Wednesday 28 February 2018

White tornado

Only one song for today. When the wind whips up, as it is starting to more and more as I write, I can barely see the far end of the garden.

Get out there and have a snowball fight with someone you love to laugh with. Make snowangels. Shake trees until laden boughs unburden themselves. Pat snowmen into shape. If there are little ones around, make some memories for them. With climate change going the way it is, who knows when we will next see snow like this?

Monday 26 February 2018

On being reviewed

I've written plenty of reviews in my time - album reviews, gig reviews, book reviews, film reviews - enough to know that a well-crafted review takes time, effort and, most of all, careful thought. Careful because it's easy to write a throwaway review, but hard to focus in on what makes something good, bad or somewhere in-between, and to pick out what works and what doesn't.

I've been reviewed a bit too, in various ways and for various products (short stories, mostly) but seldom anywhere that garners much critical attention.

All of which makes receiving more considered reviews both gratifying and, if I'm honest, more than a bit humbling.

Here's a review from a few weeks back of my novel, Drawn To The Deep End by Rol at My Top Ten. Here's another, today, from JC at The (New) Vinyl Villain. And here's another, from C at Sun Dried Sparrows. Three reviewers from bloggers I admire tremendously - in means something to me that they've written these. As does this one, from Mark Kilner, an amazing author who, more than most, can tell a proser from a poser.

I'm sorry to go on, I was just wondering how successful you have to get before the buzz wears off. You know, the buzz of receiving not just a good review but a good review from someone you admire or respect. How ever successful that is, I'm not there by a long chalk, and sort of hope I never am...

Saturday 24 February 2018


Found myself earlier trying to remember when I last felt physically well. I'm not entirely sure but I think it was something like three years ago.

These days, it's the beginnings of arthritis in both knees, a stress fracture in my foot that won't heal and, just lately, something painful and musculoskeletal going on around my ribs.

Talking to my dad at Christmas, he looked wearily at me over the kitchen counter and said, "There's nothing, nothing about getting old that isn't shit." I can see where he's coming from, I think. I don't entirely agree, but then he has got more than 30 years on me...

Thursday 22 February 2018


At 10:32 on the 22nd February, 2005, in another county (and what sometimes feels like another life too) I posted my first blog post. Don't look it up, it was crap. The blog as a whole has moved around a bit in the intervening time (Geocities, Yahoo, my own site and now here), and changed names occasionally too, but essentially New Amusements is now a teenager. Cue the obvious embeds.

And one less obvious one.

Basically, I think I'll probably carry on for a bit, but may be a bit surlier/lazier/intolerant (insert your own teenage stereotype here, if you like. Or don't. Whatever. God, you're just, like, so embarrassing...)

If this blog is still going in another thirteen years, the real me will be in my sixties. Heaven help us. Old Amusements, perhaps?

Wednesday 21 February 2018

My back pages

A lot of early posts were written on this old thing,
with a mug of tea on hand

According to Blogger, these are my ten most "popular" posts:

  1. Blog mirror? - that fatuous survey
  2. That Was The Year That Was: 2017 - end of year rundowns are always popular
  3. Oh, I'm sorry - did I break your concentration? - I staged a screening of Pulp Fiction
  4. Cryptic-schmyptic - I made a big ol' crossword
  5. To Whit, to whoo...? - inexplicably popular account of a weekend away
  6. Europe. It's like a different country or something...II - inexplicably popular Belgian Crack
  7. That Was The Year That Was: 2015 - as I said, end of year rundowns...
  8. That Was The Year That Was: 2016 - ...always popular
  9. Don't be a notefold cock - gets a little bump whenever Dave repeats Modern Life Is Goodish
  10. That Was The Year That Was: 2014 - ...really, really popular

I should add that these stats are skewed somewhat, since they only take into account traffic after I moved New Amusements wholesale to Blogger, back in January 2014. That skewing, that incompleteness and inaccuracy, is the only excuse I need to dust off these other posts, all of which remain relatively popular(ish). In no particular order:

But sod popularity. These are the posts I'm happiest to publicly proclaim affection for. And yes, that does mean there are other posts I'm equally (or more) proud of, but don't want to invite revisits to. Anyway, here goes, again in no real order:

I've enjoyed writing this blog, and hope you've enjoyed reading some of it too. I've also really enjoyed looking back over all these posts, and hope the links above prompt you to read something you missed first time around. And at the risk of being mysterious, you'll see why I'm doing this recap tomorrow...

