Friday, August 30, 2002

[Ring ring]
"Monsieur, monsieur! Gimme gimme gimme money money money, honey honey."
" I do, I do, I do, I do, I do. On and on and on."
"And ante? And ante?"

[Sorry about that, my mind is in a very strange place today. I can't tell if that's funny or not. I do know it's been cracking me up ever since I thought of it.]
The announcements I heard on my journey from Swis* Cottage to Whitechapel and back:

"Due to a security alert, Kings Cross station is closed. This train will be non-stopping at Kings Cross."
"Service is suspended on the Central Line between Liverpool Street and Marble Arch."
"Due to a fire alarm, Moorgate station is closed. Northern Line trains will not stop there."
"This station is closed. Please evacuate this station now."
"I have just been informed that this train is now a District Line train. Next station is now Tower Hill."
"Tottenham Court Road station is closed."

What the hell is going on out there?
Whew! Panic over. So it wasn't glaucoma or a detached retina or a brain tumour or anything - just an ocular migraine.

I called my doctor's surgery, and they said they could fit me in at 11. The symptoms cleared up almost as soon as I left work, and by the time I'd traipsed all the way over to my doctor in Whitechapel - a remnant from the five years I lived in the east end - I was fine. My vision was still a little blurry, and I had a very faint headache, but was otherwise perfectly well.

Still, she poked around, shining a bright light into my eyes, asking me if I could see her fingers wiggling, getting me to read some fine print, demonstrating to an intern - seventeen bloody times - how to handle the opthalmoscope.

And all the while I felt a bit of a fake: "I'm fine now, but I was really worried at the time. I thought it might be glaucoma."
"Is there a history of glaucoma in your family?"
"Um, not that I'm aware of, no."
"So why would you think...?"
"Well," I confessed shamefaced, "I read something on the web that...."
I've just had a really worrying 15 minutes. It started on the tube, as I was reading the paper. I noticed a weird flickering persistent light curving around at the edge of my vision, like I had been staring at the illuminated filament of a light bulb. It got brighter and brighter, obscuring my vision, so I had to look out of the right-hand side of my eyes in order to see anything. By the time I got to my station, it was so bad I could hardly see at all, and I felt nauseous. I worried that perhaps I was going blind, that I had glaucoma or something.

It was there in both eyes, which suggested - to me, anyway - that it was not a problem in the eye itself, but perhaps in the brain. I don't know why that should make me feel better, but it does. I tried calling my doctor, but couldn't get through.

Now I have a dull pain in my head, and the weird light thing is fading, but I still feel nauseous. Sounds like a classic migraine - something I've never had before. I shall call my doctor again in a couple of minutes.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

You know that wonderful sense of fulfilment you get when you finally complete a task you've been putting off?

No, me neither!
I have found out who the phantom toilet paper rattler is: it's my gay stalker!
That wedding dress, designed and made by my superbly-talented boyf.
You know what it's like when there's a job you really, really don't want to do, but you have to. You've been putting it off and putting off. You keep picking up the file, opening it, flicking through it. You open the Quark file and look at it for a bit, change some of the colours and the fonts, move chunks of text around, but nothing substantial. Then you go onto the next page and just stare at it for a bit. So you go off and read a few blogs. Check your e-mail, your stats, your voicemail. Reload your stats. Reload the recently-updated blogs page. Make yourself some coffee. Go for a pee. Chat to your colleagues. Then you mentally shout at yourself, telling yourself to shape up, to stop procrastinating. So you go back to the job and look at it for a bit, trying to work up some enthusiasm. Then you minimise it, and work on something else. Meanwhile, this dreadful guilt keeps building up and building up: "I really, really must finish that job", but soon it's the end of the day and you still haven't done anything on it. You think about it the next morning on your way into work, determined you will finish it today.

This carries on for weeks, and you keep avoiding the eye of the person who gave you the job. You really don't want her to come over and ask you how it's going, but in a way, you do, because that might scare you into actually doing it. You feel guilty and it's getting worse and worse, and you really, really, really really MUST just stop fucking around and do the bloody thing, OK?

[And writing blogs about it is just another procrastination technique, David.]
The Swish Guide to South African Music - Part 5
"Umqombothi" by Yvonne Chaka Chaka
- 1986 [download the mp3]

UB40 with Red Red Wine, Escape (The Pina Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes, Chumbawumba's Tubthumping, and the dreaded Terrorvision with Tequila... why are songs about drinking so awful they'd drive you to drink? Somehow, songs that try to distill the intoxicating feeling of being drunk usually end up sounding forced and naff. However, here's one I actually like.

