Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reading list 2009

Following hot on the heels of my year in reviews post comes the inevitable (go on, you know you want to say that like Kim Jong Il in Team America) list of books I've read throughout the year. Shockingly, while looking back over the list it's become apparent to me that I've read far less than I have in previous years (33 in 2008, and 34 in 2007 if you're interested - and if you're not, too late now!), and waaaaaaaaay less than the 50+ that Dinah taunts us with on an annual basis. Blame Facebook and that damned Bejeweled Blitz.

That being the case, I'm making it one of my New Year's resolutions to read more next year. Not least because there are a ridiculous number of books (admittedly some of which I've read but have been too lazy to move to the bookshelf downstairs) weighing down the little LACK table positioned next to my bed; the poor thing sighs audibly every time I lift one off it.

Don't believe me? Just look at the poor thing.

As usual, all books have been graded in the same way that your old English teacher (y'know, the one who would peer at you sternly over the top of his glasses if you so much as breathed) would mark that essay you slaved over for so long, ultimately returning it to you with a depressing bold red capital letter carved into it for all eternity. And I have, of course, provided links to Amazon.co.uk should any of the books take your fancy. Although, in the aftermath of the closure of Borders in the UK, if you any of these titles do pique your interest, why not support your local bookshop and buy it from them, eh? (that's another of my resolutions)

Shall we begin?

01. Superpowers by David J. Schwartz - the story of five college kids who mysteriously gain superpowers and must learn to live with them in the months leading up to 9/11: B+
02. Things the Grandchildren Should Know by Mark Oliver Everett - The amusing, heartbreaking, and all too human autobiography of Eels frontman Mr E; a truly wonderful book: A+
03. Joker by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo - A solid 'real world' Joker story that shares much with the version of the character established in The Dark Knight, and told from the perspective of one of his henchmen: B
04. Two-Up by Eric Miles Williamson - An enthralling tale of hard-living, hard-drinking gunite workers: A
05. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald - A short tale of a man who lives his life in reverse. Who would've thought you could tell such an epic story in just over 50 pages? Loved it: A+
06. The Wayward Bus by John Steinbeck - Not quite as enthralling as East of Eden or Of Mice and Men, but Steinbeck's genius at creating realistic characters once again shines through in this tale of a bus carrying a number of passengers whose lives are full of hopes, fears, and secrets: B+
07. October Skies by Alex Scarrow - The harrowing tale of a wagon train being stalked by something in the woods after being snowed in while crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains in the 1850s, and the ramifications of its discovery by a documentary crew in the modern day. A fantastic and gripping story: A+
08. 1001 Ridiculous Ways to Die by David Southwell - Reading the ever ingenious ways that some people have kicked it could make you paranoid that *anything* you do could lead to an untimely death: C
09. The Complete Peanuts: 1969-1970 by Charles Schulz - The 10th volume of Fantagraphics Books' definitive collection of Schulz's classic comic strip: A+
10. The Complete Peanuts: 1971-1972 by Charles Schulz - More of the same, and every bit as good: A+
11. The Lie by Chad Kultgen - A very dirty, very funny tale of three college students whose relationship woes have devastating repercussions on their lives: A+
12. Star Trek by Alan Dean Foster - Disappointingly lightweight and straightforward adaptation of my favourite film of the year, completely lacking in the extended scenes and obvious love of Star Trek that made J.M. Dillard's previous movie novelizations so memorable. Add in some curious alterations to some of the film's most familiar story points (McCoy's line "all I'm left with is my bones" - which perfectly introduces us to the reasoning behind his nickname - is inexplicably changed to "all I'm left with is my skeleton," for example), and you're left with a book that is sadly lacking: C
13. Mother, Come Home by Paul Hornschemeier - Heart-wrenching story of a father and son trying to come to terms with the death of their wife/mother. Powerful stuff, brilliantly written and beautifully illustrated: A
14. Star Trek: Countdown by Tim Jones and Mike Johnson, art by David Messina - A thrilling story that acts as both a sequel to Star Trek Nemesis, and a prequel to the new movie. Does a wonderful job of setting up events from the film, saying goodbye to the characters of The Next Generation, and enhancing your appreciation of what takes place in J.J. Abrams' big-screen smash: A
15. Starbucks Nation by Chris Ver Weil - Disappointing satire of contemporary Hollywood culture that left me feeling like the joke wasn't being shared with me: C-
16. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski - Epic tale of a mute boy who shares a unique bond with the dogs his family trains, but whose life takes a tragic turn when his father dies in mysterious circumstances. Engrossing: A
17. Tomas by James Palumbo - The story of a new messiah appearing amid a grossly exaggerated reflection of our own celebrity culture. The paperback equivalent of taking Ecstasy, I'd imagine: C+
18. Star Trek: Early Voyages Omnibus - Collects all 17 issues of the Marvel comic book charting Captain Christopher Pike's time in command of the Enterprise. The artwork and storyline fall apart a bit towards the end, and it finishes on a never-to-be-resolved cliffhanger, but the first two-thirds of it are stellar, and it's never anything less than entertaining: A-
19. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers - the autobiographical story of how author Eggers raised his younger brother after the death of their parents; inspired, uplifting, incredibly funny, and very touching: A+
20. The View from the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood by Nicholas Meyer - A wonderful, witty, and insightful autobiography from the director of Star Treks II and VI. I've long admired Meyer for his intelligence and contribution to Star Trek, but this book was unexpectedly candid and touching and revealed another side to the man: A+
21. I Lick My Cheese and Other Notes from the Frontlines of Flatsharing by Oonagh O'Hagan - Highly amusing book collecting bizarre, funny, and downright weird real life notes left by flatmates. Makes me glad I've never had to live with strangers: B
22. Let Us Be Perfectly Clear by Paul Hornschemeier - Fantastic collection of illustrated stories by the author of Mother, Come Home and The Three Paradoxes. I particularly enjoyed Ditty and the Pillow Plane: A
23. Lessons from the Land of Pork Scratchings by Greg Gutfeld - Amusing tales of the author's time living and working in London: B
24. The Waiting Place by Sean McKeever (and various artists) - Wonderful collected edition of McKeever's comic book about teen life in small town America: A
25. Groom Lake by Ben Templesmith and Chris Ryall - Enjoyable tale of a 20 year-old slacker who finds himself involved in a plot to engineer an advanced weapon before going on the run with a chain-smoking alien called Archibald: B+
26. Star Trek: The Art of the Film by Mark Cotta Vaz - Beautiful hardback collection of some of the gorgeous concept art created for J.J. Abrams' brilliant new Star Trek movie. A
27. The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks by Max Brooks, art by Ibraim Roberson - Brilliant graphic novel collection of zombie stories taking place throughout history by the author of World War Z: A

