Friday, January 26, 2007


Yesterday was officially: A Bad Day.

It all started to go wrong at the stroke of midnight between Wednesday and Thursday when P and I were cuddled up in The Bed, drifting off to sleep, when the chimes of Big Ben were inerrupted by the incessant wail of the fire alarm. Again. Muttering under our breaths, we got up, pulled our warmest clothes on and joined our neighbours to huddle around like a pack of migrating penguins on the street. After the firemen declared it to be a false alarm, we were finally allowed back to bed.

In the morning, I realised that my much-admired butterfly broach (as appreciated by Fern Britton) was missing from my coat. After hunting high and low, the only conclusion I could make was that some annoying little tea leaf had pinched it when my coat was hanging in the changing room at the gyms the previous evening. Which was really annoying, as my best friend AB gave it to my for Christmas several years ago. Grr.

Just as I was about to step out of the door, already late for work, P asked me to show him how to do something on his laptop. And to prove a point (ie, that a CD would work in his computer, despite him saying it wouldn't, so I jammed it in anyway), I ended up breaking his computer... and later on finding out that I'm saddled with a £200 bill to fix it.

All in all, it was A Bad Day. So thank God that P is the world's best boyfriend, and when I got home from work, not only did he cook me a lovely supper, but then he told me he'd got us free tickets to go and see stand-up comedian Jason Byrne at the Soho Theatre (and he bought me some chocolate buttons to eat on the bus).

Jason Byrne was very, very funny. P knows him because he recently took his publicity photos - like the one above, of Jason in our (old) bed with a ram. I'm always slightly scared of stand-ups as I dread audience interaction and being picked on, and although Jason really brought the audience in (but it was such an intimate venue that it worked), I have never seen a comedian work so well with such an unusually responsive audience. Within minutes, we were in stitches and stayed that way for an hour. Jason's impression of Prince Charles and Camilla was hilarious, as was his anecdote of his experience at the Royal Variety Performance... where he met Take That. And a personal favourite was Jason recounting how his six-year-old son informed Jason's heavily-pregnant wife that she was carrying the reincarnated spirit of Steve Irwin.

If you get the chance, go and see Jason Byrne. He achieved the impossible with me - made an intolerably moody cow laugh for an hour. The result? I felt a lot better about The Bad Day.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Looky-Likey - An Occasional Series

Is Pat Evans from EastEnders the secret mum of Jo O'Meara from Celebrity Big Brother? The pair share such eloquent vocal mannerisms, a delightful taste in budget fashion and neither is ever seen without a fag on (I'm also delighted to note that Jo has taken to carrying an ashtray on a stand around the CBB house with her - classy). It's quite clear what serial puffer Jo is going to look like in 15 years time. Lovely.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The World This Week

This week, I have:

Struggled with technology. After two weeks of battling with my truculent iPod I have finally emerged the winner (after iTunes made me download the latest version, the petulant little blighter refused to let me manually manage my playlist, but after much frustration and a pained phonecall to helpful Ben, humans finally triumphed over machinery).

Sadly the same can not be said for the wretched Freeview box. Despite sitting on top of the DVD player for three months, it has willfully refused to show me one single programme. So I have stuck it on eBay. Current bid price? £6.50 after eight bids and two days to go. They're welcome to it.

Finally got a new mobile phone after two years of my old one being laughed at by school children on the bus. Needless to say, I'm still at the stage where I cut callers off instead of answering the phone. But I'll get there in the end. (Environmentalists will be pleased to learn that my old phone is being recycled by the good folk at Oxfam).

Grown weary of the bullying in the Celebrity Big Brother house. The whole thing has been blown out of all proportion, but Jade's still proved herself to be a nasty bully. However, didn't we know that already?

Failed to read any more of "The Satanic Verses". Faced with the choice between Mr Rushdie's elitist book and the latest copy of Grazia, I chose fashion. I'm not proud of myself but I think I may have to take a raincheck on "The Satanic Verses" week of the MA. It's this term's "Ulysses" (also not finished).

Watched "Thank You For Smoking" on DVD and enjoyed it enormously. Rob Lowe especially, although his character was all too brief. The whole thing was an interesting take on the anti-smoking lobby and a very good piece of satire.

