The moving cat sheds, and, having shed, moves on.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Giant squid grabs London audience 

I saw the headline and thought, "oh my God, it's like King Kong of the oceans!"

I imagined a theatre was exhibiting a live giant squid, which then went crazy and started grabbing at the people in the audience. I also entertained notions of Squiddy climbing Centrepoint, perhaps holding tight onto Philippa Forester (she seems suitable), before being buzzed to the ground by helicopters.

The truth is a little less cinematic, alas.
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Title sequence for 2006 Doctor Who? 

Boredom, tiredness and a new discovery (Windows Movie Maker) led to me throwing together a NEW!!! title sequence for Doctor Who. I might submit it to the BBC. You never know, they might accidentally lose all the existing sequences they have, and they'd have to use my one here as an emergency replacement. It could happen...

Apologies to the BBC and everyone involved with Doctor Who. It's a 1.37MB WMV file, and it's right here.
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Monday, February 27, 2006

Young man, etc. 

For reasons best left to the mists of time, I have a copy of Popular Mechanics, dating from 1922. It's quite a hefty volume - almost 200 pages - and is missing the covers, but apart from that it's in pretty good nicker. Like publications of today, the most interesting and revealing bits are the advertisements, of which there are many. There are quite a few selling tyres, and also several offering help to quit smoking or chewing tobacco - evidently they had only just found out that it was bad for you. There is also one gem headed, "If you really want to be a BIGGER MAN... Ask for a copy of this booklet". Woah! I thought, upon seeing it. Be a BIGGER MAN? The 1922 print version of those viagra spam emails? Further reading revealed slight disappointment:

"It is a frank, man-to-man discussion of personal development that we are glad to send every ambitious young man. It does not paint any "blue-sky dreams" that you cannot realize, but it tells how we are helping thousands of young men to make the most of their study hours. We will also give you the "Six Reasons" why you should select the United Y.M.C.A. Schools to help you to qualify for greater responsibility, more congenial or better-paying work, and larger manhood. Our friendly counsel is free."

Oh. It's the YMCA. That's okay then, all quite innoc- Woah! Hold on! Rewind... "larger manhood"? Hmm, maybe it is for the 1922 equivalent of viagra after all.
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What are you doing for 2013? 

Check out Wikipedia's page on predicted events for the year 2012: all pretty run-of-the-mill stuff such as Passover, the London Olympics, the end of the contract for Saturday Night Live, a couple of solar eclipses, the last solar transit in the 21st century for the planet Venus, the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, and this:

December 22 — Possible date for the end of the long count of the Maya and Aztec calendars and therefore, the end of the world.

End of the world? Event of the year, methinks. Nine days later comes the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Well, they'll have a damn good reason for backing out of it by then.

We all know, I think, about the old Mayan prophecy of the end of the world: those cheerful despots of South America created a calendar that documented things yet to happen. They went into great detail about most things, going quite some way into their own future. And then, when they came to the winter solstice of the year we in most of the world call 2012, they stopped. No more. Silence. It could just be that they ran out of chisels, or got bored, or they all got beheaded by visiting Spanish missionaries, but I think the Experts have eliminated all those possibilities. No, the Mayans found out when the world is going to end, and slipped into a terminal depression about it, probably invigorated only by the fact that their own prophecies had pointed out that their civilisation would be dead and gone long before that, and the murderous scum who saw to it would fall foul of something much worse. Yay!

I only very recently found out about another prophecy, made here in Europe, about the popes of the Roman Catholic church. Some chap with too much time on his hands evidently hinted at details of some past popes and all the future popes in pithy cryptic Latin phrases; finest Nostradamus style. He numbered them all, right up to 111, adding on the end (or someone else added it later) a numberless one with the catchy name Petrus Romanus (Peter of Rome) who would evidently be seeing in the fall of Rome, the fall of the Church, the fall of civilisation, etc. The usual stuff. Some clever boffin in later years then lined up all the popes in the prophecy with the actual popes, and quite a lot of them matched quite neatly the Latin phrases. Now, guess which number in the sequence the current pope, Benedict XVI, is. Remember there are only 111 of them.

