Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Friday, January 30, 2009

Can You Pass The 11+?...

Try answering questions from a 1976 paper aimed at 11-year-olds. You have ten minutes to answer fifteen questions. I got all of them right but with just 90 secs to spare!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Microsoft's Songsmith...

Arggggh!!!! Kill me! Cut my ears off! Poke my eyes out! Microsoft's Songsmith has arrived. "Songsmith generates musical accompaniment to match a singer’s voice. Just choose a musical style, sing into your PC’s microphone, and Songsmith will create backing music for you."

See the car crash that is the Microsoft Songsmith Commercial here!

Yes, you too can murder the classics! Marvel at Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles! Roxanne by The Police! Wonderwall by Oasis!

And more here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Grace Jones...

Last night Darren, Mark, Stu and I went to see the star that is Grace Jones burn brightly at the Roundhouse in London's salubrious Chalk Farm. She was magnificent.

The usual twenty-five minutes late, she descended to the stage on a large extensible platform. Bathed in a deep shade of blue the audience gave her a rapturous reception. She then belted out Nightclubbing and the place went wild.

Over the next hour and forty minutes she plundered her back catalog, her new album Hurricane (oddly with the exception of Corporate Cannibal) and our hearts. Every song welcomed a change of lighting, a change of costume and a change of Philip Treacy. It was a bit like a West End show where, "tonight the role of the diva will be played by Miss Grace Jones."

She was exceptionally well behaved too. No tantrums. Although towards the end she was perhaps tiring a bit and rather muddled the words to La Vie En Rose. Still we can forgive here that. She was a star the whole night through. A brilliant star. A brilliant show.

Best bit: The encore. She sang the title track of her new album Hurricane across the stage into a hurricane fan with full-on special effects, lighting, debris and flowing costume blown horizontal by the wind. Marvellous.

Monday, January 26, 2009

In My Day...

My gran said to me, "Young men of today just aren't as polite and charming as they were when I was young".

I had to explain, "That's because they aren't trying to fuck you now, gran."

Friday, January 23, 2009

Three figures in white dresses comb back their long hair, revealing their faces. It is like watching curtains slowly part on lives that have been hidden away from view.

Last night Andrew organised tickets for Tim, Stuart and me to go and see The Idiot Colony at the ICA in London's wet and rainy West End.

The Idiot Colony is a damning indictment of the system which branded hundreds of women in the 1940s and 1950s 'moral defectives' for grievous crimes like homosexuality or having a baby as a result of childhood rape. These women were locked away in institutions on the say so of a single relative and the signature of two GPs.

Set in the hospital's hairdressing salon in the 1980s The Idiot Colony tells three such stories through flashback. The three women are now much older and in between listening to Rick Astley and the Birdie Song they remember the terrible events that caused them to be incarcerated. It is at times moving, at times funny but ultimately the horror comes from the mundanity.

Great show.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Colonel Mustard...

I have a confession to make. I love condiments. Mustard in particular. My eyes start to water... my palate stings.. my nasal passages become inflamed...

In my fridge I currently have twenty or so different bottles, tubs and jars of the stuff. Not only do I like mustard as a condiment to have with meat, vegetables or in sandwiches but also as an ingredient in cooking. Mustard roast, mustard mash and mustard salad dressing are all favourites.

I've loved every mustard I've come across so far in fact; Dijon mustard, English mustard, wholegrain mustard, honey mustard, French mustard, American mustard, hundred's of favoured mustards, horseradish mustard, beer mustard... The list goes on.

My favourite mustard though is an eleven spice French vinegar mustard known as Savora. I have been known to travel back from France with a dozen jars of the stuff. Luckily they sell it in Sainsbury's now (albeit under the Colemans brand and at greatly inflated prices). Amazon.com have started to sell it. I wonder if amazon.co.uk will follow suit?

When we went to Nice a few years back I had the cheek to take some Savora to a restaurant. Another diner saw me put some on my plate and asked if she could have some too. Before we knew where we were half a dozen tables had used it - much to the restaurant owner's dismay. Spread the love, that's what I say.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dream Casserole...

