Monday, August 29, 2005

Ten* Years Younger

No, not the patronising, superficial Channel 4 makeover show. Rather, it's the early 90s, erm, vibe that seems to be hanging over London this weekend like a miasma of psychedelic Mandelbrotian smog.

For not only did Clapham Common play host yesterday to the likes of Happy Mondays, Flowered Up (Lord above), The Farm (Why, God, why? They were bad enough the first time round) and the Stereo MCs (whom I once saw in Bristol supporting EMF, early 90s fact fans), but I also seem to have returned to my student days and bought a poster.

A poster! I haven't bought a poster in years. The last one I bought probably featured REM (Out Of Time-era) or the Sisters of Mercy (Vision Thing-era). Why, I don't know - the last thing you want to see when you wake up in your sordid second-year bedsit with a raging hangover and a bloke you don't recognise taking up 90% of the available space in your single bed is Peter Buck's ugly mug staring down at you. But I was young then and clearly didn't know any better.

Anyway, I'm pleased to record that yesterday's purchase was in much better taste: look, it's a lovely promotional poster for Amélie, in Japanese. This is going to look super - if a mite pretentious - above my fireplace, where it will complement my oft-mentioned tasty red leather sofa.

Although on reflection it may cause me perpetual regret, not to mention bilious envy, that I'm nowhere near as pretty as Audrey Tautou. Or as gamine. Or as youthful. Still, I could comfort myself with the fact that she probably never saw Nirvana play live while Kurt Cobain was still with us. Yeah. In your face, Audrey!

* More like fourteen, argh.

Friday, August 26, 2005

A Microscopic Cog In His Catastrophic Plan

When I was very small I attended a tiny primary school in a tiny (yet quite famous, thanks to W. Shakespeare) village in the Scottish Highlands. For writing practice we had to write a daily diary entry, documenting our innocent childhood pursuits and ambitions.

I was clearly always an optimistic - if somewhat naive - child, because every diary entry of mine ended with the same sentence: "It will be fun." No matter whether the event in question was Sarah-Jane's birthday party, the Sunday School picnic or a trip to the dentist, I was always firmly convinced that it was going to be a great laugh.

Whether any of these juvenile shenanigans actually *were* fun or not, I have no way of telling. Once they'd happened, I never mentioned them again. Reading back, you're left with the impression that something unspeakably awful - possibly in a sinister Twilight Zone-type way - happened at every single party, picnic and dentistry session I ever went to.

Twenty-eight years may have passed, but some things don't change. I've been banging on since May about how much fun last night's Nick Cave gig was going to be. Do I follow it up with a glowing review about how fantastic it all was? No. Since I was stuck at the back and couldn't see anything at all, except for 5,000 middle-aged ex-goths and the boy Cave's shadow cavorting on the wall, I felt mightily let down. So I'll refer you instead to this review from the Independent, and just add "what he said."

Still, looking on the bright side, I'm off to see Husky Rescue on the 8th at Bush Hall and, as coincidence would have it, also on the 10th on the Isle of Wight. It will be fun.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Media Rage

Many thanks to Pashmina for alerting me to this article in last Thursday's Telegraph, all about how women are too stupid to download music or work an MP3 player. The whole thing has enraged me so much that I can barely form a coherent sentence, so it's lucky that Gendergeek has marvellously deconstructed it all already.

I was particularly moved to incandescent fury by these little gems of insight from "psychologist and usability expert" Tom Stewart:

"Women are often discouraged by other women from learning about technology. They are conditioned by society to want to be seen as different to men. Building Meccano bridges and piecing together model aeroplanes teach boys to enjoy tinkering with things, but girls are encouraged to play with dolls instead.

This makes them more interested in relationships and how people behave, so they focus on the usefulness of a gadget, not on how it works. For example, they like using mobile phones because they are big talkers, so they see it as helpful to be able to make calls all the time"

I'm not much of a talker as it happens, but I can think of two words I'd like to say to our Tom. Anyone got his mobile number?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Recipe For Failure

This week I've been compiling a High Fidelity-style list of Ten Things I Want To Do Before I'm 40. To wit:

1. Resurrect the lost language of the Picts, brilliantly demonstrating it to be a heretofore unknown offshoot of the Finno-Ugric language family. This will require a certain amount of research to be undertaken in Finland; more specifically, in the big Marimekko shop - the one with all the nice trays and wall hangings.

2. Finish Masters degree, submitting brilliant dissertation about kittens and the internet, on the strength of which I will be immediately snapped up as a PhD student by some tip-top educational institution.

