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June 2008

That was a bit strange

I came out of the station on the way to work - I'm going to be a bit vague here for reasons which will become clear - and walked around the corner.

The office is slap bang next to a major London NHS hospital, so it is relatively normal to see people who are about to visit, or have visited the hospital, slowly making their way down the back streets.

As I walked, I stared blankly ahead and in to the face of a man a ways off, relatively tall, dark hair, wearing a dark suit, adjusting his tie slightly. "Huh, he looks alot like David Cameron", I thought.

Lo and behold, it was indeed, David Cameron, organising putting his profoundly disabled son in to a vehicle, whilst a security chap looked around, looking uninterested in a single 38 year old woman walking to work. not much of a security risk, I guess.

I didn't have a lot of choice, so had to walk close by to the leader of the opposition, as he gently, carefully and lovingly put his beautiful little boy in to the car, all the time talking to him, taking care of his welfare, and showing the concern that any parent would whilst having to manhandle someone so vulnerable, and loved. I felt I had trespassed on a moment of unrestricted intimacy, and it was, I'd imagine a fairly unique opportunity for a complete outsider to see someone so public, and practiced at being so, behaving without artifice, in an exclusive way. He obviously ignore my presence completely, as you would.

It made me, not entirely of my own volition, see the man as a human being, and reminded me of the pressures and emotions that surround the wish to protect someone vulnerable from gawping eyes. I can remember what I felt like when people stared at me in the street, when I was a kid. If I'd been able to externalise my anger, I would have punched every one of them in the face. For the record, his little boy is severely disabled, and must need a lot of round the clock care. I can only imagine what a difference his existence must have made to David Cameron's opinions regarding the NHS, because traditionally, Tory views on the subject can hardly be seen as enlightened.

So. David Cameron is a caring, loving Dad. Shock!

Please note, you will not now see me arguing sympathetically for Tory policies, unless they suddenly change their name to the "Radical Green Conservation and Human Survival Party". Which, y'know... is unlikely.

#235: Have a painful ear infection

I have friends who positively enjoy codeine.

I meanwhile, do not. It makes me feel blurry, forgetful and gives me a half hearted attempt at the horrible Tramadol 'heroine' like effect of having had warm cement poured on to you, so that you really don't feel like, or rather can't actually move your limbs at all, once you're in sitting position.

Meanwhile, the inside of my head on the left, and my tonsils, are both in a state of collapse. You see what I mean? *This* is survival of the fittest? Survival of the just-about-able-to-bloody-function-when-forced.

Things not to do #234: damage your coccyx

I have damaged my coccyx.

We visited Céret on market day, of course, during the recent France visit. Céret is a mountain town (well - foothills), with charming open gullies running through the town taking mountain water safely through. Sometimes they are full, and sometimes empty. I say gullies - more like open drains by the sides of the road. Made of polished granite, and full of lovely, fresh. clear, cold, oxygenated water. Obviously very good for the myriad of dogs that live in the neighbourhood. Also very good for the algae that grows unencumbered on the bottom of the drain-gully things.

A car  was mooching slowly down a road and in mine and Nora's direction (she wanted to go to the art museum - Picasso once lived in Céret see) and I was holding her hand given that Céret on market day is somewhat akin to Oxford Circus tube station in rush hour). Let's get out of the way, I say, and begin moving off to the left, only for my already twisted ankle (another story) to buckle on the edge of a wet, polished granite surface, slip down to the admittedly not very deep bottom, come in to contact with a mat of algae and subject me to an arse-over-tit comedy fall of epic proportions, only to fall BANG directly on to my coccyx. This is not advisable, even if approximately half my size.

When the hell was this... a month ago, at a guess. At the time, I'm surprised ... well. not surprised that the eternal  "parent" action kicked in, and since Nora was frightened and crying, I was able to pick her up, hug her, and carry her over to the side of the road; calmly talk about getting a bottle of water, and then go and walk around the art museum with her, all the time, water dripping off my completely sodden trousers.  What I think my body would have preferred to do was to pass out, or throw up.  The pain was so extreme, I could feel how white my face was (before it went green and I started shaking).

