Friday, December 30, 2005


I know from my work, new innovations usually hit the troops at the front last of all. Often even after customers hear of them. What do I mean? In my role as Telephone Support Engineer Sans Excellence, I have had people call me and say something like, “Can you tell me more about the Omnicrap OS?” To which I have replied that we have no such product only to be informed by said customer that only the day before no less a monster than our CEO had announced at a conference the imminent arrival of the Omnicrap OS. A little bit of searching around and fuel was added to that adage, “the customer is always right.” A week later, an email was sent round informing the support staff of the arrival of a new product, namely the Omnicrap OS, noting that we were expected to at least be aware of its existence. We should have been aware a week ago at least.

This is not a common occurrence at our company, it is in the world of travel that this sort of thing seems most common. I have twice tried new-fangled things endorsed by the airlines – most recently, checking in online. In this, you print your own boarding pass. But as you only have a bog-standard laser, inkjet or laser-jet printer, you cannot print anything that looks remotely like a boarding pass. It looks like a printout of a web site with some information about your flight on it. Consequently said piece of paper rather than being grasped with joy by all who encompass it, was stared at by the security guards at the gate as if I was trying to show a child’s drawing instead of my passport. The airline’s representative explained it to them but the fact was in the world of international passenger aviation, where security is supposed to THE NUMBER ONE THING OF IMPORTANCE after profits, people were not informed of a security-related change or addition which will affect them.

In the less rapidly-changing world of earth-bound transport, things are not much different. A local bus company, eager to get more people waiting at bus stops, issued free trial tickets to various surrounding businesses. Every single driver I (or any of my colleagues) showed these tickets to, stared at it. First as if I was mad; and then, having read what it said and seen his employer’s logo, he accepted it bemusedly. It seems that all it would have taken is one simple memo to the drivers’ Squadron Leader to inform his chaps to expect these things from customers and the whole thing would have been seamless. But consequently an attempt to improve the image of the company just made it look faintly incompetent.

But, of course, you are dying to know how online checking in worked for me? Aren’t you? Yes, of course you are...

Well, firstly it saves time once you arrive at the airport. You don’t queue up with the other plebs but go straight to the “Baggage Drop-Off Counter.” I went there to be told by a huffy girl, “this desk is closed.” But then she saw my printed boarding pass and that I was just dropping my luggage off. So she huffily took my bag and stuck the usual two metres of sticker to it, and told me where to go. Gate D22. But as that was all. It took slightly less time at the desk than normal. She also didn’t ask me whether I packed my bag myself or whether I had a knife, hand gun or explosive device. I assume that was stated on the website. Anyway, I had and I didn’t have any.

One nice feature of the online check-in is that you can change your seat using a little picture of the plane. Or at least it seemed a nice feature at the time. It didn’t work so well for me. I was allocated a window seat near the back, so I changed it for an aisle seat further forward. Unfortunately it didn’t give me any warning about who else was likely to take the seats around me, and I sat behind the kid who screamed all the way through the approach, setting off his sibling sitting next to him. I had placed myself in the kids section. It made the flight a little unpleasant, but it’ always good to remind yourself why breeding is best avoided. And it illustrated what I have always said, that there should be a clearly defined kids section on all flights. The hold springs to mind, but I am fine with just a cordoned off area of the plane. Seriously, I would rather sit in the smoking section than surrounded by screaming kids. Hell, I’d rather sit in the radioactive waste compartment.

To summarise: Employers, keep your staff informed; Airlines, all terrorists were once children, so don’t forget that kids are a security risk.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


If one was to compile a list of the most annoying animals ever, somewhere very near the top must come mosquitoes.
Benefits of mosquitoes: None.
Bad effects of mosquitoes: They spread malaria.
Things that mosquitoes do to irritate: buzz in your ear and bite your girlfriends.

For me the biting of mosquitoes is not the thing I detest them for. Mainly because they don’t seem to like my thin, tasteless blood. I don’t often get bitten. In fact, if I am sharing a bed, the other person is quite likely to wake up with dozens of tiny bites whilst I will usually emerge with none. The best mosquito deterrent for me is someone else.

What mosquitoes do that is most annoying is they buzz around your ears the moment you are getting settled. It’s like they WANT you kill them. Believe me if they just flew in silently, grabbed a nose-full of blood and silently skitted off to digest it, I would have only a minor problem with them. (As long as they didn’t give me malaria.) But they don’t. They sit and wait. And when the light is out, when you are just comfortable, when you are just starting to slide towards sleep, they swoop down and buzz right by your ear. By the time you hear them, they are gone so you will never swat them like this. You are only going to hit your own face. Nothing wakes you up more than a loud noise in your ear and slapping yourself on the forehead. If you try to sleep again, it will come back. Not to stealthily bite you, but to buzz your ear again. Why? Why would they do this? What is the evolutionary advantage?

