Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cashflow For Kids

I stumbled across this bored game (sic) at my sister's house.

Depressing or what?

I thought kids were the only people lucky enough to not have to worry about such things as cashflow. And that's the way it should be. Those pristine years before responsibilities are heaped on their shoulders and adulthood dawns on them like some dark morn of thick fog and hurricanes of piss. Filling youngsters' heads' unnecessarily with monetary concerns is madness - it's no wonder we're messed up as a species.

My ten-year old niece is presumably the target of this game. I don't know if she's had the pleasure of a go yet, but my sister and her husband are both well enshrined in the business world and I can only imagine it won't be long. Their values in life are finance and carpeting. I must have words.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Me mima and me

I finally got round to visiting Middlesbrough's new state-of-the-art art (geddit?) gallery mima today. mima stands for Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art and like many things modern must always be referred to with a little 'm' and in italics, because it's hip and happening. mima. See?

Those of us lucky enough to be gifted with sight will notice the photographer (hello) has cleverly employed the sunlight to capture, in the building's glass facade, a reflection of the Bottle Of Notes, which contains all the secrets of the world and the wretched mankind that inhabit it. (Unfortunately, if you're currently reading the braille version of this site the bottle is not evident).

The gallery is in Middlesbrough's newly-dubbed 'Central Square', which used to be quite a grim and drab area but has been transformed with a click of a social planner's fingers (and a hardy team of landscapers' graft over a twelve month period) into a pleasant, open public space. The bottle was always there and has been preserved and, dare I say, given a new lease of life by the redevelopment. mima's introduction really is positive for the town, both in terms of a spot of regeneration and raising it's profile by having a lovely art gallery.


I must confess to being left a little dissatisfied/uninspired/killed-inside by the opening exhibition. The gallery's directors have taken the route of exhibiting a few 'big names' of the art world, presumably in a bid to put it on the map and other similar metaphors for when things are catapulted-into-the-wider-consciousness-by-being-of-great-enough-profile-to-capture-attention-from-afar. It includes Picasso, Warhol, Francis Bacon, Damian Hirst, and Jackson Pollock, which makes it sound exciting before you go in. But the fact is that the works on display, which are all drawing-based and often just sketches, aren't the kind of works that make much of an impact on me. I hope the future exhibitions at mima are a bit better. Indeed, I'd prefer to see more from some artists I've never heard of before.

Regardless, it's a good building and anything like it has to be good for Middlesbrough. Plus there was actually a good little bit dedicated to the geography of the Teesside area, and thus featuring some very good photography of the town and nearby industrial landscapes. The local industry has always carried a certain romance for me and it looks especially good in photographic form.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Invasion of the parakeets

Government scientists are to investigate the activities of the flocks of rose-ringed parakeets breeding in London's suburbs, amid rising fears that they may be harming native British bird species. It is feared that the parakeet, which is native to a great belt of land stretching from Africa across to India and the Himalayas, may be displacing British tree-nesting species such as woodpeckers, nuthatches and starlings.

Fears are growing that good, honest British birds are being marginalised as the parakeets take their jobs and distort the labour market as a whole by being willing to accept lower than average wages. But their impact is not only economic. Many of the good, honest British species are increasingly disgruntled by what they perceive as preferential treatment of the foreign species.

Woody Pecker, 28, from Croydon, said: "They know exactly what they're here for. These parakeets weren't born yesterday. They come over here because they know there's a pampered lifestyle on all the benefits they can pick up. They've all got their free Sky dishes and washing machines, but us good honest British birds are left to fend for ourselves. What next, will the council start replanting trees so they face the Himalayas?"

"They don't call this area Parakeetstan for nothing."

