Thursday, June 28, 2007

you fun my wife? you muddy funster

Amazing what you can find on YouTube with a bit of persistence. This brief Harry Enfield sketch is well up the list of Things That Have Very Nearly Made Me Sick From Laughing So Much.

up the Vaas!

A couple of unsung cricketing heroes for you, both of whom who have achieved noteworthy deeds in the cricketing arena in the last couple of weeks which, for one reason or another, might have escaped your notice.

Firstly (and my excuse for the title of this post) Chaminda Vaas, the admirable Sri Lankan left-arm seam bowler. Not only is he second on a remarkably lopsided all-time list of Sri Lankan Test wicket-takers (one approaching 700, one over 300, nobody else over 100), but by scoring 100 not out in the recent Test against Bangladesh in Colombo he managed finally to remove himself from one of Test batting's more esoteric league tables: most runs in a career without ever making a century, a list he formerly occupied second position in behind Shane Warne.

Secondly, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the gritty West Indian left-hander. After Brian Lara's retirement he's now the senior batsman in the side (all the more so after Ramnaresh Sarwan crocked himself). No-one's going to be making any claims for him being as much of a pleasure to watch as Lara was, far from it in fact, but scores of 74, 50, 116 not out, 136 not out and 70 in the recent series against England, especially while his team-mates were dropping like flies around him, can't be argued with. During the course of this prolific run he became just the seventh West Indian to pass 7000 Test runs, and at a higher average than his illustrious predecessors Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, both of whom generally had the luxury of playing in winning teams. For a batsman whose reputation is of being a nudger and an accumulator of runs rather than a destroyer of bowling in the Viv Richards or Brian Lara mould, it's a bizarre anomaly that he is also the owner of the fourth fastest Test hundred ever made, and against the mighty Australians as well. It's always the quiet ones.

Monday, June 25, 2007

album of the day

Led Zeppelin (latterly known as Led Zeppelin I) by Led Zeppelin.

Debate rages as to which is the best Led Zep album - some say Led Zep IV (the "runes" album) because it's got Black Dog, Stairway To Heaven and When The Levee Breaks on it. Some say Physical Graffiti because it's a double album and their most diverse album musically. Some go for the folkier Led Zep III....anyway, I say, fine as these others are (Physical Graffiti in particular) their very first album is the best.

What other debut album starts with the the sort of in-your-face ballsiness of Good Times, Bad Times? A couple of battered out chords from Jimmy Page, a thunderous drum fill from John Bonham, and Robert Plant wailing out "In the days of my youth I was told what it means to be a man....". Then we get the pumped-up folk-rock of Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, almost a sort of proto-Stairway in its quiet-loud-quiet-loud dynamic, the massive harmonica-driven Muddy Waters riff of You Shook Me, and the proto-metallic live staple Dazed And Confused. Then we get a quieter interlude with Your Time Is Gonna Come and its church organ intro, the Bert Jansch-influenced acoustic Black Mountain Side, the frenzied Communication Breakdown (a big influence on The Ramones, apparently) the more orthodox (and slightly less interesting) blues of I Can't Quit You Babe and then the closing How Many More Times, where Page and Plant nick countless old blues standards, glue them together and dose them up with elephant steroids.

What makes this such a winner is the improvised, bluesy, live, anything-could-happen feel of it all. It couldn't be more different from the later epics like Kashmir and Achilles' Last Stand, but this is where it all started.

the obligatory Wimbledon post

Not any in-depth analysis I'm afraid, I just felt inspired to write something after watching the closing stages of today's play in the Henman-Moya match (locked at 2 sets all and 5-all in the fifth when bad light stopped play).

A quick word about Tim Henman. My view of Henman's career is this: he's been, by a huge distance, the best male British tennis player certainly of the open era and probably since the days of Fred Perry, and we should probably appreciate him a bit more than we do, even if he is a bit posh. If his peak years hadn't happened to coincide with those of a certain Pete Sampras I have no doubt he would have won Wimbledon at least once. But 4 Wimbledon semi-finals and one each at the French Open and the US Open, as well as 10 full ATP tour titles and many years in the top 10, is pretty good, especially if you compare it with his predecessors as British #1; I mean, Jeremy Bates? Buster Mottram? He was never in the very top bracket because he could never overpower players with his service the way Sampras could. That isn't necessarily something that rules you out of winning major championships, but it does mean that you have to be an eyes-on-stalks success freak to do it. Jimmy Connors would be the perfect example - no cheap service games for him, but no-one wanted to win more than he did.