A short ninety second clip of a dream casserole nightmare. I have nightmares like this too. Fab. (better with sound and it is work safe).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sign Your Name...

I studied British Sign Language for a couple of years back in the early 1990s and still can hold a half decent conversation with various deaf or partially hearing friends. As some of you may know, if you're around deaf people a fair amount you will get a sign language nickname - it's a necessity to avoid spelling your name out every time you're mentioned. Thing is, you don't get to choose your own sign name. And boy did we know some funny ones; "Big nose", "Neil/Knee" "Dutch", "Bouncer", "Hearing Aid", "Squinty", "Old". Some seemed generic but we all knew who we were referring to. Sign names don't have to be unique just like "Dave" or "Steve" aren't.

Mine is a sort of "grin while shaking your crocked thumb and index finger tips in front of your teeth". Roughly translated it means "ha ha" or "grins a lot".

My nickname at school was also "grinner". Or to be more exact "grinner minimus" as my older brother was at the same school and he was a "grinner" too.

Funny how names stick.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Stu and I saw Milk on Saturday. Sean Penn was excellent. It didn't really tell us much more than we knew already from documentary films like The Times Of Harvey Milk but it was so good to see the real events portrayed as a drama. All the key scenes have been recreated but the story has been made more vivid, sadder even and ultimately more inspiring. Milk was an imperfect man, sure, but then aren't all good leaders? They need that spark of ambition, that desire to do good and the clearness of sight to see an injustice.

Milk was a very sexual man in real life of course. And that being the 1970s there was lots of it around. I sometimes wonder how much that influenced his political drive. He really only came out of himself sexually when he turned forty, moved to San Francisco and grew his hair. With this new liberty came the discovery of his political side. This made him realise what the emerging gay community had to offer the out gay man and the economic power it could wield to protect itself. A politician was born. The first and perhaps best proof that a gay man could be himself and succeed. Albeit on the 4th time of trying!

Go see.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Windows 7...

For 'fun' I downloaded and installed Microsoft's much trumpeted Windows 7 beta last week. I installed it on a home PC and also (rather rashly according to my colleagues) on my work PC too. I find Vista a pain in the arse and this was a bit of a last ditch attempt with Micky Mouse Windows before deciding if I should move back to Windows XP or indeed persevere with my recent flirting with Linux.

And do you know what? I was pleasantly surprised. On my home PC Windows 7 is faster than Vista. It seems to do everything I'd want of it and those annoying UCE pop-ups seem to be all but banished.

On my work PC the upgrade was also painless and most things seem way snappier. My performance Index is 5.9 rather than 5.0 and the only slight gripe I have with it is that I have to run anti-virus software AVG (as I do at home) rather than the corporate imperative McAfee but no doubt that will get resolved soon.

So first impressions are good. It's so the operating system Vista should have been.

Pilot hailed for 'Hudson miracle'...

The pilot of an airliner that ditched in New York's Hudson River has been hailed a hero after all 155 passengers and crew were rescued. And you know what? It doesn't make me feel any safer about flying.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

F***king Men...

Last night Stu, Mark, Hudd and I went to the Kings Head Theatre in vibrant Upper Street to see a new gay play called F***king Men. Actually I think it was called Fucking Men but the posters were being a little coy.

It was an American story introducing us to the (sex)lives of ten gay men who were all related to each other by sex. A met B, B met C, C met D... ... I met J and J met A to complete the circle. We had a rent boy, a soldier, a teacher, a student, two guys in a relationship (one of whom was a banker), a porn star, a playwright, a movie star and a TV interviewer.

The play was sexy, mildly insightful, risque but never coarse. Oh, and very funny. The mainly gay audience seemed to find themselves reflected up on the stage in numerous scenes.

Best bit: the plainly autobiographical playwright talking about his own gay play.

Nice to go see a gay play which a) is funny, and b) the characters weren't punished for having sex.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Silent Fart...

An old lady turns to her husband at party. "Oh dear", she says, "I seem to have let out a silent fart. What should I do?"

Her husband replies, "Get a new battery for your hearing aid".

