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Tank-Tops and Dolls

On our recent drive south from the Highlands there was a song that briefly seemed to be following us. First at an emergency food stop in a McDonald’s in Carlisle, and then the next day on XFM, as we rolled back into London.

Its key feature was the the refrain, which seemed to say, repeatedly: “You own a tank-top.”

While I can see the logic of outing someone for that particular crime against fashion, I was fairly sure it was a mondegreen.

So when I was back at a computer, I searched for “you own a tank top” lyrics mondegreen. No hits.

I removed the word “lyrics”, which gave me a single hit. Some IRC log. But it was enough. The song is, apparently, ‘You Overdid it Doll‘ by The Courteeners.

It’s kind of disappointing to know the truth. I’m listening to it as I type, and I can’t hear it saying “you own a tank-top” any more. Still, it has entered family lore, and will always be known that way to us.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that I once owned a tank-top. In my defence, it was the seventies, and I was seven.

Also, my nephew, Paul, who is travelling around Australia and other far-off places
, and blogging about it, once tried to introduce me to The Courteeners. I wasn’t super-impressed, but I quite like this track.

On the same short drive Paul introduced me to Vampire Weekend, who I love, and you should listen to. And either way, you should read his blog.

The Day After Hallowe’en

Well, midnight on the 31st of October is fast rolling round. We’re not long back from a week in the Highlands of Scotland (very wet, but great, thanks). It’ll soon be the 1st of November, which means two things this year.

  1. We’ll be able to buy Mitch Benn’s mighty ‘I’m Proud of the BBC‘ in downloadable single format. So head off and do that now, and help it to chart. I’ll wait. Actually, it’s not yet midnight as I type, and I’ve just downloaded it.
  2. NaNoWriMo is about to start. I’m having a go this year. Wish me luck. I last tried it in 2004, which is much longer ago than I thought. I sort of had a half-hearted poke at it last year, but soon stopped. I’m hoping that expressing my intention in public like this will help to keep me going. We’ll see, of course.

    I see that the approaching start has brought the NaNoWriMo site to its knees. Oh well. Hopefully they’ll get things back together.

Maccetty Mac

So, I’ve had this here new MacBook for a couple of weeks, and I’ve yet to post anything from it. I am, not surprisingly, loving it.

The initial weirdnesses (I’ve never used a Mac before, apart from once very briefly, before OS/X) include the absence of a hash-key (though you can get the character using Alt+3: #); the plethora of modifier keys: Ctrl and Alt, of course, but also Cmd and Fn. Though actually, most laptops have Fn, so it’s really just one extra. But they get a lot of use.

The nicest thing is probably the multitouch trackpad: scroll with two fingers, navigate with three, do some other weird navigation thing (Exposé, I think it’s called) with four. Pure dead brilliant, in the vernacular of my homeland.

Most annoying thing is the American positioning of the @ and ” keys. I’d like to remap those back to where my muscle-memory says they should be, but haven’t worked out how to do that yet.

I’ve installed various pieces of software on trial or demo options. I’m typing this entry using MarsEdit. I’m gathering notes for the the thing I intend to write for NaNoWriMo using Scrivener. And so on.

All in all, it’s the beginning of a big adventure.

And now, let’s see how this posts.

Summer Reading 2010

I’ve got out of the habit of writing about everything I read, but I’ve had such a good run of books over the summer that I want to at least make some notes on them all.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

I tweeted as follows, while I was reading this:

I don’t go in for having a ‘favourite’ book, but if I did, right now, it would be Neal Stephenson’s _Anathem_. It made my brain sparkle.Mon Aug 02 09:45:01 via Twitter for iPhone

And making my brain sparkle is exactly the effect reading this had on me. I absolutely loved every minute of it (except, perhaps, the long detour over the pole). And the unusual thing about is this: it made me think, “Come on, get the action out of the way, and get back to the talking and philosophy.”

I won’t go in to any detail. There are plenty of places you can read more about it. A wonderful, wonderful book.

The Time-Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

As is this one. There has been a lot written about this, too. I, of course, approached it with genre in mind, and was amused from the start by the review-quotes on the cover; notably The Observer’s assertion that it is “startlingly original”.

