Wednesday, June 30, 2004

My sister called and pointed out that I haven't updated my code on the sidebar to Mike's new address at I will, honest.

Quick note to say it was fabulous having you, you're a great houseguest, come again any time.
TIME Magazines 50 Coolest Websites - Lifestyle and Culture. FOr your delight and delectation.
Whoops. Like everyone else using YACCs, my comments are down. Sorry (they are great, btw, no diss intended, obviously just having some shade of technical difficulty).
It's Tube Strike Day. Talking with a friend just now, I asked why the tube drivers wanted a four day week. "Obvious," he said to me, "they want to spend time on their writing."

Tickled me purple: the image of the whole of the RMT working collectively on their novel.
alt.muslim - muslim news community and - guide to halal eating.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

(posted by Mike)

OK, I'm outta here.

Heartfelt thanks to Sasha for allowing me to sprawl over her fixtures and fittings for the past week or so. I really have enjoyed my stay here immensely. Short, sharp, snappy and frequent (with the occasional longer blather when the mood strikes) - there's a lot to be said for it. I shall try and bear this in mind when I'm back at my place.

Ah, yes. The inevitable site plug. Troubled Diva has now been relaunched, with a new domain and new a hosting provider, at:

Yup: it's the old URL, with a hyphen stuck in the middle of it. Creative, huh?

If you even remotely care about such matters, then please spread the word by updating your blogrolls, bookmarks, link lists, Kinja digests and the like with the new URL.

Sasha: the place is all yours again. I'll let myself out. Key's on the mantelpiece.



pitter-patter, pitter-patter, pitter-patter...
London Tube Strike Chaos Shocker

I can't help thinking that the whole of central London must have a Christmas Eve/erev yomtov feel about it, with everyone rushing home before the tubes grind to a standstill.
Anthony Buckeridge R.I.P.
(posted by Mike)

obituary · interview · random excerpts: 1-2-3-4-5

As a boy, Buckeridge's Jennings & Darbyshire books were my absolute top-of-the-pile favourites. Better than Enid Blyton (with the possible exception of The Faraway Tree) - better than the C.S. Lewis Narnia books - better even than Norman Hunter's hilarious Professor Branestawm series.

Hysterically funny is an over-used term, but for once, the Jennings books were just that. Heavingly, tearfully, painfully, "if I read so much as one more sentence I might just have a Little Accident" funny.

And there were dozens of them to chomp my way through, stretched out on the shelves of the Doncaster junior library in Waterdale. Jennings & Darbyshire must have been big in Doncaster back then. Indeed, two of my classmates at prep school were snapped up by Radio 4 (our elocution mistress had Connections), performing the characters in a weekly dramatised adaptation.

(One of them has since gone on to do quite well for himself. He was quite the sensitive Am Dram Luvvie back then, you know.)

- I... I... I... Corwumph!
- Fossilised fishhooks!
- You addle-pated clodpoll!

Ee, it's a Vanishing World.
Young 'uns today. They wouldn't understand, would they?
(posted by Mike)

From Portugal: Unkempt Women: Vitriolica Webb.

Hand-illustrated blogs: they're the new rock & roll MP3 blogs, you know.

I particularly liked the Fadista (I think we saw a few of her in Lisbon a couple of months ago), and the Guide to British Tourists (starts at the top of here; continues at the bottom of here).
(posted by Mike)

...whereas by comparison, our local surgery has just moved down the road, into a brand new, purpose built, spacious, airy, cheerful building, complete with its own dedicated pharmacy next door. This morning, I was seen for my 10:15 appointment at 10:20.

Hooray for the marvellous, efficient NHS! Hooray for caring, practical New Labour and their forward-thinking health policies! Hooray for everybody! Hooray, hooray, hooray!
I think I may have done something very bad (or very good, depending on your perspective). That is all.
See, this is how I've been getting it wrong for oh so long.
Copy This Article & Win Quick Cash! Oh, another icon shot down. I always beleive these things, mug that I am.
The Cincinnati Subway System great undergroundness across the water. Eat your heart out, Subterranea Britanica.
(posted by Mike)

No, no, no, no, no.
Not Sashinkies.


Monday, June 28, 2004

(posted by Mike)

Ah, Barcelona.

I came here expecting a bit of a doss day: quick meeting, one hour tops; write it up; get it agreed; toddle off to enjoy the sunshine and the 32 degree heat. Scarcely worth my coming over, but it would have taken forever to resolve all the issues by e-mail (they wanted it done one way; we wanted it done another).

As it turned out, the job in hand took me all day, loads of re-writes, Ah But What Ifs, Good Points, Hadn't Thought Of Thats. All conducted inside a heavy-duty industrial plant near the airport, with equally heavy-duty security (passport checks, armed guards, the works). With everyone from factory workers to office bods clad in regulation blue, I was the only person in the entire compound in suit and tie - but better to be over-dressed than inappropriately casualled, in my experience. You never can tell.

After work, a cab back to the swank hotel off the Ramblas, followed by a pleasant hour in the Placa del Bonsucces round the corner: nursing my beer, idling through the Herald Tribune, dodging the showers of frilly orange blossoms, doling out Euros and cigs to accordionists and down-and-outs, trying (and mostly failing) not to goggle too conspicuously at the endless strolling, strutting, swishing, sliding parade of loose-limbed, economically clad Glories.

Then a desultory mooch round the Modern Art museum. As ever, the building's the Star, the exhibits yawningly, unyieldingly tiresome. (Room after room of creatively typefaced, oh-so-rad Dada/Futurist pamphlets, of the sort which impressed me to hell as a wannabe avant-garde teen.)

A late night flight back in a few hours. Wonder if O-Zone will be playing in the cab again, as it was on my arrival last night. Ma-i-a hi, Ma-i-a hu... Ubiquitous summery Europop - you gotta love it, really.

It's still way too unfashionably early for dinner... but needs must. Adios, Sashinkies.
For the person who just surfed in here, looking for "how to remove calgel at home": you can't. You can pay your manicurist a hefty sum to soak them off, or you can wait till they either fall off, or grow out. Both are unattractive.

It's a cult, I tell you. If you don't pay them money, you're buggered.
Talks over Tube strike break down. Looks like my plans for tomorrow night are cancelled, then?
So for a host of reasons I've already bored you with, largely to do with technology, mailbox limits, IT departments and general hassle, I'm homeworking. Except, because I'm on the company email list I get "the sandwich lady is here" and "Fred in accounts is leaving, down the pub" type emails every day. It's odd: kinda like being chained to a desk, and a company, and kinda like I can look out on my garden. Modernity is weird.
OK, so someone at Stupid & Bumble (my building society) obviously reads my weblog, because no sooner had I posted my little rant than Helen phoned back all apologetic that the "system had eaten her notes" and yes they had agreed that, and they were sorry, and it's all fine.

See. Some things do work.
So about a two months ago, I had a minor health problem. I know, I know, it's crap to write about to write about your health on your weblog. This isn't. It's about the health service.

My GP has changed their system: apparently, there's new government guidelines that means that everyone has to be able to get a GP appointment within 48 hours. Patently impractical, if you ask me. What it means is that you can only book appointments for the next few days, and when those have gone, you have to call back tomorrow. It's good for the phone company, but probably not for the patient.

So I had a few goes at getting an appointment, and finally got one with Dr X in mid-May. This is because Dr X, while probably a fabulous diagnostician, has (in my view) some kind of Aspergers syndrome, so is charming on the surface, but deeply difficult to communicate with. He diagnoses me, gives me some drugs, and tells me to come back in two weeks to check it's ok. I secretly think, I'll see one of the other doctors.

But the surgery computer is broken, so they can't make any appointments at all. I call the next day, and it's still broken, and then I give up. The drugs work, I'm happy, and then last week it comes back. I called three days in a row to be told "all the appointments have gone, call back tomorrow," and finally got an appointment for 1030 this morning, with a woman doctor, which is my preference, being a woman.

THe only thing she can offer me for Friday is to keep my Monday appointment as backup, try my luck in the emergency surgery (ie arrive at 9am, and get slotted in), and if I don't get seen in a couple of hours, I still have an appointment. I say my job isn't waiting at the doctors. She's kinda pleased with herself; thinks she's offered me a great solution.

So I get there at 1030 this morning, and am told she is running on time (she has a reputation for over-delivering with 45 minute appointments, which is why I've never seen her, there's always a queue). At 1040 she calls in her 1015 appointment. I ask reception, they're sorry, they thought she was running on time. I'm next, honest.

While I'm waiting, I chat with a woman, her daughter and grandaughter who've been there since 9am, trying to find out what's wrong with their toddler. I overhear them saying "sometimes you've got a sore throat, you just want the doctor to give you antibiotics," and I think they've not read the research about the overuse of antibiotics and its impact on superbugs. We all agree that the new system doesn't work.

At 11.15 the doctor calls in the women with their baby (in a women-and-children first move), and I think, I've been here nearly an hour.

When I go down to the reception, someone else is shouting at the receptionist, and I feel bad. It's not her fault, but it is a crap system.

