Thursday, January 31, 2002

Here's a tip for those constantly on the lookout for new wallpaper for their computer desktops:

If you have a digital camera, turn the flash off and run around the streets at night, snapping random things. Aim the camera at the pavement, into the sky or into the oncoming traffic. The quicker you run, the more abstract and strangely beautiful the results. If you like, you can then adjust the hue and saturation in Photosop and voila! groovy wallpapers. You could even print them out and frame them as abstract art.

I made these last night, and have saved them in a folder on my Mac desktop. When my machine starts up, it chooses one of these at random as the background pic. Click on the thumbnails to see the full 1024x768 pictures. And feel free to download them and save them as your own wallpaper if you like them.

The great thing about having a boyfriend is that you don't need to go out on your own any more. The bad thing about having a boyfriend is that you never get to go out on your own any more. Last night, I felt the need to go out, all on my own, spend an evening in isolation. And that's just what I did, at the King William in Hampstead. Copy of the Guardian in hand, I took up position at the bar and made mental notes:

Young foreign chap asks barmaid, "Can I have a One Point Six Six Four, please?" "A what?" "Uh, One Point Six Six Four?" "I'm sorry, sir we don't... oh, you mean...?" Pours him a pint of Kronenbourg.

Pot-bellied fifty-something man scurries in. The bar staff spot him and immediately start pouring a pint of Fosters. He grabs it and wolfs it down in one, his hands trembling. Five seconds later he is gone. I spot him entering a restaurant twenty yards up the hill.

At the bar are two almost identical people. He is willowy and camp, she is cropped and butch, but they have the same face. "We're brother and sister, you know," he tells me. Yes, but which is which? "Where do I know you from? I recognise your face?" "That's quite likely," I reply, "Lord knows it's been around enough."

Twenty minutes after he first came in, the fifty-something man from the restaurant is back. Another pint of Fosters disappears down his neck in five seconds flat. He rushes back to the restaurant. "Ooh," says the young camp barman, "if I knew a younger man who could swallow like that, I'd be a very happy man!"

The group of regulars at the bar pore over the escort ads in QX. "Ooh, that would keep you warm at night." "I've had him; he's not THAT big."

Restaurant man pops back in, despatches another pint of Fosters in five seconds, runs back to the restaurant.

Three Young People come in. The barman asks for proof of age. One of them pulls out a photocopy of a passport. Barman refuses to serve him. "But I'm 22!"

The quiz starts. "The first round is just like Family Fortunes - you know how that works." Do I look like the kind of person who watches crap telly on a Saturday evening?

Annoying "joker" at the bar shouts out stupid answers; totally random, as though he is reaching into his head and pulling out the first thing he finds there. "Name a famous cigar smoker:" "Marilyn Monroe!" "Name something you might see in a desert:" "Carol Vorderman!"

Three teams finish on the same high score. I am one of them. After lengthy adjudication, another team is declared the winner. I have no idea why.

The second round is general knowledge, forty questions. Pretty easy questions. Young Oriental person next to me stares at me in amazement as I breeze through them. "What county are Milton Keynes and Aylesbury in?" Buckinghamshire. "Which of the seven dwarfs has the longest name?" Not Doc, Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Happy or the other one; must be Bashful.

I falter on the musicals round: "Which musical starred a lead character named Lina Lamont?" I have no idea - Sunset Boulevard? Wrong. I come a real cropper on the history round: "Who was elected prime minister in 1946?" Was Churchill re-elected? I don't know - I go for a name I vaguely remember: Anthony Eden. Very wrong.

I finish on 35 out of 40. The winning team - team, note, team - get 37.

Restaurant man comes back in, another pint, another five seconds, another dash back to the restaurant. I ask the barman, "who is he?" "He's the chef at that restaurant." Tip to Hampstead residents: don't eat at the place with the stripy awning, next to Waterstones.

Oriental person coos at me, "Wow, you're so clever." "Yeah, you know." "My name is Jeff." "You're from... let me see... the Philippines?" "Oh my god, how do you know that? You know the hospital at the top of the hill? I stay in the residence there." "You're a nurse? I mean, I suppose you could be a doctor, but, er..." "Do you want to come back with me?" "Oh, I don't think so."

I totter off down the hill, taking hundreds of blurred photographs of moonlit churchyards and graveyards and pavements and reflections and unidentified objects. I may be drunk, but I'm an arty drunk. I gash my shin on a gravestone. I stop at an all-night corner shop and buy two bags of crisps and a packet of fruit shortbread biscuits. I know this only because I find the wrappers in my bed the next morning.

And, yes, the gents' toilet does still smell like fish fingers.

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Some more Googlewhacks

carburettor penumbra = 2,926,700,000 (25900 x 113000)
deerhound penumbra = 3,367,400,000 (29800 x 113000)
Oi! Hands off me googlies! One of my Googlewhacks is used as the headline for an article on the subject in Australian IT News.
Walking past Holland & Barrett, I see they have something called 'Aloe Vera Colon Cleanser'. Here's a picture of aloe vera. I ain't putting that anywhere near my colon!
There was a novel twist to last night's Retro Bar pop quiz. Instead of the usual 20 songs, there was just one, yet - in a way - there were 101. How so? Osmyso.

