Tuesday, April 30, 2002

The full account of my London Walk is here.

Note: this page contains quite a lot of photos, and so may take ages to load. If you have a slow connection, you may find this version quicker.
Saturday night was a bit of a disappointment, with occasional highs. Marcus and I met up with Andy and his boyfriend Kevin, at BarAquda. Andy came in with a very sad, woebegone expression. "Someone has fucked up," he said. "I booked Sarastro for tonight, but when I looked at the confirming e-mail, it says 'we look forward to welcoming you on the 17th of April' - not the 27th."

We tried one or two other restaurants in Covent Garden, but they were all full, so we ended up at Wagamama.

Upon leaving there, we gave Michael a call. Now, Michael has recently had a house built, and the builders made several huge mistakes - they didn't put in damp coursing or something. Michael has had to move out for a month while they repair it.

Michael being a barrister, he has forced the builders to put him up somewhere in style. And Michael being Michael, he does mean style.

His builders are paying for him to live in a penthouse apartment on Leicester Square. Huge open plan spaces with a home cinema, two roof terraces, two jacuzzis - and a bath in the lounge(?).

The flat is the London home of an English actor doing rather well in Hollywood - a flamboyant somewhat camp, willowy rake - think a younger Tim Curry. Michael took great delight in showing us the flat's more impressive features - the bar on the roof terrace, the views over Leicester Square and Wardour Street, the shower over a skylight on the roof looking down into the flat.

Marcus and I met up with Ian and went off to Duckie. Courtesy of one of the Readers Wifes, we were on the guest list, and arrived just in time to miss the first half of the show by avant garde dance companies the Featherstonehaughs and Cholmondeleys [pronounced Fanshawes and Chumleys, by the way].

I really enjoyed the second half, but I seemed to be alone in this - Marcus hated it and Ian thought it was ten minutes too long (it lasted perhaps fifteen minutes). Unfortunately, this led to me having a go at Marcus, telling him to 'try to cheer up, for my sake'. Marcus refused to rise to the bait, knowing he had to get me home for the next day's party, and just nodded and agreed: "yes dear, of course dear, whatever you say dear."
What a birthday! What a wonderful, lovely, special birthday!

As Ian has said, I do tend to protract my birthdays over an entire weekend. Friday was The Walk (more about that later). Saturday was dinner with friends (more about that later) and the Cholmondesleys and Featherstonehaughs at Duckie (more about that, too). And then there was Sunday.

On Sunday morning, Marcus locked me in the bedroom: "You're not allowed to come out for about an hour and a half, OK?" "Why?" "Stop asking questions, and just stay there!"

So I sat there for a bit. I read the papers. I flicked through the twenty cable channels. I read the papers again to see if I'd missed anything. I texted Marcus: "More juice, please!" I texted him again: "I'm bored, can I come out yet?"

I thought to myself, "This is silly - I know he's making me a birthday cake."

He wasn't.

At two o'clock, the doorbell rang. Marcus told me I had to answer it. All sorts of things went through my mind, chief among which was, "I hope he hasn't ordered me a strippergram!"

He hadn't.

It was Jonathan and Mark, but I still didn't click. I thought they'd just popped round to wish me happy birthday, but when I took them into the house, the kitchen door was open, and the table was piled high with food, the sink was full of beers [and so was the fridge, and so was an ice bucket] and then the doorbell rang again, and again, and again, and simply everybody was there, handing me presents, wishing me happy birthday, and I kept mumbling, "I had no idea, I had no idea, and I still have no idea what's going on."

And I was in the kitchen, and a familiar face appeared, and I thought, "That looks like Mike, but can't be Mike - he lives all the way up in Nottinghamshire. But it was Mike, who had come down all the way from Nottinghamshire, just for my birthday. Another lovely surprise was the appearance [in both senses of the word] of Dave and Kelvin, who I didn't realise even existed outside of the confines of the RVT. And Scally strode in, all in leather, his helmet in his hands.

And then, and then, and then. Oh, more people arrived, and I kept opening presents, and opening bottles of beer and putting them down and forgetting where I'd put them and opening more bottles of beer, and opening the door and saying, "I had no idea, I had no idea." Because I really had no idea. Marcus had organised all of this, for me, and everyone had kept it a secret from me.

Such wonderful presents, too:
A PlayStation 2 [yes, really] with a DVD, a CD and a game to go with it [thankyouthankyouthankyou]; a lovely black Fred Perry tracksuit top, The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru, a book on how to design logos, The Art Book, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, an Andy Warhol Marilyn hot water bottle, three specially-mixed-just-for-me CDs, Armistead Maupin's Tales Of The City, a gorgeous cake from Patisserie Valerie [which I forgot to cut, so have brought into work today] and lots and lots of wine and champagne.

You can tell what your friends think of you from the presents you get. Mine clearly think I'm an artistic drunk. A piss-artist.

But the best birthday present of all was the party. I was made to feel very special and very loved.

At five, the entire party went down to the RVT. Dame Edna put on an incredible show. I was so pleased that Mike was seeing one of her best shows - I kept looking over to check that he was enjoying it. He was loving it. We danced and drank and sang our little hearts out and grinned from ear to ear. Oh, and then we went to Duke's, where even the stripper was the sexiest I've ever seen. And I had a heart-to-heart with Pano - our long-delayed relationship post-mortem. And it was wonderful.

The whole bloody day was wonderful. It was a special, glowing day, just like birthdays used to be when you were a child. Thank you everybody for all the pressies, all the love, and thank you espcially to Marcus. I love you.

38 special, indeed.

Saturday, April 27, 2002

Can anyone help? I received this e-mail today. If you have an idea what club this might be, please leave an answer in the comments below.
"Hi. I'm sorry to randomly contact you, but after many fruitless Google searches, I thought this might work. You seem to know a lot about London nightlife, so...

I'm trying to find the name of a specific club in London, or perhaps a party within a specific club. According to your blog, you've only been in London for 6 years -- could you give me the contact info of anyone who's lived there for over 10 years?

I'm trying to find a famous or touristy gay club in London that existed 10 years ago. The name includes the word "Mod" or "Mad."

Why I'm looking for this: in the late 1980s or early 1990s, my father (35 at the time) gave me a t-shirt from a club in London. (He travelled to London from Kentucky every Christmas to teach). The t-shirt was black with blue block writing. I don't remember what it said, but it had the words "Mad" or "Mod" in it, then "London, England." He sent me a postcard from that same trip saying that he had seen Jimmy Somerville in a club. I don't know if it was the same club, but I'm assuming it was. The club must've been large & popular enough to support a small t-shirt shop.

This is before he died of AIDS in 1992 & before our family knew he was gay. I'm trying to find out more about this particular club. I know this seems so vague, but it's all I have. I'd appreciate any help you could offer, or if you know of anyone else who would know."

Friday, April 26, 2002

Circumstances, the weather and sheer laziness have caused me to curtail my plans. It's not so much the Big Walk this year, as the Little Potter Around. I had decided to start with the Hindu Temple in Neasden, but the heavens opened, forcing me to take shelter in a huge yellow and blue warehouse. Very gay - but that's IKEA for you. Once the rain had stopped, I padded around the The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir and Haveli in my socks.

Shortly thereafter, I almost shat myself by getting lost in a scary estate with delapidated condemend pre-fab blocks of flats and shifty blokes on every street corner. I am currently in Willesden, heading to Hampstead, and - boy - will I ever be glad to leave the borough of Brent.