Anyway, this year's Wimbledon. Needless to say Federererererer is the overwhelming favourite for the men's singles title, but I have a feeling he might not have things all his own way this year. If I had to guess I would say the likelihood is he'll either slip up against Marat Safin in round 3, or Roddick in the semis or the final, otherwise he'll win. I just have a sneaky feeling it might be Roddick's year, though.

As for the ladies the papers seem to think it's between last year's finalists Justine Henin and Amelie Mauresmo. I think that, as long as she stays fit, Serena Williams is probably the woman to beat, though. At the very least it gives me an excuse to reproduce the picture here. If it's not one of these it'll be one of the Russians, most likely Sharapova or Kuznetsova, though both have been carrying injuries recently.

Centre Court looks a bit weird with the roof off, too, a bit more like the big open arenas at Roland Garros or Flushing Meadow. I'm sure we'll get used to it. Just as long as Cliff doesn't put in an appearance I'll be happy.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

how I loathe that indigo beaver!

ANIMOLOGY: What Animal Are You?
Your Result: Blue Fox

You are the blue fox! A total perfectionist and a true born leader. You can never resist a challenge! Your Soul Mate is the Yellow Trout and you loathe the Indigo Beaver.

Silver and Red Wolf

Teal Cat

Ocre and Gray Dolphin

Gold Falcon

Red Jaguar

Tan Giraffe

Yellow Trout

ANIMOLOGY: What Animal Are You?

Yes, I've taken the survey, and apparently I am a prime example of that well-known animal species the Blue Fox. My primary allegiances are listed above. So I'm fairly indifferent to the Tan Giraffe and the Teal Cat, but me and the Yellow Trout, we're like that. And the Indigo Beaver really gets my Magnolia Goat.

POSTSCRIPT: the red status bars don't seem to come out properly here, but never mind. Have a go and see if you can see what implausibly-coloured animal you are.

Ugh! With a gammy leg?

I was on a bus back up to my flat from the railway station earlier, and it was chucking it down in an impressively monsoon-esque manner, and I was looking out of the window while listening to a couple of hoary old 1970s classics on my iPod, and I was filled with a profound sense of, ooh, I dunno, something or other. So much so that I though I'd share them with you - they were, in playing order, Joe Walsh's smoking slide guitar classic Rocky Mountain Way, and Mountain's Nantucket Sleighride. There's always some entertaining trivia attached to songs, and these two are no exception. Try these on for size:

Rocky Mountain Way (a cracking live performance of which from 1972 can be viewed here) features heavy use of a talk box on the solo section in the middle. The Wikipedia article suggests that this device was invented specifically for Walsh, though it was made famous by Peter Frampton on the dreaded Frampton Comes Alive! Walsh later joined the Eagles, and continues to tour with them today - in fact I saw them perform, Rocky Mountain Way and all, almost exactly a year ago at Twickenham.

Nantucket Sleighride must be one of the very few rock songs on the subject of whaling, if you discount the songs of Bob Marley and the Whalers, ho ho. The full title of the sing is Nantucket Sleighride (for Owen Coffin) and this bears some explanation. A "Nantucket sleigh ride" describes how the flimsy whaling boats were dragged along behind the whale after the first harpoon was dispatched, the name being a nod to the island of Nantucket, once the world's largest whaling port. And Owen Coffin was a 17-year-old crew member on the ill-fated whaler Essex which was sunk by an an enraged whale off the coast of South America in 1820. The story of the subsequent driftings around the open ocean and the dreadful choices the survivors were faced with inspired (legend has it) Herman Melville to write Moby-Dick. Finally - I only knew in advance what a Nantucket sleighride was because I've read Whale Adventure, one of the ludicrous yet highly entertaining and educational series of children's books by Willard Price. You don't get keel-hauling and getting eaten by mako sharks in Harry Potter, I can tell you.

Actually, there's more. Mountain's bassist Felix Pappalardi was shot dead by his wife in 1983. And Nantucket Sleighride was used as the theme for the ITV political programme Weekend World in the 1970s.

