Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Internet is Just a Great Big Pencil Case

You may have noticed that I've added a badge to this blog and if you haven't it's the thing on the right-hand side underneath the heading "I'm listening to" that lists which musical tracks I've been listening to lately.

I deliberated over whether to add it or not - do I really want people seeing my eclectic - at times immature, others pensionable - musical tastes? Not sure, but I thought personalising my blog in this way would be a good thing to do - at work we're always trying to think of the next big thing, so I need to make sure I'm at least in step with the kinds of things the kids have been up to for quite some time now.

My annoyance that it's not updating regularly aside, it's another level of self revelation that you can take or leave, but I'm putting it out there in the same spirit that I'm publishing my random thoughts. It might prompt a connection between us, maybe indirectly by encouraging you to sign up to and find me there, or directly by a laugh or look of disgust (some of my taste really is that bad).

I've been thinking about what a brilliant time to be a teenager this is. In the past, the only way to make a connection with like-minded teens was to wear a badge on your lapel, or scrawl something on your pencil case in the hope that the sixth former in the art room might notice that you had cool taste and you could be worth talking to. He never did.

But now, as your fragile sense of self develops, as your tastes develop, there are thousands of others out there that you can find interested in the same things as you at the click of a badge or a feed or a button. Surely with some careful management this could have a positive effect on teenagers' mental health, letting them know that they're ok even if they feel like they don't fit in with the other kids at school? I shudder to think quite how whey faced I would be if a teenager nowadays, I'd never get away from the screen, but I really think I'd be having a lot of fun.

Even now, with a relatively robust sense of self, I have benefited from a connection. It turns out one of my "neighbours" is a 21 year old Finnish man who has a similar love of classic soul anthems, slightly obscure rap and indie tunes who has introduced me to some new classics through his well-tagged tracks. In this case, due to the non-intrusive nature of some of's features, I haven't had to force myself upon this chap like a cyberspace Mrs Robinson, I can just rifle through his recently played tracks and I'm the only one who's any wiser. Which still makes me feel a little grubby, but I'll get over it.

You'll find me by clicking on the list to the right. I'll be the one listening to the Gnarls Barkley and Thom Yorke albums - both excellent. And a couple of tracks by Jedi Mind Tricks, courtesy of the Finn.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What Would You Rather Do?

I have to change my mobile phone number. This is mildly traumatic. I am getting a phone from my employer which means work calls will be paid for and I can finally check the mobile portal and tv channel that my team has various elements of responsibility for. Apart from the fact that I am still a PAYG CHAV which means that I cannot keep my number this is a very good thing.

Changing number brings to mind those press releases that end up as newspaper headlines at this time of year where our survey says that people would rather have a sex change/walk over hot coals/go nude snow boarding than change their bank account/messenger client/email address/mobile phone number in order to justify the impediments the banks/software companies/telcos put in our way. There are a few games I've played with friends from late teens onwards that I've been reminiscing about when considering what I would rather do than put myself and all my friends and colleagues through the hassle of changing my number.

I'd rather
"I'd rather" was a game from my teenage years where someone would state something gross like eating a whole jar of Marmite that the challengee would have to trump with something equally heinous but somehow more acceptable to them personally - in this case, I might venture licking all the dirt off a potato a suitable replacement. A game for purists.

You have to choose
Student life introduced a game called "You have to choose" where the stoned and/or drunken player would be forced to choose between unattractive elderly celebrities e.g. Bruce Forsythe or Jimmy Tarbuck. One for lazy deviants. (I would plump for a Brucie bonus.)

My last job introduced a similar game called "Shove/Shag/Marry" where you would be given 3 people (friends, relatives, colleagues, celebrities) and be forced - metaphorically - to shove one off a cliff, have sex with another, and marry the other one. The most extreme version of this game tended to happen on business trips, several all-expenses-paid apple martinis in, and would rapidly ascend into incredulous screeches as we chose between our poor colleagues back at base. I always joined in, only once startled when a colleague triumphantly whispered to me "a pig, a dog and a cat!?" Best for hopped-up office workers.

I digress. What would I rather do? In the last year I've nearly moved all my pals to using my gmail address rather than my hotmail address as well as changing work emails and it was easy. On the other hand, the bastard bank has got me with the same account since the days when I would be summoned to the bank manager's office in the Southampton University branch and be warned that my unauthorised borrowing was tantamount to stealing. And bastard Microsoft have still got me hooked on MSN Messenger although I'm proud to state that since just under a year ago I'm a social Messager rather than the compulsive I was for about ten years.

In fact, the only thing coming to mind that I would rather do than change my mobile number is lick the dirt off potatoes, which, to be honest, I've always quite enjoyed. I'll just get on with crafting the email, global text message and ordering the new business cards shall I? Watch your inboxes.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Load of Meatballs and a Cathedral

Albóndigas (meatballs) was one of the first words I learnt in Spanish, forever etched in my memory due to a mix up during Spanish oral with albogodones (cotton wool balls). Since then, every time I find myself in a tapas restaurant whether in the UK or in Spain I insist on ordering the little meat treats with the loud confidence of someone with limited yet precise language skills (as beaten into me by Señora Scott).

Accordingly, our long weekend in Palma involved a hell of a lot of meatballs alongside heaps of pimientos de padrón. We spent most of our time between meals wandering along narrow cobbled streets, our walks punctuated by stop-offs for reviving glasses of Mallorcan rosé and pauses at shop windows to marvel at the whorish shoes that only rich women - and whores I spose - love. We also managed to pass Palma Cathedral at least three times a day but, am sad to say, never made it inside.