That's yer lot then - 27 books ranging from the awesome to the … not so awesome. I'm back off to the stack of books beside my bed, not only so I can fulfil my New Year's resolution and start filling out next year's list, but because while sorting out the links to Amazon in the list above I've already spotted a few other books I'd like…

Anyway, that just leaves me to wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year - may it bring you everything you wish for yourself! I shall see you all in space year 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009: The year in reviews

Good lord! It's that time of year again whe-

Y'know what? Every year when I come to write this year in reviews post I pretend to be surprised that the end of the year has crept up on me like this. Each and every year. You'd think I'd be organised by now, wouldn't you?

(don't answer that)

Well, organised or not, it actually IS that time of year again - time for THE YEAR IN REVIEWS!

BAM!

Books!

03. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
I actually received this book for Christmas last year, but kept putting off reading it because I found myself buying other books I wanted to read more, and also because it was just so darn huge that I was worried I might drop it on myself in bed and suffocate. Still, around the middle of the year I finally got around to picking it up (good bicep workout) - and soon fell in love with it. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is all about a mute boy who grows up on an isolated farm where his parents breed dogs. As he grows Edgar develops a unique bond with the dogs, but into his happy little life comes a dodgy uncle, and soon after his father dies … and then the young boy sees his father's ghost. For such a long book, David Wroblewski did a remarkable job of keeping the story alive and enthralling, especially when Edgar runs away from home and the whole thing takes a completely different, highly unexpected turn. It's riveting, powerful stuff (who'd guess that I would get emotional over the death of a fictional dog!?) and I genuinely didn't want Edgar's story to end.

02. Things the Grandchildren Should Know by Mark Oliver Everett
Remarkable autobiography from the frontman of the band Eels. I read this back at the beginning of the year (another Christmas '08 book) and even now I can distinctly recall passages from it - it's THAT memorable. Why? Well, because basically Mr. E (to give him his stage name) has been through so much in his life - the deaths of his parents, his sister's suicide, a plane crashing on his neighbourhood to name just a few examples - that you're suddenly grateful for all the good in your own life. But what's most amazing is that all this sadness is relayed to the reader in such a startlingly honest, open, and humourous manner. I liked it so much that after finishing it I immediately went out and bought a load of Eels albums. Terrifically life-affirming.


01. October Skies by Alex Scarrow
Yet another book I received for Christmas last year (I did read some other great books later in the year - honest!). I went into this based on what sounded like an interesting premise, and finished it thinking it was one of the best thrillers I've ever read. October Skies takes place in two different time periods - a wagon train of settlers in the mid-1800s who find themselves snowed in while traversing a mountain range, and a journalist in 2008 who finds the remains of their camp. What makes this book even more gripping, though, is a supernatural element that comes to bear on the isolated travellers, and a threat that reaches across the centuries to threaten the journalist. October Skies is exactly what I look for in a thriller - exciting, quick prose, a mystery that actually gets you thinking and keeps you in suspense, and a superb resolution. It had me on the edge of my seat throughout: I loved this book.

(Honourable mentions go to Mother, Come Home and Let Us Be Perfectly Clear by Paul Hornschemeier who is right up their with the Hernandez brothers as one of my favourite graphic novelists EVAH; A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers which, like Things the Grandchildren Should Know, is another autobiography marred by tragedy but which against all expectations is a life-affirming joy to read; The View From the Bridge, an excellent and honest autobiography from Nicholas Meyer, the director of Star Treks II and VI and an incredibly intelligent man I've long admired; and the Star Trek: Early Voyages Omnibus from IDW Publishing that collects all 17 issues of the actually rather good Marvel comics charting the Captain Pike era, which sadly ends on an epic cliffhanger that will never be resolved)

Movies!

03. Up
In all honesty this position should've gone to Where The Wild Things Are, a movie I'd been looking forward to for AGES and which I really did love when I finally got to see it a couple of weeks back. But back in October Disney/Pixar's Up came along and buggered everything, well, up. Y'see, I've not really enjoyed the most recent Pixar films; Wall•E was great until he left Earth; Ratatouille simply didn't appeal so I've yet to see it; and I hated Cars - which is odd because up until that point I'd liked most of the Pixar movies and I love cars. So I went into Up with expectations rather low, buoyed only by the fact that I was interested to see how the 3D worked. I certainly did not expect such an incredible, emotionally-involving movie that genuinely made me care about an old man, a chubby boy scout, and a talking dog named Dug. Don't believe me? Just watch the opening scenes of Up and tell me that the story of Mr Fredricksen's life - told in just a couple of minutes - doesn't leave you with a tear in your eye.

