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Autumn Roses

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This warm autumn has done some weird things in our garden. The end of November in Hackney brought these new blooms out. They’re still there now, though they won’t be for long, now that it’s proper winter.

Those pictures above are supposed to come out side-by-side, not one above the other, but that doesn’t seem to be working.  Oh well.

The Words that Maketh Novels

It seems like almost no time at all since I last wrote about not completing NaNoWriMo. But here we are again. A year passes like nothing.

I wasn’t strictly following the rules (but they’re only really guidelines, and optional at that) in that I wasn’t starting a new novel this time. I was carrying on the same one that I started last year, and I hadn’t written many more in the interim. I managed just under 15,000 words this year, which is slightly less than last time (and less than a tenth of my erstwhile OU Creative Writing classmate Karl’s crazy figure)

It has, however, given me a new kickstart, and I intend to carry the momentum onwards, but at a more manageable rate. My novel (working title Accidental Upgrade) currently stands at around 36,000 words. I’ve set myself a target of 80,000 by the end of February. That is more like the length of a modern novel, and achievable at a rate of around 475 words a day, according to Scrivener.

That’s much more feasible for me than Nano’s 1667. Though I’m just realising that I said essentially the same thing last year, and it obviously didn’t work. Still, I feel more confident this time. I wrote around 600 words today, and I’ve got Scrivener to help me keep on track.

Smashing Things Up for 35 Years

My friend (Wee) John(ny) called a couple of days ago and said, “Do you fancy seeing The Damned at the Roundhouse?” I’d never been to the Roundhouse, though it was one of those legendary London venues from my teenage years, like the Rainbow and the Hammersmith Palais. And I hadn’t seen The Damned in (I thought)1 about 26 years. Not since a seated gig in the Edinburgh Playhouse the night before I had a High-Energy Physics progress test the following morning.2

I said “Yes”. I mean, why the hell not? I only really know Machine-Gun Etiquette and a few singles, but what the hell. They’re bound to do those, right? It’s a 35th-anniversary thing.

The Roundhouse is an amazing place. As a former railway shed, it’s just a stunning space. But it’s not the seedy old-school venue I half expected, because it’s been closed down and refurbished and reopened since the seventies. So it’s really nice: more like The Barbican, say, than The Forum.

Viv Albertine was supporting. I expected her to have a band, but she just stood up there on her own, with a Telecaster as old as punk, and sang us songs of non-love and stuff. She was great.

The Damned were… pretty much as I expected, actually. They came on, and the Captain said, “We’re going to do two ‘classic’ albums.” (He did the air-quotes.) I’m not sure about this recentish trend of doing a whole album live, but expect it could be good. Mostly, though, I’m amused that for classic punk albums, one would be too short.

So they kicked off into ‘Neat Neat Neat’, and I realised that we were much too close to the front: actually in the moshpit. As I’ve said, I’m really past that — much though I might enjoy dancing in the abstract, or in private.

Anyway, it was all very wild and excellent, and there were many people with t-shirts of bands I’ve seen or haven’t seen but wish I had or don’t mind that I haven’t but recognise anyway. In short, I was with, as Neil Gaiman describes it, my tribe.

It was all monstrously fine. Two albums with a break, then a few encores. Which included, as expected, several non-those-album tracks. ‘Love Song’, of course, they could hardly have avoided playing. A couple of others, and then came ‘Eloise’, which, punked-up though it was, we could frankly have done without,

Then they played ‘Anti-pope’ and were gone. I realise that the Roundhouse must have a strict 11 o’clock policy, but surely they were coming back…? No. DJ music and house lights… and no ‘Smash it Up’. I must admit, if you had asked me before I went out tonight whether there was any chance that they wouldn’t play ‘Smash it Up’, I would have laughed at you.

Very strange. And then there was a crazy queue to get out of the venue, because so many people had taken up the option to get an instant double CD of tonight’s gig. They obviously burn them straight from the sound desk while the gig is on. But it meant that you could hardly get out of the venue. There has to be a better way than that.

