Tuesday, 27 April 2010
Friday, 23 April 2010
First up, a little gem from Aussie synth/prog/goth-leaning rockers The Church. Yes, they've been described as all of those things in their time, and that's quite a time - Wikipedia tells us that they formed way back in 1980, so it must be true. Thirty years on, they still have three of the four original members, thereby ensuring that the box marked "sack drummer" was ticked... several times.
To some, The Church sound a little gloomy - I have heard comparisons with 80s contemporaries Sisters Of Mercy and The Mission, and they're hardly what you'd call perky, are they? But they're lazy, simplistic and frankly inaccurate comparisons that are as much to do with Steve Kilbey's vocal delivery as anything else. I liked them though, and bought a lot of their output in the 80s and early 90s, at which point they started to get a little too prog for my palate. Their albums Remote Luxury and Starfish would still sit well in many a collection though, trust me.
And that brings me to the clandestine classic: Constant In Opal, from 1983's Remote Luxury. It highlights everything that is good about The Church, with a hypnotic Kilbey bassline and Marty Willson-Piper's 12-string guitar chiming away in the background. A grainy old copy of the promo video is on YouTube, below, whilst unscrupulous downloaders may be interested in this link (in which case, you ain't seen me, right?). Either way, enjoy.
Friday, 16 April 2010
Is it just me that's very uneasy about the new version of The Prisoner, which starts on ITV tomorrow night? There are some things you just shouldn't mess with, and Patrick McGoohan's masterpiece, which I eulogised about after his death, is one of them. Sure, Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen are fine actors but this has the potential to be televisual heresy. I hope I'm wrong, but I fear the worst... fingers crossed that Patrick doesn't end up spinning in his grave. Plus, from what I can read about this remake, McKellen plays Number 2 for the whole series. Didn't those responsible for this "re-imagining" watch the original? Shouldn't Number 2 change on a regular basis?
Bet the title sequence is no match for the original either...
On that note, I'm off to add the DVD boxset of the proper series to my Amazon wishlist.
...well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine. One of my favourite music blogs, To Die By Your Side, was recently snatched from the ether(net) by the DMCA. Even the blog's author, Coxon LeWoof (or Richard, to his mum) admits that they were within their rights to do so, so I won't bitch about that. But hooray! The new version of TDBYS launches today - you can (and I recommend you do) find it at todiebyyourside.com and while you're there, subscribe to the RSS feed - you'll be glad you did.
Welcome back Coxon!
Thursday, 15 April 2010
In a idea shamelessly half-inched from the always-excellent Too Much Apple Pie, this post is essentially a round-up of some of the more unusual (for which, read "witless and/or entertaining") Google searches that have found their way to this website. If nothing else, they prove that there's more to Pip's Pages than just this blog. And in the manner of TMAP, I'll offer my replies (for which, read "smart-arsed rejoinders"). Avanti!
Gene does he have a name ...yes - it's Gene.
Do the English call police Pip Pips ...in a word, no.
Pip kid speak German ...okay! Er... Achtung! Milchdrüsen! And thanks for calling a man of my advancing years "kid".
You should always keep in touch with your friends ...yes, you should, and I do try.
Slopping floorboard ...is no way to earn a living.
Gene "does he have a name" ...yes, and it's still "Gene".
Grocery loyalty cards bullshit ...well yes, they are, but they make good emergency scrapers for clearing windscreens on a frosty morning.
Gene touched by the hand of havoc ...wouldn't you be if people kept asking if you had a name?
Irish deer tracks ...will be fossils in the making, since the Irish deer was hunted to extinction, wasn't it?
Gene you will never walk again ...that's nice - you finally remember his name, then you threaten the poor guy.
Is it busy in Norwich tonight? ...yes. Probably.
Gene drawn to the deep end ...well, who wouldn't be, after being forgotten and then threatened...
At the edge of the sea, it's what you want that matters ...at the edge of the sea, keeping your trainers dry when an extra large wave comes in is what really matters.
Acoustic sports car ...electric pedalo! I love this game...
Scream pub Canterbury ...PUB CANTERBURY!
What can you buy a friend boy a wedding present ...you want to buy a friend a boy for a wedding present? Perv.
