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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