Thursday, December 28, 2006

AFK

Well, the laptop is officially dead, and I feel like I'm practically dead, so it's time for a break.

First I am going to walk up the hill, then I am going to get on a plane, then I am going to get on a train, and then I am going to go into hiding with a book about prime numbers and a book about cholera, and not come out until the 8th Jan.

Happy New Year the lot of you!


UPDATE: I've just realised that this means I won't be on MSN during the GW feature-length special (10pm, C4, Thurs 4th Jan) after all. Bugger. Rest assured I will be with you in spirit, fellow GW aficionados.

UPDATE 2: Also, I urge all and sundry to join in with Tim's chapter-by-chapter critical deconstruction of the dreadful adverb-fest that is The Da V*nci C*de, for which he has set up a special blog and everything. The fun begins on Jan 1, perfect for your New Year hangovers.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Christmas Blogchums!

No doubt I will be blogging right through the festive season*, like the trooper (read: no-life saddo) that I am, but I just wanted to wish a very happy Christmas and New Year to all of you lovely readers, fellow bloggers, commenters and lurkers.

It's been another odd year for me, and you've all been instrumental in cheering me up through the bad bits and making the good bits even better. Thanks to each and every one of you, and I hope you all have a lovely time, whatever you're doing and whoever you're doing it with!

I look forward to reading your comedy Christmas deconstructions and New Year's resolutions in due course. And to catching up with me London-based blogging chums when I'm back in the big city in January.

Patroclus xxx


Oo, look at that, kisses and everything. Has my mum spiked my tea?


* This was an optimistic prediction, made before my laptop succumbed to a festive virus, and I succumbed to a festive bout of unhappiness that prevents me from blogging. Normal service will be resumed at some point, though, I'm sure.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Monkey Songs Redux

(I don't even know what 'redux' means*; it just sounds good.)

Betty brought this one to my attention. Apparently it's *the* electro-house club anthem of 2006, but I wouldn't know about that, because I haven't been near a nightclub since that unfortunate incident with the angels and the ceiling and the TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE FEAR.

But it's by Justice vs Simian, and 'simian' means 'like a munkle', so it counts as a monkey song and is therefore relevant. And by crikey, it is ace.


Justice vs Simian - We Are Your Friends (mp3) - [Buy from Amazon]


If it doesn't put a stupid big grin on your face, I don't know what will.

Oh and there is quite a good video too, including some splendid slow-motion cat-jumping** action, but you will have to go to Betty's to see that, because we don't hold with nasty newfangled moving pictures here on the good ship Quinquireme.


* I don't know what 'gestalt' means, either.

** Not the same as 'cat wronging', for anyone here from the UKMHOF board.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Up The Twitter

At six twenty pm I go on to twitter.com, because apparently it's what all the cool people are doing.

I don't know what I'm supposed to do there.

Apparently you type into a box what you're doing right now, and then you can see what everyone else is doing right now. I type something suitably pretentious into a box, and then I look at what everyone else is doing.

Everyone else is mainly cooking dinner and listening to Hot Chip on their iPods. I fight the temptation to type into a box 'Hot Chip are, like, *so* 2005! You should be listening to Lindstrom*, dweebs!', because a) I am not fifteen, and b) these people were on twitter.com before me, ergo they are cooler than me, even if they are listening to Hot Chip on their iPods.

I type into the void a bit more.

Nothing happens.

A bloke called Mathew is wondering what's so good about twitter.com.

So am I.

I reckon everyone else is just pretending to know what's so cool about it, while they cook dinner and listen to Hot Chip on their iPods.

Mathew wonders if it's because he doesn't have any friends.

I almost offer to be his friend. Then I think that might be a terrible breach of Twitter etiquette ('twitiquette'), and some of the people on there have been there since, ooh, last week at least! They might gather round me and Mathew in a circle and laugh, and taunt, and chant 'you love him, you love him'.

'Twitter is more fun with friends!' says the blurb. Going by the available evidence, I consider that this statement may have merit.

I email James to see if he wants to go on it, luring him with the promise of a site that's so inconsequentially solipsistic it makes blogging look like War and Peace and the Red Cross rolled into one.

Strangely this doesn't work.

In a last ditch attempt to get to grips with it, I inform the Twitter crowd that I am 'moping'.

Nothing happens.

I go and cook the dinner, without listening to Hot Chip on my iPod.

It is now eight sixteen pm. In Twitter time ('twime'), about seven years have passed. Mathew probably now has thirty-eight thousand friends and a column in the Guardian.

'This typing what you're doing into a box malarky, it'll never catch on', I think to myself.

I sit down at my laptop and fire up Blogger.


* Or is it Prins Thomas? I can't keep up.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Three Monkeys

Here are three songs with 'monkey' in the title, hand-picked from my enormous archive of monkey-themed songs.

In true local radio stylee I'm dedicating these to LC, because he needs his mind taking off things, and songs about monkeys are just the thing, I reckon. But everyone else please do feel free to dig in too.

Barry Adamson - The Monkey Speaks His Mind (m4a) - [Buy from Amazon]
Sinister, growly jazz noir, with lyrics I'm not sure I want to listen to all that closely. And screaming. Lots of terrible, anguished screaming, of the sort that you might hear echoing around the Italian marble walls of the loos in Cipriani. Brilliant.

Not sure who - Monkey Gone To Heaven (mp3)
Ahh, the Pixies were great, weren't they? Of course, they would have been even better if they'd booted out Frank Black and drafted in Frank Sinatra. Wouldn't they?

The Emperor Machine - Monkey Overbite (mp3) - [Buy from Amazon]
It's all about epic psychedelic space disco for winter 06-07, kids, and here is a fine example of the genre. I heartily advise you to pull on your silver platform moonboots, project some swirly lava shapes on to what's left of your specialist-polished plaster walls, and get down.


BONUS NON-MONKEY-RELATED TRACK, as requested by Aimee:

Don't know who this is either - Wave Of Mutilation (mp3)


Next up: five songs about axolotls, hand-picked from my enormous archive of axolotl-themed songs.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Blogworld 1, Evening Standard 0

Seeing Stef the Engineer's comment on the previous post reminded me that I've been meaning to write about blog posts I've read that have stuck in my mind.

I might do a proper Review Of The Year In Blogworld later on, but I want to mention this one now, just because it's timely.

Compare these two tales of disaster* survival:

1. My Tornado Hell (from the Evening Standard, via Blue Cat)

2. Stef and the Kobe Earthquake (from Shoot The Messenger)

Any hacks out there still want to claim that journalists are the better storytellers, or that bloggers are the vacuous, self-obsessed ones?


* That's if you subscribe to the view that the Kensal Rise tornado was a 'disaster'. I'm not sure that the loss of a fully insured Cath Kidston carpet and some tangerines is quite in the same league as, say, Hurricane Katrina, but you know what I mean. I'd also be grateful if anyone could provide any insight as to what exactly might have been going on in the mind of Caroline Phillips as she wrote this. Did she really think it was going to inspire sympathy? Admiration? A chick-lit book deal? I'm completely at a loss to understand.


UPDATE: For anyone thinking this article is a spoof, here is an actual picture of it (what I nicked from someone on this forum; thank you, person on that forum!):


Friday, December 15, 2006

Pop Cult

As ordained in the scriptures, I am now Patroclus MA (Pop Cult). Woo! Who wants in? You get to wear pink robes and worship at the shrine of Baudrillard and everything. Polygamy is optional.


UPDATE: To mark this rite of passage, I am declaring a full-on Qualification Amnesty. Please therefore take this opportunity to list your qualifications in the comments. I want the lot!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Colossus Of Prades

If you liken the human brain to a computer (which is something I like to do a lot), mine is the reconstruction of the Colossus that those two unassuming chaps are working on out the back of Bletchley Park.

This is not because my brain is massive, revolutionary, or the first of its kind. Oh no. Quite the opposite. My brain is like the Colossus because it is devoting a vast amount of computational resource to processing just two questions, which are being repeatedly fed into it on an endless stream of ticker tape:

1. Will I have to move to the rural south of France permanently?

2. If so, how will the rest of my life play out?

There's no way yet of answering either of these questions, but this doesn't stop my brain from endlessly processing, processing, processing. Lying awake at night, processing. Walking in the countryside, processing. Having a bath, processing. Cooking dinner, processing.

There are a lot of things that are worse than moving to the rural south of France. Thousands of Brits do it all the time. Then they write gushing books about it, or articles in the Sunday Times, which attract other Brits, like the bodies of dead ants attracting increasing numbers of live ants. The weather is usually quite nice. The countryside is beautiful. The hedgerows are full of rosemary and thyme and lavender and pears and hares and snakes and shrews. My house is rustic and cosy. The food is cheap and tasty, the coffee is great, the views are fantastic, and the neighbours are forever bringing home-made pies and cakes round.

Wait a second, why don't I want to move here again?


ALSO: Note to Realdoc - I can't comment on your blog at all at all at all, which is really annoying me.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Do Geeks Dream Of Lego Sheep?

Courtesy of the lovely Mr BC, I have a fantastic lego advent calendar.