The man behind Osymyso, a young bedroom DJ named Mark, was on hand to present his latest mix of Intro-Inspection. 101 samples packed into twelve minutes. The mix is ingenious. He has clearly spent hours - weeks, months - fitting pieces together. It's very impressive, although it reeks of DJ-wankery, sample trainspotting. As Ian asked, "what is this for? You can't dance to it, you wouldn't really want to listen to it." Jonathan and I chatted to Mark after the quiz. He's DJing next Thursday at a club off Oxford Circus. "All the bootleggers will be there," he said.

How did we do last night? Not bad - our team came second, spotting 88 of the 101 samples. The full-length version of Intro-Inspection as used in last night's quiz is not online, as Mark is hoping for a commercial release in March, but a shorter, seven-minute version is.

Try your hand at last night's quiz. Download this mp3 and name the 40 samples used in the track.

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

There are hunky construction workers crawling over the roof of the building site directly outside my window. Sadly, they are all wearing bulky clothing. Roll on summer!
Now, I know you think I'm a fabulous socialite, a Face, slave to my little black book. You do, don't you? And you'd be right. But every now and then, staying in is not just the new going out, it's all you're capable of. And every now and then, the TV schedules collude to prove that British TV actually is the best in the world. Last night, for instance:

8:00pm BBC2 University Challenge [no-one shaggable, and we hated the smug Canadian girl]
8:30pm BBC1 Ground Force [a secret, guilty pleasure - until now. I have a soft spot for Changing Rooms, too, I'm afraid]
9:00pm Ch4 Never Mind The Buzzcocks [way past its sell-by date but still has its moments]
9:30pm BBC2 Big Train [Smack The Fast Show]
10:00pm BBC2 The Office [genius! I work with him, I swear I do]
10:35pm BBC1 Ruby Wax's Commercial Break [small, loud, vulgar American woman plumbs new depths in money-grubbing by providing a link between commercials. And is funny.]
11:05pm BBC1 Johnny Vaughan [why did no-one tell me that Anastacia is actually very, very funny?]
11:35pm BBC1 Film 2002 [In The Bedroom, Gosford Park, a Kurosawa retrospective]

See? Culture, education, trash, humour, music, loud annoying people. Just like a night out.
Googlewhacking continues to ensnare the geek universe. Here's a handy web-based Googlewhacking tool which saves you from having to do three separate searches and plugging the scores into your calculator.

Monday, January 28, 2002

I’m very proud of myself - I have very nearly finished today’s Guardian crossword. Not the quick one, but the cryptic one. I have never managed to finish it before - and I haven’t quite managed it this time either. But I will if you can help me with the four clues I haven’t solved:

Veto for proposal (6) _ O _ B _ D
Party policy won’t be one’s main interest (8) I _ _ _ L _ N _
Having nothing on a dark horse, raised stake finally (4) N _ _ _
A man around here may be taken for a girl (3) R _ O
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Yes, I've upgraded to BloggerPro. Largely, I'll admit, due to peer pressure - everyone else is doing it, so it must be good. Actually, I haven't noticed any real difference in the service so far. The spellchecker doesn't work on a Mac, and as my blog is still at BlogSpot [yeah, I know, I know] the file upload thing doesn't work either. Enough of an incentive to move the thing at last, perhaps?

Contrary to Tom's experience, I'm a little disappointed to see that I've never exceeded the 100k limit. Seems I don't waffle on as much as I'd feared.
Your Blog History
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At this very moment, Marcus is winging his way to Zurich on business. He'll have a couple of hours free this afternoon. Any suggestions as to what he should see?

Friday, January 25, 2002

Marcus follows up his memorable post about Swedish TV programmes like "Lost In The Pancake" with a piece about a Swedish cultural phenomenon known as Raggare. Suddenly I'm not in such a hurry to visit the place...
I'm with Dave. The ridiculous abbreviation GLBT always sounds like a sandwich filling to me.
A Googlewhack which describes my mental and financial state:
hungover churchmouse = 27,400 x 2,740 = 75,076,000
Last night in Beer-O-Vision:
What an epic night Ian and I had last night. In an attempt to do something different, something cultural, something quirky, we combined a crawl of the bars we don't usually go to with a quick look at art.

7:15pm: The City Of Quebec. When I walked in, I thought I'd got the wrong bar. In an attempt to attract a younger crowd, they've done the place up like an All Bar One. Still full of the same leching old soaks. A failed attempt, then.

7:30pm: Selfridges.

We gawped at the people having a dinner party in the microflat in the window.
We sneered at their taste - or more probably the stylist's taste - in books: Harry Potter, John Simpson and War And Peace? As if!
We took a brief, disorientating trip through Selfridges's basement. When did Selfridges become a trade fair? It's concessionarama down there. A very surreal moment when we walked into HMV and tried to figure out if we had somehow crossed under the street and ended up in the big HMV.
We watched the new Pet Shop Boys video, directed by the oh-so-trendy-darling Wolfgang Tillmans. So there's these mice, right? Running up and down the tracks of an Underground station, right? Yes, and...? The little gallery in Selfridges does have some pretty cool stuff - I loved the Hearsay kebab machine:

8:15pm: "Do we really want to go the comedy thing at Barcode, or have we done quite enough quirky yet?" "Quite enough quirky, I'd say." The Kings Arms - home of the Bear. Large, large, hairy men. The place was packed, with no room to manouevre - there were ten of them. One of whom was Charles. We like Charles, but after listening to his urban nightmare stories of having a knife pressed into his back outside Peckham station and having his mobile stolen in Comptons, we fled to more refined surrounds.