That's right! He's number 111! Depressing, isn't it? With the Mayan end of the world only six years away, and the various leaders of the world (official and otherwise) playing at silly buggers, some other old prophecy turns out to be pointing towards an imminent end. Popes tend to last a good few years in office, and this current one has no particular reason not to last another six years. There will either be another one after him, who shall be the named Petrus Romanus, or Benedict himself will be Petrus Romanus, and see the fall of Rome, the fall of the Church, the fall of civilisation, etc. Just like the Mayans predicted.

And over in Tibet, a group of Buddhist monks have also discovered through meditation or somesuch that something potentially cataclysmic is galloping over the horizon. Their version of it all, though, is that some divine aliens will descend upon Earth and usher in a new age of peace, love and understanding.

I hope the Tibetan monks are right and everyone else was wrong.
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She ain't dumb or blonde, either. 

Hey, here's another entry in the irregular series of things about covers albums. Well, it's the second such post, I suppose that makes it a series.

Kathryn Williams and her album Relations: it's good! I don't really know much of her other work, but going by this record of mostly well-known songs, she's probably good at what she does.

Rod Stewart did a song once, totally unlike the rest of his material, that was neither crap nor barely tolerable: it's actually good - In A Broken Dream. There may be some irony in the fact that he credited it to Python Lee Jackson, who doesn't actually exist. Anyway, Ms Williams did the unthinkable and covered it sans bluesy guitars and Rod's distinctive (and male) vocals - and her version is damn good, too. I think that may be evidence that this really is A Good Song and not just an uncharacteristic performance on Mr Stewart's part.

Also to be found on this record are a version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah: good, but not as good as Jeff Buckley's pants-wettingly good version; a version of Nirvana's All Apologies: better than you'd think; a version of one of my favourites Byrds songs, The Ballad of Easy Rider; and the obligatory Velvet Underground song, this time, Candy Says.

All in all, it's a good album, continuing my love of the whole concept of covers albums. It works as an album, too, rather than as a collection of songs, which may be where Dolly Parton's earlier-mentioned effort fails (although that's only a small stumbling block).

Must get round to finding more stuff by Kathryn Williams. What's to be next in this series of wotsits about cover albums? Stay tuned to find out! Ooh, exciting, innit?
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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Positively comma-tose. 

I know I'm a little sad for doing this, but I did it anyway.

I like punctuation. I can't disguise the fact, and I won't deny it, either. I really enjoyed Eats, Shoots & Leaves, often finding myself nodding in agreement with Lynne Truss, the author. How dare they leave out that apostrophe? Terrible abuse of a colon! That poor question mark, his role built up and up and up and up, only to be cruelly left off when his moment came. And so on.

Anyway, to the point: I like punctuation. I really like punctuation. It's like an obsession. If one can slip some punctuation in, then, gosh darn it, do so! Nested commas, especially. Ooh, and semi-colons. And! And! Colons, oh yeah baby. But it's nested commas I want to bring to your attention. We all know what a comma is, of course. I used one in the last sentence, and in this one, too. In fact, I used two in that sentence, and two in this one as well. But what, you may ask, are nested commas? Well, I just used two commas in that last sentence (the one ending with a question mark - easy punctuation to use, yet still people get it wrong sometimes), and they were holding a few words that could easily be removed from the sentence without damaging it: it'd still make sense. If I did that several times over in a sentence, with each group of words, like this, contained inside another group of words, then that would be an example of nested commas. Did you see what I did there?

I built a sentence purely for the love of building a sentence with nested commas in it, often with only one word between one comma and the next. Here is the beauty:

Terence, who, when scared, such as now, would usually, if given the opportunity, run, decided, instead, to stay.

