Wednesday, October 31, 2007

50 - Not out!

I didn't want to say anything before now ... just in case I didn't reach my target. But here I am. 'Where?' I hear you cry. 'At Post 50!' I shout back.

Yes, I decided at the start of this month that I would aim to post 50 entries on my blog this month as an exercise in writing discipline. Yes, yes, I know that I've cheated a bit by adding a few pictures and movies. But I have still added 50 posts. That's an achievement I reckon.

Well, it's the 31st of October and Halloween. It's been pretty quiet here and, despite the huge bucket of sweets on the dining room table, only two kids felt comfortable enough to knock. It wasn't that there were no Trick or Treaters; the street was awash with ghouls, ghosts, mummies, vampires, zombies and strangely indefinable characters with wings and bad make-up. So why did they stay away? I'd like to think that it was due to the cantankerous nature of the previous occupant of this house. In contrast, I'm quite nice. Admittedly I was going to scare them with a hyper-realistic severed head that I have here, but they would have got some sweets to help them over their trauma.

I wonder how many of the little darlings roaming the streets for candy tonight realise just what tonight is all about?

Halloween, or to give it its full name All Hallows Eve, is traditionally the day that the Devil’s own saints and supporters hold their own Sabbath.

The festival of All Saints, also sometimes known as All Hallows or Hallowmas is a special celebration of thanks to all the Christian martyrs who died for the good of Mankind. It falls on November the 1st and is followed by All Souls Day on November the 2nd.

In Mexico, the first two days combine to form a Catholic festival called The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos, Día de los Difuntos or, simply, Día de Muertos) and it celebrates the memory of deceased ancestors. Despite sounding morbidly depressing, it is a day of great fun with much dressing up, live music, street theatre and parades. Meanwhile back in the conservative UK, All Saints Day is a more formal affair with all of the fun and frolics going on the night before on Halloween.

Halloween is also Samhain, one of the Celtic ‘quarter days’ and the start of the Celtic New Year when the souls of the dead roamed abroad. Some of these spirits would be looking to get up to no good, so various charms were needed to ward them off. The doorways and windows of buildings were felt to be particularly vulnerable. On churches and castles, it was commonplace to site gargoyles or grotesque faces and figures like Sheela Na Gigs and Hunky Punks. It was believed that these would scare away witches and other nasties. Similarly, the grotesque faces carved into pumpkin lanterns (and earlier on turnips, swedes and mangolds) are meant to frighten evil away. Strangely though, the lanterns themselves have now become a symbol of evil themselves, regularly appearing on horror books and movie posters.

Other charms include walking around your home three times backwards and anti-clockwise before sunset on Halloween, knocking loudly on wood until Midnight, ringing bells and using mirrors to scare away the influence of the Evil Eye. Traditional English Mummers or Plough Jags, often decorated their costumes with mirrors and other shiny items before commencing their Halloween plays. Mirrors on hats were a favourite - though all I can see in my head now are images of facially-challenged fashion dyslexic Noddy Holder in his top hat on Top of the Pops. With a voice like that, he could scare demons and hobgoblins away, I’m sure.

The dead are all around us tonight, allegedly. If you hear footsteps behind you, don’t turn around as it may be the dead following you! Woo! Woo! And if you do look back you could soon be dead yourself ... other signs to look for are if a candle flame suddenly turns blue; that means there's a ghost nearby (although if the weather is cold enough, flames will turn blue or violet anyway). If a bat flies into your house, there are ghosts about, but if one flies three times round your house … cancel that holiday booking next year. You won’t be going. Spiders are said to house the spirits of dead loved ones, so clear them out of your bedroom unless you want your dead Auntie watching you on the job tonight.

If you want to stop ghosts from getting into the house in the first place, bury animal bones or a picture of an animal near the front door.

Halloween is a good night for divining too if you believe in such crap. The party game of Bobbing for Apples was originally a way of telling the future. Each player cut a chunk out of their apple and then inserted a fortune written on a small piece of paper. The apples were then chucked into a large tub of water and people took turns to retrieve an apple, using just their teeth. Thus every person had their fortune told. As a bonus, you should then peel your apple. The person with the longest unbroken length of peel is assured a long life. Finally, if single, you throw the apple peel over your shoulder. The right shoulder I presume as the demons are hiding on the left. Anyway, the shape of the letter the peel makes on landing is the initial of your future mate. Good news for Simons. Bad news for Kevins.

The old Celtic custom of lighting big Samhain bonfires (a tradition that has drifted forward to November 5th in the UK) enabled further fortune telling. Once the Halloween fire had died down, the hot ashes could be pushed out from the centre to form a circle around the fire. Within the circle of ashes and at its edge, each person would then lay a pebble. If, next day, any pebble had moved or was damaged in any way, the owner would die within twelve months.

Rather more bizarre was the art of seeing the future by way of mashed potatoes. It works a bit like apple bobbing. A number of charms are plopped into the spuds - a ring, a coin, a button, a heart-shaped charm, a shell and a key - and stirred in. Then all the lights in the room were turned out. Each person then, armed with a fork, endeavours to find the charms in the big bowl of mash. Whoever finds the ring will be married next. Whoever finds the coin will gain wealth. The button bachelorhood or spinsterhood. The heart means love is on the way. The shell indicates travel. And the key means success and power. I’m not sure if the spuds get eaten after this. Seems a bit unsanitary to me.

Now then, all you single ladies – forget Internet sites and speed dating. Here are a few handy Halloween tips for finding the perfect bloke:

Carry a lamp to a natural water source – such as spring or river – and you should be able to see your future loved one in the reflections in the water. And if you want to see your future children too, take a broken egg with you and chuck it in.

Alternatively, go out into the middle of a field and scatter hemp seeds. While you’re at it, say: “Hempseed I sow thee! Come after me and show me!” You should then be able to turn around and catch a glimpse of your Prince Charming. Of course, as someone with obviously ready access to cannabis hemp, you may have enjoyed a couple of doobies beforehand. Therefore you may see something quite different. Or you may not actually give enough of a toss to go anywhere. You might instead indulge in the much lazier practice of sticking a snail in a tin and seeing what initial it draws in slime by morning. But if even that is too much effort, stick a sprig of rosemary and a silver sixpence under your pillow on Halloween and you’ll see your future bloke in a dream.

Not wanting to leave the ladies out who do already have a partner, you’ll be pleased to know that you can check how faithful they are without recourse to webcams or private detectives. Simply select a letter they wrote to you – the more passionate the better – and lay it open on a table. Fold it nine times, pin the folds together, place the letter in your left-hand glove, and slip it under your pillow. If that night you dream about silver, gems, glass, castles or clear water, your bloke is faithful. If you dream of linen, storms, fire, wood, flowers, or he is saluting you, he’s up to no good with someone.

Now hang on … who dreams about linen or clear water these days? And what happens if you dream about shoes? Or, as I did recently, a mad monkey chasing me up a chimney with a cricket bat? Who writes love letters any more? And who wears gloves? I suggest a modern version:

‘Select a particularly saucy text message on your phone and leave it displayed on the screen as you tuck the phone inside a novelty sock and stick it under your pillow. Then, if you dream about money, bling, the shopping mall, the Beckhams or vodka, he’s a good boy. If you dream about fake designer labels, hoop earrings, bare midriffs, baggy trousers with ‘princess’ written across the arse, Bull Terriers, flat caps and burberry, he’s having it away with that Tracy from the chip shop.’


Happy Halloween, funsters!

Swandage

I recently got asked by Mark Page of Photos with Attitude to design a logo for a forthcoming Alternative Fashion Show taking place here in High Wycombe in January. As the symbol of the town is a swan wearing a chain, this seemed the obvious path to take ...

Swan bondage. Swandage?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bone Rings Made Out Of Your Own Skeleton


After you buy your black lace wedding dress, after you find the perfect mausoleum for the ceremony and prop up the rotting cadavers in the pews to distract from the groom's lack of guests when compared to his bride, after you get the Sisters of Mercy to play the Wedding March ... what then, to have the ultimate goth funeral?

