may commence hissing here – the less that we gay men consider ourselves to be marginalised victims, and the more that our social interactions spring from the assumption that we are already fully integrated and equal members of society, then the less that straight society will marginalise and victimise us.

I might be missing some important facts here, and my lurking inner Peter Tatchell would actually quite like to be proved wrong – so, if you know of any compelling counter-arguments which I might have missed, then (ahum) please deposit them in my box. (Now, that’s an invitation you won’t ever hear me issue lightly.)

Open Mike #6 – Question 1.

Dearie dearie me, I really do seem to be losing the power of written expression altogether. Evidence: I spent over an hour and half yesterday evening, penning a mere 120 word blurb on one of my favourite singles of the year, for the forthcoming “Best Singles of 2006” round-up on Stylus. And that’s not counting the time I spent doing the research, either.

So, yeah: the plan was to answer all ten of your questions over the weekend in a fairly quick-and-dirty, rapid-fire manner – but the aforementioned Failing Powers got in the way of doing this. This wasn’t helped by the gargantuan nature of Question Number One, either – in which jo asked:

Has the proliferation of alternative sources for finding and hearing new music such as music blogs, YouTube, Myspace, etc., helped or hindered the populace in the quest to find new music?

Do you think these alternative sources are allowing smaller acts who might not have caught the attention of music scouts or writers previously to promote without the backing of giant label conglomerates – and if so, do you think this has led to a dearth or a surplus of quality music?

Is it simply nostalgia for previous decades that causes us to feel that music from *then* was, in general, better than whatever is *current* – or is it that we simply manage to blot out all the crap that was around *then*, and create a rosy post-image?

Blimey, jo! And, er, Naughty jo! Not only did I say “one question per person only”, but I even said it in bold type, so that no-one could miss it!

OK, so let’s try and answer this one without turning in a 5000 word dissertation on The General State Of Popular Music In 2006. Yeah, fat chance. Brevity has never been my forte.

I’m not sure that I can speak for the general populace, but YouTube and Myspace in particular have certainly made it easier than ever before for people like me to access new music with a minimum of effort. For instance: the last time that I posted a list of my favourite tunes, I was able to add helpful illustrative YouTube and/or Myspace links for all of them – and in 11 cases out of 20, I was able to supply both. This wouldn’t have happened 12 months ago, and I most certainly welcome it.

These days, I regularly use both sites in order to decide which gigs and albums I should review, or whether it’s worth turning up early to catch the support act. If I read of a new song or act on a website, or a message board, or in the print media, I can be listening to that song in seconds – and because the content is being streamed rather than downloaded to my hard drive, nobody seems to mind. This makes for a more reliable – and more ethically defensible – alternative to peer-to-peer file-sharing sites, which I only access in cases of dire need. (Compare and contrast with the trigger-happy days of Napster and Audiogalaxy.)

All of this has to be set against my declining interest in old media – both print and broadcast – as reliable sources of information. Radio One is a hyper-active, unlistenable racket; I’m still (just) too hip for Radio Two; and as I don’t own a digital radio and can’t stream live audio at work, 6 Music has yet to become a regular listen – even though it is clearly the station which most closely matches my needs. In fact – and in a highly unexpected reversal of roles – it’s now K who relies on the radio for most of his new CD purchases, as he is a long-standing fan of Radio 3’s Late Junction, and he frequently uses the “Listen Again” service in tandem with the archived playlists on the show’s website.

Meanwhile, Top of the Pops and CD:UK have vanished, Popworld is as nothing without Simon Amstell at the helm, and I can never get it together to set the Sky box for all those late-late-night Channel 4 music shows. Which just leaves Jools Holland’s Later, which will occasionally – very occasionally – throw something new in my direction.

As for the music press: Uncut and the NME are shadows of their former selves, Q and Mixmag are comics for people who don’t really like music, Mojo is overly heavy on the retro, The Wire is impenetrably “difficult” for a shallow soul like me, Straight No Chaser is indiscriminately nice about everybody and everything, which makes it an untrustworthy guide… which leaves Plan B (excellent in its way, but mostly far too indie for my personal tastes), The Word (trendy vicar stuff for the most part, but I have long since learnt to live with my inner Mark Ellen), The Guardian on a Friday (but please don’t get me started on the questionable merits of Alexis “Man at C&A” Petridis) and the Observer Music Magazine once a month (probably my favourite read of the lot, despite having its own fair share of horrors: that “Record Doctor” of theirs should be struck off the register forthwith, for instance). Oh, and there’s always fRoots and Songlines – both excellent in their way, but somehow they have never become essential purchases.

All of this means that, thanks to the likes of the ILM message board, webzines like Stylus and MP3 blogs like the ever-reliable Fluxblog, the web is now by far and away my main source of information regarding new music – and I should imagine that applies to many thousands of others. Do I think that’s a healthy, democratising, liberating shift of emphasis, which enables people to make a freer set of personal choices? Absolutely. Much as I regret the passing of the Top 40 as a mass-consensus barometer of popular taste, I’d rather have things this way round. Maybe that’s partly why my tolerance for music radio has diminished; why should I endure five consecutive crap songs in order to discover one good song, when I could be assembling my own playlists instead?

Has all of this helped smaller acts to flourish? Absolutely. I cannot recall a time when live music in this country was in such a healthy state – or maybe it’s just a local upswing, and I’m just lucky enough to have access to six excellent venues, catering for all sizes of audience, and all within 15 minutes walk from my front door.

Has this led to a dearth or a surplus of quality music? A moot point. It has been a particularly rubbish year for the singles and album charts, with the intelligent and innovative new pop and R&B of the first half of the decade increasingly giving way to identikit faux-rebellious “corporate indie” bands, dreary singer-songwriters, and a iredeemably fossiled slurry of creatively bankrupt commercial dance tunes. So, in order to get to the good stuff, you really do have to make a bit of an effort – but once you do (and really, it’s not that great an effort) – there’s as much good stuff out there as ever.

As for jo’s “are we just giving in to rose-tinted nostalgia, or was music really better in the old days” question: it’s problematic, as…

a) The popular music of our formative years will generally cut deeper than anything we will ever experience in adult life, for reasons which shouldn’t need spelling out.

b) Old music tends to feel more “significant” than new music, as it accumulates depth and weight over time.

c) I genuinely do believe that the singles charts were objectively at their best between 1964 and 1984, with “golden ages” from 1964 to 1966, and again from 1979 to 1982. But that’s just the singles charts. Once you look beyond the commercially popular, the seemingly “good” years and “crap” years even themselves out to a much greater degree.

Extended ramble over, or else we’ll be here all night.