This fascinating page tells you all about umqombothi, a traditional South African beer brewed in many a back yard from maize meal and sorghum. This song by Yvonne Chaka Chaka does the same, relating the preparation of the "magic beer" to a township disco beat.

Let me know what you think of this song. Buy South Africa CDs online at

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Stockholm is a strange city. Or, rather, it's not - it's quite the opposite - it's so normal the main island is called "Norrmalm". Stockholm is very clean, very lovely, very pleasant, very nice. Too nice, perhaps. I felt it could do with some rough edges.

Where is the new architecture? There doesn't seem to any construction going on anywhere in the city. There are lots of lovely old buildings and there are also some seventies developments, but apparently nothing since then. The only new buildings I saw were in the style of the old buildings. Where is the brave, exciting new architecture?

Where is the new art? There's a fantastic art college - where do young artists exhibit? Do art graduates all go into design, rather than art, churning out functional kitchenware and jewellery? I asked at least ten people where the trendy galleries were, but none of them knew; and these were all young, trendy people involved in media and fashion. Could it be that there is no thriving gallery scene? Is that why so many young creative Swedes move to London?

Where are the clubs playing new music? All the gay bars we went to played a non-stop soundtrack of Eurovision songs - harmless fun for half an hour, but grating after that. I couldn't work out how much of this was irony, and how much real enjoyment.

I suspect that Stockholm - like Brussels - has loads going on somewhere under the beautifully sleek surface. You just have to know where to find it - and I didn't.
How best to remember your loved ones after they die? You could keep their cremated ashes in a pretty jar on the mantelpiece. You could commission a fancy gravestone and leave them flowers every Sunday.

Or you could wear them on a ring on your finger. LifeGem will cremate your loved one, then compress the ashes at high temperatures to create diamonds. And, of course, diamonds are forever. Like death.
I'm sticking with you, cuz I'm made out of glue. Anything tum-te-tum-tum. Cuz I'm sticking with you. I'm sticking with you. Tum tum tum tum te tum tum. Tum tum. I'm sticking with you. I'm sticking with you, cuz I'm tum te tum tum. Tum tum tum tum tum te tumm tum because I'm made out glue. I'm sticking with you. Cuz Iiiii'm made out of glue. Anything you want to do cuz Iiiiii'm sticking with glue. Mmmm mmm mmm mmm mmm. Mmm mmm mmm mm mmm mmmm. I'm sticking with you, cuz I'm sticking with you.
The guy who sits next to me has been singing/humming this all bloody morning. I am going to have to kill him. Cuz Iiiii'm singing it too. And now yoooou're singing it too.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

I was going to post the pictures from the wedding we went to in Stockholm this weekend. But then I figured that some of the people pictured - no names, Tomas - might not like the world, strangers and potential bosses to see just how drunk they got.

Instead, here's a slide show of some lovely, pretty photos I took of lovely, pretty Stockholm. [Now with captions.]
Lorraine MacLean's strange paintings change the rain-stained Maine terrain. Paint rain, Lorraine.
"Teasing bees is easy," wheezed Louise. "These bees are teased." Tease these, Louise.
Jill's drill skills instill ill will. A shrill trill fills the hills. Drill still, li'l Jill.
Jo-Jo knows the snow slows, no, no, Jo-Jo slows the snow. Slow snow, Jo-Jo.
Lulu glues two blue shoes to tutus to lose the blues. Glue, Lulu, glue.
This marvellous bit of doggerel is "Water Torture" by - who else? - Stephin Merritt, from his soundtrack to the film Eban and Charley.

