Friday, 30 September 2011

On eels

This is likely to be the vaguest blog post I've written in a while. But it deals with a number of family things that I don't particularly want to write about yet. And besides, as I have already found out, I couldn't do it nearly as well as Mark Oliver Everett.

This week I've been reading his autobiographical book, Things The Grandchildren Should Know. I first encountered Eels in January 1997 and the reason was simply because I thought that Novocaine for the Soul was a great song. I was right. It was and it still is. It was my brother who really got into Eels, though. When their second album came out Electro-Shock Blues came out in autumn 1998 he was right on top of it.

"The songs are all about how everyone in his family died", he explained with a customary bluntness. 'What a pisser', thought I, with likewise. 'No wonder all the songs are so MISERABLE'. I was 18 years old.

After reading E's book, though, and finding out about these things in rather more context and depth, I felt a strong need to revisit a record I'd probably not listened to in 12 years. If you've not done it in a similar amount of time, or never have, I recommend that you do. Over the last 24 hours I've barely listened to anything else. It's a quite extraordinarily beautiful and powerful piece of work.

A lot has happened since 1999. 31 year old me has difficulty getting through the whole thing without crying or feeling like they've just swallowed a whole Cornetto, wide end first. This is partially due to the subject matter: death, illness, depression, suicide and lung cancer (which is as far as I'll be going this time) but no doubt also due to the quality of the songs themselves and the enormous human character they convey.

Its most extraordinary characteristic is how it remains an uplifting experience whilst never denying the darkness. The final line of the final song, P.S. You Rock My World is "and maybe it's time to live". Art, music, literature. Its greatness for me is its shapeshifting ability, its scope for changing in meaning depending on the observer, the time or the situation. It's what makes it so endlessly fascinating and exciting. And maybe it IS time to live.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

On my ears being a normal shape

On Saturday night (Sunday morning, actually) I got a cab from Victoria Coach Station in London (which is the capital city of the UK) to Vauxhall, just over the Vauxhall Bridge. Luckily my cab driver was one who would go saaaf of the river after dark, mate. Although I've never really understood that. Why wouldn't you go south of the river? Do the bridges only work in one direction?

To be honest this doesn't have much to do with anything but as I was getting out of SAID CAB, my right earphone died. This was a very sad occasion indeed. I had the choice of getting Phil Spector to remix the 1200-odd songs currently on my iPod into mono overnight from his prison cell (tempting) or blooming well having to revert to the faithful back up, the standard iPod headphones.

Sadly for me, I elected to do the latter. Bloody hell.

Apple have now sold 138 billion iPods. It is estimated that at any one time, every person on earth has at least 13,000 songs in mp3 format in their trousers. These are made-up statistics. However, you'd think that after a decade of pretty much cornering the personal mp3 player market in the way that Tannoy cornered the public address system market, Apple would manage to provide something APPROXIMATING to a half-way decent earbud.

But they haven't. In fact, whoever designed the iPod earbuds has no idea of the SHAPE of a human ear. I doubt that they've ever even seen one. For me, a bud earphone should fulfil three simple criteria. Firstly, they should fit inside the human ear canal's external opening. Secondly, they should try to limit the amount of sound that comes into the earhole that they are in. Thirdly, the thing you want to play should come down the wire and out of them into aforementioned earhole.

Now I will admit my old ones (Sennheiser CX300II) failed me somewhat on the third count. However, the pissing, shitting, wanking Apple ones successfully managed to fail on the first two. Dismally. I would like to hear from anyone who finds the Apple standard ear bud to be a perfect earphone, fulfilling all my three criteria. Because I would like to tell them that they are a freak-eared weirdo. They probably wouldn't even hear me, because there's so much outside leakage of sound you have to turn the volume up full until your ears actually bleed. Which they will be anyway, on account of how misshapen the bloody things are in the first place.

Today I got myself some new earphones. They are the same ones as I had before. Yes, I know. But that's how atrocious Apple's own earbuds are. They made me question my own will to live. Or at least, to have ears.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

On the two Ms

Today I continue working through the backlog of marvellous suggestions for blog posts that people on Twitter made on Monday. Today I've chosen two but because they both begin with the same letter so it's bound to be seamless. So, here's my reflections on migraines and marriage, as suggested by @robotichippo (and as with yesterday, it goes without saying you should be following her if you're one of those Twitter people).

In many ways, these are fairly unusual topics for me to choose as I've only had one of one and none at all of the other. But in a way, it makes me the most qualified person of all.

Actually, it doesn't.

Now, our muse for today's post is someone whom I happen to know is a migraine sufferer. She is by far from alone in this among the people that I know. Migraines seem to abound in the circles in which I move. You know, gentle, creative sorts who believe in magic and got picked on at school (this may actually have just been me, apologies if I'm projecting). There are also a few people in my family who will occasionally succumb, which is no fun at all for them. I know this because I was once lucky enough to have a migraine. It was about 9 years ago and featured some medication and a cake.

At the time I was trying a new anti-depressant medication. Now, I don't know how many of you have experience of such things - my guess is that a significant proportion of you will have done, or perhaps even have needed to start on account of reading this shit - but they are no laughing matter. Indeed, as you would probably expect, they are quite literally mind-bending.

The other thing about them is that they can take up to a fortnight to really start to work. Before that your whole life is liable to be something of a rollercoaster ride of nausea, dizziness and, yes! extra anxiety and depression! I was about a week in and frankly feeling like fucking shit. Come 8 in the evening every night I was a complete zombie. An anxious zombie who felt sick as a pike. What I definitely needed was a slice of fantastically rich flourless chocolate cake.

I have never in all my life been so completely incapacitated. And I include the 4 days I spent laying on my back in a hospital bed with a broken neck in that. God it was completely miserable. Migraine sufferers earned my ultimate sympathy and respect that day. This is often the way to earn my unending sympathy and respect. In many ways, I hope that I never have to gain unending sympathy and respect for someone who has just twatted their thumb with a hammer. Or had a testicle bitten off by a leopard.

Marriage is another thing which is inhumane, incapacitating and miserable. I have never been married. Frankly, I'm not entirely convinced by the whole idea. I think its an impossibly anachronistic concept in this day and age. I suspect that my generation - when I was at school, children being born out of wedlock or coming from a broken home was still seen as a bit taboo for various ludicrous reasons - could be the last that clings on to this daft idea that human emotion needs to be enshrined in a legally-binding document.

This is not to say that I'm against marriage in terms of the relationship. I've met loads of happily married people of all sorts of vintages. But I think that these are all relationships that would exist anyway. You could argue that the legal implications would encourage people to work through any problems more than people who were not married, not tied down. But I think an equally valid counter-argument would be that that's hardly a brilliant basis for patching up any differences. A relationship will endure if it is right. It's as simple as that.

And life is expensive. Why people put themselves through the financial purgatory of a big wedding is a complete mystery to me. My brother and his wife have been together for 10 years this month. They were both 18 at the time. They are now (yes, that's right) 28 and have two children. They got married in 2007 (by which time they already had an 18-month old girl). I daren't even think how much their wedding cost. But it's arguable that after living together for 6 years and having one child it made absolutely piss all difference to them apart from a financial problem.

People argue that weddings and marriages are for other people - family and friends - more than for the couple themselves. I'll never understand why human beings seem so hard-wired to make their lives more complicated than they need to be.

So, today's conclusion is that both migraines and marriages are a right fucking headache and are both best avoided.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

On how I would capture a runaway panda if it appeared in my garden

Oh hello again. Yesterday afternoon I asked Twitter what I should write a blog about to get back on my blogging megahorse, and I received lots of excellent suggestions. Yesterday's came from @LollyGee and today's is from @betsymartian. If you're on Twitter and not following both of these people then you're no friend of mine, let me tell you.