8:45pm: The Friendly Society: My, this place has changed for the better. Gone! The glacial lighting! Gone! The poncey tossers! Instead, there's groovy music, chatty people, intimate alcoves and cult movies on the big screen. And two-pint pitchers of lager. We like it here. Sample of conversation: Me: "You really should get a digital camera, you know." Ian: "I'm in danger of heading into a dark existential cul-de-sac here." Me: "Mmmmmm. What?"

9:30pm: The Village: Ha ha ha! They haven't a clue! "I know! Let's put some fancy decanters filled with coloured water on the shelves - won't that look posh?" No, it looks like a crap barbershop. And the basement bar is themed to within an inch of its pathetic life, trying so hard to be an Andalucian grotto. It may be Moorish, but it certainly ain't more-ish. Sample of conversation: Me: "This place is so over, it has so missed the moment. In its own way, it's just as untrendy as the City Of Quebec. Look at these people, look at them! They're driftwood!" Ian: "Mmmmmm. What?"

10:00: The Duke Of Wellington or The Pub Formerly Known As The Rat And Parrot: This place doesn't know what it is yet, and is all the better for that. Is it a boozer? Is it a bar? No-one knows yet. The sofas upstairs lend themselves to intimate conversation. Sample of conversation: Ian: "We can still do it you know." Me: "But it's moved on since we did it. There's all sorts of things we don't understand." Ian: "We can do stylesheets." Me: "Yeah, but it's not just that these days. There's like, I don't know, things! that just magically call up other things and there's your page." Both: "Mmmmmm. What?"

10:45: Barcode: Sample of conversation: Ian: "Xgnbvkssh" Me: "Mmmmmm."
Of all the songs to get stuck in your head while hungover in the bath on a grey Friday morning.
Gow-day-tay, Gow-day-tay, Christu Sess-nah-toos, ex Maria virgin ay, Gow-day-tay.
Yes, it's that folk-meets-prog-meets-Gregorian-chant-Christmas-compilation-staple Gaudete. Steeleye bloody Span? Please, make it go away.
Gary Stock has set up a Googlewhacking page, suggesting possible meanings for the various unlikely combinations.

Thursday, January 24, 2002

A few days ago, I promised some stories about the many animals I grew up with. Here's the first:

We were in the Guinness Book Of Records.*

The first house I can remember living in was Bradkirk Cottage, a ramshackle old farmhouse at the end of an unpaved road, in Bamber Bridge, Preston. For an inquisitive six-year-old, it was heaven on earth. We had fields, ponies, a little stream running into a duckpond, and a mysterious spinney in the woods behind the house. But then my parents decided to open dog kennels; row upon row of fenced off runs. At any one time, we'd have perhaps 20 of our own dogs and up to 30 which we were boarding for others. The barking could be heard for miles around.

My parents could never agree on what type of dog they wanted to breed. My dad loved Alsatians ("vicious brutes," said my mum) and my mum adored Irish Setters (Stupid softies," said my dad). But my dad would have to agree that it was the red setters that made us money, and made us - briefly - famous.

My mum's favourite dog was a lovely setter called Pat. She was a goldmine. Not only did she win Best In Breed or Best In Show at all the local dog shows, she also had enormous litters. We'd mate her with Sam (more formally known as Twoacres Triton) and Pat would produce loads of puppies. Not satisfied with the standard six or eight puppies, Pat would produce twelve, or sixteen, or - as in 1970 - twenty-one puppies.

Now, there's no way one dog can feed 21 pups, so we had to farm them out to some of our dogs who were lactating at the same time. Seeing four tiny red puppies being suckled by a huge white Pyrenee Mountain Dog, who had lost all of her pups, is a strange sight. Four of the setter pups died, leaving 17.

A man from the Daily Mirror arrived, and the whole family was pictured holding the puppies. We got a call from the people at Guinness, and they came along to verify our claim to the UK's largest ever dog litter. The world record is 23, but we held the UK record. For just one year, apparently - some bitch [hey, that's the technical term, OK?] had 22.

*I admit that I have never actually seen the edition of the Guinness Book Of Records with our name in it, but this is the family legend.
Meanwhile, the world is going Googlewhack-crazy. See the rules here. The game was started by Gary Stock.

The aim is to find a combination of two English words which Google can find on only one web page. Points are awarded for the regularity with which the two indidual words occur in Google. For instance, the current leader is 'dewpoint beeped'. 'Dewpoint' occurs 277,000 times at Google, 'beeped' is found on 57,700 webpages, but 'dewpoint AND beeped' just once. Multiply the two scores to give a combined total score of 15,982,900,000.

It's a lot harder than it looks. Google can find even the most bizarre combination of words. I have so far managed just two Googlewhacks: gorgonzola and quintuplet = 3,390 x 73,100 = 247,809,000. And logotype and carburettor = 61,300 x 24,400 = 1,495,720,000.

