I've got about a thousand songs on my Nomad.
Back when I was young, we used to have records. They were big - twelve inches wide. They came in cardboard sleeves, and when you bought them you could put them in a big plastic bag to carry them home. They flapped in the wind, but only rarely were snapped in two by bashing against the toggle on your duffle coat. And they had ten songs on them, or thereabouts, on two sides of about 22 minutes each.
And they were a bugger to play an individual track on - you had to lift the stylus (or "needle" if you couldn't afford a stylus), and then you had to put it down carefully. Otherwise you'd damage the record. This was a good thing to do, sometimes, like if it was your younger sister's record, and she'd had the last Jammy Dodger.
But it was much easier to listen to a whole side all the way through. Five songs, 22 minutes.
Then we got a tape recorder. Back then, this was a separate thing. So you had to have the microphone (built-in to the tape recorder) very close to the speaker of the record player (built in to the record player) if you wanted to tape a record. It was a lot of hassle, but you could fit both sides of almost all records on to one side of a TDK C90. And it got even easier after the invention of the "music centre", which had a wire that ran from your record player (which was now called a "turntable") to your tape recorder (which was still called a "tape recorder").
Now we could listen to a whole album (as records were called), all the way through, without getting up and turning the thing over. Or scratching it. Tapes were portable and cool, and with the invention of the Walkman (looked like a brick when it came out), you could listen to the whole thing as you walked around.
The size of music had changed. Before that, we listened to records a side at a time. Now we listened to them a record at a time.
Recognising this, the music industry decided to invent the compact disc. This only had one side, and you could get about 40% more music on it. Nobody told recording artists, and they still went on writing ten song albums, structured around two halves, until eventually records disappeared except for 'scratching', which was ironically what we'd wanted to avoid all along.
Essentially, anyway, the concept of an album changed. Before, each side would have been constructed to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Really, it would. People used to really care about the order of songs on an album. If you don't believe me, tough. When the CD did away with 'sides', the whole approach to delivery changed. It took a bit of time, but the beginning-middle-end cycle suddenly applied to twelve songs over a single side of a CD rather than five songs, all on one groove etched into a vinyl disc.
The CD lasted as the main source of musotainment, pretty much untainted for about five hundred years. But that's changing.
MP3 players (most of which play other formats, and only support MP3 as an afterthought) were introduced. Now you can zap all of your huge CD collection on to one small portable hard drive and carry it around with you. You can digitise almost all of your music collection (within certain limits due to copyright restrictions). So I've got 1,000 tracks or more, easily accessible. I can chop and change whenever I want. I can play an album if I want, or I can listen to random tracks.
The quantum of music used to be a side of an LP (as records were called), then it was a CD (as compact discs were called), and now... it's not even a track.
Because I can listen to anything, or everything, I listen to virtually nothing. Ten to thirty seconds of a track and it's already triggered every memory - times, places, events, smells, tastes. And a single button press and I've moved on to another new set of stimuli.
So what next for the quantum of music? The thirty second song? The intro with no lyric?
The "music industry" is already affected by this quiet revolution. The 'single' is being phased out, as obviously nobody is willing to pay three quid for a single track, three 'remixes' when in practice you can download it either for nothing (with attendant risks) or you can download it legally for just less than the cost of a new mobile phone logo. The CD is evolving by introducing security measures, making certain new CDs impossible to play on a PC - apart from the issue of whether or not this contravenes the purchaser's legal rights, all this really does is force people who want to listen to protected CDs through an MP3 player to download the tracks illegally - and that's got to have a positive impact on sales, doesn't it?
Overall, the response of the music industry seems to be about
- restricting freedom of trade
- underestimating the benefits of non-traditional distribution
- cutting margins
And sales of albums have increased.
However, if the quantum of music shifts ever smaller, from the CD to the track, to the intro, perhaps even to the chord or riff, how will the music industry respond?
And what do the artists want?
I didn't hear the bus as it mounted the pavement and ploughed in to the waiting queue. I was ten minutes walk away, wandering around Brown Thomas looking at plates and linen. There was no sudden silence, no air of shock fell over the city. All around us, life went on as normal, busy people leading busy lives.