Right, time to go off Pottering Around again. A full report and photos will follow. In the meantime, read my report of last year's walk. Plus, Jonathan or Sarah may have updates throughout today.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

I'm not sure what's happening about tomorrow's planned walk across London.

Sarah has kindly volunteered to blog it for me, which could offer an different perspective, as she's never even been to London. However, when I last e-mailed her, she was under the impression I walking on Sunday, not tomorrow. A couple of other people have kindly expressed interest in doing it, but not at such short notice.

I may:
  • do the walk tomorrow, with Sarah blogging as I go
  • do the walk tomorrow, trying to blog it from coin-operated terminals and internet cafes
  • do the walk tomorrow and blog it myself a few days later
  • do the walk at a later date when Ian can blog it
  • not do the walk at all

    Go check out Sarah tomorrow morning. Even if she's not blogging the walk, she's bound to be providing good content - she usually is.
  • A huge thank-you to Phil Ringnalda - unofficial Blogger guru.
    He has sorted out my permalink problem. The link at the bottom of each post now goes where it's meant to - it hasn't for the last couple of months. I tried everything, and screwed it up even more. Phil immediately diagnosed the problem, and now it works again.

    Now if only the damn archives wouldn't keep disappearing...

    You might remember that last year, on the Friday before my birthday, I walked across London. Ian blogged my progress as it happened. I was hoping to do the same tomorrow, as it's my birthday on Sunday - but it turns out that Ian is working.

    I need a volunteer, a blogger willing to be my 'Cyber-Boswell'.

    This is how it worked last year: I called Ian at home from my mobile every hour or so, telling him what I'd seen. He scribbled it all down, typed it out, added his own comments, found relevant links, and posted it.

    Quite a lot of work, so I'll understand if no-one wants to take it on. It would probably suit someone who is not working, or who works from home, or for themselves. Or a student.

    So what's in it for you? Well, it could be fun and interesting. And you'll probably get loads of hits. Last year's walk resulted in what was, at the time, Ian's busiest day, hit-wise.
    The D&G model. We know his name and EVERYTHING.

    Can I be the first to say:
    Christian Monzon naked. Christian Monzon nude. D&G model naked.
    As it was a gorgeous day yesterday, it should surprise nobody that I walked into town via Primrose Hill and Regents Park. It should also surprise nobody that I had my digital camera with me, and that I once again [yes, yet again] took photos of the view from the top of hill. I have stitched the individual pics together to create this 4000x441 pixel London panorama. From Canary Wharf to Battersea power station. [File size: 208K]

    Wednesday, April 24, 2002

    What cruel trick is this? Our office looks onto a construction site. All winter I have been checking out both the progress of the building and the builders themselves. All winter I've been hoping it would warm up so that the sexy brickie with the blonde mohican would work with his kit off. This week, finally, it's been blazing hot out there. But there seems to be a different crew on site - all of them with their shirts off. And all of them over pensionable age.
    Lycos introduce their Viral Chart - a roundup of silly emails, jokes, mpegs and jpegs currently doing the rounds. It's a surefire resource for stuff to cheer you up on a boring day in the office.

    Top of the charts at the moment is a topical game in which you have to help Ulrika find Sven's P-spot.

    In second place is the steamy Kylie video.

    I love this spoof Club 18-30 ad. Look closely - it is very subtle. Nothing is quite what it seems.

    Make yourself in Lego.
    Diary of a long day, Tuesday 24 April 2002

    6am: The alarm goes off, two hours earlier than normal. "Wha-? Huh? Oh yeah. Damn. Better get up."

    7am: Arrive at work, three hours earlier than normal. I'm the first one in. The cleaners are still here.

    8am: Finish laying out the newsletter, remaking the corrections I'd lost in the previous afternoon's area-wide power failure. A high-pitched beep-beep-beeping noise emerges from my jeans pocket. It's the alarm clock on my mobile phone. I hurriedly switch it off, embarrassed.

    8:01am: Alarm rings again. I switch it off on the second beep.

    8:08am: Alarm rings again. Those colleagues who have now arrived stare at me, clearly thinking "is this what time you normally get up?" My silent reply: "No, not yet. There's still one more alarm to go off."

    8:20am: The last alarm, and the one I normally obey, reluctantly getting up. Instead, I am now working on our other publication, the magazine, doing last minute corrections.

    9am: The editor comes in and approves all the pages. I start creating the PDFs.

    10am: I send off the first batch of PDFs to the printers via our ISDN line. I feel a huge sense of accomplishment. I consider blogging, but decide to press on, feeling noble.

    11am: I really should be leaving the office any moment to attend the 12 o'clock magazine relaunch party at Dali Universe on the South Bank, but I need to PDF the final batch of pages.

    11:30am: Wa-hey! I send off the pages. I run down to the tube station. Damn! Eight minutes to the next train.

    11:55am: I am sprinting across Westminster Bridge, pushing aside the tourists photographing each other and Big Ben and the London Eye. [I mean, I push aside the tourists, not the landmarks.] A rushed mobile phone call to Marcus. I gabble wildly. He wonders if I am on speed.

    12:00pm: I arrive at Dali Universe with seconds to spare.

    12:02pm: We wait.

    12:05pm: And wait.

    12:08pm: The first guests begin to arrive.

    12:30pm: After reluctantly taking a few random boring crowd photos and listening to the editor's speech and watching industry managers lose their sober appearance at the free bar, I lose interest and wander off to look at the exhibits. No major Dali works, just a series of lithographs and sculptures.

    1:30pm: Oh, come on. I wander off and take pictures off Big Ben and the London Eye.

    2pm: Haven't you people got homes to go to? Jobs to do?

    2:20pm: The last stragglers finally pull themselves away from the bar.

    2:30pm: Our team heads off to All Bar One. The first round of expense account drinks is ordered.

    3pm The fifth round of expense account drinks is ordered.

    4pm: The ad manager is dancing on the table, despite the total absence of any music.

    5pm: I have a really girly chat with the ad girls, discussing fake tan, sunbeds, holidays and shopping.

    6pm: One of the ad girls says she really fancies this bloke at work. I reply that I don't really see it myself, he's OK but nothing special. "Yeah," she replies, "but what would you know? You're a straight bloke!" I politely tell her I'm not. She is mortified: "Oh my god! I'm so embarrassed!" And so blind.

    7pm: We leave All Bar One. The London Eye glitters temptingly in the evening sun. There are no crowds. We find ourselves aboard a capsule. We can see for miles and miles and miles. I call Marcus, "I'm on the London Eye. I can see your work. Wave at me." He tells me he left work hours ago and is at home, stupid. "God. Is it that time already? OK. I'm walking to the other side now... I can see your house. Or at least I assume I can, somewhere in the ugly shapeless mass that is south London."

    7:30pm: The capsule comes to a dead stop for at least ten minutes. The ad manager panics and has to lie on the floor.

    7:45pm :There is talk of going to Gourmet Pizza. I go home. And sleep.

    Monday, April 22, 2002

    Wandering back to the office after lunch, my head in the clouds, lost in thought, I was rudely accosted by an unshaven man with a bandana on his head. "Oi! Where do you think you're going?"