It’s about someone who randomly travels in time along their own timeline. I kept thinking, “Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.“. I kept thinking, “I know where I came from, but what about all you zombies?” (which quote I misremembered; it is actually “…but where did all you zombies come from?“)

I even thought, “Spoilers,” and “Hello Sweetie.“, but a quick check of the publication date informs me that it actually pre-dates new Doctor Who, so maybe Moffat was influenced by this.

Anyway, all those touchpoints are largely irrelevant, as this is not a work of science fiction at all (it makes no attempt to explain the time-travel mechanism, though does assign it some genetic connection). It is, rather, a love story with slightly unusual constraints. And very well told, though I’m a tad unhappy with the ending.

The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

As I am with the ending of this one. It’s a fine story, though, set in a future Edinburgh where global warming has been partially turned back by technology, and there are space elevators and fully-conscious robots and other AIs. It’s a crime story, with the main character being a cop.

Edinburgh’s SF writers seem to be trying to get a bit of Iain Rankine’s territory these days.

The Clan Corporate by Charles Stross

Charlie being the other of those I’m alluding to there. Here, though, we’re back in his “Merchant Princes series. I’ve reviewed the first and second volumes before.

I said before that it was hard to believe how successful Miriam Beckstein is, given the radical changes that have happened to her. In this one she is much more circumscribed, by her odd family.

Relatively little happens here, really, but a lot is set in place for the following volumes. The main thing is that her worlds are starting to collide.

Pandaemonium by Christopher Brookmyre

Worlds colliding here, too.

I haven’t read a Brookmyre since his first, Quite Ugly One Morning, which I remember thoroughly enjoying. Not enough, though, to read any intervening ones.

This one is very different. It has soldiers, scientists, priests, demons, and schoolkids. It’s great fun.

There is a wildly-glaring plot hole at the end. My son read the book after me, and it was the first thing he said to me about it when he’d finished. We both hope it’s deliberate, meaning that Brookmyre has a sequel planned.

Youssou N’Dour, Philip Glass, The Kronos Quartet, and Bela Lugosi

Most, but not all of them at one event.

Jamaica and Senegal Make Music

A couple of weeks ago we went to the Barbican to see Youssou N’Dour. In support were an acoustic reggae band called Inna da Yard. They were fabulous fun, and reminded me that I’ve been missing out on reggae since John Peel died.

Youssou and his band were amazing. They had more percussionists on stage than most bands have members (five, counting the drummer), which amused me.

The total number of musicians on stage was about sixteen. Plus they had a couple of amazing dancers.

And the professionals weren’t the only ones dancing on the stage. Several times members of the audience got up and joined in. Yes, a veritable stage invasion in the Barbican. The security people looked vaguely worried; I didn’t know the Barbican even had security.

I won’t try to dance about architecture and describe the music, but let’s just say it was the rockingest gig I’ve been to at that venue.

The Glass Eye

A few days later it was off to the Hackney Empire, where we saw the original 1931 Dracula, with a live soundtrack. Which was composed by Philip Glass, and performed by him, Michael Riesman, and The Kronos Quartet. That’s a pretty stellar lineup from the modern classical world.

I had at first thought that the film was silent, but it isn’t (I think I was confusing it with Nosferatu). Apparently it didn’t originally have a musical soundtrack, though.

While it’s clear that the film is the origin (or an origin) of many horror film clichés, and the story is of course very familiar, I don’t think I had ever seen it before — though I thought I had.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, though the film volume could have done with being louder, as the music drowned out the dialogue at times. And on a related note, I’m not convinced that the music was always only there to serve the film, as a true soundtrack should be.

But all in all a fascinating night.

Moat Again

I spelled Raoul Moat’s name wrongly in my last post. Now corrected.

I have to say that my sympathy for Moat was increased by reading an interview with his brother in The Guardian. A sad family story, there’s no doubt. But even Angus, the brother, condemns the Facebook page (which has now been removed by its creator).

Sympathy, yes; but he’s still not a hero, or a “legend”. Charlie Brooker talks sense on the matter, as you might expect.

Who Lays Flowers for a Murderer?

When I sent this tweet:

Floral tributes for murderer just because he camped out for a while, apparently. Very strange.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

I was thinking about the literal, physical flowers that some misguided people had laid on the river bank where Raoul Moat died. Misguided, or possibly, grieving family members. Just because someone is a murderer, it doesn’t mean that no-one grieves for their death.

