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Join me, Tony Robinson, and me, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, as we take a look at what James was saying in the year 2009 AD.

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Quiz question 20

10 Nov 09 | Re: Big bowl of delicious trivia

As our quiz questions approach 50 Cent’s enviable total of 21, it’s time for the latest weekly installment. While I think of another question, I’ll give you the answer to question number 19. See if you can work out how to read the paragraph below; I assure you it’s there.

Yes, that’s right, just highlight it. Easy. So, the largest country in the EU that is run by self-avowed socialists is Spain, whose government is led by the Partido Socialista y Obrera de España, or Socialist Workers Party. Their leader is the admirable Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who doesn’t get the attention he deserves in Britain.

And now, the question for this week. The former Live and Kicking presenter Jamie Theakston still gets up early, because he now presents a breakfast show on the radio. But for which station?

If you want the answer, you will have to come back to this blog in about 100 years when I next update it. I am confident that there is simply no other way to find it.

Posted by NIGEL CLARKE at 18:29

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Stop at the end of this track, please

7 Nov 09 | Re: Request for new feature

CD players should have a button for Stop Playing At The End Of This Track. Sometimes you’re in the middle of an album and you want to just hear the end of the track that’s playing before you stop listening to it. So come on, audio people - please invent this feature before the technology becomes entirely obsolete.

Posted by THE AMBLING ALP at 21:12

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Spectator notes

7 Nov 09 | Re: Thought-provoking writings

As the postal system gets back on track, I’ve just received the October 31 edition of the Spectator. There are a couple of excerpts that made me think.

First, James Hannam says:

Even the lowliest producer can expect to have me eating out of her hand.

He’s using that neat trick where, instead of using ‘he’ all the time or resorting to ‘they’, you just swap between ‘she’ and ‘he’ at random when someone’s gender is undetermined. Except that here it’s rather infelicitous because he ends up implying that the world’s lowliest producer, whoever it is, is going to be a woman. Rather takes the edge off the feminist intent there.

Second, in a well-written piece about alternative medicine, Anthony Daniels opines:

As one grows older one grows more tolerant, or more aware that no one conducts his life as if it were an algorithm, at each branch of which he decides which way to go on strict evidence of what is best.

He’s saying that we should suffer people to go to homeopaths or acupuncturists or witch doctors if they really want to. But I think he’s also put his finger on what bothers me about the hard-line Dawkins-style anti-religion brigade.

At times, the Dawkins people do seem to set themselves up as campaigners for a life of complete rationality - but this is an absurdity. Every day everyone makes hundreds of decisions for reasons that cannot be considered strictly, or even vaguely, rational, because that is simply how humans behave. Not that this necessarily means that we shouldn’t try to be rational. Just because there is always going to be an irrational element to life does not mean that we should abandon ourselves to whatever outlandish behaviour takes our fancy, with no heed to the consequences! Perhaps the important thing is to strike a balance; to seek rationality where it is available to us, while still acknowledging the fundamental irrationality of the human condition...

... and now replace rationality with righteousness and you have a basic statement of Christian doctrine. No one can be without sin, but we should still strive to avoid it - a struggle that is avowedly not made vain by the impossibility of complete success.

Interesting to notice that similarity between the hard atheists and the Christians they like to attack.

Posted by THE ROBOT ANTS at 20:48

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Quiz question 19

3 Nov 09 | Re: Shot of trivia, straight up please barkeep

A week since the last quiz question? Why, you must all be agog with anticipation. Well, be agog no longer, because here comes another one.

First to furnish you with the answer from last time. Highlight the quasi-text below:

The women’s version of the Davis Cup is called the Fed Cup, or Federation Cup. This being women’s tennis, the current champs are Russia and Britain has never won it.

Today’s question is quite the puzzler. What is the largest EU country, population-wise, whose ruling party describes itself as Socialist?

The answer will appear here next week.

Posted by DISHONEST JOHN at 13:48

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“But you did not convince me, Nicholas”

30 Oct 09 | Re: Crazed ministerial behaviour

In the news today: a Government drugs adviser gave the Government some advice that conficted with what they wanted to do, presumably because he inhabits the real world and not Planet Kneejerk, so they ignored his advice and then sacked him. Brilliant.

This reminds me of Idi Amin in the film The Last King of Scotland, when he berates his advisers for disagreeing with him, and then they’re proved right, so he berates them again for not being more convincing when they made their case in the first place. Not that the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, is in any way as despotic or bonkers or charismatic as Idi Amin, but it’s the same kind of thing. Why employ advisers at all, if you’re just going to get cross when you don’t like their advice?

And Alan Johnson is meant to be one of the good ones.

Posted by HORBISON THE FISH at 21:00

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Saint Etienne and Coe

28 Oct 09 | Re: Suggested musical tie-in

At the moment I’m enjoying Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind whenever it comes on the radio. I’m not from New York and I’ve never been there, but this is one of those cases, like Kingston Town or Hemmingway’s Spanish novels, when an artist’s heartfelt enthusiasm for a place is infectious enough to make even complete strangers identify with it. It inspires a kind of nostalgia, only for another place instead of another time.

The song needn’t be about New York though. Whenever I’ve heard it lately, I’ve imagined what it would sound like if Saint Etienne did a reworking called London State of Mind. I think Sarah would be perfect for that chorus, and I’d love to hear what Bob and Pete would do with the verses - it could be a real tour de force for them.

And what better time to make a song like that, than with the London Olympics on the horizon? I’m telling you, London State of Mind would make the perfect theme song for the event. Lord Coe, Bob Stanley, Boris Johnson, anyone who knows them, if you read this, please see about making this happen. It would be wonderful.

Let’s hear it for London
These streets will make you feel brand new
The lights will inspire you

Imagine Sarah singing that and tell me it wouldn’t be perfect.

Posted by HOMER J FONG at 13:12

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Quiz question 18

27 Oct 09 | Re: Trivia jam

A sparsely written quiz question blog this week, because I’m in a hurry to go out to a real-life Earth-quiz. So, highlight the invisible space for the answer to last week’s question:

Yo, it was Caligula. Some people say Tiberius was smothered to death before him, but I say not. So Caligula is the answer.

And this week’s brain-exerciser: In the sport of tennis, what is the women’s equivalent of the Davis Cup?

I will bring you the answer next week, and next week will I bring you the answer.

PS Freemasons Shakedown 2 is a brilliant album. It’s dance, it’s pop, it’s surprisingly soulful. It’s what you want.

Posted by ABORIGINAL NOISE at 20:25

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Why not junk the junk?

22 Oct 09 | Re: Selective industrial action

Today is the first day of national postal strikes. The trouble from the striking workers’ point of view (apart from loss of wages for striking and the horrendous conditions and pig-headed management that drove them to strike in the first place) is that the public is inconvenienced, and will tend to see the strikers as the primary cause of that inconvenience, regardless of where the blame might actually lie. BBC Have Your Say, the UK’s premier reactionary shouting-shop, is already full of comments about lazy posties, greedy workers (for forfeiting pay on a point of principle? Really?) and blah blah blah. They are surely wrong, but unfortunately this is a democracy and even HYS-posters’ opinions are somehow allowed to count.

Without knowing much about how the postal service operates, I would like to make a humble suggestion. Instead of full strikes, could postal workers not refuse to sort or deliver only junk mail? This would hit the bosses, who increasingly rely for their revenue on shovelling junk mail into landfill sites via the letterboxes of the long-suffering public. But from the point of view of most people, it wouldn’t damage the service a jot - in fact, it would vastly improve it.

It’s pretty easy to spot junk mail from the envelope, probably easier if letters are your business, and a lot of it probably comes to the depots in huge truckloads that only contain junk and could simply be left in the corner until a deal was struck, at which time it could be pointlessly delivered as usual. Registered charities could be exempted. What’s more, the PR victory might even be compounded by the sight of managers and strike-breakers slogging through delivery rounds with sacks containing only junk mail, allowing even the most tabloid-thinking members of the public to identify them as obvious bogeymen.

