Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reading list 2008

It's around this time of year that I wheel out that horribly cliched line "it's that time of year again…" But it is actually that time of year - the time of year for me to reveal my annual reading list!

*waits with baited breath for collective applause*

Is that tumbleweed?

Ahem. Right, so I've fallen a smidgeon short of last year's grand total of 34 books (and waaaaaay short of Dinah's 50+), having read 33 this year. But in my defense I did sort of make an effort to follow through on the promise I made last year to achieve more of a balance between graphic novels and full-on prose, and some books made me think (Freakonomics) until steam came out of my ears, while others were epically long (East of Eden), so all in all I think I did pretty well.

*pats self on back*

As with previous years I'm linking each title to the relevant page (or an alternative if Amazon don't stock it) so you can pop off and buy/read-up a bit more on anything that appeals to you, and I'm once again grading each book like an English teacher marking his students. As you'll see, for the most part the class of 2008 has been pretty darn good (that and the fact that I appear to have exception taste in books). 

*puts on corduroy jacket with leather elbow patches*

Shall we begin?

01. Invincible Ultimate Collection Vol. 3 - Straddling 2007 and 2008's list, this is the third volume in Robert Kirkman's brilliant saga of a teenage superhero: A
02. Heroes Vol. 1 - An enjoyable but somewhat forgettable collection of very short stories based around the TV show; on this basis I wouldn't particularly bother with volume two: B-
03. The Complete Peanuts: 1965-1966 - Another gem of a volume in Fantagraphics' ongoing series collecting every single Peanuts strip: A
04. Birdland - Gilbert Hernandez's Eros Comix tale is a highly-sexed, highly entertaining romp: A
05. Love and Rockets: Perla La Loca - The fifth volume in the new compact Love and Rockets range; pure genius from Jaime Hernandez: A
06. Love and Rockets: Beyond Palomar - Volume six of the compact Love and Rockets range focuses on Gilbert Hernandez's characters, as the title suggests, beyond the town of Palomar: A
07. My Boring-ass Life: The Uncomfortably Candid Diary of Kevin Smith - I liked this, but it needed some serious editing and did drag a bit in places. There's only so many times I can read about someone getting up and taking a dump before the joke wears a little thin. Still, the recollection of how Kevin Smith helped Jason Mewes kick his drug habit was both touching and painfully honest, and made the whole book worth reading: B
08. Northline - The second novel by Richmond Fontaine frontman Willy Vlautin charts the sad tale of a young woman trying to move on with her life. This book came with its own CD soundtrack, and both the prose and the music were utterly heartbreakingly wonderful: A
09. The Learners - Another second novel, this time by Chip Kidd. A wonderful story, and a beautifully packaged little hardback book. I Loved this: A
10. The Worst Years of Your Life: Stories for the Geeked-Out, Angst-Ridden, Lust-Addled, and Deeply Misunderstood Adolescent in all of us - A collection of short stories edited by my favourite contemporary writer, Mark Jude Poirer. Needless to say, his story was the standout tale for me: B
11. Paul goes Fishing - The latest touching and brilliant semi-autobiographical graphic novel in Michel Rabagliati's 'Paul' series: A
12. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - A coming of age story written in the form of letters: B
13. Up Till Now - A touching and insightful memoir from the original Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. It's warm and witty, and painfully heartbreaking when he writes about the death of his wife Nerine: A
14. Invasion of the Mind Sappers - An entertaining graphic novel focusing on three teenagers who suspect the headmaster of their school is an alien: B-
15. Freakonomics - Stephen D. Levitt and Steven J. Dubner put a unique spin on economics; interesting concepts, but it eventually becomes a tad repetitious: B-
16. The Education of Hopey Glass - Jaime Hernandez's latest collection of Locas stories. Sheer brilliance: A
17. Amor Y Cohetes - The seventh and final volume in the new compact Love and Rockets reprints collects the non Locas/Palomar stories from Los Bros Hernandez. It's worth the money just for Jaime's wonderful Rocky Rhodes tales: A+
18. Bottomless Belly Button - Dash Shaw's very thick, very good graphic novel about three grown-up kids who learn that their parents are getting a divorce after 40 years of marriage: A
19. Snuff - Chuck Palahniuk's latest book is something of a return to form after two horrifically bad books, but the story seemed a bit stretched in places and is still nowhere near as good as some of his earlier work: C+
20. The Complete Peanuts: 1967-1968 - Another beautiful collection of Charles Schulz's masterpiece: A
21. The Shadow of the Sun - Polish journalist Ryszrd Kapuscinski recounts some of his exploits on the African continent. Not my usual fare, but a fascinating read nontheless: B
22. Knockemstiff - A fantastic collection of gritty, interconnected short stories by Donald Ray Pollock. I loved this book: A+
23. Love and Rockets: New Stories #1 - The latest volume of Love and Rockets adopts a new, annual graphic novel-sized format and gets off to a cracking start. Genius: A+
24. East of Eden - Some classics are never as good as you expect them to be, but John Steinbeck's epic saga of the Trask and Hamilton families is a beautifully written story populated by wonderfully engaging characters. Simply incredible: A+
25. The Three Paradoxes - Paul Hornschemeier's autobiographical graphic novel weaves three separate storylines into the tale of a father and son taking a walk together. Brilliant: A
26. Whoa Nellie! - A Love and Rockets book focusing on the world of lady-wrestling. As I've come to expect from Jaime Hernandez, this book is beautifully drawn, and brilliantly written: A
27. Superman: Last Son - If only all Superman's comic book adventures were as good as this tale penned by Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner and his one-time assistant Geoff Johns, maybe I'd still be buying them: B+
28. Abandoned Cars - Tim Lane's beautifully illustrated and brilliantly written collection of film noir-style tales. A superb book: A+
29. Submarine - Joe Dunthorne's debut novel charts the very funny story of a teenage boy coming to terms with love and life while trying to save his parent's marriage: B+
30. I Love You, Beth Cooper - The debut novel by former Simpsons writer Larry Doyle feels like little more than a padded-out screenplay, and is thus greatly disappointing. Maybe the forthcoming movie will be more satisfying: C+
31. Speak of the Devil - Gilbert Hernandez spins a gripping tale of a peeping tom and a spate of grisly murders: A
32. Fair Weather - Joe Matt's brilliant autobiographical graphic novel tells the tale of a weekend from his childhood. I liked it so much that I can't wait to checkout some of his other books: A
33. Of Mice and Men - I finish off the year with confirmation that I am now a full-on Steinbeck junkie. Apparently I was the only person who didn't get to read this book for GCSE English at school, but I've rectified that now! A stunning tale, and a true classic: A

So there we have it - a rather cracking collection of books, I think you'll agree. And as this is my last post of space-year 2008, I'd like to take the opportunity to wish you, dear readers reader, a very happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year. May 2009 bring you everything you wish for yourself and more!