I know the stretch of road where the accident happened well - most people who live in Dublin would. It's central, and always busy. Both sides of the road packed with impatient pedestrians, pushing past each other to get to the shops, the hotel, to the bus queue. Barging across the roads at the fleeting traffic lights, as the overloaded road strains with the weight of the traffic. It's a crossroads of man and machine, and something was bound to happen sooner or later. But not this.
In Lucan, an eleven year old girl, on the phone to her father, finds her conversation suddenly cut short. In a few brief seconds, five people are gone, and dozens more are hurt, physically and emotionally.
Five minutes away from this, we roll our eyes at the mad woman who is standing in the middle of the cinema queue, but having to explain to everyone that she is not actually in the queue, she just happens to be standing there and the queue happened around her. Six hours later we watch the news in stunned silence.
I was feeling tight in the shoulders and neck, so I called down and had a Shiatsu massage in my room... and the tightness has completely disappeared, and then replaced by unbelievable pain.
Large parts of Lost In Translation are a journey through my life.
The premise of the film is simple. Two people meet in Tokyo. They're both American, both basically trapped in Tokyo, they're jet lagged, they're disillusioned, and neither is having a particularly good time with their relationship.
The hotel they're staying in is the fantastic Park Hyatt, where Mr Twinky and I enjoyed a memorable dinner - it's thoroughly recommended. The bar they drink in is a bar where we drank a lot of whisky, after this very memorable dinner. As usual, though, I digress.
However, what drew me to the film most was the familiarity of the setting - being stuck in a hotel in a foreign country. I've spent a lot of my life in exactly that situation, and Sofia Coppola managed to capture the strangeness of hotel life perfectly - the odd balance between living in comfort and living in somewhere that is completely and utterly alien.
Ignore pants for a minute, and look at me. I am the great panjandrum himself.
That's what a weblog means, really. It's a means of communication that puts the writer firmly at the core, unassailable. For example, on this site, I write everything that appears on the main page, and comments are only available because I want them to be. Indeed, I can edit individual comments, delete them, and I do - regularly. The weblog puts the writer at the centre of his world, and allows him to control feedback.
In that respect, the weblog is a public facade. By commenting on this post, for instance, you're not actually interacting with me, you're interacting with my weblog persona. I realise I'm not making myself clear here, but what I'm trying to get to is:
Leaving me a comment here is not the same as e-mailing me. A comment is quite clearly public, and an e-mail is - as a result - more intimate.
Which is ironic, as I receive a huge amount of junk e-mail, much of which has very intimate content. But very few personal mails.
I'm only thinking this because I got an e-mail this morning, from someone who has said nice things about my weblog in the past, and someone whose weblog I follow. It's odd the way that the pervasiveness of comments has given us a world in which actually daring to e-mail could be seen as assuming a degree of familiarity. I know that I personally feel nervous about daring to send someone an e-mail.
But it was an unexpected pleasure to receive.
I've been doing my current job longer than I've done any other job in my life. It's getting to the stage where it's routine in some ways, and in other ways I am now so much of an expert at my job that all of the little shite queries come my way and take up my time. I need to move job, and in a company that only has fifteen people left there's not much scope for that.
I feel a couple of career-related conversations coming on.
"So are you coming then?"
My colleague is a tall slender man - half German, half Irish, in his early 40s, softly spoken and quietly assertive. He's tired. I have spent many minutes today in meetings with him, watching him during quiet moments as he slips in and out of consciousness.
"Absolutely," I say. For this is the man who has invited me to 1973 for the evening. Then I admit to him that I am not prepared in any way for this. I don't have a change of clothes - my neatly tailored suit may stick out like a sore thumb amidst the brown corduroy flares and tie-dyed tee shirts that I expect to see around me as we travel back. I am reassured, told not to worry, but a small knot forms inside me.