She tells me there's nothing I can do, I probably will only have to wait another half an hour. I point out this will be an hour and a quarter wait for a timed appointment. I give up and go home.

Last summer I waited three hours to get seen with my sprained ankle. So this is not so bad, right?

Currently feeling: powerless in the face of the monolithic health service.
I'm writing this while I'm on hold with my mortgage provider. I would estimate that in the last three weeks I've been on hold with my mortgage provider for about an hour and a half.

First off, I couldn't decide (like the rest of the country) what I thought about fixed rates once my last fix came to an end. So I got them to send me three different offers so I could think about it. Then, the one I wanted to really go for, didn't arrive, and I asked them to send it again.

I explored all the moving mortgage companies stuff, and it costs a thousand pounds that probably isn't worth it, including the hassle factor, against what I'll save.

By the time I got the paperwork I needed, it was last week, and there's a cut-off date of the 24th of the month to transfer. I talked to someone charming and helpful (Helen) who said that they could move the cut-off date by one day, if I sent all the paperwork back to them by recorded delivery to arrive on the 25th.

Just called today to check they've got it all, they have, and I'm on schedule to move in August. What about the friendly conversation I had with Helen, I say to Janine? There's no record of it. And Janine's in Leicester and Helen's in Wigan (not that I need to know any of this rubbish) so I can't talk to Helen directly. I pointed out that if they don't move me this month, at their error, it'll cost me a tidy chunk. She'll get back to me.

Feeling today: powerless in the face of the monolithic financial services industry.
Viruses - I feel your pain. It even happens to MS employees...
Forget Waiting for Godot. I'm mostly waiting for IMAP.*

* posted while waiting for IMAP to get my mail. Again.
Complete Guide to Wi-Fi Security - this, I need.
Douglas Coupland is doing a one-man play at Stratford in October.

There are only a handful of tickets left (I just booked two for Sunday October 10th). So there's a handful less two, now.

Did I ever say that when I worked on a literary/cultural magazine, Douglas came over from Canada to hang out with us, and spent the whole time on our editor's flat, taking the labels of the items in his store cupboard, and relabeling everthing wrong? Must be some kind of art installation, although perhaps we didn't appreciate it at the time. Bound to be a good play, then, right?

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Is it possible that I can actually hear foxes yowling? In zone two?
About... last night, sleb spotting, and nothing in particular

A Kilburn-Cricklewood-West-Hampstead triangle kinda night. So curry in my new preferred curry house, the Khana buffet (remember when the Crescent Tandoori went out of business? I haven't quite got over it).

As we're paying the bill, the waiter comes up to me, smiling.

Him: Hello lady, tell me, you have a sister who lives near here?
Me: No (I know for a fact my sister lives in Cheadle)
Him: Oh. Just that lady come in here very often, she is just like you
Me: (realisation dawning) She has the same hair as me?
Him: Yes, and lady she has your way of talking, and moving -
Me: and she's a little slimmer than me?
Him: Yes
Me: Is she that actress of East Enders? (I know she lives round here, as I sometimes bump into her in the gym)Him: Not watching East Enders, lady, I don't know
Me: Must be her, I'm always getting mistaken for her

And as the restaurant owner shakes my hand as we leave, he tells me he'll be sure and ask her.

Later, drinks (butterscotch cocktails, to die for) at Brondesage, and then got home late, and thought, wonder what she's up to.

Guess what? I'm not a regular Sun reader, but she just got engaged. Mazaltov. Know what else is weird? I grew up with a guy called Rob Cowan, but I have no idea what he looks like without hair, so have no idea if this is the Rob Cowan whose parents never understood about the clock springing forward and falling back, and would invariably arrive an hour early or an hour late to pick us for our cheder rota. I heard he's in the music business, but then most of the people I grew up with seem to do some kinda media thing, bizarrely, so that could mean nothing.

Then, I check my mail. I'm signed up for a couple of Jewish dating sites, and one of them has sent me this week's "matches" (ie people their database has deemed I may or may not have something in common with). They are all bald. I'm reading David, 36, from Manchester, accountant, and then I suddenly think "omig!d that's David Cohen that I went on one date with when I was seventeen and was totally in love with, and now he's divorced and HAS NO HAIR."

I was shocked, I can tell you. Must be something in the water in Cheadle.
(posted by Mike)

I'm heading off to Barcelona this evening (business not pleasure), returning late tomorrow night. Blogging between now and then is likely to fall somewhere between scant and non-existent.

Tuesday will be my final day of Sashinka-squatting. On Tuesday evening, I'll be returning to my own site, at its new address.

Just so you know...
Glastonbury 2004: the scores so far.
(posted by Mike, texted by Chig, all acts marked out of 10.)

Oasis - 3
Franz Ferdinand - 8
The Killers - 8
British Sea Power - 8
Hope Of The States - 7
Sister Sledge - 7.5
Paul McCartney - 9 (Mike adds: You could have fooled me on the telly last night...)
Scissor Sisters (first set, daytime, main stage) - 9
Scissor Sisters (second set, evening, dance tent) - 12!
English National Opera - 10

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Someone who only speaks Arabic has left five messages on my answerphone this morning for Yasmina.
Simon Sebag-Monntefiore has written a piece in the New Statesman entitled "A dangerous time to be a Jew", which appeared in last night's Evening Standard in some kind of abbreviated format. No amount of webfu on my part can link to them, unless you want to cross someone's palm with e-silver, which I'm guessing neither of us do.

Here's the gist: after two arson attacks in as many days on London synagogues (United Synagogue in Tottenham, and Aish in Hendon), it's made him consider his indentity as an Anglo Jew (still in favour), it's made him tell us a ridiculous story about how he "toiled" (worked?) on a Kibbutz (which we could have lived without), he's compared the current trend for linking anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and says it's a bad thing. But he still likes this "tolerant quirky and flexible land".

Me too.

I've had a book by my bed for six months that I ocassionally dip into: The Devil and the Jews by Joshua Trachtenberg, which I last read when I was at college. The reason I didn't write up the arson attacks when they happened is that I feel a little numb. I don't want to be hand-wringing and thin-end-wedging in either public or private. I don't deny that we all live in troubled times, whatever minority we come from. Or, frankly, whoever we are, at all. I mean, a 15 year old kid got killed for a mobile phone. What kind of world is that?

So this post is just a marker for my thoughts. I've felt for some time that either it's like Germany in the thirties (they're all out to get us) or it's not. Only history will tell, and we may or may not be around for that. I don't want to wail and bemoan our losses. And I care. It's like the property market: could go up or down, we don't have a crystal ball. Your mileage may vary.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Yesterday, coming out of Kilburn tube, I decided to buy some strawberries at the fruit stall. Punnets piled up artistically by the High Road. The sign said this:


As I handed over my grubby pound coin, I said "do you want feedback on your signage?" I said this in a friendly way.

"Yeah," he said, "I know, it should be T-H-E-I-R shouldn't it?"

I said nothing. Strawberries were fab, though.
Dry your eyes, mate.
(posted by Mike)

I tried, I really tried.


We had just finished watching the so-so Michael Douglas thriller on Sky. As I needed to check the progress of the match before heading out to meet A in the pub, I successfully negotiated a lightening-quick flick over to BBC1, in the few available seconds before Big Brother.

Only to witness, at that precise moment, Portugal's extra time goal.

"Oh my God!" we shrieked.

"That's it then", I authoritatively declared, still labouring under the delusion that extra time operated on a sudden-death principle. "England are out of Euro 2004".

And texted A in the sports bar:
I'll get my coat. :-(

And finally looked up again, and realised that the game was still going. A-hum.

"I feel like we've jinxed the match", I wailed.

"Better watch the rest of it, then."

Within seconds, the last two effete footie-phobes in town had metamorphosed into standard issue Come On Englanders. Why, I could hear our very vocal chords hardening over, even as our vocabulary contracted into guttural monosyllabics.

Shoe-horned into the collective consciousness. Helplessly abased before the Higher Power of Speuuurght.

As Engerland equalised, some deep-seated Pavlovian impulse caused us to rise up off the sofa as one, making those tight little fist-stabs as we did so.

"It's going to penalties!"

I text A again:
Cheadling hell! :-)
He texts back:
My heart!
We're not built for this.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Striding into town to make it to the Roberts for last orders, deftly weaving my way through the shell-shocked crowds spilling out of the sports bars, I am struck by the weird, subdued atmosphere that prevails. It's so... quiet. Everywhere I look, lads are perched on the edge of the pavement; or stretched flat out on it; or slumped against walls, absently texting. Directing my own video-montage, I start mentally overdubbing the soundtrack.

Dry your eyes mate / I know you want to make her see how much this pain hurts / But you’ve got to walk away now / It’s over.

Snatches of conversation:

"I wanna see Sweden f***ing smash them in the semis. No, even better; I wanna see them get to the f***ing finals, think they're gonna f***ing win, then..."

"Can't believe they just played that Britney Spears song at the end. Like that's gonna cheer us up..."

"Yeah but, you gotta admit, it takes a lot of guts to come back and equalise like that, right at the end..."

I give K a quick call, just to bear witness.
"Honestly, you'd think Princess Diana had just died."

