Wednesday, 30 May 2012

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 34

First choice for this week's entry was actually The Day We Caught The Train by Ocean Colour Scene - but that selfsame track was the entry for "O" in my "A-Z of My CDs" series. So here instead is OMC with How Bizarre:


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

On This Day

After writing my earlier post explaining that blogging will be light over the next few days, I proceeded to schedule posts through to Sunday, leaving only Monday and Tuesday for me to sort out tonight... as such, blogging may not be so light as I led you to believe (although I still haven't written my planned peace on the SNP's referendum campaign; hopefully I'll get a chance to write this before I get back online.)

For now, though, because I don't have anything original to post, here are links to my posts from the 29 May for the last two years.

In 2010, I was celebrating the Power of Fopp whilst last year, I was being Bohemian Like You.



Blogging Will Be Light

I'm moving house on Friday and lose access to Broadband for a week as of Wednesday... as a result, blogging will be light. I have, however, scheduled a number of posts and, subject to there being a lack of glitches in Blogger, these will hopefully go up OK - if not, feel free to comment but don't expect a swift response!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Sunday Sounds 46 - Eurovision 2012 Edition

Normally, I reserve Sunday Sounds for songs I like - this week's edition is, however, slightly different.

Over on Twitter, fellow blogger Stephen took me to task over my observation late last night that from what I had heard of it, Britain's Eurovision entry was (and I didn't put too fine a point on this) shit. Here is the exchange we had:

Now, Engelbert Humperdinck is an act whom I know little about. I need to be reminded of his biggest hits and find it hard to divorce him from his image as an ageing act catering to, how shall we put this, the, ah, mature lady. Anyways, this morning I have found the Eurovision track on You Tube and (as I type this) I am about to listen to it. I am trying to keep an open mind but the fact it's called "Love Will Set You Free" doesn't bode well...

Twee, Sentimental, Twaddle, Claptrap, Cliched and yes, Shit. Indeed some of the lyrics gave me the dry boak. I'm sorry, Stephen, but having listened to it in it's entirety, my opinion remains unchanged. I don't even wish to watch it again for the purposes of further analysis...

Still, you may like it - see what you think:


Saturday, 26 May 2012

Simon's Cat in "Tongue Tied"

I've been meaning to post this since yesterday but life (in the form of packing for a house move) is getting in the way...

...anyway, as is my custom, here's the latest Simon's Cat video:


Friday, 25 May 2012

K25 Part 5 - Timebomb

It's the 25th of the month which means it's time for the latest treat from Ms Minogue as she continues to celebrate her 25th anniversary as a chart-topping megastar.

This month it's a brand new single! So, without any further ado, here it is, this is Timebomb:


Thursday, 24 May 2012

London 2012 Torch Relay Videos

On Tuesday I enjoyed the sights and sounds of the Olympic Torch Relay as it reached Bristol for an overnight stop on it's tour of the UK - and shared them here. Today, I'm sharing a couple of videos: the BBC's trailer for coverage of the tour and the London 2012 animation which features many of the landmarks it'll visit on it's way to the Opening Ceremony in just 64 days time!


Wednesday, 23 May 2012

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 33

After last week's Britpop Fest, it's time for something completely different. Here is the late, great Etta James with I Just Want To Make Love To You which reached No. 5 in 1996 thanks to being used on adverts for Diet Coke.


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Torch Relay Reaches Bristol...

With days to go to the 66 days to go until the Olympic Games and 99 to go until the Paralympics*, the Olympic Torch Relay reached Bristol.

After work, I took a walk through Millenium Square which had hosted an afternoon of enterntainment as well as broadcasting BBC coverage of the relay on it's big screen. I then took a wander up the route from the Harbourside, through Welsh Back to Castle Park to find myself a vantage point.

