Saturday, January 31, 2004

Cripes! I remember that night...and I really loved that flying jacket! Leave them up mate, no problem!
My oh my! Has it really been so long? How terribly remiss of me. Maybe I should configure my keyboard to call up excuses on, let me see.

F1. Retro rockets failed on re-entry.

F2. Software infected by Bkdr.Laphroaig.exe virus.

F3. Anyone got 50 forints for the meter?

F4. Wastelladagain.

F5. Abducted by aliens.

F6. Got blog on.

F7. Downloading pornography. Normal service will be resumed when feeling returns to at least one hand.

F8. Can't be arsed. Bog off!

F9. Farted too close to pilot light. Am currently at an altitude of 30,000 feet somewhere over Pasadena.

F10. Overdosed on csereznye paprika. Am busy disengaging 30 feet of lower intestine from out the U-bend.

All highly plausible of course but more than a few astronomical units distant from the truth of the matter which, as ever, turns out to be much more prosaic.

Would that but I could put my finger on it, nail it down, define it, discern its nub, core or kernel and lay it before you in its purest, undiluted form. I can feel that gland kicking in the deep, dark stillness of the night when all those unanswerable questions are posed like, "Why do men have nipples?" and "Why is there always more shaving foam than I actually require left on my hand prior to shaving?" and not forgetting the classic "Why have the Blades fucked it up again?", there comes the irrefutable answer, "Bugadifino!"

I suppose it's a combination of factors really.

1. The availability to myself over the last 2 weeks of anything which might even remotely be described as leisure time has been of a quantity akin to that of brain cells at a Bush fundraiser. Negligible at best. Nugatory in the worst possible light.

2. The fact that Jess has, extremely selfishly in my opinion, buggered off to Niue and thus failed to provide me with even a word of the day for inspiration. (Just checked e-mail...welcome back, my pedocentric little playmate, you!).

3. The fear that my writing might just have caught up with my present. That I may have exhausted my store of worthwhile material.

4. Marking examination papers and consequently being exposed to so much Hunglish has resulted in several short circuits in those parts of my cerebellum responsible for the production of intelligible English.

So, whither do I proceed? Well, I could start by providing my muse with the sustenance of a sausage sandwich (English mustard, seeing as you ask) and reflecting upon such input as I have received during my brief forays into the world of cyberspace over the past couple of weeks.

Firstly, I would like to put the six dwarfs' minds at rest regarding Fred Frith. "Burning guitar solos mean nothing." was a quote from the man himself, reproduced as a headline in the NME and cut out and pasted on his bedroom wall by our friend Stephen Feather.

It's difficult for me to talk about Steve. I knew him. Since we were about 12. If you were to push me, and I can feel your pressure, I would have to admit that there was no more formative influence on my teenage years. It was he who introduced me to Radio Luxembourg, it was with him that I would compile my own charts and compare them to those of Lux on the day of release. It was with him that my awareness was politicised, walking down High Storrs Road with him chanting "Heath out!!" when we were about 14. It was he who changed my life forever by playing me The Mahavishnu Orchestra's 'Inner Mounting Flame' at about the same time. Bye bye Prog Rock! Hello world! It was he whose hesitancy in matters sexual led to my stealing his girlfriend and losing my virginity. He who introduced me to the delights of marijuana, he who enlightened me as to the psychotropic qualities of Potter's asthma cigarettes when consumed in tea form, he who stopped me from committing arson when, under the influence of said tea, I was cooking 'mushrimps' in an empty pan on a lit stove in a cottage in Tetford, he who sat on the steps of my parents' house bemoaning his luck with the ladies and being overheard by my neighbours eavesdropping from their bedroom window (the swine!). It was with him that I spent summer solstice at Arbor Low, a stone circle in Derbyshire, and I remember sitting absolutely transfixed by the fire as he played guitar at absolute minimum of notes and yet capturing the mood to such a nicety of perfection it was almost painful. It was Steve who accompanied me on an illegal expedition to Amsterdam involving 48 grammes and a tube of toothpaste, he who went cold turkey in my living room, entrusting me with his well being for as long as it took.