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Junior choice

I don't need an excuse to play this but, if I did, today's the day. As inspired by playing Wipeout 2097 on my antique PSOne.

Friday 16 February 2018

Damned if you don't

I've mentioned Damned before, not on here but on Twitter. Since series two has just started, it seems a good time to sound a klaxon that you need to be watching this. Co-written by Jo Brand and Morwenna Banks, and starring them both alongside Alan Davies, Kevin Eldon, Isy Suttie and an excellent supporting cast, Damned is an office comedy drama (dramedy?) set in a social services department. And because there's gentle comedy, the sort of real-world comedy that surrounds us every day, the programme gets away with the gritty, bleak challenges facing that working environment, all the better to shine a light on them.

Drama, comedy, pathos. Pin-sharp dialogue and a broad, talented cast. What more do you want?

Damned is over on All 4 to watch on demand, right now. Series one is there for catch-up purposes too. Speaking of which, here's a clip from that first series, so you can see what you've been missing. Now, what are you waiting for?

Thursday 15 February 2018

Insufficient oil pressure

To my environmental (and financial) regret, I run two cars. One is a precision-tooled slab of Germanic engineering that is quiet, efficient, comfortable, spacious... the other is a cheap, poorly-finished, lightweight slice of Italian fluff that I bought in a hurry when my previous job forced an office relocation on me.

Now if you go too fast around a corner or brake hard in the Italian fluff, the dashboard beeps unhappily and displays the warning message "Insufficient oil pressure", before advising me to pull over and switch off immediately. Of course I do no such thing - the oil pressure is fine, it's just that the cheap sensor is unreliable, especially when jiggled (as might happen under sharp cornering or severe braking). But I do like the wording of the warning - insufficient oil pressure seems like a fitting metaphor, especially for today.

A clip from one of my favourite films (The Game) and favourite directors (David Fincher):

Wednesday 14 February 2018

A public service regram

(With apologies for use of the appalling "regram" contraction)

In case you were unaware that Susanna Hoffs is on Instagram and Twitter... she posted this today.


Happy Valentine’s Day ❤️❤️❤️ Photographs by Harry Page, February 1991, London

A post shared by Susanna Hoffs (@susannahoffsofficial) on

You're welcome.

Thursday 8 February 2018

"Suddenly, every horror story I'd ever heard was no longer fiction"

From Nicolas Roeg's 1973 masterpiece Don't Look Now

Interested in horror stories, or how films scare and unsettle us? Seen those "supercuts" on YouTube that splice together scenes from various horror films into five or ten minute montages?

Well, imagine a supercut made properly, by the BBC, that lasts for 88 minutes and draws on 100 years of scary and unsettling films, from all around the world. For that is essentially what Fear Itself is - an iPlayer original (which should mean it remains available, rather than disappearing after 30 days), the BBC describes Fear Itself thus:

Half-heard whispers. A creaking door. A missed step. From Vertigo to Videodrome, the scariest movies exploit our greatest – and most basic – fears.

Constructed from cinema’s most heart-stopping moments, Charlie Lyne’s film explores how filmmakers scare us – and why we let them.

A girl haunted by traumatic events takes us on a mesmerising journey through 100 years of horror cinema to uncover the fundamental nature of fear. It may change the way you watch horror movies for good.

I should add that the aforementioned girl's narration, in what I can only describe as a little fluffy clouds voice (you'll know what I mean when you hear it) only adds to the sense of unease that permeates, no, saturates the film.

Still need convincing? Here's a list of the films featured in the supercut. And okay, yes, I know that 88 minutes is quite an investment, but if you have any interest in the genre at all, its history and how it gets under our skin, this is worth the effort. Watch it here.

Monday 5 February 2018

Clandestine Classic LV - Is It Like Today?

The fifty-fifth 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.

Back in the days before the Internet, if you wanted to know what was going on in the world of music, and what your favourite bands were up to, you had to read the music press. So, in the early 90s, I read Q magazine an awful lot. And, for a while, Q was very much in love with World Party.

World Party were, essentially, a vehicle for one-time Waterboy Karl Wallinger, on whom Q lavished hundreds of column-inches, especially after making World Party's second album, Goodbye Jumbo, their album of the year in 1990. They were still eulogising about Karl in 1993 when follow-up Bang! was released.

Now I hadn't bought into Q's canonisation of Wallinger, but when I saw a copy of accompanying single Is It Like Today? in a bargain box, I thought I could risk 99p to test the magazine's devotion. And you know what? This song, at least, lived up to their hype.