In my enthusiasm I managed to completely destroy it before I figured out how it worked, at one point laying bare all of the little lego sets incubating in the cells behind each of the doors. It was nothing a bit of hasty sellotaping and folding couldn't fix, though, and the calendar is now functioning as it should.

However, recently the calendar has started behaving suspiciously, as if it knows as much about the inner workings of my life as I know about its.

Yesterday morning, for example, door no. 8 yielded up a festive hospital bed, complete with drip. Yesterday afternoon, I had to take my mum to the hospital (scheduled visit, nothing alarming), where a certain amount of time was spent lying about on a spookily similar bed, watching the news about the festive rail strikes in Clermont-Ferrand.

This morning, door no. 9 revealed a little hospital desk and computer, featuring a fancy adjustable flat-screen monitor. Eerily, today I am writing a brochure about healthcare computerisation (pace Realdoc).

I'm leaving for the airport at 6.15am tomorrow, but there will probably be time for me to open door no. 10 before I go. I'm just hoping I don't get one of these:


Because that would just be way too scary.


UPDATE: Look! This Matt also has the lego advent calendar! And he's put lego Anakin Skywalker on his hospital bed, whereas I've put lego Draco Malfoy on mine! And my lego doctor also put his briefcase in the luggage x-raying machine! It's things like this that restore my faith in humankind.

UPDATE 2: Ooh, I got a bit overexcited there. Anyone would think I was quite looking forward to my little sojourn in London Town.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Blighty

After six long weeks in exile, I'm just about to make good my escape back to the land of Marmite and Twinings Earl Grey, to stock up on...er...Marmite and Twinings Earl Grey. And to check that the lovely Mr BC and I still like each other*. And to meet some people in Hungerford. And to pitch some dreadfully fashionable Web 2.0 malarky to some people in Reading. And to go to the work Christmas party. And to see Tunng and Viva Voce play in Brick Lane, if anyone fancies coming along on Monday evening.

My reward for all this frivolity is a 3.30am taxi back to Stansted on Wednesday morning, and the exile commences once more...


* Which apparently we do. Awww.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Everything I've Been Taught By Men

Here is the COMPLETE, UNABRIDGED and ALPHABETICAL list of everything I have learned about from my four serious boyfriends over the last 15 years:

Acid house, Isaac Asimov, avoiding being killed by hippos, Belgian hardcore, canoeing, class As, football, Joseph Heller, the internet as a metaphor for the hive mind, investment banking, making jewellery, the Mandelbrot set, MMORPGs, object-oriented programming, pool, science fiction tropes, RPGs, skiing, Neal Stephenson, techno, Visual Basic, Kurt Vonnegut, when to change gear.


UPDATE: Well, I never considered this would become a meme, but lots of other people have had a go, and the resulting lists are incredibly eclectic and endlessly fascinating. Have a look at Chaucer's Bitch, Extemporanea, Great She Elephant, Loganoc, Realdoc and Spinsterella, for a start...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Interstellar Joy

I thought I'd do my word cloud again, but I wasn't going to post it - until I saw that the new one includes the fantastic phrases 'big Billy biscuit' and 'interstellar joy'.

Interstellar joy.

I can't begin to imagine what it is, but I *really* want some.



What serendipitous phrases are in your word cloud?


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Remixes Of The Week!

All things considered, I can't stand Depeche Mode. I tend to think of them as a sort of tiresome S&M version of U2, the band I detest most out of all bands, ever. But I really, really love 'Personal Jesus', for reasons I don't fully understand.

This week, for reasons also unknown, I have also developed a terrible weakness for early-90s-style squelchy acid house. I can't go for a pleasant walk in the French countryside without simultaneously subjecting myself to full-frontal sonic 303 assault administered intracerebrally via my fraying iPod earphones.

Not content with keeping this to myself, I'm going to draw you brave blog readers into my lonely little acid-drenched exile by subjecting you to this *epic* remix of 'Personal Jesus', which actually sounds like a gigantic intergalactic laser space war has broken out over which star system gets custody of 'the' Mode. It's epic, and it's awesome, and Great She Elephant, for one, is going to hate it:


Depeche Mode - Personal Jesus (Boys Noize Rework) (mp3)

[Buy from Phonica Records]


And here's the antidote, it's Quinquireme favourites Husky Rescue once more, here being remixed by Tunng. Tunng combine really lovely sparkly electronica noises with traditional instruments, and they've never sounded lovelier or sparklier than here, accompanied by Rita-Leena Korhola's ethereal vocals. Oo, it's like looking at the stars on a clear midwinter night. No, really it is:


Husky Rescue - Diamonds In The Sky (Tunng Mix) (m4a)

[Buy from Amazon]


That last one is especially for Broke in Berlin, who inspired me this evening to re-learn how to upload mp3s to this blog...there's no stopping me now, muahahaaaa!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

When Insects Attack, Lurk Or Get In The Biscuits

Excerpts from The Ladybird Book of French Creepy-Crawlies and Their Behavioural Characteristics:

Wasp (la guêpe). Refuses to die when winter comes. Instead, lurks under duvets and stings the naked arses of unsuspecting humans that try to get in the bed with it. Buzzes a lot while the injured human leaps about in pain and bats at it with a copy of Susan Cooper's peerless children's fantasy novel The Dark Is Rising, before shoving it unceremoniously out of the window. Lurks under the windowsill waiting to be let back in so it can have another go.

Spider (l'araignée). Gets in laundry baskets and reveals itself menacingly whenever lumbering humans attempt to bury it under socks, pants etc.

Moth (le papillon de nuit). Breeds prolifically in cupboards. Somehow gets into the fancy biscuits, despite the fact that the fancy biscuits are in an airtight tin. Somehow gets into the fancy coffee, despite the fact that the fancy coffee is in an airtight jar inside the fridge. Will not stop getting in the fancy foodstuffs no matter how many times it is told. Eventually pays for its disobedience by being mercilessly sucked up by the hoover.


NB I know a spider is not an insect.


PS It is Smat's birthday today! Happy birthday Smat!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Blog Of The Week!

Oohhh, it's non-stop lovely lovely online design porn:

Bend To Squares

Oohhhhh.

Must look again.

Ooohhhh.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Song Of The Week

Hmm, I haven't had a Song Of The Week for months, so this is probably more like Song Of The Ortem Time. And a fine song for ortem time it is too, being a lovely, contemplative alt-folky song about falling in love with the light in the morning after the night.

Apparently it's a cover of a song by Psychic TV, but that doesn't really mean anything to me; it's just nice:

Califone - The Orchids (mp3)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Volume

One of the salient architectural features of my French house is that it has very few internal doors.

This is fine if all you want to do is swan from room to room remarking on the pretty patterns made by the mildew or marvelling at the delicate festoons of cobwebs. But when you're trying to work at the dining room table, and the dining room is actually more of a cupboard off the sitting room, and the sitting room is where your mum spends the day watching television, then things become slightly more vexing.

Far be it from me to speculate on the efficacy of my mum's hearing, so let's just say that mum likes the television to provide her with a rich cinematic experience. There's nothing about Hetty Wainthropp Investigates or Keeping Up Appearances that can't be improved by cranking up the Dolby surround sound to plaster-loosening levels, for example.

Today, however, mum decided she'd had enough of Patricia Routledge's various incarnations and started watching her Lord of the Rings DVD box set instead. As I was trying to write an article about European economic competitiveness, this gave me no choice but to put on my headphones and attempt to drown out the hobbitses by subjecting myself to the complete works of doomed Oregonian junkie Elliott Smith at an inadvisably loud volume.

Under the circumstances, it's a wonder I even heard my phone ringing, but I did, which is how the following scene unfolded:

Mobile phone rings. I yank off my earphones and am instantly felled by a tidal wave of orchestral music as the LOTR theme swells and booms around me.

Me: (answering phone) Hello, Patroclus speaking.

Client: Oh, hello, it's your client here. I was wondering if you had a few minutes to go over something with me?

The LOTR theme rattles the windows and light fittings with nuclear intensity.

Me: Oh, yes, sure. Of course.

Client: Are you sure? You sound, er, busy.

Me: No, no, I'm fine, I'll just move into the...hang on...

I move three feet to the right, into the kitchen. The volume abates by a fraction of a decibel. I pray for a contemplative scene in which Frodo stares into the middle distance with a troubled look on his face. Unfortunately, the music continues to swell. Then swords start to clash, and dwarves and Men start yelling about dark things and rings of power.

Client: Have you got the document open in front of you?

I haven't. I've left my laptop in the dining room. I'm going to have to go back in there and fetch it. I wait for a lull in the proceedings and make a dash for it, phone cradled to my ear.

Me: Right, yes, just opening it now...

From the sitting room, a booming voice intones 'ONE DOES NOT SIMPLY WALK INTO MORDOR.'

Client: Are you in an airport?

Me: Not exactly.

I hastily unplug the laptop from its various shackles and run back with it into the kitchen. Unfortunately, it turns out that one of the things I unplugged was the earphones. Now Elliott Smith is blaring out of the speakers at an inadvisably loud volume.

Elliott: NO BAD DREAM FUCKER'S GOING TO BOSS ME AROUND

Client: Should I ring back later?

Me: Yes, I think that might be best, actually.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Patroclus Has A Go At The Media. Again.

