Wednesday, 29 September 2004

photos of Iain MacDonald 10

Here I am. My day job is with British Gas, but the Literacy Trust declared me a Reading Champion in 2002. Admirable.

Stevie Wonder

Here's a true story:
A reporter asks Stevie Wonder, 'What's it like being blind?'
Stevie Wonder says, 'It could be worse: I could be black.'

Here's a joke:
A reporter asks Stevie Wonder, 'What's it like being blind?'
Stevie Wonder says, 'It could be worse: I could be black.'

If it's a joke, it's offensive (poor Stevie doesn't realise he's black, which would obviously be a terrible thing); if it's a true story, it's not (Stevie makes smart answer to stupid question and discomfits the reporter).

PS John commented, 'That's an interesting interpretation. I would assume in both instances that Stevie is complicit in the joke. Do I have a view of the world that's too rosey?'
I said, 'I guess it does depend who's making the joke. Black US stand-up, we hoot; Jim Davidson, not so much.'

animals on the underground

Here's a charming little site, picking out pictures of animals within the London Underground map.

Tuesday, 28 September 2004

hotblack desiato; buildings with dates on

I went up to Camden yesterday to take a photo of the Hotblack Desiato office - an estate agent, better known as a character in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the estate agent came first).

Since I was taking a photo of a building I thought it was a good day to start my project of taking photos of buildings with dates on (either carved in or on foundation stone /opening plaque text). Because there aren't enough lists in my life already.

PS John commented, 'That's an unusual hobby. Well done.'
I said, 'Woe betide me if I ever learn to create a proper website searchable by date, type or location.'

NGOs and 4x4s

Someone working for an NGO (I've omitted the name; the story probably applies to many) in Nepal wrote recently:
'The other day [our son] was drawing the symbols of various organisations, and decided he needed to include XXX's symbol. He asked [his mum] what it was, but then realised he knew it all along - 'it's 4x4!', he exclaimed. He'd noticed that all XXX
cars around the place have '4x4' on them! We guess it gets noticed by Nepalis too.'

factors leading to civil war

Someone in Nepal wrote in an email recently:
'While I was in Oxford I heard some interesting research on the economic and political factors associated with the likelihood of a civil war starting in Africa. The countries most likely to slip into civil war are those that start with low incomes; those where incomes of the poor have been falling; and where democratic freedoms have recently increased. All of which is quite an accurate thumbnail sketch of Nepal.'

the curious incident of the book everyone loved

I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and became the only person I'd heard of who didn't think it was tremendous. I thought it was tedious, stunt writing - written as by a boy with asperger's syndrome. I just kept wondering how accurate and consistent it was, because it seemed to be inconsistent in what the boy would say or do (and even if accurate, accuracy doesn't excuse dullness). A non-fiction case study would have been much more interesting.

And it gave away the ending of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which was an outrageous thing to do.

super trouper

The first couplet of Abba's Super Trouper is 'I was sick and tired of everything when I called you last night from Glasgow.' I remember at the time they said they were pleased to be able to mention Glasgow in a song since their Scottish fans were so great, but you couldn't escape the implication that Glasgow was a place which drove you to feel sick and tired of everything.

Listening to the Abba Live CD, I noticed they'd changed the line to 'when you called me last night from Glasgow'. A bit late, but at least they made the effort.

Friday, 24 September 2004

songs that answer another

- What's it all about, Alfie?
- You put your left foot in, your left foot out. In, out, in, out, shake it all about. You do the hokey cokey and you turn around. That's what it's all about.

Tuesday, 21 September 2004


I sent a letter to Word along the lines of 'fun with dates', which they printed, as I hoped they would, in their Pedants Corner.

I then had to send them another letter to point out that I had spelled millennium wrongly.

That issue's Pedants Corner also pointed out that their '99% True' feature - 17 stories about an artist, one of them false - should more accurately be called '94.11% True'. John wrote them a letter to that effect months ago. Unrecognised, ahead of his time, etc.

debbie harry

One of my schoolfriends' mums told my mother that she knew a significant moment had been reached when the football player poster came down and the one of Debbie Harry went up.

Debbie Harry was born in 1945. I'm pretty sure wee lads our age (born 66/67) didn't realise she was as old as our mums. We were 11, 12, when Parallel Lines came out; she was 33.

Thursday, 16 September 2004

Tony Blair

Bethan saw Tony Blair down Lower Marsh on Tuesday morning; we have a slightly out-of-focus photo to prove it. This is what he was up to: 'Tony Blair visits solarcentury to confirm his commitment to renewable energy.'

The younger generation sadly was asleep for this momentous occasion.