Is It Like Today? was World Party's UK singles chart highpoint, just squeaking into the Top 20, at 19. Musically, I loved it, for it's carefully picked guitar line and piano counterpoint, the slightly dreamy vocal delivery, Karl's harmonies, the lyrical conceit (a face-to-face with God, in which the almighty laments how messed up his creation project has become), the middle eight with its whispered "Bang!" (God deciding to destroy his creation, perhaps?) that gave the parent album its title, and its beautiful, melodic outro. All of it - tremendous. I remember putting this on every compilation tape I made for a while, back then.

Despite Q's relentless patronage, World Party never really translated critical acclaim into massive commercial success, and after the next album (1997's Egyptology, a relative flop), Karl basically took most of the next decade off, not least because, after having an aneurysm in 2000, he understandably wanted to put his energies into being well.

Anyway, World Party resumed active service in 2006, but it's been pretty quiet from Karl since box-set activity in 2012. You can find today's classic on the aforementioned Bang!, the single-disc best of Best In Show or that comprehensive box-set Arkeology. You might imagine I have some, or even all, of these, but I don't - today's classic remains the only World Party record in my collection. Why? Because I don't believe even Q's favourite son could top it, and I've never heard anything to quite convince me to give him the benefit of the doubt. But when you've recorded this, well, that's enough for anyone, isn't it? Have a listen and see if you agree.

Footnote: the Robbie Williams hit She's The One is a cover of a World Party track from Egyptology.

Thursday 1 February 2018

A fatuous graph for a fatuous survey

Ten day ago, I launched a fatuous survey to test the hypothesis that bloggers of a feather flock together, and that if you read this blog you're more likely to be like me, to share views and preferences, than you are to be otherwise. In short, I wondered whether blogs, like our social media timelines, become mirrored bubbles, reflecting ourselves and hiding different views. The results are in, and a fatuous survey clearly calls for a fatuous graph.

A mighty eleven people responded, and nobody scored less than 50% in this not-very-scientific test. In other words, no-one was more unlike me than like me. The average score was 65%, or roughly two thirds like me and one third not. The median value was 55% and the mode 50%, maths fans.

A special mention must go to top scorer The Man Of Cheese, at 75%. In truth, this arguably demonstrates the inaccuracy of the test, as he and I are probably >90% alike. Anyway, I don't intend to run through everyone's scores, but I did want to go on a bit (sorry) about the questions as there was massive discrepancy in the degree of correlation.

  1. Coke or Pepsi?. Only 18% of respondents were like me. I should maybe have been more explicit in the question, to make it clear that this included all variants of each brand, i.e. Coke Zero or Pepsi Max. They're both poison, I know that, but Pepsi is much more caramelly, and seems a bit less watery, to this boy.
  2. Bitter or lager? I though this would be closer but 73% of respondents agreed with me that, generally speaking, bitter is better.
  3. Coffee or tea? A big shock for me in that only 36% of respondents expressed the "correct" preference for tea. What's wrong with the rest of you?
  4. Raspberry ripple or rum and raisin? A surprisingly close call. I was heartened to see 45% of respondents prefer the old school, 70s-style ripple.
  5. Full-fat or semi-skimmed? A no-brainer in these health-conscious times, with 91% of respondents agreeing with the less calorific option. Or was the question a metaphor?
  6. BBC or ITV? Another no-brainer, with 91% of respondents correctly preferring the Beeb to the other lot. It's a good job the one person who preferred ITV was anonymous, otherwise we might have had to have words...
  7. BGT or SCD? Basically the same as the previous question. Part of the fun, for me, was wondering who'd know what the abbreviations stood for (Britain's Got Talent and Strictly Come Dancing). A comfortable 64% rightly preferred Strictly, a figure I hope would have been higher if I'd spelt it out.
  8. Claudia Winkleman or Tess Daly? In other words, kooky brunette or slightly bland blonde? 82% of respondents were "like me" on this one, preferring kooky.
  9. Have I Got News For You or Mock The Week? Not much in this, unsurprisingly, with 64% agreeing with my preference for HIGNFY.
  10. The Daily Mail or The Guardian? 82% of you also prefer the lefty broadsheet tabloid to the righty one.
  11. Digital (inc. CDs) or Vinyl? The only question I clarified part-way through, to make it clear that I was including CDs in "digital". Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the muso crowd in this neck of the blogosphere, only 36% agreed with my preference for digital. I should add that I do own a fair bit of vinyl, still, and love it. Don't hate me, is what I'm saying.
  12. The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? Another predictably close one. 45% of respondents were "like me" in preferring those four lads from Liverpool.
  13. Chrissie Hynde or Debbie Harry? In many ways, the toughest question here, as both answers are right, really. I opted for Chrissie. Only 27% of you agreed.
  14. I.R.S. R.E.M. or Warner Bros R.E.M? 64% of respondents agreed with me that the Athens boys, though great, were never quite the same after they moved into the big league.
  15. Football or rugby? I expected this to be closer, in these days of Premiership prima-donnas and obscene pay, but 82% of you, like me, still prefer the round-balled game to the oval.
  16. Daniel Craig or Sean Connery? Because everyone has an opinion on Bond. 73% of respondents correctly preferred Sean. There is a case, I think, for suggesting that Goldfinger is the only Bond film you'll ever need.
  17. Rocky III or Rocky IV? All joking aside, a tough one to answer. III has Mr T, Mickey dying, The Eye Of The Tiger and "You gonna ring the bell?" "Ding ding.". IV has Dolph, Apollo dying, running up mountains in the snow and Sly ending the Cold War. But IV's montage sequences win it for me. 45% of you agreed.
  18. Andrew Garfield or Tobey Maguire? Another question that confused some, but this was a straightforward Spiderman question. For me, Tobey Maguire's Spiderman films, especially the first two, are the best superhero films you could ask for. 55% of respondents thought so too.
  19. Francis Ford Coppola or Stanley Kubrick? Don't get me wrong, Coppola has made some true classics, but Kubrick is peerless in my book. 64% of you agreed.
  20. Android or Apple? And again, 64% of respondents were "like me" in preferring your device's HQ to be Mountain View rather than Cupertino.

