Rubbish, piffle, tommyrot, drivel and utter bilge

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It's In The Game

Here's another entry in the "I'm an old fogey" category: video games.

The reason I don't like modern video games and the way they are played is because I was around for the first ones. I was in my early teens when Pong and Asteroids and Space Invaders came along. My sister won a game console in a competition and we spent hours playing Table Tennis (singles and doubles) and Tank Battle on our black-and-white telly. It was new technology. It was exciting and fresh. And as we progressed through Pac-Man, Defender and Galaxian, we loved it. Even in the early 90s playing on a friend's NES ("Duck Hunt" with the bright orange pistol) and Sega ("Sonic The Hedgehog", "Road Rash"), to my own N64 with games like Mario 64, Polaris Snowcross and Madden NFL 99, it was still cool. I then owned a GameCube which I loved to play Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 on. But in the last couple of years I have started to really abhor the new video games. I shall now lay out my objections to them one by one.

  • Too real-looking. In the old days you knew you were playing a game because it didn't look real. These days you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a movie, especially since some of them have so much prologue before the actual game starts you could take a nap and still wake up in time to throw the first punch.(Yeah, Mortal Kombat, I'm talking to you!)
  • Back in the day you lost and that was it. Then they started giving you 'extra lives'. Nowadays (Mortal Kombat again), you can get knifed in the throat and eye socket and have your sternum crushed by a heavy boot and still get to wake up and fight again. The same thing occurs in Call Of Duty: Black Ops. You can get shot and be revived by a comrade. What's the deal with that?
  • Bizarre scenarios that make absolutely zero sense. In Call Of Duty:World At War there is a subsection called Nazi Zombies in which you and a buddy defend yourselves against undead Aryan stormtroopers who want to eat your brain. I'm sorry, I've read a lot about WW2, but that part I missed.
  • Too confusing. Too fast for my addled 45-year old brain to cope with. Watching a teenager play these games and seeing their reactions to the rabble-babble hubbub on the screen can make you go bonkers. You just sit there thinking "What happened there? Why did he get angry just then? What the hell is going on?"
  • Split screen makes it even worse. I have enough trouble following the action on just one screen, without there being two or more.
  • Xbox Live. The other day I was watching Jack playing some shoot'em up game online and hearing these braindead American teenagers mumbling random nonsense at what must have been 5 am their time. I just wish we'd had our mic plugged in at the time. I wanted to yell at them to get a life or a girlfriend or just go to bed.
  • Too much blood. In the above games when someone gets killed, shot, wounded or even lightly grazed, it seems to produce blood spatter of the kind that forensic investigators dream about finding. And the funny thing is, it never seems to stain the flooring, ever. It just disappears.
Another realisation hit me the other day which was that I am not much into playing video games with others. Watching Matt and Ewan and their buddies play games in multiplayer mode, yelling insults at each other the whole time and telling each other "No no NO NOOO!!! Don't go in there!!! Shoot him!!! In the head!!! NOOOOOO!!!" made me realise this. I have always enjoyed video games more when I am playing against the computer. Same goes for card games. Much more into solitaire than rummy or poker.

A lot of people think video games are bad because you are sitting indoors the whole time and not getting any exercise. Well, that argument used to hold water before Wii Sports, the Wii Fit and the Xbox Kinect. But I think the thing that I dislike most about video games is the "first-person shooter" games. I like strategy and puzzle type games such as BrainAge, Myst, Riven (showing my age here, but you get the idea). I like having to use my intelligence. If a game does not challenge my intellect in some way, I will soon get bored with it.

But truly the worst games are the ones that have appeared on Facebook such as Farm/Pet/FishVille, Car Town, Cafe World etc. You know the ones. The ones where you are forced into playing it every day otherwise your pet will starve, your farm will dry up, your car will fall to bits or your food will go rotten. You get suckered into upgrading your pet/car/restaurant/aquarium all the time to compete with other players, and if you don't have enough points to buy the latest upgrade, well, no matter, because all you have to do is give them your very real credit card number and you will be charged X number of very real pounds/dollars/yen/rupees/drachma to keep your virtual world in a pristine condition. What's wrong with this picture?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Thick Plottens

Never before have I worked for a company that has done such a complete 180 in my estimation of them than the company I am currently employed by (for the next three days, anyway), COOK. I used to like working there. No longer.

COOK gives the impression of being a small family-run company and we're all just important cogs in the COOK wheel. True, they are relatively small, having only 35 company stores and about 10 franchise stores, as well as about 300 or so farm shops that carry a small selection of our stuff. They produce cutesy little newsletters with fun and jokey articles for the staff. Edward, the founder, is still only 40, having come up with the idea for a frozen food company about 20 years ago with his chef friend Dale, opened with just one store, and built the thing from there. True, the food is damn good. It looks to the outsider like one big ol' happy family.