Anyway, my ears are sizzling, and I still owe NaNoWriMo a load of words, so I’ll call it a night here.

  1. Johnny reminded me that we saw them at a festival in Milton Keynes Bowl in about 88 or 89. 

  2. Though it’s entirely possible that I’m conflating that with my friend Andrew’s 21st birthday, which I also remember as being the night before a HEP exam. 

88 Lines About The End Of Reasons To Leave The Elements

Back when John Peel was still with us he played a song called ‘88 Lines About 44 Women’. I only heard it maybe twice, and never caught the name of the band. Later, when it became easy to find things out, I discovered they were called The Nails. I’ve recently been rediscovering that very fine song, which I like as much as ever; and I’m pleased to find that there are couple of different versions of it.

(According to the Wikipedia article on the band, Jello Biafra was their roadie, which was a strange and surprising discovery.)

It reminded me that I have a fondness for list songs, which as you can see from the link, is a sufficiently real genre, or class, that it has its own entry.

So I made a Spotify playlist of some I like. Click that link if you have Spotify, or this one if you don’t. Unfortunately it won’t show the contents of the list — there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to do that. It will just prompt you to sign up.

There’s a song on there by The Beautiful South which, if I remember correctly, was intended to mock the use of women’s names in songs. I wonder what they’d think of ‘88 Lines About 44 Women’.

Aliens Among Us

I never bothered to watch Alien Resurrection because I didn’t like Alien3 (or Cubed, as I always see it). So now, browsing the new, freshly-in-beta SF Encyclopaedia I find it was written by Joss Whedon (who doesn’t yet have an entry in said volume, but no doubt will have eventually).

Why did nobody tell me this?

It seems a particularly timely piece of information as we’ve been introducing the kids to Buffy recently (in part to get us all over the lack of Doctor Who), and also to Firefly. We are deep in the Whedonverse.

Hardcore Knows the Score

For the last two months or so, it seems, I’ve been listening almost exclusively to a single album.1 That album is David Comes to Life by a Toronto hardcore band called Fucked Up.

That’s hardcore in the punk sense, not rap, or anything else. All genres have a “hardcore” subgenre, it seems. I’m sure that somewhere there’s hardcore pop.

Anyway, this album causes me to put together three words that I never thought I’d see in the same sentence, never mind describing the same thing: punk rock opera.

I know, I know, rock operas are the bloated detritus of prog rock, and part of what we fought the punk wars against. Though truth be told, I’ve always been quite fond of Tommy. But in a sense it was always something that was going to happen eventually. When a genre or a medium has been around for a while, people will try to take it further than it has gone before, and that’s no bad thing.

And when you get right down to it, it’s all about storytelling, and who can complain about that?

So I was pointed in the direction of this album by a post on Mike Sizemore’s blog. Sizemore is a scriptwriter; I probably started reading his blog when someone like Warren Ellis pointed me at a teaser or “sizzle” video he and some other people made for a prospective science fiction series.

Anyway, he posted a link to the video for the second track off the album, ‘Queen of Hearts’, and spoke very highly of it, as you’ll have seen if you followed the link. If you haven’t, you should. Go on, I’ll wait. I watched it a couple of times, and though, “That’s OK, interesting premise, I wish I could make out the words.”

And then I forget about it for a while.

But one day something made me go back. I listened again. I downloaded the album. I fell in… not love, exactly, but fascination.

North American hardcore bands have a certain vocal style, which is certainly not to everyone’s taste. In that way, I realised, it’s not unlike actual opera. Sure, the vocal stylings are about as far apart as possible; but they are both very stylised. And my biggest two problems with opera are that it’s hard to make the words out (even when they’re singing in english), and that I don’t really like the vocal stylings.

Not to everyone’s taste, as I said.

