Sunday, December 31, 2006

Quick - to the future!

So we're within spitting distance of 2007, and what does that mean? Well, it means that the future is almost here.

And the future, according to Back to the Future Part II, tells us that we're just a few years away from flying cars, self-drying, talking clothes, and hooverboards. Hurrah!

To be honest, though, I was kind of expecting that all to happen when we moved from 1999 into 2000; I seriously thought that everyone was all of a sudden going to be wearing silver foil clothing and booking holidays to the moon. As you might imagine I was a tad disappointed when that didn't happen.

So, preparing myself for any further disappointment I've popped the Bacofoil back in the kithcen drawer, and I've been thinking about some more realistic expectations for the year ahead...

First of all, after a discussion with my mate Jo last week, we've decided that we're going to try to do some more things that just "reduce us to belly-laughs." I don't know what that means exactly, but we're going to keep our eyes open for belly-laugh potential.

Next up, inspired by Dinah who signed up to the November novel-writing event back in, um, November, I'm going to throw myself back into my writing. I really loved the idea of writing a novel in November, but what with that being the month of my birthday it was sort of inconvenient. So, I've decided to dedicate February to the novella I started writing earlier this year. Everyone hates Feb, so I thought it would be a good time to do it. I'm initially going for quantity over quality, with the idea being that I can go back over it later to edit and re-write. They'll be more about this in February, I expect.

And finally (at least for the mo'), I think after nearly eight years I'm going to ditch my gym membership and take up running full time. Sweatband has gotten into the London Marathon in 2007, and hinted that she might need a training partner. So if I can get marathon-fit without actually having to do the marathon, I can't see how I can lose.

So there you have it... my initial hopes for the year ahead. Won't it be amusing if this time next year I'm writing about my time as a fat, miserable, failed novelist? Oh, how we'll laugh!


Anyways, to everyone who's stopped by my humble ickle blog over the course of 2006, thank you so much for reading my drivel and taking the time to leave witty and insightful comments. You're all great.

Have a happy, healthy, and safe New Year - I'll see you on THE OTHER SIDE!!!!!!

A fever you can't sweat out

I'm not usually a fan of the week between Christmas and New Year; the week before Christmas - great. The week after, not so good, probably because of the impending doom of having to return to work. But this year I've disliked it for an entirely different reason.

I've been ill. Bah!

Christmas Day and Boxing Day I was as perky as a porn star's titties. Wednesday though... God, even the thought of it sends a shiver down my spine. I woke up during the night and sensed a little sore throat. Thought nothing of it and went back to sleep. Woke up around 10 in the morning with a full-on sore throat. Got up intending to stick to my routine of Xbox and telly - it is technically a holiday after all - but steadily got a bit more... well, ill, throughout the day.

By four in the afternoon I was sitting in bed reading my book. By half four I was in bed with a freaky fever the likes of which I've never experienced before; I kept having hallucinations of Lego Star Wars II, although that could possibly have something to do with having played Lego Star Wars II too much. I slept through till about 10 at night, then sat in the bathroom as close to the toilet as humanly possible because there seemed to be every chance that I might go all Linda Blair and redecorate the entire house green (I didn't, fortunately). After half an hour by the toilet (during which time I decided I really don't like the lilac paint that the previous owner painted the bathroom and resolved to change it at some point in the New Year) I returned to bed and slept fitfully through until 10:30 Thursday, when I discovered that although the fever had gone the sore throat remained.

Anyway, I quarantined myself in Sparky Towers for a couple of days, and only ventured out for the first time on Friday when I popped out to collect my comics. It was only as I walked into the shop that I realised I hadn't spoken to anyone in two days, and I wasn't sure I even could.

"Hello!" I squeaked, sounding every bit like a spotty teenager whose voice is breaking. Arse, I thought, as my comic shop pals laid into me for all the comedy value it was worth. Good times.

So now I STILL don't have my proper voice back, but I do have a sexy husky voice. Makes me wish I'd recorded my bit for that Radio 2 Star Trek documentary now rather than a year ago. Quick! Get me a radio gig! Some voiceover work? How about an adult chatline?!

(By the way - I took the post title from the Panic! At the Disco song of the same name. Question: is the Panic! At the Disco album any good? I'm tempted to buy it because I'm strangely drawn to their overly-wordy emo-trappings, but I'm a tad concerned that I Write Sins Not Tragedies could be their only decent song...)

Friday, December 29, 2006

2006: The year in reviews!

So with the year almost up, I'm going to jump on the bandwagon of every TV show and magazine and take a look back at my favourite bits from the past 12 months. So read on, dear reader, to find out what my, um, favourite bits were!

Because I read so much, this could've been one of the most hard-fought categories. As it turns out, it was actually quite easy to pick my faves...

3. The Motel Life by Willy Vlautin
I know I shouldn't, but I'm often attracted to books by their covers. This is a case in point. Here was a simple yet vivid cover illustration that just pulled me in, and I'm glad it did. Written by the lead singer of Richmond Fontaine, this book focuses on two brothers who flee town after one is involved in a hit and run accident. What follows is a somewhat endearing tale of how they came to be in their present situation, from the heartbreak of their childhood to the hardships of adult life, with each chapter opening with a simple illustration that helps bring life to the drama that unfolds. OK, it's a relatively simple story and quite a quick read, but it was one of those books that I found I'd read only a chapter at a time because I simply didn't want it to finish, and there ain't much higher recommendation than that.

2. It's Superman! by Tom De Haven
Obviously influenced somewhat by Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (which if you haven't read it, do), this novel re-tells Superman's origin story, but from the point of view of if it was set in the depression of 1930's America. This book really surprised me, because quite frankly it could've been a load of old tosh; entertaining tosh, but tosh nevertheless. But instead it turned out to be an incredible novel that really brings to life its settings, and delves into Clark Kent's uncertaintly as he tries to come to terms with his abilities. From the gentle setting of Smallville to the grandiose Metropolis, It's Superman unfolds from humble beginnings to become an epic story of good versus evil that spans the United States and involves everyone from simple gangsters to giant robots.

I can't recommend this novel highly enough - if you've got even a passing interest in Supes give it a whirl!

1. Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories by Gilbert Hernandez
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love the work of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez and their Love and Rockets comics. This book, the companion volume to Jaime's Locas, is the complete collected edition of Gilbert's Palomar stories, and weighing in at around 500 pages, it's a pretty substantial volume of work. Credit these two brothers with showing me that there's much more to comics than superheroes. Palomar is the tale of a town and the people who live in it. Sounds simple? Well there's so much more to it than that, because this town is populated by so many memorable characters and is the setting for numerous complex storylines that run throughout the entire book, covering all aspects of human behaviour. The scope of Palomar is breathtaking, and its complexity demands multiple readings - but give it the attention it deserves and you'll also discover why not every piece of illustrated storytelling should be labelled a funny book.

(Honourable mentions should also go to Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons, and Margaret Wander Bonanno's Burning Dreams which reinstated my faith that a compelling Star Trek novel can still be written)

I like to see a lot of movies, and although I wouldn't quite rate 2006 as a vintage year, there were some absolute gems.

3. Brokeback Mountain
I really wasn't too bothered about seeing this film when it came out, but I wanted to go to the cinema and I'd seen everything else. Thank god I did see it though, because Brokeback Mountain was one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. A touching story, brilliantly realised characters, and the most wonderful scenary I've ever seen in a film. And for those who won't watch it for the simple matter that there's a brief botty-love scene, your loss.

2. The Prestige
This movie, coming so late in the year, really surprised me - it was intelligent, densely-plotted, and most of all incredibly entertaining. There's something to be said for the blockbuster movie that lets you sit back and switch your brain off, but there's also something to be said for the film that demands you engage your brain in an effort to work out what exactly is going on; The Prestige falls into the latter category. Kudos also for the perfect casting of David Bowie as Nikolai Tesla.

An awesome film.

1. Superman Returns
I was expecting BIG THINGS from this film, and not only did it match them - it exceeded them. Just watch the opening credits sequence to get an idea where this movie's coming from; not only does it pay homage to the first two Superman films, it also lets us know that it's moving the game on a bit - I mean, checkout the explosion of Krypton's sun! What follows is the perfect combination of action blockbuster and plot - it ticks all the right boxes with some quite frankly super action sequences, but also tells a damn good story too. And then there's the perfect casting of Brandon Routh as the last son of Krypton (was this guy born to takeover the role?), and a brilliantly nasty Lex Luthor played by Kevin Spacey. Weak links? I could grumble that Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane is nowhere near as sassy, witty, or memorable as Smallville's Erica Durance, but that's a minor quibble, and I look forward to the next time Superman returns.

(Honourable mentions go to: Junebug; I heart this film a lot - it's so good natured, truthful, and at times painful to watch, but it's a delightful little movie that deserves all the credit it gets. Ask me another day, and this could quite easily jump into my top three)

TV shows!
In contrast to the movies, there were some quality TV shows this year. I kinda found it hard to choose, which is why the honourable mentions is quite extensive... (Youtube clips linked via the titles, as blogger/Google/youtube has been acting a bit prissy and may or may not let me embed them anymore!)

