Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Such A Little Thing Makes Such A Big Difference

Such a little thing / Such a little thing / But the difference it made was grave / There you go, wielding a bicycle chain / Oh, why won't you change? / Change and be nicer?

Sorry, got sidetracked there. That's a picture of the little device that means we've got internet access in Flat C now. Due to a set of circumstances whereby we managed to move into a residence with no phoneline installed, and then Virgin Media proved to be a Useless Twat Collective, we've had to 'go mobile' with '3'. I promise it had nothing to do with celebrity endorsement of the company from June Sarpong MBE, irritating purveyor of bad television and owner of a voice that sounds like the strangler has got a good grip on her neck but is yet to press ahead with proceedings (I've never quite been able to go through with it). It was just a necessity to finally get online, even if it is proving to be much like the staff in an Argos store (temperamental and not as fast as advertised).

I'm presently exploiting the benefits of mobile internet by sitting in bed. I've fallen thoroughly ill in the past 24 hours with a heavy cold - I would call it flu but people always say you're lying unless it lasts about two weeks. I suppose it's more like a snack-size flu; the type you'd find in a Christmas selection box of, erm, illnesses. Yesterday I bought my first box of Kleenex since 1996 and then had to suffer the ignominy of walking through the city centre and sitting on the bus home with the box in my hand, with a fresh tissue sitting proud from the clever dispensation system on the top of the box, permanently aroused. The looks I got were not so much dirty as heavily soiled. I felt so ill last night that when I tried to start writing a blog about pies I soon lost interest and gave up. So there's something to look forward to when I'm better.

I'm determined to spend the majority of the day in bed. Illness etiquette dictates that "staying in bed is the only way to get rid of it". Or at least that's what the mother figure always told me when I was skiving off school in the hope of starting a new league season on Premier Manager 3. Then again, this is the same mother figure who always tries to get me to put some shorts on because "they'll thicken up your legs", so perhaps I should be less quick to take heed. But regardless, it's nice to lounge and I'm lying here listening to the second Andrew Bird album, Armchair Apocrypha, in preparation for seeing him live next week. The world is on hold. Do not disturb.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Où est mon maître, le Prince Rebelle?

There's something massively rewarding about seeing Jeff Buckley's drummer Matt Johnson - all-round serious musician and drummer on one of the finest albums ever made in 'Grace' - transform himself into a dancer for the encore of 'Get Happy', leaping around doing forward-rolls at the feet of Rufus (in drag).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A workplace fraud with dangers

Work has found me once more. I don't like it, but I'll have to go along with it. I've found myself incarcerated in a darkened basement room of Manchester town hall this week as part of a new temporary employment arrangement with Manchester City Council. Each week will see contestants - erm, I mean me - catapulted into alien office environs on different work placements, performing menial tasks for a cash prize. At the moment I'm with the Fraud Investigation Group, transcribing taped interrogations of alleged benefit fraudsters. Naturally my pledge of confidentiality precludes me from revealing any particulars about the ongoing cases here (give me a call), but what I can say is they're scoundrels, scavengers and leeches the lot of them.

I get to listen to a succession of characters explaining - usually in their thickest Mancunian accents - exactly why they didn't consider having thousands of pounds stashed away in a bank account relevant information when filling out a benefit claim form. "I jus'... I jus' di'n't think it woh necessary yeh knoh?" Yeah, I knoh alright. This country is going to the dogs; mind you, an evening's entertainment at the local greyhound racing track has never done anyone any harm. But no, seriously - some of these people are unbelievable. At least stash your thousands under the floorboards of a delapidated outhouse if you're serious about this whole benefits thing.

One joy of temping is that there's no pressure to develop genuine or lasting relationships with your colleagues. Permanent staff regard 'the temp' as an extraterrestrial being to be, rightly, approached with a great deal of caution. The fact I won't be in any one place for very long means idle chatter can pass off without later recriminations for any perceived conversational contradictions. I could paint myself as a risk-taking, surf-loving, wall-shagging extreme (sorry, Xtreme) sports knob if I so wish. In fact I might try that. And then alter my persona with each council department I'm placed in, until I'm eventually sussed out by those famous 'town hall bosses' I always read so much about (but am yet to see anywhere, whether bossing the corridors, the toilets, or just the staff) and marched from the building.