No doubt there is a good reason why this course of action has not been pursued, but I do not know what it is, and I should be interested to be told.

Posted by ART VANDERLAY at 18:01

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ABrilliant idea

22 Oct 09 | Re: A suggestion that has the X-factor

Overcome album cover by Alexandra Burke

The phrase “X-Factor winner” is a bit limiting, since really we’re all winners when it comes to the popular entertainment showcase. Nonetheless, the vaguely tiresome Alexandra Burke was last year’s actual X-Factor winner, and the time is coming for her to release her album, Overcome.

That’s not a bad title. It has a double meaning: has she overcome the odds to get where she is, or is it she that is overcome with the emotion of getting there? But I have a better suggestion, if it’s not too late for those record company people to change it.

If I were in charge, I would play off her initials, AB - looking ahead to her long-term career, I’d aim to give all her albums titles starting with those letters. This debut would be ABsolute. The second one, as her career gained momentum, would be ABility, and then the third would be the triumphant, possibly hubristic AB-domination, which could have a raunchy cover photo where she had a bare midriff.

Then, since Alex is a pop act, it would be time for the best-of, which would be ABridged. After that a pop star usually wants to have more control so they can make a really personal album, which would be ABsorbed.

That’s the first five years of the career planned out. I got the idea from the prog band ASIA, who called their albums Asia, Alpha, Astra, Aura, Arena and so on, making a nicely coherent body of work over the course of the 80s (now touring with the original line-up!). Alexandra Burke should take note.

Pic from Popjustice - hope that’s OK


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Quiz question 17

20 Oct 09 | Re: Weekly installment of triv’

Well hello to one and all, and welcome to another weekly quiz question here on the blog. As has become the custom, I will first reveal the answer to last week’s question. To see it, simply highlight the white, empty area that follows.

The link between those three songs is guide vocals. In the studio, an employee or anyone who happens to be around often records a temporary guide vocal on a track to show the eventual vocalist the kind of thing they might like to do. In the case of Shaggy’s bud Rikrok, Kirsty MacColl, and that woman out of Madison Avenue, they put down guide vocals that were so good that they ended up being featured on the final release.

And now for the next question, which is: Who was the first Roman Emperor to be assassinated? Hint: I’m not looking for Julius Caesar here, because although he was assassinated he wasn’t technically considered to be an emperor, much as he might have acted like one, throwing his weight about and what not and what have you.

Answer next week.

Posted by BETTY SWAILSBURY at 13:44

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Billie the Vision

19 Oct 09 | Re: Effusive recommendation

Billie the Vision and the Dancers are a brilliant Swedish band. Apparently they have a cult following in Sweden, but they’re little-known in this country. Nevertheless, they are brilliant.

They play upbeat, mainly acoustic based indie-pop, with wonderfully individual, funny lyrics and an infectious spark that crackles through every song. It’s not easy for a support act to steal the show at a gig, but I saw them supporting the Pipettes, never having heard of them, and they stole the show. I got their album The World According to Pablo, on which every track is amazing. This was over a year ago, so this panegyric isn’t post-gig euphoria.

They have a MySpace, and they’re also on Spotify. You should check them out.

Posted by BRAD STORCH at 20:13

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Oh my... galoshes?

16 Oct 09 | Re: The adaptable G

The advantage of using the acronym OMG when talking to fourteen-year-olds on the internet is that it’s very adaptable. I believe the G usually stands for God, but if you’re talking to someone of milder sensibilities, or if the event you’re reacting to doesn’t quite warrant the full OMG treatment, it could equally stand for Gosh or Goodness, or Godfathers, or at a push Golly-Gosh or even Giddy-Aunt. It’s sort of self-regulating, because the meaning depends on the reader as well as the writer. I think of it as yet another convenient interactive element of this fine information superhighway. Very handy.

Posted by REGINA FALANGE at 08:16

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Quiz question 16

13 Oct 09 | Re: Answer and question

I’m quite pleased with the quiz question I’ve thought up this week. But before I riddle you ree, you will be wanting to highlight the white below to see the answer for last week:

Wrestling fans should have had no problem with this one: Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is famous as the hometown (but not really) of the Hardcore Legend Cactus Jack. It renamed itself after a popular quiz show, as you can read on its municipal website, now linked in the sidebar.

Right, on to the new Q. This week it’s: What is the connection between these three songs: Fairytale of New York by the Pogues; It Wasn’t Me by Shaggy; and Don’t Call Me Baby by Madison Avenue?

Puzzled? Well, you’ll have to wait until next week for the answer.

Posted by U THANT at 18:01

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A sinner’s meditation on the Gloria

12 Oct 09 | Re: Much-misunderstood liturgical element

Yesterday at church they incorporated some elements of 18th-century worship into the service, including using a traditional setting for the Gloria (a common setting that is still used every week at many churches). I had always thought of the Gloria as a song of joyful worship, so I was surprised that the setting used was a very dignified, sombre, minor key affair. Was that appropriate? Here is the text of the Gloria (from

Glory be to God on high,
and in earth peace, good will towards men.
We praise thee, we bless thee,
we worship thee, we glorify thee,
we give thanks to thee for thy great glory.
O Lord God, heavenly King,
God the Father Almighty.

O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesu Christ:
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
that takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father,
have mercy upon us.

For thou only art holy;
thou only art the Lord;
thou only, O Christ,
with the Holy Ghost,
art the Most High in the glory of God the Father.

It does start by praising God, but you will notice that it quickly moves on to a plea for forgiveness: it is predominantly a prayer of humility, where the greatness of God makes the speaker seem lowly by comparison, instead of bathing him in reflected glory. As such, it is a close companion to the Prayer of Humble Access, while the three “have mercy”s also recall the Agnus Dei - neither of those are songs of joy, and I submit that the Gloria isn’t either.

This realisation changes my perception of the service as a whole. In the new Common Worship service, the Gloria follows the Confession and Absolution; I used to see that as marking the rather abrupt end of the ‘penitence’ bit of the service, and the start of the worship bit. Now I see it as a corollary to the Absolution - an extra plea for forgiveness wrapped up in measured praise.

So why, when I say these words every week, has it taken me so long to spot their penitent, humble side? Partly it’s the title, but of course the title isn’t meant to be descriptive - it’s just the first word of the prayer in Latin, a convention applied to every prayer and Psalm from Pater Noster to Nunc Dimitis to Quasi Modo. Mostly, I blame ministers who introduce the Gloria with words like “Thankful that we are forgiven, we stand to give praise to God!” These are misleading enough on their own, but when you combine them with the tendency to set the words to jaunty modern tunes you can see how the ‘have mercy’ element can get missed. There’s one version to the tune of At the Name of Jesus that reminds me of nothing so much as the One Song to the Tune of Another round on I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.

I’ve also heard the Gloria introduced as “The Song of the Angels”, but this is just plain wrong. Yes, the first lines are taken from the Angels’ song to the shepherds in Luke, but the rest of it simply doesn’t fit that description. Does “Thou that takest away the sins of the world / Have mercy upon us” sound like something an angel would sing? The real Song of the Angels is the Sanctus; it comes later in the service and it goes “Holy, holy, holy Lord / God of Hosts / Heaven and Earth are full of Thy glory / Glory be to Thee / O Lord most high”. Much more appropriate.

So, action points:

Posted by FRANCISCO DE QUEVEDO at 18:30

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Our area is on the up

12 Oct 09 | Re: Long-awaited sign upgrade

Just a quick shout-out to the Private Shop on Chesterton Road in Cambridge, which has finally managed to upgrade its sign: well done to all concerned. For years and years, the shop had announced itself using a sign made of a grimy blue tarpaulin, rather folornly marked Temporary Sign. Now, at long last and in heroic defiance of the recession, it has replaced that sorry effort with a shiny white affair that even includes some nice patriotic Union Jacks. Hurrah for the newly-restored sex shop! It was starting to make the area look a bit tawdry.