But on February 5th, Edward, en route to the airport and anxious not to miss his flight to Mombasa, bless him, stopped by our shop to tell us that we were going to close this summer. I was not present for this meeting as I was at the bank. I was gone from the store maybe twenty minutes. When I arrived back he'd been and gone. Tom, my manager at the time, told me the sad news. He explained that Edward had said (indeed, this was confirmed later in the day by an official email) that the company had gone to the landlord to re-negotiate the lease, and the rent had been jacked up so high by the greedy landlord that the company had thus decided not to renew the lease and call it a day in our location. Since then, we have not seen Edward. The only people we've actually had a visit from since February have been a girl from HR called Becky, who told us nothing we did not already know, and a couple of people in charge of the farm shops and franchisees who just happened to be passing through and thought they'd stop in and say hi. They did not even know we were slated for imminent closure. That's it. I only met my area manager for the first time a couple of weeks ago. My regional guy, I've only spoken to on the phone once. The only thing I can say about the way my store and its people have been treated is that it's been shabby. We have been made to feel like poor relations. Pariahs if you will. Non-entities. Persona non grata.

And ever since that time, we have been letting people know on a daily basis that we are going to close. Every damn day. And every day, it seems, everyone that comes into the shop is (a) shocked and stunned and alarmed that we are going to close, and (b) convinced that Tom, who is from the Chicago area, is Canadian.

We are now just three days away from closure. Today (Wednesday) I had a day off. Karen, my OCD manic-cleaning area manager, was there at the shop with Rachel. Rachel has been working there for nearly three years, and informed me today that despite her long service, she and the rest of us would not be receiving any redundancy. Karen called me in the middle of the day to let me know that Edward, in his infinite wisdom, has decreed that we are to have a delivery tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow. Thursday. We close on Saturday. I had been happily watching the remaining stock deplete, emptying freezers and consolidating stock into smaller and smaller areas. Just yesterday I had talked to Karen on the phone and she assured me that she would not be ordering any more stock. But today, apparently, Edward called her directly and ordered that it be done. See, apparently he's been looking at the figures and noticing that recently we have been taking money hand over fist. This is because people know we are closing and are stocking up, obviously. This is not due to any economic turnaround. But Edward, displaying a great sense of business (ha!) acumen, sees an opportunity to make a fast buck and says "Order more stock! It shall be so!"

Order a huge 100-case order, three days before you close your doors forever.

Is it just me?

Not only that, but the order is due to arrive early in the morning so that we don't get trampled underfoot by the teeming throng milling around our shop in the middle of the afternoon. Meaning that I, yes, yours truly, I have to get there at 8 fucking A.M. to open the doors and receive said order. Bearing in mind that I wasn't actually scheduled in till 11:30.

So, lemme get this straight, Eddie babes...

You want ME...


to receive a 100-CASE ORDER...



Just because YOU can't get the FUCKING POUND SIGNS OUT OF YOUR EYES???

What an absolute shithead.

The way I see it, I have three options.

1) I could just roll with it. Hey, there's only three days to go, and I am getting paid at acting manager rate.

2) I could get there at the appointed hour, and when my area manager turns up, just hand her my keys and say "Thanks, but no thanks... you take it from here."

Or (3) I could get there at the appointed hour, and when the truck turns up, just refuse delivery.

I mean, what are they gonna do? FIRE ME??

P.S. A little footnote: The company has told us for a long time that the reason we are closing is that the landlords put the rent up, but just today I heard a different version of the story. The manager of the cafe next door talked to me in the street today and asked me what the reaon we were closing was, according to the company. I told him what we'd been told, and he said "Ah, that's bullshit." He said that he'd been told (albeit from an unsubstantiated and somewhat questionable source - his boss, aka our landlord) that COOK had made the decision to close and informed us at the store THREE WEEKS PRIOR to the lease actually being negotiated. This throws a whole new light on things if true, and just adds to the somewhat shady reputation of the brothers Edmonds if false (which I strongly suspect it is).

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Musical Puzzler: Big In Japan

Big in Japan was a punk band that emerged from Liverpool, England in the late 1970s. They are better known for the later successes of their band members than for their own music. According to the Liverpool Echo, Big in Japan were "a supergroup with a difference - its members only became super after they left."

Last time on The Puzzler I asked you if you knew any members of Big In Japan, and of course, my sister did - when it comes to music of that era she has a somewhat encyclopedic brain. So now I shall list for you the members of said band. Some names will be familiar to you, some not so much, but I shall help you, never fear.

