Monday, January 29, 2007


Hello, I'm down in London at the moment, sitting in an Internet cafe (except they don't serve any drinks or basic bakery items atall). It was meant to be a pleasurable weekend - see the family, take in a few sights, visit a couple of exhibitions I had marked down... but due to a vehicular breakdown on the M11 southbound on Friday night the whole episode has been reduced to a hideous mess. I've been spending all the time trying to sort it out. Nightmare. So I'm stuck in London, but not actually able to do any of the things that make a trip to London worthwhile. Definitely the worth of boast worlds.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Don't You Know Your Left From Your Right?

It's Thursday night and I've been steadily making my way through the Sunday newspaper, which is how I think it should be. Sunday newspapers are like big dossiers you can leave lying around on the kitchen table all week and just dip into whenever it takes your fancy. So long as you've cleared it all away by the next Sunday, it's fine. Anyway, I've been reading the long featured extract from Nick Cohen's new book in The Observer, and it's left me a little bit agitated.

It's called 'What's Left?: How Liberals Lost Their Way' and is all about what Cohen views as the liberal left's loss of direction and hypocrisy, specifically relating to the (last) Iraq war. In short, he says that those involved in the modern day anti-war movement were, and are, contradicting all of their liberal values by opposing the invasion. Opposition which equated to supporting a fascist regime stay in power. He blames a dogmatic 'anti-Americanism' for distorting the left's sense of direction and identity, and for causing it to find strange bedfellows with militant Islam as a result. Liberals don't know their left from their right, he says.

In opposing war on Iraq I always had inner tensions surrounding Saddam Hussein - as everyone would have done. He was a despicable tyrant, and someone Iraq would be far better off without. That much goes without saying. But what Cohen elects to paint as 'anti-war = pro-Saddam' is utter piffle. For someone with over twenty years' journalistic experience at a top level he gives a remarkably two-dimensional, black and white picture. A million people didn't march through the streets of London to demonstrate their support for the Baath Party. And neither did they do it through some overly simplistic anti-American agenda, where any enemy of the US is 'the left's friend'. That's a cheap shot wheeled out time and time again by neo-Cons. The London demonstration, and all the others across the world on the same day, was full of people simply outraged at the blatant hypocrisy of an imperial hegemon using unilateral power to muscle its way into an area long identified as a strategic battleground, both militarily and economically, as part of its 'New American Century'. All justified with what appeared to be a set of exaggerated intelligence claims. Claims which now, of course, we know were just plain false.

What Cohen omits from his book - or at least the extracts in The Observer - are the 650,000 Iraqis killed as a result of Bush's playground antics. Three thousand American soldiers, and 130 British troops. The completely botched aftermath that's plunged a country into effective civil war, rendering the streets far more hostile and divided than under Saddam's regime. Increased resentment of the west across the Arab world. All the things many on the left saw coming all along, and warned against. I'm not for a minute trying to suggest there were any simple answers from the beginning, but maybe, just maybe, those who opposed the war did so after attempting to properly understand the complexities of the country we were about to storm into, and by listening to the international warnings from experts about the dangers involved. A bit of thought and understanding. Just a few of the things the American neo-Cons would clearly have benefitted from trying in the first place. It wasn't anything to do with knowing your left from your right - it was about knowing a dire, unwinnable battle being fought on false pretenses when you see one.

Nick Cohen article

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Middlesbrough 5 Bolton Wanderers 1

Hallelujah. The first time we've thrashed anyone in... ages.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Parent's Privilege

It's funny how people treat other people differently sometimes, based on totally irrelevant things. I did a couple of days' babysitting at the start of the week for my nephew Tom (9 months), and while taking him out on a walk in his pram (or 'buggy', as modern day parents seem intent on calling them) I noticed a distinct difference in attitude towards me from strangers. People look at you differently if you're pushing a pram, and tend to narrow their eyes more as you pass them on the pavement, especially women. It's very strange. People even rush to hold doors open for you, or stop their cars in the middle of the road under no obligation and give a wave to let you cross. It's as if the world is a much better place and full of far nicer people when you're a parent. In fact the only real downside to it all is you often have to walk much further just to get about, such as an extra 20 yards to use the lowered pavement ramp things and cross the road.