Mr Merritt is due to play London's Bush Hall on the 29th of September. Not with the Magnetic Fields, but rather with his electropop offshoot, The Future Bible Heroes. Their brand new album, Eternal Youth, has just been released. [Though you'll probably have to scour some pretty obscure record store on Berwick Street to have a hope of finding it.] That's my Tuesday evening sorted, then.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Right! That's it! I'm off! Look out for me here.
Unfortune headline in my local free newspaper, the Camden New Journal:

Ross Noble in today's Metro:
This guy walks into a pub and half his head is a big orange. He says: 'I'll have a pint of lager, please.' And the barman says: 'Excuse me, I couldn't help noticing, but half your head appears to be a big orange.' And the boy goes: 'Yeah, had that for a while now.' So the barman says: 'How did that come about, if you don't mind me asking?' And the boy says: 'I was in this old junk shop when I found a lamp and when I gave it a rub this genie appeared. He offered me the standard three wishes, and I said: 'For my first wish, I'd like every woman I ever meet to fall madly in love with me.' So the genie waves his genie hands and suddenly there's women looking at me. Then the genie says: 'What will your second wish be?' I said: 'I'd like a wallet with £1million in it, and I can never lose it, it can't be destroyed, and every time I spend any of the money, it'll be replenished.' And the genie says: 'Your wish is granted. Now, what will your third wish be?' So I said: 'For my third wish, I'd like half my head to be a big orange.'

Blogger Pro™ - Power Push-Button Publishing

The cut-off point for entry to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern gets earlier every week. I arrived at about 5:15 on Sunday, but they had already stopped allowing people in. "You'll have to wait till after the show," said the bouncer. "Bugger that," said I, and flounced off to Duke's.

Their Sunday afternoon indie-electronic-chillout-thing, Rocktronica, was in full swing. It's free, there's a beer garden, and they play cool music.
Dehumanisation is such a big word
It's been around since Richard the Third.
Dehumanisation - it's easy to say
But if you're not a hermit, well then the city's OK.
I grabbed a beer and wandered into the garden, hoping to spot Dave and Darren. They didn't seem to be there, so I sat with a couple of well-known alternative club promoters. After a few uncomfortable silences ["Seven of the shyest people in London around one table," said Jason, "such atmosphere!"] we found some common ground: Kiki and Herb, Duckie, This Mortal Coil. And then the club promoters indulged in the self-righteousness of the avant garde:

"Can you believe people queue to get into that other place across the road?"
"Yes, and they actually pay to go in there!"
"Yes, and did you see they were in Boyz last week, as an underground venue, and it was horrible - they all had their tops off. What's so underground about that?"

Just then, a friend-of-a-friend, who hadn't been able to get into the RVT, arrived. I heard a sharp intake of breath from the committed indie types behind me. Shaved, cropped, toned, tanned, plucked, waxed, pumped, plumped, primped, buffed, buff, camp, prim, he was the very antithesis of everything they supposedly stood for. In his too-tight vest and impossibly-trendy sunglasses, he was a Scene Queen, the very essence of what they had just been raging against. I've never been so glad to see him.

And you know what? He liked Rocktronica. After a couple of early moments of doubt, he relaxed. "It's quite nice here," he announced, and I could sense the avant garde rear up in a sort of superior inferiority complex. They didn't want people like that over-running their place. That attitude is understandable - alternative clubs exist as - well - an alternative to the scene. I just wish cultish didn't have to mean elitist.
Marcus and I are going to Stockholm tomorrow for a wedding. No, not our wedding, but that of his friends Katarina and Martin.

Marcus has made Katarina's wedding dress. I had no idea how much work goes into couture. He has spent every free moment of the last month sketching, designing, cutting, stitching, fitting, adjusting, and - right on schedule - finishing the dress. His attention to detail is astonishing - for instance, every button has to be "dressed" by hand in a fiddly operation. But the hard work has paid off - the dress is lovely. Simple, elegant, stylish. Beautiful.

Photos when we return on the 27th.

Friday, August 16, 2002

Sarah, now that you've moved back to the north-east, won't you please, please, rename your blog Blog On The Tyne, just for me?
The toilets at our offices have large clear windows. We didn't need frosted glass, because the nearest neighbours are quite far away, across the park. Or rather, they used to be. Where the park used to be, we now have a construction site directly outside the toilets. It is quite unnerving, yet strangely liberating, standing at the urinal, dick in hand, while shirtless tattooed young blokes scramble about on the scaffolding alongside.
"The last index of your web site index completed 3 minutes ago. It took 2 minutes to crawl and index 151 pages containing 389,615 words."

Three-hundred-and-eighty-nine-thousand-six-hundred-and-fifteen words? Over the last year-and-a-half, I have written the equivalent of five novels.