Pip Nelson Norfolk ...no, Pip's Pages, Internet.
Download Pip instead of Word ...why, what's wrong with Word?
Comparetheparty ...no, compare the meerkat.
Gene is it over? ...Jesus, leave the poor guy alone, will you? He's already been drawn to the deep end...
Norwich prostitute ...not right now, thanks.
Petit cadeau de Don Juan ...Don wants to introduce the ladies to petit Don...
Gene let me move on if I'm a friend ...fine. Abandon the guy in his hour of need.
Gwyneth Paltrow wallpaper ...decorates Chris Martin's bedroom.
Natalie Suliman ...what? Giving poor Gene a rest now, are we?
Cheapest cup tea in Chichester ...so cheap, it doesn't even come with an "of".
Gene welcome to Dover ...it just gets worse and worse for him, doesn't it?
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
A little over a month ago, I got into a tea-break conversation with a colleague about Tesco. She had mentioned, with something close to pride in her voice, that she had spent £140 shopping there the previous Sunday. I conveyed my view of this with the international sign language for sad disappointment – I sucked air in through gritted teeth, tutted and slowly shook my head. This didn't go down too well. "What's wrong with that?" she asked, "I'm on a budget and I've got a family to feed. It's much cheaper to do a big shop at Tesco, and it's convenient too." Well, you can't argue with that, can you?
Except I did. What's wrong with that is that Tesco – or the Evil Empire, as I prefer to think of them – is killing the high street, and killing competition. And, with the cost of petrol these days, is driving a 17 mile round-trip to get to the Empire's leviathan supermarket (kind of like a Death Store, if you want to stretch the Star Wars 'empire' analogy) really worth saving a couple of quid? Hardly convenient, is it? Especially when you have a largish (for a village) and well-stocked Co-op supermarket within walking distance of your house?
I put these points to my colleague. She didn't take too kindly to them. "The last two times I bought food from that Co-op I got food poisoning!" was her somewhat unlikely riposte. "And besides," she continued, "it's alright for you – you earn more than me and so can afford to shop where you like. And because you don't have a family you have time to do things like shop around." Now I could have got bolshie about this, for whilst it's true that I'm single and she has a partner and child, it doesn't follow that I "have time to do things like shop around". Quite the opposite, in fact – I work full-time, unlike her, and have to do everything myself – I don't have a partner to share the mechanics of life with. Just like her, I have a house to clean, a garden to maintain, a car to wash, shopping to buy… but unlike her, I don't have anyone to help me do all this stuff. So, I could justifiably have taken umbrage but I didn't – I merely replied that I didn't think it was quite that simple. And okay, yes, maybe I did say that in a slightly patronising tone, which would explain why my colleague got more than a bit confrontational and said, quite aggressively, "I'd like to see you go a week without a supermarket."
"Okay then," I said, not being one to shy away from a challenge. "No problem."
"Well, it wouldn't be for a week. Try it for a month."
And that's how I came to spend 31 days without the 3-for-the-price-of-2, 50%-extra-free, bonus-clubcard-points, every-little-helps world of seductive supermarket shopping.
As with every good bet (though there was nothing at stake here except pride and principle), there were ground rules. It wasn't just Tesco that was verboten – any supermarket was off limits. No Sainsbury's, no Asda, no Morrison's, no Somerfield, no M&S food hall, no One Stop's (they're owned by Tesco, by the way), no Spar… I couldn't even use my own local Co-op! I argued the case for this, on the basis that the Co-op is, unsurprisingly, a co-operative working for the benefit of members rather than in the bald pursuit of profit, and since they support local producers their food is more environmentally friendly too. But this fell on deaf ears. Co-op was on the blacklist too. There was some debate about Budgen's; since they are supposedly local franchises, rather than a chain per se, my colleague was prepared to let me shop there, but no! My dander was up – that pride and principle thing was pumping the blood a little faster in my veins and I waved away the offer of Budgen's disdainfully. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it properly – no supermarkets meant no supermarkets, not even crap ones! Besides, my nearest Budgen's was miles away.
