The Clash On Display

    Paul Simenon’s Smashed Bas
    Paul Simenon’s Smashed Bass

    My favourite band have become a museum piece.

    Or at least, some of their instruments, clothing, lyrics, and memorabilia are in an exhibition which the Museum of London1 has been running since the fortieth anniversary of London Calling in December. I popped along today.

    Clash Shirts and Guitars
    Clash Shirts and Guitars

    It’s small, but pretty good. The centrepiece is Paul Simenon’s smashed bass from the famous cover photo. It lies under glass on a red velvet cushion, like a fallen warrior lying in state (see above).

    It’s actually kind of gruesome. “That’s no way to treat an expensive musical instrument,” as someone once said.

    Joe Strummer’s White Telecaster
    Joe Strummer’s White Telecaster

    I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know, I don’t think. Except maybe that Joe had a backup white Telecaster, that I don’t think I’ve ever seen him use, either live, in video, or in photos. His iconic black one is in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, I believe. Or another museum.

    Oh, and see the poster in that shot? “Two for a fiver”? When I bought London Calling it was only £3.99. Both times, as I’ve written about before.

    Anyway, worth checking out, especially since it’s free. My main complaint: there are a lot of songs that could have been playing, even if they kept it to the relevant album. Instead they had a loop of just three (“London Calling,” “Train in Vain,” and “Clampdown,” the latter two live versions).

    Big Display of the London Calling cover
    Big Display of the London Calling cover

    1. Which I had never before visited, in thirty-two years living here. 

    Christmas Day by the Lea (or Lee)

    It’s our family custom on Christmas Day to go for a walk down by the River Lea (usually shown on maps with the addition “or Lee”, as both spellings have been used historically). Often it’s been cold and dreich and we’ve seen almost no-one. Two days ago it was a gorgeous sunny day, and there were hundreds of people out.

    And some boats were moving:

    Boat on the Lea 1 Christmas 2019

    While others were just parked:

    Boat on the Lea 2 Christmas 2019

    And this is us; Frances, me, and our two young adults, who don’t normally like to be photographed, and who have never appeared here before:

    Family Christmas 2019

    Congratulations to the Event Horizon Telescope team. The first ever picture of a black hole. In this case, the supermassive one at the centre of the M87 galaxy.

    M87's supermassive black hole

    Recent Events

    It’s been a strange few weeks.

    There was the referendum, and its immediate aftermath. That’s still ongoing, of course, and won’t be over any time soon.

    Then there was my leaving do from work, as I’d reached the end of the at-risk period, and am now redundant, obsolete, out of work, etc. The do was good. We had a decent turnout of current and former colleagues. My boss’s boss’s boss, the one who told us the news that we were being made redundant, turned up (he is the only one of the hierarchy who is based in Britain, the intervening layers being in Manila) and paid off the tab at the time he left, which must have been about 7pm. We still managed to spend just over £250 after that, which was optimal, as there were five of us.

    I got an Uber home, and accidentally discovered what the difference between “Pool” and “UberX” is. I found myself in a car with four strangers (including the driver). To be honest I don’t think “Pool” was an option when I last used an Uber. I assume the “X” means “Exclusive.”

    Anyway, they were all going to Islington, which left me to snooze on to Hackney, so it worked out fine.

    And then I was unemployed. It didn’t quite hit me at first, because my beloved and I had a weekend trip to Avebury, which was fascinating. Here’s a picture of some stones. And a sheep.


    But Monday dawned, and I set to with my new daily plan:

    • 8:00 – Get up, go for a swim.
    • 9:00-ish – Home, breakfast.
    • 9:30-12:30 – Job-hunt things.
    • 12:30-1:30 – Lunch.
    • 1:30-5:00-ish – Side projects (indie dev/writing).

    As you might imagine, I haven’t exactly been sticking to that 100%. But the idea is that it’s going to be important to have some structure to my day now that I don’t have one imposed by full-time employment. And job-hunting can be very time-consuming, so treating that as my job for at least part of each day seems like the right thing to do.