02. (500) Days of Summer
I think I've harped on enough about this movie since I first saw it in September for me to just shut up here and tell you that you really should see it when it hits DVD in a couple of weeks time. I saw it three times in the space of two weeks at the cinema, and I'll be buying it on the day of release, mark my words.






01. Star Trek
Oh, like you couldn't have guessed what would occupy the top spot! Star Trek, Star Trek … to be honest, I went into this film with a little trepidation: would it violate the precious cannon that I and my fellow fans hold so dear? Would it be a simple popcorn action masquerading as our cherished franchise? Four years after Enterprise was axed, would Star Trek die one horrible, final death on the big screen while all the naysayers pointed and laughed. No. It did none of these things. And while it may be too early to say whether the film will enjoy such longevity and affection as Star Trek II, for example, what J.J. Abrams and his team did was to revitalise and reenergise our beloved Star Trek for the here and now. And more importantly, they made it relevant - not only to the hardcore fans, but to a more general audience. Never before has Star Trek looked so alive and vibrant and realistic. I loved every minute of this movie, and by setting it in a parallel universe (screw you reset button!) populated by a wonderfully talented cast taking over the iconic original series characters, Abrams has perfectly set the scene for Star Trek to boldly go again and again for many years to come. The only question is: how will they top this one?

(Honourable mentions go to the aforementioned Where The Wild Things Are which was so brilliantly done and an obvious labour of love, and … actually, that's about it. I thought most of the summer blockbusters were totally 'meh' this year, and nothing else really sticks out, so I'm not going to force the issue and instead just leave it there)

TV shows!

03. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
I've watched rather a lot of this vile little sitcom this year thanks to iTunes popping the first four seasons and the new Christmas special up for sale, and quite frankly I love it. It's the antithesis of all those mainstream Friends-style comedies; the characters - and I mean ALL the characters - are loathsome individuals, the hijinks they get themselves into are brilliantly conceived, and quite frankly the whole show is genius. I've previously highlighted how awesome I think Charlie Day is, but I've also come to realise just how great the other cast members are as well. If you like your comedy dark and filthy, and abhor laughter tracks, you should totally check out It's Always Sunny.



02. Family Guy
In the last couple of months I've watched the latest Family Guy boxset and, just today, I saw the latest Star Wars special, Something Something Something Dark Side, which had me giggling like Peter Griffin being tickled. I know there are a lot of Family Guy haters out there who claim that both The Simpsons and South Park are better, but quite frankly I disagree; the most recent episodes of those two shows that I've seen have been pretty dull, while Family Guy, rather like It's Always Sunny, just gets more vile, more dirty, more puerile, and, yes, more funny with each passing year. Admittedly some of the jokes do get recycled over and over again, but in a way that's part of the appeal - you're almost waiting for Cleveland's house to be demolished and him to slide out of the bath, for Meg to be cruelly dismissed by Peter, or for Stewie to say something utterly disgusting. Each to their own, I suppose, but in my opinion Seth McFarlene and the Family Guy writers are comedy geniuses.


01. Smallville
Smallville is one of those shows that I kind of take for granted. I don't actually watch it on TV any more, I just get the boxsets, blitz it in the week before Christmas, then don't really think about it until the following year. But after watching the eighth season just last week I've decided to give the series its dues: this is a quality show. While many other series might stumble in their later years, Smallville has remained remarkably consistent over the eight years it's been onscreen, and it shows no signs of letting up yet. This latest season introduced the character of Doomsday who, in the comics was pretty much just a monster that beat the living crap out of Supes; here, though, Doomsday was given a human aspect that truly brought an otherwise one-dimensional character to life. Smallville's writers do a fantastic job of playing story arcs out across an entire season, perfectly juggling serious drama with more comedic moments. It should also be noted that I actually only realised the other day that aside from Clark and Chloe, the entire cast has changed from the first season, and it's the show's interpretation of characters like Green Arrow and Lois Lane that have helped it stay fresh and interesting - and most remarkably of all, allow me to watch it without realising that Kristin Kreuk is no longer in it.



(Honourable mentions go to Boston Legal, which bowed out with a perfectly formed finale that brought closure to the characters of Crane, Poole, and Schmidt; Flight of the Conchords, which deserves recognition purely for the episode 'The New Cup'; 'Chuck' and 'Supernatural,' two shows that are consistently entertaining; and Birds of Prey, the short-lived Batman spinoff from 2002/2003 that I downloaded from iTunes and actually rather enjoyed!)

Albums!
As with last year, I actually didn't go to too many gigs this year, so I'm going to list my top three albums again. I kinda think that makes more sense anyway. Even if I go to a gig every day next year I think I'll stick with albums as the category.

03. The BQE by Sufjan Stevens
Ah, good ol' Sufjan returned this year with a new album - but to the crushing disappointment of many it wasn't the latest in his 50 states album project, but was instead an instrumental album inspired by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (and yes, you're right - that's a road). In the hands of anyone else it's likely that an album about a road would inspire nothing more than an aneurysm in anyone that listened to it, but Sufjan Stevens has created a truly beautiful orchestral piece. And I mean piece, not album; The BQE is one of the few albums I will listen to only in its entirety - no skipping through a track here or there, and no listening to tracks in isolation. It's a remarkable, uplifting, joyous piece of music, and one that I urge you to experience for yourself.



02. Gorilla Manor by Local Natives
I discovered Local Natives when their track 'Airplanes' was given away as an iTunes free download of the week. I listened to it, liked it, then left it to languish in my iTunes library. A few weeks later I saw they'd done a free session for Daytrotter, so I downloaded that (and you can too HERE), and it's then that I thought 'this is a cracking little band.' Shortly after that I downloaded their album from iTunes, and subsequently listened to it on constant rotation over the next couple of days. It's a fantastic debut - 12 beautiful, melodic, catchy songs to suit every mood, all wonderfully played with real instruments and a real passion. They even write a blog. I'd love to see them live - and seeing as they're touring over here next year maybe I'll get the chance.