If you're engaged couple Matt Harrison and the improbably named Harriet Harriss, you go to the dentist and have him forcibly rip out your back wisdom teeth. Then you ask him to slit open the pulsating flesh at the back of your jaw and rip out a piece of your own skeleton. You then bring it to a lab and ask the scientist to dissolve it in chemicals, then feed the bone cells with nutrients and grow it into "bioglass" wedding rings.

It's not really quite that morbid, and Harrison and Harriss are no goths. They view the rings as ethical ivory. "It's intriguing to have my own bones, my own matter objectified in this way and made into something precious and symbolic," Harriet said. Although I can think of a better way to make a symbolic gesture than pay some butcher to rip out a huge chunk of my own skeleton.

(Ripped directly from Wired because it saved me retyping the whole story)

Fish Super

My talented and brilliantly named friend Ptolemy Elrington has mailed me a photo of his latest creation - a John Dory made entirely from hubcaps.

The man is a genius.

Want to buy one? Then visit his website. Glorious stuff.

Why do I still do this every day? Part 2


If only the people who control the signage had this kind of sense of humour ...

Great Misheard Titles #2

I remain so very, very sorry.

No more bad puns, promise. Maybe.

Great Misheard Titles #1 - Rubber Ring Heights

I am so, so sorry for this.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Lost in the crowd

I've just been catching up with my various chums' blogs and came across a plaintive cry from Mad Woman.

'As I sit here at my computer, television switched off, music playing', she writes, 'I can't help but muse. A number of conversation windows are open upon my screen, which force me to think - what on earth is happening to me? I mean, how is it with this medium of instant messaging I can chat, joke, feel affection, give and receive emotion and yet I am basically typing on my own with perhaps a one inch picture of the recipient of my ramblings to gaze at?' She then goes on to say that 'when I meet the people with whom I can connect so readily over email and instant messaging ... what will happen? Via computers I connect completely and spiritually - will I be able to recreate that honesty face to face? Am I losing the ability to be able to do that with the person themselves? Will I become less capable of openness in real life ? Is this how automation begins? Just add hot water lunches. Instant fame from Simon Cowell. Instant wealth from the Lottery. Has reality got a count down clock?'

She has a point there.

Someone recently suggested that the i in i-pod stands for isolation. They were making the point that they travelled to work every day in a crowded train carriage in which no one talks to each other. Most people sit nodding their heads to the hissing bomp-bomp-bomp from their MP3 players. And those who do hold a conversation do it remotely via their mobile phones, laptops and blackberries. So are we, as Mad Woman suggests, losing our capacity for face-to-face interaction?

In Desmond Morris's groundbreaking 1969 book The Human Zoo (the follow-up to his equally astounding The Naked Ape), he explores the nature of human civilisation and the effect that this has had on us poor upright primates. He compares the human inhabitants of a city to the animal inhabitants of a zoo. Both have their needs provided for - we don't need to worry about finding shelter or food, for example. But our environment is unnatural. Just a few thousand years ago, we roamed across vast territories. Now we live in small boxes packed tightly in among other small boxes and wonder why we feel suffocated and isolated. We find ourselves with free time on our hands. Both we and zoo animals have developed the capacity for boredom and self-pity. It really is possible to feel lonely among a population of millions.

We'v been around for about a million years but civilisation has only turned up in the last 3000. That's a very short time to adapt to the change in lifestyle. Evolution works at a snail's pace so, biologically, we are still pretty much identical to our remote ancestors. If we found a Stone Age Homo Sapiens and defrosted him/her, there is no reason why they couldn't be educated the same way that we are. They could drive a car, work a computer and be trained to build complex machinery. Society is changing at a pace that evolution cannot keep up with. So is it any wonder that increasing numbers of people seem to have problems developing healthy social relationships?

Bizarrely, improvements in communications technology seem to have made matters worse. I have a close relative - I won't say who - whose preferred method of conversing with their friends is text messaging. When I suggested that they could communicate 10 times as much information in 1/1oth of the time it takes to thumb their way through writing a text, I was told that they feel uncomfortable talking to their friends about some subjects. Somehow, the bleak digital text allows them a freedom that voice does not. The phone becomes a third party; someone to pass on the message. And because texting involves stripping a message back to bare facts, all hint of emotion is removed. Text messaging allows them to hide what they're really feeling and thinking.

Telephones do the same, albeit to a lesser degree. By removing the visual dimension of communication we are left purely with sound. So it is possible to lie and cheat and deceive much more easily by phone (and even easier by text). Human communication is 20% verbal and 80% non-verbal. How much of the message are we missing because of this technology?

And we're not learning to communicate while we are children either. A 2005 study by Washington-based Frederick Zimmerman and Dr Dimitri Christakis of the Child Health Institute went some way towards proving the idea that TV - any TV - is bad for the development of children's communication skills under the age of three. Their analysis was based upon mothers' responses to a national survey for 1,800 children. Children younger than three watched an average of 2.2 hours of television a day; the daily average increased to 3.3 hours for children between 3 and 5. For each hour of television watched per day before age three, a child's reading comprehension and short-term memory scores fell at age six and seven.

The study also points out, as a number of studies have done so before, that the 'natural' way for us to develop language skills is to recognise sounds consistently and reproduce them accurately. "The way (children) do that is to interact with adults and look at their faces, lips and mouths,"explains Zimmerman. In past times, a child would spend the first three years of its life travelling around with its mother, learning from their interactions with her and also from the interactions she had with others. Replacing this with television does not teach the same skills. There is little or no interaction. "Watching even really good educational shows ... is bad for children under three", claims Zimmerman. "Educational shows, such as Blue's Clues and Sesame Street are designed for older children who have already mastered the basics of language."

The UK-based Literary Trust makes some interesting observations too:

'There is no single factor that appears to be the main reason for the perceived decline in children’s language and communication skills. Researching the details of life for young babies is not an easy task. Nobody is going to deny them any natural stimulation in order to assess the problems that might be caused; so much of what we hear is anecdotal or conjecture. Are dummies used more now than they ever used to be, or for longer? What kind of impact does the popular family weekend activity of going to the shopping centre have on the youngest family member, strapped for so long in a buggy? And what about those buggies, which face away from the pusher – unlike big old-fashioned prams with seats at the front, or cumbersome (but sociable) push chairs?'

'The problems may be caused by parents expecting that children will pick up the ability to talk because chatter is all around them, without realising that babies need the opportunity to babble and be heard in an interactive way. When homes were quieter, the baby’s babbles might have been heard more easily. Perhaps we should also blame central heating in homes, a comfort in every other way, for encouraging family members to disperse to their own space to do their own solitary activities, instead of staying in a single, warm family-based room, with everyone congregating together.'

Verbal communication is the method used by the vast majority of us to communicate. We use it to have our needs met, to indicate our likes and dislikes, to request information, to refute something, to socialise, as well as to establish and maintain relationships. The ability to communicate is the basis of social and emotional well-being.

Children who have difficulty communicating often go on to develop behavioural problems, mainly due to their frustration at not being able to express their needs, participate in social exchange and achieve in education. These children do not ‘grow out’ of their difficulties as education progresses. Research shows a consistently poor outcome for children who do not receive intervention for their difficulties.

Television is often blamed for the perceived deterioration of young children’s language and communication skills. Research points to growing television consumption world-wide and an increase in viewing with age. Children under one watch 22 minutes of video and 53 minutes of television per day; one-year-olds watch 40 minutes of video and 73 minutes of television; two-year-olds watch 67 minutes of video and 97 minutes of television . Children aged two-and-a-half to three view approximately 1.5 hours per day increasing to 2.5 hours by age three to six. There is a decline of about half-an-hour between age five-and-a-half and seven as children enter school. Parked in front of the TV for hours on end pre-schoolers absorb very little, especially if viewing general audience programmes like EastEnders – the most-watched programme among British four-year-olds. Watching TV eats into the time children have available to socialise and play – activities that are far more beneficial for developing language and communication skills. And research has shown that in many homes where television provides a constant background noise, adults get distracted from talking and listening to their children.

It may be that the kind of active, imaginative play that requires and leads to language input from the child is just not as regular in households as it used to be. Parents may have so many other noisy things to entertain them and their children that children are just not getting enough time to try out talking for themselves. Plus, the increasing use of technology to pass information, rather than our natural communicative abilities is stunting our ability to make ourselves understood.

