Thursday 28 December 2023


The Terminator needs a vacation
I'm taking a break - a sabbatical, if you will. Not from actual work, more's the pity, but from here. Don't worry, if any of you were; I've put in a bit of a shift lately, writing enough scheduled posts to keep New Amusements ticking over for 2024. That's not to say I definitely won't write anything new during the year, far from it, it just means that I've hopefully removed the pressure I often put on myself to blog something (which has sometimes meant I've blogged anything, with very little quality control). And I will still read and reply to all comments. I've just bought myself twelve months without having to think of what to write, that's all.

I'm also hoping that reclaiming the free time that I would normally spend blogging might actually give me some headspace and impetus to get back to fiction-writing. Please feel free to kick my arse if, in twelve months, I'm still not back on that particular horse.

The other observation I need to make here is how much in awe I am of people who blog every day. I know I've been doing this for quite a long time, coming up on nineteen years, but I've never been prolific. Scheduling 50-odd posts for 2024 has really taken it out of me, despite the fact that some of the posts are - spoiler alert - quite brief. How some do it every day, and at length, I don't know. Cap well and truly doffed.

I should probably write a disclaimer too. The trouble with scheduling posts in advance, especially up to a year in advance, is that things change - events conspire to render what you've written either wrong, out-dated*, even offensive. What if I blog about Person X and am critical of them, schedule the post for a future date, and then they go and die the day before publication? That's not going to age well, is it? Although I'm not sure how something can age in advance, but that's a question of semantics, I guess. So go easy on me, basically, if future posts are somehow wrong or insensitive or something else bad. Maybe I should go through them all and add a "Written and scheduled in December '23" footnote.

Anyway, bottom line, I'm still here and hopefully nobody will notice the difference. And I'll still be reading, and commenting on, all the usual blogs.

New Years Resolution by Camera Obscura seems an appropriate way to sign off with, especially given the opening lines. Happy new year, everyone. Have a good one.

Tip the author* Some would say everything I've ever written on this blog is out-dated ... and they'd probably have a point.

Monday 25 December 2023

Christmasland ...

"... a religio-retail festival like none other."

Tip the authorMerry Christmas, you filthy animals...

Sunday 24 December 2023

Sunday shorts: Prelude 12/21

Time to blow the dust off the Sunday Shorts series. This is Prelude 12/21 by Californian rock outfit AFI (short for A Fire Inside, so I'm told). It's not my usual bag and I know nothing about him/them, I just heard it used as backing music on an old TV programme and thought, "I've got a Christmas blog post with your name on." Appropriately enough for the season, it comes from a 2006 album entitled December Underground...

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Friday 22 December 2023

Blue Friday: It's Christmas and I'm Crying

I don't do the Christmas indie advent calendars any more, because they're a lot of effort for very little reward (though the old ones are still all here if you need alt.festive music). But if I had done a calendar for this year, It's Christmas and I'm Crying by Du Blonde would have been on it. It's terrific, even if it does leave you scratching your head thinking, hmm, those melodies are familiar, what does that sound like? Well, I'll save you the head-scratch - the verse evokes a bit of All The Young Dudes by Mott the Hoople, and the pre-chorus brings Basket Case by Green Day to mind. My mind, at least. There's even a tiny bit of Dear Prudence by The Beatles in the middle eight. It's the chord changes, you see. But everyone's a product of their influences, and there's nothing new under the sun, so let's not hold any of those references against Newcastle's Beth Jeans Houghton, aka Du Blonde, for this is rather good, I reckon. Besides, there are only so many ways of arranging a finite number of chords. And notwithstanding the melodic appropriation, this has some great lyrics. Listen carefully.

Tip the authorAnd in case you think I made a typo, yes, it is Beth Jeans, not Beth Jean. I know, I know...

Monday 18 December 2023

That Was The Year That Was: 2023

This is the thirteenth time I've recapped a year like this (for completists, here are the others); I nearly didn't bother, on the grounds that I consume so little new material, and no-one cares about my opinion. So I was going to give it a swerve...

...but then had an attackers of blogger's guilt. So here we are ... if "here" is realising that what I "consume" these days is, more than ever, driven by my notional roles of father and partner than by my own individual, personal taste. Especially what I watch, as will become apparent.

Aside from updating twelfth to thirteenth, those opening paragraphs are an exact copy'n'paste of last year's post. Which probably tells you all you need to know about my enthusiasm for this end of year recap. Basically, I have had very few highlights in my cultural life this year, so what to write? But enough prevarication; let's crack on with this load of old balls and see how little new stuff I've tried this year (and that line is also lifted from last year).

Best album

Blur, Ballad of Darren
Turns out I've bought very few original albums this year. Lots of compilations, best ofs and retrospectives, but not many of all new material. Consequently Ballad of Darren by Blur wins almost by default, whereas it perhaps wouldn't have won in other years. Don't get me wrong, it is good, borderline great. But it probably isn't essential. If I was Q magazine (remember that?) it would garner a four star review, not five. That said, it does reward repeated listens, and is definitely worth your time, as long as you're not still expecting Popscene.