Fantastic facial hair too.

01. The Californian by The Californian
I was saying just the other week on the rundown of the tracks on my 2009 mix CD how much I love this album, and ain't nuttin' changed since then. This is a simply awesome collection of demos (DEMOS!) from an unsigned band that in my opinion stand head and shoulders above the vast majority of signed acts doing the rounds at the moment. I really do not know how or why some A&R person hasn't signed this band up. I would if I had the money and a record label. On the basis of these awesome songs (I say again: DEMOS!), The Californian's forthcoming EP will be just about the best thing EVAH. As with my mix CD post, there doesn't appear to be any youtube videos of The Californian (how enigmatic!), so I refer you instead to their Myspace page, which features some wonderful new songs, and their blog.

(Honourable mentions go to Flight of the Conchords second album, I Told You I Was Freaky, and Jason Mraz, Joseph Arthur, and Priscilla Ahn, all of whom I saw perform live this year, and all of which blew me away with their incredible talents)

Other stuff!
Top of the list has to be Clubbie, the awesome little Mini Clubman that replaced my much-loved Cooper S and has swiftly become by far my favourite of the three Minis I've owned, and protected me superbly when an idiot in a Peugeot 206 crashed into me - which leads us onto … Bikram yoga! If you'd told me at the beginning of the year that I'd be addicted to a form of sweaty yoga practiced basically naked in a room heated to 40 degrees I would've laughed in your face, but addicted I am. Bikram yoga did wonders for helping me get my back and neck back into shape after the accident, and I simply cannot conceive of not having it in my life now: I'm a true convert, and really can't express how amazing I feel after every class. Elsewhere, my Apple-addiction saw me get an iPhone 3GS (just like my old iPhone but FASTER) and an Apple TV, which seamlessly lets me watch films and TV shows downloaded from the iTunes store on my big telly - good times! Kudos also to the George Lamb show on BBC 6Music that kept me massively entertained between 10 and 1pm each weekday before George and the team were shuffled off to weekend breakfast at the end of November; if you ever meet me and Yazzle Dazzle for coffee and we start call each other "rudegirl" or respond to birdsong with the line "what's that Schrubert?" you've got Lamby to thank for that. Finally, friends, family, and everyone that takes time out of their day to read the nonsense I write here - your comments and company always brighten my day, and it's a pleasure and a privilege to have you in my life.

And the losers…
Top of the list has to go to the aforementioned accident, which really knocked me for six, and that terrible day when my Big Bro's new car was stolen. On the plus side, while the car was sadly discovered written off, the cops have been excellent and Big Bro has a lovely new motor. Elsewhere, and far more trivially, Heroes and My Name is Earl both just lost me this year; the latter's been cancelled, and I'm sure the former will be following soon. Both shows had brilliant concepts, and both utterly lost their way. Doctor Who also annoyed me this year with a number of dire specials padded out by the doctor shouting and running around too much; hopefully the new doctor, Matt Smith, and the new show runner Steven Moffat will renew my appreciation and affection for the series. This leads nicely on to the new Muse album (which was preceded by a single that sounded like the Doctor Who theme tune) which proved to be a horrific mess that had the unfortunate effect of completely turning me off all their previous albums. Cinematic hopes were dashed when the vast majority of the summer blockbusters - Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in particular - turned out to be rubbish.

Aaaaaaaaand … that's yer lot! At least I think it is. No doubt I'll publish this and then have an 'OHMYGOD I FORGOT ABOUT-!' moment. Anyway, beautiful trophies of precious metals and shiny jewels presented by Autumn Reeser to the winners, half-full cans of well-past-their-sell-by-date beans and meat of indeterminate origin presented by Paris Hilton to the losers!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Christmas miracle

Screw the image of Jesus on a piece of toast! To hell with a water-stained wall that looks like the virgin Mary! Have you ever paused while brushing your teeth because you suddenly notice…


HOMER SIMPSON IN YOUR SOAP!

(and no, I don't mean the one I've photoshopped on - look to the left of that)

-----

Did we all have a nice Christmas then? I did, thanks for asking. Got lots of lovely presents including a hoodie lined with the softest imitation fur I've ever had the pleasure to caress. It's seriously tempting to wear it bare-chested. I imagine there's some shorn kittens or Muppets somewhere; they might be shivering in the cold, but they can rest assured that thanks to their sacrifice I'm not. I anticipate this hoodie will attract lots of attention from young ladies wishing to stroke it. Good times.

Nice t-shirt too, eh? Good call on Big Bro's part!

-----

Elsewhere, I discovered on Christmas Day that I've developed the uncanny ability to extinguish candles using a novelty party blower.

video

I think this skill makes me eligible to join the X-Men. My codename shall be … EXTINGUISH!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The night before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house


Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;



That's because I run a clean house and eradicate ALL vermin ON SIGHT.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,


In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;



I've been out shopping in crowded malls searching high and low for the perfect presents for you … and HE gets all the credit?!

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,


While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

By 'sugar-plums' do you mean expensive toys? Because I seriously can't imagine any kid in this day and age dreaming about fruit.



And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,


Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,



Um, yeah, coooooourse we had. Her in her 'kerchief (WTF?) and me in my cap? Sounds like some festive dress-up fun, methinks!

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,


I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.



Sexily tripping over my trousers in the process.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,


Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.



Um, WTF is a sash, and why am I throwing it up? Did I eat it?

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow



Heh heh. Breast.

