Monday, April 30, 2007

Fiscal Rectitude Update

Amount of money I've saved so far, thanks to my economy drive: £70

Amount of money I lost on the way to the tube station yesterday: £70

As you can see, it's all going very well indeed.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Groping For The 'Roll Eyes' Hotkey

My shadowy contacts in Farringdon Road have alerted me to the fact that in tomorrow's Observer there will be an article about the supposed 'Web 2.0 backlash'.

[UPDATE: Here it is.]

(If there's a Web 2.0 backlash on the go, clearly no one thought to tell Jeff Jarvis, who's been off on one all week about NBC trying to 'own' the US presidential debate by only broadcasting it on telly and not making it available on YouTube for people to 'remix'.)

Anyway, it's all about a new book by Andrew Keen, called 'How Bloggers Are Spoiling Things For Proper Journalists and Other People Who Have Something Intelligent and Important To Say', which - for obvious reasons - the mainstream media seems to be terribly happy with.

In one of many recent press articles on this topic, the Guardian's Tim Dowling posed this question:

Bloggers are clear about what they're against - mainstream media, censorship, etc - but in the 10 years it has been in existence, one question has yet to be answered: what is blogging for?

Oh, Tim. You might as well ask: what is talking for? Blogging is just conversation in text format, which everyone can read.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the sooner our journalists realise that blogging is just people talking about the same stuff they've always talked about - only in such a way that journalists can now see it - the sooner we can stop having to read all this paranoid guff in the papers about hordes of brain-dead bloggers precipitating the end of civilised society.

Phew, eh? Now I'm off to mash up the highlights of the French elections with the latest Arcade Fire album, record it as a podcast, stuff it into a grenade launcher, and dispatch it up Jonathan Freedland's arse*. As I believe is my democratic right as a fully paid-up member of the 'citizen media'.

* And the arse of any other Guardian journalist who thinks that Comment is Free is a) a blog, and (even worse), b) representative of the blogosphere as a whole.

UPDATE: The above should not be construed as a death threat. (I don't even know how to make a podcast.) Jonathan Freedland is quite safe.

Well, from me, anyway.

I'll stop now.

UPDATE 2: In a truly bizarre coincidence, Mr BC and I found ourselves having tea on the lawn this afternoon with the chief executive of the Guardian Media Group. She confirmed that a lot of Guardian columnists were completely bemused at the notion that readers could answer back - and answer back impolitely - on Comment is Free, and that some of them remain very wary of the whole set-up.

I wanted to put her right about how blogging is not the same thing as CiF, and that proper blogging is actually nice and fun and equitable and sociable (much like having tea on the lawn) but the sun was shining and there were games of table tennis to be played, and it didn't seem right.

Also I am terribly shy in real life, so instead we stuck to safe topics, like homophobia and the wisdom or otherwise of attacking one's siblings with a sword. Sorry everyone, I fear I let you down somewhat there.

But anyway, somehow this has ended up as a rant about the Guardian, when actually it should be a rant about Andrew Keen. But Betty has said it all much better than I ever could have.

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Simulacra Saturday to postmodernise one song to within an inch of its life:

Exhibit A:

Primal Scream - I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have (m4a) [Buy from Amazon]

Self-pitying 1989 indie-rock ballad that miraculously spawned:

Exhibit B:

Primal Scream - Loaded (m4a) [Buy from Amazon]

Seminal indie/dance crossover remix of the above, and the soundtrack to my first year at university, which in turn gave rise to:

Exhibit C:

team9 - Loaded vs Oops Oh My (m4a) [More team9]

Fabulous mashup of seminal indie/dance crossover remix of self-pitying 1989 indie-rock ballad with engagingly saucy R&B song about female masturbation.

All of them, of course, utterly brilliant.

Hm, work now.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Fiscal Rectitude

In a very belated attempt to teach myself the value of money, I have embarked on one of those régimes where I am only allowed to spend a certain amount each day.

This has completely transformed my outlook on life, as can readily be apprehended from the following conversation.