A month later, I am having trouble sitting down. It got worse for a while, and now it appears to be getting better, slowly but, jaysus. It's not going away any time soon; the doc reckons it's pointless trying to get an x-ray and the most that we could do would be a steroid injection in to the base of my spine (nice!). Meanwhile the idea of getting on my bike and cycling to work sounds so bloody daunting I am avoiding it like the plague. Bumps in the road? What does one hit when there's no ceiling?

Anyway. "Ow", is the long and the short of it.

A bloody good question

Nora, on Sunday:

You are a Mummy, and you had a Mummy. When was the first one? How did that happen? which point one's head explodes in panic and amazement. Er.... right, how can I focus Evolution in about 2 setences, for a 4 1/2 year old?

The answer comes in recalling Richard Dawkins' delightful line of Mummys. Mackay described the slight changes that happened along the way, and in fact you suddenly realise that it's ok - you can even talk about survival of the fittest, and make it make sense. I shall have to find a DK type book with lots of pictures to help explain it. Maybe there's a decent poster.

...can you imagine the hilarious answer that would come to that question if you were a creationist?

Survival of the fittest has always blown me away. The ridiculous circumstances by which you happen to be alive - out of all of the potential billions upon billions of beings that could have been there in your place. It's a bit.. eh? Me? Shit, I'd better do something to justify it then...

And of course, then one remembers the astonishing array of complete pea-brains that exist (including at times, oneself, of course), which only goes to show that at some point, we started wandering off on a path of our own, quite substantially. Survival of those most closely adapted to survive within concrete, whilst having one's shopping delivered. Ah. Oh. Shit.

(Stupid rubbish warning)Can you imagine having a time machine, and going back to meet Darwin?  I would be completely  speechless with awe - somewhat similar to trying to have a sensible conversation with Stephen Fry (arf). Except I would take him aside and tell him not to send his daughter to an inept quack. As if that would do any good.

Boris Johnson as Mayor?

The announcement is at 6 apparently, and it's all a close run thing. Whilst I think Gordon Brown is an almost hilariously bad Prime Minister, the timing of these elections couldn't possibly have been worse. Ptrol prices going through the roof, food prices going through the roof, the housing market collapsing... and not a hell of alot our Gord or any other bugger could really do about it.

Meanwhile the Tories sweated every damn ounce of salt they could out of the 10p income tax debacle, which doesn't actually affect that many people, but good lord, it makes good headlines. Cameron handled it like a real pro, and fair enough. It was a ripe peach there for the taking.

To appease my Hamerican readers, I hope you caught the "Daily Show" piece collating all the news anchors talking about the Rev Wright being pushed under / off the bus by Obama. A beautiful, and obvious gag, expertly delivered. What great strides forward we've made, only forty short years ago, African Americans were only allowed to ride in the back of the bus. Now, not only are they allowed to ride up front, but to drive the bus and indeed, run each other over. It's good to see the bus maintaining pride of place as a central part of African American history.

It ain't on Youtube or the DS website, hence the explanation.

To get back to the main drag, I as actually trying to find the "Question Time" Mayoral Candidates  edition to show people who had possibly not come in to contact with the full on disdain that Boris Johnson obviously has for the London of ordinary Londoners, in its full glory. Putting up with that cretin won't just be bad on a personal 'disgust' level but on a city-wide level. If he actually tries to do what he suggested in his manifesto, he's going to set the city back by at least a decade. Why? Because his entire agenda came from the classic Tory fucking (look, sorry for all the swearing, but I'm not about to switch it off describing this arsehole) position of oafish, ignorant selfishness, at the expense of everyone else, because fuck them, I'm more important than you, get off my car you officious fascist,  screw you lot of plebs on public transport, etc, etc...