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,



Am I still naked or am I wearing the sash? Because I'm suddenly very conscious of my 'objects below.'

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,


But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,



I think it's obvious now that the wife slipped me some festive roofies.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,


I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.



Or a pervert come to murder us in our sleep.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,



Should've slowed down a bit then.

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;


"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!


On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!

They sound like strippers.

*Adjusts sash and adopts sexy grin*



To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!


Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"



Strippers come back! Don't dash away all - I'm wearing a festive sash for you!

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,


When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,



I'm sorry, that just *doesn't* make sense. It's total word soup. Either that or the roofies are seriously kicking in.

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,


With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.



Why the hell did they land on my lawn first? Was it just for a toilet break? Did Prancer poop? Why you…!

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof


The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.



I think this is where I should be picking up a heavy object - like a baseball bat or something.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,


Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.



And instinctively I whacked him in the face with the bat.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

Quick - someone call PETA.



And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

From when he'd no doubt burnt his previous victims to destroy the evidence!



A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,


And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.



Now the word 'peddler' just makes him sound like a filthy old pervert in this day and age, doesn't it?

His eyes - how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!


His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!



In other words: drunk.

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,


And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;



Flecked with blood, no doubt.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,



Or rather what's left of them after he ate bat!

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;



Call the cops - he's smoking wacky baccy in my living room.

He had a broad face and a little round belly,


That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.



Oh my, we are painting a pretty picture here, aren't we?

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,


And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;



Because I totally knew I could take him in a fight.

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,


Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;



Because by wrenching his neck I could sever his head (I've seen how they do it in the movies).

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,


And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,



'A jerk'? Um, seriously, I'm not going anywhere near *that*. He better clean it up.

And laying his finger aside of his nose,


And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;



I told you he was high.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,


And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.



WHAT. THE. HELL?!

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,


"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

*Waves baseball bat*

Be gone, pervert! Now, where was my wife…

*Re-adjusts sash*

-----

Happy Christmas to you all, dear friends and readers - eat, drink, and be merry!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Comedy towel club

One of my favourite yoga teachers has instigated an unofficial competitive element to our practice: comedy towel club. The idea is that you have to take along a, well, comedic towel. I don't think there's a prize for the best comedy towel; actually, what you do get is humiliated in front of the rest of the class as you're forced to proudly show it off, but that's beside the point.

In the last couple of weeks there's been a David Beckham World Cup towel and, my personal favourite so far, a Pikachu. But today I trumped them all. Behold the glory!

Made from 100% real Shatner hair.

Yes folks, today I took a Star Trek towel along to yoga. In all fairness, I didn't actually buy this towel; Best Mate Jo bought it for me a few years back, but I've never actually used it because I couldn't quite bring myself to dry my nether-regions with it, particularly when Spock has his eyebrow raised in that overtly quizzical fashion.

But because I desperately want to win comedy towel club I broke it out of the airing cupboard and came out as a Star Trek fan to the teacher and the scrummy mummies who make up the majority of the mid-morning yoga class. And do you know what? The teacher declared it to be "fantastic" and her favourite comedy towel so far, which was awesome; quite frankly, though, I don't know how anyone else could even think about topping it. She did turn down my offer of letting her keep it, however, insisting instead that I bring it to every class she teaches. Truthfully, I'm not sure how I feel about that, because while it's nice to be a winner, I did feel a bit awkward about halfway through when we were told to "kiss the towel" in locust pose - not that the mighty Shatner himself would be troubled by such things.

I can't believe I kissed you! sound bite

Monday, December 21, 2009

Since Thursday I've…

• Finished work. Yay.

• Gone to yoga twice. I'll leave you to decide whether that's been for the health benefits or just because I wanted to escape the freezing cold and sit in a 40 degrees C heated room for an hour and a half.

• Watched almost an entire boxset of Smallville in a weekend (I'm constantly amazed how consistently good this show's been year after year).

• Found a typo on my advent calendar. Mars will be receiving a sternly-worded letter about this, let me tell you.

• Epically smashed a glass in the kitchen and nicely sliced up my hands in the process. They've been covered in plasters since the event, and it was only today that I noticed I've taken a chunk out of one of them. I wonder if it will scar? Chicks dig scars.

• Had a wickedly awesome haircut. I'd show you a picture, but I'm worried any attempt at a self portrait would end up looking a wee bit unnecessarily emo.

• Done the Christmas food shop; clipped some kid with my trolley because he wouldn't get out the way. That'll teach him for being ignorant and having massive ears.

• Played far too much Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook. Seriously, whenever I close my eyes I see little rows of exploding crystals. Am I addicted?

• Been at least 90 percent less sweary than I have been at work over the last few months. I think that proves my colleagues have a bad influence on me, and that I should be allowed to work from home in future.

• Wrapped all my Christmas presents. Unwittingly I'd bought some wrapping paper that's more like a coloured film and is damn near impossible to fold. Just as I'd get it in the right position it would unfurl itself back into a totally flat, uncreased state. I swear this is the sort of unearthly material they found at Roswell.

• Drew comedy eyes on Big Bro's car.


• Had an altercation with the World's Worst Driver. Seriously, when I saw how bad her parking skills were I decided to stay with Clubbie in case she should decide to rebound of the front of the car behind her and into Clubbie's backside in an effort to get in the gap. It took her five minutes. And when she finally turned the engine off and got out she looked at me and said "worried I was going to hit your car?" I replied "yes" and walked off.

• Caught up with a mate I've not seen in FUH-EVAH.

• Washed far too many clothes. You'd think I was wearing my entire wardrobe day-after-day.

• Dressed like a dapper gentleman and went for a slap-up meal.

Sweet baby Jeebus, this holiday lark is exhausting!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mix CD 2009!