In the comments on the last post, Realdoc asked:

'How come no-one is playing all this stuff on the radio though, it's not as if it's difficult. Like Valerie I got Matson Jones, Tilly and the Wall, Howe Gelb and Lovage after your last cast and wondered why the hell I hadn't heard any of it before. Shouldn't 6 Music or someone be playing this stuff?

Which is an excellent question, and not just because it includes a pleasing endorsement for my inaugural podcast. Why do none of the established radio stations play obscure American indie tunes?

Well, in fact, I'm pretty sure they do, from time to time anyway. I've heard some good stuff on BBC 6 Music on the couple of occasions I've listened to it (although I was probably only tuning in for the purpose of stalking DJ Dr Snackspot - hello DJ Dr S.).

But the real answer is that it's all to do with the internet and the so-called long tail, a phrase coined by Wired editor Chris Anderson to denote a large volume made up of lots and lots of little things. There's a *huge* amount of music on the internet now, as bands don't need their record labels to do their distribution any more - they can just upload their stuff straight to the web, and it's available worldwide.

And where there's a huge amount of music, there are a huge number of musical styles and a huge number of niche audiences, rather than one 'mass' audience. So I like jangly American indie-pop (among other things). Valerie and Realdoc, as it turns out, also like jangly American indie-pop. (Hurrah!). Nibus, on the other hand, likes ambient stuff with tweeting birds and the sound of telephone wires oscillating in the breeze. Rafael likes mashups. James likes obscure covers and sparkly electro-pop. Prolix likes alt.country. Tim likes literate indie-pop. Billy likes intelligent alternative rock. Llewtrah likes metal. Spinny likes indie-rock. Cello likes Rameau. Some of us might like some of the same things, but essentially our tastes are all quite different.

All this is great, but the mass media, like Radio 1, and XFM, and BBC6 Music, are all predicated on playing to as big an audience as possible, at least within their 'brand identity'. They can't cater to everyone's taste - there's no mass media radio station that could keep even the twelve people listed above happy all the time. So they have to play it safe, and choose songs that are going to be liked - as opposed to loved - by a lot of people. I don't know how they choose what they're going to play (but I would very much like to know, so if anyone has any insight then please do chip in), but what you end up with is a bunch of 'safe' music from bands that are usually on established record labels with proper marketing machines behind them.

BUT (and cello will hate me for saying this, because it's an extension of the same argument we've been having all over the internet), the great thing about music and the internet is that you don't HAVE to listen to the mass-media radio any more for your fix of music. Why listen to a radio station that's been chosen to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, when you can listen to a radio station that only plays the music you like or are likely to like?

That's the thinking behind last.fm and pandora.com, which are personalised radio stations (and, in the case of last.fm, also a social community) that only play music that they calculate will appeal to you. And it works like a dream, broadly speaking. Having tried them both, I can't think why anyone would want or need to listen to Radio 1 or XFM any more.

Some might argue that by listening to music that lots of other people allegedly like, you're participating in an enriching shared cultural experience. But I don't want to have a shared cultural experience with a load of other people, not in terms of music anyway. Music is culty and snobbish - and I like it that way. I don't want to like music that lots of other people like. I want to feel like the music I like belongs to *me*. I'll happily share it with you, dear blog readers, because you're all lovely, and this is a blog, and blogs are the new spiritual home of music - but I don't want to see it on MTV, and I don't want to hear it on Radio 1, and I don't ever want to see Howe Gelb in Heat, in fact I'd be quite happy never knowing what Howe Gelb looks like. I like being in a tiny niche audience for the music I like, and I'm happy for it to stay that way.

Of course, if I have my way, the bands I like won't ever make it 'big', and they won't get rich or marry Hollywood stars or get inducted into the UK Hall of Fame (whatever that means) or have kids named after fruit.

So in conclusion: I am a selfish élitist snob when it comes to music, but I'm happy about that.

Which is no kind of answer to Realdoc's original question at all, is it? Would anyone else like to have a go?


UPDATE: Someone has just found this blog by searching for 'iPod as Ideological State Apparatus'. Blimey. Discuss.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Interstellar Array Update

A France Télécom engineer just turned up to my house, unbidden, and switched on the broadband connection. Just like that. After three years of them telling me I couldn't have it.

I'm so happy I think I'm going to faint. Or lie down. Or download tons of mp3s from the Hype Machine.

Hurrah!!!


UPDATE: And now let us all celebrate my re-connection to the hive mind by listening to some stupidly catchy twee Texan indie-pop, courtesy of stupidly catchy twee Texan indie-popsters Voxtrot. Particularly recommended for fans of Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Lucksmiths et al.

Voxtrot - Trouble (mp3)

Ooh, I feel another podcast in the making...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Cartesian

One side-effect of my mum's illness is that she has amassed a gigantic hoard of exotic medicaments, with names that sound like Doctor Who villains. The other morning I'm sure I caught ZOPHREN planning an intergalactic electromagnetic assault on SPASFON.

Needless to say, mum and I are both quite confused about what she's supposed to be taking and what she isn't. Which is how this conversation ensued yesterday with the doctor (not *that* doctor):

Mum: I'm worried about all these medicines, I don't know what I'm supposed to be taking.

Doctor: Well, now, ah, you see, I'm a Cartesian.

Me: Ah yes, Cartesian dualism.

Doctor: Oh, you studied philosophy?

Me: A bit.

Doctor: All French people are Cartesians; it's in our nature.

Mum: Cartesians?

Me: He believes in the separateness of the mind and the body.

Mum: Right, well, what does that have to do with anything?

Doctor: I don't make a note of anything, you see.

Me: It seems to mean he doesn't believe in keeping medical records.

Mum: Right. So which of these medicines am I supposed to be taking?

Doctor: Buggered if I know.


In other news, no lesbians with interstellar arrays have turned up yet, but I did see a dead snake.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Joy Of 802.11x

When I bought my house in France in 2001, I never considered that I might ever actually have to live here. I was relatively well off at the time (no longer, sadly), my mum needed a place to live after she and my dad split up, and there was this huge ramshackle house going in this tiny stone-built hamlet nestling among the vines, for which the owner only wanted 290,000 old French francs (the equivalent of about 27,000 pounds).

'You paid two hundred and ninety thousand?', said my new French neighbour, aghast. 'Bloody hell - they saw you coming!'

I very rarely think about the future, so I never foresaw that my mum would be diagnosed with cancer, or that she would become so ill that she wouldn't even be able to make herself a cup of tea. So I went about my career in London in the usual way, eventually becoming the business partner of ex-blogger and international jetset businesswoman Tabby Rabbit, with a swanky office in Chiswick, a lovely team of writers and designers, and a tip-top portfolio of tech-industry clients stretching all the way from San Francisco to Dubai.

Which is all very well in London, but I'm now back in France caring full-time for my mum, while still trying to manage a team of lovely people in London, work across 34 timezones* and cultivate a tip-top portfolio of tech industry clients stretching all the way from San Francisco to Dubai.

And as if this wasn't sufficiently temporally and geographically 'challenging', just as I was on the point of leaving the country I also quite unexpectedly acquired a boyfriend** in deepest Cornwall.

All this would be OK, if it wasn't for the fact that when I bought the French house, I unwittingly chose one in a location that is infuriatingly just out of reach of the broadband signals radiating out from the two nearby villages.

They saw me coming, alright.

Trying to care for an invalid, manage an international business and have a long-distance relationship with the aid of one telephone line and a maximum internet connection speed of 45 kilobits a second is difficult. When one of the frequent Languedocien thunderstorms knocks out the telephone line for four or five days at a time, the situation becomes...well, I'm an optimist, so let's say 'laughable'.

Last night, though, I was listening to some music on my laptop in bed, when a message flashed up out of nowhere saying 'One or more wireless connections are in range. Click here to connect'. Barely pausing to wonder whether the first of those two sentences was grammatically correct, I followed the instructions, mesmerised by the possibility that someone out here in the vineyards of rural France might have a wireless broadband network.

Miraculously, it connected, I downloaded one (spam) email and scurried to MSN Messenger to see if there was anyone online I could talk to. Another message flashed up: 'No wireless networks are in range', and I was back alone in bed with my laptop.

I haven't seen the signal again since.

It's funny the technological luxuries you get used to. I bet Robinson Crusoe never had this trouble.


* I counted. Although some of them are the same, just with different names. Either that or there aren't 24 hours in a day after all - which may come as unwelcome news to Jack Bauer.

** Not that I'm complaining about this. At all. Quite the opposite.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Biscuit Factory

There's a classic episode of Bagpuss in which the mice from the mouse organ build a chocolate biscuit factory. To the outside observer (specifically, Bagpuss himself), the factory appears to be a hive of efficient and prolific biscuit production, churning out delicious sweetmeats at a clip that would have made Jack Welch's little heart pound with capitalist-industrialist joy.

The twist (because this is classic television drama, and therefore there must be a twist) comes when Bagpuss asks to eat one of the biscuits (seemingly unmindful of the fact that he is made of cloth, and therefore has no digestive system), forcing the mice to reveal that the factory's frenetic output is an illusion, and that its production line simply recycles the same biscuit again and again.