ME: Guess how much a banana costs?

THE LOVELY MR BC: (playing unspeakably violent computer game) Arggghhhh.... unnnfff... grrrr... arrrggghhhh... Yes! That's what you get for messing with the J-Man!

ME: No, seriously, guess how much a banana costs?

Mr BC: Erm...thirty pence?

ME: I got one for eighteen pence!

Mr BC: Well done.

ME: From Marks and Spencers, as well! You can probably get them even cheaper in Tesco's! Ooh, and guess what?

Mr BC: What?

ME: I bought two salads - it was buy one get the second one half price. Which means I saved a pound! And it means I've already got my lunch for tomorrow. See how I've learned to plan ahead! Ooh, and guess what else?

Mr BC: What else?

ME: I was buying these yoghurts from Starbucks, right, with seeds in them, and they were two pounds each. Two pounds! For a yoghurt!

Mr BC: Yes, well, two pounds is a ridiculous price for a yoghurt.

ME: Well, they did have seeds in them. But then I discovered that if I bought seeds separately, and a packet of four yoghurts, I could save, four... no, wait, SIX pounds!

Mr BC: Mm. Very good.

(A companionable silence ensues, during which time several Eastern European gangsters are violently dispatched)

ME: Is Time Team on yet?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Very Short List

In all the five (well, technically three) years that I've had this blog, I've never been moved to plug any of my clients in it.

This might have something to do with the fact that my clients tend to sell large personnel management systems and things that look like big American fridges but which are actually filled with racks of magnetic tape. And unless you're running an evil global empire with an army of expendable henchmen and a load of data you want to hide, I'm pretty sure you don't need these things.

(If you are running an evil global empire with an army of expendable henchmen and a load of data you want to hide, see me round the back in five; I may have some products for you.)

But at the moment we're talking to* a New York-based client whose product is something that the culturally literate and discerning people who read this blog might actually like. If not like quite a lot.

It's a website called Very Short List. It sends you one email a day with a review of a reassuringly obscure book, film, album or other fashionable cultural product.

You sign up on the website; they send you one review a day. That's it. It's basically an extreme cultural filter for the informationally fatigued.

I've had a subscription for a couple of months now, and it's already alerted me to some very decent music, not least of which this fragile, countrified Bowie cover:

The Last Town Chorus - Modern Love (mp3) [Buy from Amazon]

In short, well worth a look and genuinely recommended for bookish/film buff/indie types. Go to it!

* Which means they're not technically a client yet, so I can feel less guilty about plugging them.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007


In September 1992, I was 21 years old and three-quarters of the way through a degree course in French and Italian; a course that requires students to live abroad for ten months. I'd already spent nine months living in France, and I was now supposed to spend a month in Italy, at the Dante Alighieri Language School in Florence.

This was all very well, but I was also expected to get myself to Florence and pay for a month's accommodation and subsistence. As I had no money at all, and neither did my student boyfriend D., this was somewhat problematic.

In a fit of generosity, my dad had said that if D. and I could get ourselves to the south of France, where he and my mum lived, he would drive us to Florence.

I don't remember how D. and I got to the south of France, but I expect we took the coach from London to Toulouse. Upon our arrival, my dad helpfully claimed not to remember anything about promising to drive us to Florence*. This was not only Somewhat Unexpected, it was also Not Good, as my mum and dad's place in France was on the Spanish side of the country.

As neither of us had any money, our only alternative was to hitch. My mum drove us to Béziers and dropped us off at the péage (motorway toll station), leaving us to our fate. How my mum felt about leaving her tiny and completely impractical daughter to hitch along hundreds of miles of foreign motorways accompanied only by a monoglot crusty fantasist has gone unrecorded by history, but there we go.

It all went OK at first; we got a lift almost straightaway from someone who was going to Nimes airport. Shortly we learned the inadvisability of trying to hitch out of an airport that is only served by one flight a day, especially after that flight has been and gone. After several hours of barren emptiness, an airport worker took pity on us and drove us back to the motorway, where we immediately got a lift to Arles with a bloke who drove barefoot.