Isn't it gorgeous? And it's immune to the critical eye of other punctuation-geeks. We can easily remove a segment, one at a time...

Terence, who, when scared, would usually, if given the opportunity, run, decided, instead, to stay.
Terence, who would usually, if given the opportunity, run, decided, instead, to stay.
Terence, who would usually run, decided, instead, to stay.
Terence, who would usually run, decided to stay.

...until we get to the most basic form of the sentence. It has no commas at all (poor impoverished thing), and it's easy to read and understand, but it's missing a lot of details. Why has he decided to stay? Why does it merit a mention? Here it is:

Terence decided to stay.

Mmm. I have to go and have a cold shower now.

PS: Who is Terence?
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If music be the food of love, etc. 

ABBA brought us Chicken Tikka.
Prince brought us Little Red Courgette.
kd lang brought us Instant Gravy.
The Jam brought us Eatin' Trifles.

And the Jam are of course themselves named after a foodstuff that is popular in sandwiches or on toast, just like Marmalade and The Cyrds (hey, mister tangerine man).
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Och laddie, U can't touch this! 

Today I mentioned MC Hammer in an online forum (don't ask), and then came to do stuff here, and saw mention of MC Hammer on the way. So it seems only right that my post today should concern that ever-popular Scottish rapper, McHammer. He of the baggy kilt.

I suspect he chose the name Hammer because his rhymes and riddims (is that a rap thing, or is it reggae?) are as subtle as a, etc. And I don't mean the dainty variety used to break toffee or cockroaches. I don't even mean the heftier but still small variety used for various indoor DIY projects. I don't even mean the big old chunky fencepost-whacking variety. No! This is... er... the bigger ones. You know, really big, for doing really heavy hammering stuff.
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Friday, February 24, 2006

let slip the dogs of war 

This apparent flying dog is pretty horrifying. Aaargh!

It turns out, though, that this monstrosity is just a Boxer dog lying on its back, and the picture has been flipped over. Here's what it should look like...

...which doesn't really improve it much.
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Thursday, February 23, 2006


O by Damien Rice
K by Kula Shaker
OK by Talvin Singh?

Sadly, no. There couldn't be three more dissimilar records, really.
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My boss isn't pointy-haired. 

I just got hit by a rental car!


It did, but I'm fine now.

This is one of only two Dilbert cartoons that have stuck in my mind, and you wouldn't believe how difficult it is to work that joke into everyday conversation: it's not often people exclaim they've been hit by a rental car.

The other one has Dilbert refusing to go to sleep for some bizarre reason, and a policeman comes along and handcuffs him, explaining that he was "resisting a rest".
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Soggy doggy. 

This poor fella got wet and had to be hung out to dry.
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What a wonderful butler, he's so violent. 

The Louvre in Paris, in the latter half of 1979, was briefly home to a most curious artifact: a police box from the streets of London, some twenty years earlier. Or so it seemed... this police box hummed as if it was alive, and also happened to be considerably bigger on the inside than the exterior dimensions would suggest. Not that visitors to the Louvre would have known that.

At the same time, an attempt was made to steal one of the museum's most famous exhibits: Leonardo da Vinci's painting La Gioconda, better known in the English-speaking world as Mona Lisa. Apparently someone scribbled over the painting, years later, with invisible ink.

About a year later, the same police box appeared unnoticed on Brighton beach, and a robotic dog got wet.
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Computer says "OK" 

Radiohead, then. They're up there with all those other "greatest bands of all time", of course. Inauspicious beginnings on that debut album, Pablo Honey. It's got everyone's favourite quiet-loud-quiet-loud-released-in-1992 song - Creep. That's about it, really. The rest of it is OK, but that's about it. Note to self: find out if Creep started the quiet-loud-quiet-loud genre, QL2.

