So, Mr.Gormley, we meet again…

It’s a shame about the Nasty Little Notices (none of which were deemed necessary at Trafalgar Square) – but let that not detract from the joy of encountering the great man’s work for the second time in under 48 hours.

This was taken at the fourth annual “Beyond Limits” exhibition at Chatsworth House, as curated by Sotheby’s. More photos to follow… along with The Great Plinth Write-Up, which couldn’t be done today owing to a) oversleep, b) my fourth major cultural event since Thursday evening, and c) an “early doors” which turned into a dinner date (my dears, the venison chops were SUBLIME).

Shoddy, I know. But who reads this stuff on Saturdays, anyway?


Pointy fingers and Jazz Hands.

On the basis that a picture paints a thousand words, and mindful of the fact that the thousand words are going to have to wait until tomorrow…

(Honestly, I had NO IDEA that I did the “pointy fingers” thing. We live and learn.)

Thanks to everyone who came along to Trafalgar Square, or who watched the proceedings via the web stream, and also to everyone who has left so many lovely comments in various places.

In short: I had THE MOST FANTASTIC, AMAZING, INCREDIBLE, elevating, elating, transformative experience. I’ll try and expand on that tomorrow!

In the meantime: here’s the archived footage, which should be watched in tandem with the streaming audio mix.


Word to the wise: if you find (as I did) that the audio mix lags slightly behind the video stream, just pause and immediately un-pause the video stream. And can I also draw your attention to the green square with the white square inside, to the bottom right of the video window? If you press it, then you’ll get a full-screen version of the video.

If you’d rather not watch the full hour – and really, that’s absolutely fine – then can I suggest that you fast-forward to the final minute, which contains an unplanned moment of pure Comedy Gold.

K’s photos of the event can be found in slideshow form here, or as individual photos here.

My friend Angus has taken some truly fantastic shots, which can be found here. Click on “slideshow”, and then click on “fast”.

I also enjoyed Caroline’s photos, turnesoleil’s photos and videos, Luca’s photos, and the shots of asta grooving along at home.

More words and fewer pictures tomorrow.

The plinthing hour approaches…

…and, inevitably, the stomach butterflies have started. Looking at today’s schedule, I’m sandwiched between “anonymous_137” and “Henri”, about whom little is known. Thanks to all of you who have blogged and tweeted about the event, and to those who have left pledges and comments on my profile, and to everybody who will be coming along to the square or watching the live stream at 6pm. I’ll try to make you proud!

Although I intend to have The Most Fun Ever, I’m also – underneath it all – deadly serious about all of this, from an “artistic” standpoint. I’ve put a lot of thought into the song choices, many of which have strong personal associations and resonances. It’s a controlled experiment: an attempt to channel an emotion and share an experience. It might work exactly as intended, or it might work in ways that I hadn’t expected, or it might not work at all. Only one way to find out, eh?

I’ll be officially offline from lunchtime until Friday evening, aside from occasional quick peeks via K’s Blackberry. K is coming with me, and he’ll be on official “where are we up to in the mix?” duty in the Square – so if you’re arriving later than 6pm, he’ll be happy to show you where to catch up.

Hooray for Art! Hooray for Dancing! Hooray for Making a Twerp of Yourself In Public!
I’ll see you on the other side.

Mike on the plinth: the bare essentials, summarised.

(This is for the benefit of less regular visitors to this site. Everyone else can skip it, if they’re already up to speed.)


I’ll be dancing on the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square, tomorrow (Thursday) between 6pm and 7pm (UK time), as part of Antony Gormley’s “One & Other” project.

If you’d like to dance along with me – whether in the square itself, or sitting in front of the live web stream – then you’ll need a copy of my specially compiled mix.

(That’s because I’m doing the whole thing on headphones, not loud speakers.)

Here’s a link to the mix: You can either stream it from the web, or download it to your MP3 player.

Here’s a link to the live video stream, direct from Trafalgar Square:

At the start of my allotted hour, I’ll count you all down like this: “THREE – TWO – ONE – GO!” As soon as I say GO, press play on your copy of the mix.

(Technical note: I recommend having the mix cued up and paused, then starting it with the pause button. That way, there’s less of a time lag.)

At the end of the hour, we’ll be going for a drink in The Ship and Shovell, 1-3 Craven Passage, WC2N 5PH. Here’s a map. It’s about three minutes’ walk away. Do please come and join us.


Why am I dancing? Here’s an explanation.

Would you like more waffle with that? Here’s a longer explanation.

Here’s the Facebook event page. If you’re able to attend – in person or via the web – then please add your name to the guest list.

And if you’re otherwise engaged on the day, then the whole thing will be archived here.

Plinther with a one-track mind.

Since there’s no point pretending that anything else is going on inside my head this week, here is today’s Plinth Bulletin.