Tourists to Mallorca tend to be on a sliding scale from fluent golden yachties to fat pink men in England shirts shouting for LARGE beers. I would put myself and most tourists to Palma slap bang in the middle of the two groups. For example, I enjoyed smoking too many Fortunas, drinking too much booze, playing rummy and reading Jackie Collins' latest (Lovers and Players involves the Russian mafia, one of whom murders someone by suffocating her with a quite unorthodox instrument of death), but then most nights was to be found in dank cellar bars amusing the locals with my linguistic efforts. Grey meatballs with an insipid-looking gravy cooked by one patient abuela (in a tiny bar called Bregor, if you ever go) turned out to be the taste sensation of the trip.

Palma is reminiscent of Lisbon and Barcelona due to the gothic architecture and abundance of bars and restaurants, but with a more laid-back feel; somehow island races like the Mallorcans end up a bit less up themselves (I really tried to find a nicer phrase then, but it's late). And I am assured that the cathedral is well worth visiting - all good reasons for me to return.

For now, back to the reality that is Louise's Kitchen Nightmare - choosing cupboards and tiles and cookers not my idea of fun. On a lighter but nonetheless scary note, I have been much amused by the Blair/Bush exchange - the thing amazing me is that you could actually transport them into any corporation's boardroom and the same blokey wankish chat would fit just as well.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Off on hols

Off to Palma for four whole days. No time to write much, just to muse on my favourite, John Prescott, taking over whilst Tony's away. Oh yeah, I'm sticking by him through thick and thin.

And I'll be spending my time at the harbour sipping a cool jerez and nibbling on a salted almond, dreaming up the laws that Prezzer would pass if he really did have all the power. See, in an alternative universe - when they didn't cause havoc, destruction and heartache to all they touched - I'm all in favour of compulsory intra-office relations.

¡Hasta luego!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Things that Karaoke Has Taught Me

A friend of mine once said "Planning karaoke is like planning sex". At the time she meant it took the joy out of it, the spontaneity, the thrill. But as we get older, planning activities such as these can become an important way of making sure you get an appropriate outlet for the most fundamental of urges.

Last night between six and ten pm, I was to be found in a small, darkened room here singing a variety of show tunes, soul anthems and jaunty sixties tracks to an old, very close friend ("just the two of us"). Yes, I was left with a stinking hangover but a few insights have stayed with me.

Know Your Instrument
If your voice varies in quality, it's best to aim low and pick songs by others with similar issues, e.g. my most successful song last night was "Pull Up to the Bumper" by Grace Jones although admittedly I did accompany myself with some over-ambitious dance moves involving a touch too much "booty" than was appropriate given dimensions of said booty.

Remember to Breathe
Which brings me to attempting any Beyonce numbers... That woman should be applauded for more than her usually admired asset, she clearly has a fine pair of lungs. On attempting to sing her latest hit "Check on It", the lyrics for which translate as "Look at my bottom. Look at my bottom. You know you want to. Go on, look at it, I might let you touch it later. Look at my bottom.", I nearly fainted.

Singing Loudly is a Great Alternative Therapy
As old school friends singing songs from their youth whilst being regularly attended by barstaff bearing house white tend to, we had some tearful moments. The only remedy for such a moment is to grip the other round the shoulders, plant a big kiss and sing loudly through it. I have also found this technique to work at funerals and weddings.

Percussion Instruments are Harder to Play Than They Look
I never imagined you could ruin a song with some ill-timed flicks of the wrist, but my tambourine technique was truly terrible. Thank god they didn't leave the bongos in our room.

I realise I now have some strange addiction to this form of karaoke; I've already got my next session booked. Partly it's got to be an endorphin rush, but also it's about those moments when your head is down between chorus and third verse and you hold the microphone with circled thumb and forefinger and tap it with your other straightened fingers, and for a few glorious moments are as cool as you always hoped you would be. Then, of course, you open your mouth ...

If you're at all tempted by my glowing report and thinking about going along, I must emphasize that, rather like LSD, it is advisable that your first time is only ever attempted with a very select group of close, trusted friends in order to avoid any adverse psychological reactions such as paranoia, excessive comedown or a permanent loss of grip on reality - remember, you're not really nor ever will be that cool.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Ultimate Tube Survival Guide

With commitment to Zone 3 comes commitment to the tube. A good half hour every day to read a chunk of novel or listen to music (for some reason Philip Roth was followed by a Blackalicious phase) is fabulous for my mental health, but when I have to start fanning myself like a Les-Dawson style geisha and I start getting paranoid about not beads but rivulets of sweat made public I can feel my enthusiasm waning.

I was, however, meditating and bearing it; I can highly recommend an alternate nostril breathing exercise I picked up during a fortnight's flirtation with Buddhism that has proved invaluable when travelling to Morden via Charing Cross. But after Ken Livingstone's death knoll for tube travellers I'm not feeling quite so sanguine.

Whilst the tube must witness illness and old age deaths over a year - you know, your heart attacks, your aged winos, your heroin overdoses - the fact that Ken is saying that we may not be able to fix either the congestion and/or the air conditioning points to either some monumental responsibility shirking or more climate change than I've comprehended.

Before anyone suggests it, please remember I have never learnt to ride a bike, and have tried to learn within the past few years and it ended in a few tears, a few bruises and a lot of humiliation. The only option I can see is to forget family and happiness and go balls out for one of those fat media jobs that comes with a chauffeur-driven limo.