Which is why it is possible to sit in front of a computer screen as I am now, talking to all of you faceless people out there without any of us truly having an indication of how we are all feeling. Am I sad? Happy? Confused? Horny? Irritated? Smug? Irate? And how about you? How do you feel? We're not making ourselves understood.

Sadly, we are in danger of losing something very precious. The very thing that separates us and elevates us above every other living species on this planet is our ability to communicate. As I pointed out in an earlier blog, it has allowed us to share knowledge and wisdom and to store it for the benefit of others. If we allow ourselves to become disconnected from each other; if we allow ourselves to become alienated and antisocial, we risk losing all that makes us human.

So, with that in mind, I'm going to log off now and go and have a chat with my family (Well, those that are still up).

You should do the same.

Bankers do it with incompetence

You know those emails you get from Africa-based 192 scammers? I had a great one today. Here's the gist of it:

FROM THE DESK OF:BARKISSA UMARU
AUDITING AND ACCOUNTING SECTION, BANK OF AFRICA(BOA), OUAGADOUGOU, BURKINA-FASO, WEST AFRICA.

Dear Friend,

This message might meet you in utmost surprise, however, it's just my urgent need for foreign partner that made me to contact you for this transaction. I am a banker by profession from Burkina-Faso in West Africa and currently holding the post of Director Auditing and Accounting unit of the bank. I have the opportunity transferring the left over funds ($5.5million) of one of my bank clients who died along with his entire family on 31ST October 1999 in a plane crash. I am inviting you for a business deal where this money can be shared between us in the ratio of 60/45 while 10% will be mapped out for expenses. If you agree to my business proposal.further details of the transfer will be forwarded to you as soon as i receive your return mail and phone call. have a great day.

With Best Regard

MRS BARKISSA UMARU

So this trained accountant wants to split the money 60/45? And add put aside a further 10% for expenses? And with a complete stranger to whom the email wasn't even personally addressed? Hmmm ...

I'll let you know when the money arrives ...

The House Party Gene

Why do blokes believe, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that having a house party is a good idea?

And it is essentially blokes I'm talking about here. Not chaps. Or men. And certainly not ladies. Blokes. Or possibly lads, as that seems to be the current vernacular.

I don't get invited to blokes' house parties any more as I'm over 40. But I did. Oh yes. And I hosted them too. And, looking back through my Rosé-tinted glasses they look like fun. The photos accompanying this post are testament to that. Yes, that's me out in the snow in my pants, and wearing a flatcap and - horror of horrors - a cravat (it was a bad taste party, honest). But were those house parties really as much fun as I recall? Now I come to think about it, there were some, shall we say, less than classy incidents. Like the time we had a beerglass crushing contest and one of my friends wound up wounded in casualty having first sprayed my walls and curtains a vivid crimson. Or the time I woke up in a kilt - No idea how or why. And who removed my pants? Or the time I woke up trapped inside a sofa bed while a couple were making out on top. Or the time I got inside an industrial tumble dryer to see how long I could last before either my brain cooked or I threw up. You see? It wasn't all dips and pate, fine wines and intelligent discourse about the Gold Standard. And hearing my 20-something kids talk about the parties they've been to recently just makes me realise that nothing has changed.

House parties always seem to result in damage or loss of personal property, permanent stains on carpets and furniture and broken relationships. They are often the catalyst for long-running feuds to erupt and for lovers’ tiffs to move from the smouldering to the volcanic. And someone – maybe it was you once - always does something so embarrassing that they will regret it for years to come. So why do we keep having them? Is it some kind of bizarre, self-destructive lemming thing? Are house parties programmed into a bloke’s genetic code?

Richard Dawkins once made the startling claim that our genes are the true rulers of the Earth and that we, like all living things on this planet, are merely vehicles for getting our genes together with other genes because a gene’s sole purpose is to make more genes. Virtually every animal ‘knows’ how to swim. Most plants ‘know’ that they should grow towards a light source. Newly hatched turtles head for the sea despite the fact they’ve never seen it and don't know what it does. Dogs turn around before they lie down to sleep, trampling down grass that isn’t there. Spiders spin geometrically perfect webs. Birds fly. Dolphins sing. None of this is learned behaviour. It’s unconscious behaviour. It’s instinct. It is knowledge that’s locked inside our genes and inherited from one generation to the next. Gene. Genetic. Generation. Get it? Instructions are hard-wired into us.

My parents didn’t give me a ‘birds and bees’ talk, because they assumed that school biology lessons would take care of that. As it happens, I’d already worked a lot of the details out for myself (with a little help from a girl called XXXX and pages torn from Health and Efficiency). The point is, I didn’t need their talk because my instincts had already shown me the way.

I have no idea when the ‘house party imperative’ got hard-wired into the human bloke genome but it’s there and it looks like it’s there to stay. The proof of this lies in the fact that all house parties are identical.

Now, my parents didn’t give me a ‘birds and beers’ talk either, but I know instinctively what the form is:

  • You invite all of your mates and tell them to bring a bottle. You then invite four times as many women.
  • You buy some dips, crisps and peanuts or, if you’re feeling adventurous, some samosas, bhajis or mini pizzas.
  • You have a shower and put on your lucky scoring pants.
  • You wait for someone to arrive.
  • You panic because no one’s turned up and it’s now an hour after the time you specified on your invites.
  • You wait for someone to arrive.
  • You start phoning your friends only to be greeted by voicemail.
  • You wait for someone to arrive.
  • Your mates eventually arrive three hours after the party was supposed to have started. They are horribly pissed having been down the pub/club. They bring either a bottle of crap wine or four cans of lager each. Everyone drinks the lager. No one touches the wine.
  • The food is eaten, thrown and stamped into the carpet.
  • A quarter of the women you invited actually turn up. Half of them bring their boyfriends.
  • The men lose the ability to aim.
  • Everyone drinks the wine. And then the strangely-shaped bottles of day-glo alcoholic drink that you've accumulated from the last three holidays.
  • People start to dance.
  • People start to be sick.
  • People start to get leery or, at worst, fight.
  • Everyone gathers in the kitchen (especially if the kitchen is really small).
  • Someone shags someone else under the pile of coats on your bed.
  • The toilet floor becomes a quagmire.
  • The police are called and arrive to tellyou to turn the music down.
  • Everyone drifts away into the night, leaving you to go to bed, satisfied that the party was great success.
  • 47 pizzas that someone else ordered arrive. They've gone home. You pay for the pizzas.
  • You wake in the morning with a hammer-wielding maniac inside your skull and someone else's used condom stuck to your shoulder. Your carpet is composed entirely of broken glass, crushed peanuts and lurid pizza-coloured vomit. Five complete strangers are asleep in your lounge and there is a traffic cone and a bra on top of the television. Your CD collection has been used for beer mats and every cup, glass and plate in the house is covered in cigarette dimps. Your toilet smells like a herring fleet.
  • You promise yourself that you will never, ever, ever have another house party.
  • Every six months you repeat this process until you get a steady girlfriend who then shows you the folly of your repetitive and childish behaviour.

Tell me I’m wrong.

Perhaps the house party is the bloke’s way of attracting a mate - like a bower bird’s nest or a scorpion’s dance? Then, once the female is within his power, he can ply her with offerings of cheap wine and nibbles. After all, alcohol has long been known as a method for lowering some people’s inhibitions and a drunken grope can often be a prelude to the mating ritual. Unfortunately, it’s also a great method for lowering the IQ and too much of it will turn your average bloke into something slobbering and smelly that no self-respecting girl would look twice at. But maybe that’s the idea. Because, from my experience, it was always the not-particularly-self-respecting girl who ended up under the pile of coats on my bed and who, nine months later, I'd see pushing a buggy around Tesco containing a brand new set of genes wrapped up in a fleshy parcel called Wayne or Paige.

The selfish gene has had its wicked way again. A whole new generation of genes has been created. And every one of them carries the genetic instructions to tell their blokes to have a house party.

It's a self-perpetuating nightmare.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Share the Love ... and the Crud

I've been trying to figure out (in my non IT-literate numpty way) how I can share some awful music with you. Well, I think I may have found it. Click on the links below and good old Box will give you the opportunity to listen to 10 of my favourite worst songs or, if you're feeling brave enough, to download them for later listening on your MP3 player.