Best song

I've got a bit more to say here, at least. What about Bending Hectic by The Smile for starters? Then there's The Last Rotation of Earth by BC Camplight, which has been living rent-free in my head since I heard it, and I absolutely love the brilliance of Expert in a Dying Field by The Beths. In other years The Beths would have prevailed, but this year saw Dublin's Fontaines DC cover Nick Drake's Cello Song, and I'm not sure a new song has hit me more so far this decade. I called it as early as March, and this remains my song of a year. A worthy winner - play it loud!

Best gig

Pulp at Latitude 2023
It's been another quiet year, gig-wise. There have been the usual suspects, of course: The Wedding Present (for the last time with Mel on bass), From The Jam (with excellent company from my oldest friends), The Smyths (as close as you're going to get without a time machine) - all reliably excellent, of course. Sleeper nearly stole in and took the crown this year, for their wonderful intimate acoustic gig at the Arts Centre, though I accept my judgement may be coloured by still being smitten with Louise (obligatory sigh) after all these years. But it's a tie between Pulp, who were simply brilliant at Latitude (and, crucially, shared with the rest of the Amusements clan) and Suede, who were far better than anyone has any right to expect after thirty years. So yes, another bunch of old people from my youth, basically.

Best book

I've read a few books this year, but not many of them are new for 2023. In fact, I think crime procedural Holly by Stephen King is the only book published this year that I've read so far. So that ought to win but it won't, good though it was. I also got a surprising amount out of Before & Laughter by Jimmy Carr; I'm not his biggest fan but there are genuine nuggets of life advice to he had here, delivered in an accessible and funny manner. However, the nod this year must go to The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson, even though the subject matter - climate catastrophe - meant that I had to read it in small doses, over the course of a year, for my own mental health. The first chapter in particular hits as hard as any opening I think I've ever read.

Best film

I am once more somewhat embarrassed by the paucity of new films I've been to see this year, partly because Amusements Minor is now at an age when he wants to go to the cinema with his mates instead of me. That said, I very much enjoyed Spielberg autobiog The Fabelmans at the start of the year. Barbie pleasantly surprised me, and I got a lot out of Oppenheimer too. However, the best film I've sat amongst spilled popcorn for this year, by a short nose from Señor Spielbergo and Oppenheimer, is Justine Triet's Anatomy of a Fall. I don't know if it's that foreign language films make you work harder, and therefore appreciate what you get out of them more, or whether this really is a great film but, whatever, it kept me very focused for all of its two and a half hours, plus stimluated plenty of discussion with Mrs Amusements afterwards.

Best television

Even if not up to the dazzling standards of earlier series, Ghosts has continued to be a joy - there's a Christmas Day finale coming too, so get your Button House fix whilst you still can, would be my advice. In terms of documentaries, Louis Theroux's recent BBC1 interview with Pete Doherty was a captivating watch, for fans of both, and the Ronnie O'Sullivan behind-the-scenes film The Edge of Everything on Amazon Prime was a real eye-opener - I defy anyone not to be moved at the end at Ronnie's emotion. Definitely worth a watch. However, my TV choice this year is Only Murders In The Building on Disney+; no other show has given me as much satisfaction and all manner of laughs, from knowing "that's clever" chuckles to tea-spurting laugh out loud roars. Steve Martin is as good as he has ever been, his chemistry with Martin Short elevates their every shared scene, and Selena Gomez is a revelation. Very highly recommended indeed.

Best sport

Mary Earps' World Cup Final penalty save
In a year that has been pretty mundane in terms of sport, it is hard to look beyond the superbly victorious European Ryder Cup team, but I'm going to because once more the Lionesses gave us all something to get excited about; yes, they fell at the final hurdle against Spain, but that was still as close as England have come to winning a World Cup in my lifetime. And sure, they've just missed out on Nations League qualification by the most heartbreaking of slender margins, but let's not forget they did beat Brazil to win the Finalissima at the start of the year too. Aside from that, I must also mention Katie Boulter, who was next level at the recent Billie Jean Cup qualifier against Sweden and continues to look our best hope on court, at least until Emma Raducanu can get herself back on track.

Person of the year

Chris Packham
Well, it's Chris Packham, obviously. Quite apart from his televisual impact on the natural world, through Springwatch, Autumnwatch and this year's outstanding five-parter Earth, he also gave us the illuminating documentary Inside Our Autistic Minds, asked difficult questions in Is It Time To Break The Law? and even found time to pop up on Celebrity Gogglebox for Stand Up To Cancer, alongside his step-daughter Megan McCubbin. And all the while, he was fighting an exhaustive and intrusive legal battle against Country Squire Magazine for defamation - he stood up to be counted on this, and won, at some personal if not financial cost. That he continues to be a publicly active activist, despite arson attacks on his property and having dead badgers nailed to his front gate, tells you all you need to know about the man. The natural heir to Attenborough, and there's no higher praise than that in my book.

