Saturday, April 29, 2006

May Day Weekend Interstitial

I do so like the word "interstitial" which I learned from the eminent intellectual blogging chef, Bakerina. This one comes as I embark on a blog fiction which seems already to have a life of its own. I don't remember writing like this in the past; I just have an incident in my mind, the incident involves characters, and as I draw the characters, the action seems just to unfold of its own accord. Events proceed as the characters dictate, and within a few days of mulling over outcomes, the plot seems obvious - or at least, inevitable - and all I have to do is put the time in and follow through with sufficient detail and care to bring it to life.

It is odd to pass days like this - the fiction is a second reality which lives and breathes with me, as I travel and work on other things, and the onward nature of the writing gives me another wind to breathe and fill my sails.

In the so-called real world, I took part in a fascinating seminar this week - under the name Deek Dannunzio - in Second Life. The real world involved me rising at an ungodly hour and logging onto a virtual one to speak to real people about real issues - copyright, creativity, and the modern ways that blogging, podcasting and the internet have made us both producers and users of content. Without really aiming to I seem to have become a spokesperson for the rights of UK podcasters, in an attempt to establish them before they are taken from us.

I also mastered the single at Abbey Road - what fun that was. I worked with Sean Magee - we used a reel-to-reel and the audio desk which Pink Floyd used to master Dark Side Of The Moon. Sounds great - we really got that self-preservation brass band sound.



The song is released on iTunes May 1st. The funny thing is, it has been such a long process to get it this far, that I feel really detached from the entire thing. We'll see how it goes. I promise to keep blogging if I become a pop star.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A Pause Is Worth The Wait

Episode five of Mrs Sunderbury And The Gold Earring. The story starts here

Jane looked at Ben as they passed twenty minutes in the little bar at the end of platform fifteen. He was a handsome man, tall and neatly muscled, and she loved the way a certain vein on his strong neck bulged sometimes when passionate speech animated his even English features. She like to kiss that part of his neck when they were making love. He was manly for 23 - could have been a rugby player, though he was no meat-head. His fitness came from trekking and climbing, and to persuading him to compete in any testosterone-fuelled competition was a lost cause, and several frustrated PE teachers had tried and failed. Ben was into nature, climbing trees and sea-cliffs; he liked skinny dipping and brewing up on the shore, and he loved Jane.

Jane considered herself not bad; she wasn't a vain girl, but she knew that she looked better in riding boots than in the slimming strips of a fashion store. She had the hourglass shape, robust healthy complexion and shiny hair of a woman completely ready to bear children, with sharp, elegant, Italianate features, and a sardonic curve to her smile. Ben had relaxed her, and his gentle, unconditional, undemanding affection had produced a purpose in her which she welcomed. She was more experienced in love than Ben; but he was the One, she had realised after two romantic dates, when he had kissed her, held her hand, and taken her effortlessly to the place she knew existed in books and films without doing anything more than gazing into her large, dark eyes, and listening to her, actually listening, like nobody had ever done before.

"It's going to be easier for me," he said, "I'll have Joe, and a million things to distract me, and you'll just be slogging through your last three terms, submitting papers and polishing up your Polish!"

She smiled. "I don't know.. at least I won't have to worry about getting evil diseases and being eaten by pirhanas!"

"Or running out of supplies in the Andes and being eaten by Joe! Clarice... Tell me, Clarice - have the lambs stopped screaming?" Ben twisted his face up and did a passable Anthony Hopkins impression. Jane laughed, then said, mock seriously,

"Do you think you'll be able to contain yourself for that length of time, or shall I supply you with Bromide?"

Ben looked levelly back across the brown plastic table. "I don't know," he said quietly. "Those latin women are crazy.. the music.. the coca.. the heat.. it may prove too much for a young man to bear. I may have to turn to... Joe!"