Until this morning, I had still been toying with the “smart suit” option. Then I remembered this T-shirt, buried in the unironed laundry pile (albeit a negative image thereof, with white graphics on a black background):


(Did I ever mention, back when Troubled Diva was a byword for grisly TMI, that precipitous altitude has always made my testicles tingle, in a way that makes me feel like they’re about to liquify? Well, now you know. Is it just me who suffers from this unlikely side-effect, or is it a recognised syndrome, like sneezing when you think about sex?)

(Um, I also do this. Shall we move on?)


Sourcing a pub where my 68 year-old mother and my “edgy”, “directional” London friends will feel equally at home, in an busy area of town, at a busy time of day, has been a challenge – but I think I’ve found somewhere that will do nicely.

The Ship & Shovell (one amusingly slipped consonant in front of my mother, and I’m a dead man) is situated at 1-3 Craven Passage, WC2N 5PH. It can be reached by turning down Craven Street (to the right of the Strand before you get to Charing Cross), and then hanging a left down a narrow alleyway. A couple of steps beyond the pub, and you’d be underneath the Arches below Charing Cross station (and in close proximity to a venue called “Heaven”, whatever that might be).

Here’s a map, and here are some photos. Note that there are two bars: one on either side of the alley. We’ll be in the larger bar. It doesn’t serve food in the evenings, but the beer looks good.


As I’ve been going through the inevitable “nervous host before cocktail party” phase, it’s most comforting to hear from friends, readers, colleagues and relatives who will definitely be turning up, or streaming from afar. Facebook lists 28 definites and 19 maybes, and the download stats for the mix MP3 are already looking good. As participation is fundamental to the concept, this is all very welcome – and greatly appreciated.


K asked me tonight if I was nervous, and I suppose I am in several respects – but it’s a necessary (and hence almost comforting) nervousness, as opposed to pointless catastrophising. One thing that I will need to watch for is excessive playing to the gallery. While the first song and the last song have been explicitly chosen to make a connection with the dancers in the square, I’d like to spend most of the rest of the hour remaining true to the original brief: dancing with honesty, like there’s nobody watching. It’s Antony Bloody Gormley, not Britain’s Got Bloody Talent.


In my one concession to the concept of “props”, K has knocked me up a nice little laminate. This contains basic instructions for the start of the hour, most particularly the URL of the mix, which I can wave at the cameras before starting the music. This might help to bring a few more web-streamers on board.

BONG. (Oops, it’s midnight already. The rest can wait. A pledge is a pledge.)

The 60 minute plinth mix is available for streaming or download.

Finally – on the eighth draft, no less – I’ve ended up with the final, FINAL version of the plinth mix.

You can stream it or download it from one of two locations:
1. (smart, streamlined, user-friendly)
2. (skanky, low-rent, ad-infested)

For ease of pimpage, I’ve set up easy-to-remember aliases for both addresses: and

More by accident than design, the final mix is EXACTLY one hour, zero minutes and zero seconds long. This pleases me enormously. Many of the tracks are beat-mixed into each other, and I hope you’ll appreciate the smoothness of my transitions. And if you’re looking for Personal Lyrical Resonances along the way, then you should find plenty to chew on.

I’m not publishing a track listing online, but downloaders will find it stashed away on the “lyrics” section of the MP3 tag data. So if you’re playing it on an iPod, just press the centre button a few times, and it will pop up on your display screen.

Obviously, it’s up to you whether you play the mix in advance of Thursday – but might I suggest that the magic will work better if you don’t? (Then again, you might want to practise your best moves in readiness. And who am I to stand in your way…)

Finally, might I draw your attention to my official profile page on the One & Other website? As the site designers have fully embraced Web 2.0 functionality, you can leave comments or merely “pledge your support”. (But only if you want to. I really don’t mind if you don’t.) After my hour is up, the same address will then take you to the full hour’s worth of archived footage.

Enough pimping for tonight. I hope you like the mix.

You can dance, you can jive…

So, what can I say about the last 24 hours that’s ethically on-limits for a blogger who is conscious of his wider responsibilities?

The bizarre saga, which has got the whole village talking, of the… er, nope, better not go there.

The poignant vignette, that I… ah, perhaps not.

What I really thought of… ooh, not exactly advisable.

The… pfft, not even hinting at that one.

Well, perhaps I can tell you a little bit about last night’s capers in the Memorial Hall. Our local indie/rock/soul/pop/folk covers band (some of them don’t like to use the f-word, but I definitely saw an accordion) played two sets, the second of which got most of us leaping around: particularly with the opener (“Losing My Religion”, complete with Actual Authentic Mandolin) and the encore (“Dancing Queen”. which I strongly suspect that the band would rather never play again, but then you under-estimate the Abba Love in this village at your peril). And if I didn’t actually recognise the song that was introduced as the “coolest” song in their set, then at least I could afford myself a rock-snobby “Pah” of patrician derision when discovering it was this one. Let it never be forgotten that “cool” is a relative concept.