Posted by KING ROLLO at 13:27

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Back to the coffee houses

11 Oct 09 | Re: Correct editorial decision

Imagine my delight on opening the latest Spectator and seeing that the Portrait of the Week has been restored to its rightful place near the front of the magazine. For those who don’t know, this venerable feature offers a concise, pithy summary of the week’s events that is the ideal reading for a weekend breakfast time. It also comes accompanied by Heath’s cartoons, which are an acquired taste by themselves but somehow go perfectly with a feature like this.

The whole package has an air of real gravitas (though it is by no means dry) and feels part of an unbroken lineage that goes back to the beginnings of the news media in the 18th century. Changes in the method of delivery are all very well if there is a reason for them, but a well-established format has the great advantage of allowing the reader to focus on content without fussing about how it is delivered.

This is a very encouraging decision by the magazine’s new editor Fraser Nelson, and starts to make Matthew D’Ancona’s brief-to-medium tenure look like a weird dream. The Spec wasn’t terrible under MD’A, but he did replace the Portrait of the Week with a possibly popular but undeniably throwaway spoof diary (still in there but now judiciously buried in the middle); and he did institute a briefly-tolerated style and travel section with the unspeakable title “You’ve Earned It”; and he did give himself an occasional pop column purely so he could go and see the Sex Pistols and the Rolling Stones; and he did hire two indistinguishable airheaded middle-aged woman to bore on about how they can’t get a gasman every week; and he did allow the Spectator Classics Cup to sink without trace; and he did replace Frank Keating, a diamond of a sports columnist, with a burbling pumpkinhead called Roger Alton. So not amazing.

Fraser Nelson, on the other hand, seems very clued-up. Not only is the Portrait back and as good as ever, but it also uses the word ‘throve’, which I guarantee never appeared even once anywhere in the publication under his predecessor. May the Spec thrive during his tenure.


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Vaz slams Blair

9 Oct 09 | Re: Expertise-sharing philosophy

Last week Keith Vaz, the Labour MP for Keith Vaz, criticised the latest thinking on school leadership, which says that schools that aren’t doing well should be federated with schools that are, so that the successful heads can work their magic on the tough schools. Vaz thinks it’s a rubbish idea, and compared it to “Britain lending its Prime Minister to Rwanda for two days a week”.

Well, now a TES letter from David Russell, the director of Survivors Fund, has pointed out that the illustrious Tony Blair already acts as an adviser to President Kagame of Rwanda. This is superb news, and quite a coup for Kagame! Keith Vaz may pooh-pooh the idea, but I can only imagine the wide-ranging and wholly beneficial Blair-inspired reforms that might be in motion. I expect President Kagame’s children are preparing to move into a nice new dodgy flat in Bristol at this very moment.

Posted by KING JEROBOAM at 13:26

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Quiz question 15

6 Oct 09 | Re: Trivia more trivial than ever

Time, now, for the fifteenth installment in this series of quiz questions. If you like, you can always email me the answers to these using the email link in my sidebar on the right. I will respond in a warm and welcoming manner.

First for this week, the answer to question 14. Highlight the white area below to see it:

Good King Wenceslas was a king of Bohemia. A turbo-charged, hearty, miracle-working king. Bohemia is in the modern-day Czech Republic, so if you said Czech Republic you can also have the point, even though as a republic the Czech Rep obviously can’t actually have an actual king.

And now for today’s question. It’s: Which state of the USA contains a town called Truth or Consequences?

The answer will appear here next week.

Posted by DUDE LOVE at 14:29

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Hey! You’re that Steve Brookstein!

5 Oct 09 | Re: Paper-thin talent show disguise

Just seen The X Factor for the first time this year, and I must say Steve Brookstein must have had nerves of steel to put on that ridiculous afro wig and enter the same competition a second time. But even if he manages to beat poor Louis’ latest Oirish no-hopers and all the other ten acts, what makes him think he’ll do any better out of it? If Simon didn’t see fit to give him the Leona Lewis/Ryan Tedder treatment first time round, why would he pull out the stops this time?

So come on, “Jamie Afro”, get the wig off, admit you’re Steve B and let’s see the real story of this year’s talent contest start to play out.

Posted by THE AMAZING MUMFORD at 19:45

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Quiz question 14

29 Sep 09 | Re: This quiz is growing rapidly

A quick quiz this week. Answer to last week below:

It’s Jade. The horse and prostitute meanings are Shakespearean ones.

And this week’s question is: Which lucky country was Good King Wenceslas king of?

Answer in 7 days.

Posted by STATIUS at 12:55

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26 Sep 09 | Re: Improbably stretched-out start-to-the-season

Eamonn Holmes

I hardly dare mention it, but to the amazement of Harry Redknapp and everyone else, Spurs’ pinch-yourself start to the season is still going on, looking almost as stretched-out as Peter Crouch. The last two matches (in all competitions, as people like to sneeringly say) have been 5-1 and 5-0, three forwards are all banging them in and everything is rosy and Jim.

So we have to ask, is it possible to finish in the top four without beating any of the big four? Is it morally acceptable to do so? Because realistically, that’s what’s going to have to happen. It’s actually looking quite good since all teams have now dropped points except Man City, and I’ll eat my hat if they can keep it up. Let’s hear it for more thrashings of rubbish teams (no disrespect, kids) from Spurs and more royal slip-ups from everyone else.

PS Watching the highlights of Spurs v Preston, including Crouch’s backheel volley, I wonder if Spurs have been playing too much Pro Evo - four of the five goals could have been clips from the game. I like to think of the Pro Evo programmers getting a little frisson when they see an especially PE-type goal on the TV.

Thanks once again to Garry Knight for the pic. Licence here.

Posted by FRANK T GRISWOLD III at 21:06

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Quiz question 13

22 Sep 09 | Re: Ongoing trivia challenge

Welcome back to the only quiz around that has a slower question rate than Who Wants To Be A Millionaire; yes, it’s my quiz and it’s time for another question.

First I need to reveal the answer to the question of the previous week (highlight the gap):

“It was twenty years ago today that Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play”, according to one Beatle or another. They recorded that in 1967, so the Sergeant must have done his teaching twenty years before that, in 1947.

And so on to this week’s teaser: What J can mean a prostitute, a type of horse, a mineral used in ornaments, or a popular girl’s name?

Answer next Tue.

Posted by BOB HOLNESS at 22:53

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More Mills

21 Sep 09 | Re: Soundalike DJs here we go

Great news for fans of Scott Mills in the new Radio 1 daytime line-up. You still get your three hours of Scott from 4 to 7, but now you can also warm up for that with another three hours of everyone’s favourite Scott-alike Greg James. So long as they don’t listen too closely, the millions of Mills’s minions can now enjoy Mills-based radio or a reasonable facsimile of it from 1 to 7 every day - that’s 30 hours a week.

Additionally, this provides further evidence that Radio 1 is mutating into Radio 2: I used to think Terry Wogan’s show went on for a similar length of time because I couldn’t tell the difference between the him and Ken Bruce.

Posted by JOSE IDO DEL SAGRARIO at 13:06

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Toussaint and his Patwa Swagga

18 Sep 09 | Re: Generous freebie in a raggamuffin style

Chaka Demus

Wyclef Jean sure is good to his fans. On his blog you can currently download something called the Patwa Swagga Mixtape. This turns out to be an hour of Clef and some Jamaican-sounding friends of his singing and rapping over various reggaed-up drum machines and half-inched Caribbean classics, saying “warriors” a lot and generally having a whale of a time. One track is a refix of Ini Kamoze. Another is basically a Chaka Demus and Pliers song played in its entirety (pictured: Chaka Demus). Perhaps best of all, at one point Clef finally revisits his Fugee catchphrase “One time!”. I have been waiting roughly a decade for him to say that again.