A gritty and unflinching dramatisation of what being cast adrift must have been like can be found here.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Bernard Manning finally makes me laugh

These "Have Your Say" surveys on the BBC website really do attract the most alarming people. A case in point: the recent demise of lovable racist gutbucket Jabba-The-Hutt-lookalike comedian Bernard Manning. Oh, they came out of the woodwork in force for this one. Writing in crayon, mainly, one has to assume.

In general it's a very similar argument to the one the Kray twins apologists come out with: lovely boys, always a smile, good to their Mum, only killed their own, never touched the kiddies, etc. The Manning version goes something like: lovely man, always a smile, loved his family, lots of charity work for the underprivileged kiddies, hounded by the PC brigade, only having a laugh, lots of black people at his gigs, etc. Both of which are, it hardly needs to be said, the most unmitigated bollocks.

You do worry that you're going to sound schoolmarmish for saying it, but the reality is this: he was a fat, sweaty, pig-ignorant Northern bigot who embodied a very specific kind of smug, keg bitter, pie and chips, who won the war anyway, Love Thy Neighbour, can't eat that foreign muck, why can't they speak bloody English like the rest of us, country going to the dogs, Little England mentality that needs to be scoured from the country with the brillo-pad of right-thinking tolerance lest it make us any more ashamed of it than we already, rightly, are. I strongly suspect there are some YouTube clips of his act around; if you're in any doubt have a sift through them.

It's the comedy of fear, pure and simple, and that explains the poisonous viciousness of it, but clearly doesn't excuse it in any way. If you're in the business of trying to guess the number of tears I shed upon hearing of his death, and plumped for a number in the vicinity of zero, then you're in the right ballpark.

And his Turkey Drummers are rubbish. Now that's comedy.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

0.0137 years in Provence

Pictures of my trip to Provence with Hazel and my parents can be found here. We stayed in a very nice property here - nice sunny weather, excellent (and cheap) local wine and goat's cheese. Only blot on the holiday landscape was the shenanigans we had to endure on the trip back - thanks to the exceptional weather in Bristol we had to divert to Bournemouth, sit around in the plane for a while, stand around in the car park for a while, and then be transported to Bristol by coach. Departure time from Marseille - 4pm (Bristol time). Travel time from Marseille to Bournemouth - about 2 hours. Faffing about time at Bournemouth - about 2 and a half hours. Travel time to Bristol - 3 hours. Arrival time at my flat - half past midnight. Ah, modern travel.

more lookalikes

Today's are: ridiculously prolific author and creator of Maigret Georges Simenon, and Police 5 presenter and voice-over artiste for hire Shaw Taylor. There are more of them out there. Keep 'em peeled!

please do not feed the Hitchenses

Flicking between Keith Allen Will Burn In Hell on Channel 4 and Question Time on BBC1 - the first sounds superficially interesting, and Keith Allen is never less than entertaining, but there's a degree of nutterdom that is very difficult to counter, just because you need to be able to corral a set of beliefs into some sort of structure to be able to question and/or mock them, which is, of course, the sensible thing to be doing.

I plumped for Question Time in the end just because it offered the irresistible spectacle of Peter and Christopher Hitchens in the same room, not something that happens very often. And in fact, although they seem to find it difficult to look at each other, they both talk a lot of surprisingly convergent sense on a variety of topics. Which is what makes the whole brotherly feud thing so amusing - they actually don't really disagree much on most topics, they're just too pompous and disinclined to listen to anyone's voices but their own to admit it. They were still clearly the two most clear-thinking and intelligent people in the room, though.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

the last book I read

Restless by William Boyd.

I'm a big William Boyd fan, so a new one is a major event. So much so that I was able to ignore the fact that this was a recommendation of Richard & Judy's book club, something which would normally induce me to run away shrieking and cast myself face first into an industrial tile adhesive mixer.

This is the story of two women: Ruth, an English language teacher in Oxford in the 1970s, and Sally, her mother. Sally, it turns out, to her daughter's great surprise, was born Eva Delectorskaya in Russia and was recruited by a shadowy spymaster to the British secret service on the eve of World War II in 1939.

The remainder of the story plays itself out in two parallel strands, the story of Eva's wartime exploits as written out by Sally for her daughter to read, and Ruth's reaction to these writings and their impact on her daily life. It's all brought together at the end, as Sally's motive for finally revealing the truth becomes clear and she enlists Ruth's help for one last mission.

