Tuesday 29 June 2010

The quarterly review II

Blimey, eight posts in one month. Whatever next? Anyway, back in March I documented all the books I'd read during the first quarter of the year, which I'm sure was (stifles yawn) fascinating for you all. Well, since the end of June is fast approaching, I guess a quick review of the books I've read during the second quarter is due. And here it is.

Oh, and one more thing. I've read quite a lot of short stories this year too, and particularly enjoyed The Diary of an Interesting Year by Helen Simpson, though I'm not sure "enjoyed" is entirely the right word, given the bleak subject matter. Anyway, you can read this story, in its entirety, here, and I recommend you do.

Thursday 24 June 2010

The long game

Yesterday evening, I watched a bit of the marathon tennis match between Nicolas Mahut and John Isner at Wimbledon - at 59 games apiece in the final set, it is, at the time of writing, still unresolved. The match duration is already over ten hours. The fifth set alone is already longer than the previous longest game. Still, these two journeymen pro's kept going, and somehow maintained an impressive standard of serve-volley tennis. Incredible.

Is it just me who, on watching the players become increasingly hollow-eyed, was put in mind of The Long Walk by Richard Bachman? Please tell me someone else thought something similar, at least? Were the crowd so rapturous in their applause purely because of appreciation, do you think? Or morbid fascination?

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Clandestine Classic IV - If I Can't Change Your Mind

The fourth 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.

Today, the UK chart highpoint from Bob Mould's other band, Sugar. Formed in 1992 by ex-Hüsker Dü frontman Bob Mould, Sugar had a slightly lighter and more commercial sound than the punky origins of its members. And this was reflected in mainstream success; their debut album Copper Blue, from which CC IV is taken, was the NME's album of the year. Who knows what might have been if subsequent material hadn't begun to move back to the darker roots of the band's sound...

As it is, we can still enjoy today's clandestine classic, If I Can't Change Your Mind. It peaked at number 30 in the UK charts, though may have done better in the US where it was used to soundtrack some show or other on MTV. For me though, this song is forever associated with the City Arms pub in Canterbury. Back then, the Arms had the best jukebox in town, even better than the Cherry Tree's, and it was a given that when myself and The Man Of Cheese called in there for a few ales (which we did most weeks) we would go pound-halves on the juke. This song, with a 12-string guitar sound so bright it should have come with sunglasses, was always one of my choices. I bought Copper Blue, hoping it would all be like this, and can remember being disappointed when it wasn't. This song made it onto countless of the compilation tapes I made back then though.

Mould called time on Sugar in 1995. This, then, was their career high watermark. Rapidsharers amongst you may be interested in this RAR file. For the rest of us, let's look to YouTube; whilst you're watching, try imagining a warm summer's evening in an excellent pub with your best mate, supping real ale and trying to chat up Swedish au pairs. Good, isn't it?

Tuesday 22 June 2010

How about that World Cup?

I've tried to avoid writing about the World Cup because it's everywhere, isn't it - almost inescapable. And I'm certainly going to resist jumping on the "let's crucify England" media bandwagon, poor though Capello's men have been. Let's face it, regarding qualification, that's still in our own hands - beat Slovenia and we're through. And we are, as yet, unbeaten, which is more than Germany, Spain and France can say, right? Besides, to bang on about England at such length is really rather pointless - even if we beat Slovenia and get through to the last 16, we're not going much further, are we, because we're simply not good enough. The nation should stop trying to delude itself.

Damn. I've already written more about the World Cup than I'd intended. All I originally wanted to say was that poet and author John Osbourne is writing a poem every day of the tournament, and posting them on his World Cup Poems blog. They're excellent, and well worth a moment of your time. Go and read them.

You know it's only a matter of time before I start writing about Wimbledon, and the parlous state of British tennis...

Friday 18 June 2010

I used to think that I was good at maths

Much was made of yesterday's announcement by the new ConDem government about plans to scrap £2bn worth of projects. This is being touted as a good thing, an essential bit of cost-cutting in these difficult fiduciary times. A bit of tough love, then, from the boys in office. And it's being trumpeted as an important step in putting our nation's house in order. Great.

Except aren't we £170bn in debt? When I went to school, 2bn out of 170bn worked out at something like 1.18%. I suppose in the interests of getting full marks, I should show my working out, or at least write "(2DP)" after that, but hey. 1.18%... sounds pretty trivial, doesn't it? All these great and good projects getting canned for a 1.18% saving? Seems a bit odd to me.