I can't begin to tell you how many times in my illustrious career I've felt like the mice with their biscuit factory. As I'm in the service industry, it's imperative that my clients always see a hive of calm, efficient and professional output, no matter what kind of unholy catastrophic disaster might be unfolding behind the scenes.

Today, for example, I found myself trying to buy time by pretending to be in a strategic meeting in London, when in fact I was recklessly driving 15 miles along winding country lanes in the south of France, unwashed and unkempt, trying to get to a broadband connection so that I could send my client a set of brochures that he probably thinks were created by a team of black-polo-neck-wearing, Creative Review-reading, coke-sniffing Mac bunnies in a swanky London studio with exposed brickwork, when in fact they were created by my own little brother (who is a proper designer and everything, just in case any of my clients are reading and getting worried) at the dining room table in my ramshackle French house in the middle of the Languedoc vineyards.

Still, it's a lovely autumn day here, and I think I've got away with it.

Plain Choco Leibniz, anyone?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Surfacing Briefly For Air

...in the style of Lara Croft (fellow alumna of my alma mater) in that swimmy-underwater bit in Venice with the motorboat...

Anyway, lots going on, not all of it exactly wonderful, so no time for anything much except to give a couple of plugs to the following people:

1. The illustrious Tim Footman (fellow alumnus of my other alma mater) has written a book about Thom Yorke (fellow alumnus etc. etc.) and Roland Barthes (who didn't attend any of my educational establishments) and Arsène Wenger (I might have made that up), which is even now available for pre-order on Amazon! Go to it, especially if Radiohead is your bag. And even if Radiohead isn't your, er, bag, then still go to it, because Mr Footman is a splendidly eloquent and effortlessly erudite and highly entertaining writer, and he certainly knows his pop culture.

2. A friend of my friend Smat (fellow alumna of my alma mater*) is playing a gig at the Notting Hill Arts Club on Friday 15th December. She's called Farah Naz, and this is her myspace page, so you can check her out, and according to Smat the stuff she'll be playing at the gig is edgier and like way more ROCK than her stuff on myspace. As Smat's coming all the way from the North Downs for it, and I may be paying the old country a fleeting visit around that time too, it might be a splendid opportunity for a West London blogmeet. Watch this space...

In other news, some Egyptians have tired me out, so I'm going to lie down now.


* I didn't plan this, honest. It must just be one of those coincidence things.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Turing Pumpkin

...but before I go, here's a seasonal pumpkin bearing a festive simulacrum of programmable computing pioneer and persecuted gay icon Alan Turing.


Happy Hallowe'en!

Thanks to Cornwall Matt, who thought this might be the kind of picture I would like. And he was right!

Monday, October 30, 2006

L'Étranger

Well everyone, I'm leaving the (still) surviving pelargonium to fend for itself again, as I'm off back to France to do battle once more with nature's rubbish bounty, vanilla deodorant, and France Télécom's feeble dial-up connection.

Back in Blighty in the New Year, back in the blogosphere...in a couple of days, no doubt.

À la prochaine, mes amis.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Second Coming

This is the last thing I'm going to write on this subject, I promise...


Today's Observer has a big feature about - yup, you guessed it - Second Life.

Reading it, I got an even greater sense of déjà vu than I did from last weekend's Telegraph feature about Habbo Hotel*.

Trailblazer that I am, I was in Habbo Hotel in 2002 (as briefly documented in this post), and it was as rubbish and full of teenagers going 'asl' and 'lol' as it apparently still is today. In fact, for all I know, I might *still* be in there, gathering virtual dust Miss Havisham-style in my virtual apartment. That would be cool.

But anyway. In 1996, long before I had an avatar and a room in Habbo Hotel, I had an avatar and a room in a place called WorldsAway. Here, just like in Second Life, you had an avatar that you could customise, which wandered around socialising with other people's avatars, earning in-world money, furnishing the in-world apartment that you bought for it, and buying and selling in-world items.

WorldsAway looked like this:


I'm so powerfully reminded of WorldsAway whenever I read the latest gushing article about the 'new' world of Second Life, that I went in search of old media articles to check that WorldsAway really did once exist, and to reassure myself that the current media frenzy is actually a frenzy about something that's been around for more than a decade.

So here we go:

Exhibit A is an article from Wired magazine's June 1996 issue, entitled 'Metaworlds'.

Exhibit B is the cover feature from today's Observer Review section, entitled 'Goodbye, Cruel World...'.

The Wired article makes fascinating reading. Media coverage of information technology is usually so forward-looking, and we take technological developments for granted so quickly, that it's instructive to stop for a second, look back and understand where today's technology came from rather than where it's going.

But assuming that you don't have the time or inclination to read a 13-page article from 10 years ago, here are some things that haven't changed:

1. Snow Crash as Ur-Geschichte
Science fiction often anticipates technological developments, and virtual worlds are no exception. Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash vividly anticipates the dual reality created not just by Second Life, but also by its forebears like WorldsAway:
"...to keep things straight, I'm going to call [places like Worlds Away] metaworlds. This is partly in homage to Neal Stephenson, whose 1992 novel Snow Crash portrayed a metaworld that's a few technological and cultural notches above what's possible right now: the Metaverse, a virtual world so immersive and detailed it rivals the real one.

In Stephenson's Metaverse, an avatar can look any way you want: 'If you're ugly, you can make your avatar beautiful. If you've just gotten out of bed, your avatar can still be wearing beautiful clothes and professionally applied makeup. You can look like a gorilla or a dragon or a giant talking penis in the Metaverse'."

- Robert Rossney, 'Metaworlds', Wired, June 1996

"Second Life, or something like it, was first imagined by the science-fiction author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 book Snow Crash. His prophecy was uncanny. 'Hiro's avatar is now on the Street, too,' he wrote, 'and if the couples coming off the monorail look over in his direction, they can see him, just as he's seeing them. They could strike up a conversation: Hiro in the U-Stor-It in LA and the four teenagers probably on a couch in a suburb of Chicago, each with their own laptop. But they probably won't talk to each other, any more than they would in Reality ...'."

Tim Adams, 'Goodbye, Cruel World...', The Observer, 29 October 2006

2. Virtual Worlds as Consensual Hallucination
William Gibson came up with the idea of 'cyberspace' as 'a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of operators', way back in 1984 when hardly anyone outside of the Pentagon and MIT had even heard of the internet. The idea of a virtual world as a kind of dream or hallucination shared by many people at once held sway in 1996 just as it does today:
"WorldsAway's long history is a little too evident. It looks cool - the background graphics are in a hallucinatory art nouveau style, sort of Aubrey Beardsley meets William Gibson..."

- Wired, June 1996

"In his forthcoming book From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Fred Turner...traces the ways that the Californian non-conformism of the Sixties helped to create the revolution of the personal computer [...] the individual self, trapped in the human body, 'would finally be free to step outside its fleshy confines, explore its authentic interests, and find others with whom it might achieve communion'. In this reading, computers [...] took over where LSD left off."

- The Observer, October 2006

3. The Value of Virtual Real Estate
It seems that the old 'location, location, location' mantra has always been as true of virtual worlds as it is of the real one:
"There's nothing to do in AlphaWorld [another 1996-era virtual world] but build, and the buildings themselves have no purpose. Nonetheless, the place is crowded with structures - so much so that new users have a hard time finding any space of their own to build. All the land near the metaworld's entry point has already been taken...Worlds Inc. is adding teleporters to outlying undeveloped areas so that new users won't give up before they find a patch of open ground."

- Wired, June 1996

"Each new resident of Second Life is offered a plot of land. Kenny [the journalist's avatar] chooses one on Blacktail Ridge. It is, I have to say, a disappointment: a dark and icy wasteland with a few scattered shacks...Good land has become so rare in Second Life that people are prepared to pay hundreds of real dollars for it."

- The Observer, October 2006

4. Virtual Living as 'The Future'
The technology industry and its media are obsessed with the future, always presenting whatever's happening now as a crude and primitive version of how things will be in some shiny future age. Frothy-mouthed futurologists are forever predicting the day when machines will become sentient (the so-called 'Singularity'), and humans will evolve into World of Warcraft characters.

I think it's terribly sad as it tends to dismiss the past, thus preventing people from properly understanding the history of technology, and it makes us take for granted all the wonderful, bizarre and fascinating things that are actually happening now. But anyway, both of these articles fall into this futurology trap, thus:
"The technology needed to support something like Stephenson's Metaverse is not really that far off. What if we find the combination of avatars, gestures, and persistence compelling enough to make them the standard? What if we all move into these metaworlds, conducting large portions of our lives online? [...] We shouldn't be expecting metaworlds to supplant the real world or fix it. They won't. What they will do, though, is give people something they are ceaselessly searching for: new ways to connect with each other."

- Wired, June 1996
This has actually happened now, but we're still looking to the future:
"A brave-ish new world has recently been created. You can access it on your PC with a password and your credit card. And as soon as you arrive in it, you can easily convince yourself that you are seeing the future - or at least one future - of entertainment and interaction and business."