Jane erupted in mirth at the thought of ultra-straight Ben making advances on his less-than handsome best mate, and Ben threw a gloriously camp sniff, then glared at her mock-offended, eyebrows raised, nostrils flared, eyes twinkling. Then he relaxed his face, and said,

"You know you are the only one, don't you."

"Yes..." she replied, slowly.

"In my heart, I mean," continued Ben, then coming close to her whispering in a lisp, "and altho in my pantth!"

"Yes. I hope so," replied Jane, suddenly defensive. The slapstick joking had contained Buster Keaton elements of pathos and surprise, and a shadow passed over her. She had never thought of losing Ben sexually, she realised, and suddenly it seemed very possible. Ben seemed oblivious to her change of mood, and remained camp and affected to amuse her. How Ben, she thought, briefly envious of his certainty and easy charm.

"Come on," she rose, grabbing Ben's arm, "the train is in!"

"Tally ho!" cried Ben, "Orft we jolly go to Brightington!" and they linked arms as they left the bar.

End episode five.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Redhill's Daughter

Episode four of Mrs Sunderbury And The Gold Earring.

Mrs Abigail Sunderbury sat on the train to Redhill and touched her left earlobe. It was tender and red, where the old gold hoop had once been. She felt flustered, put out, not quite herself, and this was not at all like her day-to-day efficient practical persona. How on earth had she managed to lose the bloody thing? She removed the other one carefully, putting it into her leather purse, and felt for the first time regret, and in far larger measure than she had expected. One minute she had been engrossed in the book, the passionate fantasy of her journey absenting her from the physical reality of the train; the next, the train had taken its revenge upon her, removing her balance and stealing her jewellery.

Aside from the odd and unaccustomed feeling of resentment towards an inanimate object, she realised that she also felt a long, blue note of sadness, like Miles Davis used to hit in the beatnik coffee shops she attended before deserting youth for stability. She wished she had worn any other earrings than these ones, and knew in her heart that she was missing something.

"Any tea, coffee, drinks, snacks?" The clattering, unwieldy trolley pushed by a smiling African down the slender aisle approached her, and she caught his eye, and said, "Cup of tea, please," but her voice caught slightly in her throat, and she coughed to cover up this unexpected display of emotion.

"That's one pound please," said the man gently, carefully placing the tea, with lid and paper napkin, on the table in front of her. She avoided meeting his eye whilst handing him the coin, and turned her head towards the suburbs of south London, as garden by garden, park by park, road bridge by rail bridge, her world steadily transformed itself into leafy, green Surrey.

She would soon be with Ilona, and she let the thought of her cousin comfort her, as the nodding rhythm of the train took her back to an earlier journey across Europe, many years previously. The hope that she had felt, the promise of new life, her youth ahead of her, her looks and figure intact - these were always the feelings she held onto, necessary to brave her total immersion in a new and alien culture, the way she was used to describing her past to herself and others; but now she remembered the fear of not knowing, the terror of leaving everything she knew, and the awful knowledge of her coming loneliness, and could do nothing but watch the sadness of that time seep under her well-washed mental linoleum.

* * * * * * * * * *


The night must have ended by now, she thought, but in the darkness, she couldn't tell. She knew she had to move soon, or else she felt she would be unable to move ever again. She thought maybe her leg was broken; she had been bleeding from a cut on her head, but that seemed to have stopped. Slowly she raised her hand to her head and felt the rough cut above her eye. She had got that for making noise at the wrong time. The wrong noise at the wrong time. She shuddered, and retched. Nothing came. She felt the awful creeping horror of withdrawal begin its massacre of her thinking mind. She could see practically nothing in this basement, only vaguely remembered entering the place with three or four other hopeless cunts a million years ago. She shifted slightly, fighting nausea, and squinted towards the only glint of light which spread like a dull fan under the thick steel-coated industrial door. Those bastards, they had ripped her off, raped her, knocked her out, stolen her shit. If she didn't get out, she was dead. And maybe she was dead anyway. But she wasn't going to stay here and go cold turkey.