When I'm not preoccupied with trying to work out how I'm supposed to transcribe alleged fraudsters' wholly inarticulate noises such as 'urgh-hurgh', 'hmmffph' and 'jaffaquack', I occasionally pick up on tidbits of the office conversation from those with real jobs. I can tell you all about the relative ages of the members of Take That if you're interested. Yesterday I picked up on a conversation about the pitfalls of men wearing white underwear - namely that when you sweat, the white goes a bit yellow. Yes, we all know that, but does nobody else perform a quick circumnavigation of the hips with a roll-on anti-perspirant each morning? Clearly not. At one point today I became so bored with people repeating themselves on the tape I was transcribing that I found myself transfixed on the woman eating a grapefruit the size of a brain tumour on the other side of the office. But regardless... it's twenty-seven times better than the call centre, I'll tell you that for nothing.

PS: In other news, following a protracted saga too infuriating to describe here, I should have the internet in the flat after the weekend. Which is a relief.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

He didn't disappoint me

Rufus Wainwright, that is. I was finally afforded my first audience with the great man on Thursday night when he frequented Manchester Apollo and delivered a spellbinding set. I've been waiting to see him for a couple of years, and in truth he surpassed my expectations. I didn't realise he'd be quite such a showman, so varied, and quite so funny with his between-song patter. He puts on a proper musical extravaganza: solo; big band; spangly suits; lederhosen; and a ridiculous encore of Judy Garland's 'Get Happy', mimed in drag with fishnet stockings and all. True entertainment spread over two hours' stage time with a twenty-minute interval.

Some may find Wainwright slushy, but I consider him a songwriting genius. And one who will probably only be fully and truly appreciated once he's dead, as is often the way. I'm thankful that I'll get to repeat the experience next weekend. I've managed to make the mother figure into a Rufus fan too and, as a result, am taking her to see him in Harrogate, where we'll be close enough to be showered in spittle from our front row seats.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The year's last, loveliest smile

Autumn is perhaps my favourite season of the year, closely followed by winter. I like the general feeling of nature's maturity and impending decay and gloom. And the fact everyone else seems to be brought down a peg or two from their misguided summer bounciness. Additionally, I appreciate the autumnal colours brought to our leaves, whether they be squashed on the pavements or lounging nonchalantly atop a branch.

Platt Fields Park, Manchester, this morning

I was reading the other day about the fact that this is one of the most colourful seasons we've had for years. The spell of still, mild weather we've been having - as well as the wet summer followed by a dry autumn - has provided ideal conditions for producing such golden colours as those depicted above. The stillness means we can enjoy this year's autumnal feast above our heads rather than below, and I think it makes for delightful viewing. If we get a few gales then it'll all be on the floor, of course, but then it means we can skip along gaily kicking the leaves into the air and giggling wildly. So it's the best of both worlds.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Eidy does it

Upon setting off for Manchester city centre late on Saturday night with Mark and Deano, visiting from Nottingham, our bus travel plans were somewhat scuppered by the discovery of immense sets of traffic jams in every conceivable direction. It turned out we were coinciding with Eid, the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan, when seemingly the entire Muslim community takes to the streets in automobiles. It meant we had to walk all the way into town but, putting such personal inconvenience aside, also provided quite a fascinating observation of public celebration on a mass scale.

When we walked up to Rusholme and the Curry Mile the road was a sea of cars with people hanging out the windows and horns being liberally honked. The queues went back at least a mile in either direction. I find it slightly peculiar that the elected method of celebration is to go and sit in traffic jams for hours on end, perhaps advancing the onrush of global warming in the meantime, but I suppose it made for quite a scene. Some people had the right idea, though, and had hired limousines for the occasion. Where such a sight is now normally a telling sign of a horde of desperate, attention seeking teenagers on the rampage, in this case it was all about rational decision-making. Once you've accepted the fact you're going to sit in a traffic jam for hours on end, you'd might as well make an event of it. It's better than trying to read a paper at the wheel, like I've tried. Surprisingly few had opted to mount a bicycle and sneak up the sides of the jam - so there's a tip for the next Eid, take your bike. Or maybe not.

The Curry Mile's restaurants and take-aways were bustling with people getting their fill, and the pavements packed with revellers, some of them bouncing up and down chanting in unison. Bizarrely, vanilla Cornettos appeared to be the main luxury foodstuff of choice; we saw whole groups (as opposed to, erm, unwhole groups) walking along with a Cornetto each, which was quite funny considering where we were (Manchester), which month of year it was (October), what time of night it was (11.46pm), and how expensive Cornettos can be these days (up to £2 at tourist 'honeypot sites' (copyright GCSE Geography syllabus)). One thing's for sure, if I went back to Rusholme right now this here Monday afternoon, Cornettos would be in short supply. "Just one Cornetto, give it to me..." Clearly that advertising campaign worked wonders.

