There’ll be radio silence on Troubled Diva for the next couple of days, as K and I will be in London, helping our two dear old friends celebrate their formal civil partnership ceremony.

The happy couple stayed with us on the first weekend they got together, almost exactly ten years ago, so it feels like we’ve been with them every step of the way. (Apart from the having sex together bit, and the moving in together bit, and the having jobs in London bit. But you know what I’m getting at.)

Tomorrow’s celebrations are made all the more significant by the fact that this is the first civil partnership ceremony that I will have attended, other than our own. (K attended another, but I was working in China at the time. I did the CDs for that one, as well.)

At long bloody last! It’s a DWEAM CUM TWOO!

(They’ve just booked a DJ, by the way. Well, I suppose the lovingly compiled CDs might come in handy as backup…)

Curvy balls.

It has just been pointed out to me (by my diagonally opposite colleague JP, always a scarily accurate barometer of such things) that I have used the word “curveball” on no fewer than four occasions today.

“Curveball? Crikey, has that become my mot du jour?”

Five times.”

And that’s not even counting the time I used it down the phone. To Will Young, as it happens. (I only mention this because it’s relevant to the plot, and not because I am trying to shoehorn a gratuitous namedrop.)

“So, Will: from the tracks I’ve heard on the sampler, this is fairly and squarely a mainstream pop/soul album. Are there any surprises on there? Have you thrown any curveballs?”

(The answer is: yes, he has brought in dance production team The Freemasons for one track. Radical.)

There has been more than the usual interest in my little chat-ette with Will, I must say. Even from our cleaning lady (“I voted for him!”), who showed a degree of excitement not seen since the days of Rodney Bewes.

My increasingly metrosexual colleague who sits opposite (and has taken to greeting me each morning with a waspish comment on my hairdo and/or outfit) was all eager ears upon my return.

“So, how was Will?”


And him the company’s Compliance officer! Of all people, he should have known better.

(We got given special Compliance mousemats on Monday. CTRL ALT DELETE, BEFORE YOU LEAVE YOUR SEAT. I’ve a feeling that was one of mine. My breast is fair swelling with pride.)

Any second now, JP will meerkat over the divide and ask me if I’m blogging. It’s the keystroke volume that gives me away, apparently. If I’m blogging, I bash merry hell out of my keyboard. If I’m working, it’s light taps.

I told you he was scary.

Ultimate Civil Partnership Party 2008.

Was yesterday’s post pointless and inconsequential enough for you? I do hope so, because you’re not getting anything meatier from me today. But at least I have a pre-determined topic, and that topic is… party mix CDs.

There’s a downside to being known amongst my friends as The One Who Knows Loads About Music, and it’s a downside which usually manifests itself a few days before any private social gathering at which there might conceivably be dancing.

The phone call usually comes on the Wednesday. Striving for light, casual airiness, the caller will ask me how I am, and tell me how much they are looking forward to seeing me on Saturday night. Oh, and if it’s not too much trouble, could I bring some music along?

“Er… well, a bit of everything really! Totally up to you! Just stuff that everyone can have a bit of a boogie to, basically! But don’t go to any trouble! Just two or three hours’ worth will do fine. Been meaning to ask you for ages!”

And with that, my heart sinks a little inside. No, I explain: I don’t have any home-made party mix CDs lying around. But don’t worry, I’ll knock something together. No, no problem at all.

People are always surprised that I don’t have these kinds of CDs lying around. That’s partly because I don’t get invited to many dancey parties any more; it’s an inevitable function of age. But even though we’re all getting older, the discs still date within a matter of months. You’ve always got to have a smattering of vaguely current stuff, or else it’s all a bit… depressing.

This is where friends can start to roll their eyes, as my habitual obsessive perfectionism looms into view. Trouble is, I can’t just pick up an old CD – and I can’t just burn an old iTunes playlist, either. Oh, I just can’t. If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly – and besides, what if my music fails and nobody dances? After all, picking the right music for the right occasion is one of the few activities which I can actually do quite well.

And so it begins. K will see nothing of me for the rest of Wednesday evening, and indeed for the whole of Thursday evening, as I start selecting, ordering and editing. The first job is to try and work out what sort of people will be at the party. Ages, backgrounds, likely tastes. I’ll try and picture the room, and the people in it. Then I’ll start grabbing tracks and shoving them into a rough playing order. It’s the brainstorming part of the process, and I’ll work quickly, not wanting to break my concentration.

