Imminent ghettoisation alert.

After spending over five and a half years sitting at the same desk (no, let’s not even think about it), I am shortly to be moved to a new location in the same office. Nearer the entrance, nearer the reception, nearer the kitchen. You know, nearer the action. Dead hip spot to be in, probably.

This is to allow all the people who work for one particular client to be grouped at the far (unhip) end of the office, so that the rest of us don’t get to snoop at them when we walk past. It’s a client confidentiality thing. We’re thinking that maybe they could wear T-shirts with the client’s logo on the front, to remind the rest of us to bow our heads when passing them. That way, we’d minimise the risk of instigating any potentially compromising form of social contact – which could only lead to troublesome questions like “How are you”, “How’s it going”… and, fatally, “So, how’s work?”

Over in the Hip Zone, I’ll be sitting at a bank of six desks. One desk will remain unallocated. Two others have been assigned to co-workers who are on permanent secondment in other cities. Another belongs to a colleague who is on maternity leave for the next few months. (She’s just dropped. Congratulations, S!)

Which just leaves me and JP, The Pair Of Poofs, all alone in our own fabulous little ghetto. Talk about exclusive!

I’m seeing major accessorisation here. Kylie posters! A mirror ball! A dry ice machine! Multi-coloured rope lighting! A podium! A door-whore! (“Sorry love, but you just wouldn’t Fit In.“)

Ooh, ooh, and all the heterosexuals will have to run our Fashion Gauntlet, on the way to and from the kitchen.

“State of ‘er!”

“Is she wearing that for a BET?”

“LOVE the hair, LOSE the belt.”

F**k it. We’ve had nearly six years of assimilation. Time to unleash the stereotypes.

SwissToni’s Earworms.

I’ve been doing a spot of guest-blogging over at SwissToni’s Place, as part of his excellent “Earworms of the Week” series. The concept of the series isn’t necessarily to list your ten current favourite tracks; it’s more about listing the ten tracks which have been occupying the most space on your internal jukebox. It’s a subtle but significant difference…
Continue reading “SwissToni’s Earworms.”

Freelance Friday.

In order to introduce some semblance of consistency into this here rag-bag of a blog, I’m only going to post freelance pieces here on Fridays from now on – so you’ll get all the “pro” stuff in one dollop.

This week, we have:

1. An interview with the Living Goddess that is Joan Baez. The honour!

2. An interview with Jason Reece from …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, whose Nottingham show I’ll be reviewing on Sunday night. When reading the piece, please try to imagine Jason’s heavy, deliberate, infinitely world-weary drawl, shot through with heavy irony. That one took all of my “rapport-forming” skills, I can tell you. But I made him laugh a couple of times, before he got bored towards the end, so that was cool.

3. A review of the X Factor live show, which ended up as half think-piece, half gig report. I basically hated the whole show, and returned home fuming, with hatchet freshly sharpened – and so the extended preamble is really just my way of calming myself down. This review – to my mild alarm, as it might well have made me The Most Hated Man In Nottingham in some quarters – also turned out to be my first cover story for the paper, in that it was plugged at the top of the front page, alongside a colour photo of Leona Lewis. “Read our verdict inside! Page 26!” Yeah, that’s right, spell it out for everybody…

Highlights from the show which didn’t make it to press included Chig texting one of the backing dancers during the interval – as he recognised two of them from last year’s Eurovision in Athens, where they performed as part of the Turkish entry. He is such a pop tart. I am in awe. The backing dancers were also doubling up as “backing singers” for the various X Factor “stars”. I think those quotation marks tell you all you need to know.

But the best moment? That was when we realised that some sharp wag at the Arena had decided to pipe Just Jack’s “Starz In Their Eyes” over the PA system during the interval. For those that don’t know it, it’s a blisteringly accurate demolition job on the whole “reality pop” phenomenon. Sheesh, talk about apposite.

4. A gig review of Duke Special, who I interviewed last week. A slight disappointment, given the expectations which he had set – but a decent little gig all the same.

There, that little lot should keep you busy. Happy reading, pop-pickers.

When Mike met Duke, and other stories.

dukspelMy interview with the Irish singer-songwriter Duke Special can be found in the EG supplement of today’s Nottingham Evening Post, and also on the paper’s website. To my surprise and delight – as I was expecting some fairly savage cuts – the full 1200 word feature has been published exactly as I wrote it. This makes me very happy, as it’s my favourite piece of work for the Post to date, by some distance. Even if you’re not that interested in the man himself, he has some interesting observations to make on the songwriting process, and on the extent to which personal experience can be spun into fiction without compromising its essential truthfulness.