Tool of the year

I need a bigger toolbox ... although most of last year's candidates are still here. Johnson, Sunak, Patel, Braverman ("As thick as pig-shit, basically" - Mark Watson), Rees-Mogg, Shapps, Hancock, Dorries, Cleverly (a new entry, and proof of all the flaws in nominative determinism). We need shot of them all from public life, from public service, because they do us all a dis-service, to say the least. Further afield? Man-child Putin, throwing missiles and young Russians onto the bonfire of his own vanity, the seemingly inevitable comeback from Trump, the dollar-enabled kid-in-a-candy-store that is Elon Musk, the batrachoidal puddle of bigotry that is Farage and all those who conspire to keep him in the news, the perma-tanned barrel-scraping and down-dumbed miasma of reality television, those who are famous for being famous, anyone who applauds themselves on television, oh Jesus, I could go on. I'm not going to pick one person... I'm just begging, hoping beyond hope that 2024 is better. 2023 hasn't been, to the extent that, aside from a few tweaks and updates, I have basically just copied and pasted this paragraph from last year.

Tip the authorWell, blogger's guilt, I hope that was worth it. But reader ... how was it for you?

Sunday 17 December 2023

Great moments in music video history #10: Wild Boys

Duran Duran were just about the biggest band around when Wild Boys came out, a scarcely believable 39 years ago, and they had a video budget to match. They perhaps hit the peak of video excess with this four minutes of ... well, everything, frankly.

At the time, the red-tops were full of "Le Bon almosts drowns on video set" stories, as I recall. Simon has sought to distance himself from the story in recent years, calling it an urban myth. But the video's choreographer, Arlene Philips of Strictly fame no less, remembers it slightly differently. As you may recall, Le Bon was strapped to the sail of a windmill which rotated and dunked his head underwater whilst he was singing. What can I say, it was the Eighties. Urban myth the near-drowning may be, but Arlene is quoted as saying, "The windmill stopped when he was under the water and he couldn't breathe. He was stuck there and they had to send divers in to rescue him. It was awful, waiting to see if he was OK. I'll never forget it. It was an amazing video, though. Wild Boys was just the most fabulous, mad video ever."

Of course he didn't nearly drown, and I'm sure he wouldn't have downplayed it if he had. But it does give me all the excuse I need to play this gloriously OTT slice of nostalgia, and dedicate it to The Man Of Cheese, a big Duran fan back in the day - happy birthday, mate.

Tip the authorAnd P.S. - if you don't sing the intro to this but with a lyric change any time anybody ever mentions the phrase "wild boar" then I'm afraid we need to have words...

Tuesday 12 December 2023


"Is it possible that we two, you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness?"

So says Spock to Kirk, at the tail-end of Star Trek VI. I would say the same thing, were it not to imply a degree of flexibility and usefulness in the first place. Because I am basically a parochial musical dinosaur who likes what he likes and dismisses anything else, often contemptuously.

But I try, sometimes. Really, I do.

Take today's track - it's hardly new, since it was released in 2012, but it's new to me, courtesy of Amusements Minor's Spotify playlist. KONGOS (their capitalisation) are four brothers from South Africa, relocated to Texas. Come With Me Now remains their biggest hit, and at various times has been picked up for commercial use by WWE, Strongbow, The Grand Tour, The Expendables 3 and, bizarrely, as the theme music for the Australian version of I'm A Celebrity ... but don't hold that against it. It's been everywhere, basically, for a decade, but is still somehow new to me.

Speaking of me... I think the song as a whole is alright. But the middle eight, when it slows down and turns from a bluegrass stomper to something altogether more refined, well I really rather like that. It reminds me of A-ha, that middle eight (and in a good way, before you start).

Anyway, here it is.

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Friday 8 December 2023

It's a big Internet but still a small world

I had a message from my brother a couple of days ago. Nothing unusual there, you might think, except that we are seldom in touch, not for any personal reasons but geographical. He's lived just about as far away as you can get for the last sixteen years, during which time I've only seen him two or three times. Add in the complication of the diametrically opposed time zones and regular communication, over time, just fell into the too-hard pile. So it was a nice surprise to get a message, even if it was just one line: "This wasn't you was it?" A hyperlink was attached.

Turns out my brother had, for reasons only known to himself, been Googling a slightly obscure and largely forgotten short film from the 1970s. Incredibly, the thumbnail for one of the search results showed a grainy black and white photograph of a now-defunct cinema he remembered from his youth, literally half a world away. What a coincidence, eh? So that was, inevitably, the link he clicked on to read about the film.

The more he read, the more uncannily echoic of his own cinema-going experience the article became, to the point that he happened to say (presumably to his missus) "This could have been written by my brother." Lo and behold, when he got to bottom of the article, there was my forename. Too much of a coincidence, he figured ... and hence the message.

You've already guessed from the fact that I've bothered to string out this tiny tale into another blog post that, of course, it was me. This was the article he read, something I wrote seven and a half years ago about The Waterloo Bridge Handicap and long-forgotten cinemas (... and a girl called Denise). That post later got republished by none other than Andrew Collins on his short-lived but much-liked blog Digging your Screen. Now, all these years later, it and a series of small coincidences were enough to prove that, although the Internet is a vast and sometimes horrible place, underneath it all there is still a small world.