Enjoy!

Classical Muddley - The Portsmouth Sinfonia (More on this fab orchestra in a later post)
I'm going to Spain - Steve Bent (Great name and the best lyrics ever!)
29th September - Equipe 84 (Italian proggers)
A Lovers Concerto - Mrs Miller (You know all about her now)
This pullover - Jess Conrad (The King of Shite - incomparable)
Paralysed - The Legendary Stardust Cowboy (Huh?)
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds - William Shatner (He so should have known better)
I want my baby back - Jimmy Cross (Possibly the worst song of all time)
Queen of the night - Florence Foster Jenkins (La Jenkins - bags of cash, no talent)
Wunderbar - Zara Leander (Hitler's favourite singer - honestly!)

Some of these have been lifted from Kenny Everett's World's Worst Wireless Show so excuse any chatter ... and excuse any crackles, hisses and twitters. Some of these were recorded off the radio as long ago as 1977 so it's pretty amazing they still exist at all.

And, believe me, I have soooooooo much more to share ...

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Welcome new visitors!

I see from my smart counter that I've had new visitors this week from Turkey, France, Malaysia, Spain, Norway, Holland, and from loads of places in the USA and UK.

I have no idea who any of you are but welcome one and all.

Your comments are always welcome. So why not try adding some, hmmmm?

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Blonde Moment

This clip from You Tube features a good friend of mine called Steve Carroll playing guitar accompanied by Johnny - a chum doing his best to be Elvis.

Watch it right until the end ... alcohol is a terrible thing ...

Oh, and I love the first comment ... Johnny's not that fat ...

It's good to know what you don't know

I've been on a three day First Aid at Work training course as it's always handy to know the various ways in which my ineptitude could kill someone. So it's been three days of blowing up plastic women (without the sex afterwards), dressings, bandages and looking at photos of hideous injuries. It's long been my belief that First Aid Trainers are a ghoulish bunch who collect these things. I suspect that they have whole internet networks of injury porn. I was also trained to operate AEDS - Automatic External Defibrillators - and am now a card-carrying defib guy.

It was interesting to see during the session just how many people there didn't know what a defib does. Without exception, they all believed (probably because of TV medical dramas) that a defib starts the heart once it's stopped beating. As you may, or may not, know the truth is completely the opposite. You use a defib to stop the heart. I'll explain ...

After a heart attack, or some other event that affects the heart's performance, the heart's natural pacemaker (a bunch of cells called the sinoatrial node) can lose control of the beat. This is termed arrythmia. It means that various parts of the heart are beating out of sync with each other (rather like my dancing if you've ever seen me). Defibrillators deliver a therapeutic dose of electricity to the affected heart tissue, stopping the heart and allowing the organ's pacemaker cells to re-establish a normal rhythm.

So there. Isn't it great to find out something you didn't know you didn't know? That's the philosophy that led to the formation of Quite Interesting Ltd, of which the very public face is the QI TV quiz show hosted by Stephen Fry.

QI began, as all the best ideas do, with a chat in a pub. John Mitchinson, an author and publisher, lives in the same Oxfordshire village as TV comedy impressario John Lloyd (Not the Nine O' Clock News, Blackadder, Spitting Image etc.) The two of them were bemoaning the fact that people seem to be losing the ability to challenge and question the world around them; that we're all turning into sheep and blindly accepting what we're told. I have had some experience of this myself in watching my kids go through school. It was patently obvious to me that they were being taught to pass exams rather than being educated. For example, my eldest, Sarah, was doing her art A-level for which she had to learn about Monet. And she studied hard to the extent of becoming a Monet-maniac (sorry). But when I asked her anything about the other Impressionists, she looked at me blankly and said, 'Manet? Degas? Renoir? Morisot? Who are they? I wasn't told to learn about them.'

People claim that exams are getting easier as pass rates are going up. They're not. The exams are actually much, much harder than they were when I did my A Levels back in the late 1970s. But mine ranged across whole swathes of art history. Sarah's just focussed on Monet so, therefore, her exam read like a round from Mastermind.

So the two Johns were sat in the pub bemoaning this lack of curiosity and amusing each other with their knowledge. 'Did you know that Henry VIII technically didn't have six wives?' 'Did you know that the Earth has more than one Moon?' And they soon realised that this 'Everything you think you know is probably wrong' was not only a healthy way to look at life ... it was fun too. From these conversations grew the beast we now know of as Quite Interesting Ltd. Soon they had opened their own QI Club in Oxford and were looking at publishing and the wider media. Stephen Fry agreed to host the TV show and the rest is history.

And my connection with this is? Well, I've met the guys at QI (which is why I can talk with some authority about their history) and am working with them on my first book. However, that won't be out until Christmas 2008 (more about the book as the year goes on) so, in the meantime, I strongly advise you to get hold of last year's Book of General Ignorance and this year's Book of Animal Ignorance and the brand new QI Annual. They're all informative, witty, clever and hilarious (wait 'til you see some of the cartoon strips in the Annual!).

Knowledge may be power but it can be entertainment too.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

International Disturbed People's Day

I got this email earlier...

Today is International Disturbed People's Day. Please send an encouraging message to a disturbed friend ... just as I've done. I don't care if you lick windows, talk to dead squirrels, or occasionally wet yourself ... You hang in there sunshine.

You're Bloody special.

Thanks Emma.

I feel special now.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Midnight Seagulls

I moved house a couple of months ago. I love the new house and the area it's in. It's quieter to start with, not being very near any main roads and nowhere near the town. But there is one noise that I've been missing. Seagulls.


I grew up in Cornwall where seagulls - particularly the large Herring Gulls - are as common as grass. That's grass as in lawns, not grass as in Cannabis. Mind you, that was quite common too, now I think about it. That's the thing about rural areas. You see a police officer about once a year. A lot of my friends 'grew tomatoes' in growbags.

Even though I didn't always live near the sea, seagulls were a constant reminder that my home county is uniquely bordered on three sides by the sea and less than 50 miles wide at its broadest part. Consequently, the cries of seagulls were part of the tapestry of my childhood. A minute didn't go by without hearing their mournful wails and witchy cackles ... which is why their absence is so noticeable now.

Even in London, where I work, there are gulls. They squat on the Thames, steal food from tourists on the Victoria Embankment and seem to be muscling in on the pigeons' turf. It's like a kind of avian West Side Story but without all the dancing. Apparently, the migration of gulls into towns and cities is because tall buildings mimic their natural clifftop nesting sites. Plus the proliferation of food waste encourages population growth, as it has for rats and urban foxes in recent years.

Where I lived before, I was closer to the Thames and the gulls have come so far up the Thames Estuary these days that they have displaced populations of wild ducks and geese in some areas. But one place that they have made their own is the local recycling centre, humorously named by the local authority as High Heavens. Lying in my bed in the old house, I could hear the seagulls screaming at midnight as the refuse people worked tirelessly on the landfill and recycling work. It may have been the middle of the night, but the sound was strangely comforting and reminded me of my childhood. But here I'm too far away and the gulls are noticeably absent from the night. We have owls instead. Cute but not the same.

Strange how you miss the oddest things.

Congratulations on being less crappy than the competition, Neil!

A quick congrats to my good friend Neil and his wife Sarah who got married on Saturday. It was a lovely ceremony and a nice day all round. Even the weather behaved itself and we enjoyed glorious sunshine.

Neil and Sarah are both busy professional people and met via an online dating agency ... which provided me with some great material for my best man's speech.

Neil's first attempt at logging in resulted in him entering his own details in the 'who I'm looking for' fields. Consequently, he was beseiged with emails from Barrys, Toms and Dereks. However, putting the same information in the correct fields didn't exactly generate an avalanche of ladies and we began to realise that we didn't really know how to 'sell' him to potential partners.

So we decided to look at the competition i.e. what other guys were writing about themselves in their profiles. After all, it's always a good idea to know who you're up against. And this is what we found - these are 100% genuine and real.

‘My main passions are music, film & curtains.’

'I'm not interested in playing mind games or marriage.’

'Not being rude, but I like a lady with a bit of meat on her.’