3. Boston Legal
Marcosy once said to me that he thought Ally McBeal would've been better without Ally McBeal in it. I also say a dash of William Shatner improves everything. And what was Boston Legal? A new show from Ally McBeal creator David E. Kelley with William Shatner in it - hurrah! OK, so the first season started pretty slowly, but as soon as the Shatner-James Spader partnership got going the show really took flight. By turn funny and thoughtful, Boston Legal is not only brilliant television, but it's also given me a new Shatner catchphrase to quote: DENNY CRANE!

2. My Name is Earl
If you asked me which show I wish I had written, I'd probably choose My Name is Earl. Why? Well first of all it's funny. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it's got real heart - because each episode is all about Earl trying to make the world a better place. Having recently rewatched the entire first season on DVD, I can honestly say that there's not a dud episode among 'em. It's got a great cast too, headed up by Jason Lee who I've been a fan of since I saw him in Mallrats years ago; and I could watch Jamie Pressly as Earl's ex-wife Joy *forever*. I often rate TV shows by how quotable they are; the sheer fact that my brother and I constantly quote My Name is Earl to each other is a sure sign that it's great.

1. The OC
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The OC is great telly. OK, it's a little trashy at times, but that's part of it's appeal - it's fun, dramatic, feel-good TV. It can be both lighthearted and serious, and it crams so many storylines into each season. This year, for example, we've had Ryan and Marissa getting back together, Julie Cooper falling on hard times and moving to a trailer park (comedy gold there), Kirsten leaving rehab and relapsing, Marissa falling for Johnny, Johnny dying, Ryan and Marissa spliting up, Marissa getting involved with Volchak, Ryan getting involved with Johnny's cousin, Summer getting into Brown, Seth NOT getting into Brown, Theresa returning WITH baby, and Marissa dying!


The fourth season starts here in a couple of weeks. I cannot wait.

(Honourable mentions go to Battlestar Galactica, which continues to tell awesome stories that parallel events in the real world; Family Guy which just got ruder and cruder; Smallville for being consistantly entertaining and, in Kristen Kreuk, Allison Mack, and Erica Durance having the hottest trio of ladies on TV; Supernatural, which turned out to be a darker, edgier X-Files for the noughties; One Tree Hill which inexplicably got good again)

I didn't go to as many gigs in 2006 as I have in previous years, but that just made the ones I did go to even more special.

3. Nada Surf
Dispense with all rock-show trappings - check; perform at one of my favourite venues - check; play some of the best feel-good rock I've heard in a long time - check! Nada Surf at the Shepherds Bush Empire back in March was one of my all-time favourite gigs of recent years. Why? Well, they were just endearing musicians - three guys all just having a great time and willing to tell amusing stories to the audience between tracks - quality tunes were played, spirits uplifted, sing-alongs sung. It was a top-notch evening of music, and they instantly earned themselves a place in my list of bands I will see whenever they tour. Great stuff.

2. Muse
2006 was the year I saw Muse twice - once at Shepherds Bush, the next at Wembley Arena. Both shows were amazing for different reasons - the former because, well, it was Muse in the smallest venue I'm ever probably going to see them in, and the latter because a small part of me thinks they're one of the few bands who actually need to play big venues. Either way, both shows were absolutely amazing, and a sure sign that Muse are THE premier rock band of their generation.

1. The Rolling Stones
There's something magical about The Rolling Stones, and one of their gigs is always, ALWAYS a sight to behold - let alone them playing the closest they'll probably get to a homecoming gig at Twickenham Stadium. So they played pretty much everything I could've wanted them to, they performed marvelously, and their stage show was dazzling - but an extra reason why I loved this show so much was the fact that I went to see it with my family. Seeing Mum in absolute awe of the band she's waited over 40 years to see was incredible, and Simon's reaction that he wasn't too bothered by the whole thing UNTIL Keith played that first riff is indicative of just how wonderful the world's greatest rock 'n roll band continue to be.

(Honourable mentions to The Feeling, who I saw THREE times, and who just. Keep. Getting. Better; The Foo Fighters who played Hyde Park and still made it seem like we were all just a bunch of mates getting together to cheer on our local band)

Other stuff!

3. Running
Letting Sweatband talk me into actually running outside for the hell of it was definitely one of the better decisions I've made this year. It's free, it's mostly enjoyable, and it makes me feel like I've done a super-awesome workout. And the sense of accomplishment I felt at completing two 10k runs was almost overwhelming. No wonder I'm seriously considering giving up my gym membership...

2. Moving out
OK, so I may have sort of gone "Um, what the hell am I doing?" that first night (January 1st, 2006) when I finally moved into Sparky Towers, but over the weeks and months that followed I found my own little homeowner's groove. I've always enjoyed my own company for the most part (because I can be frikkin' entertaining), and having your own place gives you space to reflect and chillout. It's kind of like having my own version of Superman's Fortress of Solitude, except replace 'big scary hologram of Marlon Brando' with 'big TV and Xbox' and you'll get a better idea of what I mean.

1. Blogging
Ah, at Glittering Lee's suggestion I'd been thinking about starting a blog for a while by the time I finally plucked up the courage one evening before The OC started. And I'm soooooooooo glad I did. Not only has it saved my family from my endless wittering about the things that I like and do, but no one complains or lets me see that bored, glazed over look in their eyes! Another, perhaps more important aspect, is the fact that I've met some truly amazing fellow bloggers who've introduced me to new ideas, recommended great books and music, made me feel good about the things that I do, and inspired me to, in the words of S Club 7, reach for the stars. You're all, like, totally awesome, and I look forward to reading your blogs each and every day.

Other winners!
iPod Nano - genius! Xbox 360 - a winner from Microsoft?! Yes - intuitive menu system, brilliant online play, and some great games (Star Trek - yay!) Muse, Blackholes and Revelations - OK, it sags a little in the middle, but Muse's latest album can be forgiven for three reasons - Supermassive Blackhole, Starlight, and Knights of Cydonia. Sufjan Stevens, The Avalanche and Christmas Boxset - an album of astonishingly beautiful off-cuts from the Illinois album and a boxset of Christmas EPs that coloured me festive reaffirmed my opinion that Sufjan Stevens is one of the most brilliant singer-songwriters out there. Starbucks card - OK, there's no real point to it, but it just makes you feel important!

And the losers...
...Lost totally lost me this season - I just really don't care why they're all on the friggin' island, and quite frankly they can stay there ... Desperate Housewives - the quality of the first season went flying out the window and all we were left with was Teri Hatcher's stony botox'd visage. Even the sight of Bree with a shotgun couldn't bring me back into the fold ... Orson at the 100 Club in Oxford Street - No Tomorrow was a great song, horribly overplayed, but great nevertheless; unfortunately, none of their other songs are anywhere near as good ... Cars - Disney/Pixar finally hit the skids. I love cars, and I love movies, but this was just a dire retelling of the Michael J Fox movie Doc Hollywood... Xfm - I hate to say this because I love this station sooooo much, but this year they've completely ruined the killer daytime lineup they started 2006 with, and now I have to retune to Capital to listen to Lucio, and retune to BBC Radio 6 to hear Shaun Keaveny (which as it's a digital only station will mean I'll be sitting in the office with headphones on listening to it through my computer, which is just antisocial). The least they can do is put Iain Baker back in his rightful place weekday afternoons.

So that was 2006 in reviews. Agree? Disagree? Anything I missed, hmmm...?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Jude imperitive

Did you all have a lovely Christmas? I hope so. I did; got up early, over to Sparky Ma and Pa's, then lots of presents, food, and fun. Good times indeed.

Boxing Day I sat around and played the two new Xbox games that Simon got me - Lego Star Wars II (literally the most hilarious game I've EVAH played) and Gears of War (amazing, but VERY scary).

Then, of course, in the afternoon I headed over to Sweatband's place to check in on her cat, Jude (the dude). Now I know that people say cats aren't the most sociable of creatures, but from the moment I opened the door Jude was meowing and running alongside me trying to trip me up. Was he trying to kill me? Has he developed a taste for human flesh? Ooo...

Anyway, I fed him, filled his water bowl, and cleared out his litter tray (nice). Now, having watched me refill his water bowl you would've thought this would have been an indication to Jude that he didn't need to drink out of the toilet. But no, he did. Seriously, if he can work out how to balance to drink from the loo, how come he can't turn round the other way and use it properly? That would certainly save me from having to see his litter tray again, I tell you.

After all the chores were done, Jude and I sat down to watch E.T. Well, I say 'we' - Jude got a bit excitable and started running around, scratching the sofa (I hope it still has a left arm when Sweatband returns), and attacking the curtains. He tired himself out after about 30 minutes, then decided he wanted to sit where I was sitting on the sofa.

Anyway, he was no trouble at all, and I'd gladly look after the little bugger again in the future. Oh, and I only had to call him Judith once!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Twas the night before Christmas (eve, anyway)

We three Beatles of Orient are,
John in a taxi, Paul in a car,
George on his scooter beeping his hooter,
Following Ringo Starr.

Ah, I used to love that traditional Christmas song when I was a kid; who knew they weren't the original lyrics?

So the big day is bearing down on us like a fat drunken man dressed as Santa, and I'm beginning to get that giddy feeling of child-like excitement. It's cold outside, warm inside, presents are wrapped, and I had a stroke of genius yesterday to add to the admittedly minimal festive decorations within Sparky Towers.