    The first day was strange, because I kept having this sense at the back of my mind, “I’m working from home today, so I’ll be in the office tomorrow,” which would have been true on Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons for the last few years. But then of course it would hit me: no office; no job.

    I’m enjoying the experience, though, so far at least. I’ve managed to do pretty well with the schedule, and even extended the swimming to using the gym at the local leisure centre. This is the first time I’ve ever used a gym, except for a few years ago when I had physio after injuring my leg.1 The guy who did my induction managed to hide his disbelief of this fact quite well. And now that I’ve done a few sessions I’m thinking, “Why didn’t I do this years ago?” Oh well.

    So all in all, a time of change and newness – which would generally be good, and some of it is. But see the first point, above, and the debris from that. An unknown new Tory government who don’t seem to be quite willing to accept that parliament is sovereign, and so it needs to decide whether or not to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. And Labour too busy tearing itself apart to hold the government to account.

    As to the Labour leadership business, I’ll have more to say about that when I’ve worked out what I think.

    1. I’m wryly amused to see that at that leg link from 2004 I’m expressing bafflement about people who would want to leave the EU. ↩︎

    Weekend Warblers

    Hackney Weekend: the main stage

    The Radio 1 Hackney Weekend festival was fabulously well organised, loads of fun, and passed off with only three arrests.1 Booking the tickets a month or two ago had turned out to be easy (we sat with multiple browsers and phones as the SeeTickets site crumpled, but in fact it was no trouble at all after we left it for a while). Being local residents helped, as half the tickets were for Hackney households.

    It was a free show, so there were restrictions; most notably that you could only book for one of the two days, and only two tickets per person. We were doing it for the kids; and the kids in this family (to say nothing of most of their friends) favoured the Sunday lineup; so that’s the one we went for.

    The lineup leaned heavily to the various dance subgenres: (modern) R&B, dubstep, and so on. Not forgetting hip-hop, of course; not only did Jay-Z headline the first night, he guested with Rihanna on the second.

    Hackney Weekend: Jessie J on the main stage

    For me the highlight of the day was Jessie J; though I was mildly disappointed that she censored herself in my favourite of her songs, ‘Do it Like a Dude’.2

    Tinie Tempah was also good, though since I’ve subsequently been listening to Enter Shikari, I’m slightly disappointed to have missed them as they clashed with Tinie.

    There was great secrecy and much speculation over who the “Special Guest” was to be. They managed to keep it hidden until the day, which, while impressive in its way, had me worried. I thought that, depending on who it was, there could be a disaster. In particular, if it had been Justin Bieber, as some kids were speculating, there would have been a vast, simultaneous, two-way flow, from and to the stage (my kids would have been running away from the stage; there are no Beliebers at Devilgate Towers).

    Not long before the guest’s time I heard on good authority that it was going to be Beyoncé. Believable, as her hubbie was there, and she was said to be “in the house”. But I doubted it: isn’t she a bigger name than Rihanna? And anyway, I get the sense that she’d be too much of a diva to go on second on the bill.

    Anyway, in the end it was Dizzee Rascal, which with hindsight made total sense, what with him being a local boy and all.

    Hackney Weekend: colourful flags

    As we wandered through the stages and the day, we heard snatches of Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love’ seven times (I started keeping count at the third) from various between-act DJs and stalls. So by the time it closed the night, I was thoroughly ready to hear it properly. And a damn fine ending it was, too (though the fireworks were a tad tame).

    I was hugely impressed with the organisation of the thing. We got there nice and early, and there was hardly any queueing, despite the airport-style security. The staff were all lovely and friendly, and – get this – there was hardly ever a queue for the toilets!

    I would strongly support any moves to make it a regular thing. Radio 1’s event moves around the country, so it couldn’t stay free, but I could easily see it working as a commercial festival in the future.

    1. I have it on the authority of a Hackney police officer. ↩︎

    2. Hint: “Dirty dirty dirty dirty dirty dirty sucker” doesn’t rhyme with “D’you think I can get hurt by you, you [puts finger on lips]”. ↩︎

    A Line, a Loop, a Tangle of Timey-Wimeyness

    The London International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Film, or Sci-Fi-London is in its eleventh year, and I've never been to anything in it before. That's kind of bad, isn't it?