Frank Sinatra

‘A lot of stars today are unmemorable and I never know their names. I’m sick of them going, “I’m a normal person.” If that’s the case, why are they there? I don’t want them to be normal. Frank Sinatra said to Roddy McDowall - my daughter’s godfather - “Why won’t they leave me alone?” and Roddy replied, “Take off your toupee, and you’ll just be a short, bald, old Italian no one recognises.” Sinatra didn’t speak to him for two years.’
- Joan Rivers, interview in Radio Times 4-10 September, 2004.

Tuesday, 14 September 2004

Jeremy Hardy Speaks To The Nation

A new series of Jeremy Hardy Speaks To The Nation started last week on R4. In the first programme he talked about prejudice, intolerance and fear of the unknown. He talked about how people strove to separate BNP candidates and members from those who voted for them, explaining that they weren't racists because they'd voted that way but that their fears had been played upon etc. But, he said, he couldn't help thinking that the country would be a better place if BNP candidates, members and voters alike were all shot in the back of the head.

I wondered if he felt uneasy that the proposed mass murder of those with whom we disagree politically, in his essay against prejudice and intolerance, got both a laugh and a round of applause.

The Two Towers

Recently finished watching The Two Towers on DVD, with all its extras. It made me want to read the book again - not so much seeing the film as hearing the director's/writers' commentary and all the other people in the extras who so obviously loved the book. I'm not sure I'm really up for rereading it, though; it's more like I would like to be about the read it for the first time.

I got a copy of the Letters of JRR Tolkien second-hand at the weekend, which looked interesting. Now I'm wondering if I've read it before, borrowed from the library in my schooldays - or was that a book of CS Lewis letters, or a book of JRR letters to children? See, this is where keeping a list of every book you've ever read - like Art Garfunkel nearly has - would pay off.

Wednesday, 8 September 2004

Blanche + David Viner + Cass McCombs

Went with John last Tuesday to see Blanche (these guys) at the Borderline. Actually, if we'd just wanted to see them we could have gone home after we ate at the Twelve Bar Club cafe beforehand, since they were all in there.

The support was unannounced, but it was (courtesy of a typewritten sheet outside) Cass McCombs and David Viner.

It was standing, we were in the front row, on the stage-left-hand edge (it's a low stage). It progressively filled, eventually very busy for the main act; it was sold out.

Cass McCombs (here or here), on first, were a five-piece band (though the websites treat him as a solo artist). I have reached the age where the acts being referenced by hip retro pop are those which were around when I was in my teens; which is to say, they sounded like early 80s indie. The singer, Cass, had Andy McCluskey's hair; bassist looked like Alan Arkin, drummer like Alan Bates, keyboard player like a builder's mate. They made almost no eye contact with each other, and on those few occasions when Cass (unlike Mama Cass in so many ways) was facing forward he had his eyes closed. They didn't announce themselves, or their songs, and didn't seem comfortable on stage. I wouldn't have recognised them from the descriptions on his official website. But I enjoyed them.

David Viner (here or here), was a folk/blues singer/guitarist, accompanied by a drummer for some songs. He was an average singer and player, with for me the added detraction that you couldn't tell if he was 'for real' or not - it seemed a bit of an act. People say the same about The Darkness, but the difference is that The Darkness do the music very well.

Blanche were interesting - another 'act', theatrical in a tense, neurotic, understated way (the lead singer made me think of psycho killer David Byrne), doing bluegrass in a modern style, essentially. Guitar, bass, drums, banjo/autoharp, pedal steel / wind. Our view was partly blocked by the pedal steel guitarist, who was sitting right beside us. How close? Close enough that I could have patted him on the head. Close enough that when one of his strings broke it hit the woman next to me (who, incidentally dived for his copy of the setlist pretty sharpish when they left the stage). John claimed he was someone called Feeny, but it was quite clearly Jeremy Hardy.

A good evening's entertainment for £9 - thanks John. The previous time I was at the Borderline with John I saw Bill Jones, and bought all her CDs on sale there; I don't feel the need to buy any of the bands' product this time, but it was still enjoyable.

6Music the next day mentioned that members of Franz Ferdinand, Soledad Brother, and other people, were at this hot gig. (I saw someone in the front row in a t-shirt which said 'Soledad Brother', as it happened, but thought they were just being particularly retro, as I'd never heard of a band by that name; I don't suppose the band members were wearing t-shirts promoting their own bands.) There was a gormless chap in the front row in a Blanche t-shirt, but he didn't seem to know any of the words to the songs (he did 'play along' with the drums of each band though, and wore a cowboy hat).

The Guardian reviewed it here; they weren't impressed.

This guy reviewed it too - we saw him and his girlfriend at the other side of the stage talking to the drummer. Now we know what he gave her which she took backstage and brought back out. How funny. He's also preserved for posterity some of the between-song chat. And lo, here are his photos of the gig.