But now, it seems, things have gone beyond that. Facebook tribute pages celebrating Moat’s life, and especially his last few days in hiding from the police.

Go on the run, camp out for a bit, become a kind of hero: all very well (though I can’t say I’d recommend it as a career path) if the crime were minor, or victimless.

But this guy murdered a man, and shot two other people. One of them has been left blind. The other is still in hospital.

This guy wasn’t some Robin Hood figure. He was in no way a good guy. He was a grade ‘A’ bampot, a fuckpig of the first water. And I’m disgusted that anyone could think of celebrating his acts.

Con/Dem Nation?


My initial reaction to the Liberal Democrats’ decision to form a coalition with the Tories was a combination of disappointment and a sense of betrayal (with a side order of impending doom, of course).

I was, perhaps, naive. I said that I was voting LibDem, and that I actively wanted Labour to lose (while stressing that I wanted the Tories to lose even more). I was, I think, hoping for a hung parliament, which of course is what we got. But I was labouring (heh!) under the delusion that the LibDems were ideologically relatively close to Labour, and far enough away from the Tories that siding with them would be unthinkable.

Clearly I was wrong.

I had convinced myself that the only reaction of the LibDems to a hung parliament would be to join with Labour; and that seemed like the best possible solution.


On election day my friend Tony Facebooked to the effect that he had wasted his vote (and it’s really annoying that, as far as I know, there’s no way to link to an update or a comment in Facebook). I answered:

I don’t agree. The only way you can waste a vote is to not use it. For example I voted LibDem in a safe Labour seat, but that isn’t “wasted”. In fact, it would have been more of a waste to vote Labour.

My son made the same point when I told him about that discussion. Diane Abbott got 54% of the vote in Hackney North and Stoke Newington. (That’s a proper majority.) My vote wouldn’t have made any difference, though, would it?

But in the days immediately after the election, as Clegg took his party into talks with the hated Tories, I began to regret my decision. It really felt like I had “wasted” my vote; or maybe misused is the better word.

Things Can Maybe Get Better?

However the coalition document that they published today is remarkable. If you’ve read any of my political posts over the years, you’ll know that the biggest thing going on for me for some time has been ID cards, and all the associated post-9/11 terror-panic fallout. So to read this, from the wordprocessor of the Tories (and LibDems) is remarkable:

  • A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.
  • The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.

  • Outlawing the fingerprinting of children at school without parental permission.

  • The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.

  • Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.

  • The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.

  • The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.

  • The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.

  • Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.

  • Further regulation of CCTV.

  • Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.

  • A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

I mean, that’s pretty much everything we could want on civil liberties, right there. And a few other points are good. As my friend Stuart said:

Most important line of the agreement? - We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes. #ge10Wed May 12 14:23:57 via TweetDeck

(Gotta keep embedding those tweets, you know.)

Dismal Science?

On the other hand, I’m no economist; but as I said before, I don’t trust right-wingers to run the economy. And right now, I have a gut feeling that cutting back on public spending during a recession is exactly the wrong thing to do (cutting back on most public spending is nearly always the wrong thing to do, of course).

Keep On Keeping On

In conclusion, I agree with Charlie, pretty much. I don’t trust the Tories, but let’s see whether Clegg & co can keep this thing on track. And let’s keep a close eye on them all, and keep that list above in mind.

You never know: maybe this really is “The New Politics”.

Election Tweets ‘n’ Stuff

Thirteen years ago we had champagne ready for the overall majority (though we opened it when Portillo’s seat went). This year might look more like what Warren Ellis says:

Shopping list for watching the election tomorrow night: beer, nuts, whisky, methadone, humane cow-killing bolt gunWed May 05 19:52:55 via web

More sensibly, my friend Stuart says:

I’m not voting for them but if Labour lose, its supporters should take heart from the fact that the UK is better than it was in 97 #ge10Wed May 05 19:24:56 via TweetDeck

which is a good point. Britain’s not broken; it never was. Just its electoral system.

Here’s something I said about that a while ago:

Hey, the Tories: Society _isn’t_ broken, and if it is, it’s partly the fault of your witch-queen & her regime.Tue Sep 30 16:37:55 +0000 2008 via Echofon

I’m having fun with this tweet-embedding thing.