For the purposes of this project, Wyclef has re-christened himself Toussaint St Jean. You have to admire the guy.

PS Thanks to Chris Salmon in the Guardian for tipping me off.

Thanks to Korall for the pic. Licence here.

Posted by DAVID DUNDAS at 21:36

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And on the eighth day... hang on!

16 Sep 09 | Re: Theological conundrum

Everyone knows the story of creation in Genesis: God spent six days creating various bits of the world and universe, and then rested on the seventh day when He had finished. Conversely, nobody seems to know what God did on the eighth day, that He wasn’t doing on the seventh while He was resting.

What does it mean for God to rest? Could God ever rest again? What would happen? What is He doing right now, if He is not resting?

Some people believe that the universe as we know it is only sustained from one moment to the next by God’s power in a kind of constant re-creation; presumably those people don’t take a literal view of the Genesis account. Some people believe that God and the Devil are locked in an eternal struggle, any imbalance in which would cause the universe to slip out of kilter; presumably those people don’t take Genesis 1 literally either. I think this idea of resting might actually be the most problematic thing about the whole story, theologically.

Some links:

A lot of people high up the Google rankings also think that God created rock and roll, funk, cars, Google Earth, aliens, “hot pockets”, and a whole boatload of other junk on the eighth day. Fascinating subject.

Posted by DANBERT NOBACON at 18:06

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Quiz question 12

15 Sep 09 | Re: Trivia unabated

Oh, hi there. You must have dropped by in expectation of the next quiz question. You shall not be disappointed.

First, the answer to last week’s wizard-based q. It’s floating somewhere in the whiteness below:

I asked you how many Knuts are in a Galleon in Harry Potter’s none-less-practical monetary system. Well, as the First Book of Rowling tells us, there are twenty-nine Knuts in a Sickle and seventeen Sickles in a Galleon. Total: 493 Knuts in a Galleon. Bling bling baby.

And now, our twelfth question comes in honour of the recent Beatles reissues: Assuming the Beatles’ lyrics were accurate at the time of recording, in what year did Sergeant Pepper teach his band to play?

Come back next week, the answer to seek.

Posted by T M RIDDLE at 12:51

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iTunes destroys the minor hit

14 Sep 09 | Re: Ever-increasing chart hegemony

Everyone thought the download era would be a democratising force for music. To have a hit, you wouldn’t need a massive record label and distribution deal to get your product into the big shops. You’d just be able to put your tracks on iTunes, and if they were good enough then your ever-growing grassroots fanbase would be able to buy the song without the endorsement of music retailers, and you could have at least a minor hit. No longer would the evil record companies and radio playlisters dictate what was in the charts! All our favourite indie bands would finally get the recognition they deserve!

Well, here’s what’s really happened.

In practice, the main effect of singles not having to be in the shops to be bought has been that the really big hits are hanging around for a lot longer - they still get downloaded in large numbers long after the shops would have stopped stocking them in the olden days. For example, there are at least 16 former number one hits still in this week’s top 75. Lady Gaga’s Poker Face has been on the chart since January - well over six months - and shows no sign of leaving. Compare that with the situation ten years ago, when to pick a random example the boyband Five were massively successful but only ever managed one single that stayed on the chart for more than 13 weeks (Keep on Moving, fact fans).

What this means is that the lower end of the chart is gunged up with big hits that are weeks and months old, loitering around and taking up valuable chart positions. Therefore, there are fewer chart positions available for other groups. Therefore, lower-profile acts who would have had a top 30 or 40 or 50 hit ten years ago are presumably failing to chart at all.

In short, the main effect of the download era is that lesser-known groups now find it even harder to have hits, while big names have even more success. So much for democratisation.

Or to look at it another way, now that the chart isn’t constrained by release schedules and is able to give a truer representation of the public’s tastes, it has become apparent that people really like the big name artists, and don’t like your favourite indie band or Uncut-endorsed singer-songwriter. That’s why they don’t have hits. People simply don’t like ’em.

Posted by BADRAGEOUS at 18:52

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Recognition for Saint E!

9 Sep 09 | Re: Minor musical accolade

Method of Modern Love sleeve

Albums are dead. Everyone knows that downloading singles is really where it’s at these days, so why pay attention to the Mercury Prize when there’s an equivalent award for singles with a whopping 0.1% of the prize money, the Popjustice Twenty Quid Music Prize?

What’s more, the organisers of this coveted trophy, now in its seventh year, have shown their incredible taste and perception by nominating Method of Modern Love by Saint Etienne as one of this year’s contenders. Obviously it didn’t win because Girls Aloud win every year, but it was the only non-top 40 hit to make the grade. What’s more, Girls Aloud sent a representative to collect the prize this year. Granted, it was only Nicola and I’m fairly sure she attended ironically, but she was there - a testament to the prize’s rapidly rising credibility. Go Saint Etienne!

If you want to listen to the song, and I recommend that you do, you can find it on We7 - just type its title into the search box. Alternatively you can borrow it from me as I own it on 2 CD singles and vinyl.

Meanwhile, the Mercury Prize has been won by groundbreaking hip hop try-hard Speech Debelle. Boring!

Posted by TORD GRIP at 21:06

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Quiz question 11

8 Sep 09 | Re: Trivia takes a turn for the magical

Greetings, wayfarer. This week, your quiz question comes with a magical theme, for I have been reading the first Harry Potter book. Stranger, if the answer to last week’s question you seek, draw back the cloak of invisibility to see it.

I asked you what can be ASB, BCP or CW. Behold, the answer is Anglican church services - they can follow the beloved Book of Common Prayer, the loathed Alternative Service Book, or the reasonably OK Common Worship.

And now for this week’s wizardly quizzling query: Like much of the Harry Potter universe, the monetary system in the wizards’ wyrld is somewhat whymsycal. How many bronze knuts are there in a golden galleon?

Answer next week, broom fans.

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In the beginning

7 Sep 09 | Re: Insight into infancy of humungous project

You probably don’t know about A Storehouse of Knowledge. It’s one of the web’s innumerable small wikis - sites based on the same software as Wikipedia that anyone can edit. You get wikis about all kinds of things, and A Storehouse of Knowledge’s particular niche is that it’s a 'biblical' encyclopedia - like a version of Wikipedia for people who take the Bible literally.

Eamonn Holmes

According to ASK’s statistics page, it currently has 37 active users. Wikipedia has 148,009. So, biblical views aside, I suppose that ASK must provide a reasonably close approximation of what Wikipedia might have been like when it first started - it’s like a village to Wikipedia’s oily megalopolis. If you were so inclined, you could probably get to know everyone who had an account (unlike Wikipedia you need to create an account before you can change anything, but it doesn’t take long to do). They get fewer than 100 edits a day, so they probably only need a couple of moderators to keep a lookout for wags who might insert false information and subtle jokes. And perhaps most excitingly, the site currently has very little content (eg no article on hat or car or fish or trapeze or Portugal), so whatever topic you’re interested in, YOU can create the page on it! That way, if/when the site gets really big, YOUR input will be read by millions!

Now, some people might be put off by the biblical literalism aspect of the site, but if you think about it, that only impinges on a minority of topics. The Bible doesn’t have a view on cars, trapezes or Portugal, and says very little about hats or fish. Provided you steer clear of topics like Elijah and Heaven, the only effect it has is that you occasionally come across a raging argument between Evo Christians and uppity unbelievers telling them all about Dawkins this and evolution that and blah blah blah. Which provides a certain extra spice.

So if you missed Wikipedia the first time round - if you think you could have written a better article about say the Buzzcocks than the one Wikipedia already has - then sorry, ASK already has a page on the Buzzcocks too. But if you want to write a page about the Knack or the 13th Floor Elevators or the Rolling Stones, the floor is yours. What are you waiting for?

Thanks to Garry Knight for the pic. Licence here.