I'm stunned.
Take one kettle and allow it to boil three times. Add three saucepans, and boil each of them twice. Top up with lukewarm water from the 'hot' tap. Immerse yourself in the resulting tepid bath for as long as you can stand it.

Yes, we still have no hot water after The Great Floods of last week.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

The Swish Guide to South African Music - Part 4
"Feel So Strong" by PJ Powers and Steve Kekana
- 1983 [download the mp3]

PJ Powers was perhaps South Africa's Bonnie Tyler - a tousled-haired growling white rock chick. Together with her band, Hotline, she had a few hits in the very early 80s.

Steve Kekana was perhaps South Africa's Stevie Wonder. Black, blind and deeply spiritual, he specialised in a peculiar falsetto synthesised African gospel.

I have no idea who thought the two together could possibly work, but in 1983, this strange song emerged. The song starts with a kind of African reggae, with Kekana's trademark whining keyboards and castrato falsetto. For the second verse, the song heads into rock territory - a choppy guitar cuts in and PJ over-emotes her lines with gravel-voiced soul.

A blind African reverend and a white lesbian, in apartheid-era South Africa. It shouldn't work. But it does. The song was a huge hit, becoming a success with black and white fans. Sadly, its success persuaded many other white South African bands to don tribal clothing and release limp, unconvincing crossover pop.

Kekana went on to have another hit on the white charts with a faintly ridiculous song called "The Bushman". PJ abandoned the rock market and concentrated on the more lucrative township pop market, where she was accepted and given the nickname "Thandeka" (the loved one). She recently performed in London supporting Bill Wyman.

Let me know what you think of this song. Buy South Africa CDs online at
Charlie tells a tale about a sexual encounter in a cathedral in Lisbon. Me? I've never had sex in a church. Not through the fear of God, but more through not being in the right place at the right time. I haven't spent a great deal of time in churches, so I've never had a chap in the chapel, a knave in the nave, or got rude in the rood.

But Charlie's story did get me to thinking about some of the odd places I have had sex...

...the guard's van on a train - with the guard. a cab - with the driver. a cousin's wedding - with a cousin.
...Chris Eubank's dressing room - not with Eubank.

...but not in a cathedral. Yet. Marcus, is there a cathedral in Stockholm...?

Where's the strangest place you've 'done it'?

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

I am seriously thinking of applying to be a sponsor of one of the categories in the Loo Of The Year 2002 awards, if only for the joy of having a prize called The Swish Cottage 2002.
[via Jonathan]
Walking work of art, and former Alternative Miss World, Transformer has died.

I was always terrified of Transformer, awe-struck by his talent and his physical presence. I always felt excited yet nervous when he was performing doorwhore duties at a club, towering over us mere mortals in his impossibly high platforms, wearing ludicrous outfits made of found objects. He tried talking to me once but I felt so self-conscious talking to this outlandish creature I couldn't say a word. The costumes he created for special events like Gay Pride defied description. The man was a genius.
I continued my I-wanna-live-like-common-people thread this morning by eating a bacon sarnie smothered in brown sauce while reading The Sun in the canteen. And I learned so much:

Madonna has written a song for Kylie, and Kylie has written a song for Atomic Kitten. This trend of pop stars writing songs for acts who are one step below them on the ladder of coolness should continue. Coming over all Mystic Meg [as opposed to coming all over Mystic Meg] I predict that Atomic Kitten will write a song for Billie Piper. Mrs Evans will pen a song for 3SL. They will offer a song to Cathy Dennis, who will write a song with the bloke from Mud and offer it to Kylie.

Also in today's Sun, but not online sadly, are three pages of The UK's Sexiest Workmen. I came all over the butch plumber [as opposed to coming over all butch].

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

I feel so... common. I have just had possibly the most downmarket foodstuff I've ever eaten: Walkers Chip Shop Curry crisps. Everything about these screams "housing estate" - the garish packaging, the size of the bag ("Max!") and, of course, the flavour.

When I moved back to England, I was really looking forward to my first visit to a traditional fish'n'chips shop. I didn't know that the traditional chippy has virtually disappeared - most are now run by Chinese families, and offer an Oriental menu alongside the 'English' one. The first chippy I went to was on a run-down estate in south-west London. The place didn't sell much fish, but it did a roaring trade in chips'n'curry sauce.