Once the flame had passed me, I followed it and, by judicious use of a number of shortcuts, I managed to get a number of other photos as I made my way to Millenium Square. Once there, I was able to watch footage of Blaire Hannan (local sailor and reserve member of the Team GB's Paralympian Squad) light the Olympic Cauldron. Unfortunately, I couldn't see this first hand as it was in the ticketed area of Bristol's "Ampitheatre" - an obvious venue for such an event; I'm sure it is entirely coincidental that it is bounded by offices of Lloyds TSB - one of the Torch Relay Sponsors!

Anyway, this is supposed to be a photo-post, so I shall not rabbit on too much other than to say that it was a wonderful experience which I greatly enjoyed - when the flame passes you, go see it, especially if it's doing an overnight stop.


*Yes, I know that the Paralympics will have it's own Torch Relay but this is the big nationwide event and bearers include people nominated from communities up and down the country as well as high profile sportsmen and woman including our Paralympians.

Conference Accreditation - My Response

As I start typing this it's around 45 minutes since I saw a tweet by @caronmlindsay that alerted me to the decision of the Federal Conference Committee (FCC) to pursue a policy of accreditation for this year's autumn conference. Well, I say the Federal Conference Committee but it transpires that they passed the decision on to the Federal Finance and Administration Committee (FFAC), which itself is a sub-committee of the Federal Executive (FE).

The result: the FFAC voted in favour of accreditation with one dissenting voice; step forward Ms Caron Lindsay

My first second public reaction was this tweet: 

I haven't been able to leave it at that, though, and so this piece is a direct response to the Lib Dem Voice article co-authored by the chairs of the three committees concerned (Andrew Wiseman, Duncan Greenland and Tim Farron). For background, you can read my previous thoughts here and the original consultation invitation here - I don't intend to rehearse all the arguments against again. Well, not now, anyway... Instead, I wish to make some observations on the article.

The first three paragraphs read well and seem to be a fair summary of the situation. So far so good. If only it had continued in that vein. Sadly, though, not enough thought went into the next paragraph:
However, whilst some of us are willing to risk the possibility of serious harm to ourselves by not following police recommendations to accept accreditation for all conference goers, we accept that we do not have the right to impose this on others who have no choice about attending Conference. This includes the many staff that will be working for the venue, the Conference hotel or for the Party.
Woah There! Quite aside from the fact that the accreditation process comes with very little (i.e. no) evidence it actually makes conference more secure and quite aside from the fact we all take risks every day of our lives, this sentence infers that those against accreditation are happy to play fast and loose with the lives and liberties of others. Rather than acknowledge the principled stand that LIBERAL Democrat party members were taking in resisting this move, the authors (whether intentionally or not) manage to insult those of us who take a contrary view as to the need for this measure.

The next paragraph comments on the financial risks of rejecting Police advice. This is not an area I feel competent to comment on, but you can find comment on it elsewhere. Suffice to say two things: 1) this is mentioned throughout the article but the nature of the risk is neither quantified nor qualified and 2) just as democracy costs, so can principles: sure, the FFAC has specific responsibilities but these aren't divorced from our party constitution and beliefs.

There follows a sentence about the difficult decision the FCC had been faced with in "weighing the opinions of some of our members and Conference against security recommendations, our duty of care, and the practicalities of holding a large, high profile, conference as a party of government." Some? From my viewpoint, the Lib Dem blog- and twitter-spheres were pretty much united in one voice on this. Whilst this may be a self-selecting group of the most vocal amongst us, it is by no means an homogeneous group - so when it speaks with one voice it's probably a fair bet it's speaking for the party at large.

Anyway, it appears that the FCC decided to subcontract the decision to the FFAC, making it (as far as I can tell) a financial rather than a policy decision. As I said above, I don't feel qualified to comment on this area. It may be that, looked at in those terms, the resultant decision was fair enough but hats off (again) to Caron for fighting the Liberal corner.