So I just wanted to give you the two most offensive pieces of prickery that are in Wikipaedia, and no doubt his supporters wished weren't:

"Johnson became embroiled in controversy in 1995 after a recording of a telephone conversation made in 1990 became public knowledge. On the tape Johnson is heard agreeing to supply the address of the News of the world  journalist Stuart Collier in order for his former schoolmate Darius Guppy to have Collier beaten up for knowing too much about Guppy's failed insurance fraud.  Johnson asked how badly Collier was to be beaten up, and Guppy replies "He will probably have a couple of black eyes and a... cracked rib or something like that". This part of the conversation ended with Johnson agreeing to supply the address. Despite the call from Guppy, Johnson did not alert the police and the incident only became public knowledge when the conversations was summarised in the Daily Mail. Collier was not attacked.  Johnson retained his job at the Telegraph but was reprimanded by its editor Max Hastings, who received a copy of the recording several years before it found its way to the Daily Mail."

So. He's a crony, a liar, and has no sense of the moral boundaries surounding decent behaviour. Fine.

Then there's the reference to this truly astronishing column in the Daily Telegraph. In his defence (I try to be fair, after all), it's obvious he's being satirical, but for fuck's sake - that he could for a moment imagine that the language he uses here is in any way acceptable, to be spoken in or out of jest by a posh white bloke is incredible. This suggests an amazing lack of smarts, for someone who will be doing a job which dictates constant contact with a vast number of different minority and disability groups. I read this, still, totally aghast. He makes me feel ashamed just reading the damn thing! Wikipaedia suggests that Rod Liddle (the ex-Today editor who had to resign over the 'sexing up' scandal) heard Johnson calling  black people "pickaninnies" in non-satirical, offline type conversation. What? WHAT? Say it again, louder, Johnson. Just say it again, louder, whilst you're shaking peoples' hands in Brixton, eh? Why not.

Listen. I have no love for Ken Livingstone. He's a liar, and he has a politician's super sized ego, but just look at the evidence for chrissakes. He has a vision, and a passion which has - for the most part - meant he has been a superb Mayor for this (now) world-class city. And just the huge amount that has been achieved - the man has worked. I mean really bloody worked. there's something about Johnson's demeanour which suggests to me that he'd happily clock off at 4 and go out to another dinner party, to laugh about the London yokels.

I couldn't give a toss about Gordon Brown or the Labour Party in this context, but I do care what happens in the town in which I live. 

Gawd help us, is all I can say. 

I watch TV old-style: Heroes new series on BBC2!

Frankly, all the geek-pieces don't fit well enough together in my house for me to watch downloaded / saved / whatever non-schedule TV on a lovely big screen in the corner of my front room, to be arranged by use of a remote control.

So cobblers to it, until it can be.

So - Heroes. there's so much I like about Heroes that the bits I don't like make me exasperated beyond belief. It genuinely makes me angry, which is a ridiculous reaction (in that surely, the energy expended could be saved up and used instead to fight injustice through use of my obvious superpowers?). But, it's worth indulging in a tiny* bit of slightly delayed media critique-ism.

Here's the main criticism of season one: The sheer audacity of the "Hiro's journey" storyline is so extraordinary, so cheeky and so gratuitous that it almost makes me want to jump up and down on the writers' heads shouting "How dare you!". The series after all was a studio, calculated decision off the back of the success of "Lost". Where's our mysterious ensemble drama, guys? Quick, we'd better do one! Luckily, they struck a nerve, and the show held together all the disperate pieces, coming together with a delightful sense of closure in the last show. It was a real joy, the first season, for anyone who does read comics in any way 'seriously'. It really did homage that way of writing stories, and gripped, in a playful style - with characters who had a cartoonish sense of dread or action/drama. The cheerleader's father was a wonderful flip from being the embodiement of the unnacountable, suited, anonymous, suited, mysterious folk who actually run everything in to being in fact, the nicest guy in the world.

