Friday, September 27, 2002

So there you are, happily beavering away (‘to beaver’ I feel, is right up there with ‘to plump’ in the league of under-rated verbs), skilfully filling your space with everything and nothing (especially the latter), not a care in the world and then, then, it strikes. You never see it coming. It gives no warning. It ambushes you while you are quietly going about your business and leaves you stranded. It is the Unexpected Hiatus, and it is not your friend.

This particular UH (as it shall henceforth be known) may be unexpected but shall not go unexplained. As regular readers (you lovely, patient people) will know, my recent desk move - to a position where my screen is visible to the entire sodding office - has not been entirely conducive to regular blogging. Surreptitious surfing has been the order of the day – but not surreptitious enough it seems.

A couple of weeks ago I had an email – too informal to be a warning, more like friendly concern, but from the MD and therefore to be taken seriously – that I would be well advised to keep my internet usage to a minimum during working hours, ‘in light of the positioning of my screen’. Goddammit I want my corner desk back!

Hence minimal activity – I’m writing this in Word as we speak, with the intention of uploading swfitly at lunchtime, but I can’t help feeling that trying to maintain a web page with such limited access to said medium is rather like trying to create a long-running TV epic when you’ve only ever seen ten minutes of Ready, Steady, Cook! and an ad for washing-up liquid.

I’d update from home but you could translate War And Peace into seven languages in the time it takes my PC to post sometimes. So, for the time being, expect updates to be sporadic and even shoddier than usual (yes, it is possible). I have my eye on a better desk. Normal service may yet be resumed. Watch this space. Just not too often, or you’ll be disappointed.

So what’s been happening? What’d I miss?

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Alright then, Italian breads. Friend or foe?

Y’see, I’m a big bread fan. Fresh warm loaves, bagels, baps and baguettes – all fantastic inventions, not to mention the incomparable perfection of a soft, fresh, processed-beyond-all-recognition loaf of thick white sliced.

But see these here fancy Italian types? Not so sure. Let’s examine the evidence, shall we?

Exhibit A: the ciabatta

Ah, there it is, proudly lining the shelves of that deli you get your lunchtime sandwich from. It says ‘Look at me! I’m so modern and continental! How fashionable you will be if you buy me instead of that tired old bap they’ve got hiding behind me!’

And granted, yes, it’s pleasing to the eye. Big, chunky, white and wholesome – you’re hungry, and it looks like it’s up to the job. But don’t be fooled. Its qualities are almost entirely aesthetic. No matter how fresh it may be, it’ll seem dry and stale already, and no matter how well-filled it may be, there’ll be just far, far too much bread for the filling. You’ll give up halfway through the sandwich once the excessive chewing has re-shaped your jaw, eat the remaining filling, and throw the rest away. Over-rated.

Exhibit B: the breadstick

Are these Italian? Who knows. About as appealing as the combination of ‘bread’ and ‘stick’ implies, though. Possibly the most rubbish bread invention after France’s ‘Biscottes’ - items which in any other country would simply be known for what they are: cold bits of toast. Bring back the bread roll.

Exhibit C: the focaccia

A real offender in the bakery stakes, mostly due to the fascination it holds for people who run ‘gastropubs’ or similar such establishments. There you are, looking forward to a nice, chunky, traditional home-made burger and – lo and behold! – it’s on flippin’ focaccia. This is in the belief that it will bestow upon the humble burger some newfound gourmet status. It won’t. It will just bestow about three kilos of unnecessary bulk, resulting in your being unable to get the damn thing in your mouth, and a filling-to-bread ratio that almost rivals that of the aforementioned ciabatta in its unsatisfactoriness.

Burgers go with sesame seed buns. It’s the law. Salt and pepper. Rock and roll. Terry and June. Burgers and buns, dammit. Leave it.

Exhibit D: the panini

Ah, now, all is not lost after all. The panini is possibly the best thing since, er, sliced bread. Hot, toasted, flattened into a size that’s satisfying to hold and easier still to eat, filled with cheese, ham, tomato or any number of options, it’s the perfect post-pub snack. None of the mess and concerns-about-its-origin of the kebab, I plan to make my fortune opening a chain of panini stalls on every street corner in the country – it’s a snack whose time has come.