I live by the sea near the border between East and West Sussex. Prime panda country. Every autumn, the majestic and sweeping panda migrations make parts of Southwick, Shoreham-by-Sea and Steyning completely impassable. Alas, occasionally one will wander off from the herd. Then what do you do?

Well, the first thing is not to panic. They're not actually more scared of you than you are of them. In fact they will gladly bite your face clean off. However, what you need to do is forget that fact for a minute and get some courage. Because a faint heart never got a panda in a headlock yet.

As we all know, Montogomery used to put up a picture of Rommel in his tent and blow it kisses and write it love notes. No, actually, he put it there to size up his enemy. And that's the key here, to KNOW YOUR ENEMY. To catch an errant panda you must understand the strengths and weaknesses of the panda. The strengths include cuteness and the ability to bite your face clean off. What are a panda's weaknesses, though? As we all know, they are twofold:
  1. Bamboo
  2. Lady pandas (or mandas, if you have a lady panda in your garden)
That's right. Pandas love to eat bamboo and they don't like lady pandas (or mandas, if they are a lady panda). There's nothing a panda would rather do than eat bamboo all day on their own and do nothing about making any new pandas.

So, to capture a panda is a three man operation. (WARNING: one of these three men is going to complain bitterly about having more to do than the others. Ignore them). The first must dress as a lady panda (or a manda, if you have a lady panda to deal with) and just sit there looking coy and flirtatious. The second must dig a 10 foot by 10 foot by 10 foot deep pit and fill it with bamboo. The panda will see the lady panda (or manda) and go, 'uh oh. Don't want to be accidentally be doing any baby pandas'. Corralled by that horrible thought it will gallop into the bamboo pit. Where the second will probably still be stood, sweating and swearing about how unfair it all is.

The third's role is to film all of this and send it to me at the email address in the sidebar. Thanks.

Monday, 26 September 2011

On biscuits

Hello loyal and long-suffering readers. Been a while, by my recent blogging output's ridiculously high standards, hasn't it? Of course, older readers will have been sagely nodding to themselves about my return to form. Anyway, life and stuff and things distracted me last week. However, hopefully this week I can get back on the rails - or back on my alarmingly large steed Megahorse - and give your already groaning RSS feed readers something else to blurt at you.

But to anyone who's been feeling worried and/or deprived by my absence (yeah, right) - I apologise. You could probably have followed my little breadcrumb trails around the internets, but of course the risk there is that they all lead to my gingerbread house.

And that leads me neatly on to the subject of biscuits. Rest assured that, even if I wasn't able to find time to blog I WAS able to find time to eat biscuits. I attribute my robust and manly 46-stone physique to biscuits. They are a constant companion in my life, be it at breakfast time, religious holidays or on train journeys.

What I am about to say may strike fear into your very bowels, but it's now less than 3 months until Christmas. If you don't see at least one biscuit selection tin over the festive season, then I think it's fair to say that you've managed to upset both Father Christmas AND the little baby Jesus over the past 12 months. They are a festive staple. I'll happily asset strip all of your selection tins, given half a chance. I'm a dangerous man to know, and not just because of my inevitably skyrocketing and near-volcanic cholesterol level. However, this year I thought I'd use my years of eating Cookie Monster under the fucking table for good as well as for frenzied, crumby, explosions of gluttony. But for that we're going to need A DIAGRAM.


Oh, here's one here. Pictured are many of the old familiar biscuits from selection tins. Firstly, these will be in your Normal Standard selection tin. The sort made by our most esteemed biscuit makers. Far be it from me to say which are the best, but it is Fox's. Cadbury's, too, usually produce on the big holiday biscuit stage, but they can't compete with the precision engineering and centuries of biscuit knowledge and experience of Fox's. Biscuits are an interesting food group, in that you only get what you pay for up to a certain point, and it's the point I've just mentioned. Beyond that you get all sort of luxury crap, with dried lingonberries and macadamia nuts and brandy snap biscuits dipped in yoghurt and ghastly things with chocolate on only one side. That's not for me.

Anyway, without further ado here's my insider guide to what to look out for when choosing your biscuit. (incidentally, I have not pictured any of the Viennese sandwich type biscuits, nor any of the cream sandwich biscuits. This is because by the time you reach the tin, I'll have already eaten them).

Biscuit 1 Caution is advised here. Note the thinness and the decoration. A sure sign this biscuit will be very plain and disappointing. Sidestep this one for the first pass.

Biscuit 2 You know when you go to the zoo? You go to see elephants, penguins, lions and tigers. But you know damn sure you'll be looking at a lot of zebras and nondescript African cattle as well. Biscuit 2 is the zebra of the biscuit tin. Filler. Some of them can be very nice, especially if it's got a shortbread centre. Increasingly, though, these are bafflingly crystalline in texture, or inexplicably and unnecessarily flavoured with raspberries. If you're chocolate-covering your biscuit, do us all a favour and keep the biscuit plain.

Biscuits 3 and 4 The unassuming stars of the tin. Look fairly unpromising but their chunky solidity is very telling of one key thing: high chocolate ratio. The risk with 4 is it might be slyly concealing a wafer, but a quick check for depth with your biscuit calipers should set your mind at rest.

Biscuit 5 Ah. Foil-wrapped. The loser's dream ticket. These biscuits are often chosen by the inexperienced or unwary biscuit eater. For the biscuit pro, I'm quite grateful. They lure the eye and the hand to a usually fairly disappointing thing which tastes of oranges a bit. And that's if you're LUCKY.

Biscuit 6 They're chocolate-covered finger shortbread biscuits! With three different coverings, milk, dark or white chocolate! Milk is best and will be eaten first, unless your biscuit eaters are highly foolish. Or you just offered the tin to an elephant and he's shovelling great trunkfuls in without really chewing.

Biscuit 7 Good shortbread.

Biscuit 8 Rubbish shortbread.

Biscuit 9 The Oblong Biscuit. It's sometimes foil-wrapped, it's sometimes not. Sometimes it's milk chocolate, or somethimes it's white. Either way, you know it's going to be wafer. And there's your guarantee of variable quality RIGHT THERE.

I hope this guide helps you make better choices come biscuit season this year. I would stress, though, that no selection tin I've encountered has yet been perfect. Indeed, until the selection tin is made up of the following, our search continues: Tunnock's Teacakes, Viennese chocolate sandwich biscuits, Biscuit 3 (above), Chocolate chip and hazelnut cookie, Party rings, my mum's homemade gingerbread men and the biscuits I ate on the train yesterday.

Make it happen, Biscuiteers!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

On image

In the last few months I've read a number of different blog posts on any number of blogs about body image and learning to love what you've got. They've all been very intelligent and enlightening. But they've all been written by women. Last night I had to wonder... do men feel the same things?

Look, I'm doing a Sex and The City joke there. It's well meta and I deserve respect for that, if not necessarily for the amount I like Sex and The City. Although personally, I don't understand why people think it's strange that men would like Sex and The City. It's good!

My conclusion is that I think I do. I perhaps don't devote as much thought to it as the blog posts I have read suggest that women might do. But who knows? Men are lucky in that there's no great societal expectation - however spurious or stereotypical that might be - that they will care about their appearance, nor as much criticism if they just don't bother. However, I think it's nice to look nice and want to look nice. But then again, I also like Sex and The City, eh lads? EH?

Well, no, actually lads. Shut up. I would say that I am fairly typical of most men I know in terms of looking after their appearance - wash it, de-stink it, cover it up. But I still take an interest in my appearance. I'm not particularly handsome, but there's nothing you can do about that. Unless you are insane. I'm stocky, too, and a bit tubby... although I get away with more than I should thanks to my preposterously wide frame. There IS something I could do about that, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like it. Another day, another month, another year. Maybe.

