troubled diva  

My freelance writing can now be found at
Recently: VV Brown, Alabama 3, Just Jack, Phantom Band, Frankmusik, Twilight Sad, Slaid Cleaves, Alesha Dixon, Bellowhead, The Unthanks, Dizzee Rascal.

On Thursday September 17th, I danced on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
Click here to watch, and here to listen.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Open mike.

I've got some spare time this afternoon, and am in the mood for a bit of blogging; except that I'm feeling too lazy to go to all the bother of constructing a proper post.

So instead of that, ask me some questions in the comments box. Every question I get for the next hour and a half WILL be answered.

By the way, I'm still one judge short for Post Of The Week.


Sarah asks:

1. When is the next podcast coming out?

Good question. I've been meaning to record another podcast for many weeks, but am forever procrastinating. This week would have been ideal, as I was home alone while K was at a conference in Florida, but sadly the thought never occurred to me.

Incidentally, K and I were joyfully reunited this morning, after a separation which dragged on for four weeks. (As I returned from China, so he flew out to Florida, in a sort of global cat-and-mouse game. Most frustrating.)

Back to the podcast qusetion. I'll try and get one recorded before the end of the month, OK? Erm, that's a sort-of promise.

2. What is the best Christmas gift you received/gave?

Best gift received: The tricycle which my parents gave me in 1966. To this day, it is the only vehicle which I have successfully mastered.

Best gift given: I'm very pleased with my mother's present this year: an amateur watercolour of Belfield House in Wyke Regis (on the outskirts of Weymouth), painted in 1907 by the niece of the occupants. This is the house which my mother grew up in, from the age of six to sixteen. I have recently been transcribing her memories of life in Belfield House on her own blog - and while doing so, a speculative Google search took me to an active eBay auction for the painting. I'll be picking it up from the picture-framers tomorrow.

3. If my husband and I were transferred to a city in England called Birmingham next year, would I be miserable?

No, not at all. Birmingham gets far worse press than it deserves. Brummies are a largely friendly bunch, with a delightfully dry, laconic wit, and the city is culturally rich in just about every way. It may not be the most beautiful city in the world, but the city centre is much improved, and there's an essential warmth to the place which the last fifty years of crap town planning has failed to extinguish. Oh, and it's handy for the countryside as well.

(Ben? Chig? Pete? Do you agree?)

"Satisfied customer" asks:

I have been trying to find good internet radio and podcasts to subscribe to, but am somewhat baffled by what's available, at least on i-tunes, which seems:
1) overwhelmingly American
2) unburdened by any system of ordering
3) somewhat too copious to go at hit or miss

Any recommendations?

Oh dear. This might surprise some of you, but I don't actually subscribe to any podcasts. (No, not even the Ricky Gervais/Guardian podcasts, as I didn't think much of the first one.) The reason is that I already consume an abnormally large amount of new music, and there aren't enough spare hours in my listening day to take a punt on someone else's taste. However, if someone else would like to suggest some good podcasts, then please do so.

Ellie asks:

Hypothetically speaking, if someone slapped you in the face and generally intimidated you during the course of a drunken argument but then couldn't remember it in the morning - should you never speak to that person again, or would you forgive and forget?

Neither. I would raise the issue with them within the next couple of days, calmly and clearly explaining what they had said/done, and how it made me feel. If suitably sincere apologies were forthcoming, then forgiveness could ensue. As for the forgetting: I've got too retentive a memory for that ever to be much of a possibility, but the forgiveness would do a good job of keeping a lid on the memory.

If the apology was not sincere, or over-qualified with dubious self-justifications, or turned back against me as somehow being my fault, then I would have to consider my position further. The same would hold true if the slapping/intimidation had become habitual.

There's also the question of how much the drunken behaviour either magnified or masked the true character beneath. When I get drunk, I do still stay recognisably in character, even if some elements might become magnified at the expense of others. However, I do know of a few people who undergo complete Jeckyll & Hyde personality changes after their alcoholic consumption has passed a certain limit, and that can be even scarier for them than it can for me. My reaction to drunken bad behaviour can therefore vary considerably according to the personality involved.

Yikes, and I'm flat out of time. That was fun. Thanks to those who asked.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

An asterisk is no defence.

A friend of mine works in the IT department of a large company. This company has a high public profile, and provides a service to millions of personal customers.

Recently, my friend sent a short personal e-mail, using his company's e-mail account. This e-mail contained the word "shit".

Or rather, it didn't contain the word "shit", as my friend had prudently replaced the letter "i" with an asterisk. Like so: sh*t.

Shortly after sending the e-mail, my friend received a phone call from the head of his company's security team, who informed him that the e-mail had been intercepted and blocked, and that using an asterisk in the middle of a word was not enough to stop it from being censored.