- The Observer, October 2006

Rah. So, next time the media starts going all gushy about Second Life, remember to roll your eyes sweetly and say 'gosh, how terribly 1996'. But as established virtual citizens of the blogosphere, you would do that anyway, wouldn't you?


* Which isn't available online; I checked.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Virtual Company Disappears Up Second Arse

Chris Morris couldn't have made a better job of this:

The Crayon Manifesto


My favourite bits:

"In the new marketing world, there is no precedent; there is only gut, intuition, common sense and intelligence."

"Our master is the customer; our master is the truth; our master is change. We fully intend to bias against the status quo and represent the road not taken with 110% of our minds, bodies and spirits."

"If you have new marketing blood pumping through your veins and have the kind of passion, intensity and originality that is waiting to explode upon impact, inquire within."

"All crayons will have skin in the game."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Blogger Writes Blog Post Inside Second Life

Having recently read this, this, and (dear god help us) this, I thought I'd just test whether the deployment of the magical phrase 'inside Second Life' automatically results in impressionable venture capitalists battering down the door of Quinquireme Towers to shower me with cash.

I'll shut up now and do some work.

Inside Second Life.


UPDATE: Readers, have you heard of any other companies launching a nonsensical operation inside a virtual world for no reason other than to appear fashionable and/or to attract large cash donations from stupid people? If so, send in your reports! I might set up a Nonsensical Virtual Operations Monitoring Agency...right here in the blogosphere.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hey Mr Lawnmower Man

As you know, on this blog we like to chew over the important issues of the day. Could North Korea test a nuclear weapon inside Second Life? What would the prevailing political ideology be called if Gordon Brown became Prime Minister and appointed 'Sir' Alan Sugar as Chancellor? Should Nelly Furtado be quarantined for avian flu, just in case?

You know, the weighty stuff.

Today is no exception. The other day commenter NIBUS opined that there are no pop songs about lawnmowers. Today commenter JACK SPANNERS retaliated by observing:

Not a song *about* lawnmowers as such, but the Talking Heads song "Nothing but Flowers" contains the line: 'If this is Paradise, I wish I had a lawn mower'. Top song, as well.

And so there we have today's topical discussion topic:

Songs about lawnmowers or that have lawnmowers in them: are there any?

Ooh, it's getting *just* like Comment is Free in here, isn't it?

Signs Of The Times, Part The Umpteenth

A blogger uses his Guardian column to explain why newspaper columns* are no longer relevant in the blogging era.

Ahh, we bloggers are like teenagers who think they can live without their parents, but keep running back for food and money and clean clothes.


* Admittedly he's on about leader columns, but it's still nicely ironic.


UPDATE: Thanks to commenter ALBERT, who drew my attention to this piece from Comment is Free last Thursday. It's by Jeremy Langmead, editor of camp interiors mag Wallpaper*. Can anyone square this bit of his tirade:
Neither my ex-wife nor I are the most mature, sane or practical people in the world - we can be juvenile, bad-tempered and stubborn - but we worked hard at keeping everything as pleasant and humane as possible. She helped me hunt for a new apartment, I babysat when she went out on a date, and one evening we sat down with a bottle of wine and worked out a financial settlement, even though neither of us ever came anywhere near to passing a maths exam. Having watched both our parents go through destructive divorces, we knew what the pitfalls were and made sure we avoided them.

Nearly a decade later, we are still the best of friends. We live on the same square in north London and the children happily hop between the two homes depending on which kitchen contains the most chocolate biscuits. My ex-wife lives with her partner and their new baby and we all comfortably socialise and even holiday together.

with this bit:

Some of my younger colleagues at Wallpaper are part of this blog brigade and I have open-mindedly visited their sites to see what all the fuss is about.

I discovered what music they liked, what books they'd read, the names of some of their friends and what a wild time they had at that party last Saturday night - the last accompanied by blurred pictures of drunk people gurning at the camera. Oh, and one of them enjoyed the Hockney exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Proof was in the accompanying picture of him outside the gallery with thumbs in the air.

I came away with the feeling that I'd been watching a particularly dull MTV programme; or delving into the online equivalent of one of those brightly coloured patent diaries that 12-year-old girls covet because they have small gold padlocks with fiddly keys.

Sadly, the minutiae of our everyday lives are rarely riveting. Only a handful of diarists over the centuries have managed to transform humdrum into drama. When future generations read the blogs compiled this week, the most interesting thing will be how uninteresting they are. I've yet to be convinced that blogs are anything more than an outlet for people who didn't make it onto Big Brother 7.

This week Jeremy read Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins by Rupert Everett "I'm not into celebrity outpourings but this was cruel, witty and well-written." Jeremy listened to 5.55 by Charlotte Gainsbourg "A heavenly combination of Air and Jarvis Cocker wrote the songs for this brilliant album ... tracks were used for almost every catwalk show in Milan".

I really, really want to believe that last bit is a hilarious joke, but something tells me it actually isn't...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Patroclocast 1

I almost changed my whole blog name to Quadrireme, just so I could bill my inaugural podcast as a Quadcast. What a tosser! But common sense stayed my hand, so Quinquireme it remains, and this is my inaugural, erm, Patroclocast.

Obviously I am just blatantly copying my fellow bloggers Billy, Del and Annie, all of whom have been producing excellent podcasts for, ooh, years, in Web 2.0 terms.

Be warned there's no talking on mine. This is because I wish to preserve my allure and mystique and not at all because I'm far too self-conscious to broadcast my voice wantonly about the IP-waves. But if I *was* talking on it, this stuff below is what I would be saying:

Howe Gelb - 'Paradise Here Abouts'. Alt.country's answer to Lou Reed goes all indie gospel blues with Canada's Voices of Praise gospel choir. Featuring Jeremy Gara from the Arcade Fire on drums, fact fans.

Betty Harris - 'Break In The Road'. Yer 1960s New Orleans funk is technically a bit too in-your-face and raunchy (ooh, how I hate that word) for me - I'm all uptight and British, for god's sake. But I make an exception for this, as it's very funky (and raunchy) indeed, and also makes admirable use of guitar feedback a good fifteen years before the Jesus and Mary Chain were even invented.

Husky Rescue - 'Poison'. Finland's finest doing a lovely loungey cover of Alice Cooper's paean to S&M. Try to ignore the 'black lace on sweat' line. Ewww.

Viva Voce - 'We Do Not Fuck Around'. Sinister vengeful piano ballad turns into massive, synth-driven swearfest. Single of the year, I reckon.

Tilly and the Wall - 'Bad Education'. Flamenco-flavoured noise-pop celebration of cross-dressing. With tap dancing for percussion. Brilliant.

Matson Jones - 'New York City Fuck Off'. The fifteen year-old in me can't help but like angry, spiky songs with lots of gratuitous swearing in them. The thirty-six year-old in me can't help but like the deployment of sophisticated string instruments (cello, double bass) in angry, spiky songs with lots of gratuitous swearing in them. Result: I really, really love this song.

Ike & Tina Turner - 'The Game Of Love'. Hmm, it all goes a bit sexy for a while here, as Tina informs Ike that she's just as capable of putting it about as he is. Which is immediately followed by...

Lovage - 'Stroker Ace'. It's an incredibly sexy trip-hop song about a cat. Need I say more?

Ladytron - 'International Dateline'. I hate their name, I loathe their artwork and I'm not the world's biggest fan of synthy music (despite any evidence to the contrary presented here). So why I love this is a bit of a mystery.

Her Space Holiday - 'My Girlfriend's Boyfriend'. Indie geeks like this for the looped violin sample. I like it for the line 'you can't make someone love you with a song'. Because we all know that's not true, and indeed if you were going to try to make someone love you with a song, you could do a lot worse than:

Barry Adamson - 'Come Hell or High Water'. Officially my favourite song of all time. It's cool, it's funny, it's sexy, and it has the lines:
...and the silence is louder than an H-bomb
That explodes when I close my eyes
Sending shockwaves to the town you're from
In the hope that you'll stir and come alive
Which makes me go a bit funny every time I hear it.

That's it then: 11 songs, all of them brilliant, and thus 43 minutes of your life well spent, even if I do say so myself.

Get it here!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

They've Got One Leaving Today...

UPDATE 3 (seeing as everyone still seems to be reading this one): A mini Milky Way and a half-chewed lego spaceman are even now on their way to commenter SEAN MCMANUS, who has very correctly pointed out that 'Walking On The Moon' by The Police is a bad pop song about space. Nice work Sean!


There I was, innocently writing a brochure about something or other, when my lovely colleague D. appeared on MSN Messenger claiming that there aren't very many pop songs about space.

What rot, thought I. There are LOADS of pop songs about space. There's practically the entire oeuvre of the Pixies, for a start, and most of early David Bowie. There's 'Yuri G' by PJ Harvey, in which she threatens to do all manner of saucy things to the moon while masquerading as Yuri Gagarin. And there's the Dukes of Stratosphear*'s 'Bike Ride To The Moon', in which Andy Partridge chivalrously hops on his BMX in order to protect the moon from the West Country temptress's saucy advances.

