Sunday, April 29, 2007

Unoriginal Soundtrack

There’s a lot of fun to be had whilst traveling in London, and my newest hobby is listening to the music which other passengers play through their mobile phones.

Now, some might say that playing mp3s through a speaker half the size of a postage stamp (with all the tinniness of a 1970s transistor radio blaring out Radio 1 on Medium Wave) is rather rude. An intrusion, perhaps, on the private space of other passengers, challenging them to say something and risk making a scene.

I disagree. It’s free music – plus, you have to conclude that the person playing the music, doesn’t think it’s a tube or bus journey, oh no, uh-uh. Your trip, obviously, is a music video. Yes, all the other passengers are extras in the drama of their lives, and so it needs a soundtrack.

There is, of course, a bit of a worry in that much of this music is utterly inappropriate to travelling – most of it’s hip-hop or R&B, in my experience – which rather suggests that the player of the music is perhaps trying to do too much, and even attempting to change their whole environment.

You see, most of the videos accompanying these songs take place at dimly-lit parties in spacious homes, on beaches where thong-wearing women shake their booty, or in clubs with migraine-inducing lightshows and glass-topped bars. Those are just examples, but my point is: these videos rarely take place on public transport.

Granted, some of them feature open-topped cars or limousines cruising along the streets, but they are – correct me if I’m wrong – not set on the number 30 bus, or a Northern Line tube. So playing the soundtrack to suggest that you see the bus journey as something from 50 Cent’s film, or a Jay-Z video, is a bit off the mark, isn’t it ?

In fact, it’s a bit delusional really, and I do rather worry that by playing music which doesn’t even vaguely match with the immediate setting, these folks might (even subconsciously) make themselves aware of how their life isn’t actually at all like that of their musical idols. And that might make them feel a little sad.

Then again, the vast majority of other passengers had probably already concluded that these phone-toting folks were pretty sad anyway, though for rather different reasons.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Other Intelligent Magazines Are Available

If you can't get enough of my wordsmithing, you might want to make your way to a newsagent and buy the latest edition of the Fortean Times (issue 223, coverdate June 2007), in which I have a review published on page 62.

No, I'm not going to tell you what I'm reviewing, you'll have to buy the magazine to find out. Not that you'll find that a punitive thing, it's always a good read.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Girls Who Love Boys Who Do Boys Who Think Stray Thoughts

1. Given their output and its success, it occurs to me that the TV production company Kudos might well be the modern equivalent of ITC. Whaddaya think?

2. Bored? Then why not recite the opening chant of Toni Basil's 'Mickey'over the start of Avril Lavigne's new single 'Girlfriend'? I think you'll find it a perfect match, though I'm not necessarily saying it's an ideal use of your time.

3. Very frighteningly, the Home Secretary has warned that the UK could be subject to an electrical attack from terrorists. No more details appeared to be forthcoming, but as the reference was made in a speech in which he justified the budget for the Home Office, I'm sure it was honest and true and not just scaremongering. In fact, thinking about it, I distinctly recall watching a documentary about just such an attack being launched on London,which gave more detail about the mechanics of an electrical attack than the Home Secretary. The documentary, I seem to recall, was called Goldeneye.

4. Quite a lot of reviews of the new series of Peep Show (currently running on Channel 4) have referred to it being tainted by the advertisements which the stars did for Apple computers. I've seen a couple of billboard posters for these, but as they have a web address at the bottom, and I'm not willing to actually do the advertisers' work for them, I haven't seen any of the ads. And nor am I interested in seeing them (though I gather they run as cinema adverts as well, but generally I try to avoid adverts as much as possible). Consequently, my viewing of Peep Show (which I like a lot) is unaffected by knowledge of the cast's work in adverts. A little knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing, it seems, or at least a fun-spoiling thing. And incidentally, I didn't see as much scorn poured on Olivia 'Sophie in Peep Show' Colman for her role in the AA adverts a couple of years ago... but perhaps some kind of chivalry is at work here? How gallant.