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The chalice from the palace has the brew that is true...

We watched The Court Jester (1956) on telly the other day. I'd forgotten just how funny it is.

Hubert Hawkins - "I don't want the vessel with the pestle, I want the chalice from the... what?"'
Maid Jean - "The chalice from the palace."
Griselda - "Its a little crystal chalice with a figure of a palace."
Hawkins - "Does the chalice from the palace have the pellet with the poison?"
Griselda - "No, the pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle."
Hawkins - "The pestle with the vessel?"
Jean - "The vessel with the pestle."
Hawkins - "What about the palace from the chalice?"
Griselda - "Not the palace from the chalice, the chalice from the palace!"
Hawkins - "Where's the pellet with the poison?"
Griselda - "In the vessel with the pestle!"
Jean - "Don't you see? The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true. It's so easy, I can say it!"
Hawkins - "Well, then you fight him!"

Monday, January 12, 2009

I Love Lloyds TSB...

I love Lloyds TSB. Why (you may ask)? Aren't they one of those slimy banks that we now all own part of? And of course you'd be right. But what have they done to make me break out in this unusual rash of good will towards them?

Well, not only have they yet again cut my mortgage interest payments following the latest Bank Of England interest rate 0.5% cut but I just had a great chat with their insurance people. The reason for my call was that my annual home contents and buildings insurance is up for renewal this month and I needed to let them now that I how have an extra bedroom and bathroom to insure; my new loft conversion. So I was expecting a big jump in my premium. Instead they said that they'd keep it at the same amount as last year. Something about "no increase in square footage" and "maintaining it's multiple use". Fab.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Arsenal 1-0 Bolton...

It was truely freezing at the Emirates yesterday afternoon when our boys took on the increasingly dire Trotters. A fairly hum-drum performance from us wasn't helped by their deep defending. Still, Bendtner did manage to slot one in so we got our much needed three points. Let's hope Europe doesn't drift beyond our reach.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Brian Gittins: Roadside Cafe Owner...

Ben came over last night and we went out for a beer, a bite to eat and to see some stand-up comedy; Brian Gittins: Roadside Cafe Owner at the Hen and Chickens

Here's the spiel: "My name's Brian Dennis Gittins and I run a roadside cafe near Pyecombe. I've been winging it on the circuit for a year or so now, since some of the cafe regulars said I was "quite funny". Anyway, I've done some gigs with Ricky Gervais recently so I can deal with up to one thousand heckles per night. And if it all goes tits up, my mate Angelos Eppethemiu (who does my gutters) will do some magic for ya."

Also on the bill was Tim Key - a comic poet with a nice line in acerbic wit.

Very funny.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Edward Scissorhands...

Last night Stu and I went to see Matthew Bourne's Edward Scissorhands at the Sadler's Wells in downtown Islington.

The story tells of a man named Edward, an unfinished creation, who has scissors for hands. Edward is taken in by a suburban family and falls in love with their teenage daughter.

We'd seen Bourne's The Car Man, Swan Lake and most recently Dorian Gray and were mightily impressed so our expectations were pretty high.

Sadly things weren't quite as good as we'd hoped. It told the story well enough. And what a sweet story it is? Sure, it looked good, especially the set design. And 'lovely lighting' as Andy would say. But there just wasn't enough dancing in it. A fundamental requirement of a dance production I'd say.

Now this was partly due to the fact that Bourne's production stuck so doggedly to the Edward Scissorhands film plot (fair enough). But having a lead whose hands are quite literally scissors inevitably means you can't really hold hands (or indeed even use your hands to do lifts) in any of the romantic dancing duo sequences. At one point, out of frustration I imagine, Bourne actually sidesteps this issue completely and has a dream sequence where Edward doesn't have scissor hands at all but has real hands so he can present us with a more creative dance (with proper lifts).

Having said all that, we did enjoy it. The cast were full of energy and the performances were at times both touching and comic.

The best part of the production? The dancing topiary in the afore mentioned dream sequence.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Let's Prog!...

