Friday, 27 January 2012

Oh No!!!! It Isn't?? (The Revenge Of The Killer Panto)

I'll be honest and say that the last time our speakers club did a Panto I really though, "Oh God, I hope we never do one of those again!"

I'd pretty much given up my brief career as an amateur thespian some years before meeting Herself (much to the relief of the theatre going public) and was bemused to have found myself volunteered for a part in the pantomime.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with British culture a pantomime is a very peculiar type of theatre production that traditionally occurs between November - January.  It is usually based loosely on a fairy tale, such as Cinderella, Babes In The Wood, Puss In Boots - or else stories like Dick Whittington (thrice Mayor of London and never once introduced a congestion charge, or bid to hold the Olympic Games)

The main characters are usually:
Principal Boy - we'll take the story of Ali Ba-Ba and the Forty Thieves (which is a Panto staple as well).  The Principal Boy (in this case Ali Ba-Ba) is always played by a woman

Principal Girl - the main love interest.  As wet as a flannel left in an overflowing sink.  Also played by a girl

Adding to this rampant tale of lesbianism (although for the purposes of the play we all take for granted that the woman playing the principal boy is a boy - don't ask) we have:

The Villain - usually a wicked step father or uncle, sometimes a wicked witch.  The key thing for any actor playing the baddie is to start with hamming it up, work from there to dangerously over the top and keep going until you have achieved the type of villain last seen tying damsels to train lines in silent movies - and then take it one step further.  The first time I was in a panto it was as Chief Weasel in Wind In The Willows - a performance that was so over the top that i had trouble staying on the stage

A Man In Drag - usually the Panto Dame.  Sometimes this is the mother of the hero, sometimes the Ugly Sisters dependent on the story

There's usually a lot of slapstick humour for the kids, a few minor celebrities,  innuendo for the adults, outrageous costumes and a hell of a lot of shouting "Oh No It Isn't" - or "It's Behind You!"

But yet again the hand of fate reached out and slapped my jowels as my long term friend and partner in musical crime Argent decided that it would be fun to revive the Speakers Club Panto and that she was going to write it.

This changed the situation from "Ye gods, no!" to, "Hmmm, now that could be fun..."

She came up with the idea of Ali Blah Blah And The Forty Thieves (which eventually became The Forty-ish Thieves, due to keeping numbers involved in the panto to achievable figures - and explained in the story as being due to the thieves being outsourced to another country)

About half-way through the plot Argent found herself a bit stuck, so I chipped in with some jokes quietly inspired by Monty Python's Flying Circus (four years training in the sound effects centre in Barrow In Furness...just for a sodding door bell) and about rival speaker clubs in the area (I bet they can afford proper nuts at their club - they've got plenty of nuts from what i hear) - and added a few songs (mostly re-worked famous songs).  Argent set about making it all make sense and suddenly we had a very funny and very well written story

Also, and due largely to a concert that both Argent and I had attended in December, we also had two more advantages than the last Panto - two Ukelele's

We had given ourselves the roles of Thief #1 and Thief #2 (my only regret being that I couldn't think of an easy way to get T-shirts with this on, a la 1960s Batman) and In-house musicians - IE the most fun parts in the show

Also - in order to save anyone the pain of actually learning lines we decided to do it as a Radio Show - ie to pretend that we were all radio actors recording in front of a live studio audience - I even built a couple of pretend mikes and covered them in silver foil

And rather amazingly - it all worked really, really well.  Our President, as the constantly complaining Sound Effects Technician was suitably enthusiastic, our villain had clearly turned her amplifier not just to 11 but to 12 (see Spinal Tap if you don't get the reference), and the undisputed star of the show was our "man in drag" as Tinkerbell - with his high-pitched voice that kept (deliberately) breaking into a low baritone

No one threw anything, no one lost any limbs and no one died - all vital signs of a successful show and people laughed in most of the right places - plus everyone seemed to enjoy the Ukeleles - so a good evening in all.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Odd Sock Blues - The GPS Solution

If Sir Issac Newton had turned his attention to socks instead of towards inventing gravity and the cat flap (although disappointingly he merely named Gravity, as people had been discovering it on a daily basis for millions of years before, and had no connection with the cat flaps despite the legend to the contrary) then I feel sure that his first law would have read as follows:

Newton's First Law Of Socks
#1: No matter how many one has, one can never find a pair

And that his second would have read as follows
#2: Socks will always find a way to de-couple.