Meanwhile, a few pages further on in the same supplement, a Q&A session with X Factor finalist Ray “Snappy Fingers” Quinn makes my recent interview with Shayne Ward look positively Socratic by comparison.

(Incidentally, for all you Shayne fans out there: here’s Chig’s review of his Tuesday night show at Nottingham Arena, as composed on the PC in our study, while the rest of us all sat around and chatted. I couldn’t have coped with the distraction, being far too much of an “I need space!” prima donna, but Chig didn’t have a problem with it at all. The man is such a professional.)

And finally, on a completely unrelated note, here are a couple of choice links from the past week’s browsing.

1. Adrian Sevitz: Unemployed, Single and Ill. A remarkable piece of home video, made using stop motion photography over the course of several days, with a well-chosen soundtrack.

2. For his regular “Open Thread Thursday” spot, Joe. My. God. asked his predominantly gay male readers: What was your worst sex ever? The many, many answers which follow make for fascinating reading, in all sorts of ways – but be warned, and I cannot stress this too strongly – the content is very, VERY explicit, and absolutely NOT for the squeamish.

Strategies for coping with Bob Dylan: an open reply to Lucy Pepper.

Over at Blogzira, Lucy Pepper – the prodigiously gifted donor of my disco-dancing topless avatar – has publicly requested my help regarding a rather nasty outbreak of Dylan Worship on the part of her Life Partner.

I am in need of your esteemed muso-help, as I can’t think of anything musically clever to say to him to make him shut up once and for all and keep the Dylan to himself, like a dirty little secret.

Dear Lucy,

Alas, I fear that Dylan-itis is a largely uncurable disease. “Bob-heads”, as they like to call themselves (I know) are an uncommonly intractable bunch, and most provocation will only inflame the condition.

(It’s a Martyrdom Complex thing. To paraphrase Neil Innes: Bob has suffered for his art, and now it’s your turn.)

However, maybe there are ways of reducing the symptoms. So why not try some of these for size?

1. The “Clay Feet” approach.

Does your Life Partner know that His Perpetual Right On-ness has licensed one of his wretched CDs for exclusive distribution by the Great Satan that is Starbucks? Or that he has appeared in an advert for a tatty bra-n-knickers emporium called Victoria’s Secret? Tell him, Lucy! Tell him!

2. The “Fighting Fire With Fire” approach.

Load up your music player with some of Bob’s, um, less seminal works, crank up the volume, set to repeat, and prepare to cut a deal.

Here are my top tips for maximum damage.

a) Any live recording from the past two or three years, which reveal the great man’s vocal range – never that impressive in the first place – to have shrunk to about three notes. Until you have heard the once-passable “Like A Rolling Stone” re-worked as experimental plainsong, you haven’t truly suffered.

b) Selected works from his “Born Again Christian” phase of the late 1970s – in particular, the execrable “Man Gave Names To All The Animals“, which includes this deathless couplet:

He wasn’t too small and he wasn’t too big.
“Ah, think I’ll call it a pig.”

3. The “Mike Yarwood” approach.

Buy a cheap mouth organ (don’t worry, you won’t need lessons), smoke 40 consecutive Marlboro Reds, mix yourself a nifty paint-stripper ‘n thumb-tacks mouthwash, and treat him to a Zimmerman-esque rendition of these deliciously appropriate Baby Boomer Busting lyrics, from the pen of The Overnight Editor. Now, that’s Social Commentary! A few repetitions, and he’ll be jibbering putty in your hands.

We shall overcome!

Yours in solidarity,
Mike xxx

Supplementary material: This week’s “In The Dock” debate over at The Art Of Noise, and a live review cum hatchet job of mine own.

Ah, the sweet smell of desperation…


Do you fancy a hot date this Valentine’s Day? Well spend the big day with your loved one and Tuesday 13th February with Shayne Ward.

If you’ve not got your tickets yet there’s still chance to spend a night with last year’s X Factor winner at Nottingham Arena.

Hmm. Perhaps that “major arena” tour was a little over-optimistic after all?

Having turned down the chance to review Shayne’s Nottingham show this evening (the interview was quite enough, and we’ve decided to see Dreamgirls instead; even more Gay Points), I have instead sub-contracted the assignment to Chig, who will be hot-footing it over from Birmingham this evening, notebook and pencil in hand. (The relief from my editor was palpable.)

As usual, K and I won’t be celebrating Valentine’s Day, because a) we don’t do slushy, b) it only distracts attention from my birthday on the 17th, and c) it’s a bag of bollocks, as this lethally accurate post from last week’s Post of the Week shortlist illustrates.