*bows theatrically and departs stage left*

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008: The year in reviews

Well would you look at that: it's that time of year again where I cast my eye(s, I do have two don't ya know) back over the stuff I've liked over the past 12 months, and make a frowny face at the stuff that I didn't like - although to be honest that could just be the result of gas from the leftover turkey. Either way we shall find out in my REVIEW OF THE YEAR!!!

Let's crack on!


03. Abandoned Cars by Tim Lane

From the first time I saw this book I instinctively knew that I was going to enjoy it. This graphic novel collection of film noir-style short stories is both brilliantly told and beautifully illustrated. There's an air of melancholy about the stories it tells, punctuated throughout with a dark humour - and (I kid you not) a series of cut-out standees, from the local tramp to two versions of Chuck Berry. And by no means least, it's also a superbly packaged book that is a joy to behold. This is Tim Lane's first collection of stories, and on this basis alone I can't wait to see what comes next (check out his blog here).

02. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
2008 is the year I discovered - horrifically late, I hasten to add - the work of John Steinbeck. I dived in at the deep end with all 700-odd pages of East of Eden … and loved every minute of it. I don't really know where to start in an attempt to try to tell you how much I loved this book, and I'm pretty sure it's all been covered before. Basically, it's one of the most epic stories I've ever come across, spanning decades in the lives of the Trask and Hamilton families; I was surprised to discover that the film (which I saw a few months before reading the book) covers only the last 200 or so pages of the book. And what surprised me was that it was an incredibly easy book to read; I thought it might be quite a difficult read, but Steinbeck's prose is so descriptive and light that I tore through the pages like a tornado through a cornfield. And I loved it so much that I've now got two more Steinbeck novels sitting in my book stack. Basically, if you've never read East of Eden I implore you to buy, beg, or borrow a copy (I don't condone stealing - sorry). It genuinely is a book that everyone should read.

01. Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
I found this book during a week off work when I just happened to catch sight of the cover. It was on display on the staircase in Borders in Kingston, and I was immediately drawn to it (I heartily disagree with the whole 'don't judge a book by its cover' thing); it was a hardback book made of thick, rough cardboard, but the cover had been cut down to the same level as the page block, which I thought was pretty cool. I read the synopsis, liked the sound of it, and so I bought it (a signed copy, no less). Then I left it on my book stack for a few weeks. When I finally got around to reading it I was completely blown away. Knockemstiff is a collection of interconnected short stories focusing on the inhabitants of the small town of Knockemstiff, going all the way back to the mid 20th century and coming pretty much bang up to date. Like Abandoned Cars, the stories are dark - and in this case often unrelentingly grim - but shot through with humour, while the characters are imperfect, rough, and painfully human. You know you've found a great book when you can't put it down; I must've got through this in just a handful of days. It was an absolute joy to read (check out the author's website here).

(Honourable mentions go to The Three Paradoxes by Paul Hornschemeier which I loved, the immense and gripping Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw, The Learners by Chip Kidd which continued the story of art school graduate Happy from his previous book The Cheese Monkeys, and, of course, Fantagraphics Books' ongoing The Complete Peanuts series. A special mention also goes to anything Love and Rockets related: after naming books by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez as my number one choices over the last couple of years I decided it was time to give everyone else a chance this year. Nevertheless, their books, from the final installment in the new compact edition reprints range to Jaime's The Education of Hopey Glass and the first volume of Love and Rockets: New Stories remain among my very favourite books and I really do suggest you check 'em out)


03. Shine a LightI love the Rolling Stones, and I love cinema, so a Rolling Stones concert movie was pretty much two hours of heaven for me. Between rattling through all the hits you could want along with a load of more obscure, but nevertheless brilliant numbers (I *love* their version of Just My Imagination for example), and the sight of Mick Jagger dry-humping Christina Aguilera, this was the next best thing to actually being at a Stones concert (but with better seats and cheaper tickets). And you know a concert movie succeeds when you feel like applauding between songs, eh? 

02. Half Nelson
I recorded this film off the telly back in the summer, and had it sitting around on my PVR for months. Finally, around late September I had nothing better to do so I thought I'd give it a whirl, figuring that if I didn't enjoy it I'd turn it off and delete it. Turns out it was brilliant. Half Nelson is about an inner-city school teacher (Ryan Gosling, he of Young Hercules fame) who gets caught smoking crack by one of his pupils (stunningly portrayed by newcomer Shareeka Epps). She, in an unrelated series of events, gets drawn into the world of drug dealing, ultimately leading to their paths crossing when she winds up selling drugs to her teacher. It's a well written, sublimely-acted story that's obviously rather dark in places and doesn't pull any punches, but it's ultimately about redemption. It's so good, in fact, that I actually asked for it on DVD for Christmas and I'm genuinely looking forward to watching it again.

01. The Dark Knight
Oh come on, how could I possibly pick anything else as my favourite movie of the year? The Dark Knight propelled the Batman mythology way beyond it's comic book origins, transforming it into a stunning, epic crime thriller that just happened to have a guy dressed as a bat in it. It's a complex, multi-layered film that demands your attention and engages your brain like few other summer movies. Beyond the wonderful story, of course, The Dark Knight is a perfectly cast movie; Christian Bale is pretty much the perfect Batman - strong, intense, conflicted - while the supporting cast - Michael Caine, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman - may not all be the biggest 'star' names, but they're all perfect for their roles. Most memorable of all, though, is Heath Ledger's Joker, a sadistically brilliant take on the character that made me all but forget Jack Nicholson's version from the 1989 Tim Burton movie. It's a shame we'll never get to see him reprise the role. To sum up, the 1989 Batman movie has long been one of my favourite films; The Dark Knight is an immeasurably better film. If the Batman comics were as gripping as this I'd more than likely still be buying them…

(Honourable mentions go to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which I know pissed off a lot of Indy fans with its *ahem* unusual ending, but it was an enjoyable roller coaster of a movie getting to that conclusion, and was worth the price of admission just for the first 15 minutes or so. What else? Oh yeah, Iron Man was good fun, and I'd like to defend The X-Files: I Want to Believe which in my humble opinion was a compelling little thriller rather than an action blockbuster and suffered for being released at completely the wrong time of year. Any others? Oh - the Star Trek trailer because *NERDGASM!*)

TV Shows!