There will be plenty who read this and think, "Well, we've got to start somewhere, and every little helps," and they'd be right on both counts. But why not start with something bigger? Why not scrap plans to replace the Trident missile system? The last government reckoned this would cost somewhere between £15bn and £20bn. According to Greenpeace a more realistic figure is $34bn. £34bn out of £170bn - that's a whopping 20% saving right there, plus we'd be reducing the global nuclear stockpile.

Scrap projects that would make a difference to the day-to-day lives of UK citizens, and cut the budget deficit by 1.18%, or can the Trident replacement, taking us out of an old-school cold war arms race that has run its course, and make a 20% saving. I used to think that I was good at maths; I know I'm over-simplifying things by not taking into account the year-on-year costs but something here just doesn't add up.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

The evil that, er, crisps do

I went swimming yesterday at a public pool in the city. In time-honoured tradition, after the swim I undid the health benefits of all that splashing around by having a packet of crisps from the vending machine in the sports centre lobby. I've done this ever since I was a kid - back then it would always be either Monster Munch or, more likely, a packet of Salt And Shake. Of course a 21st Century vending machine has neither, so I had to make do with a packet of Walkers' cheese and onion.

I was very impressed to read on the packet that Walkers are working with the Carbon Trust to reduce their footprint. I was less impressed to read that 80g of carbon dioxide were released in the production of one 34.5g bag of crips. Yes, that's right, more than twice as much CO2 is produced by making a bag of crisps than the crisps themselves. Incredible. I don't know why, but for some reason this simple and very small-scale fact brought home to me, far more than most of the big stories that are splashed across the media, just how much mankind is going to have to change its collective lifestyle if it is to survive.

I wonder by how much the carbon outweighs the product for the steak I had last Friday?

Thursday 3 June 2010

In the absence of a blogroll... Kilner-Jarred

One of the (many) perils of hosting your own blog, as I do, is that I don't have a handy little blogroll widget I can drop onto the site to tell the world which blogs I read. I had planned to use the one from yourminis.com but they closed down. Then I toyed with writing my own using Yahoo Pipes, and I can do it but it's slow and a bit clunky. The upshot of all this, then, is that I have no blogroll for you to peruse/ignore (delete as applicable).

However, you may recall from last month that an old friend of mine was working on his own blog, and had asked me for blogging tips and tricks. Well, he's now gone live with the blog and it's excellent. This has nothing to do with him following my (admittedly common sense) blogging do's and don't's but more to do with the fact that he is using it to showcase his creative writing, with a series of entertaining flash fiction posts. If you enjoy the written word, or have an interest in creative writing (come to think of it, you couldn't have the latter without the former), then you could do a lost worse than having a read of what "Mr Durden" has written. The blog is called Kilner-Jarred: here's the website, and here's the RSS feed.

Are you still here? Shouldn't you be reading Kilner-Jarred by now?

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Clandestine Classic III - News At Ten

The 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.

Today, an excellent but almost universally forgotten single from Guildford's finest, The Vapors. Formed in 1979 and managed by none other than John Weller (yes, Paul's dad) and Jam bassist Bruce Foxton, I am always amazed that The Vapors didn't achieve greater success. Yes, they had a big hit with Turning Japanese (possibly the highest chart position ever for a song about having a J. Arthur) but other than that...? And this amazes me because they were such Jam-alikes at a time when The Jam were just about the biggest band in the country. The Vapors - they should have been huge.

But they weren't. The follow-up single to Turning Japanese was today's clandestine classic, News At Ten. It limped to a lowly number 44 in the charts (though in doing so probably sold enough to go Top Ten these days). All the ingredients were there: textbook New Wave guitars, catchy chorus, perfect lyrics for the disaffected and disenfranchised angry young man about town... yet it just didn't happen. Even the album from whence this was drawn, 1980's thoroughly excellent New Clear Days (really - go and buy it now), only made it to number 44 too, despite containing Turning Japanese. How did that happen? The band released one more album and a clutch of equally unsuccesful singles, and that was that. Singer Dave Fenton went on to be a successful solicitor specialising in music industry law, and The Vapors went on to be remembered for Turning Japanese, and nothing else. Sadly, they are one of those bands whose studio albums are now outnumbered by compilations. Forget those though - just buy New Clear Days.

In the meantime, thanks to YouTube, we can all revel in the clandestine classic that is News At Ten, and think about what might have been.