Just after I bought my house last year I picked up a string of white lights - y'see, there's a white piller next to the stairs that I thought would look great with lights wrapped round it. I was influenced by Smallville - particularly in the early seasons when they had the Beanery coffee shop where everything was lit by little fairy lights. Yes, I was influenced by a TV show - not the first time...

Anyway, so I bought the lights, shoved 'em under the stairs, and promptly forgot about them.

Until last night!

There I was playing Star Trek: Legacy on my Xbox (hearing ship names and seeing targeting reticles when you close your eyes isn't really a sign of addiction, is it?) when I suddenly remembered them. So I paused the game, dug out the lights, and wrapped them around said piller.

And by gum it looks great!

The only possible downside could be that Mr Chunt already thinks I've tried to decorate downstairs to look like engineering on the Enterprise - and now I've got something that looks like a rudimentary warp core it's going to be difficult to convince him otherwise...


So look, my lovelies, I think it's likely this'll be my last post until the middle of next week (when I'll be jumping on the bandwagon with a look back on the best bits of 2006!), so in the meantime I'd like to wish you all a very happy and healthy Christmas!

And who better to teach us about the true meaning of Christmas than the man himself, Mr. William Shatner - take it away Shatty!

I salute you all!

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Judith debriefing

I've been set an incredibly important task to do over Christmas: I'm looking after Sweatband's cat, Jude (the dude).

So today I popped round to Sweatband's to get the skinny on Jude's foibles and behavioural patterns. He does have his foibles, you see. Well, wouldn't you if your previous owner had called you Geri after the erstwhile Ginger Spice? And as if that wasn't bad enough, it also ignores the fact that you've got a pee-pee.

Anyway, so round to Sweatband's I went, where Jude stared at me a lot, and then tried to rest his little head on my shoulder. He also sniffed my face, which is a good sign, I think.

So I've been fully briefed about my cat sitting duties, ranging from feeding and providing attention to chucking out his poo. And if he misbehaves I've been given the authority to call him Judith, because he hates that.


It's been super-foggy in my part of the world over the last couple of days. And I mean SUPER FOGGY. I've even had to use my fog lights when I've gone out in the car. I was going to take a photo to show you all, but seeing as it would just turn out all grey I really didn't think they'd be much point...


They're advertising the new season of The OC on the telly - could I be anymore excited? I'm literally wishing Christmas away in anticipation...


So what else have I been doing over the last couple of days? Weeeeeeeeeell, I've been watching Season Five of Smallville on DVD, I attended Christmas drinks for my old company, and I've been playing a lot of Xbox. A LOT. And that's because Star Trek: Legacy finally came out, so I've been living out my starship captain fantasies, both in the single player game, and on the multiplayer Xbox Live version.

Now, single player wise I'm doing OK. I'm coordinating my fleet of four ships quite well, and getting to grips with blowing those wily Romulans out of the sky.

Online play is another matter, however. Annoyingly, no one has yet taken the bait and recreated the famous Wrath of Khan battle sequence with me. In fact, they usually just turn up with the most powerful ship they can and blow my warp nacelles off, which is a tad unsporting. Still, I've got some reasonably decent matches in, and I've only had the game for just over a day, so things can only get better (I hope).

So it's pretty much just Smallville and Xbox from here on in, scattered throughout with some present delivering, a combined catch-up and cinema trip with Jo, and ... um, that's about it! Life seems so much less complicated when that's all you've got to fill your days.

What the hell's everyone else up to?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Mix CD 2006!

I'm starting a new tradition this Christmas: the Sparky Malarkey Mix CD!

There are several reasons behind me doing this, but the main ones are as follows:

1. It's a rather personal gift in that I've actually thought about what goes on it.
2. I love introducing new music to people, whether it's in the form of draggin' them along to a gig or playing a CD in the car to my mates.
3. It's a cheap way of making it look like I'm giving more presents this Christmas.

Anyways, as I consider all you lot out there that take the time to read this tat I publish far too often my friends, I thought I'd run through what's on the inaugural Mix CD so that if you want you can scurry over to iTunes and compile your own (or, no doubt the more unscrupulous among you will download it by more nefarious means - don't steal music kids!).

I've thought long and hard about what to put on the CD, and I've tried not to be too obvious. In a lot of cases, I've gone for songs that have meant something to me over the course of the year (not necessarily my favourite songs, but ones that take me back to particular instances, for example), while in others I've gone for tracks that, y'know, I just kinda like. I've tried to stay away from big commercial chart hits (hence no Muse, Killers, etc), because I want people to listen to it without any preconceptions (such as "Eeeeow, I'm not a big Muse fan"), and I think I've come up with something that flows sort of ... nicely.

So, here ya go - the official Sparky Malarkey mix CD 2006! (with links to relevent websites/Myspace pages in the titles!)

01. Blizzard of '77 by Nada Surf
I love Nada Surf. I discovered them on an OC soundtrack a couple of years back, and snapped up their back catalogue pretty swiftly. This track is the opening song off their album Let Go. It's short (2:09), and sometimes I wish it would go on forever; it's so melodic - just listen to way the guitar and the singer's voice go so achingly well together. The lyrics just draw you into the unfolding story of the song - I simply love the chorus, which kicks in for the first time around the 48 second mark when he sings "but in the middle of the night I worry/ it’s blurry even without light."

And it's only when the song finishes that you realise it's just one dude and a guitar. Beautiful.

02. In Between Days by Ben Folds
I was a big fan of Ben Folds Five, and while I've followed his solo career with dedication, I've always felt that a little bit of the fun was missing when compared to the stuff he did with the band. His latest album, the wonderfully titled Supersunnyspeedgraphic: The LP brought me back into the fold, if you'll pardon the pun, and this cover of The Cure classic, which is the first track, is my favourite on the entire CD. Just listen to the way the song opens as he pounds on the piano keys - it's so infectious it makes me sway regardless of what I'm doing; in the car, doing the washing up - whatever!

03. Middle of the Hill by Josh Pyke
This incredible song was brought to my attention by Miss T and Dora after they saw Josh Pyke in concert, and I subsequently sat there on his myspace page with this playing on repeat. I love a twangy accoustic guitar, and this song combines that with a meloncholy tale of childhood memories. It's actually quite dark when you really listen to the lyrics, which is kind of unsettling when, on first listen you just think it's nothing more than a happy clap-along. And what a true final line: "I don't pay enough attention to the good things when I got 'em."

04. Casmir Pulaski Day by Sufjan Stevens
I might ramble on for a bit here, because I *heart* Sufjan Steven's music BIG TIME. It's a cliche to say it, but there is truly something awe-inspiring, almost life-changing, about the songs he produces.

Although not similar in style, I often compare Sufjan Stevens to Jeff Buckley in the fact that they are both the sort of artist that I can listen to regardless of my mood - they're equally well-suited to listen to while walking through the streets on a beautiful summer's day, or while you're feeling a bit moody in the middle of winter.

I really thought long and hard about which track to pick, because quite frankly this mix CD could've turned into a Sufjan Stevens album. I ultimately chose this one, from his Illinois album, because it was the first song of his that I really *got* - something literally clicked in my mind and I thought this is simply amazing. I love the fact that there's a definite story here; and like the Josh Pyke track, it's actually quite dark. Not in a sinister way, but just in an everyday sort of way. Does that even make sense? But on the otherhand, it's also uplifting - like a warm blanket. There's a sense of hope woven into the song, which leaves me feeling refreshed and at peace.

(Special mention should go to Jacksonville, also off the Illinois album, which was constantly vying for position with Casimir Pulaski Day right up until I finally settled on the track listing - look, just go buy the Illinois album, OK?)

05. Beautiful by Clem Snide
This is where we kick things up a gear. I saw Clem Snide supporting Ben Folds at a gig a few years back (well, actually it was just the lead singer doing an accoustic set), and when he started playing this I turned to Yaz, and she turned to me, and we both said "I recognise this song..."

It was only as the chorus kicked in that we realised it was Christina Slaguilera's Beautiful.

The thing I don't like about a lot of modern pop is that I feel they drown the song under vocal warblings and over-production. Strip that away, as Clem Snide have done here, and you realise there's a f**king awesome song under there. How uplifting are the words "Because you are beautiful in every single way/ words can't bring you down?" It's almost inspiring.

And it makes me want to dance my way down the street when I'm listening to my iPod on the walk to Starbucks at lunchtime.

06. Crush by Gavin DeGraw
Another one who's guilty of over-production, but Gavin DeGraw more than made up for it by reissuing his debut album as a two-CD set, the second disc featuring the entire album done as an accoustic set. And it's bloody brilliant. After a quiet start, this track just powers on into one of the catchiest (is that even a real word?) choruses going. And he's amazing live - please, please, please go see him if you get the chance, and find out that there's so much more to his music than just the theme tune to One Tree Hill.

(This was a rather late addition - this spot was going to be filled by a stunning accoustic cover of Joe Jackson's It's Different for Girls by a band called Farrah who I saw supporting Phantom Planet last year, but I kind of felt that the CD was getting a little bit too unbalanced and subdued - however beautifully - in the middle, so sadly I took 'em off. Do check out their website though, as they are definitely worth a listen)

07. A Lack of Color by Death Cab for Cutie
If you don't like, or have never heard of, Death Cab for Cutie then shame on you! This was another band I found through an OC soundtrack - in fact, this song was the first of theirs that I heard (it's actually taken from the Transatlanticism album). It's such a heartwarming song - uplifting, inspiring, gentle, melodic. For some reason it reminds me a lot of Otis Reading's Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay, one of my all-time favourite songs, and there's not really much higher praise than that, is there?