03. One Tree Hill
Here's something I didn't expect: One Tree Hill fast-forwarded four-and-a-bit years and became one of the best shows I'd watched in a long time. I'd always enjoyed it, but more in a 'it's on, I'll watch it' sense; with the fifth season I was riveted to the screen, and eagerly awaiting each episode. OK, there were a few cliches scattered around (Nathan getting injured, loosing out on his career as a basketball player, growing his hair and getting all grumpy), and it dipped a bit towards the end of the season, but I'm willing to forgive that because the first half was really bloody good. Even the little kid playing Nathan and Halley's son wasn't annoying! I can't wait for the sixth season to start over here…

Do you think any of them got prosecuted for defacing the basketball court? I'd say at least a few hours of community service were in order…

02. Smallville
I've been a fan of Smallville since it started; it's fun, bright, and well-written, and the seventh season, which I've just watched on DVD, really did serve to remind me why I like it so much. The series has moved far beyond it's original 'meteor freak of the week' plotlines, and now delivers complex story arcs that play out over many episodes - and often across entire seasons. And the cast of characters has expanded to keep everything fresh as the years go by. Last year Green Arrow was introduced, and this season brought us another familiar face: Kal El's cousin, Kara. Laura Vandervoort ably took on the part played most famously back in the 80s by Helen Slater (who herself made two guest appearances on Smallville as Clark's Kryptonian birth mother, Lara), albeit with a bit more sass and cleavage. And of course everything that I previously loved about Smallville returned; the worsening relationship between Clark and Lex, tech-wizard Chloe and her brash cousin and future Supes-squeeze Lois, and my future wife Kristen Kreuk as Lana. All in all, top stuff.

01. Gilmore Girls
Go on, I don't care! Brand me a teenage girl! WHATEVER! But wait! Before you do, let me justify why I think Gilmore Girls is such a great series. I'd known of this show for a long time, but never seen it before catching an episode on E4 back in August. Since then I've been recording them every day, and we're now just a few episodes away from the finale. I don't know what I'll do without my daily dose of Stars Hollow shenanigans. Gilmore Girls is such a warm-hearted series - when I first watched it I was stunned that there was so little conflict in it, guessing that it would be more like The OC or One Tree Hill. But no - it's more like a gentle comedy with the humour arising from the characters that populate Stars Hollow (a town in which, I'd like to add, I would very much like to live), and in particular the Gilmore Girls themselves - Lorelai and Rory. Their fast-talking, often nonsensical dialogue is something to behold, with Lauren Graham in particular being an absolute joy to watch. Gilmore Girls is the televisual equivalent of a comfort blanket: flick on the TV, curl up on the sofa, and escape to an idyllic world where dogs are called Paul Anka and Friday night dinners are always … highly amusing. I think it says it all when I tell you that I've managed to convince about five skeptical friends to watch Gilmore Girls, and they were all hooked after one episode.

The ongoing rumours of a Gilmore Girls movie have me squealing with excitement.

(Honourable mentions go to Flight of the Conchords which was HI-larious, Boston Legal, which continues to be both intelligent and very funny, Battlestar Galactica, which maybe isn't quite as good as it used to be but is still miles better than most other shows on TV, Supernatural which remains highly entertaining and massively underrated, Josh Schwartz's Gossip Girl and Chuck which weren't quite up to the high standards of The OC but were still highly entertaining, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles which all of a sudden got very, VERY good. Finally, a special shoutout goes to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia; this was very close to being in my top three, but I ultimately decided to bump it to honourable mentions because I thought One Tree Hill's radical improvement deserved to be highlighted, while IASIP has always been consistently brilliant - as well as very crude, and very funny. And in Charlie Day I think I've found a new hero.)


OK, let's pause here. From what I can remember I've actually only been to three gigs this year. Well, four, but two of them were Nada Surf, so I kinda count them as one. The other two were Panic at the Disco and The Walkmen. That being the case, I'm going to replace the Gigs category with an Albums one, because I've bought *loads* of albums this year.

(But if you were interested, I'd order the gigs in this way: 03. The Walkmen, 02. Nada Surf, 01. Panic at the Disco)

Where were we? Ah, yes!


03. Shine a Light by The Rolling Stones
This is the soundtrack to the Rolling Stones concert movie that took third place in the movies category, and pretty much everything I said about it there stands here - except that you can't see it, but you can sing along to it in the car. Good times.

02. Raise the Dead by Phantom Planet
As I said in a previous post, 2008 was both a good and bad year for Phantom Planet fans; good because they released their fourth album, Raise the Dead, bad because they split up went on indefinite hiatus. But Raise the Dead definitely saw them go out on a high, because it was packed full of perfect pop-rock songs. What I love about Phantom Planet is that each of their albums has had a distinct feel, and you always got the impression that they were progressing as musicians and as a band, and were eager to try new things; their first album was very bright and breezy, the second more melodic and characterful, while the third album was a proper rock effort - very loud and thrashy, but still full of cracking tunes. Raise the Dead feels like it draws together all the strings from the previous albums, but adds its own distinct flavour as well. I think it's their best effort yet, and it's a damn shame they're calling it a day (if only because I never got to see them perform live again - I caught them back in 2005 and it remains one of my favourite gigs).

01. Pretty. Odd by Panic at the Disco
Let's make no bones about it: Pretty. Odd, the second album from Panic at the Disco, is one of my favourite albums. Period. Well, actually Raise the Dead is too, but Panic at the Disco made such a 360 from their previous album with this one that it really seemed like you were listening to a completely different band. And initially I wasn't too sure what to think. I knew that I loved the first single, Nine in the Afternoon, but I think I was expecting something a bit more like what I'd heard on A Fever You Can't Sweat Out. But after a couple of listens something clicked and I just *got* it. And since then it's been a permanent fixture on my CD player in the car. Well, up until the weekend just gone when I bought Panic's new live album - which is, y'know, full of live versions of Pretty. Odd's many wonderful tracks.

(Honourable mentions go to The Walkmen's latest album, You and Me, White Denim's Workout Holiday, anything and everything by Hotel Lights, and Jason Mraz's latest, We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things because it's got the beautiful song I'm Yours on it, and iTunes were selling a bonus edition with an entire extra live album for just £6.99!) 