  • Bill Drummond (later notorious as manager of The Teardrop Explodes, founder of Zoo Records, then went on to fame as lead singer of The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu who were later known as The KLF and The Timelords)
  • Kevin Ward (only band he was ever in was this one, but he later went on to do artwork for many other bands, and then went on to make models for petrochemical engineers)
  • Phil Allen (brother of Deaf School lead singer Enrico Cadillac Jr., became a session musician)
  • Jayne Casey (now an artistic director, she left Big In Japan to form Pink Military and then Pink Industry)
  • Ian Broudie (after Big In Japan he formed The Original Mirrors, then Care, then spent most of the 80s producing material by other bands such as Echo & The Bunnymen, The Fall and The Icicle Works. In 1989 he formed The Lightning Seeds ("Pure", "Life Of Riley"))
  • Clive Langer (after Deaf School and Big In Japan he went into production with partner Alan Winstanley, producing Madness, Dexys, Elvis Costello and Teardrop Explodes)
  • Ambrose Reynolds (with Jayne Casey he formed Pink Industry. They also formed their own label, Zulu Records, which in 1984 released an album called The Zulu Compilation. this LP featured an early version of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Two Tribes. Ambrose then went on to release a solo album consisting of speeches and assassinations from the 1960's set to music. In 1987 he formed Urban Strawberry Lunch, a band specialising in making music from recycled materials.)
  • Holly Johnson (lead singer of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, he left in 1987 and won a court case against the label ZTT freeing him from his contract. In 1989 he released the album Blast, which spawned the hit Americanos. Since that time he has worked primarily as a painter, although he has released three more critically acclaimed albums. In 2011 he announced plans for a new album.)
  • Budgie (born Peter Clarke, he joined The Slits after Big In Japan, playing on their album Cut. Later that same year he joined Siouxsie and the Banshees as a temporary replacement for Kenny Morris who had left the band two days into a tour, and ended up staying. In 1981 he and Siouxsie formed The Creatures. He has also collaborated with John Cale and The Indigo Girls.)
  • Steve Lindsey (the former Deaf School member later formed The Planets, who had a minor hit and TOTP appearance performing "Lines".)
  • David Balfe  (former member of Dalek I Love You, he became keyboardist with Teardrop Explodes and co-founded the Zoo label with Bill Drummond. He later managed the groups Brilliant (featuring later KLF member Jimi Cauty) and Strawberry Switchblade ("Since Yesterday", "Let Her Go", "Jolene"). Next he founded the Food label and signed Voice of the Beehive, Zodiac Mindwarp, Diesel Park West, Jesus Jones, and finally Blur. During the 90s he went into semi-retirement and moved to a house in the country, inspiring Blur's Damon Albarn to write the song "Country House". After two years he took the job of Head of A&R at Columbia Records, signing Kula Shaker.)
Big In Japan only recorded a handful of songs in their brief existence. Here's one of their rare tracks.

OK, new question: what was the original name of the band Blur?

    Friday, May 20, 2011

    In Case Of Rapture, The Blog Will Still Be Updated

    Back when I used to live in the Deep South, in good ole Jawjuh, I would occasionally see bumper stickers stating "In Case Of Rapture, This Car Will Be Unmanned". I actually found that pretty amusing, but it seemed the reasons I found it funny were not the same reasons other Southerners found it amusing. See, they took it to mean "The Rapture", this sort of mythical happening that is supposed to take place on Judgement Day, when the big guy is supposed to whisk away all the true Christian believers in the blink of an eye, all the way to Heavenland, and the rest of us poor schmoes are meant to be 'left behind'. So they thought it was a little bit of good ole clean-livin', healthy Christian humour, whereas I took 'rapture' to mean 'ecstasy', as in something sexual, which would be funny. I mean, the thought of someone reaching the point of rapture behind the wheel, brought on by a quick blowie by their passenger, was quite whimsical.
    Tomorrow, the 21st of May 2011, the world is supposed to end. Well, not end, but the Rapture is supposed to occur and all those annoying true believers will be out of our lives forever. Good idea. But who has come to this conclusion, and why?

    "I'm an old goat."

    Well, blame a guy called Harold Camping. He's an 89-year-old ex-engineer who, perhaps inevitably, lives in California. He's studied the Bible intensely, particularly the Book of Ezekiel. He had to consider the Great Flood, which possibly happened around 4990BC, depending on whose estimations you go by, and then there was the timing of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. Not forgetting a bit of number-crunching that involves equating one day to 1,000 years. So he had his work cut out. But he thinks he's got it right, and if he is, at 6pm tomorrow dozens of people will just disappear.

    If his calculations pan out, people will just rise up into the air and look down on the ensuing panic as the Lord Almighty smites the shit out of the rest of us. Earthquakes, fire, brimstone, the whole Biblical lot.
    "Everyone will be weeping and wailing because they'll know in a few hours it'll come to their city," Camping told the TYT Now online news show. "It's going to be a horror story of tremendous proportion." Cheery soul, ain't he?

    People are taking this seriously. Some have given up their jobs and donated all their money to pay for Camping's "Family Radio Worldwide" to put up more than 2000 billboards across the US that say "Judgment Day: May 21, 2011 – Cry mightily unto God. THE BIBLE GUARANTEES IT!" Other loons are sporting T-shirts that say much the same message. They've said goodbye to family and friends, some as far back as two years ago. Callers to Christian Radio Stations are in a panic about the whole thing too, one caller in Oregon wondering aloud if he should arm himself against the people in his street that were doomed and possibly feeling jealous of all the peeps who've found the Lord.

    Even some nonbelievers are getting in on the act. Atheists are throwing "after Rapture" parties to celebrate the departure of the religious – or at least Christians – from their midst. Good idea.

    Now before you start panicking, let's just back up a little. Mr. Camping has predicted the end of the world before. In 1994, it was. Of course he blamed that on an error in the calculations but says that now he's definitely right and there is no possibility of error because all the information has come from the Bible, and naturally there's no way  that can be wrong, is there?

    Besides all of his faultless calculations, good old Harold has tons of other evidence to back up his claim. He says that the re-establishment of Israel is a surefire sign that the end is nigh. He says the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan is just a taster of what to expect come Saturday dinnertime. He also claims that the rise of the Gay Pride movement and same-sex marriage is one of the biggest signs of the return of Jesus.

    But get this. H.C. is just going to sit at home while chaos ensues and watch it on telly. As for his eight kids, only one of them believes dear ol' barmy dad.