Whoa! It's that time of year again folks (Jeebus it's come around quickly) where I slap a load of songs on a blank CD and - VOILA! - instant Christmas present from a total cheapskate with a personal touch.

Unlike last year's 'slap-it-together-at-the-last-minute-but-phew-it-actually-turned-out-OK' job, I've been pretty prepared for the 2009 mix CD. In fact, I was so prepared that I was noting down songs for it from about July. How organised/mad is that? Very, that's how.

Anyway, enough jibba-jabba - let's get on with the songs.

01. You're So Vain by Carly Simon (Daytrotter Session version)
I've always had a bit of a thing for Carly Simon (not like that, pervert), although you could say I've loved her from afar; I've never bought any of her music, y'see, but I've always enjoyed it when I've heard it on the radio (which is rarely these days unless I unwittingly stray onto Magic FM on the drive home). Understandably, then, I was quite pleasantly surprised when Daytrotter, usually the purveyor of the latest up-and-coming musicians, made an acoustic session she recorded for them available for download. I'm going to be honest: I've in love with this version of You're So Vain. Partly because I love acoustic music, but more so, I think, because there's a something slightly magical about 64 year-old Carly Simon singing this song as opposed to the 28 year-old Carly Simon who had a hit with it back in 1973. There's a time-worn weariness to her voice here that hints at the experience that only comes with the passing of time; it's not so much anger or resignation, more like a steely determination. Either way, it's a stunning and, dare I say it, definitive take on a classic song, and I'd urge you to download the entire four song session from Daytrotter HERE.

Not the Daytrotter version, but a close approximation of it.

02. Corporate Coffee by The Californian
I found this band after following a link posted by Darren from Phantom Planet on his Myspace page, and instantly found my NEW FAVOURITE BAND. The Californian is, and I still can't believe this, currently unsigned, which is officially madness. Within about 20 minutes of listening to the songs on their Myspace page I'd bought their album of demos from iTunes, and then spent the next week or so listening exclusively to it over and over again. It's a fantastic collection of weary-sounding acoustic tracks that convey both the sunny disposition of California and a hint of underlying darkness. I love the album so much that quite frankly I would've been quite happy using it in its entirety as this year's mix CD, but that would be naughty. In fact, I love the album so much that I gave serious consideration to a) going to California just to catch one of their shows, or b) thinking about out how I might be able to arrange a gig where they could come over and play in London. Anyway, back to the CD; after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, I settled on this track, Corporate Coffee. As you know, I love corporate coffee and drink it every day, and this song by the same name is every bit as good. It's the kind of track that I can imagine an entire crowd swaying and clapping along to in a small, sweaty gig, their eyes closed and arms held aloft as they bask in The Californian's chilled out vibe. I highly recommend you go check out the new songs they've popped up on Myspace ahead of their forthcoming EP. And maybe buy the album too, yes?

Sadly I can't find any youtube videos of the band, but they do have a blog so go check that out instead.

03. Stop This Train by John Mayer
Very few things make me cry, but ohmygod I was driving to work one day when this track started playing on my stereo and the next thing I knew I was properly welling up. Big Bro has been a fan of John Mayer for years now, but I never really appreciated him until Big Bro forced me to listen to his live albums and I suddenly thought 'I get this guy.' Consider the lyrics - "Stop this train I want to get off and go home again/I can't take the speed it's moving in" - I think they really got me that day on the drive to work because they made me think about my family, and how life changes and evolves and you can't go back to how things were however much you might want to. There's a raw, aching sadness to this song that Mayer's gravelly voice just drives home. It's lucky I've never seen him in concert because I'd be a teary mess.


04. Even When Yer Blue by Joseph Arthur and The Lonely Astronauts
Ooo, a bit of a Sparky Malarkey exclusive here chaps, because this track is off the CD of the Joseph Arthur gig that I saw at Bush Hall back in July. I loved that gig full stop, but this song was a particular highlight of the evening for me. Like Stop This Train, Even When Yer Blue has the incredible/slightly annoying effect of making me a little bit emotional whenever I hear it; as you might imagine, then, putting the two songs back-to-back on the mix CD had the potential for leaving me a bit of an emotional mess when I was listening to the songs over and over and trying to put them in a specific order. Anyway, regardless of the state I'm in after listening to it, I love this song big time. Unbelievably, it's not been released on any of Joseph Arthur's albums - so I recommend if you get the chance you toddle along to see him perform it at one of his gigs. I'm pretty damn sure you'll leave a Joseph Arthur convert like I did.


05. Can't Keep by Pearl Jam
This was something of a last-minute addition to the mix CD. While all the other songs came together quite easily, I was having a bit of difficulty finding something to round out the acoustic-y/live first half - and then inspiration struck while I was walking out of Westfield one evening. This track popped on my iPhone courtesy of the shuffle function, and I think I listened to it about five times in a row, while coming to the realisation that a) I couldn't believe I'd missed such an awesome song nestling away in my iTunes library and b) knowing immediately that I'd found my missing link. This is a wonderful stripped back version of the track that appears on Pearl Jam's Riot Act, performed by Eddie Vedder and just a ukelele at Benaroya Hall in October 2003. I've grown into quite a Pearl Jam fan over the years (due mainly to considerable pestering from Big Bro), and they're another band that I find I prefer their live stuff to rather than the original album versions. This is a soulful, haunting, but strangely uplifting rendition of an already fine song.


All hail the mighty YouTube - here's a video of the original performance from Benaroya Hall!

(On a side note, I've just realised that this is the third year in a row that Pearl Jam have appeared on the mix CD, so if anyone I give these to doesn't like them: apologies! They won't be on next year's. Probably. Possibly. I don't know. You'll just have to wait and see, OK?)

