Friday, September 29, 2006

pour Nicola

Merci de vos commentaires aimables. Mes chats sont morts. Mais - heureusement - j'ai des nouveaux chats. Et les draps sont très très croustillant, parce qu'ils n'ont pas été lavés depuis 1991, et mon corps entier est couvert en fromage.

random thoughts

Random thought #1: if anyone wants to buy me a pair of jeans (don't all rush at once), then: Next, loose fit, size 34R. Anything else is too tight round the arse/thigh area. I had a nasty moment a couple of months ago when I though they'd stopped doing loose fit jeans, but they must have just sold out, as I popped into the Next at Cribbs Causeway this afternoon and they had lots, including a black pair which I bought. There was some precedent for my fear - Gap used to do a style called Original Fit which were perfect but they stopped doing them, just to annoy me I suspect. Also - I appear to be allergic to 99% of all known spray deodorants, so what happens is: I find one I'm not allergic to, everything's rosy for a few months, they change (sorry, "improve") the formula in some way, and hey presto I'm allergic to it, so I have to find another one. Past ones include Sure for Men, Arrid Extra Dry and PhysioSport. Current one is Adidas Ice Dive - if Mr. Adidas is reading, please don't monkey with the formula for a while. Fascinating fact of the day: the sportswear company Adidas was founded by a German chap named Adi Dassler (you see what he did there), and his brother Rudi Dassler founded the sportswear company Puma. FACT.
Random thought #2: If England really really want to win the Ashes this winter (and I guarantee no-one wants them to more than I do) they need some more batting experience than they've got at the moment, especially with the doubts over Marcus Trescothick. And the obvious man for the job in my book is Mark Butcher. There's been a lot of talk of him being an unfulfilled talent in the same way as his current Surrey team-mate Mark Ramprakash, but that's just nonsense. Butcher played 40-odd consecutive tests after being recalled at the start of the 2001 Ashes series and averaged over 40 - better than anyone over the same period except Trescothick, Vaughan and maybe Thorpe, I suspect. He's only 33 (I say "only", by which I mean he's younger than me) and he's been in good form this season, as well.
Random thought #3: Possibly the first in another occasional series - Albums I Listened To Today. While doing the washing up, as it happens.

Broken Boy Soldiers by The Raconteurs: the thing that rings loud and clear out of this album is Jack White's sense of liberation at throwing off the purist shackles of the White Stripes and just, well, rocking out. If I was Meg I'd be brushing up on my typing, just in case I was out of a job for a while. That said it's a very old-fashioned 33 minutes long, and the first two songs (White's Steady As She Goes and Brendan Benson's Hands) are by some distance the best things on the album, but it's still bracing stuff. They're playing here in Bristol on October 22nd, but it's been sold out for weeks. Try eBay.

No Other by Gene Clark. This is the legendary solo album by the founding member of the Byrds, released in 1974 and hailed as one of the great "lost" albums until it was re-released on CD a few years ago. It's almost impossible to categorise - "cosmic American music" is the Gram Parsons quote nicked in the sleeve notes, but a sort of unique hybrid psychedelic rock-country-gospel combo is probably not far off. And if From A Silver Phial is not my current Favourite Song Ever, then it's certainly in the top 4 or 5.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

...reality check

The quote in the Strandloper review was bothering me, so I went and looked it up: it's from David Cronenberg's Existenz. The Willem Dafoe character who does illegal bio-port implantations and who runs a gas station is asked "Is this a gas station?" and replies "Only on the most pathetic level of reality".

Good film too: lots of trademark Cronenbergian body-horror ickiness, and the immortal line "There’s a very weird reality-bleed-through effect happening here. I’m not sure I get it." Well I liked it anyway.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The last book I read...... promised.

Strandloper by Alan Garner.

Alan Garner is probably more famous for the children's books he wrote in the 1960's, most famously The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, a book that still stands up to re-reading over 20 years after I read it first, but also the more powerfully bonkers later stuff like the Owl Service and Red Shift, which I'm not sure I fully understand even now, except that it's about sex and violence in a way I would probably have found profoundly disturbing as a teenager if I'd had the first idea what was going on.

This one is most definitely for adults though - a book more viciously pared down to its bare essentials it would be hard to imagine. Somewhere in Alan Garner's attic there is a 600-page first draft of this that got whittled down to the spare 200 pages here. Consequently it makes stiff demands on the reader; not everything is explained, the ritual and dialect (both Cheshire and Aboriginal) is opaque at times (and sometimes the dialogue is all there is), and characters come and go without introduction or explanation.