I'm also a bit gormless-looking in photographs, which doesn't help my body image issues, which are akin to those of a particularly fragile teenager whenever the photo albums come out. Occasionally there'll be a picture of me taken which I will think is nice. Recently I've made a point to squirrel these away, save them to my computer or favourite them on Flickr or whatever. I am glad I've done this, I think it helps me feel better about myself. But then, I am an idiot.

The trouble with being a human is that the only way you know what you look like comes from reflections. This is insane, because the reality that everyone else sees is a mirror image. I think this is what weirds so many people out about how they look in photographs. Just like people don't think they sound right in recordings. The lack of awareness humans have about what other people see really fascinates me.

I thought in the interests of full disclosure I'd finish this post with three recent pictures of me which I particularly like, so you can totally ogle me. Or say something completely cutting. S'up to you. Please don't do the latter. I'm nice INSIDE.

This is me at Brighton Pride in August 2010. As you've probably noticed I'm dressed as Mr. T. I like this one because I look quite RUGGED. And a bit like Mr. T.

This is me in my friend's house very, very late at night no doubt. I like it because I look happy and smiley and PLAYFUL. Also, I love lids.

I really like this one, from earlier this year. I shouldn't. I'm a bit red-nosed and puffy because I'd been out all afternoon drinking and stood in the cold watching a football match. I think the reason I like it is because it's very ME. My terror at being photographed is visible, as is my innate clownishness. But also check out the colour of my eyes! Olive green, people. Don't you wish you were hot like me?

If you do, drink more and eat biscuits.

Monday, 19 September 2011

It's not what you know

Internet WITS - and there's a lot of them about oh my brothers - will have you know that instant messaging is for people you know, Facebook is for people you wish you didn't know and Twitter is people you wish you knew. From a personal standpoint, I dispute that, because by a process of a careful and brutal (a real heavy-handed Stalinist brutality) pruning of your lists of friends, followers, disciples (call them what you will), you can very much change your experience. However, I can't deny that there is also a kernel of truth in it.

A lot of the people I know now, I first met online. When I was first able to say that it was a strange thing, now it's very much less so. Although there's still a frisson of weirdness, geekiness and non-social acceptability about it. However, I would like to argue that the people who argue that it's weird are probably the same people who sit around moaning about all the stupid, pointless and racist things people on their Facebook have said.

Because getting to know people online first is good. It honestly is. Where Facebook has never won me over is that it's a place for people you already know, not somewhere to do any actual networking. It's a useful tool, certainly, especially for arranging things. But beyond that I have little interaction with it.

The people who complain about Facebook are often people who are following everyone they've ever encountered, out of a sense of duty. I'm not criticising this. Office politics, family loyalty and old school ties can force one's hand and make these things unavoidable. But it's the people who you've met in real life first who will usually be the ones to suddenly come out violently in favour of "sending everyone with a 'Z' in their surname back to where they came from", or "building a death camp on the Isle of Wight".

This year I've made a number of new friends via Twitter and have now met several of them in actual real life and everything! The best part is there's few surprises there. For dedicated Twitterers like myself, there's no place to hide. I tweet pretty much every day that it's convenient for me to do so. People will know about the gloom, the frenzy, the whimsy, the gormlessness, the sweetness and the unpredictablity which are likely to make up a fully-fledged Dotmoment. Prolonged exposure to anyone in an online community is very revealing, especially once you are experienced in that arena and can read between the lines a little better.

I'm not saying that in future, everyone should live in a little box and only physically meet people that they've really got to know online first. But at the same time that is exactly what I'm saying. Let's make it happen today!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

On inspiration

Tonight I am torturing myself, there's no other word for it, by looking at the artwork of many of my heroes. This normally undermines my confidence in my own ability to such an extent that I plumb the depths of a big depression for a day or two. So I figured, before I just give up, I might as well get a blog post out of it.

Almost no-one has ever asked me who my influences are, artistically speaking. However, never one to read the signals, I've decided to share with you my favourite five. Normally when I do a list it's strictly in no particular order. But this one is in a particular order. Because I'm quite evangelical about these matters and feel this is very important stuff. Accompanying each of the five is a picture or two which particularly excites me.

5. Gerald Scarfe
I'm not a great fan of Scarfe's later work, from the 1990s onward. It got a bit too stylised and pointy for my taste. However, that's just personal preference. Scarfe remains one of the most important visual artists of the 20th Century. His visceral, brutal, exploding, putrid, terrifying and savage vision completely revolutionised political cartoons and caricatures for the Beatles' generation.


4. Giles
From one extreme to another. Giles worked for decades as the Express' cartoonist, but his was as far from the overtly political role that it has since become. Instead Giles captured an everyday Britain, reacting and adjusting to the changing world rather than trying to influence it. His canon is as profound a social history of Britain from World War II until the end of the Thatcher era as any you will find in print or on television. There's also the small matter of his extraordinary skill as a draughtsman...


3. André François
I discovered François relatively late. His name cropped up time and again when other art heroes of mine spoke of their influences. I now consider him to be the most magical and imaginative cartoonist of - at the very least - the 20th Century. Every image is shot through with a childlike wonder which is uniquely moving. Quite magnificent.



2. Quentin Blake
For me, François is a more exciting artist than Blake. I think that Blake would probably say much the same thing. But what edges him ahead is the seismic effect that Blake has had on my imagination throughout my life. Without any shadow of a doubt, the greatest children's illustrator who has ever drawn breath.


1. Ronald Searle
I feel really emotional when I talk about Searle. His work is so stunning, so alive and so truly magnificent that words alone can't do it justice. I believe that Searle - who will be remembered primarily for St. Trinian's but that's just scratching the surface of his huge output and range - is by a head-and-shoulders the finest visual artist the world has produced in the last 100 years. Yes, really. Like François and Blake, what makes the magic for me is the simple fact that every single piece, every single constituent line of one of Searle's drawings can provoke an emotional reaction, which is normally to make you laugh. How many other artists can boast that?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Make Something Swap

Now we've got the horror of the chutney podcast firmly committed to the annals of history, we can get back to more constructive things.

For my art and craft minded readers, may I direct you in the direction of Skulls and Ponies (art and craft minded readers should already be reading S&P, dammit) so that you might join in with the swapsie-swap project idea that Fran has decided to run. I commend this idea to the house. All the necessary details are HERE.

Don't make me threaten you. Kneecaps are such precious things.

For non-art or craft-minded readers, I suppose there's always a chutney podcast to keep you entertained(?) until my next massive crisis of confidence precipitates a more traditional dotmund blog post.

Idiocy like this deserves to be rewarded

Or, indeed, Sony Awarded. I mentioned this week that on Monday my friends 5olly and Betsy and I had drunkenly (in 5olly and my case) and tolerantly (Betsy) recorded ourselves making green tomato chutney. Well, here it is in its full 73 minute glory.

Seventy-three minutes! Do yourself a favour and watch The Bride of Frankenstein instead. With the sound muted, listening to our Chutcast.

Friday, 16 September 2011

On being a fraidy cat

The other day I did a blog about worrying. This isn't about that. This is about being afraid of stuff. Being afraid of stuff is an active process, whereas worry is pre-emptive. There you are, if you didn't know that, you have already learnt something.

On Tuesday night I went to my friends' house. I'd never had steak tartare before and my friend had promised to not cook it for me. Afterwards, her housemate joined she and I to watch the concluding part of ITV's Appropriate Adult and eat salty chocolate treats.

At about 11 I went off home. To my fake house in Hove, where I've been staying this week on a catsitting gig. I always like to walk around town. It's good exercise and I am still in possession of all my body parts and am young, so why not? I was full of raw meat, thinking about serial killers (we'd also been discussing Bundy) and listening to The Velvet Underground. My sense of sado-masochistic darkness was probably at the peak of its graph, which I'd plotted in my own blood. The walk takes 40 minutes.