Of course the most striking thing about all of this was the extent of common identity and shared public celebration on display. It reminds you of just how disconnected most of society is normally. I can't think of many instances whereby a secular population would take to the streets in a similar vein in this country. It would probably only happen if England won the World Cup or something, heaven forbid. The football World Cup of course, not this rugby one people seem to be bored enough to be talking about.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


I went to see Control, the new film about Joy Division and the suicide of Ian Curtis, with Anna and Jimi on Tuesday night. Although quite heartbreaking for obvious reasons, it’s bloody excellent. I’m often not keen on the idea of screenplays based on real events, especially when it comes to legendary bands and the like, but Control does really well in capturing the enigma, mystique and iconic aura of Curtis and Joy Division. With all of that juxtaposed with Curtis’ home life with a wife and child in Macclesfield, you get a fuller picture of his life and all of its (internal) conflicts. It’s true what all the reviews have been saying, too; the film is beautifully shot, wonderfully grey, and Sam Riley plays a scarily accurate Ian Curtis. As an aside, for some reason they filmed most of it in Nottingham and I recognised two white high-rise tower blocks as being those near Lenton crossroads, extremely close to where I lived at university. Which was nice.

With films like this I always think how odd it must be for the people still alive to see an actor playing them on screen. And, even more so, to have such a torturous episode as a bandmate’s suicide turned into a film. Peter Hook is quoted in the latest Observer Music Monthly:

“When I saw the film in Cannes earlier this year, after Ian dies ‘Atmosphere’ is played, and it’s bloody heartbreaking, it really is – it’s like going through it all again, to be honest. Especially with all the problems with New Order. I’m going through hell and people start to applaud! It’s bizarre having your life flash back like that for other people to see. It's like when everyone laughed in 24 Hour Party People when we lost money on every copy sold of 'Blue Monday' because of the expensive sleeve. I thought, 'You bastards - that's my life, that is, that really happened!'”

Monday, October 08, 2007

Electoral droll (what?)

In what now appears to have been some sort of pre-emptive compensatory reminiscipackage for the fact Gordon Brown won’t be calling a snap election (whereby, I presume, the conventional democratic procedures for electing Parliament would be ditched in favour of a massive game of cards with very basic rules), on Friday BBC Parliament screened the full 12-hour-long BBC coverage of the 1987 general election night. And I’m proud to say I watched it. Clearly the channel’s Head of Programming was in the know while media speculation about an announcement early this week of a 2007 election was reaching fever pitch. BBC Parliament gave the people what they wanted. Well, at least what all the unemployed people with the time and inclination to watch it wanted. Well, those of them with access to extraterrestrial channels like BBC Parliament, that is. And enough masochistic tendencies to manage to derive something almost resembling pleasure from witnessing Thatcherite success and domination in a very real way.

It made for hugely interesting viewing. What started off as just something to watch while eating my dinnertime ham and coleslaw sandwiches developed into a four-hour televisual marathon with the kettle working overtime and my even going so far as to remove my shoes. By 3.45pm, with the Tory majority projected to pass the one hundred mark, I’d seen enough and left the flat. Which is the daytime equivalent of sloping off to bed at 3.45am on election night, depressed at the prospect of five more years of Thatcherism. The coverage was led by the same Holy Trinity as it would be today: David Dimbleby with his customarily detached attitude and hyper-Englishness; Peter Snow excitedly producing and describing his abstract graphics on a big screen; and election analyst Professor Tony King of the University of Essex giving electoral projections and rationalising the British public’s buffoonery (“what we’re seeing here, David, is… [a load of shortsighted southerners voting in the name of nothing but personal gain - Ed]”, he [should’ve - Ed] repeatedly said).

There was a brilliant moment when the baton had been passed to the now deceased Robin Day (fine precursor to Paxman in the interview bully stakes) to interview some party figures, only for Labour leader Neil Kinnock’s seat declaration to be suddenly made. They cut straight back to David Dimbleby, who was looking extremely sheepish and wiping some kind of sticky residue from his lips in an embarrassed manner. Fellatio from Tony King in the election studio? He claimed he’d been “half way through eating a Mars bar”, and I suppose I’m willing to believe him given that he had something vaguely half-Mars-bar-sized hidden up the left sleeve of his jacket. All in all, it was fascinating seeing famous old faces and the twenty years younger versions of people still familiar today. I saw John Prescott sounding far more eloquent and articulate than he ever does now. David Mellor and Norman Bloody Tebbit each increasing their majorities. John Redwood and Diane Abbott looking and sounding no different whatsoever. Plus Labour’s Paul Boateng making quite an incredible speech after becoming one of Parliament’s three first ever black MPs that night.. He might seem like a slight pillock in reality, but his speech, delivered in the spectre of Apartheid, was gloriously over the top and quite rousing (“today Brent South, tomorrow Soweto!”).

