Monday, 20 November 2017

Lost in King's Cross

I had occasion to go to that there London recently, for the best part of a working week. Not for a holiday, nor for a jolly, but for a fairly intensive training course for the day-job. It's nice to have an employer who's happy to invest me again, after a good while without.

Now the training company are a big of a beast in their field; they've been around a good while too, have a good reputation and are a global training brand. So much so that I used to be a customer of theirs way back in the past, when I worked for a corporate multi-national behemoth and had a personal training budget. Back in those days, I would think nothing of taking three or four courses, four or five days each, per year. How times change, eh?

I'll tell you what else has changed - the nature of training itself. This training company, fifteen or more years ago, used to occupy all five floors of a brick and glass cube near Euston Station, and would play host to so many trainees, every day of every week, that they had their own canteen on the fifth floor to keep their students fed and watered. But time moves on. Technology, more than anything, moves on. These days, most of the company's students take their courses remotely, with a virtual desktop and a webcam - why travel to London and spend the week in a generic hotel when you can take the course from the comfort of your office desk and go home afterwards, right? Except where's the interaction with your classmates and, more importantly, trainer? Where's the space to reflect on the day's learning, as you eat dinner at your table-for-one in the hotel restaurant? And most of all, where's the time and space away from everyday work, to just concentrate on learning. I'm no Luddite, and I completely understand the financial pressures at play here, for both the training company and the trainee, but it does feel to me that something has been lost, and going on a course is not what it was. The training company now occupies only two floors of the same building, and has no canteen any more. For lunch, trainees have to make their own way to the M&S across the road for a sandwich. I wonder what, if anything, will be left in another fifteen years? Why go on a course anyway, when you can just Google the hell out of everything instead, right?

Meeting Place
The biggest change of all though is that whole area, from King's Cross and St Pancras up to Euston. Back in my younger days as a trainee, it was - well, there's no other word for it really - a bit of a hole. Seedy, run-down, decrepit. Dirty, in every sense. Back then, my employer used to book me into a nice hotel, quite upmarket. And in that hotel, posh at it was, there would always be a concierge in the bar in the evening, part of whose job it was to identify and remove call girls who would linger there in the hope of picking up well-heeled customers. Whilst at the other end of the scale, venture out of the hotel in the evening to find a bite to eat and you often couldn't walk thirty yards without being propositioned: "You wan't business?" And every phone box (of which there were still many, back then) was plastered with business cards for all manner of escorts, eager to part the transient population of the area from their money. I remember seeing someone cleaning the phone boxes one morning as I walked to that day's training, assiduously removing every card. By the time I'd finished for the day, eight hours later, they had all been freshly plastered. And looming over everything, at once disapproving and complicit, was the gothic and ever-so-slightly faded grandeur of St Pancras station.

Identified Flying Object
The transformation now is marked. Let's stay with St Pancras, shall we? Now the end of the line for Eurostar, it's clear to see the investment that high-speed link has brought. Still gothic but no longer faded, the building looks fantastic, rejuvenated. There are champagne bars in there, for God's sake, and more shops than you can shake a stick at (station or mall, you decide). And then there's the statuary, like the Meeting Place (aka "The Lovers"), a 30ft bronze of a kissing couple that is frankly breathtaking, or the statue of Sir John Betjeman, or (currently) the mechanical clock installed in front of the more traditional Dent Clock (more here on all of this if you're interested). And this rejuvenation carries on into King's Cross, where the ceiling of the western concourse is a dazzling, dizzying piece of architecture (or is it art?) And of course Harry Potter's Plaform 9¾ brings a queue of selfie-taking tourists, all keen to spend oodles in the adjacent shop - wizard, no doubt, though I didn't venture in. Outside the station, Battle Bridge Place is currently home to Identified Flying Object, a 30ft-high birdcage that is lit in neon at night - bizarre but beautiful. Swish bars are everywhere, none finer than the German Gynasium (which is a very fine building, more than worthy of its fascinating history). Walk from there up past Google's huge new office (another very conspicuous sign, and source, of inward investment), over the Regent's Canal towards St Martin's, and there's plenty more redevelopment on show, none more arresting than the redeveloped old gasholders, two of which now house apartment buildings with their exterior ironwork intact (to dramatic effect). The third gas holder stands empty, but it artfully lit at night, with the foot of the ironwork clad in subtly angled mirrors and steel, encompassing an undulating lawn - the overall effect is quite beautiful.

Gasholder Park

All of which sounds great, doesn't it? I certainly sound enthused, hopefully. The art and architecture is wonderful, the bars and restaurants infinitely better than their equivalents of yesteryear, and (whilst I was only staying with the hotel chain Lenny Henry now purports to like for cash) I am happy to report that hotel bars no longer seem to need policing. And not that many phone boxes are left, but those that cling on have only a half-hearted smattering of cards posted in. So, the area is much improved all around... but sanitised too much, maybe? I felt a little out of kilter, otherworldly, uncanny - the familiar had become unfamiliar. The changes taper off as you move towards Euston, and there are still a lot of homeless people rough-sleeping in doorways (maybe more so than when New Labour were in their pomp, fifteen years ago). Beneath the steel and glass, and shiny new paint job, London's rusty hindquarters and matted underbelly cling on. That's probably how it should be.

The Pet Shop Boys had a song called King's Cross, and maybe you were expecting that. But since I very nearly became lost, metaphorically if not literally, in King's Cross, there can only be one song to end this with. I know, any excuse for a bit of Gene...

Friday, 10 November 2017

The single most important television of my youth

Given that I've recently blogged about Starsky and Hutch and The Bionic Woman, it seems only natural to continue the TV theme. They were both programmes I predominantly watched in the late 70s, as were other blog subjects Paddington, Happy Days and The Two Ronnies. I've also waxed lyrical in the past about The Prisoner, a 60s programme but new to me in the 80s when the nascent Channel 4 screened it. Over the twelve (!) years of this blog, I've written about television quite a lot... all of which makes it even more surprising that I have never written about the most important programme of all to the young me. For whilst I once blogged about a spin-off film, I've never written about the original television series of Star Trek.

Just three series. 79 episodes. A cast of regulars and a whole host of red-shirted security guys. Occasionally hammy acting and special effects that, whilst state of the art for 60s television, were, in a post-Star Wars world, pretty basic to behold. Leading men who looked like they couldn't believe their luck. Leading women who were always in soft-focus for close shots. A science fiction show that played fast and loose with physics (when asked "How does the Heisenberg compensator work?" ST technical adviser Michael Okuda famously replied "Very well, thank you."). And storylines, in the third series, that often didn't measure up.