Not to be confused with makers of sticker albums. Almost unlimited potential for amusing ‘punani’ gags. What more can you want?

So there you have it. 3-1 against. Next week: ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!’ – rated or slated?

Or some other poorly-researched and entirely pointless article. Ye gods, I need something to do.

I got the job! I got the job!

I didn't take the job. I didn't take the job.

You know when you think you want something, it seems like a great idea, and then you get it, and realise that you didn't really want it in the first place? Well, that.


Love and hate on the tube. On Sunday’s journey south, a rather over-amorous young couple. Him, covered, everywhere visible at least, in love-bites. Her, vacant grin, dazed expression, and glazed-over eyes; the sort of look that can only say ‘I’ve been shagged continuously for the last three days’ and says it loud. Sweet, really.

On Saturday’s journey however, two large, gold (and not a little cheap and tacky – I’m guessing the owner/s got out at Wood Green) rings on the seat opposite. Too big to have simply fallen from a pocket unnoticed, these were definitely hurled during some very public tiff (‘And you can keep your f**kin’ rings Darren!! I don’t want none of it, you bastard!’).

It’s like Trisha down there at times.

Monday, September 09, 2002

Monday afternoon, and all is well with the world. Well, y’know, apart from that impending war thing. But hey, didn’t we have a lovely weekend dancing to lots of lovely music with lots of lovely friends? Yes indeed.

Friday night’s ‘one or two pints’ at The Yard turned, as is traditional, into three or four, five or six, and an impromptu dinner for seven, from which I have learned that if you get Ken, Barry, Peter, Mike, Greg, Kelvin and myself around a table, there will be flirting. Good god, there will be flirting. There you are, popping out for a simple pizza and suddenly you’re embroiled in a hotbed of barely concealed lust. You don’t get that in McDonalds.

Saturday night, more Soho-based drunkenness, prior to Crash. A little on the quiet side for once, more than likely due to Action taking place just around the corner and competing for the same crowd. But excellent as ever, and while I’ve never really been much of a DJ-groupie, Tom Stephan’s superb three-hour set was more than worthy of all the hype he’s currently receiving. Funky, chunky, and very, very good indeed.

At one point I’m tapped on the shoulder by a masked drag queen:
‘Remember me?’
He lifts the mask, and I do, being a young Brazilian friend-of-friend, now resplendent in small blue cocktail dress and stilettos.
‘Any particular reason?’ I enquire.
‘Oh no, you know, I just felt like it.’
At least I think that happened. Either that or the drugs really do work, after all.

Woke up on Sunday morning to find that aliens had stolen my legs and replaced them with two large lead weights. I’m not entirely sure why – much dancing of course, but there is always much dancing. Good god, is this what happens when you are finally Getting Too Old For All This?

Later, the RVT of course, and a year since Kelvin and I officially became what I believe they term ‘an item’. Technically the anniversary’s today – I confess though that my initial response (‘We’re not having it on a bloody Monday!’) was less than romantic. Well, y’know, hangovers and all that.

Halfway through Dame Edna’s show though, a note is produced from her cleavage, and Kelvin’s only gone and got her to do us a dedication. I am simultaneously surprised, delighted, and just slightly horrified – but fortunately escape too much embarrassment on the grounds she can’t see my somewhat reluctantly raised hand (I may well add this to my list of reasons Why It’s Good To Be Short(ish), along with being able to sleep across the back seat of cars, legroom in aeroplanes, and others too rude to mention here). Jonathan’s impression of our first meeting on the Vauxhall railings, ‘like two rhinos on valium’ was uncannily accurate though. Now I remember what I said…

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Back, back, back, Sitges was wonderful as ever, more of which later no doubt, but first a confession: I’m in love with another man. Aside from Kelvin, that is. And it’s not the first time either: I fell in love with him fifteen years ago too, back when I was still struggling into my unsightly school blazer. Not for his looks, but for the way a single line from him could simply melt your heart. That, and some damn fine pop tunes.