Even in the Roberts, the queens are all a-twitter. At the bar, I tell the story of how my Nokia - the gayest mobile in the whole world, like, ever - had changed footie to ennui. People start checking their own.

"No, it just comes up with foothe."

"Darling! Ennui simply isn't in my lexicon!"

As the beers kick in, a sort of refractory queeniness has begun to steal over us. A necessary corrective process, no doubt. Excitedly, A starts to tell me all about his new bit-of-rough builder friend.

"Darling! Lucky you! How rough exactly?"

"Well, just before Euro 2004, the police called round to his house and confiscated his passport. I think he must be on some sort of List."

"Darling! The sex must be fabulous! But does he know that you're a native Portugese speaker? He doesn't? Oh, I don't think you should tell him. At least, not unless you're up for some extremely adventurous role play..."

In the late bar over the road, the mutual healing continues until stupid o'clock. Even the regular Thursday night trannies are bitching about that silly Swiss hem-hem of a ref. As ever, the more slurred and messy everyone gets, the more fulsomely articulate I become. (Why is this?)

It's the landlord's last night, so the final rounds of drinks are on the house. The wiry little skinhead in the corner has hitched his T-shirt up, his beltless waistband down, and is distractedly stroking the area in between, over and over and over again; the effect is quite mesmerising. Pints are sloshed onto the carpet, nonchalantly; arses are grabbed, inappropriately; no-one can understand a word that anyone else is saying, but no-one seems to care.

Good grief. We're not even like this over Eurovision.

As you were, sisters. As you were.
Maccaba loses sex slander action.

I've not written much about this, although many of my friends have been popping down to court 14 when they have a spare moment. It's like a car accident: you know you shouldn't look, but you just have to.

It's Indecent Proposal meets A Stranger Among Us, with an NW11 backdrop, and a fey Enlgishness that's got a dark side, for sure.

The word on the Cricklewoodian (and that's where Dayan Lichtenstein lives, apparently, though I can't help thinking that must mean the Golders Green side) street is: the jury thought aliens had landed.

Don't know if this is washing our dirty linen in public, and hence to be avoided at all costs. Or a nutter. Sometimes, hard to tell the two apart.

Whoops. Hope I didn't libel anyone.
Remember all that hassle I had with Evesham when I bought my PClast summer?

Earlier in the week, doing some archiving, I realised they never replied to my service issue (aka complaint) in August, so I called up to speak to my friendly service contact there. Guess what? He'd left. The services issues probably caught up with him.

But amazingly, I spoke to someone really helpful, who apologised, and offered to upgrade me to a DVDRW drive, to which I said yes, and the engineer's just been and everything works. Whoopee.
The Toilet Paper King of the Greater Northwest

So I'm at a wedding. Aren't I always. You know how it is: dressed in your Sunday best, over-madeup, your most vibrant conversation itching to get out, you sit down at a table for twelve, there's an awkwardness as everyone glances at everyone else's name placename. "Hi, nice to meet you." We're all charming and sociable, I'm sure, but there's something inevitably... forced about these arrangements.

"Bride or groom?" Both, sometimes. People's social lives are much more integrated in the post-marriage era. The couple were getting married for tax reasons, apparently.

You don't always know what to say. "How do you know Alexandra? You were in AA together? Lovely."

My immediate left-hand tablemate is ten years older than me, and looks like he had a lot of late nights in the eighties. Skin sagging around his eyes. He's an accountant. My right-hand tablemate (people always boy-girl the tableplans) looks a little less worn, and as soon as he clasps my hand firmly, and intones "David Cohen, the toilet paper king," and I know (a) he's not being ironic, and (b) he's a salesman, for sure.

Turns out that the UK has the only differentiated toilet paper market in the UK; quilted, coloured, luxury. You name it, we do it. Who knew?
(posted by Mike)

Politics, Religion and... er... Religion?

1. Bloggerheads: the parting shot. (via everyone)

2. Augustine interviews God.
(continues here, at June 9th)

3. Demian interviews God.
(posted by Mike)

Fun facts about Toilet Paper. (via groc)
  • Before toilet paper came along, a wide variety of substitutes were used. The Vikings used discarded sheep's wool ... Spanish and Portugese sailors used the frayed end of an anchor cable ... the Americans used corn cobs and mussel shells ... the Hawaiians used (what else!) coconuts ... the Eskimos used (what else!) snow ... and, naturellement, French Royalty used lace. Attention aux doigts!
  • Toilet paper first appeared in C14th China, for the use of its Emperors, each sheet measuring two feet by three feet. One can only imagine the long and agonising wait for the invention of perforations.
  • The toilet paper of 1930 was gaily advertised as "splinter-free!" ... again, one can only imagine, etc.
  • The toilet paper of 1931 was advertised by means of a chirpy character called "Mr. Thirsty Fibre". No, I agree, don't even think about it.
  • This must have set some sort of precedent. In 1964, the most recognised name in the US was Richard Nixon, followed by Billy Graham. The third most recognised name: "Mr. Whipple", a character who advertised toilet paper. Politics, religion and poo: the pre-occupations of a nation revealed.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

(posted by Mike)

I've just discovered that another one of my Big Girlie Gay Friends is sneaking out tonight to watch the footie in a "sports bar". Treachery, treachery, all around is treachery.

Still, at least my Nokia is still (ahem) onside. Because why else would it have attempted to spell footie as ennui?

Now, that's predictive.
(posted by Mike)

Continuing the quest for Brand Value Accreditation...


Dries Van Noten, 2002. Kitten-soft comfort.

Prada: bought at Louis Boston, Spring 2001. Getting a bit grubby, but I still love them dearly. A wildly overrated clothing company to be sure - but oh my dears, the shoes, the shoes...

Prada again: bought in Autumn 2000, for my mother's 60th birthday treat at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. Quite simply the best pair of shoes I have ever owned; three and a half years on, and they still look virtually box-fresh. Was the leather treated with Teflon, one wonders?
(posted by Mike)

In advance of this evening's England-Portgual doo-dah, one of the football fans in our office has just been trying to explain the offside rule to The Other Gay One.

(Confirmation, if any were needed, that we're now approaching that biennial tipping point where even habitual footie-phobes start taking an interest.)

So why do people always start by saying It's really simple, actually? NO, IT'S NOT, actually. The Other Gay One merely ended up rolling his eyes at me in bemusement, as we exchanged giggly shrugs across the cubicles.

I'm starting to suspect that in reality, The Offside Rule is one gigantic Mornington Crescent-style conspiracy of confusion, perpetuated by Ver Straights at the expense of Ver Poofs. You're all avvin a LARF, arntcha?
(posted by Mike)

An oldie but goodie (and definitely compatible with Brand Values) - The Postmodernism Generator. If confused, hit Refresh.
(posted by Mike)

Fashionable Belgians.

Dries van Noten: Spring-Summer 2004.
Men's collection · Women's collection

Slurp. Drool. Slaver.
(posted by Mike)

Capsule culture reviews: Blondie, Nottingham Royal Centre.

OK, OK. I totally respect your desire to be seen as a Continuing Artistic Entity, rather than some clapped-out scampi-in-the-basket cabaret-act-cum-travelling-jukebox. But, really: thirty minute gaps between the hits, while you diligently plod your way through the last album (which nobody actually bought) is rather pushing it, wouldn't you say? Talk about killing an atmosphere stone dead.

Still. Debbie's hair is back to that classic 78/79 flicked bob which suits her so well - especially when lent extra flickage by a judiciously placed wind machine. She still can't dance (and the "drunken auntie at a wedding disco" line has already been done to death, so let's not), but we love her for her batty "I'm still Art" singularity. Especially during Rapture - where, straight after the line "and you don't stop/do the punk rock", she actually spits on the floor. (Yay! Spirit of 77!)

Most importantly of all: they played Dreaming, my official Favourite Pop Record of All Time. Shivers up the spine, the works. OK, so it was the second song of the night and everything went downhill from there onwards, but those four minutes alone justified the entire over-inflated ticket price.
(posted by Mike)

Bargain of the century: Fopp Records are flogging my favourite eclectic feelgood compilation album of last year for a measly three quid. It's on the display racks by the tills (in the Nottingham branch, at least).

Trust me on this one. Thou shalt purchase.

(Supplementary links: review · hotel)
Oh, I'm always confusing my brand values with my commandments.
The SASHINKA brand values
... because I always respond to special requests.

  • Thou shalt talk of shoes, manicures, and manner of twentyfirst century adornment
  • Thou shalt talk of everything in a post-modern, online-y, moderately snarky argot
  • Thou shalt link wherever thou gottest the story from, if thou can remember
  • Thou shalt be short, snappy and frequent
  • Plus, thou shalt have the occasional extended post when thou feelest like it
  • Thou shalt comment on: things modern, things geek, things Jewish, things "cultural" (whatever that mayest mean), things bus-shelter related, and anything that doth not fit into the above categories
  • (posted by Mike)

    Oh, Cliff
    Sometimes it must be difficult not to feel as if
    You really are a Cliff
    When fascists keep trying to push you over it
    Are they the lemmings?
    Or are you Cliff?
    Or are you, Cliff?