And there you have it. I promise I will never do this again.

Everyone's a critic

Layla was on the radio one morning, all seven and a half minutes of it. A father explained to his young son that this was by Derek and the Dominos, but the man singing and playing was called Eric Clapton.

"Do you like this song?" the dad asked.

"No," the boy replied.

"What don't you like about it?" the dad asked, curious. The boy thought for a while and then replied.

"There isn't much singing, and it sounds like he just wants to show off how good he is at the guitar."

So here's some Jimi instead.

Note to self

Here's a thing. Posting it here is partly minding the gaps and partly because this blog is where my non-fiction comes to die. Also it's partly because, sometimes, I need to remind myself I wrote this, and that it's mostly true, I think, even if it reminds me of that time on Family Guy when Brian wrote a self-help book...

How to be happier

Are you happy? Yes? No? Somewhere in between? With apologies for opening this piece with question after question, how did you go about answering the opener? Instinctively, as in “yes, of course I’m happy”? Or did you take some time to apply some form of quantitative assessment? For example, how often are you asked about your day? And when your friend/family member/significant other asks that question, what proportion of the time are you able to give a positive response? If greater than 50%, does that make you a happy person?

It’s not so cut and dried, is it? Happiness isn’t a binary value, it’s not simply on or off. To pretend otherwise is to over-simplify. However, to apply some critical thought to how happy you are is nevertheless a worthwhile exercise, not least because you inevitably start to notionally place yourself somewhere on that sliding analogue scale of happiness. And once you’ve done that, perhaps you start to think about how you could move up the scale, to a happier place.

Before I go any further, I should probably add that if you are a relentlessly upbeat person, always happy, remorselessly optimistic and positive, well, that’s great! But you probably don’t need to read any further – thanks for stopping by, sincerely, but I needn’t take up any more of your time… …still here? So maybe you’re a bit more like me? Maybe you too are seduced by the negative. It’s tempting, isn’t it, to focus on the problems we face rather than celebrate our successes. It’s easy, and quite natural, I think, to remember the criticism we receive rather than the praise. To dwell on the adversities we face. And if the weight of those problems, that criticism, those adversities, if it’s too great then even the most upbeat optimist can be unhappy.

I’m not writing this from the perspective of an upbeat optimist. I have problems; don’t get me wrong, no-one’s dying but my problems are more than enough to make me unhappy. Like a depressingly large proportion of people in my demographic, I’ve been unhappy enough to entertain some pretty drastic and ultimately destructive courses of action. But, and it’s a big but, I’ve been able to move to a happier place. Many of those problems, those dissatisfiers, those causes of depression are still there, sure. But there are ways of lessening their impact, in my experience at least. I’m writing this to share those ways.