At length we got to Nice. Nice has the biggest péage I've ever seen, but no one wanted to pick us up there. After two hours, we got a lift from a bloke in a yellow Mercedes who tried to gather us to the bosom of Jesus. As D. didn't speak any French, and I'd only just defected *from* the bosom of Jesus, this didn't work as well as he might have expected. He chucked us out at Ventimiglia, on the Italian border.

By this time it was dark, and a high wind was getting up. D. reckoned we ought to stop for the night and put the tent up. Optimistically, we attempted to do this on the only patch of grass we could see, which happened to be right outside the passport control office. Two carabinieri watched us put the tent up (in the dark, in a high wind), before strolling over to tell us we couldn't camp there. We put the tent up again, on an embankment. All night the wind threatened to uproot it, but didn't.

The next day we got a lift with an Italian bloke who kept laughing to himself. I was sitting in the front (as I spoke Italian), and D. was in the back. Eventually the bloke told me he was laughing because he'd missed his turning for Turin, and would have to go back miles after he dropped us off. Later, D. told me he had surreptitiously got his knife out of his rucksack when the bloke started laughing, convinced that he was about to kill us both.

When we got to Florence we stayed at a campsite overlooking the city. I got up every day and went down to the language school. At the language school I saw another girl from my university, but I didn't tell her where I was staying. Most of the other people on my course at uni were quite rich (Santa Sebag Montefiore used to sit behind me, for example), and had probably rented palazzo apartments and scooters and were living it up like Gwyneth Paltrow in The Talented Mr Ripley.

Instead, I made friends with a bloke called Ben, and went to a fantastic coffee bar with him every day for a latte. D., stuck in the campsite with no money, wasn't very impressed with this behaviour.

In the campsite we met a couple called Darren and Mandy: he was a textbook Essex boy; her dad owned a pub. They were on their way to Rimini, which had somehow become the epicentre of the mainland European rave scene. They taught us how to make jewellery out of stones and wire. We helped them abscond from the campsite without paying, and wondered if we'd have to do the same ourselves. We befriended some shy Belgians and I beat one of them at chess. Snap and Dr Alban were perennially playing on the campsite jukebox. We ate fried potatoes and tomatoes every day because that was all we could afford. Despite that, it was brilliant.

One day I read in the newspaper that the Italian lira had fallen out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. We weren't sure what this meant, but it didn't sound good, and we thought we'd better go home in case hyperinflation was about to break out and we would need wheelbarrows of lira notes just to get out of the campsite. D. phoned his mum and asked her to wire some money. Somehow, this worked. We used it to pay for the campsite and get a coach back to London. At Victoria coach station we had to borrow money from a complete stranger to get a coach back to Worcester, where D.'s mum lived.

D. and I split up three years later, and I've not thought about this Italian episode for a long, long time. For some reason I started thinking about it this morning, and just felt like writing it for posterity.

* To be fair to my dad, I think he had only extended this promise to me, rather than to me and the boyfriend. I don't think my dad liked the boyfriend much.

Friday, April 20, 2007

When In Doubt, Make A List

It's that time again - that time when I exclusively reveal everything I've looked up on Wikipedia in the last few days, in order to avoid work provide my long-suffering readers with a fascinating glimpse into my psyche:

The Aliens
2006 FIFA World Cup
Broken Social Scene
Clara Bow
Difference Engine
Irrational Exuberance
Jet Boy, Jet Girl
Junior Boys
Leila K
List of Minor Characters in Judge Dredd
Nemesis the Warlock
Shirley Kwan
Virginia Tech Shootings

Hmm. That's not nearly as good a list as last time. I think my Wikipedia-fu is slipping.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Irrational Exuberance

Coming home last night after a hard day at the social media coalface (as described by LC), I had this conversation with my cousin, who'd come to stay for the night after attending the London Book Fair:

ME: So what are you up to these days?