Hanging all this together though was a wonderful, beautifully drawn everyman character in "Hiro", played with a comfortable ease by Masi Oka. The character reflected aspects of a particular sort of committed viewer's own cultural geekiness (and presumably the writers') back, but not in the usual cynical way - in a joyful, positive one. Your geeky knowledge of comics and Star Wars reflects a deep seated intelligence which could save the world! And then there was the knowing, meta-dramatic effect of calling the hero "Hiro". And then, ok (and this is where I start getting very exasperated, really) why not make him the actual embodiement of the Hero's journey. Eh? Eh? D'ja get it? Ok, yes, very interesting, I suppose. If done well (and it was, to be honest). then the ultimate insult / homage to the art of creating incredibly cliched storylines (oh but you know, in an ironic style! so it's ok!) - the father figure who must teach Hiro wisdom was..... His Actual Father!

Ffffffffffffuuuuuuccckkkkkk Offf! You cynical, smart, but ultimately lazy bastards! Argh! When I saw that episode I really shouted at the television. How dare you! How bloody dare you insult my intelligence quite this much!

Damn them, for creating a formulaic TV drama which could have been shunted out of a computer program, then somehow managed to write it well enough to draw you in to its universe and even more frustratingly, manage to get you to care about the characters, who you reveal as mere cyphers, in a deliberately cynical veil dance. Now you see the exercise for the manipulation that it is, now you don't, because ha, that was a good piece of dialogue. Argh!

It also doesn't help with the ensuing confusion (they seem to be envoking a sort of media-cultural mauvais foi) that yer man, Mr Oka is not only a real, proper geek (a pretty decent cgi artist & programmer) but that his characterisation of Hiro is a total delight - and I mean that from an attraction perspective too: he's lovely, in a cuddly, humane and geek-cool kind of way. You want to know the guy, and you feel that somehow you actually do. I'm telling you. Glasses. They do wonders on a certain type of chap's face.

So. Having not downloaded series 2, being as how I'd probably get the sack if I did, and frankly, I don't have enough time on my hands or commitment to the art of television to warrant that sort of behaviour, I am now on episode 2, and our Hiro is running about in China, in an amusing but slightly more clunky piece of plotwork. It's all very average so far, but it's nice spending time with characters you have invested in, even if they're all being a bit wiffly.

I don't really care about plot spoilers. Having said that, maintaining an air of mystery whilst I watch might not be a bad thing. I did want to ask though, for those who have seen series 2 - does it get better? more cohesive? I worry that the writers' strike might have cocked up the flow of the whole thing. Particularly since the producer did admit that the start of series 2 was a misfire, and promised changes.

*Ahem. Tiny? Tiny? SHUT UP, woman.

James says words

There'sdefinitely a gear change going on. Having four adults to play with on holiday seemed to kick James up several notches, and new words were coming every day - often four or five mew words. Now, he's only finding trouble saying wordfs with "S" in. So I explainesd to him that he could say "Yep" or "Yeah", he didn't have to say "Yes" yet - now, it's yeah yeah yeah!


Now we need a move in to the world of setences. this I think may come slowly, and subtly. Although I may be wrong, of course.

Ben Folds

I feel I must explain and somehow justify my completely, ridiculously over the top, teenage obsession with Ben Folds. Why oh why have I almost no critical faculty other than "Oh Wow, that's amazing" with regard to a goofy, balding, grandstanding pianist in his early forties, who seems to have an unhealthily rich seam of fans in college kids, who are, BEN, they are half your fucking age, man! What the hell are you doing cosying up to these people!!!

Ok, that's a trifle unfair, but in the States, Ben Folds (or you know... "Ben" as he's known to his obsessive fans, like me, exclamation mark, exclamation mark!!!!) seems to be almost exclusively marketed as an indie artist, appealing to college students. He must feel more and more bizarrely out of place in student halls, as he sings about his children growing up, or how forgotten men retire and no one notices, whilst some 18 year old nods along singing the harmonies. I have almost no notion at all what the hell his fanbase in the UK is like in terms of size, but judging by the people I know who like his, we're talking about a sizeable audience between the ages of 35-45, with two young kids. Oh, kind of like Ben, in fact.