There's Tasmin Archer's 'Sleeping Satellite', in which she bemoans the fact that we ever went to the moon in the first place, probably because in doing so we exposed it to the corrupting influence of a flawed Mankind (exemplified by PJ Harvey's saucy advances). There's 'Higher Than The Sun' by Primal Scream, which probably isn't about space at all, come to think of it, but it can still go in because it's ace. There's the Prodigy's 'Outer Space'. There's 'Rocket Man' by Elton John. There's 'Another Girl, Another Planet' by the Only Ones, which is surely one of the greatest songs of all time.

In fact I put it to you, readers, that not only are there loads of songs about space, but they are all, without exception, completely brilliant.

A mini Milky Way and a half chewed lego spaceman to anyone who can prove me wrong!


* UPDATE: XTC, sorry. There goes my lucrative guest-editing spot on the OMM.

UPDATE 2: No, I was right the first time. Hurrah! Lucrative guest-editing spot on the OMM, please.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What Is Web 2.0?

In the old days (1996-2003), I used to waste time at work reading stuff on the internet.

Now I waste time at work writing stuff on the internet.

And as far as I'm concerned, that's the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.


UPDATE: Then LC drew my attention to this, which, together with its 200+ comments, explains it all much better.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Battlestar Quadrireme

*picks self up off floor*

Well, the faster-than-light jump seems to have worked OK, with one tier of oarsmen as the only casualties, and they were fairly expendable anyway, and the extras were getting quite expensive, and they could never get a proper purchase with oars that long, so quite frankly they were really only there for decoration and for showing off, a bit like when Oracle supremo Larry Ellison decided he was going to build the world's biggest yacht just because he could.

So who's been left behind, and who's made the jump with me remains to be seen, but it probably won't be long before the others pick up my signals via Technorati and Statcounter and battle can commence once more.

Until then, I'll just settle in here and continue watching Series 2 of 'New' Battlestar Galactica until something terribly dangerous and exciting starts happening to my defence mainframe.

*breathes contented sigh*

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Grammar Interlude

I've lived in London for eight years, so I don't know why this has never vexed me before, but it suddenly started vexing me quite a lot yesterday as I was travelling towards Victoria on the District Line:

Why does Earl's Court tube station have a possessive apostrophe, but Barons Court doesn't?

Answers on a crumpled one-day Travelcard...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Patroclus 0, Editorial Policy 0

Everyone knows my editorial policy by now: no sex, no blogging when depressed.

But you know, hypothetically speaking, what if I suddenly really wanted to tell the whole world about what the lovely Mr BC and I have been getting up to?

Sensible approaches might be:

1. Start a juicy anonymous sexblog (advantage: may also result in massive book deal).

2. Whisper it into the ground, in the manner of King Midas (disadvantage: office is very quiet and open plan, people might hear what I'm saying and then wonder why I'm lying on the floor saying it. It might erode the air of professionalism and gravitas that I like to project in the work environment).

3. Write it in an actual diary book thing (disadvantage: years of bending my fingers back to 'impress' people with my double-jointedness have left me unable to hold a pen).

A not-terribly-sensible approach would be:

4. Write about it in the company newsletter.


So naturally I chose option 4.

The company newsletter is distributed every Friday to hundreds of people in the technology industry, including all of my clients. My 'column' is written under my own real name. Within minutes of receiving it, a client sends an email to the general company email address saying "good to hear Patroclus is getting some!"

I hide under my desk for the rest of the afternoon.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Oh God, What Am I Wearing?

Hmm, I seem to have come into work dressed as a slightly wrong version of the Queen on a Sunday afternoon's huntin', shootin' and fishin' at Balmoral.

Even though my boots are brown suede and not Hunter wellies, and I got my tweed skirt in a French department store rather than Daks, and my green jacket is a sort of military-style effort and not a Barbour, and my necklace has flowery beads rather than pearls, I still look like I'm about to nick off to spend my Civil List moolah on a couple of footstools for the corgis and a headscarf to keep the pheasant blood out of my hair.

When actually I'm just off to M&S to buy rice salad and nuts.

*waves regally to the cheering mob of serfs, peasants and oiks*

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Borderline Origami

In retrospect, the signal that we eventually settled on on Saturday night to indicate our whereabouts to other bloggers possibly erred on the side of the over-subtle.

If you turned up and failed to find us, it's probably because we were sitting as far away from the on-stage action as topographically possible, and only identifiable by this small and hastily-improvised table decoration:


It's meant to be a (blue) cat, but it looked alarmingly like the rabbit from Donnie Darko, and I think we were all quite relieved when the barman took it away. Later on, James applied his black-belt origami skills to the re-creation of the unicorn from the end of Blade Runner, thus:


I don't think I need say any more about that one, except to note that it now graces my mantelpiece along with a small Transformer that doesn't actually transform, and two packets of Moomin chewing gum.

There was also a disappointing lack of people dressed as otters (unless they were only slightly dressed as otters and spent the evening hanging about in the shadows), and the band member we thought was GW Patrick turned out to be someone else entirely, which was strange, because we had met Patrick earlier in the evening and he definitely existed and everything.

So in conclusion, sincere apologies to anyone who turned up and couldn't find us, and a hearty hurrah for Slaminsky, Corin, Billy and the lovely Llewtrah, who did. And it turns out that Billy and Corin live about three feet away from me in London's swinging Shepherd's Bush, so I'd better be on my best behaviour when prowling about in Askew Road.


UPDATE: Lots on my mind at the moment, the writing-about of which would almost certainly violate my Second Rule of Blogging. However, it isn't possible to get *too* depressed while there are still joyous uplifting orchestral indie-jangle-pop songs in the world - and here for your Monday afternoon musical delectation is what is probably the bestest example of the genre EVER:

The New Pornographers - Mass Romantic (mp3)

Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Withered, Condemned, 8-bit Bleeping

There comes a time in a woman's life when she must face the fact that her 36th birthday* is approaching with worrying alacrity; that her marriage came to an untimely end; that she has no successors to look after her in the autumn of her life; that her finances are in tatters due to some injudicious decisions she made in earlier, more carefree times, and that the growing out of her expensive blonde highlights reveals more grey hair than she is particularly comfortable with.

At such times there is only one sensible course of action, and that is to embark on an epic internet quest in search of obscure yet strangely brilliant Finnish videogame music.

Luckily the quest proved satisfactory, and so, bent but not broken, I proudly present you with the fruits of my endeavours:


Desert Planet - Asteroid Hopper (mp3) - seriously, this is really good.

Desert Planet - Return of the Ninja Droids (mp3)


Go to it, good readers, while you're still young and beautiful!


* Anyone who fancies celebrating this auspicious occasion is welcome to join James and me at the Borderline on Saturday night, where GW Patrick's band 7 Seconds of Love is apparently going to ROCK like no band that features a member of the Green Wing production team** has ever ROCKED before! More details here.

** And, as it turns out, that Joel Veitch from rathergood.com. Photoshopped kitten ROCK mayhem ahoy!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Radio Silence

Yes, well, I tried to write something very serious and considered about Raymond Williams and the structure of feeling, but it appears that I can't trust myself to write anything at all - not even about deceased cultural theorists, mmm, saucy - without committing a flagrant breach of my Strict Editorial Policy. Radio silence will therefore be observed until further notice.

*grins wickedly*

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Lingual

When I was in the selection process for a top-secret job at GCHQ, somewhere back in the early 90s, one of the things they tested me on was my ability to learn a new language at speed. They'd gone to the lengths of inventing a completely fictitious language that bore no resemblance to any existing language, so that no one would have an unfair advantage.

I didn't get selected in the end (though it was a close-run thing; it was only my total and utter ignorance of macrogeopolitical affairs that let me down), which was fortunate, because if I had, my entire life would have been subject to the Official Secrets Act and I would never have been able to have this blog.

But I keep being reminded of their fictitious language every time I see anything written in Finnish, which given that I'm currently in Helsinki, is quite often. I'm treating the Finnish language (which, as any fule kno, bears no resemblance to any other language apart from Estonian and Hungarian) as a giant crossword puzzle that I have to solve in its entirety before I leave on Saturday.

It's quite difficult, but there are helpful Rosetta Stones everywhere, as almost everything in Helsinki is written in Swedish as well as Finnish, and Swedish is practically German, which is practically English*, so that's OK. This is how I came to realise that keskus in Finnish means 'centre', and that keskiviikko, which means 'Wednesday', is literally 'centre of the week'. I got almost as much pleasure from linking these two words as I did from idly reading the signs in the hotel lift and suddenly realising that avain means 'key' and avoinnen** means 'open'. By my reckoning this means I've done 2,138 across and 25,876 down, and now I've only got 48 hours left to finish the whole thing!

Oh, the inside of my mind is a terribly interesting place, I can tell you. Luckily it's balanced out by the inside of James's mind, which is constantly inventing fantasy subterranean zoos and enumerating the physical attributes of the manticore***.

Meanwhile, in the real world, we had a top international blogmeet with the lovely Taiga, who gave us Moomin fridge magnets and Superlon photos, and showed us around her gallery, where there was a fantastic red painting by a person called Janne Kaitala, and a slowly revolving brass and mahogany Victorian-style globe that was also a music box and played the music created by the outlines of the countries. So you can see we haven't been putting our time by idly, oh no.


* Pace BiB, I know it's not really.

