Monday, June 30, 2008

Words without Music - the Opposite of Karaoke

The Guardian ran a series on "Great Lyricists" last week. Every day a hastily-printed badly-spelled 12-page supplement would honour a word-heavy songwriter.

The series led off with Bob Dylan. Big groan from Stan. Dylan is the single most over-rated lyricist bar none. I enjoy his melodies but his words are drug-addled drool worshipped by a certain sort of person who lived in the 1960s and still wants to live there.

I thought Germaine Greer would have been odds-on to be a fan, but I was delighted to see in her Guardian column that she is anything but.

She also makes sense when she says "To present the words without the music is to emasculate them." This is very much true with Morrissey as she describes (Morrissey without Johnny Marr's guitar ?? Perish the thought). It is even more true (if you allow that something than be more true than something else) for Chuck D whose sparse words are lessened without the full-force wall-of-sound from Public Enemy.

I was amused to see Alex Turner from The Arctic Monkeys on the list after a whole 2 albums (1 slightly disappointing). He wrote lyrics for one fine album - that hardly makes him a "Great Lyricist". Oh well, the Guardian has to sell papers somehow. I did giggle like a naughty schoolboy over the line I hadn't heard properly before - "Was it a Mecca Dobber or a betting pencil?". The boy shows promise certainly.

Of course Lennon & McCartney would have charged way too much for the copyright, as would Jagger & Richards, so they were never going to make the list. It's like those cheapo "Best of the Sixties" albums that don't include the Beatles or the Stones and so the title is breaching the Trade Descriptions Act 1968.

The full Guardian list was as follows :-

(1) Bob Dylan
(2) Bruce Springsteen
(3) Morrissey
(4) Joni Mitchell
(5) Chuck D
(6) Patti Smith
(7) Alex Turner
(8) Leonard Cohen

Anyone else worth including ? Joe Jackson ? Amy Winehouse ? Dolly Parton ?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Selling Out

I'm not sure I have any respect for Ian Usher who has just sold his entire life for just short of £200,000 on Ebay. I am entirely sure that I have no respect for the person that bought it.

I know it's convenient to do all your shopping "under one roof", but isn't this taking things a bit far?

I imagine the purchaser to be someone who has nothing in the world apart from an Internet connection , £200,000 in the bank and a "To Do" list that reads :-

* Buy house
* Buy contents for house
* Buy car
* Buy motorbike and misc. macho sports gear
* Get crappy job selling rugs (even though I don't need the money)
* Get friends

Or maybe it's someone who was told to "get a life" and took it way too literally.

Whatever, someone will be stepping into his shoes (literally) and Mr. Usher will be exiting his house with the clothes on his back, a passport and a (well-stuffed) wallet. Good luck to him and I hope the new life he builds is one he'll want to hang onto.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Economics of Stupidity

I love it when the experts get it wrong. It usually means that some self-evident truth maybe isn't that self-evident and maybe isn't even true any more.

Witness the gob-smacking rise in consumer spending recently. There is no good reason for it - the Economy is going to hell in a handcart, fuel prices are up, credit is crunched. Many reasons for it have been proposed by puzzled, slightly embarrassed economists, but none have been terrible satisfying. I believe the following force is at work :-

Slack-jawed, reptilian levels of stupidity.

I like to watch reality cop shows on TV. With the advent of Freeview digital TV and digital recorders I could (and often do) spend too much of my life watching "Police, Stop","Street Wars" "Car Wars" and (my favourite) "Police Interceptors". The reason I mention this is that on one of these shows a guy was stopped by police for speeding at 100mph + on the motorway. His excuse ?

"I was running out of petrol and wanted to get to the services quickly".

I think this is a good metaphor for the current anomalous spending boom. If you are running out of petrol, a sensible person would slow down to conserve fuel (55 mph is the most fuel efficient speed) and then turn-off anything (like the aircon) that might burn fuel. Then they'd drive more carefully than they ever had before, avoiding wasteful harsh acceleration in case they needed to brake wastefully hard.