As many on Twitter, and in the LDV comments section, have observed, the article then proceeds to suggest that accreditation process is unlikely to result in Police recommendations to accredit (m)any people. From memory, I believe two people failed the process last year and one of those decisions was not upheld by the party. In the space of a few paragraphs we go from being told we're risking serious harm to ourselves and those around us to being told that the accreditation process is unlikely to result in accreditation being with-held. Which is it, precisely?

The article ends:
We are aware that this decision will not be an ideal outcome for some of you. It has been very difficult for each of the Committees involved to weigh the opinions of some of our members and Conference against security recommendations, our duty of care, and the practicalities of holding a large, high profile Conference as a party of government. We hope however that this post goes some way to explain the reasons for the decision made.
The first sentence here somewhat understates the case as I've already pointed out. I do, however, accept that this will have been a difficult decision for each of the committees, although I question whether it was appropriate to pass the buck to the FFAC. I'm not convinced, in the end analysis, that the post does go any way to explaining the reasons for the decision made.

Ultimately, this is a disappointing decision made in an unsatisfactory fashion against a backdrop of member (or at least activist) disagreement. All in all, it's an illiberal decision unworthy of a party with our name.


Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Rubbish - More Photographs of Urban Bristol

Last week I posted some pictures of street art and grafitti in Bristol. It's not a subject of which there is a shortage of examples, so here are some more:


Sunday Sounds 45

Yesterday Chelsea won the European Cup Champions League. Meanwhile, I was considering what to post as my Sunday Sound. The former event made the answer to my later considerations obvious:



Saturday, 19 May 2012

Review - The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

The Ukulele is an instrument which is hard to take seriously. In the national consciousness it will always be associated with George Formby, leaning on lamp-posts and cleaning windows.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain embraces the reputation of the instrument whilst, simultaneously, demonstrating it's great versatility. Most of the numbers they perform are done to comic effect; Weetus' Teenage Dirtbag is quite a straight cover version but is nonetheless somewhat incongruous given a backing of seven various Ukuleles, The Sex Pistol's Anarchy is more of a full-on parody.

There are eight members in the group, playing a range of Ukuleles - Soprano, Tenor, Concert and "Bass" - and the act is hung together with a series of corny jokes and exchanges between the band. The quality of the gags may be poor but the quality of the songs is fantastic.

Collectively, the musicianship is excellent with some virtuoso displays. Individually, various members of the band take lead vocals with harmonies provided by the rest. The whole show is imbued with a certain joie de vivre. That's not to say that there's not moments of pathos as well, typified by a version of Johnny Nash's Tears on My Pillow.

By the end of the evening, the audience has been treated to a wide variety of styles of music and of playing the Ukulele. There's even been a nod to George Formby with Cossack version of Leaning on a Lamp-post. The Ukulele may be hard to take seriously but as a musical comedy act the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain should be.


My highlight of the night, which sent me into fits of the giggles, was their version of Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights in Yorkshire dialect:

In which the widow comes over a bit Daily Mail

The BBC is one of this country's greatest institutions. Every so often, though, it does something makes me come over a bit Daily Mail. 

There are two main areas in which it manages to achieve this. Firstly, BBC Three's programming leaves me, for the most part, baffled and wondering whether it is worth spending the licence fee on. There, however, I am outside the target demographic and would need to step back and look at things in the round in order to make an objective judgement.

The second area is in the reporting of economic news and statistics. This sometimes leaves a lot to be desired, with a tendency for there to be a focus on the negative rather than the positive when such news is mixed (as is so often the way with economic indicators).

There was an example of this a few months ago when some government borrowing figures were released. Two of the three measures showed movement in a positive direction whilst one didn't meet expectations... Guess which one led the article? Yep, the negative news was the headline news.

Now, I'm not suggesting that the BBC or other news organisations should pretend that everything in the garden is rosy - we all know it's not. I'm not suggesting that bad news should be buried either. But in cases like the above a more neutral approach should have been adopted.