    I stared at him, wondering what I had done to anger this stranger. Then he broke into a smile, and I realised he was someone I knew. But who? He continued looking at me, an expectant smile on his face, so I smiled back and said "oh, hello, how are you?", all the time rifling through my mental filing system [Is he an ex shag? No. Is he gay? No. Did I used to work with him? No. Oh, I know, it's... it's...]

    "Mo. What are you doing here?"
    You already knew it anyway, but it's official: Swish Cottage is the number one gay blog.

    Yes, our Googlebombing experiment has worked. All seven participants are listed at number one for their chosen phrase. Mine was "gay blog UK" and Google does put me at number one, even without the 'UK'. Not that I've had hordes of new visitors as a result - it's not exactly a popular search. Unlike Travis Fimmel naked, which has seen Marcus experience a huge surge in visitors. Some of the other bloggers may be regretting their chosen phrases: did Dave really want to be the number one source for a kitchen whisk?
    You have to admire Creationists' consistency of thought, finding proof of anti-Christian propaganda in everything from Richard Dawkins to PBS to Apple Computers:
    "Take for example Apple Computers, makers of the popular Macintosh line of computers. The real operating system hiding under the newest version of the Macintosh operating system (MacOS X) is called... Darwin! That's right, new Macs are based on Darwinism! While they currently don't advertise this fact to consumers, it is well known among the computer elite, who are mostly Atheists and Pagans. Furthermore, the Darwin OS is released under an "Open Source" license, which is just another name for Communism. They try to hide all of this under a facade of shiny, "lickable" buttons, but the truth has finally come out: Apple Computers promote Godless Darwinism and Communism.

    But is this really such a shock? Lets look for a moment at Apple Computers. Founded by long haired hippies, this company has consistently supported 60's counter-cultural "values". But there are even darker undertones to this company than most are aware of. Consider the name of the company and its logo: an apple with a bite taken out of it. This is clearly a reference to the Fall, when Adam and Eve were tempted with an apple by the serpent. It is now Apple Computers offering us temptation, thereby aligning themselves with the forces of darkness.

    This company is well known for its cult-like following. It isn't much of a stretch to say that it is a cult. Consider co-founder and leader Steve Jobs' constant exhortation through advertising (i.e. mind control) that its followers should "think different". We have to ask ourselves: "think different than whom or what?" The disturbing answer is that they want us to think different than our Christian upbringing, to reject all the values that we have been taught and to heed not the message of the Lord Jesus Christ!

    Given the now obvious anti-Christian and cultish nature of Apple Computers, is it any wonder that they have decided to base their newest operating system on Darwinism? This just reaffirms the position that Darwinism is an inherently anti-Christian philosophy spread through propaganda and subliminal trickery, not a science as its brainwashed followers would have us believe."

    Friday, April 19, 2002

    Does your pee stink after eating asparagus?

    If you said 'no', you're wrong!

    Like about half of the population, my piss really stinks after eating asparagus. Even if I eat just one or two spears of the stuff, there will be a noticeable smell as soon as half an hour after eating. If, as I did last night, I eat an entire bunch of the stuff, the stench is overpowering. And it lasts for up to a day.

    If I'm completely honest, the smell is actually fairly pleasant. Like many bodily odours, it's OK when it's your own. I'm not the only one to think this: Gabriel Garcia Marquez in "Love in the Time of Cholera" writes: "he enjoyed the immediate pleasure of smelling a secret garden in his urine that had been purified by lukewarm asparagus.". Marcel Proust wrote: "...my greatest pleasure was the asparagus, bathed in ultramarine and pink and whose spears, delicately brushed in mauve and azure, fade imperceptibly to the base of the stalk... the precious essence that I would still recognize when, all night following a dinner where I had eaten them, they played in their crude, poetic farces, like one of Shakespeare's fairies, at changing my chamberpot into a bottle of perfume."

    As I say, this effect is only noticed by half of the population. I had always believed that there is a gene that some of us have, which somehow breaks down the asparagus, causing the smell. I thought this gene was called 'asparagene'.

    Wrong and wrong again, it seems.

    Asparagine is actually the name of an amino acid and has nothing to do with the smell. Asparagus contains several sulphur-derived amino acids which break down during digestion into Methyl Mercaptan - the stuff that makes rotten eggs and skunks stink - and a couple of other mysterious amino acids.

    Latest research suggests that everybody's piss smells after eating asparagus. But not everyone can smell it.

    So, yes, it is a genetic thing, but it is the ability to smell it which is controlled by the gene.

    Next in this series: Think your shit doesn't stink? Think again, buddy!
    Just say 'no'
    The most surreal of all the odd things I saw on my way to the tube station this morning:

    A group of seventy-something tourists playing hide-and-seek.

    [Danish, I'd guess, from the sandals, white hair and general glowingly healthy demeanour.]

    Thursday, April 18, 2002

    From today's search referrals:
    Funny sheep's pitchers

    Were they looking for a ewer, I wonder?

    Oh, and lots of searches recently for a Father Patrick Allen of Battersea. Why?
    After five years of reading rave reviews of Shockheaded Peter...
    After five years of being told by friends 'you really must go see Shockheaded Peter'...
    After five years of telling myself I really must go see Shockheaded Peter...
    After five years of telling my friends 'we really must go see Shockheaded Peter'...

    ...I'm going, tomorrow, to see Shockheaded Peter. I just hope I'm not disappointed after all the build-up. Thank you to Jonathan for organising the tickets.
    I'm still talking about the Luke Slater album, Alright On Top. It's definitely a grower, not a shower. After four listens, I really like it, but I can also more clearly identify its problems.

    Luke has got the eighties electropop sounds down to a tee. Listen: there's the opening telex sound from Visage's The Damned Don't Cry. Isn't that the chase scene from Giorgio Moroder's soundtrack to Midnight Express? Those fantastic orchestral keyboards are a dead ringer for Alphaville. There are video game bleeps and buzzes scattered all over the place. All this is brilliantly updated and set to random scattered drum patterns.

    But where are the songs? Say what you like about the early eighties, but by god they knew how to write a good hook. The era rediscovered and fell head over heels in love with "pop!". These bands may have looked outrageous, but they were churning out good old fashioned proper songs like a bacofoiled tin pan alley. You had Marc Almond documenting the seedy, desperate lonely city; Simon Le Bon spouting enigmatic non-sequiturs, Gary Numan and John Foxx coming across all JG Ballard, Tears For Fears with their Janov theories, all set to tunes your milkman could whistle.

    And they had "Voices!". Marc wailing off-key, in his mind a sequined torch singer, David Sylvian out-louche-ing Bryan Ferry, Neil Tennant coming across all arch, a modern-day Noel Coward, and loads of them crooning several keys lower than their normal register, trying to sound meaningful and sophisticated. It was as though they felt they had to make up for the cold, glacial synths by stamping "Personality!" all over it. They may have sounded bored, but they were never being boring.

    Ricky Barrow, Slater's hired hand on Alright On Top is just boring. No pop, no style, he sounds best when reduced to a unrecognisable robotic vocoder, as on the fabulous sparkling I Can Complete You. More of that please, Mr Slater, and less of the ponderous You Know What I Mean. And definitely more of the album's closing track, Doctor Of Divinity, an urgent, driving Moroderesque slab of industria. Tellingly, it's an instrumental.

    Wednesday, April 17, 2002

    And the eighties revival continues. Luke Slater, formerly purveyor of deep dark techno, has gone all synthpop on his new album Alright On Top. Half of it is the best album Visage never released. The other half, sadly, sounds like Beloved, or the Aloof [whose singer Ricky Barrows provides vocals here].