She pulled herself half up, and lacking the energy to stand, her left leg throbbing incessantly, she pushed and slid across the smooth concrete floor. Twice she stopped to dry-retch. Gasping for breath, she pushed herself on until her wet forehead was resting on the metal. The door was heavy; she rammed her tiny arse into the rack, and wriggled until she had enough of her body in the crack to use her torso as a lever. The hinges made a loud groaning sound as the gap widened, and she stopped for a few seconds, heart pounding, scared. But nobody came, nobody heard. She could hear instead the drone of daytime traffic far above. Traffic=people=money=smack. She arched her bony body and pushed desperately at the door, and it gave sufficiently for her to squeeze through it. She left some of her light blonde hair sticking to the doorframe as she started up a long stairwell, and the wound above her eye opened up once again, but she noticed nothing. She just allowed the hard knot of need to pull her up and up, and eventually she stood outside, blinking, and shaking, at the end of a long alleyway.

She was filthy and cold. It was a dull day, raining slightly. She knew where she was roughly - she stood up and tested her bad leg. It was very painful. She started to limp down to the entrance, to where the cars and the people were. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. How long had she been there? At the end of the alley, there was wire fence with a hole in it. She was so small, she passed through it easily, and stood in York Way, facing Kings Cross. She caught sight of herself in a car mirror. Jesus, she thought, fucking holy Jesus. Where are you when I need you? Then she said aloud, "Mary Shervington, daughter of this Parish, twenty four years old, you fucking junkie whore piece of shit." A mother on the other side of the road pulled her child urgently onwards and out of earshot.

She looked closer at herself, smiled and winced - she looked much worse if she smiled. She decided to find a pub toilet and get cleaned up - it would help get her the cash she needed. The withdrawal was beginning to kick in and her stomach was cramping. Fighting the rising panic, she set off towards the huge station complex as fast as her damaged leg would take her.

End episode four.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Jane And Ben Do Brighton

Episode three of Mrs Sunderbury And The Gold Earring.

Jane and Ben headed off the tube train, with the gold earring firmly stuck in the pages of Ben's Rough Guide to Brazil. As they stood smiling at one another, the up escalator carried them towards ground level and the metal and glass caverns of Victoria Station. Ben noticed that his bag was open, and mid-sentence, zipped it up, sealing Mrs Sunderbury's inadvertent gift in rainproof darkness.

Jane stared at Ben's handsome, kind face and felt that happy-sad feeling for which English has no proper name, a simultaneity of emotions, neither one predominant. She was happy because she was with the man she loved, and she felt loved; she was sad because fate was about to part them, she returning to her final year at university where she was studying Russian, and he having finished his degree, off on a long-planned trip of a lifetime to South America with his best friend Joe.

Jane was not jealous, but she was uncertain even with the strength of feeling that existed between them, how they would survive the long months of separation. She feared the worst and hoped for the best. She remembered Beckett: "I can't go on. But I must! So I will.." and took his existential declaration to heart. Ben was loyal, he was stable, they were in love. She was determined to enjoy the time they had together and to be of good cheer. This was to be their last day together before Ben and Joe headed off to Heathrow tomorrow morning, and a day in Brighton, where they had first kissed, was Ben's romantic choice.

Victoria teemed and brimmed with human energy, as always, and they crossed the busy concourse. Ben marvelled aloud at how many times collisions between fast-moving people seemed inevitable but failed to happen. "It's like birds," he said, "we know how they fly, but we still don't know quite how they all move together in the air.." Jane could see kind of what he meant, but knew better than to articulate her confusion. As they approached platforms 15 to 19, she looked forward to the train journey, the coming hour close to her lover in the snug seats, staring through the window as the train moved south, discussing Life.

"Let's get a coffee," she suggested, "We have ten minutes."

End episode three.

