Thursday, March 29, 2007

Only connect (or in this case, hyperlink)

Over at Toast and Honey, Olivia’s done a very good job of summarizing two – one, two – arguments currently being put forward about modern literature.

To be honest, I think both sides have some merit, but in the spirit of this blog’s new-found commitment to the funny, I offer the following jape about the nature of modern writing (caution, contains language and ideas of a frankly immature and simplistic nature):

Interviewer: So, you’re a modern novelist. What does that mean in terms of your average day?
Writer: My day? Well, to give an example, I spent most of this morning wrestling with my novel, about a novelist who’s writing a book about a novelist with writer’s block. And this afternoon… well, to be honest, I spent most of the afternoon beating myself off.
Interviewer: Tell me, how are you able to distinguish between those two activities?

…Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, I’m here until Sunday. Don’t forget to tip the bar staff.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Down with the music of today

As one who, despite being over 30, prides himself on being very much down with the kids and all the music that they love so much, I try to make sure I keep up with what's new and happening. Yes I do, stop giggling. I'm not a total square, you know - why, I even know that Top of the Pops isn't on a Friday night any more. See? Not so out of date after all.

Anyway, this means that I often sit in my favourite armchair, puffing on my pipe and wearing my comfiest slippers as I watch MTV Base (I jest, of course - smoking's a filthy habit). And whilst watching large numbers of music 'vidz' (as I believe the kidz tend to call them), I've noted certain recurring themes in many of the songs.

And so, for those of you out there who don't have the time to watch youth television because you're too tired, too square, or just too busy watching nature documentaries and home makeover shows, I've compiled the following list, which summarises the categories into which the vast majority of popular songs now tend to fall.

(Please note that I'm talking here about hip-hop and R'n'B. I find much urban music to be delightfully urbane, and unlike many of my contemporaries, a little bump 'n' grind doesn't make me grind my teeth.)

The categories are as follows:

  1. "I'm Best". Usually a male performer, who is at great pains to tell me about his finances, his car, his preferred brand of champagne, and his success with women. Frequently threatening various kinds of violence (such as "poppin' a cap in my ass") should I disagree, he seems very certain about his status - and good for him, I say. So few people are sure of their place in the world nowadays. Despite often performing in a street setting, he does not feel the need to close his shirt, instead preferring to show off his stomach muscles, and possibly a large pendant-style jewellery item of some sort.
  2. "We're going to do it". Again, invariably a male artist, and one who informs the listener about the physical activities he intends to enjoy with, presumably, a woman. He's in no doubt about his attractiveness - perhaps it's this confidence which the woman in question finds so appealing - and (occasionally using very strong language) he promises to maintain this 'freaking' all night long. What an energetic fellow he is. And they say youth is wasted on the young.
  3. "You are not worthy". Often female soloists or close-harmony groups, telling the listener that he is unlikely to enjoy the benefits of her love. He occupies, it seems, a lower run on the social ladder, or is from an entirely unsuitable neighbourhood, though on many occasions it seems that the 'sweet love' is being withheld due to an apparent paucity of finances, 'bling', or an outdated or inappropriately thrifty vehicle or mobile phone. These songs are often sung with what I think is termed 'sass', though they do strike me as rather alarming in their implied suggestion that a lady's favours will inevitably go to the chap with most money or material objects. The thin end of a socio-politically dangerous wedge there, I fear.
  4. "I regret my mistake". Oftentimes, this could be mistaken for a female vocal, but it is in fact a male - or chorus of males - singing falsetto. They have, it appears, lost the affections of their ladylove due to an error of judgment. All too frequently this appears to take the form of "makin' it wit' yo' best friend" or similar, or some other misdemeanour which causes one to rather empathise with the lady's decision to cease relations. However, the chap or chaps in question give the impression of regretting their foolish error, and often prove this by lamenting in the form of a slow, high-pitched song, often performed in the street, or by the sea. In the case of groups, they invariably take turns in expressing their woe, with the vocalist explaining the sense of loss, whilst the others harmonise, or appear forlorn and gaze into the middle distance.

So there you have it. A brief primer for the uninformed as to the leitmotifs in modern youth music, and I hope it helps you to appreciate the kidz' music as much as I do.

But if you'll forgive me, I must take my leave, as I need to go and patrol my hood, as I do 24/7. Big shout out to the blogreading massive.