I know Brighton - where I am from - and Hove - where I went to school - pretty well. So I can dart through all the back streets and stuff and not get lost much. However, these back streets are spookier than main streets. The irony is you're more likely to get in trouble on Brighton's main highways, where all the drunks are staggering about. Plus the criminal classes favour them for their sweet lighting. The other reason I like to avoid the main streets is sometimes you see the delivery lorries for the supermarkets and takeaways there. I don't like my illusions of the magical food fairies spoilt.

So, I was thinking about serial killers and raw meat and listening to Heroin and noticing all the places someone could quite easily be quietly doing a murder in the shadows where you'd never see it. There's one just to the south of Brighton station. There's another cracking one in a churchyard on Upper North Street. The best of all is in a square just off Clifton Road. Please do not misinterpret these as being tips. Murder is wrong.

I became increasingly aware that I was a bit afraid, frankly. Afraid of the dark and my imagination, mainly. After the station I cut through towards St. Nicholas' church, which has a big graveyard. Now there was a fully-fledged risk of zombies. Oh cripes.

It was a relief to get back onto a slightly bigger road after that, but as soon as I did my friend Kev spotted me walking past The Florist pub and tootled out to say hello. I'm not at my best with the old bump-into at the best of times. On Tuesday night, however, I think I successfully conveyed that my social awkwardness was now shot through with absurdist and made-up terror, by recourse to barely being able to speak. Another proud moment.

The most surprising thing in all of this is that I am single.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

I like your hair

I have this hair. It's sort of extreme wavy. Moderately curly. Either way, if I don't cut it, it just does what it likes. There's not much you can do. It just sticks out and up and down and around as it sees fit. People seem to like it. I'm growing to like it, too.

As you may also know, I am a big fan of Bob Dylan. You may have already guessed where this is going.

I am aware, yes, that Mr. Dylan and myself have similar hair.

I generally have to keep the fact I'm a Dylan enthusiast quiet unless I have short hair. Otherwise strangers immediately say something like "ah, the hair" or "that explains the hair".

This either means that they believe that, in the womb I concentrated very hard to get the requisite shape of hair follicle to have Dylanesque hair. Or that in adult life I elected to have a perm, in order to look like Bob Dylan.

Maybe I should stop wearing a harmonica rack, and taking Joan Baez, to social functions.

On being in season

Let's talk space and time. You've probably noticed that it's getting pretty autumnal out there. Exciting stuff. Show me someone who is bored of autumn and I'll show you someone who is bored of life, OF LIFE ITSELF. Or maybe they just don't like autumn, who knows?

You should already be reading all of the blogs in my link list already anyway because they are all better than mine, but in case you missed it at the weekend, here's a lovely summary of autumn goodness from Skulls and Ponies.

Now that that's got you in the mood, I'm going to discuss three autumnal things and the personal policies which have arisen from them. You may learn something about me. You may even realise why it's a good idea to hate me more.

1. Seasonality
Anyone who has ever done did some gardening or suchlike will know that certain things only grow at certain times of the year. When I was a child, this fact was reflected in the supermarket shelves. Globalisation has seen to that, rather. I'm always a little despirited to see strawberries on the shelves in January.

Just because you can find a supplier abroad who will send you strawberries all winter long, doesn't mean it's a good idea. For one thing, where's the magic and excitement gone? But on a less metaphysical level, strawberries flown in from abroad are always terrible, because they have to be picked early so as not to spoil on the way. I would rather wait all year for a 6 week window when I can enjoy strawberries, or peaches, or asparagus than sit around in February eating a Peruvian strawberry which has all of the taste and texture of a raw new potato. So I do. It's good. It's nice to have that bit of magic back.

I like to think of it as a soft fruit hairshirt I choose to wear.

2. Spider's webs
Autumn is a pretty spidery time. Look around any garden you see in the street and you're almost guaranteed to see a big fat garden spider in a pristine, due-flecked web. I have a very clear policy of spider's webs. It is this. I will absolutely not destroy them. Not until I learn how to spin a silken web out of my own bum, anyway.

The other day I was getting some herbs from the garden (I am a big ponce like that) and found a spider had slung (probably her, I didn't stop to ask) web in such a place that I couldn't get to the marjoram. Middle class emergency! However, I worked round it and did without. Just because I am bigger than a spider doesn't give me the right to lord it up. That thing just MADE ITS OWN HOUSE OUT OF SILK IT MADE ITSELF. If that's not worthy of respect, I don't know what is.

3. Glut busting
Harvest time is upon us. There'll be many a glut of vegetables to sort out before winter brings naught but preserved summer stuff and huffy brassicas for the seasoned and disciplined seasonal vegetable eater (me). I have nothing much to say about this, nor any great tips. So instead I'm going to use gluts as a jumping off point to explain why I don't like celery.

Christmas 1989 and I am eating celery. There's a big jug full of it. And I'm making merry. Crunch crunch crunch. Crunch crunch. Dip dip dip (that's the salt). Crunch crunch. Dip dip. Crunch crunch. Ooh, stringy bit. Crunch crunch crunch.

I could go on. I did, actually. Nine-year old me nailed that whole jug of celery.

Unfortunately, it being Christmas time there was also a rather nasty stomach bug going around. In the middle of the night, I am being heroically sick. This was, of course, nothing to do with the celery. However, the brain linked the two up and that was the end of that. I am glad it did. It was nature's way of demonstrating that celery is evil and not to be trusted. I have not eaten another stick of celery since.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

On no strings being attached

I imagine that the majority of you are already aware of these things, but I'll just restate them because it's important for this post to work: I am a man and we are on the internet. If you read my post about b3ta the other day, you'll probably also already know that I've been a man on the internet for a good long while.

During that time, I've seen a lot of "Men On The Internet", if you know what I mean. Pervies, letchers, fannyrats, smarmers as well as full-blown deviants. I think as the internet gains a stronger and stronger foothold into the realms of everyday life, the stereotype of the internet pervert is being slowly eroded and dismissed. But it's one which will never fully go away. It shouldn't. Because as with any stereotype, there is of course a certain amount of cases in which it is true.

However, it's not much fun for me. You can choose to believe what I'm about to say or not, I suppose. Any of my friends reading this will already know it to be true. I shouldn't, therefore, need to feel quite so defensive or eager to justify myself to strangers. And yet, I do. Because the fact is, I'm actually just an uncomplicated, straightforwardly, nice person. We do exist. We're the people who send you a nice email or a card just because, who compliment and praise you with no expectation of reciprocity. If I leave a nice comment, or send an email, or offer to do something for you, I am personally able to guarantee that I both (a) only do these things because I mean it and (b) that as far as I'm concerned, that's as deep as it goes.

Whenever I cross paths with someone online - again, us nicies will never go seeking anybody out, we'll just head to whatever forums interest us and if we happen to meet new people, it's just a bonus - I can honestly say my initial thought is, if I like them and like what they have to say or have done or made, that I would like to be their friend. I suppose this is rather childlike and naive, but I am. I suppose it's this rather uncomplicated outlook which gets me so upset when people accuse me of having ulterior motives.

I'm not going to let it change what I do. Hopefully as I meet new people and as, perhaps, some of them turn into real life friends, more and more people will see this for themselves. All I can do, I suppose, is try to toughen myself up and no get so upset as and when people accuse me of only doing or saying things to further my own cause. Because, of course, they will. For a lot of people, the online experience continues to be seen as a massive sausage party. All anyone can do - in any area of life, I suppose - is just to be themselves. Because the truth always has a way of making itself known.