At first I thought all the niceness was probably a case of the child worship syndrome that's so prevalent in society. But as it went on, it seemed to be more and more a case of parent worship syndrome. I suppose they're all making the obvious leap of judgement that I'm the father - which amuses me no end. They're probably surprised that such a fine, strapping young chap has given his life away at such a tender age and devoted himself to parenthood. And then they probably think how different I look to your average Dad in his early-20s. I had both hands on the 'handlebars'. No fag in my mouth or Adidas poppers swamping my legs. (I hope I'm purveying enough stereotypes here). It's as if they're somehow rewarding me for my good deed of bringing another person into the world by generally being nicer than they normally would. Mind you, there is something in it for them in return too; many of the women who held doors open for me seemed to see it as a qualification for them to sneak a peek into the pram for a quick glimpse of the special child. Piss off! Get your own kid.

I think it's sad that it takes becoming a father to recieve basic good manners from strangers in the street. What difference does it make? All of their little smiles as you pass them are like silent congratulatory cries of "yes! you're capable of impregnation!" "Whoo, you're not impotent!" I'm glad I turned their twisted manners systems on their head by keeping up the lie of being a parent for two whole days. I hope it'd really mess them up mentally if they were to ever somehow find out I was only the uncle. These people need teaching a lesson. Be consistent, make your mind up - you're either nice to everyone without prejudice, or you're just not nice atall.

NB: Except other people's parents, who you always have to be a little bit nicer to than you would be to anyone else. It just seems to be the rule.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Big Dill at the Sage

Last night I had an appointment with meandering harpist extraordinaire Joanna Newsom at Sage Gateshead.

I was expecting the concert to be something special and it certainly didn't fall short. She first engulfed me when her latest album 'Ys' was released a couple of months ago, full of these long, bizarre, and beautiful tracks played on harp and backed up with stunning orchestral arrangements from Van Dyke Parks, the composer and Brian Wilson collaborator. On this small UK tour she's been backed up by the full Northern Sinfonia orchestra to replicate the full experience in a live setting. And this setting was perfect; Sage is notorious for its superb acoustics. I went with Ed and we took our seats just as the support, Alisdair Roberts, was starting his set of enchanting Scottish folk.

From the point when the Northern Sinfonia piled onstage and Newsom followed and sat astride her big massive harp, it was spellbinding. Like nothing I'd witnessed before. I find it quite hard to describe it - all you could do was try and take everything in as it happened and I think it'll be another few days before it's all sunk in properly. She played 'Ys' in its entirity in the first half, and it was just fascinating to watch a full orchestra in action, and playing songs you're familiar with. All of the different parts, stopping and starting - it brought the tracks even more to life than just listening to the album. Where they're pretty full of life to start with. And her voice sounded amazing.

View from the very top (taken during the interval)

After the interval she mostly played alone, except for a few songs where she was joined by her two bandmates. She did a mixture of songs from her first album 'The Milk-Eyed Mender', traditional folk songs and one new one, which seemed to take a different direction. Despite the lack of the orchestra and this second part being more low key, it was just as captivating. In some ways more so, watching how she worked the harp and got so many different sounds out of it. The whole night really was an education for me.

If you're wondering who she is, watch this video of probably her 'best known' song, from her first album: Joanna Newsom - The Sprout And The Bean

Monday, January 15, 2007

Unibond 07

I think I've had more special social engagements between the Christmas period and now than I've had in the previous twelve months put together. The obvious danger with such a lifestyle is that you become some kind of socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson figure, and your whole life is reduced to a succession of parties and meets 'n' greets, with little time left for essential mind maintenance or nurturing of the soul. These events have all been very enjoyable, but it's time to retreat a bit now. I've missed spending time alone in my bedroom, if truth be told.

I was back down in Nottingham over the weekend for Unibond 07 (Vol. 1). This reunion was mainly based around a footballing extravaganza, and was thus a bit of a testosterone festival as twelve young male adults hung about together exchanging various statements of football-related bravado. With hindsight, some of them were ill-advised. Our 33 Johnson Road 2003-2004 (plus Twed) side was crushed by a hotch potch Rest Of Lenton VI at the JJB Soccerdome at Pride Park in Derby. I would put some photos up, but I didn't take any, so tough. The final score was the year before the start of the First World War. It's been a while since I last played, so I badly underperformed, and needless to say I'll be taking a long hard look at myself in the mirror over the next few days (it can take an age to shave and moisturise sometimes). Almost 48 hours later, I'm still aching in parts of my body I didn't even know existed. On Saturday evening we all went out for a nice meal and a bar stroll, and we must've looked like a stag do at times. Anyway, it was very nice to see all the people I don't see very often anymore, all together in one place.