Even more interesting was just how clearly Britain was divided on Northern v Southern lines in that election. It’s abundantly clear where the bulk of blame for eleven years of Thatcher and eighteen years of Conservatism should lie. Yet another reason to dislike people from the south east, on top of their general egomania and fondness of glottal stops. They cast their votes with no social conscience and while drunk on the artificial boom of Thatcher’s economic policy, wreaking economic and social devastation elsewhere. They kept that woman in power and Britain is still suffering the social consequences. “Who’s responsible? Pat Butcher and her associates fucking are”, to (almost) quote the Manics, which is (almost) always a useful thing to do. Another major reason for Labour’s spectacular failure in toppling Thatcher, despite a promising election campaign, appeared to be its defence policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament, which seemingly rendered the party unelectable. The fact that the two major parties were separated so glaringly on an important policy matter is what was most striking about it all. It’s totally inconceivable that there’d be such a policy gulf today, which is a shame really.

P.S. If this post reads as though I became so fatigued as it went on to the point that I could no longer be bothered, then your reading would be correct. I'd love to provide more 1987 election analysis in the style of Tony King, but this internet cafe existence doesn't lend itself well to elongated bloggery, I've got a headache, and Neighbours starts in twenty minutes, so I'm off and that.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Bye, Bye, Buy Buy (Baby Goodbye)

The demand for celebrities to sell their bodies for quick cash by associating themselves with huge advertising campaigns is one of the saddest and most damning indictments of our celebrity-driven capitalist culture of consumption. Perhaps most saddening because the proliferation of these types of campaigns means they're obviously working, and people are actually more likely to buy stuff they don't need with money they don't have just because they see a familiar face endorsing it. Worse still, it seems to be inconsequential who is doing it. Any talentless oik who's never done anything for the advancement of the human species, and never will, can get a well-paid gig swilling a cold drink on TV and looking happy about it, or falling onto a DFS sofa giggling with gay abandon in a way that nobody ever does in real life.

It would all be more understandable if heroic and well respected people were advertising stuff; I'd be more likely to sit up and take notice. For instance if they managed to digitally manipulate George Orwell to appear in TV adverts for foot spas, I'd think long and hard about getting one (so long as his script assured me each foot spa wasn't an instrument of government surveillance). Or if Morrissey showed up claiming that Churchill was the best option for car insurance ("and if a double decker bus/crashes into us/to claim with Churchill/is such a heavenly way to claim"), I'd be in raptures. But that's not the way it works. Instead, they just pay lots of people I, justifiably, have little or no respect for to try and sell stuff. Sharon Osbourne (estimated worth: £100m) parading up and down the aisles of ASDA and frittering away her money at Gala Bingo. Duncan Bannatyne (estimated worth: £200m) posing with a Blackberry. Footballers are often the worst culprits: Steven Gerrard (reportedly on £100,000+/wk at Liverpool) replaced Michael Owen (£100,000/wk at Newcastle, who'll pay anything to anyone) as the face and monotonous drone of Persil; Gary Lineker and his pissing crisps; and, of course, David Beckham (estimated worth: £87m) who's advertised too many products to list on these pages and whose advertising philosophy begins and ends simply with the word 'yes'. All of these people are clearly of such low fibre and self-worth that they see nothing wrong in what they're doing.

I'll agree with by far my favourite dead or alive comedian Bill Hicks on this: "by the way, if anyone here is in marketing or advertising - kill yourself" (this clip is required viewing). Although, when I was reading the most recent Hicks biography, Bill Hicks: Agent Of Evolution, his best friend and the book's author claimed that when Hicks was dying of cancer he said he would do an advert for Aloe Vera gel. This was because he convinced himself one of the reasons he had cancer was that he'd never exposed himself to enough sun, so started sitting outside, getting sunburnt, and then needing Aloe Vera (I wonder if she ever says hello back?). He genuinely thought the product was brilliant, and believed in it. This is an interesting new slant on advertising endorsements. If you fully believe in a product and think it advances humankind, is it OK to advertise it? The emergence of Stephen Fry's adverts for Twining's Tea must be a case of this, and I'm willing to go with it. There are a few things I'd agree to sell if I ever get offers on the back of the immense fame and notoriety I'm building through this blog. I'd certainly do adverts for Bourbon Creams, and could easily be tempted to sell wet wipes if the terms were right. I think both of those things make a positive difference to people's lives and even have a hand in progressing our evolution. Asda, Gala Bingo, Persil, Walkers Crisps et al don't, that's the difference. I rest my shaky case.