So, all us internet nicies unite! We have nothing to lose but the unfair stigma!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

On worry

Why did I used to worry? This occurred to me today. Frankly, it's very worrying.

Last night I accidentally recorded a podcast. I was helping my friend 5olly make chutney and he thought it would be an interesting experiment to record it. I'm an avowed completist, so will wait until the whole thing is available before pimping it too hard. But if you follow the link to his blog there I believe you'll be able to hear a snippet. We had been drinking, yes.

This sort of thing used to terrify me. For a start, I (in common with almost everyone in existence) don't like hearing my voice when it's recorded. However, the anxiety just seems to have melted away, allowing me to enjoy the content of the thing, rather than fretting about trivialities of the wrapping.

I think I comprehensively proved that I am a blithering idiot, but hopefully also the right kind of idiot. A nice sort of idiot. Maybe even an entertaining sort of idiot. "Compelling" may be a step too far, but in my defence, chutney's not really a subject on which I feel I have the requisite knowledge to really hold forth.

I'm continuing to put myself out there in lots of little ways and it's so exciting because the effect is so overwhelmingly positive. Don't think it, do it. I always say that people don't change, but I think now what they can do is become better, become more themselves. Become the person they have the potential to be.

I paint, draw, write, cook. I'm educated, curious and have lots of interests. I am going to coin the phrase Renaissance Idiot to describe myself and everyone like me. There's a lot of us Renaissance Idiots about, too. It bodes well for the future.

My one remaining worry is that I'll get too confident and cocky. I'd hate that. I implore all of you to beat me down whenever it happens. It will be for my own good even more than it will be for the good of society. The Renaissance Idiot must never lose sight of the fact that they are an idiot.

Monday, 12 September 2011

On b3ta

Today is the tenth anniversary of the first post being made on the b3ta.com messageboard. It's as significant an anniversary as any other in the history of the internet. B3ta.com is a legitimate phenomenon... less high profile than many of its rivals or peers, perhaps due to its Britishness, both in terms of the majority of its users and its outlook on life. However, if you see a funny picture on the internet, there's still a very good chance that it originated from b3ta or one of its members.

I signed up for b3ta on 28th October 2003. I am not being sarcastic, or even just glib, to say that it is the best thing I ever did in my life. It opened up a new world of like-minded people and creative stimulation to me. Eight years on, I've made lifelong friends that I met through the site, and pretty much every other positive thing which happens can be traced back to that day in 2003.

That sounds rather pathetic, when it's written down. A hangover from those times where meeting people through the internet was viewed with deep suspicion. Nowadays, everyone is doing it and my friends and I nod sagely, the wisdom of the pioneer. And besides, however sad and pathetic some people might think it is, it has the virtue of being true. The real sad and pathetic thing was the state I was in beforehand. 28th October is my second birthday.

I am sure that Rob, Cal and Denise are enormously proud of the site the created, and rightly so. But I also hope they are aware of the real difference that their site has made to peoples actual lives. It is a wonderful thing, and one for which I will always be grateful.

This post deserved a bit of seriousness. But as it's about b3ta, I couldn't possibly leave it there. B3ta is about laughs. So I'm going to finish up with a selection of some of my favourite ever b3ta pictures, cribbed from my handy "stuff you've liked" page. Brace yourselves.

British ants enter space race
B3ta at its most brilliant and straightforward. Apropos of nothing and designed purely to make you titter.

Fly sex
Does exactly what it says on the tin.

Jack Torrance vs. door
Internet humour 101 - film meme, silly idea, brilliant timing and execution.

Marilyn Monroe
Spectacularly offensive, quickly done and brilliant.

Heston makes us some dinners
I think this is amazing.

Go to work on an...
My favourite b3ta picture of all time. It is magnificent beyond the need for words or description.

Gaza and the West Bank
Jokes, as the phrase on the posting page tells us, are better than technique.

Headline writer goes mental
Awesome.

Godzilla's umbrella
Jokes are better than technique. Both are often on display, however.

Blankety Blank lols
I will never not laugh at this.

Mandrill gets a light
Or this.

Air museum
One by someone who is now a close friend of mine. But forget that, just get a load of this.

Cat leaps
Well, I couldn't do all of this and not have a cat. This is just lovely.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

9/11

9/11 was that rare thing indeed: a moment in history when things genuinely changed. Paradigm shift. It was the most vivid, audacious, unbelievable, horrifying and devastating thing I have ever witnessed. I hope I never see the like again

Over the last ten years, you learn lots of little things about that day. From grand conspiratorial plots to individual acts of humanity and kindness. Every time that footage, which is burned permanently into my brain, takes on a slightly different perspective.

There's such an unreal quality to those images that they can feel jarring and impersonal. Bringing the humanity back into the story one person or one tale at a time is, I think, terribly important.

Because 9/11 was the very worst of humanity. The fact that it has continued to send ripples of the same kind of ignorance, fear, intolerance and hatred which inspired the act in the first place is the most awful part. The best commemoration this year and every year would be to love one another.

Friday, 9 September 2011

On evil

I really do try and avoid the Mail Online, so help me I do. I'm not one of these "don't link to the Mail, you just give them what they want and pay their advertisers" people because for every one of them there are a hundred more who lap that shit up. And it is shit, you have to say. Such shit that it's completely and utterly compelling.

This is why I try and avoid the Mail Online, you see. Because if I even happen upon it, usually via a shortened link on Twitter or an absent-minded click through on the BBC news and sport sites, I know I will be powerless to stop myself devouring it. The internet equivalent of reading something from cover to cover. And that makes me feel dirty.

Dirty and angry is the usual combination, in fact. A book of coupons for The Manure Wagon or The One-Stop Plop Shop Manure Store couldn't get you as much free horseshit as reading the Mail Online. Recently, and I swear to you this is true (I can't be bothered to find the article, I really do draw the line at that), I read a story on there about how 1980s EastEnder and sometime C-list heartthrob Nick Berry had been out in public, but that his hair - dark brown in his heyday TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO - was now grey. It's difficult to know quite where to start with the things that are wrong with that.

Actually, it is quite easy. It's that it's an excellent example of how the Mail get their stories. In between continually grieving for Princess Diana, and presumably without irony, they continue to be the biggest Pap Rag going. For the record, I consider that "news" is overstretched to the point of self-parody these days. Twenty-four hour news channels and billions of news websites updated by the second are revealing what we all know... even on a busy day there's really only enough news (i.e. stuff that's actually happened that has some bearing on other stuff) to fill a 15-20 minute teatime bulletin. Even within the new "give 45 minutes over to discussing what might happen" paradigm, though, sending a load of sweaty rat bastard paparazzi photographers out onto the streets of North London to take photos of Christine Bleakley in her sweats has never been news. Never has, never will.

And even within THAT filthy paradigm, stuff like this just makes my overworked forehead veins bulge threateningly. The thing is, in this wretched piece of non-journalism about Peaches Geldof being very thin, you just know that the bikini photographs of her looking much healthier on a beach will probably have appeared in a similar piece at the time they were taken - maybe even on the same site, who knows - with 200 finely-wrought words about what a fat cow Peaches Geldof is.

I'm sick to death of the modern day celebrity culture. But that's no reason to taunt them to from one extreme to another until they drop dead. At which stage you can perhaps issue a glossy 32-page pull-out retrospective of their life? For a small additional price, of course.

Gladiatorial combat in Roman times, eh? We're so much more civilised than that now. Thumbs down.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

On hurricanes

I've never been to America but I feel a certain kinship with Americans whenever there's hurricanes about. They just had one! Her name was Irene. You probably read about it. Unless you're reading this from America's east coast, when you probably didn't read about it because the power went down and all the newspapers blew away. But you almost certainly had other sources of information, such as a cow going past your bedroom window sideways.