Having assembled the first draft, I’ll transfer the playlist to my iPod. There will already be far too many tracks, but I’ll worry about that later. During the following day – from the morning walk to work onwards – I’ll have the iPod clamped to my ear, working through the party music in sequence, making mental notes as to what works and what doesn’t. This is the point in the process where the optimistically experimental stuff (i.e. anything which isn’t a huge, obvious hit) gets eliminated.

That evening, I’ll refine the playlist and pull all the contents into my mixing software. What, did you really think I’d just burn the full length tracks, with all those potentially buzz-killing slow intros, long fades and inter-track silences? Nuh-uh. Those track-to-track transitions are the most important moments of any CD, and I’ll jiggle around with the sound wave graphs and volume levels until every element is split-second perfect. The trick is not to allow anyone the option of stopping, looking around the room, and deciding whether or not to carry on. Wherever possible, the successful compiler must deny them that option.

However, none of this can mask the awful, underlying knowledge that in reality… on the night… at least eight times out of ten… those CDs WILL FAIL.

Firstly, there’s the simple psychology of the situation. Without the physical, conductor-like presence of an actual DJ in the room, there’s no focus of attention, and no tangible invitation to dance.

Secondly, there’s no way that any pre-sequenced CD can anticipate the mood of the crowd on the night. Again, it’s psychological: the successful DJ will read the mood and choose accordingly, usually by surreptitiously focussing on a few select “taste makers” and playing to them directly. If you can get the taste makers moving, the rest will follow. It was twenty years ago, but I still remember this clearly.

Finally, there’s virtually no chance that each CD will be played in full, from start to finish, and in the correct sequence of discs. Some well-meaning but pissed-up, unrepresentative, domineering smart aleck will always mooch up to the sound system and change the disc – usually at the precise moment when the buzz has just showed signs of beginning to build. And of course, it’s always my job (“Could you look after the CDs for me, Mike?“) to get things back on track. Battle of wills. Once the spell has been broken, more party-goers with equal and opposite tastes will pitch in. And once anarchy has broken out, you’ll never quite pull back from it. Unless you have the sort of Natural Authority which I lack.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s because I’m just coming to the end of the assembly process for a little three-disc set that I am christening Ultimate Civil Partnership Party 2008. The do in question takes place in London this Friday – although to be fair, I did receive the call last week.

“Oh, sure! Because the CDs I burnt for your engagement party were such a success!”

“Yeah, but… well, OK, no-one danced to them then, but we’ve been loving them ever since! Don’t spend too long doing them, will you? Just a couple of hours will be fine! Or if you’ve already got something lying around…?”

I live in hope. I live in hope.

(But seriously: congratulations in advance for Friday, guys. Looking forward loads to seeing you, and sharing in your celebrations. The dancing is but a detail.)

Update: That playlist in full.


New mantra: “Even if I have nothing to write about, I should still write it anyway.”

Gosh, this does still feel a little strange. Still, at least I’ve opened the “Create Post” window, which is further than I usually get…

I got proper, proper drunk on Saturday night, for the first time this year (and that includes spending a weekend in Amsterdam trying to keep pace with Reluctant Nomad, whose boozing capacity borders on the biologically freakish).

Not Falling Over And Puking Drunk, admittedly (hello, I am FORTY-SIX, and hence not completely devoid of Life Lessons learnt the hard way), but the sadly more age-appropriate Bellowing Along To Neil Diamond At Glastonbury At Three In The Morning After Everyone Else Has Gone To Bed variation.

In mitigation, we had Young People staying with us. Well OK, a married couple in their thirties with an eight-month daughter in tow who had already retired for the night, but it was as if their mere presence on the premises had ignited my tippling touch-paper. (Gratuitous forced alliteration, how I have missed thee…)

This turned yesterday into something of a trial, as I emerged blinking into the daylight almost four hours behind our guests, who had been bouncing around since half past parent o’clock. Kindly disregard what was said in last week’s MEEM about being the “perfect host”; clearly this was blatant self-embiggening bollocks. Never has a breakfast table been cleared so slowly or grudgefully. (Our guests were baby-dandling in the garden by then, so I think I might have got away with it. But only just.)

No sooner was the last egg cup loaded into the dishwasher, than the call went up to Get Your Shoes On, We’re Walking To The Pub. Not the village pub, but the Unspoilt Period Charm, Oh You’ll Love It, Such A Special Place gaff in one of the neighbouring villages, seventy-five minutes’ walk away. When we got there, I could barely touch my shandy. (Note to self: shandies are still rubbish, and K is a bit weird for getting back into them.)