Very very briefly (and, to quote a film - I forget which - only on the most pathetically obvious level of reality) it's the story (based on a true story apparently) of William Buckley, who got transported from Cheshire to Australia for some ill-defined crime in the early 19th century, escaped captivity and lived as an Aborigine for over 30 years before returning to Britain.

It's powerfully rich and emotional stuff, especially the brief last section. Read it, and then give The Weirdstone of Brisingamen to your kids instead of a Harry Potter book. They'll thank you for it.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

lead swinging

Went for an interesting walk on Sunday (10th) - started here at Ubley Warren Farm and walked through Velvet Bottom (ooer) and back round past Charterhouse to where we started. All very invigorating - nice sunny day, and lots of interesting industrial archaeology. Apparently the area was used for lead mining and smelting back in Roman times, and on and off up to the Victorian era. Photos available here - if anyone's looking a bit peaky blame it on the several bottles of wine we had at Jo's place the night before.

Interestingly I've had a cold all week - at least I assume that's what it is. Could be lead poisoning...!

Thursday, September 07, 2006


....blokes like lists, apparently. The implication being that women are presumably too busy thinking about kittens, and, I dunno, knitting or something to be bothered about them. Well here's a very brief list with something for everyone (in that it's a list with women in it). A suitable heading might be something like: women I was unhealthily obsessed with in my formative years (late 1980's - early 1990's, roughly).

Toni Halliday of Curve. Anyone wishing to know where Garbage got all their ideas from could do worse than listen to Doppelganger (1992).

Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles. Check this out - video footage of her performing with Matthew Sweet in early 2006. Susanna Hoffs is 47. Incredible.

Miki Berenyi of Lush. To be honest their music was fairly unmemorable (generic "shoegazing" stuff. The only "shoegazing" album you will ever need is Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. Warning: this album will melt your brain.) but she was very lovely. Mixed Hungarian and Japanese parentage, apparently, which explains her exotic looks. Though not the hair colour - strictly entre nous I think it might have been dyed.

There you go - something for everyone. Next week: my favourite knitting patterns.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Here's a thing.... my hungover lethargy at the weekend I watched a couple of DVDs while slumped on the sofa eating pizza. A couple I'd got from Amazon earlier in the week, specifically:

the first series of A Bit Of Fry And Laurie, and


Now you could be forgiven for thinking that these two, fine artistic achievements though they both are, don't have much in common, on the face of things. And you'd be right. However, as a prelude to a full-length PhD thesis on the subject, and possibly a lecture tour, I'd like to offer a parallel: it's all about language.

Fry and Laurie's sketches are all about language, from the absurd macho blustering of John and Peter in Uttoxeter ("Damn!") to the ridiculous circumlocutory nonsense of the critics ("Precisely my point. Could one say, from any critical standpoint yet devised, that you are any distance at all from being utterly repulsive?").

Joss Whedon's trick in Serenity is a bit different - to plausibly come up with a view of how language might have evolved several centuries in the future. The answer, it seems, is a mixture of borrowings from other languages (they swear in Chinese!) and a kind of oddly courtly throwback to pre-20th century idioms ("we mean to be thieving here....let's have no undue fussing" when robbing a bank is particularly nice), plus a nice line in humorous put-downs.

The zesty dialogue should be no surprise to anyone who's seen Buffy The Vampire Slayer (which Whedon also wrote), of course, though there's no getting away from the fact that the other great selling-point of Buffy was seeing a fragile-looking (and let's face it, attractive) young woman kicking a great deal of undead vampire ass. And, wouldn't you know it, the central character around whom the plot essentially revolves in Serenity (Summer Glau as River Tam) turns out to be a one-woman balletic slaughtering machine who makes Buffy look like a schoolgirl. Hang on, she was a schoolgirl. Well, you get the idea anyway.

Well, I think I've made my point. Bedtime.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

First in an occasional series......

.....The Last Book I Read. I'm not trying to be Oprah, or, God forbid, Richard and Judy, but just attempting to give you an insight into the inner workings of my psyche through the medium of literature, from Chinua Achebe to Emile Zola. And yes, I have just nipped off to the spare room to look at my bookshelves. Pretty pleased to have two literary heavyweights bookending things, though I should confess at this point that I haven't yet read the Zola one (Germinal). Which makes me hypocritical as well as pretentious.

Anyway, moving on, the book in question was (drum roll): The Weight Of Water by Anita Shreve.

Purchased for the princely sum of £1.99 in the Oxfam shop on Cotham Hill.