    The big question though, is: Do I fancy him? He's a weird-looking fella, ain't he, all angular planes, bruised eyes, bullet head. Like Tricky's younger brother. Like a crack-addled waster. Yet like a sensitive soul, a deep kisser, a top shag. "Alright on top?" I should say so!
    As you no doubt know, it's my birthday next week. Like last year, I am going to walk across London. I think I've finally settled on a route: west to east across north London. Something like Harrow to Walthamstow. That's the plan, anyway - I may get as far as Kilburn and decide to go home. An alternative plan is to go north-south across east London, taking in Greenwich and the Thames Barrier. Watch this space. Or rather, watch Ian's space, as I hope he'll be blogging my progress as it happens.

    Amazon wishlists are odd things. It is apparently essential for bloggers to have one, and I'm no exception. I can see two possible benefits:

    1. Strangers, readers and stalkers may send you gifts. This has never happened to me, but some bloggers have received tons of stuff from wonderful, lovely, generous, talented, beautiful readers. And linked back to them in return. This sort of devious bribery is to be encouraged.

    2. Your boyfriend and your friends know what to buy you for your birthday. Gone are the birthdays of smiling politely when you unwrap a copy of The Illustrated Steps Story - Complete With Twelve Exciting Dance Routines.

    But gone also is the surprise element. When given a wrapped present nowadays, you can make an educated guess what it is from the size and shape. You lose the spontaneity; you take away any pleasure the giver might take in thinking of an ideal gift for you.

    Perhaps they should be used merely as a guide to the kinds of things you're interested in, and as such I present my updated Amazon wishlist.
    He's quite right, you know.

    Tuesday, April 16, 2002

    Davo leaves the UK tomorrow. He's going off travelling around the world, and has planned lots of exciting ways to make a bit of extra cash in each country.

    His first port of call is Bucharest, where he has set up a women's outfitters. He intends to combine his little-known interest in cross-dressing with his love of music, at Mrs Davo's instrumental music site. After that, he's off to Germany, where the question on everybody's lips is Was ist die Davo? No doubt he'll be explaining that to a lot of men, and the Germans will get a good look at Davo's little something. Or, as the photographic evidence reveals, his not-so-little something. Hopefully he will get a lot of time to work on his tan.

    His skills with a digital camera will come in handy in the US. And if that is a failure, he can paint those trompe l'oeil murals he's famous for. When he finally arrives back in the Antipodes, he will open Davo's bait and tackle. But wherever he travels, we can be sure he'll keep in touch and will never be far from a computer keyboard.
    Chains of cover versions:

    The Animals song "The House of the Rising Sun" was covered by Jimi Hendrix
    The Jimi Hendrix song "Angel" was covered by Rod Stewart
    The Rod Stewart song "Maggie May" was covered by Blur
    The Blur song "Boys and Girls" was covered by Pet Shop Boys
    The Pet Shop Boys song "It's a Sin" was covered by Henry Mancini
    The Henry Mancini song "Moon River" was covered by Morrissey
    The Morrissey song "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday" was covered by David Bowie
    The David Bowie song "Diamond Dogs" was covered by Beck
    The Beck song "Rowboat" was covered by Johnny Cash
    The Johnny Cash song "Ring of Fire" was covered by Bob Dylan
    The Bob Dylan song "Positively Fourth Street" was covered by Lucinda Williams
    The Lucinda Williams song "Sweet Old World" was covered by Emmylou Harris
    The Emmylou Harris song "Las Vegas" was covered by Gram Parsons
    The Gram Parsons song "Big River" was covered by Grateful Dead
    The Grateful Dead song "Ship of Fools" was covered by Elvis Costello
    The Elvis Costello song "The Comedians" was covered by Roy Orbison
    The Roy Orbison song "Crying" was covered by Glen Campbell
    The Glen Campbell song "Witchita Lineman" was covered by REM
    The REM song "Camera" was covered by Pavement
    The Pavement song "Gold Soundz" was covered by Phish
    The Phish song "Gumbo" was covered by Jimmy Buffett
    The Jimmy Buffett song "Margaritaville" was covered by Todd Snider
    The Todd Snider song "Alright Guy" was covered by Jerry Jeff Walker
    When I was at school, I was taught that there were four tastes - sweet, sour, salty and bitter. We learned that the tongue is divided into four sections, each of which could sense a particular taste - the tip of the tongue was for sweet, the sides responded to sourness, etc.

    It seems that everything I was taught was wrong. It is now accepted that there is a fifth taste - umami. It sounds like something Vic Reeves would shout on Shooting Stars, but it is the Japanese word for glutamate. It was discovered by Professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University in 1908, but it has only become accepted in the west in recent years.

    So what does Yo Mama taste like? Well, it's hard to describe - it's a sophisticated flavour found in asparagus, oysters, mushrooms, shellfish, seaweed, and is sometimes described as 'savoury', 'earthy' or just plain 'delicious'. It is the taste of protein [which immediately leads me to identify the taste in - oh - you know. Ooh mummy!]. Umami, or glutamic acid, is one of the 20 amino acids of which proteins are built.

    And now new research has emerged which suggests that the tongue is not divided into specific taste areas at all. "It's a myth that has perpetuated and is still taught at schools and universities," says Professor Laing, director of the Centre for Advanced Food Research at the University of Western Sydney.

    Monday, April 15, 2002

    Wiltshire - it's all good. We had a fantastic day trip to Wiltshire yesterday. I'll write about it later today, but for now I shall just say that it was utterly, utterly lovely - as you can see from the photos.
    Pics removed from archive pages to conserve bandwidth. They can be accessed here.

    Saturday, April 13, 2002

    Those bloggers whose sites seem to be nothing but an endless list of personality tests - no names mentioned - need never blog again.
    And, yes, I am aware that I ripped off the last two entries from NTK. You expect me to think on a Saturday at work?]
    I am going to have to memorise the Alternative Swedish Dictionary so that I can understand what Marcus is jabbering on about when he's on the phone. It's like totally cruel in the sky.

    Slang dictionaries for many other languages, too.

    Friday, April 12, 2002

    We're off to Wiltshire for the day on Sunday: Cathedrals, Stonehenge, Avebury, big white horses, Silbury Hill, climbing up on Solsbury Hill, chalkhills and children, and all that. But where to have lunch? Anyone know a nice restaurant in the area? A good pub? Maybe somewhere with a river view or an outside terrace?

    Thursday, April 11, 2002

    Tuesday's Retro Bar Retroteasers Pop Quiz was based on the new murals painted on the walls of the downstairs bar. Every answer was the name of somebody pictured. As the questions were all musical snippets, I won't try to reproduce it here. Instead, see how many portraits you can name.
    [click on each thumbnail to see a larger version.]

    I have just finished reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. I feel sick to my stomach. Sick at the way large corporations treat people, animals, the environment for sheer greed. Sick at the way food is apparently prepared in the most unbelievably unhygienic ways. Sick at the graphic details of the food rendering business. And quite possibly sick from the processed food I have eaten.

    Reviewers have said that after reading this book, "you'll never eat a burger again." But somewhere at the back of my mind, I know I'll be eating at McDonalds or Burger King one day soon. I'm not that principled, I'm afraid. Like the people shown on last night's BBC programme Food Junkies, I'm a can't-cook-won't-cook person. I lead a busy lifestyle, I grab food on the run. Sometimes the cheapest, quickest option is the only one available. But the book is a remarkable indictment of the food processing industry and I urge you to read it.