The guests left. We waved, smiled, shut the door, and slumped within seconds. K went for a little lie down, and I shuffled round in a zero-concentration-span daze. Hell, even the large type “funny” pages in the middle of Private Eye were too much of a stretch. The sun came back out; I hacked grumpily at the geraniums. (The giant pink hedge is past its best, but good for a few more rounds before we start getting drastic.)

Early-ish night, slow 7:30 start. I’m a monosyllabic sonambulent grouchbag on the best of Monday mornings, but this week’s decamping exercise drew on all my reserves. Yup, it’s a two-dayer all right.

Self-pitying hangovers and hastily hacked free-form extemporisations: it really is 2003 all over again, isn’t it?

Ring-fencing the freelance stuff.

I was toying with the idea of moving the freelance reprints to a sub-domain, as their more hem-hem “professional” tone sits badly alongside the more informal personal blog posts. But then I thought: sheesh, why make things more difficult for people? So I’m going to revert to the earlier concept of Freelance Fridays, saving any gig reviews from earlier in the week until then.

Looking at my events calendar for the rest of 2008, I can already promise you heaps and heaps of gig reviews. Here’s the current list of forthcoming attractions:

Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, Congregation
Modey Lemon
The Dodos, Euros Childs
Spiers and Boden
The Ting Tings
Heavy Trash
The Hold Steady
Hot Club De Paris
Seasick Steve
Holy Fuck
Elbow (Leicester)
Vampire Weekend (Sheffield)
The Temptations
Fleet Foxes
The Kills
Scouting For Girls (oh, the perils of having a 13-year old niece!)
Show Of Hands
Will Young
The Human League, ABC, Heaven 17

There will also be interviews with Phil Oakey from The Human League, Otis Williams from The Temptations, Will Young (which looks like being a rare face-to-face job… as it were… eek!), hopefully The Hold Steady – and doubtless several more, once the summer lull is over.

That’s if I don’t get all arsey and refuse them all. Just yesterday, I sniffily turned my nose up at some WWF dude, Justin Hayward or John Lodge from the Moody Blues, and The ALL! NEW! LEGALLY RECOGNISED AT GREAT EXPENSE, SO DON’T EVEN TRY IT! Drifters, none of whose members were even in the group before 2008.

During my mini-break, I also wrote a preview piece for Nottingham Pride, in which I attempted to explain the continuing need for gay pride festivals.

I was also scheduled to interview Rufus Wainwright – but agonisingly, I had to pull out with just twenty minutes to spare, on account of being dragged into a Very Important Conference Call (in the course of which I spoke just one word, that word being “Hello”). However, Simon at the Post (his blog is here) stepped into the breach at almost no notice, and was kind enough to ask Rufus nearly all my pre-prepared questions. (Also crediting me on the finished article with “interview research”. He really does look after me awfully well. I am blessed.)

Anyhow, if you’d like to read my sort-of interview-by-proxy with Rufus Wainwright, please click thisaway.

And while I’m here: apologies for yesterday’s lack of posting, which was not exactly the best way to demonstrate that I have Turned Over A New Leaf, but then I was too busy dealing with the emotional fall-out arising from our being Named and Shamed on the village blog.

In the meantime, I’m still commenting regularly on Tom Ewing’s superb Popular blog over at Freaky Trigger, which has now reached the second half of 1978. I know that Tom would love it if more people contributed to his comments sections – so if you enjoyed pitching in on this year’s Which Decade Is Tops For Pops, then this might be the place for you. (We do disappear up our own fundaments at times, but please don’t let that put you off.)

Finish This Sentence.

Ooh, MEEM. Perfectly timed for the new bash-it-out-regardless regime, say I.

(This came from Cliff.}

1. My uncle once: blew up aeroplanes (legally), to see what would happen to the luggage.

2. Never in my life: have I even got as far as First Base with a lady.

3. When I was five: I wrote my first short story, a simple ode to independent enterprise called The Egg Chick.

4. High school was: a cruel, loveless environment for a sensitive, mixed-up kid like me, and I bore the scars for years (and still do, a little bit).

5. I will never forget: the (very long) name of that mountain in New Zealand, as recited by Quantum Jump at the start of their 1979 hit “The Lone Ranger”.

6. Once I met: Miss Rotherham Advertiser 1981.

7. There’s this girl I know: who’s bright, and sharp, and funny, and interested in the world around her, and irrepressibly, infectiously positive in her outlook – and I can’t wait to see what she does with her life, because I suspect she’ll do a lot.

8. Once, at a bar: a stripped-off stripper coaxed me into stroking his freshly oiled torso – the error of which I only realised once he’d moved on, leaving my hands rancid with thick, noxious gloop.