    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    The Continuing COOK Saga

    What the shop looked like when it first opened less than three years ago.
    I've wittered on recently about the goings-on at the shop where I work, COOK in Tenterden. We know now what our final day is - we've been given an official date. The 28th of May will be our last day. I've mentioned the multi-hued reasons for why we are closing, but what it simply boils down to is this - we cannot afford to stay there. We've been struggling to make the numbers for a good few months, but when the company went to the landlords in the early part of the year to re-sign the lease, the landlords had decided to increase the rent (some say it was almost doubled), and the company decided not to renew as we cannot possibly run at a loss. This makes perfect business sense. You cannot spend more than you earn, anybody knows that.

    Then I reported on the circumstances surrounding the closure of Shelly's Tea Rooms, our next-to-next door neighbour, under the same landlords, who disappeared overnight and the place then reopened a mere 19 days later as The Cellars Ice Cream Parlour, owned and operated by guess who? The landlord.

    At this point I should tell you that our landlord is one Phil Edmonds, who along with his brother Pierre own most of the buildings in this town and seem to not be content until they own all of it and put one of their businesses in every place. Phil Edmonds used to be a cricketer for Middlesex and England, and was pretty good at it, by all accounts. He famously started to read a newspaper while fielding during a particularly slow match against India in the mid 80s. Colin Bateman, in his 1993 book If The Cap Fits states that Phil could be "cussedly abrasive or engagingly charming, but he could never bring himself to conform to the fist-clenching, grim-faced trait of most professional sportsmen". He was England's most successful slow left arm spin bowler during the 80s,  though he played less Test cricket than he might have done because he was perceived by selectors to be "difficult". In 2008 Mr. Edmonds came under fire for investing £120 million in Zimbabwe and for having links to individuals close to President Mugabe.

    In his post-cricket career, Mr Edmonds has become the multimillionaire chairman of Central African Mining & Exploration Company (Camec), which bought a platinum mining business in Zimbabwe. Mr Edmonds was born in Rhodesia, which became Zimbabwe in 1980, and has retained close links to Africa.

    The Edmonds Bros. own various properties in the area, one count being as high as 103 separate buildings. I should add, however, that this figure was just given to me in passing by a shop customer and is not substantiated, but I can sure believe it. Phil Edmonds has long been investing in property under such names as Grosvenor Land and Property Internet. However, I am not here to talk about their business dealings, and all of the above and more can be found on various sites on the Internet just by Googling Phil Edmonds+properties. So I am not telling anyone anything new, and I want to make that perfectly clear, because I don't feel like getting sued.

    What I am here to talk about is what occurred yesterday. Yesterday was a Saturday and as I am pretty much running the show by myself on Saturdays now, my Area Manager, Karen, came down to help me. She's a little bit OCD, is Karen. She cannot relax and has to be doing something otherwise she'll go a bit mad. So she cleans things. And as our store is not always the busiest, she was doing a LOT of cleaning.

    Outside the front door of our shop, the cafe next door 'Savannah' (an Edmonds-owned cafe), places tables either side of their wrought-iron railings. Karen was cleaning the front step with a broom and a bucket of hot soapy water just as the manager of Savannah was putting the tables out. She asked him if he could not place them there at that moment as she was cleaning, he said no, he had to put them out there, and things got a little heated between them. Long story short, he placed a call to his bosses.

    I should back up a little here and let you know that on Friday afternoon Savannah placed an extra table, replete with chairs, menus and sugar caddy, outside our shop, directly in front of our window, on the other side of our 'A' board. I was mightily annoyed. I mean, I understand that Edmonds owns the property, but he can at least let us leave with a bit of dignity before clustering the pavement with his godforsaken tables and chairs. Nobody sat at the damn thing anyway.

    Back to yesterday, when a little later in the morning I noticed The Brothers Grimm Edmonds, seated at one of the Savannah tables. I pointed them out to Karen. A few minutes later, as if by magic, in strolls Phil with Pierre directly behind him. Both these guys are over 6 feet tall and barrel-chested. In a scene that felt like something out of a '30s mobster movie, they came and loomed over the counter, muttered a couple of pleasantries and then said in their southern African burr, "So what was with the altercation with our guy?" Karen then went on to explain the situation and that we were highly aggrieved about Friday's extra table placement, even going so far as to walk outside with them and demonstrate exactly where the problem lay. They explained, or rather Phil did, that our lease only extended as far as the front door of our shop and that the pavement was theirs to do with as they wished. They added that as soon as we were closed they were intending to put even more tables out front as well. Karen's body language changed from one of explaining our position to one of 'OK, whatever' and she came back in and gave me a look that said "Unbelievable". Karen later rang head office to check on the terms of the lease. We're not certain. we didn't get a definitive answer, but if the company really did sign a lease with the fine print saying that we don't get to use the front forecourt, then whoever signed it needs their head testing.

    That's fine, Phil. Do whatever the hell you want. You're right, you DO own a lot of this town. But you do not own its people. I have had conversations with various people over the past few months who either work for or have worked for Edmonds in the past, including staff at his luxurious London Beach Hotel in St. Michaels, which somehow got the go-ahead despite being located directly behind another existing hotel. All those I have talked to have agreed on one thing and I'm sure you can probably guess what it is. To me, they are nothing but school bullies in grown-up clothes. Nobody seems to like them, and they seem not to care. All I can do is just remember the old adage, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall". I love this town and care about it deeply. It's my hometown and I hate to see it filled up with a bunch of useless coffeeshops, dress shops, antique shops, giftie shops and estate agents, 90% of which are under the ownership in one way or another of Phil and Pierre,  when it used to have useful shops like bakeries and greengrocers and ironmongers and butcher shops in it. The only people that have a use for all the crap in this town now are tourists. I want my old town back. Instead it's in the hands of two guys with more money than they can possibly spend, that don't appreciate anything they have and are only interested in how much money they can make from it.