I keep an eye on my friend as he drives slowly through the centre of Dublin. I'm sure that he knows where he is going, but the journey from Harcourt Street to Stillorgan Road takes a painful age, and we pause regularly, just long enough to give him a chance to drop off again. The car is full of opera, newspapers, a faint smell of wet dog.
1973 turns out to be in Donnybrook. We are buzzed in through security doors.
From the outside, I would have guessed that 1973 was built in the mid to late 80s. It's got some quite spacious public spaces. But that's all a sham. 1973 is, in fact hidden behind two fire doors. It's deceptively spacious, but it's definitely 1973. Posh 1973.
The fun side of 1973 was the tail end of psychedelia. Glam, rollers, bright garish colours, mushrooms, love and possibilities.
We're in Posh 1973. A flat that - for no obvious reason - has a corridor with two steps down in to the living area. A kitchen stuck in a corner of a room making about a third of the remaining space unusable. All the latest gadgets. A Moulinex. An electric tin-opener. Furniture from the past, completely out of place in its current surroundings, placed there solely because it is inherited, and its current resting place is as far as the movers were prepared to take the monstrous dresser. And every surface - walls, bookcases, shelves in the dresser is covered in pictures. Of horses.
I politely decline the offer of Cinzano. We talk about Insurance, and briefly about the Gold Standard and whether or not the Conservative party would abolish the Dollar Pool if they ever got in to power. We chortle away to ourselves on these topics until the final guest arrives, and we can settle down to the main activity of the evening.
There are only three ways this evening can go. We could place our car keys in a glass bowl, and draw keys at random. We could pose for photographs, wearing only our underwear, and pointing at various parts of the wall as though we're interested in them. Indeed, I suspect that at least one of the other guests does that on his own on a fairly regular basis, and posts pictures on Usenet. But I digress.
The folding chairs are brought out. The twin packs of cards are carefully removed from their drawer. We play Bridge. For three hours. Conversation ebbs and flows, and from time to time, our host's wife floats through in her diaphanous dress and offers us cheese straws.
By the time the evening draws to a close, and I must return to my normal position in space and time, I've learned a strange new respect for the past, and a healthy fear of the unknown as well. 1973 is certainly more innocent than I remember it being, and it's got more pictures of horses than anyone could ever want.
There's something about David Jason.
I've got nothing against him, personally. I've got no complaints about his acting skills - and why should I? I never watched any of the shows I've mentioned above. Seventeen years ago, I enjoyed him in Porterhouse Blue, and while I was never a Dangermouse fan as such, I watched the show from time to time and enjoyed it.
However, he's been taken to heart by the British public, and is therefore worth shunning. I watched some Only Fools and Horses, didn't think that much of it, and before I know what's happening, he's a catchphrase and the show has run for eighty-five years and includes forty-six individual "absolutely final" episodes. Lovely Jubbly.
But the nail in the coffin, the point at which he became completely unwatchable
was when Darling Buds of May became a huge success. This was the show that roughly foisted Catherine Zeta-Jones on the world, for which we must be grateful and resentful in roughly equal measure. It was also the show that cemented Jason as a "family" name. Perrrrfec!
So obviously I could never watch him again. Frost was a huge success automatically, regardless of the quality of the show. I'm prepared to believe that the show was very good indeed. But I couldn't watch it. Not without seeing the man's face plastered across the cover of every low brow newspaper in the country, not without visualising the millions of housewives watching the show solely because it starred Del Boy.
As far as I'm concerned, I know it's my loss. I can't take him seriously as an actor.
gro.tesque (n) A style of painting, sculpture, and ornamentation in which natural forms and monstrous figures are intertwined in bizarre or fanciful combinations.
As in art, so in entertainment. The exaggerated forms, character traits developed to the extent where they become almost more important than the character themselves. And in the best cases, there is a character there with whom the audience can empathise and sympathise. Often small, often frail, often hidden by bombast.
Sometimes, grotesques are trumpeted by their name - Prunesquallor, Mrs Fezziwig, Mr Bronson, Basil Fawlty, Edina Monsoon, while others are more cunningly hidden behind such polite and charming names as "Mrs Bennett", "Ivy Brennan" or "David Brent".