3. Write brilliant PhD thesis about knitting and identity, which will immediately propel me into the uppermost echelons of pop culture academia. Write a series of really quite dry and uninteresting academic books that will nevertheless sell like hot cakes thanks to their colourful, glossy covers and witty txt spk titles spelled out in real wool. Around this time I may also coin a fashionable new buzzword.

4. Miraculously become rich enough to afford a house in Ashchurch Grove, London W12, with very big, very clean windows and a lot of wisteria and ivy.

5. Buy a house in Ashchurch Grove, London W12, with very big, very clean windows and a lot of wisteria and ivy. Fill it with really pretentious books, some of which I will have written (see above).

6. Go around being a bit like Germaine Greer, only without all the talking and going on telly and stuff.

7. Purchase a cottage in Cornwall (or similar coastal county), for the sole purpose of observing the sea during stormy weather.

8. Stop smoking.

9. Learn Spanish, Arabic, Welsh and Finnish.

10. Fail to achieve any of the above. At 11.59pm on the 6th October 2010, scratch out "40" and replace with "70".

Monday, August 22, 2005

Oh Help Me God

The other week I was sapped once again of my will to live by this article in the Sunday Times 'Thirtysomething Middle-Class Wanker' supplement.

In fact the juxtaposition, in one single paragraph, of phrases like 'Cath Kidston tent', 'kids', 'croquet', 'yoga' and 'Lemon Jelly headlining', is still sending shivers of horror up my spine.

Which is, of course, why I've just purchased a ticket to the not-like-the-Big-Chill-at-all-honest Bestival festival on the Isle of Wight, on the 10th September. I'm not staying the night, though, so thankfully I don't have to invest in one of these. And you won't see me dead in anything like these. Inappropriate footwear will prevail! And I don't have any kids, thank Christ, so I won't have to worry about little Darcey and Jake's soiled nappies filthing up my iPod.


Pass me that bottle of water, I feel a bout of nausea nostalgia coming on.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Contents Of My Navel Handbag

I swore I'd never do this again, but you know, it's cathartic. Or something. Or it says something about modern society. Or something. Yes, that's it - it's an important historical document. It's...The Complete And Unabridged Contents Of My Handbag (2005 Mix)!

1. Notification of undelivered parcel (wireless gateway)
2. Leaflet about the torture of Falun Gong members, in Finnish
3. Flyer for Juno Reactor gig at Nosturi on October 7th
4. Eleven of my own business cards
5. Finnair boarding pass Helsinki to LHR
6. Bach Rescue Remedy spray
7. iPod Shuffle (currently playing: "The Actress" by the Delgados)
8. Black whiteboard marker pen
9. Four sets of keys (office, new flat, old house, house in Scotland)
10. MoominShop receipt (EUR38.50)
11. Phone jack for modem
12. Two AA batteries, possibly dead
13. Screwed-up nicotine patch
14. Cheque for £70 that I have never paid into my account
15. Driving licence bearing an address that's eight years out of date
16. Notification of another undelivered parcel (Nick Cave tickets)
17. Train ticket Reading to London
18. Tube ticket Ealing Broadway to Zone 3
19. Route 266 bus ticket (valid to Hammersmith Grove)
20. Mobile phone
21. Two credit cards (Egg and First Direct)
22. Route 237 bus ticket (valid to Shepherd's Bush Green)
23. Café Rouge (Chiswick High Road branch) receipt (£27.90)
24. Four Nurofen tablets
25. Two pens and a pencil
26. Passport
27. Sixteen Marlboro Lights
28. Thirty-six pence

Never in the field of human endeavour has so much been of so little interest to so few.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Am I Dominating You Now?

Maybe Michael Buerk should try flicking through a copy of the Economist or the Financial Times before he goes on telly next. How many pictures of women do you see, Michael? So we set the agenda in business, politics and the media, do we?

And surely the very fact that he gets to air his ignorant and ill informed opinions on high-profile TV and radio programmes suggests that he and his kind haven't *quite* been relegated to the status of household utensil, as he seems to fear.

He's right in one way, though: unfounded whingeing used to be a character trait associated with women. Seems like the tables have been turned on that score, at least.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


And in what is absolutely my final engagement as Finland's Unofficial Ambassador to West London (and hopefully also as tragic Nathan Barley wannabe), I bring you news that Finland's finest export that doesn't begin with M, the mighty Husky Rescue, are playing in my neck of the woods at Bush Hall on the 8th September.