Luckily, operas tend to have surtitles; and albums have lyric sheets. The lyrics for David Comes to Life are available on the web, as you might expect.

Anyway, I’m writing about this now because I haven’t got round to doing so before, but especially because I’ve just got back from seeing Fucked Up live. They were playing at a Shoreditch venue called XOYO in a “co-headliner” with a band called OFF!.

I tweeted a lot about it, and among other things, I expressed a degree of concern as to what it would be like going to a hardcore gig:

Going to see Fucked Up and OFF! tonight. Not sure what to expect. Haven’t been to a hardcore-type gig since… Napalm Death in 88 or so?Thu Aug 25 07:59:44 via Echofon

Hmm. Not seen a hardcore gig since Napalm Death? That may well be true, but they’re British (and technically grindcore, according to Wikipedia). I began to wonder whether I’d ever seen a US (or Canadian) hardcore band live. The only one I could think of were Hüsker Dü, whom I saw in Edinburgh in — oh, 84 or 85.

I feel sure there must have been others, and yet the only such band that I was really, really a fan of was the Dead Kennedys, and if they ever played the UK it happened either without me knowing about it, or they only played far away from where I was, or both.

I needn’t have worried, though. The venue was just the right size, and comfortably packed. The crowd were gentle and lovely. The moshpit was pretty wild, but I turned 47 yesterday, which is officially way past too old for the moshpit, and I was well able to stay clear of it.

And it was a totally brilliant night. The first band, Cerebral Ballzy, were on when I arrived, so I heard three or four of their songs. They sounded pretty good, and more to the point, the sound in the room was excellent. Clear, and powerful, without being so loud as to be overwhelming.

OFF! were classic hardcore, in that if you didn’t like a song there’d be another along in way less than three minutes. I thoroughly enjoyed them.

And Fucked Up just ruled. I was thinking before they came on that I would leave happy as long as they played ‘Queen of Hearts’ And they duly opened with it! They then proceeded to play edited highlights from David Comes to Life, interspersed with a few other tracks. There was stage-diving, crowd-surfing, the singer diving topless into the audience and walking almost to the back of the venue while still singing (and using a wired mike, with a very long cable).

Anyway, if you’ve read to the end of this rambling thing, you should go and listen to some things. Here’s the ‘Queen of Hearts’ video, and it’s the first time I’ve ever embedded a video. Let’s hope it works. Note that this version has the kids in the video singing on it, which is not how it is on the album, but is very cool nonetheless.

And the second video from the album, ‘The Other Shoe’, which they also did tonight.

  1. Though in old-school terms it would almost certainly be a double album. 

Golden times of British TV comedy

It has come to my attention that there are some of you who are not aware of two of the best British comedy programmes to come out over the last year or so. Both have links to Green Wing1, which was, of course, famously described (by me) as “the funniest thing since Absolutely“.

First we have Episodes (actually a British-American coproduction), starring Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan, in which a married-couple writing team go to Hollywood to adapt their hit British comedy show for the American market. It also stars Matt LeBlanc, playing himself. Yes, it’s all very meta, and what’s wrong with that?

Then there’s Campus, which has some of the Green Wing writing team, and could lazily be described as “Green Wing, but set in a university instead of a hospital”2.

If you are one such person, then I slightly envy you: you still have these joys ahead of you. And with both of them, don’t worry if the first episode doesn’t overwhelm you; just watch the next, and you’ll be hooked.

  1. Currently listed as “Watch now on 4oD” (sic). I might just do that. 

  2. And indeed has been, by me, 

Intrusive login options

I’ve not really had many dealings with the Huffington Post, but I thought I’d drop a comment on this piece about a cover versions album of Nirvana’s Nevermind. The writer, Michael Vazquez, describes himself as being ‘part of the generation that just-missed Punk’, and goes on to say he’s 45.

Thing is, I’m just a year older, and I didn’t miss it. I lived right through it. Not, it’s true, at its bleeding, safety-pin-punctured heart.1 But still, I was aware of it, was introduced to the music by friends, listened to Peelie. Formed bands, for god’s sake, which is what it was really all about.

