Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Rude Awakenings and Cat-naps

Five AM

I should be asleep.

I would be asleep if it weren't for the feline version of Michael Flatley re-enacting Lord Of The Dance on my chest.

Giles has decided that it is time he was fed.  He's good like that.  When the tapping and clawing doesn't work he walks up to my face and starts pressing his little mouth into my face and headbutting me. 
I pick him up, move him slightly down the bed and stroke him vaguely in the hope that this will placate him for a while.  Instead he tries to bite my arm: in a kind and caring way. 

I open my eyes and Giles is standing on my chest again.  His chubby features are inches away from my face and I can smell his slightly meaty breath.  At this angle he looks a bit like Chairman Mao, or should that be Chairman Miow?

I pull the duvet over my head in the hope that he will be fooled and think I have gone away: but he's too smart for that and has clearly worked out which bit of me is responsible for contolling the Cat Feeding Arms and is determined to get a response.

Sometimes he moves away for a while, but only once he is 100% sure that he has woken me up - other times I give in and traipse down stairs, watching my feet as he thunders around them like a black and white bullet.

The bowl is usually empty - so I pick it up, put some food in and one of two things will happen as I walk away.

Firstly - he will stick his face straight in and wont stop chomping until its all gone - or secondly he will race after me to see what mad things I'm doing now.

As I write this, sat in front of the TV, Giles is stretched out on his back next to me - a few moments ago he was trying to grab my arm as I typed.  Now he is asleep with his head pressed against my leg.

He and Willow still have their moments - we don't seem to be able to go a day without him chasing her somewhere - but there was a reason for me bringing you this story

And that is: its almost impossible to believe that this is the same cat that, only a few months ago, cowered as far away from us as he possibly could: would barely come out from under the sofa and would certainly never have responded when we called him.

OK - so he's still very young and when he's being playful he doesn't realise that it isn't always appropriate but over the last few weeks, when there was thick snow on the ground, we were both very glad that we took him in and gave him a home

But not nearly as glad as the fact that he wanted to stay

Monday, 17 January 2011

Games With(out) Frontiers

As those of you who know me by now will be aware I am unable to grasp the attraction of Guitar Hero.

Not, you understand, that I have anything against games systems – I am old enough to have had an Atari system with Pac-Man and Space Invaders, to have listened to the ear-piercing high-volume screeching of a ZX Spectrum loading and yes, to have owned a Sega Megadrive.

My most recent system is quite old now – bought just before I discovered girls (or a specific girl discovered me at any rate) - and its main function in life is to gather dust and to serve as a shelf for the TV remote. Occasionally I will feel in the mood to re-play one of my “jump about and kill things” games (most games can essentially be boiled down to a few basic elements: jump about, collect and kill things – drive about, collect and smash into things – and, more recently, blow nine types out of crap out of things whilst re-creating the Somme/other famous battle/attempting to fly a plane)

To be frank the new generation of “wave your arms about like a prat” games just don’t interest me – they just seem to be a gimic, designed to take attention away from the fact that games are suddenly being designed for people with the attention span of a gnat – and Guitar Hero is, for me, one of the worst offenders (although a special place in the hall of fame will no doubt be reserved for the Wii-Fit – a system designed for those of us who want to merely pretend we have a fitness regime without the unnecessary effort of joining a gym and then never going)

I don’t think it helps that I play not one but four instruments ((in degree of ability these go: Guitar, Sax (although this is catching up quickly), Bass, Keyboards)) and from a musical point of view I can’t quite see what the attraction of standing in front of a TV screen frantically going GREEN-RED-RED-RED-GREEN-BLUE for hours on end is.

My argument goes as thus:

For the price of a Rock Band starter pack and PS3 (or whatever) you could buy a decent second hand acoustic guitar from a charity shop and pay for 12 months of community college education (starting from £40 for ten weeks) and within a few weeks be playing whatever songs you chose and not just those few prescribed by “the man”

Also: you don’t have to “unlock” a specific song before you can “play” it – simply type the words “guitar tab” into your search engine and watch the hundreds of sites come up (though very few for sax or keyboards as this would involve transcribing music)

This is ultimately much more rewarding and fulfilling.