As for the disco itself, “Shoddy Shaun” (whoops, did I say “Shonky” yesterday?) was indisposed, so a last minute stand-in DJ from the nearest market town did the honours. And what did he play? Abba, The Nolan Sisters, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton, Cyndi Lauper, Soft Cell, The Weather Girls… well, one had to wonder. Suddenly, my camptastic plinth mix – to be made available for download tomorrow evening – looked really rather butch.

As for today, we spent an agreeable couple of hours wandering round a local arts festival. The landscape painter at the top of our lane was exhibiting in a handsomely converted stable block, and since he also plays in the local indie/rock/whatsit band, a third and a fourth set were performed to the assembled seekers of truth and beauty.

Up the road in the market square, another band were performing classics from K’s formative years – including the first song on the aforementioned plinth mix – to a kindly crowd of sensibly jumpered, real-ale-quaffing, alternative-arts-scene ex-hippies and their extended families. For K, it was a glimpse at a lifestyle path that he might well have travelled, had I not materialised in his early twenties and summarily whisked him away from all of that. And perhaps – as I found myself wondering out loud, with a sudden twinge of guilt – he might have carved out a perfectly satisfactory niche for himself, secured in that parallel bubble?

Oh, but look at the time. Five minutes to midnight, and that “Publish Post” button is looming large, if my pledge is to be maintained. Well, let’s just leave it there!

Seasonal berries and fruits.

As the weather this morning was just about as perfect as weather gets, K and I broke with convention and left the cottage before noon on a Saturday – you know, like NORMAL PEOPLE do – in order to source a new banner shot for the village blog. The purpose of the mission was to line up the hem-hem “iconic” church spire – which has appeared in every banner image to date – with the bright red hawthorn berries which have sprouted up all over the place.

Mission accomplished, K stepped out again this afternoon in order to capture a pleasing assortment of seasonal berries and fruits. Here’s the rather lovely blog post which I constructed for him.

In a few minutes, we’ll be sitting down to a nice sirloin steak supper, served with oven Aga chips, beefsteak tomatoes and peas. (The Saint-Emilion is already breathing.) After supper, our evening will divide: K has elected to stay in and watch telly, while I’ll be heading out for the official Farewell Party in the old Memorial Hall, before the demolition/rebuild commences at the end of the month. It’s not often that we get a Proper Disco in the village, and I intend to make the most of “DJ Shonky Shaun” on the wheels of steel. Well, it’s a key stage of my training programme, obviously…

All of which brings me back to the inevitable subject of That Damned Plinth. I’ve just created a Facebook Event Page for Thursday’s Tush Wiggle – so if you’re able to attend in person or via the website, then please add your name to the guest list.

My readers have spoken.

My plinth soundtrack poll might not have been open for long, but its result is already beyond dispute. Step forward, “Xanadu“! Your place on the plinth is now assured! My thanks to Nigel R (former blogger of this parish) for the suggestion.

This is, I have to say, a most satisfactory result. Not only does “Xanadu” have the requisite Direct Personal Resonance (being a Duckie classic of long standing), but it also slots very well into the overall mood of my sixty-minute mix.

And what mood might that be? Well, it was only on the drive from Nottingham to the cottage this evening – the sixth draft blasting out through the country lanes – that I realised where all of these endless additions and subtractions from the playlist had led me to.

In short – and perhaps this comes more of a surprise to me than it does to you – this mix is really, really GAY.

Honestly, it’s so fucking gay. Wall-to-wall divas, with barely a male vocal or a low-end BPM to be found. Bouncy, sparkly, relentlessly “up”… and a real test of my (and, let’s not forget, YOUR) stamina.

As someone who has moved further away from “gay culture” over the past few years than he could ever have dreamt possible, I shall take this as a timely re-connection. Perhaps even a necessary corrective.

I’ll be making the mix available on Monday evening, giving you plenty of time to download it in readiness for Thursday evening.

That’s it for tonight, then. (But if you’re still feeling short-changed, then I’ve written a short review of last night’s Okkervil River gig, and I’ve also retold an old story, in a new way, about my last-but-one break-up song.)

Plinth soundtrack request spot: the shortlist.