08. Conversation by Adj
I found this song while surfing around Myspace, and was instantly beguiled by the electro-poppiness of it, which is weird because I usually don't do electro-pop. But there's something here that just grabbed me, and it quickly became one of those tracks that crept up my 'most listened to songs' list on my iPod. Maybe it's the fact that, again, the lyrics are quite dark ("everyone you know will let you down in the end," perhaps?), or it might be that there's something inherent in the song that reminds me of London and modern life: "the more I have, the more I want," for example.

This dude used to be in the band Kubb, but I find that I like his solo stuff more. I hope there's an album on the way. In the meantime, check out his Myspace page - this track is no longer up, but there's a couple of other quality tracks available to listen to.

09. Just by Mark Ronson ft. Alex Greenwald
This was another summer favourite of mine. I think I heard it for the first time on the Xfm remix show on a Sunday evening, and I was all, like, that sounds familiar. Then I realised it was a Radiohead cover. Now, I'm not a real follower of Radiohead - I can appreciate them, and there are a lot of their songs that I love, but I sort of find them a bit cold and distant. In contrast, this cover of Just just clicks for me. It starts slowly, then jumps up a notch with an infectious beat that feels like it wouldn't be out of place in a sweaty club in Havana where everyone's doing the rumba! I'm a huuuuuge Phantom Planet fan (they are awesome live!), and Alex Greenwald has such a unique voice; it suits the song perfectly.

Kudos to Mark Ronson for an incredible spin on a classic song.

10. Valentine by Delays
I worked with a super lady called Lorna for a few years, and she loved Delays. I never really got into them, though, despite her insistance that they were great. I might've labeled them "too poppy" at the time. That all changed with this track. It's the sort of song that just grabs you and twirls you around - it almost makes me want to spin around with my arms held out, and who cares who's watching? Just listen to those soaring vocals - awesome.

Ironically, for what I thought was their greatest song, this track, and the album it came from, didn't do as well as the singles from their debut release. A shame, but on the otherhand they've made a new fan. I missed out on seeing them at the Shepherds Bush Empire back in the Spring - I hope they play again soon.

11. Headlights by Sean Lennon
Sean Lennon? Yes, Sean Lennon. I remember back in about 1998 when both Sean and Julian Lennon released albums on the same day. Julian's was very much an album of quality songs, consistant, melodic, and worthy. Sean's album was different; experimental, inconsistant, almost without direction. But there was something in it that made me keep returning to it over the years - something I couldn't quite put my finger on. I knew there was a real talent here, but I didn't quite think he'd hit the nail on the head just yet.

Fast forward eight years, and Sean Lennon releases his second album, Dead Meat. This is a far more coherent collection of songs, and there were at least three tracks I pondered over for a while. I settled on this song, Headlights, because I love the rythmic hand-clapping - I can't help but tap along on the steering wheel when I'm driving. There's something incredibly haunting about Sean Lennon's voice too; yes, he sounds like his dad, but there's far more to him than just a clone of John Lennon. He's a great talent in his own right.

12. Tumbling Dice (Live) by The Rolling Stones
There's at least one person who's getting a copy of the mix CD that HATES the Stones, but tough - I love them, and there's no way I could NOT include them here somewhere.

Strangely, for a band with such an incredible back catalogue, this track was easy to pick. It's taken from their recent Rarities: 1971-2003 album, and was intended for the Stripped album back in 1995 (one of my all-time favourite albums), before it was cut.

I find that the Rolling Stones are always better live - give me a live recording over one of their studio albums anyday; there's something shambolically loveable about their live performances. And this proves why; there's so many more layers added to the song, as if they've built-up over the years the band have played it on tour. I like the rawness - the muted introduction with Mick Jagger's vocals accompanied only by hand-claps and piano - it just sounds like a bunch of old mates jamming late at night - before it explodes into life around 48 seconds in. It's timeless music, and it takes me back to that amazing concert at Twickenham in August.

It's the sort of song that really makes me wish I was the lead singer in a band. Man, I'd love to Jagger around stage if I could shout out a tune like this.

So that's it folks, my 2006 mix CD. I hope you like it, or at the very least you find something on there that you like, and that it leads you into discovering an amazing artist or song. And feel free to chuck some recommendations my way 'cos I'm ALWAYS looking for decent tunes!

Monday, December 18, 2006

I'm a scrubber!

Ah, the first day of a long Christmas break... And how did I spend this much-needed first day off?

By cleaning my house from top to bottom and going into work, of course!

(It's not as bad as it sounds, stick with me!)

I'd planned for today to be my cleaning day for quite a while, actually. Quite frankly I'd been neglecting household chores for a while now - and by that I don't mean I was sitting in a pile of poo amid tons of washing up. No, rather I'd just not hoovered for a while. And you know it needs doing when there's tumbleweed-stylee dustballs rolling over the floor; on the plus side, it does keep your feet toasty while you're playing Xbox.

So anyway, there I was at 11 o'clock this morning, hoovering, washing the downstairs floor (it's wood, not carpet - I'm not THAT stupid), then scrubing the bathroom till it shone - bless the amazing cleaning power of Cillit Bang. I contemplated eating my lunch off the toilet - it was that clean. But then I would've felt compelled to clean it again.

After that, it was a quick shower, then into work to check over those last bits that got away from us last week, courtesy of my Nemesis' dicking around. Three hours later I was on the drive home.

Christmas can truly start... NOW!


There was an interesting thing on the radio this evening - apparently some survey has revealed that most kids today want to grow up to be... a celebrity, of course! Who the hell needs doctors and engineers!?

I wanted to be a bus driver when I was a kid. I was besotted with red London buses. But I've ended up editing Star Trek magazines. Fortunately, I also wanted to be Captain Kirk, so you could say it all kind of worked out OK. Ironic, though, that I've gotten closer to being Captain Kirk than being a bus driver - but we'll label that under 'a good thing,' I think.

And now I'm intrigued: what did you want to be vs what you are now?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Total nerd

I finally got round to hooking my Xbox up to the intermaweb yesterday.




Who the hell knew online gaming would be so much fun? OK, I feel a bit of a twat sitting in my living room with a headset on shouting "sorry" to the various people I smaah into on Project Gotham Racing 3, but on the whole it's a damn brilliant thing.

Strangely, I've found that there's a lot of Livepudlians on there; did the entire city buy a job-lot of consoles? The French player tend to talk a lot too. And by 'a lot' I mean 'A LOT.'

There are a couple of worrying things, though. Other people can rate your performance. My rating currently stands as this:

50% of people prefer to play with me.
50% of people prefer not to play with me.
100% of people find me 'unsporting.'


OK, I'm still kinda getting used to the game, but 'unsporting'? Yes, I might've been involved in a few huge pile-ups, but c'mon... the dudes were in my racing line - they caused it!!

It's all good fun though, and not half as geek-tastic as I thought it was going to be.

Downsides? I've got crip-hand from holding the controller too tightly. And I'm feeling compelled to go out for a run tonight just to see some real people in the streets so I remember they actually exist.

Anyway, if anyone out there is on Xbox Live, look me up. My username is, what else, sparkymalarkey, and I'll be more than happy to be unsporting towards you too.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Driving home for Christmas

...And I'll totally be driving BACK to work on Monday. Yep, that huge-ass argument that I had with my Nemesis the other week has done exactly what I expected it to do and buggered things up a bit. So there's a couple of little bits here and there that need tidying, meaning that I'll swing by the office on Monday afternoon to (in my best Saaaaaf London accent) sort 'em aaaaaaaout!!

On the plus side, my tickets for the Xfm gig on Monday night haven't turned up yet, so as I asked for them to be sent to work I kinda need to pop in anyway. Might as well make myself useful for once!

Anyway, aside from having to go into work while I'm on holiday, I'm currently feeling a little bit "aaaaaaaaaaah..." relaxed.

I hope you are too.

Altogether now:


Doesn't that feel better?


I've brought my office plant home with me for the Christmas break for two reasons. Firstly, I'm worried that it might, erm, die if I leave it there; and secondly, although it's not an evergreen I reckon it'll make a reasonable Christmas tree alternative. I won't weight it down with baubles or anything though - that would just be silly.

Hopefully it won't die; Sparky Ma has already nursed it back to health once in the last couple of years in a Florence Nightingale stylee, and I think she'd go "harumph" and look at me in a stern fashion if I asked her to do so again. On the otherhand, I do think she quite liked it in that spot by the window (which looks a tad bare now), so it's swings and roundabouts really.


Ooo, look - end of worky, bye-bye beardy!

Hmmm... kinda regret doing that, actually...


Can you believe it?! I the hell can't! I sailed by the 300 posts mark the other day. This is officially, I reckon, the most consistently written thing I've ever written. Shame most of it is tat, but fortunately I've set the bar pretty low so things can only get better!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thoughts for the day

How do you know if a cat is lost?

I was walking back from lunch today with Yaz after a pleasant coffee (pleasant except for the moment when she said "f**k Christmas"; I think the festive stress has got to her), when I noticed a rudimentary poster stuck to a tree.