I ask you. What kind of meal is that? Where is the nutritional value? Where is the aesthetic, tempting quality in a pile of soggy deep-fried potatoes smothered in a lurid orange sauce? And just what the hell is 'curry sauce'? Curried what, exactly?
Work a little
And blog a little.
Then work a little bit more.
Work just a little bit more.
[To the tune of that Liberty X song]

Don't you hate it when you've been working hard all day, but you don't have much to show for it? I seem to have spent hours slaving away on tiny tasks, but am no nearer actually finishing anything. There's only one thing for it: I'm going to have to stay here till late tonight, and try to focus on getting things done, one by one. O, what joy!
Last night, Marcus and Mark and I went to the Soho Theatre, with Jonathan and Ian, to see Kiki and Herb. A pair of foul-mouthed, heavy-drinking homosexuals. But enough about Jonathan and Ian.
Please don't nobody talk about last night's Six Feet Under, OK? I haven't seen it yet.

Saturday, August 10, 2002

"By the time you read this, I won't be at Brighton Pride. I won't be blowing a whistle, dancing to Steps, counting non-specifically like an overgrown toddler learning the first steps of maths ("1-2-3-CHUNE!") or pointing like an idiot at goodness knows what invisible vista."
Me neither, Julie. Oh, I wanted to go, but was hit by the three W's: work, worries and weather. Yes, I'm in the office on a Saturday afternoon, trying to summon up the enthusiasm to lay out a 16-page dull, dull, dull supplement.

I've had conflicting weather reports via SMS from those in Brighton:
Jonathan: We are on the Fairy Express, approaching Brighton. Looks like we'll need these brollies.
David: Bad weather, wear leather, and carry an umbrella. Your head you must cover or else you'll not recover (sorry, been watching SM:TV)

Jonathan: It's sunny!
David: The sun always shines on TVs!

Ian: It's raining


Friday, August 09, 2002

If only there was an website where you could say, for instance: "I'm going to Sainsbury's, I want a white wine, and I don't want to spend more than a fiver. What's the best wine for my money?"

There is such a website: Malcolm Gluck's Superplonk. Tell it which retailer you're going to, what style of wine you're looking for, how much you want to spend, and up it pops with loads of recommendations. The wines are listed in the order of the score they recieved from Mr Gluck when he reviewed them.

The only difficulty is remembering the name of the wine when you get to the store and are confronted by thousands of choices. I need a PDA!
I love 'Six Feet Under'. The characters are so well-defined - and so are their bodies. But I keep changing my mind as to who is most attractive. At first I fancied Nate; then Keith came along; and then there was Gabe; and even poor old David is looking kinda cute these days. So... what does the jury say?

Who is the most shaggable 'Six Feet Under' character?

Current Results
The President of Turkmenistan has announced that he is going to officially rename the months of the year after the country's heroes, starting - naturally - with January, named - naturally - after himself. Like most despots, the delightfully-bouffanted Mr Niyazov is a bit of a mummy's boy, and will name April after his mother.

This is just yet another example of Niyazov's megalomania. Turkmenistan may be an impoverished state set amid thousands of square miles of desert, but this hasn't stopped him building a lavish, palatial and largely useless city, Ashgabat, with gold-domed marble mosques and fountains everywhere. The city is dominated by a huge gold statue of Niyazov. A giant revolving gilt statue of yourself - now that's what you call a classy dictator.
In my peripheral vision, I see two young guys trying to get their car started by pushing it. [keep walking, just keep walking. don't look up. are they looking at you?] "Hey!" [oh shit! ignore them. pretend you're deaf.] "Hey! Brother! Give us a hand!" [look, i'd love to help, but it's my back, you know. anyway, i'm a weedy little guy. wouldn't be much help. and it's wet and the roads are slippery and i'm wearing these shoes with no grip. and don't give me that 'is it cuz i is black?' business. no it's not. though now that i think about it, aren't you the guys who whispered 'batty boy' at me the other day? and, anyway, i'm running late for work, got a meeting, you know - you can tell, can't you? i am terribly sorry.] "Sure, no problem!"

Thursday, August 08, 2002

How addictive is this game? Acno's Energizer.
[via Meg]
This is very cool: a random collage of pictures found on the internet. It is constantly changing, but it seems that one of the current bits is from my site, though I can't spot it. Can you?
The Dorito Effect: Ever noticed how crunching on crisps causes PC monitors on the other side of the office to flicker?
After taking fifty photographs of a glass of red wine last night, and discovering this morning that none of them is quite print quality, I have a new-found respect for the studio photographers who work on product shots.