Can you do better? Your scores in the Comments, please.
I discovered this morning that you can set your Google preferences to display Google tips and messages in the language of your choice. Not just the obvious languages, either, but some esoteric choices, too:

Chwilio Google [Welsh], Google Sercxo [Esperanto], Google Soektog [Afrikaans], Google 534R(H [H4x0r], Google Sewch, uh-hah-hah [Elmer Fudd], Google Earchsay [Igpay Atinlay].

What's more, if they do not offer support for your language of choice, you can help Google create it through their Google in Your Language program. Looks like there may have been a point to learning Cthulhu after all, you two.

Great fun and all, but now I've got them stuck in Pig Latin, and I can't find 'English' on the ropday ownday enumay.
Shnot easy, y'know. And now he's going senile.

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Overheard in the office:
"Richard, so you know any Rufus?"
"What, the guy who sang with Chaka Kahn?"
"Huh? No, I need to get my roof repaired."
First the bad news:
Always on the cutting edge of fashion, Marcus has come down with this season's trendiest illness: the Winter Vomiting Virus. At least, that's what it sounds like. According to the BBC website, "The illness typically starts with an attack of vomiting - which can be of the severe, projectile variety. A patient can go from feeling fine to severe vomiting in a very short period." That describes last night perfectly. One moment we were discussing Viggo Mortensen in Lord Of The Rings, and the next he was hurling violently.

The worse news is: it's highly contagious.

The good news is: it may just be withdrawal symptoms.
I finally got around to seeing Lord Of The Rings last night. As a plot, as a story, as an affecting piece of cinema, it didn't work. I couldn't have cared less when Sean Bean died or the hobbits were captured. The characters are stereotypes, fairytale goodies and baddies.

Saruman, played by Christopher Lee, seems to think he is the star of a new ITV reality series, "When Wizards Go Bad!" His lair looked like the set for Duran Duran's "Wild Boys". Galadriel's forest pad was a theme hotel, with Enya wafting through the lobby. Each time Hugo Weaving appeared on screen, I found it impossible to stop thinking of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert. Gandalf was a pretty useless wizard, only really any good at making fancy fireworks.

The effects are often restrained and quite subtle. I loved the way they made Elijah Wood and the other Hobbits look really tiny. But I see Elijah's not exactly strapping anyway.

It really is just one long (and I do mean "long") road movie. You've probably seen the secret diary of Aragorn (or is it Boromir?) and the recently-discovered pages from Anne Frank's diary ("Monday: hid. Tuesday: hid, Wednesday: hid"). Frodo's diary would surely read "Monday: walked, Tuesday: walked, Wednesday: walked..." I was tempted to answer the question "How will we get to Mordor?" with "Take the southbound Northern Line."

Hobbits really lost out when they were handing out talents in Middle Earth. Elves are tall, graceful, beautiful, wise, magical, even immortal. Men are strong and clever. Dwarves are brave and rich. But hobbits are small, clumsy, always hungry and not very bright or strong. If you were going on a quest, you really wouldn't want a fidgety little thing always fiddling with stuff and getting you into trouble.

But as a spectacle, by god, it works. The scenery, the sets, the effects, and the fantastic camera work are amazing. It's thrilling, exhilarating eye-candy. But I can't say I'll be rushing out to see the sequels. Another six hours of this? Three was more than enough.

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

My mother was a breeder. I realise that's a self-evident statement, but let me explain. The woman had a virtual fetish for breeding things - dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, budgies. And kids.

Our house was always full of mewling, growling, screeching animals. And kids. That may explain why I have no interest in owning pets today. Or having kids.

Over the next few days, I'll tell a few stories about some of the animals I remember. I won't tell you about the kids, but here's a delightful pic showing just how angelic the dears can be [no, it's not my brother and sister, just some other random evil children].
More Rockstar game admin stuff: If you have signed up for the game and would like to be part of my users' chart, do the following:
Log into the game. Choose "Friend groups". Click on "Join a known group". In the "Group ID" box, enter 2347. In the "password" box, enter: swish

You should now be a member of the Swish Friends group. If you haven't signed up yet, do so!

Monday, January 21, 2002

I promised links and lovely thoughts to everyone who signed up for the Rockstar Game. So thanks and good luck to Willy Nilly, Lurleen Buckets, DJ "mad" Efrafa, Terry Tinsel, Ezra Kerr, Froot, Tran Substantiation, Tammy Popsicle, Rawkusboi and Marcus Gaye. Waves of lovely thoughts go out to the rockstars whose details I don't know: The Mathmos, Cody Outside, El Macho, Mary Brown, DJ Ham&Eggs, Seabass and Matius Rose. Have a lovely day, and send me your email address so I can add you to my users' chart, allowing us all to compete directly against each other.

There's still time to sign up for the Rockstar Game. It's fun and it's free. What more could you possibly ask for?
Currently rockin' da Swish Cottage dex: Felix da Housecat's Kittens And Thee Glitz featuring the unique Miss Kittin from France. Or Switzerland. She has a condo on the hill, you know, like nine-oh-two-one-oh. "Let's go blogging..."

Friday, January 18, 2002

Note to Londoners: your telephone dialling code is not 0207 or 0208.