Alternatively, maybe I’ll send him one of Meg’s Anti-Valentine cards instead. It wouldn’t be the first time…

While we’re on the subject of Post of the Week: although the project is going every bit as well as I had hoped, we could still do with a few more volunteers. To this end, we have introduced a new category of volunteer: the Permanent Judge.

The duties of a Permanent Judge are dead simple, and not in the least bit time-consuming. Once every four to six weeks, you’ll be asked to read the shortlist – which contains between six and twelve of the week’s best posts – and to e-mail the names of your favourite five posts, in order of preference. You’ll have from Saturday lunchtimes to Sunday nights to do this. I can’t imagine it taking any longer than 30 minutes at most, and you’ll get to read some damn good stuff into the bargain.

If you’re interested, then please e-mail me.

What do you think of Post of the Week, anyway? I’d be interested to hear your opinions, criticisms, suggestions, whatever…

Cryptic crossword clue.

I devised this one while lying in bed this morning, basically as a displacement activity for getting out of bed and cracking on with the day. Yes, that might be an extra clue.

Automobile financed, Ethel Merman starts to rise and shine, we hear. (5,4)

I’ll leave the solution in the comments – but no advance peeking, do you hear? I’m placing you on trust…

Update: OK, so maybe that one was too easy. In which case, try this one.

Minty Yorkshireman’s ejaculation into African dictator’s behind. (6,6)

Welcome to Troubled Diva.

(Last revision: January 22nd 2009.)

Hello, I’m Mike Atkinson, and this is my personal weblog.

Firstly, and despite frequent evidence to the contrary, I am not “Troubled Diva”. That’s the name of the blog, not the name of its author. I dreamt the name up in a hurry, before I knew what I was going to do with this site, and then it stuck, so here we are. I particularly dislike the forced glottal-stop between the “d” at the end of “troubled” and the “d” at the beginning of “diva” – but hey, what can you do. It’s a brand, of sorts.

I’ve been writing Troubled Diva since October 2001, which either places me at the end of the “first wave” of British blogging, or at the start of the “second wave” of British blogging. I’ve probably got a foot in both camps.

I’m in my mid-forties, I’m as gay as a goose, and I’ve been sharing my life with my partner K since 1985. We registered our civil partnership in April 2006, and as such are now legal, decent, honest and truthful. Farewell, twilight subculture! Hello, equality under the law! That we should have lived to see the day!

During the week, we live in central Nottingham, where I work as an IT consultant, and where K runs a company which specialises in improving the detection and treatment of cancer in pets. From Friday evenings until Monday mornings, we de-camp to a village in the Derbyshire Peak District, somewhere between Ashbourne, Bakewell and Buxton. We’re a little bit country, and a little bit rock and roll. But I’m more rock and roll than he is.

Ah yes, rock and roll. I’m a freelance music journalist in my spare time, and I provide regular gig reviews, album reviews and interview features for the Nottingham Evening Post. I’ve written for Guardian Film & Music, Stylus and LeftLion, and I’ve also covered the Eurovision Song Contest for Slate and Time Out (London).

Ah yes, the Eurovision Song Contest. I’ve attended it in person on five occasions, and I have to warn you that, for two or three weeks a year, Troubled Diva does go Full On Eurovision Crazy. I’ll leave you to negotiate around that in the way which suits you best.

As for the rest of the blog: it’s primarily a “personal” site, which means that the main subject matter is Me And My Fabulous Life. There are diary-style pieces; there are autobiographical reminiscences; there are various scraps of half-baked commentary on what we must loosely term “popular culture” (as I’m too shallow to engage with anything else); there are competitions and collaborative stunts; there are occasional excursions into podcasting and vidcasting … but there is also much linkage to other sites of interest, and to other blogs in particular. I’m one of those bloggers who does feel very much like part of an extended community, and blogging has introduced me to many wonderful like-minded souls, many of whom I now regard as good friends.

(Of course, the downside to all of this community-mindedness is that a certain self-referential cliquiness does creep in from time to time. Advance apologies, but it can’t altogether be helped. Such is the nature of our medium.)

My “site style” is a wildly inconsistent one, and I have no wish to make it more consistent. Consistency is for freelance work; the blog is where I cut loose, muck around, take risks, and generally do what I damn well please – but, and this is crucial, only if I think it will entertain others. I may swing between wild extremes of self-aggrandisement and self-deprecation – frequently within the same blog post – but I do my best to steer away from self-indulgence. Troubled Diva isn’t written for myself; it’s written for its readership.