'Even though I have 3 females living with me the conversation isn't that inteligent... So I'm looking for someone I can have one simple conversation with without having to repeat myself 3 or more times...’

‘I am shy at first but a nutter when I get going.’
(This was a doctor)

And my personal favourite ...

'Has it come to this …’

Start queueing ladies - your Prince has come.

I'm delighted to report that, despite our ineptitude, Neil and Sarah did eventually find each other and they make a wonderful couple. I wish them every happiness for the future. And I'm also delighted to have retained his log-in for the dating website. It is, without doubt, an untapped goldmine of comedy.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

In Praise of Mrs Miller

Mrs Miller is a bit of an enigma. Was she a private joke inside the record industry? Or did people really like her singing?

Elva Ruby Connes Miller - known to crappy record-buying fans simply as Mrs Miller - was born on the 5th of October 1907 in Joplin, Missouri. When she was 27, she married a professional investor called John Richardson Miller who was 30 years older than she was. And, around this time - and funded by her wealthy husband - she began making vanity records for her own amusement accompanied by keyboard player Fred Bock.

It just so happened that Capitol Records was experimenting with new recording techniques at the Los Angeles studios where she was recording and they decided to use her as their guinea pig. Mrs Miller consequently provided vocals for a host of popular classics, much to the amusement of Bock and the men from Capitol. Mrs Miller's curious operatic warbling vibrato and strange whistling technique (she would fill her mouth with ice beforehand to get a better sound) made every song fresh and unique - for all the wrong reasons. According to Irving Wallace and David Wallechinsky in The People's Almanac, her voice was often compared to the sound of 'roaches scurrying across a trash can lid.'

Bock pushed the recordings onto A & R man Lex de Avezedo and she was soon signed to Capitol Records. Her first LP on that label, ironically titled Mrs Miller's Greatest Hits, appeared in 1966 when she was 59 years old. It was made up entirely of pop songs, and sold more than 250,000 copies in its first three weeks. An article in Time magazine described it like this:

'While Elva may not replace Elvis, her rocking-chair rock features a kind of slippin' and slidin' rhythm that is uniquely her own. Her tempos, to put it charitably, are free form; she has an uncanny knack for landing squarely between the beat, producing a new ricochet effect that, if nothing else, defies imitation. Beyond that, her billowy soprano embraces a song with a vibrato that won't quit ... '

Will Success Spoil Mrs Miller?! followed later the same year, and The Country Soul of Mrs. Miller a year later. She was then dropped by Capitol - the vogue for out of tune elderly lady singers having passed - and in 1968 she released her final album, Mrs Miller Does Her Thing on the small Amaret label. But her career was over and by 1973, barring a few singles that she put out on her own Vibrato Records and Mrs Miller labels, she had officially retired. She died in 1997, at the age of 90.

You can see one of her extraordinary performances here - a bit part in the Roddy McDowell B-movie, The Cool Ones (1967).




And her fansite can be found here.

Yup, there really is such a thing.

Her vinyl albums are hard to find these days but you can get a compilation of her first three albums on CD. Here it is at Amazon.co.uk. Buy it and smile.

The Great Beer Can Abduction

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the Great Beer Can Abduction. It was a noble gesture intended to teach someone a lesson about sharing and being a better person.

It all started with a friend of my brother Jake who lives in Cornwall. Now, in many respects, Ian is a lovely chap. He's kind to animals. He rings bells. He opens doors for little old ladies. But he did have one bad habit ... he was a beer hog. He he would always turn up to a party with four cans of Cornish Rebellion Ale (brewed by the now sadly defunct Redruth Brewery) and proceed to drink all four. And what's so wrong with that I hear you cry? Well, the point is that he would hog his own beer, unwilling to share with others, but then once they'd run out, he'd happily drink everyone else's drinks. The cheeky monkey. He needed to be taught a lesson.
So, one evening, at a particularly good party, his four cans of beer were kidnapped while he was in the toilet. And for the next year or so, he kept receiving photographs and odd ransom notes from all over the world ... here are some of my shots.

It was a great laugh and it went on for a year or so. But, one by one, the cans were drunk, damaged or lost. The final one was thrown away by 'helpful' cleaning staff in a hotel in New York, sadly before any photographs were taken of the Big Apple. And as the brewery had gone into liquidation, we couldn't replace the cans.

The photos included here were taken in Sri Lanka, on the Millennium Eye and Trafalgar Square in London and somewhere over the Atlantic en route to Ireland.

So did Ian learn his lesson? Did he f ...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Top of the Paps

Oh the shame ... oh the embarrassment ... but having mentioned Pickwick's Top of the Pops cover albums in the last post, I had to find some sites about them. And I did.

There's a great write up about them at Darren Rigby's Postcards from the Hedge. Also, it's worth checking out Easy on the eye, Cover-girl and Cover Heaven for more of the same. And David Hepworth gives them a mention here.

In later years, the covers got saucier and saucier, eventually using well-known models like Samantha Fox and Linda Lusardi.

These albums made my adolescence a much better time than it could have been. The music was shite though. Bad cover versions by unnamed musicians and at least two tracks on every album that you'd never heard of (probably because it only reached number 10006 in the charts).

Desert Island Stig Pt 2

I couldn't leave the subject of Top Ten lists without listing my Bottom Ten now could I? Especially after baring my soul about my love of mediocrity. So here they are. If you can't find them to listen to, visit chronoglide's fantastic site and listen to The Bottom 30 1980 as most of these songs are in there somewhere. It's worth listening to the whole show anyway if only for the fabulous radio ads!

My Bottom Ten

1. I'm going to Spain - Steve Bent
2. 29th September - Equipe 84
3. Paralysed - The Legendary Stardust Cowboy
4. If you walked away from me today - Jag
5. A Lover's Concerto - Mrs Miller
6. Dance with me - Reginald Bosanquet
7. This Pullover - Jess Conrad
8. I want my baby back - Jimmy Cross
9. Wunderbar - Zara Leander
10. You know what I mean - The Vernons Girls

Seek 'em out. And destroy them.

Since the passing of dear Cuddly Ken, the airwaves have been depressingly free of such crud. And yet, the potential for crap music must be greater than ever with home digital recording and portastudios going for a song on e-bay. So come on Radio 1! And Radios 2-6! And Capital and all you other indie commercial stations ... You MUST have these records stored away in those vaults of yours (Kenny Everett started an archive at Capital ... are they all still there mouldering in a cellar somewhere?)

Bring back the World's Worst Wireless Show!

I'm starting a petition.

One last note ... Visit Frank's Vinyl Museum - The Site for Weird Records. It's brilliant! Where else would you find such gems as Ethel Merman's Disco Album, Ted Heath's Big Ones and Enoch Light and the Brass Menagerie.Now if only I could find a site dedicated to those K-Tel (Ronco?) Top of the Pops cover band albums they used to sell in Woolworths ...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Desert Island Stig

You know when you get into one of those conversations ... the ones that start with 'If you could assemble the perfect man/ woman/ farmyard animal, whose parts would you use ...'? Well, I got into one of those conversations with a couple of mates last night.

When I was young and single and unfettered by amenity bills and mortgage payments, I lived a life that made Men behaving badly look like Monks behaving piously. I shared a house with two other guys - Steve the helicopter engineer and John the accountant (later replaced by Mick the nearly helicopter engineer). And we got bored pretty quickly. This was the early 1980s after all ... the days before video recorders, DVD players, home cinema systems and computers. We had to make our own entertainment in them days. So we did. It was called beer.

I drank too much. I smoked too much. I ate too much. I did other things too much. And my housemates did them even more than I did. We shared a three bedroom semi where all of the beds were broken; where the washing machine had been unceremoniously relegated to the garden to make way for barrels of beer, a cooling unit and proper beer taps; where the interesting pattern on the lounge carpet was made of blood, fag ash and stomped-in peanuts; and where every four weeks we held the most extraordinary parties: toga parties, vicars and tarts parties, come-in-your-pants parties ...

And when we weren't partying or drinking or smoking or drinking or entertaining ladies or drinking or drinking (there was a lot of drinking), we would sit around eating beans on toast (and drinking) and having deeply meaningful conversations like 'Top Ten cartoon characters you'd like to shag' (Betty Rubble always won of course, closely followed by Daphne from Scooby Doo and any one of Josie's Pussycats as long as she left the costume on).