    AOL engineer sold 92m names to spammers. Hence increase in spam. QED. Ditch your screen name.
    [weird cults of modernity] Oliver Burkeman in last Saturday's Guardian on IKEA, its founder Ingvar Kamprad, and his unusual approach to modernity...."They said, 'You do realise you'll be joining a cult, don't you?'" She smiles wryly. "They were right. It is a cult. But a nice cult."
    (posted by Mike)

    Of course, as a guest blogger, my constant worry is that I might post something which fails to match Sashinka's brand values...
    Tony Blacburn in Cliff Richard row - did you hear him on the Today programme this morning? When asked if he might lose his job over this, he replied "Cliff's got a lot of money, perhaps he'll adopt me."

    Can't help thinking Tony must have made a mint over the years, too.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2004

    I knew an iPod would come in handy...
    (posted by Mike)

    A bit strained, you say? A bit desperate, even? In fact, not really very much fun at all?

    Agreed. But then, that's conga lines for you.

    Enforced jollity: that particular preserve of the English. At childhood birthday parties, the sight of an empty dancefloor would send my father into a seething, hissing, crimson-faced lather of frustration.

    And, as the failing host, it would all be My Fault. As were most things, come to think of it.

    "Michael! There's no-one dancing! DANCE! NOW! And that's an ORDER!"

    Yeah, right. Like I'm gonna start leaping around like a loony to Tiger Feet, all on my own, in front of my assembled peers. Half of whom were moaning because my Dad's mate with the twin turntables wouldn't stick on Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.

    (Or, if not exactly half, then the Cool Bunch of Older Boys who I never actually thought would turn up. Except that I'd promised that there would be Girls. Except that I'd omitted to explain that they were all classmates of my little sister. Average age: way, way too young.)

    Last New Year's Eve, some old friends of ours threw a party. All the old crowd were there, re-assembled for the first time in God knows how long. The late 80s/early 90s crowd. The crowd who all met in the same pub every weekend, shoving three or four tables together to fit us all in. Who would invariably head back to our place after closing time. Raiding the duty-free in the drinks cabinet. Dancing round on the sitting room carpet to Beats International, Black Box, CeCe Peniston. Leaving large mounds of crimson salt everywhere, for us to hoover up in the morning.

    Shortly after midnight, saturated with all the staid talk of nurseries, property prices and home extensions, K and I stuck on Love Train, cranked up the stereo, and formed a Conga line with all the kids who had been allowed to stay up. As we shimmied and shrieked our way round the house, the grown-ups remained where they were, smiling politely, tightly clutching their wine glasses, edging aside slightly to let us through.

    Apparently, they all thought we were - how you say? - nasally refreshed. Because, obviously, why else would we have done such a thing?

    Too right we were miffed.
    Woo! Let's do a Weblog Conga!

    (posted by Mike)


    1. Paste the following lyric from O-Zone's fab euro-hit, Dragostea din tei:
    Ma-i-a hi, Ma-i-a hu, Ma-i-a ho, Ma-i-a ha-ha...

    2. Link back to the previous post in the Conga line.

    3. The next person to join the Conga line should then leave you a comment.

    (Just the one, mind. Otherwise the Conga will start splitting off into all sorts of strands. This won't look pretty.)

    4. Once you've received a comment: edit your post, adding a link to the next person in the chain.

    5. And so on, and so on, all round the houses.

    It's like a Web Ring! Only without all the boring bits where you have to register! And with music!

    Off we go, then...

    Ma-i-a hi, Ma-i-a hu, Ma-i-a ho, Ma-i-a ha-ha...

    Next in line: Kebabylon. Pass it on!
    Bad Mood City

    And then some. So I have a client who I really like. They are all fun, to-the-point cool to work with people, and I do a few things with them. I'm just at the very tail end of two projects for two separate people in the organisation (Bill and Ben, let's call them, ironically). Bill, I've met and done a lot with, we always have a laugh, and he's generally fun to work with. Ben, took over from Flowerpot who left a little while ago, and I've never met him. Now Ben's a busy bloke, and is clearly doing the work of two people now that Flowerpot has moved on to clearer climes (their office is somewhere silly, but I am outsourced, so it doesn't bother me).

    Last Friday, Ben left me voicemail saying he had a new project he wanted to talk to me about. I called him back - he was in the middle of something and said he'd call me straight back. If I'd have sat by the phone everytime he's said that in the last two months, I'd have a sore behind and an empty ear.

    On Monday, his sidekick calls me and says "Ben says you're working on the new project, can I talk to you about the details?" I say that I only know the vaguest thing and need to talk to Ben to find out what he wants me to do. Sidekick tells me that Ben says I've been working on it for a month. I say first I heard of it was Friday. Sidekick isn't happy.

    I call Ben and he says he needs it in a hurry. I say that I've just started something big for someone else, so I can't do it in the next couple of weeks, but can get it done by the end of July. We talk vaguely about price, and I indicate that I need to weight the price to reflect how much work I have on right now. He says "so you can't give it me when I want and it'll cost me more than I've got." I say we haven't discussed numbers, I just want to let him know that I'm happy to try and help him out, but the short notice nature of the job makes it harder, so it costs more. He pushes me to come back to him with a price, and says Sidekick will email me something. Sidekick emails me from someone's Blackberry, typed on one finger, a 100 word sentence that I couldn't even get a Babelfish to understand. This, apparently, constitutes the brief.

    Ben pushes me to get him a price last Wednesday, so I cancel my evening, work something out, get back to him at 7.30pm. I know these guys' game; they're salespeople, through and through. I pitch it like this.

    "Ben, I know you're busy. I'm busy. There's two prices; the one where I add it on and we haggle and it takes ages, or the real price you can't mess with. Which do you want?"

    He goes for the real price, and when I say it (25% uplift for speed), he faux-splutters all over the shop, saying stuff about his granny and a gun. Urgency, urgency, all is urgency. He'll get back to me Monday.

    I was pissed, then: juggled my diary so I could do the work, worked out the price in a hurry, danced when he sang. Oh well.

    Monday, he doesn't call me. Tuesday, he calls me at lunchtime, with Sidekick, conference call. We talk through the whole brief. Then we talk about money, and he starts haggling. I say that I can't reduce the price, for a host of reasons I won't bore you with. He says he'll take it to the MD, but he won't be happy. I say that if they can't afford me (it's a small project, but the learning curve is the same as big projects, so it's not really worth my while to drop below a certain level), I'm sure there's someone else out there who can help them. He'll get back to me Tuesday pm.

    After the call, I think it's a good idea to confirm what I've said, and send him an email outlining the price, and what he'll get for it. I also offer the sop that I'll reduce the fee in exchange for a share of the project's profits.

    Of course he doesn't come back to me. This morning I email him the final stuff on my other project for him, and ask him to answer a question I've been asking him since April. Radio silence. Email silence. Voicemail silence. I could be forgiven for thinking I'm getting the silent treatment.

    Eventually, I do this. At 3.30pm I call his mobile phone, witholding my number, and say I'm just calling to close down the details on our last project. We talk, briefly. He gives me an unreasonable answer on the one pending question, which I'm not happy with. Then he says "yeah, I need to come back to you on Project InAHurry," and I say "oh, yeah," like it was completely out of my mind. "Yeah," he tells me, "we just sorted it first thing this morning. We don't have the budget, so we're getting someone in-house to do it."

    Fair answer, sure, but I just feel like I don't like being treated like crap: he asked me to do something in a hurry and I dropped everything to do it. Then he tried to push me down on the price. Then he doesn't get back to me. And then he tells me, almost in passing, that he doesn't need me now.

    As it happens, I have a lot of work, so it's not that, it's just that I like to keep clients happy, and I don't like being treated like some kind of commodity. He didn't even thank me for the superlative work I've done on his last project. The way I feel right now, I'd like to tell him to get lost, but I now I can't do that, so the next best thing is to write about it here. Call this catharsis, if you must.

    Oh, and also, in a fit of pique yesterday at how crap he was, I made 10 sales calls (I don't really market myself anymore), and they've turned into six meetings on new things. So ya boo sucks, flowerpot people.
    Against The Gods - The Remarkable Story of Risk is a fascinating book, if you like that kinda thing.

    In the olden days (say, 1981) business was about risk-taking: that's how you set yourself apart as a manager. Now, it's all about risk-avoidance, risk-management and all manner of other namby-pamby methodologies.
    (posted by Mike)

    While Sasha condemns herself to a day of Shakey, my earworm du jour is, ooh, so much classier.

    Vrei sa pleci
    Dar nu ma nu ma iei
    Nu ma nu ma iei
    Nu ma nu ma nu ma iei...

    (Translation: You want to go, but you don't take me, no. Et cetera.)

    Yes, it's Romania's top popsters O-Zone - Dan, Radu and (cough) Arsy - at Number Four in the Fab Forty with Dragostea din tei. Which translates, rather sweetly, as Love Under The Linden Trees. (As opposed to Love Bites Under The Multi-Coloured Rope Lighting At The Dodgy Holiday Disco.)