The challenge wasn't just limited to in-store shopping: I couldn't use any supermarket petrol stations or cash machines either. Online shopping with any of the blacklist was forbidden too, not that I've ever shopped for groceries by the power of the Internet before… but, you know, just in case I got tempted that was ruled out too. My bravado was starting to wane just a little at this point - somehow the petrol and cash machine thing was worrying me more than the food-buying bit. I had to find a way to show the assembled masses (well, my table in the canteen) that I was still okay with the challenge, and that I believed it would present no problems for me.
"Okay then," I repeated. "No problem."
See? Sometimes it's easier to satisfy assembled masses than you think.
Now I was feeling pretty confident about the challenge. If I think I can do something, well, I have enough self-belief not to worry about it too much. Besides, what I knew and my loose-talking, gauntlet-throwing colleague did not is that just two days earlier I had done a "big shop" myself. Not in the Evil Empire, of course, but in the slightly less evil, Nectar-points paradise of Sainsbury's. So, I knew I had a well-stocked cupboard and freezer drawers that, whilst not quite bursting, contained more than just the usual selection of pizza, ready-meals and fish fingers. In other words, I was ready!
The next morning, as I readied myself for a trip quad-biking with friends, I revelled smugly in my newly slim wallet, having removed all supermarket loyalty cards. I say all, I only have two but, you know, a slimmer, more pocket-friendly wallet is not to be sniffed at. Unless you particularly like the smell of worn leather, of course, and even then this kind of sniffing is not something I'd recommend – at best, it'll get you funny looks. But I digress – there I was, revelling smugly. A morning's quad-biking was likely to be an expensive day… and the wallet wasn't just looking thin because of an absence of plastic. I needed cash and, since I was supposed to be meeting my friends in ten short minutes, I needed cash fast! Normally, this wouldn't be a problem – there's a cash machine in the village. But since that hole was in Tesco's wall, I would have to find somewhere else from whence to deplete my account. Think, boy, think – the next nearest cash machine was at Waitrose, so that was out. Other than that, I could drive up to the Shell garage but their machine charged me £2 to give me my own money! Another point of principle to rail against! So that only left me one option: an eight-mile round trip into a neighbouring town to plunder a cash machine there.
Arriving ten minutes late for the quad-biking rendezvous, I paused to consider a few things. I was going to have to allow more time for doing things, even mundane things, now that so many windows of convenience had been shut in my face. None of my fellow race-goers had muttered too loudly about my tardiness, and we made it to the track on time – just – so no damage was done. But I don't like being late. If only the village Post Office had been open that early in the morning, I could have withdrawn my cash and been early for the meet.
And if only every street corner had a shop! Even after my fortuitous pre-challenge "big shop", I was soon in need of some basics, or high-turnover items, as I came to think of them during the month. Milk, bread and biscuits, mainly. Still, I'm lucky in that there is an independent shop in the village – it's not quite on the corner, that privilege belongs to the undertaker's (it's a big village). But during my supermarket-free month, that's how I came to think of it – my corner shop. Mine. Yes, it was further to walk than the Tesco Express; yes, the milk from there went off faster than supermarket milk; and yes, the Happy Shopper digestives were several pence dearer than Sainsbury's. But it was my corner shop, and boy, was I going to use it. Just like the butcher's in the village became my butcher's, the chemist became my chemist, the farm shop became my farm shop and the free-range egg place down the road became, well, you get the idea by now.