One thing you can always bank on with Boyd is a cracking story, and this is no exception - Eva's story with its inevitable betrayals and double-crossings skips along very readably, all the more so as large chunks of it (in particular, the British Security Coordination's involvement in various espionage operations designed to encourage the USA to enter the war) is based on real events.

That said it's by no means the best thing he's ever written (those would be Brazzaville Beach, The Blue Afternoon and the two pseudo-biographical epics The New Confessions and Any Human Heart) - certain plot strands don't seem to go anywhere, in particular the one involving Ruth's ex-lover (and father of her son), his brother, his slightly mysterious girlfriend and their possible links with German terrorism and the Baader-Meinhof organisation. With its breathless pace it almost reads like Boyd knocked it out in a long weekend, perhaps without bothering to tie up all the loose ends, something you would normally expect a spy novel to do.

There is also the fundamental problem afflicting all epistolary novels, which is that we're required to believe that the ordinary Joes and Josephines who (the plot requires us to believe) write the source material quoted in the book can write to the standard of published novelists. Thus we're asked to believe that Eva/Sally can write with the irresistible narrative drive of William Boyd, just as we're asked (in an earlier post in this series) to believe that Eva Khatchadourian can write like Lionel Shriver. Two Evas - spooky.

the second-last book I read

Riven Rock by T.C. Boyle.

This is a new one on me, though I'd heard of T.C. Boyle before; he used to go by the name T. Coraghessan Boyle which always struck me as a bit self-consciously referencing his Irish ancestry, particularly once I discovered that he changed his middle name from the slightly more prosaic John to Coraghessan. Not sure when the (wise, in my view) change to plain old TC happened, but it must have been after this book was first published, because earlier versions of the cover pictured here have the earlier name on them.

Anyway, I've had this one hanging around for a while, but never quite got round to reading it as it's quite thick and literary-looking. But I decided that as I was going to be on holiday and, with any luck, spending quite a bit of time sitting around by the pool, I was going to need something meaty to read.

So, the story. Stanley McCormick and Katherine Dexter, both scions of wealthy and influential families, become engaged, and latterly married, in the early years of the 20th century. From the outset, though, Stanley exhibited some peculiar tendencies - influenced by his overbearing mother (his father died at an early age) and by some traumatic formative sexual experiences. A couple of years into their (unconsummated) marriage Stanley's behaviour becomes violently sexually obsessive and he is committed to solitary confinement at Riven Rock, an isolated country estate owned by the family in California, where he spends the next 20 years deprived of contact with women, and indeed pretty much anyone apart from his (male) nurses.

One of these nurses, Eddie O'Kane, provides the other focus for the narrative, and acts as a sort of mirror image, Jekyll/Hyde, ying/yang, etc. contrast with Stanley - Eddie is a serial philanderer, occasional wife-beater and alcoholic, yet (credit to Boyle's skill) remains a generally sympathetic character, and one whose failings, considerable though they are, remain within the bounds of what society deems acceptable. And this is one of the points Boyle's making, of course: the fine line between sanity and madness, or what society defines these things to be.

Stanley's doctors come and go with their differing theories on how he should be treated, Stanley's mental condition ebbs and flows; eventually he is allowed some limited contact with his wife. During this time she's become a high-profile campaigner for women's rights and birth control, and starts a lengthy legal battle to gain control of his estate (and considerable fortune).

What I didn't know when I read the book was that this is all based, quite closely, on real people. Katherine McCormick, in particular, was quite a significant figure in the development and distribution of the contraceptive pill. Not that any of this particularly matters, it's just interesting. It's (contrary to my original fears) a highly entertaining read, though Boyle's rich and verbose prose means you won't zip through it in one sitting.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

album of the day

Loveless by My Bloody Valentine.

Nirvana's Nevermind in Not Best Album Of 1991 Shock. Yes, it's a shocker: legendary, seminal grunge album featuring late, troubled genius (well, he wasn't late at the time, obviously) only #2 on my list. This, here, is #1. Why? Because it's a completely unique sonic experience.