Better finish with a song, I suppose. My brother was a big fan of Adam Ant in his younger day, so here's a very early track from him, Deutscher Girls, set to footage from Derek Jarman's 1978 film Jubilee (which included both Adam and this song). Adam is accompanied here by a pre-fame iteration of the Ants, many of whom went on to back Annabella Lwin in Bow Wow Wow when Adam put a white stripe on his nose and recruited a new guitarist, two drummers and a much more tribal sound for the Antmusic that was to sweep the nation's playgrounds.

And yes, I did choose the Jubilee clip for the embed to link all this nonsense back to the ideas of film and cinema-going - these posts don't (always) just throw themselves together, you know?Tip the author

Wednesday 6 December 2023

It's hard to stay positive

I'm with Greta. The COP summit really is all "blah, blah, blah". Here are two consecutive BBC news headlines, as presented to me this morning in my RSS feed reader of choice, with annotations by me:

Annotated climate crisis headlines

I've said it before but, sadly, I still think the only way we are going to avoid a global climate crisis is if people who are already rich and powerful can somehow make themselves richer and more powerful by doing it. I take a cold crumb of comfort from the fact that their money will be worthless when there's no food, drinking water or habitable land left. Sorry (not sorry), dysthymia has hoved into view once more. Happy Christmas!

I'm not the biggest Ash fan in the world but since we should all prepare to get very hot indeed, this seemed appropriate.

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Monday 4 December 2023

Monday long song: You Took

We're into December, it's cold and the nights are drawing in. I really should start work on my That Was The Year That Was review of 2023, but I'm not sure I have enough to make it worthwhile. So instead here's a long song for your Monday, from Aussie outfit The Church's second album, The Blurred Crusade, all the way back from 1982. According to Wikipedia, this was about the time the band left their New Wave roots behind and expanded into "neo-psychedelia". Yes, really.

Whatever the genre description, Crusade remains a decent album, even if it has dated slightly. The first 90 seconds of this could be knocked up in Garageband in about, ooh, 90 seconds these days, I reckon. But that's not the point, is it?

Anyway, the song.

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Friday 1 December 2023


According to the Met Office and their meteorological calendar, today is the first day of winter. You might have other definitions and fair enough, but I need no other excuse for this, a live performance from the fourth best band in Hull, exactly 37 years and one week ago. I Smell Winter was the B-side to Think For A Minute, if memory serves.

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Wednesday 29 November 2023

Racking up the years

"I'm old, not obsolete," opined Arnold, in the barrel-scraping retread that was 2015's Terminator Genisys. Much like CDs, these days. Remember when they were the future, all over Tomorrow's World, with their irridescent digital promise to tempt us all into rebuying our record collections? Long time ago, isn't it?

When I was at university as an undergraduate, an impossible number of years ago, I was a frequent visitor to the Record Library. It was a little room on the ground floor level of the main campus library, and was home to rack upon rack of vinyl and a small, but growing, number of new-fangled and impossibly exciting CDs. I didn't have a record player in my student hovel, but I borrowed CDs from the library most weeks and taped them onto whatever spare TDKs I had at the time. It didn't matter that the cassette recorder I was doing the copying on was, frankly, pretty rubbish - taping a CD was still better than taping the alternative.

Nearly 25 years after I left, I returned to that same university to work. Since staff have full access to the campus library, I also returned to the Record Library, which had grown somewhat, but also changed - most of the vinyl was gone, and the number of CDs had multiplied 50-fold, perhaps even 100-fold. And although everything is online these days, streamable or downloadable or Spotifyable or YouTubable, I would occasionally borrow a handful of CDs for old times' sake. I took great delight in finding and reborrowing some CDs I had first borrowed in the early 90s - there was a circularity to that that I greatly enjoyed.

Covid and lockdown meant working from home, of course. I'm still only in the office two or sometimes three days a week now - a change has been wrought that will be hard to go back from. But let's not digress. A month or two ago I went back to the library to get a CD, now more than 30 years after my first visit there. And the Record Library was ... gone.

Not gone gone, as I had first thought. But moved, to the lowest basement level, and from regular shelving to these space-efficient rolling racks...

Rolling racks

There was no-one around, no-one near the racks. They felt decidedly untouched. CDs are the past, and that makes me very sad. Still, they had a longer useful life than DVDs - you can't seem to give those away these days. Damn you Netflix, Disney+ and all the rest. But I loved CDs. Still love them. And have got thousands of the damn things. And no, Mrs Amusements, I will not part with them - they are a collection, after all.

Of course the other feeling these rolling racks triggered was a Proustian rush of recalling the department store I worked in as a teenager. As I may have mentioned before, I had a Saturday job in the lighting department of a well-known but now defunct high street store that was big enough to have an enormous, windowless stock room on its top floor. Most of the stock was housed in giant rolling racks that made the ones in the photograph above look puny. They were easily big enough to hide in, let's put it that way, and so were a great place to while away the time on a slow Saturday afternoon. Of course most stores these days don't have stock rooms in the same way - just-in-time ordering and better point-of-sale racking mean the shop floor is essentially the stock room now. "Just going to look for it upstairs" has, like CDs, become a thing of the past. That makes me sad too, but then of course I'm an old white guy and, as Mabel says in the wonderful Only Murders In The Building, "Old white guys are only afraid of colon cancer and societal change."