    Listening to it again just now, I found myself wondering whether the song bore any musical resemblance to Klezmer. Mainly because I could almost imagine it being danced to en masse at Eastern European wedding parties - albeit with rather more traditional instrumentation.

    And then I found a whole load of Klezmer MP3s, and realised that I didn't know what I was talking about.

    All together now:
    Ma-i-a hi, Ma-i-a hu, Ma-i-a ho, Ma-i-a ha-ha...


    (Sasha's entire readership lurches off into the sunset together; legs a-kicking, boo-tays a-shimmying.)
    Intelligent Life from the Economist. "Hold your own with fashion designers, international travellers and 15 year old tech heads." (It says here... marketing blurbcity). But what if I'm all three?
    So I called up an old (read:former)client, with whom I used to work on a fabulous project whose star has been on the ascendent in recent years. There's a handful of people from that project I stay in touch with, generally calling or mailing on their birthdays. It's good to talk, as you know.

    Just now, I called C, and we chatted, caught up, he suggested lunch, we're not both free till August, we agree a date and time, and then, the standard sound of modernity in the post-arrangement moment: two people tapping the details into their PIM (personal information manager) of choice.
    And today's earworm is (scarily) This Ole House by Shakin' Stevens. This may not be a good thing, but it has happened, and I can only deal with how things are. Don't even ask why.
    My Living Nightmare With The Hosting Company from Hell, or How I Came To Be Squatting At Sasha's.

    (posted by Mike)

    1. An e-mail arrives from an outfit called UKREG, warning that my domain is due to expire in five days' time. Apparently, I need to log onto my account on their site, in order to make the renewal.

    2. Except that I've never heard of UKREG before, and don't have an account with them. Spam scam, perchance? Nope, they're legit. However, my account (domain + web space) is with the Hosting Company From Hell (HCFH). I guess that HCFH must have registered my domain through UKREG. The UKREG site says that if I have a 3rd party agreement, then I cannot deal directly with them.

    3. What peeves me is this: exactly a year ago, I took out a two-year agreement with HCFH, who should therefore have registered my domain for two full years, not one. Renewal is their responsibility, not mine. I shouldn't be having to sort all of this out.

    4. In the meantime, I've been Googling for HCFH. Goodness, what a depressing experience. Page after page of testimonials on message boards and review sites from angry customers, who have been messed around with in all sorts of creative ways. Lots of statements to the effect of "do not touch this company with a bargepole". Sensing trouble brewing, I send a polite e-mail to HCFH.

    5. A full day later, HCFH get back to me. They can't do anything, as my card details have expired (as indeed they have). They ask me to update my details on their site. Hmmm... why do they need my card details? I thought that this was a two-year agreement? Oh well, maybe I've got it wrong. I duly supply the info.

    6. Meanwhile, I've been comparing prices for direct domain registration via UKREG, and 3rd party registration via HCFH. Blimey, that's quite some mark-up!

    7. No reply from HCFH. It's Friday, and the domain expires tomorrow. I e-mail a reminder. I'd phone them, but there's only a "24 hour callback service" - in other words, a permanently switched-on answering machine.

    8. It's Monday morning, and the site has just disappeared; I can see from my stats counter that it was switched off an hour ago. I check my credit card statement, to see if any payment has been made.

    9. Good GRIEF. Two days ago, HCFH helped themselves to a whopping 74 quid of my money, without any notice or explanation. 74 quid, and they haven't even sorted out the domain renewal. Last year, I paid something in the region of 50 quid for the full two-year package... so where has the figure of 74 quid come from?

    10. This accords with many people's experiences on the message boards and review sites; HCFH have repeatedly been charging people random sums of money between £70 and £75, without any explanation, and then endlessly delaying refunds. In fact, the only way that people seem to be securing refunds is by complaining in public on the message boards. At least HCFH are clued up enough to Google for themselves once in a while, in a vain attempt to rescue their reputation.

    11. The more I discover about HCFH, the more I realise that they're a tinpot one-man-and-his-dog operation, masquerading (badly) as some sort of vast sleek organisation. Trading Standards have already investigated them, but were persuaded that their problems were merely due to "rapid growth". I'm still just about prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt, as well-meaning incompetents. (I know, I know.) I duly fire off a polite "Dude, where's my site?" e-mail, which also queries the £74 charge.

    12. HCFH e-mail back, apologetically. They have now renewed my domain. A WHOIS query confirms this. OK, so they've omitted my surname and misspelt my address - but it's still progress.

    13. Except the site is still down.

    14. And HCFH have conveniently ignored the part of my e-mail where I have queried the charge. Funny, that.

    15. I e-mail HCFH again. No reply. Funny, that.

    16. Tuesday morning, and the site is back up at last. I send another e-mail to HCFH regarding the charge. Gallingly, a mate of mine took out the same 2-year account with HCFH in the same week, received the same warning from UKREG, and had everything renewed in time... at a cost of just £15. (This is HCFH's standard domain registration charge.) I point out this discrepancy in my e-mail.

    17. For the third time: no reply.

    18. Wednesday morning, and I'm getting bored with this game. I fire off another e-mail to HCFH, requesting an immediate full refund. It concludes thus:

    "So far, you have ignored all my e-mails on this matter. I am aware that you have already attracted considerable negative publicity on various web forums, and have noticed that several of your customers have also incurred similar unwarranted charges. If I do not receive a satisfactory response from you before the end of the week, then I will be voicing, in detail, my dissatisfaction with your service in the public domain."

    19. Within a mere TEN MINUTES, a reply arrives from HCFH. Hah! I've got them rattled now! As a typical example of their language skills, the reply is worth quoting verbatim.

    "We are very sorry for this. The problem was that you account for some reason when it was processed it was put down as a yearly account and not a 2 yearly account. We have now issued a refund for £74.00 to your card."

    (I should point out that the advertised cost of a two-year account, including VAT, falls some way short of £74.00.)

    20. Nevertheless, I have decided to play the nice guy. Path of least resistance, anything for a quiet life, all of that. I duly thank HCFH for their prompt reply, and receive the following:

    "This is no problem at all. It is just a shame that when [HCFH] was growing very fast around 4 months ago we could not keep up with the support and unfortunately the outcome is bad publicity on these forums. Any further questions please do get in touch..."

    Ah, bless. We're all friends now.

    Or are we?

    21. Thursday morning, and the site has disppeared again. Another e-mail to HCFH. Their reply is almost immediate.

    "We are afraid that our abuse department has had to suspend your account due to a breach of our terms and conditions of service. We will contact you shortly with the details of this investigation."

    22. I check the terms and conditions. There's something in there about copyrighted material... and I do have a couple of MP3s on the HCFH server, albeit rare ones.

    22. Hang on: abuse department? So, like, there's a team of people sitting there, rigourously combing the servers for MP3s? Pull the other one, mate.

    23. And isn't the timing rather... interesting? I check my credit card, and the refund has indeed been issued. Could this be a simple case of getting back at me? Of putting the uppity bugger in his place?

    24. Friday morning, and the "investigation" is still taking place. Another e-mail, another reply:

    "We have just fired off an e-mail to our abuse department asking them for this information as a matter of urgency. We will get back to you on it as soon as we hear from them."

    Oh, please. I can just see the HCFH head honcho swapping hats, and smirking to himself.

    25. Monday afternoon, and it's time for another e-mail:

    "My site has now been unavailable for over 4 days. During this time, you have still not explained the nature of my alleged breach of terms & conditions. I cannot see a good reason why your so-called "abuse department" should be taking so long over this matter. Whether or not a "breach" has taken place, I do not consider this an acceptable level of service. Please supply me with further information, so that suitable corrective action can be taken to resolve this matter."

    26. You've guessed it. No reply. And now it's Wednesday.

    27. So why don't I simply name and shame HCFH? All it would take is a dedicated web page with their name in the title, on one of my spare pieces of web space. Hey presto, top of Google, job's a good 'un.

    28. Because, firstly, they've got me on a technicality (and don't they just know it). And secondly, they've got my work e-mail address (and at this stage, I'd put nothing past them). And thirdly: in the long run, what real satisfaction would this bring me? I'm not playing their revenge game. So, as ever, I'm sub-contracting the dirty work to Karma Incorporated. Does the trick, every time.

    29. So why don't I just get the domain name transferred to a new hosting provider? Because that depends on HCFH actually responding to a request, that's why. Fat chance, I reckon. Can't even be bothered to try.

    30. There's only one thing for it. New domain, new provider. Good job I backed the whole site up when I did. 34SP are reputable, aren't they? Yes, that's what I heard.

    Moral: always Google. Always, always Google. We live and learn.
    Thanks to Emma for pointing me to The place to get your Kosher Klothing tees, your Chai Maintenance Apparel and Sophomore's Famous Challah Bread t-shirts.

    I'm going to New York in August. I'll be doing me some serious shopping (these guys never like to ship to Your-Rope).

    But what next? T-shirt slogans like: BORN AND BRED IN CHEADLE?