** Or avoinna. Oh I don't know, I'm confused now.

*** Apparently 'the body of a lion, the face of a man, the wings of a bat and the tail of a scorpion'. But it wouldn't bite you.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I'm Clearly Researching The World's Greatest Novel

Things I've apparently looked up on Wikipedia recently:

Albigensian Crusade
Arsène Wenger
Clay Shirky
Collioure
Cryptozoology
ECHELON
Fauvism
Flintlock
Monitor Lizards
Morwenstow
Occitania
Panty Line
Periwig
Philippe le Bel
Pierre Bourdieu
Quatermass
Raoul 'Tin Tin' Dufy*

I *am* Neal Stephenson and I claim my £5! And now (well, shortly) I'm off here, with this one, to turn it all into a pale imitation of this. Hurrah!


* Which made me laugh a lot, but not as much as Wyndham's job interview.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Nature Suddenly Goes Terribly Wrong

On my walk yesterday, I couldn't help but notice the following natural phenomena:

1. Blazing hot sunshine and thirty-degree heat

2. Mushrooms growing on one side of the path

3. Crocuses growing on the other

It was as if all the seasons had come at once, in a sort of apocalyptic telescoping of all known laws of nature! I was half-expecting to come across some isolated patches of snow underneath the quince trees.

I rushed home and reported this foreshadowing of Armageddon to my mum, who looked at me witheringly and said "Yes, Patroclus, they're autumn crocuses."

Oh.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Your Cruel Teabags*

In accordance with the scriptures, the mighty Husky Rescue have at last recorded their fabulous languid Finnish electronica cover of Alice Cooper's 'Poison'!

Incontrovertible proof that God is in his heaven and all's right with the world!

Of course you should really be buying the single, because that way you also get the marvellous [Barley alert!] Kustaa Saksi cover design, but I can't let this pass without informing you that tip-top Texan mp3 blog The Rich Girls Are Weeping is giving it away, absolutely free, with this post! So haste ye over to see the rich girls while it's still available!

Over and out.

UPDATE: Husky Rescue now playing unexpected gig at London's toppest small venue the Luminaire in Kilburn, on Wed 11th October. Tickets £10. Woohoo! Anyone fancy it?


* Try and tell me that's not how the first line goes...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I Can't Define It, But I Know It When I See It

7.45am: Patroclus puts the finishing touches to an article that argues that Europe is a post-industrial society, and has to rely on service and intellectual property for economic growth.

8.00am: Patroclus goes out for a walk, observing the local populace hard at work harvesting grapes.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Conversations With My Mother, Part 1

INT. CHATEAU QUINQUIREME - DAY


My Mum and I are sitting in the living room.

ME: I've got to write some text to go on some pretend playing cards, that my client's going to send out in an envelope that looks like a sleeve. Look.

I hand mum the mock-up of the playing cards, which have that 'lorem ipsum' placeholder text printed on them.

MUM (in the manner of the Pope reciting the Nunc Dimittis*): Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet...consectet tempor incidunt...ut lab ore et dolore veniami...

ME: Yes, that's not the real text.

MUM: Quis nostrud exercitation...ullar com modo consequat...duis autem vel esse...

I disappear into the kitchen and return some minutes later with a cup of tea.

MUM: In voluptare velit esse molestare...so tum toesne legume...duis autem vel esse molestaire con...I'll say it's a con.

ME: Yes, that's not the real text, it's just...

MUM: Tum toesn legume...that's not Latin...odioque civiuidia...duis autem...This is nonsense. I should charge double if I were you.

ME: I think I will.


* Or, you know, another one of those chanty Latin incantations. I don't know, I'm a protestant, me.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Establishing Shots

Given the vast number of Things I Am Supposed To Be Doing, multiplied by the even vaster number of Books I Should Really Read, there's absolutely no excuse whatsoever for me starting to read Cryptonomicon *again*.

But somehow it sneaked itself into my bag yesterday, and seeing as extra high security at Stansted meant that I could only take 'essential items' on to the Perpignan flight, I thought I'd better demonstrate its essentialness by actually reading it, otherwise I might have been carted off at gunpoint by sexy French army chicks for flouting the Geneva Convention, or something.

And by crikey, Cryptonomicon is a brilliant book, isn't it? Not really because of the subject matter, although I'm more than happy with anything that involves Alan Turing and encryption techniques and data havens and what have you. And certainly not because of the plot, which meanders in labyrinthine and prolix fashion for 908 pages, before Stephenson attempts to resolve it all in the final page and half, as is his wont.

Nooo, what's great about Cryptonomicon is its fantastic use of the English language. Now Neal Stephenson and William Gibson and my top mate Bruce Sterling usually all get lumped together as the founding fathers of cyberpunk, but while Gibson and Sterling are both disappointingly ham-fisted and arrhythmic in their use of English (even though they have great ideas), Stephenson is a brilliantly fluid and clever and erudite and witty writer.

And having reminded myself of just how brilliant the opening paragraph of the book proper is, I thought I might write a little post (this one) about my favourite Character Establishing Scenarios in Literature. Then I remembered that I don't have any favourite Character Establishing Scenarios in Literature, because:

a) I don't read all that much literature these days,

b) I never remember any of the literature I *have* read, and anyway most of it was all in foreign, and

c) I know that the minute I come up with a list, all of the terribly well-read people who read this blog (that's you lot) will come up with a Much Better List, causing me to plunge into a slough of shame, humiliation and self-doubt.

But I still wanted to reproduce the opening para of Cryptonomicon, because it's a fantastic Character Establishing Scenario, even if I will concede that it probably isn’t the best one available in the entire corpus of Literature ever written ever.

This is how it goes:

Let’s set the existence-of-God issue aside for a later volume, and just stipulate that in some way, self-replicating organisms came into existence on this planet and immediately began trying to get rid of each other, either by spamming their environments with rough copies of themselves, or by more direct means which hardly need to be belabored. Most of them failed, and their genetic legacy was erased from the universe forever, but a few found some way to survive and to propagate. After about three billion years of this sometimes zany, frequently tedious fugue of carnality and carnage, Godfrey Waterhouse IV was born, in Murdo, South Dakota, to Blanche, the wife of a Congregational preacher named Bunyan Waterhouse.

Now doesn't that have everything you could possibly wish for from an opening paragraph of a novel: macro-scale geekiness, a pleasing mixture of registers, references to computery things, nice phrases like 'tedious fugue of carnality', and an excellent undercurrent of silliness?

God, how I love Neal Stephenson.

Then I was going to go on to quote the opening parry of Cold Comfort Farm, as another great Character Establishing Scenario in Literature, and I was half thinking about citing the opening sentence of Great Expectations as another, only I couldn't remember either of them, and don't have the books here.

And then I got ambitious, and thought that I could challenge you to write your own Great Literary Character Establishing Scenario, which in turn led me to recall that I inadvertently wrote my own back in June, thus:

Ever since that time I was tear-gassed in Park Lane amid the burning cars, I've quite fancied myself as an urban guerrilla, a lone fugitive from justice, an off-world outlaw cruising the meatspaces and metaverses of West London armed only with a samurai sword and a copy of Elle Decoration.

But then I thought that that would be a bit too much like hard work for you, dear readers, and a bit too much like blowing my own trumpet for me.

So I didn't.

Did I?

Friday, September 08, 2006

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Näkemiin

The real me is off again, to France and Finland, returning to Blighty in October (I hope). Patroclus's presence in the blogosphere will nevertheless continue to be an irritatingly permanent fixture, so expect regular fig, quince, fungi, cloudberry and reindeer carpaccio updates. Bet you can't wait.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Pop Cult Update

The more eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the serialisation of my dissertation came to an untimely end, much like the original Futurama, before I'd even really established the dramatis personae or got round to the bit where Henry Jenkins cops off with Sherry Turkle during a furtive raid on the empty space behind the metaphorical bike shed of Western patriarchal capitalist domination.

This is not because I got all coy and paranoid about my facile and ill thought-out arguments, oh no. It is because apparently Professor Chapman himself wants to read it, and my tutor wouldn't let him because (according to him) it isn't actually finished yet.

Impressed that anyone with 'Professor' in their name might actually want to read something of mine (though I might have been on safer ground if it had been Professor Yaffle), I immediately ran off to look up this Chapman chap, to discover that he's *only* the world authority on the cultural politics of Dr Who and the semiotics of Diana Rigg.

Now that's what I call academia, ladies and gentlemen.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Things I Unexpectedly Suddenly Only Had One Of

Tip for high-powered executive types: when returning to work after an extended spell of AWOLity in the south of France, do not attempt to walk the entire mile from your flat to your swanky nu-meeja converted-factory office wearing tiny bejewelled flip-flops.

If you do this, one flip-flop will inevitably fall apart halfway, obliging you to walk the remaining half a mile along filthy London pavements in your bare feet. This will cause fully attired people to stare at you as if you were some kind of mad anarchist hippy, prompting you to smile in a zen-like fashion in order to conceal your feelings of awful humiliation exacerbated by unwelcome reminiscences of all those dreams you had where you turned up to school/lectures/work naked.

Actually it was quite a lovely feeling. Mm, smooth warm pavements.