A well-crafted grotesque is a pleasure to watch (or indeed to read about). They are often the comic character, the creatures of sitcom and light relief. They're familiar and larger than life, and we draw comfort from the fact that nobody in real life is like that at all.
I've argued in the past that British Television is among the best in the world. Admittedly, not recently, but at the moment, I'm finding it hard to even begin to justify that assertion. The only things that I would classify as 'must-see' at the moment are American, and the funniest programme appears to be a ruggedly realistic drama series set in a ficitious town near Manchester, where all of life is to be seen, in full horrible realistic detail. However, it's sponsored by Cadbury's and I refuse to watch it.
Cinema isn't inspiring me. The only film I'd want to see, Big Fish, I've seen already. I'm toying with Dogville, but none of Brother Bear, Scary Movie Three, Master and Commander, or Girl with a Pearl Necklace really grab my attention.
The last thing on television that grabbed my attention in any way at all was last week's Sea of Souls, where I was seduced by the promise of quirkiness and wound up glossing over the flaws of the plot due to the fact that I was wowed by the technical feats of the production. I'm quite prepared to watch something that makes no sense at all, as long as there's something there to catch my imagination, some flicker of potential.
A quick glance through tonight's television listings reveals
I appreciate the need for television to entertain. I appreciate the need for television to pander to the very lowest common denominator. But surely there's something out there for a vaguely intelligent man in his mid-thirties to watch that doesn't involve watching other people buying houses?
It's embarassing to see someone making a fool of themselves in public.
For example, a television viewer in Tennessee who claim that the exposure of a breast is "sexually explicit conduct". It's not. It's blatantly not. I'm not just saying this because I have no real interest in breasts.
I'm aware that the breast-flashing-taboo is deeply ingrained in our society, and I can see the reasons behind it, but I find it hard to reconcile the rationale behind the taboo with the current degree of reaction to Janet Jackson. What happened is nothing, compared to
I can understand that the argument boils down to protecting children. I guess I almost see that - but I suspect it's more about protecting parents from having to answer awkward questions when their child is at an age where they can't fully take in the answers. ("Mummy, why is it okay for Justin to take his shirt off but not Janet?" "Because she's old, sweetheart. Now go and play with GI Joe and Barbie.")
I just know I'm missing something, because this whole debate just feels stupid, and a waste of time and energy that could be better spent elsewhere.
I'm sure I've rattled on before about the power, or otherwise of swearing. It's all a load of arse, really.
The power of swearing, you see, is in the mind of the listener. If I'm swearing away and nobody hears, who am I offending? If I'm swearing in front of someone who uses the same sort of language as me, then there's nobody being offended, and the words have little or no meaning beyond punctuation, or an expression of the frustration that is endemic in today's life.
You can split offensive language in to a number of groups.
There's the religious words - taking the name of a deity or prophet in vain - and their derivatives. Words in this group would include the obvious "Christ" and "God" when used as expressions of exasperation, and the less obvious "Struth" and "Blimey".
Then there's the words relating to bodily functions, be that copulatory or defecatory. Words such as "Fuck" and "Arse", "Shit" and the like would fall in to this category.
These two categories are what we generally regard as 'swearing'. However, we also include defamatory phrases in our definition of language that may cause offense. So racist, sexist or homophobic words like "Faggot" are offensive.
The level of offense that these words are likely to cause comes in waves. For example, a lot of the words that we would today classify as racial slurs were in common usage in polite society as recently as thirty years ago. In the 60s, the use of "the f word" on national television caused outrage. Today it is commonplace.
Remember, words have power because we give them power. "Sugar" is to "Shit" what "Blimey" is to "May God Blind Me". It's just a way of sanitising swearing.
What should society do about these words?
Looking around us, blasphemy is common, and largely acceptable.
Biological references are common in everyday speech, and as a result, are gradually losing their potency. I don't like to hear that sort of language coming from the mouth of a child, but that's my problem and my prejudice. From an adult, they offend me not one bit. Not even the 'most offensive word in the English language'.