5. I'm sure many of you want to audition to be a new member of the PussycatDolls. Well, here is the form for you to enter the reality show to do so. Good luck in becoming a member of their poledanci- er, I mean burlesque group.

6. The Columbine shootings, of course, were the fault of Marilyn Manson. The film Old Boy was to blame for the Virginia Tech killings, apparently. Certainly easier to blame music and film for it, rather than face the more complicated possibility that lax gun control and a diminished sense of community and social responsibility might be involved. And here, Christopher Hitchens shows a restraint and objectivity about the event which is as welcome to me as it is absent from the general reporting and reaction. A terrible thing to have happened, but it is not made any better by thinking at anything less than our highest level of intelligence about it. Indeed, that's just the sort of thinking which is needed to prevent it happening again.

7. And of course the UK entry for the Eurovision Song Contest this year won't win. The song by Scooch is such a cynically deliberate attempt to play up the camp cheesiness which has become 'ironically' associated with Eurovision in recent years, it deserves to get slated, or better ignored.Particularly since last year's winner was so utterly unlikely (and, let's be fair, did rock a fair bit), and unlike a typical Eurovision song. Pah. It's Jemini all over again, isn't it ?

REVIEW: Avenue Q

This musical's been running in London for about eight months now, I think, since crossing the Atlantic. As long-time readers of the blog may recall, I have an aversion to musicals, though this has been rather diluted by positive experiences in recent times...

...and Avenue Q was another good musical. Touted as South Park meets Sesame Street, it's the frankly silly tale of a puppet called Princeton moving onto the titular (stop that, it's a real word) street, where he meets other puppets such as Kate Monster and the Bad Idea Bears (their motto: "More drinks! More fun! Yaaaay!"), and humans including Gary Coleman (yes, he of Diff'rent Strokes fame, though not played by the real chap). And that's pretty much it in terms of plot, really.

Which isn't a problem at all, it rolls along cheerfully with songs called 'Everyone's A Little Bit Racist Sometimes' and 'The Internet Is For Porn',and a lot of jokes, and even the odd dance number, not to mention a frankly torrid bedroom scene featuring two of the puppets. It's a lot of fun, and technically a hell of an achievement as well - the puppeteers are also the voice performers, with several of them playing multiple characters, which sometimes means that there are scenes where they're having conversations with themselves, but this just makes it all the more impressive, to my mind.

The songs are amusing, and they're well sung, and the interaction between the characters and puppeteers alike is frequently very funny indeed (once or twice I think they were laughing themselves).They're currently running a weeknight deal on tickets for the show, with prices as low as £10. We had these tickets, and they bumped us up to the Stalls, which meant we had a great view, probably one that should have cost three times as much, and who's to say that isn't likely to happen to you? Could well be the case, and certainly worth the gamble, I'd say.

In case it isn't clear yet, Avenue Q is a good night out, and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

London Marathon 2007

So, then, this is what I've been going on about for months. It took place last Sunday (22 April). This is going to be a fairly self-indulgent and lengthy post, really, so be prepared.

It was, as you may well know, the hottest London Marathon in its history,and apparently over 5000 people needed treatment by the medical folk on the route, but I was lucky in that I didn't need a stretcher or anything like that. I was rather lacking a stretch, though - all right, I'll explain.

As you may well know, I live in East London, so it shouldn't have been a problem to get to Greenwich. It was, though, as the DLR broke down and was suspended - as this press release concedes, though I'd dispute the claim staff were on hand to help, they were notably absent at Canary Wharf.

Anyway, I, like many other people, had to go to another station and get another train, all of which ate up my cleverly-and-indeed-thankfully-included extra time, and so I arrived at the park in Greenwich at about 9.40, five minutes before the start.

I pinned on my race number 43842 (for just one day I was not a free man, I was a number), slung my kit bag onto the truck allocated to take it to the finishing line (handy), and started to make my way towards the Red Starting line. It was, by then, gone 9.45, and so I had to join the end of the crowds without time for a proper stretch. Yes, that was bright.