Token bird Anna turned up on Sunday afternoon to join me, Toby, Mark, Bob and Deano for a clear-the-cobwebs stroll in the oft-ignored Wollaton Park. Oft-ignored by me anyway; I'd never even been to it in three years of living just down the road. It was pretty much like most other parks anyway. Bit of grass, a few trees, a lake, some stags - you know the drill.

One other exciting development this weekend was that Toby presented me with a copy of the new Patrick Wolf album, 'The Magic Position', which has sadly leaked onto the Internet. It's a big thing for me, considering the album was the thing I was most looking forward to in 2007. When I arrived to stay at Toby's penthouse flat on Friday night the first thing we did was lie prostrate for 41 minutes and listen all the way through, passing occasional comments. I think I'll comment on it fully later in the week when I've listened to it alone in a dimly lit room enough times so that it can infiltrate my soul fully. But I will say now it's got many instantly brilliant moments, particularly the title track which is four minutes of totally natural, perfect pop that can't fail to make you smile inside.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Ticket scramble

Tickets for Arcade Fire's UK tour went on sale 12 minutes ago, and are now sold out. But thanks to Welford's speedy fingers on Ticketmaster at the other end of a phoneline while I watched various other ticket websites crash amid the demand, we've been secured admission billets for Manchester Apollo on March 9th. I've never seen them live before, so it's about time I did. I expect it to be quite a life affirming occasion. I think I can feel a jitterbug coming on.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bye bye Fletch

Alan Fletcher a.k.a. Neighbours' Karl Kennedy was voted off Soapstar Superstar last night. It was (almost sadly) the only bit of the whole series I saw, so I'd missed all of his previous performances. However, a quick YouTube search has delivered this horrendous rendition of 'Faith' from last week. The best bit about the video is all the classic Karl Kennedy Neighbours clips during the interview bit at the start. Susan's slap is a personal favourite. What an exceptional actor and an exeptional man he is.

"Mr Kennedy..."
"It's Doctor, actually."

Although that song is quite, quite bad, I can't go without mentioning the fact that the time I saw him live in Nottingham still ranks in the Top 13 Moments Of My Life To Date. He was absolutely mesmerising, what with his mix of rabble rousing popular pub hit covers, his own hideous songs, and a belting version of Reef's 'Place Your Hands' to finish off with. Which he sang as if it was the greatest song ever written. The only thing is, I think he genuinely believes he's a legend (which he is, but he shouldn't be allowed to know), and that everyone who flocks to see him stamp about Australian themed bars goes because it's him, rather than Karl Kennedy, on stage before them. I bet he really expected to win Soapstar Superstar. But still, I suppose we should just be grateful he has chosen to share his talents with us atall.

I took this quite frankly beautiful photograph of him:

(It was the night Liverpool won the Champions League, and he's 'a fan'.)

Click here for the rest, taken by Toby.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

'Every spark of friendship and love will die without a hope'

So Colin Murray does serve a purpose after all. I was just listening to part of his Radio 1 show and he played a track from the new album from Arcade Fire, who are splendiferous. I find it quite stunning - epic, with a grandiose pipe organ all the way through and that typical Arcade Fire head nod-yness. I've uploaded a radio mp3 of it to yousendit so you can download it if you so wish. Ignore Zane Lowe at the end, he's an arse. Although possibly a correct arse on this occasion.

Arcade Fire - Intervention

I can't wait for the new album in March. If it's just twelve fifteenths as good as Funeral it'll be worth skipping out to buy.

Another boring 'what I did' post

I went to Hull for the first time since I was ten years old on Saturday. That was when my sister lived there for a bit and I specifically remember being taken ice skating which, needless to say, was shite. This time it was in aid of supporting Boro, which needless to say, is... ah no, it's great really.