At this point, I was going to embed Yesterday's Men by Madness, but I've unsurprisingly featured that before, so here's something different, in the shape of When You're Old And Lonely by The Magnetic Fields, which gets away with its simplicity and lack of musical progression by being both short and (bitter)sweet.

When you're old and lonely you will wish you'd married me
I could build a fire for you and bring you cakes and tea
When you're cold and hungry I'll be waiting by the phone
You can call me up and tell me how you're all alone, all alone
When you're old and lonely and the rush of life is past
Days go by too slowly and the years go by too fast
When your golden loneliness is heavier than stone
You can call me up and say "My God, I'm all alone, all alone."

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Friday 24 November 2023

To me...

Graph of blog posts by month

I'll save you squinting to read the horizontal axis - this is a graph of the number of blog posts I've written every month for the last two years, prior to this one. The dotted red line makes the implicit trend explicit. I know it's just a count, it's got nothing to do with quality or page views (though both of those trend lines would follow a similar trajectory). Maybe I've just run out of words.

Take the rest of this post, for example. It starts with seeing this on Instagram the other day...

Which is one of those jokes that, if you have to explain it, stops being funny.

And then I thought, this could lead into a post about how U2 aren't all bad, actually (come back, Rol). Prone to pomposity, yes, effects-pedal-dependent, maybe, and so far over the shark even Quint couldn't get them, certainly. But there were some good songs there too, back in the day. Except ... I don't have the words, effort or energy required to write that post any more, it seems.

Bollocks to it. Here's a song.

See, that was alright, wasn't it? And if it was by anyone else, we'd all be enthusing. Although seeing Bonio in his big glasses inevitably brings this little snippet to mind:

"Are those your mother's cataract glasses?" Brilliant. And that's the post. More, by which I probably mean less, some other time.Tip the author

Thursday 16 November 2023

And oh, what a storm

Bradford were a late-80s indie five-piece from, ironically, Blackburn. Annointed by SPM, they opened for the quiffed one at his first post-Smiths live performance (the Wolverhampton Civic Hall gig) and were rapidly signed to Stephen Street's nascent Foundation label. Their first single predated that though, with Skin Storm being released in 1988 on the Village Records label; Wikipedia tells me that it was first independently financed recording to be released on CD, and who am I to argue? Anyway, for all singer Ian Hodgson's obvious vocal Moz tendencies, here it's really guitarist Ewan Butler's even more obvious Marr-isms that stand out, especially in the chorus. Or maybe they're Street-isms? Anyway, see what you think:

Bradford are on Bandcamp, where you can listen to the expanded, remastered version of album Thirty Years Of Shouting Quietly. It's alright, but Skin Storm remains the best track on it, still.

Of course, SPM loved them so much he had a crack at covering Skin Storm, and put his version on the B-side of Pregnant For The Last Time. Or maybe he'd just run out of new song ideas, in the relative doldrum of his Nevin years. Stop reading here if you've had enough of him.

See, for me that has a better vocal but an inferior band performance. Your mileage may vary. Anyway, there'll be some more old nonsense from me some other time, no doubt. Until then...Tip the author

Sunday 5 November 2023

I'm on fire

Had forgotten how much I like this and the album from whence it comes, Silent Alarm. I can thank Jo Whiley for playing it on t'radio t'other night, and reminding me just how good Bloc Party and Banquet are. Feels like a good tune for Bonfire Night too, and not just for the closing lyrics... well, it was either this or something by Catherine Wheel, a-ha ha ha... *

Tip the author* Makes mental note to post Catherine Wheel track next year. Or maybe that Kasabian track about being on fire.

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Turning Japanese

Duolingo is a mighty popular app. On the Google Play Store it has been downloaded over 100 million times. In the Apple realm, it is the #2 app in their Education category. Everyone wants to learn a new language, it seems, (and / or please a green owl) and I am no exception.

Background: I studied French at school. Although I stopped that 37 years ago, I got a AA at O-level, was pretty good at it, and have retained enough to make trips to France comfortable. I also studied Russian at school, which was harder, and I haven't retained much of that - I can ask "Where is Red Square?" but I probably wouldn't understand the answer. Anyway, the bottom line is that I haven't tried to learn a language since the mid Eighties.

So to Duolingo, where I am trying to learn Japanese. God, it's hard. Partly it's because there seem to be three character sets - Hiragana (over 100 characters or character combinations), Katakana (another 100+) and Kanji (45 characters so far and apparently more to come in later lessons). It all makes Russian's 33-letter alphabet seem a bit feeble.

Then there's getting your head around word order. To say I'm going to have coffee with my brother next week you essentially say Next week my brother with coffee going to have I am... which takes some getting used to. At least this ordering seems pretty consistent, so far at least.