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Ilona Observes The Revolution

Episode two of Mrs Sunderbury And The Gold Earring. Don't get any wrong ideas about structure.. this is fiction in the style of gestural painting.

Ilona sat reading in the window of her small flat in Redhill, waiting for her cousin to arrive. It was mid-morning and she was still not dressed. She was musing about the way self-rule drifts in and out of "legitimacy" as it establishes itself. She had friends in Ramallah, Palestine, and they wrote emails to her describing how the economic stranglehold of the Israelis, now tightened further by the withdrawing of EU and US funds, was making day to day life untenable. Armed robbery was now commonplace even in civilised East Jerusalem.

Like the Irish and South Africans, once seen as terrorists, the PLO had been redeemed, and she supposed, that would eventually be the path of idealistic, immature, uncorrupt Hamas, who had the cheek to have gained power by winning a model election, but who refused to give up their nation's claim to its land, its right to bear arms, and its self-determination. You can have democracy, she observed, as long as the results go our way. It's Henry Ford politics: Any colour you like, so long as it's red, white and blue.

"On the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising, the BBC News website considers its significance and the electoral attraction of marking it." she read. "Rebels fought against British rule in Ireland Early on Easter Sunday morning in 1916 a motley group of rebels set out through the streets of Dublin to loosen Britain's imperial hold on Ireland by force of arms. They were soon dislodged from the curious assortment of buildings, including a biscuit factory and the General Post Office, which they seized. But the grip they took on the political imagination of the nation too shows no sign of slackening."

Motley group! Only the BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation could describe national heroes who died for their country as "motley", she thought, only the British would dare to still be so disparaging about these brave and devoted freedom fighters.

Ilona's grandfather had been in the Hungarian resistance during World War 2 and had carried both physical and mental scars afterwards as a result. He was a passionate, moody man, who had often made it clear that it would have been better if he had not survived, carrying the weight of his appalling experiences through the long years after the war. When she was learning German as a child, he had taught her the phrase, "Wer Hat die Nazi Gold gestollen?" - "Who stole all the Nazi gold?" - to illustrate that even the supposedly "good" nations, like Switzerland, owned their fair share of guilt, and when she had been punished for teaching the phrase to her fellow students, her grandfather had praised her and bought her favourite cake. He had managed to instill in her a deep regard for the process of political change, and a lifelong appreciation of the hypocrisy of vested interests. Odd, then, that before he died, he had arranged for her to come to England, bastion of capitalism, co-creator of the Zionist state she had marched against, and living embodiment of all things bourgois.

She sighed, and closed the lid of the laptop she was browsing. The disk scratched and whined as it spun down. Her cousin Abigail would be here soon, stiff, conventional Abigail, whom she loved in a way reserved for family, but found the gulf between them an effort to cross. A couple of hours on the phone, not a problem; she could simultaneously be channel-hopping, or observing the elegant young husband across the way for some future erotic fantasy; but in person, Abby would demand her rapt attention and be offended if she didn't get it. The price of single life, she reflected, and went upstairs to change into something more presentable than an emerald-green robe and red slippers.

End episode two.

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Mrs Sunderbury And The Gold Earring

It's been a few months since I wrote fiction - here is episode one of a new story which was inspired by a moment I recently witnessed on the Underground.

Mrs Abigail Sunderbury wore black. She did so not out of religious obligation, nor fashion choice, nor mourning, but simply because at the end of her thirties, two decades previously, she had recognised that she was no longer a Mademoiselle, as the French would have observed, but a Madame.

Mrs Sunderbury had never visited Paris, although once, when she was twenty six, she had been invited there for a weekend by a colleague in the large department store that she worked in, keeping first Bedding, and then Stationery, then after studying for her exams, Accounts, in good order. She had declined his passionate invitation calmly and quietly, knowing that he was working his way through the most available and gullible female members of staff, and her confidence, though small like her diminutive frame, was sufficiently intact to enable her to refuse this offer which could end only in tears. Years later she wondered whether she would have fared any different in his amorous scheme - he had asked her three times, and when he transferred, returning to a wife secreted in Hartlepool, he gave her a present, a pair of 18 carat gold, hooped earrings.