    This lengthy extract almost moved me to tears, yet [and I feel dreadful saying this] as you read it, just you try to keep that South Park catchphrase out of your mind...
    Kenny Dobbins was a Monfort employee for almost sixteen years. He was born in Keokuk, Iowa, had a tough childhood and an abusive stepfather, left home at the age of thirteen, went in and out of various schools, never learned to read, did various odd jobs, and wound up at the Monfort slaughterhouse in Grand Island, Nebraska. He started working there in 1979, right after the company bought it from Swift. He was twenty-four. He worked in the shipping department at first, hauling boxes that weighed as much as 120 pounds. Kenny could handle it, though. He was a big man, muscular and six-foot-five, and nothing in his life had ever been easy.

    One day Kenny heard someone yell, "Watch out!" then turned around and saw a ninety-pound box falling from an upper level of the shipping department. Kenny caught the box with one arm, but the momentum threw him against a conveyer belt, and the metal rim of the belt pierced his lower back. The company doctor bandaged Kenny's back and said the pain was just a pulled muscle. Kenny never filed for workers' comp, stayed home for a few days, then returned to work. He had a wife and three children to support. For the next few months, he was in terrible pain. "It hurt so fucking bad you wouldn't believe it," he told me. He saw another doctor, got a second opinion. The new doctor said Kenny had a pair of severely herniated disks. Kenny had back surgery, spent a month in the hospital, got sent to a pain clinic when the operation didn't work. His marriage broke up amid the stress and financial difficulty. Fourteen months after the injury, Kenny returned to the slaughterhouse. "GIVE UP AFTER BACK SURGERY? NOT KEN DOBBINS!!" a Monfort newsletter proclaimed. "Ken has learned how to handle the rigors of working in a packing plant and is trying to help others do the same. Thanks, Ken, and keep up the good work!'

    Kenny felt a strong loyalty to Monfort He could not read, possessed few skills other than his strength, and the company had still given him a job. When Monfort decided to reopen its Greeley plant with a non-union workforce, Kenny volunteered to go there and help. He did not think highly of labor unions. His supervisors told him that unions had been responsible for shutting down meatpacking plants all over the country. When the UFCW tried to organize the Greeley slaughterhouse, Kenny became an active and outspoken member of an antiunion group.

    At the Grand Island facility, Kenny had been restricted to light duty after his injury. But his supervisor in Greeley said that old restrictions didn't apply in this new job. Soon Kenny was doing tough, physical labor once again, wielding a knife and grabbing forty- to fifty-pound pieces of beef off a table. When the pain became unbearable, he was transferred to ground beef, then to rendering. According to a former manager at the Greeley plant, Monfort was trying to get rid of Kenny, trying to make his work so unpleasant that he'd quit. Kenny didn't realize it. "He still believes in his heart that people are honest and good;' the former manager said about Kenny. "And he's wrong."

    As part of the job in rendering, Kenny sometimes had to climb into gigantic blood tanks and gut bins, reach to the bottom of them with his long arms, and unclog the drains. One day he was unexpectedly called to work over the weekend. There had been a problem with Salmonella contamination. The plant needed to be. disinfected, and some of the maintenance workers had refused to do it. In his street clothes, Kenny began cleaning the place, climbing into tanks and spraying a liquid chlorine mix. Chlorine is a hazardous chemical that can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, causing a litany of health problems. Workers who spray it need to wear protective gloves, safety goggles, a self-contained respirator, and full coveralls. Kenny's supervisor gave him a paper dust mask to wear, but it quickly dissolved. After eight hours of working with the chlorine in unventilated areas, Kenny went home and fell ill. He was rushed to the hospital and placed in an oxygen tent. His lungs had been burned by the chemicals. His body was covered in blisters. Kenny spent a month in the hospital.

    Kenny eventually recovered from the overexposure to chlorine, but it left his chest feeling raw, made him susceptible to colds and sensitive to chemical aromas. He went back to work at the Greeley plant. He had remarried, didn't know what other kind of work to do, still felt loyal to the company. He was assigned to an early morning shift. He had to drive an old truck from one part of the slaughterhouse complex to another. The truck was filled with leftover scraps of meat. The headlights and the wipers didn't work. The windshield was filthy and cracked. One cold, dark morning in the middle of winter, Kenny became disoriented while driving. He stopped the truck, opened the door, got out to see where he was - and was struck by a train. It knocked his glasses off, threw him up in the air, and knocked both of his work boots off. The train was moving slowly, or he would've been killed. Kenny somehow made it back to the plant, barefoot and bleeding from deep gashes in his back and his face. He spent two weeks at the hospital, then went back to work.

    One day, Kenny was in rendering and saw a worker about to stick his head into a pre-breaker machine, a device that uses hundreds of small hammers to pulverize gristle and bone into a fine powder. The worker had just turned the machine off, but Kenny knew the hammers inside were still spinning. It takes fifteen minutes for the machine to shut down completely. Kenny yelled, "Stop!" but the worker didn't hear him. And so Kenny ran across the room, grabbed the man by the seat of his pants, and pulled him away from the machine an instant before it would have pulverized him. To honor this act of bravery, Monfort gave Kenny an award for "Outstanding Achievement in concern for fellow workers". The award was a paper certificate, signed by his supervisor and the plant safety manager.

    Kenny later broke his leg stepping into a hole in the slaughterhouse's concrete floor. On another occasion he shattered an ankle, an injury that required surgery and the insertion of five steel pins. Now Kenny had to wear a metal brace on one leg in order to walk, an elaborate, spring-loaded brace that cost $2,000. Standing for long periods caused him great pain. He was given a job recycling old knives at the plant. Despite his many injuries, the job required him to climb up and down three flights of narrow stairs carrying garbage bags filled with knives. In December of 1995 Kenny felt a sharp pain in his chest while lifting some boxes. He thought it was a heart attack. His union steward took him to see the nurse, who said it was just a pulled muscle and sent Kenny home. He was indeed having a massive heart attack. A friend rushed Kenny to a nearby hospital. A stent was inserted in his heart, and the doctors told Kenny that he was lucky to be alive.

    While Kenny Dobbins was recuperating, Monfort fired him. Despite the fact that Kenny had been with the company for almost sixteen years, despite the fact that he was first in seniority at the Greeley plant, that he'd cleaned blood tanks with his bare hands, fought the union, done whatever the company had asked him to do, suffered injuries that would've killed weaker men, nobody from Monfort called him with the news. Nobody even bothered to write him. Kenny learned that he'd been fired when his payments to the company health insurance plan kept being returned by the post office. He called Monfort repeatedly to find out what was going on, and a sympathetic clerk in the claims office finally told Kenny that the checks were being returned because he was no longer a Monfort employee. When I asked company spokesmen to comment on the accuracy of Kenny's story - they would neither confirm nor deny any of the details.

    Today Kenny is in poor health. His heart is permanently damaged. His immune system seems shot. His back hurts, his ankle hurts, and every so often he coughs up blood. He is unable to work at any job. His wife, Clara - who's half-Latina and half-Cheyenne, and looks like a younger sister of Cher's - was working as a nursing home attendant when Kenny had the heart attack Amid the stress of his illness, she developed a serious kidney ailment. She is unemployed and recovering from a kidney transplant.