9. By noon, I’m usually: just about coming into full mental focus.

10. Last night: I went to a twenty-first birthday party, where the birthday boy socially engineered me into sitting on the Young People’s Table – which was initially nerve-wracking but ultimately great, as the Young People that I talked to were ace and I had some of the most stimulating conversations that I’ve had in a long, long time (it’s tough restricting some of these answers to a single sentence, innit?).

11. If only I had: more confidence in my abilities.

12. Next time I go to church: it will be to show someone the truly beautiful new stained glass window that was installed in June.

13. What worries me most: are self-invented and illusory projections of doom, which prevent me from getting things done.

14. When I turn my head left I see: a nice pregnant lady.

15. When I turn my head right I see: a recently vacated desk (she’s buggered off to Bournemouth).

16. You know I’m lying when: hell freezes over, as I’m congenitally incapable of lying (exaggerations, half-truths and strategic omissions are as close as I can get).

17. What I miss most about the Eighties is: the weekly music press.

18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be: something flighty and pouffy, like Puck.

19. By this time next year: K’s life will be a whole lot better, you mark my words.

20. A better name for me would be: Doubled Trivia, as an ex-blogger waggishly dubbed me in the early days.

21. I have a hard time understanding: what you’re saying, unless I can see your lips move (so maybe it’s time to recharge the stopper bottle with olive oil).

22. If I ever go back to school, I’ll: make sure it’s during the holidays, when no one’s around.

23. You know I like you if: I can talk freely in your company.

24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be: the person who gave me the award, like DUH.

25. Take my advice, never: ring-fence your tastes.

26. My ideal breakfast is: a freshly baked buttery croissant, followed by scrambled egg with smoked salmon.

27. A song I love but do not have is: Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, by Elton John and Kiki Dee (I had to think for a long time about this one).

28. If you visit my hometown, I suggest you: visit the market.

29. Why won’t people: do as they would be done by?

30. If you spend a night at my house: you’ll be glad you did, as we’re bloody good hosts and the guest facilities are, frankly, gorgeous.

31. I’d stop my wedding for: all eternity, as I’m already civil partnered and have absolutely zero desire for an upgrade.

32. The world could do without: wasps (please note lower case, as I have no wish for self-extinction).

33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: jump in the deep end, or drive down a motorway.

34. My favourite blonde(s) is/are: Kevin Ayers in the early 1970s, Deborah Harry in the late 1970s.

35. Paper clips are more useful than: protractors and set squares.

36. If I do anything well it’s: unlikely that I’ll keep quiet about it, as I’m a boastful little sod.

37. I can’t help but: worry that my revisions won’t show up on the RSS feed.

38. I usually cry: during Desert Island Discs, at the end of Breakfast At Tiffany’s, and when the housemates get their messages from home on Big Brother.

39. My advice to my child/nephew/niece: if you’re good at something and you enjoy it, then stick with it.

40. And by the way: you’re beautiful, did anyone ever tell you that?

I’m tagging: Reluctant Nomad, who hasn’t blogged since May 2007 (and if I can come out of mothballs, then so can he).

Nobody reads weblogs in August…

…which makes it an ideal time to dip my toe back in the water, of course. (Hell, do I even have any readers left?)

I’ll spare you the bulk of the navel-gazing – but oh, my darlings, I have been blog-blocked for The. Longest. Time. (Maybe I still am. We shall see.) It’s been a Misplaced Paradigm thing, I think.

This place used to be a hit-and-run, don’t-look-back, bash-it-out-in-your-coffee break kind of enterprise – in intent, if not always in execution. (I’m often at my most productive when expectations are set at their lowest. It’s a simple sleight of hand, and I can be good at self-sleighting.) But then, that’s how blogs were, back in the day. Then the (perceived) paradigm shifted, and deftly crafted, neatly turned, on-topic, stylistically consistent, passively-aggressively careerist (I don’t altogether mean that, but let it stand) essaylets became the norm. And so began the (almost wholly imagined) peer pressure.

And then the freelancing thing came along, and with it the imperative of discipline. Word counts; neutrality; taking the “I” out of everything. Which, once you’ve mastered the processs, can cast an unattractive back-shadow over what you have come to see as your juvenalia.

Except – and I only realised this the other day, when necessity sent me back to an archived piece from 2002 – the juvenalia wasn’t really all that juvenile after all.

In fact, now that I can view it from a reasonably objective distance, some of it was really quite, you know, good. And that made me sad. Sad for what had been lost.

So I’m stepping back into the saddle, but hopefully on my own terms. Jeez, it’s a freaking blog!