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011

    Criminal Records

    If there is one thing that my regular readers will have figured out about me, it is that I am passionate about music. I like many different kinds of music, many genres and sub-genres, in fact you can name any style of music and  I will immediately name a song from that style that I like. But I, and I am sure many of you, feel that there are certain songs that are so perfect, so completely brilliant in their original form, that to cover them would be a crime. Certain songs are brilliant any way you do them, but others do not deserve to be covered by  anyone for any reason. Is this leading up to a rant? You bet it is.

    I am sure the more perceptive among you will remember The Corrs? That bunch of 'talented' women who annoyed the bejeezus out of us all a few years back by imploring us to "go-ooh on, go-ooh on!! Leave me breathless!!", which sounds like an invite to strangle them, really, when you think about it. And I wanted to, every time that damn song came on. We-eeeelll... Andrea Corr, of said band, has gone and committed a crime against music. Not her first offence (she recently attempted John Lennon's #9 Dream). But she has done the unthinkable by recording a cover version of The Blue Nile's Tinseltown in the Rain, a song I love, a song which should not be performed by anyone other than The Blue Nile. She's taken a pristine classic from my halcyon days and raped it in a sharing-a-prison-cell-with-a-big-guy-called-Butch-McDick kind of way. She has turned it into such a generic Top 40-sounding steaming pile of sonic dung, it would be like Jimmy Cricket covering Thin Lizzy, or Lady Gaga attempting a Black Sabbath tune. Let me attempt to show you what I mean. Here's the original...

    And, if you can bear to put yourself through the following nauseous agony that is this bastardised version, here's the silly Irish bint (not being anti-Irish, you understand. Just anti-silly bints that believe they can do justice to a song of such magnitude, whatever their ancestry).

    See? It's this sort of self-deluded belief that you can sing absolutely any song handed to you and make it your own, this sort of X-Factor/American Idol-fueled blind-leading-the-blind I'm-an-artiste nonsense that leads people to do silly things. Like for example, the other day I was sitting in Costa coffee and I nearly lost it. I am sure I am not alone in being a person that picks up on whatever muzak is being played in restaurants and shops, and I simply do not know how other people manage to tune it out. Sometimes it's OK, I hear it and enjoy it if it's a good song, and sometimes I sing along. Other times I hear it and it is inoffensive and so I ignore it. But just occasionally what comes over the speakers make me splutter into my flat white and say "What the???"

    Here's what I heard.

    YOU DO NOT MESS WITH THIS SONG. It comes as no surprise to learn that Nouvelle Vague have also covered some other classics that should not suffer treatment like this, such as Road To Nowhere, Ca Plane Pour Moi and Blister In The Sun. This sort of stuff makes me want to attack singers with a potato masher.

    Just this evening I came home and was told to listen to something, with the vague suggestion that I would perhaps like it. Now, I'm always cautious and wary when this scenario occurs, because all too often I am unmoved, but this was it. This was a cover of a song that should also remain un-messed about with.

    Why, Mark, why? You are usually brilliant. You did such a good production job on the new DD album. Why this? Yes, we'd like to stop you.

    Some cover versions are good, some are just OK. An example of this is Metallica's cover of Thin Lizzy's "Whisky In The Jar". It's alright, but the Thin Lizzy version (itself a cover of an old folk tune) is the best. It was unnecessary at best for Metallica to cover it. But it was the video, playing on TV the other day, that made me mad. It turned me into my Grandad, when he witnessed the video for Bad Manners' Walking In The Sunshine during which the drummer plus drum kit floating on a raft in the sea tip over to be engulfed by the crashing waves. Oooh, he was so mad. "That's a perfectly good drum kit! What a waste! Bah!etc."

    The Metallica video shows the band playing in a small room in what appears to be some sort of student bedsit surrounded by scantily clad metalchick hoes, and eventually trashing the room, including the instruments. Trashing a room is one thing, but musical instruments is quite another. Firstly, musical instruments are expensive. "So what?" you say. "Metallica gots loadsa money. They can afford it, dude (or words to that effect). 'Tallica kicks assss!!"
    That is scarcely the point. There are many struggling musicians out there who can barely afford to buy a new set of strings for their cheap-ass knockoff Strat copy or a new pair of sticks for their drumming who would have appreciated using those instruments. Besides which, smashing up your gear was cool in 1965 when Pete Townshend and Keith Moon did it. But that was because they (and this is the key point here) did it first! A band such as Metallica who are well-established and have been knocking around near 30 years do not need to increase their coolness quotient by smashing a drum kit or chucking a guitar through a window. Puh-leeze, guys, are you that devoid of new ideas? What's that you say? You are? Well, may as well give it up then. Call the record company and let them know - "Listen dudes, Hetfield here. Uh, we won't be in today - or ever." I tell ya what, if I'd made the piles of money you lot have made and couldn't think of an original idea, I'd make myself a pina colada and go sit out by the pool and play mahjongg. Sounds like a good idea to me. Think about it. Just sayin'. Hey Lars, James, dudes! Here's an original idea... why don't you cover a Lady Gaga tune. It'd sure as heck be better than Gaga herself singing.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    Making The Transition

    I keep hearing the term Transition Towns  bandied about, and I must admit I was confused as to what a transition town was, or is, and so I had to do a little reading. A lot of people are like me in that they don't know what it is or that they think they know what it is and think it's a lot of old barmy luvvies who want to knit their own yogurt, give up money and drive hessian cars that run on compost. Other folks get confused and think it's something to do with David Cameron's Big Society. And the truth is, it does share some similarities, in that it's about giving back to the community and doing stuff that will benefit people in the long term... well, that's the idea anyway.