I refer of course to Mr Rick Astley. Jonathan kindly alerts us to the release of his Greatest Hits album this week in the UK, meanwhile since Saturday I have been the proud owner of his most recent album, Keep It Turned On, released in December 2001, and purchased via the wonder of the interwebnet.

These days it seems Rick’s only big in Germany, where the album was released. Having heard nothing from him for nigh on ten years, and given we’re talking about the country which made musical superstars of David Hasselhoff and Scooter, I’ll admit I had reservations. But, with an Amazon gift certificate nagging to be spent and about to expire (there having been nothing, but nothing, that I actually wanted to buy in the last 12 months), I thought I’d give it a whirl.

And I was not disappointed. His first post Stock/Aitken/Waterman album (‘Free’) suffered from trying too hard to prove his credibility as a ‘serious artist’ and ended up just being, well, a bit dull. Perhaps not surprising given his eagerness to distance himself from the bubblegum pop – brilliant bubblegum pop, mind you, but bubblegum nonetheless – that made his name.

The new album though, like Kylie’s Light Years, is the sound of someone who’s got over all that, realises what they do best, and proceeds to do it, but with far more confidence, maturity and style than they ever had before. Here’s what HMV had to say on the album’s release:

HMV - December 2001
Oh irony of ironies. Just as TV show 'Pop Idol' reaches its climax, onetime pop superstar Rick Astley decides to make his comeback. Tea boy-turned millionaire, Astley sold more than fifteen million albums worldwide in the eighties - before packing in pop due to the 'pressures' of fame. Back with his first album in over eight years, 'Keep It Turned On' once again showcases his rich, deep voice, mixing it with lots of up-to-date electronic vocal effects and digital sounds. Replete with dreamy harmonies and heart stopping melodies, 'Keep It...' is a fantastic mix of up-tempo dance tunes and tearstained ballads that simply oozes panache from every groove. It's gorgeous, it's pop - what more can we say? Like he's never been away...

Very true. And then there is That Voice. Fifteen years ago, it was impressive, powerful, and instantly recognisable. Now, even stronger, richer, deeper and smoother, it’s better than ever. You listen, safe in the knowledge that every last note is going to be handled perfectly, with no unneccessary histrionics, just simple, honest emotion in a huge, warm baritone. It’s like being wrapped in the biggest, strongest arms imaginable and gently rocked to sleep, while someone rubs you all over with mink cushions. Gorgeous. You’d almost forgotten talent like this existed.

Of course, with That Voice, Rick could sing the phone book and it wouldn’t be half bad, but the material, all self-written or co-written, is more than up to the job. First track (and single in some places) ‘Sleeping’ is a smooth, Todd-Terry style dance track (a little reminiscent of his work with Everything But The Girl), overlayed with guitars and a great tune which deserves to be a huge hit. It won’t be of course, given the suffocatingly programmed playlists of most radio stations (why play Rick when they can play Jennifer Lopez another 15 times an hour?) but it should be. Meanwhile I confess there are lines in ‘Don’t Ask’ that bring on a Tearful Tuesday early, every time. Not because the lyrics are sad, they aren’t, but because the combination of Rick’s voice with the most gorgeous melody is so achingly beautiful it actually hurts. Straight after which, in bursts the title track, a joyous, uplifting, summery jangling-guitars-and-pianos anthem of the kind that Ronan Keating and writer Gregg Alexander would give their collective right limbs for. In anyone else’s hands this would still be a great song; in Rick’s it’s magnificent. And, a slightly ropy second track aside, the rest is just as good.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still at the end of the day a straightforward, adult, pop album. It’s not going to break any boundaries or take music anywhere it hasn’t been before. Neither is a Banoffi Pie going to revolutionise modern cuisine, but it doesn’t stop you revelling in the deliciousness of it – and when it’s done well, there’s nothing better. When it’s done this well, it’s incredible.

Welcome back, Rick. I had no idea how much I missed you.