Mrs Sunderbury had later met and married Mr Sunderbury, a customer who had charmed her at the till and wooed her with flowers and compliments; but the marriage had not been a happy one, marred by his obsessive, secretive gambling, hidden debts, and unpredictable domestic furies which had terrified her. Fortunately, although it did not seem so at the time, he met his end after only nine months of marriage, in a car accident in appalling weather on the way back from Newmarket. His life insurance cleared all the debts and enabled Mrs Sunderbury to establish a reasonably comfortable life. She continued to work at the shop, did not attempt further intimate male relationships of any kind, and watched the years tick by without effort.

Mrs Sunderbury was about to turn sixty. Soon the world she knew would end - forty years working in a single retail establishment in Central London, and she found herself uncharacteristically thoughtful. She was making a rare trip out of London to meet up with her distant Hungarian cousin Ilona. Dressing in her usual black, she found herself putting on the gold hooped earrings, something she did to mark events which were outside the normal routine.

Ilona was a sweet women, she observed, whilst patting her short hair in front of the mirror and applying some careful foundation, if a little dotty; but family was family. She exchanged cards, and they spoke on the telephone once or twice a year. Ilona was connected from her mother's East European side. The post-war diaspora scattered relatives across the world, and only two had arrived in England - the others had all headed to America and Australia.

Mrs Sunderbury left the quiet semi-detached house she inhabited in Southgate and set off for Victoria station. She would change at Finsbury Park, rather than Green Park, she considered - she would almost certainly get a seat all the way. Down the elegant stairwell and onto the station platform, as was her daily commute, but with long-overdue holiday time taken before it became meaningless, she was in the unhurried late morning, and taking unaccustomed time to observe. She carried with her a robust, shiny black bag, which seemed far larger than it was in contrast to her own slight figure.

She plonked the bag firmly on the seat next to her to deter squashers, a technique born of long experience, and as the train moved south, she took out a cheap paperback book and began to read.

"His main concern was being found out," she read, "as he parked his throbbing Bugati on the gravel at the side of the East Wing." Her lips were tightly pursed and her brow furrowed as she concentrated on the pulp fiction romance that was her staple diet. She knew it was trash, but it was a predictable distraction from the loneliness of her mundane existance. She read the sex scenes like a gardener viewing beds of annuals, nodding with approval at appropriate planting, variation of colour, and clever use of foliage. By the time she had arrived at Finsbury Park, she had witnessed consensual adultery, rape, and a particularly vicious poisoning.

She managed to switch over to the Victoria Line train and took exactly the same seat as she had occupied on the Picadilly Line train, putting the big black bag back on the seat next to her. Screwing up her face again, she delved back into to book, hunched against the carriage. At Kings Cross the train started to fill, and a large young black man wearing descending trousers, a personal stereo and several gold chains sat directly opposite, contriving to sprawl and yet at the same time, nonchalantly respect Mrs Sunderbury's space. At Oxford Circus, the train became really packed, and finally, a young woman with a murmured "excuse me" sat down on the sliver of seat that was left; but Mrs Sunderbury took no notice of her buttock-shifting wriggling manouevres in her attempt to achieve a better perch, lost as she was in her book, and in any case, accustomed to fiercely resisting any such encroachments on her territory.

As the train neared Victoria two stops later, the young woman, half-off the seat, rose early and stood next to her boyfriend, who had remained upright gripping a handrail. He raised his eyebrows and said in a voice loud enough to be heard, "She could have moved her bag!"

The young woman flashed a smile of gratitude for the sympathy, but indicated with her eyes that it really was not worth making a fuss. He caught the meaning, smiled back, and kissed her quickly, affectionately, and she laughed. The train began to slow, and more people stood up and prepared to exit.