Despite the best efforts of my iPod (see above), I have finally managed to get the new Take That album on there, and proudly declare Jason Orange's "Wooden Boat" to be my current song of the week. (Followed by Howard Donald's "Mancunian Way" and little Mark Owen's "Shine". Sorry, Gary, but "Patience" is fourth.) Please rest assured that I still retain elements of good taste, and I've also been listening to Scritti (as per), Nina Simone, Duran Duran (ahem), DJ Shadow (did I tell you we saw him at Brixton in December and he was, quite seriously, awesome?) and Blur's "Think Tank".

Finally, this week I welcomed a Blossom Dearie album into my life, "Blossom Dearie For Cafe Apres-Midi". I've been trying to track down a copy of "I Like London In The Rain" for years (after only having a taped copy) and finally located one from an American seller on Amazon. When it arrived, I realised why it was so cheap - all the sleevenotes are in Japanese. Nonetheless, the music itself is faultless. There will be more on this when I've thoroughly absorbed it all.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Internet

P has been busy working on his website. After talking about getting one for approximately, ooh, two years, he finally got around to doing something about creating one last Sunday with his friend Edd, and yesterday I was allowed to see it. Naturally I am very proud (particularly now that the nit-picking sub in me has corrected all the typos and written him a sparkling biog for the front page). It's currently a work in progress but his photos are still marvellous.

PS: A look at Edd's site led me to exclaim with jealousy at the fact he has photographed one of my idols – Green Gartside of Scritti Politti. So, for no reason, I have added it to the top of this post.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Life Before Persephone

What joy to finally get hold of a copy of Persephone Books' founder Nicola Beauman's long out of print 1983 book "A Very Great Profession: The Women's Novel 1914-1939" after tracking down an affordable copy second-hand on Amazon. The book arrived yesterday, complete with slightly crinkled pages and the musty smell of bookshelves. And, more importantly, complete with such a comprehensive index that I spent so long devouring the contents from back to front, that I didn't get a chance to read beyond the introduction.

I know that this is one book that I shall really enjoy dipping in and out of for as long as possible. As I'm already making plans to base my thesis on a Persephone-related topic, this will prove an indispensible starting point for research. (Unfortunately, this might be time-consuming as I've got a bit book-buying happy lately, and currently stacked up on the bedside table, alongside "A Very Great Profession", are Simon Reynolds' genius 500 page post-punk Scritti ode "Rip It Up And Start Again" - so highly recommended; Benjamin Hoff's "The Tao Of Pooh" - gently insightful; Barbara Comyns' "Our Spoons Came From Woolworths" - yet to start, but I am a keen fan of books that include Woolworths in the title; and Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" - I'm slowly trying to get my head round the Indian illusions. A trip to Senate House yesterday also saw me appease my Hanif Kureishi fetish - my complete collection of HF books still linger at my Mum's - and bring home the "Sammy And Rosie Get Laid" script and diary, "Dreaming And Scheming" and "The Black Album", which I plan to re-read in the hope of linking it to Scritti's early '80s Gramsci-esque thoery for my next essay. Pretentious? Yes. But I'm entirely consumed by Scritti, and don't be surprised if I find a way to link Scritti and Persephone before long.)


I am thrilled to learn that one of our friends in Greece has come to my blog after Googling the words "British Barbara Windsor". Clearly this person is a fan of the bubble-headed witch and wanted to learn more about the apparent English national treasure. Imagine their disappointment when the second option Google presented them with was my hate-fuelled diatribe about what a wicked woman Barbara Ann Deeks is. I wonder if international relations have been damaged?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Room 101 (Part One)

This will be an on-going bile-fuelled project. But here begins my long list of things to be thrown head first into Room 101:

1) Barbara Windsor
Surely this doesn't need an explanation? The woman is evil in a bubble perm. She is single-handedly responsible for the downfall of EastEnders. She should be ashamed of herself, except she's too busy being a fake media luvvy.

2) Slow walkers
People who walk so slowly that, when it's impossible for you to go past them, you are reduced to stopping. What's that all about? See also, people who pay good money to go to the gym simply to use the treadmill and walk slowly on a flat level. Why?