Anyway, I got under way at a steady old pace, and was chugging along okay -quite emotional over London Bridge (doesn't matter how often I see the landmarks of this city, they always fill me with a childlike glee), and even felt all right at the point where the course loops back on itself and you take the psychological hit of seeing runners coming the other way, knowing they're about eight miles ahead of you (rather demotivating, so I tried to look away).

As I drew close to Canary Wharf, though, I ... well, I guess I hit 'the wall', though it felt more like a blood sugar crash (prior to training for the London Marathon, a frequent occurrence in my life, after breakfasts of waffles and maple syrup), so I stopped running, and walked a bit. Still pretty speedy walking, and I wasn't breaking either of my rules for distance running (no stopping, no slashing).

I'd completed the half-Marathon in March in just under 2.5 hours (and that involved running in strong wind and hail), so thought that I should be able to complete the full thing in something like five hours at most. Maybe it wasthe heat, maybe the walking wasn't as fast as I thought, but as I came past the Tower of London on the home-ish stretch, it was well over five hours,and obvious to me that I'd have to get a move on to finish in under six hours. Hmph, but better than not completing at all - a reality for many runners who I saw being helped by the St John's Ambulance people. So I tried to get a move on.

And get a bit of a move on I did, past the ever-increasing crowds (whose shouts of encouragement to others made me wish I'd had room to put my name on the front of my running vest as opposed to the back), through the frankly surreal Blackfriars Underpass, where the hundreds (thousands?) of discarded Lucozade Sport sachets created a weird grotto-like underlighting, and on to the Embankment, along to Big Ben.

I'd been listening to comedy stuff most of the way round - a good distraction from niggles and twinges and the lazy voice at the back of thehead reminding me of how I don't actually HAVE to run a marathon - but as I came to the Houses of Parliament, I pressed the button on my music player to switch on my favourite running accompaniment: 'Two Tribes' by Frankie Goes To Hollywood (the Annihilation Mix, I think), and I got my second wind.Well, 79th wind, maybe, but you know what I mean.

And so I chugged round the last mile or two at a good pace, even overtaking some people, which was a bit of a boost for my ego, and then I turned the corner in front of Buck House and saw the Finishing line, about 200m ahead of me. It's often hardest when the end is in sight, and this certainly felt like the case here, and the last few weary steps felt a bit like that thing in dreams where you're trying to run away but can't, but I knew I was moving as I could see it on the big screens by the side of the Finish.

Then I was over the line, and they removed my timing chip (it was laced onto my shoe, and means they can track when I passed the start and finish lines) and gave me a medal and a goody bag and then I realised that oh my goodness me I really had done the London Marathon. A full third slower than I'd hoped, but it was done nonetheless, and I felt really rather emotional about the whole thing. Which had taken me 5 hours and 52 mins. Crikey.

And then the love of my life met me in the Runners Meet and Greet Area and hugged me and kissed me and said she was proud of me and took me home for a cup of tea and a large slice of chocolate cake which she'd made specially...but that's a tale for another time, if ever.

So, in short order, the smiley and frowny aspects:

  • Finishing it. Growing up, I was more cerebral than physical (not that you'd know from my online nonsense), and so running the London Marathon is something I would not have foreseen myself doing. So that's one in the eye for my past self, or something.
  • Not getting seriously injured or anything like that - sunburn on my forehead, yes, and some definite chafing of my thighs, but my nipples remained resolutely un-frictioned.
  • Finishing, I later found out, mere seconds behind Floella Benjamin,one of my childhood TV icons. Didn't see her, didn't talk to her, didn't even know about it until the next day, but it amused me nonetheless.
  • The atmosphere. The cliché is true, it's a very jolly event, with people lining the route, and music blaring from pubs and bands by the side of the road.
  • The woman who was in front of me for several miles having her name on her T-shirt, and that name being the same as that of my beloved, so that members of the crowd would shout out her name, and remind me of who was waiting for me at the end of it.
  • My friend Chris running alongside me for 200 yards when I failed to spot him and his family. Oops, but it was great to have a familiar face keep pace with me. Thanks, matey!
  • The medal. It's a sturdy thing, and something for the grandkids to flog on eBay when I'm wormfood.
  • The chap dressed as Indiana Jones who was being 'pursued' by a boulder all the way round. I saw him and wondered if it was some kind of reverse Sisyphus thing (see, even at 20-odd miles my mythological knowledge remains as good as that of ... er, Indiana Jones), and then realised what it was. Very classy.
  • The lady in the crowd who handed me three jelly babies just at the time I needed it most - when my blood sugar levels had dropped like a stone.What a nice sort she was.
  • The kids in the crowd who stuck out their hands to be 'high-fived'by passing runners. Even, to my great and utterly immature amusement, by the man running for a leprosy charity.
  • The priest outside the Catholic church in Greenwich who sprinkled water on us as we passed by. I resisted the temptation to fall to my knees, screaming 'aaaaaarrrgh! Curse you, Nazarene!', as he was smiling in a frankly chummy fashion.
  • St John's Ambulance folks for being there when needed. Not by me,but every time I passed a prone person on a stretcher under a space blanket,I knew that it could easily have been me...