    This week, though, I’ve been to the presentation of the Clarke Award, which is held in association with the festival, and at its main venue; and last night, the whole family went to the BFI (or the NFT, I can’t quite work out what its official name is these days) to see a film.

    Which was Dimensions, a low-budget British film about time travel – or maybe dimension-hopping – which doesn’t even have a distributor yet.

    Which is a great shame, because despite some flaws it is a very enjoyable piece. We were still talking about it at lunchtime today.

    It’s also something of a costume drama, being set in the 1920s and 30s. The Sci-Fi-London page about it likens it to Merchant-Ivory.

    It did show its low-budget nature in one or two places, but nothing that destroys the overall effect. The couple who made it (Ant Neely wrote and composed the original music, and Sloane U’Ren directed and did much else) had to sell their house to fund it, so almost anything can be forgiven.

    I won’t say too much more about it here, but if you ever get a chance to see it, you should take it.

    There was a Q&A with writer, director, lead actor & editor after the screening, which was very interesting. I was geared up to ask a question, which would have gone something like this: “When you make a time-travel story, especially in Britain, you’re walking among some long shadows, especially Wells and Doctor Who; to what extent would you acknowledge those as influences?” I had my hand up to speak, when the interviewer asked a question touching on exactly those points. So I didn’t ask. Pity. I would also have mentioned the fact that they have a mysterious wise man know only as “the Professor”.

    Anyway, lots of fun: highly recommended.

    Hardcore Knows the Score

    For the last two months or so, it seems, I've been listening almost exclusively to a single album.[^fn1] 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.

    New Year Activities

    The day after New Year's Day we decided to go to the British Museum, to see the mummies. So did half of London, it seemed. I've never seen it so crowded. Still, the mummies are always interesting. I must go back another time and see some other sections.

    Home was via bookshop, Pizza Express, and Little Fockers at the cinema (ignore the critics: it’s loadsa fun; unless you didn’t like the first two, of course).

    Oh, but before all that, we had tried to play basketball in Millfields Park. But there was an annoying dog-owner who couldn’t control her Alsatian. The latter proceeded to bite our basketball till it burst. When we remonstrated with the owner, she ran off.

    At least it was only the basketball that got bitten.

    The next day brought an early start. Neither London’s young skaters nor anybody else gets up very early on New Year’s Bank Holiday Monday, it seems. I don’t think I’ve ever seen London streets so empty. The drive in to the Aldwych area for the start of skating at Somerset House felt like driving through a Jerry Cornelius novel: “Martin tooled the big Duesenberg Skoda down Roseberry Avenue…”

    I don’t skate any more. I did it twice when I was a student, and I think once since I had kids. From the student times, I remember enjoying it, but getting very wet and very bruised. With kids I didn’t fall over so much, but only through caution, not because I had magically become able to skate.

    Anyway, what with one thing and another, I didn’t do it through all those intervening years, and by the time my kids were old enough to be interested and able, I had broken my cruciate ligament in a freak gardening accident. I probably could do it now, but I’m too scared of re-injuring my knee.

    So I sat in the warmth of “Tom’s Skate Lounge” and had a Cappuccino and a Danish, and took photographs and notes, while our party slowly, but with increasing confidence, circled the ice. I loved the fact that the staff members who were on the ice had hi-viz vests saying “Ice Marshall”. There’s something very pleasing about that term.

    After that we drove on out to South Kensington, and the Natural History Museum. Ostensibly to see the dinosaurs. But of course, the other half of London had decided to do the same. After queueing for maybe twenty minutes to get inside, we found a 45-minute queue for the dinosaurs. So we elected for the blue whale, via the other mammals, instead.

    Which was of course, fabulous. Wonderful place, the Natural History Museum. Actually, London’s pretty wonderful.

    Ice Marshalls at Somerset House


    I’m desperately rushing to post this before midnight, just so I can have a post on the 1/1/11. Happy New Year, everyone.