So what was the appeal? Beyond the science-fiction of transporters, warp speed, phasers and photon torpedoes. Beyond the catchphrases ("Beam me up," "Illogical", "He's dead, Jim", "She cannae take the strain, Cap'n", and so on). Beyond the mostly bipedal aliens, all of whom could be understood by the miracle of the universal translator (no doubt something else that worked very well, thank you), and beyond the interplanetary women, who all wore revealing costumes and fell for James Tiberius Kirk. Beyond an emotionless first officer from another planet who could render you unconscious by pinching your neck and perform mind-melds just by holding your head. And beyond an impossibly glamorous communications officer who had a bluetooth earpiece 40+ years before such things were invented (and the shortest mini-skirt of the lot).

So quite a lot going for it then. But genuinely beyond all that were the stories. The space setting was, to a degree, secondary to the premise that a band of friends would roam around in altruistic exploration, encountering strangers and having scrapes, resolving them in a positive way. It could have been set in the old West, or ancient Rome, or anywhere in-between. The sci-fi accoutrements of the 23rd Century added some excitement, made it new and even more colourful, and maybe enabled fantastical elements to enter some of the stories but, when you boil it down, the series survived (and later, in syndication and repeats, thrived) because of the stories and the interplay between the principal characters. That's the reason people are still buying merchandise, attending conferences, reading books, watching movies and TV spin-offs, and, most of all, revering the source material. And that's how it's entered the pop-cultural lexicon: everyone knows what warp speed is, everyone has had a "beam me up" moment. And it's why, in an episode of The Simpsons when Bart prepares to shock his classmates, he puns, "Crew, set your faces to stunned."

I had a hard time choosing a clip to illustrate these virtues of story-telling and crew camaraderie. I considered The Devil In The Dark, Amok Time, The Trouble With Tribbles, The Day Of The Dove, Assignment: Earth, A Piece Of The Action, Charlie X, The Galileo Seven and Arena before settling on a clip from perhaps my favourite episode of all, The City On The Edge Of Forever. If you're not familiar with the plot, all you need to know here is that Kirk and Spock have gone back to 1930s New York to retrieve a similarly displaced McCoy. Whilst there, Kirk falls for Edith Keeler, a pacificist. Long story short, he has to let her die, otherwise her campaigning will delay the US entering the Second World War long enough for Germany to win, thereby changing the future irrevocably (and Kirk et al's past). This, for me, is great stuff. I appreciate your mileage may vary.

And because lots of you that come here are music bloggers, or readers thereof, there's this, from Amok Time. Kirk agrees to fight his best friend, for that friend's sake, not realising it is to be a fight to the death. And it's of interest to fans of music trivia because...? It's where 80s power-poptarts T'Pau got their name...

Growing up, I always wanted to be Spock most of all. Sure, Kirk had the swagger and got the girl and McCoy was funny, but Spock was cool, logical, detached, intelligent, and always knew what to do. Plus, you know, the tricorder, neck-pinches, mind-melds and "fascinating"... Or maybe I just fancied myself as a bit different, who knows. I certainly hold dear his view that "there are always alternatives", and I can raise quite an arched eye-brow. And whilst I don't have pointy ears, I do sometimes wonder whether the Starfleet ideals of altruism, positivity and peaceful exploration might, in part, explain why I have spent the majority of my working life in public-sector or non-profit roles. Just how influenced was I?

Whatever, the bottom line is this: whilst I like Star Wars I love, and will always love, Star Trek. You could do a lot worse than immerse yourself in the original series and, to a lesser extent, the (even numbered) films starring the classic cast. Enjoy... and live long and prosper! (Not you, Ensign Ricky)

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Disentangling

I have something of a love/hate relationship with being online.

I love the possibilities the Internet provides, the inter-connectivity, the access to the riches of the World Wide Web.

I hate the capacity of mankind to fill the World Wide Web with unmitigated bobbins.

Just lately the balance is getting increasingly out of whack. Example: I used to think Twitter was great - the social media it was okay to love. Concise, pithy, and interactive, if you had something of value to say it could be picked up and shared, your message was out there. And it was a door-opener, allowing you to communicate with people that you'd never otherwise be able to. But now? It's a bot-ridden, fake news propagating, cesspool of hate, where a thread can go from innocuous comment to outraged splenetic insults in four tweets or less. It is the demesne of the professionally angry, provocative, hateful and the first recourse of the competitively correct. Trolls, attention-seekers, hate-mongers, virtue-signallers, bots, propaganda, lies, fakery, extremism, inanity, ridicule, scorn, derision, loathing, self-loathing... pretty sure this is not what Tim Berners-Lee had in mind.

It wears me out, it really does. And it's not just Twitter. It's anything and anywhere online that requires you to have a username.

What makes it worse is that we've got to this point incrementally, and by stealth. The idea now of renouncing all online activity, deleting every account, cancelling email addresses... well, it's hardly to imagine. But if the whole shebang was invented today, complete and in its current form rather than developing over many years, I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole. Would you?

All of which doesn't really even scratch the surface of why I am trying to disentangle myself from the Web somewhat, though it gives you a flavour. And I am aware of the irony of making these points in a blog post (attention-seeking, inane, loathing, self-loathing). Whatever. I shall be having a purge, reapplying the pub test to my Facebook friends list (as in, would I enjoy having a pint in the pub with you? If not, unfollowed), the reciprocity test to Twitter (is our interaction mutually beneficial or are you getting more out of it than I am? If the latter, unfollowed), maybe just binning LinkedIn completely, and even pruning my blogroll (I currently subscribe to 39 RSS feeds). And I'll be sending Do Not Track requests from my browser, not-accepting third-party cookies and browsing incognito as much as possible. Stick that in your algorithm and smoke it.

I will not be entirely successful - it's impossible now, we're all too entangled. But I shall be trying to get back towards, oh, let's say... 1989. When the Internet existed but life in general was a bit more like this:

Friday, 3 November 2017

What you got?

Thanks to C at the always-excellent Sun Dried Sparrows for the heads-up that the final series of Detectorists starts next week on BBC4. You really should watch it. Here's the trailer:

I've eulogised about Detectorists before, so won't go on again, other than to say you'll be glad you tuned in. The Beeb's programme website has a lot of clips from the first two series, if you want to see what you've missed already.

Oh, and there's the theme tune too, of course, which is perfect.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

I am at stage four...

...in the five stages of grieving over the climate. Stage four is depression. Where are you?

Monday, 30 October 2017

Instinct, overheard

Overheard, earlier today...

A (downcast): Anyway, I'm sorry. I've been a bit down on myself lately, and it's made me a bit grumpy.

B (slightly disinterested): Don't be so hard on yourself.

A: I know, I've just been having a bit of an introspective phase, and -

B: Introspection's over-rated, if you ask me.

A: Well, I can't help it.

B (slightly more interested now): You can, actually. You can choose how you are, choose to give introspection a miss.

A (unconvinced but perhaps not wanting a debate): Well, maybe.

That's from memory, so apologies to A and B for misquotes and paraphrasing. That was certainly the gist of the conversation, anyway. So what do we think? Can you choose your mood, like B suggests? Or is choosing not an option, as A reckons? Is introspection, or any number of other behaviours, instinctive or reasoned?

