Friday, 23 September 2011

If I Had To Be Trapped In A Lift With Any Of Them, I'd Pick James May

The woman sitting opposite me in the pub rolls her eyes at the news and groans, 'I might have known you'd pick him' she says, 'he's soooooooo boring'

The fact that this conversation is now coming up to two years old should tell you something about the capacity my brain has to niggle over things long since said, particularly things that irk me or that I wish I could have said more eloquently.

But let us go back slightly and explain for the benefit of those reading this who may be wondering whether the Hungry Pixie hasn't finally lost what few marbles he had.

Back in the 1980s, and even as recently as the 1990's Britain had a motor industry.  In fact there was even a time when we were the leaders of the world when it came to car production.  Back in those halycon days there was a BBC programme by the name of Top Gear.

This programme should not be confused with any current programme of the same name - because they bear about as much relationship towards one another as...well...two entirely disparate things.  The Top Gear of the 80's/90's was a serious motoring programme that actually served as a guide to buying a good car.

Then the British motor trade collapsed, or rather self-imploded spectacularly in the style of an ego-centric Rock star: forever demanding more of a cut of the profits, refusing to record a new single or to tour and finally overdosing in a hotel room after being found in bed with a young pretender.

And as such Top Gear had to change.  In came a new presenting team and a new feel.  Out went fact and in came crazy challenges, controversy and humour.

Three presenters were chosen.  Former journalist and opiniated oaf Jeremy Clarkson, former DJ and all round short angry person Richard Hammond...and finally, the classically educated Degree in music holding James May.

Don't get me wrong - I actually quite enjoy the new-look Top Gear.  It's knockabout humour and endless daft antics of the presenters make for good entertainment, however for various reasons I am unable to watch either of the other two for any length of time when they present programmes alone.  Clarkson takes a certain amount of pride in his boorish and occasionally rude behaviour, Hammond is just a bit too aware of his looks and thus comes over as slightly false.

But what irks me most about the programme, and thus is the reason for me picking May as the one I would chose to be trapped in a lift with: is the way that the programme, and lots of others on TV nowadays, seems to wear its ignorance on its sleeve as something to be proud of.

Whenever May, nicknamed Captain Slow due to his rather cautious and careful driving style, starts spouting facts the camera inevitably pans away and a comment is made about how dull it all is.  When faced with a glorious view of some ancient edifice the crew of the show are only ever able to comment on how fast their cars can go and can find nothing to say of the history or current state of the place they are in.

Exactly when, I would like to know, did it become embarrasing and boring to know things and to be interested in learning new things?  Why are we so keen to encourage ignorance over advancement?  Why are we so afraid that if we show anything on TV that requires the use of our brains - people will immediately switch off.

This is, of course, no new phenomena - since the dawn of time anyone with half a brain has been ridiculed in entertainment.  Science students are shown as being "dorks" hiding behind their glasses, incapable of social intteraction - whilst the dumb quarterback unable to construct a coherent sentence gets all the girls.

It seems then that we, as a society, are forever cautious of people who take the time to learn and be interested in things and would rather ridicule those that have aquired knowledge than take the time and effort to acquire knowledge ourselves.

And meanwhile our TVs and our instant-fame cultures seems to promote that its ok to be an idiot - talent shows like The X Factor tell us every week that you can be a neanderthal throwback with all the intelligence of a can of peas and it doesn't matter - because being famous for being thick and useless is just as good as being famous for achieving something.

Surely it is time to re-evaluate this?  Personally I have a great many friends who have interests in all sorts of things and can quote chapter and verse on aircraft engines, IT protocols - hell even Toastmaster rules and regulations.

I may not always understand their knowledge or passion for their subject - but I hope that I will, at least, always be able to appreciate their drive to advance - to take the time and effort to learn something new...and that maybe, and by association, I may be able to learn something new too.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Music To Paint By

And here we go again with one of my never-popular List-o-fives.

This is one that I was thinking about when doing my most recent painting.  Yet again I had promised myself that this time I would definately do the painting in oils, and then did it in acrylics - mainly because the joy of acrylics is that you don't have to wait two weeks for everything to dry, or else end up with a muddy mess.

As such my impatience won again and acrylics were the weapon of choice.  Don't get me wrong - acrylics produce a nice effect, but I do think that there is a certain something about the texture and look of oil paints that has never been matched by any other medium (not even Mystic Meg)

But a major factor in painting is chosing the right music as a backdrop to help you achieve the right mood: ie slightly unaware of the passing of time around you.  Sometimes this can be dependent on what you are trying to achieve - for instance if you are painting a storm scene it might not be a good idea to listen to Barry Manilow and equally if you are painting a nice summers day then Megadeath may be a no-no.  Recently I did a painting of Jimi Hendrix, for which I mostly listened to the man himself for inspiration - but this is not always a good idea - so here is my list of any-occasion music to paint by in receding order of preference.