Thanks for all your suggestions. I’ve listened to all of them (although not necessarily all the way through) and have whittled them down to a shortlist of ten tunes:

1. Beat The Clock – Sparks (geoff)
2. Born Slippy – Underworld (Dymbel)
3. Chant No. 1 – Spandau Ballet (Betty)
4. Crying At The Discotheque – Alcazar (Buni)
5. I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ – Scissor Sisters (Clair)
6. Let Me Know – Roisin Murphy (asta)
7. Make Me Believe In You – Patti Jo (David)
8. Marcia Baila – Les Rita Mitsouko (zed)
9. Panic – The Smiths (lksn)
10. Xanadu – ELO & Olivia Newton John (Nigel R)

(Clicking on each song title will take you to its video.)

So, which song deserves to make it onto next Thursday’s soundtrack? Please vote (for ONE SONG ONLY) in the comments box, and we’ll take it from there…

Clippings from Popular’s boxes.

Following an extended sabbatical, I recently found myself returning to the comments boxes of Freaky Trigger’s Popular, in which Tom Ewing is reviewing every UK Number One single in chronological order. I rejoined Tom and his comments crew in the summer of 1984, and hung around for the rest of the year. (I’m currently struggling for something relevant and instructive to say about Foreigner’s ghastly “I Want To Know What Love Is”.)

For those of you who don’t read the site regularly – and if not, then why not? – here’s a selection of my recent comments. They’re best read in context with the general discussion, but hopefully I’ve snipped out anything too self-referential.


While “Two Tribes” was at Number One, I left West Berlin – where I had been living since August 1983 – and returned to Nottingham for one final year at university. My year in Berlin had been a period of absolute freedom, which I knew could never quite be repeated – and so I left the city with a heavy heart and a vague sense of retreat (back to the old campus, the old stamping grounds, the old life).

My final weeks in Berlin had chiefly been soundtracked by “Two Tribes” and Laura Branigan’s “Self Control” (a massive and ubiquitous hit in West Germany, which I think was 1984’s best-selling single over there). Along with “The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight” by The Dominatrix, the Top Three in my weekly personal chart (lovingly hand-written, and retained to this day) had remained static for a few weeks – and since I more or less abandoned the personal chart upon returning to Nottingham, there’s a part of me which still thinks they’re sitting there.

So it’s not just that “Two Tribes” marked the final peak of New Pop – it’s also that it soundtracked the final peak of my carefree, irresponsible, naively bubble-dwelling youth.

GEORGE MICHAEL – “Careless Whisper”

Blimey, so much love for this? I’m considerably less fond. The verses drag tunelessly, the sax break grates, and the preening faux-sincerity fails to convince. So, yup, I was another disillusioned former Wham fan who thought they’d lost the plot in the quest to Make It Big. (And this isn’t a patch on “Nothing Looks The Same In The Light”, the sole ballad on the debut album Fantastic and a spot-on depiction of the aftermath of an ill-advised one-night stand, which I also took as an instant signifier of George Michael’s sexuality.) A grudging five from me.

STEVIE WONDER – “I Just Called To Say I Love You”

Has there ever been a worse ending to any song than that perfunctory CHA-CHA-CHA? (To say nothing of that maddening bass line, which sounds like one of several machine-installed presets.) As others have said, this is an efficient – if corny – melody, clobbered by a deadening arrangement. It’s almost as if the whole tenor of the record is to bludgeon the listener with a particular aesthetic, over and over again, e.g. those hymn-like resolutions at the end of each chorus, which always get my back up. As such, it reminds me of awkward slow dances at family occasions, and of bored cabaret bands with bills to pay.

Come to think of it, that’s the main problem: that this already sounds like it’s being played for the thousandth time, by a bored cabaret covers band.

WHAM! – “Freedom”

Inhabiting similar stereotype-inverting lyrical ground to Joe Jackson’s “It’s Different For Girls” – she’s the flighty player, he’s the one seeking commitment (but note that this would also read well from a gay male standpoint) – this is a hefty improvement on “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” and “Careless Whisper” (being more substantial than the former and less irritating than the latter) – but I still struggle to care much about it. 6 sounds about right to me.

CHAKA KHAN – “I Feel For You”

I taped this off the radio before it hit the shops – most likely from Robbie Vincent’s Radio One soul show – and played it over and over again, adoring it without reservation. In a way, it does sound like Chaka is merely guesting on her own record; there are so many competing, equally fore-grounded elements at work that it almost feels like a Chaka Khan tribute record, with Chaka herself being borne aloft above the clattering fray, slightly at one remove from it all. Which is cool in my book, but perhaps less cool if you approach this record expecting to hear a traditional artist-led “performance”… and evidently much less cool if you’re Chaka herself! (Compare and contrast with the struggles which Diana Ross had with the Chic boys four years earlier…)


At the time, this felt to me like a fractional step down from “Relax” and “Two Tribes” – a 9 rather than a 10 – but I’d now rank this as my favourite FGTH single.