You might think this slice of early Spandau Ballet would be the obvious choice to go with musings on instinction, but who likes obvious? It's alright, but I prefer a bit of tunesmithery, thanks.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Cryptic-schmyptic - the answers

Earlier this month, I posted a music crossword: 75 clues of varying difficulty - some cryptic, some anagrams, some straightforward. I hoped it might be a fun test, albeit a test that would be easier if you knew my taste in music and/or were a regular reader of the blog.

Anyway, a week is quite long enough to mull over a crossword, so here's the solution. There are no prizes but hey, by all means have a kudos point for every answer you got right.

The clueThe answer
ACROSS
1Purveyors of dead air space (9)Dead Air Space is the current title of Radiohead's website.
4Pentito (10)Pentito is Italian for someone who is repentant and is commonly used to describe criminals who help the judiciary, much like a Supergrass.
5Covered 41A's feast day (7)41A is Billy Bragg, who sang about St Swithin's Day. Dubstar did a lovely cover of this.
7...but neither Jane Fonda nor Donald Sutherland (1,2,5)Jane and Donald co-starred in the movie I Am Klute, from which I Am Kloot took their name.
9Panacea, they dropped the 'easy' (3,4)A panacea is a cure-all. Robert Smith's band were originally called The Easy Cure - they dropped the 'Easy' and became The Cure.
11A hand reached down to him (5,5)The lyrics to Oh You Pretty Things by the late David Bowie describe "A crack in the sky and a hand reaching down to me".
13Over experienced (4,7)His breakthrough band was The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
14Oh Susanna! Plus three. (3,7)The gorgeous Susanna Hoffs was lead vocalist with The Bangles.
16The beginning of all bands (7)Genesis, Chapter 1, Verse 1: In the beginning...
21She stopped wearing cardigans (4,7)The sublime Nina Persson was singer with The Cardigans before going solo.
23Dancers of the leggy mambo (3)Leggy Mambo was the second album from Cud.
24Bickle boys (6)Travis Bickle was the protagonist in Taxi Driver, and gave the band their name.
25Time for Sleep for these indie also-rans (6)Time and Sleep were minor hits for forgotten indie nearly-men Marion.
27Insistent insect (4,3)Insistent could be adamant, an insect could be an ant, hence Adam Ant.
28Allowed the country to quiver (1,1,6)Let England Shake was an album by P J Harvey.
30Shoegazing was easy (4)Easy might imply an easy ride, hence Oxford shoegazers Ride.
31They bore a rose banner (4)Rose banner = Pink Flag, an album by Wire.
32Rearrange Mancunians (3,5)Not an anagram but if you arranged those Mancunians you might put them in a New Order.
34Locus of deoxyribonucleic acid (4)Deoxyribonucleic acid being DNA, this is one definition of a Gene.
37Sad aviation (4,10)Sad = blue, aviation = aeroplanes: Blue Aeroplanes.
40They reflected in the en-suite (3,4)Mirror In The Bathroom was a big hit for The Beat.
41Still suitable for miners (5,5)Note, miners, not minors. Who's more suitable for miners than Billy Bragg?
42Gift chosen from a list (3,7,7)Wedding gifts are often chosen from a list, hence The Wedding Present.
45Goes well with Streetband hit (3,3)Streetband had a hit with Toast, and what goes well with toast? The Jam, of course (Marmalade wouldn't fit).
46Gave 41A an extra verse (6,7)41A being Billy Bragg, the late Kirsty MacColl added an extra verse to her cover of Bill's A New England, which he subsequently adopted in tribute to her.
48After-hours training for the philharmonic (1,1,1)After hours implies in the Dark. Training implies Manoeuvres. Philharmonic implies Orchestral. So, O.M.D.
49The Office Block Persecution Affinity (3,5)One of a number of groups The Kinks identified with in The Village Green Preservation Society.
50Gave Val Kilmer his finest hour (3,8)Val played Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's Doors biopic.
52Not as hard as stainless steel (4)Sheffield is indelibly associated with stainless steel, as are the much softer sounding Pulp.
55Their sophtware did not sell well (9)The Sophtware Slump was an album by Grandaddy.
57They always sounded so happy (1,1,1)Ecstatic even, or in a state of X.T.C. perhaps?
58Multiple stationers (3,6)More than one branch of W H Smith would surely be The Smiths?
61Scouse anglers? (4)Fishermen Cast their line.
62Change for vending machine (6,4)Forgive the playground joke, but this is Johnny Cash.
64Kubrick's favourite band? (11)Probably not Stanley's favourite band, but Strangelove were excellent, as is Kubrick's film Dr Strangelove.
66Handy for nurdling, if Gallic (5)A nurdle (think of the Aquafresh logo) would be easy to draw with a French curve. Or just Curve, if Gallic.
67Not the high street soap pedlars (4)As well as the soap company, Lush were also shoegazers signed to 4AD.
68Kept in a creel? (4)Sylvia Plath's poem You're memorably compared a baby to a creel of Eels.
69Oh, duo screwed (7,5)Confusingly not a duo, just an anagram of Crowded House.
71Not Screaming Lord Sutch's backing band (7)Sutch's band were The Savages. So not them, just Savages without the The.
DOWN
2Essential French duo (3)Air is pretty essential, I find.
3New York childminders (5)Nanny In Manhattan was the jeans-ad-powered one-hit wonder for Lilys.
4Velveteen trash (5)Velveteen is an adjective that might be applied to Suede who had quite a hit with Trash.
6Bald, bony? (3,5)A straight anagram of the bony but still hirsute Bob Dylan.
8Suicidal Swedes (3,9)The Wannadies were from Sweden.
9Liverpudlians who always had one eye on the cover (3,3)The La's eponymous debut album had a close-up of an eye on the sleeve.
10Symbol's mother (5)For a while, Prince went by the name of an unpronouncable symbol. Who's a prince's mother? A Queen, of course!
12Neither acoustic nor heavy but philharmonic (1,1,1)Not acoustic implies Electric. Not heavy implies Light. Philharmonic implies Orchestra. So, E.L.O.
14A modest, dizzy bunch (3,6,5)(Im)modest sounding The Wonder Stuff helped Vic Reeves with his hit cover of Dizzy.
15Spanish archer (5)El bow... Elbow. Geddit?
17Tight fit (but not Tight Fit) (7)A tight fit is, literally, a Squeeze.
18Kopavagur's finest (8,7)Kopavagur is a little town in Iceland, home to singer-songwriter Emiliana Torrini.
19When Bob was sweet, not mouldy (5)Bob Mould's other band, Sugar.
20Sounds like they should be Alan's favourite band (1,2)Knowing me, Alan Partridge, knowing you, New Amusements... A-Ha!
22Shy poets bop (3,4,4)A straight anagram of Pet Shop Boys.
25Ann Coates (9)Credited with backing vocals on Bigmouth, Ann Coates was actually a pitch-shifted Morrissey.
26Quite good (3,12)In their early days, this band had badges proclaiming "The Housemartins are quite good".
29He plays guitar (6,4)The lyrics of John Kettley Is A Weatherman by A Tribe of Toffs include the line "Johnny Marr, he plays guitar."
32They saw off the fear (5)There Goes The Fear was, in my view, Doves' finest moment.
35The decline of ... (7,3,5)...British Sea Power is an excellent album by, unsurprisngly, British Sea Power!
36Alternate heroes' stetson (3,5,5)A straight anagram of The Stone Roses.
38No longer an attraction (5,8)Since Steve Nieve doesn't fit, another ex-Attraction would be Elvis Costello.
39Changing man (4,6)A descriptive reference to a mid-90s release from Paul Weller.
43Not Middleton, not burning (4,4)Not Middleton, so another Kate. Not burning, so another bush. Kate Bush.
44Gaussian smudge (4)A Gaussian Blur is a common image processing effect used in many graphics software packages.
47Is Georgia the dream state? (3)Rapid Eye Movement is what you do when you're dreaming and Athens, Georgia, was home to R.E.M.
51(W)hole lot of water (5)A waterhole might be an Oasis.
53Fallen in French farce (7)The farce in question, 'Allo 'Allo, featured a painting entitled "Ze Fallen Madonna With Ze Big Boobies". Yes, really.
54Diminutive Cornish or Devonians (6)Those mythical little fellas would be Pixies, of course.
56Pre-Banksy stencillers, Essex anarcho-punks (5)I remember the stencilled art and logos more than the music. This was Crass.
59Gudmund's daughter, once sweet and die-shaped (5)Ex-Sugarcube, Bjork Gudmundsdottir.
60Left the opera Scott-free (5)She left her soap opera husband Scott behind and went on to become so big she could dispense with her surname. She is Kylie.
63Grunge Yoko and co (4)Grunge Yoko was a label thrown at Courtney Love, who had her own band, Hole.
65White Van men (4)Van Morrison first found fame as the singer in Them.
70Entwistle (2)Who bassist and archetypal quiet man John Entwistle's nickname was Ox.