A Home Office spokesman admitted yesterday that it is unclear how many illegal parakeets are in Britain today. Despite not knowing which parakeets are living where, he said the unknown parakeets will soon receive text messages telling them they need to leave the country. Those whose identity is known will be electronically tagged, while a widespread cull is being considered.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Return of the Manics (+1)

I think this is probably the best Manics comeback single for quite some time. It features Nina Persson of Cardigans fame, and is a very good pop record. Even if the new album ends up being crap, this is a good single.

Manic Street Preachers - Your Love Alone Is Not Enough

I especially enjoy the chorus (actually, it's almost got two) and Nicky Wire's interjections towards the end, which apparently refer to the absent Richey: "I could have seen for miles and miles/I could've made you feel alive/I could've placed us in exile/I could've written all your lines/I could have shown you how to cry."

I don't care how long ago they should've split up or how much they're just a shadow of once-held greatness anymore. They were the soundtrack to my imperfect teenhood and every time I listen to them I'm still filled with a heartwarming sense of familiarity. Their continued existence is like a lingering breath of fresh air in an industry increasingly obsessed with bands who are poor imitations of other already poor bands, a particularly dull brand of electronica, and all this nu-rave nonsense. There'll never be a band like the Manics again.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Celebrate Your Mother

Mothers Day has arrived; just one of the multitude of commercial festivals designed to stimulate routine expressions of love and appreciation between humanfolk. It's all harmless enough though. If truth be told we probably do need jostling in such a way or we'd all be just wrapped up in ourselves all year round. So there, Mothers Day, I formally accept you into the calendar of legitimate commercial festivals.

As the Manics once sang in 'Are Mothers Saints', the cracking b-side to 'Life Becoming A Landslide' in 1993: 'Why worship a god when a mother is a saint / Why worship stone?'

Well, indeed. Although admittedly most mothers aren't quite saints, let's not go overboard - they still break wind, shrink your favourite top in the wash, and tape over Match Of The Day with Gardener's World. But these flaws aside, they do a tough job to the best of their ability, and I hereby celebrate my mother. To confirm the sentiment, I got her a shit plant from the Co-Op (but she likes it) to go together with what I got her for her birthday, which has handily fallen on the same day. I'm taking her to see the perennial mothers' band Travis play in the North York Moors on their forest tour in June. She really likes them, so regardless of how queasy I might feel at the thought of packing a wicker hamper with savoury items and setting off for a family night of musical mediocrity, I'll put up with it. It's certainly the best present she's ever had from me, and she seemed genuinely excited by it, so I suppose that's good.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Blue Peter the Bed Of Sin

It's quite humourous to see the Blue Peter phone-in fix [Independent article] as the headline news story of the day. Is there really nothing more grave going on in the world at the moment? There is actually, but admittedly none of it is as funny. Apparently these shenanigans represent a breach of Blue Peter's relationship of trust and respect with its audience, and jeopardise its whiter-than-white squeaky clean image.

That's a laugh - when I was a kid I always saw it as the televisual embodiment of hedonism and sin. It was my only opportunity for a peek over to the darker side of life while I went about my daily monastic existence. Richard Bacon was every nine year old's favourite cokehead, John Leslie was the resident loose-handed womaniser (allegedly), and when Katy Hill arrived the Blue Peter set was just brimming with sexual tension. And let's not forget Anthea Turner who went on to have that wedding photo with the Flake - bad behaviour to an extreme.

Those were the days, the early-to-mid-90s... when the Blue Peter Garden was probably a den of cannabis, magic mushrooms and opium. I don't know if it's cleaned up its act since then or what, but I'll always remember it as a window to society's most despicable, seedy and unruly quarters. A little phone competition fix here or there will hardly make much difference. Perhaps the greatest Blue Peter sinner of all time though is Diane-Louise Jordan, who used her Blue Peter fame to get a job giving a national television platform to enthusiastic Christians who can sing and like to flaunt the fact, when she took a job on Songs Of Praise. Has the woman no shame? You'd think they'd have pulled Blue Peter off the air long ago with such a dark cloud of guilt hanging over its legacy. If it survived that it can survive anything.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Laborious description of personal gig experiences

The date for witnessing Arcade Fire at Manchester Apollo finally arrived on Friday evening, and what a magnificent spectacle it was. It's the first time I've seen them live, but they truly are an amazing live band. There was so much action on stage throughout, as you'd probably expect with ten people on there all playing so many different wonderful instruments. But actually, they don't just play them - it's more like they're dancing with them, and are all completely immersed in their own noise. It made for a real visual extravanganza.