The reason for my feelings of kinship are simple: before I was 10 years old I'd experienced two hurricanes. As far as I knew, this sort of thing happened all the time. Between Autumn 1987 and January 1990 I thought houses didn't necessarily have to have tiles on their roof, that cars parked with their wheels in the air and that owls tied themselves to branches with safety harnesses.

Actually, it's fair to say that, 21 years on, hurricanes are a relatively rare occurrence in the United Kingdom. In fact, the 1987 storm (sadly, the UK doesn't have sufficient hurricanes to give them names) was the first hurricane in the UK since the earth was a flaming ball of molten rock and the land was ruled by fish with legs and delusions of grandeur.

This lack of hurricanes has served to conflate the history of both storms - 16th October 1987 and 25th January 1990 - into one set of memories and hurricane-lore. So, to be clear, 1987 was the one where Michael Fish went on the telly and told everyone there wasn't going to be a hurricane and the one which blew down all the oaks in Sevenoaks. The 1990 one was the one where Gordon Kaye from 'Allo 'Allo almost met his maker when a branch twatted the car he was driving. Because unlike the 1987 storm, which was overnight, the 1990 one took place during the daytime (the morning, mostly). This made it much more deadly, as more people were out in it. It was also much less destructive, however, largely on account of how everything that blew over in 1987 hadn't been put back up yet. Because in Britain, we like to take our time over that sort of shit.

I have very clear memories of the 1987 hurricane. I was 7 and we lived in Woodingdean. Woodingdean is just outside Brighton, but for mail purposes is within it. It's on top of a hill and rather exposed. This was abundantly clear on 17th October 1987, shortly after my mother was forced to apologise to my 4-year old brother and myself for telling us to shut up, it's just a bit of wind. Everything had fallen over. The only stuff that hadn't fallen over was the stuff which was meant to be on the ground, and that was all now in the air. Our house bore up awfully well. We lost a few tiles and our garden fence is probably still in Ringmer. A lot of people were not so lucky. There were a lot of houses in Woodingdean with no roof or windows and an insurance man stood outside with a steaming great big erection. My school was completely destroyed. I had the next month off until someone remembered that there was an old school building next door which we could use until our school was rebuilt. Drat.

When it was rebuilt, it was opened by the Duchess of Gloucester. Just in time for the 1990 storm, in fact. This time, only the roof blew off. I was in the classroom when it did. It was pretty noisy and after that they decided it was probably best to send us home, from a safety point of view. Whichever Little Piggy had rebuilt our school had obviously used bricks this time, though, because we only had one day off this time. I don't know what happened to our classroom roof. When we learned about Gordon Kaye, I hoped it hadn't been our roof that had hit him. Edith would never have forgiven us. Luckily (although not for Gordon Kaye) it wasn't. I suspect our roof is now in Bevendean somewhere where it is proudly guarded by a dairy cow.

The clarity of these memories is pretty remarkable, considering how long ago they were. There's nothing like 120mph winds to really leave a mark on the mind. And everything else, in fact. People like me, who knew Brighton before 1987, can still point out bits and bobs that changed forever. I imagine people from all over the south of England can say the same about wherever it is that they come from. It's nice to be involved in a little part of your nation's history, I suppose. And even nicer if you can sit here over 20 years later being glib about it, rather than being dead.

I would not like there to be any more hurricanes anywhere. They are dangerous.

The America project - Louisiana

Louisiana (LA) size 52,271 sq.m population 4.5 million


Bordering states Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi (3)
State capital Baton Rouge
Most populous city New Orleans
Other notable places Lafayette, Shreveport, Alexandria, Monroe
Notable landmarks and natural features Mississippi River; Red River; The French Quarter, New Orleans

Statehood 30th April 1812 (18th)

Ten famous Louisianais
Louis Armstrong (musician and singer; born New Orleans, 1901-1971)
Truman Capote (writer; born New Orleans, 1924-1984)
Fats Domino (musician, singer and songwriter; born New Orleans, 1928 -)
Dorothy Lamour (actress; born New Orleans, 1914-1996)
Paul Morphy (chess grandmaster; born New Orleans, 1837-1884)
Lee Harvey Oswald (Presidential assassin; born New Orleans, 1939-1963)
Pauley Perrette (actress and singer; born New Orleans, 1969 -)
Britney Spears (singer and actress; born McComb, Mississippi (raised Kentwood), 1981 -)
Tony Joe White (musician and songwriter; born Oak Grove, 1943 -)
Reece Witherspoon (actress; born New Orleans, 1976 -)

Three important events

1. Louisiana Purchase (1803)
Referring to the territory, rather than just the State, the Louisiana Purchase is one of the more impressive territorial acquisitions in US history. The territory had belonged to Spain up until 1800, when it had been sold back to France with little fanfare. However, in 1801 Napoleon sent an armed force to New Orleans and that great motivating factor in so much of early American history - slavery - reared its ugly head. Fearing that Napoleon would free the slaves in Louisiana and create a chain reaction in other States, the new President Thomas Jefferson began negotiations with France. The territory was eventually exchanged on April 30th at a cost of US$11.25 million plus an additional cancellation of US$3.75 million of French debts. The huge territory - 828,800 square miles and encompassing 15 current US States (Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, plus parts of North and South Dakota, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana) plus small parts of the now-Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan - worked out at a very reasonable per-acre price of 3 cents.

2. Jim Garrison (1969)
New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison is still the only man to have brought a legal trial in the case of the murder of President John F. Kennedy. Sadly for him, his case was significantly more shaky than the film it inspired - JFK - would have you believe. Believing the Warren Commission report into the assassination to be wanting, Garrison began investigating a conspiracy in New Orleans in 1966. It centred around Lee Harvey Oswald - born in New Orleans and an occasional resident throughout his life - and a noted businessman from the city, Clay Shaw. Garrison's case hinged on the testimony of Perry Russo, an insurance salesman from Baton Rouge, who claimed that he had seen Oswald, a man he claimed was Shaw and David Ferrie, a fanatical anti-communist and some-time military man, discuss the assassination of Kennedy at a party in Shaw's house in the summer of 1963. However, Russo's account failed countless tests, including an FBI polygraph and questioning whilst under the influence of the Sodium Pentathol "truth serum" and Garrison's case was dismissed within an hour of jury deliberation.

3. Hurricane Katrina (29th August 2005)
Hurricane Katrina is the costliest natural disaster ever to befall the United States, as well as one of the most violent on record. It formed on August 23rd 2005, peaking around the 28th and 29th before dissipating a day later. Of all the States affected, the impact on Louisiana was the most deadly as it caused a collapse of the levee system and massive flooding of the low-lying State, causing death and devastation for weeks after the storm. New Orleans was evacuated on 28th August, then decimated by flood waters and winds which peaked at 175 mph. Overall, over 1800 people died as a result of Katrina, nearly 1600 of them in Louisiana. The overall bill for the damage caused is estimated at US$81.2 billion, more that twice the previous high.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

These things I know - The Solar System

My friend Ed (his name is like my name!) is hugely enthusiastic about maths and science. I am not. They are subjects which have always largely passed me by, particularly science, the majority of which I find bewilderingly confusing. However, when he tells me about maths and science I always find it interesting and very enjoyable, as interesting and enjoyable as it always is when anyone who is passionate about something tells you about it.

It's times like that when my ability to use my largely fragmented knowledge of stuff and things comes into play. I'm pretty good at holding my own in a conversation about more or less any subject for 10 minutes or so. If bluffing your way through stuff was an Olympic event I'd probably be a captain on A Question of Sport by now. So today I thought I would test myself, sit down and write everything I know about a subject. This falls under the auspices of full disclosure, but also of my heartfelt desire to prove to everyone that I am in fact an idiot.