And further lo, John and I said we were going to be in the background of lots of people's photos, and here we are - John's reflecting eyes are clearly visible above Feeny's hands, my reflecting glasses give away that I'm the shadowy figure behind the blonde woman. There's an 'even better' picture of us here. The photos remind me that the girl singer/bassist had big bruises on her upper arm.

I remember an early article about the wonders of the internet talking about fans going to concerts - Pink Floyd were mentioned - and then writing up their reviews and putting them online within hours of the end; I don't know why that stuck in my mind in particular. The webmaster of that Blanche fan site is, apparently, a 15-year-old girl.

Friday, 3 September 2004


I’ve been downloading photos off the camera onto the computer (which we have back and in working order now). Interestingly (or not), you can tell which of us has taken the portrait format pics, because we turn the camera in opposite directions.


Iain: Do you want some of the ginger loaf?
Bethan: No thanks.
Iain: Oh, I think there's some mould on it.
Bethan: Still no thanks.

PS John said, 'Ka-ching!'
I said, 'brrm-tsh!'

Thursday, 2 September 2004


‘I wish that people who are conventionally supposed to love each other would say to each other when they fight, “Please - a little less love, and a little more common decency.”’
- Slapstick, or Lonesome No More!, by Kurt Vonnegut; Panther, 1977; p12

‘He was a co-founder of the Indianapolis Chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. His obituary in the Indianapolis Star said that he himself was not an alcoholic. ... The paper’s genteel denial of his ever having had trouble with alcohol had the old-fashioned intent of preserving from taint all the rest of us who had the same last name.

‘We would all have a harder time making good Indianapolis marriages or getting good Indianapolis jobs, if it were known for certain that we had had relatives who were once drunkards, or who, like my mother and my son, had gone at least temporarily insane.

‘It was even a secret that my paternal grandmother died of cancer.’
- Slapstick, p16 (autobiographical introduction)

‘There was a time in our childhood when we actually agreed that we were *lucky* not to be beautiful. We knew from all the romantic novels that I’d read out loud in my squeaky voice, often with gestures, that that beautiful people had their privacy destroyed by passionate strangers.'
- Slapstick, p52

It was when I read this that I knew for sure that I’d read this book before; I noted it down then too. I couldn’t remember exactly which of my Kurt Vonnegut novels I’d read. I picked it out to read on the evening of the Blanche concert as it would fit into my back pocket and I didn’t mind if it got crumpled or soggy.

‘[Our parents] appeared, as they had always appeared to Eliza and me, to be under some curse which required them to speak only of matters which did not interest them at all.’
- Slapstick, p58. I'd noted this one too.

ice cream

‘It has even been rumoured that McKeag [Newcastle FC director] is so mean, he has his house double-glazed so his grandchildren can’t hear the ice-cream van.’
- article on Newcastle United; Offside - the When Saturday Comes special; 1989.

Bethan said they must have been asking for a lot of ice-cream if it was cheaper to install double-glazing.

a long inhabitant

Watched a documentary we’d videoed about Myddelton Square in Islington (‘The street where you live’ series - like episodes of ‘Do not pass Go’, by Tim Moore based on his book re the streets on the Monopoly board (which was a good series), there were no adverts, just trailers; I suspect it’s part of their local programming obligation).

Anyway, they introduced one interviewee by saying, ‘X is one of the Square’s longest inhabitants.’

I said to Bethan, ‘I wonder how long she is.’

Diary of a Nobody

‘There was also a large picture in a very handsome frame, done in coloured crayons. It looked like a religious subject. I was very much struck with the lace collar, it looked so real, but I unfortunately made the remark that there was something about the expression of the face that was not quite pleasing. It looked pinched. Mr Finsworth sorrowfully replied: “Yes, the face was done after death - my wife’s sister.”

‘I felt terribly awkward and bowed apologetically, and in a whisper said I hoped I had not hurt his feelings. We both stood looking at the picture for a few minutes in silence, when Mr Finsworth took out a handkerchief and said: “She was sitting in our garden last summer,” and blew his nose violently. He seemed quite affected, so I turned to look at something else and stood in front of a portrait of a jolly-looking middle-aged gentleman, with a red face and straw hat. I said to Mr Finsworth: “Who is this jovial-looking gentleman? Life doesn’t seem to trouble him much.” Mr Finsworth said: “No, it doesn’t. *He is dead too* - my brother.”’

- The Diary of a Nobody, George and Weedon Grossmith; Penguin, 1965, p188.

A humorous classic of the 19th century, but I found it more sad than funny.It’s for people who like humour based on other people’s misfortunes. Pooteresque has become a word to describe someone tedious and middle class with ideas above their station, but they seem quite reasonably trying to live a happy life. Maybe that makes me Pooteresque.