(If it sways anyone's decision to attend, they've got a guitarist who's the spitting image of Johnny Depp - if Johnny Depp had four haircuts and had met with a tragic, freak face-crushing accident, that is.)

Poke Me With The Soft Cushions!

I seem to have come over all melancholically Finnish today; fingers barely managing to cling on to the rim (steady...) of the Sarlacc Pit of Despair, etc. So what better way to elevate myself out of the misery than to...purchase a pair of tasty Finnish cushions!

Oo, these are going to look lovely on my tasty cherry-red leather sofa. They haven't arrived yet, but I've already named them Colin and Justin.

And if anyone else happens to be feeling the sort of melancholy that can be alleviated by the sight of lovely cushions, just have a look at this lot.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Finland Has It All

When travelling to Europe's Most Northerly Mainland Capital, don't forget to do the following:

1. Ensure your alarm clock is set for the same unearthly hour as the taxi that's due to take you to the airport is due to arrive. This will ensure that you have approximately three minutes in which to get up, clean yourself and pack for the trip. This in turn will ensure that you spend the duration of the trip looking like a dishevelled bag lady. They like that in Finland. (No, actually, they do).

2. Ensure that your travelling companion has been out clubbing the night before and has failed to set any sort of alarm at all, thus ensuring that when your taxi stops by his house, he is neither awake nor in any way prepared for the trip. This will ensure that he spends the duration of the trip looking like a dishevelled, erm, bag bloke, thus ensuring he will not show you up. Excellent.

3. Fly business class. It's worth it for a one-night stay, and you get to share a cabin with a bling-ridden transvestite DJ and some world-famous athletics stars, none of whom you can recognise or put a name to. Plus you get free champagne and pickled herring, which is exactly what you need at 7.30am.

4. Upon arrival in Helsinki, note with glee that the temperature is edging towards zero and it is pissing down with rain.

5. Pick a taxi driver whose appetite for sarcasm, beer and existential angst is unparalleled anywhere in Europe.

6. Make sure you've booked into the same hotel as the entire press contingent for the 2005 International Athletics Federation Championship. This will lend a commendable Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas-like ambience to your weekend.

7. Spend the entire afternoon trudging about a bleak industrial wasteland in search of tickets for the obscure electronica festival you've read about on the internet. In vain. Observe butterflies hurling themselves into the greasy grey waters of the world's most blighted marina. Remember that Finland has the highest suicide rate in Europe. Realise why.

8. Head back into town, only to find your path blocked by crowds of Finns politely applauding the front runner in the men's marathon. Get caught up in the (polite, understated) excitement. Cheer wildly as the two GBR runners hove into view. Realise you don't know their names. Cheer wildly anyway. Go Great Britain! Feel huge surge of national pride.

9. Spend vast sums of cash on Moomin merchandise and patterned stuff from Marimekko.

10. Stuff yourself with the finest exemplars of Finnish cuisine, from reindeer carpaccio to, erm, fish. No, actually, the cuisine was very fine indeed. Amazing for a country whose top chef admits his all-time favourite ingredient is the gooseberry.

11. Arrive at obscure electronica festival - held in fantastic, giant industrial factory complex - to discover that tickets are available on the door in abundance. Marvel at how well behaved, quiet and polite the assembled crowd are. Dance like a nutter (in relation to the Finns, who don't seem to enjoy dancing as much as standing around being quiet and polite) to Mouse on Mars, who sound like the bastard offspring of Laibach and Daft Punk.

12. Halfway through her set, realise you're not very keen on Roisin Murphy's nu-jazz solo stuff. Wander off to the chill-out room instead. Notice that the only people making any noise at all are a small contingent of Brits.

13. Observe some Finns handing around something from a small plastic bag. "Aha!", you think. "Drugs!" It turns out to be ear plugs.

I love this country.

Friday, August 12, 2005

You Owe Me, Suomi British Airways

Traveller's tip: when attempting a last-minute getaway to attend an obscure electronica festival in Helsinki, don't book it on a weekend when BA ground staff have all gone home to watch the climax of Big Brother "on strike".

Still, it was almost worth it to witness the scenes of apocalyptic chaos at Heathrow, which was decked out like a season finale of Casualty. Brilliant. But at the same time, what a bunch of bastards.

Wild Boar Is My Mistress

Continuing my quest to become Nathan Barley, last night I attended a semi-hilarious postmodern-ironic thrash gig at Camden's "legendary" Barfly, played by Ed Harcourt's new postmodern-ironic middle-class West London punk band, Wild Boar. They have pig masks and everything! They would have had horse's head masks but they got lost in France! Lots of postmodern-ironic screaming, posturing and songs with names like "Drugs Are Bad" and "Wild Boar Is My Mistress". Still, it was nice to see the hordes of Camden Indie Kids taking it all so seriously. Awww, bless.