Happily, there turned out to be more to my corner shop than Happy Shopper biscuits. Now I know that there are some people who always go through the same cashier's till when they go to the supermarket, and so build up a nodding acquaintance over time, but I am not one of those people and so, for me, supermarket shopping has always been a very impersonal experience. Not so in my corner shop. A very short while into my challenge, I was popping in there often enough for me to recognise whoever was behind the counter and, better yet, they were recognising me! So when we started to exchange the briefest of pleasantries, it felt a bit more genuine than the "have a nice day" doctrine that in trotted out in the Evil Empire. And the friendliness extended beyond a simple hello and a smile, so that soon a shop that came to £12.04 was being rounded down to £12. That's only a little thing, but don't forget, every little helps, right? I'm sure I've heard that somewhere…
Now there are those among you who will be thinking that's all well and good but it hardly compensates for the extra cash I must have been spending. Well, I won't lie to you – I did spend more on what I bought from my corner shop than the equivalent items would have set me back in a supermarket. There are a few important points to make about this though: firstly, I was only spending a little bit more, pence in most cases. Maybe I have simple tastes or something, but my bills really weren't rocketing upwards. Secondly, and crucially, overall I was spending less! That's right, in total my outgoings were getting smaller! How can this be, I hear you ask (I have good hearing). Simply this – I wasn't being seduced. No, I don't mean seduced in the interesting Mrs Robinson way, but seduced by offers – buy-1-get-1-free's that I wouldn't otherwise have bought and didn't actually need, 3-for-the-price-of-2's that I wouldn't normally buy any of, CD and DVD offers that often made me buy titles that I would otherwise happily have breezed through life without, the dangerously cheap sweat-shop clothes that can be worn with a small budget but not with a clear conscience… In other words, I wasn't buying things that I didn't need or didn't, in my heart of hearts, even want that supermarkets seem so good at selling. Another benefit of this is that I found I was throwing less waste food away, mainly because I wasn't buying stuff in such huge quantities in the first place. I was building up so many eco-Karma points on this, I was even starting to look forward to food shopping. On top of all this, shopping in a little corner shop (my little corner shop, don't forget) took up a lot less time than trekking through a behemoth supermarket, so there was less likelihood of being hungry by the time I finished my shop… and so there was much less chance of being tempted to buy snacky comfort foods. Not only was I spending fewer pounds, I was losing pounds at the same time – result!
The corner shop wasn't the solution to all my shopping needs though. Even with a farm shop, a chemist, a Post Office and a butcher (how I wish it had a baker and a candlestick maker too), I had soon exhausted my village's shopping opportunities, and had to look further afield. Now I'm lucky in living near Britain's largest open market, and I plundered it for all I was worth. In particular, I must mention the steak I got from the butcher there; not only was it the best quality I've had in a long time, it was at a price that should embarrass Tesco, Sainsbury's and the rest.
Better still, I found an ethical greengrocer that stocked all manner of locally sourced, organic and fair-trade products (including some excellent real ale and chocolate brownies you wouldn't believe – guess why I was so happy to keep going back?). Okay, so I baulked a bit at paying £3 for a jar of jam, but how nice it was to be offered a pre-used cardboard box to stack all my purchases in, rather than a plastic bag? And how brilliant to see a retailer offering a refill service for the Ecover ranges of cleaning products – just take your empty bottles back and they will refill them from bulk containers. Why isn't this service more widely available?
So at this point you're probably thinking, wow, this supermarket-abstinence lark is such a piece of cake (possibly a chocolate brownie) we should all be doing it. And maybe you'd be right. But in the spirit of openness and honesty, I must now reveal that my month's challenge was not without a couple of setbacks.
Firstly, two weeks into the challenge, a truly beautiful woman invited me to a barbecue, for which I volunteered to take the asparagus and parma ham along. In case you haven't had this ever, wrap each piece of asparagus in a strip of parma, lightly brush with olive oil, add a sprinkle of black pepper and then barbecue until the asparagus goes floppy – trust me, it's fantastic. But I digress – back to my BBQ shopping. I had less than two hours before I was due to arrive at my beautiful friend's, and so hurried into the nearest small market town to raid their greengrocer's. Brilliant – they had some asparagus! And, as I was finding at lots of the small independent shops I was visiting these days, the veg wasn't wrapped in plastic but loose. Hooray, less landfill too! Feeling very pleased with myself, I grabbed a handful of asparagus… and promptly dropped it straight back down again as a cloud of small midge-like flies erupted from the display rack. Closer inspection revealed that all the asparagus stems were rotten, and so drawing the attention of passing insect life. Oh dear. A sharp exit from the greengrocer's was followed by a lightning tour of all the other shops in town that might sell either of my two required ingredients, and guess what? I drew a blank on both. So it was that, with less than an hour until the lighting of the coals, I found myself heading into Waitrose where, of course, I found lovely fresh (and locally sourced) asparagus and a choice of parma ham. Feeling guilty, I headed to the till with my purchases… and that was when I got caught again. Because, you see, they had blueberries on offer, half price. Not the cheap blueberries, but the expensive ones, so even at half price they were barely cheaper than the ordinary price of the cheaper variety, but that didn't matter – I was seduced, and bought the blueberries too, and later my beautiful friend conjured them into the most amazing post-barbie dessert. But even as I ate that, I knew I had failed in my challenge – I hadn't been able to keep a clean sheet.