Opening track Only Shallow sets the scene quite nicely: Kevin Shields' massive distorted guitar riff alternating with Bilinda Butcher's breathy vocals. Later songs screw the rock song template up even further; Loomer, To Here Knows When, I Only Said and Blown A Wish combine simple, repetitive melodies and fragile female vocals with pulverisingly warped, compressed, flanged, bent and distorted guitar noise, rather like listening to a children's lullaby during a hurricane, or possibly an all-out nuclear conflict of some sort. It also features the sublime Sometimes which was used on the Lost In Translation soundtrack, and the bowel-looseningly funky closing track Soon (number 16 in John Peel's all-time Festive 50).

This is an album you either need to listen to at high volume in a darkened room or, preferably, in a darkened room on a really good pair of headphones to fully immerse yourself in it. Some serious drugs wouldn't go amiss either. Remarkably, the band have spent the 16 years since its release failing to release a follow-up, for reasons that remain unclear. Then again, maybe they're not so unclear. How do you improve on perfection?

celebrity lookey-likey of the day

Formula 1 wunderkind and aspiring champion of the world Lewis Hamilton, and aspiring Democrat presidential nominee and, by extension, aspiring "leader of the free world" Barack Obama. Uncanny, isn't it? And I'm sure he's a very nice man (Barack that is, though I'm sure Lewis is a nice polite young man as well), but I still say: vote for Hillary.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Does Chris Morris Strip Britain's Swans Of All Dignity?

Just a quickie - I've just been e-mailed this: the Daily Mail headline generator. Give it a go. If anything it's a bit milder than the real thing. There are some amusing other things as well: Alastair Campbell's Wheel Of Retribution, for instance.

Elsewhere on the same site, though I've seen it mentioned elsewhere as well, is the observation that the new London 2012 Olympic logo looks like Lisa Simpson giving head. Genius! That's Lisa on the right; you can work the rest out for yourself.

Monday, June 11, 2007

here's a theory I tossed off earlier

How often have you wanted to date a dictionary? I don't mean date as in go out with, I mean date as in establish the age of accurately. It's not like dendrochronology where you can just slice it in half and count the rings, after all. Obviously you could just turn to the front endpapers and check the publication or most recent reprint date, but let's assume these pages have been often does that happen? No, a lot. It happens a lot.

In these circumstances you're up the creek without a paddle, aren't you? How the dickens are you going to establish the age of the dictionary? Well, here's how. Look up the word "masturbation". No, don't be alarmed, this is for academic purposes only. The gist of my theory, getting to the point at last, is as follows: you can establish, broadly, the age of a dictionary by assessing, in an informed manner, the contents of the definition of the word "masturbation". One could draw a graph from the pre-1950s definitions involving the words "self-abuse", "self-defilement", "beastliness", etc. etc. to the more non-judgementally factual modern defintions, if one were inclined to do so, with the exact date being derived from where the definition sits on the line between the two - as below:

Impressed? No? Well, it's better than the one about the brontosaurus.

Friday, June 08, 2007

SquidWatch continues

This is what Bill Oddie ought to be doing, not fannying about by a lake with Kate Humble. Not that I'd be averse to a bit of fannying about by a lake with.....well, you get the idea. I think it's the "sensible outdoor science-y types in practical shoes and a fleecy gilet" thing that does it. I always had a bit of a thing for Kathy Sykes as well. And (like Dr. Alice Roberts) she's based in Bristol, which does make the whole stalking thing a lot less problematic.

Well, I seem to have wandered a bit, so back to more serious cephalopodic matters. Firstly, Father's Day is coming up, and you'll be wanting to get something nice for Dad. So how about one of these? I think technically it's a cuttlefish rather than a squid, and their brains don't really look like that, but the eyes have a nice baleful krakenesque look about them. Plus, when our squishy-bodied overlords slurp forth from the abyss and claim their rightful place on dry land with all of humanity as their slaves, you can flash the tie at them and they might treat you a bit more kindly.

And it could be any day now, judging by the shocking footage in this clip from The Colbert Report:

The last two items (i.e. the cephalopod-related stuff, not the lurid sexual fantasies about BBC TV presenters) are shamelessly "borrowed" from PZ Myers' Pharyngula blog. Plenty more good stuff there as well, as long as you aren't offended by creationists being described as "scumbag wingnuts" occasionally.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

the last book I read

Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen.

Odd coincidence - my mother is a member of a book group (and after my semi-humorous off-slagging of book groups in the previous TLBIR post as well - oh, the bitter irony), and we have a book-swap arrangement going at work whereby people bring in spare or unwanted books, stick them on a shelf and others can come and scavenge them as desired. No, wait, that's not the coincidental bit.