So that's it. How did you do? And don't worry, I doubt very much that I'll be doing this again - okay, it generated quite a lot of interaction in the comments (no cross words though, ho ho), but it was disproportionately hard work for all concerned!

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Who was your favourite?

I cannot imagine a time when this title sequence will fail to make me feel joyously young again, even if only for one minute ten seconds...

And what a theme tune!

Monday, 16 October 2017

Cryptic-schmyptic

I may or may not have too much blogging time imminently, for reasons too numerous to go into. In case I don't, I'd thought I'd just leave something here that might last passing readers a while. And I'll be honest, I was also inspired by Rol's Saturday Snapshots series, with their cryptic clues.

So here's a crossword. All answers are bands or solo artists. If you've been reading this blog long enough you'll have an idea of my musical taste, so you'll have a head start there, I should imagine. Either way, you'll probably solve it all in a lot less time than it took me to compile. Some clues are cryptic, some are straightforward, and there may even be an anagram or two. Oh, and you might want to click the grid to view it a little larger than it displays below.

Click to embiggen

ACROSSDOWN
1Purveyors of dead air space (9)2Essential French duo (3)
4Pentito (10)3New York childminders (5)
5Covered 41A's feast day (7)4Velveteen trash (5)
7...but neither Jane Fonda nor Donald Sutherland (1,2,5)6Bald, bony? (3,5)
9Panacea, they dropped the 'easy' (3,4)8Suicidal Swedes (3,9)
11A hand reached down to him (5,5)9Liverpudlians who always had one eye on the cover (3,3)
13Over experienced (4,7)10Symbol's mother (5)
14Oh Susanna! Plus three. (3,7)12Neither acoustic nor heavy but philharmonic (1,1,1)
16The beginning of all bands (7)14A modest, dizzy bunch (3,6,5)
21She stopped wearing cardigans (4,7)15Spanish archer (5)
23Dancers of the leggy mambo (3)17Tight fit (but not Tight Fit) (7)
24Bickle boys (6)18Kopavagur's finest (8,7)
25Time for Sleep for these indie also-rans (6)19When Bob was sweet, not mouldy (5)
27Insistent insect (4,3)20Sounds like they should be Alan's favourite band (1,2)
28Allowed the country to quiver (1,1,6)22Shy poets bop (3,4,4)
30Shoegazing was easy (4)25Ann Coates (9)
31They bore a rose banner (4)26Quite good (3,12)
32Rearrange Mancunians (3,5)29He plays guitar (6,4)
34Locus of deoxyribonucleic acid (4)32They saw off the fear (5)
37Sad aviation (4,10)35The decline of ... (7,3,5)
40They reflected in the en-suite (3,4)36Alternate heroes' stetson (3,5,5)
41Still suitable for miners (5,5)38No longer an attraction (5,8)
42Gift chosen from a list (3,7,7)39Changing man (4,6)
45Goes well with Streetband hit (3,3)43Not Middleton, not burning (4,4)
46Gave 41A an extra verse (6,7)44Gaussian smudge (4)
48After-hours training for the philharmonic (1,1,1)47Is Georgia the dream state? (3)
49The Office Block Persecution Affinity (3,5)51(W)hole lot of water (5)
50Gave Val Kilmer his finest hour (3,8)53Fallen in French farce (7)
52Not as hard as stainless steel (4)54Diminutive Cornish or Devonians (6)
55Their sophtware did not sell well (9)56Pre-Banksy stencillers, Essex anarcho-punks (5)
57They always sounded so happy (1,1,1)59Gudmund's daughter, once sweet and die-shaped (5)
58Multiple stationers (3,6)60Left the opera Scott-free (5)
61Scouse anglers? (4)63Grunge Yoko and co (4)
62Change for vending machine (6,4)65White Van men (4)
64Kubrick's favourite band? (11)70Entwistle (2)
66Handy for nurdling, if Gallic (5)
67Not the high street soap pedlars (4)
68Kept in a creel? (4)
69Oh, duo screwed (7,5)
71Not Screaming Lord Sutch's backing band (7)

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Rose(-tinted) crush

Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers. Sigh.

My first real crush as a boy, after the prototype crush I had on my second teacher (the brunette-hair-down-to-her-waist, guitar-playing, hoop-ear-ring-wearing Miss Broad) was Lindsay Wagner. Or, more precisely, her most famous screen role, Jaime Sommers, The Bionic Woman. You could keep your Charlie's Angels as far as I was concerned (although I watched that too, of course, and did sort of like Jaclyn Smith), it was the tennis-pro turned schoolteacher who somehow warranted a multi-million dollar upgrade after a parachuting accident that always did it for me. She had brains (a schoolteacher knows everything when you're that age, right?), was super-powered (a bionic arm to go with bionic legs and, erm, one ear) and looked nice enough to make me feel funny in a way I didn't really understand at the time. It's no coincidence that the girl I always ran after when playing kiss-chase in the primary school playground looked like a pint-sized Jaime...