    From Easter to Volcano Days

    I don't get round to these things quickly, but this is, at least in part, a report on my family's visit to Eastercon. This year the British National Science Fiction Convention was practically on our doorstep, just the other side of London, at Heathrow.

    As with two years ago, my son wanted to come. And since my daughter did as well, my beloved bit the bullet and came along too. SF isn’t totally her thing, but I think she may have enjoyed the weekend more than any of us.

    The telling detail was this: there are lots of things to do.

    I tend to use cons as a way of seeing friends that I haven’t seen for a while – often not since the last con I was at. So I mainly hang out in the bar. Or that, at least, is the impression I gave – give – to people who don’t go to cons.

    In fact, I have always gone to programme items. I guess I just never made a big thing of them when I got home.

    This con – Odyssey 2010 – had a particularly good set of programme items for kids. There were hands-on science workshops, making Dalek cakes, and building string-propelled robots (my son won a prize for the best ramp-mounting attempt). And not least, a thrilling battle between various knights of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).

    The programme was full of fascinating and fun things, many of which I wanted to see, but didn’t manage to, as ever.

    And of course, I saw a lot of old friends, and had a good time hanging out in the bar with them.

    We only stayed for the Friday and Saturday nights, to keep costs down. But after going home on the Sunday (and watching the new Doctor Who again), we went back on the Monday, and spent most of the day back at the Radisson Radisson.

    Travelling all across London was a bit of drag, but it was a lot shorter than many people’s journeys. And of course, there was absolutely no chance of [ash-induced delays] volcano.

    Am I a bad person because I found all the volcanic disruption kind of amusing and quite fun, really? The cloudless and contrail-free blue skies over London were gorgeous, and it was interesting to follow people’s tweets of how they were striving to get home. And a world with a lot fewer flights is something we’re probably going to have to face in the future.

    What annoyed me about it all were the idiots who blamed the government. Marginally more sensible than blaming ‘god’, I suppose1, but even if anything other than sending in the Navy had been the government’s decision, can you imagine the fuss if flights had been allowed to go ahead, and there had been a disaster?

    Plus, the idea of getting a trip home on the Ark Royal is pretty cool.

    1. As somebody said, if that's an act of god, then it's a pretty limited kind of omnipotent deity.

    Easter Time is Here Again

    Easter rolls around on its mad-god-inspired schedule, and so too does Eastercon, the British National Science-Fiction Convention.

    This year, as it was two years ago, it’s in the Radisson Edwardian Hotel, near Heathrow. Not the most pleasant or interesting of locations, but it does have the large advantage for me of being relatively close to home. An hour and forty minutes by bus and tube, if TFL is to be believed. And curiously, not much less time overall if you take the crazily-expensive Heathrow Express.

    Anyway, the whole family are coming with me this time, which should be fun. We’re just staying for the Saturday and Sunday nights, though some of us may pop back on Monday.

    I don’t have any particular plans to see anything on the programme, except the big ones: Iain Banks’s guest of honour speech, and Doctor Who. Looking forward to that one a lot. And it’s going to be interesting watching it with a few hundred other people.

    Speaking of guests of honour, the other one is Alastair Reynolds, and i’ve never read any of his stuff (well, maybe a short story or two). So I thought I should do some homework. I’ve been meaning to check him out for a while anyway.

    I’ve started Revelation Space, but I’m having a hard time getting into it. It’s just a bit slow to get going. I hope it’ll pick up soon.

    Decade's End

    This is how we end the first decade of the twenty-first century, then: with Jools on the telly, and a netbook on my lap. A fitting conclusion, I suppose, as the start of it was similarly low-key (I had a small kid at the time, and have two much bigger ones now); and I've spent much of the decade with a computer close at hand.

    By some bizarre twist of fate, though, I seem to be out of whisky. I sit in shame at such a state of affairs. One or other form of whiskey will just have to do, though.

    Happy New Year, everyone.