They annoyed me again this week when the unemployment figures were announced. Now, again, I don't want to pretend that unemployment levels aren't a concern - they are. And the headline figures disguise a lot of changes in the Labour market - particularly people working part-time or reduced hours when they would prefer to be in full time roles.

A drop in unemployment figures for the first quarter of the year - albeit a small drop and with qualifications - is good news. It also adds to a number of statistics which are at odds with the initial estimate of GDP growth of -0.2 for the same period. 

The internet is a visual medium and so BBC Online felt that the story needed to be illustrated. Rather than do so with a generic photo of a Job Centre sign, or something else similar, they chose a picture of a shop with closing down signs in it's window... 

Economically, it is all too easy for negative news to become a downward spiral and it's not as if there isn't enough of it around. Using negative images with positive stories is, I believe, unhelpful and disingenuous.

It may be that I over-react to these things but it does get my goat... If you're reading this BBC, sort it out!


Flying the Flag

In a couple of weeks, it will be the Queen's Diamond Jubilee weekend. Aside from being an opportunity to have an additional Bank Holiday and celebrate the service Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II* has done for this country**, it has also provided a number of commercial opportunities. Coupled with the sponsorship opportunities of the British Olympic Team in this London Olympics year and all sorts of products and services are promoting their Britishness.

From the humble sandwich - Sainsbury's are phasing in boxes which feature the Union Flag and include "Jubilee Chicken" (an update of Coronation Chicken), Tesco have a full range which not only feature the flag but are based on classic British dishes (including, and I kid you not, a Yorkshire Pudding wrap containing roast beef and trimmings) - to luxury jewelry, you're currently never more than a few feet from the flag in Britain's High Streets!

Here's a few photos taken in the Cabot Circus area of Bristol one day last week - had I had a longer (and more shops had been open), I could have furnished you with many more examples:


Links of London

Jones Bootmaker

Fashion Targets Breast Cancer

Hotel Chocolat


* Well, Queen Elizabeth II of England and Wales, I of Scots and I of Northern Ireland.

** For all my Republicanism, this is a sincere comment. It's probably a subject for another blog but, briefly, it's the principle of the Monarchy I object to not the individuals - I believe the Queen has defined and performed her role well over the period of her reign.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 32 - The Britpop Edition

There were lots of tunes I could have chosen this week, and most of them fell into the genre of "Britpop"... As a special treat, therefore, here are four (yes, four!) tunes for your listening pleasure. Don't say I'm not good to you!:


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Review - Justin Currie at The Fleece in Bristol

As I mentioned on Sunday, last night I was going to see Justin Currie, erstwhile frontman of Del Amitri. Having wavered over buying a ticket, I was quite excited by the time the actual gig came round. Of course, with increased excitement comes increased potential for disappointment... Happily, this didn't happen!

It was my first time in The Fleece in Bristol - a somewhat rough and ready venue with a capacity of, I would guess, around 200 (although you shouldn't quote me on that, I'm about as good as estimating attendance at these things as the Police are at protest marches...). Doors opened at 7.30 and the support act played his half hour at half eight. Finally, a full two hours after the doors opened, Currie took the stage.

First, though, a word on the support act, Derek Meins. His was an enjoyable if uninspiring set, singing his own songs and accompanying himself on the keyboard). It must be hard work to play support - particularly for the audience of a man with 30 years experience in the music business, 7 full albums of tracks to draw on, and a reputation (to fans at least) as a master at lyrics and melodies. Against such a yardstick Meins came up short; although this was through no real fault of his own - the same set in a pub would be perfectly acceptable and pretty entertaining.

Currie came equipped with a choice of two guitars and the aforementioned keyboard. He had a set list and, for some of the later numbers, an MP3 of backing tracks. Other than these tools of his trade, it was just the man, his lyrics and his voice.

A proper reviewer would have noted what songs he sung and when - to be honest, I can't remember. He started with one of his solo tracks and followed this with four songs taken from the first two 'proper' Del Amitri albums - Waking Hours and Change Everything.