#1: The Blues
You can never really go wrong listening to the blues - it's the music that I always come back to and can always be relied on.  Recently I had a whole spate of listening to blues whilst painting and can thoroughly recommend:
BB King - my compilation of BB is never far away
Muddy Waters - recently discovered MW and not entirely sure how I survived this far in life without knowing about him
Eric Clapton - his "recorded as live" "From The Cradle" cd is a masterpiece
Robert Cray - i need more RC in my collection

#2: Swing
Big band - it never quite goes away, does it?  Sunday mornings, listening to Sinatra...well, ok so he was a less than perfect individual, but if you stopped listening to every singer who had a few personality issues....well, you'd have no one left, would you?

#3: World music
This tends to mean "anything sung in a different language".  For a while back in the 80s and 90s it looked like WM was going to be the next big thing, but it has remained something of a sideline.  However, that is not to say that it is not enjoyable - you can hear sounds and invention that you just don't hear in the pop charts and the world of Simon Cowell and his ilk.  Some top listens:
Ladysmith Black Mambazo - who first came to fame through their involvement in Paul Simon's classic "Graceland" album
Staff Benda Bilili - congolese street musicians
Youssou N''Dour
And, oddly, Bollywood soundtracks - my "Best of Bollywood" often gets an airing when I'm painting.  There's just something about Bhangra...

And of course, the Wedding Present's infamous Ukranian Folk Songs album - which only I seem to realise is a work of genius.

#4: Easy Listening
Some years ago when our local newspaper wrote a review of Phil Collins calling his music "easy listening" he wrote an angry letter back about all the hard work and effort that went into creating songs that people enjoyed.  Personally I don't see the problem with being referred to as easy listening or middle of the road - you have to have a middle so you can know where the edges are, and besides - as a listener i don't want my ears to be phonically challenged all the time.  I want something i can sing along to.  So Phil, I'm sorry if you're reading this and object to being referred to as Easy Listening - but your CD and many others of its ilk are favourites when i want some background music that will softly draw me in.

#5: Hip Hop
OK -so this one is a bit of an outsider, and I really have to be in the mood - and even so we're talking Old Skool bands like De La Soul and Beastie Boys, not this modern RnB rubbish, or Gangsta Bling.  I think it works for the same reason as Bhangra - that quite stylised beat and tempo - but its not a regular choice

And of course, a few that really don't work - particularly:

#6: Iron Maiden
I recently tried listening to Meat Loaf whilst painting and it really didn't work - it was far too distracting.  I can't imagine Van Gough trying to paint his sunflowers whilst enjoying "Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter" - although quite possibly he would at least have been able to hear it - even with just the one ear.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Pixie's Special Theory Of Relativity

And let's get started immediately by saying that when I use the word "Relativity" I'm not talking about family members.

Oh no: this is my very special thesis on the development and actuation of Time Travel, as developed at great length and hardship during a five minute fresh-air break from the office yesterday.

Time Travel has long been the dream of scientists the world over who will, no doubt even now, be rubbing their heads and wondering how a simple chap like me can have cracked it.  Well: the answer is simple - boredom.

Einstein famously theorized that E=MC2, which, at an extremely basic level, means that the faster you travel the more energy you need to sustain the speed and that as you approach the speed of light it becomes possible to move in time.

We already have proof that things can move at different times - if you take two atomic clocks and set them to the exact same time and then fly one around the world in a plane you get two results.  Firstly the clock in the plane gets a nice trip, a sub-standard meal and the inflight movie of its choice and secondly, and more importantly, when you compare the clocks at the other end the clock that was flying will be a few miliseconds ahead of the one that was stationary.

Stephen Hawking, and other notable brains, have postulated that if one were to open a black hole and step through it you wouldn't find a rather poor 1970s Disney movie, but that potentially we could use a hole at the other end to move in time

One other popular theory remains that the reason we don't have people popping back for a quick weekend in the drought of 1977 is a) frankly June 1977 was rubbish aside from the Queen's Jubilee and the Sex Pistols and b) time travel only becomes possible from the point at which it is invented.

So as I have now invented time travel yesterday I can travel forward in time from any point after 4pm yesterday and indeed back to that time, but not to a time before.

So - how, I hear you ask, is all of this achieved?  Well - it's simple.

Remember the last time you were really bored?  How did you feel as you stared at the clock on the wall, just waiting for the day to be over?  Did you feel that time was dragging?

And what about the last time you had some really fun friends around for a laugh and a sing-song?  Did the evening fly by?

This is because the passage of time depends heavily on our reaction to and perception of it.

So - theoretically if you could get two people into the same room: one of whom was bored to within an inch of bashing their brains out on the wall and one who was having the time of their lives and then infinitesimally tweak their individual perceptions of the passing of time then they would begin to pull in opposite directions of time.  So - if you offered the bored person a can of paint to watch dry he would slip further in time behind the person with a nice book to read and start to travel into the past - whereas if you were to offer the happy person a box of chocolates their new inspired state of deliriousness would react against the negativity of the bored person and send them shooting off into the future.

Clearly there is still some work to be done on testing this theory and there would be serious side-effects of sending someone seriously depressed into the past: for a start they wouldn't enjoy it once they got there.

Answers or comments on the above at the usual place :)

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

What's So Funny?