Fast forward a couple of years and we find ourselves at The Difficult Second Album. It would seem Radiohead thrive under pressure, if doing a second album is pressure - they came out with The Bends, which is vastly better than Pablo Honey. I suspect it's so titled because Pablo Honey was at the bottom of a murky pond, and they rose so quickly and so far when it came to doing the second album that they got the bends. Seems like a good title, they thought, and the rest is history. It remains my favourite Radiohead album, but I seem to be in the minority, because...

...the perennial favourite activity of music magazines and Channel 4 is to make lists, and whenever a list such as "100 Greatest Albums Of All Time... Ever!" or "50 Greatest Albums Of The 90s" comes along, invariably in the top ten and often at the very top you'll find Radiohead's third album, OK Computer. It's good, it really is, really really good, but not great. I don't think so, anyway. You can feed me to the kicking squealing gucci little piggies if you disagree.

Anyway, Radiohead then found themselves under more pressure: follow up two really good albums. They managed, Moses-style, to divide opinion pretty well. There are two camps and very little middle ground. They released Kid A - and people said one of two things: "It's a load of crap" or "It's great!". I'm in the latter camp.

Kid A, it turned out, was part one of a two-part album release, although we were told in no uncertain terms not to consider the second one an outtakes album, nor were we to wonder why they didn't just release a double album, oh no no, mustn't think that. Kid B turned out to be called, rather disappointingly, Amnesiac, and it's more an album than the highly experimental predecessor: more a collection of songs than an extended muso-wank. Critics and fans alike generally agreed that while it's still a bit weird, it's at least better than Kid A. I disagree... I prefer Kid A. Maybe I like muso-wanks?

Follow up to Amnesiac was Hail To The Thief. Less said about that one, the better, but I'll limit myself to this: trying to take the best bits of OK Computer and Kid A and making the Ultimate Album (TM), but ending up making Pablo Honey's evil twin. Nary a sniff of QL2, either.

Wonder what the next album will be like...
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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

on the lazy days, the dogs dissolve 

in the aeroplane over the sea
Writer Andrew Hultkrans, in a small volume about the under-rated album Forever Changes by Love, wrote the following passage:

As a lifelong music addict, I have reached the point where I can be 99% sure that if a record doesn't grab me within two or three plays, it doesn't deserve a place in my collection. My ear isn't foolproof, but it's close. I say this because I've only encountered two albums in my adult life that have proved my instincts absolutely, laughably wrong. One is Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (1997), which I bought and returned twice before it completely flattened me on the third try.

Hultkrans went on to explain that the other of the two albums was Forever Changes, of course. I agree with him completely; I was extremely chuffed when I read this book, as I'd had a copy of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea for several years at this point, but had never come across anyone - apart from reviewers and critics, and we all know they don't count - who loved this album as much as I do. Hell, I'd never come across anyone who had even heard of it. Forever Changes only fares slightly better.

With both records, just like Hultkrans, it took me several attempts before I realised just how bloody amazing they really are. I would add a third album to the list: Barafundle, by Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is now, and I suspect forever will be, my absolute favourite album of all time. Forever Changes and Barafundle aren't far behind. If you don't have any of these records... well, go out and get them! Even if you have to put your own grandmother in a pawn shop to afford them, you won't regret it. You might take a while to get them into your head - it took me a good six months before realising that Barafundle deserves huge praise - but once they're in your head, they're not leaving. These aren't earworms - they're much, much better than that.
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You hear an Eric Clapton guitar solo, and you think, "Ah! That's Eric Clapton!"
You hear Roger McGuinn doing his thing, and you think, "Good ol' Rodge!"
Along comes George Harrison, and you're mumbling, "Mm, there's George. Fab!"
Oh, look, here's Jimmy Page now! Fantastic!