But I was putting this point to a friend over Christmas and they said: “Yes, that’s all very well but: a) not everyone has musical ability, b) Guitar Hero et al are designed as party games – not as musical accomplishments.

And whilst I can see that side of the argument it does raise further questions.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with playing computer games – they can be stimulating, challenging and pass many a lonely hour – but the point of a computer game is that it’s something you do on your own, maybe with one or two other people.

Many of the board games I used to play as a kid are now being turned into computer games for the Wii or similar: Monopoly, Scrabble and so forth – but this raises an important social issue.

Back in the day when you had a party you would sit around the room facing one another, interacting directly with one another – now it seems that society is moving so that the only way we can interact with one another is via a screen. Does this worry you? Will the memory of your friends face always be of features cast in the light of a TV screen?

Only the other day I logged into Facebook to see two status updates – both sending messages to people who lived in the same house as the other! Get off your arses and go and talk face to face!!!!

Most of my work now is done over the internet – I speak daily with people on the other side of the planet (well – I type in a deeply frustrated manner to people on the other side of the planet) and high street shops are continuing to go to the wall because we increasingly do our shopping online. Public Houses are closing because we do our drinking alone in our houses.

Don’t get me wrong – I am totally anti-social and spend as little time as possible at parties, public houses or other social interaction events (unless with people that I know I have lots in common with and will find Something To Talk About) – my idea of a party is very much the traditional one that we Brits manage so well: of all the women in one room talking about hernia operations whilst the men sit in stony silence in the other room waiting for death/to go home (whichever seems more attractive at the time (on the subject of which – sport was invented purely so men would have something to talk to each other about, so it’s a bit of a shame that I have no interest whatsoever in sport))

But I think it’s a sad day indeed when we invite a large group of friends around to our homes, ask the question “so what shall we do” and answer “let’s just look at the telly”

Frankly – I could be doing that at home.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Magpie Wordzzle Poetry Bus Triple

The Bad Karma Revenge Song

When your next-door neighbour rushes in and steals your parking space
When your partner’s keeping secrets, but its too clear on their face
When disaster falls and kicks you in a very private place
You may feel like you should go insane, but there’s so much more at stake

Though you’d like to kill the doctor, who said your health was trash
And you know you shouldn’t celebrate, when his practice starts to crash
When you have the choice to kill your boss, but you know you must back down
Even though on every single day, he makes you act just like a clown

Yes it’s hard to be a Buddhist when you’re aching for revenge
Though you feel the anger burning, you will have to make amends
You can do some chanting later, whilst in your dreams you have a gun
You should wish them better karma, but time flies when you’re having fun

When the clouds have come and settled and left you in dismay
You can dream about the lottery, but you wont win it today
Though you should be seeking clarity, when they’re knocking down your house
And you feel like your life’s played with, like a cat with a toy mouse

Yes it’s hard to be a Buddist, when your anger starts to lurch
And you know that you can’t kill them, but it wont hurt to research
When the shipping forecast of your life says you will see a stormy sky
Just dream of all the carnage, as you watch their entrails fry

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Suddenly Bursting Into Song

Welcome one and all to the start of a new decade. Already the mutterings have begun: what are we to call the decade? The Tenties? The Twenty-Tens?

Either way, it is good to start the year the way one intends to continue – I have a couple of new ideas I may try out later in the month: but for now I’d like to return to one of my favourite recurring themes – the list of five things

As regular readers of my blog will be aware the Five Things blog is me choosing five related things that I like/don’t like, writing a few short paragraphs about each and then inviting a heated debate on the subject.

This time we’re going down that most unusual of roads: the musical.