Then there's the accent. Learning languages as a kid, I adopted an appropriate accent very easily. As a middle-aged fossil in the making, who hasn't used this part of his brain for a long time, any time I try to say anything in any language other than French or Russian, I end up sounding like I am deliberately trying to do a comedy foreign stereotype. And I'm not, I promise.

Age is a factor in other ways too. When you're sixteen, your brain is a lightning rod, ready to take input and turn it into neural connections as easy as pie. The teen brain is a sponge, basically, and it can absorb a hell of a lot of water. When you're fossilising, things are a bit different. The brain can still absorb but it's more like a damp tea towel than a sponge. Those neural connections have to be hammered into place. Learning just isn't as easy as it used to be.

I'm trying though, I really am. I'm 21 weeks into a daily Duolingo streak, and I can now say more in Japanese than I can remember in Russian. Whether anybody would understand me in downtown Tokyo remains to be seen, and whether I'll ever get to go back to Japan to try a few phrases is equally unknown. Let's hope so though, that I get to go back at least - Tokyo remains the most other-wordly place I've ever been.

So, here's some Japanese music. Homecomings are an indie-ish four-piece that met and formed at university in Kyoto. This song's title translates as Hurts. I've no idea what it's about (I haven't got to the Duolingo unit on deciphering indie lyrics yet) but the video has helpful subtitles that might ... oh, they're in Japanese...

And as the title of this post suggests, I did consider writing about The Vapors for the 800th time. But instead, here's Kirsten Dunst's cover of their most famous song. Yes, really.

Tip the authorWhat did you make of that? To be fair, Akihabara Majokko Princess was more of a video art installation from director McG than a serious foray into 80s power-pop from Kirsten. Whatever, the video was included in the 2009 "Pop Life" exhibition at the Tate Modern. Akihabara, by the way, is a frankly dizzying shopping district in Tokyo, particularly heavy on electronics and tech... although when I was there I bought a tiny paper diary. Make of that what you will.

Tuesday 31 October 2023

Don't have nightmares

It's Halloween, which seems an appropriate time to ask, what's the most scared you've ever been watching a film? I don't mean unsettled, or (incoming awful Americanism alert) grossed out, or spooked, or startled, but actually, properly, physically and mentally scared?

Slasher movies, gore, teenagers going into woodsheds, they don't do much for me, to be honest, never have. In fact, I'd go as far as to say I generally find them faintly ridiculous. No, for me it has to be a film that gets in your head as well as under your skin. Psychological horror, subtlety, atmosphere, tension and the uncanny or unnerving - these are the things that do it for me.

Back in 2010, when this blog was still in short trousers and most of you weren't reading it (except Rol, he was an early adopter), I wrote a Halloween post about my top thirteen unsettling films. Number two on that list was The Others, a 2001 vehicle for Nicole Kidman, and to this day the film that has scared me the most on first watching. I was going to enthuse about it again, but I can't improve on what I wrote about it thirteen years ago, which was this:

Like The Omen, The Others had such an effect on me because of the circumstances in which I watched it. Dispatched to the Big Smoke for a week to do a training course, my evenings in a soulless corporate hotel were boring beyond words. What better way to while away the evening than watching a movie on the old pay-per-view? After all, the company Amex was paying, right? Down went the lights and on went The Others... so it's late, it's dark, and I'm away from home, all alone, in unfamiliar surroundings. At one point, I had to get up and make a cup of tea to break the tension (you know the scene, it's when you think it's the little girl all dressed up under that veil). I had to put all the lights back on for the end, I was that unnerved. I know, almost as big a scaredycat as my sister. But not, because this film is unsettling in the extreme. What could be worse than laying awake in your darkened bedroom, only for unseen feet to thump across the floorboards and unseen hands to fling back the curtains? And Christ, how would it feel to realise all your hired help are dead? Not great, I'm guessing. Oh, and there's that scene where our heroine tries to escape into town only to be stopped by (quite brilliantly added digital) fog, and then she bumps into her long-absent husband... only he's not quite right, is he? And with good cause. I've tried to get my partner to watch this on a number of occasions, and she just won't. Tells you all need to know about the goosebump-inducing, dream-disrupting, lights-back-on-please qualities of this excellent chiller.

I still think The Shining, which topped my list, is a better, more unsettling film but for sheer heart-racing fright The Others, and the all-important circumstances in which I first watched it, still takes some beating. Here's that scene I mentioned in my chart-rundown review.

Tip the authorNot so scary out of context, I guess, and maybe even less so now we all know the plot twist. But back then, on first watching... oh boy. Anyway, as Nick Ross used to say, don't have nightmares ... or do. It is Halloween, after all. Maybe turn the lights off and watch something frightening tonight...

Sunday 29 October 2023

The last Sunday in October... when the clocks go back in the UK. British Summer Time ends and we return to Greenwich Mean Time, a temporal and seasonal shift for which this feels entirely appropriate.