The song also took on another dimension when I saw Holly Johnson perform it at London Gay Pride in 1997. It was the last performance of the day (following three-song sets from Erasure and Pet Shop Boys), and halfway through it, the end-of-day fireworks display started up at the other end of Clapham Common. This all seemed to trigger off a mass hugging and smooching session amongst the crowd: everywhere I looked, pairs of men and women were locked in embraces. We’d just had a change of government, many promises had been made, and optimism was in the air as we sensed a sea change in public attitudes. It felt like a vindication, after years of struggle. With all this in mind, the song took on a newly anthemic quality – a perfect soundtrack for that particular moment, of that particular month, in that particular year. I duly bawled my eyes out – not for the first time, since the Erasure and PSB songs had been equally well-picked: A Little Respect, It’s A Sin/I Will Survive (medley), Go West and Somewhere (from West Side Story).

So when I hear “The Power Of Love” now, I link it to the new dawn of 1997 rather than the bleak chill of 1984. Yes, the lyrics are somewhat stylised and overblown, but they suit Holly Johnson’s performance style down to the ground. He delivers the song like some sort of benevolent deity, blending Olympian detachment with more touchingly earthbound qualities, and for me the strategy pays dividends. It’s the one Frankie song which lets you in emotionally, and as such it’s the perfect conclusion to the trilogy. Sex, death and love: where on earth do you go after that?

(Answer: the dumper. And yes, the album was a total damp squib. But you can’t have everything…)

BAND AID – “Do They Know It’s Christmas”

There’s almost too much that I want to say at this juncture, and most of it is barely about the actual song under consideration. Firstly, this record marks one of the most sudden and profound sea changes in pop history. As others have said, “Do They Know It’s Christmas” dealt a fatal blow to New Pop – along with the conclusion of the Frankie Goes To Hollywood trilogy, which took its concepts to their ultimate conclusion. Where, indeed, could we go from here?

To my (probably quite biased) mind, this represented the closing of a generation gap that had first opened up with punk. For any lingering notions of a culture of new breed/old school opposition within British chart pop were sent packing, as Good Old Phil Collins and Good Old Status Quo were called back in from the cold, to jam along with the (comparatively) cool kids.

And if you were of a weekly-inkie-music-press mindset, then you might have recoiled in horror at the scene, drawing parallels with the closing pages of Animal Farm. Did we fight the punk wars for this? Or as Biba Kopf put it, in his briefly notorious single-sentence dismissal on the NME’s singles review page (paraphrased from memory): “Millions of dead pop stars make rubbish record for the right reasons.”

For what Band Aid brought back, and Live Aid later confirmed, was the notion that Big Equalled Good. It re-introduced the pecking order, and re-affirmed the primacy of the superstar elite. Good old Queen! Good old Tina Turner! And with that re-alignment of public perceptions (and with the caveat that I’m obviously over-generalising to make a point), there was a sudden and marked swing towards a renewed notion of authenticity (”proper” songs, signalling substance over style), and a hurried distancing from artificiality (plastic poseur cocktail crap with stupid haircuts).

In chart pop turns, the effect felt immediate. The charts of the first couple of months of 1985 were widely praised for containing a sudden influx of “quality” material – and indeed, a lot of great singles did chart during that period, before (as I saw it) the rot properly set in.

To begin with, I welcomed this New Authenticity – possibly because it felt like the only logical next step. Playing catch-up during 1984 – and certainly this was influenced by the clubs I was hanging out in – I’d fallen in love with the back catalogues of artists like James Brown and Aretha Franklin, and consequently I had started to prize, and to seek out, new music which espoused overt notions of soulfulness and sincerity, and “classic” song-writing and performance values.

For me, this was a unprecedented step to take, as the notion that had underpinned all of my fiercest musical passions since childhood had been one of messing with the rule book, and of pushing back the boundaries. From the nonsense bubblegum lyrics and novelty songs of my childhood, through the experimentation of prog, the culture shock of punk, the self-consciously conceptual manoeuvres of New Pop and the modernistic thrills of electro-funk and hip hop, I had always valued the breaking of new ground. So perhaps in this context, the New Authenticity also offered the promise of expanding my horizons? In retrospect, I see it as a major mis-step – and so I’m looking forward to putting these assumptions to the test, as we step through the pop-cultural desert of the mid-Eighties.

Meanwhile, back in December 1984, we have one of the great chapter-closing Christmas charts – just as we did in 1973, with glam rock’s grand finale. And don’t get me wrong here: rather than aligning myself with the Biba Kopfs of this world, I was thrilled at the way that Band Aid seemed, albeit temporarily, to expand the possibilities of what pop music could do.

Fourth plinth soundtrack: your requests, please.

In a bid to shore up the interactive element of the project, I’ve decided that one of the tracks on next week’s fourth plinth soundtrack should be a “request spot”, as nominated by readers of this blog.