Other stuff!
Well, I finally got my hands on an iPhone which continues to astound me with how brilliant it really is, and even the arrival of iPhone 3G three months after I bought mine didn't upset me because the one I have does absolutely everything I could want and more; Scrabble on Facebook - I'm completely addicted; Westfield - because it's always nice to have Europe's largest inner-city shopping centre 15 minutes walk away from work; writing - because I think for a while there earlier in the year I lost my novel-writing mojo, but I totally got it back during the summer, and now I keep getting ideas that I need to jot down; and finally, friends, family and blog-pals, because it's always a pleasure to chill out and spend time with your nearest and dearest, ain't it?

And the loosers…
God, Heroes - the first season was awesome, but it's all been massively downhill since then. Season Two was d-i-r-e, and while Season Three's pulled it back a bit, it's still nowhere near as good as it was, or should be; similarly, My Name is Earl really dropped the ball this year, so much so that what was once one of my favourite shows became a complete chore to watch - let's hope it improves with its fourth season; Facebook scrubbing Scrabulous, then making me wait months until unleashing the official version - which I can't play with people in America because of some rights issue! And finally: the credit crunch, because no-one wants to turn on the TV and hear about people losing their jobs by the thousands, and surely we all worry enough about money as it is?

So there we have it - my winners and losers of 2008. Imaginary trophies of rainbows and kitten sneezes are winging their way to the winners, while jiffy bags full of smelly bum-gas are on their way to the losers. No one goes home empty-handed here - good times!

Monday, December 29, 2008


Between the Joker t-shirt I got for Christmas…

… and the purple shoes I bought in the sales yesterday (a smidgeon under 30 quids!)…

… I'm feeling like I'm in the mood for mischief. Anyone up for helping me practice my pencil trick?

(To be honest, I haven't got a clue what those shoes will go with - I just liked them. Damn you, January sales!)

Kicking up a stINQ

So, as you might've read in a previous post, I've been playing around with the INQ1 phone I've been asked to trial for nearly two weeks now. Well, kinda…

Everything started swimmingly at first. The phone was up and running in seconds, and as per my usual rule of not bothering to read the instructions at first (I'm a keen believer that technology should be intuitive to use, and I shouldn't have to read and memorise reams and reams of some dry manual in order to use it properly) I began fiddling around with little clue as to what I was actually doing. Fortunately, the INQ1 turned out to be pretty easy to use, thanks mostly to a handy little button located about halfway down on the right-hand side that scrolls through the onscreen widgets, such as Facebook, Skype, Messenger, and so on.

On the downside, as I noted in my earlier post, for a phone that runs on a 3G network, I was damned if I could get a 3G signal on that first day. I ended up assuming all manner of weirdly-contorted shapes (half thinking that at some point I might hear Dale Winton shout "BRING ON THE WALL!") in an effort to get the little 3G icon to appear, but to no avail. This is, of course, not the phone's fault, and is instead more to do with 3 Mobile's network coverage. Fortunately, someone somewhere must've heard my curses and realligned a satellite or something because the next day it was fine.

And after that everything was pretty groovy. After accessing Facebook for the first time, the INQ1 quickly and effortlessly imported all of my Facebook contacts, and, inexplicably, all of my Messenger ones too; where the hell it plucked them from I don't know, but it was nevertheless very cool. And from that moment I became Timmy Two-phones. Comparing the INQ1 with my iPhone showed that the little-phone-that-could can, in fact, do a lot of the things the mighty Jeebus phone can … just a little clunkier. And I don't mean that in a disrespectful way, it's just that the iPhone's web interface, for example, is so incredibly slick that it becomes second nature to just poke your finger against the screen to access links and other pages. The INQ1, however, requires you to use a series of four navigation buttons to move around a webpage - just like all other web-enabled, non-touchscreen mobiles. And in all honesty, it does this pretty well; I've quite happily played around on the internet on it for quite a substantial period of time. 

On the downside, like the iPhone the INQ1 screen does flip to a horizontal perspective if you tilt the phone to the side. This took me a bit by surprise at first because it initially seemed like something of a temperamental feature with little rhyme or reason as to when it would actually work. I got used to it, though.

What I really like, though, is the fact that the phone is permanently logged on to Facebook, and I pretty quickly found myself instinctively reaching for the INQ1, rather than my iPhone, when checking my profile and those of my mates. Not because it did anything particularly better than the iPhone, just that it saved me from having to put in my username and password all the time. Handy, eh? I should really check out the Facebook app for the iPhone to see if that offers similar functionality when I give the INQ1 back…


I met up with a couple of friends over the weekend before Christmas, and decided to take the opportunity to see what they thought of the INQ1. On Saturday afternoon I caught up with my long-lost running pal Sweatband for coffee. Sweatband is an existing 3 Mobile customer, and uses Skype for work. She was pretty taken with the INQ1, particularly the built-in Skype, because it would be very handy for her to use while working, and the Facebook functionality, because she's addicted to Facebook. She also thought it was a pretty cool little phone and was impressed with the price, but she did mention that she's had similar problems with 3's network coverage; apparently, when she calls her mum she has to stand with her back to her front door, because that's the only way she can get a signal at home. And it's become a standing joke with her colleagues that if anyone calls her, her phone will cut out at least once during the call due to a dropped signal. Hmmm…

The next day I hooked up with Best Mate Jo for our pre-Christmas pancake brunch-fest. While waiting for our pancakes to arrive I showed her the INQ1 and she was similarly impressed with it, particularly the whole Facebook thing (I'm seeing a pattern here).

An aside:

Which makes me think - at what point did we stop using our phones to actually make calls? Seriously, I very rarely call anyone, and I barely scratch the surface of my monthly minutes. I tend to text more often than not - and since I got my iPhone I find myself emailing a whole lot more. 

Of course, since I got my iPhone, I've also found myself using lightsabres and Zippo Lighters a hell of a lot more too…

So, Best Mate Jo rather liked the phone, and we subsequently wasted a bit of time playing around with the camera and the INQ1's ability to upload photos straight to Facebook, which is a cool and very easy to use little feature; she took a picture of me salivating in anticipation of pancakes, and I took one of her wearing panda earmuffs which I won't post a link to for fear that she might punch me (but if you're my friend on Facebook - and I didn't tell you this – it's in my photo album: shhhh!).