In other news related to the unleashing of my inner rock chick (steady...), my tickets for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds on the 25th Aug have finally arrived. Ohhh, this is going to be so great.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Oh, The Nathanity*

While we're on the subject, I was over in Nathan Barley's neck of the woods today (well, Clerkenwell, but they *did* have Aeron chairs), where my esteemed colleague S. noticed an office with a carpet that was designed to look like distressed concrete. This is the way the dotcom world ends, not with a bang but a shag pile?

In other Barley news, the long-awaited (at least by its paltry 500,000 fans, plus the considerably larger Julian Barratt Appreciation Society) DVD of the woefully under-rated TV series is coming out on September 26th - book your place on my tasty wipe-clean cherry-red leather Klippan now.

And finally...what could be more Nathan than flying to Helsinki on a whim this weekend to see a band called Giant Robot play at the Koneisto festival? Yup, that's right, nothing. I'll be videoing it with my Wasp T12 Speechtool and streaming it here live. Well actually I won't, but you get my drift.

I *am* Nathan Barley and I am proud.

Normal service etc. etc.

* Credos (erm...I think I should stop it now) to NTK for this title.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

This Year's Obligatory Cat Post

What - I haven't talked about cats in two years? Surely some mistake. To rectify the matter, here courtesy of Nibus (and probably with a small contribution by the late-to-the-fray viral marketing team* at Whiskas), is a Guide To What Your Cat Is Really Saying.

Catspeak Translator

This is, of course, a load of made-up old rubbish designed to make people think about their brand preferences when it comes to the purchase of stinking processed cat meat.

I mean, where's the cat-speak for "You stink", "This stinks", "Let's not get into who stinks of what", "Whaaaaaaaaa...?" and "I hate you, you stink"? Which appear to be the only non-food-related thoughts that ever flit through what passes for cerebral matter among my two fat, decrepit, tattered, pus-oozing bastards darlings.

* And it's worked, hasn't it? I told you I was a marketer's dream.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

OK, I Admit It

The reason I used to hate Charlie Brooker so much is because I really, really wish I'd written the original Nathan Barley.

It's only taken me six years to admit that. I feel an overwhelming sense of disburdenment. Mingled with a terrible headache.

Game On

There’s been a lot of media debate recently about women and computer games. Yesterday's Guardian had a little report from the Women in Games conference currently taking place in that hub of the computer gaming universe, Dundee. Now I reckon I'm fairly well qualified to comment on this topic, given that:

a. I am a woman.

b. I’ve been playing computer games (not continuously, you understand) since the early 1980s.

c. I once got into a fantastic spat* with a Professor of Psychology on this very subject in the Guardian letters pages.

But I can’t see that the people who want to promote the involvement of women in computer games are doing themselves any favours. I mean, just look at the state of the conference logo. It's a little spaceship from Space Invaders, a game that was released in 1978 and which hasn't been seen - apart from at retro-gaming shindigs and in "postmodern ironic" fashion in Nathan Barley-style nu-meeja offices (including the one next door to mine, in fact) - since the 1980s. How is this supposed to engender confidence in women’s ability to contribute to the modern games industry?

The article observes that women are put off from going into the industry because of its “salacious” image. This is probably because the Guardian, like most other media outlets, appears to equate “the games industry” with the Pete Doherty of computer games; Grand Theft Auto San Andreas (or any other moral panic-inducing computer game du jour), thus perpetuating the myth that it's a big, bad dangerous place where women should fear to tread.

It was interesting to read an article in Red Herring (The Business of Technology!) the other week, about women who have actually made it into senior positions in the industry. What struck me was that they'd been successful because they'd played down their gender and just concentrated on getting on with it - while making a few subtle changes along the way.

The truth - unpalatable as it might be to feminist academics - is that the whole of the tech industry is still predominantly male, and the only way for women to get on is to play along with it and make small but hopefully far-reaching changes from the inside. Making a big song and dance about unfair phallocentric hegemonies (as the world of feminist academia is wont to go on) is unlikely to advance the cause of women in technology, and is more likely to set it back - all the way back to the era of Space Invaders, in fact.