I was briefly struck by a vision of a naked tortoise with its little front paw-clawy things held tentatively over its little tortoisey groin, but then I realised that the poster wrapped around the tree a bit, and the obscured part had 'CAT' written on it.

That got me thinking. How do you really know if a cat is lost? I mean, a lot of cats wander past my house, but I don't automatically nab the poor thing off the streets and print out a load of flyers.

So what are the signs of a lost cat? You'd probably automatically say something like it has a pensive look on its face, but cats are pretty emotionally void unless you know them really well. Maybe a lost cat looks around a bit more, like it can't quite believe where the hell it is? Or it's looking furiously at a tube map, turning it this way and that like a tourist? Tube maps can be a bugger unless you know where you're going.

Or maybe I should just call the number and ask the person on the other end how they worked out that the tortoise shell cat was lost?


Popped to Kingston this evening just to get a few bit 'n bobs, and I sorta felt like I was in a bit of mischievous mood.

How did I know this? I saw a young emo couple; she was stripe-tastic, he was wearing eye shadow.

I almost - almost - said to her "Aaaw, look - your boyfriend's wearing eye shadow. Doesn't he look special!"


Word up grandma!

I saw an old woman today who kept saying "mega!" and "wicked!" She bought three Guitar Hero IIs for her grandkids' Christmas presents. But she's not sure if they have PlayStations, so she bought three of those as well.


Anyone seen the new PC World ad? Y'know, the one where the clueless woman walks into PC World and says something along the lines of "I'm looking to buy a new laptop" and then the helpful PC World man runs her through the spec of a laptop, and then she says "but money's a bit tight!" and he says "But it's only two-nine-nine!" and she lets out a little orgasmic squeak and picks one up?

First of all - what sort of dumbass actually buys a computer in PC World?

Second - who the hell stands there and nods sagely like they actually understand what a celeron pro 1.21 gigawatts chip actually is?

And thirdly - since when has anyone in PC World actually known what they're talking about? The last time I went in there to ask for something for a Mac, three assistants either ignored me or ran off, while the fourth said "maybe you should try an Apple dealer?"


I went to my resident's association Annual General Meeting last night. It was an interesting experience, and one I'm glad will only be repeated annually. It was kinda boring; we discussed parking, drains, the annual resident's fee, and how we're not going to give the bin men a Christmas gift this year.

The lady who hosted it tried to give me a packet of crisps as I left.


Eight. Working. Hours. Left.

I encountered another problem today, which makes about three in total since my last post. Fortunately, I seem to be maneuvering around them in a very skillful, zen-like way Ninja way.

I've also grown a full on beard. Not a pervert beard, but a stylish beard. I'm quite liking it, and I've resolved only to shave it off when I've finished work. This time tomorrow I should be all smooth and looking like a 12 year old again. I might post before and after pictures.

Keep your fingers crossed that I can survive the remaining eight working hours.

If we were all in the same room I'd be asking you to hold hands with me right about now.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Cautiously optimistic

If my life were a movie, it would be right around now, just after the climactic shootout, that I'd stand up, turn to my comrades and sexy love interest, and say "see - that wasn't so bad..." – before being shot in the back in a final act of vengeance by one of my mortally-wounded foes.

You see, we're now at ... T-minus 22 working hours until I finish work for the year and begin my obscenely long Christmas holiday of crap telly, Xbox, and junk food.

And yet I can't help shake the feeling that everything is going a little too well...

We were set a pretty tight deadline on things that needed to be done before I swagger out of the office on Friday afternoon with a skip in my stride and a twinkle in my eyes - but somehow everything seems to have gotten done, or at the very least almost done; certainly do-able. And that still leaves me with three days to tidy up any loose ends.

But I've been in this sort of position before, and I know that someone or something always comes along to shat on the parade. Call me a pessimist, but I say it's better to be prepared. Or at the very least braced for impact (any old excuse to randomly shout "ALL HANDS BRACE FOR IMPACT!" in the office - hee hee, watch those confused faces!).

So I think I'm prepared. Although no doubt if something untoward does crop up I'll throw a hissy fit and get all sweary. Hell - give the people what they expect!


Has anyone else noticed that in the adverts for Iceland (the supermarket, not the country), Kerry Katona has a different fella in EVERY SINGLE ONE?

I think we can all guess why that particular mum is going to Iceland...

I refer the honorable reader to the post below.

Yes, she's a slut!

Monday, December 11, 2006

You are a slut - AND YOU LOVE IT!

My appreciation of Strictly Come Dancing is increasing by the week, for one particular reason: judge Bruno Tonioli.

If you've not had the pleasure of seeing him in action, trust me - the guy is comedy gold.

Whereas all the other judges are somewhat staid in their comments regarding the dancings ("nice footwork," "you missed a step," etc), Bruno brings some fire to proceedings. And it's particularly funny because he sounds like Ricardo Montalban, which is just ace.

In recent weeks we've seen him almost slap another judge in the face with a sweeping arm gesture as he shouted "you were spinning LIKE a beautiful princess!" along with my particular favourite, which was directed at goody-two-shoes TV presenter Carol Smilie, and spat out with such overpowering vengeance: "You are a slut - AND YOU LOVE IT!"

I can't help but tune in every Saturday now, and for some reason, anything I say during the show and in the hours that follow, must be said in a Bruno Tonioli-stylee.

What am I going to do when the series finishes? You sluts.

(In contrast - Tess Daly. She sounds funny when she says "judges" and "couples." But on the plus side her boobs are bigger this series)


I was buying some bagels at lunchtime and the woman in front of me in the queue paid by cheque (or check, depending on where you live in the world). Does anyone pay by cheque in shops anymore? I'd say she was some kind of evolutionary throwback, but she was actually about my age.

Most galling, however, was the fact that her bill came to about £8.40. And I could see a wad of tenners in her purse! I almost paid for her just to hurry the queue up, but that's a little bit too Pay it Forward for me, and I ain't Haley Joel Osment.


I'm a winner! Yes, after weeks of trying, I finally came up with a pun headline worthy of Shaun Keaveny's What's the Story radio pun game.

The basic idea is that Shaun nominates a person, then we (the listener) have to come up with a fake story and a pun headline about them.

Today was Lionel Richie.

My two suggestions, based on the titles of Lionel Richie hits, were:

The story: After seducing former U.S. secretary of state Madeline Albright, Lionel Richie is shocked to discover that she's actually a man!
The headline: Albright schlong.

The story: Sympathising with his pet dog when he takes him to the vet to be 'snipped,' Lionel Richie agrees to undergo the same procedure.
The headline: Spay you, spay me.

And for my trouble I've won two tickets to an Xfm session at the Islington Academy next week. The Maccabees are playing, and I think I like them... Hurrah!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Tree'd off

I'd always thought that buying a Christmas tree would be a relatively easy proposition. It seems I was wrong.

I've been looking for weeks for a decent artificial Christmas tree (I don't like cleaning at the best of times, let alone having to sweep up after a disgruntled tree that keeps flicking bits all over the floor), with a four ft. one being the the ideal height. Sparky Towers is, you see, not the biggest abode on the face of the Earth; small but perfectly formed, I like to say. That being the case, I don't particularly want to over-egg the pudding with some seven ft. monstrosity that'll loom over the living room in an omnious fashion unbecoming of a symbol intended to celebrate the festive period.

So today I've been to three different places to try and track down the perfect tree: Tesco, and two different branches of Homebase.

Tesco was a complete waste of time. They only had six and seven ft. trees. Seriously, I wouldn't even be able to get one of them in my car. They were ma-hoo-sive. And as soon as some middle-aged woman started crying by the crackers because someone was blocking her trolley in I knew I had to get out of there.

Homebase proved to be a little more helpful in the fact that they had an easy to read guide to the trees they have available. Unhelpfully, they'd sold out of what would clearly be the perfect tree for me. The nearest equivilent was a four ft. fibre optic tree (ooooo sparkly!), but there's something in me that prefers a traditionally lit tree. It was also about 40 quid more than the sold-out tree I really would've wanted.

On to Homebase branch numero deux! This branch proves a little more helpful in the fact that they had one non-fibre optic traditional tree of suitable height. On the downside it was inexplicably priced at £30 (!), and the branches were covered in what the box described as "traditional frosting," and what I'd describe as "some weird white shit."

I'm also troubled by tree decorations themselves; fashion appears to be dictating that black and white are 'this season's colours.' Now, far be it for me as a fashion guru to argue, but black and white don't seem very festive. Where's the reds, the blues, the golds!? I want multi-colours, not monochromatic monotony!

So, somewhat disgruntled, I decided that Homebase can shove their tree - I'll make do with some festive detailing. And by that I mean lots of tinsel.

As I walked out of the store, I noticed that they were selling tiny baby real Christmas trees in pots. I almost succumbed. But then I figured it'd eventually grow up, get all rebelious, and start shedding on my floor and then I'm back to square one.

Also, they all looked kind of like the weedy tree from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A night at Sparky's

Last night was so old school. Or is that old skool? I don't know - answers on a postcard please.

