Wednesday, 9 December 2009

On A *Lighter* Note

I write this on the 13th day of my new cigarette-less life. Not a particularly good entry this, but necessary to get off my chest, like so much syrupy phlegm.

I can't remember starting smoking, I have no recollection of buying my first packet nor do I have tales of amusing bollockings from parents as I dangled out of my bedroom window late at night with a fag stuffed in my face. All I know is that I ended up averaging 25 a day for quite some time. That's about £6.50 a day spent on smoking. £6.50 multiplied by 365 adds up to quite a healthy wedge. And that's why I've stopped. If I had the disposable income I'd still do it, indeed if I lived in a cheaper part of London I'd still do it. I loved smoking. I liked the nostalgic Christmassy smell, I liked nursing a cigarette to balance out a pint in the other hand. I liked tapping into Bowie and Mercury chain smoking through interviews. Smoking made sense while working hard on a new recording. But I'd rather have an extra 2300 SHEETS by the end of the year and that feeling of testing myself and winning.

My brand was Silk Cut Silver - the weakest cigarette there is according to most I met in snowy beer gardens and on the pavement outside work. That's probably why I smoked so many - not because I needed two at a time for the equivalent hit of a 'normal' cigarette, but just that I got through them so quickly. I liked them. I'm not a connoisseur, but I just didn't like the taste of other ones. And smoking that brand was a conscious effort about 7 years ago to cut down ahead of stopping all together. The only other attempt I made to control my smoking which never quite got off the ground.

Annoyingly, after a drink, I still occasionally wake up with a little heartburn and a foul dry cidery mouth (both of which I had put down to smoking - though more than likely is due to the KFC Hot Rods box I polished off at 2am). I'd like to feel some physical benefits... starting to look younger would be nice. Or a postcard from my heart one morning saying 'NICE ONE MATE!'. I assume I will balloon now, as the hole left by quitting has left me hungry all the time. Which is bizarre as I don't think I've had a shit since stopping.

It's a good time to stop - It's too cold to stand outside a pub. I don't miss the night being young and getting down to the last one in a packet and gearing up for the trek to the shop (which would usually be shut). I don't miss the same people poncing fags constantly and then complaining how weak they are. I don't miss being made to feel I'm in the wrong when I mention that these people rarely buy their own and have the nerve to get funny when I ask to have one back on the occasion they do. I don't miss a box of 20 and a lighter spoiling the line of my coat, a symmetrical bump to the mobile phone on the other tit. Also, you know those people who only smoke socially? That can't light their own, and screw up their eyes to aim the lighter near the tip as they fail to suck in? Too many of them ruining it for us pros.

I miss smoking, but I guess I miss smoking inside a pub more. Come summer, I will have a rethink. I might make it my new years resolution to start smoking next year. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

I.T. Fellow

Last night I needed to top up my internet dongle thing having run out of credit the day before. I got home to load up the free service provider website in order to enter the pin code I had purchased. When I turned on my computer a pop up popped up saying I had updates to install. Lovely. So I clicked 'install' as I waited for the internet to load up. Unfortunately, the update was a new version of Internet Explorer for me - I casually clicked through all the bits to install it, only getting as far as the total removal of my old version of Explorer. Because I was not connected to the net (I had not topped up my credit yet) it couldn't fully install the new version. So in effect, I had removed Explorer and not replaced it.

Ah. So, I was in a position where I had to download Internet Explorer in order to top up my internet in order to be on line in order to download Internet Explorer in order to to up my internet.

I am the M.C. Escher of IT.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Cuckoo

I've discarded a few little ditties that I'd have liked to have been on the new album - bridges between tracks, hidden poems and the like. You know the sort of thing. One of them, the brief acappella title track (think Sparks' 'Propaganda'), had to be left off after I got a letter from Rodgers & Hammerstein's people. It was a little too close to that lonely goat herd song from 'The Sound Of Music'. True story. Anyway, here's one that was just a bit much. Not especially fantastic, but nicely sums up the exhausting summer '09.