But then, one morning, I woke up and found that I’d had a visit from the beer-gut fairy. And she’d been very, very generous indeed. I had to throw away my party clothes and climb into the only thing that would fit me – my boring old fart suit. And I’ve been in it ever since. These days, I’m paying for my youthful hedonism with an altogether annoying mix of ailment and abstinence. My back hurts. My knee hurts. I hardly drink. I packed in smoking 15 years ago. I still eat too much. But that’s all I do too much. Sigh.

So the only left-over from those days that I still indulge in is my penchant for inane conversations - such as the one I had last night.

After several fascinating and frequently smutty lists, we soon moved on to more sensible and non-controversial fayre like 'Name your Top Ten favourite movies/albums/songs' etc. Curiously, picking my Top Ten films was a lot harder than deciding whose thighs I'd graft to whose buttocks. Thing is ... people can tell a lot about you from the choices you make. Or think they can anyway. My Top Ten lists seem to say 'shallow British geek who likes a laugh and who is terminally stuck in the 1970s'. But you couldn't be further from the truth.

Or am I just deluding myself? You decide ...

Top Ten Films

1. Brazil
2. Plan 9 from Outer Space
3. Star Wars - A New Hope (Episode 4)
4. National Lampoon's Animal House
5. School for Scoundrels (original 1960 version)
6. Towed in a Hole (Laurel and Hardy)
7. Singing in the Rain
8. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
9. Batman (original 1966 version)
10. Monty Python's Life of Brian

Top Ten Albums

1. Skylarking - XTC
2. Sweet England - Jim Moray
3. Sheet Music - 10CC
4. Vespertine - Bjork
5. Songs from the Wood - Jethro Tull
6. On - Echobelly
7. Tarkus - Emerson Lake and Palmer
8. Close to the Edge - Yes
9. A Night at the Opera - Queen
10. Marry me - St Vincent

Top Ten Songs

1. The Mayor of Simpleton - XTC
2. I've seen it all - Karine Polwart
3. Lord Bateman - Jim Moray
4. King of Rock and Roll - Prefab Sprout
5. Autumn Almanac - The Kinks
6. Birdhouse in your Soul - They might be Giants
7. Don't call me baby - Voice of the Beehive
8. Red - King Crimson
9. Life on Mars - David Bowie
10. Laughter in the Rain - Neil Sedaka

Top Ten Books

1. Last Chance to See - Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine
2. The Throwback - Tom Sharpe
3. Watchmen - Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
4. The Pyrates! - George Macdonald Fraser
5. Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K Jerome
6. Yes Man - Danny Wallace
7. Uncle - J P Martin
8. A Pelican at Blandings - P G Wodehouse
9. Wonderful Life - Stephen Jay Gould
10. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency - Douglas Adams

Oh all right. They were Denise Richards' thighs and Kylie's buttocks. Happy now?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I’ve got a poem and I’m not afraid to use it

I've just finished reading Stephen Fry's dissertation on the art of writing poetry, The ode less travelled, and it set me rustling among the hard drives for my own piss-poor performance at poesy (I may not be able to do poetry but I can do alliteration). I didn't find many poems - and several of those were shockers - but I did find this unpublished piece which I composed upon Westminster Bridge ... exactly 200 years to the day that William Wordsworth did the same thing. This is what he wrote:

Composed upon Westminster Bridge September 3rd 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

I've always liked the poem as, unusually for the period in which it was written, it shows London in quite a good light. Wordsworth was a man of the countryside - the Lake District being the place he called home - so it seems somewhat paradoxical that he’d write about the largest city in the world in such glowing prose. However, that may have had something to do with the time of day. We know from Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy that the two of them were crossing the bridge between five and six in the morning when he wrote the poem. They were on their way to Dover to sail for France. Dorothy wrote in her diary:

‘It was a beautiful morning. The city, St Paul's with the river and a multitude of little boats made a most beautiful sight as we crossed Westminster Bridge. The houses were not overhung by their cloud of smoke and they were spread out endlessly. Yet the sun shone so brightly with such a pure light that there was even something like the purity of one of nature's own grand spectacles. We rode on cheerfully.’

Wordsworth writes of the beautiful clear morning as a ‘garment’ being worn by the city, but he was all too aware that once industry awoke, the garment would be ripped off revealing the soiled undies beneath. Wordsworth did not like London and is pretty scathing about the place in his other writings. But here, at this particular time, he was allowed a transient, ephemeral view of how beautiful the city might be and he chose to mark the moment in verse.

I couldn't quite get there for six o’clock in the morning but I did get there for seven. And so, on the morning of September the 3rd 2002, I stood on Westminster Bridge with pen and pad in hand. It wasn’t the same bridge that Wordsworth stood on – this new one was only opened in 1862 – but it was built on the site of the older 1750 bridge. And I didn’t know where Wordsworth stood as he wrote the poem either, so I took a central position equidistant between the Gothic madness of the Palace of Westminster on the North Bank and the Edwardian Baroque of the County Hall buildings on the South. I looked up-river for inspiration and could see the City and the dome of St Pauls. Wordsworth probably did the same thing when he wrote of ‘towers and domes’. And I started to write, using the same number of lines and the same iambic pentameter that he used. After some tweaking and re-writing, this is what I eventually wrote:

200 Years later ... Composed upon Westminster Bridge September 3rd 2002

There is ugliness in every line of
Smutty crowsfeet carbon ground hard into
The faces of these old and trusted friends;
The skyline's filled with blistered glass and steel
And giants stalk the Golden Mile; Their hands
grasping as they reap their crops of silver
Making rich men richer while the poor man
Smokes lungs to ash on riot burned estate.
That mighty heart is never still but beats
Arrhythmic; arteries clogged with working
Men and women trapped within anginal
Jams of daily working monotony.
The splendour of this City cannot breathe
And the nightingales choke in Berkeley Square.


I’m not a poet. But you may have guessed that. The closest I ever get to poetry these days is writing song lyrics. But I was pretty pleased with this one, dismal and doom-laden as it is. That's just how I saw it on the day (the weather was rotten).

Would William have liked it? Your guess is as good as mine.

More Scrumminess

A second illo for my wife Dawn's business by the inimitable Mr Murphy. He's available for work, people ... you can contact him via this blog or his own excellent blog here. Be warned - there is some nudity ...

Naughty Drawings ... or are they?

The Mysterious Me sent me this link for a superb demonstration of how to draw rude pictures ... that aren't. It's kind of hard to explain so just watch it here.

It's safe too! Anyone who looks over your shoulder and shouts 'Rude!' will be in for a shock. It will say more about them and their assumptions than it will about you!

Hello? Is there anyone there?

Jorge's post also made me ask the question ... does anyone actually ever read this blog? The answer is Yes. Lots of you. I know this because my counter is linked to a site called statcounter where I can review visits to my blog and website. It's hardly Big Brother and it tells me very little about my welcome visitors, but it does show me where my visitors are.

Just today (bearing in mind it's not quite 11am here yet), I've had 85 hits from the UK, 17 from the USA, 1 from Mexico (Thanks Jorge!), 2 from Japan, 1 from the Netherlands (Could that be the Duck Man?) and 1 from Canada. But bar one visitor, no one has left any comments. Of course, I can always rely on my stalwarts, Joel Meadows, James Murphy and the Mysterious Me. But there are lots more of you out there reading my drivel ... I'd be interested to know what you think.

More McMahon


Some kind words from Jorge F Muñoz on my Mick McMahon post made me go off in search of more work on the web. Check out Lines and Colours' Mick McMahon page, Rufus Dayglo's amazing collection of original Slaine art pages and 2000ADs Art Droid pages (where you can see more convention sketches if you sign up to join the site).