I rigged up a mini-studio in my bedroom, hanging a white T-shirt, just so, behind the glass and using my Mathmos space projector as a spotlight. It's going to take me ages to retouch the photos I took, erasing fingerprints, smudges, tiny droplets and watermarks. Plus, most infuriatingly, I realised this morning that I didn't have the camera set on highest quality, so I've got loads of little blocky jpeg artefacts all over it.

Here's the best shot [click on it to see the high-res version]:
We Londoners were given a small taste yesterday of what it must be like to live in, say, Shrewsbury or on the banks of the Ouse. For an hour or two, it rained, and I mean rained. I hadn't seen rain like this since I lived in Aafrika. [OK, I know a couple of inches of rain is hardly biblical, but we live in London - we're at a loss when anything, like, natural interrupts our lives.] We gathered at the office windows, watching the torrents of rain lash down, bracing ourselves for the short dash to the tube station. Then a bedraggled early-leaver came back in and announced: "The tube station is shut due to flooding."

I figured I'd wait it out but the rain didn't show any signs of abating by six, so I made a run for it, up Finchley Road, to Finchley Road station. God, it was raining. The road was like a river, with cars hydroplaning across large bodies of water, whooshing wakes behind them. I spotted a surreal sight: a waterfall was gushing out into the street from inside a Thai restaurant. Huh? But no time to stop and ponder that, I was wet wet wet, running, laughing, soaking, just hoping that Finchley Road station would be open. The crowds of annoyed, damp commuters outside it confirmed my fears - it wasn't.

I couldn't face the thought of a packed, steaming bus, and the rain was finally letting up, so I chose to walk home. The lower ground floor of the O2 Centre was closed - the floor of Sainsbury's was under an inch of water, double the consumer items in a reflecting mirror. I picked my way around the lake that had appeared in the centre's car park, finally remembering my camera:

The narrow lane between the car park and West End Lane was blocked by a large puddle a couple of inches deep. Some enterprising chaps made their way around it on a narrow wall, clinging precariously to the fence. I just took my shoes off, rolled my trousers up and paddled.

Once those crowds of angry commuters had given up on trying to get home by public transport, they seemed liberated, welcoming the challenge, chatting to strangers. I left my shoes off for a bit, walking barefoot on city pavements. I arrived home damp but happy, only to be greeted by another surreal sight - steam was geysering out of a tiny hole in the pavement.

Later that night, watching the news, I counted myself lucky I didn't live just a hundred metres further west. Cricklewood Lane was thigh-deep.

We had a minor disaster later that night, probably unrelated - a fuse blew, knocking out the fridges, washing machine and hot water. Our landlord is away on holiday. James - the other lodger - and I each hoped the other would know something about electrics. Nope. We screwed open the cover of the antiquated fuse box, hoping we'd be able to see what the problem was, and know how to fix it. Nope. We screwed it back on, left a message on the landlord's phone and went to bed.

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

I'm going to have to have a drink tonight. But I have an excuse. I need a photo of a glass of red wine to illustrate a story in this month's magazine, but I can't find a suitable picture anywhere. But I do have a digital camera. So, you see, I really do need to have a drink [or two - hey, I'm a perfectionist!] tonight. Might even charge it to expenses...
Tonight's televisual must-see: Would Like To Meet. Tonight the subject is a gay man, Richard Smith. "[Flirting expert Tracey] teaches him the fine art of gay cruising in London's Old Compton Street."

Would Like To Meet always makes for compelling viewing. Although it is billed as a dating show, it is really about building confidence. I'm not single, nor looking for lurrve, but I'd love to go through the process the contestants are put through -
  • Being forced to watch myself interact in a social setting. Do I listen? Do I apologise too much? Talk too much? Too little? A few years ago, as part of a training programme, a group of us was filmed trying to solve a theoretical problem. I was surprised to see that I didn't come across domineering and stubborn as I had feared, but that I in fact was hesitant, non-committal and virtually invisible. Of course, how we behave in social situations can be very different.
  • Having an independent 'expert' cast a harsh eye over my wardrobe. Is my style totally out of date? Are my clothes too loose? Too tight? Too dull? Too old? Too young? Am I mutton dressed as lamb? Or vice-versa?