Take me for an example.  This year, as is always the way, I got plenty of new socks for Christmas.  I needed these for two reasons: firstly because I tend to wear holes in them quite quickly and secondly because we have a sock monster that lives under the bed and devours socks.  Not pairs of socks, you understand, just half a pair.

The existence of Sock Monsters has long been postulated by scientists and researchers into the paranormal, but to date there have, much like the Loch Ness Monster, been no clear sightings that couldn't be attributed to a bit too much to drink of a Saturday night or, in the case of the Sock Monster, a cat suffering from a sudden bout of Mad Cats Disease (anyone who has ever owned a cat will be familiar with MCD, sometimes known as Cracker-Cat - where they suddenly howl around the house chasing after something invisible for no apparent reason)

The existence of such a creature as the Sock Monster can, however, be the only explanation for the steadily growing pile of odd socks by the bedside for which a partner has never been found.  That or Alien Abduction (don't discount it guys, there's probably a whole shed load of life on a pair of socks for aliens to come along and probe)

I used to know someone who got so tired of having the same old argument about not being able to find matching socks at 5am that he took to deliberately wearing clashing socks of different colours.  This would never work in our house, mind you, where Herself cannot quite understand how I am able to cope all day wearing a sock that is merely turned inside out (whereas until it was pointed out I was entirely oblivious to the fact she usually has to go for a bit of a lie down to recover (JOKE))

So it seems to me that we urgently need a solution to the problem: one that suits our technical age and, after applying literally minutes of thought to the problem I came up with Global Positioning for your socks.

The basic idea is:
1) buy a pair of socks
2) by some technical means scan your new socks into your i-phone or android phone app
3) when, inevitably, one of the socks goes missing you re-scan the other one, activating the GPS signal
4) your phone then guides you to the missing sock

I checked out the internet whilst writing this post to see if anyone was actually marketing such a product and the closest I came was to a cat named Socks here that had been fitted with a GPS collar, so I feel my invention is relatively safe thus far - now all I need to do is find the solution to point 2

2) Technical means to find missing sock

My initial thought was that a barcode could be stitched into the pattern of the sock, thus enabling you to scan the barcode.  This would certainly help with any instance where you had to go to a communal changing room and accidentally put on the wrong pair of socks - but wouldn't help with the actual capacity for tracking down a missing sock as per the requirement

My next idea, a low background level of radiation for the socks, had it's own drawbacks - in so much as whilst it would be relatively easy to find the sock it would become increasingly difficult to find the actual foot.

Especially after it was hacked off to save the rest of the leg.

Obviously we could move into the realm of washable shoes, however this would drastically increase the space requirement for storage.

This only leaves us with one viable solution: some form of microchip sewn into the side of the sock and encased in a waterproof plastic to stop water damage. Said chip would need to be at a place where
a) It would be unlikely to rub or cause discomfort
b) be unlikely to easily dislodge or come lose

However, I feel that the cost of production of such a small chip, required plastic coating and development of applicable software would be of such a high level that the price to the consumer would be at a level where it was infinitely cheaper and easier to simply wait until the next Christmas and/or birthday when the inevitable present of new socks arrives.

The solution then would seem to be to find some new use for all the uneaten socks of the world - but I fear that the world would never be the same if we were to suddenly find that the Sock Puppets of the world had gone on strike and were giving humans the boot.

GPS for socks - you heard it here first folks

Tuesday, 17 January 2012


I haven't seen either film, but already The Descendents (with George Clooney) and The Iron Lady have managed to raise my hackles.

Let's face it The Iron Lady was always going to raise an emotional reaction for those of us that survived the Thatcher years with any remote shreds of sanity left (what was the deal with her and Regan anyway?) - would they portray her the way we, the long suffering people of England, remembered her (IE selling off our industries, breaking the unions, the Poll tax), or would the Hollywood effect romanticize everything as usual (answer: I still haven't seen it, so can't comment)

But come on guys, advertising it the "Film of 2012" whilst we were still in December 2011

And now George, usually so loveable and roguish, has taken time out of his busy schedule advertising expensive coffee machines to irritate me with a film that, in January mind you, is being advertised as "the best film of the year"

I mean - really?

Is this all we can look forward to cinematically for the year? - a couple of half-decent films at the very start of the year and then bugger all until the Mayan calendar runs out and we're all swallowed my the mutant star goat that's been following us ever since our ancestors left Golgafrincham (see Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy if you don't get the joke)

I know you guys are desperate to get bums on seats, what with the advent of digital TV showing the same films three times in as many days barely six months after they're off the big screen, the general feeling that 3-D is just a gimmick to rip us off yet again with a new gadget - but COME ON

It's in the same league as advertising Christmas as soon as the schools go back in September, or putting Creme Eggs for Easter on the shelves as soon as the Christmas decorations go down or...