Watching clips now, The Bionic Woman hasn't aged terrifically well. It's hard to imagine watching whole episodes, even through the rose-tinted haze of nostalgia. By contrast, contemporary shows like Columbo and The Rockford Files still hold up, I think. But anyway, Jaime Sommers... the title sequence is archetypal Seventies US fare: the premise, the background, and lots of lingering shots of the star. And then there's a little clip of Jamie defeating a HAL9000 rip-off, in a race against time before they get nuked. Yes, really. Heavy stuff for a show aimed at kids, and actually pretty well done, I reckon.

Now, let me wallow.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Blogging. Not blogging.

On the way to work this morning, I was mulling over what to blog about next. Maybe the next Clandestine Classic, or how I might encourage more Fantasy Cover Version submissions. Or maybe an original piece... perhaps a review of the new Blade Runner film. So what would I write about that, I wondered? How visually stunning it is? How it adds to, rather than detracts from, the original? Or why it might be, in the words of one broadsheet, "under-performing" at the box-office? (A bit too long? Dystopia fatigue? Misogyny or misandry? Pick your keyboard warrior on that last one, I've heard both views.)

Joi and K

Except everyone who writes about films online is writing about Blade Runner 2049 already. If you want a straight journalistic review you could do a lot worse than Empire, and if you want a neat blogged summary you should pay Cultural Snow a visit.

So not Blade Runner then.

Maybe I could finally pull something together to celebrate a pretty much life-long love of walking up hills and mountains? You know, throw in some details of notable summits bagged, add an amusingly captioned photograph or two, maybe a lament to crumbling knees and the fact that my highest peaks are probably behind me, that sort of thing. Endcap it all with a YouTube embed of Kate Bush, maybe. But no. Because no-one wants to read that really, do they? Apart from me.

Buckden Pike (summit), Sept 17

I find myself veering towards the sort of posts I was writing back in 2006/7/8 that were highly personal and a bit raw: a sort of primal scream into the ambivalent ears of the world. But, if website stats are anything to go by, even fewer people want to read that, so really, what's the point? I wonder if anyone is actually still reading this even, or whether it got abandoned midway through the first para? In the unlikely event that you are still reading, why not enter something in the comments to show me you've got this far - let's say, oh, I don't know, the name of the first single you bought.

What desperate cannibalism it is that allows the mind to consume itself.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Maida Vale-able

Moz and Boz

For your listening pleasure: MaidaValeAble.zip (Need unzipping software?)

Edited 04-Oct-2017 13:00 - original file replaced with 320kbps version.

Monday, 2 October 2017

This month, I am late to the party with...

...the fact that Steve Coogan doesn't like Paul Dacre or the Murdochs. Neither do I.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Clandestine Classic LIII - You've Got A Friend (cover)

The fifty-third post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

I've been thinking about cover versions a lot lately, mainly fantasy cover versions. Mainly, but not exclusively. Because you see, the other day I heard James Taylor's version of this, itself a cover, on the radio. And then, of course, there's the Carole King original. It's undoubtedly a brilliant, beautiful record, in Carole's hands and James's. Thing is though, when I think of this song I don't think of either of these renditions. I think of today's classic.

The Housemartins were, as most readers of this blog will undoubtedly already know, a jangly 80s indie band from Hull - in their own words, "the fourth best band in Hull" (the three bands that were "better" were apparently Red Guitars, Everything But The Girl and The Gargoyles). As you will also know, they had their big breakthrough moment with Happy Hour, helped no end by the Aardman-esque claymation video, and had their only number one around Christmas 1986 with an a capella cover of Isley/Jasper/Isley's Caravan of Love. And of course The Housemartins begat The Beautiful South and Norman Cook, in all his guises.

Enough intro though. The band clearly knew their way around a good cover version, and today's classic is no exception. It was recorded by the band's last line-up, in which drummer Ted Whitaker had been replaced by Dave Hemingway, an added bonus of which was Dave's nice backing vocals. The band play the song with a straight bat, perhaps mindful that the original is so well known, their only real digression being the complete omission of the middle eight.

And that's it really. A straightforward rendition of a well-loved song, simple and stripped back, with Stan's acoustic guitar to the fore. On the face of it, nothing staggering. But this is the version I always hear in my head first when I think of You've Got A Friend, and if I should ever ill-advisedly try to perform it in public, I'd take my cue from Paul and Stan, not James or Carole.

You can pick up today's classic on the career retrospective Now That's What I Call Quite Good, and you should because The Housemartins were excellent, in my view never really given the recognition they deserved. And if you are wise enough to invest in that album, you'll also get a copy of the Housemartins' track that I almost chose for today, Step Outside, another beautiful slice of Paul and acoustic Stan. It's a gem. But anyway, just because I've been thinking about cover versions here's today classic - enjoy.

This is the sort of song that gets covered to death, so if you prefer a different version, let me know in the comments. And if you still haven't submitted your fantasy cover version, what are you waiting for?

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Sometimes these words just don't have to be said

A nine-year old blog post from this very blog has made its way, lightly edited, into a new and frankly astounding, heavyweight coffee table book about The Wedding Present, entitled Sometimes These Words Just Don't Have To Be Said.

My entry is a bit journalistic if I'm honest, being a gig review for a blog rather than something I wrote with publication in mind. Even so, I'm quite chuffed about this. There I am, look, on pp333-334.

You can scoop up Sometimes These Words Just Don't Have To Be Said from the band's Scopitones website. It's not a cheap book, but then it is a monumental slab of hardback. I'd buy it, even it I wasn't in it.

If you'd like to read the original, unedited blog post, which includes a couple of decent photographs not featured in the book, plus a paragraph on the support act, that's here. I was particularly pleased with the photo of Gedge mid-song - I took that on a Sony Ericsson K750i, for goodness sake! A non-smart phone with a 2MP camera!

Monday, 25 September 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #8 - if Elvis Costello covered "Can't Get You Out Of My Head"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Eighth guest contributor is another Mark, this one from the excellent blog So It Goes... Mark made a couple of brief suggestions in the comments of an earlier FCV. I've chosen one (the one that features a semi-clad Kylie, obviously) and - you know the drill by now - embellished with some YouTube evidence. Mark writes:

I love this idea! [How about] Kylie's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" ...

... done as a deeply stripped back, slowed down piece by a "I Want You" creepy Elvis Costello?

Works for me, Mark. After all, it's clearly a song that lends itself to the odd cover version, And Elvis has previous for covering other songs pretty well too.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Inelasticity

Okay, so I left school 28 years ago. It's a long time since I studied Physics formally. But I still remember all about springs.