Steve had a boldness that I lacked. A boldness that spilled over into recklessness. I don't really know what happened, what trigger led him to go ever further into exploring those areas that something inside me held me back from but there was a strong compulsion in Steve...a willful running away from his music, his relationships and in his choice of drugs and their recommended maximum dosage he would always push at the very limits. And yet a more normal, self effacing, gentle guy I have yet to meet. Rest in peace, Steve. I hope you found what it was you were looking for.

Suddenly, anything else I might have had to say seems rather pointless. I'm sure you will forgive an old man his tears.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Right, time to take a deep breath, pour myself a few fingers of Scotland's finest (speaking of which and as it's also his favourite tipple, you'd think my ex-roving researcher would know how to spell it by now!) and attempt to further clarify yesterday's little rantlet.

First of all, I'd just like to make it clear that there was no blanket statement "I like Americans, it's America I can't stand", although as a device for summing up my general drift and as an introduction to a response it served its purpose admirably, I feel it doesn't quite encapsulate the points I was trying to make. The nail was hit, but perhaps not as squarely as it could have been.

'I can't stand' is rather too close to 'hate' for my liking and certainly does not come close to describing how I feel about America. I hate neither the country nor its people, my emotion is reserved for what the country has come to represent in the minds of many non native Americans. Even then these feelings could better be classified under the heading of 'things that make you go "Aaaaaaaaaargh!"' rather than hate. Things that provoke me to anger, to a feeling of deep frustration and sometimes despair.

America seems to have become a code for all these things, a handy catch-all, shorthand expression for all that I find wrong with the world today. And why? Well, as I said yesterday, a lot could be put down to sheer exposure...the fact that I hear more about America than I do about say, Uzbekistan (shouldn't there be an aitch in there somewhere?) but I honestly do believe that if I need to find a prime example of anything that winds me up, then I can find the best ones in the land of the free. I'm not saying that I am unable to find any cant, hypocrisy, mendacity or ignorance in the country of my birth...they are there for all to see and I do not deny it but it seems to me to be a matter of extremes.

We spent half the last century witnessing a battle of ideologies, capitalism versus communism, America against the Soviet Union, a cold war in which both sides provided the extreme version of their political creed. Europe was kind of caught in the middle with an affinity for both socialism and the free market but also with an abhorence of totalitarianism. We looked at both systems and saw the cult of the individual at work. In the USSR's case the individual happened to be the one running the whole shebang and in the States it was every man for himself and devil take the hindmost.

We looked at both extremes and felt comfortable with neither. Since 1989 however, there has been only one extreme in existence and it has not toned down its extremity in response, rather the perceived attitude seems to be "Hey, we won...told you so...we were right after all, fuck you!" Again, this is at government, foreign policy level but to us over here, this is what we see.

Now, as England is undeniably a kind of America Lite it follows that anything which gets my goat in England is mirrored in America but multiplied by the A factor, hence my use of it as that shorthand I was telling you about.

But just to even up the score a little...

Mendacity...Tony (WMD) Blair.

Hypocrisy...Secretary of State for education sending her own children to private schools.

Ignorance...well, here we're back to the average IQ, aren't we? But typical attitudes here are British is best...asylum seekers are scrounging loafers...bloody blacks coming over here, taking our jobs...Wednesday are a big club...I could go on and on.

Cant...that typical European attitude that patronises America...the "of course, if you only had our experience, culture, education etc..." Again, bollocks the lot of it.

Anyway, rest assured that it is the rampant Republicanism of Dubya and his cohorts more than anything else which pushes all my buttons as a lifelong socialist and that any American I meet is and will continue to be treated on their merits as an individual and not as a grindstone for any axes I might have to hand.

Oh, and Jess...if ever you visit Hungary, just bring a bottle of obscure Bourbon. I promise not to treat you like an embarrassing relative and the more of a spectacle you make of yourself, the better I'll like it!

Oh well, I might stick a feather in my cap but I'm damned if I'll call it macaroni.

Pip, pip!