Mrs Sunderbury lifted her gaze from her book, and seeing that Victoria underground station was hoving into view, stashed the book into the bag, and rose. Just as she did so, the train slowed suddenly, and most of the people standing up were thrown forward. Mrs Sunderbury made a sudden, anxious grab for the handrail, and her hand accidentally caught in the hoop of her left earring, which pinged off and flew across the carriage. It landed unnoticed by anyone in the open top of the boyfriend's backpack, and fell into the pages of a travel guide.

"Oh!" she said, startled by the violence of the train's movement, trying to steady herself and not fall on top of the young man in front of her, who despite his cool, registered a look of brief alarm. He swiftly pulled himself up to almost vertical, chivalrously took her flailing right arm and held it for a second, allowing to readjust her balance.

"Thank you, I'm sorry, thank you," she blurted out, flustered, small hot spots burning through her makeup, embarassed by his male proximity.

"Oowite, oowite," he calmly reassured, gently levering her back onto her feet now that the train had slowed and stopped. Mrs Sunderbury clutched at her left ear, as the young woman and her friend stepped onto the platform, realising that her earring was missing. Her sharp eyes began to dart around like a bird, to the floor, the seats, the passengers who were remaining seated. People were beginning to enter the train. She couldn't see the earring anywhere. It must have come off when the train jerked. But where was it? She felt an old, cold fear, and with a tremendous effort of will, steadied herself physically and mentally, picked up her bag, and left the train.

On the platform, Mrs Sunderbury made sure that the other earring was still there, took a deep breath, and decided to deal with her feelings once she was on the train to Redhill.

End episode 1

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Lost In Hype

Blog of Funk In Danger Of Succumbing To Podcast Hype could be the title, but it's too long. Hype comes from the word Hyperbole, meaning over-statement, verbosity, and that definition is two words too many.

There is a real danger with the current podcast feeding frenzy that the scene might implode as a result of believing its own hype. We may be lithe mammals, knowing we represent some element of the future, yet we are tiny. Dinosaurs still rule, and they can eat all the vegetation for smiles and step on us without noticing.

This BBC article makes the point that the relatively small size of the podcast audience cuts through the hype surrounding podcasting. Yet this article appears on the BBC website, and the BBC itself is responsible for promoting both RSS and podcasting via it's broadcast and internet services. As the respected voice of Auntie Beeb makes podcasts something your mum knows about, small businesses erupt with new-found syndicated opportunity, and podcasting appears on school curriculums, it is hardly surprising that podcasting seems to be punching above its weight. I think the BBC is as much to blame as anyone for this upsurge in interest. It seems contradictory that they are in such denial about it.

What happens to those whose aspirations drive them onwards, but who lack the awareness to know their limitations? Exhaustion. What happends to those seers who know the future and its glorious possibilities but are condemned to live in the present? Exclusion.

Meanwhile, I've noticed that my writing has suffered and I put that down to taking podcasting far too seriously, wasting my energy trying to mix audio in too small a room, and in this way losing some of my creative focus. Can't have that... So I'm off to write about a gold hoop earring which flew from the ear of a sour-faced woman on the Victoria Line.

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Saturday, April 08, 2006

Reservoir Pods


The cream of British Podcasting strut past BBC Television Centre, Wood Lane, in menacing Quentin Tarantino style, earlier this afternoon.

Here's an interview conducted by Chris Vallance of the BBC.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Now Show Goes Podcast

Went to the Drill Hall tonight with GGF, courtesy of Chris Vallance from Pocketplanetradio to watch the recording of the first in the new series of Radio 4's The Now Show.