    Transition Towns is also sometimes referred to as Transition network or Transition Movement. It is a name given to environmental and social movements founded in part upon the principles of permaculture, and it uses as its basis the book Permaculture by Bill Mollison which was published in 1988. The Transition Towns brand of permaculture uses David Holmgren’s 2003 book, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. These techniques were included in a student project overseen by permaculture teacher Rob Hopkins at the Kinsale Further Education College in Ireland, where they wrote an 'Energy Descent Action Plan', which looked at across-the-board creative adaptations in the realms of energy production, education, economy, health and agriculture as a roadmap to a sustainable future for the town. The term 'transition town' was first used by Louise Rooney and Catherine Dunne, two of Hopkins' students. Following its start in Kinsale, Ireland it then spread to Totnes, England where Rob Hopkins and Naresh Giangrande developed the concept during 2005 and 2006. The aim of this community project is to equip communities for the dual challenges of climate change and peak oil.

    As you can imagine, back when people first started going on about this sort of stuff it made a lot of other people very nervous, as it sounded all a bit hippy-dippy, but recently the movement has taken off and this is I think due in part to the movement's becoming better at getting their ideas across and making it seem less airy-fairy and a whole lot more practical. The transition concept now seems to translate into 'doing fun and useful stuff with interesting people'.
    What sort of stuff? Foraging. Building bug hotels. Planting hedgerows. Thermal imaging to raise awareness of heat and energy loss. Food groups. Plant swaps and sales. Learning how to insulate a loft. Knitting afternoons. Guerrilla gardening. Building worm bins. Arts and crafts. Stuff that's fun and involves hanging out with a lot of interesting and slightly bonkers-in-a-good-way people. The idea of all this being that it's a stepping stone to grander things - rather than fighting against all the big businesses who are causing us to pollute our planet, the Transition mob seek to circumnavigate these structures and seek out sustainable alternatives. Plus, you get to know your neighbours.

    So what about the Big Society? What's that all about, yo?
    The Big Society was the flagship policy idea of the 2010 UK Conservative Party general election manifesto. It now forms part of the legislative programme of the Conservative – Liberal Democrat Coalition Agreement. The aim is "to create a climate that empowers local people and communities, building a big society that will 'take power away from politicians and give it to people'.". However, opinion is strongly divided as to whether this is a meaningful policy or meaningless political double-speak.

    Their plans include setting up a 'Big Society Bank' to help finance projects under the banner of the Big Society. It's expected to begin operations in Q3 2011. Their apparent mission is " to catalyse the growth of a sustainable social investment market, making it easier for social ventures to access the finance and advice they need – at all stages of their development.".

    Where's the money coming from, you may ask? Its initial capital is to be provided from money from dormant UK Bank Accounts, and a further £200M from UK banks. The government also plans to encourage some of the £95bn of charitable assets to be invested in the bank. Critics of the idea have said that "it is potentially setting up a system to encourage vulnerable charities to borrow money." The Financial Times noted, "it is a tiny acorn from which it is far from certain that a giant oak will grow." and Management Today says that "There’s nothing wrong with the idea, or the model, or even the pot. But this plan still seems to lack some hard-headed commercial nous" (that's nous rhyming with mouse, meaning "know-how").

    What will the Big Society be doing? I mean apart from the bank thing? Well, they intend to bring back National Service.
    *sound of needle skittering across record* Whaaaat?
    Don't worry, it won't be conscription into the army or anything like that. It's actually more like all those Outward Bound and Duke of Edinburgh's award schemes we knew as kids. It's under the banner of the Prince's Trust, Prince Charles' charity, and it's called the National Citizen Service.  It actually sounds really interesting (click the link) and I kinda wish it had existed back when I was in school, because (a) it's free and (b) it looks like you get to do stuff which is fun and helpful.

    Among other aims for the Big Society:

    Give communities more powers (localism and devolution)
    Encourage people to take an active role in their communities (volunteerism)
    Transfer power from central to local government
    Support co-ops, mutuals, charities and social enterprises
    Publish government data (open/transparent government).

    Well, I hope it works. It would be a shame if the Government were to screw it up royally. Detractors seem to agree that the whole thing sounds a bit like the Government trying to disguise the fact that they are cutting funding to vital resources by talking about reinvigorating civic society. We shall see. As to the Transition towns idea, I'm actually quite jazzed about it, and kinda want to go out and turn my town into one.


    Monday, May 9, 2011

    Enough, Already

    You recall I mentioned in previous posts about the fact that my job is ending because the store I work at is being closed down by the parent company. The reasons are many and varied but boil down to a simple fact: we don't have, or haven't had enough customers. Or, put another way, we are spending more than we earn. As anyone will tell you, this is no way to run a business. There are not enough pounds and pence coming in, and having a rent increase doesn't help matters.