I've got shoes on now though. Just in case anyone was worried.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Probably Not In The Cartesian Sense

I can't believe I was actually about to write a new post entitled 'Things I Have Two Of'.

I might leave that one for another time.

Of Lavender And Blogging

I've been summoned back to the UK just as I was getting used to my exile in foreign parts.

I finally realised I'd gone a bit native yesterday evening, as I was wandering through the sun-dappled vines among terraced vineyards cascading down ancient hills, an armful of lavender in one hand and three ripe purple figs in the other. If only I'd been taller and prettier, and wearing a flowery dress instead of black vest, jeans and battered iPod, I could have been mistaken for an 'ambient media' advert for L'Occitane.

Although if I had been, L'Occitane would have been wasting their money, because for an entire hour and half I didn't see another person.

Anyhow, back I come on Monday, so that I can meet up with the tutor, who wants to discuss some 'minor' issues (his inverted commas) with my dissertation. I'm a bit worried about those inverted commas; they look like sarcasm. But he did alert me to this week's New Statesman cover story, which is all about how big business is paying bloggers to say nice things about their products. It's well worth a read, although I do notice an almost complete lack of concrete information about how many bloggers are doing this kind of thing, and how much they're actually getting paid (rather than how much they hope they're going to get paid).

Sooo....has anyone tried payperpost.com? If so, does it actually pay up? How much is my reference to L'Occitane above worth? How much more would it be worth if I gave them a link? But what if I said that every time I go into their shop in Béziers (ker-ching), I see lots of things that seem very nice (ker-ching), but on further investigation, they also seem very overpriced (oh) and not quite as special as they make them out to be (ah)?

And how can L'Occitane be sure that my blog will always be a good standard-bearer for its brand? If they pay me to say nice things about them, will I still be able to write about going to court for not paying my council tax, being tear-gassed in Park Lane, or - erm - experimenting with hallucinogenic substances? Or will I be condemned to talk for all eternity about wandering through the sun-dappled vineyards with armfuls of lavender and a basket of freshly-fallen almonds? I think cello probably has the answers. Cello?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Avatar Of The Week!

We interrupt this edition of The Late Raymond Williams Show to bring you exciting news from the world of, errr, I dunno, the carnivalesque production of the self in disembodied space or something, otherwise known as my new Avatar Of The Week award!

This week's award goes to last.fm user and Swamptrash fan hdickins, who may or may not look a bit like this:


Who knew the chance articulation of fruit and lego could be so entertaining?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Part 1.1 - The Lost Organic Community

Well everyone, I have in front of me a glass of one of the classier local red wines and a slice of warm fig 'n' blackberry tart wot I made earlier, with some crème fraîche, and here for your delectation is Part 1.1 of the dissertation, which is all about the idea of the supposedly lost organic community and its authentic folk culture. There was an intro bit before this bit, but I've left it out because it was quite similar to the abstract.

I've generally tried to avoid academic jargon as far as possible, and I've bunged in links to the people referenced, for your info:
1.1 The Lost Organic Community

The idea that industrialisation, mechanised production and mass culture obliterated an older, organic community and its grass-roots folk culture is prevalent among the earliest British cultural theorists, including F. R. Leavis and Richard Hoggart. Leavis, in Culture and Environment (1933), locates the lost community in the seventeenth century, explicitly stating that "there was, in the seventeenth century, a real culture of the people…a rich traditional culture…a positive culture which has disappeared." In Mass Civilisation and Minority Culture (1930), he describes some of the attributes of this supposed community thus:

"What we have lost is the organic community with the living culture it embodied. Folk songs, folk dances, Cotswold cottages and handicraft products are signs and expressions of something more: an art of life, a way of living, ordered and patterned, involving social arts, codes of intercourse and a responsive adjustment, growing out of immemorial experience, to the natural environment and the rhythm of the year."

Hoggart, in The Uses of Literacy, also bemoans the loss of a more organic way of life, in which people create, share and participate in their own culture. He locates the lost community in the north of England of his own childhood in the 1930s – the very period in which Leavis was writing of a lost community in the seventeenth century.

Hoggart identifies the same type of "responsive adjustment…to the…rhythm of the year" in this community as Leavis did with his:

"…throughout the year, Pancake Tuesday, Voting Day, which is always a holiday, Hotcross buns on Good Friday, the Autumn "Feast", Mischief Night, and all the weeks of cadging and collecting for Bonfire Night."

He contrasts the grass-roots culture of the 1930s working class community with the youth culture he perceives in the 1950s, in which the "contemporary forces" of mass-produced culture and mind-numbing factory work have turned working-class youths into "the directionless and tamed helots of a machine-minding class." Hoggart sees these new, passive, depoliticised, working-class consumers as an omen of an even poorer and less fulfilling world to come:

"The hedonistic but passive barbarian who rides in a fifty-horse-power bus for threepence, or to see a five-million-dollar film for one-and-eightpence, is not simply a social oddity; he is a portent."

The view that industrialisation and mechanisation had turned ordinary people into passive consumers, unable to think and act for themselves, and therefore ripe for exploitation by dominant economic and political forces, found its ultimate expression in the work of the Frankfurt School critics of the 1920s – 1960s. Theodor Adorno explicitly contrasts the activities of the profit-driven culture industry, which "intentionally integrates its consumers from above" and in which "contemporary technical capabilities" and "economic and administrative concentration" are used to exert "total social control" over its target audience of consumers, with what he sees as its polar opposite; "a culture that arises spontaneously from the masses themselves, the contemporary form of popular art." The latter, for Adorno, was characterised by an inherent "rebellious resistance", which has been extinguished by the numbing effects of the culture industry.

For the purposes of this dissertation, the primary link that I would like to make between the aforementioned texts is the role ascribed to technology in the destruction of the supposed lost, spontaneous, organic folk culture. Technological advancement, harnessed by capitalism, is seen by Leavis, Hoggart, Adorno and many others as an irreversible process that progressively disenfranchises and alienates the people and leads to the increasing standardisation and impoverishment of available cultural texts.

This view was taken up in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s by a new generation of critics concerned with the rise of television as the dominant global cultural medium.

TO BE CONTINUED...

PS I cannot believe people actually want to read this. And I have a feeling I'm supposed to sign something to say the dissertation hasn't been published anywhere. And also if they run their plagiarism software on it, they might find it here, and try and accuse the real me of plagiarising the mythical Patroclus, or vice versa. But hey, life on the edge...I might put up an instalment a week...woohoo, ready-made content!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Newsflash

We interrupt this edition of Newsnight Review* to bring you important news from the Languedocien countryside.

Bong! The figs have ripened!

Bong! I had fresh figs for breakfast with honey!

Bong! The equivalent quantity of figs would have cost me £8.50 from the fruit & veg stall on Chiswick High Road!

Bong! Please write in with your best fig recipes so that I may make the most of nature's bounty!

And now back to Mark Lawson and that dreadful Kermode character.


* Bags be Germaine Greer.


TOTALLY UNRELATED UPDATE: James has a salutary warning about an outfit called BlogBurst. If these people try to flatter you into joining their 'network', do not be fooled. They are going to make you work for free, while they and the Big Meeja rake in the cash. Don't give them the time of day.

AND FINALLY... This is my 400th post! Wheeee! I'm going to celebrate with a nice cup of mint and liquorice tea.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Well, You Did Ask

Here's the abstract for the infamous dissertation. If you like this bit, I'll maybe do a Dickens/Home & Away-style serialisation, with appropriate seasonal cliffhangers:

Blogging: A New Folk Culture?

This dissertation posits the idea that the practice of weblogging has given rise to an online worldwide community of millions of cultural producer-consumers, who are collaborating creatively in the ‘blogosphere’ to create and share cultural products in a non-commercial environment.

It will examine this phenomenon in the context of four interrelated aspects of cultural theory: the idea of the lost organic community with its authentic folk culture; the role played by technology in the ebb and flow of cultural power; Adorno and Horkheimer’s concept of the profit-driven culture industry, and Fiske and De Certeau’s notion of the absence of a dedicated ‘place’ where people are free to create their own culture.

I hope to demonstrate that the blogosphere, as it exists today, embodies some of the aspects of the organic community and its authentic, non-commercial folk culture that many cultural commentators presume was wiped out by industrialisation. I also hope to show that mass access to and use of the internet as a technological tool for cultural production and distribution is tipping the balance of cultural power away from the institutions that make up the media and entertainment industry and towards this millions-strong organic community of bloggers.

However, I also plan to show that this techno-utopian state of affairs may only be temporary; as the powerful media and entertainment corporations that operate what Adorno called the ‘culture industry’ move to appropriate the blogosphere and its underlying technologies for their own profit-driven ends. In doing so, they appear to be on the verge of co-opting the community of bloggers into acting as largely unpaid workers, using them as an audience that can be sold to advertisers, and as poorly-remunerated carriers of advertising. I will examine how these shifting power relations threaten to compromise the idea of the blogosphere as a communal, creative ‘place’.

The dissertation combines established cultural theory with emerging research into the size and nature of the blogosphere, together with a number of first-hand case study examples of ‘grass-roots’ cultural production in this new, but already threatened, ‘organic folk community’.

Gawd.