there is a point to all this rambling rubbish, and I've nearly lost it. Yes. So. Why did I go so nutso. A quick look at my Last FM profile will reveal a comparatively large number of Ben Folds plays, which overtook my previous, and may I say rather cultured dontchafink, winner of the Goldberg  variations (frankly, there are tons of em, and they last about a minute each, which is the only reason it appears that I have a nutso love of Bach, but only some specific... oh, you mean, the only ones I've bothered to rip. well, yes). ANYWAY. Actually you know, the fact that all of the big fans of Ben Folds from the US are all at college has given me a brilliant incite in to Last FM usage, which frankly, no one in my age group other than those who actually work there are going to realise. Here are some Last FM, US college kid based Fun Facts:

  1. they really, really fucking love Last FM
  2. No, really. I mean they're obsessed with it
  3. Why? It's bleedin' obvious innit. Were you the kind of kid who wrote the names of your favourite bands on your canvas schoolbag? Do I really have to explain any further? This is taking your br... ha ha, I meant Band, obviously (whoops) allegiances and not just swapping the context, but hammering home in bald facts - not only have I favourited every single track by Ben Folds and said I love it and he's the best fing everrrr, but, look - here's a fucking long list of my allegiances Fer Real. Cos I played 'em all, didn't I. Loads of times too, see? Loads more than you - look, you love "Zak and Sara' only 235 times. See, I've listened to it 568 times haven't I. So ner.... (and so forth)
  4. Which leads me to the point that really is quite amazing, but obvious. Kids go in to their college classes, or go to school, leaving their iTunes running, so that Last FM will record all the tunes as they're played, so that they can go up in the listener rankings.

Isn't that just.... well. Wierd? But - isn't it also incredibly, blazingly obvious. Verrr interesting. Stats are kings, to kids in a big, competitive, peer review led circle of mates.

Soooooooo yeah. So anyway. I'd bought Songs for Silverman before, offuv Ebay, but not really listened to it, then, some time around christmas 2006 I put it on, and the first song, "Bastard" was...wooof... bloody hell that's a good song. Uncompromising, tough, beautifully played and nicely "invisibly" produced. then John started getting really sick and I started listening to Folds a bit more, and got hold of two or three other CD's because I like to have physical product, I'm old fashioned in that way. But basically there was some sort of confluence between getting lost in Ben's music, with the headpones on at work just hitting "Repeat" over and over (and over) and the general feelings of grief and misery. Not that Ben Folds is in any way miserable, in that "indie" way. Far from it - he's almost ridiculously optimistic, if slightly orld weary these days.

The long and the short is that Ben Folds helped me get through a lot of last year's horror. In the space of a few short months I'd downloaded mp3's from bad gig recordings, bought 2 live DVD's, and I think probably now all the CD's of Ben Folds Five as well as his  'solo' ones. And I don't think I listened to anything else at one point for about 2 months. A Little Bit Strange.

Luckily, my listening has started to move back in to more pluralistic territory, and is coming out of the Ben tunnel but I reserve the right to listen to the joyous, sunshiney glory of "There's always someone cooler than you" on repeat until I'm so pig sick of it I can literally sing it backwards.

And now I managed to get tickets to see him live! In June! In the Shepherds Bush Empire! First time everrr!

I am excited. Weee! Nerds go wild!

So, er, yeah...

I posted the post below approximately 1 day before going on holiday for 10 days. So that knocked that one on the head, somewhat.

I've just sort of lost the habit, recently. I've been absolutely madly busy, but I have to say, I think Twitter has something to do with it too. I'd be intrestid in your opinions, like given that you, oh diskerning reader surely must, I mean good lord, I josh, but for goodness sake old chap, surely you Twitter?

Everyone is rounding their daily life experience in to miniscule text-bites that are even shorter than SMS's - and so what are you going to write about in your blog? Oh, I know the answer to that one. The Darwinian necessity of love, and half baked monterweb economics.

But, no, see - aha. you've got me all wrong because, right, I'm not going to write about that stuff, you know... like At All. Ok? Apart from you know.... in the last paragraph but still. the point stands.

Or something. more to follow this time, I absolutely and definitely promise.