After the third time – and quite often now after the first, because I know what’s going to happen – I go into Death to Mosquitoes mode. From then on, there is no rest until I have killed every mosquito in the room. Fortunately, mosquitoes are relatively slow-moving, stupid creatures with a peacock’s sense of camouflage. They are black and seem to like sitting on light-coloured walls where they are easy to spot. They also don’t have a fly's sense of impending newspaper strike, and so do not dart out of the way when a rolled-up newspaper comes towards them. Rather they tend to stay there and become a smear on the wall. Sometimes when you have waited until after you have been bit to take your revenge, the smear is red, and you realise that it is your own blood streaking your walls.

I have been bothered by mosquitoes more in Amsterdam than in most places, except perhaps on boating holidays in the UK. It’s a canal thing – they love water. I expected to be bothered in Singapore, but they have pretty much eradicated them there. In China, they are not very common in the big cities. Although on my first trip I was advised to take malaria tablets but started taking them a touch later than recommended, so they were not fully working when I arrived. Having left the plane, I found myself in a taxi with the fattest, most malaryised mosquito I’d ever seen; with an expression that said I was just the change of diet it was looking for. In the end it just sat out of reach and shifted a few inches when the driver tried lazily to swat it, and I was soon even more terrified by my first experience of the way Chinese taxis drive.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Festive Cheer

I don’t do Christmas very well. I am an under-consumerist atheist with a phobia of unwarranted false displays of affection, so there isn’t much of the festivities for me to really enjoy. I detest shopping so much that an hour of it leaves me emotionally exhausted and as irritable as all hell. And when some of my friends (nearly always girls) tell me how much they enjoy shopping as if that would suddenly make me realise the error of my opinion, I shake my head in an unfestive way.

Christmas, in case you are from Mars, is a kidnapped pagan festival (that’s where the trees and holly come from) converted to be the celebration of the inaccurate birth date of an over-hyped rabbi. It has since been re-kidnapped by The Coca-Cola corporation and Hollywood, acting on behalf of the manufacturers of tacky products the globe over.

It is the time of the year that every one insists that you have some “seasonal cheer” despite the fact this forcing you to be cheerful has an even more detrimental affect on one’s mood than a whole sleighful of carol singers singing Christmas hit singles.

It is a time when everything is enfestived (a word closely related to infested). Shops can’t get enough silver shiny things to adorn their products and every public space - and I mean EVERY PUBLIC SPACE - is filled with nauseatingly tinny versions of nauseating tunes sung by nauseating children. Children who will soon be receiving a deluge of gifts all, ironically, made by other children their age. Albeit in Santa’s many sweatshops in less Christmassy places.

So I think Christmas should be banned, then? No. I think it should be made to go behind closed doors. Those of a religious bent should go off to their churches quietly, with only a special TV programme on in the morning for them to sing along to. The kids should receive their presents, but from their parents and not some mysterious recluse who lives in an igloo for 11 months of the year and then in every single shopping mall for the other month.

In no places except churches or in the privacy of the homes of those with serious taste deficiency should Christmas music in any of its guises be played. Tinsel is outlawed outside of homes, and people who cut trees of from their roots and put out of the way of sunlight so they slowly die whilst covered in silvery crap should be prosecuted under the protection of wildlife laws. Gangs of children found hanging around and going from door to door singing the above mentioned songs should be served (in the UK at least) Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. Believe me, “Away In A Manger” should be classified as a dangerous weapon. And finally, any mention that someone should get some “festive cheer” should be classed as assault, and retaliations such as bludgeonings and disembowellings should be accepted as self-defense.

Oh, but it should still be a holiday. Anyway, Merry Christmas everyone.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Meet the Piets

It was recently that time of year when normally sane and otherwise liberal-minded Dutch men and women black-up and dance around the streets throwing sweets at children.

For those of us who live here but who came from elsewhere, it takes some getting used to. (More than 4 years, is all I can say at this point.) Most expats express at least mild discomfort at the spectacle of white folk frolicking about with boot polish on their faces. Not to mention the disturbing caricatures of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) whenever he is drawn.

Every year, the debate rages. Is Piet a slave? Or is he a Personal Assistant? Is he black because of his racial origin? Or (as some people have claimed) from climbing down chimneys? Is it all harmless fun? Or are the undertones of slavery reinforcing racial prejudices?