A week later came my second hiccup – I needed to find a copy of The Observer, to get part two of one of those freebie guides that weekend papers are so full of these days. I had left my shopping late, and my corner shop had, unbelievably, let me down – all they had left was The Stun and The Daily Wail. So it was that I found myself in the Evil Empire, buying the paper and, crucially, only the paper. And you know what? Though I had failed again, I didn't feel too bad about this one, because supermarkets don't undercut independent retailers on newspapers, they don't 3-for-2 them, or anything else like that. They sell them on a sale-or-return basis, just like everyone else, and they make the same profit or loss on them as everyone else too. I wonder if supermarkets sell things like papers solely in the hope that whilst you're in there buying your news you'll also buy other stuff too? But I didn't, so didn't feel too guilty about my transgression. But it was a transgression, nonetheless.
That was it, though. Apart from those two indiscretions, I lasted a month (35 days, actually, I just kept going) without supermarkets, not even for petrol or visits to a hole-in-the-wall. And there were undeniable benefits from doing so, most notably: I spent less on food - although what I was buying was dearer, like for like, I was buying less and not succumbing to impulse purchases of things I didn't need; secondly, I was throwing less food away - because I wasn't being seduced by the false economy of buying multipack or 3-for-2 deals, I wasn't buying more than I could use before it went off, so, less waste, less landfill, and less money going straight into the bin; and finally, I used less petrol (not to be sniffed at, these days) because a walk to the corner shop was so much greener than a drive to Sainsbury's.
So it can be done, and there are undeniable benefits to be had for us all by doing it. Yes, there will still be times when a trip to the supermarket cannot be avoided – just last week I needed to buy some After Eights, well, after eight, and the 24-hour Tesco came to my rescue, with its vast range (no wafer-thin mints in my corner shop, sad to say) and round-the-clock opening. And of course I can sympathise with those on a tight budget, who find living on supermarket own-brand basics a valid way of making the pound in their pocket go further. So what is my point, exactly? Simply this – supermarkets are gradually eroding small-town high street retail. First of all they open an out-of-town enormo-store with which the local independent shops simply cannot compete, not least because, on opening, the area is blanketed with loss-leading offers to convert the locals to shopping at the supermarket. Then, when the little town convenience stores are on their last legs, the supermarket wades back in like a faux-benevolent saviour to transform the little shop into a Tesco Express… and then there really is no escape, and far less choice too. If you don't like Tesco, what can you do then? Get in the car and drive 20 miles to the next small town's enormo-store…
Is it any wonder, then, that places like Sheringham, with its beautiful and eclectic high street, are fighting so hard to resist new supermarket builds? The campaign in Sheringham has been raging since 1996 – every time the Evil Empire is granted permission to go ahead with their development, local protesters are able to stymie their progress. But Tesco have the capacity and the clout, both financial and political, to outwait any protest, to push any plan through, eventually. So it is that other prime city centre plots that Tesco own are allowed to stand derelict until such time as the Empire is allowed to develop them as it wishes – an unsightly and unmaintained derelict plot adds weight to the development case and helps sway councillors from supporting continued protests. And so it goes on – Tesco always wins. Don't think I'm singling them out either – the others in ‘the big four', Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisson's, are almost as bad. This is happening all over the country, maybe in a high street near you. Is it too late to escape the shadow of these new Empires? Perhaps so. But one way to try, at least, is simply not to give them any more of your money than you have to. There are alternatives – use them. Take your custom elsewhere and you take away their power. And if you really do need a supermarket, there's hope there too – since I completed my challenge, Co-op bought out Somerfield, a move which turns ‘the big four' supermarket chains into ‘the big five'. And one of those five, finally, is an ethical retailer, selling many locally-sourced products, and it finally has the buying power to compete with the big boys…So there you have it. And what's changed since August 2008? Well, I still try to avoid Tesco wherever possible, and it looked like the Evil Empire had finally lost their fight to open a store in Sheringham.... and then they won anyway. But best of all... I now live with the truly beautiful woman whose barbecue I went to. As I have said before in this piece - result!