Well, yes they already do both of those, but would it really - I mean really - hurt them just to let us relax and let us live a bit of the year before they start telling us how much of the rest of the year is going to be rubbish in comparison?

We live a fast-paced enough life as it is - so why not let us slow down a bit

Besides - the mutant star goat has waited this long, hasn't it?

Friday, 13 January 2012

Can't Get Cover?

Call Centre (CC): Welcome to Faceless Insurance International, how may I help you today?

Customer (CU): Hi, yes I need to get insurance for my vehicle

CC: Certainly madam, can I take your name please?

CU:  Yes, it's Cinderella

CC: How do you spell that?


CC: And your surname?

CU: I don't have one

CC: (PAUSE) I'm sorry madam, did you say that you don't have one?

CU: Not that I'm aware of, no.  Sometimes people call me Cinders, does that count?

CC: Cinderella Cinders?  OK madam, and your address?

CU: I live in the kitchens at my mother's house (gives address)

CC: O-kay.  And what type of vehicle are you looking to insure today?

CU: It's a Pumpkin, a giant Pumpkin.


CC: I'm not finding any vehicle type of Pumpkin on my systems - what type of engine does it have?

CU: It's actually powered by two enchanted mice


CC: Mice?

CU: Yes, my Fairy Godmother turned a giant pumpkin and some mice into horses - and now I need to get to the ball so I can marry a Prince


CC: I'm sorry madam, but I don't think we cover enchanted vehicles, Pumpkins or otherwise.

CU: Oh, ok - I'll try somewhere else then - thank you


CC: Welcome to Faceless Insurance International, how may I help you today?

CU2: Yeah, hi - my name's Aladdin - can you tell me if you insure flying carpets?

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Five of the best

 Well, as those of you who know me will know I am liable, from time to time, to share a list of five things that I like with you - my unsuspecting and regular audience.

This time, and further to a conversation with Argent, I am sharing a list of five songs that if I were ever to compile a list of favourite songs would certainly be towards the higher end of that list

Some may look at the list and wonder how it is possible to like wildly differing types of music and to those people I say well, why not?

A-ha - I've Been Losing You
So immediately there will be cries from music lovers around the globe that A-Ha represent the worst of Boy-band Bubblegum pop.  Disposable nonsense with pretty boys and plinky-plonky keyboards.  To these people I say: stuff and nonsence

Yes it is true that when they first came to fame they had an immensely high number of impressionable female followers and as a result of attending one of those early concerts I still suffer from occasional bouts of tinnitus brought on by two hours of 50,000 teenage girls screaming hysterically - but I think that they're reputation for being disposable nonsense is unfair and unfounded.  Scratch beneath the surface and you find a series of well crafted and intricately arranged pop classics and a vocalist with one of the most amazingly versatile voices in pop.

I've Been Losing You, taken from their second album, is a remarkably dark tale about someone who - it can only be assumed from the lyrics - has just shot someone.  Indeed the whole of Scoundrel Days (the album) themes around crime and punishment (although the lyric "maybe it was over/when you chucked me out the Rover" remains one of my favourite unintentionally funny lyrics of all time)

What sells it to me every time on this song is that bass line, the little chick-a-chick of the guitar and then, right at the end, that bit where the song stops - and then the drums come back in for the finale.

Ray Charles - Georgia On My Mind
What can I really say about this song - one of the most beautifully played and vocalised songs of all time.  From the wistful strings at the start, to Ray Charles's tones and that sentiment of longing... give me a cup of coffee, a Best Of Ray Charles and a blank sheet of canvas to paint on and I'm set for the day.

Joy Division - No Love Lost
It's weird how the legend of Joy Division has grown.  When I first got into them it was via New Order (the band they became after singer Ian Curtis's death) and they were still something of an underground legend.  Now it seems to be universally acknowledged that they were one of the most important and influential bands of the punk movement

OK -so the lyrics are dark and depressing, but listen to the musicianship on this song - you won't find any other band in the world that has so much going on musically, and certainly no other punk band came close.  The video appears to be clips from Anton Corbjin's excellent biopic "Control"

Manic Street Preachers - Motorcycle Emptiness
Just to prove that I didn't entirely stop listening to music in the 1980s here's a song from the 90s.  The Manics, with their daft politics and youthful enthusiasm wrote some amazing songs and have continued to write good, if less daftly political songs since their rise to fame and fortune.  I actually heard this when it was first released and loved the guitar line - although the clip on The Chart Show was so brief that, at that time, I had no idea who was performing the song.