    Easter Weekend plans

    Off to the exciting, glamorous Heathrow area tomorrow, for Orbital, the 2008 Eastercon. It'll be the first convention I've been to for about ten years, so it should be quite fun.

    When I was last at the hotel in question, it had a swimming pool. That has since been filled in, sadly. Then again, when I was last there, I don’t think that I actually used the pool, so perhaps it’s not a big deal.

    It’ll be good to see some old friends and hopefully make some new ones. And they’ve got a great lineup of guests: Neil Gaiman, Charlie Stross, and China Miéville are the official ones, but as always, there will be various other authors there.

    I’ll report back here on how it was (unless, you know, I don’t). Actually, come to think of it, there’s said to be free wifi in the hotel, so I’ll probably report back from it.

    A Deadline Crash, and a Reading

    Over the last few weeks I've been trying to write a Doctor Who short story. It was for a competition that Big Finish, publisher of DW books and CDs, were running. Alas, the closing date was the 31st of January, which is now past, and I didn't finish it (does that make it a Small Finish?)

    Still, I’m enjoying writing it, and intend to finish it anyway, just on general principles. It doesn’t do to go around having lots of unfinished pieces (and I speak as someone who has a great many unfinished things lying around, of one variety or another).

    When I do finish it, I’ll probably put it online. Now my question is, does such a work now count as fanfic I suppose it does, on some level. Curious, because the winner of the competition gets professionally published, and that obviously isn’t fan fiction.

    Still on a literary note, my friend Andrew was in town the other night, because he was one of the authors who was doing a reading that was organised by Farthing magazine. Until Andrew told me about the event, I didn’t even know that the publication existed.

    It was a good night. I missed the first reading, by Anna Feruglio Dal Dan, but heard various drabbles, Andrew’s story, and two other fine stories.

    During the interval I picked up the back issues of the magazine and took out a subscription. Then at the end we helped the Editor, Wendy Bradley, to carry some boxes back to her flat, and drank her whisky.

    All in all, it was a fine night.

    Burning Silver Discs for Gold

    In which I make a CD compilation, and blow whatever vestiges of my credibility remained

    I’ve been a bit invisible on here for a while. First I had two weeks camping in France, during which (among much else) I managed to grow a beard (not that I was particularly trying to: it just kind of happened). In the first couple of weeks after getting back I spent much of my free time on preparing a CD for a special occasion.

    The occasion was the golden wedding anniversary of my beloved’s parents. They had asked me to provide some music for after the dinner. The brief was to get the grandkids dancing. The theme we chose was to cover all the decades from 1956 to 2006.

    Now, strange as it may seem, I’ve never actually made a compilation CD before, despite having had the technology to do so for several years. I was never really very big on making compilation tapes, either. So the first thing to do was to check that the technology worked.

    Our CD writer hasn’t written under Windows since we got Dell to replace the whole drive when it broke down. It’s doubtless some kind of driver problem, but I haven’t bothered to try to fix it. I know what you’re thinking: CD writers are as cheap as potatoes these days; but never buy a new one when there’s a way to get the old one working, I say. The logical solution, then, was to use Linux, where the same drive does work; and which is my preferred working environment anyway.

    I’m currently using the Kubuntu distribution, and as it is KDE based, the logical CD creation tool seems to be K3B. This is essentially a graphical front end to various command-line tools, which is a fine approach. Unfortunately the GUI is a bit clunky. Still, nothing I couldn’t live with (once I had dowloaded and installed the plugin that allows it to recognise MP3s, at least).

    So the next thing was to consider how to get the tracks we wanted. We already had quite a lot, of course, but inevitably there were plenty that we wanted that we didn’t have. I briefly considered the iTunes Music Store, but rejected it because a) I was using Linux, so couldn’t use iTunes; b) my MP3 player is not an iPod, so it (ITMS) would have been little use to me after this project; and c) most importantly of all, I didn’t want to have to struggle with DRM(Digital Restrictions Management, thought they’d like you to believe it’s “Rights”.).