This is the first BBC Radio comedy to be a podcast. It was a strange and patchy show, with some oddly self-conscious satirical references to the Blooker Prize (Sam Pepys? Come on, you can do better than that!) and a song by Mitch Benn which made great play of the supposedly giveaway-for-free nature of the music included in the podcast. Um, right. Ha ha. There was also some rather snide comment about podcast bandwagon-jumping. I think they are missing the point, somehow. Later I remembered the Henry Ford quote, who observed that when something new comes along, at first people laugh at it, then they scorn it, and after that, they all use it. Guess we are at the beginning of the third phase, then.

The highlight for me was the part after the main recording, when fluffed lines have to be re-recorded for later editing. In my own podcasts I am very aware that production technique is something which separates the podcast men and women from the waffling boys and girls, and which along with decent microphones and (gasp!) scripts lifts the medium into the land of reasonable standards and potentially larger audiences. Of course, leave a bunch of actors and stand-up comedians alone with a warm friendly audience, and you won't see them sitting patiently and obeying the producer.

As matters dragged on, warning the audience that, once they emerged, there would be nobody else left alive in Britain as Bird Flu took its deadly toll, Marcus Brigstocke was particularly funny as he began impersonating David Attenborough narrating Planet Earth - "This... is one of the most inhospitable places on Earth... where shards of urine fly out of the ground... at regular intervals... and I have sent a camera crew there... just because I can..." Great tittering stuff.

I made it my business to put Mitch "Brian Blessed" Benn right after the show and pointed out that, in their clumsy way, MCPS-PRS were attempting to send some money at least to copyright holders with their new license scheme. I was conscious of how completely unfunny I was, but I guess that's how it is after a comedy show.

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A Threesome With Two Million Other People

Every so often, the internet spawns something of great beauty which can only be of the internet, from the internet. Help Win My Bet is surely such a thing.

Basically the site revolves around a deal struck by an arguing couple, in which if Jim manages to get 2 million hits on his website by April 2007, Allison agrees (with various precautionary restrictions) to a threesome.

Note the Cinnamon Toast Crunch (right). I wonder if that will play a part in the menage? Could enhance the smell of sex in a warming, exotic way.

As of today, it looks like he's there... I say: Go for double or quits, Jim!

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

All-Italian Bollocks

This morning my tea is Ginkyo Green. I don't know what it is with my cups of tea that gives me such delight, but I always loved the quote that is attributed to Confucius (as is everything Chinese interesting or profound) which says of tea, "the first sip is ecstasy; the second, enlightenment; the third, madness."

Perhaps it is that I no longer enjoy that sip of red wine with an evening meal, that breakfast cognac, perhaps it is the smoking morning reefers of yesteryear, curling their psychoactive weed fragrances around the corners of my sleepwaking manglemind no more; but in fact, tea was my first drug, and it shall be my last - tealeaves of the future, and tealeaves of the past...

And with my morning tea, a moment of joy to parallel the first near-scalding sip as the complex anti-oxidant rich flavours cascade across my tongue and send frolicing shivers of fun into my central nervous system - courtesy of the Italian election. Like everything else in their extraordinary culture (except tea, which they make poorly, if at all) the Italians imbue their elections with a style and vivacity unknown to the so-called developed world. My tea was enhanced this morning by the following exchange between Italy's PM Silvio Berlusconi and rival Romano Prodi who swapped the following banter in their second televised head-to-head encounter:

"The prime minister clings today in the way a drunkard clings to lamp-posts - " Mr Prodi said, "not for illumination, but to keep him standing up."

Mr Berlusconi replied: "I will not accept that. Have a little respect for the prime minister. Let me return Prodi's remark about the drunk by saying that Prodi is like a useful idiot - he lends his cheery parish priest face to the left, which is 70% made up of former communists."

What class of insults are these! What beauty in their construction! What relish in their delivery! And yet, I read that a great apathy holds the great modern Italian nation in a vice-like grip, as they witness the same old public figures swapping the same old tired arguments in an endless attempt to wrest and keep power, with 25% of them still undecided.