The coincidental bit is that, almost simultaneously, the book group selected Carl Hiaasen's Skinny Dip as their latest book (a bit racy for a group of predominantly sixtysomething ladies, I would have thought, rightly it appears in hindsight) and person or persons unknown brought in two Hiaasens to the book-swap shelf: Sick Puppy and this one. Knowing Hiaasen by reputation but never having read any of his stuff I nabbed them both.

A note on pronunciation: I've really no idea. The approach I've gone for is pretty much to say "hyacinth" and omit the "th" at the end; that seems to work.

Anyway, the book. Veterinary assistant JoLayne Lucks (Lucks - you see what he did there?) wins the Florida State Lottery. Or rather half of the Florida State Lottery, because malodorous white supremacist militiamen Chub and Bode have a winning ticket too. You'd think they'd be happy sharing a jackpot of $28 million, but no, they want the lot. Getting wind of where the other ticket was sold, they track down JoLayne, take her ticket (at the cost of some severe cuts and bruises) and take off.

Meanwhile down-on-his-luck investigative journalist Tom Krome has been sent to try and get an interview with JoLayne. Turning up shortly after Chub and Bode (and feeling a bit guilty after the media blabbed the location of the winning ticket) he sets off with JoLayne to pursue the ticket thieves. During the course of the pursuit Chub and Bode pick up a young recruit to their cause, and kidnap a Hooters waitress, Amber, who proves to be a whole heap of trouble. Meanwhile Tom and JoLayne find their relationship getting slightly more complicated.....

Anyway, for reasons I won't go into in detail, things all come to a head on an uninhabited island in the Florida Keys. The bad guys get their comeuppance, things work out generally satisfactorily for the innocent participants, and highly satisfactorily for the good guys.

It's a funny book. Funny as in intentionally comedic, absurd, satirical as opposed to laugh-out-loud funny, but that's OK. If you want a point of reference I'd say imagine Elmore Leonard crossed with Tom Sharpe. Highly readable; my only criticism would be it's all a bit comfortable and right-on in terms of its targets - hands up who's going to be cheering for pig-ignorant redneck white supremacists, money-grabbing religious maniacs, environment-despoiling property developers and mafia stooges. Anyone? All right then. It's also pretty obvious that the good guys are going to remain unscathed throughout, and fall into each others arms in a happy-ever-after fashion at the end. None of which is a criticism, particularly, just that if you're expecting shades of grey and some nice spicy moral ambiguity, look elsewhere.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

swallow! probably.....

Here's another one: a bird photographed perching on the prow of a boat in Chobe National Park (again). Looks to me like some sort of swallow; unfortunately it's facing the wrong way, but the red cap is quite distinctive. Any suggestions?

animals! and, erm, birds

In addition to running a golf-predicting blog, Doug has also been busy documenting his various encounters with the natural world in another blog I was unaware of until today. I have put an appropriate perma-link up in the panel on the right. It's all fascinating stuff, including the lengthy saga of the blue tits in the bird box in Doug & Anna's garden - I won't spoil it for you.....

Anyway, I was inspired into thinking about interesting wildlife photos I've taken over the years. Now generally I'm a landscape and natural features man myself, but I've snapped a few animals as well, as anyone who read the fox post a couple of months ago will know. Here's a small selection harvested from a very brief trawl through my photos (or that subset that I've scanned in in a digital format, anyway). Hope you like them:

#1: me attempting to commune in a manly primate-to-primate manner with a Barbary ape on the Rock of Gibraltar in (Christ) 1996. These (despite the name) are actually monkeys - the only wild monkeys in Europe.

: a pair of Cape Hyraxes lounging around in the shade near the top of Table Mountain. These strange little creatures are most closely related to elephants, dugongs and manatees, despite looking a bit rodent-y.

: a lady with her hand up a cheetah's arse. This was taken in a cheetah sanctuary in Namibia.

: A dead elephant in Chobe National Park in Botswana. There was a gentle breeze blowing towards us (we were in a boat) when this picture was taken, from several hundred yards away. Even at this range the smell of a dead elephant is pretty eye-watering, I can tell you. Unfortunately I failed to capture the moment when a female lion sauntered casually out of its ribcage after stopping in for a snack.

