Friday, 31 December 2010

New Year's Desilutions

They say that there is no such thing as an original idea – but if there is this is certainly not one of them, but the other night I was talking to Herself about New Year’s Resolutions.
She had been texting some friends in London to the effect that it is inevitable that New Year’s Resolutions will be broken, usually within five seconds of the stroke of midnight.

I know this to be true – I used to be a member of my local gym (until financial restraints meant I had to stop) and from the start of January to early February each year it would be impossible to get on any of the machinery due to the Health Kick Resolution – but by mid February only a few waifs and strays remained.

Picking something to give up is difficult – one year I managed to give up chocolate (I try to blank those 12 months), but my only real vice these days is cheese – and if I had to give up cheese for 12 months then it would be onto the crack cocaine before I knew it.

But Herself has come up with the perfect solution for us all – why not give up something you already don’t do? If you give up doing something you don’t currently do then you are hardly going to miss it and can reach the end of 2011 feeling proud of the fact that you have continued to not do said thing.
So here’s a couple of suggestions for those of you looking for ludicrous things to stop doing during 2011:

#1: Hang-gliding Naked Through Woolworths

Quite an easy one to give up on several levels this one. Firstly because Woolworths selection of high-street emporiums have now gone and been replaced by numerous pound shops. Secondly, and aside from branches of Woolworths set over 2 or more levels, it is quite impossible to get the level of lift required vis a vis take-off for hang-gliding (although to be fair I have never tried)

#2: Part-time career as Director General of the BBC

Much as my commitment and dedication to the British Broadcasting Corporation has been a vital standpoint of their continued success over the past few years I feel sure that they can continue to flourish as a result of my continued absence and thus feel relatively secure in continuing not to be Director General (albeit in absentia) during 2011. However, should Mark Thompson (DG since 2004) fancy a holiday he knows where to find me

#3: Neurosurgeon

The brains of Great Britain may continue to rest easy during 2011 that should they falter in the knowledge that the the hands of this particular Pixie will not be attempting to put them right

#4: Mountain climbing

Actually, of the list here this is one that I’d quite like a go at. There is an establishment less than 2 miles from my house with a climbing wall, but starter lessons are £60 and you have to have more than one person at the lesson – so scaling Everest, Kilimanjaro or, lets face it, the stairs in the hallway, remains a remote possibility over the next 12 months

#5: Career as a singer in a Bhangra-influenced band

Actually in one of my previous roles I worked with someone who left the company to become exactly this. From what I gather they are doing rather well.

Suggestions for things that you want to give up, but already don’t do, will be widely welcomed.

Oh yeah - and whatever you do or don't do in 2011 be safe, be happy and be prosperous.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas Wishes, Musings, Sax And Ramblings

Good tidings fellow bloggers, and welcome all.  It's that time of year again and those of you that read my blog regularly will know that it it's something of a tradition for me to post on or abouts Christmas with some kind of story or alternate message.

This year I've decided to take a suggestion from Bobby, a fellow blogger and write a kind of open letter to a few people who have meant a lot to me this year

Firstly: my family - my mum, dad and our kid.  This year more than any other I've become really aware of the sacrifices my parents made for me when I was young - so thank you

Secondly: my friends - its funny how you have different kinds of relationships with different friends and how sometimes that changes back and forth, but this year I would particularly like to thank Argent and C.C. - without whom I don't know how I would have coped.  Aargent for music and laughter, C.C. for getting me writing again - and to the latter - mate: wherever you are this Christmas be safe

I'd also like to say hi to my new friends Roxy and Samurai - looking forward to getting to know you better

Next up a quick word-up to everyone in Blogland, particularly Bug, Watercats and Lydia for much needed light relief and creative stimulation - especially for you guys there's a Christmas Quiz at the end (answers will be on the responses page) - many of the questions come from a programme called QI where the things you think you know turn out to be wrong - so it's more for your interest than as an actual quiz.

Finally to Herself.  Someone at Toastmasters said this year that when you enter the room I light up.  It's true - you are my light.

But enough of the sentimentality - it's time for music lovers everywhere to turn away and start running, as after frequent attempts to record myself playing something christmassy on my Saxophone I have gone with the least rubbish.  Camera work is by Herself and she asked me to point out the highlighting of the "little" Merry Christmas.  See what she did there? 