Tuesday, 13 April 2010
The real highlight of the BBC's excellent coverage though was veteran commentator Peter Alliss who, in summarising the much-discussed return of Tiger Woods, offered the following: "He's been up and down, in and out - as usual." Perfect.
Wednesday, 7 April 2010
The BBC's policy comparison website is here - if you have even the faintest interest in politics (and if you've ever complained about anything in any of the policy areas then you have an interest in politics, whether you know it or not) then please take a look at this site, use it and tell everyone you know to do the same. In an age of increasing voter apathy and growing support for distasteful fringe parties (you know who I'm talking about) it's never been more important that people get involved in politics, and a tool like this can help. Whatever the colour of your rosette, please spread the word and, you know, go compare!
Tuesday, 6 April 2010
This got me thinking about what we do actually make in this country, if not proper "things". I started making a list and came up with overpaid footballers, tabloid journalism, the worship of so-called celebrities, corrupt politicians and a morally-bereft society. At that point, I decided I should stop making the list. Instead of letting my own malaise run riot, I decided instead to do what everyone does these days when in search of an answer - I turned to Google, and asked the question, "what does Britain lead the world in?" Depressingly, these are the answers.
Per capita, Britain is the world's:
- biggest producer of arms;
- biggest importer of wine;
- biggest consumer of fast food;
- most surveilled nation, with around four million CCTV cameras.
By the time my train of thought had barrelled through this station, I returned to that original phrase on the baby bottle - "Made in England". In an effort to improve my mood, I started thinking about a TV show from the early days of Channel 4 called Prospects. It starred the late Gary Olsen, who went to find more mainstream fame in 2.4 Children, and was pretty good, though I remember it most for the theme music, which was by a band called (can you guess?)... Made In England. (See what I did there?) It featured Ray Dorsey on vocals, and was so good I bought the show's soundtrack to get it, even though the rest of the songs on there really weren't up to much.
That soundtrack is, as I write, in a box 165 miles away and besides, the tape it's on has probably oxidised by now anyway. However, by the magic of YouTube I can at least present you with the title sequence from the show, featuring the truly excellent Prospects by Made In England. Enjoy.
Thursday, 1 April 2010
- In October 2007, after seeing Ray Davies live, I moaned about people talking loudly and annoyingly during gigs. I can feel my blood starting to boil again just thinking about it. Well, you can read more about this problem, and nine other examples of bad gig behaviour, in one of the most enjoyable blog posts I've read in a fair while over at Sunset Over Slawit.
- In the Decembers of 2007 and 2008 I wrote summaries of all the gigs I'd been to during those years. I forgot to do it in 2009, so for the record I saw Buzzcocks, Pete Molinari, U2, went to a bit of the Oxegen festival in Ireland, and went to the Latitude Festival again. Not such an extensive list for 2009, but I had a lot of other things on the go.
- In March 2008 I asked if being an eco-warrior yet driving a high-powered sports car made me a hypocrite. Well I now drive a very economical (and, admittedly, much less exciting) car with emissions so low I only pay £35 a year car tax. Swings and roundabouts, eh?
- In September 2008 I wrote about starting a Lottery syndicate with some work colleagues. You'll never guess what... we're massively down...
- In February 2009 I wrote an article I felt sure would generate some comments, because it was about the unsustainable growth in global population, and what we need to do about it. I got precisely no feedback and, at the time, I was surprised by this. Should have remembered I can count my readership on my fingers.
- In April 2009 I got very angry because some toerag keyed my car. Yes, the aforementioned sports car. It's now gone, but guess what? I'm still angry about it!
- In June 2009 I moaned about not being able to choose a new mobile phone. I know, I moan a lot. Well, in the end (i.e. eight months later) I bit the bullet, decided I could live with the camera zoom constraints and bought a Sony Ericsson K770i. And it's great, so I spent all that time and energy weighing it (and many, many others) up for nothing.
- In February 2010 I published a poll asking you how you'll be voting at the forthcoming general election. At the time of writing this update, the poll suggests 66.67% of the population will vote for David Cameron and 33.33% are undecided. And yes, that does mean that only three people voted - I won't be running any more polls.