troubled diva  
 

My freelance writing can now be found at mikeatkinson.wordpress.com.
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On Thursday September 17th, I danced on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
Click here to watch, and here to listen.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Posh Nosh, BBC2.

We are so busted. It's us!

Except she can cook. And he's got a dog.

OK, so it's us in five years' time. In K's dreams, that is. Well, one can aspire.

(Dear God, but this newly installed wireless broadband is fantastic. Friday nights in the cottage just got a whole lot better.)

Lazy-ass outsourcing.

Oh, this is just too easy. What's the point of constructing what-I've-been-up-to blog posts (or indeed what-I'm-going-to-be-up-to blog posts), when others are already doing the job for me?

I feel like one of those "conceptual" artists who never has to pick up a paintbrush, or wield a chisel. It's all rather soothing.

Billy No-Judges.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm really enjoying this whole "Post Of The Week" wheeze, and I'd rather like to see it continue.

However! It ain't gonna work without judges - and this week, we're still one judge short of a quorum. So if you'd like to help out, then please contact me toute suite at mikejla@btinternet.com (bearing in mind that I won't be checking e-mail until around 17:30 this afternoon).

Your duties extend no further than e-mailing me with your top 5 choices, in order of preference, between midday Saturday and 18:00 on Sunday. The privacy of the ballot box will be respected, naturally. Previous judges are also welcome to re-apply.

Eww, hate begging. So not a good look.

Update: We're sorted for this week. Thanks, Daisy - that was a close one. Phew.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Experimental three-column layout.

Update: If you visited here between Thursday evening and Friday morning, you might have been treated to a triple-column version of Troubled Diva. It looked a little something like this.

Your regular two-column service has now been resumed. We apologise for any distress and inconvenience that the experimental layout might have caused.

Well, it does seem a shame to waste all that perfectly good white space on the right hand side of the screen.

On the other hand, is three columns a tad on the busy side?

I haven't quite decided. Let me know what you think.

(The old two-column layout is here.)

The condensed condensed version, for people with the attention spans of fruit-flies who only read the summaries on the RSS feed.

Hangzhou, China, three weeks, working, me. Woo!

The condensed version, for people who only come here to skim-read, and haven't got time to sift through lengthy 4-part descriptions of country walks.

Now that my time working for the car manufacturer is drawing to an end, I shall be working in our company's Chinese office for three weeks over the Christmas and New Year period.

I'm travelling out to Shanghai on Saturday December 17th, and will be returning on Saturday January 7th. I won't actually be living and working in Shanghai, but in the city of Hangzhou, which is three hours away by car to the south-west.

While I'm there, I'll be interviewing staff for the Hangzhou office, as there's a big recruitment drive going on there right now. I'll be living in a company flat, within walking distance of the office. And yes, don't worry: I'll be blogging, just as my colleague JP is doing on a daily basis.

Excited? You betcha.

All Chinese travel tips will be gratefully received.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Walking the forest path: part four.

Jump straight to Part One.

Crossing the busy A6, we head into Monsal Dale for the final stretch.

"So, talk me through the stand-by pasta recipe, then."

When we get back to the cottage, I shall be giving the cooking another shot; under close supervision, as ever. (Health and safety, you know how it is these days.) For the past two Sundays, K has been drilling me to produce steak and chips. The steak, the chips and the accompanying vegetables have been perfect each time, matching K's exacting standards to a tee - but somehow, we've been missing the point of the exercise. Namely, that I should be working towards producing unsupervised meals: a challenge which calls for a simpler recipe.

(Yes, even steak and chips is a bit advanced for someone like me, with minimal basic knowledge on which to build. Hell, it's been a while since I even peeled a spud.)

K's "stand-by pasta" is the simplest meal that we can think of. Pasta, tuna, tomatoes, olives, garlic, chillis. What could be more straightforward than that?

We stop to snap a small clump of steers, peacefully munching in the late afternoon light, in the gap between the stream and the hillside. As K composes his shot, the steers at the front of the clump obligingly arrange themselves into a neat line, fanning out from the centre with pleasing symmetry.

Yes, it's a repeat.  But we've got context now.

Just ahead of us, a lone walker in a bright red anorak is crouching in the undergrowth, by the right hand path which runs off into the bushes. Opting instead for the left hand path, we stride briskly by, not looking sideways.

A few minutes later, just after the paths have re-converged, we pause again to sample the view. K attempts another shot with his phone, but the light isn't good enough. As he fiddles with the settings, the walker re-emerges. He is still a good few yards behind us, safely out of earshot for now.