    And your suggestions are....
    I can't put into words quite how disinterested I am in the football. Less than that, if that's possible. So now, my social life has been jiggled about (blown out on Monday "for the game", meeting on Thursday rescheduled to start at 9.30pm) and I'm thinking: how did this happen? Is this our religion? And the facepaint thing? What's that about?
    I can't decide whether Life Balance software is the very holy grail I have sought, or will be just one more thing to do on my todo list, and will do my head in. Waddya reckon?
    The Museum of Impractical Inventions.
    Internet Under Surveillance - United Kingdom. Did you know that 50% of the UK population have internet access?
    We are the google generation.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2004

    From The Spam Files

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    We owe your esteemed company to the web-site, knowing you are well-known trading company in food section. Our company has been engaged in the production of edible oil(peanut oil, rapeseeds oil etc...) for more than 15 years,ranking No.3 in production capacity in China.

    Henan Xinghe Oil & Fat Co.,Ltd

    Google-power tells me there is no Henan Xinghe Oil & Fat Co, but there is a Henan Xinghe Green Food Company. So what's the deal? They're not (surely, not) doing genuine marketing? Because I'm not in the oil business, as far as I know. WTF, as they say? (although not, clearly, in Cheadle).
    (posted by Mike)

    Friday night in us Country Pile. K is preparing a fish recipe from the marvellous Claudia Roden Italian cookery book which Sasha gave us a few weeks ago. He's chopping basil; I'm watching telly in the front room.

    The calm is abruptly punctured by an extended string of the sort of Words which I am not about to inflict upon the residents of Cheadle. Delivered not with the noisy theatricality which normally accompanies his foul-mouthed cadenzas (some people might call this "showing off to get attention"), but with a kind of whispered, winded urgency. Proper swearing.

    (Aside: maybe those of us who routinely pepper our daily discourse with "Language" have devalued its power to such an extent that, when we really need to swear, we have to resort to inventing new tones of voice.)

    Scuttling into the kitchen, I find K doubled up in agony. Colour is visibly draining from his face, and heading straight for the tip of his finger. Sometimes, those Zwilling Henckels can be a wee bit too efficacious for comfort.

    Between gasps, he forces out a request. Could I sift through the chopped basil, and remove any chunks of flesh which I might find?

    Gives a whole new meaning to the term "finger food", doesn't it?

    Ka-tish. I'm here all week.
    (posted by Mike)

    "I work as an IT consultant, mostly on the mainframe side, mostly for a well known car company." (see below)

    Because, obviously, there are all these obscure little indie car companies out there, who never get the recognition?

    We just do what we do, and if anybody else happens to like it, then that's a bonus. (*)

    Told you I don't know jack about vroom-vrooms.

    (*) Actually, that's Morgan, right?
    [proudly rubs right forefinger back and forth across left lapel]

    Belated welcome to Mike from Troubled Diva (his blog is down, I won't link). Would you like a cup of tea?
    (posted by Mike)

    I never introduced myself, did I? How rude.

    My name is Mike. (In the Blogosphere, the M is mostly de-capitalised, due to lazy-fingeredness in comments boxes. So feel free to call me mike, if you prefer.) I have a weblog of my own, called troubled diva, which I shan't link to, as it's currently unavailable.

    Born in Doncaster, brought up in North Nottinghamshire, schooled in Cambridge, degreed in Nottingham - where I live to this day with K, my partner of the past 19 years. (Except at weekends, which are spent in us Country Pile, a few miles north of Ashbourne in the Derbyshire Peak District.) I work as an IT consultant, mostly on the mainframe side, mostly for a well known car company. Which is ironic, as I don't drive, and have zero interest in all matters automotive. I like to pretend that this brings a certain useful objectivity to my work.

    (I'm a class Lady Muck act in the passenger seat, though. My signature piece: the Sideways Headflick Of Haughty Disdain, when passing other cars on single-track lanes.)

    By nature, I'm an under-achiever. My Comfort Zone is well-appointed, richly furnished, and enjoys a pleasant aspect at all times. In this respect, think of my weblog as the glass-topped ormolu coffee table in the drawing room, upon which a choice selection of Art Books has been faux-casually tossed. Think of me as reclining in front of it, turbanned and kaftanned, dry Martini in hand, wryly stirring my olive with a hand-blown Kostaboda swizzle-stick.

    Except that, with the bloody bailiffs having repossessed the furniture and tossed me out into the street, I am now to be found reclining in front of Sasha's sleek, modernist coffee table, her Troubled Diva coffee mug in my hand, a borrowed sweater slung over my shoulders, making patently insincere offers to do the hoovering and cook dinner.

    Now, how does the remote work? Does she have Sky Digital?
    (posted by Mike)

    ...and no Post Titles! I am already finding this immensely liberating.

    (I now have a boring question about how this affects RSS feeds, but I'm going to swallow it.)
    (posted by Mike)

    *looks down*

    Oo-er, timestamps.
    This is my coffee break, actually.
    (posted by Mike)

    So, yeah... while I'm temporarily homeless (thanks to the incompetence, spite and dodgy business practices of The Hosting Company From Hell), I'll be squatting here for a bit. My warmest thanks to Sasha for the invite.

    While I'm here, I'll be abiding by House Rules. Short, snappy, frequent. Plus the occasional extended blather when I feel like it.

    Oh, and since I know that Sasha's mum reads this, I'd better, like, mind my f***ing language.
    Esther Dyson on weapons of mail destruction. Which is frankly how I feel: m-a-i-l--d-e-s-t-r-u-c-ti-o-n. Weep, I tell ya. Weep. There's no answer.
    The crucial difference between the twentieth and twenty-first century is this: in the twentieth century women largely wore their clothes around their waist. In the twenty-first century it's around their hips. The rest is commentary.
    I need to lose weight before I can even think of going on a diet.

    * * *

    Y'know, like when you tidy up before your cleaner comes? Or get a nose-job before going on a big date?

    Monday, June 21, 2004

    Who Are We?

    We are the google generation. We are the people who can find things out. Anything. Watch us discover where you work and what you thought about Outlook 98 in a long forgotten newsgroup. More scarily, watch us find out your "fun and pleasure" MSN ID and see what chatrooms you go to. Watch us deconstruct the headers in your email. Watch us see who you're linked to, and who you hang out with, and what you think. We don't go to a meeting without seeking the holy google first.

    We are the generation. We can find out where you live, if we want to. We can find out who your neighbours are, if we pay for premium service. Watch us see if you're registered on the electoral roll. Watch us your address and see your local park.

    We are the global-is-local generation: we loved, and we can find out anything on and Give us a couple of seconds, honest.

    We are the mailinglist generation: if we don't know something, we know a mailing list that does.

    We are the detail generation. We used to just know something vaguely: we read it in the paper once, we saw it on the news. Now we have a separate linklog of everything that interests us, and we can find it, like, in the nanosecond it took me to type "like". We don't have good memories - there's too much to know - but we have a lot of RAM.

    We are the everything-is-published generation. We know that every little email we write, or comment on a blog, or anything at all is out there in a big way, in the big cache up in the sky, and we can't get it back. We're having our open sources lives in the open, and there aren't any secrets, any more.

    We are speed, we are now, we are searching, we are finding.

    Of course every watcher is also a watchee: except I don't live anywhere near a park. But once my information is out there, it's o-u-t-t-h-e-r-e.

    Watch us and weep. You can't hide (but then neither can I). And you can't even run, now. Unless, of course, you're on some special running mailing list.

    Sunday, June 20, 2004

    So I've got a googlewhack (just don't call me Danny-cashing-in-on-it-for-the-money):"nazi handbag". Cool, or what?

    Friday, June 18, 2004

    Barefoot FAQ #22.. because what you've always wanted is to look like you're wearing sandals, when in fact you're not. From the Society of Barefoot Living. Ingenious, eh? [via Z, my source of all things interesting and weird]
    Call *That* Customer Service?

    Here's what the (I imagine the soon-to-be-disappeared) receptionist in my optician said to me when I called up to order a three month supply of daily disposable contact lenses:

    Her: You have to have an eye test before we can dispense lenses, we can't do it without a prescription. Those are the rules; otherwise something might happen
    Me: Oh, OK
    Her: When did you last have an eye test?
    Me: I don't know - you're my optician, and I call up every three months to get new lenses. Do you have a record?
    Her: Yes, it was two and a half years ago. We can't sell you lenses without a test
    Me: But you've been doing it for 18 months - you've never mentioned that to me before
    Her: Well, everything could look fine, but you could have an infection in your eye, and something terribly damaging could be happening without you even realising. If we sell you the lenses and you damage your eye, you could come back and sue us
    Me: Fine, well, why don't I make an appointment (appointment duly made..) Out of interest, do you say that to everyone?
    Her: What?
    Me: That I should worry about my eyes because something tragic could be happening without me even realising
    Her: No, well, it's just a worst-case scenario. We have to protect ourselves.

    Time to look for a new optician?
    The weather forecast for the next few days is showers, followed by baths.

    Thursday, June 17, 2004

    Now is such a great time to go home, seeing as I don't "do" football. The office has been empty since 5pm, and I heard just heard an uproarious cheer, but then I am round the corner from the Swiss Centre, so it could have gone either way.