It was during the first track that any reticence about the ticket price (£19.25 incl. booking fee), or about having a late night on a Monday when I already was dead tired, was dispelled and any lingering doubts about attending the concert of someone whose solo work I had limited knowledge of was completely wiped out by the appearance of the old stuff so early on.

After these first few tracks, he set the pattern of the night by moving to the keyboard - and engaging in a bit of banter with the enthusiastic audience. It wasn't long before the set list was more-or-less abandoned (at least for a while) and he started to take requests - I suppose doing a solo show gives you more liberty and the crowd loved it, lapping it up and singing along.

It says something for the reputation and quality of an act that can fill a venue a diverse range of people - male, female, young and old; I even heard some German being spoken in the queue! People who aren't there because they've heard you're the next big things but who are there because they love your work, even if their peers would ask "Justin Who? Del A-What?".  Indeed, some of the people there who were singing along, would only have been children when I first saw Del Amitri 20 years ago! It was gratifying too that (although there were a few Scots in the crowd) he proved that the appeal wasn't purely parochial!

Currie's songs are beautifully crafted gems, which major on life and, yes, love - mostly betrayed or unrewarded - without (as a rule) being maudlin. The lyrics are clever and there is often a twist or payout at the end; one of the best examples of this is Always The Last To Know, in which the singer initially wonders if his former lover's new partner is treating her like he treated her, or whether he's cruel - before ultimately revealing he himself had cheated on her.

The other feature of Currie's songs are their melodies - he has a great ear for a tune. Indeed, their tunefulness often belies the subject matter and saves them from being mournful, bitter dirges they could be in lesser hands. In the mouth of their creator, they become really special. Indeed, I hadn't properly appreciated until last night just how good a singer Currie is but he proved it by carrying the show for some 110 minutes. At one point he apologised to the bar-staff that they had to be so quiet - so rapt was the attention of the audience in the slower, more reflective numbers.

The length of his performance is all the more impressive when you consider that he wasn't doing extended versions of the songs with long instrumental sections. They are, and remain, classic 3-4 minute folk-pop songs. Going to see Justin Currie is not the same as seeing a prog-rock band do half a dozen tracks... In terms of value for money, Currie gave the concert-goer a lot of bang for their buck.

I'm so glad I went and have decided that I want to get out and experience live music more often. I'm not sure, though, that there are many acts who could pull off a solo live show like Currie. So here's to more gigs, more often and here's to Justin Currie being back in Bristol soon.


Monday, 14 May 2012

Rebranding Whitehall

Last week I followed a twitter link to this story on the BBC website which says that, as part of the Government's attempts to improve it's internet services, individual departments are to lose their own logos and adopt a version of the Royal Crest. Their websites will be brought together onto the one Government website as well.

Whilst it may not do much in the way of cost-saving and is, of itself, a pretty small change, it is one of the best news stories I have read in a while. Whatever the aesthetic merits of the individual department logos - I quite like the one for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, for example - I've always wondered about the need to "brand" (and re-brand) government departments and agencies. Of course they need to look professional and have some form of identity but it's not as if these bodies are competing for business.

Bringing all the departments together under the Royal Crest seems eminently sensible (at least until we become a Republic - then the Royal Crest would become a bit of an anachronism!) While we're at it, hopefully we'll be able to build on two years of stable departmental names and responsibilities - rather than the constantly shifting Whitehall landscaping of the proceeding years and decades. A trend that reached it's nadir with the 2005 Department of Trade debacle.


Sunday, 13 May 2012

Sunday Sounds 44: The Justin Currie Edition

Twenty years ago this year, on the 21st of December to be precise, I boarded a train from Edinburgh to Glasgow to go to my first proper gig. The venue was the (legendary) Glasgow Barrowland. The act was Del Amitri, then promoting their 2nd album. (Yes, I know Wikipedia says this was their first album but that had been kind of disowned; in the sleeve-notes of a 2003 reissue, though, lead singer Justin Currie has a more nuanced take on it's merits.) It was a great night with a band I continued to love for years to follow. Indeed, I still do return regularly to their music and have featured them on these pages.