Way back in the late 1960s/early 1970s when I was not much older than a nipper I started to listen to my brother and sister's records (not being able to afford many of my own). So from an early age I was heavily influenced by a type of music that was frankly beyond my years; progressive rock. Prog rock (as it was known) became wildly successful throughout the early 1970s and throughout that time was my 'dirty little secret' while I was listening to ABBA and disco. Sadly prog had a rapid decline when punk rock came along in 1976/77.

Over the past week or so BBC Four has been broadcasting a number of programmes about prog rock which have brought back many fond memories from my childhood and teenage years. Last night's live recording of Tubular Bells all but brought me to tears.

For a bit of fun I thought I'd list some of my favourite prog rock tracks/albums (in no particular order);

The Nice - America
The Moody Blues - Question
Jethro Tull - Witches Promise
Wishbone Ash - Vas Dis
Yes - Yours Is No Disgrace / Close To The Edge
Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Picture At An Exhibition / Fanfare For The Common Man
The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown - Fire
Camel - Moonmadness
Caravan - The Dog, The Dog He's At It Aagin
Soft Machine - Fanfare All White
Procol Harum - A Whiter Shade Of Pale
King Crimson - Cat Food
The Who - anything from Tommy
The Byrds - Eight Miles High
Pink Floyd - Piper At The Gates Of Dawn / Interstellar Overdrive / Saucer Full Of Secrets
Atomic Rooster - Tomorrow Night
Deep Purple - Hush / Smoke On The Water
Traffic - The Low Spark Of The High Heeled Boys
Family - In My Own Time
Genesis - I Know What I Like / Selling England By The Pound / Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
Egg - Bulb
Gong - Flying Teapot
Supertramp - Rudy / School
Tangerine Dream - Sorcerer
Queen - Seven Seas Of Rhye
Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells
ELO - Mr Blue Sky
Rush - The Spirit Of Radio
Focus - Hocus Pocus / Sylvia

Ah, memories.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

An Exclusive Chat With Matt Smith...

The BBC Doctor Who web site has an 'exclusive' chat with Matt Smith - the new Doctor Who. Much of it was screened in Doctor Confidential last Saturday on BBC One but this is the full interveiw.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Darren and Mark..

We had a really lovely Sunday roast at Darren and Mark's place yesterday. We were having such a good time we completely lost track of time and ended up staying until 10pm. The sign of good hosts! Thanks guys.

Arsenal 3-1 Plymouth...

It was bloody freezing at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday afternoon but Paul and I braved the elements to watch our brave soldiers trample all over Plymouth Argyle in the third round of the FA Cup. They held us quite successfully in the first half but the floodgates opened in the second. Big up to Nasri and Gallas for their sterling work at motivating the team and to captain Robin van Persie for his two goals.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The 'new' Doctor Who...

So now we know. The eleventh Doctor Who will be Matt Smith. He's worked with Billie Piper (Rose) three times before; in The Ruby In The Smoke, The Shadow in the North and also the first season of The Secret Diary of a Call Girl. He was also in In Bruges.

The TV Doctors Who to date have been:
1. William Hartnell (1963-1966)
2. Patrick Troughton (1966-1969)
3. Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)
4. Tom Baker (1974-1981)
5. Peter Davison - pictured (1982-1984)
6. Colin Baker (1984-1986)
7. Sylvester McCoy (1987-1996)
8. Paul McGann (1996)
9. Christopher Eccleston (2005)
10. David Tennant (2005-2010)
11. Matt Smith (2010 - ?)

Friday, January 02, 2009

Boxing Day in Welwyn...

On Boxing Day Stuart and I went to stay with my folks for a few days. It was a really nice relaxing time. And on the Satruday we went for a walk through the marsh and into the village. It bought back wonderful memories of my childhood and teenage years; working in the local pub, the local bakery, singing in the church... ah, happy days.

Click here for more pix and a closer look

Click here to see the full set

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Andrew and Tim's Party...

On Monday night Stuart and I went to Andrew and Tim's party down in Brockley. As at their summer party all the their lovely and gorgeous friends were there. Being a school night we didn't stay too late. Well, midnight.

Click here for more pix and a closer look.