    As I sat in the living room of their Greeley home, its walls decorated with paintings of wolves, Denver Broncos memorabilia, and an American flag, Kenny and Clara told me about their financial condition. After almost sixteen years on the job, Kenny did not get any pension from Monfort. The company challenged his workers' comp claim and finally agreed - three years after the initial filing - to pay him a settlement of $35,000. Fifteen percent of that money went to Kenny's lawyer, and the rest is long gone. Some months Kenny has to hock things to get money for Clara's medicine. They have two teenage children and live on Social Security payments. Kenny's health insurance, which costs more than $600 a month, is about to run out. His anger at Monfort, his feelings of betrayal, are of truly biblical proportions.

    "They used me to the point where I had no body parts left to give," Kenny said, struggling to maintain his composure. "Then they just tossed me into the trash can." Once strong and powerfully built. He now walks with difficulty, tires easily. and feels useless, as though his life were over. He is forty-six years old.
    Decisions, decisions, decisions...

  • 1 June 2002: Homelands Festival featuring Basement Jaxx, Zero 7, Soft Cell, Royksopp, The Beta Band, Roots Manuva, Alison Limerick, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Roger Sanchez, Laurent Garnier, X-Press 2, FC Kahuna, Rui Da Silva, Ferry Corsten, Cinematic Orchestra and many, many more.

  • 1 June 2002: Purple In The Park. London's big gay festival. As we'll be away on holiday for Mardi Gras, this is a must. Even though the live acts are bound to be rubbish, the club tents predictable and we'll spend all day wandering around trying to find our friends.

  • 1 June 2002: A very cool and groovy event at a cinema, which I don't think I'm allowed to talk about yet, but which I'd love to be at.

    Which one to go to?

    By, the way, does anyone want to go to the Orbital shows in the grounds of Somerset House this summer? 21 and 22 June. E-mail me.
  • Just a thought: If Remi married Ian, would he become Remi Martin?
    By the way, Remi, I am very much enjoying your A to Z of French music.
    I felt quite perky as I got on the tube this morning. Spring was in the air and in my head. Departure Lounge were in my ears. I got a seat, and someone had left a copy of G2. I was feeling quite jolly, but as the train grew nearer and nearer work, I began to feel less and less like facing the day.

    Yes, the nearer my destination, the more I'm slip-sliding away.

    Wednesday, April 10, 2002

    I suppose I should explain why I've been impersonating various bloggers this week. There's nothing devious behind it; I'm not parodying these people or trying to show them up in any way. In fact, it's the opposite - I'm deliberately choosing people whose writing I admire, hoping they'll get a few extra readers from the exercise.

    On Monday, I wanted to write about Swedish attitudes to drinking. Then I thought to myself, "But that's the kind of thing Francis does so well. People will think I'm trying to copy him." How to get around that? Why, make it blindingly obvious you're copying him, of course!

    The walls in our toilet at home are covered with photographs, postcards and quirky newspaper clippings. There's one in particular that always makes me chuckle when I'm, er, sitting there for any great length of time - the obituary of Brian Brindley. Again, I thought I'd love to reproduce bits of it on my site, but that's Ian's thing, you know? Solution: I make it perfectly clear that I'm doing "an Ian thing".

    As for Mike: I am currently so in love with john Foxx's Europe After The Rain that I wanted to make an mp3 of it available for downloading. Damn! Mike's bound to think I'm copying him. So I'll copy him good and proper. And nick his birthday idea, too. Hey, he's nicked a few of mine! [Oh, and did I mention it's my birthday on the 28th of April?]

    So... what next? Who next? This presents a bit of a problem: I have something I really want to talk about, something that I wouldn't normally discuss here. Talking about it under the guise of being someone else somehow makes me more able to share it with you. But what I want to talk about isn't pleasant: depression. Choosing a blogger to emulate presents a problem: I would like to show how much I admire their ability to talk about their feelings openly and honestly. But they will undoubtedly think I'm saying they go on about how sad they are. I may just have to be me. But open and honest.

    So I hope nobody has been offended. And I hope no-one is offended by Friday's [possible] Spot The Blogger's Style competition...!
    doubled diva  

    Yes, while Mike is sheltering in a rain-lashed Portakabin in the industrial north east, I've stepped in to try to fill his shoes. [Well, just rip him off, basically.]

    The 19 Days To 38 Project

    Yes, in nineteen days - on the 28th of April - I will be 38 years old. Nineteen is half of thirty-eight, which got me to wondering what I was doing nineteen years - half my life - ago. Exactly half my life ago - in 1983, ten days before my nineteenth birthday - I had my first ever sexual encounter.

    Nineteen years of sex Just think about that. Lord knows I am. I couldn't sleep last night for thinking about it. The questions I couldn't get out of my head were, "how many times?" and "with how many men?"

    No wonder I couldn't sleep. Define "sex". Does there have to be penetration? What about oral? President Clinton famously denied having sexual relations with that woman. Personally, If I had covered someone's clothing in seminal fluid, I'd say I'd had sex with them. [Though if they were wearing a blue dress at the time, I'd deny it strongly!] What about groups? What about just having a wank with someone? Do they have to touch each other at all? Do both people have to ejaculate? Or either of them?

    I've managed to decide on something that I'm satisfied counts as sex. Now, let me see....

    1983: Not much happening. I knew what I wanted but didn't know how or where to get it.
    1984 - 1986: Found out where to get it, and got some.
    1987 - 1989 Moved to a bigger town and got a lot.
    1990 - 1994 Was in a largely monogamous relationship, so got a lot, but with very few partners.
    1995 - 2000 My wild years, my London years, my depraved, desperate, hedonistic years. I got the lot.
    2001 - 2002 Monogamous relationship. Got a helluva lot, but just with M.

    So that's... um... nineteen minus seven times fifty, carry the two, divide by this, add that, do this, do that, which gives us...

    ...a conservative estimate of ... Yikes! That's a lot of dry-cleaning!
    doubled diva  

    "Melvyn Bragg does Top Of The Pops"

    John Foxx - Europe After The Rain (1981) (4.2Mb)

    One of the great lost singles of the eighties. John Foxx was a founding member of Ultravox and recorded three albums with them between 1977 and 1979. Foxx left the band, they hired Midge Ure, recorded Vienna, and the rest is histrionics. Foxx, meanwhile, pursued his own vision - stark industrial sounds combined with urban imagery, with titles like Underpass, Burning Car and No-one's Driving. Think Gary Numan soundtracking a JG Ballard novel.

    His second album, The Garden, reacted against this bleak futurism, with lush, almost pastoral arrangements. The song I've made available for download here [for a couple of days only] is the first single from this album, Europe After The Rain, named, perhaps, after the fantastical painting by Max Ernst. If you download this song, you will love it. If you love 80s electronic pop, you'll love it. If you like real melodies, you'll love it. If you like tinkling, slightly off-key pianos, grandiose arrangments, you'll love it.

    Europe After The Rain should have been number one all of September 1981. Instead, a certain song called Tainted Love was, and Foxx's single made just one week at number 40 before disappearing into obscurity.

    As did John Foxx. Seemingly. In fact, the chances are you probably own one or two of his works. Not his music, but his paintings. If you have a copy of Salman Rushdie's "The Moor's Last Sigh" or Jeanette Winterstone's "Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit", or Neil Bartlett's "Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall", take a look at the cover design credit: "cover art by Dennis Leigh". Yup, that's Foxx's real name.