To this end, please deposit your suggestions in the comments box attached to this post. No more than three per person, please. There are no particular restrictions on genre, so long as the tunes are at least vaguely danceable.

In a few days’ time, I’ll pick a shortlist and assemble a poll, allowing you to pick the final candidate. How’s that for democratisation of the creative process?

Pick wisely, readers!

When bloggers blog about blogging, Mike is always interested.

Now, here’s a curious thing: two “whither blogging?” posts in two consecutive days, from bloggers who I’ve been following ever since they started up – and they share the same title:

Hydragenic: The Seven-Year Itch.
Diamond Geezer: Seven year itch. (Title only visible through RSS.)

As I have been blogging for seven years and just under ten months, you could argue that my recent extended radio silence has been another manifestation of the same complaint, and that my current September Challenge represents an attempt to address it head on.

Or you could simply shake your head, and tut at all the meta. And who could blame you?

Oh, and for those of you who have spotted parallels between the development of blogging and the development of Twitter, this post from Meg Pickard should cause much vigourous head-nodding. (Click here to view Meg’s graphic in full size.)

Blithe Spirit, Nottingham Playhouse.

I suppose we might have the recession to thank for this, but Nottingham Playhouse appear to have started offering cheap deals, on specific midweek nights, to selected city centre workplaces – including the building which houses K’s company. Consequently, we’ve just got back from a most agreeable evening’s entertainment, priced at a mere fiver per ticket – and I’m hoping that K will be able to swing the same deal for Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle in November. (I acted in it as a teenager, and so have retained a certain sentimental attachment.)

As regards Noel Coward’s classic drawing room comedy, the attachment is no less sentimental. I grew up in the village of Blyth in North Nottinghamshire – and in a rare moment of wit, my father named our family cabin cruiser Blyth Spirit. I’d seen the 1945 movie (starring Rex Harrison and Constance Cummings) several times over – but not for at least two decades, and so my memory of the plot had dimmed to a degree that permitted the re-introduction of a useful measure of surprise.

This latest production has been staged in a traditional manner, with all period elements intact: not only the splendid, pitch-perfect set, but also the cut-glass diction and arch, mannered staginess of the cast. In the earliest scenes, some of this staginess teetered on the brink of “am dram”: most visibly in the case of the minor housemaid character, but most perilously in the case of the male lead, who stumbled over his delivery and generally took a while to get fully into his stride.

The oddest moment of the evening came with the introduction of the dinner guests, George and Violet, as the actress playing Violet bore an uncanny resemblance to… oh, you know, that woman off that thing on the telly. (I Googled her when I got home: Anne Reid, best known for her portrayal of Ken Barlow’s first wife in Coronation Street – you know, her that electrocuted herself with the hair dryer – and of Mavis Riley’s fellow refugee from Cafe BonBon on Dinner Ladies.) In fact, the resemblance was so uncanny that half the audience started muttering to each other (“Ooh, it’s her off that thing on the telly”), and there was even a brief smattering of applause.

Except that I’ve checked, and it wasn’t her off that thing on the telly at all – but a younger actress, with a markedly similar toothsome over-bite. Well, it did seem strange to have cast the best known performer in such a limited role…

Although hampered by a quiet (if faultlessly attentive) audience, whose laughter rarely rose above a polite titter, the cast did the script justice, with intelligent readings that shyed away from stock characters and easy laughs. The actress playing the ghostly Elvira pitched her performance just right, blending soignée other-worldliness with crafty mischief – and the actress playing the eccentric medium Madam Arcati was brave enough to break completely with Margaret Rutherford’s unforgettable interpretation, taking the character down a measurably different route without ever compromising her purpose or throwing away her comedic potential.

A word about the interval drinks. K and I ordered our G&Ts in advance, and were dismayed to discover that they barely tasted of gin at all. So we approached the bar: in righteous search of redress, but also perhaps unwittingly channelling the spirit of La Rutherford herself:

“Young man! We ordered gin and tonics, but we can’t taste the gin – can we, dear? We think there must have been some sort of mistake!”

“But I remember pouring your drinks myself – and there’s definitely gin in both of them.”

“Well, we definitely can’t taste it – can we dear? It’s really most terribly weak! Now, are you quite, quite sure?”

“I’m positive. But if you’d like me to pour you another…”

“Oh, yes please! How kind you are!”

“So, is that just the one measure between you, or should I…”

“No, don’t be silly: one measure each of course, there’s a good… oh yes, that’s so much better. Yes, four pounds eighty, of course…”

What have we become? Don’t feel that you have to answer that.

Cock-related confusion, and urinary deliverance.

I have been reliably informed that yesterday’s picture of a prize cock was, actually… a hen. Oh dear. My country-boy pretensions thus exposed, let us move on to happier animal-related matters.