06. Why Do You Let Me Stay Here? by She & Him
Back in September I made it quite clear to anyone who'd listen that I was a smidgeon obsessed with the movie (500) Days of Summer, ultimately seeing it three times in two weeks. This song isn't in the movie, but it is sung by Zooey Deschanel who plays the titular Summer, and a video for it was made by the movie's director, Marc Webb, starring Deschanel and her co-star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It's a catchy little tune that kind of sounds like it might've been recorded in the sixties, beginning with a nice little plinky-plonky piano melody before the guitar and drums really kick in, followed by some supremely singable harmonies accompanying Deschanel's slightly mournful voice.


This video makes me want to dance.

07. Wallflower by Priscilla Ahn
I first became aware of Priscilla Ahn when I saw her support Jason Mraz back at the beginning of April. I fell in love with her a little bit (her voice and her music, I hasten to add; I wasn't following her around asking her to autograph my chest or anything), and when I found out she was playing a solo gig at Bush Hall I decided to toddle along. That gig was awesome, not only because it was the first time I'd been to Bush Hall (which is an incredible venue), but also because Ahn's wonderful songs, angelic voice, infectious personality and hilarious between-song banter made me forget the horrifically painful whiplash injury I was suffering from at the time, if only for a couple of hours. Now, ideally I would've popped her brilliantly titled Boob Song on the Mix CD, but as she doesn't appear to have released it thus far (saving it for the second album I hope) I've gone for Wallflower instead. This is a lovely little track that is a highlight of her really rather wonderful debut album; it's very melodic, very chilled out (like the whole album, actually), and the lyrics are really quite touching. Hasn't everyone found themselves feeling like a wallflower at least once in their life?



08 Miracle Goodnight by David Bowie
OK, so I got mildly obsessed by this song back in the summer. There was even one occasion where I was dropping Yazzle Dazzle home one evening and I put this song on repeat, actively told her to shush mid-conversation, and then did that ridiculous thing you do when you try to sing along to a song when you don't actually know the words and just end up looking and sounding like you're having an asthma attack or an aneurysm. Miracle Goodnight is from David Bowie's Black Tie White Noise album, which despite being a huuuuuuuge Bowie fan I didn't really 'get' until this year; I'd always liked Jump They Say (in fact I seem to recall that was the song that set me on the path to Bowie worshipping), but that was about it. Now, though, I love pretty much the whole thing, with Miracle Goodnight being a particular favourite. It's another song with a catchy, repetitive beat and chorus that gets stuck in your head on some sort of permanent loop rather easily.



09 The Love You Save by the Jackson 5
Although I never try to theme the songs on the Mix CD around the events of the year, I think it would be remiss of me not to put something featuring Michael Jackson on this year's. While I didn't actually get a ticket for the O2 shows when they went on sale, it was exciting to think that there was the possibility that I could've got one at some point and actually seen him perform. It was also sad that, regardless of what you thought about his lifestyle, it took his death to remind the world what an incredible performer he was. As something of a lapsed Jackson fan myself, it's been good to reacquaint myself with his music, and there's a hell of a lot of gems there to chose from. I've gone for The Love You Save here because one of the most memorable sequences in the This Is It movie was a Jackson 5 medley that included this song. While it's maybe not quite as well known as something like ABC or Blame it on The Boogie, The Love You Save is quintessential Jacksons. An infectious, immediate track little more than three minutes long - and almost guaranteed to have you at least bopping your head along to it with a broad smile on your face, if not up and dancing around your living room like a loon.


10. Getting Late by Rob Thomas
As a big Matchbox Twenty fan, I've always been left a little bit cold by lead singer Rob Thomas' solo efforts. There were a couple of good songs on his first album, but on the whole I thought it was a little bit too slick for my liking. His second album, Cradlesong, was for me a far more satisfying attempt, and it is from this album that this song is taken. Where this succeeds - in contrast to most of the songs on …Something To Be - is that it feels more relaxed, more natural; it sounds a bit more like a Matchbox Twenty song. This is the sort of track you can imagine being used at the end of a movie - a real character-driven film rather than a blockbuster - and I think in the right place (or wrong, depending on how you feel about these sort of things) it could probably have you crying like a baby.


They segue off into another song about halfway through, but you get the idea.

11. Christmas TV by Slow Club
Despite the fact I give these Mix CDs out at Christmas I don't think I've ever put a Christmas song on one of them - until now. That said, Christmas TV doesn't *really* sound that Christmassy; in fact, the first time I heard it was when it was used in the second season finale of Chuck, where it was played over a wedding scene on a beach. What it is, though, is a very melodic comfort blanket of a song - it totally envelops you and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. I like the fact that the voices of the two singers perfectly compliment one another; I love the twangy guitar that makes it sound like it came from the American midwest. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that Slow Club are actually from Sheffield. Wherever they're from, though, they've written a gorgeous song that I adore.


-----
Right, that's another Mix CD done and dusted. *Phew!* So what didn't make the cut this year? Well, originally it was going to open with Dream Life of Rand McNally by Jason Mraz, which I heard for the first time at the gig in April and thought was an amazing (or amrazing, if you will) song. Being nine minutes long, however, it kind of made the CD drag a bit, so I sadly cut it. 40 Day Dream by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros was another track I loved this year, but which I didn't quite feel fitted - the same goes for Trashcan by Delta Spirit. Too Fake by Hockey was one of my favourite songs of 2009 even if it does have the most appalling ending that I've heard in a long time - it literally just peters out like they didn't quite know how to finish it. Finally, the only reason there's nothing by Mariachi El Bronx or Local Natives is because I only discovered them after I'd settled on the tracklisting. Definitely next year, though…

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Whatever happened to "excuse me?"