It's 020, followed by a 7 or an 8, and then your old number. That may sound like I am splitting hairs, but there is a real distinction:

If your old number was (0171) 654 3210, then your new one is (020) 7654 3210, not (0207) 654 3210. Got it? If you are calling from within London, you don't need the 020 bit, but you do need the 7.
Jonathan and I met up in Barcode, and had our own little production line going, assembling the CDs we'd made for Wendy and Lush. Ian arrived, Jonathan went downstairs to his comedy thing, and Ian and I went off to a packed Retro Bar.

Dave was there, and we wondered if it might be quieter and nicer in the upstairs bar. It was. Soon Iain, Scally and Rick joined us. Cue much chatter and more drinking.

"Where's Marcus?"
"One, he's broke. Two, he's not feeling well. Three, he doesn't like indie music."
"Tell him they've just played Destiny's Child and Mary J Blige."

Marcus, they didn't just play indie music.

At one stage I realised that for the last 30 minutes I had been holding court while kneeling on a chair. "Look," I said, "my upper half is sober and upright, but my feet are having a whale of a time, waggling around."

Somehow we all ended up back downstairs again, and drank more. Jonathan and Mark arrived, and Jonce and I tailed Wendy and Lush around the club, trying to give them our present. When we eventually did manage, their reaction was wonderful - Wendy got all emotional and choked up. Have I mentioned how wonderful the Retro Bar management is?

Darren DJed, I took photos, all of which were blurred, out of focus, or out of frame. As midnight approached, DJ Lush played the CD Jonathan and I had made, and it got the best reception of the evening.

I tumbled out of the bar with Blogger A. "Who are we waiting for," I asked. "We're waiting for Blogger B," he answered. "But I thought he lived down south somewhere." "Well, yes, he does, but, you know..."


We had a long journey ahead of us - a northbound Bakerloo train to Baker Street, changing there for the Jubilee Line. The indicator on the platform told us we would have an eleven-minute wait till the next northbound Bakerloo train. We – OK, I – came up with what seemed a brilliant tactical suggestion: "Let's take the southbound train to Waterloo and get the northbound Jubilee from there." Big mistake!

We arrived at Waterloo and sprinted along the travolator and down the escalators, reaching the Jubilee platform seconds after the last northbound train had left the station. Cursing and giggling, we started running back to the Bakerloo line, only to be told that the last Bakerloo train had left, too.


Cue much swearing and general panic. We were now further from our destination, with not even a useful night bus stop in sight. It would have to be a cab. So, around the station we ran, Blogger B stopping in a dark alley for "a wazz". The cab ride home was jolly - if a little surreal. I have vague memories of regaling the other two with a story about one of my parents' many arguments - this one ended with my mother pushing a plate of spaghetti bolognaise into my dad's face; he ignored it and carried on as if nothing had happened, bits of spag bol dripping off his moustache.

We arrived at Blogger A's house, and Blogger B pressed a 20-quid note into my hand. Bonus!

When the cab arrived at my place, I discovered that I seemed to be unable to get my money out of my pocket, as my camera was wedged in. I pushed and pulled, and seriously considered giving up: "look mate, I'm too drunk and tired to get my money out. You don't mind do you?" But suddenly my camera shot out of my pocket, and so did a hundred coins. "Wheeee!"
Details of last night's party at the Retro Bar will be forthcoming once I find my brain, but in the meantime, let me tell you about what Jonathan and I gave Wendy and DJ Lush. We had been racking our brains, trying to come up with a suitable gift to celebrate their five years at the helm of our favourite bar, and when we heard the bootleg mp3s that Mike linked to yesterday, we hit upon the idea of making a compilation CD.

I put Jonathan in charge of ripping and burning, while I did the cover artwork. We locked ourselves away in empty offices and took silly photos of ourselves. To see the results, click the thumbnails below.

I am typing this quietly, as I have a hangover. Actually, that's not true - I think I'm still drunk. Please leave now, and take care not to slam the door behind you.

Thursday, January 17, 2002

Here's a shameless call for help. I've been playing The Rockstar Game for a few months now.

You create a popstar, release singles and albums, and compete against other rockstars. Think of it as Pop Idol without Simon Cowell. It's free and fun.

I'm doing OK, but my popstar - Mickey Moist - is hardly setting the world alight. My second album sold 1.8m copies [my first a measley 16,000]. My latest single has sold over 2m, and I'm poised on the edge of a world tour and about to release my third album worldwide - I just need a few more points. This is where you come in. For everyone who follows this link and signs up, I get points. And you know what points mean. Yes, my eternal debt. And links to your site if you have one. And waves of lovely thoughts if you haven't.
A plaque intended to honour actor James Earl Jones at a Florida celebration of the life of Martin Luther King instead paid tribute to James Earl Ray, the man who killed the black civil rights leader.

Over a background featuring stamps of famous black Americans, including King, the erroneous plaque read, "Thank you James Earl Ray for keeping the dream alive."

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

See that picture, top right? Stop and admire it. Reload the page. Look! It's changed! That should keep you amused for a little while.