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Wednesday 25 October 2023

Anything is hard to find, except self-loathing

I've been writing this post in my head for nearly two weeks now, trying to wrangle what I want to say into some form of words that someone (anyone!) would want to read. However, I've failed repeatedly, to the extent that this is only going to materialise if I start typing ... so here goes. Don't worry, I'll embed some embarrassingly predictable songs along the way - I know that's all you're really here for, after all.

In part, this is inspired by Rol's exceptional Self-Help For Cynics blog series. But mostly it comes about following a conversation one Sunday evening that took an unexpected turn. I'm not going into details here, suffice to say that the person I was talking to revealed that they had done something unwise, one result of which was a very low mood and even a degree of self-loathing. I sympathised of course, because no-one wants someone they care about feeling that way. But I empathised too. After all, anyone can make a mistake...

It's not necessarily the size of the mistake that's the issue, of course, or even the conventional consequences, although they can both be factors. No, the pertinent issue, both in this case and in my own past, is the nature of the decision or action. Specifically, these are mistakes, for want of a better word, that make you question your own sense of self - who you think you are, at the most fundamental level. And that line of questioning is, from my experience, a shortcut to depression and self-loathing. Go directly to jail. Do not pass "Go". Do not collect £200.

One counter argument might be that this level of self-awareness, of considered introspection, must be a positive thing, along the lines of "Well, you might feel bad for doing X but the fact that you're questioning why you did it, can't even believe you did it, shows what a well-rounded, reflective character you are, making personal progress that should offset any regret or self-loathing." And maybe that's true, to a degree and in retrospect, but try telling someone that when they are in the midst of self-directed angst. Because I'm not just talking about plain old regret here:

We're talking about things that make you question who you really are, at the most basic level. After this conversation, I reflected that in my adult life, there have been four things I have done that made me question my very sense of self in this way, actions that I couldn't reconcile with who I thought I was. Don't get me wrong, I'm no saint: there have been many, many other mistakes, misdeeds and generally awful / horrible / reprehensible behaviour. There have been plenty of things I'm not proud of, in other words: people I've treated very poorly, bad decisions I've made that not even hindsdight can justify, all of that. But all those things I can square up in my head with who I think I am. In all but those four cases, I can see how I got to where I did, why I did what I did, and why I reacted (or didn't ) to it afterwards. But those other instances, those four things... There's a disorientating effect to not understanding yourself, to not recognising actions as something you'd do. It can be horrible, truly. And if, like me, you have a simmering baseline level of self-loathing at the best of times, it can plough you into a very dark place.

There are two options then, of course: you either get over it or you don't. And if that sounds like I'm over-simplifying, I'm sorry, because that's not my intention. Getting over it doesn't mean forgetting it, or leaving it behind, after all. As I have tried to show, there is a difference between doing something you're "not proud of" and something that actually causes you active personal, inward, private shame. When you do something that leaves you sorrowfully thinking "I can't believe I did that", then getting over it means coming to terms with the fact that you did. In my experience, this is impossible to do completely, to the extent that "getting over it" actually just means accepting what happened, accepting yourself and finding a way to carry on being the revised edition of yourself. At first, you think about it every waking moment, then a few times a day, then a few days a week... Eventually you can go so long without thinking about it that it's almost like it never happened, and you really are who you thought you were. But only almost. For whilst time is a great healer, when something happens that prompts a recollection of your secret personal shame, it's a fresh wound, almost as deep as the original cut.

I have been trying my whole life to accept myself. I'm starting to think that perhaps I won't ever succeed. I hope you have better luck, and I hope those actions, inactions and choices that give you cause to question your self-image are few and very far between. Be well.

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Thursday 12 October 2023

Every home should have one X

Reading Khayem's post today on the always-excellent Dubhed, regarding The Anchoress's cover of Enjoy The Silence, it suddenly occurred to me that I had somehow omitted a very important album from the EHSHO masterlist. Specifically, Depeche Mode's 1990 high watermark, Violator.

Since Khayem has already featured Silence, here's another example of what makes this album so bloody good.

And to prove that it's the very definition of all killer, no filler, here's another track from Violator but this time one that wasn't also a top twenty hit in the singles chart. Sweetest Perfection is, on the face of it, all about a doomed love for the perfect (but wrong) woman ... but is really bleaker still, a doomed love for a darker but equally addicting drug. It's all persistent minor chords, hammer-blow drums and jagged industrial synth noises - the brightly-suited, fresh-faced Basildon boys of Just Can't Get Enough are a distant memory.

I played Violator to death in the early 90s. I think it is Depeche Mode's best album, and thoroughly deserves its place in every home.

For completeness, you can find the Every Home Should Have One masterlist here. Tip the author

Monday 2 October 2023

Like water off an Argentinian racing pigeon's back

I love this sketch. You could argue that it brings the influence of more alternative comedy from the early and mid 70s into the primetime mainstream (it certainly owes a debt to Monty Python's dead parrot, and Fawlty Towers' pedigree Siberian hamster) ... or you could call it derivative. You might say it's a classic example of popular humour of the time ... or you might say that the popular humour of the time was only so popular because of the limited televisual choice. You might say that not one line of this script is wasted ... or you might say it's all predictable nonsense.