Anyway, so I totally turned time back last night. It was like being 19 again or something. This is the evening in a nutshell (post Happy Feet, I should add):

• Home.
• Microwave curry (Mmmmm!)
• Washing up (OK, kinda shouldn't have mentioned that because I NEVER did washing up as a 19 year old)
• Xbox on.
• Play Project Gotham Racing 3.
• Find an Xbox arcade game where you have to make a space station profitable (so addictive - it's like what I imagine Deep Space Nine mixed with crack would be like).
• Look at clock. Hot damn it's 2am!

I haven't played video games into the night in YEARS. I'm liking this Xbox thing. Unfortunately, I sorta figure that everyday life might get in the way at some point.



What do you mean you expected your Christmas presents to be wrapped?

Happy me, happy feet

I am a happy man. Because what's that there, nestling under my TV? Why - it's an Xbox 360!

Join me in an air-punch people!


So my bro was also excited about my Xbox, to the point that he got himself over to my place (not myspace) extremely quickly. We plugged it in, got it going, I sorted out my gamer profile (my picture is of cheeky monkey - oo-oo!) , and then we loaded up Project Gotham Racing 3.


I might've let a bit of wee out.

The graphics are AMAZING. The choice of cars is great. The wireless controllers are incredible, even if I do swoosh them every now and then to move an imaginary wire out of the way (hey, I'm working against the best part of 25 years worth of wired up experience here!). At one point we had a Ferrari F430 and a Lamborghini Gallardo going head-to-head round Piccadilly Circus at 185 mph, which I never thought I'd ever get to do. No doubt there'll be a congestion charge fine in the post soon...

Anyway, I'm super impressed. And so was Simon. So much so that I had to chuck him out when I wanted to go to bed.

My plan here is to big-up my PGR3 skills then get that bad-boy online and try to show some people how it's done!


Yaz and I went to see Happy Feet this evening - y'know, the film about the dancin' penguins.

A couple of things:

• First of all, although it wasn't quite as great as I thought it was going to be, it was still a good way to pass 90 minutes.

• My favourite scene was the baby penguin singing "don't push me, 'cos I'm close to the edge." Genius.

• Like my Xbox, the graphics were amazing!

• Hot damn that penguin can dance!

Things I didn't like? Hmmm... That kid just along the row who insisted on tapping along to the dance sequences REALLY LOUDLY. Grrr.

And the result of the film? Well, I really want to go dancing. I want to bust some moves like that penguin. Maybe not tap dancing, but dancing nevertheless.

Bizarrely, I've also got right into Strictly Come Dancing recently. I can see a pattern developing here, and there's only one way I think it's going to reach a resolution...

Although it'll have to wait until I've got some quality Xbox time in.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

From bad to worse

Just before I head out the door in the morning I have what I refer to as the'pat-down.' No, there is nothing deviant about that - rather it's my last minute check that I have all my necessary bits. There are five parts to the 'pat-down,' which are, in no particular order:
1. Car keys
2. Wallet
3. House keys
4. Phone
5. iPod

This morning I was alarmed to discover that component 5, my barely one month old iPod Nano, was missing. Did I leave it in the car yesterday? No.

Uh-oh. Don't say I...

Yesterday I was wearing a red hoody with a single central pocket. A uni-pocket, or marsupial pouch, if you will. And I had left my iPod in that pocket.

And I'd put the hoody IN. THE. WASHING. MACHINE.

Numerous thoughts raced through my 126 IQ-rated brain, the first being that I knew I'd put some washing on last night, but the machine was rather full. Had there been room for the hoody?

Find out next week on SPARKY MALARKEY!



Like I'd do that to you guys! Ha ha.


OK, I'll stop dragging this out. No, fortunately there was not room in last night's load. I had, however, popped the hoody in afterwards. Fortunately, there was my iPod, safely ensconced within the confines of the marsupial pouch, and otherwise unscathed by its ordeal.

Unfortunately, I must've nudged it on at some point, and it'd played out its entire library of tunes over the course of the night from within the washing machine, emptying the battery completely.

It could've been worse though, dear reader, IT. COULD. HAVE. BEEN. WORSE.


The iPod-related incident was one of those things that makes you wonder if it's going to be:
a) The worst incident of the day - things can only get better!
b) The prelude to something far worse.

Unfortunately for me, today it was the latter.

To cut a long story short, an encounter with my Nemesis left me feeling incredibly angry today. He had the nerve to call me a four-letter word. One beginning with 'L' and ending in 'azy.'

Three words immediately spring to mind: 'Pot,' 'kettle,' and 'black.'

To be honest, he could've called me a multitude of other things, maybe even 'complete looney,' and I would've taken it in my stride. But the 'L' word... well, my blood was boiling.

It's the sort of thing that makes you think you should've added a punch-bag to your Christmas list.



Let's end on a more positive note, hmmm...?

More Christmas tree related malarkey!

It's Sulu in the Christmas tree! Hello Mr. Sulu!!

Look - he's waving ba- Hang on, why's he making that gesture with his hand?

*Gasp!* Phasers on stun! A little bit of inter-series canoodling going on under the tree between Mr. Spock and Captain Janeway!!

Um... So, that's not... ah, a Vulcan nerve pinch, is it? TURN THE CAMERA OFF!!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Decorations ahoy!

Have you noticed that Christmas is creeping up on us? Exciting, innit?


What are you, the Grinch?

Anyway, we got our Christmas tree at work last week, and aside from Scanner Dave just lobing a bit of tinsel on it, it's remained undecorated and wholly unfestive.

What else to do but jump into action!


Now, I don't know what says Christmas more to you than putting a plastic Captain Kirk action figure at the top of the tree, so that's exactly what I did.

Isn't it stunning?

Phasers on stunning, actually!

And against all expectations my workmates agree. Captain Kirk is remaining atop our little tree. I added Sulu this afternoon. He's also allowed to stay, but I've been told that's my limit.

Might have to rearrange the tinsel a bit though...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Cereal killer

I'm trying out a new breakfast cereal at the mo'. I usually have some sort of triple choc oat thing from Sainsbury's, although recently I've gotten back into the microwave porridge because it's SOOOOOO good and very simple to make. If you have a microwave.

During a trip to Sainsbury's yesterday, though, I noticed a new Kelloggs cereal:

Or Honey F**ked Cornflakes, as I like to call them. They are, you see, basically Honey Nut Cornflakes without the nuts. And I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere, but even I'm not going to stoop that low.


Anyway, so today I had a bowl. And do you know what? They taste pretty good. And do you know why? Because they're essentially EXACTLY the same as Frosties, except grown-ups can buy them safe in the knowledge they're not going to be caught buying something with Tony the friggin' Tiger on.

Hilariously, though, even though they're nutless, people with nut allergies can't eat them because they're made in a factory that also produces nutty products. That'll be Honey Nut Cornflakes, then.

So, as tasty as they are, I'm actually kind of failing to see the point of them.


I am Charlotte Simmons...

...And I've been fooling you all along!!!!



Actually, I am NOT Charlotte Simmons, but I have finally finished reading the Tom Wolfe novel of the same name. And because the mere mention of it when I bought it led to some degree of uproar from the cheap seats, I thought I would share my thoughts on it.

The Basic Plot:
Charlotte Simmons is a gentle teenage girl raised in the isolation of the mountains of North Carolina. She is an extremely intelligent, moral, god-fearing young woman, and she is awarded a place at Dupont, one of the most prestige (and fictional) universities in the U.S. So off she toddles, expecting to find an academic haven full of intelligent, well-spoken, and welcoming students. Instead she is thrust into a heaving den of promiscuity and 'sexiling,' where her morals begin to erode as she tries to fit in… (slut).

What I Thought:
I approached I am Charlotte Simmons with a degree of trepidation; I knew it hadn't received particularly glowing reviews, and indeed, I nearly bought it at the beginning of the year and decided against it, based on the what I'd read about it. This is another example of why you shouldn't always listen to reviews; sometimes it really is better to base an opinion on your own tastes. Or judge it by the cover which has a killer rack on it.

The general idea behind the novel appealed to me. I tend to like things like this, which probably explains why I love The OC. Also, I was intrigued to see how a writer in his seventies would approach writing a novel from the perspective of a 17 year-old girl. Would he fall flat on his face, basing Charlotte on some archaic concept of the teenaged female from his own youth? No, not at all. Tom Wolfe did his research. If you read this book without knowing the author you'd swear it was written by someone fresh out of college themselves. He's perfected the language and the style of the youth of today, a phrase which incidently makes me sound about 65.

Any criticisms? Well, yeah; it is, at 676 pages, a tad too long and does sag in places. That said, some of the criticisms levelled at the book do appear to be intentional - is Charlotte a little too prissy? Hell, yeah - you want her to let her hair down a bit, you might even dislike her in places for her superior attitude, but that's who she is, and it's essentially what the book is about.

I'd also like to mention the fact that Wolfe got an ward for the worst sex scene in 2004; he defended it saying that it wasn't supposed to be perfect, and I can see where he's coming from. She's a half-willing, incredibly drunk participant in a split-second shag - it ain't all candle lit rooms and soft music, my friends.

The Verdict:
Should you read it? Yeah, I think you should. I've not read any of Tom Wolfe's other novels, so I can't comment on how it compares, but I really liked this as a story in its own right. It wasn't an idealised picture perfect reflection on life at college, rather it was a painful snapshot of what real life can be; a life-changing moment; a desire to fit in; the constant struggle to fulfill your potential and the expectations of your loved ones.