It's great to know that there are more McMahon fans out there and, as a treat, I've posted another of Mick's sketches from Birmingham last weekend - a Slaine drawn for Mr Murphy. I also include the little oddity above - three McMahon ladies. I can't remember exactly where I got it from but a small niggle scratching at the back of my head tells me that it was from a comics subscription ad in a 1980s comic. Any ideas out there?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Pursuit of Crappyness

As I said in a previous post, I've spent many happy hours surfing the Museum of Bad Album Covers - Not just for the album covers, but for their radio station full of terrible songs. I can't help it. I have a strange penchant for things that are shite. But I'm sure that I'm not alone in this. Stephen Pile, the unfortunately named author of The Book of Heroic Failures (1980 Futura Books), certainly agreed when he wrote:

'Success is overrated. Everyone craves it despite daily proof that Man's real genius lies in quite the opposite direction. Incompetence is what we are good at: it is the quality that marks us off from animals and we should learn to revere it.'

Pile started a club called The Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain to celebrate cruddiness but was then sacked from the President's post because his book was such a big success.

I am pretty damned sure that most of us watch ice-skating in the desperate hope that someone will suffer an unexpected crotch-crunching splits and careen into the audience. I reckon that most of us who watch Formula 1 and other fast-metal-things-racing-around-a-track-type sports do so in the fervent hope of a big, weltering smash. And, let's face it, your favourite part of programmes like The X Factor and Pop Idol is watching the auditions of all those no-hoper care-in-the-community delusionals who think that they sound like Perry Como when they actually sound more like Peristalsis. We love bad music! How else do you explain the success of the terminally untalented William Hung? When he made his atonal first appearance on American Idol, people loved him. Yet he sings like a duck.


The late and loony Kenny Everett used to run a programme on London's Capital Radio called The World's Worst Wireless Show (Later called The Bottom 30) in which he introduced us to such gems as the bizarre Kinky Boots by Patrick McNee and Honor Blackman, the incomprehensible Paralysed by the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, the delicious I'm going to Spain by Steve Bent, and I want my baby back by Jimmy Cross; the ballad of a man so distraught by the death of his loved one that he digs her up. Everett's show was one of the most listened-to shows of the decade and, to my delight, I recently discovered that you can hear all five of his shows online here at Chronoglide's brilliant site.

I love bad films too. One of my favourite films ever is Plan 9 from Outer Space, cross-dressing maverick director Ed D Wood's almost impossibly bad magnum opus. Tim Burton loves Wood's films so much that he made an Oscar-winning biopic about the man. But even the biggest and best directors can do as badly. Check out Orson Welles' version of Macbeth if you don't believe me. The one with the Red Indian soothsayer and the Atilla the Hun look-alike. Eh? Welles apparently added new characters and dialogue to 'improve' on Shakespeare's original. Yeah, in the same way that evacuating your bowel onto a Baba Ganoush will improve the flavour.

As you may have guessed, I do have a startlingly large collection of shite stuff in my house. Maybe one day I'll get it all up onto the web - if I can sort out the various copyright issues that is. But while you wait for that incompetent treat, I implore you to search YouTube and similar sites for these gems. To start you off, I'll point you in the direction of the very worst pop video of all time - Bobby Conn's Never gonna get ahead. A comedy writer could agonise over their script for weeks and still not come close to producing something this funny. Conn's agonised facial contortions, bad dancing and dodgy wig are a delight, surpassed only by his appalling attempt at miming to the cleaned-up-for-television version of the lyrics (the original song suggests that 'You're never going to get ahead by giving head to the man'). And those incredible backing dancers. Where did they get them?

A crueller man than me might suggest that the audience's lumbering, uncoordinated attempts at syncopation are the result of spending long periods of time on mind-altering drugs. Or electro-convulsive therapy. Something found in an Institution anyway. But not me.

Finally, let's salute the world of fine art. Well, wank art. I ask you to pay a visit to MOBA - The Museum of Bad Art and to drool uncontrollably over the anonymously painted treasures like Lucy in the field with flowers (below), Circus of Despair and Red Figure with Braids.

Celebrate the inept. Salute the incompetent. Enjoy rubbishness because bad is funny (Especially if it makes anything you do look good).

One last note - Stephen Pile may be able to reclaim his tarnished and not-terribly-good crown. I see that The Book of Heroic Failures is available on Amazon.co.uk ... for a penny. Yay!

Duckzilla

I was surfing t'interweb today, on the look out for rubber ducky references for Dawn's website, when I came across these stunning images on Anne Haight's blog. Wow.

Apparently, this monstrous bath toy was part of the Loire Estuary Outdoor Art Show; a 40-mile stretch of river in France upon which various pieces of outdoor, free-standing (or free-floating) works of art have been placed. The Dutch artist, Florentijn Hofman, explains his piece as follows:
'A yellow spot on the horizon slowly approaches the coast. People have gatherd and watch in amazement as a giant yellow Rubber Duck approaches. The spectators are greeted by the duck, which slowly nods its head. The Rubber Duck knows no frontiers, it doesn't discriminate people and doesn't have a political connotation. The friendly, floating Rubber Duck has healing properties: it can relief mondial tensions as well as define them. The rubber duck is soft, friendly and suitable for all ages!'

You only really truly get the scale of the thing in the third photo when you see the boats next to it. Hofman has named his extraordinary artwork Badeend, which translates as ... er ... Rubber Duck.

Ha! Those crazy Dutch artists.

All images are © Florentijn Hofman

Scrummy!

I just had to share this fabulous image with you. My good friend James Murphy designed it for my wife Dawn's business, Scrummybits.

Isn't she lovely? Isn't she wonderful? Hmmm ... good lyrics for a song ...

Smell the Glove

If you recognise the reference in the title of this post, you'll know that we're talking album covers here. Baaaaaad album covers.

So you must visit the Museum of Bad Album Covers where there are many, many more gems like these. And trust me, these are by no means the worst ...

I've spent many happy, happy hours on this site. I know you will too.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Mickey's Mauser


I bought this print today on e-bay. I bought it because (a) it made me laugh, (b) it was cheap, (c) it puts money in the pocket of a young artist* who, chances are, needs every penny, and (d) because it summed up in one simple visual my opinion of a certain multinational organisation that sometimes seems to have forgotten its purpose.

Just make great movies guys and gals. The money is secondary, surely?

* I shan't name him as the notoriously litigious Mouse and his cronies may be watching ...

Why do I still do this every day?


There was a time when I had to drive into London every day. And, as I sat on the M40 in a sluggish line of commuter traffic, I was always irritated by the sight of the words Why do I do this every day? writ large on a wooden fence just before the M25 slip road. But it wasn’t the activities of the naughty graffitist that raised my blood pressure. It was the sentiment. Why did I need to do it every day?

At the time, my work was mostly computer-based but there was nothing special about the computer on my desk. The one I had at home was better. Plus, I had a broadband internet connection at home (which, at the time, was pretty spanky and new) while at work we had an old dial-up connection that was slower than a geriatric snail on mogadon travelling uphill through treacle. The journey was just over 32 miles each way and took me at least an hour. On a day with bad weather, you could often double that. Four hours per day in a car travelling 66 miles to do a job that I could do just as efficiently – or even more so - at home. It drove me nuts, if you’ll pardon the pun. So why did I do it every day?

Insecurity. My boss was one of those insecure manager-types who thinks you’re not working unless they can see you at your desk typing. He just couldn’t bring himself to trust us and he wanted bums on seats for eight hours every day. I remember him once having a go at me for reading a book because that wasn’t working; this despite the fact I needed to read the book to complete the project I was working on. I honestly believe that he expected us to indulge in ‘unnecessary’ non-working activities like reading and thinking when we were off the clock. And when we were out of the office, things got even worse. We'd get phone calls every hour or so to check where we were.

That kind of micro-management is why so many of us find ourselves sitting in traffic, or standing packed like sardines on trains, for hours every day. There are many jobs that can be done from home. Fast broadband connections, video conferencing, mobile phones and secure e-mail systems mean that we don’t always have to go into the office any more. I’m not suggesting that we never go to work – sometimes we need to bounce ideas off someone. And it’s healthy to enjoy a degree of human interaction. But just think what a difference it would make to your life if you could spend two or three days at home every week.

We already work longer hours and have fewer holidays than almost anyone else in Europe. And with the state pension system slowly but surely disappearing, we're all relying on our own pension schemes ... but they're not paying out like they used to as they can't keep track of rising inflation. The days of retiring at 65 seem to be well and truly over. So, if we're all going to have to work until we drop, shouldn't we be looking for ways to achieve a better work-life balance? That's something that would be helped by working from home.