And so on. All these guitarists - and many more, of course - have a very distinct style, and I can pick out Clapton, McGuinn, Harrison, Page, etc, with ease. But tapping along behind them invariably is a drummer, and I'm jiggered if I know who's who - they all just sound like drummers to me. In fact, I can only definitely identify one drummer by his sound, and that's Ringo Starr; I have, therefore, filed all rock drummers into two categories: Ringo and Not Ringo. Here's the list:

Ringo Starr

Not Ringo
everyone else

Pretty simple, eh?

Of course, then there's one Johnny Khalsi. Google him if you don't know who he is. He's not Ringo, but he doesn't fit the other group, either. Hmm...
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This is a picture of one of the most evil things ever to have walked this Earth - a ridiculously cute kitten with skew-whiff eyes. It'll grow up to be a silent killing machine, you know. Fear it.
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I ain't dumb, and I ain't blonde. 

I know it's dreadfully uncool (or whatever) to like covers albums. And yes, I know it's dreadfully unhip (or whatever) to like country music. And, yes yes don't go on, I know it's dreadfully not with it (or whatever) to like oldsters. But you got me - I like covers albums. I like country music. I like Dolly Parton. And I like Dolly Parton's new album, which is, you may have realised by now, a covers album.

Those Were The Days, it's called, and, unsurprisingly, it has that very same song featuring among the twelve. Fine, fine rendition it is too. And guess what! It's got Mary Hopkin on it! Yes - THE Mary Hopkin! The blonde Welsh teenager spotted on New Faces by Paul McCartney way back in nineteen-sixty-plonk and signed to the brand-new Apple record label! The very same Mary Hopkin who made famous this song - English-language lyrics added to an old Russian (or Ukrainian or summat) folk song. Except she isn't blonde any more, or a teenager. But she is still Welsh, at least. As far as I know, she came out of retirement especially to record this song with our Dolly!

Another great and mostly retired singer featuring on a song on Dolly's new album - Yusuf Islam. Yes - THE Yusuf Islam! "Who?" I hear you ask. Oh, you know, Yusuf Islam. Old Yusuf. You know the fella, born as Steven Demetre Georgiou, went on to find fame and acclaim under the moniker Cat Stevens. Yes - THE Cat Stevens! He's been peeking his impressively-bearded head above the parapet of music biz retirement quite a bit, lately. He keeps appearing on Channel 4 talking about music, and he re-recorded his old hit Father & Son not long ago with dear sweet Ronan Keating, and now here he is again re-recording his old hit Where Do The Children Play? with dear sweet Dolly Parton. He doesn't sing on this one, though; he's only playing guitar. But I'm still holding out hopes that he's easing his way back into the studio long-term. Maybe there'll be a new album in the next couple of years?

Another oldie recorded by Dolly on this new record is John Lennon's soppy peace paean Imagine. She didn't manage to convince him out of the grave and into the studio to help out, though. Shame.
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Sugababes - sweet! 

If I'm ugly then so are you - so spake Sugababes, and who am I to argue? On the surface of it, it seems like a pretty nasty playground-ish sort of thing to say. But not so! If you read the rest of the lyric to this song (that'd be Ugly by Sugababes, then), you find out that it ain't the case. But I'm not going to go any deeper than that, right now. Why? Cos yer ugly - but that's okay, cos so am I.

On the subject of the aforementioned girl group - they of the oft-changing lineup (how many albums in will they be when it turns out that none of the members were present for the recording of that largely forgettable first album?) - erm, I forgot my point. Hold on...

Oh yeah, on the subject of Sugababes, it's dead hard trying to like all the weirdy cool music and being generally dismissive of POP music when a group like Sugababes, or a singer like Will Young, comes along. Damn their eyes! They can carry on making good music with damned eyes, I'm sure.

So, yeah, first album - meh. Second album - yay! Third album - hmm, hurrah? Fourth album - hurrah! That's the current album. The fifth one, when it comes along, will most likely elicit another "hurrah" response, or possibly even a "hot damn!". That's pretty damn good, you know.
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