Will someone please tell those kids to behave themselves?

Apparently not.

It takes a court agreement, it seems.

I'm guessing the kid must have got all the maturity. Seriously, I mean all of it.

If You've Just Joined Us, Welcome

I'm painfully aware that a number of new readers have been drawn to the blog due to its being linked in relation to, and as that book was very much about the funny, I shall try to hang on to that newfound audience by upping the humour content.

Hopefully that won't mean lots of self-consciously 'LOL!!!!111!!!' style posts. If we're lucky, it'll probably mean gratuitous sarcasm and sniping, plus puns. And maybe some points that actually have some kind of intellectual resonance.

No, you're right, let's not hope for too much...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Buy, Buy, Buy: Comic Relief Book Featuring Your Humble Blogger

Techie problems prevented me from posting about this sooner, which is a bit annoying as I am very excited about this (still, might be for the best, as the post I would have made at the time I found out would have been incoherently full of yays and yees)!
Bloggers publish book for Comic Relief.

100 bloggers have published a book to raise funds for the BBC's Comic Relief appeal on Friday 16th March.

'Shaggy Blog Stories' features hilarious contributions from Richard Herring of 'Fist of Fun' fame, BBC 6Music presenter Andrew Collins, comedian Emma Kennedy, and James Henry, scriptwriter from Channel Four's 'The Green Wing'.

Authors Abby Lee, David Belbin, Catherine Sanderson and The Guardian's Anna Pickard have also contributed pieces to the book.

The vast majority of contributions, however, are the work of many of the lesser known and unfamiliar heroes of British blogging; going under pen names such as Diamond Geezer, Scaryduck, Pandemian and Unreliable Witness.

Also contributing to 'Shaggy Blog Stories', and hoping to raise funds for the Comic Relief Appeal is London-based writer John Soanes.

The book is the idea of blogger Mike Atkinson who writes the 'Troubled Diva' weblog. 'Shaggy Blog Stories' features comic writing from not only the cream of British blogging, but also the best up-and-coming and undiscovered writers publishing their work on their own websites.

Giving himself a "ridiculously short" seven days from idea to finished product, Atkinson admitted that he was overwhelmed with the response, which gleaned over 300 submissions for publication.With a pool of talented writers, and the latest publishing-on-demand technology, Shaggy Blog Stories bypasses the usual snail-paced publishing industry, and offers a mail order service to customers who will receive their finished copy within days of placing their order, and only a couple of weeks after the original idea.

"Blogging creates complex, worldwide networks of friendship and contacts on the internet", says journalist Alistair Coleman, one of Shaggy Blog Stories' contributors. "By creating a buzz about this book, we can reach out to hundreds, thousands of readers who'd be willing to part with a few quid for this very good cause. Mike's got some excellent writers on board here whose work deserves a wider audience. Everybody wins."

For details of how to order the book, visit
For the background story on the creation of Shaggy Blog Stories, take a look at
...So, you’re possibly wondering, which did I contribute to this staggeringly worthwhile endeavour? I’m not gonna tell ya, nuh-uh. You’ll have to buy the book and find out.

It’s raised over £1700 as I type this, so why not buy a copy and help push that total over £2000? Given the list of other contributors, it should be a good read, and it’s for a darned good cause.

Laughter, and for a good reason? Not to be sniffed at, I'd say...

Spotted in Covent Garden on St Patrick’s Day (Sat 17th March)

Even leprechauns have to move with the times, it seems.

I like to think he was calling someone on his mobile to make sure that his pot of gold was undisturbed while he was out drinking.

Happy (belated) St Pat’s Day to all my Irish readers.

And also all the leprechauns reading this, of course.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Look at my widget. You know you want to.

Well, the niftyish box in the column to the right is the Justgiving Widget, and provides an ongoing update as to how close I am to raising the target amount in sponsorship for the London Marathon.

Clever techie stuff, yes?

Anyway, with just over 5 weeks to go, I'm not too close to the target of £1500, so if you're reading this and haven't sponsored me yet, please consider doing so...


Sacked X-Factor Judge Writes Novel...

... but cover designer decides to make it resemble another book on the shelves.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

I'd rather have a full bottle in front of me...

... than a full frontal lobotomy, as the saying goes.

Anyway, this is something I saw and took a (slightly blurry) picture of this evening, at the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, here in the ever-fascinating city that I call home.