That's a sensible person - a lot of people it seems would simply floor the accelerator and trust to luck and an ignorance of basic Physics.

In short, Economics assumes rational behaviour by large groups of people. Anyone who attends football matches knows this is something of a long shot. I think it's time for economists to realise that Consumers do not always react to bad economic news by belt-tightening but sometimes by putting their fingers in their ears and shouting "LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU !" and heading for the shops.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Stan Confesses

Here's my entire crime sheet:-

One evening in 2005, I was returning from my week's work in Stoke to my house in Glasgow. The M6 was quiet, the evening was pleasant and I was singing a happy song while my Big Stupid Spanish Diesel (BSSD) ate up the miles between the Lake District and the Scottish border.

As it happens it was eating up the miles a spot too quickly, and by the time I had seen the "safety camera " van on the bridge ahead, they already had a good picture of my blushing face coming towards them at 89 miles per hour.

I didn't put up a fuss and accepted three penalty points on my previously unblemished license, and paid a £60 fine. Even though the road was clear, the weather was fine and my car can safely do a lot more than 89 mph, the fact that I couldn't react to a camera van in time shows that I would have had problems reacting to a road hazard in time. So, it's a fair cop, guv and if you can't do the Time, don't do the Crime.

The £60 is long forgotten and the three points have now expired. However, I had to put details of this shameful incident on my Magistrate application form. It was mentioned at the interview, and one of the panel had a go at me about it, presumably to see if she could provoke a reaction.

Last week I sent off my Criminal Records Bureau form - it came back to me a few days later. Why ? Because I hadn't included this one (totally spent) conviction. I was angry at the time, but it's probably a good introduction to my new work, where the seemingly innocuous slips in administration can lead to important consequences. It's a world where people can escape what seems like justice because the speed gun had not been calibrated recently, or where a piece of legal paper was not served within the number of days specified. I'll try to be more careful in future and not assume that anything is in anyway "trivial" where the law is concerned.

One thought on Speeding - is the time fast approaching when only the very rich will be able to afford the fuel needed to get their cars above the speed limit ?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Even Better Writing

I've been reading P.G Wodehouse's "Jeeves" books. Utter perfection. You look at the prose and can see no single word that is surplus or replaceable. He has a remarkable skill for painting pages of description in a sentence. Here are two examples - I have a few thousand others.
'Yes, sir,' said Jeeves in a low, cold voice, as if he had been bitten in the leg by a personal friend.

I'm not absolutely certain of the facts, but I rather fancy it's Shakespeare who says that it's always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping.

I am however puzzled as to why there is not one sympathetic female character. In Wodehouse/Wooster's world, all women are either :

(a) young , stupid and pretty
(b) young, intelligent and nagging
(c) old, stupid and nagging.

I'd be interested to know whether Wodehouse was really a sexist or whether he's just reflecting Bertie Wooster's distorted Weltanschauung (always wanted to use that word in a sentence).

The Master-Butler relationship would seem on the face of it to belong to history, but I find that the Client-Consultant relationship is remarkably similar. I won't elaborate further in case any of my Clients are reading this and take offence. None intended, Sirs.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Good Writing

The annoying thing about Formula One motor-racing is that it's the guy in the best car that wins. The competing format known as A1GP "World Cup of Racing" is more interesting because all teams drive what is basically the same car, so you have a chance to find out who the best driver is.

I still wouldn't watch a race, because I can't get excited about watching people drive quickly and repeatedly round the block.

Anyway, it's "Doctor Who" I want to talk about. Like A1GP, all the writers on the series have basically the same materials at their disposal. Same characters, same special effects department, and the same limited actors. It means it's possible to see just how good a writer Steve Moffat is.

There have been some turgid ho-hum episodes in the last few series. Last year's Christmas Special was a total disgrace, and the recent Big-Wasp-Nearly-Ate-Agatha-Christie episode was too daft even to drop down a division and become a "Torchwood" script.