: A kea wandering round the roadside rest area near the eastern entrance to the Homer Tunnel between Te Anau and Milford Sound in New Zealand.

#6: A rather shaggy donkey hanging around outside a pub in the New Forest.

#7: A grey heron perched on a weir near Caversham Bridge, on the Thames in Reading.

#8: A mystery duck photographed in Roath Park, Cardiff a couple of weeks ago. Well, it was a mystery duck at the time - I've since done a bit of research and determined that it's a ruddy shelduck. That's not swearing, that's really what it's called. Strictly speaking the shelducks are not actually ducks, taxonomy fans, but a subdivision of a larger family that includes the ducks and geese.

deploy the Smite-O-Tron!

This is just great. I'm going to get the Swiss-army-knife-style one from the One-Of-A-Kind section:

What better way to detect the Creator of the universe than with this tool-encrusted Yo-God God Detector?

What indeed.

It does sound a little bit like the sort of device knocked up by Gilbert Ratchet, though. Probably with a big lever on the side, just waiting for someone to trip on a discarded roller-skate and accidentally flick the setting from "Benevolent" to "Vengeful", with hilarious consequences.

Of course if the big G (aka the big J or the big A, depending on your religion) decides to use his omnipotent powers to change the JPEG file above to an animated GIF or some even more awe-inspiring Flash animation with cherubim and seraphim flying around tooting celestial trumpets in the background, and crank the dial across from No to Yes, I'll be left looking slightly foolish, if I haven't already been the recipient of a good hard smiting by then.

Or maybe he won't, just to test my faith.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

album of the day

Laughing Stock by Talk Talk.

Few bands took as strange and mysterious a journey as Talk Talk in the mid to late 1980's. From the synth-pop of It's My Life (recently brutally murdered by No Doubt) via the lopsided piano riff of Life's What You Make It and the intensely dense and powerful album The Colour Of Spring to the uncategorisably strange delights of this album, and its predecessor Spirit Of Eden. All within about 6 years. Not a journey Duran Duran ever contemplated taking, you can be sure of that.

I change my mind about this every few months, but my current feeling is that this one is just a little bit better than Spirit Of Eden, but that might just be because I listened to this one last (tonight, actually). It's very hard to describe, but bookended by the dead-slow Myrrhman and Runeii (with its shimmering guitar glissandi - I like that word) are a sequence of songs featuring fractured guitar figures, stuttering piano, breathy vocals, occasional squalls of grungy guitar (Ascension Day), hypnotic rhythms (New Grass) and all manner of strange instrumentation. I don't have the instrument list for this album, but Spirit Of Eden features harmonica, harmonium, bassoon, shozygs, cor anglais and the choir of Chelmsford Cathedral, and this one is pretty similar. It's not McFly, that's for sure. What it is, though, is a thing of strange and baffling beauty which fits into no recognisable category (some call it "post-rock", apparently). It's also another classic "chill-out" album, in the same nudge-nudge vein as Solid Air.

Amazon currently have all three of the essential Talk Talk albums for a total of £19.94. You owe it to yourself to deny your children nutritional sustenance this week and buy them.

just for the halibut

Andy pointed this out to me a while ago, but I'd forgotten about it until someone jogged my memory earlier today - naturally I checked that the domain name was available before I bagged it, but just to be sure I wasn't treading on anyone's toes Andy did a bit of Googling and discovered the fascinating fact that there is such a thing as an Electric Halibut already - it's a bass guitar, manufactured by ESP Guitars (though I can't find it on their website, which suggests that they don't make it any more). More pictures here, though if you're expecting a translation of the Japanese text, don't look at me.

I'd forgotten the name of the manufacturer, so I thought a simple Google search would do it - unfortunately it didn't occur to me that searching on "halibut bass" would just bring back a whole load of fish-related stuff. I managed to find it eventually, though. ESP are catering for the metallic end of the guitar market, by the look of things, including some slightly metalled-up designs clearly inspired by the Gibson Les Paul, Gibson SG and Gibson Explorer. I quite like these, but then I'm a sucker for a sunburst finish.

Googling "electric halibut" also reveals this fascinating article about electrocuting fish. Apparently halibut are a species "for which satisfactory killing arrangements do not yet exist". Damn those fiendish halibut!