    Or, as Billy Joel put it...
  • One hump, or two? I just hope he used a condom, and didn't pick up any strange Bacterian...!
    The Swish Guide to South African Music - Part 3
    "Hellfire" by The African Jazz Pioneers - date unknown [download the mp3]

    As old as apartheid, the Alexandra All Star Band was formed by Ntemi Piliso in Sophiatown in the early fifties. Creating an early form of crossover music, they blended American big band jazz with traditional African marabi rhythms to produce a unique African jazz sound.

    Sophiatown - a Johannesburg township - was an exciting place, a melting pot of cultures with a vibrant music scene. This came to an end when the authorities demolished Sophiatown to make way for white housing, forcing many musicians into exile. In the early eighties, the Jazz Pioneers reformed at Johannesburg's seminal Dorkay House.

    After the easing of the cultural boycott in the 1990s, The Jazz Pioneers released their debut album and travelled abroad, sharing the stage with international stars such as Youssou N'Dour, Quincy Jones, Manhattan Transfer, Neville Brothers, Chick Corea, Gilbert Gill, Salif Keita, Nina Simone, Rita and Ziggy Marley, as well as South Africa’s homegrown virtuosos like Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Winston Mankunku, Darius Brubeck, Mbongeni Ngema, Dolly Rathebe, Jonas Gwangwa, Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu

    They released several albums in the 90s, influencing major South African bands such as Mango Groove. Sadly, founding member Piliso died in 2000 at the age of 75.

    Read more about The African Jazz Pioneers here.

    Let me know what you think of this song. Buy South Africa CDs online at

    Tuesday, August 06, 2002

    There it is in my links-list on the left - Tangents, the home of unpopular culture - but, somehow, I continually make myself forget about it. From time to time, I allow myself to rediscover it all over again, delighting in the writing and the art. Duke Haringay has one of the best-observed blogs out there, and he's a fan of BBC Breakfast's Sophie, which makes him alright by me. Go read the fifty word fiction and marvel.
    Hmm... I could get to like watching sport. First it was the Commonwealth Games, and now the World European Athletics Championships in Barcelona Munich. [I just looked it up.] The Commonwealth Games certainly offered more in the way of eye candy. Those divers! Those perfectly triangular bodies! Those skimpy Speedos! But a deltoid and a bicep, a hot groin and a tricep, makes me - whooo! - shake, makes me wanna take Charles Atlas by the...!

    And then there were the gymnasts, muscles knotted, shuddering, straining to hold unlikely positions, faces contorted in painpleasureagony. I don't want no dissension, just dynamic tension, I'm a muscle fan.

    Sadly, the Barcelona event has none of these. But it does have the sprinters, and the BBC's fetishistic full-frontal slow-motion replays. The miracle shorts the runners wear - tight, yet loose enough to allow for motion. Pendulous motion. A-flop-flop-flop-flop. The material so thin you can tell the runner's nationality. Shorts. And sports. I'll be sniffing bits of rayon before you can say "Ah, I get it now!"

    There's a whole week of this lined up. In just seven days. Oh baby...!"

    Monday, August 05, 2002

    A few years ago, the company I worked for won a contract to publish a directory of environmental equipment suppliers in Thailand. [Oh, the glamour!] The book was to be bilingual, so we had we had the copy translated into Thai. We installed a Thai font and I did the layouts in Quark, but we soon encountered a problem. The Thai language has incredibly long words, and there wasn't a Thai hyphenation extension for Quark. If we simply allowed Quark to hyphenate words wherever it thought best, it could change the whole meaning of the sentence.

    I had a brainwave: we'd get a Thai person in to sit at the computer and break the text manually. But how to go about finding someone? We didn't have the budget for a proper, qualified translator, so we simply phoned our local Thai restaurant. I spoke to a young man called Ad, who said he would come in the following Monday morning.

    That Monday, reception called me: "Er, David, there's a - um - a - er. Ad is here to see you." On arriving in reception, I could see why they were flustered. Ad was a stunning, tall, Thai woman, heavily made-up, clad head-to-toe in skin-tight black lycra, statuesque in knee-length boots. Ad also had a man's voice.

    I sat Ad at the computer and let her - him? - get on with it. Word soon got around. During the course of the morning, every single person in our company found an excuse to come and visit me, peering at Ad. Gossip flew around the water-cooler. "Is it a man or a woman?" "Woman, surely?" "But have you seen the size of her hands?" "And I'm sure she's wearing a polo neck to cover up her - his - Adam's apple."