    Note to self: the bottle on the left is your beer; the bottle in the middle is Nando's peri-peri sauce; the bottle on the right is vinegar.

    Repeat: the bottle on the left is your beer...
    Bart returns from his trip to London. Sadly, I didn't get to meet him, but he certainly seems to have had a lot of fun. Gay fun:
    "Hee, we went to SOHO, which is the gay part of London. Yowsers, very gay. But being there with people actually made it waayyyy less difficult. I was actually not nervous about the gayness with the Big Gay Mostly-London Bloggers. Hee, gayness fun. Hee, lots of gayness in London. Yay! Very much not like Florence gayness. Very much wheeee, bright lights, rainbows, gay men, gayness, gay everywhere. Gay! Fun! Yay, I did gayness. We did gayness."

    Tuesday, April 09, 2002

    As you're enjoying the delights of Spring, taking great joy in the new new life springing forth from the cold ground, you may wish to spare a thought for those going into the cold ground. And I'm not talking about a two-minute silence.

    Find-A-Death lists the gruesome details of the famous dead. How they died, when they died, and why they died. And, in some cases, pictures of the dead bodies themselves.

    O what fun! I've been working away all morning on a 12-page document, saving only sporadically. When my computer was installed after the office move, the power cable was obviously not pushed in very firmy and - yup - I just kicked it out, losing an hour or so of work.

    I know, I know. Save, save, save. I've had a quick look for a temp file or a Quark file of about the same size or with the right time-stamp, but no joy. O what fun!

    *BRIAN BRINDLEY, who has died aged 69, was a flamboyant Anglo-Catholic canon whose extravagant tastes would have been more easily accommodated in Renaissance Rome than in the postwar Church of England.*

    *He was probably the most extraordinary-looking clergyman of modern times. He wore his grey curly hair in a style resembling a periwig and dressed in lavish Roman monsignoral attire, including buckled shoes with four-inch heels, which he had painted red.*

    *In the summer of 1989 Brindley's career came to a painfully abrupt end. The News of the World printed a front page story based on secretly tape-recorded conversations in which the Canon fantasised about young men. The content was not especially shocking, but he was forced to resign.*

    *Brian Dominic Frederick Titus Brindley (the second and fourth names were added by himself) was born in London on August 3 1931 and educated at Stowe. He read Modern History at Exeter College, Oxford, where he seemed destined for a more sparkling career than he ultimately enjoyed. When the young Princess Margaret visited Oxford, she watched a masque in 17th-century style which was written by Brindley and entitled Porci ante Margeritam (or "Swine before a Pearl"). Many thought him quite as brilliant as his friends Ned Sherrin and Alan Bennett.*

    *He was ordained a priest in 1963 after studying at Ely Theological College. Some of his friends were surprised at his choice of profession, for Brindley, while fascinated by rubric and liturgy, candidly admitted that he was "not a pious person" and throughout his life he rarely talked about God.*

    *A colour portrait of Brindley which appeared in Tatler in 1985 captured the portly cleric at the height of his magnificence, arrayed in a gold Louis XIV chasuble in front of the Pugin screen he rescued from a Birmingham scrap-heap.*

    *Brindley reacted to the sudden ruin of his career with a stoicism and lack of self-pity which deeply impressed his friends. He retired to Brighton, where, after the Church of England voted for women priests, he became a Roman Catholic, taking the name "Leo" as a confirmation name, after the Pope who declared Anglican orders null and void. "I felt as if I had been a commercial traveller who had been selling vacuum cleaners for 30 years, only to discover suddenly that they didn't work," he said.*

    *The range of subjects on which Brindley could hold forth authoritatively was breathtaking. They included heraldry, typography, English detective fiction, the architecture of Florence, the gardens of Gertrude Jekyll, the music of Rossini and the prose of Thomas Cranmer (which he thought over-rated). He was also an excellent old-fashioned cook, though some of his guests were intimidated by the heaviness of the cuisine: Brindley was incapable of enjoying even a simple quiche without smothering it in double cream "to make it less rich".*

    *His house in Brighton was, if anything, even more sumptuously decorated than the Royal Pavilion, on which it was partly modelled (and on whose owner he partly modelled himself). Brindley spent vast sums of money reproducing the Pavilion's exquisite chinoiserie, and commissioned a splendid panoramic mural of the building extending over three drawing room walls.*

    *He died surrounded by a dozen of his closest friends, celebrating his 70th birthday at a seven-course dinner at the Athenaeum; he suffered a heart attack between the dressed crab and the beouf en croute.*


    After impersonating Francis yesterday, I'm going to spend this week impersonating other bloggers. Hey, it's easier than thinking up new content! And it feels quaite naice being Ian. You may be next!
    Quick suggestion for Republicans and anti-monarchists who don't wish to observe the two-minute silence, but haven't got the courage to be seen [or heard] making a noise: interrupt your mates' two-minutes silence by sending them text messages.

    Monday, April 08, 2002

    Some of the guys in our office have started a competition to see who can make the largest ball out of elastic bands. They've got a way to go before they can match this guy:
    Weight   2,008 lbs
    Height   4 1/2 feet
    Circumference    12 feet 11"
    Duration of project   1 year 8 months
    Cost of materials   approx. $6,000.
    Number of rubber bands   250,000

    "People tell me I’m a pretty wild guy. I started my ball while working in the mail room of one of the world's largest law firms, Skadden Arps.  While working I was surrounded by office supplies. This is when I started becoming fascinated with making art out of any piece of office material that I could bend, twist or glue into something cool. I had to pick up the mail from the post office every day for the attorneys, while at the post office I would grab a handful of the free rubber bands...."

    Gas leak

    I am beginning to think that that Saag Gosht late last night after all those cans of gassy Red Stripe was not a good idea... The Swedish phrase for the day is släppa gaser ur ändtarmen.

    How to drink Swedish in 4 easy lessons
    1. You can't buy booze in cornershops in Sweden - they have clinical state-run liquor stores with the bottles behind locked glass cabinets. You note the number of the item you wish to purchase and take this number to the counter. This explains why Swedes tend to run riot in our local shops with a huge array of alcoholic beverages, buying way more than necessary. The Swedish word for the day is småberusad. It means tipsy.

    2. Alcohol is very expensive in Sweden. This explains why Swedes tend to have a few drinks at home before they go out. Vodka, generally. Or snaps, accompanied by delightful songs. The Swedish word for the day is full. It means drunk.

    3. In theory, if you drink at home, you will drink less once you go out, saving you money. In practice, the opposite is true. Your resistance is lowered and you drink much, much more. The Swedish word for the day is väldigt full. It means very drunk.

    4. Swedes only drink at the weekends, when they drink hard after a week of working hard. Indeed, they drink until they fall over. They find our pub culture a little odd. They don't understand how we can go out after work almost every day and have just one or two pints. Swedes in London have adopted the regularity, but not the moderation. The Swedish word for the day is aspackad. It means paralytic.

    Apologies to Francis, who has probably done it better. And to Marcus - this piece isn't about him - honest. His flatmates, perhaps! For a very good article on drinking in Sweden, read this.

    Friday, April 05, 2002

    It is traditional in Sweden to give Easter eggs on Easter Saturday, rather than Sunday. On Saturday, the day the Queen Mother died, I gave Marcus some eggs made by Ackermans. Each egg had a little sticker on it proclaiming, "By Appointment to Her Majesty The Queen Mother". It got me to wondering how many other companies will now have to remove their royal warrants.