Have a good one.  Peace and goodwill to all.


1) Which Famous Chicken travelled to China?

2) What produces most of the Earth’s Oxygen?

3) Where do loofas come from?

4) What was Mozart’s middle name?

5) What is unusual about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?

6) What substance replaced lead in pencils?
7) Why is Santa's Grotto accident free for the 200th year running?

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Three Wizened Men (A Christmas Magpie Tale)

Bethelehem Police Station, December 24th - Year Zero
Officer P. Pilate reporting

I was just returning to the station when I espied three strange men on camels travelling across the desert.

Upon approaching them they claimed to be three wize men, following a star, but I distinctly smelt alcohol on their breaths.

Upon further questioning they claimed to be Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar, Kings of the Orient who had been visited by a spirit telling them to bring gifts to a child in a manger.  It seemed clear to me that they had been visited by several spirits, including the spirit of Jack Daniels on several occasions.

I proceded to ask them to dismount from their camels and to turn out their pockets.  Upon searching the three so-called Kings I discovered that one was carrying Gold, the second Frankensense and the third Myr.  They claimed that these were gifts for the child.  When I questioned whether some form of cuddly toy wouldn't be more appropriate for a child they could not provide a suitable response.

I was just about to ask them to follow me to the station when we were interrupted by three shepherds coming in the opposite direction.  They were also acting in a most peculiar manner and claimed to have followed the star.  I decided that they were either in collusion with each other or that the Annual General Meeting of Village Idiots was in town. 

However, as it was nearing the end of my shift I decided to follow them back to The Comfy Inn, Bethelehem, where I found a young family sleeping in the barn with the animals.

Having made a mental note to report the parents for child neglect I asked the two persons present whether they were, in fact, the parents of the poor child lying in the straw.

The male then responded that he was a travelling carpenter and that he was not the father.  His wife had claimed that she had been impregnated by God himself, although he seemed to believe it was actually some fellow called Gabriel.  I recommended the couple to marriage guidance, but decided not to pursue the issue of parentage as it was becoming increasingly clear that everyone was bonkers

It was at this point that I turned to the three men I had initially encountered and asked if they still had any of the spirits they had initially spoken of.  Sadly they did not and I returned to the station where I had a bottle of Bells hidden under the desk

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Talkin 'Bout A Revolution (Mandella Day)

I guess there must have been 70,000 people there that day.  That was the capacity of the old Wembley Stadium.

Most of us were there to see Simple Minds.  Most of us had little idea who Nelson Mandella was.  He was still in prison at the time

Myself and Our Kid took seats on the side of the station and watched the acts come and go.  Mostly they were the big names of the day - perhaps trying to support the cause of freedom for South Africa, perhaps just trying to sell some more records.

I remember...

Graham Chapman asking for 30 seconds of abuse
The whole stadium reverberating to the low bass of UB40
Watching the endless drum solos of the african musicians that inter-spersed the main acts
George Michael's set - and not being able to hear a single word he was singing
Everyone singing "how long - to sing this song" and hoping that U2 were gonna fill the blank spot on the programme.
Wishing Courtney Pine would get off and stop playing Jazz
Having to leave half-way through Dire Straits to catch the last train back

There was much talk of that hour - a mystery guest.  Some were saying the Beatles were gonna reform with Julian taking his father's place, some claimed the Rolling Stones.  In the end we got an hour of Hugh Masekala and Winne Bombata - only finding out after we returned home that it was supposed to have been Stevie Wonder, but someone had stolen his equipment.

It was long and sometimes slow day, it was noisy and some acts were better than others.

Most of it is now erased by the passing of the years: I know what we were supporting that day now and I wish i'd known more about it at the time.

But I always remember this one girl

She got up on the stage alone with her guitar, no backing musicians - just her and her voice.  None of us had ever heard of her - she was a newcomer playing to 70,000 Simple Minds fans

If you looked at the big screens you could see her shaking - but that voice took us away.

Now I'm not much of a fan of female singers: I can't stand all that Mariah Carey/Whitney Houston warbling around the notes - but that voice touched me, sending shivers down my spine.  She was shaking - but she was totally in that moment, meaning every single word.