It's a two parallel intertwined stories kind of story, switching randomly between one (the present-day thread - a photographer visiting (by boat) some remote islands off the coast of Maine where some women were murdered in the 19th century, and struggling with family/marital problems at the same time) and the other (the story of the people involved in the original murder case). All very well written, though it's fairly clear where the historical storyline is heading (and I don't just mean the murder bit - obviously that's where it's heading. Then again it's not meant to be a whodunnit). There is one other problem as well: the modern-day narrator (Jean, if I remember rightly) discovers a written account of the events leading up to and culminating in the murders written by one of the women involved. The original was in Norwegian, but there is an English translation with it. Well.....who did the translation? And when? And given that it reveals that an innocent man was executed for the murders, why didn't they do something with it instead of hiding it away? Maybe I missed a bit.

It was made into a film, it turns out, starring Sean Penn among others (Catherine McCormack as well, I think). Could go and look it up but I can't be bothered. You do it if you like.

I've just started another one, but you'll have to wait until I've finished it to find out what it is. Almost unbearably exciting, isn't it?

Oh, one non-literary update as well: I've changed the comment settings so anyone at all can leave one, if they should wish to do so. This has been a public service announcement.

Beer, and also fear

First post is easy, isn't it? You just throw some words in to test it's all up and running, and then bail out again. No-one's expecting anything, so you get that one for free. The second one (and presumably all subsequent ones) requires you, theoretically at least, to have something interesting to say. Not sure that I do at this precise moment, though that could be related to the slight hangover I'm suffering from. Caused by the semi-legendary:

Gloucester Road Pub Crawl Challenge

Start point: The Anchor, Bishopston, Bristol, here
End point: The Bishop's Tavern, Bishopston (or possibly Redland), Bristol, here

Pubs visited:

The Anchor: decor a bit chrome and neon-y for a traditional pub bore like me, but otherwise OK. Products sampled: Charles Wells Bombardier (very nice), burger & chips (cheapish and prompt).
The Old Fox: seems to have reinvented itself as a biker's pub since I was in there last, which is actually a bit of an improvement. And they have a jukebox! Time and space don't permit a full-length rant about the death of the great British pub jukebox, but very few pubs seem to have them these days. In fact off the top of my head the only other one in Bristol that I know of is in the Clyde Arms in Redland. The Jersey Lily on Blackboy Hill and the Scotchman And His Pack on St. Michael's Hill have both ditched theirs fairly recently. But I digress. Products sampled: Guinness, as Butcombe was the only beer they had, and it's a bit watery. You can't go wrong with Guinness, or at least you have to try very very hard. It was a pub in, bizarrely, Henley-On-Thames where I had the only unequivocally off pint of Guinness I've ever had. Can't remember the name of the pub, unfortunately.
The Golden Lion: Bit of a last-minute addition to the list as one of our original group had vetoed it, on the grounds that he'd been barred for some misdemeanour involving urinating in a place not to the landlord's liking (I'll spare you the details). However when he cried off sick it got a last-minute reprieve. And a good thing too as it's the last pub before a longish walk down the hill to the next one. Products sampled: Shepherd Neame Spitfire - very good.
The Robin Hood's Retreat: This is the first pub on the Gloucester Road I ever went into, back in late 1990 just after moving into a student flat on Redland Road. Back then it was a dingy spit & sawdust place where wizened scrumpy-crazed locals turn to look at you as you enter. Remember the Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf In London? A bit like that. Nowadays, however, it's all very respectable, laminate flooring and all. Products sampled: Shepherd Neame Spitfire (again) - also very good. Large and impressive range of beer, actually, including, scarily, Theakston's Old Peculier. Discretion very much the better part of valour in this case - it's too sweet for me anyway (I'm sweet enough already).
The Bristol Flyer: skipped on grounds of time. Never liked it much anyway.
The Forester's Arms: By contrast, this one hasn't changed a bit since 1990. I doubt whether they've even cleaned the carpets. Products sampled: Bass - perfectly OK. There's a fine line with Bass between flat but zingy and pleasant and flat and evil and sulphurous - this was on the right side. Just.
Hobgoblin: skipped on grounds of time. Nothing wrong with it though.
Prince Of Wales: also skipped on grounds of time. Also nothing wrong with it though. Actually, thinking about it, there is one thing: it's a very nice friendly pub, but their beer selection isn't great. They've got Courage Best & Directors, neither of which are up to much (Courage beer always has a nasty antiseptic edge to it, I think), or Butcombe, which as I said earlier is inoffensive but a bit watery. Sort it out!
Bishop's Tavern: Formerly a Hogshead, and hasn't changed much apart from the sign, as far as I can tell. Products sampled: can't remember. Ker-ching! I think you'll find that's the mark of a perfectly judged pub crawl - extreme mental derangement doesn't set in until the last pub. Any earlier and there's a danger of forgetting where you live, or, even worse, deciding a kebab would be a terrific idea.