Certainly a littler while than it took me to resize all my photos! More pics will be added on a regular basis. Have I told you lately that I love my new digital camera?
As Jonathan says, he took his new video camera along to the quiz last night. In fact, he hardly put the damned thing away! He filmed his team members, the mirrorball, the quiz mistress, fellow punters, even our quiz paper. It's probably impolitic of me to reveal exactly what I'd just said to him that caused his dubious expression in the first pic.

Scally eventually wrestled the thing off him and played with it too, but by then Ian was getting a bit pissed off, by the looks of things. Or perhaps it was my own constant clicking away that caused that.
I have just returned from our company's very corporate, very tedious review of 2001 and forecast for 2002. Last year was not a great year for the business, and much was made of the company's prospects for this year. We were shown slide after slide illustrating how this year is going to be Bigger! and Better! than last.

But something leads me to doubt that. The music playing as we entered was by Stevie Wonder - "Heaven Help Us All".

Sung by a blind man.

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

How many kinds of flowers grow in an English city garden? I'll tell you now of some I know, and those I miss, you can look up yourself...
Fat-hen, Hairy bitter-cress, Many-seeded Goosefoot, Narrow-fruited Cornsalad, Nipplewort, Petty Spurge, Shepherd's Purse, Small Toadflax, Stinking Chamomile, Swine Cress, Three-nerved Sandwort, Sheep's-bit, Viper's-bugloss, Wild Mignonette, Autumn Lady's-tresses, Lords-and-Ladies, Black Horehound, Selfheal, Skullcap, Sneezewort, Bladder-sedge, Bog Stitchwort, Fen Bedstraw, Hard Rush, Dodder, Greater Dodder, Black Bent, Common Bent, Creeping Bent, Bog Pimpernel, Common Broomrape, Common Couch, Dog's Mercury, Jointed Rush, Common Club Rush, Mugwort, Pendulous Sedge, Procumbent Pearlwort, Sheep's Fescue, Trailing Tormentil, Rigid Hornwort.
These are just some of the varieties of flora found in the NW2 postode area. Link via Fraser.
"My, there are a load of new entries to the top 40 this week," I thought to myself, "and they're all bloody awful anonymous trancey bollocks." DJ Alligator? Lange? Who are these people? And what are they doing in the charts? Tom gives them a thorough - and thoroughly funny - going-over on Pop-Eye. And there's yet more exhaustive commentary from James Masterton over at dotmusic.

In a very low-selling week, Aaliyah becomes the ninth person to top the UK charts posthumously:
Buddy Holly (plane crash), 1959
Eddie Cochran (motor accident), 1960
Jim Reeves (plane crash), 1966 (died 1964)
Jimi Hendrix (drugs), 1970
Elvis Presley (heart failure), 1977
John Lennon (murdered), 1980
Jackie Wilson (natural causes), 1986 (died 1984)
Freddie Mercury (AIDS), 1991
Aaliyah (plane crash), 2002 (died 2001)

Will George Harrison repeat the feat next week?
There are only two things I really, really like about my mobile phone. There are lots of things I don't like about it - the Motorola Timeport 250 has confusing menus, inconsistent rules regarding punctuation etc, and knobbly keys that hurt your fingers. But it does have:

  • Voicenotes: Record up to three minutes of a conversation. Let's say someone is giving you directions. No need to scribble them down and then have to pore over them when you near your destination. Simply record them telling you where to go, and play it back later. Or, better still, amaze your fellow bloggers with your feats of memory by being able to transcribe word-for-word the lyrics from the show you saw last night.

    Or, better still, record yourself singing when drunk. Or, much much better, record your boyfriend singing Diana Ross records when he is drunk, and threaten to play it back to your friends.

  • Alarm clock: The Timeport allows you to set up to five different alarms, on different days of the week. My alarm goes off on weekdays at 8:00am, then again at 8:08am, and finally at 8:20am. OK, look, I know that by then some of you have been up for hours, having taken the dog for a run and then completing seventeen circuits [whatever they are] at the gym, but not me.

    The first alarm is meant to half-rouse me from my slumber, but I can ignore it as I know it's going to ring again. I really should get up when the second alarm rings, but, on the morning after a rough night out - or the morning after the morning after - I can still sleep through it till the third one. That's the theory, anyway. Something has gone wrong with the damned thing - it only rings once. I overslept last Monday, and I did the same again today.

    I heard it ring this morning, but immediately went back to sleep, knowing it would ring again. Wrong! When I eventually did surface, I lay in the darkness for a while, thinking, "I have no idea what time it is, but it's obviously not yet 8:20". Wrong! Try 9:45. Oops.
  • Monday, January 14, 2002

    The weekend in hyperlinks:
    Friday: Marcus cooked dinner. Watched To Die For. And The Big Blue. (Jean-Marc Barr, mmmmm.) Took silly photos.

    Saturday: Cheered when Rosie was eliminated. Took the bus to Queer Nation. After an excellent night of dancing, we took the night bus back.

    Sunday: The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, where I counted six b.l.o.g.g.e.r.s. Then to Duke's.
    Oh, happy birthday to me, by the way. This blog is one year old today. Gifts to the usual address...
    The O2 Centre on London's Finchley Road is perhaps the least British shopping centre in the UK. I can never decide if I love the place or hate it. It's so - well - over the top: a jungle with fibreglass rock formations and caves, waterfalls, illuminated jumping water-jets, fake bamboo and five fish tanks including one bloody huge aquarium stocked with brightly coloured tropical fish. The sound of crickets is piped throughout the centre, and at night the moon rises on the blue dome.