COUSIN: Well, I've just moved into a new flat in Edinburgh, and I'm still doing some freelance editing, but really I'm working on this project with a couple of friends.

ME: What sort of project?

COUSIN: It's a sort of MySpace for unpublished authors.

ME: Cool.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Second Dotcom Boom. I like it.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Blogging is on a bit of a hiatus at the moment, while I grapple with the exciting but at the same time quite annoying reality of working 13 hours a day even when I'm SUPPOSED TO BE ON HOLIDAY.

(Hurrah for the tech industry boom, this time next year we'll all be millionaires, etc., but on the other hand, where did my free time go?)

In the meantime, if anyone reading is a professional writer (i.e. you derive all or part of your income from typing your own words into a machine), please head over to Miss-Cellany's blog as she wants your input into some research she's doing for her MA.

Also, if anyone reading isn't a professional writer, but fancies themselves as the next Neal Stephenson/Bruce Sterling/William Gibson, head over to the British Computer Society, which is running a short story competition for a 2,000-word work of fiction that 'must have a plot involving information technology, either in the past, present or in years to come.' Go to it!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Song Of The Week!

Get it now, before it becomes the soundtrack to a Coke ad/an Adidas ad/a Nike ad/every single barbecue you will attend this summer:

Bonde do Role - Solta o Frango (mp3)

[Buy from Boomkat]

UPDATE: While we're on the topic of glorious musical silliness, please also accept this mashup of Elvis Presley's 'King Creole' with 'Ça Plane Pour Moi' (the original Plastic Bertrand version, not the Leila K version, although I loved that too, as I will love any song that crams a lot of words into not much space, no matter what language it's in), and the Banana Splits theme:

Arty Fufkin - Creole Pour Moi (mp3)

[More where that came from at Arty Fufkin's website]

Not one for the Elvis purists, I'd imagine, but it makes me laugh.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Help - British Gas Are Bankrupting Me

What you don't really want to find after enduring the Return Train Journey from Hell (actually, Truro*) on Bank Holiday Monday is a threatening letter from British Gas demanding immediate payment of £750.74 or suffer immediate disconnection from the mains supply.

I wasn't particularly surprised to find this letter waiting for me, as my friends at British Gas had already sent me TWO letters last Thursday, one demanding immediate payment of £740.74, and the other demanding immediate payment of £461.47. Failure to pay these, would, they informed me, result in them coming round to disconnect my supply. They might also BRING THE POLICE WITH THEM, they hadn't decided yet.

(I did try ringing them at 7.28pm on Thursday when I finished work, but at 8.00pm I was still on hold, and their offices closed. Hm.)

Still, this might be an improvement (it's hard to tell) on my last monthly bill, for £1,013.64, which I received while away in France, after a month when my (one-bedroom) flat had been empty and the central heating off.

On one of the rare occasions I've managed to get through to British Gas, as well as reluctantly handing over £200.00 in an attempt to keep them off my back (a strategy that appears to have backfired), I enquired as to how I might have racked up a bill of £1,013.64 during a time when no one had even been in my flat. They were unable to tell me, as I'd apparently been 'moved to the new system', but they could tell me that I had to pay up sharpish.

I can't even begin to understand what they're up to, but they seem intent on bankrupting me.

Still, I'm not the only one - apparently they sent Andrew Rawnsley from the Observer a bill for £2,000. Perhaps he and I are jointly funding their price cuts.

I don't have a spare £1,000, and even if I did, I wouldn't really want to give it to British Gas. Anyone any suggestions?

* Really, don't ever try travelling to Cornwall on a sunny Bank Holiday weekend, just stay at home; it's safer**.

** Although I did have a lovely time, and the simnel cake was plentiful, and I got to meet up with OPC and the lovely Miss-Cellany, and my best friend from primary school who keeps randomly appearing (in a good way), and her 'birthing partner' (whatever that means, I don't like to think too closely), and there were relaxing walks along the beach in the sunshine and nice meals and good company and French films and stuff, so I'm not actually complaining at all.