Unfortunately, things started to go a little pear-shaped a few days after that. Basically, I think it was on Christmas Eve, I was round Sparky Ma and Pa's, and was checking Facebook just before heading home. When I was done I pushed the upper part of the INQ1 shut - and the phone promptly turned itself off. Thinking it was just a little bug I turned it back on, and thought nothing more of it. On Christmas Day, though, it did the same thing again - and then wouldn't turn on for a few minutes. Eventually I got it to start up again, but then when I slid the phone open it turned off again. In frustration I left it off and went back to playing with my new toys watching the Queen's speech.

On Boxing Day it continued going absolutely mentalist on me, and any attempt to either open or close the phone had to be done as gently as possible - i.e. using two-hands and looking like I was stuck in some kind of weird slow-motion time warp. Over the weekend I fired it up again, and for a while everything seemed to be groovy again - until this morning. As regular readers will know, I'm damned awful at getting up in the morning and regularly use two alarms (an alarm clock and the alarm on my iPhone). Not wanting to sleep my entire Christmas break away, I've also been adding the INQ1 to the alarm clock mix, a duty it has been performing very well. This morning, however, having already been woken by my iPhone, I was witness to the most, well, alarming sight: the INQ1's screen flashing away like it was off its tits at an illegal rave - and not one jot of sound coming out of it. As you might imagine, this was a rubbish alarm, but in all fairness it was a rather beguiling light show.

To be honest, it actually looked like it was trying to turn on, but seeing as I'd actually left it on all night I don't know how that problem might arise. Anyway, to sum up, there's clearly something wrong with it. Seeing as my impression of the INQ1 had been pretty favourable up to the point it started going wrong, I can only hope that my one is an exception to the rule, and that everyone else who's got one is having fun with it.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

It's not easy being green

Wasn't it Kermit that said that? Well, turns out he was wrong, the lying toad frog, as I discovered a few days ago.

One of the presents I bought Sparky Ma for Christmas, y'see, was a box of stuff from Lush (I know, you don't need to say it: I buy great presents), and as I hinted at waaaaaay back HERE, I got some freebies when I bought it. The freebies were a little bit of soap, some little sample pots of stuff, and a Santa-shaped bath bomb, and I kept them for myself because, well, I wanted them.

Anyway, one of the little sample pot thingys was a face mask. Now, I've never tried a face mask before, but all this cold weather has been wreaking havoc with my money-maker, and I'm up for trying most things once, so I thought I'd give it a whirl in the privacy of Sparky Towers. 

My hour-and-a-bit of man-pampering kicked off after I got in from a quality, coffee-fueled run Tuesday evening. I began by filling the bath, then standing back and hoofing the Santa bath bomb in like a grenade. Rather than explode and take out the tub and part of the wall, it just fizzed a bit, then turned the water an unexpected and somewhat alarming shade of yellow. It was a bit like a bath-sized Berocca, I s'pose.

Here's the little fella before detonation.

Look at that! How yellow is that?! It looks like someone had a massive bladder malfunction in my bath.

After glancing suspiciously at the yellow water I was about to climb into (but intrigued by the hints of cinnamon and chocolate it gave off), I picked up the little pot of green face mask gunk, looked at that a bit suspiciously as well, then shrugged my shoulders and rubbed it all over my face. Two minutes later I looked, quite frankly, a tad ridiculous, and very, very vibrantly green. Then I got in the bath, trying desperately to ignore the fact that I was reclining in warm yellow water and looked like one of the Poddington Peas.

So, anyway, half an hour later I'm lying there and I realise my face has gone rigid. I poke my eyebrow and it's all solid and crusty. I feel like I've been transformed into a monster or the Hulk or something. As a boy, I find the prospect of being transformed into a monster or the Hulk very exciting - certainly more so than being one of the Poddington Peas. 

Intrigued by my transformation and troubled by the fact that I was by this time sitting in luke-warm yellow water, I lifted myself out of the bath and looked in the mirror. I was awesomely green. I stood there staring at my greenness for a good few minutes, then decided that unless I was going to head out onto the streets of West London to scare some chavs and hoodies, I'd have to take it off sometime. Taking it off was, however, a little bit more troublesome than putting it on - mainly because washing crusty green stuff off my face was a new experience for me (unless you count the cleanup operation after that epic sneezing fit I had when I was seven).

Splashing water on my face didn't really do too much, aside from making me look a bit less like the Hulk, and a bit more like this, which is, y'know, pretty cool:

This of course led to another 10 minutes or so of me leering into the mirror and saying things like "kill … the Bat-man" Joker-stylee. Because, y'know, I'm a boy and that's what we do.

Eventually, however, I did manage to wash all the green stuff off. Well, most of the green stuff; I figure there's still some in my ears and up my nose, but I expect it's doing some good stuff in there. Because it totally did good stuff to the outside - my face is all smooth and clean and fresh! I'm not kidding - it's *amazing*! I'm totally gonna do it again if I get the chance (i.e. more freebies, I don't think I'd have the man-guts to go buy some), although I'd go for a less vibrant colour next time - maybe something in white so I could really go for that Joker look.

Anyway, I guess you're wondering if I took a picture fully Hulked-up. The answer is yes, but having reviewed it, there is no way I'm going to publish it on the interwebs. Mainly because I have a reasonably gormless look on my face as a result of my towel falling down at the very moment I took it. Seriously, I like to think that I'm an educated guy, but somewhere along the line I failed to learn how to wrap a towel around my waist so it doesn't fall down. Either that or Hollywood has lied to me; I'm pretty sure if I was in a movie where I just walked out of the shower with a towel wrapped round my waist and the scene called for me to walk up behind Kristen Kreuk or Autumn Reeser, kiss her on the cheek while she made me breakfast, and exchange some meaningful dialogue I wouldn't be able to do it without getting an erection my towel falling down. 

Where was I? Oh yeah, but to prove that I did Hulk-up, here's a tease.

Don't even try to argue - that's all you're getting.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Step into Christmas

So, the big day is nearly upon us. Are you excited? Have you all been good little girls and boys? I haven't have, so I'm expecting hoping for a massive haul of presents lovely family Christmas.

Anyway, it feels like it's been a while since I last wrote anything, so let me cast my mind back over the last few days…

Ooo, I went to see Harry Hill's TV Burp being recorded last Thursday with Willowc and Yazzle Dazzle. I'm a massive fan of this show; for all you Johnny Foreigners reading who might not have a clue what it's all about, TV Burp is a hilarious show that must be made on a budget of about £1.50 and whatever loose change could be found down the back of the sofa, in which Harry Hill looks back over the week's tellybox offerings and basically rips it to shreds in a wry and amusing fashion.