Hull is a bit like Middlesbrough lifted up into the sky, carried 109 miles south on a brisk wind, and then dropped onto the ground but dispersed more widely. So yeah, pretty good. We arrived about midday and parked up at the Infirmary (which looks like a more vertically-stretched version of the hospital in Garth Marenghi's Darkplace) and walked into the city centre for some pre-match drinks in the Admiral Of The Humber. There'd been lots of chat and hyperbole beforehand about 'trouble' between the two sets of fans, but obviously I wasn't going to get caught up in any of that. But the strange thing was I hardly saw a Hull fan all day. We could see lots of people sitting in their end during the match, but they may have been paid actors. The pub we were in was full of Boro fans, and all the way along the road to the ground I only seemed to see Boro fans. So it really was like Middlesbrough (so yeah, pretty good).

Semi-humourously, and semi-horrifically, our troupe of eight ended up sitting on the very front row with an appalling view.

It was good if the action was down at our end, but if it went up the other end it was like trying to watch a Subbuteo match being played at the other end of a long corridor while peering over the top step of a staircase. From behind a mesh net, and peering round the goalie. Anyway, we took the lead with only 15 minutes left but conspired to end up drawing, which means a replay (because it's the FA Cup, non-footy types). Sadly I can't be present for that because it collides with my date with enchanting harp vixen Joanna Newsom at Gateshead Sage. I can't quite decide which will be the more magical occasion. Elongated fairytales of childhood innocence played on a harp and backed up by a full orchestra, or Middlesbrough vs Hull on a damp Tuesday night? You'd be surprised possibly... But I'm actually a little bit annoyed because it'll be the first Boro home league or cup game I've missed for a couple of years.

Speaking of gigs, after the match in Hull I drove like the wind back home in time to catch a train so I could go and see Das Wanderlust in Stockton. They are an excellent Teesside-based quirky fuck-pop band, and were joined by a similarly splendid band from Leeds called Cowtown, who I'd never heard of before, and long-standing cult Middlesbrough purveyors of props, Shrug. All good stuff, and an extremely entertaining evening. I didn't stop smiling. Honest.

PS: Those hard-hitting social commentary posts coming soon.

Friday, January 05, 2007

To pay or not to pay?

That is not even a question. I was having breakfast in Durham this afternoon with two friends on our way back from Sunderland, where we went out last night with Lav and Laura. I can't name the two friends, because to do so may harm one of their reputations when I say what I'm about to say. We've all seen the national witch hunts that can result from hysterical News of The World-style 'naming and shamings', and I wouldn't want anything similar to result from Never In All My Life.

Having devoured my nice, warm BLT baguette (replete with tea for one), the bill arrived and it transpired that our waitress had only charged us for two of them instead of three. Without hesitation, myself and Person 'J' said that we would tell her of the mistake. But an interjection from Person 'W' claimed it would be a foolish move to do so, along the lines of some flimsy rationale that it was the cafe's mistake and incompetence that led to the shortfall, and wasn't our problem. As it happened, the waitress realised her mistake and brought over an extra receipt while we were discussing the matter.

I've had arguments on points like this on numerous occasions when similar things have happened in recent years. Of course, as imperfect humans, the temptation to just get up and leave without paying what you owe is there for us all. We could use the money for personal treats, such as packets of Chewits or Kim Tate action figures. But it's a task and should be a duty to do what you know is the right thing. It's not about wishy washy 'morality', a goody-two-shoes act, or taking the high ground. I just think that we've got so little control over our human makeup and 'natural instincts', and when these rare opportunities arise in life that we can actually positively exert our character through learned principles of fairness and honesty, we should take them. Nobody is perfect, and we've all done things we probably shouldn't have in the past, and will again in the future. I think it's different when you know what the right thing to do is, and just choose not to do it. Anybody remotely interested in the advancement and evolution of the human species would've willingly paid for that bloody baguette.

This example is obviously very small-fry in the grand scheme of things, and I'll admit the tone of this post is slightly tongue-in-cheek. I said I'd name and shame Person 'W' on here, but then decided I wouldn't. And then decided I would again. But it's about a wider principle for me. Living our lives honestly and fairly - at least to the best of our capabilities - will serve us all well in the long run. It really is the best policy. Otherwise, the temporary and fleeting gains we're rewarded with are easily outweighed by a long-term realisation that you're a real bastard deep down.

