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


Must look again.


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


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.


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 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 and, which are personalised radio stations (and, in the case of, 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.


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


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 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.