I guess it was one of those moments where we really stopped for a few seconds and remembered what we had paid our £40 for

Talking about a revolution

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Dominik Rivron's Universally Challenged

OK - so some days ago fellow blogger Dominik Rivron invited people to write answers to questions from a school exam paper.  Having spent the days since wondering which one to go for I eventually decided to put some spurious one sentence answers to some and then have a proper go at another.  Here's my attempt:

Are modern politicians merely managers?
No – any manager that useless would be sacked

Can the ‘freeness’ and ‘fairness’ of elections be measured?
Yes, but due to differences with the EU we can’t decide whether to measure in pounds or kilos

Is there anything to be said for astrology?
There is – but it’s written in the stars

Are technological changes creating a golden age of cinema?
Is Phantom Menace better than A New Hope? Case closed

What can we learn from a century of sound recording?
A group of five vaguely feminine young boys will always sell records

Is Islam more dangerous than any other religion?
No – the Knights Templar were acting for the Pope, remember?

Is good for literature?
Yes and no, but not as good and bad as Charlotte Bronte and Geoffrey Archer

Would you ban a book?
No – with the possible exception of “Jimmy Greaves – It’s A Funny Old Game”

Have any philosophical questions been solved?
I believe they are still debating that one

Is it worse to be cruel to a fox than to a flea?
Other than one is furry and cute and the other isn’t – not really

Does it matter who wrote Shakespeare’s plays?
Only if it really was a time-travelling stoat called Albert

Is it immoral to buy a £10,000 handbag?
Not immoral, just fecking stupid

Does celebrity entail loss of dignity?
No – only the things people do to maintain celebrity

Is Exile always a misfortune?
Depends on if you are the Exiler or the Exilee

If there are millions of other planets capable of supporting advanced life-forms why haven’t we seen or heard from them?
Most of us can’t be bothered to get up to turn the TV off – imagine the hassle of travelling 40 million light years

Is corruption inevitable?
Give me £10 and i'll tell you

What is war good for?
Absolutely nothing (say it again)

"A lunatic is easily recognised.  Sooner or later he brings up the Knight's Templar" (Umberto Eco) - Discuss
See answer to question six

Should University Education Be Free
During the recent election campaign in England the Liberal Democrat party made an election pledge that they would not increase university tuition fees.  Of course they were the outsiders and probably felt reasonably safe promising free elephants for all - but then the election results came in and, against most people's expectations they formed an alliance with the Conservative party - and promptly began talking about increasing tutition fees.

Students were, rightly, outraged and took to the streets to campaign - but is university education an automatic right?  Should the state continue to fund the education of people studying art, film, english, economics - or even more practical skills?

Most other countries do not provide much or any funding for education in this way - people are expected to start saving for their child's education when they are born - if the child choses not to go to University then they have a downpayment on a house or a car.

Most students come out of university with a £30,000 debt hanging over their heads - even before they think about looking for a home.  Even with the various protections of fixed interest until they earn a certain salary this is an unthinkable burden to be hanging over a young person who is just starting out in life. 

For myself: i work full time and all my money goes into paying bills and keeping a roof over my head.  I would love to go back to University and study (having missed out when i left school), but I am penalized because I am earning a certain amount of money and therefore judged capable of paying for myself.  Should I receive funding as a recognition of my situation?  Or is it my responsibilty to find extra money?

The inevitable down side of increasing and setting charges for university is that less people will be able to afford to go and the result could be that only the well off will receive a high level university - but is a reduction in numbers at university necessarily a bad thing?  10-15 years ago if you went to an employer with any degree you would stand a better chance of getting the job, regardless of the relevancy of the qualification.  Nowadays the sheer number of people entering for the qualification means that only the exact degree will do.

Surely instead of concentrating so heavily on further education we should concentrate on developing practical skills.  England was once described as a nation of shopkeepers, but today in the call centre world that we live in we could equally be accused of being shop assistants.

I personally feel that it is morally wrong to impose a level of such intense debt on a generation of people and that our country can only suffer from this in the long term - but equally I feel that there is an attitude in this country that everything should be given to us for free: and maybe its time that we started working out ways to take it instead.