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Alternate title

5 Sep 09 | Re: Super-oblique pop naming

I’m a bit of a fan of song titles that aren’t the words of the song - at their best they can give the whole song another dimension, like Pretenders to the Throne by the Beautiful South, or the blunter Good Riddance by Green Day. Not everyone agrees though - zenarchistic pop pragmatists the KLF said of their number one single Doctorin’ the Tardis:

We should have called it just ‘Doctor Who’, or at most ‘Hey, Doctor Who’. Trying to be witty-clever probably lost us a few all-important sales.

Snow Patrol used to be masters at this - think of Chocolate, Spitting Games or How To Be Dead. After they got big they suddenly stopped doing it. Perhaps they bought a copy of The Manual and took the KLF’s advice.

Anyway, Jamie T’s taken the trick to extremes and called his latest single Chaka Demus, which has to be the most baffling title for a while: Chaka Demus and Pliers used to be my favourite group, I still listen to Tease Me now and again, and even I cannot fathom what that title is referring to. The song’s not in a ragga style; there are no lyrical references to pliers or any other tools; it doesn’t even rhyme ‘wine’ with ‘waistline’, which was de rigeur for the portly Jamaican popster. If anyone has any theories, I would very much like to hear them.

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Lighten up, dudes

5 Sep 09 | Re: Govt going the wrong way

Really good piece by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian yesterday about the laughable ‘war on drugs’. He describes current drugs policy in the UK and USA as “immoral idiocy ... gloriously, crashingly immoral ... the politics of stupid ... a total failure ... the greatest sweeping-under-the-carpet of our age”. He is so right.

Of course the sensible thing would be to legalise at least some drugs, even if it was just to see what happened. I had always assumed politicians knew that, and that the reason it wasn’t done was simply that public opinion was felt to be against it, due to ignorance. Yet the British government is actually trying to go the other way - they are currently looking to make illegal some forms of herbal high, which if you don’t know are those sugar and caffeine pills that people wearing Peruvian rugs sell at music festivals to about two dozen people a year. It’s one thing to have a failed and failing policy and not want to admit it, but it’s quite another to seek to extend that policy into other obscure areas that almost nobody has even heard of. Woo, vote Labour.

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Hello, searchketeers

1 Sep 09 | Re: Online visibility

Now that my wedding has happened, I’ve removed the ROBOTS tags I was using to stop this site showing up on search engines and so reduce the likelihood of the day turning into one of those horrible gatecrashing incidents you read about. This means that theoretically, if you search for the right thing, you might be able to find this blog using Google!

Accordingly, here are the top five phrases I’m hoping people will type into Google that will surely lead them here:

  1. hordes of pasty-faced urchins
  2. world’s rudest professor
  3. wipe brow and face
  4. directional trend-setting demigods
  5. the wit of Boris Becker

Come on, urchin and Becker fans - I’m right here waiting for you.

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Quiz question 10

1 Sep 09 | Re: Trivia enters double figures

September comes, children return to school, and our quiz questions continue unabated. First, the answer from last week, courtesy of Mr Invisible:

Mr Invisible says: Blast, you've spotted me. I am now compelled to reveal that the drink that means green in Japanese is the sickly melon-based liqueur midori. It is also green.

So now for the tenth poser in the series, and here it is: What can be BCP, ASB or CW?

Answer next Tuesday, readers.

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Maths vs Me

29 Aug 09 | Re: Unavoidable parity

There’s another mistake in the last posting, about the one-child policy: I only accounted for 1023 of the couples. There should have been one couple with nine children, and one that has ten or more. Without actually working it out, I’m willing to pretty much guarantee that the final couple has an average expectation of 11 children, bringing the real total expectation to exactly 1024 boys and 1024 girls - complete parity.

So to summarise:

It looks like no matter how much maths you do, you can’t get away from equal boys and girls. Bah! Or is there some mathematician out there with a clever rule that would get round this?

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Maths vs the Chinese government

27 Aug 09 | Re: Weird one-child quirk (or actually not)

Most people know about China’s one-child policy: in order to curb population growth, couples are only allowed to have one child. Most people also know that in rural areas, families who don’t have a son are allowed to have more children in the hope of having a son to help out with agricultural work.

I don’t know the actual detail of this exception, but let’s assume that:

Based on these assumptions, in a sample of 1024 couples:

That gives us a total of 1024 sons and 256 + 256 + 192 + 128 + 80 + 48 + 28 + 16 + 9 = 1013 daughters.

Hmm. I was thinking before I just worked that out that it would lead to way more girls, even though it was designed to make sure there were enough boys, but it’s actually equal. Score one for the Chinese government I suppose. Good policy.

Update: See next post for more things that are wrong with the above.

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These are the things that keep us together

25 Aug 09 | Re: Misdirected Ashes moaning

Congratulations to the England cricket team on winning the Ashes! In the last test I was particularly pleased to see Trott doing well - one swallow doesn’t make a summer, but it’s always good to see a new batting option emerge and his scores didn’t look like beginner’s luck: if anything, he was unlucky not to make more.

But various people are deciding that it’s pertinent to bring up Trott’s ties to South Africa. This is tedious: in the time I’ve been following cricket Robin Smith, Allan Lamb, Graeme Hick, Mark Butcher, Andy Caddick, Kevin Pietersen (of course) and no doubt several others have all had links to one rival nation or another, and people have gone on about it to varying degrees.

Perhaps these people should consider the reason why these rival countries play cricket in the first place: since the days of the Empire, they’ve maintained close cultural and political links with Britain, and there’s been reasonably free movement of people between these countries as another result of that. It would actually be pretty amazing if a random sample of English cricketers didn’t include a few people with ties to one cricketing nation or another. So when we play international cricket, we should celebrate the links between our countries, not moan about something that is bound to happen every once in a while.

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Quiz question 9

25 Aug 09 | Re: Trivia is back baby

Right, I am now back with another quiz installment. Two weeks ago, I asked who the last Pope to originate a name was. Highlight the void below and the answer will spring from the ether.

As it turns out, the Papal name tradition is incredibly well-rooted. To get to a Pope with a new name you have to go back over 1000 years to Pope Landus (or Lando), a non-entity who sailed the Holy See for a few months in the years 913-914. However, there were no subsequent Landuses. To find the last originator of what you’d really think of as a Papal name you have to go back even further, to St Nicholas I, who was Pontifex Maximus in the ninth century and gave his name to four successors.

So Landus or Lando is the right answer, but if you guessed Nicholas you can have the point as well.

And now for this week’s poser: Which drink’s name means green in Japanese?

Answer next week...

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Stop shooting the messenger

25 Aug 09 | Re: Illogical angry behaviour

From time to time, I’ve observed that people get angry with their computers. When they do, they tend to rave, rant, shout threats and shake their fists at the monitor. How unfair! All the decisions are made in the CPU, so it seems grossly unjust to take out frustrations on the poor monitor, which is merely relaying information it receives from elsewhere. If only irate people could realise this and direct their verbal attacks under the desk, perhaps they wouldn’t look so foolish.

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Quiz question 8

11 Aug 09 | Re: Ongoing trivial tide

Hello, hello, and welcome to the eighth edition of the universe’s slowest-moving quiz. Last week I asked you how many countries in the world are -stans. The answer follows (highlight the invisible text):

There are seven countries whose names end in -stan: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and of course Pakistan. Together they form a huge contiguous land mass with an area of over two million square miles that I like to think of as Stanistan; it is a strange land of mountains, horsemen and tour cyclists maurauding across endless steppes and nomads bathing in vast inland seas, its only real coastline being Pakistan’s stretch on the Arabian Sea. Or perhaps it’s a collection of surprisingly westernised modern republics. Who knows.

There are actually at least a couple of other -stans: Tatarstan and the superbly named Bashkortostan are quasi-autonomous republics within the Russian Federation, but they don’t really count as countries. So the answer’s seven.

Finished highlighting? Good, good. It’s now time for this week’s question, which will have to last you two weeks because I’m not updating next Tuesday.