    The Queen Mum was quite generous with her approval - 218 companies held royal warrants. They covered a huge range of industries: soap manufacturers, umbrella manufacturers, fishmongers, livestock hauliers, homeopathic pharmacies, gun makers. She had her favourite TV engineer, her chosen supplier of brandy and vermouth, her favoured piano tuner.

    In keeping with her popular image as a sweet old lady who liked the occasional drink, the list features many confectioners and biscuit manufacturers, and - of course - quite a few purveyors of alcoholic beverages: Bacardi, Bass Brewers, Corney & Barrow, Folio Wines, J&B, Stowells of Chelsea, Veuve Clicquot, Tanqueray and Gordons Gin.
    Gay or straight?
    I now have the answer to that age-old question: "What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt?"

    Today I shared a packed Hammersmith And City Line carriage with twenty drunk Scottish rugby fans. They got on the train at Kings Cross and - Scots being renowned for their penny-pinching ways - hadn't bought tickets. Watching drunk blokes in kilts trying to clamber over turnstiles is very entertaining - it should be introduced as a new sport in the Highland Games. I've never seen so many ginger bollocks and arses - Jonathan would have been over the, ah, moon.

    Once they'd crammed themselves into the carriage and held the doors open for straggling mates and opened cans of extra strength lager, they launched into bawdy rugger songs. We were treated to the strains of "The Flower Of Scotland" and "Do Re Mi", and I spotted a young Asian woman in traditional garb, tapping her feet along to the martial beat of "when you hear the noise of the Tartan Army Boys".

    There was a song about a wee young lassie with what sounded like a "hairy wee parting" and a young man with a great big hairy something, though I didn't catch what. I did, however, catch sight of a great big hairy something - the bloke opposite me had passed out, legs open wide, and his kind friends had pulled his kilt up, so his, um, sporran was exposed for the entire journey to Baker Street. The teenaged girl next to me kept muttering "I'm too young to see things like that. What am I going to tell my mum?" I noticed that she didn't get up and move to another carriage, though...

    Thursday, April 04, 2002

    What a lovely night last night turned out to be. Warm weather, cold beer, cool bars, balmy breezes, barmy conversation.

    Met up with Ian at The Light Bar. We sat on the lawn outside this converted power station and chatted about books and work and friends.

    We wandered through the back streets of Shoreditch, reminiscing about The Old Days, before the east end became a lifestyle tourist destination. We found ourselves, quite by chance, at Bluu - the old Blue Note on Hoxton Square. It was chilled and relaxed, and we chilled and relaxed and were inspired to flights of fancy. We dreamt up a clothing range for webmasters: caps which say <head>, T-shirts that say <body>, jackets with a little <style> logo, fetishwear that reads <input type="submit">.

    Then to brand-new venue Bridge And Tunnel for the launch of Hari Kunzru's novel The Impressionist. Sadly, there were no free copies of the book on offer, and the claustrophobic basement venue was packed with rowdy yahoos ordering outlandish cocktails from the free bar, but we did manage to have a good natter [relationships, intelligence and books] and we think we sat next to Zadie Smith, so that's alright then.

    I hadn't been to Viet-Hoa in years - not since I moved out of my grotty bedsit round the back of the Geffrye Museum - but I was glad to see it hasn't changed. Good food, friendly service, reasonable prices, and more excellent conversation [work, aging and death]. This seemed a natural point to end an excellent evening out. Ian, naturally, staggered off to a vague assignation at the White Swan. I staggered home.

    Wednesday, April 03, 2002

    Things that can cheer me up when I'm feeling blue:

  • Kind messages of support. [Thanks, everyone.]
  • The prospect of a beer in the late afternoon sun with my best friend. [Hello, Ian.]
  • Being sent exclusive CDs by wonderful friends. [Thank you, Christian.]
  • Free food and drinks at a book launch at a trendy new Shoreditch venue. [Thanks, Marcus.]
  • Being asked to appear on a TV programme:
    Stumbled across your diary - loved it.  Am making documentary about attitudes to work and pulling sickie's - that kind of thing.  Would you be interested in doing some kind of video item for me - we could shield your identity. 
    [Thanks, but no thanks, Ben.] If anyone out there is interested, contact Ben Devlin at ben@makingtime.tv.

    There, I feel much better now!
  • The photos from our trip to Kew Gardens this Saturday somehow deleted themselves, which is annoying because I had some classics of Ian wearing a child's cowboy hat, and some stunning pictures of the sun setting over the river. Never mind, these links should give you an idea of what we saw at Kew:

  • The indecent-looking coco de mer.

  • The fabulous Marianne North Gallery. Miss North, a Victorian spinster, travelled the world between 1871 and 1884, living in jungle huts, painting exotic flora. The gallery is lined, floor to ceiling, with her vivid paintings - 832 of them - and is a a riot of colour and a tribute to a great eccentric. [As were my pics of Ian in the hat!]
  • Dear Sir,

    Thank you for your email. Your views have been noted and passed to the
    Metropolitan Police Authority.

    Email Office
    Metropolitan Police Service
    New Scotland Yard
    London SW1H 0BG
    Remember, you can still express your opinions of the suspension of Commander Paddick by dropping the Commissioner of Police a note at Commissioner@met.police.uk.
    Cartalk reveal The Worst Cars Of The Millennium.

    I'm sorry - the worst cars of the what?

    The oldest cars on the list are from the sixties. What happened to the previous nine-hundred-and-sixty years of vehicle production? Was the Yugo really worse than the brougham? the hansom? the landau? the surrey with the fringe on top?
    I am miserable and depressed. Cheer me up.

    And, no, it's not merely that I'm having a Tearful Tuesday and a Weepy Wednesday. It's this pointless office move. I am cut off from my colleagues, completely isolated, unable to see or hear them, not knowing what is going on in my department, missing out on the gossip and news. In the course of a normal day we share a great deal of info; I overhear a hundred things that make my job easier.

    Now I have to spend eight hours in virtual solitary confinement, my every move observed by the stranger in the office behind me. Not only do I miss my co-workers, but - hey - I miss you guys, too.

    I had to literally force myself to come in today. I lay in bed till after nine, contemplating phoning in sick. I am miserable and depressed. Cheer me up.

    Tuesday, April 02, 2002

    Network Not work.
    The old adage has it that moving house is almost as traumatic as death or divorce. I wonder if that applies to moving office as well? We have been moved for the third time in a year. As with all the other moves, our computers didn't work this morning. The IT department had tested the PC networks but had forgotten about us few Mac users. I guess I shouldn't really complain, as there are only ten of us in a building of 400 PC users.

    I have been shunted down to the second floor; I miss my old fourth floor window view. I also miss my old position - back to the wall with no-one behind me to catch a glimpse of the decidedly non-work web sites I trawl. My monitor now faces a plate-glass-fronted office with an unknown boss-woman behind a desk.

    As usual, no logic has been used in the rearrangement - the floor plan we saw before the move showed, reassuringly, that we production folk were sat next to the editorial staff. What it didn't show is that there is a wall between us. We are contemplating cutting a secret hatch in the wall, as discussing the magazine currently means getting up and walking all the way round to another section. I am actually sat among a bunch of strangers who deal with arcane legal and regulatory facts.