So I've finished my Christmas shopping - yay, hooray for me *victory dance*. Actually it's not the 'I've finished my Christmas shopping' aspect of it that I'm utterly elated by; it's more to do with the fact that I now don't have to go out and fight my way through the hordes of complete halfwits that 99 percent of the population appear to turn into when someone rattles some sleigh bells and waves a bit of tinsel in their faces.

Ooo, tinsel - pretty!

Seriously, it's like a zombie plague but with people taking leave of their senses rather than decaying and having their arms drop off. The cold dead-stares and unpredictable lurching is common to both parties, however.

My non-festive rant begins with a late afternoon trip to Kingston on Saturday. Around this time of year I try to avoid shopping at peak times, but even rocking up to the 'ton at just after four proved to be an epic mistake: there were people EVERYWHERE. But they weren't shopping in a normal, predictable fashion. The traditional 'oh-I'll-pick-this-item-up-and-admire-it-but-oh-no-it's-not-quite-what-I-was-looking-for-I'll-pop-it back-on-the-rack' style of shopping had disappeared to be replaced by people veering around in a random fashion, picking things up, shrieking at whatever they'd picked up, then returning it to the rack in such a way that I initially thought they were trying to fend off an attacking tiger.

And don't get me started on my favourite shop, Borders, which has been reduced to a trampy, shambolic market writhing around in it's death throes thanks to the chain going bust. I really wish I'd not gone in there and seen it in such a sorry state.

Anyway, having only partially succeeded in getting what I wanted to get, I decided that a trip to Westfield was in order on Monday evening.

Because of the sheer bloody size of the place, Westfield rarely looks full. But regardless of the size of the walkways, I still appear to be a magnet for stupid people - y'know, people who just wander aimlessly around like they're slightly out of sync with the regular flow of time. Or like the posh teenage girls who walk three abreast straight towards you like an ignorant perfumed tsunami. Maybe they're a little shell-shocked from getting a glimpse of the tramps on Shepherds Bush Green as the cab mummy had hailed for them swung by on the last leg of their journey from the leafy residential roads of Kensington? I can picture them now holding their hands to the sides of their heads like little manicured blinkers, quietly chanting "don't look, don't look, don't look."

Sadly I can't blame the blinkers on their inability to give a little leeway as they flounce towards me, because if they were using blinkers I'd be THE ONLY BLOODY THING THEY COULD SEE.

Then there's people with children, especially those with buggies. For a while now I've been quietly formulating a theory that 99 percent of people who have children jettison their common sense along with the baby and the afterbirth. I mean, really, repeatedly ramming your buggy against the side of my leg in Starbucks as you try to get past isn't normal behaviour, is it? What happened to saying excuse me? Are you actually trying to say "look! I've got a baby! That means I have a working uterus, and ensnared an actual man to impregnate me with his baby gravy. My life is complete! Now move out of the way, I have to inform somebody else of this, and perhaps get a skinny cappuccino along the way."

Actually, no one's interested in your doughy little f**k-trophy so piss off.

On a side note, I've decided that I'm no longer going to pander to people's whims and be polite when I'm shown new babies. If a baby genuinely is a cutie, I shall say so; otherwise, please expect a reaction ranging from "ugh!" to "it looks like the fellow that lives in the tummy of the other man in Total Recall" to "I'm sure the eyes will level out at some point, but until then I shall call him Sloth*."

The full-force of my Westfield rage was ultimately directed at a more mature age group, however. On my way out of the centre via the posh Village bit (that's "villaaaaaaaage" not "village" I'll have you know) I headed toward an escalator that would take me down to Waitrose where I intended to feed my latest addiction by stocking up on the otherworldly awesomeness that is their potato rosti. Unfortunately, completely and utterly blocking access to the escalator were two old dudes and a matching old woman with a massive, excessively-coiffured burgundy head. I circled around them to squeeze on to the escalator from the other side, but just as I was about to slip by they decided that they actually wanted to go down too, and barged past me. After hesitating for what seemed like an eternity about which of the revolutionary moving steps they dared jump onto, the aged trio managed to get on the escalator, and I swiftly followed them.

Halfway down one of the old dudes starts waving like a complete loon at a second old woman who was stumbling out of the Louis Viutton store and was inexplicably wearing oversized sunglasses that made her look a bit like Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. She took a moment to register that someone was calling to her, before eventually walking over to greet her comrades in Prada at the bottom of the escalator.

And that's when they committed their cardinal sin.

They. Got. Off. The. Escalator. And. Didn't. Move. Out. Of. The. Way.

I was actually a few steps back from them, so I could clearly see what they were (or rather what they weren't) going to do. As my metallic step of destiny inched ever closer to them my mind raced with witty put-downs to highlight their ignorance - put-downs so cutting, so precise and calculated that they would never - NEVER I TELL YOU! - commit such a crime against humanity again. The mere sight of the bottom of an escalator would send a chill down their collective spines.

My moment was upon me – I stepped off, barged comically and somewhat unintentionally into one of the old guys, and with a Spock-style raised eyebrow loudly proclaimed: "Excuse me!"

And that, I think you'll agree, told them.


*Whadya mean it's a girl?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Who wants to see my Dick?

Following strict orders from Tara's list of things to celebrate in December (which was actually inspired by an earlier post of mine, so I've only got myself to blame), I've drawn a post-it note sketch and I'm, erm, posting it!

I made a concerted effort not to do another Star Trek drawing for this latest effort, and ended up with a picture of Dick Tracy. I don't know why I drew Dick Tracy. I think it might have something to do with my current desire to watch the film again (I think it's a cracking movie, so there).

Anyway, here's my Dick.


Is it as amazing as you'd hope it would be?