I am old enough to remember the great golliwog debates in the UK, when we (as a country) asked ourselves “are these black-faced dolls with exaggerated, stereotypical features racist?” “Almost certainly yes, we concluded.” “And, by the way, is this TV show, where white singers paint their faces black and sing and dance cringingly, something violently offensive that should never have been made, let alone aired?” “Absolutely!”

In fact in a Party shop, I saw several Zwarte Piet dolls, which were exactly the same as the old golliwogs, for sale quite openly. It was a harsh reminder of less tolerant times. Like watching old cartoons when, after being blown up, characters always resemble a grotesque black caricature who will inevitably start singing a spiritual.

So, does Zwarte Piet represent the condoning of the subjugation of whole races? Or is it merely a representation of the fact of the time – a bishop would have had a servant. And one from Spain or Turkey (depending on whether you believe the Dutch or fact), is even more likely to have one that was black. To hide this fact is also wrong. And he is integral to the legend. Although Sinterklaas has the status - there is only one of him and he is clearly in charge - who do the kids call out for? Not the dignified cleric, but the crazy one who doles out the sweets.

But it is not Piet’s colour that is unsettling, of course, but how it seems he can only be portrayed by a white painted black (or black-painted white, if you prefer.) It is all done with naivety rather than with any malice, but still, there is offence to be taken.

I know of one school for foreign children that tries to steer the practice in less murky waters by having Bonte Pieten (Multicoloured Petes) where all of the faces are painted in different colours). You only have to do something differently for a few years running for it to become the new tradition.

Whether in the future Piet becomes multihued or stays black... Whether his ethnic heritage is played down or played up... Whether he and the bishop are held up as an image of modern inter-racial co-operation or past enslavement... the kids won’t really care. Just as long as they get their sweets.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Domino Effect

The latest hot news story here (after gangland killings and a new style of keep fit) is the preparation for Domino Day. Forget the forthcoming year-long celebration of Rembrandt, the exciting coming event is without doubt the attempt on the dominos world record. It's very tense in Friesland where the team is delicately setting up 4,155,476 dominos as premature flaughteration would cause great delays and even a failure to beat this entirely pointless record. Already, to protect the effort, a small bird has been shot. They take their dominos seriously in Friesland. Despite this warning, two students risked their life last Friday [18/11/05], to bring a pizza box full of mice into the Expo Centre hoping to set them free to cause havoc. They two were caught and arrested by the police.

It is not sure if police are holding them under any anti-terrorist laws, but it is alarming that students are able to construct such a weapon of mass dominal destruction made out of things every student has in their home. The dominos are safe, but this is indeed a bad day for freedom, democracy and the Friesian way of life. It is thought the students were under the influence of al Caholda.

Actually, looking into the background I see that the students were more likely under the influence of the fact that a Dutch website was offering money for people who thwart the attempt further to avenge the bird. And it wasn’t the Friesians who are so crazy about dominos but TV company Endemol who brought us other such other pointless events as Big Brother and Big Brother 2.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Serious Matter

Yesterday’s [24/11/05] Volkskrant reports that 5% of 14-17 year-olds are hurting themselves. Having travelled in on a bus this morning absolutely chock-full of 14-17 year-olds, I can say honestly that this figure is not high enough.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Some time ago, the Dutch National Institute for Health (het nationaal gezondheidsinstituut) put up a website,, where you can put in your intake of alcohol and it tells you if it is too much or not. The shock findings in today's paper [Metro 22/11/05] is that 3/4 of the visitors drink too much. Well, that isn't shock findings at all. This is not 3/4 of people in general, but 3/4 of people who visited the site. Now given that you are not going to visit a site that tells you if you drink too much unless you suspect you drink too much, the findings are not unusual at all. In fact it's the 1/4 who went there but did not drink too much who I am interested in. People who had TWO Bacardi Breezers the night before and are now concerned they are now binge drinkers. No, they're not. They're bilge drinkers.

Next they'll be reporting that 9 out of 10 people who attend weight watchers meetings are overweight; 95% of people with accounts on are trekkies; and that people who frequent pet shops tend to have animals at home.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Gig Review: London Calling, Paradiso, Amsterdam, Saturday 5 November 2005.

The bi-annual showcase for up-and-coming British bands has had a knack lately for landing on celebratory days. The first one of 2005 landed on Queens Day and the Saturday of the this one was on Museum Night. First time I thought it was bad planning, by the second time I am beginning to suspect it is deliberate. Although I don't yet know the reasoning.