A spring at rest just sits there, doing nothing. Slowly put some energy into it, say by stretching it, and it gets longer. Stop putting energy into it - let go, in other words - and it releases that energy, recoiling back into its rest state. It can recoil because it has the property of elasticity - it pings back to its pre-stretched state.

Now, the more energy you put into a spring - the further you stretch it, in other words - the more energy is released when you let go and it returns to its rest state. In other words, the recoil is louder and more violent. However, it still goes back to how it was, because of its elasticity.

But (sorry, there's always a but) what if you stretch a spring too far? Eventually, it will go past its elastic limit, the point beyond which it can no longer return to its rest state. It deforms permanently, in other words. From childhood, you may remember this as the point at which you knackered your Slinky.

Here's the part where I leave established science behind and go into personal opinion. Ready? Here's a picture of a giant spring, courtesy of NASA.

And every day we're stretching it further, with carbon-fuelled climate change, pollution, overpopulation, and more. Is it any wonder then that the recoils (hurricanes, earthquakes, monsoons, landslides, and everything else) are getting more frequent and more extreme, as the spring tries to return to its rest state? What will happen, I wonder, when this spring is stretched beyond its point of inelasticity?

Apologies. I'll get back to blogging about music and television soon enough. After all, "Earth as a spring" is just a theory that I haven't described very well, cannot evidence with demonstrable science and cannot prove. Can't help but feel that 7.5 billion researchers are working on that proof every day though.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Spent the day in... the car

With three lots of roadworks and an RTC to contend with, getting out of the village to go to work this morning was like... well, it was like Schneider trying to get to the London Road...

On the plus side, this meant I was still in the car for the first play of Spent The Day In Bed. For me, the jury is undecided. I mean, it's Moz, so I'll buy it regardless. My first instinct is that this isn't classic Morrissey... but it's better than no Morrissey.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #7 - if King Creosote covered "Keep The Car Running"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Seventh guest contributor is Stevie, who many of you will know from the excellent Charity Chic blog. And it's a blinder! Stevie writes:

Can I make a suggestion for a fantasy cover version? Scotland's own King Creosote is no stranger to a cover you would not think of:

If he can cover Prince with such aplomb I'm sure he could also turn his hand to Arcade Fire's "Keep the Car Running":

However it worked out I'm sure he would not be one bit ashamed:

What a voice on that Prince cover! Can only imagine how that would translate to the Arcade Fire track... Oh, and if Stevie is reading, sorry, I had to use a different video for your second YouTube choice as I encountered copyright problems embedding it. Hope you approve of my substitution.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck. The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Cross-pollination

I don't often do this, nor will that change, I promise. But I wrote a book, so I need to make a little bit of noise about it, somewhere that gets a few more readers than my other, writing blog... In other words, please excuse the blog cross-pollination.

<plug class="shameless">Anyway, here are some links, on the off-chance</plug>:

Paperback

Ebook

Pricing is a bit volatile at the moment, so I can't guarantee that it won't be cheaper later. Or dearer, for that matter. So why wait? And if you like the book, it'd be lovely if you could leave a nice review on Amazon or Goodreads, or wherever you write your reviews. Feel free to blog or tweet about it, if you like. On the other hand, if you don't like it, pop over to Twitter and tell me why. Cheers.

And yes, music lovers, I did borrow my novel's title from Gene. But I didn't steal it.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Margins

I went to a little festival this summer - you know the sort, it's in a village you've never heard of, with a mostly unknown line-up, and they big up their family-friendly credentials. I sound a bit cynical and jaded about it, sorry - I really shouldn't because it was terrific and I had a great time. But it did get me wondering about the fine margins that exist between bands that make it and those that just plug away forever, trawling round the local gig circuit but never making that "jump" to the next level.

The festival headliners on the Saturday night were Dodgy. And they were alright, even if it did seem at times that they were going through the motions. But even Dodgy wondered aloud how they were going to follow the preceding act, the glorious Sam and the Womp, whose combination of Ida Maria-esque vocals and trumpet-wielding sideman were perfect festival fare. But Dodgy made it, to a level that Sam and the Womp probably never will. Why, I wondered...

The festival highlight for me though was The Naked Lights, who played two sets - the main stage on Friday night and, better still, the acoustic tent on Saturday. On their website, the band describe their sound as "a ragged adventure, with songs veering from bass-driven gospel, through electronic guitar-house to fuzzy Brit indiepop, all polished with pop melody." Now the pedants amongst you might wonder how you can polish with melody, but you know what they mean, right? What I would say is that the description does come close to summing up the range of styles they deliver. Most of all though, they remind me of early 80s guitar-based New Wave - in fact, the closest comparison I can think of if The Vapors who, coincidentally, I wrote about earlier this year. But anyway, early 80s guitar-based New Wave: that's a good thing. Here's a typical example of how they sound, and why I make that comparison, from their current album, The Fear Of A Morning. It's called Here Comes The Feeling.

In fairness to the band, they're very open about their influences - there's even a song on the album called (Echoes of) The 1980s. But where was I? Yes, I really enjoyed both of the band's sets, so much so that I bought their album from the merchandise stall, and have played it quite a lot since. But... it all comes down to those slender margins, I think. The band are great musicians, are tight live, get the crowd going and look the part... so why aren't they bigger?

The answer came to me in the acoustic set, as The Naked Lights included an eclectic mix of covers including Ice Ice Baby (yes, really) and, best of all, the theme from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which was the absolute festival highpoint for me - the tent went mad. And that's when it struck me - there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of very competent bands doing the rounds nationally, with a high level of musicianship, the necessary social media presence, maybe even albums to tout. But they don't make it if they don't have a song that exceeds the norm, that elevates them to a different level, that is transcendent for the listening audience. Having the right song, maybe that's what makes the difference, that's the fine margin.

Here's another Naked Lights track, this time from their eponymous debut album. It's called We'll Revolution With You.

At first, I thought this might be the song that elevates them, that provides the transcendent moment. Certainly it had ear-worm status for me for most of the week after the festival. But it's not. In the unlikely event that the band are reading this, this is the direction they need to head in, more tracks like this, album-closer These Walls.

But what do I know? With my beautiful acoustic guitar that I never play outside the house... and the electric 6-string gathering dust, that never gets plugged into my home-made amp... and the trusty old 12-string, currently gathering dust at my parents' house, and down to 11 strings... What do I know about being in any band, let alone a successful one? (Apart from margins - I'm right about those)

Monday, 11 September 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #6 - if Tony Bennett covered "Anarchy in the UK"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Sixth guest contributor is Mark who, you may remember, contributed last week's Lisa Hannigan FCV. You may also remember that Mark is a brilliantly talented writer whose latest collection of short stories, Process of Elimination, definitely deserves your attention. Anyway, what of his second FCV, I hear you ask? Mark writes:

My other choice (and just to prove I haven't gone completely soft) would be for Tony Bennett to do a cover of Anarchy in the UK, sung to the tune of I Get a Kick Out of You.

