Sunday, 31 August 2008

Blood on the Dance Floor

It's odd, on Friday one of the great musical minds of this generation, the so-called 'king of pop' turned 50. The event went almost completely unnoticed, with the only publicity surrounding his name at the moment is the pending release of his greatest hits album. For a guy who signed his first record contract at the age of 11 and than went on to grow from strength to strength to become one of the biggest selling artists, this lack of note of his semicentennial just goes to show how far he has fallen.

Don't get me wrong, following the trials and tribulations of Michael Jackson over the years and the shocking revelations that have come out, I don't think he's the sort of person I'll be inviting to dinner any time soon but some of his albums and songs, I believe, will stand the test of time. And unlike another famous pedophile from history, he didn't feel the need to put his achievements down to a 'Revelation' from an angel.

Thriller, bad, dangerous and, indeed, history are still albums I put on every now and than and just.... listen. I've often said (rather guiltily, I'll add) that perhaps if his career was cut short, if he stopped making albums he might, today be considered 'great' but as it happened, he is now nothing but a punchline.

I know this is kind of an off the wall thing to say but, despite everything (I believe the guy should be locked up) I still like his music.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

A Black Fly in my Chardonnay

I try to make my home a welcoming one, granted the flat is probably has more clutter than it needs to be and I have a pile of unopened junk mail (I'll eventually recycle it but I refuse to read it) but generally I think people feel welcome here.

I'm not much of a host, I don't organise parties or have lavish dinners (I still struggle with pasta+sauce so I don't think I'm ready for anything more complex) in fact I've yet to have a house warming even though I've been here for almost two years! Having said that, I regularly have friends drop by for no reason at all and I quite like that. It's a good thing, I like it that my friends feel they can pop by and (secretly) I smile a little when someone feels comfortable enough to put their feet up on the sofa.

Unfortunately, it's not just friends that feel this way, on a hot day (like this one) I leave the windows open and in comes a fly. Obviously it doesn't want to be here as you can see it buzzing up against the window wanting to get out. It doesn't seem t realize that, if it flew to the left, it would find the open window from where it came.

I don't like swatting flies so I try to usher it out of the window and on to freedom but this doesn't always work. The end result is, I eventually have to close the window and the fly dies of starvation (or at least I think it does, what do flies eat anyway?) and I feel guilty about it. I know it shouldn't bother me in the slightest but it does I feel like I've lured the fly to it's demise!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Desperate Housewife

Of late, I've mostly been working on my TV tan. Yes, I know doctors say you shouldn't spend too much time in front of the TV but I have factor 15 TV guide so I'll be fine.

Tonight I flipped over to filmfour and caught Transamerica, it wasn't something I would have gone out of my way to watch. I like Felicity Huffman, though I'm not a fan of desperate housewives, I used to love sports night back in the days when I had Sky TV.

So here I sat, basking in the warmth of Felicity Huffman, watching a film simply because it was on. I must confess, I rather liked it. It wasn't in the least bit life changing or mind blowing; no twists or clever dialog. It was a simple story, simply told. It was about a guy (Huffman) who goes on a road trip across America with his son, whom he just discovered he has. He plans to get back to the west coast before his gender realignment surgery.

I wouldn't say run out and get it on DVD but if it's on, I think it's certainly worth a watch....

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Basic Physics Can be Such a Pain in the Neck

An old school friend invited me to his engagement party somewhere near Birmingham. So off we went in a nice German car (I'm always impressed by German engineering) that weighs about two tons. We are on the motorway for no longer than 20 minutes when we notice we are pulling up on the car in-front at an alarming pace.

As I see smoke coming from the tyres for the car in-front, I realise that this is an emergency and he's probably reacting to the car in-front of him trying, ever so hard, not to hit it. He failed; and as he slams into the car in-front of him, my big concern was weather we will be able to stop before we slam into him.

Alas, we failed and with a 'thud' we come to a complete stop. This is where the German engineering really came into it's own, the breaks on this car seem to break the laws of physics as when the car behind us slammed into us (at a decent speed), we didn't budge an inch; that is to say the car didn't budge an inch, we were thrown forward and caught sharply by the seat belts.

The last two car accidents I've been involved in have left me unmoved, I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing but so long as I'm not hurt, I'll get out of the car and carry on as usual. I asked my friend if he was ok than stopped out of the car. The guy in-front of us seemed fine, the family behind us (though the father was `f'ing and blinding`) seemed fine as well. The front of their car was completely obliterated, unrecognizable, that really made me thing. If the kids weren't in car seats for if the parents weren't waring their seat belts, given the force of the crash, someone would have gone through the windscreen so I was quite thankful that they were all ok.

The lady in the front car was the most shaken up so I spent a few minutes chatting to her while the ambulance and police arrive (standard procedure for a motorway crash). The police arrived and everyone swapped insurance details, the cars were dragged off the road. Given the amount of twisted metal in-front of us, it's a testament to the car manufacturers that no one was badly injured.