Talking of which…

An aside:

Isn't it funny how X-Factor looser Eoghan Quigg looks like Wicket the Ewok?


What else have I done? Oh yes, Best Mate Jo and I went for brunch on Sunday at Frankie and Benny's in Kingston. We'd been talking about doing the whole breakfast/lunch thing there for a while, and without any other idea what to do for a Christmas meet-up we decided to do that. We both went the American route with pancakes and maple syrup, which were *amazing*, then headed over to Starbucks in Borders for coffee and hot chocolate, and a bit of ridiculousness with the INQ1 phone I'm testing (more on that when I do my next INQ1 update).

Since then … well, actually I've pretty much done nothing since then. I had the Smallville Season Seven boxset to watch, which I've just finished and by god it was good, and I've done one seven-and-a-bit-K run and intend to do another one tonight (I figure I should do at least two good distance runs before what will probably be a week of sitting on my ass, where my only exercise will be shifting from one butt cheek to the other, if only to convince myself that I've made an effort).

Talking of which, Nike sent me an update on my running this year.

Interesting … or not, depending on your point of view. Either way, I'm going to look into this in more detail:

Runners with my pace: 108,389. Oh. That makes me feel so … middle of the pack.
My average pace: 6'01". That's, um, pitiful. I did the last Dysart Dash in 54 minutes, 24 seconds, so that was either an anomalous time brought on by the pack mentality and sheer adrenaline, or I've been slacking off a bit since then. I'm going for the latter.
My furthest run: 16th September. Ah yes, that was the night at running club where I think the coach was trying to kill me.
Litres of petrol saved: 75.5. This is a useless statistic - I don't run to work, and it's not like I'm in the habit of going out for a 6k drive a couple of nights per week. 
Number of calories burned: 32,591. That's more like it! I'm pretty sure that's the equivalent of burning off a teenage elephant. Good times!
Favourite day to run: Sunday. I'd hardly call it 'favourite'; more like 'day least likely to come up with an excuse not to run.'

All in all, then - and despite the fact my little Nike+ Mini-Me thing is going mental over there on the right - I think I'm probably a little bit disappointed with that information. I started using my Nike+ back towards the end of February, and it's taken me till now to run just over 500k. My regular route is around 6k, and I try to do a 7.5k run at least once a week, so if I can get back into the routine of running three times per week I should be able to run 20k every week, and 100k every five weeks. There we go - there's a New Year's resolution right there! And I might just tap that into my Nike+ webpage so I feel guilty if I don't do it…

An aside:

YES! The BBC just reported what I'd already guessed - COFFEE IS THE SOURCE OF MY POWERS! In related news, I totally over-guestimated how much coffee I had left in a packet of Starbucks House Blend and after two MA-HOO-SIVE mugs of it I'm now totally and utterly wired. And by wired I mean it feels like time is slowing down around me, and I'm vibrating at an incredibly high frequency. And by MA-HOO-SIVE mugs I mean it was like a jacuzzi of coffee. Me and two supermodels could totally have chilled out in it. On the other hand, though, what is up with the coffee in the picture on the BBC page? It's yellow! Who's ever had yellow coffee?! Unless, y'know, you pissed off your barista and he weed in your latte…

Well, I think that's about it for me for the next couple of days at least. Have a very happy and healthy Christmas - and if you're still looking for that perfect last minute gift might I recommend THESE. If I'd thought about it sooner I'd totally have gotten some just to freak out the parents when I roll up my sleeves on Christmas Day - y'know, because I'm nothing if not a devilish little bugger…

Thursday, December 18, 2008

INQy fingers

Before we begin, let me just say: kudos to the first person who calls me a media whore in the comments section.

Right, remember last month when I was invited to a mysterious party in East London which turned out to be the launch of a new mobile phone with social networking features? Well, it seems that schmoozing at a launch party and nabbing some freebies wasn't quite the end of the story. A few days back I got an email asking if I'd like to take part in a trial of the INQ1 phone. In no way inspired by the horrific-looking new Jim Carrey film Yes Man (the Danny Wallace book is much better - I have no qualms about saying that without having seen the movie), I said "yes."

Then I looked a bit guiltily at my iPhone and promised that I wasn't cheating.

So yesterday, having finished work for Christmas at midday and being footloose and fancy-free not only for the rest of the day, but until the beginning of January, I rocked up-town to pick up the phone. An hour and-a-bit later and I was strolling down the Goldhawk Road with a brand new INQ1 box in my grubby little mits, increasingly conscious of the fact that I was walking down the Goldhawk Road with a brand new INQ1 box in my grubby little mits.

An aside:

There was some proper exciting action in Tesco Metro on the Goldhawk Road the other day. Seems some big hulking dude was trying to shoplift something and the security guard - who, if we're thinking of the classic late 80s comedy Twins, is more Danny DeVito than Arnold Schwarzenegger - totally took him out. According to a witness, he *BAM!* clocked the dude right in the face and sent him flying into the 2-for-1 display of twiglets by the door. By the time the Police arrived - with a TV film crew! - the suspect was out cold on the floor.

This was all very exciting, but it did mean I couldn't get into Tesco to buy any milk.

Anyway, I eventually got home, where I unboxed the INQ1 for a proper gander.

Unlike a lot of mobiles, the INQ1 comes in a pretty funky box with some girl in a boob tube on the top. Good times.

Inside it's all a bit - dare I say it? - iPhone-like, with the phone resting in a transparent plastic tray. Unlike the iPhone packaging, though, the inside of the INQ1's box is waaaay more colourful. This is not a plus or minus. It is just different. 

Here's all the gubbins. It was like Christmas come early. Notice how I tastefully arranged everything on my laminate flooring classic real-wood flooring.

First impressions of the INQ1 are actually pretty good. I don't know why I just wrote 'actually.' It makes it sound like I expected it to be rubbish or something. I didn't; in fact, I didn't have any real preconceived notions of what it would be like. But yeah, having had it for a few hours by this point it's OK. It feels nice in the hand - not too heavy, but suitably sturdy. I'm pretty sure it would survive me accidently sitting on it or something. I have found it a bit weird going back to a phone that uses - as I've taken to calling them over the last few months - an antiquated push-button interface, though. I did actually poke the screen when I first started playing around with it, automatically thinking that it would have a touchscreen when I knew it didn't. I'm glad I realised quickly, though, as I think in a face off between my finger and the screen my finger would've snapped first. 