Earlier this year, the line up was lead by bands on the verge of Stardom: Kaiser Chiefs, The Others, Tom Vek. This time all but one band was unknown to me, and that one I had to miss due other commitments on the Friday Night. But then, unknown bands and new discoveries are what this mini-festival is all about.

First up were Field Music, who perhaps could be called Green Pastures. It's a tough spot at the start of an evening and the band. They were nervous and failed to really engage. Perhaps they realised their 1960s guitar pop wasn't quite the thing for there and then.

Next up came Amusement Parks On Fire, who play that kind of processed noise and vocals thing which made every song indecipherable from the last. Kind of Nottingham Sea Power as in the sort band to play 4 songs in a 30 minute set. Very difficult to be engaged by.

The Guillemots play world music with feedback. Elements of Badly Drawn Boy meld with Rod Stewart, Jack, The O-Diddley Social Club and jazz-school musicians everywhere to form an experimental whole. Enjoyable to have dinner to.

Battle took the main stage next and provided the first band of the evening to really make you go, "ooh." When Hastings Financial Software went bankrupt, four of their hardest working employees went, "what the flip?" They shut down their computers, closed their ledgers and learned instruments to become a great indie rock band.

They are all short and geeky looking; Their bassist sports a tank-top, and not in an ironic way; their drummer made an attempt at being Rock'n'Roll by having no shirt, but it just looked even more geeky given the fact he was bright English pale. Plus he is the only drummer in existence to have NO tattoos. I expect after a bit more success, he may start to get it and get himself a tattoo, but I'm not sure how Rock'n'Roll "Linux" is. It's their look more than anything that makes you surprised how good they are and how much you allowed your prejudices to influence you. Geekophobia is one of the few bigotries the politically correctors have missed. Probably due to their own anti-geekism. And if the electronic music revolution has taught us anything it is the geek is king.

And now what I should have been talking about from the start of the last paragraph: their music. They sound like pop-era cure meeting current-era Editors. Their singer is not someone to half-heartedly mumble a song. He belts it out with a possessed charm. Backed by a band who all believe in each other and never want to go back to writing financial software ever again.

Next advanced ¡Forward Russia! a band who hark back to punk-era Cure (I hadn't realised there was such an era before this) but had their foot firmly in the that nu-old-skool where Maxïmo Park, the Killers, et al, et al dwell. Their energy and commitment were great, and they have it in them to do well. The only thing that put me off or rather did later is the fact their songs just have numbers. Or maybe it's just communist lyrical equality. The other thing that put me off was not their fault. It was the cameraman's obsession with the girl drummer. But thinking back she was possibly the only girl who played that day. What's up with that? Has laddism really taken over back home?

Then came the Dogs who win the prize as probably the most confident band of the evening. The Dogs (probably named after the Isle) are the result of a cloning experiment involving The Jam (probably named after the session) but where the material became contaminated by outside elements, including, bizarrely enough, The Levellers (certainly named after the alliance of civil war revolutionaries). But the Jam influence comes through more than anything, especially in their stage presence. Something that their fellow Jam-imitators, The Futureheads, fall down on. The Dogs were entertaining and played good tunes. And if you're gonna be heavily influence by any band, better it is The Jam and not Simple Minds.

Duels were nothing special. Well, they had a girl on keyboards, I think, but, their pop/new-wave sound seemed a bit dull amongst everything else.

Clor were the last band on the main stage, and as such could be considered the headliner. But clearly it hadn't been programmed that way. They are new-wave / electro-pop and I'm sick of writing new-wave, it happened 20 years ago.

The Test Icicles have the best name of the day, and their live show was a lesson in not coming on stage more stoned than your audience. They are a bit like The Fall or perhaps more accurately The Fallen Down. They shouted a lot and had incoherent gaps between the tunes.

Chiniki were the next surprise band of the evening, and suggested the geek thing is actually a movement. They are new-new-wave with elements of electro and happen to bring in bits from bands as diverse as Placebo, Air and Led Zeppelin. Their lead singer looks like a cross between Freddy Mercury and former Suck front-man, Evan Jones, and gives good shout. Meanwhile, on the bridge of the star-ship Keyboard, their lead-keyboardist plays like Napoleon Dynamite possessed by by lightning. Normally I don't like groups where the keyboards outnumber the band members, but here it actually worked. They had two keyboardists, although one was really a substitute bassist.

The whole band played with huge amounts of gusto and talent. They were enjoyable to watch but did however prove that keyboards, as befitting the geek image, are not cool. No matter how much you play them above your head or jump around with them, they are still keyboards and as such are one tenth of the coolness of guitars. But throwing yourself at them and playing with such intensity your thick-rimmed National Health glasses nearly fly off helps some way to redress the balance.