It’s a tradition for Popes to adopt a Papal name, which is almost always the name of a previous Pope. Setting aside John Paul I, who combined the names of two predecessors, who was the last Pope to use a name that hadn’t been used before?

Answer soon enough. I wonder if the cardinals ever sit round and say “If I was Pope, my Papal name would be...”

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Five lines into infinity

10 Aug 09 | Re: Old limerick

I promised more poetry a couple of weeks back, so here’s a limerick I wrote ages ago that I still think is the finest I’ve ever composed.

A mathematician at Trinity
Worked out the square root of infinity.
He said, “This is odd -
I’ve proved there’s a God!
I’m giving up maths for divinity.”

Hope you like it. If you don’t, I’m sure YouTube still has plenty of videos of goats on tightropes.

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Quiz question 7

4 Aug 09 | Re: Serial trivia

Another week, another Tuesday, another quiz blog. Now, some of you may think that the area below this paragraph is empty, but those of you who are more clued up will suspect, correctly, that it contains the answer to last week’s question. Highlight the text to see it.

The foreign secretary when we invaded Iraq was that all-time least eminent eminence grise, Jack Straw. Still going strong in the government as the Justice Secretary.

And now for this week’s addition to this brain-tickling sequence: How many countries in the world have names ending in -stan? As a special bonus, you can also see this question asked in the style of Digitiser: Reveal, Hardy.

Answer in one week.

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South Seas: ORLY?

3 Aug 09 | Re: Geographical swizz

The ORLY owl

Think of all the seas in the world, and their exotic, evocative names: the Sargasso Sea, the South China Sea, the Red Sea, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Japan, the Barents Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Caribbean Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Tyrrhenean Sea, the Adriatic Sea, even the North Sea. What do they all have in common? I’ll tell you: they’re all in the northern hemisphere!

There’s plenty of water in the southern hemisphere, sure, but it’s all in OCEANS and maybe the occasional STRAIT or LAGOON. Where are the seas? How can this have happened? Who are the relevant authorities here?

There are more seas on the moon than there are in the southern hemisphere.

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He wipes it away with his hair

29 Jul 09 | Re: Teletext comics

Speaking of Digitiser, a bit of searching has turned up a site that lets you create your own Digi-style comic strips. Here’s my (first) effort. Better than Dinosaur Comics anyway.

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Banana and orange

28 Jul 09 | Re: Half-remembered poems

Some years ago I went to the Edinburgh Festival and saw a show called Planet Banana. In fact it was so good I went to see it twice. It was a mixture of circus, comedy, music, dance and a couple of modern poems, all about bananas. It also featured an accordion player called Corn Mo who was brilliant - I always thought he’d be perfect for a May Ball.

I thought of one of the poems today, so here’s the start of it, or maybe all of it, from memory, not quite right but close enough:

Everybody knows
That you cannot put bananas
In the refrigerator
But did you know
Actually you can?
If you have a bunch of bananas
And no time
And no friends
Take your bananas
And put them directly in the refrigerator.
You will notice that the skin goes brown
Very quickly
But the inside
Of the banana
Will remain fresh
For several weeks.

And as a bonus for double the culture, here’s a rap from Digitiser, Channel 4 teletext’s legendary 1990s computer games pages, about Robert Kilroy-Silk:

Yo, Kilroy-Silk is in da house
Sorting out problems like a man not a mouse
He sorts out issues
Like a box of tissues
He’s got orange skin
And he prays to Vishnu.

More poetry when I get round to it.

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Quiz question 6

28 Jul 09 | Re: Continuing trivia challenge

Tuesday comes round again, and that can mean only one thing: the recurrence of quiz. First, readers, it’s my job to furnish you with last week’s answer. It’s located somewhere in the empty bit below, which you need to highlight:

The third member of Chas and Dave is the drummer. You can have a point for drummer, and a bonus point if you knew his name was Mick (Mick Burt). A highlight of any Chas and Dave performance is Mick’s drum solo, heralded by cries of “Come on Mick, give it some stick!”

This week’s question is on politics: Who was the British Foreign Secretary at the time of our post-September 11th invasion of Iraq?

Tune in next week, same bat-blog, for the answer.

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Thou hast a common name, sirrah

27 Jul 09 | Re: Archaic hispanic patronymics

In Spain, like in England, Scotland, Wales, Russia, Sweden and everywhere else, a lot of the most common surnames are patronymics, ie names that come from a first name. Some of the most widespread are:

The strange thing about the Spanish patronymics is that these days, nobobdy in Spain is actually called Gomo, Sancho, Lope, Gonzalo or Rodrigo any more. (Maybe in Latin America, but not in Spain.) Clearly these must have been very common names at one time, and they pop up in 16th and 17th century literature, eg Sancho Panza, but they’ve all now fallen completely out of favour. It’s the equivalent of English people all being called Ethelbertson or Gawainson or Bedeson. It’s weird.

If anyone knows of any modern-day Lopes or Gonzalos, please let me know.

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He who comes last takes longest

25 Jul 09 | Re: Dubious sporting honour

Arguably the greatest sporting event of all, the Tour de France, is nearing its thrilling conclusion. The winner is all but decided, but one of the great things about the Tour is that there are lots of smaller competitions to follow besides the overall standings - stage wins, the King of the Mountains, and so on.

Even the last-placed rider overall gets an honour of sorts - the Lanterne Rouge. You can read all about it in this excellent blog, which is a lot more respectful than the BBC texters yesterday who said the LR should have to ride a bike with a shopping basket on it.

The Lanterne Rouge is a bit like the wooden spoon in the Six Nations, except that earning it is in fact quite an achievement. The Tour is so arduous that finishing at all is far beyond most people, and the lower-placed riders are often doing valuable work supporting the rest of their team. So, much better than turning up in blue shirts and losing five games of rugby.

PS There’s a track cycling event that we call the Pursuit. In Spanish, it’s called the Persecución.

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Quiz question 5

21 Jul 09 | Re: Trivia cannot be stopped

It’s Tuesday once more, so just like O-trivia Newton John, let’s get quizzical.

First I need to give you the answer to last week’s question. Using digital technology, I have concealed the writing in the following paragraph from ordinary view - highlight it to reveal the solution.

The answer’s lager. Stella from Streetcar, Will Carling, David “Becks” Beckham, the archangel St Michael (or San Miguel in Spanish), and the Viaduc de Millau was designed by Norman Foster or maybe his associates.

Now for this week’s question: The popular rock and roll band Chas and Dave actually contains three members. One is Chas. One is Dave. But who is the other?

Answer in seven days.

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Ronseal spreads

21 Jul 09 | Re: An ad campaign with stamina

Wow, those Ronseal ads have now permeated the public consciousness to the point where people can’t seemingly remember where the phrase “It does exactly what it says on the tin” even came from, or how it is meant to be used.

The story so far: the Charity Commission is getting tough on independent (private) schools who claim charitable status without really doing much to benefit anyone who doesn’t pay for the privilege. They warned all the schools to start helping the needy a while ago, and now they’ve started checking to see if they’re actually doing it. Schools had understood that they could either comply by sharing facilities and collaborating with state schools, or by offering bursaries to impoverished urchins, but now it seems that the Commission is breaking its word: they want to see hordes of pasty-faced urchins filling the corridors, and no amount of collaborative outreach will compensate if they aren’t there.

The Times Educational Supplement will now take up the story...

‘Independent school leaders have condemned the reports [of schools being clamped down on for a lack of bursaries]. David Lyscom, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, pointed out that many independent schools have established partnerships with nearby comprehensives, sharing teacher expertise and facilities.

‘“The commission has been saying all along that it will be looking at means-tested bursaries, but also at schools’ interaction with local communities,” he said. “They’re not doing what they said on the tin.”’

I wonder if Ronseal even dreamed, when they came up with that slogan, that it would one day be misused by the chief executive of the Independent Schools Council. Life can be funny at times.