It's at this point I should mention that Newton's first law was well and truly adhered to as, when the seat belt caught me, my head did go through what they call “rapid acceleration and deceleration”. In short, my neck is killing me (no worse than a heavy session at the gym).

We made it to the party though, five hours late but we made it!

Friday, 22 August 2008


I was reminded of something today, it was such a small, insignificant part of the 90s that it had completely slipped my mind. It was a 'spin off' from one of the greatest phenomena of that era, though the parent is fresh in my mind, the child seems to have disappeared.

The last sixteen years of my life have been lived without a single (let alone second) thought given to it but as the words “he was given magical shoes” were uttered this morning, everything came flooding back.....

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

A friend put this up a few days ago:

It got me thinking, I've always been reluctant to accept help from strangers. It's not because I feel the need to be completely Independent and self reliant, I'm not; I'll openly admit if I need to get somewhere, I'll call a friend and ask them if they could drive me. My Ikea bookshelf is standing and holding book for one reason and one reason alone: I ordered pizza while a couple of friends were over and we needed something to do while it was being delivered.

My bed, my TV stand, the lights in my living room, my sofa; they are all up and in working order because someone lent a hand. It works both ways, I would gladly go to hell and back to help a friend. When it comes to offering help to a complete stranger, I do often think twice, I justify it by thinking “they'll be fine” or “I'm in a rush”. Truth be told, I'm never in a rush and more often than not, I'm afraid of my offer being rejected by the stranger.

It's crazy and irrational, I've been rejected before and it's not that bad, I feel I have to ask: “what's the worst that can happen?” Are they going to turn out to be a crazed murderer who lures me into some torture chamber, ending my short yet sweet existence? No! At best they'll say “thanks” and I don't object to work or at worse they say “no thanks” and we go our separate ways.

Who knows, as Ariane says we could end up at a party 20 years from now with people asking: “So how did you two meet?” I'll do anything for my friends but stop short of giving the time of day to strangers (ok, that's a slight exaggeration). I think back over the years and anyone I can call 'friend' today was once a 'stranger'. It maybe time for a change.......

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Running Garms

Loosely sticking with the theme of surreal things, I was stuck in a waiting room earlier today and caught the 200M women's qualifying race. What was most noticeable in the race was Rogaya Al-Gassra of Bahrain. While everyone else was waring skin-tight shorts and short tops, Al-Gassra chose to run while covered from head to toe. She had nothing but her face and hands showing!

I assume runners dress the way they do for the time and weight advantage it gives so to see someone waring a lot more than her counterparts was odd to say the least. She chose to be 'disadvantaged' in this race.

I take my hat off to her though as, amazingly, she crossed the finish line first. Sure it was just a qualifying race and I look forward to the final on Thursday but looking at the pictures and seeing the stark difference between her and the others, it made me think.....

Saturday, 16 August 2008

The Rhythmic Drumming of an Emu

I'm in the mist of a slightly bizarre weekend so far. It started yesterday, leaving work early when a friend called and said he had a spare ticket to see The Feeling that night. So off we went up north to a place called Clumber Park, just outside Sheffield.

We got there in time to see the end of the Turin Breaks set and just as we are calming down from the shocking price of Pimms, Scouting for girls come on. It was a great set! Later that evening, The Feeling finally come on and it has to be said, even though the lead singer was 'plastered' (as well as downing a number of whiskeys whilst on-stage), it was a good show.

The drive back to where we were staying was uneventful except for the slight incident where the lady in the car in-front of us makes a somewhat too quick an exit from a junction and ploughs over the police lady who was there to direct traffic! An ambulance was called and the driver walks (clearly shaken) over to the side of the road to trow up. Slightly surreal but I think I'm getting used to seeing surreal things. The police officer was fine by the time we left which is more than I can say about the driver.

This morning, I somehow managed to sleep through my wake-up call (in the form of 'cock-a-doodle-doo' as belted by the rooster in the back garden). After a breakfast orange juice (more than my stomach is used to in the mornings), I went for a little walk to see the emus that wonder around in the back garden with some donkeys, goats and, of course, sheep.

I've never been eye-to-eye with an emu, I hear they are vicious creatures but thought nothing of it. The first thing that struck me is the noise they make, it's a low drumming sound, the likes of which I never thought an animal could make.

The emus really came into their own when a new goat was introduced into this 'family', I figure they must have taken slight exception to this introduction. They start by running after this goat and the goat, rather than standing his ground, ran away! I was amazed at the emu's speed and its attempts at kicking, they are rather large birds and have no reservations in kicking goats or, indeed, humans. All was well by the time I left and I think the new goat was accepted.

I'm now on a train heading back to London but I take with me a very valuable lesson: Do not upset an emu........

Monday, 11 August 2008


I'm not a huge fan of Theo Van Gough, I think he had a tenancy to lash out at anything and everything that came his way. Who could blame him, I would imagine as soon as he turned his back on his legal studies and entered the world of art, he was thrown into the shadow of his great uncle Vincent. I can't think of anything worse than having to live up to live up to that sort of legacy.