I can only conclude that Vazquez was a late developer.

Anyway, my point wasn’t about that, it was about commenting at the Huffington Post. You have to be registered to comment; fair enough, that probably keeps the spam down a bit. There are a number of login options, as is common nowadays: Twitter, Facebook, a dropdown for others.

I tried the dropdown and chose to use my Google account. A popup pops up, saying, ‘This site wants to know your email address and your contacts.’ Email address, fair enough, that’s normal for registering at most places. But my Google contacts? I think not.

I cancelled, tried Twitter. ‘This site wants to see your contacts, add contacts, post tweets…’ Get, as we say in my part of the world, tae fuck!

Oddly, it asked less of Facebook; but I can’t be bothered going back to check exactly what.

In the end, not wanting to be thwarted, I registered with them by giving them a username and my email address, in the old-school way. Obviously I unchecked the ‘Please spam me’ box.

Is this normal behaviour nowadays? Certainly seems odd to me.

  1. Copyright (c) Cliches-R-Us, 2011. 

Boycott News International for life? I already did.

There’s a campaign on Facebook encouraging people to boycott News International papers for life. I’m way ahead of them. I don’t touch anything from the Murdoch empire.1

I haven’t ever since the days of the Tories. Err, the old days of the Tories, I mean: the eighties; Thatcher; all that stuff we thought we’d done away with in 1997.

My reasons are much the same as those I wrote about in my fourth ever blog entry. Then, I was talking about the Saatchis, and how their name was anathema to me, because of the fact that they had helped the Tories get in all through the Eighties.

I have long held a similar despite for the Murdoch papers; enhanced by the tabloid ones being such trivial pedlars of rubbish and prurience.2

My kids occasionally complain about the fact that we don’t have Sky, but there are so many channels on Freeview (and Friends and My Name Is Earl are on E4 so often) that I don’t think they really mind.

And I must confess that, until the now-aborted bid to take 100% ownership of Sky, I thought Murdoch did own all of it. Turns out we could have watched 60% of it for all those years.

No matter how negatively I feel towards the organisation and its organs, though, I would never have expected the degree of criminality that they were apparently practising; just as no matter how negatively I might sometimes have felt about the police, I wouldn’t have expected such casual corruption from them. In the end I think we’ll understand that the police taking money from journalists is the worst thing about all this.

And yet on some level I can’t say I’m that surprised; disappointed, certainly, but not really surprised.

It’s all unravelling now, though, and we watch with joy and bated breath.

  1. OK, I admit it: they own some book publishers, and I don’t avoid buying those. We can’t all be perfect. 

  2. Though all tabloids are like that, to be fair. 

World of the Newspaper

I’m sure we all use the word “disgusted” too easily. But I felt physically sick when I first heard about the News of the World (or someone working on its behalf) allegedly ‘hacking’ Milly Dowler’s phone.

It’s only a few days since her murderer was convicted, and now this comes down. It’s hard to believe that anyone, in any occupation can sink so low. But of course, it gets worse: they seem to have done it to the families of other murdered girls, too.

Oh, obviously they’re not as low as the bampots who actually did the murders. But not by much.

I’m a profound believer in free speech, and know that a free press is essential to a functioning democracy. But shit like this works against those noble ideals. It’s not exercising our freedoms to ensure that we keep them; it’s abusing them, and so making it more likely that they’ll be curtailed.

Because the backlash is coming, News Corp; already advertisers are starting to withdraw from your spiteful rag. (And I hope that some good can come of this: that the public will finally see what hideous, mean-spirited rags tabloid papers are, and start to boycott them.) But bigger than that is that fact there is now bound to be an inquiry.

And it seems to me that there is a strong chance that such an inquiry will recommend introducing some kind of statutory regulation of newspapers. And then we’d all suffer.