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

What is it with America? No, that's not quite right. What is it with ME and America? Why is it that on a multitude of subjects ranging from Islay malts through even the Blades to the relative merits of divergent brands of cigarette papers, I can remain coherent, well-balanced and rational and yet the merest whiff of Stateside carries within it the ability to reduce me to such a state that all right thinking individuals would raise little objection were I to be assisted into one of those long-sleeved shirts with no buttons down the front?

I've never even been there unless, that is, you count the transit lounge at Puerto Rico airport and even that was dominated by more Star Spangled Banners than you could shake a stick at.

But even though I have yet to visit it, it visits me on an almost daily basis. I can go through whole days, weeks, months even without ever being exposed to anything vaguely French, German or even Austrian which is strange considering I'm typing this not 100 kms from the Austro-Hungarian border. But open a newspaper, watch a film, turn on the TV, walk into a supermarket, drive under the yellow M and it's there. In your face, up close and personal. I guess that's part of it. I never get to hear of examples of Kan bait produced by other governments and cultures as often as I do those which are so very kindly provided by the good old US of A.

What makes it all the stranger is my personal experience of Americans. I have received nothing but kindness, generosity and friendship from every single one it has ever been my pleasure to meet, either virtually or in the flesh and they have proved to be intelligent conversationalists, good company and, even if one or two of them were rather too Creationist to fit neatly against my pagan edges, incredibly well-rounded individuals.

So my problem is not with individual Americans, then. I guess what causes me the most apoplexy can be lumped under the twin headings of Government and culture.

I realise that any discussion of US government will include points that are just as valid for most of our soi-disant western democracies but it appears to me that in the case of the States, everything is so much more so...we have to multiply everything by the A factor as it were. Examples of political chicanery and skullduggery abound internationally, but you wanna bigger and better one? Look no further.

Maybe it's the romantic in me but there must have been a time when politics was a noble calling, when governments actually led and attempted to form public opinion. The abolition of slavery, prohibition, the New Deal...even Kennedy's man on the moon within a decade, all these had the touch of the radical about them, a fearlessness that is so absent from politics today. Were all the above just catching the wave, tuning in to the Zeitgeist? I think not. But could you find me a politician today who dares open their mouth without consulting the latest opinion polls, the results of which will then quite coincidentally turn out to accord with their own long held beliefs? Government by the people? God help us. Capital punishment was abolished in Germany at a time when 78% of the German people were in favour of it. The same poll today would show that the percentages have reversed.

When I said I have had no problem with any American I have met, I meant exactly that but Americans en masse are a biscuit of an entirely different texture. When considering any mass of people it is always worth remembering that the average IQ of a human is 100. The largest part of any survey of public opinion will contain the views of those whom I would not trust to give me the correct change over the counter at McDonalds never mind formulate government policy.

And it isn't as if the politicians are unaware of this. They use it and manipulate it come election time, appealing to all that is low, baseless and selfish within the mass. When did you last hear a politician genuinely appeal to our higher nature, go against the grain because what they believed in was simply the right thing to do? And if, on the off chance that you have managed to come up with such an example, Ask yourself this. Did they get re-elected?

But then again, of US domestic policy I know little. What the rest of the world cannot help but notice are the ramifications of US foreign policy. And oh, my giddy aunt, what a spaghetti nest of cant, hypocrisy and mendacity that way lies.

I neither want nor have the time to go into this to the extent it deserves but I will take an example from current affairs. This whole fandango that is Guantanamo Bay. Now, I understand that the US isn't breaking international law here. Any laws or protocols that exist regarding any aspect of this the US is not a signatory to and thus cannot be accused of treaty breaking. But surely there is such a thing as the spirit of the law even if it is absurd to suggest that US law could be valid in say, Belgium for example. But when one starts to treat foreigners with less than one would treat one's own citizens and yet expect American citizens to be treated abroad as they would be at home, something is seriously out of whack. The thing that started this whole thing off today was discovering yesterday that the commandant of the camp has described the 32 suicide attempts amongst the non-lawful combatants held there as "manipulative behaviour." He should be on Oprah.