"Come on, let's move. She'll think we're waiting for her."

"Who, her in the red?"

"Yes, her. Miss Scarlet..."

"The Scarlet Pumpernickel..."

"Scarlet O' Hard On..."

"HAHAHAHAHA."

"Shhh!"



Monsal Weir looks especially beautiful this afternoon, in its secluded clearing at the foot of the wooded slope. Mist is already beginning to form in the rapidly cooling air at the bottom, whilst sheltered patches at the top are still frozen from the night before. This place must look wonderful at daybreak, we agree. Perhaps we could come out for an early morning winter walk, some time next month?

This thought lasts for all of five seconds, before we concede that it will never happen. Besides, when would we find the time? It's not as if I'll be here over the Christmas holiday, after all. Perhaps K could make the trip without me, with friends from the village who keep earlier hours?

"I'm having a twinge."

"What sort of twinge?"

"Oh, you know: wishing I was going to be here, rather than working out in China. Typical contrarianism, basically. You're a Gemini, you should know all about that."

K bats me a knowing smile.

"You are going to be OK without me, aren't you? I know we've talked this through, but I still have to check."

"Of course I will. Anyway, you know what I think about bloody Christmas. I'll probably go and see my family on the day. It would be a good opportunity this year, especially with... you know. It's a shame that I couldn't arrange to be out there with you - after all, Ningbo's practically up the road from Hangzhou - but it's just not the right time, what with everything that's scheduled for January."

"I know. It's going to be such an experience, though. I can't wait to get over there. All that interviewing will be a challenge - imagine having to decide whether you're going to employ someone, when you're so unfamiliar with their whole culture and background - but I feel so ready for it. Especially with JP posting daily reports from the office in Hangzhou - I'm hanging on every word. Perfect timing in many ways, even if it is over Christmas and New Year. Anyway, what's three weeks? We can save up the holidays and go somewhere nice in the spring."

"And you'll have time to do some writing."

"Exactly - see whether I'm up to it, whether it's any good or not, whether I can knuckle down to it. That middle week is going to be so quiet, on my own in the company apartment with the laptop. Perfect opportunity. Eyup, she's coming. Onwards and upwards!"


By the time we emerge at Monsal Head, the sky has turned a glorious red, with dark clouds forming mountain ranges beyond the furthest hills. While K lines up some shots, I get myself an award-winning "99" from the Fredericks of Chesterfield ice cream van.

"I bet that's delicious. Damn that dairy intolerance."

"Poor you. I bet that's torture. Go on, a couple of mouthfuls can't do you any harm."

"I guess not. OH GOD that's wonderful."

"Wow, look at that vapour trail, coming over to the left. It looks on fire, like a comet."

"..."

"Cobwebs gone?"

"Absolutely."

We leave the empty car park and walk the short distance back to Little Longstone, pausing every now and again to gaze back in awe at the dying glow of the sunset. When we get back to the car, I'll put the first half of the Madonna album on. The beatier, dancier half. Works best in the dark. He'll be able to cope with it now.

Labels:

Comedy interlude.

Yes, of course this is displacement activity for the final part of the f**king never-ending Walking The Forest Path series of posts. (See below. And, eventually, above.) Hey, you should know me well enough by now.

1. Via new-to-me (but actually going for ages) Nottingham blogger Lisa Rullsenberg, some howler fun which made me howl: Actual Analogies and Metaphors Found in High School Essays. Oh, I've just Googled and this one is plastered all over the Internet. Doesn't make it any less funny, though.

2. Just in via e-mail from Miss Mish: Dork Tower, on the subject of de-linking. "Saw this... and thought of you", she says. Whatever does she mean?

One of those links which speaks for itself.

(Via Rachel From North London, whose Sunday Times article has left me reeling.)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Walking the forest path: part three.

"Come on then, you devious bastard. Next stop, Sheldon."

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no group of two or more gay men may walk through the village of Sheldon without passing comment on the name of its public house. This is not a convention which K and I are about to flout.

"What's the name of this place? The Cock and something?"

"The Cock in Hand?"

"No, that's not it. But I'm pretty sure it's got Cock in it somewhere."

"Ah, here we are..."

"HAHAHAHAHA!"

"HAHAHAHAHA!"



As we start the long descent into Deep Dale, I catch the disused lead mine out of the corner of my eye, about half a mile away to the left. Oh, was that part of the same walk? Although I recognise everywhere we have been, my memory has been as a series of disconnected fragments, which I am having to stitch together from source all over again.