Monday, June 04, 2007

and another thing

Just a quick further point regarding the new albums mentioned in the last paragraphette of my previous post: all the bands mentioned are American, but there does seem to be a bit of an Anglophilic theme to some of them: the White Stripes have a bit of history in this department, what with the cricket bat on the cover of Elephant and all, and they've continued in similar vein on Icky Thump, both with the title (with its echo of The Goodies, among others) and the crazy Pearly King and Queen outfits they're sporting on the cover. Scratch the surface of this particular bizarre London tradition and you'll find that it's All Very Strange Indeed.

Ryan Adams' new album appears to be called Easy Tiger. Unless I'm much mistaken this is an Anglicism as well. Whatever next? The Arctic Monkeys releasing an album called You Ain't From Around Here, Are You, Boy? Or possibly Ain't This One Got A Pretty Mouth? It could happen....

what I did at the weekend

It was Hazel's friend Jenny's 30th birthday at the weekend so we were up in Leicester. We went to The Bradgate pub in Newtown Linford, just a few miles north-west of Leicester and ate and drank lavishly, not to mention excessively (actually there may have been some drinking before we left the house, and indeed after we got back). I think maybe it's a consequence of the inherent dullness of working in the IT business, but Jenny's job (in contrast) seems to me to be about as interesting a job as one could hope to do and still expect to get paid for it. Ah well. A bit more golf practice and I can join the pro tour full time.

On the Sunday Hazel had to meet up with a prospective client so we had a precautionary fry-up and lots of coffee and then set off. It turns out that the appointment was in Armitage, which is a smallish village between Lichfield and Rugeley up north-east of Birmingham. Armitage has a couple of points of interest; one is that it's on the Trent & Mersey Canal, and there are some pleasant walks to be had up and down the towpath (including the brief one I had while Hazel was in her meeing), the other is that it is the birthplace of legendary porcelain pioneers Armitage Shanks, perennial purveyors of premium pottery pisspots to the public, both poncy and plebeian, since 1817.

Anyway, various photographs were taken on both days, which can be seen here.

In other news, it's a rare old week for new albums: Queens Of The Stone Age, Ryan Adams and The White Stripes all have new albums out either right now or in the near future. As your musical mentor and moral guardian I suggest you buy the flippin' lot.

Friday, June 01, 2007

it was 40 years ago today

...I guarantee every blog posting alluding to what I'm about to allude to will use that same title, or some nearly identical variant thereof.

Because it was 40 years ago today that The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band was released in the UK (a day later in the USA for some reason). This isn't going to be an album review, but it's interesting to reflect on why this is without a doubt the most famous pop/rock album of all time. My view is that it's for reasons largely divorced from the musical content of the album.

  • 1967, the Summer Of Love, homosexuality and abortion de-criminalised, the Pill newly widely available, the Beatles, already the biggest band in the world, surfing the wave of this particular cultural Zeitgeist
  • the most famous, by a huge margin, album cover of all time
  • the shift of emphasis from singles to albums as the primary vehicle of expression for rock bands (SPLHCB having no singles released from it, the pre-album tasters Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane being omitted from the album)
  • an increased willingness by contemporary critics (Kenneth Tynan being an obvious example) to seriously consider popular music as Art with a capital A
The slight irony is that in the cold light of day this is by no means their best album, in fact I'd put it in the following position in my Top 5 Beatles Albums:
  1. Abbey Road
  2. Revolver
  3. The White Album
  4. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band
  5. Rubber Soul
Another strange thing about The Beatles is, despite their pre-eminent position as most famous and best-selling rock band of all time, their almost total failure to actually rock. It's a strange and nebulous concept, hard to define except by repeated examples. So here goes: bands of similar vintage who undoubtedly do rock: The Who, The Rolling Stones. Bands of similar vintage who equally undoubtedly don't: The Kinks, The Doors. None of which is intended as a criticism; there are things you can do other than rock, and these bands did them very well.

I think, personally, it's all down to the rhythm section: The Beatles were hampered by having Ringo on drums, and The Doors were hampered by not actually having a bass player. There's no way you can do something as sinuously cloven-hooved as Jumpin' Jack Flash when you're picking out the bassline with your left hand on a Fender Rhodes as Ray Manzarek was. Whereas the Stones had Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, and The Who had John Entwistle and Keith Moon, whom I respectfully submit as the best rhythm section in rock history. Any views?