I believe the novel has been optioned as a movie. Let's hope Hollywood doesn't screw it up and turn it into another teen movie with a sugary happy ending.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Super brain

I just did an IQ test:

"Your IQ score is 126!

You are gifted with the natural fluency of a writer and the visual and spatial strengths of an artist. Those skills contribute to your creative and expressive mind. Insightful linguists can take complex concepts and articulate them to just about anyone. You have a gift with words and an insight into processes and the way people think.

These talents enable you to explain things clearly to people as you can conceptualise ideas internally and understand patterns on an abstract level."



I went down the gym this afternoon - which is the first time I've been down the gym on a Sunday afternoon for, like, forevah.

I'm really trying to make the effort to jump back into the ol' fitness routine again having slobbed around for the last couple of weeks; I mean, really, I haven't done a run in two weeks! Anyway, I thought I better go this afternoon because there's a chance I might get my Xbox tomorrow, and I'd feel really guilty if I didn't do some exercise today to make up for the fact that I probably won't do any next week. There's dedication!


So, as I'm driving toward the gym I notice that there's an awful lot of cars parked in the road, and the car park is really full too. It's been a while since it has been that busy - in fact that was the time when there was that awful-

Oh. My. God.

Yes, it is that time of year again. Beauty pagent time.

Every year or so the leisure centre in which my gym is located houses a beauty pagent dance competitiony thing. Believe me when I tell you that it is horrific in the extreme. The foyer is packed full of chavvy power mothers instructing their horrendously made-up post-foetus, pre-teen, and post-teen offspring how to twirl, cartwheel, and pout, and god-forbid if you want to get through the crowd to actually get to some of the other facilities. They glare at you, hands on hips, like an army of midget Dolly Parton drag queens ready to beat you with their battons at a moments notice.

The way they look just freaks me out. Five year-olds dolled up in so much make-up that it looks like they applied it in the dark under instruction from a prostitute of pensionable age, and unspeakably skimpy clothing (I could've walked through there in my pants and I'd still have been considered overdressed). If I met something like that in a dark alley I'd be inclined to whack it in the face with a plank first and find out what was later. S-C-A-R-Y.

So anyway, I got into the gym, did a reasonably awesome workout, then decided to head home. But - ARRRGH! - they'd multiplied in the space of an hour. The foyer was packed full of them, leading me to ask the question - what sort of mother puts their daughter (and in some instances sons!) through this merry hell? I was still pondering that question when a three year old in flourescent pink lycra attempted a cartwheel in front of me and almost clipped me in the gentlemanly bits.

Friday, December 01, 2006

All by myself

OK people - last Xbox-related post until I actually get my grubby little mits on one.

So, here I am. As you can probably guess, I'd sort of planned to base this weekend around stupid amounts of Xbox malarkey. No Xbox, no Xbox-based malarkey.

And so I find myself with an empty weekend ahead...


Well. I plan on spending tonight settled on the sofa reading I am Charlotte Simmons and listening to Christmas songs. And before you say "that's painting a pretty pathetic picture," let me assure you that a) I really want to finish reading that book because it's very good, and I've been neglecting it recently, and b) Yaz gave me a belated birthday present today - Sufjan Steven's Songs for Christmas boxset.

I'm very much looking forward to the latter; I *big-time heart* Sufjan Steven's music, and this is five CDs worth of traditional songs and his own festive compositions, so it's quite likely that it will seriously tip me over the edge into hardcore Christmas mode and I'll start wrapping anything that comes to hand and over-eating. BINGE-PURGE-BINGE-PURGE!!!!

Just for laughs I decided to paint an altogether more grim impression of the weekend ahead for my workmates, which basically consisted of me telling them that I'd be sitting around in my pants knocking back a bottle of vodka. Now, they all know that I don't drink, and yet they all believed me. Quite possibly they were all taken aback by the horrific/stunning mental image that provided.

I then pushed the idea a little further and asked for a hug. This proved to be a step too far, as no one actually approached to clutch me to their bosom, but it's nice to know where the limits are. And to be honest I actually didn't want a hug. Although I like to think that I am quite huggable. A hugger, and huggee, of good quality.


Inexplicably I dressed very smartly for work today; black shirt, black fine-knit jumper, browny pinstripe trousers, and trainers (hey, they match, and I didn't want to look too much like a professional); hell, even my hair looked styled for a change, rather than just 'ruffled.' And for the first time ever, I was not asked if I was going for a) an interview, or b) a hot date.

The answer to both is neither. But on the plus side, although I may be sitting here alone listening to Christmas songs and reading a thick novel, I *KNOW* I look goooooood doing it...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Love nor money

The sheer fact that I'm writing a blog entry today, on what should be the Holy day of the mighty Xbox, should be enough to let you know that once again "the best laid plans of mi-"

I think you know the rest.

So I am without Xbox. Sans Xbox. I have no box of the X. Basically because the comics shop sold out of the bundle pack I wanted, and I didn't want a different combo deal with a different game that I pretty much know I won't like. But that's OK, because they're going to get me another one in, probably for Monday, and you know that they say about absence making Jane Fonda.

Henry Fonda?


Something like that. So I'm biting my lip and clenching my butt cheeks in anxiety, because I'd really worked myself up to getting it today in an uber-nerdy sort of way.

Maybe I should hyper-ventilate into a paper bag?

On the plus side, it does give me a bit of time to catch up on some things I've been meaning to do, chiefly finish reading I am Charlotte Simmons. Did you know that Tom Wolfe won the Bad Sex in Fiction Award for that book in 2004? I read that scene (at least I presume it was that scene) a couple of days ago. Charlotte described her boyfriend's penis as a ball-peen hammer, which struck me as a slightly unsual description for that particular part of the male anatomy, but no worse than a baby's arm, I suppose.

So, yes, I'll hit Charlotte again (not literally), polish her off (again, not literally), and move on to one of the other books I've got sitting in my stack. Probably the Star Trek Manga anthology, because I know one of the writers (he used to write for me on the Star Trek Fact Files) and he's eager to know what I think.

So... um, this is me... Xbox-less... signing off for today...

Oh, hang on, Scrubs is just about to start. Awesome!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Loitering with intent

"The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."

As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm currently hankering after an Xbox 360. In fact, I intend to buy one tomorrow. At least, that was the plan... until Xfm started givin' 'em away...

To be honest, I wasn't really paying too much attention to this competition on the first day. The basic idea is that they're sending someone out to a specific location in London with four Xboxes, and you have to decipher three ridiculously easy clues to work out where he is. Then you go there and he gives you an Xbox. Nice.

On Monday he was outside Buckingham Palace. On Tuesday in a pub near Leicester Square.

And today, I decided I'd work through lunch, leave early, and bag myself one of those bad boys. I conspired with Martin so that he would call me and let me know the location I needed to head toward; to be honest he wasn't getting anything out of it, except, perhaps, having an extremely happy Tim bouncing around the office tomorrow. So, at 15:30 I left the office and tubed it up to Leicester Square.

And what did I do then? Well, I loitered outside Xfm's office like a stalker, of course (I figured that it was quite possible I might see Xbox chappy staggering out with the four machines, and I could then tail him - a bit like how Marty follows Biff in Back to the Future Part II).

So I stood there, rather close to Joan Collins' handprint.

And I stood there.

And I stood there.

After about 25 minutes, while I was fiddling with my mobile and acting all nonchalent, a shadowy figure appeared in front of me. Shit, I've been rumbled, was my first thought.

Turned out it was actually Lee. Now, it's always a pleasure to see Lee, although quite understandably on this occasion he was rather intrigued as to why I was lurking in London. So I explained about the Xbox competition.

"How marvellous," he said, although I'm pretty sure he actually meant "standing around on the off-chance of nabbing a stupid games console? I still can't fathom why you don't have a girlfriend, dear boy."

Then he merrily slapped me on the arm, said "do let me know how you get on with that" (i.e. "you're a bit of a twat sometimes"), and scooted off to do important Lee things.

So I went back to my solitary stalking. Then a man came out of Xfm's offices, and looking quite shifty, went and settled on a chair outside a pub.

Ah-ha, I thought!

Suddenly, my phone rang! It was Martin!

"Where do I need to go?" I shouted excitedly!

"Erm, Camden," he replied.

"Bugger," I said. Camden is, you see, not exactly in the immediate vicinity of Leicester Square. They obviously got wise to my plan.

I hung up, and took one last look at the shifty guy outside the pub. Maybe I should just strut up and ask him for an Xbox, I wondered? Then I looked a bit closer, and thought probably best not to. He might steal my iPod.


One post-stalking coffee later and I was walking the streets of Londinium town with the intention of maybe filling the last remaining gaps in my Christmas shopping list and perving over the Xbox stuff in HMV. As I was pounding the streets, I saw the actor Geoffrey Palmer.

Sadly, he was not accompanied by his regular onscreen wife, Dame Judi Dench, but his legendary jowls were in attendance; he looks like he's storing food in his mouth for winter. When he realised that I'd recognised him he quickly looked the other way; I wonder how interested he really was in HMV's seasonal sale? V for Vendetta on DVD for under a tenner, Geoffrey?

He toddled on down the pavement where a young couple pushed passed him and he gave them a bit of a mouthful. Awesome.