    We, the staff of said establishment, have known since February 5th that we are closing. But even as the final date of May 28th staggers like a large drunk ever nearer and unavoidable, it simply floors me that every person that sets foot inside our doors is shocked, stunned, and other words to describe dismay and anger, about our impending and imminent shutdown. They think it's terrible, awful, a real blow, a dreadful shame, what will we do now, where will we go to get our food etc. etc.? Is there nothing that can be done? No - it's too late for that.

    Like I say, we've known about this since early February. We've been telling people about it since March. But it's still a total shock and surprise to some folks. But because we the staff have been aware of it for longer, we've had time to grieve. We've been through all seven stages of grief, or however many it's supposed to be. We've experienced the pain, the anguish, the denial, the anger, and the acceptance, and we are now at the stage where we just wish people would shut the hell up about it and move on. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but we are tired and jaded and we just want to get it over with and be done.  I am so tired of repeating the same thing day in day out to a bunch of people whom I have never laid eyes on before that claim to be 'loyal' customers, as they produce their clubcard which we stopped issuing 18 months ago. Get over it, people. You will undoubtedly find ways to purchase frozen food not unlike ours after we are gone, whether it be from Jempson's or Waitrose or one of our other outlets of which there are a considerable few.

    So today as my manager was not there, being on his hols, and having handed in his notice anyway, I took it upon myself to repaint our outside blackboard signs and decorate them with large messages declaring Yes, we're closing on the 28th, mark it in your calendars, put it in your BlackBerry, tattoo it on your forehead, do whatever the heck you have to do in order to remember it, you bozos, or words to that effect (only a little more polite). I thought, that's done. Now the message is clear. They will undoubtedly get the idea now. 

    So it was that after work I went to Waitrose to grab a few bits and bobs. As I did so, I passed by two ladies having a chat by the deli counter, and overheard "...and I can't believe it, d'you know, COOK's is closing...""No!""Oh yes..." 

    My work is done. Message received and understood. Now, can we lay off the tea and sympathy and just get on with shutting it down? Thanks.

    Sunday, May 8, 2011

    Puzzler - Deaf School

    So last time on The Puzzler I questioned you thusly: Suggs from Madness married the lovely Bette Bright. With which band was she the singer?

    The answer is Deaf School, a band whose influence is still being felt today. Think I'm kidding? Here's what Paul Du Noyer, founder of Mojo magazine and successful author and journalist, has to say...

     "In the whole history of Liverpool music two bands matter most, one is The Beatles and the other is Deaf School. If that seems like a sweeping statement then consider this: after the pop revolution of the 1960s led by The Beatles and other Merseyside groups, it looked as if the city's music scene had dried up forever. But in 1975 there came a motley band of Liverpool art students called Deaf School".

    Their sound was a motley collection of styles - pub rock, punk, glam, art-rock - and their members have since become music industry legends. On guitar was Clive Langer, who has since produced (with producing partner Alan Winstanley), the albums One Step Beyond, Absolutely, 7, The Rise And Fall, Keep Moving, Mad Not Mad, Wonderful and The Liberty Of Norton Folgate by Madness, Kilimanjaro by Teardrop Explodes, Too-Rye-Ay by Dexy's Midnight Runners, Punch The Clock and Goodbye Cruel World by Elvis Costello, Flood and Mink Car by They Might Be Giants, Kill Uncle by Mozzer and the seminal Sixteen Stone by Bush - shall I go on?
    Then you had the fabulously named Enrico Cadillac who along with Ian Broudie (he of The Lightning Seeds, Care and Big In Japan) formed The Original Mirrors, another highly influential band. The other members - Max Ripple, Steve 'Average' Lindsey, Ian Ritchie and of course Bette Bright have played together in several reunion concerts, although sadly drummer Tim Whittaker died in 1996 and last year we lost the amazing Eric Shark. So - you say you've never heard of them? Not surprising really. They released three albums between 1976 and 1979 - 2nd Honeymoon, the first, actually had a musical composed around its ten songs and performed in Brighton in 1997. The second LP, Don't Stop The World and the final LP English Boys/Working Girls both failed to make any impact on the charts, but English Boys sure made an impact on me when, as a teenager, I found a copy of it in the reduced rack at Woolies, and having heard the name Deaf School bandied about by music papers such as Melody Maker and NME in reverential tones, took a chance and loved it from the first time I put stylus to vinyl. Investigating the previous albums I was quite surprised to hear the diversity and range of the songs. Their entire recorded output was re-released as a boxed set a few years back, entitled What A Way To End It All.

    So - the new question... A few lines previously I mentioned that Ian Broudie had been in the band Big In Japan. They were a cult Liverpool band that performed only three gigs and released only seven songs. Can you name any of the other members of the band?

    100 Records That Shook The World, #43

    Maggie May

    Rod Stewart

    Rod's self-penned paean to the trials and tribulations of a love affair with an older woman, apparently based on personal experience.  In the January, 2007 issue of Q magazine, Stewart recalled: "Maggie May was more or less a true story, about the first woman I had sex with, at the Beaulieu Jazz Festival."  The reference to returning to school in "late September" refers to the Michaelmas term, the first academic term of the academic year of many British and Irish universities.