I was going to describe this as "using a sledgehammer to crack a nut", but I fear my friend might never forgive me if I did. However, if - laying any privacy issues to one side - you can supply a sound business case justification, then I for one would be fascinated to hear it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

In the office, yesterday.

Mike: So, are we seeing Brokeback Mountain tomorrow night?

JP: Yes, definitely. Er, you do know it's quite sad, don't you?

Mike: Is it? Well, that's fine. I have plenty of moral resilience.

JP: Huh?

Mike: Oh, did I say moral? I meant emotional. Emotional resilience.

JP: Now I understand.

Mike: I got my emotions and my morals confused. Not for the first time, either.

JP: Always dangerous when that happens.

Mike: Tell me about it...

Update: How strange. I left the cinema last night dry of eye, distinctly underwhelmed, and cursing my over-heightened expectations; and yet today, I can't shake the damned film out of my head. Meanwhile, two people I know have already been to see it twice, one of them claiming that it's the best film he has ever seen.

I shall file this one under Slow Burner. Perhaps because it has taken a little while for my perspective to pull back from the particular (a gay "issue" flick) to the universal (a meditation upon missed opportunities) - but also because of the lingering quality of the individual performances: the looks, the pauses, the things left unsaid.

I'd do a longer review, but Tom Coates and Lubin Odana have already done such excellent jobs that there scarcely seems to be any point. Go read them instead. They nail it.

Bangers are mashed.

Via Ian Penman's newly re-activated blog The Pill Box, here's a great selection of hit-and-miss (but-mostly-hit) bootleg mash-ups, from an outfit called fuTuRo. I particularly recommend:
  • Stoned Floyed - The Supremes & Pink Floyd
  • She Tracks My Tears - Smokey Robinson & The La's
  • What's Going On (Unfinished) - Marvin Gaye & Massive Attack
  • Float On Ms. Jackson - Outkast & The Floaters
  • Rock Your Bird - Annie Lennox & George McCrae
  • Miss U Any Further - Everything But The Girl & Dennis Edwards
  • Let's Get The Love - The Black Eyed Peas & Marvin Gaye
(Speaking of returned bloggers, look who else is back.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Post of the Week: Week 7 nominations.

OK, so picking up where we left off before Christmas...

Post of the Week nominations have steadily been accumulating over the past few weeks, and judging will take place over this weekend.

However, as there are so many posts to consider, I shall be making things a little easier this time round.

This week's nominations will close earlier than usual, at midday on Friday (UK time). I will then select a shortlist of twelve posts for judging, and will e-mail this list to my two fellow judges within the next few hours. (The contents of this shortlist will not be made public, as I don't want there to be tears before bedtime.)

The judges will have until Sunday night to make their decisions, and results will be posted by Monday morning.

Next week, we shall revert to the usual way of doing things.

Now, all we need are a couple of judges! If you'd like to take part, then please e-mail me at Previous judges are welcome to re-apply.

For the sake of completeness, here is the full list of nominees. To make your own nomination, please use the comments box below. Rules of engagement are here.
1. The Mark of Kane: All You Need Is Love.
(nominated by mike)

We played this record over and over that weekend. In our enlightened states, we studied the passed around album jacket, searching for clues. The back cover featured a picture of John and Yoko, posed on the northwest corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West. They look fit and prosperous, facing east and an unknown destiny. Or was it? I was most unsettled by this picture, and still am to this day. Their expressions are grim, almost determined. What were they thinking? What did this photograph portend?
2. Loobynet: 2006 Flogged.
(nominated by mike)

What's been so heartwarming about the whole experience is how people have immediately understood the way that this is beyond publishing - reflecting the paradigm shift that is blogging and its neo-punk underground ethos. That is, no-one is actually getting paid. Even if I were to share out the royalties amongst the contributors, there'd be so little to distribute to individuals that it's better that the small sums are all consolidated into one bank account.
3. feeling listless: Review 2005: Gary Hollingsbee.
(nominated by Ed)

Whenever I leave a parental interview like this, I feel that there's been a sleight of hand played on me. I come out bewildered and being less sure about how my son is doing than when I went in. I feel it in other situations, too, like the doctor's, dentist's - even the hairdressers. I always come out with a completely different hair-cut than I intended having. But meeting with my son's teachers is the worst.
4. the house of d: dark times.
(nominated by Karen)

And the book was perfectly fine and good, very well written now that I come to think of it, but there was just something a little bit...wrong with it. Something not quite right. And it got less and less right, the deeper I read. And I remember sitting in the airport lounge about halfway into the book when the suspicion turned into a conviction. I looked up from the page I was on (in which Hermione was about to fellate Harry) and realized that, well, this surely couldn't be possible.
5. Counago & Spaves: Babelfish does its thing.
(nominated by Rob)

And with this Manchester appointment it trusts surpassing to Birmingham as tourist destiny and moving away more to Liverpool, with which it maintains a ferocious rivalry historical. Of course, also it hopes to dilute the image of gray and declining city that drags from the industrial time, of when the textile factories and cotton estigmatizaban the urban landscape. Painful it is, in this sense, a famous phrase of Mark Twain: "I would like to live in Manchester. The transit between Manchester and the death would be imperceptible".
6. Boob Pencil: Potted Autobiography v2.
(nominated by Rob)

First kiss: Rubber gloves. Second kiss: Broom handle. Third kiss: Hoover. Fourth kiss: Mop.