Last weekend, on the occasion of their 11th anniversary, our favourite London boys came to stay with us – accompanied by Archie [no blog pseudonym required], their twelve-week old puppy. (I have been given to understand that Archie is a cocker spaniel, but I’m no longer certain of much in this life.)

Older readers will remember the long-standing dynamic equilibrium that sits at the heart of my relationship with K. Having worked closely with sick mutts for the past five years, K has had his heart set on owning one of his own – whereas I would rather [insert the first distatefully humiliating activity that comes to mind; you won’t be far wrong].

As you can imagine, K was almost beside himself with mushy, doe-eyed anticipation for Archie’s company.

“You’ll see, Mike. By the end of this weekend, you’ll be a changed man. How could anyone not love having a little puppy in the cottage? It’s what I’ve always wanted! It’s all I ask! Just greet him with an open mind!”


Within seconds – seconds! – of Archie’s entering the cottage, he had left us his calling card: a sizeable damp stain, right in the middle of the seagrass in the morning room. (Not pictured, but about 50 pixels to the south.)

Within minutes – minutes! – of Archie’s departure, two and a half days later, K had the Dyson out, in a bid to eradicate all lingering traces of his existence.

“I don’t think I’m ready as I thought I was, Mike. It’s like having a toddler in the house! He’s lovely! But I’m exhausted! You need eyes in the back of your head! I couldn’t relax!”

If a prominently placed piss-stain is the price I have to pay for a dog-free life, then I must embrace it whole-heartedly. Result and a half! Let freedom reign!

Out of practice, lazy-ass blogger makes daft pledge…

…goes to cottage, greets weekend guest, goes down the pub, hosts an all-back-to-ours-for-Big-Brother, stays up until age-inappropriate-o’clock…

wakes up at student-o’clock with thudding hangover, goes for bracing stroll, comes back, slumps into armchair while awaiting inspiration for blog post…

…and feels like a prize cock.


(Taken by K at the Manifold Valley Agricultural Show, 8th August 2009. Click here for the full set, or here for the slideshow.)

Some Spotify playlists, for your weekend pleasure.

If I’m going to get through a month’s worth of daily postings, then Fridays are going to be the toughest gigs of the week. For traditionally, Friday evenings fall into four tightly packed sections, with scant room for a fifth:

1. The frantic weekend packing session. Undies to sort, shirts and shoes to put out, CDs and papers to pack, laptops to stow, bins to put out: in nearly nine years of splitting our lives between town and country, we’ve yet to learn the fine art of Travelling Light.

2. The drive to the village. Fifty minutes on a good run, but almost always interrupted by the statutory two pints of Marston’s Pedigree in the Red Lion en route. That first sip of that first beer is one of the absolute highlights of our week. Simple pleasures.

3. The frantic weekend un-packing session, followed by the week’s one and only microwaved ready meal. Fridays aren’t for lingering over gatsronomic delights; they’re for chowing down and moving on through…

4. …to the sofas in the sitting room, for Friday Night trash telly. Tonight being a particular highlight, as it’s – as of course you all know – the grand final of Big Brother Series 10. Yes, we’re still watching it. Yes, it’s still compelling telly.

So with the bags all packed and K due back in seconds, I’ve only got time to chuck a few Spotify playlists in your general direction:

1. Hits of September. One song per year, from 1960 to 2009 – the common link being that they all entered the UK singles charts in September, and reached the Top 20 at some point thereafter. Starts with The Ventures and The Shadows; also includes The Temptations, Mott The Hoople, Japan, Cameo, Inner City, Suede, Hole, Rachel Stevens, Justin Timberlake, and many more.

2. A Touch Sensitive. A fine playlist from William B. Swygart. Laura Cantrell, The Doobie Brothers, Saint Etienne, Kevin Ayers, Chic, etc…

3. And speaking of Saint Etienne: its three members have compiled three playlists, in a mostly mellow vain. Bob Stanley’s is here, Pete Wiggs’ is here, and Sarah Cracknell’s is here.

4. All the Top 40 hits of 2009, in chronological order. A vintage year, I’m telling you!

5. Seminal by yer_mam. I love this playlist, compiled by a Manchester blogger: it’s wildly eclectic, yet cannily sequenced, and frequently gem-revealing.

6. Late Summer Laziness, by Unreliable Witness (he of the eponymous blog). Belle & Sebastian, The Cure, Tindersticks, Pavement, Hot Chip, Mazzy Star… oh, and is that Saint Etienne again?

7. Best Beatles Covers Ever! The Beatles aren’t on Spotify, but plenty of their songs are. This playlist arose from a couple of threads on ILM.

8. Pitchfork’s Top Tracks of the 2000s. Some OCD sweetheart out there has compiled the US music site’s critical picks of the last decade – all 500 of them – into a series of lists. I could kiss them. 500-401400-301300-201200-101100-5150-2120-1.