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The Prince of Siam’s dog trough

14 Jul 09 | Re: Little-known monument

In Cambridge, on Mitchum’s Corner, just outside Lloyd’s TSB, is a stone trough bearing the following inscription:

In memory of Tony a dog who gave him friendship and happiness during his Cambridge years this trough is erected by His Royal Highness Prince Chula of Siam

A lot of people going in and out of the bank don’t notice it, even if they have dogs. It took me a while.

If you want to know more about Prince Chula, I suppose Wikipedia is as good a start as any.

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Quiz question 4

14 Jul 09 | Re: Yet more trivia

It’s Tuesday again, quiz people, so that means another question for you. But first I need to give you the answer to last week’s challenge. Highlight the seemingly empty area just below and lo, it will appear:

Actually this is a bit ambiguous. According to the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles, Lulu’s real name is Marie Lawrie. That means that in her double life as Lulu she may not actually have a surname at all, or she might have invented one that only exists in her own head. I’m going to give a point to anyone who said Lawrie, and to anyone who said she doesn’t have one.

And now, roll on question 4:

What links the following: A Streetcar Named Desire; an England rugby captain; an England football captain; an archangel; the Viaduc de Millau?

Answer in seven days’ time.

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Spyclef Jean

12 Jul 09 | Re: Superbly over-the-top video

I miss the days when Meat Loaf used to make videos so elaborate that you’d wait intently for the captions on The Chart Show to tell you what film the song was from, and then realise that it wasn’t from any film, he’d just really gone to town on the video. One of them was actually directed by Michael Bay.

Today, alas, nobody quite matches Mr Loaf’s ambition, but if anyone comes close, it has to be Wyclef Jean. Look at this video for a fairly minor release of his called Touch Your Button (don’t know how long Youtube links last so see it while you can). It makes no sense. It’s ages before the music even starts. It has Will.I.Am in it out of the Black Eyed Peas. But on the plus side, it stars Wyclef as an action hero who leads a crew of gangster midgets, kung fus up a load of bad guys and teaches a whole club full of hoodlums a nifty new dance.

The track itself doesn’t sound quite as good when it’s not at the start of a fifteen-minute pan-musical triptych that starts in the studio with Will.I.Am, then heads off round the West Indies and Brazil and ends in a Haitian lament, sung in Creole, that would melt your heart. That’s where Touch Your Button is on the album, and that’s a blog entry for another time. But for now you can enjoy the kung fu and gasoline-wielding criminal kingpins. ¡Olé!

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The heirs of Alexander

11 Jul 09 | Re: Balkan naming controversy

You’re probably aware of the dispute between Greece and (the Former Yugoslav Republic of) Macedonia: briefly, Greece doesn’t want Macedonia to call itself just ‘Macedonia’ because it says it has no historical basis for doing so. Macedonia says that it does. The main reason the name is so hotly contested is that both countries are keen to have the legacy of Alexander the Great as part of their own national heritage.

I’m not going to say the dispute is petty, because Alexander is one of the great figures of European history, and we would be pretty cheesed off if some other country started calling itself the Republic of Shakespearia and claiming that William S was from there. But it strikes me that the issue is not being contested in the right way.

Alexander is rightly revered for his prodigious success in battling and conquering other nations, NOT for being able to get the UN to approve a resolution telling some bunch of people to change their flag slightly. So if one of these countries really wants to make a convincing case that they are the heirs of the mighty conqueror, the opportunity’s right in front of them. Let’s see Macedonia send a phalanx of unstoppable warriors across the border, lay waste to Greece and become their overlords by power of the sword (or vice versa) - then we’ll have an outcome that everyone can agree on.

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I know that I look a bit local

9 Jul 09 | Re: Delightful new expression

I recently read a journalist (Jude Rogers in the Guardian?) enthusing about Dizzee Rascal’s delightful new track Holiday. Jude (if it was she) was right - it’s excellent. Her favourite bit was where he talks about his passport photo; she quoted the lyric:

“Don’t watch my passport photo / I know that I look a bit local”

I remembered this on a recent train journey and spent about half an hour chuckling to myself as I imagined Dizzee’s passport with him looking ‘a bit local’, perhaps in a garishly striped woolly turtleneck jumper.

I’ve heard the song on the radio a couple of times since then (it really is bangin’) and I’m now pretty sure Britain’s biggest urban music star actually says ‘a bit loco’. Shame, but that’s not going to stop me using the excellent new word LOCAL the next time I see someone or something that merits it.

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Guilty pleasures

7 Jul 09 | Re: Musical one-upmanship

So I was listening to the White Lies again, and as their epic 80s sounds washed over me I found myself thinking “These are a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine.” And then I thought “Hey, not everyone has heard of this band, and here am I thinking of them as a guilty pleasure! That means I’m not only cool enough to have heard of a band that not everyone has heard of, but also so amazingly cool that I appreciate them with a certain awareness that they might be a bit less cool than the bands I usually like!”

Note: It was OK to think this, as I just thought it, I didn’t take the next step and go round telling people how cool I was or acting like I was any cooler.

So if you didn’t know, and whatever you think of the White Lies, the updated hierarchy of coolness for Cool Band X, starting with the least cool people, is:

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Quiz question 3

7 Jul 09 | Re: Trivia continues

Just like the Chris Moyles Show, the Dobblers Inn, and the Black Horse before Elton left and it turned into the Collingwood Bistro, Tuesday is quiz day on James’ blog. First the answer to last week’s question: simply highlight the following freaky invisible text:

Well, the first reigning king or queen of England to have a biblical name was King Stephen, St Stephen being the first Christian martyr as described in the Book of Acts. After him it was John, and then you have to wait ages to get to Queen Mary. In fact there have been surprisingly few in total - I think seven in almost 1000 years of history.

And now for this week’s poser: What is Lulu’s surname? Answer next week, quiz fans!

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Must have gone off it

6 Jul 09 | Re: Torrential cataract of internet bile

When I recommended the webcomic XKCD before, I said that if you read it every day it’s updated, it doesn’t seem as good. Well, that must have happened to one chap in a big way, because he’s set up a whole website about how much he hates it. At first glance it just looks like run-of-the-mill internet raving, but if you explore a bit you discover that this table-chewing madman has been writing his rants three times a week for months, maybe even years.

I’m not particularly suggesting you should read it, just intrigued by the mentality behind a site like that. Does every popular web page have a site like this dedicated to hating it? What would he do if he got keen on it again?

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Quiz question 2

30 Jun 09 | Re: More trivia

It’s Tuesday again, so it must be time for a second quiz question, plus of course the answer to last week’s poser.

Question number 2 is: Who was the first reigning king or queen of England to have a biblical name?

As for the answer to last week’s teaser, simply highlight the invisible text below to see it.

Hi there! The answer is Lose Yourself by Eminem, from the film 8 Mile, which was number 1 in December 2002.

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World’s rudest professor

29 Jun 09 | Re: Counterproductive loudmouth media health guy

Look! Some keyhole surgery guy has gone in the media and started moaning because about three famous people don’t conform to his body-fascist standards. He says:

Eamonn Holmes

“The increasing profile of larger celebrities, for example James Corden, Eamonn Holmes, Ruth Jones and Beth Ditto, means that being overweight is now perceived as being ‘normal’ in the eyes of the public.”

Great one! First of all, mate, look around you: being overweight is normal, and not everyone who weighs above average is unhealthy. And secondly, Eamonn Holmes isn’t even fat, just pleasantly rounded, like a genial uncle, and he’s been around for ages. To my knowledge he hasn’t ballooned in weight recently - maybe the Prof has just got one of those widescreen TVs and thinks that the whole of medialand has suddenly been taken over by an army of stocky people with weirdly flat heads.

I shan’t bother going into the obvious stuff about body image - this story is clearly the product of a slow news day, and anyone can see that Mr Nuffield Health is wrong. But calling Eamonn Holmes fat - come off it!

Thanks to Garry Knight for the pic. Licence here.