I have chosen a subject riven with both maths and science (you see how this all links up?): The Solar System. The one what we all live in, apparently.

The creation of the solar system
The solar system was created by something called The Big Bang. No-one knows how this happened. I am no different in this regard. However, what it did do is create all the matter in the universe. Just thinking about this is making my head spin, actually. This is why I never think about science.

Our galaxy
There are many galaxies. We live in one called The Milky Way. There are planets and moons and stuff in it, but the most important thing is our star, which is called the sun. The sun is very important as it provides heat and light and other good things. If the sun stopped working we would all be buggered, so it's best if that did not happen. One day it will happen, which is going to cause some headscratching on Earth, for sure.

The planets
There are 9 planets. Or 8. Or 10. Sometimes people are feeling stingy and sometimes extravagant. When they are feeling extravagant they discover new planets with a big telescope. The planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus and Pluto. From Mercury to Saturn, those are definitely in the right order. There is no life on any of the planets except earth, which lives in The Goldilocks Zone. It also has a jaunty tilt off its axis which helps enormously. Mercury and Venus are both very inhospitable and largely made of acid and spikes. Mars is red and may have water on it which is a good thing as far as life is concerned. Jupiter and Saturn are made of gas, which I don't really understand. They both have lots of moons which look amazing. One of Jupiter's moons is called Ganymede, which I like. Saturn has a ring round it. This is made of stuff. Neptune, Uranus and Pluto are also made of gas I think but they are very cold and far away and no-one cares. People have even said Pluto isn't even a proper planet, which is a bit mean.

Other galaxies and stars
There are millions of other galaxies just like ours, each with their own star. The sky is full of stars. You can see them in the sky at night if you don't live in London. They are all like our sun, in various stages of their life-cycle, but further away. In the other galaxies there are other planets orbiting their star. I believe that there is other life in the universe. In fact, I think it is impossible that it wouldn't be the case. The reason why we have never heard from them is the same reason that they've never heard from us: we're all too far away and don't have the technology. I believe that extra-terrestrial life is most likely going to strongly resemble life on earth, because science and evolution should be constants. I would quite like to see an extra-terrestrial dog. They might be a bit taller, or hairier, but they'd still be a dog.

The moon
Like many of the planets, Earth has a satellite. This is called The Moon. Considering that we named all of the planets in the solar system and all of their moons, this is not a very imaginative name. The moon orbits Earth. Its gravity effects the tides. On July 20th 1969, two American blokes landed a spaceship on the moon and dicked about and got some rocks to prove that it wasn't made of cheese. Then they came home. That's pretty impressive when you consider it. Especially if you have any experience of the British railway service.

Gravity
Gravity is the thing that makes people stay on the ground, but not aeroplanes. I do not understand where it comes from or what it is but I am glad it's there, otherwise you'd have to tie all your stuff down and it would cost a fortune in string.

So, there you go. That's what I know about the solar system. You may have learned something. God help you if you did.

Monday, 5 September 2011

On Gus Krumm

A little bit of housekeeping. On Saturday I looked at my blog stats, which any long-time readers will know is a particularly dangerous thing for me to do. Invariably, I became hypnotised by them fairly quickly. But I have to say I'm somewhat surprised by some of the numbers. For one thing, I discovered that my blog has 37 subscribers, which was at least 35 more than I'd expected. For another, over the last month I've started to get a fairly solid and steady number of hits every day.

This may strike you as a little odd, but I'd never really thought of people actually reading this. I suppose the secret to any good thing is to do it for the right reasons. In this case I've managed to do that, largely by accident. I think of this blog primarily as a venting exercise, as well as a diary, some-time sketchbook and notepad. The beauty of making it all available online is that it theoretically allows you to start a dialogue or help expand on things. It's always a pleasant surprise, though, when that actually starts to happen. Plus it always motivates you to do more, so the old snowballing starts up.

The most interesting thing for me, though, is not the numbers but the search terms. Here are the stats for August 2011:

A number of these are familiar sights to me. "Dotmund" is by far and away the most commonly-used search term for people visiting my blog. It also may explain why I have such a high proportion of visits from Germany - I really ought to include some courtesy outward links in my sidebar for people who want information about Dortmund, but got all hamfingered at the keys.

"Arsene Wenger puffa jacket" is another old faithful, after this picture of him that I did (incidentally, it's still for sale... see my sidebar for details!), as is Hazel Irvine. Poor old Hazel Irvine - one of the UK's leading sports television presenters - bore the brunt of my largely blunt satirical tooth during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, as I began every day's summary of events with increasingly blue snapshots of her being the first face any red-blooded male sports enthusiast would see every morning for a fortnight. The thought occurs to me that Hazel herself may do what we all have done and Google their name. So if any of these hits was you, Hazel, I can only apologise. In fact, I apologise to anyone who had to read any of it.

However. There's much meat left on these bones. In July I was delighted to note that one lucky soul had found my blog after searching for "Petra Kvitova tits". Obviously a tennis fan, eager to learn more of the newest Wimbledon champion. Perhaps he's also a fan of the tabletop version of the game, judging by the above?

I was more perturbed, really, by the volleyball fan. I'm not sure when I ever wrote about volleyball, although presumably I may have touched on it during the Olympics. Either way, I'm pretty sure - or at least hopeful - that whoever came here looking for "streching grafic photos" would have left here disappointed.

Maybe it was Gus Krumm. I'm pretty sure this is the first post I have ever done mentioning Gus Krumm, so I'm a little surprised that two people have wandered over here on the understanding that I was running some sort of Centre for Krumm Enlightenment or Krummwagon. A cursory Google reveals that the aforementioned seems to be some sort of Catholic priest, in disgrace for financial irregularities, or nobbling young boys, or some combination thereof. Maybe that Gus Krumm is completely different from the Gus Krumm that whoever was searching here was looking for?

Personally, I'm largely sceptical that Gus Krumm even exists. If he does and if he's done even some of the stuff the first few pages of Google suggest he has, I'd recommend avoiding him. And anyone else who is also called Gus Krumm, just on the off-chance.

It goes without saying that I am completely thrilled with "pubes" being joint-leader. Let's push on and see if September can be the most pubed-up month of to date.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Who knows where the time goes?

My niece is five (5!) years old today. This is as good a time as any to reflect on the speed of life and on how you've been wasting yours. But I'm not going to.

I am very proud of my niece in so many ways. I admire her imagination, her spirit and her willingness to do stuff. She has an instinct for performance and exhibitionism that I should be jealous of, but luckily I am a very charming person and am not. I am just pleased. Above everything else, she is a respectful, thoughtful and loving person.

Before she was born I was thinking about learning how to do uncle stuff. I spent some time in the bath practicing blowing soap bubbles and in the garden pinging the heads off of bindweed flowers. Of course, five years down the line, I'm still rubbish at both. That's not really who I am.

But it's alright, because the person I actually am is equally good uncle material. I'm unlikely ever to be able to shower her with riches or let her use my beach house in Malibu for a weekend, but that's just life. Life takes all manner of unexpected turns, so who knows? Six weeks before she was born I broke my neck and so nearly never got to meet her at all.

What I have been taught by having children - I now also have a nephew - in my life is that retrospection or thinking about the future are very much for later. Children teach you to live in the now and for the moment. It's something which it's been important to regain sight of. This new carpe diem attitude is surely proven by the very existence of this blog post. My niece can't read, thinks I, so I can say what I like. The fact she starts school on Wednesday and the fact that she'll be reading us all under the table in a trice barely even registers.

So this is why I'm not beating myself up today about five years whizzing by or any time wasted. I was 26 when she was born and am 31 now. You can't even talk about the person I was back then on the same day. Becoming a better person is a realistic ambition to have for the future, I think, so I reckon I should feel happy today. So I will.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

On thoughts in their raw state

Out last night with some friends, so this morning I'm full of little kernels of ideas which could be worked up into something significant. I'm going to put them in list form for ease of digestion. They are only half-thought out, but that makes them a good 4-5% more thought out than a lot of my ideas.