As for frequency of posting, that also varies considerably. I might post six times in a day, and then not at all for two weeks. This depends on all sorts of factors, but mainly on the ever-shifting balance of priorities in my life. I do have a tendency to over-commit, which is a tad awkward when you’re as fundamentally lazy as I am. So bear with me, reader. It all evens out in the end.

Troubled Diva has received more than its fair share of bouquets over the years. It has been shortlisted for all sorts of blogging award doo-dahs – most notably the 2005 Bloggies, when it made the final five in the Best Gay Lettuce Bacon & Tomato category. I’ve talked about blogging on the radio, I’ve given lectures about blogging to a writers’ conference, a book festival and an MA Creative Writing class, and the site has been featured in various newspapers and magazines, both in the UK and abroad.

I also administer a site called Post of the Week, which ran as a regular feature on this blog before being launched under its own domain in January 2007. It’s basically an attempt to promote good writing on personal blogs, and to draw people’s attention to blogs they might not have heard of before.

I have edited and published a paperback anthology of British blog writing, within the space of a week, in order to raise money for Comic Relief 2007. The book is called Shaggy Blog Stories, and copies are still available for sale. I’ve also contributed a piece for another blog anthology, You’re Not The Only One.

In March 2008, I launched a community blog for the aforementioned village in the Derbyshire Peak District. The village blog has gone from strength to strength, and I spend a lot of my spare time helping to administer it.

To get a flavour of to what expect around here, I have assembled 25 of my favourite posts on their own dedicated page. There’s a massive archive to dip into, and I’ve provided links to the highlights over here. Ooh, it could keep you busy for months.

I hope you enjoy the Troubled Diva Experience. Comments are encouraged – indeed, I can be quite the petulant little madam if I feel I’m not getting enough of them – and a range of quality souvenir merchandise is available in the foyer.

Further assorted “about this site” / “about the author” posts can be found here:

troubled diva: the first 5 years, summarised
dramatis personae
potted autobiography
4 things · 100 things · 100 other things
BBC Nottingham profile & interview
what makes me “good”?
the zbornak mini-interview
the ages of mike (in pictures)
blogging questionnaire
“finish this sentence” meme

Showing my workings: an explanation for the feed readers.

Blessed are the RSS watchers; for they shall see the “inappropriate humour” posts, slapped up on a whim and hastily withdrawn. Context is key, and I sometimes forget that not all who pass though these doors are necessarily equipped with that context.

Cursed are the RSS watchers; for they shall be burdened with scores of old posts, re-published in order that New Blogger “labels” might be added. My apologies for the intrusion.

I’m loving these new-fangled “labels”, though – as they are helping me to bestow retrospective order upon the more unkempt areas of my archives and sidebar. For while most people – normal, sensible people with a sense of perspective and a functional set of priorities – are happy to let their archives grass over, I like to tend to mine, keeping them neat and clipped and accessible, with their more prominent features clearly marked.

It’s a time-consuming process to be sure – but there’s something about grinding monotony in the service of neatness and tidiness which appeals to something deep and primal within me. In Neolithic times, while others were out a-hunting and a-gatherering, I would have been the one stuck back in the cave, ranking mammoth tusks by size, or age, or curvature, or pointiness. Or maybe organising a “Mammoth Tusk of the Week” poll amongst my fellow Neanderthals.

Anyway. Before the SHEER UNADULTERATED JOY of Which Decade Is Tops For Pops kicks off again on Monday, I’m having a behind-the-scenes Maintenance Week.

And interviewing pop stars. And getting some order back into the Nottingham house, after the kitchen refit. And sourcing a 20-second “walk” interlude for the dressage music (thank God for BPM analysing freeware, and iTunes smart playlists). And keeping a watchful eye on Post of the Week. And savouring home-grown leeks, donated by lovely fellow bloggers. And purchasing the word “bottom”, twice. (More explanation here.) And enjoying exceptional posts written by good friends. Busy busy busy!

When Mike met Shayne.

shwrdMy nice little chat with former X Factor winner Shayne “Big In Asia” Ward is in the EG supplement of today’s Nottingham Evening Post – and it can also be found online.

(Complete with some strange punctuation; those triple question marks are supposed to be dot-dot-dots.).

OK, so perhaps Shayne wasn’t the most scintillating of conversationalists (although not as script-perfect as his People would wish him to be, as careful reading between the lines will reveal) – but at least I got a decent amount of phone time with him. In contrast, my editor was granted the grand total of forty-six seconds to speak to Beyoncé Knowles – and yet he still managed to spin an entertaining feature out of it. I’m looking, and I’m learning.