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Web 1.5

29 Jun 09 | Re: The future is NOW

Everyone’s talking about Web 1.5, the futuristic new way of sharing enriched digital content that is going to change the way we all live for ever. But just what is Web 1.5?

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Can’t he get some better fitting clothes?

28 Jun 09 | Re: Itchy tennis gear

Here’s what the Australian tennis terrier Lleyton Hewitt did just before playing and winning the final point in his fourth round match against Philipp Petzschner yesterday:

Remove hat, shake hair, replace hat, arrange hair, check hat, take towel, towel off hands, towel racket, towel face, return towel, pull up shorts, adjust shirt, wipe brow and face, wipe brow with other hand, adjust hat, pull up shorts again.

He’s not the only player to go through all this rigmarole between points, but he is one of the masters of it and I think he may have popularised it in the modern era. It’s all very well, and it certainly works well for Rafa Nadal, but it does reflect badly on the kit sponsors (Lleyton’s is Yonex, I believe). Who is going to play in that kit if the most famous person who wears it clearly feels so uncomfortable and itchy all the time?

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Forgetting it over the holidays

27 Jun 09 | Re: Teaching and testing

Good news, everyone: the Conservatives have thought of a new solution to the problem of Key Stage 2 testing. How do you find out how much children have learnt in primary school without incentivising teachers to spend the whole of Year 6 on intensive test preparation? The latest idea, and it seems like it might be a good one, is to delay the tests until the first year of secondary school.

The big advantage of this model is that it ought to put enough distance between primary teachers and the tests to make them abandon repetitive pre-test drilling and spend Year 6 on rich, broad, relaxed, fun activities. Of course, there are certain practical questions that would need to be answered, for example how to manage the increased workload for secondary teachers. But there’s one objection which has been raised by primary teachers that to me seems absolutely incomprehensible.

A couple of teachers quoted in the article I read complained that the proposed scheme was unfair because by the start of Year 7, pupils would have forgotten a lot of what they had been taught in Year 6! I wonder what these teachers think the point of teaching is, if the kids are only going to remember it for a couple of months. This, in fact, is the problem with the tests teachers all hate so much: they are rewarded for cramming children’s minds with knowledge (or a facsimile of knowledge) in the short term, at the expense of instilling the genuine interest in what they are doing that is essential if they are going to gain any long-term benefit.

Instead of sticking by what they know to be right, these teachers (presumably representative of at least a subset of the profession) have allowed their entire view of education to be dictated by the teach-test-forget model. This is just the same model that has crept into modular degrees and A-levels: students are tested so often that they spend all their time ‘revising’ for the next exam, and no time actually learning, getting to know and enjoying the subject. The result is ever-increasing exam scores, and no knowledge of the subject whatsoever in five years’ time - in fact, they actively want to forget the whole experience.

So I’m hoping this proposal for primary testing (or another equally sensible one) will be adopted, and the same common-sense thinking will then be applied to the rest of the education system. Take the pressure off pupils and students, give them some breathing space, and maybe they will learn out of interest rather than fear of the next exam. And if they can’t be interested in something, let them not learn it. They’ll only forget it over the holidays anyway.

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In praise of instrumental versions

24 Jun 09 | Re: Enticing musical extra

Last year I got a pretty special Christmas present from a pretty special person - the de luxe edition of the White Lies album. This comes on a series of six 7" records, all presented in a nicely-designed box, along with artwork signed by the band. It’s a bit of a collector’s item.

The only down side, you might think, is that it’s a bit impractical when you actually want to listen to the music to have to keep turning over and changing the records in between every song. But you would be wrong! In an ingenious move, the box also contains a special code that lets you download MP3 versions of all the songs as well. So you can have the box set of records to treasure, and the actual music on your computer to listen to whenever you want. Essentially, it takes the irrational attachment people like me have to physically owning their music to its logical conclusion - they produce the vinyl versions for those who want them, but don’t even pretend that that’s a practical way to listen any more. Very clever, and a good way to reconcile music’s digital future with its sentimental past. I expect more bands will do this, if they aren’t already.

And as if that wasn’t enough, when I actually got round to downloading the music at the weekend, I discovered that as well as the songs I knew I was getting, they had thoughtfully included instrumental versions of every track as well. This means that I can listen to the whole album sans vocals, all the way through. It’s quite something: you hear things that you would normally miss, and not having the vocals as a guide to the song’s structure somehow makes every transition more unexpected, making the already epic music (80s lovers, this is a recommendation) sound impossibly dramatic and thrilling. I’d now be interested to hear instrumental versions of other rock albums. I wonder if there’s anywhere you can get them?

All in all, then, this already excellent gift has turned out to be even better. Thanks are in order once again to the person who gave it.

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XKCD is good

23 Jun 09 | Re: Webcomic recommendation

If you don’t know about it already, I recommend the webcomic XKCD. Some of the ‘specials’ on there are stunning - I particularly like the logarithmic drawing of the entire universe here. As well as innovative pictures like that one, the bulk of it is made up of stick men saying and doing things. There is a fair amount of maths in it, but in a generally good way: I never knew that eπ.i = -1 for example - cool eh?

As with all webcomics, it looks really good when you first find it and look at loads of them, and then tails off a bit when you start looking at it regularly and the new ones don’t live up to the absolute best old ones and the thrill of discovery. If you can, the best thing is to spend ten minutes now, then forget about it and discover it again in the future.

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Quiz question 1

23 Jun 09 | Re: Trivia

As a regular feature on this new blog, I’ve decided to post a quiz question every Tuesday for people to try and answer. Don’t actually send me the answer - if you’re reading this you’re obviously on the internet, so can easily look it up. Just see if you can get it right, you know, for fun.

This week’s inaugural question is: What was the last winner of the Oscar for Best Original Song that also got to number 1 in the UK?

Answer next week, assuming I keep this up.

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The wit of Boris Becker

22 Jun 09 | Re: Interview with world’s coolest man.

Usually I find that the covers of celebrity magazines give me all the gossip I need, so I never buy them. Faced this week with the opportunity to flick through a copy of Closer, though, I happily flicked through it and was rewarded by finding an interview with Boris Becker.

If anyone doesn’t know who Boris Becker is, when the tennis comes on, he’s the pundit who sits on the end of the row saying almost nothing and blowing John Inverdale and Pat Cash out of the studio with the sheer force of his coolness. Other pundits simply have no answer to it. If they don’t respond, he blows them away. If they do, well, woe betide anyone who tries to match Becker’s flamboyant style. So they just have to grit their teeth and fight it out for second. Even Sue Barker knows he's in another league altogether.

The interview in Closer was their inside-back-cover feature ‘My guilty pleasures’, where a celebrity lets us all in on their naughtiest secrets. Now, I’m guessing the subject of this feature is usually a woman, because the questions all play up to the kind of self-enslaving stereotypes that feminists rightly hate - things like What do you snack on, even though you know you shouldn’t? and Where’s the tackiest place you’ve been on holiday and loved?. Basically things that encourage readers to think that they too are air-heads who need to apologise to society for doing and enjoying supposedly ‘naughty’ things that are, in all probability, perfectly reasonable.

So Boris didn’t have a lot to work with but, relying on his unparallelled natural cool, he made the interview into a roaring success by (of course!) missing the point of the whole thing. He doesn’t actually answer or even appear to understand even one of the questions. Some fine examples:

The brilliance of it is that you get the impression this is how he lives his whole life: not really understanding what’s happening, not worrying too much, just breezing through in a blur of wind-tunnel hair and enormous collars that, once again, only he could pull off. And there’s the problem with all this - as great as Boris is, it’s impossible to learn anything from watching him because to live the way he does, you have to be Boris Becker. Still, if there is a cooler man alive I'd like to hear about it.

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First post

22 Jun 09 | Re: My intentions

OK, first blog post ever. I might make clear now that there are some differences between this and most other blogs:

So that's it. First post done.

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