My reasoning being that it would upset and annoy a large and satisfyingly diverse amount of people, which - if you think about it - is far truer to the subversive spirit of punk than any of the attempted revivals. Also, it would make a wonderful Christmas Number One.

An inspired choice from Mark that deserves a bonus +13 kudos points for the idea of singing one song to the tune of another, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue style. Brilliant.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck. The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #5 - if Lisa Hannigan covered "Dream a Little Dream of Me"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Fifth guest contributor is Mark who has been kind enough to submit two FCVs for the price of one (part two next week). Mark is not only a good friend and former colleague, he's also a brilliantly talented writer. I've previously reviewed some of his books on this very blog and his latest collection of short stories, Process of Elimination, is, I think, his best yet. If you like any/all of Ballard, Brooker, Dahl or King, you should definitely have a read of Mark's work. Now, back to the FCV, Mark writes:

First off, how about Lisa Hannigan covering "Dream a Little Dream of Me"?

The Mama Cass version is and always will be the definitive rendition - no question, but the combination of LH's voice and those lyrics would, I think, make the perfect audio comfort blanket for troubled times - which we appear to be living in right now.

A great choice from Mark, I reckon. I should point out that the evidential Lisa Hannigan track was my choice, so I hope Mark approves. And if you think this is an intriguing FCV, wait until part two next week, which I think is an even better concept.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck. The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Guest appearances (or, deferring the decline)

Here's a graph of monthly page views recorded for this very blog, for the last 3⅔ years. Look what's been happening.

Until recently, New Amusements was just bumbling along, with a handful of core readers. My December round-ups of the year would provide a tiny bump in the figures, but that was about that. Indeed, 2016's figures suggested a decline from even those low levels. The end might have been in sight...

... but something has happened this year. After 12½ years of plugging away, I have some traffic. There are, I think, many factors in this. I'm now in the blogroll sidebar of a number of far more popular blogs which, if my statistics are to be believed, does actually generate traffic (I will post some other time about the serendipitous joy of blogrolls). On top of my constant readers (step forward The Man Of Cheese, Mark, Rol and a couple of others), I've somehow snagged and retained some new regulars too, one side-effect of which is increased activity in the comments. For me as a blogger, the increase in discussion "below the line" has been a real boost, and gives me what I've always wanted from blogging: the online equivalent of having a chat over a pint.

I think another factor in adding traffic, especially in the last month, has been my attempt at starting a series, in the shape of Fantasy Cover Versions. It's stalled already, of course, but you can still contribute. You should, by the way - your ideas would be excellent, I know it.

Over and above the blogrolls, new constant readers, active comments and series, the other factor that has really helped this year is, slightly counter-intuitively, writing elsewhere. And I'm not talking about my efforts with fiction - that really does continue to decline - but rather writing this kind of thing in other places. I can't recommend this highly enough; it gives the "other place" a chance to write about you, to link to you, and to send new readers your way, some of whom stick around. So far this year, I have these guest appearances under my belt:

  • a Radiohead Imaginary Compilation Album on blogging hero The New Vinyl Villain's site;
  • thrillingly, a reminiscence on the cinemas of my youth on Andrew Collins' new blog, Digging Your Screen. Yes, really. That Andrew Collins, off the telly, The Radio Times and The Guardian;
  • and, maybe as thrilling, I don't know because I haven't seen the end product yet, but a gig reminiscence of mine about The Wedding Present is set to appear, in some shape or form (maybe a line, maybe a paragraph, maybe the whole thing, who knows), in a new book entitled Sometimes These Words Just Don't Have To Be Said. Order your copy now, and see how much/little of the original article makes it in.
So, being elsewhere ... I recommend it. Hey, why not send me your Fantasy Cover Version suggestion and I can write about you...

Thursday, 24 August 2017

The Styles council

I heard that Harry Styles solo single on the radio at the weekend. You know the one, where he goes from all gravel-throated Kelly Jones-lite in the verses to helium-powered tenor in the chorus. Sign Of The Times, I think it's called. Anyway, whisper it quietly but I don't mind the Kelly Jones-lite bits. The helium-powered bits about bullets I can leave, if I'm honest.

Thing is, I'm not mentioning Harry in a blatant stab at pulling in readers - I don't think the average Directioner is going to have much time for New Amusements. No, the only reason I even mention this is that, on hearing the song on the radio, I was struck by the feeling that it really, really reminded me of something else ... but I couldn't put my finger on what. And it bugged me for the rest of the day. Do you ever have that feeling when recall is almost within your grasp but it remains just beyond your outstretched fingertips? That's how I felt all day on Saturday.

But then, thank God, it came to me that evening. It's not the whole song that's similar, but there's one particular chord change at the end of the verse that reminds me so much of the end-of-verse chord change in this song... a song which is right up there in my oft-mentioned-but-never-actually-compiled list of favourite songs by anyone, ever.

Whatever you think of Travis, this, my friends, is solid gold.

P.S. If you've been thinking about submitting a Fantasy Cover Version, now's the time to do it as nothing, at present, is scheduled for this Monday. You could jump straight to the front of the queue...

Monday, 21 August 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #4 - if John Lennon covered "Yesterday"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Fourth guest contributor is John who, I think, has had a stroke of genius here. John writes:

Before he bought the farm I would have paid good money to hear Lennon covering "Yesterday".

The case? By the end it was all Lennon could do to keep a civil tongue in his head whenever Macca called - which had grown more and more infrequent.

But, if he'd played it with a straight bat - and at that white piano - then who knows? I for one would bet that sparks would be coming off those ivories.

An intriguing suggestion, I reckon. Although the lyrics to "How Do You Sleep?" suggest John grudgingly admired Paul's song ("The only thing you done was yesterday"), I admit it's hard to imagine (see what I did there?) John ever covering this, even if he hadn't bought the farm. But oh, if he had...

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck. The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

A fourth "R"

A lot of headlines relating to the environment, and our seemingly limitless capacity to screw it up, have caught my eye lately. Headlines like these:

All of which made the following more surprising to me. Stunning even. See, I had cause to go to the Science Museum last week. One of their exhibits, towards the far end of the ground floor, had interactive touchscreens, asking visitors to answer questions on the science-related issues of the day. I answered a few (who am I kidding? I answered loads) but this one really struck me - "Do you recycle?" A simple enough question, right? Here's a breakdown of visitor responses for that day:

Only 7% recycle everything they can, and 85% - yes, eighty five percent - don't give a monkey's.

Am I the only person who finds this staggering? And depressing? This, from a sample of visitors to a science museum who, you'd hope, might have a predisposition for rational thought, given their choice of day out.