    We never did find out what sex Ad was. Well, I was hardly going to ask directly. My own opinion? We had hired a real Ladyboy of Bangkok.
    It's been a great month or two gift-wise. Marcus managed to get a copy of the most hugely anticipated novel of the year - nay, the decade - and he's given it to me. Full review to follow, but not till it's officially released... in October.
    From yesterday's Observer: key players in the arts and media choose their favourite websites.
    A woman on the tube this morning was reading a paper called "The Sociology Of The Body". I idly read a bit of it over her shoulder [there wasn't a copy of Metro on hand]. The following sentence has been puzzling me, and I swear I'm not making this up:

    "Like war or eating roast chicken, death is a thing which has acts of great kindness and wonder."

    Friday, August 02, 2002

    Marcus is feeling under-valued and unappreciated at work. Go and give him suggestions on how he can kick some ass without getting his own fired.
    Hello boys! Marks and Spencer have introduced new bulge-enhancing undies for men, "guaranteed to give the impression of extra inches". And as everyone knows, tighty whities are hot.
    A Google search to try to solve Meg's query about the longest word of just one syllable [why is monosyllabic such a long word?] led me to this page full of fascinating little facts about words. Here are just a couple of them:
  • Sestettes is a word in which each of its letters occurs three times.
  • Subbookkeeper is the only English word with four pairs of double letters in a row.
  • The longest words that can be typed using only the top row of a typewriter keyboard are ten letters long. One of these words is... typewriter.
    And, related to Meg's query:
  • Strengths, at nine letters long, is not only just one syllable, but is also the longest English word containing just one vowel.
  • Hands up how many other people, half-reading The Guardian this morning, saw the obituary of Jack Karnehm, next to a picture of the bespectacled deceased, and paused over the headline: "A creator of snooker spectacles", marvelling at the obscure invention of special glasses for playing the game?

    Just me then?

    Thursday, August 01, 2002

    Jesus Of The Week

    [via plep]
    Imagine you're a big fan of a certain singer or group. And I mean big fan. Now imagine receiving a phone call that went something like this:

    "Hi, is that David? It is? Good. This is so-and-so from such-and-such record company. We know from your blog that you're a big fan of A Certain Singer Or Group. We'd like your opinion: do you think such-and-such a track would make a good single? Do you think it would remix well? You probably know the album better than anyone; which track do you think would make a good single? Really? Good idea. Well, you've been very helpful. Thanks for your input. Oh, and please keep this confidential."

    I may have received a phone call just like that yesterday, but if I did, I wouldn't be allowed to tell you about it
    I seem to have posted nothing but music links this week. And here's another. Stunning video for Royksopp's Remind Me.
    As Matt at Interconnected says, it's "1980s infographic heaven."
    Jonathan was on a Channel 4 programme called "Future Sex" last night. As predicted, it was a faintly embarrassing affair, trying to stir up a bit of excitement about something deeply dull - clothes. Over-analyse the most normal of everyday activities and it will seem odd. I imagine a show about blogging, in which luminaries of the personal publishing world talk in great depth, drooling about their linkslists and blogrolls.

    Apparently, wearing an England shirt - something millions of straight blokes around the country do every day - is a fetish when it's done by a gay man. "It's the new leather," said someone, perhaps Jonathan. "Ooh, just feel that material," said somone else, perhaps the Sports and Shorts organiser, whose name appeared to be David OverCamp. The idea behind footie gear is presumably that it makes you feel more manly. But the wearers shown were not sportsmen, just IT managers. Some of the footage shot at Sports And Shorts put me in mind of suburban swingers parties - the whiff of giddy excitement of girls together, sweat-stained armpits in manmade fibres.

    Jonathan's appearance on the show did him no favours. I can only imagine the strange looks his colleagues will be giving him this morning. Now, I've known Jonathan for quite a while and I'm sorry to disappoint the programme-makers, but I can reliably inform you that he doesn't run round sniffing bits of rayon, going "Ooh yeah, feel that material, baby!" Quite why he agreed to be on the show in the first place is beyond me - or would have been, had I not seen how many other TV programmes he has been on over the years. Yes, he does have a fetish: he's a shameless media whore. Not a pervert.