Over the summer, we had bickered our way down this hill, arguing the toss with every fresh field. This time - certain of our way, hitting our stride, fully up to speed - our conversation swerves off into an animated impromptu plot conference. By vocalising my sketchy ideas for the first time, I can feel flesh starting to draw over bones. Thought leads to thought; chance suggestions are toyed with and acted upon; new characters emerge from the ether; existing characters take on names, faces, back stories. We're buzzing, on a roll, eager imaginations churning and melding.

I had forgotten what an effective sounding board K can be, particularly when it comes to his favourite area: plot. (I tease him over it, positioning myself as if on a higher literary plane - but we both know that's bullshit. Anyway, complementary skills and all that.) It's like the planning stages of Chapter Three of The Naked Novel all over again - only bigger, broader, freer.

Somehow, we've avoided the wrong turning: the one which I harped about incessantly last time (after K had insisted and I had yielded), and which had added a pointless half a mile to our route. Reprised as caricature, my extended "told you so" nag rings in our ears once more. Chuckling, we veer rightwards into Deep Dale.



Striding through the wildlife sanctuary, still dotted with seasonally redundant little marker boards, pointing out rare - and now vanished - wild flora on the hillside, I coax K into delivering a brief company report, strictly in layman's terms. (Proteomics? The very word makes my head spin.) Caught in the middle of all the little day-to-day dramas and stresses, it's easy for me to lose track of the wider picture. Consequently, I hadn't quite realised what a key stage this is for him - indeed, for all of them. Viewed from a certain angle, I guess we're both poised on our respective brinks.

Having left the binoculars at home this time, there is little to detain us here. Before we know it, we're at the car park by the A6, where the last of the Bright And Early Brigade are busily de-booting themselves before the four o'clock lock-up. Just outside the toilets, someone has dumped an old PC monitor: damp, useless, too big for the bin. We tut.

Now we're at the actual spot, K can't resist teasing me about the bird-watching for the umpteenth time. When we were last here, I had amused myself with the binoculars while he went for a pee.

"Shh!", I had cautioned, as he emerged from the toilet block. "There's something in the trees over there. I've been tracking them. They'll probably emerge in a minute... ah, there they are. The two black and white birds with the long tails. Any idea what they are?"

"Mike, they're magpies. Haven't you ever seen a magpie before?"

"What, are they quite common?"

"You could say that."

"...."

"HAHAHAHAHA! Ooh, ooh, keep still, I've just seen a very rare magpie. HAHAHAHAHA!"

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We can't all be Children of Nature. I mug obligingly, riding out the storm, until K's attention is caught by a tree over to our left.

"Good grief, look over there: the catkins are coming out."

"So they are. Er, that's supposed to happen in spring, right? Oh, don't start all that again. Anyway, what about those daffodil shoots coming up in the cottage garden? It's all so wrong!"

"Doomed... we're all doomed..."

"I blame the government."

"I blame Thatcher."

Crossing the busy A6, we head into Monsal Dale for the final stretch.

Jump to Part Four.

Labels:

Bobbly fruit and pillows.

Because I know you were curious: the ceramic masterpiece, repaired (can YOU spot the two damaged fronds?) and revealed.

And before you say anything (because someone already has): no, we haven't become smack dealers in our spare time. Really! What do you take us for?



(Image via K's moblog, still going strong, even if I have to make up my own descriptions every time he's afflicted by Blogger's Block, which at this early stage of the game is frankly a little previous, don't you think?)

Post of the Week #5

With nine out of twelve (or 75%) of last week's nominations penned by female bloggers, this is the first time that the gender split has been anything other than more or less equal. God, that's not an easy sentence to write at 8:30 on a Monday morning. Let's quickly crack on, shall we?

From the under-represented male wing, we've had sharp and timely political metaphor, a raddled former beauty-queen, and a football hero with feet of clay.

Meanwhile, from the ladies (hello ladies!), we've had cellos pushed into sternums (enigmatically), pianos dragged into the jungle (heroically if uselessly), rages so fierce that they have seen off tropical storms, murders in the neighbourhood and drugs busts in the home. We've eloped to London with lesbians, we've woken up with toddlers in Paris, and we've been out on a photo shoot with a disorienting new lens (discovering in the process what the word "bokeh" means).

All of which leaves the only post this week to have picked up votes from all three of our judges (myself, Anna and Green Fairy). Yes, this week's winner - the fourth out of four from a female writer, and a piece which speaks for itself, without need of further justification - is:

Baghdad Burning: Conventional Terror.