Yes: crowds of people bursting into song about their woes or joys, all mysteriously already knowing the tune. Perhaps one of the most contrived methods of telling a story I think it fair to say that the modern musical can probably be split into three separate categories:

The Musical MusicalA story written to be told via the inclusion of new songs written for said story – the most traditional form of musical. This would include Gilbert & Sullivan, Rogers & Hammerstein, Lloyd-Webber & Rice and the rest of them

The Era Musical
Taking a particular era of music, usually pop-music, and telling the story of that era or a particular character in that era. Thus: Buddy, the musical

The Specific Band Musical
Taking songs that were never meant to tell a single story and using the songs of a specific act to tell a new story – This would include Mamma Mia (ABBA), We Will Rock You (Queen) and Our House (Madness)
However, I am discounting films that were made as vehicles for pop stars (such as the Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard films) unless they have been translated into stage plays (IE Jailhouse Rock and Summer Holiday)

#1 The Sound Of Music (category 1)
Dancing Nazis, singing Austrian Nuns, insufferably cute kids and Julie Andrews swirling around on a hillside like a deranged woman that you wouldn’t allow within fifty feet of an axe. The Sound Of Music runs for 12 days (or feels that way) and is a traditional staple of Christmas/Easter TV in the UK

Although it is impossible to dislike The Sound Of Music I have developed a special theory of musicals: which states that although we have all seen the film in it’s entirety no one, other than those who saw it on the stage or at the cinema, has done so in a single sitting. One year you might see the end, another you might see the beginning and in the intervening decades you will see all the bits inbetween, but the traditional way to watch The Sound Of Music is to wake up on Boxing Day, look at the TV Times and yell “Oh bugger, I’ve missed the start bit again!!”

The Rocky Horror (Picture) Show (category 1)
Two American apple-pie teenagers get wayleighed by an alien inventor looking for a short cut to getting a hot date. They encounter a weird party, transvestism and more B-movie clich├ęs than you can shake a Plan 9 From Outer Space at

Deeply daft and very, very strange indeed this is one that takes a couple of viewings to really get past the “what the hell is going on” factor and start enjoying it – but for anyone who has seen more than a few dodgy 1950’s Sci-fi movies you can’t help but enjoy – particularly for Tim Curry’s stand-out performance as Dr Frank N Furter

Return To The Forbidden Planet (category 2)
Based loosely on The Tempest and the 1950s movie Forbidden Planet this is a tale of young love, creatures from the Id and 1950’s rock and roll.

This one has a special part in my heart as I was, however briefly, Third Guitar From The Left in an amateur production – having the high responsibility of looking around startled and falling over occasionally. Nonetheless it was one of the most fun things I have ever done. You haven’t lived until you’ve leant vaguely sideways pretending to be on a banking ship to the tune of the Beach Boys “Wipeout”

Mamma Mia (category 3)
Young girl about to get married, wants to find out who her father is – her mother is also trapped in her past reliving her glory days

OK – so I’ve only seen the movie because I thought it would be a nice thing to do with Herself, but I can’t help but feel that there’s something fundamentally wrong about forcing songs to do things they were never intended to (these songs were never intended to tell a sole story).

If I had written “the book” I think I would have kept with the idea put forward in the (excellent) film Muriel’s Wedding – a young girl obsessed with ABBA

Grease (category 1)
For many years I insisted that the video for “summer loving” was as much of the film as I ever needed to see – infact more than I ever needed to see. However I was persuaded to watch it – and am still seeking the assistance of anyone who can turn back time and recapture those lost 2 hours of my life.

There is a (as yet unproven) genetic code in some types of women that when they hear “Dancing Queen” by ABBA makes them shriek and launch themselves at the dancefloor – and I can only assume that the same genetic imbalance is responsible for the completely unexplainable love for this film.
So lets dissect the plot for those of you who are in any shape mistaken in believing that it is a “feel good” or “uplifting” movie.

Nice girl Sandy meets a nice boy on holiday. When she moves to the city she finds that her “nice” boy is a bit of rough and that the other girls at school act and dress like prostitutes. In the end, just when he is on the verge of changing to be a better person for her she decides that the moral of the story is: if you want your man become a tart.

Best moment of the film is “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”, but frankly Alison Moyet sings it far better than the version in the film.
Summer Holiday (see above, category 3a)

Cliff Richard, on a bus in Europe with Melvyn Hayes and Una Stubbs. What’s not to like?
If you spent the next twenty years of your life devouring the cheese section of your local store you still couldn’t find anything as cheesy, but there’s something so uniquely British and feel-goody that it’s practically anti-British to dislike it. Gains inclusion via a stage adaptation starring Darren Day

On a final note: if you have never seen the episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer "Once More With Feeling" you should watch it now before people realise!