    D'you reckon the tubes are emtpy? Hope so.
    So I'm at day four of being-practically-locked-in-someone's office, and I can tell you, it doesn't suit me. It's bad for my skin.

    No, really, it's bad for my skin, the airconditioning is playing havoc with my lenses, and when it doesn't work, it's shvitzing. I have taken to carrying a fan (old fashioned paper type) in my handbag, a hangover from my Singaporean days (look out for my new bestseller, Tales from Singapore).

    The IT people don't like me because I'm a freelancer, so it's not worth fixing stuff for me. So, boring, I know, but because this is a regular client, I have an old email address from their old system, and a new email address they gave me on Monday. My old email address is in the address book, so everyone who emailed me for two days, it just went to the ether, and I spent all my time calling up people internally and saying "sorry to bother you, did you send me mail?" which is not a great way to start a project. Then I diagnose the problem, asked the IT bloked to forward old mail to new mail, and he sets it up with a typo, so it still doesn't work. I ask him again, he gets me a print out to show me the "user error". It takes me another day to persuade him the user error might be his.

    Sheesh. This is work in the twentyfirst century. It's all about being nice to the people with the real power, because they decide how easy it is to do your job.

    The project? It's great. I'm loving it. The commuting? I could live without.
    I don't think England has three syllables. I don't think the essence of Enlgishness is violence. I don't like red and white. I don't think flags hung from every window and car make us better people, in any way I can imagine. I don't think huge flatscreen TVs in every bar in the land make me feel... anything.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2004

    Don't kill your wife: let us do it
    Let's face it, Thai Temple Curry is entirely a marketing construct: it's never been near a temple, there's not a recipe to be found all over the interwebnet, and, well, y'know.

    Quoth the back of the tin (from The Really Interesting Food Company):
    "David Scott, successful restauranteur, published food and travel writer, has journeyed exstensively to bring you these authentic and delicious vegetarian dishes.

    A Soul satisfying Thai curry based on a monastery recipe. Chick peas and tomatoes, cooked in coconut milk, flavoured with spices, soy sauce, sweet basil and cane sugar."

    First, let's deconstruct:
  • did he journey or travel?
  • there are no "authentic" vegetarian dishes. I suspect it's not an authentic Thai dish, or we'd have heard about it, and the marketing peeps had to make it an authentic something
  • why has Soul got a capital S?
  • And that's not a sentence, "a soul satisfying..."
  • the blurb says cane sugar, but it's not in the ingredients list, and it's labeled "no added sugar."

    So we know this isn't an authentic Thai recipe, because we have google, and we just can't find any reference to it. It could be called something else, and just the "Temple" bit is marketing. What spices do they use: why won't they tell us.

    I could go on. I won't.

    Here's how I think you make it:
    cook some Thai red curry paste with coconut milk. Maybe add some coriander? Empty in a tin of chopped tomoatoes. Add cubed potatoes (par boiled), cook for a while, add chick peas, and garden peas (even from the freezer, if you must), and some torn basil leaves. Use apple juice to thin the sauce slightly, add soy sauce. Theoretically, that should be it. Let me know.

  • This is what the voicemail message on my mobile phone says "Hi, please leave a message after the tone, many thanks." I think I say it - allegedly - in a slightly sultry voice. It's a mulit-purpose greeting; suits clients, friends, whoever.

    A family member just left me voicemail, and said "many thanks is not for a voicemail message."

    Waddya think?
    I really want to go to Deptford, now I've seen the bendy 453 bus.
    I have become obsessed with eyebrows; walking the street, at parties, on public transport - the enforced crossed-swords setup of the Jubilee line especially - I'm mesmerised by this modern artform. Bushy, bold, blonde,
    barely-there: women perform all manner of above-eye artwear in the perrenial quest for perfection.

    Could be me, but when I see someone with straggly hairs at the tail end of her brow, I want to tell her to neaten up. Sister. because neat brows, even with a bare-faced no-makeup look, say groomed, thoughtful, tidy. You know this person has sent their grandmother a birthday card and filed their credit card receipts, and those are values worth communicating to the world.
    The office manager at my current client is walking around with two guys who are clearly going to supply something. Who knoweth what. One of them is wearing a belt with a large metal buckle, emblazoned with the legend GET DOWN NOW.
    Blues for Mr Charlie opens at the Tricycle Theatre tonight.
    ReJoyce Dublin 2004 - The Official Bloomsday Centenary Festival Site. It's Today.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2004

    These are the rules of offices. If it's hot, the air-conditioning will break. If the airconditioning breaks, the air conditioning resussitation engineer will be busy, because it's happened to everyone else, too.

    If it's hot, the watercooler will have run out of water.

    If there's a problem with your technology, IT will say it's someone else's fault. Google isn't working, for example.

    If you want to speak to someone, they won't be there.

    If you don't want to speak to someone, they'll find you.

    However many cover-your-arse emails you send, it's the one you don't send that'll be your downfall.

    Welcome to my world. Just for a few weeks, mind. And it's sunny.

    Monday, June 14, 2004 . I mean, WTF, right? Some people ought to get out more.
    How far up the favour chain are you?
    I'm tired, you're emotional. Or maybe it's the other way round. You know how it is. Say something: please.

    Friday, June 11, 2004

    Lunch: strawberries, cottage cheese (low fat), cashew nuts. I'm into that whole sweet/savoury mix thing. I'm half Elizabethan cook, have Mediterranean, or something.
    Get your local election results from the BBC
    Now, this is truly fabulous. A Sigmund Freud action figure. I can't tell if he really says "tell me about your mother" but the captions speak very highly of it.
    Forget This is what I need - a Moses action figure. Word of G!d optional, clearly.
    OK, so what's happening?

    I've been a little quiet here, as my projects runneth over, and I'm starting something new on Monday. I spent one day in the British Library (best quality of silence in the city, I say), but didn't get much writing done. Thinking, though, was good.

    Got a little connundrum: I'm starting a project for a regular client Monday. Fourth project. I've made them a lot of money, so they do come back. The last project, there was a huge amount of to-age and fro-age on the contact with the HR Director: he was convinced that I was a short-contract employee, me and the MD said I was a consultant. HR Director got out all sorts of examples of how I wasn't managing my own work: we countered with how I was. It took a month into the project, was a right royal waste of time, and kinda pissed everyone off. Not least because at the end of the project there was a currency exchange issue which none of us had considered and I was out of pocket big time.

    Everytime I do something for them, at the end of the project they say, "Sasha, we love working with you, we get great work, but it's really expensive and we should just hire more full-time staff." So everytime they call me for something new, I'm surprised. But I know I deliver.

    So I've been talking to the MD about this project for a couple of months, and he confirmed about three weeks ago. We agreed we would do the same contract as last time, as the HR Director was happy with it, and there's no currency angle on this one.

    Yesterday, 5pm, I get a call saying the HR Director says I'm an employee because (a) I spent too long in their office last time (this was what the MD wanted), and (b) I'm using their equipment. He wants be to bring my laptop. I say fine, but I don't massively want to carry it around every day for six weeks, and what's their insurance position. I also say I'll need a PCMCIA network card, and to sort out email.

    He says fine. I think odd - I know the IT people are going are going to go 57 shades of purple before they hit the roof at his request.

    Today he emails me and says he is going for a PC in their office - so I was right about IT. I email back and say fine as long as I'm in the office all the time, otherwise it does have to be my laptop, so I can see all my sent mail in one place, and manage email (probably a couple of thousand sent/received mails on this project).

    I think they'll have to forward my [client] address email to my own work email, and I'll use an alias to send. Then I'll have to use IMAP (if their server allows it, and IMAP doesn't break) to collect my mail, whether I'm in their office or not. I think I'll do a different-account Outlook setup on my laptop, because it took long enough to get it working.

    The collective tech brains of my buddies offered these suggestions:
    1 - I leave my laptop on all day at home and VNC (or XPpro equivalent) into it to get mail, so I am working off my computer.
    2 - I use the yahoo mail advanced ($20) setup, and BCC everything to myself. Then I have a rule that moves anything from that address into my sent mail... so I have it.

    I remember the halcyon days of having an IT department that did this sort of stuff for me.

    Any more for any more?
    You know how I was looking for a viable alternative to a car, while we still don't have enough bus stops/a decent transport infrastructure? Well, Yoz may have found it - the G-wiz :: Automatic Electric Vehicle. I'm just worried that I might forget to charge it, and then I'll be on the road to nowhere, in the words of the song.

    Thursday, June 10, 2004

    C'mon, you know you want to. AskMoses. Dot com, of course.
    I can't help wondering why the Guardian bloke in Rome on this horrible story (Italian murders 'the work of satanists') appears to know less than the Associated Press report. And, all the other information at the end of the story is about Italy, and you really want to know about Satanism.
    Vote Early, Vote Often
    So tomorrow (today, now) is polling day. Question is, do I vote for Ken on the basis he's (a) a Cricklewoodian, and (b) commited to erecting a bus shelter outside my house, or the Greens, because they're commited to more bike lanes, which can only mean less buses, and consequently less bus shelters?

    And you say I'm a one trick pony.