My family don't have a family motto.  No emblem of two crossed Pixies on a hill for our family crest.

If, however, I were to instigate one it would definately be "Never Volunteer For Anything"

Sound advice for a happy life I think you will all agree: for as we know - once you have volunteered to do something once it suddenly becomes expected every time.

For those of you wondering where all of the above is going, and for those long term readers of the Pixie Pages you may care to refer back to a post in January 2010 which involved myself and Argent unexpectedly finding ourselves heavily involved in Pantomime despite veherement attempts to avoid parading on stage in funny costumes. 

Let's face it - actors are a funny bunch - chosing to dress in costumes and pretend to be someone else for a living suggests a certain attitude to the world outside that surely cannot be 100% healthy.  However, our main involvement with said event was to write and perform some humerous songs - which we did with a due degree of amusement and fun.

However, the problem with this is that now, all of a sudden - if there is any kind of special occasion thoughts turn unexpectedly towards myself and Argent with a "Hey - you guys write amusing songs, don't you?"

Don't get me wrong - aside from the vague fear of becoming percieved as a one-trick pony I quite enjoy writing funny songs, and any kind of musical interaction with my long-term friend and co-conspiritor Argent is always worthy of a Sunday afternoon or two - but writing an amusing song is not as easy as you might think - so here, for those of you thinking of writing and performing in public, are a few tips.

#1: It's not sufficient just to nick someone else's tune
If you are intending to do a humerous re-write of a popular tune it's no good just stealing the chords and hoping that people will get the joke.  Ideally you need to pick a song that has similar sentiments to what you are trying to say.  Additionally if you can use parts of the lyrics or scansion to help the audience realise that you are doing a skit song people will realise what is going on.  As with my posts "The Long And Boring Song" and "Chartered Accountant" - both use elements or ideas from the original - meaning that you get the payoff of the audience already on your side.

#2: It has to be funny
This is much harder than it sounds.  The jokes shouldn't be too clever or obscure, just a quick silly line to make people smile - if you can squeeze something in about the person or thing being celebrated then all the better.  Anyone can write new lyrics to a few chords - you could pretty much put this paragraph to any popular song if you tried hard enough, but that wouldn't make it funny or clever.

#3: You have to practice
Contrary to popular belief two people can't just turn up together with guitars and play expecting it to sound any good.  Programmes like Fame and now Glee have led entire generations to believe that you can just all stand up enmasse and harmonize - not true.  Even starting and stopping at the same time requires practice, let alone complex things like singing the right lyrics, harmonizing, changing to the right chord etc. 

#4: Know your audience
There's no point stealing some obscure Leonard Cohen B-side if you're playing to an audience of twelve year olds - the song has to be popular enough that most of the people in the room will get the joke

#5: Be extremely musically talented
Of course the real experts can go much further than all of the above. Proper musicians, like comedian and presenter Neil Innes can, if given a brand of music that is sufficiently well known, parody on a much wider scale - taking general themes from a band rather than individual songs and still producing something funny and recognisable and yet also unique

Friday, 9 September 2011

Pictures Of Matchstick Men

About four o'clock in the afternoon I look up from my computer to the same view that's faced me all day.  Just your standard office: arranged in rows of desks facing back to back, low partitions between each just begging to have Table Tennis played between them.  The same Call Centre employee that has been sitting in front of me all day looks up and realises that yes, yet again, I am staring vacantly in his direction without realising what I'm doing...

What am I doing?

My body feels tense from sitting in one position, my eyes have been aching for some time and there's the slight sense of nausia that can arise from too much time infront of the computer.  Nowadays I almost feel like I should carry around a small glow light that can reflect on my face so that my friends can recognise me sans computer screen.

I decide that I've had enough and, even though its not break time, I step out of the building and into the world beyond the high metal fence.  Out here are the broken echoes of the old factories, their machinery still singing their stacatto songs amongst the broken bricks.

As a kid we used to come up here for the works Christmas party - over a thousand kids crammed into a room with a cinema set up - food, drinks and presents all on the company.  Hard to imagine any corporation today doing that.

I can feel the heavy weight of my mobile phone in my pocket  From this tiny screen I can go anywhere in the world: text or email anyone.  Hard to believe that when I started my last job mobile phones were only for execs.  How many of us can now imagine a world without them?

I take one last look at the world around me, taking in the smell of petrol from the main road, listening to the sound of the traffic.

I ask myself: why do we spend so much of our lives shutting ourselves off from all of this...

Sunday, 4 September 2011

15 Top Names For A Drag Queen

This post started life after we found a documentary on the telly, and led to an amusing few days of discussion. Some require more thought than others...

#1  Ophelia Buttocks
#2  Helen Highwater
#3 Quanita Stannd
#4 Candie Barr (actually did exist)
#5 Tiffany Boxx
#6 Rita Way
#7 Amanda Ryder
#8 Brittney Ferry
#9 Sheila Biteya
#10 Chastity Locke
#11 Tanya Bottoms
#12 Helen Back
#13 Vanity Case
#14 Ophelia Smalls
#15 Yolanda Matitz

Any further suggestions welcome as ever :)