Either I've got a massive hand or the INQ1 is quite diddy.

Here it is slid open; the increased length of the phone makes my hand look more in proportion here than in the last pic.

The back. Nice etchings. Heh.

Pros so far?

• Nice casing. I particularly like the engraved INQ1 and 3 Mobile logos on the back.
• I've not properly tested it yet, but it's got a 3.2 megapixel camera which would seem to knock iPhone's 2 megapixel one into a cocked hat. I might do a proper comparison at some point…
• The scroll button on the right-hand side of the case provides an easy way of scrolling though the widgets without having to slide the phone open.

And cons?
• The camera also has a button on the right hand side so you don't need to slide the phone open to use it, but it's way too low down for my liking, meaning that I'll likely end up with a shedload of photos of close-up fingers and thumbs, or a chronic case of crip-hand. This might not be a problem for a nimble-fingered teenager, but it is for me.
• My attempts to play PacMan, the exciting-sounding Epicbrain, and log-on to Facebook have all been thwarted by a lack of 3G coverage. Apparently Sparky Towers is some kind of heavily-shielded bunker.
• The web interface is noticeably clunkier than the iPhone's; a smaller screen, no multi-touch … it's a bit like taking a step back in time, and goes to show just how effective and revolutionary Apple's mobile Safari browser really is.

And in that last point lies the kicker: I've been an iPhone user for almost a year now, and it is, quite honestly, the single best device I have ever used in my life. EVAH. So the INQ1 is going up against some pretty lofty competition. And as the guys that gave me it to me asked me to be completely honest in my opinions of it, I fully intend to compare the INQ1 to the mighty Jeebus phone, for better or worse. And yes, there are a couple of things that the iPhone isn't perfect at (hello lack of MMS and video camera functionality, I'm talking about you), so it'll be an interesting comparison, albeit one that will probably leave me mightily confused as I keep trying to slide the iPhone and use a touchscreen on the INQ1.

So, how will I come to a conclusion at the end of my month-long trial? Well, I'll be using a complex points-based system to determine the pros and cons of each phone messing around with both my iPhone and the INQ1 to see how they both cope with the stresses and strains of my hectic lifestyle, which over the next couple of weeks will most likely consist of me watching a vast amounts of telly and shoveling lots of unhealthy food into my cake-hole.

An aside:

Talking of which, I had a Goodfellas pizza for dinner. The cooking instructions said 'cook from frozen. Before cooking, evenly distribute toppings over pizza.' WTF?! HOW?! How the hell am I supposed to distribute toppings that are frozen to the surface of the pizza across the surface of the pizza? What am I supposed to do - use my heat vision to laser them off?! Not only that, but it suggests there's a very devil may care attitude at the Goodfellas factory to the preparation of their pizzas prior to freezing. Why not just sell the toppings separately and I'll do the whole lot myself. Lazy bastards.

To top it off, it was disgusting.

And of course, based on my recent homemade milkshake obsession, the ultimate question will be: does the INQ1, like the iPhone, blend?

Heh heh. Just kiddin'. 

Right - I'm off to phone Willowc using the INQ1. I know she's gone to the cinema and she's notorious for leaving her phone on during films. And the bonus is that she won't know it's me calling.

Let battle commence!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mix CD 2008!

As is by now is traditional, I'm once again slapping a handful of songs on a blank CD and palming them off on some mates as Christmas presents - aren't I a cheap thoughtful little bugger?

For the last couple of years I've given a lot of thought to the mix CDs, and started planning them about mid-November. In a breathtakingly honest moment, I'll admit that I've been a lot less organised this year - but on the other hand, the choice of songs actually came to me quite easily when I did finally sit down to put it all together.

Anyway, I'll stop all the procrastination and just get on with telling you all about the songs, hmmm?

01. If You're into it by Flight of the Conchords
We start with the ridiculous. Thanks to the ever-awesome iPandah, I got right into Flight of the Conchords this year - from the excellent TV show and album, to their debut EP, The Distant Future, which I subsequently hunted down. My choice of favourite Flight of the Conchord's song changes pretty much on a daily basis; sometimes it's Bowie, their inspired homage to, um, David Bowie, other times it's Robots, in which they tell the tale of a robotic uprising destroying humanity. Then it might be the jaunty Prince of Parties, while the next day I can't get enough of the dancehall inspired beats of Boom. If you really pressured me, though, I'd probably cite If You're into it as my favourite, though. It's a cracking little tune - an ode from Brett to his girlfriend Coco that starts out quite sweet and innocent before escalating into fruity hilarity as he suggests that he and Stu, Coco's roommate, could double-team her - if she's into it, of course.

I want Jermaine's little red piano.

02. Ivory Daggers by Phantom Planet
It's been both a good year and a bad year for me as a Phantom Planet fan. Good because they brought out a fantastic new album, Raise the Dead, and iTunes started selling a load of live albums and rarities, bad because, well, they split up in November. Humph! Anyway, this little gem of a song was hidden away on the EP for their song Do the Panic. I loved it from the first time I heard it, thanks to the infectious drum beat it starts with; whenever it comes on my iPhone while I'm walking to Hammersmith at lunchtimes I subconsciously start banging my hand against my thigh in time with the beat - and as it builds it makes me want to break into a run. I do manage to resist the temptation to run through the back roads of Hammersmith, but it is actually a great track to run to (it's responsible for at least a few of the spikes on my Nike+ graph). And it's not just the drumbeat that's infectious - when Alex Greenwald sings "this is a war cry, that's right, raise your hands, wave 'em high" I kinda feel it would be rude not to…

Now, I can't find a video of them playing Ivory Daggers, so I recommend going and checking it out on iTunes or something. In the meantime, here's them playing an acoustic version of the title track from Raise the Dead on guiter and, um, air-conditioning conduits…

03. If You Were a Girl by Simon Dawes
OK, so there's a connection between Phantom Planet and Simon Dawes in that I first heard this song on a video clip made by Phantom Planet, and absolutely fell in love with it. Unfortunately at the time the song was only a demo and wasn't available, so I had to satisfy my love for it by watching the video clip over and over and over again, while checking the band's Myspace page and iTunes every few months to see if it had been released. Imagine my delight a few months back when I found it had been - oh happy days! I'm not kidding when I say I listened to it so many times in the hours after buying it that it immediately shot into my iTunes top 25 played songs list. To be honest, I don't really know what to say about it; it's a just a lovely, lovely track. I'll let it speak for itself in this YouTube clip (the Phantom Planet video I originally heard it on).