Fast-forward 20 years and Justin Currie is touring with his own material. After a bit of humming and ha-ing, I decided to purchase a ticket for old times sake. This weekend - thanks to Spotify and You Tube - I've been acquainting myself with this solo work as well as re-listening to the old stuff. And tomorrow, I'll be heading out to The Fleece in Bristol for my first gig in three years. Very exciting!

Anyway, enough of my ramblings, lets get to this week's sounds! Both are taken from a BBC programme "Songwriters Circle" which featured 3 Scots songwriters swapping anecdotes and performing acoustic versions of them. I've chosen one of Currie's solo tracks (If I Ever Loved You) as well as an excellent version of Del Amitri's highest charting UK hit - Nothing Ever Happens:


Friday, 11 May 2012


Before Facebook and Twitter, it wasn't unusual to be deluged by e-mails of jokes and cartoons. One that I remember well - particularly as I first saw it when I worked for a German company - involved a plan to introduce "EuroEnglish" throughout the European Union. Just don't tell the Daily Mail...

The European Union Commissioners have announced that agreement has been reached to adopt English as the preferred language for European communications, rather than German, which was the other possibility.

As part of the negotiations, the British government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a five-year phased plan for what will be known as EuroEnglish (Euro for short).

In the first year, "s" will be used instead of the soft "c". Sertainly, sivil servants will reseive this news with joy. Also, the hard "c" will be replaced with "k". Not only will this klear up konfusion, but typewriters kan have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced by "f". This will make words like "fotograf" 20 per sent shorter.

In the third year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be Expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible.

Governments will enkorage the removal of double letters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of silent "e"s in the languag is disgrasful, and they would go.

By the fourth year, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" by "z" and "w" by " v".
During ze fifz year, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou", and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters.

After zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubls or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech ozer.

Ze drem vil finali kum tru.


Thursday, 10 May 2012

Truth and Beauty - More Bristol Pics

Following up from my pictures of Urban Bristol earlier this week, here are some more pictures of the city:


This is NOT a Blogpost

When is a post not a post? When it's this one, directing you to Liberal England where I have been afforded a guest post today. :-)

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 31

Ah, 1995;

The year Rumbelows disappeared, Today (the newspaper) folded, Barings collapsed. The year the MGF was launched and Bridget Jones first appeared in The Independent. When the Conservatives controlled just 8 councils (compared to 155 for Labour and 45 (count 'em!) for the Lib Dems) and John Major resigned in his famous "Back Me or Sack Me" move. The year Frank Bruno won the WBC World Heavy Championship and Stephen Hendry won his 5th World Snooker Championship. It was the year the Bosnian War came to an end and the year the Queen Mum had a hip-replacement whilst the Queen urged The Prince and Princess of Wales to divorce. Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, Philip Pullman's The Northern Lights and Iain Banks' Whit were published and Fred Perry, Kenny Everitt and Alec Douglas-Home died.

And it was the year of Edwin Collins' A Girl Like You. Enjoy!


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Argon - Photographs of Urban Bristol

It's been a while since I did a post of photos I had taken and it's about time that was rectified. Here, therefore, are some that I took on Saturday when I went out a walk which took me from home, to my new house and then back via Arnos Vale, Avon Meads and the Whitchurch Way cycle path.


Monday, 7 May 2012

Stonemouth - A Review

Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of Iain Banks' work; he is just about the only author whose books I get when they are released in hardback, rather than wait on the paperback publication. I've also started reading his Science Fiction works, published as Iain M Banks, but for the sake of clarity references to his oeuvre in this review are specifically to the "non-M" books.