And think how much quieter the roads would be. There would be fewer accidents and fatalities, less wear and tear on the roads and our cars and the environment would be all the better for it. Those who would still have to travel to work could do so with less hassle. And what savings we’d all make on petrol and rail fares! You might even get a seat on the train.

And, as nearly all domestic burglaries happen during the day, think how many we’d prevent by being at home! Burglars are opportunists. The first thing they look for when deciding which house to break into is whether anyone’s at home. Very few burglars want to risk a confrontation.
We might be healthier too. A recent report shows that a nap after lunch – the siesta that our continental cousins enjoy – can reduce the incidence of heart attacks by up to 37%. Among working men, that figure rises to a staggering 64% just by taking a quick 40 winks on the sofa before resuming work.

And things could be better for the wider community. A recent Unicef report stated that the UK is the worst industrialised country in the world in which to raise children. In the area of family and peer group relationships, we came 21st out of 21 countries with most children revealing that their families almost never eat a meal together. In the same week, three young men were shot on the streets of south London. I can’t help wonder whether the way we live is partly to blame for these kinds of tragic events. We have some of the most expensive houses and cars in Europe and we pay through the nose for fuel and public transport. The more we earn, the more we’re taxed and we’re taxed on everything - even death. And in most family households, both partners have to work. So who is looking after the children when they get out of school? Not the parents … they’re stuck on the M40 or held at Marylebone station by a recalcitrant leaf on the line. The days of Mum staying at home and playing the dutiful housewife are gone and are unlikely to return. Society has moved on. But someone has to be there for the kids. What if one parent, or both, could spend a few days a week working at home? What if Dad was home for two days a week and Mum for another two? Suddenly, ‘latch-key kids’ become a 20th century anachronism. Now there are communities of people at home during the day and especially at the end of school hours when kids need supervision and feeding.

We were all kids once. We all know that without firm guidance, kids can fall into bad habits – whether it’s bad eating or joining a gang. Peer pressure is strong and can be damaging if it isn’t balanced by parental control. Isn’t it time that employers and employees started looking at ways to achieve a much fairer work/life balance? Obviously there are many jobs that cannot be done from home … but a lot can. We should be seriously looking into more ways to make it happen.

The technology is there. Why isn’t the will?

Oh, by the way, the graffiti on the M40 was altered a year or two back. It now reads Why do I still do this every day?

Why indeed.

Photo taken by FiPZie

You’re on in five, Mr Mudchute

I've been finding my way around the London Underground System now for some 28 years and I thought I had a pretty good bead on it. So you can imagine how surprised I was to find a station on the Tube Map that I'd never heard of before. Blackhorse Road.

It's not one of London's infamous 'ghost stations' - those stations that have been closed down and excised from the map despite the fact that, if you know when to look, you can still spot them in the dark tunnels; stations like British Museum, Bull and Bush, Mark Lane and Quainton Road.* Nope. Not one of them. An actual open, working station on the Victoria Line between Tottenham Hale and Walthamstow Central. I'd just never noticed it before.

So I travelled to Blackhorse Road. It was a long old haul for me from the wilds of Buckinghamshire and, if I'm honest (and at the risk of sounding snobbish), it didn't seem to be a terribly nice part of London. But it did put me in mind of a magazine article/column I wrote back in 2002 which, sadly, was never published as the magazine it was destined for 'ran out of space'.

So, here it is. I hope you enjoy it. You may have seen it before as I posted it on my old blog. If so, I apologise for the repetition.


You're on in five Mr Mudchute

I was travelling on the London Underground yesterday when I remembered a story I was once told about Charlton Heston. The story – completely untrue it transpires – was that he chose his stage name by randomly stabbing a map of London with a pin. Charlton. Heston. Perfect. But what if he’d been distracted by an errant fly? What if a capricious gust of wind had moved the map a little? El Cid starring Wapping Penge. Planet of the Apes starring Morden Oval. Or how about Soylent Green starring Croxley Blackfriars?

What a great name Croxley Blackfriars is. I may change my name by deed poll.

After amusing myself with these thoughts for a while, it suddenly dawned on me that I was travelling on the Bakerloo Line; a line that took its name from Baker Street and Waterloo, the original start and end of the line. But what if the tunnel had begun at Piccadilly and ended at Marylebone? Would it now be called the Piccabone Line? Would a line from Paddington to Elephant & Castle be the Elton Line? Or the Paddiphant Line?

Elton Paddiphant. Another fine name. Decisions, decisions ...

I mentioned this to my travelling companion and he said, “Piccabone? They’d never have called it that. It doesn’t sound right, does it?”
“But does it sound any less right than Bakerloo?” I argued, “Or does ‘Bakerloo’ sound right simply because it’s familiar?”
“You’re weird,” he said.
Weird I might be but I was on to something here, I realised.

Imagine for a moment that the Duke of Wellington was the person who asked for a piece of beef between two slices of bread; or that Lord Cardigan demanded rubber boots for his troops; or that the Earl of Sandwich felt chilly enough to request a front-buttoning pullover? We’d all now wear sandwiches when we’re cold, cardigans on our feet and enjoy a packed lunch of cheese and pickle wellies.

Or imagine if Columbus had arrived in America believing that he’d arrived in Belgium rather than India. Then we would have spent our childhoods playing Cowboys and Belgians. It may sound daft to you but if things had happened differently it would be the accepted norm. Familiarity breeds acceptance.

I recall a mate of mine once saying that the aim of marketing is to turn ‘prototype into stereotype’. In other words, to turn something new and different into something familiar, cosy and acceptable. When satellite dishes and ‘squarials’ (remember them?) first started sprouting from house fronts, a lot of people groaned about how ugly they were. Do we even notice them any more? The same thing happened with the first TV aerials in the 1950s. By the time the first dish came along, familiarity had made those aerials invisible for most of us. And now I come to think about it, it’s amazing the things we take for granted – that we accept – simply because we’re used to them. Noise, for example.

During the Millennium celebrations, Radio 4 ran a series of interviews with people who were alive in 1900 and asked for their impressions of the past century. One man mentioned that, in his lifetime, he’d seen technology advance at an extraordinary rate. The Wright Brothers first flight in 1910 was shorter in distance than the wingspan of a Jumbo Jet. Yet by 1969, men were walking on the Moon. Allegedly. Another interviewee mentioned noise. He recalled that, as a boy, there was only one car in his home town. It belonged to rich friends of his parents and they lived 3 miles away on the other side of town. When invited for a meal, they would toot the horn upon leaving home so that the hostess could put the veg on to boil (the cross-town journey took twenty minutes). How much chance would you have today of standing one side of a town and hearing a solitary car horn three miles away on the other? Noise is everywhere. Even the remotest places on Earth have jets flying overhead. We are surrounded and swamped by a cacophony of traffic noise, screaming jet engines, rattling trains, blaring radios and squawking television sets. Add to that the ubiquitous trilling of mobile phones, the repetitive hissing beat from over-cranked i-pods and the raucous voices of several million commuters and you get some idea of what my trip to work is like. Yet I don’t even notice it most of the time.

So there you have it. I don’t notice the dissonance around me because it’s familiar dissonance. Familiarity breeds acceptance. I no longer bat an eyelid at stage names like Jasper Carrot, Alvin Stardust or Johnny Vegas - ridiculous though they are - because they’re familiar stage names (Surely the best ever was comedian Craig Ferguson’s alter-ego Bing Hitler?). Familiarity breeds acceptance is also the reason why well-known celebrities become strangely unfamiliar when you muck about with their names. Bradley Pitt. Jimmy T Kirk. Robert Williams. Richard Gervais. The names we find so recognisable could have been very different but for the quirkiness of fate. And we would have been none the wiser because they would have sounded normal to us.

Which is why, in some alternative universe, I am currently travelling to work on the St Plop Line (St Pauls to Fairlop) and musing on what other names the famous actor Leyton Mudchute could have chosen.

Charlton Heston?

Ha! That’s a good one.


*Want to know more about the Ghost Stations? Get hold of J E Connor's great little self-published book Abandoned Stations on London's Underground (Connor & Butler 2000 - ISBN 0 947699 30 9)