And OHMYGOD isn't that kitten cute?

04. The Beginning is the End is the Beginning by Smashing Pumpkins
There's a bit of a ridiculous story to this song. Back in 1997 I bought the CD single for the The End is the Beginning is the End, the Smashing Pumpkins song that was used as the title track for the appalling movie Batman and Robin. Fast forward 11 years and I'm watching the trailer for the Watchmen movie on the internet. Not only is it an amazing trailer, but the song used in it is simply *awesome* and I decide I must have it. A swift bit of Googling later and I discover that it's called The Beginning is the End is the Beginning and it's by the Smashing Pumpkins. For days after I keep meaning to steal Big Bro's Smashing Pumpkin albums to get hold of it, but keep forgetting, and later learn that it's not on any of their albums. In desperation I decide to buy it from iTunes, but just as I'm about to click 'buy now' something - a voice in my head perhaps - stops me. I run to my CD shelves and scour them for I don't know what. Then I find that old single – and The Beginning is the End is the Beginning is one of the B-sides (it's actually a slower version of the A-side, The End is the Beginning is the End)! Imagine my surprise at finding that I owned it all along! Anyway, it's a cracking song; dark, moody, sinister, wonderful.

Nice BacoFoil skirt Billy Corgan's wearing there too.

05. Butterflies by Belasco
Say what you like, but I've discovered quite a lot of awesome bands/songs through my love of teen dramas like The OC. I first heard this song on an episode of One Tree Hill and decided there and then that I had to have it, so I Googled 'songs from One Tree Hill,' found out what it was, and had iTunes'd it up by the end of an advert break. I love the way it starts so slowly and hauntingly, then explodes into life with the singer screaming the lyrics with such conviction. It's a cracking tune. Unfortunately I can't find a YouTube clip of them performing it (hit the link in the heading to go to their Myspace page where you can listen to it, it's third in the list on their music player), so we'll have to make do with another one of their tracks, Chloroform, which is itself a great song, and has a brilliant video.

06. Lake Michigan by Rogue Wave
This is another band I found through my love of teen dramas, as they had songs on the fifth and sixth OC soundtrack albums. I was also lucky enough to get to see them play live earlier this year when they supported Nada Surf at the Scala, and a jolly decent live band they are too. This is a track they performed as part of their session for the wonderful Daytrotter website, where you can download it FOR FREE (hint: go do it!); it's a beautiful acoustic song full of strummed guitars and lovely harmonies, that makes me feel all wistful and relaxed. It reminds me a bit of Sufjan Stevens in that respect, but Rogue Wave have their own distinct sound which I think is really rather special.

One of the dudes in the band looks like Earl from My Name is Earl, but with crazier hair.

07. Let me be the One by Hotel Lights
Anyone by this point doubting my masculinity will be pleased to know that I did not find this song on a teen drama (although one of their other songs has been used on One Tree Hill). I found this band when I was bored at work one day and decided to Google Ben Folds Five (one of my favourite bands back in the day) to find out what had happened to the other two members after they'd split up. Turns out one of them, Darren Jesse, had begun performing under the name Hotel Lights. Now, as I said, I used to love Ben Folds Five, and while I do like Ben Folds' solo stuff I sort of think something is missing when comparing it to the group's albums. Hotel Lights, however, is just amazing. This track is the first song on the EP Goodnightgoodmorning, and it's by turns understated, melancholy, hopeful, uplifting and, well, really rather lovely. Unfortunately, I can't find a YouTube video of it, so let's make do with the video for Blue Always Finds me from his new album.

08. New Country by The Walkmen
My appreciation for this band exploded just a couple of months back when Yazzle Dazzle coerced me into going to see them with her. I'd previously only been familiar with one of their songs, Little House of Savages, but the band I saw on stage that night had so much more going for them then that one catchy song (which they didn't even play). This song is my favourite track off their new album, You & Me; it sounds kinda weary and reflective, and I love the singer's unique, almost heartbroken voice. It's actually quite a simple song when you really listen to it, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's powerful, memorable, and just damn good.

And, BONUS: I found a live version on YouTube!

09. From a Mountain in the Middle of the Cabins by Panic at the Disco
Ah, 2008 - the year in which Panic at the Disco dropped the exclamation mark from their name, made a dramatic change in musical direction, and released Pretty. Odd, one of my very favourite albums EVAH. Admittedly it did take me a couple of listens to really 'get' Pretty. Odd, but from the word go this, along with Nine in the Afternoon, was one of the standout tracks for me. It kind of reminds me of a theme tune to a children's TV show when it begins, but then the melodic, almost lullaby-like chorus begins, followed by the somewhat demanding lyric "if you're going then go!" It's jaunty and likeable, and I never tire of listening to it. 

10. Betterman (with Walmer High School Choir, from Port Elizabeth South Africa) by Pearl Jam
Long before I fully came to appreciate how good Pearl Jam were, there were just a handful of their songs that I liked; Betterman was one of them. This is not the original version of the song, however. Apparently the band did a number of Christmas singles over the course of about 15 years or so (hell, they might even still be doing them now!), and this was on their 2004 one alongside a jaunty cover of the Jackson 5 song Someday at Christmas that kinda has to be heard to be believed. Anyway, this is a gorgeous acoustic version of Betterman that is made even more wonderful by the beautiful harmonies of the Walmer High School Choir from Port Elizabeth in South Africa. I'm not usually a fan of choirs singing on rock songs, but it genuinely works in this stripped down version of the song, contrasting superbly with Eddie Vedder's own voice, and adding an unexpected layer of warmth and emotion.

This isn't the version of Betterman I'm putting on the Mix CD, but the audience singing along to it has pretty much the same effect of sending shivers down your spine (in a good way).

11. The Lakes of Canada by Sufjan Stevens
Hurrah! After saying a couple of weeks ago how much I liked Sufjan Steven's cover of this song by The Innocence Mission I finally managed to track down a copy! There's not really much I can add to what I said in my earlier post - it's just an amazing version of a beautiful song that showcases Sufjan's remarkable voice to great effect. I love the sound he gets that banjo to produce - you'd think there was more than one person playing - and it's just 3 minutes 24 seconds of utter gorgeousness. 


There we go then, another year, another Mix CD. I hope there was at least one song in there that you liked. I'm off to make myself a BacoFoil skirt and watch some more teen dramas to get ideas for next year's CD…