And that's another thing. Non-lawful combatants. What the fuck? I heard them described as non uniformed, non-members of regular army or some such. Maybe we should start rounding up any surviving members of the French resistance, then. Find a new use for Sangatte. Thing is, I don't recall the 'wars' in either Afghanistan or Iraq being agreed on at government level between all countries concerned. Maybe both those countries did in fact declare war on the US and I missed it. Maybe I'd popped out for some cigarette papers or something. America went in with a few minor 'coalition' members hanging on to their coat tails and then had the balls to decide who amongst the populations of those countries were legally entitled to fight them. Good grief!

Ooops, must go...I'll finish this later!

Right, now where was I? Oh, yeah...culture. Now I realise that this could easily turn into one of those discussions akin to that of the Jewish resistance movement in The Life of Brian..."Ok, well apart from Blues, Jazz, Gore Vidal, John Updike, David Byrne, Noam Chomsky etc...what have the Americans ever given us?"

Mind you, I would think that for all the pretty amazing things and people to have come out of America the Oprahisation of life and the cult of celebrity has been a rather high price to pay, but...onwards, ever onwards!

The fact which I find most boggling about US culture, apart from this weird and dangerous thing they've got going with the flag that is, is that for a country supposedly obsessed with individualism, they seem to have an almost irresistible desire for homogenisation. Witness the spread of retail food outlets, McDonalds, Taco Bell and Starbucks, the basic premise of which is that you will be able to walk into any of their establishments, anywhere in the States or even the world and be assured that the comestibles on offer will differ not a jot between any of them. All highly reassuring, I'm sure...after all, "You know where you are with McDonalds, don't you?" but the less variety one finds at home the more difficult it will be to accept that other cultures may have different tastes. The extrapolations of this reach far beyond the culinary.

And what is it with their cars? I read of a town somewhere in the mid-west which spent not a few million dollars on pedestrianising it's main street, turning it into a place where people could pleasantly go about their business, sit on benches and admire the specially planted foliage...a haven of calm, in fact.

It cost them a hell of a lot more to rip it all up and restore it to its original condition when people abandoned it for the out of town mall.

And the relentless dumbing down of everything. Here's Mariah Carey on the developing world.

"Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can't help but cry. I mean I'd love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff."

5% of the world's population consuming 20% of its resources and Mariah can't keep the size of her ass out of the discussion.

Oprah. Well, what can I say? We are being encouraged to sublimate personal responsibility and blame, to claim that we have been abducted by aliens rather than face up to the fact that we are responsible for our own lives and have fucked them up entirely unaided. No, we have to be women who fall for men who were smacked by their mothers and have to join a support group in order to share and seek closure. Bollocks, the lot of it!

The longer this goes on, the more I realise that this isn't really about America at all, only in so far as most of what I find disagreeable about the world today either originated there or finds its most obvious expression within its shores.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that I would feel right at home in one of the more genteel Commonwealths of the South now that there are no longer any 'strange and bitter fruit' hanging from the trees.

I think all I'm really yearning for is a more civilised age, a more educated and critical population...somewhere where people will say "Thankyou" when I hold the door open for them. And a world in which George W Bush would not have been trusted with the car keys, never mind those to the White House.

Oh well, maybe you think it's all been a wee bit fastuous but if you have been, put the gun down.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

I'm hurt, wounded, miffed, in high dudgeon and all in roughly equal measure but then again, I'm only on the second bottle so the chances of my mellowing as this goes on would seem pretty fair to middling should anybody feel like opening a book on it but come to think of it, as this is in no way happening in real time, it would hardly seem likely unless, of course, you are either bereft of a brain or in as addled a condition as I hope to be in a short, wee while.

So, wherefore this attack of pique? Well, much as it pains me to admit it, Jess has done me again with her word of the day. Ambisinister, I ask you! Apart from being descriptive of one possessing an uncanny ability to look like Michael Howard in both left and right profile, I can't think of anything. Actually, come to think of it...that'll do nicely. But then again, I'm easily pleased.

So, I hear you politely enquire, why is it that, despite this late flash of inspiration, I am still sulking and muttering imprecations under my breath or to put it another way or in Sheffield dialect even..."Why's tha still got blog on?"