    I already use eMusic, which is good for relatively recent, independent stuff, but is not really a source of classic tracks. I did get ‘Rock Around the Clock’ from there, though. As well as that, Frances bought a couple of new CDs: a Paul Simon collection and a disco compilation.

    But for the rest, and for the maximum flexibility, there was only one solution: I would have to enter the murky grey-area waters of

    If you haven’t come across this site, it’s based in Russia and a legal grey area. The people who run it claim to be following the copyright laws of Russia; and presumably that is true, because the site continues to operate. However, they are able to offer a vast collection of albums for mere pennies per track. And all in a selection of formats, and without DRM.

    The grey area is that we may be breaking the law by using their services in other countries, such as the UK.

    It’s still running, though, so let’s work on the assumption that it’s OK to use it.

    I set up an AllOfMP3 account, and by a daft number of steps of indirection, got some money into it, and downloaded a few tracks.

    It’s good stuff: they have a huge selection of tracks, and the prices are so cheap. I think it has something to teach iTunes and the other legal download sites: the less you charge (and the less encumbered the files) the more people will buy.

    I don’t think there was a track, or at least an artist, that I couldn’t find on it.

    Oh, OK, there were two, but they’re both a tad embarassing. We got a late request for the following tracks: ‘Summer Holiday’; ‘Y Viva España’; and ‘Remember You’re A Womble’.

    Yes, I know. But since novelty hits (and songs from kids' TV shows) were by no means outwith the scope of the project (and since we aleady had both ‘Crazy Frog’ and the Bratz TV theme), I attempted to comply.

    Which was harder than you might have expected. AllOfMP3 had the first, but the second was slightly harder. I did find it, though, squirreled away on somebody’s MP3 blog (which seems to mainly consist of tracks ripped from old tapes found in the Dalston branch of Oxfam: the ripper/blogger is practically a neighbour).

    Those Wombles, though: they’re hard to find.

    There is a strange class of sites out there that list the contents of albums, and appear to allow you to click through and buy the the tracks; but when you do, you get a screen saying, “That track is not available”, or “This album is not available”. Which makes me wonder why they bother to list it on their sites; or at least, why they list it with live links that make it look as if you can buy it.

    Anyway, somewhere on the deeper, darker recesses of the net, on the very last page of sites that, as far as Google knew, contained the string, “remember you’re a Womble”, I found it. Or at least part of it: it ends very abruptly. But in the context of the compilation, that didn’t actually seem to matter too much.

    The party was a great success. The music went down very well, with only one slight problem: we overran our time in the hotel’s function suite, and never got to play the second disk. Too much eating, not enough dancing, I suppose.

    Still, now that I’ve done one, making other compilation CDs should be a doddle.

    Oh, and the beard (I mentioned it earlier, you weren’t paying attention) came off before the party. The kids complained, but some things just have to go.

    The track listing? Oh all right then:

    Read More →

    Pachyderm Prestidigitation

    Like much of the rest of the London Blogosphere, I went with the family to see The Sultan’s Elephant on Sunday. I had had a quick look at it on the way home from work on Friday, when it was just standing still at the end of Pall Mall. Then, it was clearly impressive; but wasn’t clear quite how glorious, how majestic it would be once it was moving among crowds.

    We drove in to Holborn and took the Tube to Green Park. The Tube was crammed, and I assumed (and feared) that everyone there would have the same aim as us. But no, it was just a commonplace weekend crowd, with many destinations in mind. When we got out, Piccadilly was busy, but not obviously in an unusual way.

    We could see that the road was partly closed in the direction of Piccadilly Circus, so we headed that way. In the distance we could see crowds of people, but no obvious forty-foot elephant (and it’s hard to imagine a forty-foot elephant being anything else). One of the stewards told us that it was going to turn down Haymarket and then into Pall Mall.

    Then, as we got a bit closer to the Circus, I caught a glimpse of a large leather ear flapping, and soon we could all see its head. But Piccadilly had never seemed so long, and it began to feel as if we wouldn’t catch it, though it was obviously going very slowly.