The set was split about half-and-half between the two albums but the offerings from their first, Funeral, provided the main highlights for me. Especially Rebellion (Lies) and Wake Up, which was the closer. I don't think I've seen many gig crowds as delerious as that one during Wake Up. It was like a religious awakening with everyone throwing their hands in the air and praising the sky to all the "ohhh ohhhh" bits, like some scene from a particularly keen gospel church congregation. Jimi and Welford were just about ready to try out one of those walk-in baptismal fonts. That's how good Arcade Fire are live though - it's what they do to people.

Patrick Wolf was the support (I may have mentioned him previously), making for an extraordinary line-up. He was excellent of course and did what you'd almost be able to call a 'Greatest Hits' set. He seemed to go down quite well in front of a big crowd, which was encouraging, because it meant they weren't all ignoramii. But I was a bit surprised to hear from Jimi that The Magic Position only charted at number 46, considering all the publicity he's had recently. Although he's moved massively in the right direction commercially, I find it disappointing that the docile masses are still managing to be completely oblivious to such a rare talent in our midst. Before penning this, I read that the raw sales figure was only 4,500 copies in the first week. So to all those people I know who downloaded the album illegally and didn't purchase it on release; look what you've done you terrible people. Use it or lose it, as they say.

The previous night (Thursday) I had a gig date in Middlesbrough with Foz and Foz (The Two Fozes) to see Euros Childs, former frontman of Gorkys Zygotic Mynci. Lots of bubbly melodies, harmonies and Welsh language. It was really good. Plus he was supported by Ormondroyd, who are fronted by the brother of my friend Jen, so I was particularly interested to see what they were like. I remember her playing them to us in her halls of residence when we visited her during the first year of uni some four years ago. Then they got played by John Peel (R.I.P.), and have just put an album out. They offer some very good dreamy elongated rock stuff, in the mould of something like Six By Seven (at least, that's who they reminded me of). But they use a better mould.

Monday, March 05, 2007

'Streuth cobber, you're a dag!'

I feel Neighbours is heading still further down the proverbial pan with the news that Little Britain's Lou and Andy are to make an appearance in the Scarlet Bar later in the year [BBC news]. Just how far can the producers of this iconic show go with their rampant Anglophilia?

They've already got their weekly mentions of Jamie Oliver on cue whenever someone so much as produces a chopping board from behind the toaster - Lynn Scully: "Hey look at you, the next Jamie Oliver!" No, he's just going to chop one fucking carrott you insufferable little tart. It's not as if Little Britain is new territory either. Who could forget Max's cringeworthy "computer says no" rebuke to Paul Robinson when his credit cards embarrassingly wouldn't authorise in front of a batch of thirsty young girls he was trying to impress. There's also all of Stingray's inexplicable Union Jack emblazoned t-shirts, and of course one time Scouse vixen Valda. I know the British audience is the only reason Neighbours has survived for as long as it has, but I really wish the producers wouldn't pander to it by trying to turn Erinsborough into some kind of non-descript English suburban area. It's the fact it's a non-descript Australian suburb that appeals. I'd rather see more scenes of Lou Carpenter tendering to a barbie while topless and getting a few Sheilas round to loaf by the pool. That's what they do isn't it?

Audio Paradise

Reader. Note the new insertion in that column on the right, the one featuring all things admin. I've hand picked some of my favourite songs to provide a suitable audio backdrop, played at random, while reading all this shite. Enjoy.