    Wednesday, June 09, 2004

    Do you think Torah Yoga is near Tora Bora? And does Osama live there?
    Sports Injury Related Moan

    So I sprained my ankle last summer, comming out of the gym, dontcha know (after a worthy double pilates class) and I was in complete agony, convinced it was broken. My GP said it would all be fine, and it wasn't fine, and I eventually went to a (private) physio, who said it was a rare sprain to the [freak biology word I can't remember], and it needed special treatment. Shame I didn't come earlier. But my GP said it would be fine, I said.

    The truth is, I rarely go to my GP. Firstly because they have this system where you have to call up at 9am to get an appointment in 48 hours time (ie this morning for Friday). Except when you call at 9am it's engaged solidly till about 11.30, and then when you do get through it's too late, and you have to call again tomorrow. You get stuck in a recalling, constantly disappointing thang. What's good is, you only go to the doctor if you really need to.

    So my ankle was weak for ages, and I wore a support, but was nervous of running and aerobics, but I finally went back to the gym last week. The class was cancelled - bummer, I know - but I went for a little run, and felt happy to back in the land of the exercising.

    Another thing I hate about my GP is that if you do go as an "emergency" (which is frankly anything, as it's the only way to see the doctor), if you're childless, they make you wait ages, with phrases like "the children take priority" which is all well and good, but when you feel ill, just makes you feel worse.

    The last couple of days my ankle really hurts again. I don't quite know what to do... and guess what. I can't get an appointment at my doctor's till Monday (if I call tomorrow), when I'm at a client site for a coupla weeks.

    Moan over.
    About Last Night

    Saw Promises (a film) with J at the Bloomsbury Theatre (aka University of London Union). The film: interesting, moving, confusing, slightly worthy and badly edited (although the editor apparently worked on Like Water for Chocolate, which is one of my all-time favourite movies).

    The Bloomsbury Theatre - the Bloomsbury Set wouldn't hang out there. They wouldn't let me in the bar because I was waiting for J and didn't have a ticket so could have clearly wrought seven kinds of havoc on their thin strip of a room bereft of comfy chairs. And they have blue lights in the toilets, which meant I couldn't shoot-up, just couldn't see the veins. Sheesh.

    Tuesday, June 08, 2004

    Of course I blogged that too fast - there's an In Praise of Slow website, too.
    In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré.
    I'm in the British Library, using their free wireless access (only until the end of June). This is great. I can write, and then I can check mail on my two live projects, do ma thang, and get back to creativehood (look how creative I am. I just made a word up). And they have aircon: it's sweltering outside. And I'm meeting J across the road at 8pm. So rarely does a day work out so well.
    Can you believe people are selling Gmail accounts on eBay?
    Maybe you can... after all, people will sell anything, right?
    I've got my inbox down to 324 messages. But then I have 50 IMAP folders and 7,000 sent mails.
    So I've got this friend, right, and she's going out with some guy, and she really likes him, it's been a couple of months, and then she calls me up in a real state: he forgot to mention he's still living with his girlfriend. What should she do? (Of course, that should be "what should she do, girlfriend?") Obvious to me: no-one wants to be second choice, it's bad for your self-esteem, blah blah blah, these kinda people never change. She loves him. I can't help wondering how much he loves her. I keep schtum. I have learned through bitter experience that people have to find out these things for themselves.

    But she's really upset. We go out for a drink, we talk, we reach the bottom of a number of bottles of mid-range red wine, but not the bottom of the argument. She is unsure.

    A week later, he ditches her. He's going back to his girlfriend. Quel surprise. (Or is that quelle surprise? Mrs Pearson always said I wasn't good at French).

    We go out more, because she's properly sad now. I say she deserves better. She says he was all she could get. I feel sad for her. We differ. She goes home, I make a mental note to see if I know anyone she'll get on with. I forget about it (aka at the bottom of a very long list).

    I don't hear from her for a while. She's super-sad. No-one can help her. Yesterday, she calls me up, all summer flowers and jaunty flirty skirts in her voice. They're back together. He left his girlfriend. Really? my inner cynic thinks, but doesn't say, knowing better. Well, he's in the process of leaving her...

    I think people don't change their fundamental behaviour, unless something really makes them learn. In my first job, I shared an office with P: an average looking bloke, on the skinny side. Nice guy, but, y'know, nothing special. Turned out we'd been at the same northern Redbrick University, but he'd been in the bar for three years and I'd been in the Union, so we'd never hooked up. He was living with his girlfriend, in the top floor of her father's house in Golders Green (he wasn't Jewish, and I always thought this odd. Who'd live in the Volvo heartland if they didn't have to). After a while, they rented a flat together, opposite Hendon bagel bakery.

    Then, P got it together with a woman at work: a beautiful older divorcee, S, who was like 50 to our 23. She used to be a model. She was fabulous. I had the inside track, because P and I shared an office, and people kept thinking he was buying these really OTT flowers for me, but they were for S.

    So P left his girlfriend, who was bizarrely paying for the whole of their flat in Hendon, and moved in with S in her Kent commuter country home. I went to their wedding. Six months later, he met this woman at work... Same old, same old. They returned the wedding gifts.

    I say that it's odd how in what's now like ten years of living in London, he's never, to my knowledge (we've lost touch), paid rent or a mortgage. Some say, in these times of rising property prices, that's a wise move. Others say, does this guy have no sense of responsibility? It's a machlochet. Is the the smart, property savvy guy? Or is he a love-rat, in the language of the tabloids.

    Another thing about him: maybe five years ago I was going for a job in an area where he'd done some work when we worked together, and I wanted to remind myself of the issues. I asked him to fax me a brochure from his collection (we all have one), and when it arrived, he'd scrawled his signature right across every page of it. I wasn't planning to show it off as my work in an interview, I just wanted to refresh my memory, but he thought I was going to...
    One day next week - which I think may be Monday, but I don't know for sure - is National Liftshare Day. G'waan, you know you want to.
    The Day Today
    ... is looking somewhere between good and not good.

    What's not good is...
    I've just killed some IMAP processes on my colo box (I am like a UNIX baby now), but Outlook is still tempermental (or, as my Dad would say, exhibiting an intermittent error). I know I have the best setup I could - my pst is 850MB, and that's not even with all my current folders which are on the server, and I know outlook gets cranky with a big file. But I don't know what else to do.

    The fixed rate on my mortgage is up in a couple of months, so I called up two weeks ago to get information on their flexible mortgage at 5.5% ... seems like a good deal, and better than jumping through new hoops with another mortgage provider when I'm self employed. They're in the post. At 8am today I realised they never arrived. I check the website, and see not only is there a 5.5% deal, there's a 5.24% deal if you pay £395. I ask about that. Barbara (my friendly CSR) tells me it'll cost me £695. Why? Because I'm an existing customer. So, I ask, it costs me more to get the same product than a new customer? Those are the rates, she tells me. I ask why it costs me nearly twice as much. Barbara tells me some waffle about how it's all do with the cost of getting the customer.

    Of course, she shouldn't mess with me. I have a background in direct marketing. I tell her the cost of new customer acquisition far outweighs the cost of getting an existing customer to sign up for a new product, and anyway, since when did financial services firms pass on their marketing costs to customers? She knows I've rumbled her, but doesn't have any answers. I do a quick calculation and realise it'll take me three years to "pay off the arrangement fee", and I'll probably have won the lottery and bought a house in Hampstead by then, so I shouldn't worry.

    I was supposed to be having a "week off" to write this week before I start a new project, but everything's overrun because (a) things do, and (b) I spent so much time on my volunteer stuff and fixing my wireless that it took a whole day out of last week, in total.

    What's good is...
    I have just painted my toenails taupe with pink glitter.

    It's a nice day. Scrap that - it's a fabulous day.

    I'm going to the library this afternoon for some peace and writing.

    And in the time it's taken to write this post, Outlook has miraculously performed the laying-on-of-hands on itself and is better.

    Monday, June 07, 2004

    Google for hackers. Or should I say H4XoR?
    Wifi update: Things have cooled down at the ranch on the you-broke-the-wifi, no-you-broke-the-wifi front, and we think we - touch wood'n all that - have it sorted. And look: we're not alone - Windows XP Bedevils Wi-Fi Users. I have a little script, if anyone wants it.

    Sunday, June 06, 2004

    Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad tonight. Of course. In New York. Of course.
    Britney starts keeping kosher. No, really. Whatever next? Jews keeping kosher?
    Some notes on Jewish refugees in Wales.

    Friday, June 04, 2004

    Feedback from Cheadle: it's all very nice, but you've gone back to saying "like" too often, and all the effing detracts from how nice everything is.
    While I don't want the whole world to have the same t-shirt as me, I can't help but tell you there's only one place in the UK you can get Rabbi's Daughters t-shirts - Showroom 64 on Great Titchfield Street. And Emma is really nice - she's even hanging on to my t-shirt till next week.

    I used to work exactly there, at the junction with Mortimer Street, and what's great about the area is that there's always a fashion wholesaler with a discount sale. Our whole office was one big shopping trip, with people (OK, women) trying things on behind the office dividers so that we could all see what they'd bought. The guys sometimes felt a little out of it. That's publishing for ya.