1. They should give homeless people iPhones
I'm not entirely sure why as yet, but I'm pretty sure it's a solid idea. Obviously battery life is an issue, so I've come up with a solution for that too.

2. They should put USB ports in dogs and in postboxes
I think that would be good. As long as the dog didn't run away.

3. There should be an eating challenge in Preston Street, Brighton
Preston Street in Brighton is a remarkable place, funnelling down toward the sea near the West Pier. It is most notable for it's dazzling array of restaurants and takeaways. Most global cuisine is catered for. My idea is that, starting at the south end of the west side, you work your way up the street, eating one dish in every establishment. At the top you cross over and work your way back down. If you're not dead at the end you win a slap-up meal in The China Garden, the restaurant at the finishing post. And some insulin.

4. 5olly's idea
Last night my friend 5olly blew my mind by claiming that the only reason whales beach themselves is because of hydrophobia, brought on by rabies. This is easily the most brilliant idea I've ever heard and at the same time the stupidest. And I know a little something about stupid ideas.

Friday, 2 September 2011

On getting in touch with your masculine side

Today I got an email with a shipping quote for a painting that I did. Getting emails with shipping quotes seemed like a pretty macho thing to happen. I flexed a bollock.

I am a rubbish man. I mean, I have all the requisite biological parts to be one. I have a Y chromosome and everything. But I look around at what society expects men to be like and realise that I fall way, way short.

But I also look at a lot of the boorish macho nonsense that that entails and I also feel quite glad. I think my hardcore aversion to "masculinity" is my dislike of the idea put forward by the media and advertisers rather than any fundamental truth or reality. However, you can't deny that that identity must have some basis somewhere. Advertisers are too good at their job, which is largely being magnificently, moustache-twirlingly evil, to miss by that much.

So then. Banter. Rucks. WKD Blue. Football. Ray Winstone. Farts. Emotional repression. Cheering at stuff in pubs. BIRDS. Lager.

God, all of that depresses me. Always has done. I come from a long line of men who aren't really like that at all, in a variety of different ways. Men in our family tend to be able to join in with the general badinage, but usually from the sidelines, chucking little conversational grenades over the siege turrets.

I'm OK with that, really. What I'm not sure about is why I'm now so aware of it and why it's started to niggle at me more. When I was a child, it was still very much the custom (I am old) after dinner for The Men to sit around talking and guffawing at the table whilst The Women went back to the kitchen to talk, tidy and cackle (women are better at multi-tasking and can get more done in the same amount of time). I always went off to the kitchen. Always. The Men Talking wasn't for me. If I listened to it it always went over my head or bored me.

I wonder if maybe the more I accept this - and I do accept it, because after all it's what makes me happy - I'm beginning to feel that I've been too dismissive and may have missed out on Men Stuff. Perhaps more pertinently, if I'm beginning to alienate people (men, mostly) with my perennial seeking out of the kitchen? I hope not. I hope that I've not changed at all, only my awareness of it has.

I like being a man. Men have such simple lives. They are simple people. We are simple people. Why, then, I feel I need to complicate things unnecessarily worrying about this sort of thing is a mystery to me.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

on Van Gogh

When I was a child, this painting was in the news. It had sold for a world record price, US$39.9 million when the previous mark had been US$12 million. I was fairly sure at the time - I was seven - that this was insanity. This painting is rubbish.I am now 31 and have seen this painting in the flesh numerous times. I'm now pretty convinced that it's not rubbish. What I know for absolutely certain is that in my view, the man who painted it, Vincent Van Gogh, is the greatest artist who has ever lived.

There are so many paintings that give me great joy. Many artists, too. Picasso keeps me dazzled like a starry-eyed child with his style and output. Cezanne's wonkiness is hugely exciting. Monet produced many ethereal and beautiful things. But Van Gogh is about the only artist who can make me cry.
It's taken me a while to realise what art is. This may sound a little strange, considering that art is what I do. But it is true. Music is beautiful in itself, but art takes a little more application. It's a visual stimulus, a cue to evoke memories, emotions and imagination.
Of course, 7-year old me was right to expect art to look like what it's supposed to look like (again, considering it's me saying this that may sound a little strange). But that's not the whole story by any means. For one thing, who's to know what anything looks like to anyone else? For another, I think the way you see things changes as you get older. A painting of a tree, then, is not about that tree. It's about that tree, other trees you've seen, places and times and people and moments.
Van Gogh is special to me because his paintings are more alive than those of any other artist I have ever seen. Take a look at the skies in the examples here - no-one paints a sky like Van Gogh, look at the landscapes. He's painting the breezes, the subtleties and the movements. Their power is completely remarkable, far beyond that of anything else.

As you get older, your tastes invariably change and you change a little along with them, in lots of small ways that can add up to a big difference. I currently relish every single one of these things, even in weeks when the lurching black dog has been sniffing around. Life is growing more and more vivid with every day. The intensity of it is something I find increasingly overwhelming. Van Gogh expresses it with such eloquence and animation, he's exactly where I am right now.

On woodlice

I think I might be coming out of the fug, which is good news for all you dotfans out there and also for me. There are always false starts with these things. The most common one I find is that you start to define yourself by your depressed state, which is absurd and leads you to think, "uh oh, better not be too happy, everyone is expecting me to be depressed!" It's my staggering stupidity which I think keeps people coming back. Where's the fun in consistency?

And so to not giving my silly arse of a brain the oxygen of publicity. I think I would like to talk about woodlice.

Pictured above is my woodlouse. He is a very special woodlouse. He is the only known example of a pornography woodlouse. My friends Betsy and 5olly gave me him for Christmas 4 years ago. As you may note, my cat is studiously ignoring him. Evolution does not interest the cat. Nor does anything I do, judging by the fact I just plonked a massive woodlouse full to the gills with grumble mags next to him and took a picture of it.

The other day, I am told, my niece (who will be 5 on Sunday) refused to go into the bathroom because there was a woodlouse in there. From my in-depth (two people) research, I have discovered that this is not a particularly rare thing. A number of human beings are scared of woodlice, and where fear exists in the human world, hitting it with a slipper is never far behind.

I live my life by the mantra that I'll never knowingly hurt an animal. Obviously, you have to accept that some things will get stomped underfoot without you ever knowing it. Maybe whole species have fallen by the wayside in that manner. However, if I know it is there - be it an ant, a spider, a bee, frog, dog or polar bear - I will always give it a wide berth and let it get on with its to-do list. So, people pummelling bugs because they are scared of them, because they can and because might is right is something I find rather distasteful. This is especially true of the woodlouse.

A woodlouse is the big daddy of planet Earth, to my mind. The whole 12,000 year history of the planet. The woodlouse has been around since stuff first came out of the oceans and realised that living in the sea was a right faff. Woodlice are a crustacean of a design you can see all through the history of the planet. A simple mouth, legs, arsehole arrangement with a hard protective shell. It is something you'll find everywhere on earth, on sea and on land. Fossil records show lots of examples of it as well, meaning that Iguanodon and his brethren would have been chasing woodlice around with a slipper too. For the Creationists among you, this means I'd put woodlice as one of the Day 1 creations, along with heavens and earth and light and air and water and ham.

I have a lot of respect for the woodlouse. I'm not espousing everyone having a pet woodlouse. If you cuddled one it would probably get crushed. They've not got the same amount of personality as cats or dogs. However, the next time you see a woodlouse and are about to have a freak out, my advice will be to step away and let it get on with its woodlouse shit. They're the Chelsea Pensioner of the animal kingdom!

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