In the current climate savings have to come from somewhere - but they shouldn't be paid for with yet another generation of debt.  A more reasonable route might be to plan in a slow increase over a period of a generation, but at the same time promote the concept of saving for ones future.

Friday, 3 December 2010

A Difficult Concept?

Ah yes - I know, i know: it's been a while now since i put out one of my massively popular lists of five things.  I can't count the amount of requests i've had for another one (you can only count things you actually have)

And, to be fair, this one may be quite a hard sell anyway.  It's a list of five great concept albums.

OK, so I realise that the concept album has little place outside of the 1970s.  One tends to associate them with bands like Yes endlessly pushing out 20 minute keyboard epics with nonsence lyrics that make bashing your ear repeatedly with a cymbal for 2 days look like a viable alternative - and lets face it the concept album has little place in today's world of download insta-tunes.

But i think there's something rather magnificent in their scale, lunacy, ego trip - call it what you want: it's essentially an attempt by a rock band to write opera and, believe it or not, there are a few good ones.

So again i'm going to start by being controvertial and discounting Sgt Pepper by The Beatles.  Simply because it's not a concept album.  It did start out as one - but the idea of linking the songs together was dropped after the first two songs and it's only For The Benefit Of Mr Kite that returns to the idea of a show

#1 Jeff Wayne, The War Of The Worlds
OK so for anyone who ever read the book or saw the film you'll know The War Of The Worlds as being HG Wells's epic of Martian Flu Pandmics - but if you've never heard this album then you've missed a treat.  Richard Burton as The Narrator, David Essex - and the main War Of The World theme: few concept albums are on this scale and the album stays closer to the plot than the Tom Cruise film did.  Top moment is the single: Forever Autumn

#2 Pink Floyd, Dark Side Of The Moon/The Wall
Just a brief mention of Dark Side OTM here - which is surely the most perfect album ever recorded: with it's recurring themes of growing old, class and social divisions etc - but as far as concept albums go The Wall is, in many ways, the more interesting album.

Drawing in equal measure on Roger Waters' obsession with losing his father to the war, the band's inability to communicate with one another and the price and pleasures of fame it tells the story of Pink, a rock star who starts believing his own myth.  True side two asks some disturbing questions and the end peters out a bit, but this one wins for being home for two of the best guitar solos ever recorded.  Top moments: Another Brick In The Wall (all 3 parts), Comfortably Numb (although the live version is better)

#3 Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
Masters of prog-rock, posh student types obsessed with mythology - the early years of Genesis, under the leadership of Peter Gabriel, saw a series of songs intent on telling wierd and wonderful stories.  This is Gabriel's last outing with the band (leaving to concentrate, albiet not successfully, on his family and marriage), but it has been said that his involvement in the writing of the music was minimal

It tells the story of Rael, a street punk who comes to the big city in search of his brother John and becomes involved with some very sinister characters and a world of magic and mystery.  OK - so sides 3 and 4 make very little sense, but this remains one of my favourite albums of all time.  Top moments: The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, the chilling Carpet Crawl and Counting Out Time for the wonderfully daft lyric "Erogenous zones/i love you/ without you what would a poor boy do?" - genius

#4 Green Day, American Idiot/24th Century Breakdown
OK so this is only my opinion but American Idiot doesn't quite work as a concept album, but is nonetheless the superior album.  24th Century Breakdown, i feel, tries a little too hard to be something big and clever

American Idiot contains several recurring themes, the story of the Jesus of Suburbia, the girl whatsername, but somehow the story doesn't quite come together.  Top moment: obviously everyone remembers the singles, but there are great album tracks too

#5 The Who, Tommy
You know I think back to the 1970s and 1980s and to all the mods who drove around on vespa scooters wearing duffelcoats with The Who written on and wish that i'd heard this album back then so i could tell them what a bunch of pillocks they all were.

We watched the video recently and the only way i can describe it was "a voyage to trip out city"

OK so - its the story of Tommy who sees his father murdered, goes deaf and blind, is abused (a recurring theme in Townsend's writing as he was abused himself), learns how to play pinball and becomes the messiah - only to be abandoned.

And i'm sorry to anyone who likes it - but it's unlistenable twonk.  Only decent song is Pinball Wizzard and that one's sung by Elton John.  Frankly i'd rather bury my ears in concrete than ever listen to it again