Me? I say it features two performers at the top of their game, with an enviable, easy, balanced rapport. I say that it bears repeated viewing, not least because there are so many good lines crammed into five and a half minutes. And most of all, I say it's funny. It just is. It might be a soft humour, by today's standards, because it's not trying to make a point, or criticise anybody or anything; it's not trying to shock, or subvert. It probably wouldn't even get made today, except possibly for children's television. But it's still funny, nonetheless.

And sometimes, some days, I just need a smile. You might too.

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Wednesday 27 September 2023

New to NA: English Teacher

The World's Biggest Paving Slab is getting a lot of airplay on the inestimable 6 Music at the moment. Me, I know nothing about the band, English Teacher, other than I don't think that's an especially good name in these days of "what happens if you Google them?" But what do I know? Well, what I do know is that I really rather like this song. And also, check out the excellent lyrics - lots of fun to be had for the indie spotter here, I think, with some of these references.

I am the world’s biggest paving slab
But no one can walk over me
I am the Pendle Witches, John Simm
And I am Lee Ingleby
I am the Bank of Dave, Golden Postbox
And the festival of R&B
I’m not the terrorist of Talbot Street
But I have apocalyptic dreams

You should see my armoury
I am the world’s biggest paving slab
So watch your fucking feet

I am the world’s biggest paving slab
But I sit here quietly
No one ever looks down at the ground
Yeah, no one ever notices me
I wish I were born a stone
And made Wycoller my home
Haunting with Charlotte Bronte
I’m not the terrorist of Talbot street
But I think that ruins have beauty

You should see my armoury
You should walk all over me
I am the world’s biggest paving slab
And the world’s smallest celebrity

Great video too, isn't it?Tip the author

Thursday 21 September 2023

Under the influence

I love REM, and have a special fondness for the IRS years when you couldn't always make out what Michael was singing about and Peter's Rickenbacker jangle was at its jangliest.

Of course, that is a finite resource. Even in the unlikely event that REM were to reconvene, that 1980s sound is gone forever. It is a relic of a different age. Murmur is over 40 years old, lest we forget.

So how to scratch the itch? Well, a bit of Googling led me to this forum discussion about bands with a similar sound to early REM. It makes for an interesting read, not least because it showcases how many wildly different opinions there must be on what early REM sounded like, given some of the suggestions. Anyway, one band name that kept popping up was The Decemberists, and particularly their album The King Is Dead. So I had a listen, and you know what? On occasion, they do sound a bit like Athens' finest. Turns out that one Peter Buck guests on three of the album tracks, and you can tell which. For me, this is the most REMarkable track:

You see, I hear this and can't help but think of a slightly faster version of this, and not just because of the intro either:

I don't know what my point is. We're all a product of our influences, aren't we, so... what? I guess the key is to be a product of them without being in their thrall. The Decemberists manage this, I think. Good on them.Tip the author

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Now what?

For those of you that expressed an interest last time, here are some more gems from The Connor Brothers that suit my current mood just fine...

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Tuesday 12 September 2023

Not from where I'm standing

I got to see some art by The Connor Brothers recently. Their impressive back-story involving an escape by twin brothers from a particularly luddite American cult is sadly a work of fiction; rather, they are former art dealers turned print makers Mike Snelle and James Golding, and are perhaps best known for adding subversive or post-modern captions to pulp fiction book covers - you know, this kind of thing:

I loved every print I saw like this, and took loads of pictures, going back to some prints time and again. And I got to thinking - where had I seen this before? Not just something like it, but a piece of art in this exact style, and by The Connor Brothers? And then it came to me.

Not From Where I'm Standing is a compilation of 20 Bond film themes covered by current and former members of Cinerama and The Wedding Present. I wrote more about it back in 2020, when it was released. Anyway, here's a song from it; I need no other excuse for a bit of Such Small Hands.

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Saturday 9 September 2023

Meldrew Point

To reach Meldrew Point is to be the same age Richard Wilson was when episode 1 of One Foot In The Grave first aired. I don't believe it, et cetera...

This little clip is from the fourth series, but encapsulates Victor's rage against the dying of the light very well.

Thursday 31 August 2023

New to NA: Marseille

I can't remember how or where I stumbled upon this track by Marseille. I don't know much (anything) about the band either, other than what I can hear, which is that they grew up listening to their parents' Roses, Bluetones and La's albums, and inherited not only those influences but their influences' influences too.

What I can tell you is that I rather like this, and you might too.

Tip the authorFrom what I can see Marseille have neither a Bandcamp nor Soundcloud presence, but they do have this handy Linktree should you, like me, want to know more.

Tuesday 29 August 2023

Europe. It's like a different country or something... V

I haven't done one of these for a very long time. I know it cheapens the blog and, by extension, me, but I was surprised to find multiple slagrooms in a Dutch supermarket, and intrigued by the idea of luxe and royale variants. And I hadn't even got to Amsterdam...


Tip the authorAt least you know I'm still here, right? I'll try to be back with a proper post soon...ish.