'The Cuckoo'

"Everyone has done quite well out of me"
Said the cuckoo as he looked from his tree.
And spied his feathers bedding the nests of the voles
And spied his beak chippings fixing up holes

And down in the boats of fishermen sailing
his claws holding up rigging and joining the railings
To be kept out of doors locked with his own bony keys
in anger he swooped down from the canopy

Ah! But to cut off your nose to spite your face
and an eye for an eye - there'll be nothing left in their place
And the cuckoo fluttered off gracious and thought knowingly:
"Yes, everyone has done quite well out of me".

Friday, 5 June 2009


I awoke a full 30 minutes before I had to get up this morning. A relief. I closed my eyes and slowly sunk back to sleep. It felt like I was out for ages, I had long complicated dreams and woke up with a start, worried that I'd overslept.

Bizarrely, about 2 minutes had passed since I'd last looked at the clock. Fantastic, but slightly disorientating. I did it again, and again dreamt of fiery horses and swarming colours - and woke up with barely a couple of minutes passing. I did it again and again and began to grow convinced I had tamed time itself. How could I harness this power? Could it be used as a weapon? Could I save the world by controlling crop growth, the weather, the very shifting of the Earth's plate? Time is controlled by the spinning of the Earth through space - is me nodding off effecting that? Could a distant observer see the planet stuttering and shaking controlled unknowingly by my sleepy eyes? Was I unknowingly causing the planet to rip apart as I slept as the rock and seas strained under the force of the massive shifts in gravity and rotation?

My thoughts got darker and darker and more complex. Before I knew it, I was about 25 minutes late.

(Out of interest, I subscribe to the theory that dreams are your brain filing away the thoughts of the day - a brief spark of electricity in the brain that flashes thoughts, emotions and images all at once. The Human brain being what it is can only make sense of these by remembering them within the boundary of a story, or at least within a structure it inflicts upon the random mess. That's why they are surreal, and tend to blend in the waking noises you hear - the postman at the door, the alarm going off, and the smell of sausages.)

Thursday, 9 April 2009

One Paper Left

When the small American record label Rykodisc reissued David Bowie's 1969 - 1980 catalogue at the start of the 1990's, I was an avid collector of them. A couple came out every 3 or 4 months, perfectly paced for my pocket and growing interest in the artist. The new packaging and additional tracks made them quite desirable to someone so used to basic 1970's cassette foldouts, and I look back fondly on reading up on the albums that I didn't know before the new version came out so I'd be able to listen to them objectively and in context.

One of the best was their edition of 1972's 'Ziggy Stardust' album which came out in the summer of 1990, the CD of which came in a limited edition box with a big booklet analysing the era and gestation of the album. I was fascinated by the list of 'aborted' songs mentioned as having been attempted during the recording sessions at Trident Studio. Amongst them was 'One Paper Left', still something of an unknown quantity among Bowie collectors - even its contemporary unreleased tracks like 'Shadowman' and 'Looking For A Friend' turned up on bootleg in multiple versions. But that summer those were still a tantalising prospect for the then very young me, with no access to record fairs and dodgy record shops. And the internet was still nearly 10 years off for me.

I had a guitar so I decided to make a song with this title to try to imagine what it would sound like. Obviously it would be glam, obviously it would be bouncy. My nonexistent song writing skills and guitar playing skills limited me in my vision, but I was pleased with the result. It was like Bay City Rollers doing the prototype Arnold Corns 'Hang Onto Yourself'. But of course the resultant recording revealed nothing more than a small boy whispering bad lyrics (admittedly in a pretty cool tune) over one string, crude bass playing on his sister's acoustic. With loads of tape hiss. I think the two notes ('notes' notice, not chords!) were E and A. Simple, but pleasing to me.

Lyrically, the only thing I could think 'One Paper Left' referring to was exams, such was the mood at the time with memories of sunny school days still fresh as I lazed around during the summer holidays. The 'narrator' of the song finding out to his shock that, between him and the promises of summer, girls and everything a little chap imagines a grown up's summer consisting of, was one more exam after thinking that there were no more. More 'Wayne's World' than Glam Rock Homosexual alien.