The first and by far the most important, is recognising that, to a degree, mood is an elective state. A few years back, there was a slightly annoying and briefly fashionable management text called FISH that had the tag line “choose your attitude – it’s the one thing you have complete control over”. Now I’m not going to pretend it’s that simple – I don’t believe that anyone has complete control over how they feel, nor do I believe that happiness is simply a matter of choosing to be happy. But I do believe anyone can choose to improve their chance of happiness, by focusing on the good things, however small. Okay, so that girl you have a huge crush on barely knows you’re alive, but work is going well, right? And your ageing parents are healthy, aren’t they? And how about your personal best at Parkrun last weekend? Of course I understand the tendency, in this example, to focus on the girl – misery can be seductive, I know. It’s just easier, somehow, to focus on the negative, perhaps because of a tendency to take the positive for granted – good stuff is just supposed to happen, right? Well, maybe, but so does the bad. And focusing on the things that make you unhappy is a gateway into a destructive feedback loop – the more you dwell on how unhappy you are, the unhappier you become. Far better, wherever possible, to accept that there is bad stuff in your life (yours and everyone else’s, however outwardly successful/happy/beautiful/confident they may be) and choose to concentrate on all the good stuff. You might think they’re small, trivial even, but they’re really not – think how you’d feel if they weren’t present. And I’m not suggesting ignoring your problems – it’s important to distinguish between pouring thought into an issue productively (i.e. trying to solve or improve it) and counter-productively (the vicious circle of feeling unhappy about being unhappy). You can’t simply choose your attitude, but you can choose to remember, concentrate on and celebrate the positive things in your life rather than be seduced by the negative.

Secondly, I have found it is easier to feel happy with your life if you are happy with yourself as a person. It is important and beneficial, then, to do whatever you can to try to be a better person – after all if you can’t like yourself, how can you like anything else? Now a lifestyle magazine approach to being happier with yourself might be to buy a new outfit or have a new haircut – feel better literally by looking better. Now I’m not going to discount that kind of thinking – if it works for you, great – but I will suggest it’s temporary, short-term thinking. Far better and longer lasting, in my view, is to make choices that make you happier with who you are as a person. This might be straightforward when making simple decisions – an unemotional choice between options – but far more difficult when faced with behavioural choices. A useful approach to the latter is to imagine trying to explain your choice to your mother, or describing the consequences of your actions to your child. These, I have found, are good ways of making ethically and morally sound choices, of being the sort of person you’d like to be rather than the person you are. Over time, this is a self-fulfilling approach – you start to become the idealised you, a version of yourself that you can be happier with. And, as I have already suggested, a first step towards being happier with your life is to learn how to be happier with yourself.

And finally, it’s important to remember that happiness is not a continuous state – no-one feels happy all the time. The good news is that this means unhappiness is not a continuous state either. In my view, life is generally somewhere in the middle, with flashes of happiness and blots of unhappiness, high points and low troughs, after which things generally return, at a greater or lesser rate, to the average. So if you’re aspiring to be happy all the time, stop it! Give yourself a break! You’re aspiring to an unnatural and unsustainable state. Far better to concentrate on making those high points higher and the lows less deep (which I suggest you can do by actively choosing what you focus on, as per my first point) and on moving the median line up (which I believe you can achieve by striving to be the version of yourself you’d be most proud of, as per my second point).

This has turned into quite a ramble, a glut of opinions. And that’s really all it is, a personal viewpoint, with the odd truism thrown in, from someone who has been profoundly depressed and has learnt, through experience, analysis and applied determination, to be happier. This way of thinking has worked for me – it might for you too. To summarise, then, here are the three things to remember if you consider yourself unhappy on a regular basis:

  1. You can choose to improve your chance of happiness, by recognising the good things in life. Make sure the energy you expend on dissatisfiers is productive (try to solve or improve them) rather than counter-productive (resist the seduction of misery).
  2. Strive to be your best, the version of yourself you’d be most proud to show your loved ones. Only when you are happy with yourself can you be happy with your life.
  3. Don’t try to be happy all the time – it’s unrealistic. Concentrate instead on appreciating the highs whilst recognising that there will always be some lows, and so aim to move your median happiness line up.

And that’s it. The thought that this little essay might help others, even if only one person, has made me feel happier for having written it. How are you feeling?

Footnote: this essay originally appeared as a guest post on philosophy blog The Thought Train, in January 2017.