Obvious disclaimers required. First, this screenshot doesn't show the sample size, so it's hard to claim any kind of statistical significance. And second, for all my lecturing (sorry) I'm not perfect - I had a bottle of diet coke at lunchtime today, when I could have had tea in my inherently reusable mug. So that's another plastic bottle bought, used and disposed of. I am part of the wider problem, just like you. But at least I recycled the bottle.

So what's the fourth "R"? Well, the 3 Rs is a well-established environmental maxim - reduce, re-use, recycle. But now we all need to rethink too - rethink our relationship with plastic. Urgently.

P.S. The Science Museum dishes out plastic straws in all its food outlets...

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

More street art - Liz hovers on the dog walk

More street art/graffiti spotted, this time a paste-up on the mean streets of, er, Whitstable. When you're 91, you'll need a hoverboard to take your corgis for a walk too.

Other street art posts can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #3 - if Emiliana Torrini covered "Wild Wood"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Second guest contributor is C, from the incomparable Sun-dried Sparrows. C has taken this series up a notch here, I think, and demonstrates beautifully why you should all be reading her blog, if you're not already. C writes:

I’d like to hear Emiliana Torrini cover Paul Weller’s "Wild Wood". Members of the jury, I present these facts.

Witness the original, Paul Weller’s fifth single as a solo artist, a classic hit - so well-known and so ingrained that it’s easy to forget how deep its impact was at the time of its release.

But it’s a keeper, really. An exquisite, understated and reflective song that still sounds good no matter how many times you’ve heard it, even if that first flush of intense love has now faded into a comfortable familiarity, so much so that you don’t actively think of playing it any more. However, we could address that and give this song a whole new lease of life, simply by adding something new and distinct without losing touch with its essence. We could incorporate some femininity.

I therefore suggest that we feature the sweetness and purity of the voice of Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini. As for Emiliana’s own work, there is so much to choose from to demonstrate her vocal style in a way that would be suitable. In order to make it easier to imagine her beauiful, delicate treatment, that slight hint of her Icelandic accent adding a certain naïve charm, I present to you:

Emiliana isn’t known for her cover versions, being an incredibly prolific songwriter in her own right, she’s also guested on vocals for other acts such as Thievery Corporation. However, if proof is needed that she can handle another writer’s very different output with ease, I invite you to consider her version of the 1967 Jefferson Airplane hit, "White Rabbit":

Now just imagine a slightly more stripped back version of Wild Wood, the percussion limited but oh so perfectly placed, acoustic guitar to the fore, and Emiliana's delicious, enchanting voice ... "High tide, mid afternoon..."

There is no case against, is there?

Indeed, C. I think any jury would return a unanimous verdict. Terrific choice, and a great introduction to an artist that's new to me and, I suspect, many others.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck. The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #2 - if Johnny Cash covered "Do You Realise?"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

First guest contributor is Rol, from the always-excellent My Top Ten. Rol writes:

Fantasy Cover Version?

First one that came to me was...

Johnny Cash singing "Do You Realise?" by the Flaming Lips.

Evidence: well, JC's peerless version of "Hurt" by NIN, obviously. Johnny could bring similar graveyard angst to the lyrics of DYR? too.

It'd have to be latter-period Cash, stripped back and produced by Rick Rubin. (Although it'd be interesting to hear a more jaunty Ring Of Fire / Jackson style cover of the same song by a much younger Cash too.)

To be honest though, I'd happily listen to Johnny cover pretty much anything, including Shine by Take That.

A fine selection, Rol. The YouTube additions were all mine, so Rol cannot be blamed for the appearance of Take That on this blog...

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck. The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Underappreciated: "Limitless"

This might turn into an occasional series or it might be a one-off but either way, the purpose of this post is to highlight films that are really underappreciated, and that you might get a kick out of viewing. First up, a 2011 vehicle for then rising star Bradley Cooper: Limitless.

The premise is pretty simple: wannabe-writer but general slacker Eddie (Cooper) bumps into his ex's brother, Vernon. They catch up over a beer, and Eddie spills his woes: how his life's a mess, how he cannot finish his novel, all that kind of stuff. Vernon, apparently a character with a shady past, offers Eddie a pill that will help:

Vernon: They've done clinical trials and it's FDA approved.
Eddie: What's it called?
Vernon: Doesn't have a street name yet, but the boys in the kitchen are calling it NZT-48.
Eddie: The boys in the kitchen? That doesn't sound very FDA approved.

And of course it isn't. But Vernon promises our Edward that NZT will let him access all of his brain, all of this potential. Ed's intrigued. Who wouldn't be? Take a look at what happens the first time he takes NZT. Note Cooper's excellent voice-over narration while you're at it.

Okay, so far, so high-level synopsis. But before you read further, a few spoilers follow. Not too many, but don't say I didn't warn you....

Still here? Then on we go. NZT allows Ed to clean up his life, and not only finish his novel but make it a truly great one. Ed wants more, so returns to see Vernon, only to discover him dead. Ed calls the police but first searches for, and finds, Vern's stash of NZT.

Ed realises that he can work the stock market, with colossal success, but he needs capital, so borrows $100k from violent Russian loanshark Gennady. Ed then turns this money into $2m, an act which brings media attention... and the attention of businessman Carl Van Loon, Robert De Niro in a small role that's big enough for him to prove he can still act after all, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. But as you might imagine, the wheels start to come off. If you come off NZT there are pretty terrible side effects. Ed's supply, though large, is (ironically) limited. The police are interested in him, after Vernon's death, and Gennady wants more than a financial return - he wants NZT. Life gets pretty hectic for Ed, let's put it that way.

And I'll leave it there, shall I, at least in terms of plot. I want you to go away and watch this, after all, not just read my hack synopsis. What I can still add is that Cooper remains completely watchable throughout, you root for his character even when Ed is doing unpleasant things, De Niro simmers enough in his scenes, the voiceover adds a touch of noir to an already dark tale and the supporting cast - notably Abbie Cornish as Ed's girlfriend, Andrew Howard as Gennady and a near-unrecognisable Anna Friel as Ed's ex, Melissa - all add to the uniformly high quality. Special mentions must also go to director Neil Burger and cinematographer Jo Willems, who contrive dazzling yet somehow still subtle visuals to convey the effects of taking NZT and, most memorably, of taking too much (if I call that the street zoom moment, you'll know it when you see it).

Limitless is a brilliant film. It was nominated for awards but didn't win too many, certainly nothing overly prestigious. It did okay at the box office, and ranks okay on sites like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. So okay, so meh. Except this. It's a film that rewards repeated viewing, and I'm clearly not the only person who has seen it many, many times, as it slowly built up enough of a cult following to warrant a spin-off TV series. It's also the sort of film that crops up a lot on ITV4's late night schedule these days, and I watch it every time - you should too.

A final spoiler, of sorts - the closing scene. I include this because I want to demonstrate Cooper's leading man charisma, and that De Niro still has it.

Now go and watch the damn film!