After a number of books which failed to reach the heights of his previous works, his last book, Transition, was something of a return to form. It was with some anticipation and trepidation that I embarked upon Stonemouth. Would I be disappointed? Was Transition's improved quality partly because it was border-line science fiction? (I'm told that the Iain M Banks novels have remained more consistent than the non-M works)

The answers to those questions? "Yes and No" and "I think so".

Stonemouth is a (fictional) town in the North-East of Scotland, somewhere between Aberdeen and Peterhead. Our protagonist, Stewart, is returning to the town for the first time in five years for the funeral of Joe Murston - the patriarch of the local "mafia" family. Joe also happens to be the grandfather of Stewart's former fiancée, his wedding to whom was cancelled when he was run out of the town just a week before the nuptuals were due.

The subject matter is vintage Banks - a story told in flashbacks, telling of friendships and secrets, family ties and betrayals, all sprinkled with helpings of violence, sex, drugs and politics - although there is less violence than one may expect. The book shares a lot with its predecessors - The Crow Road in particular - but lacks their ambition. Where The Crow Road is an epic, multi-later, inter-generational tail, Stonemouth is more linear with less depth and less dramatic secrets. So yes, Stonemouth is in this respect disappointing, as if Banks' was only firing on two cylinders, recycling ideas, re-treading plots and updating previous novels. 

This idea of him seeling to update previous works struck me in the first chapter where there are copious references to pop-culture in a way which will very quickly date the book. On page 10, for example, Family Guy, Cee Lo Green and "Tinchy featuring Tinie" get a mention. It seems as if Banks' is trying too hard to get into the mind of a 25 year old and the result is that it both jars and fails to be authentic: Stewart doesn't sound like any 25 year old I know - at least not initially.

(This lack of authenticity is compounded by unfortunate mention of the dominance and money of Celtic and Rangers and the perennial debate on them playing in England - although Banks' was never to know what was about to befall Rangers around the time of publication of the novel!)

It is a novel of promise but of poor execution. Elements of plot get picked up, played with and put aside. The attempt at creating an atmosphere of menace rarely does. Stewart seems content to spend longer than strictly speaking necessary in the company of those we are told are so keen to hurt him. And whilst the impending sense of doom does reach a climax, it also lacks a certain authenticity.

For all these criticisms - and a number more beside - Stonemouth is an enjoyable romp. After a few chapters I put my early reservations and aside and settled into the book as it settled into its stride. And in the end, I did kinda like it.

That said, I can't escape the conclusion that it is sub-standard compared to Banks' previous work and, if it weren't a Banks' novel, I wouldn't be rushing to read anything else by the author. Whilst Transition may have been Banks' back at (or close to) his best, it seems that his best is now reserved for works with a Science Fiction bent. He's still someway off his best when it comes to non-genre fiction.


Sunday, 6 May 2012

Sunday Sounds 43: The Voice UK Live Show 2 Edition

I'm going to spoil you this week with to Sunday Sounds, both taken from last night's episode of The Voice UK.

First up is Max Milner with what I think is an incredibly special version of Tom Petty's Free-fallin', which was already one of my favourite songs. Max imbues it with real Soul and Emotion - the performance of the night for me:

Whilst that may have been my personal favourite from last night, I also really liked Vince Kidd's rendition of Always on My Mind. I love both Elvis' and the Pet Shop Boys' versions; and I was pretty impressed by this take on it too:


My 700th post - and a first!

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I can't quite believe it but this is my 700th post on the widow's world. It's been just under three years and, I'm pleased to say, I'm enjoying blogging more than ever! 

To celebrate this little milestone, I decided to write a piece of fiction. I also decided to discipline myself to compose a story in just 700 words. It is the first piece of fiction I've published here and I'm not sure whether to promise more or not. You may not even want more in any case! 

Anyway, enough rambling, here it is - my 700 word short story:


It's funny how much change I've seen in my lifetime.