Anyway, chances are there won't be a post tomorrow because I fully intend to walk into the comics shop and say "Xbox me up, bitches" (though probably not with the word "bitches" as I don't like to offend), so I'll be playing that all night and through into Friday morning.

To be honest, you're lucky you got this post; Yaz convinced me yesterday to eat some out of date roast potatoes that I had in the freezer, and I was certain I was going to wake up dead this morning.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

When franchises collide!

I was a little bit bored at work this morning, and this was the result.

Oh, sorry, should've said: NERD ALERT!


Yaz and I went to see Hollywoodland this evening. Now, this movie - which is about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of George Reeves, the guy who played Superman in the 1950s - was originally called Truth, Justice, and the American Way, which strikes me as a better title. Seems that they were made to change it by the studio that owns the rights to Superman; they also, apparently, almost made them remove all traces of the name Superman, and the 'S' logo on the costume, from the film. Which, quite frankly, would've made the film a bit odd. Because then he would've just been 'man,' and no one wants to see a film about some random man, do they?


Anyway, it was quite good - more intriguing than entertaining. There was certainly something weird about the way in which George Reeves died, and quite frankly the movie leaves it to the audience to make up their own mind as to what actually happened; some might view this as a bit of a cop-out, but seeing as no one really knows what happened I'm comfortable being left alone to formulate my own conclusions.

And here's a sentence I never thought I'd write: Ben Affleck in good performance shocker.

Good grief, what's next? A movie about tap-dancing penguins?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Blitzing Christmas

First of all, I don't mean blitzing in the WWII stylee. I thought about titling this post 'Blitzen Christmas' with a little pun on the name of one of Santa's little ol' reindeer, but that's exactly what it was: a little pun, barely worth my time, certainly not yours.

So yes, I 'blitzed Christmas' over the weekend. Jo and I had planned to do a monster shop (not "Grrr, arrrgh" monster, just big) for a couple of weeks, and we'd planned an early start. Terrifyingly, and somewhat biblically, my alarm clock went off at nine, and as I hit snooze and rolled over for "another five minutes" the LARGEST CLAP OF THUNDER EVAH rocked my little house to the core. It was like God was commanding me to shop for Christmas. My heart was thumping like a teenage mum chastising her vile offspring; dare I say it was almost worthy of a "save me Tom Cruise!"

So to Kingston we went! We started with a coffee. Well, I did; Jo doesn't drink it, but I bought her an Innocent juicy water which she seemed quite happy with. Then we shopped. We were there for almost six hours, and I came away particularly laden with bags. And just to rub it in for those of you who haven't started (it's only next month - what the hell are you thinking!), I might start wrapping this week.

On the other hand, being so organised does lead to the nagging feeling that I must be forgetting something...


I spent the rest of Sunday finishing off my My Name is Earl DVD boxset, and came to the realization that this is definitely one of my favourite shows - quite possibly my favourite live action comedy ever. It looks vibrant, it's well written and acted, and most of all it's damn funny; I think I'm falling for Jaime Pressly who plays Earl's trailer trash ex-wife Joy.

They even filmed a special 'extra' episode for the DVDs in which Earl is influenced by Stewie Griffin from Family Guy to make a list of all the people he wants to get revenge on.

And who the hell knew Jason Lee actually grew his moustache for the show? It takes serious guts to have something like that on your face for eight months of the year. I expect.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Finally we meet, Meeeeester Bond

Sweatband and I finally got to see Casino Royale last night. And what did I think? Well, to be honest, I preferred The Prestige last week.

Don't get me wrong, Casino Royale is a good film - a very good film, in fact - but I just felt it could've been... better.

My main problems with it were three-fold:

1) It really felt like they'd shoe-horned an action film around the content of the original novel (I haven't read Flemming's original novel, but I somehow doubt it has Bond engaging in a long action sequence to save a prototype jetliner, and a cameo from Richard Branson).
2) And then when you get to the actual poker scenes at the Casino Royale the pace of the film alters noticeably.
3) It was sooooooooo loooooooooong... You know how the final Lord of the Rings movie felt like it had about three or four different endings? Well this was exactly the same (although Bond never went home to Hobbiton). There were at least three instances where I thought the credits were about to start rollings, but nope - then he was off for another action sequence.

There were other niggly things too - particularly the woman who played Vesper Lynd. Everytime she tried to say something serious her voice kept getting deeper and deeper and deeper until she was croaking sentences out as if she was talking while being throttled. Sexy? No.

And as Sweatband pointed out, for a film that the producers claimed was cutting down on gadgets, there were rather a lot of gadgets that were integral to the plot. And possibly the most obvious piece of product placement I've ever seen in my life:

"Nice watch - is it a Rolex?"
"No, it's an Omega." (turn to camera, show watch, apply charming grin)

The villains were all pretty obvious too. There were at least two bad guys who had scars on their faces, which says to me that Bond villains are either pretty clumsy, or it's a rite of passage. Seriously though, facially-scarred villains are becoming something of a cliché, methinks. Although at least I'll be able to recognise them when I'm walking down the high street.

So this makes it sound like I really hated Casino Royale, huh? Well no, I didn't. On the plus side, the action sequences were very well done, and Craig David or Daniel Craig or whatever he's called does make a very good Bond. At several points throughout I wondered how Pierce Brosnan would've handled the film - and I actually found it quite hard to imagine. This is nothing against Brosnan - I might even go so far as to say that he's been my favourite Bond - but this film required someone considerably less suave and considerably more emotionally stunted and violent, which might've come off as something of a character-based handbrake turn if Brosnan had returned. Maybe they should alternate Bonds between different scenes?

All in all then, a solid start to Craig David's Bond career. I'm intrigued to see where they're going to take it from here, as long as for the next one they get a bloody editor to cut about 20 minutes out of the damned thing.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Show me the monkey! Muse at Wembley Arena

Sorry for the lack of an update in the last day or two; I know that Marcosy in particular gets a bit antsy if he doesn't have anything to read. But I've got a good reason! And what is it, you ask?

Why it was Muse at Wembley Arena!

Now, I generally hate Wembley Arena, because it's a bit of an arse to get to, and ... um ... oh yeah - it's a bit of a shithole! In the past I've only dragged myself there if it's someone I REALLY want to see, like David Bowie, and in this instance the very wonderful Muse.

But wait! I was pleased to discover that it is a shithole no more!! They've only been and gone and done it up! The exterior is awash with colourful lights, huge glowsticks, and a new plaza outside that has a super-funky fountain that quickly endeared itself to me by drenching three emo-girls.


So Yaz, Simon, and my good self (well, my self), trotted inside, to be welcomed by a quality pat-down body search the likes of which I have not enjoyed in a while. We then went straight to our seats, which, as the person who booked them, I'm not ashamed to say were SOME OF THE MOST AWESOME SEATS IN THE ENTIRE VENUE.

How good were the seats? Well Simon took a panoramic photo!

(Simon and Yaz, I'm actually not sure you've thanked me quite enough yet...)

Anyway, the support act were The Noisettes. None of us were familiar with their material before the show, and none of us hope to be familiar with their material ever again. They were, how can I put this politely, erm, disjointed at best; none of the three band members seemed to be playing the same song, particularly when the lead singer (who was dressed in a tutu and mismatched silver acrylic leggings with strange facial makeup that made even Yaz suggest that she looked like a Klingon) began to sing 'How much is that doggy in the window' during a guitar solo.

Bizarre. It is worth noting, however, that the drummer looked just like Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson.

Between the end of The Noisettes and THE MAIN EVENT, all three of us began playing around with our phones. It seems that Yaz and Simon have the ability to take photos and surround them with amusing frames. Such as this 'gem.'

Hmmm... So, after much hilarity (ha), it was time for THE MAIN EVENT, and to the strains of 'Take a Bow' the Muse boys hit the stage. Matt Bellamy, resplendant in white was as engaging and exciting to watch as ever - without a doubt the best frontman of any modern group; he strutted, he postured, he slid across the stage on his knees (and almost fell off it). It must be noted, however, that the wonderful Wolstenholme handlebar moustache that was in evidence at the Shepherds Bush Empire a few months back was no longer present, although Chris Wolstenholme's constant head-banging did make a return; I seriously worry about that man's neck.

Anyway, from there, they went on to play pretty much the entire Black Holes and Revelations album in track order, finishing up with a killer version of 'Knights of Cydonia' that had us all singing along as the lines to the chorus flashed up on the big screens. Then they came back on and did some classics. Then they went off again. Then they came back and did some more classics - 'Plug in Baby' anyone? 'Feeling Good'? Damn right! And as the gig drew to a close, they released some massive balloons into the crowd, and Matt Bellamy smashed his guitar to pieces.

It was AWESOME. Except for one thing; it was only after the show had ended that I noticed there was a small, flat raised area next to my seat. If I'd realised earlier I might've been tempted to jump up on it and bust some moves like a Muse-tastic podium dancer.

As we left the arena we couldn't help but look up at the new Wembley Stadium and wonder how long it would be before Muse would be playing there - and filling it (and I mean REALLY filling it) with their incredible sounds. Not long, I expect - although it kinda depends on the stadium ever getting finished, I s'pose...


More Pictures? OK!


Oh, I promised you some monkey action in the title didn't I? Another of Simon's amusing photos. Never let it be said that I don't make fun of myself.