"I looked at the timetable and check through the tests
I looked again to make sure..
Oh no! There's one paper left!"


The second verse took it further .. the worry of exams leading to lavatorial shittings. But what's this? Only one piece of toilet paper left! Good stuff.

I was pretty damn pleased with it, and remember the song fondly. Although how it would've fit into the Ziggy concept is anyone's idea (maybe the teenagers described by Bowie, his 'young dudes', had exam angst before the Starman visits? Yeah, that'll do).

The recording was made live onto a TDK blank tape, or more likely over a free tape given away earlier that year with VOX magazine. I played it to my mum. She didn't like Bowie anyway.

It's become an odd memory - my architypal 'summer song' that I like to sing in my head on a cloudless blue day, taking me right back to school days. But I have no way of digging it out to hear. Unfortunately the recording was wiped later that summer and has not found it's way onto the collectors market, but I recently unearthed the original lyric sheet. So keep your eye on the specialist Rock / Pop auctioneers.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

King Kong

Mike did well to remember a rant I did the other night:

Q: "Is King Kong based on a true story?"

A: "What do you think? If King Kong was based on a true story the news and media as we know it would be changed forever. No matter what happened in the last century, the media would always find a reference to the time a giant ape kidnapped a leggy blond and fell to its death from the Empire State Building. It would be more newsworthy than WWI and WWII together. 9/11 would be overshadowed too, 'yeah, 3000 deaths in the World Trade Centre collapse is pretty bad - but do you remember the tragic loss of that misunderstood primate that time forgot? I mean... WHAT WAS THAT??'

It would also have an irreversible effect on the way we build our skyscrapers now, hence why we have unclimbable Gherkin and City Hall. The designer of the Gherkin commented: 'Basically, if you've got a Kong scale 1 or 2 then it will be fine. But a scale 3 or 4... then you're fucked'."

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Unseen Fawlty Towers

I dreamt there was an as yet unbroadcast 'last' episode of Fawlty Towers that explained the whole saga, tying up lots of loose ends and things alluded to through the two series. The dream took the form of a BBC documentary about it. The sort you see on BBC4.

We knew Basil wanted to escape from the hotel and have a different life, and the documentary showed various scenes when he was up to something as yet unseen, being crafty etc. Some of these scenes in the dream from the show were actually real and well known, others were made up for the dream, but in the dream they were familiar and real.

We are also shown at various points Basil switching off TV sets in the hotel lounge and reception, or changing channels with a 'We won't watch that!' kind of flippancy.

As explained in this last unbroadcast episode, it turns out Basil was a writer and he was writing scripts for a BBC comedy. His experiences day to day running a hotel in Torquay as seen in the series are actually what he wrote about.

Indeed, the whole thing came complete circle when, in the very last shot of the episode, Basil's wife looks in a Radio Times saying.. "oh I haven't seen this for years! I wonder what is on telly tonight..." and opens it up as the camera slowly reveals she sees a comedy called Fawlty Towers set in a hotel in Torquay.

So what we were seeing was the series that Basil had been writing. Art imitating life dressed up as art. The ultimate clever clever artifice.

John Cleese says he decided to remove this episode from the series as to retain the mystery.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

St Patrick's Day

The day before St. Patrick's Day, on Monday 16th March, I noticed the owners of a pub down the road had put up on their front wall a large fabric St. Patrick's Day banner. It took a while to notice, but I realised it had the incorrect date on it - Friday 17th March. I suggested that the banner would be in that case quite old as last year the 17th fell on a Monday.

As the cider flowed and we pondered some surrounding issues in the pub over the road, I realised it could be possible that the banner was from the future. But then I couldn't work out how far in the future a Friday 17th would be.

This got me thinking.. remember at the end of 2008 they added an extra second onto the year to account for the Earth slowing down? (Which was pretty amazing in it's own right). Well, perhaps the landlord was actually a brilliant renegade astrophysicist who had worked out, accounting for EVERYTHING, that in 2009, 17th March was actually on Friday and he was making a stand.

Either way, I didn't go in as the banner wasn't ironed that well.