3) Pop Idol/ Popstars/ The X-Factor/ Fame Academy/ and a million off-shoots
Never mind home-taping, these karaoke shows are killing music. Where's the soul in an over-produced cover-version by a vacuous wannabe model with zero personality? Have Pete Waterman and Simon Cowell no morals?

4) Smokers
I realise that smoking kills brain cells, but how many brain cells do smokers need to realise that smoking is also going to end ther life... painfully? And as if that's not stupid enough, smokers also selfishly insist on inflicting their cancer-ridden fumes on everyone nearby, as well as wrecking the environment with their toxic smoke, plastic and metallic pack rubbish, and tar-ridden fag butts that don't biodegrade (but do choke birds who peck at them). Don't get me started on this one, I'll be here all day.

5) London Transport
£1 for a bus journey and £4 for a one-stop Tube journey in central London? Don't take the piss. And Ken "I'm a big fat twat" Livingstone wonders why there are less and less tourists coming here. They can't afford to, you Routemaster-stealing idiot.

"9th + 13th"

Jonathan Coe has been someone who intruiged me since Brother 2 first started trying to make me read his battered copy of "What A Carve Up" around 1998 (however, I have issue with reading tatty books and never read "WACU" until 2005, preferring to wait until I had my own pristine copy). So when a copy of Coe's "The House Of Sleep" came my way for review purposes around 1998, I devoured it with great enthusiasm... and that was when I became one of those people who buys a Coe book as soon as it comes out. Of course, buying a book as soon as it comes out is not the same as reading it immediately. Which is why, despite having bought this mini Penguin edition of four very short stories in 2005, "9th + 13th", it took me until today to actually read it. (Rest assured I have since made time to read "What A Carve Up", "The Rotters Club", "Closed Circle" and think about reading "Like A Fiery Elephant").

However, now there is something of a Coe resurrgence in my world. Shortly before Christmas, Coe was a guest lecturer at my university so I went along with relish. Having been to a Coe book reading in 2001 for "The Rotters Club" I had a dubious impression of the fellow, since I felt he came across as rather a miserable git then. But he made up for that at the lecture, and delivered a really interesting paper about how he uses the theme of the contemporary within his novels, and how he feels some of his novels (notably "Closed Circle") have been misread by critics and subsequently readers. This term I am studying Coe as part of the "British Fiction Since 1979" module, and as such am now finding time to re-read most of my Coe back catalogue.

Which was what led me to "9th + 13th". Coe doesn't pretend to be a short story wrier, and this collection of three short stories and one newspaper article are his entire output in his entire career (spanning around 20 years). However, what he lacks in quantity he makes up for in quality. There is a theme of middle-aged love and lust running throughout all three novels (and even, to some extent, the article about his passion for an obscure Billy Wilder film). Normally I'm not keen on short stories as I feel the time invested in trying to get to know a new set of characters and scenarios doesn't justify the meagre length of the tale, but Coe's characters and stories were manageable and accessible.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

"Happy Feet"

AB and I went to see "Happy Feet" at the Empire in Leicester Square last night. And it may be silly and it may feature the voice of Robin "Detestable" Williams, but it wasn't half lovely - just the kind of thing you need for a chilly, January Wednesday in London. Every so often, I believe it's good for the soul to see a "Finding Nemo" or "Toy Story", to punctuate all the horror and grim reality that makes up much of my viewing 'pleasure'.

Breathy penguin Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) and Memphis (Hugh Jackman) fall in love as Emperor Penguins do: by finding their heart songs, and the result is little baby Mumble (Elijah Wood). But Mumble's not quite right - he's a penguin who can't sing and, what's worse, he's a penguin who tap dances. Not liking anyone to stand out from their crowd, the fusty elder penguins in the state treat poor Mumble as the tone-deaf, dizzy footed runt of the litter, and he lives the life of an outcast. Until he stumbles across a pack of hip Puerto Rican penguins on another island, who think his tap dancing ways are cool (arf)... which all leads him on a quest to win the heart of Gloria (Brittany Murphy) and stop humans from plundering the ocean for fish.