Take telephones as an example. First there were landline phones (or just "phones" - how quaint!). Then, in the eighties, there were carphones - I vaguely remember friends of my folks having them, although they never really took off. Then mobiles; mobiles the size of bricks, granted, but mobile telephones none-the-less. Then cameraphones. Then smartphones with internet access and integrated social media.

So much of change in such a short time. It has been, of course, mostly progress - there are advantages to be constantly contactable or to being able to contact someone else without having to find a phonebox. But, well, don't you sometimes just wish you had some time and space to yourself? I know I do...

And phones with cameras - are they really progress? When I was a child, pictures were cherished; kept safe in albums and boxes in order to preserve our memories. There was something special about bringing them out to share with friends and family; the faces smiling back at you from another time and place. Holidays, weddings, day-trips. Sunny days, long-dead relatives, famous places. Say "cheese!", click.

There was something visceral about a physical photo. A deep sense that it had captured a moment in time; never to be regained. An awareness of the thought, time, energy and expense of taking the picture and developing it. A sense that it had been imbued with a greater worth through each stage of its life.

No more. Now, the image is taken, shared and forgotten in an instant. And, even when it is remembered, somehow logging into Facebook lacks the romance of flicking through an album.

I used to love getting out the shoebox in which the photo wallets were stored. Gingerly taking them out, careful not to get fingerprints on the prints. Looking at each picture in turn, evaluating it, reminiscing, moving on to the next one, sharing the good ones with those around. Fascinated by the way some of the pictures were distorted with over-exposure, double images or leaked light. Fascinated, now, that these were preserved for posterity along with the headless shots and those in which everyone suffered from red-eye.

I used to love holding the negatives up to the light, wondering at the process that could turn the murky brown film into brightly, accurately coloured prints. (I was going to say glossy prints, but ours were almost always Matt - developing photos was always a pricey business.)

I could spend hours with those photos but sooner or later they - and their memories - had to be put back in the box and returned to the cupboard.

They will be preserved though - their analogue memories will remain. The pictures of relatives long gone, who never knew what a digital camera was, they will live on in those Polaroids and 35mm prints.

My grandfather and his box of sweeties. My grandmother and her sewing box, knitting bag and tin of buttons. The hours I spent enjoying their company, staring into their coal fire, laughing at my grandad's jokes and being fed sandwiches and cake by gran. These are memories that - to me at least - an iPhone will never be capable of capturing. Memories that only a "real" photo will ever fully rekindle.

Just thinking of the time spent with them both reminds me that it didn't last. My grandmother died and things were never quite the same. My mum inherited her sewing, knitting and button boxes but their attraction was lost to me. My grandfather's tin of Pascall's Fruit Bonbons and Butterscotch just didn't taste as sweet.

A new, more sombre, box of memories took their place. The box of her ashes, pride of place on the mantlepiece, instead of the more-traditional carriage clock. An even more potent reminder of the passage of time.

So many boxes, so many memories.

And now here I am in my own box, a memory now for those standing round the grave above. How will the digital age preserve me for those present? Will they, in future years, lament the passing of SD Cards and Hard Drives and, with them, my memory?

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Guilty Pleasures 13

This latest entry in my list of guilty pleasures is the very epitome of what of what I mean by phrase. It's a song which, let's face it, was always a bit naff. But it also has the ability to fill dancefloors when the mobile DJ plays it at weddings and birthdays. It was a staple at Edinburgh's Tackno and is more cheesy that Cheese Strings Spaghetti... is Mr Chesney Hawkes explaining why he is the One and Only:


Wednesday, 2 May 2012

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 30

This week's choice is Mike Rutherford from Genesis in his other guise as lead singer of Mike and The Mechanics. I probably prefer The Living Years but here's Over My Shoulder:


Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Tuesday Titter 21: The Laughing Policeman

This may be 90 years old but it will never grow old...

(OK, this version is only 84 years old, but my point still stands!)