His views and his works seemed to get more and more provocative as his career progressed, the film he's mostly remembered for was 'Submission', written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and which ultimately led to his assassination in 2004.

'Submission' is a ten minute monologue telling the stories of four Muslim women who have been abused in various ways. The actress has, tattooed, on her body, verses from the Quran. The four stories highlight three verses from that Quran that have been used to justify the mistreatment of the women in the story. Like all text the 'offending' verses are open for interpretation and though they are used to suppress the rights of women in some countries, they can (and, I believe, should) have a more liberal meaning.

The first story focuses on 'fornication', a couple fall in love outside marriage, naively they think because they love and respect each other, they are doing the right think. For this 'sin', they are sentenced to 100 lashings of the whip with a “party of believers” witnessing their punishment. (24:2)

The second is about a 16 year old girl who enters into an arranged marriage, she is repulsed by her new husband but gives into his whims because he quotes scripture at her. This story highlights how the verse can be interpreted to allow a husband to rape his wife. (2:222)

Number three highlights a verse which has been used to justify the beating of one's wife. It's about an 'obedient' and loyal wife whose husband looks for any excuse to lash out at his wife, he doesn't have to look far as he believes all he needs is to 'fear disloyalty', he beats her after a few 'threats and warnings'. (4:34)

The last story is not based on a verse but does shows disillusionment, a woman is raped and left pregnant by her uncle when she speaks up about it to her father, she is told not to “question his honor”. She looks for comfort and answers from a god, whose word she has followed to the letter (she specifically mentions 24:31), but finds only silence.

I say watch it but do so knowing that the verses have been interpreted as a fundamentalist would to push the point. I would also recommend reading the verses for yourself (I can't read Arabic so, yes, I'm well aware that I'm reading translations) and seeing the context in which they are written.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Coming in From the Cold

“I'm surprised you didn't ware a black arm band into work today”, a college quipped; he was referring to the sad news that broke this morning, the dead of the Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

A few years ago, I remember picking up a book from a dusty bookshelf. I wasn't expecting much, in-fact I was just looking for something to read but as I went through 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich' I slowly realized that the very thinly disguised subtext of the story was put there by someone who was nothing less than a genius.

It was while fighting in the closing years for World War II that he wrote a letter criticizing Stalin, this, in turn, had him sentenced to hard labor in the Gulags. Here, while he toiled in this 'special camp', slowly starving and freezing, he 'wrote' a book. That is to say the thought up the story and worked on it in his mind (not having access to paper or pencils).

Some time after his release (1961), he submitted the manuscript for 'One Day...' to a magazine, at this time people were only 'allowed' to refer to the Gulags in the most general terms but here was a story about the day of a prisoner described in great detail, it was unheard of! The book was published, perhaps because, at the time after Stalin's death, the Russians were trying to play down the whole Stalin system so anything that would criticize him and his regimen as openly as this book was considered good propaganda. Maybe it was for this reason, maybe not, in 1962 Krushchev himself gave to go ahead for the story to be published.

After publication, the world could finally see what was going on in these camps. Such are (were) the pitfalls in the Soviet system that after Krushchev was ousted the KGB moved on Solzhenitsyn and pretty much ended any publication of his from getting out. From than on, his works were only ever seen (legally) in the west.

His most famous work, The Gulag Archipelago, was not published in his home country until after the fall of the Soviet Union. He was a man who was never afraid to openly criticize the government from the oppressive regime of the Soviet Union to US involvement in the Vietnam war (another brave move as he was living in exile in the US at the time).

He was a great political writer and I don't, for a second, think I can do justice to the life or indeed, the sear genius of this man so I hope that you (if you haven't already) pick up something of his and discover him for yourself. Though he never lead or effected a revolution, he was a revolutionary.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Wake Up!

I've fallen into an all to common cycle, I buy an alarm clock, use it than 18 months later, it stops working. It's not a technical problem as such, it's just that over the months, I get used to it; to the point that the noise stirs me in the morning but doesn't quite wake me.

The first solution I pioneered years ago was simply to move the alarm clock away. Simple, I would have to physically get out of bed to turn the thing off, surly I couldn't go wrong! It worked for less than a week, I would get out of bed, walk across to the other side of the room turn the alarm off and go back to bed as if nothing happened. Amazingly I would do this every morning and wake up in a mild panic two hours later.

So, every 18 months I need to buy a new alarm clock, this doesn't really bother me much as for some reason I can't quite put my finger on, I enjoy shopping for alarm clocks; I understand this isn't normal but there it is, I think it appeals to the geek in me.

My current alarm clock is great, it has a snooze function. It's been moving further and further away from the bed and it's currently as far as it will go without leaving the room. I figure the snooze function works every 8 minutes and the other morning I managed to continually snooze it for 2 hours. For thous who feel the need to calculate: I pressed the snooze button 15 times!

My next purchase will be this nice little number, it lets you record your own alarm sound which will play at the allotted time. The theory here is that if I get used to a sound, I can simply change it. Now all I need to do is convince Cameron Diaz to record the phrase “open your eyes” though I'd settle for Penélope Cruz, I'm not picky.....