Youth Theatre Yorkshire; backstage excitement. Touching willies in grandmother's spare bedroom. Finally understand Rocky Horror.
7. defective yeti: Hola, Amigos.
(nominated by Rob)

"There was, like, a gallon and a half in the can," said I. "If you're car's still not starting, you might have a bigger problem."

"The needle was way below E," explained Jim, as if he had run the vehicle beyond "empty" and actually managed to create a quantity of anti-gasoline in the tank, which my fuel had only served to negate.
8. Silent Words Speak Loudest: Right To Reply #6.
(nominated by mike)

There's only one pub for miles. It hasn't applied for a new license. We locals are worried that it will ruin the secret illicit enjoyment of sitting in the dark after hours. Not that we do that. Never.
9. Rachel From North London: Dance, they said.
(nominated by Paul)

His brother walked in. 'Ma's socks!' he said, looking pleased.

'How much?' I said.

'Um. Five pounds' said the brother.

'Nooooooooo...' said the shopkeeper, squirming.

'Look at them', I said, 'they are lovely. And I will always remember your mother when I wear them.'
10. Acerbia: Impetus Catus.
(nominated by Green Fairy)

We immediately went out and bought a cashmere wool carpet inlaid with gold filigree. Probabilities of buttered toast landing on the carpet were increased beyond 99.9% and cat-spin entropy in the buttered cat scenario was reduced to negligable levels.
11. neil writes the blog: The Holiday Party.
(nominated by Pam)

To the person asking permission to cross dress - NO cross dressing allowed. We will have booster seats for short people. Low fat food will be available for those on a diet. We cannot control the salt used in the food so we suggest those people with high blood pressure taste the food first. There will be fresh fruits as dessert for diabetics; the restaurant cannot supply "No Sugar" desserts.

Sorry! Did I miss anything?!?!?
12. Sunshine on a Spoiltless Mind: Cheer Up.
(nominated by rachel)

...I casually announced that the Cubs had turned me gay. Of course this random verbal statement made everyone laugh, and someone questioned how that was possible, to which I replied that I had gone on a Cub's Summer Camp for a week and came back gay and with a certificate to prove it. Well once the mocking laughter had died down, I was asked to expand on my peculiar statement, so...
13. meanwhile, here in france...: Five friends, five cellos.
(nominated by Rob)

Still in South London where I was born, I climb into the taxi to catch the 05.34 Eurostar from Waterloo. The grime from the bonnet has smeared itself all over my fingers as I placed my case in the boot and I accidentally wipe it on my Hobbs jumper. In my new attempt not to try and control the entire universe I do not ask the cabbie to turn off his loud music, but rather lean into it. It is a live recording from around what seems to be a Nigerian campfire. It is very beautiful. The cabbie can hear me listening.
14. feeling listless: Review 2005: Vaughan Simons.
(nominated by Clara)

It began, all too poetically, last New Year's Eve. Not being able to enter into the social whirl and increasing paranoia of trying to find myself with some people, somewhere, celebrating, I was at home in bed. Admittedly, I wasn't in the best frame of mind because, well, we all know that New Year's Eve is one of those dates when being alone hangs heavily over one's head, don't we? However, as I lay there and listened to fireworks going off and the sounds of drunken revelry in the hours around midnight, I began to ponder my lengthy obsession with disappearing. My dreams of leaving. Getting the hell out. Vanishing off the face of the Earth.
15. Real E Fun: Sam and Felipe.
(nominated by mike)

The trouble was that Felipe’s visa was running out and he was facing the possibility of having to return to Argentina. He couldn’t bear to leave Sam, worrying in particular that Sam might become ill when he wasn’t there to look after him. They didn’t want to move to Argentina either; Felipe described it as ‘horribly Catholic and homophobic’, and Sam was receiving good health care here. After much discussion they decided the only realistic option was to find a British woman who was willing to marry Felipe. They had a few thousand pounds in savings, and hoped this would be sufficient incentive. So, discreetly, they began to ask around.
16. Burningbird: Year in Pictures.
(nominated by mike)

Following are my photos (or image, in one case) that Flickr designated the most “interesting” based on feedback and number of views...
17. Sarsparilla: I Want.
(nominated by looby)

I want a fixed price. I want grey boredom. I want the land of eternal rain and eternal sarcasm. I want a world where no one goes to church, where no one listens to the queen's speech, yet they go out on the BBC once a year, regardless. I want my cats to puke on my bedclothes, I want to rifle through my own records. I want my dad to start snoring halfway through the movie. I want curry and peshwari naan. I want money whose colours I recognise and count without really seeing. I want a world where it's okay to make a prat of yourself and just laugh about it. Where you know which streets are the dodgy ones.
18. This is this: Bad Backing Vocals.
(nominated by Karen)

Gilbert: "OK, I'll meet you at Drury Lane Theatre for my show which starts at eight."