Will that do? For I must dash. Happy weekend listening.

Participative plinthing: your questions answered.

As promised, here are some more details on my upcoming bid to turn myself into an unseemly public spectacle – and to turn the rest of you into “creative collaborators” in the process.

Q: What are you going to be doing up there?

I shall be dancing. Non-stop. For an hour. Stone cold sober (they reserve the right to test for these things), and trying not to let vertigo get the better of me (there’s a huge safety net, as yet untested by toppling plinthers, but I’m a trusting soul).

Q: What are you going to be dancing to?

A home-made mix of tunes, spliced together as a single, 60-minute MP3. As to what the mix contains: I have a shortlist, I’m already onto the fourth draft, and BLOODY HELL it’s been a struggle thus far. The loose concept is to start the mix with tunes from the upper reaches of the 2009 singles charts. It’s been a vintage year for chart pop – the best in many years, in my estimation – and so I’d like to celebrate that. Thereafter, I shall move on to The Golden Classics That Made Me A Man. Expect 1970s soul/funk/disco evergreens, 1990s dance anthems, and maybe a swift nod to dear old Eurovision. The general vibe will be relentlessly cheerful, bouncy and uptempo. Happy music makes me happy. ‘Twas ever thus.

Q: But Mike, I’ve seen you dance. Are you sure this is wise?

Oh, I’m under no delusions. I’m a crap dancer, and I’m not attempting to turn myself into an object of awestruck wonder and desire. Instead, my aim is to dance – how can I put this? – honestly. “Like there’s nobody watching”, as the saying goes. I’ll be the random stranger that you see in the crowd: lost in his own little space, oblivious to the world beyond his headphones.

Q: But Mike, this is all very well for you – but what about the rest of us? Much as we love you, the prospect of watching you jig about in silence with your headphones on, for a full hour, is hardly an enticing one.

OK, so here’s where this gets a bit more interesting. Well in advance of the day itself, I’ll be making my mix available to anyone who wants a copy. Then when my hour begins, and on a pre-arranged cue, I’ll be inviting you all – whether physically present in Trafalgar Square, or watching the live stream from elsewhere – to un-pause the pause buttons on your MP3 players of choice, and to dance along with me. For what is dancing, if not a social act? (And if nobody else was listening, then I’d just be a self-indulgent berk, pleasuring himself on a perch.)

Q: So it’s basically a Silent Disco, yes?

In a certain sense, but hopefully with a slight twist. If you’re coming to the Square in person – and I very much hope that plenty of you do – then it would be great if you could spread yourselves out a bit, find a spot of your own, and dance along in the same spirit: tuned out from your physical surroundings, lost in your own little world, not caring what you look like to anyone else. And if that means minimal jiggling rather than full-on flailing, then that’s fine – as long as you’re comfortable, and as long as you’re dancing honestly.

If it all works, then other observers and passers-by will hopefully witness a curious, vaguely mystifying spectacle: a seemingly regular crowd of random strangers, subtly subverted by a smattering of lone individuals, all happily lost in their music and doing their things. Separately, and yet together.

(I’m also toying with the idea of giving you occasional instructions along the way, overlaid within the mix: a jump to the right here, a jump to the left there, maybe the odd hands-aloft moment during a chorus, but nothing too tricky or absurd. I’m thinking that these occasional bursts of synchronicity could add another dimension to the mystery. But we shall see.)

Q: Will you be using any props?

Nope – just a plain, unadorned plinth. I hate those little plonked-down bags of crap that plinthers take up with them. They’re just not sculptural, darlings.

Q: And what will you be wearing?

Probably just a T-shirt and jeans, in plain, dark colours. Or maybe I’ll wear my smartest suit and tie. I haven’t quite decided yet. What do you think?

Q: Any plans for later on?

I’d like it very much if you could join me and K in the pub afterwards, for a post-plinth de-brief and a mutual bout of self-congratulation. There are some people coming along who I’ve wanted to meet for ages, and there will be others who I haven’t caught up with in way too long. As to which pub: I don’t know the area, so does anyone have any suggestions?

(This would also be a good moment to mention that Heidi “H Factor” Stephens – you know, her what live-blogs the telly for The Guardian – will be plinthing later the same night, at 1:00 am. So if you haven’t made it home by then, why not turn up and cheer her on?)

Q: I’ll be otherwise engaged on the night, so I’m going to miss the whole thing. Boo! Waah! Not fair!

No matter; the whole performance will be archived on the official website. So whenever you’re overcome by the irresistable urge to watch Mike off Troubled Diva prancing about in the name of Art, at any time of the day or night, all you’ll need to do is click, sit back, and enjoy. Isn’t the modern world wonderful?