* OK, not *that* fantastic: Letter 1 - Letter 2 - Letter 3

Monday, August 08, 2005

Things Like That Drive Me Out Of My Mind

All this talk about the space shuttle reminds me of those conspiracy theories you periodically get about alleged hush-hush US research into interplanetary space travel (all based, of course, on the mythical B-movie space machine that crashed at Roswell in 1947).

Now I'm no expert on alien interplanetary spacecraft (which is why I spend my time writing marketing copy for software companies, rather than being a highly paid NASA technologist), but I *do* have my own theory about the mysterious cigar-shaped and saucer-shaped objects that are regularly spotted hovering in the firmament by weary (and/or drunk) airline pilots.

My theory is that these have nothing to do with space aliens or secret NASA experiments. Oh no. These are private sector UFOs. Specifically, they are instances of the Philip Morris Satellite. The function of the Philip Morris Satellite is to hover in the exosphere above ex-smokers, and beam unhelpful thoughts into their minds. And as Philip Morris Inc. is a commercial company, these unhelpful thoughts come in the form of little slogans, thus:

Cigarettes Are Your Friends

(and its more menacing variation: Cigarettes Are Your Only Friends)

You Wouldn't Desert A Friend, Would You?
If You Stop Smoking, No One Will Like You
Are You Quite Sure About This?
Soon You Will Feel Very Bored
Not Smoking Is Not Cool

And so on.

PS Can you guess which filthy, addictive habit I've forsworn today?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Lingerie Interlude

While I'm waiting for inspiration to post something that doesn't make me sound like a vacuous West London tart (only £2,876.54 a slice from Tatin Catin* on Turnham Green Terrace), I bring you important news from the world of frighteningly expensive French lingerie!

Yes, I know this isn't actually doing anything to dispel the vacuous-West-London-tart image, but frighteningly expensive French lingerie is to me as gorgeous handbags are to Pashmina and, erm, multiplayer role-playing fantasy-quest type games are to James, so please hear me out.

So having paid a visit earlier to the fancy underwear emporium on the aforementioned Turnham Green Terrace, and finding its collection wanting, I've just spent a merry hour or so trawling the online catalogues of the finest purveyors of such apparel, including Aubade, Lejaby and Chantelle.

And I'm totally delighted to report that Lejaby has seen fit to create a whole collection of tweed underwear for the coming Autumn. As if Autumn wasn't fantastic enough as it is! Tweed underwear! Just look at it!

If anyone calls for me, I'll be on the third floor of Selfridges spending money I haven't got.

* I am insanely proud of this gag. Just thought I'd say.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Resistance Is Futile: You Will Be Etymologised

The lovely and glamorous Pashmina has put the investigative cat among the etymological pigeons (oh dear) by unwittingly alerting me to the Oxford English Dictionary's sci-fi vocabulary research site. And just as I was thinking that what I really need right now is yet another distraction from work, as well.

Oh, so many challenges, so little time. So I think I'll concentrate on just one word (and one of my all-time favourites): cyborg. All I need to do is find a written example of it that pre-dates 1960. Come on. Surely this is going to be easier than resurrecting the Lost Language of the Picts?

Must scurry home *immediately* and consult weighty, pretentious textbook.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

I've Got A Thing About Chickens

Spent an instructive evening learning there can only be one winner in the game of Try To Match Mickey Rourke Cig For Cig while watching clunky (sorry, I mean "cult") 80s voodoo 'n' amnesia flick Angel Heart. Poor light stopped play about three quarters of the way through, at which point the score was Mickey 10, Patroclus 1. Well smoked, sir.

The more assiduous among you will have observed that I am ploughing through my DVD collection (total: 5) in strict alphabetical order, Nick Hornby style, which means that tonight's entertainment is likely to be fantastic Johnny-Depp-in-angora-sweater romp Ed Wood.

Unless anyone has any recommendations for films beginning with B, C or D that I can buy on my way home...

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Important Television Update

I know you've been following this saga with the impatient fervour you would normally reserve for EastEnders or the latest instalment in the Kerry/Brian or Jude/Sienna fiascos (fiaschi*, surely?), so I'll put you out of your misery.

You'll be relieved to hear that I have now got the TV to work (cue shrieks of delight, merry little dances around the living room, possibly a certain degree of underwear-throwing). Excellent.

I also tested my powers of emotional resistance by watching Amélie again. This time I only cried on three occasions, and that was because I was being *manipulated* into doing so by fiendish director, not because the film had unexpectedly tapped into some hidden wellspring of despair.

So hurrah - the frost-covered robot angel is reborn!

* It's Italian for "flasks". Flasks. Hmmm. No, me neither. Cello?