Please leave your nominations for this week in the comments box below. Rules of engagement are here.

Patita will be helping with the judging, but there is still room for one more judge: if interested, please e-mail mikejla@btinternet.com. All applications welcome.
1. Boob Pencil: Transportmentally Challenged.
(nominated by guyana-gyal)

The AA told us to get out of the car and wait on the other side of the barrier. They didn't know about the panther either. Luckily we decided it was too cold for such nonsense, and we stayed in the car. After all, the AA said they would be at least an hour and a half, and it was the middle of the night for God's sake. And cold. And foggy. Did I mention the fog? It was very foggy.
2. petite anglaise: singing in tongues.
(nominated by Rob)

This is an audio post.
3. Boris Johnson MP: Bush and Al-Jazeera.
(nominated by mike)

If someone passes me the document within the next few days I will be very happy to publish it in The Spectator, and risk a jail sentence. The public need to judge for themselves. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. If we suppress the truth, we forget what we are fighting for, and in an important respect we become as sick and as bad as our enemies.
4. Joe. My. God.: Pray Lady Day.
(nominated by mike)

The air in the car is getting a little stuffy. I'm already overdressed for this entirely-not-caused-by-global-warming 70-degree-almost-December morning, but I don't even have the room the pull my arms out of my jacket and hold it. I can feel sweat running down my sides, in little sticky Pray Lady-hating rivulets. Of all days to be iPod free, it has to be today. On Pray Lady Day.
5. Izzle pfaff: No Parking.
(nominated by patita)

Environmental theater, you see, eschews such pedestrian trappings such as audience seating. No, in environmental theater, you, the audience member, wander like a bedouin around the spaaace, maaaan, being careful not to f**k with the actors who are totally right there begging to be f**ked with or to kick over their water bottles or anything. Exploooore the spaaaace! Whoops, not that space or that space or that space, though, because those are for acting.
6. Waitress Dreams: fear dot mom.
(nominated by Pam)

Later, while washing her big blue sweatshirts, some covered in teddy bears, others in Christmas trees, I thought about how numb I've become to my mother's emotional outbursts. I couldn't remember where I was when I stopped feeling anything when she started her pointless praying, chanting, bitching, moaning. I couldn't remember what triggered, or didn't trigger, my flat response.
7. JonnyB's private secret diary: Friday, November 25, 2005.
(nominated by Rob, who has also nominated the comments, even though that's not really allowed, but they are rather funny comments, it has to be said)

"I've backed the Land Rover right up," says Short Tony, as I stand in the old kitchen, my bent finger covering my mouth in that particular way that has been scientifically proven to help you think. I decide that if I stare at the washing machine for long enough then it will become a bit lighter.
8. A Sorry Existence: Voyeurism.
(nominated by mike)

I am considering baking a basket full of morning goods and popping over to the new residents, you know, just to do the neighbourly thing. I'd quite like to make friends with some gays, as they can be such fun.
9. Londonist: SCOOP: NME Album Of The Year.
(nominated by mike)

It has come to our attention that this year, NME may have chosen to publish a doctored version of the aforementioned poll. According to our source, the list of albums printed in this week's publication does not reflect the opinions of its writers, as you might expect. Instead, we're told you'll find a heavily edited version which, we have on good faith, takes some commercial and political factors into consideration.


Post withdrawn: background here.
10. Spaghetti and Truthballs: Santa Claus is coming to town.
(nominated by Pam)

His christmas CD collection now takes up a 200 disc CD changer... and I kid you not, they broke an artificial tree because they overweighted it with ornaments. We don't just have one advent calendar for our household.... We have one for every room.
11. Tiny Pineapple: Colin Ithn’t a Firth-Rate Kither.
(nominated by Rob)

...in this case, the director appears to have pulled Mr. Firth aside and said, “Look, Colin, your agent just called to remind us about the ‘no mandible movement’ clause in your contract, so in this scene just try to keep everything else moving, OK? Open and close your jaw, turn your head from side to side, clutch her skull in ever-more-awkward ways. Just do whatever you have to do to disguise the fact that you kiss like a haddock.”
12. A Hand Full of Stars: toxic parents.
(nominated by Green Fairy)

It is 1976. I saw a man regretting his past actions and attempting to correct the course his young life had taken. I saw him cruelly desert his English wife and three children. For a few moments, he had taken a risk and stepped out of that circle his ancestors had drawn around themselves. He had married for love, the riskiest of all. And he deserted her for comfort, for tradition. For safety.