In the hands of Steve Moffat though, these base materials are spun into gold. Every episode he has written has been nominated for prizes, because he creates unforgettable visuals, amazing dialogue and, most importantly, he enriches the characters, After a Steve Moffat episode, The Doctor has learned, The Doctor is more complex and interesting. You learn more about the man, who in the hands of other writers is just a cipher with a stupid grin and a magic box.

Moffat is obviously a big techie too - in the last series , he used the idea of "Easter Eggs" as a plot device; in the most recent episode he uses the idea of "Spoilers".

Speaking of "Spoilers", I won't spoil the plot if you haven't watched it yet. But there are big ideas, a neat plot twist and it turns out the Doctor enjoys the recreational use of handcuffs, which will no doubt launch a million fan-fiction stories.

Steve Moffat will become the chief writer on Doctor Who in 2010 and he's scripting a TRILOGY of "Tintin" films for Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson.

Whoopee !!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For

A big brown "Private and Confidential" envelope hit the mat at Stan Manor this morning.

I have survived a long and convoluted process and subject to a Criminal Records Bureau background check and a nod from the Lord Chancellor, I'm to become one of 30,000 lay Magistrates, with a bewildering range of responsibilities for administering justice in my part of the world.

As a result, I've spent the day oscillating between panic and anticipation and walking around pretending I'm Judge Dredd :
" I am the law! Put down your weapons and prepare to be judged." [[Points imaginary blaster at imaginary scumbag and opens fire "Ker-Powww !"]]
I definitely will have to snap out of that.

The definitive magistrate's blog is Bystander, which is required reading for those wanting to know what's really going on in the English criminal justice system. If I ever mention anything however indirectly about my new job on this blog, I will definitely be following his protocol :-
Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.
Further bulletins as events warrant.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Four Times Round the World

If you thought I was joking about having a party because my car has done 100,000 miles ...

The Stan Clan get into the Cava and the "Rocky Road"

2002 Seat Toledo, excellent motorway muncher, but the cup holders aren't suitable for wine glasses.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Viva el coche diesel grande y estupido !

The title refers to my big stupid Spanish diesel car which is about to pass 100,000 miles on the mileometer.

We obviously don't have enough children or pets, because we are set to celebrate this milestone with a themed food party. So far on the menu we have Rocky Road and Cava (car-va : geddit ??). Any other suggestions gratefully received.

VW Audi Group positioned the Toledo as being a rally car to rival the Subaru Imprezza or the Mitsubishi Evo.

In Their Dreams ...

It was obvious even to car dunce like me that it was actually a No-Logo rip-off of the Audi A4 with tackier trim, for way less money and no amount of marketing could change that. More recently Seat have panicked and relaunched the Toledo as a mad MPV that really doesn't know what it is. I guess the VAG Group thought one "Big Stupid Cheap Diesel" (the Skoda Octavia) was enough.

I don't care much for labels although I'm sure Audi drivers don't have to improvise velcro strips to keep the glovebox shut and their cars probably flood through the door seals slightly less often.


In other news, nothing really has enough detail at the moment for me to turn into a full blog posting - "Scrappy Days", as Beckett might have put it. One of the following may come back at a later date :-

  • Steve Moffat's Doctor Who script "Silence in the Library" = Wow ! Scary, intelligent, funny, atmospheric. Proves that Doctor Who isn't just for the kids. A massive improvement on the Giant Wasp Nearly Ate Agatha Christie episode that preceded it.
  • A newly-discovered Vonnegut piece about the Dresden bombing in the Sunday Times
  • We bought a bread machine and are OD'ing on carbs
  • I'm brushing up my C++
I could whine about how little I'm enjoying Work at the moment but I don't think anyone would enjoy that very much.

Quick, finish with a joke :-
A mugger pulls his gun and sticks it in a man's back and says, "Give me your money!"

The man turns and would you believe it, it's Gordon Brown, who growls : "You cannot do this, I'm the Prime Minister!"

The thief thinks for a moment ... "In that case, give me my money!"