    I hoped to get a picture of it with the statue of Eros in the same shot, but it was not to be. By the time we got to Piccadilly circus, it had already turned into Haymarket. So we decided to cut down Regent Street and get ahead of it. Guess what? We weren’t the only ones to have that idea. By this time we were among crowds, but not so dense that it was very hard to move; just dense enough to make us keep a tight hold on the kids.

    A bit of zigzagging through back streets and we found ourselves on Charles II Street. Iit was clear from the music coming from Haymarket that the elephant hadn’t passed yet, and from the layout of the crowd that it would be coming along that way. So we positioned ourselves at the edge of the pavement and waited.

    Sure enought, after a few minutes some stewards came along the street asking people to stay back on the pavements. Another few minutes and several police officers came along with the same message.

    It’s worth pointing out both how good a job the stewards and the police did, and how little they actually had to do (from what I saw of it). It just goes to show that you can stage a big event with minimal crowd control. Treat people with respect and give them something interesting to watch and you don’t need to herd them through crash barriers like cattle in a slaughterhouse.

    Anyway, a few minutes after that, and the elephant’s head began to appear round the corner. It was, as I said above, majestic: that’s the word that came to my mind as soon as I saw it.

    I don’t know if it was the beauty of the beast, or the fact that there were bagpipes among the music that was playing (the pipes always get me like that); but I felt a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye as it approached.

    Then the fucker sprayed me with water.

    Actually, being sprayed was quite fun. Fortunately it was a hot day. But I got hit so directly that I could almost hear the operators saying,”Get the guy in the orange t-shirt and sunglasses.” If you don’t want to get hit, don’t dress up like a target, I suppose.

    As the beast itself passed next to us, and I got a brief chance to admire the action of the legs (it moves on wheels, but the leg movement is very convincing), I realised that the music was coming from a truck behind it on which a live band was playing. I had assumed it was just recordings, but the band added an extra touch, and we got to listen to them up close. They were good, and I’d like to find out who they were.

    After it passed, and the crowd thinned a bit, we decided to head round to Waterloo Place to see the Little Girl’s crashed space capsule; not realising that it had been moved. No matter, though: it meant we got another view of the elephant as it turned onto Pall Mall.

    And so to home. We didn’t stay to see the finalé, so we didn’t see the Little Girl at all; nor did we see her spaceship. All that was left on Waterloo Place was a hole in the road, which people, in their infinite capacity to make a mess, had already started dropping rubbish into. As it turned out, the ship had been moved to Horseguards for her to leave in.

    It was a fabulous thing to see, though, and I’m so glad that the Mayor and the GLA saw fit to have it here.

    My son asked me at one point, as the music surrounded us and the elephant towered over us, “Why did it come to London?” I answered with joy and almost without thinking about it, “Because this is the best city in the world.”

    Sometimes it is.

    The Many-Angled Pub

    I went out for a drink with some people from work last night.  We went to a place in Covent Garden called The Porterhouse.

    It’s a very curious place.  It extends across three or maybe four floors.  Or maybe only two, but with lots of mezzanines.  It’s full of alcoves: everything, it seems, is an alcove.  I have no idea, for example, how many bars it has.  And in fact, I didn’t go to the bar all night.  That, though, is because they have something that is remarkable in a British pub: table service.

    Yes, it’s very strange.  waiters come and go, collecting glasses and trays, but also, when asked, taking orders and returning — very quickly — with trays of beers.

    So I spent the night drinking Caledonian 80/-.  A taste of home, perhaps, but a) it was bottled; b) it was too cold to taste right; and c) it’s been such a long time since I drank it back home that it hardly counts.  And I always preferred McEwan’s 80/-, anyway.  Oh, and pizza.  They serve food, too, and claim a woodburning oven.

    It was a good night.  But that pub.  You know the old computer game that used to say, “You are in a maze of little twisty passages, all the same”?  It was a bit like that.  But mostly it reminded me of the house in HP Lovecraft’s ‘Dreams in the Witch-House.’

    Oh, I suppose the angles weren’t really that wrong; that the walls were quite straight. But there were definitely too many rooms, and bits, and stuff: if not angles.