    You think I'm exaggerating? Take a look at these pictures I took on Friday.

    Saturday, January 12, 2002

    No word annoys me quite like "literally". It literally gets up my nose. It quite literally gets on my tits. It makes me see red. Literally.

    The papers are literally full of ads for "Iris", the film about Iris Murdoch, the writer who literally lost her mind. According to these ads, "Judi Dench gives a performance which literally screams out for an Oscar". I can picture the scene:

    Towards the end of the film, Judi plays the dying Iris, bedridden, in the grip of Alzheimers. Confused, bewildered, she reaches out a trembling hand to her husband. Her eyes literally roll around the room. Suddenly she throws off the bed covers, stands up and screams to the camera, "Give me an Oscar, for fuck's sake! Can't you see how I'm acting my heart out?" Literally?
    Check out this minge.

    Friday, January 11, 2002

    Gorgeous sunset from my office window tonight, with Trellick Tower a distant silhouette.

    Rather beautiful, arty interactive music video thing.
    I spotted a hand-written sign in a shop window on Kilburn High Road the other night, which had so many brilliant misspellings that I determined to go down there tomorrow to photograph it and show you all. No need, as Marcia has already done it.
    Sweden is a limp penis:
    Chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing, chasing broken dreams. Chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing, chasing broken dreams. Chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing, chasing broken dreams. Chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing, chasing broken dreams. Chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing, chasing broken dreams. Aaaaarrrrgggghhh! I just can't get Basement Jaxx's Broken Dreams out of my head. Round and round and round and round it goes. Chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing, chasing broken dreams. Chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing, chasing broken dreams. Chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing, chasing broken dreams. Chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing, chasing broken dreams. Chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing dreams, chasing, chasing broken dreams.

    Thursday, January 10, 2002

    B5 d t k+ s++ u f i- o x e+ l c
    A Berlin office building has become the world's biggest interactive computer display. The upper eight floors of the building have been transformed in to a huge display by arranging lamps behind the building's front windows. A computer controls each of the lamps independently to produce a matrix of 18 by 8 pixels.

    During the night, a constantly growing number of animations can be seen. But there is an interactive component as well: you can play the old arcade classic Pong on the building using your mobile phone and you can place your own loveletters on the "screen" as well.

    Anyone for tennis?

    Wednesday, January 09, 2002

    My very first Exquisite Corpse is now online...

    If you don't know what I'm on about, let me explain. It's an artwork produced by a team of people, each of whom has only a tiny idea of what the person before him has done. The first person in the chain produces a picture 450 wide by 200 pixels deep. He then snips off the bottom 15 pixels and sends that tiny strip to the second person, and so on, to produce a [hopefully] seamless whole.

    I was the last person in our chain, and I was sent this:

    To me, it suggested flowers, so I added a bunch of roses and a daisy, trying to blend them into the lines of the strip I was sent. When it came to naming my strip, I thought "floral... floral... floral and....? Floral and Hardy!" And I added a picture of Oliver Hardy.

    Well, the final group picture is online, and - well - it's not bad. I can picture it on a student's wall.
    As we were leaving the Retro Bar after last night's quiz [which we won], I was accosted by a total stranger. Nothing unusual there, but it was a gurrrrl!

    "I have something to tell you," she said, "I read your blog every day. I came across your blog by following a random link on Blogger. Yes, I have a blog too. I always read you. This is going to sound weird, but a few months ago - when I was in Dublin - I took a photo of something, just for you." Her girlfriend chimed in, saying, "I've got to tell you, I'm very proud of her. She was too scared to say anything to you."

    "Oh, er, thanks," I muttered, not sure what the correct response was. I'm not used to being a web celeb. Yet. Well, that and the fact I was rather drunk. I scurried into the alley to tell Dave, Jonathan and Ian. "What about my blog?" cried Ian.
    I promise this will be my last London tranport post for a while. In the comments on the post below, Christian mentioned a version of the Lord's Prayer he once saw which incorporated the names of London stations. I promised to track it down, and - true to my word - here it is:

    Our Farnham which art in Hendon
    Holloway Turnpike Lane
    Thy Kingston come
    Thy Wimbledon
    On Erith as it is in Hendon...
    Give us this day our Maidenhead
    And lead us not into Penge station
    But deliver us from Esher
    For thine is the Kingston
    The Tower and the Horley
    For Iver and Iver
    Crouch End.

    Tuesday, January 08, 2002

    While I'm on the subject of nerdy London Underground facts, have you noticed the mysterious abbreviations above the doors of tube carriages? You haven't? Just me then? Well, take a look next time you're on the tube - there, just above the doors, a series of letters: TCCOS or Com COS or something equally unintelligible. For years now, I've been trying to figure out what they stand for and now, thanks to the internet, I have found out. For instance, TCCOS stands for Traction Control Cut-Out Switch. Whatever that is.