With the aid of tea (rather than an espresso coffee) I have come to the conclusion that they are held back by their elegance, restricted by the grace and poetry of their language. I think we need to come to the assistance of the Italians, inventors of ice-cream, the ten-hole ocarina and liposuction, with some gritty Anglo-Saxon insults for their would-be leaders. I see the exchange developing in London street-style thus:

"Oi, Berlusconi - slag! Media ponce! Fuck off back to your rich-list pals and sort out the cheesy syrup!"
"Prodi - you hairy stone-age commie bastard! Fuck off back to Europe and eat chips you Belgium-loving queer!"
"No you fuck off!"
"No you fuck off!"
"Fuck off back to your lampost you dog-fucker!"
"Fuck off back to China you baby-boiler!"
"Dog fucker!"
"Baby boiler!"
"Dog fucker!"
"Baby boiler!"
"Dog!"
"Baby!"
"Dog!"
"Baby!"
"Drunkard!"
"Priest!"
"Drunkard!"
"Priest!"
"Drunk Priest!"
"Don't try and confuse me with your left-wing intellectualism you filthy socialist!"
"Don't accuse me of socialist intellectualist tricks you media-manipulating capitalist!"
"Left Wing Arsehole!"
"Right Wing Prick!"
"Commie Wanker!"
"Fascist Cunt!"
"Fuck off!"
"You fuck off!"
"No you fuck off!"
"You fuck off!"
"Fuck off!"
"Fuck off!"
"Wanker!"
"Fart breath!"
"Shit head!"
"Tit head!"

If they would only adopt this lesson in insults, they would soon see a lifting of the terrible apathy that afflicts their mighty nation; and as young people flock to join the political parties which provide them with the choicest insults, a reinvigoration of the political process.

Desiderano in tensione gli italiani ed i loro insulti glorious!

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Delicatessen

I saw the 1991 film Delicatessen again at the weekend. This beautifully shot, charming French film is set in a retro, post-apocalyptic world, with food so scarce that the glowering butcher/landlord regularly hires handymen in order to dispatch and serve them to his tenants.

Underneath the pavements in the dripping sewers, oil-skinned troglodytes lead a subterranean vegetarian resistance existence and eschew the meat-eating cannibalism of the city dwellers above.
The clown (whose partner the chimp Livingstone has been eaten) becomes the focus for the amorous intentions of the short-sighted butcher's daughter, and the intricately interwoven plot, with a sub-plot for every tenant, revolves around the flowering of love in this precarious environment.

I love this darkly disturbing, comic film, but the experience of watching it again was very painful. It was a great surprise to me that my mood plummeted despite enjoying every scene, and I found myself actually depressed when GGF (who eats a healthy balanced diet with occasional tendencies towards sweets) asked for a second helping of ice-cream.

The subject of food, and a combination of memories associated with the film and current concerns about the health of a dear friend took me back to 1991. It reminded me too much of a time when I lived with a bulimic and food was fraught with danger. Bulimia nervosa is like an addiction, except that, unlike heroin or cocaine or valium, you NEED food to live, and so you must continue to eat.

This was a love relationship of the most profound kind, and even though we have been apart for seven years, although I do not want to admit it, I am still recovering. To survive, I suppressed what pain it was to live with a compulsive-obsessive. Remaining intellectually aware of the fact, the awful emotional turbulence of that time and the personal damage it cause me has been lurking in my own underground passages all this time. So I abandoned the film, and begged my girlfriend not to eat ice-cream, in a way I never did fifteen years previously. The daily fear that the messy situation would turn to tragedy - suicide a very real possibility, and an estimated 10% death rate - actually wounded me far more deeply than I realised, and it has taken me fifteen years to acknowledge.

Later the next day, we resumed the DVD and watched it to the end. I do not remember having such an extreme reaction to any film; how bizarre, I reflected next day, that I can watch horror and sleep like a baby, but this delightful comedy should plunge me into a personal abyss.

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