Two people dressed as bottles of Corona lager, complete with slices of lime.

On a Thursday evening in London, with shoppers and traffic passing by, as if nothing unusual was occurring. Naturally.

Monday, March 05, 2007

LINK: Kopyright Liberation

Conservative MPs David Cameron and Boris Johnson were, it turns out, members of The Bullingdon Club. This group for toffs has something of a reputation for drunken property destruction, and a number of newspapers recently printed a picture showing the group as it was when they were members.

For reasons which I’m not entirely clear on – they might be political or financial, both or neither – the owners of the photo have now stated it shouldn’t be used by the media.

Which, in the days of the interweb, is more easily said than done - here is a copy of the picture, as stored on the Flickr website by writer James Henry (whose blog is always worth a look, in my opinion).

Crikey, this www lark’s certainly one in the eye for the man, isn’t it?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

REVIEW: Wicked

This musical has been playing in London for a while now, after being very well received in the USA. This is a slightly belated review, as I saw it on Valentine's Day - as any cheapskate in a relationship will tell you, nothing says romance like Black Magic. Ahem.

Given that a large number of musicals currently playing in London are based on the work of well-known groups (Abba, Queen, Boney M), or on known plotlines (Mary Poppins, the Lion King, Spamalot), Wicked arguably swims against the current tide, as it's a new story... albeit one linked to an established franchise; it tells the history of the Witches in L Frank Baum's Oz series.

The green-skinned Elphaba (hope I've spelled that right - it's meant to be derived from the first syllables of Baum's name), who eventually becomes the wicked Witch, and her opposite Glinda the Good, are shown as having known each other since an early age. However, instead of Elphaba being evil from the start and Glinda as nice as pie all along, things are shown to be a fair bit more complicated - and it's hard not to sympathise with the way Elphaba turns... well, yes, to the Dark Side.

And that phrase, and its inevitable associations, fits - there are several very good moments when events slot into place, creating circumstances and characters that are recognisable from the Wizard of Oz film, and the neat way that things come about creates an appropriate sense of sickening inevitability - notable by its absence from the recent Star Wars 'prequels', I feel, though both sought to tell the tale of a good person turning bad.

In fact, the 'prequel' description is rather inaccurate, as Wicked provides not only the history of various characters in the known Oz story, but it runs alongside it and indeed continues after Dorothy's departure, showing new takes on known events, so in its way the story is more of an extrapolation or revelation of unseen events (in the same Tom Stoppard's 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead' shows us more about the two characters from Hamlet, and the events run alongside the play by that Shaxbard chap).

But, you're probably asking by now, is it any good? The answer, to my mind, is a definite yes. The music's strong - particularly when it comes to Elphaba's songs of upset and annoyance ('Defying Gravity' and 'No Good Deed Goes Unpunished' are ones which stick in my mind even a fortnight later), and the staging is very good indeed - as you can see from the photo above, there's a mechanical dragon which looms over the stage (and occasionally does more than merely loom), Oz the Great and Terrible looks both of those things, and the final part of the first half was so effectively done it sent a tingle down my spine . The cast - of whom I'll freely admit I only recognised Miriam 'Caramel Bunny' Margolyes - all put in sturdy performances, and all showed that they could belt out a tune and hold a note where it was required (what is technically known as 'singing'. I think), and deliver a sad line or joke as well.

Given that it has plot elements of a phoney war, manufactured scapegoats, and victimised minorities, it'd be all too easy to suggest that Wicked is influenced by the events of 11 September 2001, but as the novel (by Gregory Maguire) upon which the musical was based was written in 1995, I don't know how much stock I'd put in that sort of claim. Then again, page and stage are very different places, so maybe there's something to it. Regardless, the way that things in Oz are shown to have a darker side is cleverly done.

You have to bear in mind that I don't like musicals (simple reason for that: I'm all about the story, and most musicals either ignore story as much as possible [Show Boat*], or seem all too willing to let the tale grind to a halt to shoehorn in another song'n'dance number [Chicago*]), but I found this a lot of fun - it's good to look at, and the music is solid, and the story's interesting. Definitely recommended, and in what may be a first for me, a musical that I would happily see again.

*Yes, I've seen both of these. A previous employer took me (and various clients) to see them as part of a corporate evening out. So I speak from experience - those are two evenings of my life I won't be getting back.