The bluntness of the moral (ie, humans: stop plundering the ocean for fish) and the decision to allow Robin Williams to voice two characters is the only downfall. And as with all films of this ilk, they may claim to be suitable for ages four and upwards, but they still tug at the heartstrings with the morals, and terrify you with the razor-toothed seals and wicked killer whales. But it's all good fun for a January mid week night, and even deceased crocodile bothered Steve Irwin gets a role from beyond the grave.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Fanzine Culture

I have just been flicking through NME's Rock'n' Roll Yearbook 2006. What made me pick it up (normally I am anti-NME - always having been a loyal Melody Maker reader on account of how it was better; plus the boyfriend was their chief photographer for nine years so we have a family loyalty) was the mention of the word "fanzine" on the cover.

As a someone who spent two years playing at being a fanzine editor (a little self-congratulatory I know, since I was the only person who worked on it), this interested me. In my day (1994-5), there was no internet or email, and I didn't even have a computer for the first issue. And even when my Mum did get a Mac, my computer skills were so minimal that I could only print on A4 and then had to take it to the photocopy shop to get it reduced to A5. Those were the days. Interviews were conducted over the phone or via the post. The result was that I still have a stack of lovely, hand-written letters from some of my favourite pop stars of the time (Stephen Duffy, Miki from Lush, Bernard Butler from Suede, Amelia from Heavenly and her now-deceased brother Mathew, Animals That Swim...) accompanied by all sorts of presents: badges, drawings, stickers, photos etc. And that's something the internet age just can't recreate: the personal touch.

But looking at NME's 2007 interpretation of the fanzine I feel disappointed. Initially I felt hope: at last, someone has seen sense in the faceless format of the internet and returned to the joys of Pritt Stick and photocopiers. But no. Encased within a glossy, A4 book (£5.99), are 15 pages of what the NME (which now calls itself a magazine) calls a fanzine (15 pages of poorer quality paper within the glossy cover). This has apparently been created by bands such as Razorlight, Franz Ferdinand, Long Blondes and Bloc Party. But I can't help wanting to cry at the accompanying photos of the aforementioned bands weilding rolls of Sellotape and Pritt Sticks... because you know that's as far as their involvement in this 'project' went.

However, the whole thing struck me as a little irnoic. I have spent the morning researching late '70s/ early '80s Scritti Politti, with a view to basing my next MA essay on the ties between Scritti's political beliefs and the literary trends of the period (I'm serious!). I started this endeavour at 10am, and by 10.15am I had come across three email addresses for people in the band. In my fanzine days, that would have been gold dust (just as it is now to a devoted lifelong Scritti supporter). And as I was trawling the net, the whole thing reminded me of how glad I was that I just about caught the end of the pre-internet fanzine golden day.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Work In Progress...

This week, Velvet Empire has been...

"Money" by Martin Amis - sped read in a week and rather enjoyed it once I got into it. It's many, many years since I last read some Amis but if you're going to read him, you might as well do it properly and make it "Money".

"The Colour of Memory" by Geoff Dyer - the antithesis of "Money". While Amis writes about the revolting extravagance of the '80s, living the jet set life fueled by coke, spirits and porn, Dyer writes about the council-estate life in Brixton of the '80s, traveling in beat up cars, barricading your home from theives, fueled by grass, beer and envy.

"The Tao of Pooh" by Benjamin Hoff - the wisdom of Taoism as explained to a bear of very little brain. Consequently, the boyfriend informed me this morning that in my sleep last night I was telling him that I was an "unsculptured block", ie a Taoist symbol of purity and calm. He thinks the whole thing is a load of codswallop.

"Beautiful World" by Take That - I don't care what you say, you can take away all my street cred if you like, but I love a bit of the That. Favourite moments? "Patience", "Shine" and "Wooden Boat" - who knew Jason Orange could sing like that?

"Celebrity Big Brother" - it picked up a little after my initial slating (although the two are probably not connected), and then plummeted back down to earth when Donny jumped the fence. Thank God for Jade and her trumping Ma... fingers crossed that one-armed lesbian Jackie makes the play for Jermaine Jackson that she's already set in motion.

"Ugly Betty" - it's January and everyone stays in, so we're joining them and watching more telly in a week than we have in the previous year. But "Ugly Betty" wasn't too bad. Much better than "The Devil Wears Prada". Could be one to watch...