Chorus (in his head): "He will meet you at Drury Lane Theatre for his show which starts at eight!"

Gilbert: "The traffic will be murder so you better not be late."

Chorus (in his head): "Murder! Murder! Murder and hate! The traffic will be murder so you better not be late!"
19. Tiny Pineapple: La Dolce Vitamins.
(nominated by Rob)

“So remember, dear, only one Vitaball a day…unless, of course, you want to experience the same severe irritability, vomiting, blurred vision, hair loss, large-scale peeling of the skin, and agonizing death as those intrepid arctic explorers.”
20. Popular: THE BEATLES - "Eleanor Rigby"/"Yellow Submarine".
(nominated by mike)

The brisk orchestral arrangement of "Eleanor Rigby" is tense and fussy, with something of Eleanor's spinsterish neatness: the strings bring to mind sewing, or sweeping the steps, one of those little daily things you do unthinking, or instead of thinking. They also sound a little like a horror film soundtrack, and "Eleanor Rigby" is cinematic, and it is about horror. It's Paul McCartney taking one of pop's smooth-rubbed words - "lonely" - thinking it through, and recoiling.
21. qarrtsiluni: An Indian Scale.
(nominated by Rob)

On previous trips I had always travelled with my best friend. Having each other as a point of reference had been, I now discovered, the key to staying sane whilst in culture shock. A mere: “Oooh, look at the taxis! Aren’t they weird?!” or “I guess that must be a potato curry of some sort” had been enough to translate the concept of ‘car’ or ‘food’ from one culture into another. Now however, alone and with no reference point for the very first time on my adventures, I panicked.

Survival instinct took over, and I did something I had never done: I rushed to the nearest three star ‘Western’ hotel. There, defeated and ashamed, I ran up to my suite, ordered dal and rice from room service and listened to the manic beep of Indian city nightlife.
22. Undissembled verbalization 101.
(nominated by Karen)

I know that apostrophes are the bugbear of many, but this is my 'bear - people who use over-inflated, high-falutin', overblown twaddle for language, when everything they mean to say can be communicated so much simpler using little, podgy, Anglo-Saxon words, or something like.

If you're local...

...then might I direct you towards the pull-out Business section in today's Nottingham Evening Post? I've written a "Business Diary" piece for them, which traces my second week in Hangzhou, from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day. Inevitably, it covers much of the same ground as some of my recent blog postings - but with more of a business-orientated slant to it, as befits its target audience. Demographically versatile, that's me.

Update: They've given me a nice splash on Page 7; over half a page, with a colour photo of downtown Hangzhou. The less said about the photo of me, the better; let's just say that I seem to have developed a jawline to rival Bruce Forsyth and Will Young.

Still, none of this can compare to today's front page story: BURGLAR HID HAUL INSIDE HIS FALSE LEG: Amputee admits 51 raids. Consider me comprehensively out-scooped.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Hangzhou pictures.

Now, don't get too excited; I'm a reluctant photographer, to put it mildly. One of those people who doesn't like to interrupt the flow of their real life/real time experiences, stepping back from them in order to compose a shot, and thus somehow placing them at one remove. If a picture paints a thousand words, then give me the thousand words every time.

However, I did force myself to take the odd few snaps here and there. As usual, click on each thumbnail for a larger version.

This was my (and later J's) apartment, in the Zigui Gardens complex on Wenxing Lu. Acceptably contemporary, wouldn't you say?

Left: one of the strange group of ceramics that hung above the telly in the sitting room.

Right: me and some old stone geezer, at the tomb of General Yue Fei.


Stone Buddhas, carved into the rock at the base of Feilai Peak.

Views of the amazing Lingyin Temple.


Left: view over the West Lake.
Right: Lovely Puff!

Left: window cleaners on a Shanghai tower block.
Right: the Jingmao building, Pudong district, Shanghai. I think this is currently the city's tallest building. The Hyatt Hotel starts on the 54th floor; J and I had a coffee up there.

The amazing cake shop on Wensan Lu, snapped just in the nick of time before I was asked to move on. They must have thought I was a spy from a rival cake shop.