    Initially, Maggie May was released as the B-side to Reason To Believe. However, after a couple of weeks it was apparent that DJs were playing Maggie more frequently, and so the song was reclassified as the A-side even though the it continued to be pressed as the B-side. Oddly, in the days of Top-40 Hit Radio, when songs were released for airplay and to the public on 45RPM singles, "Maggie May" was not edited in any way or fashion. The full 5:15 version was pressed to single, even though its multiple refrains & 5-bar mandolin solo could have been easily taken to edit. Perhaps it was because "Maggie May" was initially only meant to be a B-side single, and many B-sides are left intact without editing.

    Speaking of that mandolin solo, DJ John Peel appeared with the Faces on TOTP playing, or rather miming, the mandolin part, even though it was Lindisfarne's Ray Jackson on the record.

    The song not only launched Rod as a solo artist, but both it and the album Every Picture Tells A Story  were at number one in the UK and US charts simultaneously, as well as spending 4 weeks at the top spot in Australia at the same time.

    In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the song #130 on their list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

    Enjoy. Here's Rod The Mod, complete with John Peel mugging gamely in the back. At 2'24" look at JP's expression. Priceless.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    Bin Watching The Wedding?

    Isn't it weird how weird everything is recently? I mean, Royal Wedding, then  Bin Laden, it makes all the weird news items seem, well, not so strange. The Royal Wedding was weird because of all the freaky hats (big ups to Beatrice and Eugenie, you pair of prize numskulls), not to mention Elton John shambling into the church like an old duffer, and the fact that anyone really gave two craps about it. Sorry, I'm not a Royalist, but I have nothing against the Royals, I'm sure they are all wonderful lovely people who've been inbreeding for centuries (it must be like Liberace crossed with the Hatfields and McCoys over there), but I had not one iota of interest. And then there was this wonderfully loony lady.

    She definitely needs to up her meds.
    There was also all the crap merchandise...


    The Papa John's Royal Wedding Pizza. Really.

    Thank you, Dunkin' Donuts.
    And then of course we have the demise of the world's most instantly recognisable terrorist leader. All the news reports and faked death photos are a bit much. He was armed, he was unarmed, first he used his wife as a human shield, then he didn't, and the headlines (The Sun wins the prize for 'BIN BAGGED' - brilliant guys, just sheer poetry), it was enough to make your head explode like a suicide bomber. So what if there were crap merchandising tie-ins commemorating the death of Osama? What's that ya say? There are?

    It's odd, celebrating the death of somebody is something that makes folks a little uncomfortable, even if that person was one of the world's most vilified people. But wearing one of the above items or drinking from a mug with Bin Laden's face on it along with the word 'DEAD' is just an updated modern version of the age-old tradition of dancing on the grave of an enemy, isn't it? Plus, it allows greedy entrepreneurism to flourish, good old capitalism at its best. We Westerners know how to stick it to the bad guys, don't we?

     But last Friday as the world watched two extremely rich people in expensive clothes get married in a big-ass church surrounded by other rich people in fancy uniforms with medals and bizarre hats, and then driving off in amazing cars, I was at work, all on my ownsome, because my stupid employers decided that some people might for some reason want to drag themselves away from the telly and go into town to buy some frozen food. Result? I took less than £200 in 5 hours. It was boring and pointless. At that point there was only one T-shirt I wanted to be wearing.

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    A Public Service Announcement

    Do you know someone whose Facebook profile is excessively gushy?

    Have they posted profile pics embellished with hearts, flowers, and gooey epithets?

    These people need help!

     Not only for their sakes, but their friends' sakes too.

    I have a friend (no, I do really!) who suffers from this kind of overly romantic champagne-and-flowers kind of affliction. We'll call him Mr. A.

    Mr.A constantly posts deeply sentimental status updates and highly heart-and-cute-puppy-laden profile pics of himself and his lady snogging or gamely mugging in a sappy style for the camera, with names attached and words such as 'My Love, My Life, My Everything'. This, to me, is not what Facebook was intended for, and it also turns my stomach. Now I always have regarded myself as a pretty soppy and romantic kinda guy, but Mr. A is not only making the rest of us look bad, he is making us feel nauseous. But he recently posted a pic of the above ilk with the addition of a poem in the lower left hand corner, shrunk down so small as to be unreadable. I blew it up to make it clearer but to no avail.
    It's just unreadable garbage. Here, I'll show you. My translation is on the right.

    What Is A Soul Mate? (I got that bit).
    If you have ground a snode
    Bluet he-she removes ait you're knees,
    If you have hosed uplift a were
    vhe stress a view same.
    If you have gob a church
    woe woe ne baggage of your heart.
    And nob come but shine dangerous
    in the awesomeness you've against,
    If you bare Bench mask intruder
    in the way bon toot co school
    To revive a perfect mushroom
    Newt as samplings and be had,
    I you believe sammies change your life
    and simply meals to be
    Then you drive barefoot pounts amble create
    you satisfaction dusting.

    Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? We've all been there.

    This madness must be stopped, people. So if you have a friend or acquaintance who suffers from this affliction, go to them, and just gently tap them on the shoulder, and when they turn round - slap a nice gooey cream pie in their face, then give them a wedgie and stick a trash can on their head. They'll thank you for it later.

    Thank you for your kind attention.
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