  • The chap who died shortly after completing the Marathon. Young man,and a fitness instructor, I hear, which must have meant it was even more of a shock for his family. That is very nasty.
  • DLR, obviously, for screwing up on the day as they did. Doesn't bode well for the Olympics, does it?
  • Taking as long as I did. Ah well.
  • The bloke carrying round a cross. Just plain creepy, I felt - and I think having bottles of water strapped to the underside of the horizontal bar rather undermined the point, to be honest.
  • On which theme, the people outside churches who were shouting at us as we passed by. I think they were exhorting us to stop, and redirect our efforts towards God, or something. Which made me wonder why they didn't stop shouting at strangers and go and help in a soup kitchen or something, but there you go.
  • Discovering - the next day - that I'd been slower than Nell McAndrew. I'd been expecting that, as she's a known runner, but I was slower than Nell when she was running the Marathon WITH HER MUM. A good 20 minutes slower than them, I gather. Boy, that looks bad, doesn't it ?
  • Realising from the T-shirts of my fellow runners just how many charities there are. I can't help but wish there were fewer charities because they were not needed...

Which brings me to the inevitable end point of this entry, and one you're probably sick of me making by now, oh good and faithful readers, but I think you'll understand if I say it once more with feeling: if you haven't yet sponsored me for the Marathon, please, PLEASE think about doing so - there's a totaliser (like on Blue Peter) on the right hand side of this page, and if you click on it you can go straight to my sponsor page (which I'll see if I can update to reflect the fact that I've completed it), which is all safe and secure and saves me hassling you for money in person.

If you need proof I did it, of course, drop me a line at, and I'll be happy to send you a thumbnail of me with the medal, just after I'd crossed the finishing line. But do be aware that such a request does mean you have to sponsor me at least £10, for doubting me in such a cruel and hurtful way. Sniff.

So, don't make me cry - sponsor me.... Ta!


Not often I get to use two of my self-created categories in one post title, but anyway, this is a review I did recently for Waterstones.

They sent me the book free, and I got to keep it, which rather made me feel I could have been more positive about the book, but that would have been dishonest. I'm not scathing about the book, but as you can tell, it's not something I recommend you bother with.

LINKS: Superman and Super-Soldier

Superman died in 1993. Kryptonite is discovered in 2007. Surely some mistake?

Captain America died in 2007. But was arrested shortly thereafter. Shurely shome mishtake?

He's Alive! He's Not Dead! Alive? Yes! Dead? No! He's A-live!*

Yes, it HAS been a while, hasn't it?

Still, I have lots of reasons - the main ones being that I was out of the country for some time, and thus away from the keyboard, and the other being the last session of the marathon training, which I like to think was narratively foreshadowed by the incessant references to it here, so please don't pretend to be surprised.

So, the break is over, and as I should now - at least in theory - find myself with a bit more spare time on my hands, I'll see about posting more often.
Therefore, a deep breath... hold ... and onwards.

*With apologies to Chris Morris and the DTI

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Not nice to see you, it seems

Now, I appreciate that not everyone cares for the talents of Bruce Forsyth, but this sign near Hyde Park does seem a bit heavy-handed.