With no further ado, hesitation or prevarication whatsoever I shall explain, elucidate and enlighten your good and patient, forebearing selves and inform you that I have been the victim of a misapprehension of gargantuan proportions.

I have been wrongly accused, wantonly, cruelly and though it pains me so to say it, spitefully, viciously and with malice aforethought of a most heinous oversight. A crime of such selfishness, vindictiveness and plain no-goodedness that I hesitate to lay it before you in all its red toothed, black cloaked and villainous evil.

So, dear readers...assuming you have inhaled deeply and suitably girded up your loins, maybe even availed yourselves of a bracing snifter or three and ensured that all your affairs are in order and the life insurance premiums are up to date, made provision for your surviving dependents or just emptied your bowels in preparation rather than running the risk of being embarrassed by them dropping spontaneously with shock at the enormity of my offence, I shall reveal all...

I'm afraid to say that Jess, alias MD, EC and Doc has accused me of keeping The Six Dwarfs all to myself under a veil of impenetrable secrecy.

Notwithstanding the fact that I have lost an irreplaceable roving researcher to the temptations of blogging on his own initiative, to be so accused is a wound almost visceral in its severity. I have been cut to the quick, slashed open to the very core. Maybe I should re-examine my whole conception of the world, re-define my raison d'etre, sever diplomatic ties with Maryland and consult Messrs. Sue, Grabbit and Runne, solicitors to the very liquid.

Or maybe I should just abandon the whole enterprise, crack open another bottle of Stella, chase it down with a good two fingers of fine Islay malt and admit that she might just, maybe, have a case.

After all, I was informed on the Wednesday and didn't get around to posting the link till the Thursday which, I suppose, was awfully, terribly remiss of me.

It would seem that I have chosen the second option. I have just returned from the fridge (a well trodden path if ever there was) and have tipped a hefty measure of Ardbeg into my favourite glass. Did you know that I have a fridge entirely dedicated to keeping my stocks of Stella at a constant 5°C? No? My, how depressingly ill-informed you all are.

Anyway, I'm off to find Jess in one of her usual chat-room haunts. If I'm lucky, by the time I finally manage to track her down, I'll have decided which piece of my mind I'm going to give her!

What was it that personality test said about me being histrionic?

Oh well, if you have been, mind how you go, y'all.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Word of the Day

Irremissible (adj) Descriptive of any penalty awarded to a Premier League side when playing Nationwide opposition. Refers to the fact that should the first attempt be unsuccessful, the referee will order it re-taken until such time as a goal is scored.

Back later...pressure of work, dontcha know!

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Well, Jess has got me with her word of the day. There's not a lot you can do with picayune although it does rather sound like a style of cuisine which may be found in or around the New Orleans area.

She did however put me on to a couple of neat tests. I particularly liked the personality disorder one the results of which I reproduce here for your perusal.


-- Personality Disorder Test - Take It! --

Mmmm...histrionic, eh? Moi? Got the narcissism spot on anyway.

So, on to Dante folks! Which level of hell will I occupy? Read on and be informed.

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Second Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Very Low
Level 2 (Lustful)Extreme
Level 3 (Gluttonous)High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)High
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Very High
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Extreme
Level 7 (Violent)High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)High
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)High

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

Blimey! Don't think I'll need to pack any warm clothes then.

Oh, and Roger the roving researcher will henceforth not be providing me with any interesting titbits as he has started up his own blog, the little devil.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Word Of the Day

Quercine (n) What you see when you look in the mirror and find you are wearing your wife's undergarments.
Word of the Day

Ketch (n) a good one of which all this year's debutants will be out to snare.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Word of the Day

Hagridden: (n) Where the rather hirsute giant in Harry Potter settles down to watch the big game.
(pp) What you have been when you take the Stella goggles off in the morning.

Back calls.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Word of the Day

Couchette: (n) Female of literary persuasion who spends most of her time on her agent's chaise longe, downing industrial quantities of foreign sounding lager and bemoaning the fact that she has yet to break out of the bodice ripper market.
(n) A very laid back vegetable of the marrow family.