The Sugarcubes - Coldsweat
I can only assume that, in some corner of the world, the eyes of Bjork Goddmundsdottr and Kate Bush must be avidly glued to their respective TVs to see who has won this year's Annual Mrs Madman award.

Well Kate - it was a good effort with the song about the washing machine and hiring Stephen Fry to recide 50 made up words for snow - but I'm sorry to say that Bjork wins it hands down.

I first heard The Sugarcubes (of whom Bjork was the lead singer before solo success) on a Saturday morning pop show called The Chart Show - where they would play independent videos as well as mainstream stuff.  She was wailing away in icelandic - but even then there was something about her voice that just sparked a shiver - both innocent and wildly sexual at the same time.

Since then Bjork has had much competition in the loopy stakes (Lady Ga-Ga's meat dress anyone?) but I think the album where she used nothing but throat singing for backing and the seven minute recording of some tibetian bloke banging a stick and yelling "Ye-o-o-o-o-o-op" will take some beating.

Still, if you think she's bonkers you should check out Einar Orn, the backing vocalist in The Sugarcubes in this deeply disturbing video.  Cold Sweat remains one of my favourite songs of all time - the immensely dark lyrics, pounding drums and bass - and Bjork's primal rage...

Talking Heads - (Nothing But) Flowers
I couldn't leave you without a clip of my all time favourite band, and possibly (if i were forced to chose one) my all time favourite song.

No matter how miserable I may be if I were to put this song on I would be unable to stop myself from singing and dancing along - it's that catchy.

I mean, come on, how can you not like a song about someone who has gone back to nature and then realizes that he missed technology?

And one for Herself...

Not so long ago, on a particularly special day, I gave a surprise present to Herself - it was a CD of Cliff Richard's greatest hits.  It came with the message that I loved her as she was - naff taste in music included.

Music lovers everywhere should turn away now - or else try and find the Shed 7 cover version - which somehow turns it into a really, really good song

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Not-so, Na-So, Song Writing In A Month

At the end of November, having written 50,108 words of drivel I thought - what next?

So, knowing that I would be likely to find a com padre in my usual creative friend argent I suggested a month of trying to write songs - preferably 10 to 12 songs, or enough for an album.

The idea was to try and record the songs and make the album, using newly aquired technology on my computer.

This plan quickly ran into problems of a technical nature, as surely I must have done something to annoy whichever god or deity looks after computer technology - first of all I couldn't get my tech to work, and then my existing tech also crashed - meaning that all my attempts at musical masterpieces or malformations were scuppered.

I have to admit that it was at this point that I lost some of my motivation and this probably resulted in me not even closely approaching the target of 10-12 songs.  However, I did manage seven of variable nature.

As my computer is still playing up and I don't know why I'm unable to present recordings of the best ones to you as hoped, but below I hope you will find and enjoy the lyrics to the two best efforts:

The first is called "Think It Over" - I don't really remember the inspiration for the song, I think it came from a slow and gentle strum I was playing with and that set the mood.

Think It Over

Think it over, take your time
You might miss me, way down the line
Think it over, baby please
Stay with me

There could be dark clouds, in our way
Who needs those dark clouds, let come what may
Think it over, honey please
Just stay with me

Sometimes you seem to wander
From restless dream to dream
As the years you pass you wonder
Just what the hell did it all mean?

Think it over, take your time
You might miss me, way down the line
Think it over, baby please
Stay with me

The second set of lyrics I'm presenting here are from "Motion Capture Technology" - at this point in the month I had come up with the idea of providing some generic titles that I could use and would influence the style of the song I was going to write.  It should be mentioned that at the time of writing it I was listening to a lot of Manic Street Preachers - so the song was definitely influenced by them.  I've edited out most of the final verse as I'm not happy with it and have edited verse 2 - but I think the previous lyrics are sufficiently interesting

Motion Capture Technology

I wish my life was a movie
Motion capture technology
Then I wouldn’t feel my pain
It would all be so easy
Living life in a movie
Never feeling any shame

You don’t have to be a bit part actor
You can really be a star
When you think that it’s all over
You can really still go far

My life’s never been Disney
Motion capture technology
It would make it all worthwhile
If this were on the silver screen
To see my whole life story
That would really make me smile

I wish my life were a movie
Motion capture technology