The racist, sexist, homophobic words are more offensive to my ears, largely because some of them are directed at me from time to time, but also because they're clearly, deliberately offensive.
But again it's not clear. For example 'queer' - some people may use it as an insult, but for others it is an identification, a mark of pride.
Language evolves. The crude becomes accepted, the accepted becomes crude. This has nothing to do with maintaining standards. For the most part, this has nothing to do with blasphemy or seeking to cause offence. This is just the way things are.
In any case, it is not really the word that people are offended by. It is the attitude behind the word.
Ah, Sea of Souls.
We watched this on Monday and Tuesday nights, thinking it was a two-part psychological thriller starring Shona Spurtle.
What fools we were.
It turns out that Ms Spurtle was little more than an amusing diversion, and the series is really about Her off East is East and Him the Irish Actor that isn't called Colin or Cillian. So not all bad, then. And Bill Paterson.
It's Scottish, of course, which is why it's fronted by a Scotsman, an Irishman and an Englishwoman. I've always had a soft spot for BBC drama produced and set in Scotland, and I don't really know why. It's nothing to do with the familiar setting, as almost all Scottish drama that is set in a city is set in Glasgow, or in pretend Edinburgh (it's Edinburgh in the long shots, but Glasgow close-up) - and I don't know Glasgow that well. It's not the accents, as for similar reasons I often find the accents in Scottish drama to be largely impenetrable.
I suspect it's the ability to do something quirky and not-quite-mainstream, such as the classic Tutti Frutti, the not-so-classic Playing for Real, the classic Takin' Over the Asylum, the fascinating The Key and the downbeat and realistic Monarch of the Glen.
Or perhaps I'm just wibbling.
Anyhow, I enjoyed Sea of Souls. It didn't blow me away (regular readers will know that very little does), but it was good enough to make me want to watch some more. And in the dearth of entertainment that currently passes for television ("I'm a former celebrity, feed me insects!"), I'll clutch at that straw.
It's all go round our way. This morning, our cleaner came round, closely followed by the man who was going to fix the water pump, followed about twenty minutes later by Joe, who was about 23, ginger, goateed, chunky in a good way and completely incomprehensible when he spoke. He seemed to be fixing our burglar alarm, but he might have been offering to take me round the back and check out my plumbing, for all I know.
The trick with setting up a network is:
For a variety of spurious reasons, our network is being changed. Sixteen of us are being migrated from one server to another. There's an awful abuse of the English language. Shhhh, don't mention it and nobody will care. For me, they did this last Monday night. And by 9am on Tuesday morning, everything was fine, except that I can't access our own intranet. So no great loss, really.
But they'd done something wrong. So on Thursday night they remigrated me and spent an hour rebuilding my profile from scratch. That makes me sound like some horribly scarred victim of plastic surgery, or someone who was in an accident and had do be reconstructed for an open-casket funeral. Yum.
This was okay. I still couldn't access my company intranet, but still didn't really care. And a few things needed tweaked here and there, and they mislaid the top fifty most important e-mails that I was working on thinking about replying to, filing, or deleting. But other than that, and the fact that I couldn't print for half a day, everything seemed to go all right.
Today, my PC thinks that it's 2.30 on Saturday morning, and won't let me change my settings. It invented a new hard drive. Twice. And told me that I was using it and would lose data if I tried to delete it. And I can't open Excel without Excel trying to edit a macro on a hidden worksheet that I didn't know I had.
Tomorrow, who knows?
For about a week now, I've been attempting to set up a small local wireless network. The idea of this would be that I'd still have my main PC, all wired up and sat ina dark dingy corner, but I would also have a laptop that I could wander around with, pacing through the corridors of our beautifully proportioned two-room apartment as I look things up, leave comments on weblogs and break wind in an amusing manner.
It took me a week of installing, and reinstalling, of looking up and treble checking before I discovered that the security that I had installed on my main PC was treating my attempts to network with it as a threat, and cutting me off without warning.
My, how I laughed when I found that out.
Now, all I have to do is work out how to resolve it...