Well, what a long, strange trip it's been. Someone asked me to go with them and give blood yesterday. I had to decline and enlighten the poor innocent as to the exact extent of my alcohol consumption over the, for want of a much better word, holiday period.

The reason for my having spent Christmas in a malt induced fug can be traced back with some degree of accuracy to a Hungarian TV programme it was my misfortune to have watched in the days leading up to the event. It featured a hopelessly inept presenter and one of our local catholic priests (it was Kanizsa TV, you see) and consisted of said inept allowing said buffer to witter on without interruption or contradiction for what seemed an eternity in purgatory about the 'real meaning of Christmas'.

Well, I ask you. Might as well have blathered on about the real meaning of Monday for all the sense he made. To give you some example of the total bollocks produced by this self righteous, smug and yet totally illogical Christian soldier, I can only bring myself to reproduce the following, bilge and dishwater as it may be.

"Christmas is a time for the family." Okay, we'll overlook the fact that this sentence, to any right thinking speaker of any language, means absolutely bugger all and we'll try and understand it as he meant it. The only problem then is that, by implication, the rest of the year is not 'a time for the family'.

The same logic I applied to the rest of his cheap and meaningless little homilies.

"Christmas is...

...a time for reflection.

...a time to think about the message of Jesus.

...a time to think about others.

...a time of peace and goodwill to all men."

Well, I'm afraid that after all this bobbins, the corks were popping at fairly frequent intervals, I can tell you!

I could also tell you that Christmas is a time of last minute shopping, of disappointment, of not having enough batteries and having pharmaceutical resistant hangovers, but I have a suspicion you know that already.

I recovered long enough to fulfill my contractual obligations with respect to the number of examination scripts I was expected to mark but this took me until about 5 o'clock on New Year's Eve. The relevance of this will become apparent later.

Just before Christmas, a very good friend of mine, a fellow biker, had invited us to spend New Year's Eve with his family at a friend of theirs, also a biker. As this was in the home town of my partner, we thought we would avail ourselves of the opportunity of leaving our daughter with the mother in law and having an evening out together for the first time in longer than I care to remember.

We went down in convoy with my friend on the 30th, dropped off our stash of alcohol and comestibles at his friend's house, got to know our hosts and headed for her mother's. So far so good.

I worked all day on the 31st and we arrived at the party at about 7.30. My strategy was, Stella and whisky chasers as is my habit, take it slowly and everything will be hunky dory. Now, our hosts' 25 year old daughter had a drum kit in their cellar/bar/den and the last thing I remember after treating everybody to a rather fine, extemporaneous solo on the drum kit was demonstrating to the aforementioned daughter how one didn't need instruments to make music by means of another solo on the sideboard of said room at about 11 o'clock.

After that...well, I woke up at her mother's feeling none too bad but with absolutely no recall of anything after the sideboard solo. I downloaded all the photos from my camera today and I was still taking photos after the point at which my memory failed so I was active and in some kind of control afterwards. But, is there anything worse than that feeling of "Christ, what did I do? Did I throw up over the host's wife? Make a clumsy pass at his daughter?"

My partner assured me that I was quite charming all evening and only threw a slump drunk but even that information was enough to throw me into a trouser squirming fit of embarrassment. We returned to our hosts' on the 1st and they did indeed let me in which I took as a good sign. They all spoke to me as well which relieved my anxiety somewhat. The real and only test that I will be satisfied with however, is whether they invite me back again!

I can only put it down to the fact that I had been working hard for days before and right up to the time we left for the party and hadn't taken that into account when devising my strategy for the evening. My friend brought back the case of Stella I had taken and there were only six empty bottles. Six Stellas, six whiskies...a mere bagatelle. Maybe someone forced champagne down my throat at midnight...I just don't know.

Anyway, I have in my possession pictures of before during and after but due to not having a URL, they cannot be published here. Requests by e-mail will be considered on their individual merits.

If you have been, I'm sure you will understand.

Oh, and you may all wish me a very happy birthday for tomorrow!