    OK, so I now know what the letters stand for, but I'm none the wiser as to what they actually mean. Something, perhaps, a little like this:
    CICCoupler Isolating Cock: I picture a drunk couple coming home from after-work drinks. "Go on," she says, fumbling with his flies, "no-one's looking, get yer cock out!"
    Con GControl Governor: A strict, prim middle-aged lady in buttoned-up grey tweed coat and shiny black boots, umbrella on her lap, lips compressed.
    Com: G ICCompressor Governor Isolating Cock: "Young man! Your penis is sticking out." "Madam, you flatter yourself - it is hanging out!"
    TLICTrain Line Isolating Cock: "I said put your pennies on the line!"
    WWICWindow Wiper Isolating Cock: Ow!
    PWRPassenger Warning Relay: "Apologies for the delay; there's some fool with a baton on the line."
    SAPBSpring Applied Parking Brake: As opposed to the autumn applied parking brake, more commonly known as "the wrong kind of leaves".
    I'll confess: I am a bit of a trainspotter. Just a little bit, mind. I am particularly infatuated with London Underground. I can't really explain just why I find the system so fascinating - perhaps it's because it seems both so modern and so antiquated, always on the verge of total collapse. To feed my obsession, Marcus bought me a brilliant book: Mind The Gap by Simon James.

    Intrigued by those faraway-sounding, almost mythical, placenames in Tube tannoy announcements ["this train is for Hainault via Newbury Park"], James bought himself an all-zones Travelcard and photographed the stations at the ends of the tube lines. Surprisingly, some of these stations are not the tatty suburban backwaters you might expect. I am going to have to invent a reasons to go to Hillingdon and Cockfosters just so I can gawp at the architecture of their stations. And I simply have to see the Secret Nuclear Bunker at Ongar.

    The book is littered with the kinds of trivial facts that turn me on:
  • The Metropolitan Railway - the world's first underground railway - opened between Paddington and Farringdon in 1863.
  • Until electrification in - wait for it - 1962, the Chesham and Amersham brances were powered by steam.
  • The Victoria Line is the only true "tube" line, submerged for the whole of its 22 kilometres.
  • Greenford is the only place on the network where you need to take an escalator up to the Underground.
  • The longest continuous journey on the Underground [excluding going round and round on the Circle] is the 54 kilometres from West Ruislip to Epping.
  • Watkin's Folly was begun in 1889, and was to be a tower which would dwarf the Eiffel Tower. Due to lack of funds and public indifference, it was never completed. A similar fate appears to await the structure which currently stands on this spot - Wembley Stadium.
  • Aldwych tube station closed down in 1994. The reason? Passenger numbers were not sufficient to justify spending the more than £3 million required to refurbish the lifts.
  • Amersham Underground station is the network's highest, at 150 metres above sea level.
  • Hampstead is the deepest below street level, at 58.5 metres. The deepest point below sea level occurs on the northern line, just south of Waterloo, at 21.3 metres.
  • The longest distance between two stations is 6.26 kms - from Chalfont & Latimer to Chesham on the Metropolitan.
  • The shortest distance is between Leicester Square and Covent Garden on the Piccadilly Line - just 250 metres.
  • The Circle Line platforms at Aldgate are the only platforms on the network that belong exclusively to the Circle Line.
  • At full capacity, an eight-carriage Central Line train will carry 1,652 passengers through tunnels four metres wide.

    Loads more facts and figures can be found on this page. I'll get me anorak.
  • Monday, January 07, 2002

    I don't own any of the The Official UK Top 40 Albums Of 2001. Not a one. This has never happened to me before. It's not that I didn't buy any albums this year - I bought twenty or so, but clearly none of my favourites (the Strokes, Ladytron, Royksopp) troubled the charts much.

    Friday, January 04, 2002

    Thursday, January 03, 2002

    My favourite search request of the day:
    how will know if lost item in anus
    Thank you to the person who sent me the following SMS message on New Year's Day:
    And me and my man had the most drug FUCKED fisting session on record which ended an hour ago. Now off to work.
    Fascinating I'm sure, but I haven't the faintest idea who you are, as is proved by the second message you sent me just a minute later:
    Sorry, last message was a mistake
    I suppose I could always try calling your number, and seeing if I recognise your voice. But I'm not sure I want to know who you are!

    Wednesday, January 02, 2002

    When I asked Marcus what he wanted for Christmas, he replied, "All I want is a can of hugs, a box of loving and a bottle of kisses." And - with the help of Photoshop, a colour printer and glue - that's exactly what I gave him:

    On the inside lid of the chocolate box, I made a fake inlay, describing the various chocolates in terms of important or memorable events in our relationship. [I've had to delete a few of the descriptions to protect the not-so-innocent!] (Any guesses??)

    Ah, it's been a wonderful Christmas, and a flipping excellent new year. And I can't begin to tell you how delighted I am to be back at work. [Yeah, right!]

    And what a lot of work I have - a complete redesign of the magazine, first proofs to be put before the board on Friday. I haven't even begun to think about it yet, oops.

    This will mean far less blogging than normal. In fact, I have had a complete rethink about my blog:

    Swish Cottage will be one year old next week. It's been a good year for the blog - but a bad one for work. I have spent far too much time reading blogs, writing blogs, trying to think of things to blog about. Far, far too much time. So I have made a resolution: this year is going to be different.

    Honest, it is.