Money cant buy back your youth when youre old
A friend, when youre lonely, or peace to your soul.
The wealthiest person is a pauper at times
Compared to the man with a satisfied mind.


First of all, you are fat. You are ugly. Your breath stinks. You are unpopular. Your car sucks. Your house sucks. Your life sucks.

You are not witty. You are not smart. You are ignorant. You are stupid. You will never make it in this world. You are unpopular. You will never amount to anything. You are nothing. Your wife is smarter than you.

Your diet is poor. You have low self-esteem. You have cellulite. You have ugly toenails. You have blackheads. You have body hair where it just shouldn’t be. Your eyeballs are not white enough. Your teeth are not white enough.

Secondly, you are fat. You should go on a diet. You should eat more hamburgers. Your tits are not big enough. Your tits are too small. Your tits aren’t small enough or big enough. Your dick is too small. Your nose isn’t right. Your ass is too big. You should make yourself sick. You should eat more hamburgers.

Your dress sense sucks. You have no style. You are one of the crowd. You are a follower. You are a freak. You don’t fit in. You are a lah-hoo-ser. You have no charisma. You are not sexy enough. Your favorite band sucks. Your favorite brand sucks. Your clothes suck. Your shoes suck. You are retarded.

You don’t have enough money. You should work harder. You don’t have enough things. You are unhappy. You need more. You are unsatisfied. You are not moving forward. You are not keeping up the pace. You are lagging behind. You are one step behind the rest.

You are doing it all wrong. You need to change. You need to see that change is good. You need to follow us. You need to be individual. You need to fit in. You need to think outside the square. You need to stand out. You need to know the rules. You need to know the secrets. You should be yourself.

Thirdly, you are fat. Your legs wobble too much. Your teeth are crooked. Your face is wrong. You are not thin enough. You are too thin. You need to eat more hamburgers.
You are lactose intolerant. You are iron deficient. Your cholesterol is too high. Your calcium level is too low. Your blood pressure is too high. Your iron level is too low. You need to get liposuction. You need to lose weight. You suffer from premature ejaculation. You are far too dependant on drugs. You need to buy more drugs.

You are bipolar. You have attention deficit hyperactive disorder. You have post-traumatic stress disorder. You suffer from depression. You are manic. You are not happy enough. You suffer from road rage. You suffer split-personality disorders. You suffer marriage problems. You are not right. You need to buy more drugs. You suffer from generalized anxiuety disorder. You need to buy more drugs.

You should stop smoking. You should buy more cigarettes. You should stop smoking. You will get cancer. You will die anyway. You should have fun. You shouldn’t have fun. You should be fashionable. You should keep ahead. You are lagging behind. You should be individual. You shouldn’t care about what you do. You are free. You should go your own way. You should follow us.

You watch too much television. You need to stay tuned. You are fat because you watch too much television. You should watch more television. You should be individual. You are going to be a star one day. You are nothing. You should eat more hamburgers. You should drink more syrup. You are too fat.

You should not be who you are. You have to change.

My name is Marketing.

Now buy my fucking product.

Bill Hicks

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

What's it all 'aboot'?

Happy New Year. Yes, I wish you goodness in celebrating our passing from one moment onto the next moment, and then attaching some form of extra importance to the fact. I'm not quite sure what it's all about - that precise moment when 2006 became 2007 didn't feel particularly different to all the other moments I experience through the rest of the year. No little tingles or special buzzes, just a general pang about my person like the rest of the time. Time is just another little irrelevance. A human construct that, if taken too seriously, serves only to limit our capabilities and endeavours. The calendar is a chain around our necks. He who is without the time is truly free. So long as you still know when Neighbours starts.

I tend to mentally document my life in terms of academic years anyway. It all has much more structure that way. You can say you were, for example, in third year of secondary school, second year college, or third year at university, and then you can place yourself in your personal history so much more easily. It ties in with football seasons too, which helps. And I know you could say academic years are just another human construct, so I'm contradicting myself, and you'd be right to do so. But it's just a better one, so it's OK. I don't dislike all human constructs. For instance, I like tea coasters.

People generally looked happy enough when the special moment passed anyway, so I suppose New Year can be considered an acceptable little irrelevant tradition of ours in the end.