The most expensive dress ever - I had to, it was calling out to me. Apart from coats and shoes and handbags, it is the most expensive item of clothing I have ever bought. But it is a beautiful, new season Vivienne Westwood little black dress. Absolutely stunning. the trouble with such an expensive clothing purchase, is it sets a new benchmark for subsequent purchases and now that I've coughed up £XXX (I can't admit it) for a frock, it won't seem so bad the next time and I'll be able to reason my way out of even more. It's a slippery slope.

Treats for The Bed - it's our child substitute, we're nurturing it.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Celebrity Big Brother

"Dregs Eleven" screamed The Sun this morning, referring to the dismal outpouring of "celebrities" who limped into the Big Brother house last night in what was, quite literally, the most spectacular way to dampen everyone's enthusiasm for the New Year... and it was only January 3. I mean, come on Channel 4: it's January and you have a captive audience of party-sozzled TV-viewers, surely you can do better than Cleo "I'm wacky, me" Rocos, Ian "H from Steps" Watkins and Jo "dog breeder' O'Meara from S Club 7.

The only contestants to get moderately enthusiastic about are Dirk Benedict and Jermaine Jackson (although poor old Jermaine was visibly thinking, "What the hell's going on here? My agent told me this was going to be full of Brit A-listers and all I've got is a disgraced Miss Britain and a Bollywood princess for company. I'm a celebrity, get me out of here!"). The introduction of Peaches Geldof's on/off Pete Doherty substitute, Donny Tourettes, was the only potential z-lister; I bet Sir Bob was thrilled when his middle-class brat brought home that treasured potty mouth - whose age ranges from 22 to 25 depending on what you read, although I'd rank him nearer 27 based on how long he's already been doing the circuit.

In the week before Christmas, I helped compile a list of the top 10 Celebrity Big Brother moments for a celeb weekly: those we opted for included the beautiful Mark Owen weeping upon being told he'd won, Jack Dee doing a runner, Anne Diamond and Goldie sewing a patchwork quilt together and the obvious Galloway/Lenska/cat incident. Based on these sterling highlights, I struggle to believe that this year's bunch is really the best Endemol could attract. More likely it's got something to do with the post-Christmas pinch of the purse strings.

If CBB is going to keep my attention (and I am a self-confessed viewing veteran of EVERY series of CBB and I'm A Celebrity, not to mention Celebrity Love Island), the introduction of Jade Goody and pals tomorrow is going to need to be just the start of a few twists and turns. All this upset has caused me to take to The Bed with Martin Amis and a sack load of chocolate money. So it's not all bad then.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Christmas has been and gone, but we shouldn't let it pass entirely without mention. Apart from the tedious business of completing The Essay (so nearly done I can now smell it, yuk), the festivities were remarkably culture-free. Quite a treat, all things considered.

Father Christmas came and had untold treats in his sack, not least of which is the delightful Persephone notebook (which one has to concede is something of a total swizz really - at £10 it costs the same as a normal Persephone book, ie one with a story in, yet is filled with nothing but 192 blank pages. The marketing department must have rubbed their hands with glee at that idea). However, it provides the perfect canvas for me to create my mind-bogglingly brilliant Persephone-related thesis (I haven't worked out the finer points yet but it will happen), and present it to the fabled publishers themselves for them to, erm, not do anything with as that's not their kind of thing. Still, it doesn't hurt to dream.

Other literary treats (although that's something of a misnomer as the Persephone notebook has no words in it and is therefore surely the opposite of literary) included Benjamin Hoff's "The Tao Of Pooh", Simon Reynolds' "Rip It Up And Start Again" (basically a big fat ode to Scritti Politti), David Hasselhoff's memoirs (genius, have I mentioned recently that I met him last summer and he kissed me, swoon?), and the unbelievably fantastic "Smash Hits" book, which genuinely must be the best book ever written about '80s pop. I honestly don't know how I coped without it.

Still, it's January 2nd and it's time to move on. I've left modernism behind (for now), and am now embedded in Martin Amis' "Money" for term two, which kicks off next Tuesday. After the debauchery of the festivities, a tale of a foul-mouthed, drunken, coke-addled sleaze who exists on fast food is, erm, just what the doctor ordered.