The final band of the evening came very late on to the proceedings (it over ran by quite a bit). So late that your unpaid reporter, with no editor to satisfy, decided to post an incomplete review due to his own weariness and the desertion of everyone else in his group.

So consequently I have no idea what the Infadels sound like. The program says they sound like the Clash, but then they all do these days, don't they?

To compensate, I will mention two bands that played the previous night, that I had enough report of from more dedicated followers of music to feel able to mention. Queen Adreena, the only band I really knew of before and do like immensely, apparently played a typically intense and overly-arty show. Katie(-Jane Garside) fell out of what is left of her dress and tried to hang herself with the microphone. The dirty guitars, twisted lyrics and little girl vocals is a quite, quite compelling mix. For me anyway.

The other mention goes to Kid Carpet who rocks out - or more accurately punks out - on kids instruments. I for one am sad I missed this. I am looking forward to the other bands in the genre: Sid Vicious-Price, The Intensive Care Bears, Mattelica.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Album Review: Franz Ferdinand - You Could Have It So Much Better

At the vanguard of the popular perception of the movement that is called Art Rock, presumably because it is slightly easier to say than 70s Retro Pop Rock, is Franz Ferdinand. They were lucky enough to break before other bands in their subgenre, Germanic-Named Retro Pop Rock, such as The Kaiser Chiefs and Maxïmo Park, and helped set the mould: The cheekiness, the deft lyrics, the expert studies in influence that are many of their songs which allow them to walk the narrow line between Pastiche and Tribute.

The question is, how to follow it up? The answer for Franz Ferdinand is more of the same. Only, this time even more assured (which I wasn't sure is possible) and even more blatant in its retroism. I mean retrosity. You can tell they are having even more fun this time.

Eleanor put your boots on, for example, is pure Beatles tribute, down to the title, tune, theme and lyrical description. And Fade Forever goes down that well-trod path too, but less cleverly.

Other tracks stick more to the knowing 70s retro-rock sound, except for Outsiders which has a decidedly disco feel.

Many of the songs are very current in their retroscapancivity, only harking back a year or so to the previous Franz Ferdinand album. There are several tunes that make you go, "Ooh, whatever happened to Franz Ferdinand? Oh, yeah!" In fact some songs seem to be just new words and melodies over the same tune. But I am sure there must be a difference, otherwise they'd sue themselves and their record company would have to pay them a lot of money. Hmm.

In conclusion. If you liked the first album, then you probably had this the day it came out. If not, you won't be disappointed unless your one of these people who like their bands to diversify with each album, then you might be. But if you prefer them to get cheekier, you won't be. Of the two albums this is the more consistent which means there are no tracks that slightly annoy you, but it also means there is no Michael.

Verdict: 4 cheeky thumbs up

Monday, October 31, 2005

Confessions of an English Cold Remedy Eater

With the weather here going from cold and wet, to suddenly sunny at the end of October, it's no wonder that colds and flus abound. Bang on cue, my throat began to feel abrased and my head like it had digested something it didn't like. I knew sniffling and only feeling acceptable if languishing in bed were not too far behind. In the end the flu that hit me was over pretty quickly in all departments except the throat which continued to feel like it had a rather fat and rough toad stuck in if for several days.

The one thing this did bring to my attention is that you cannot get Lemsip here. The thing I do remember from the UK was that when I had a cold, there was a whole array of treatments on offer that did usually seem to help. There was a variety, too. Those that warned of "drowsiness" as a side effect, were great for last thing at night, and the "non-drowsy" ones actually seemed to keep you awake.

In the Netherlands there are two interchangable products that are not really any better than having a warm, lemon drink (which is a very good thing if you have a cold or flu, but if a warm, lemon drink was working, you wouldn't be in the chemist (like, pharmacist) trying to buy something with chemicals in the first place. Well, I wouldn't.) For some reason the UK products are banned here. That's right, in the land of the tolerant drug laws and legalised "coffeeshops" where you can buy soft drugs over the counter, Lemsip is a banned substance. Lemsip!

When the recent flu hit, I lamented this, but a friend of mine, whom I will call "My Dealer," had some that she had brought back from a trip to England.

Now one reason for this ban could be that the "non-drowsy" agent is in fact related to speed. Distantly related. Probably the same distant relationship that Mickey Mouse has with Speedy Gonzales. But this doesn't make too much sense, really. And means that it is easier to get ahold of actual Speed than it is to get hold of its helpful, distant cousin.

To answer this, I have decided to open up a "Coughingshop" where sick people can go and get illicit drugs such as Lemsip and Beechams. Now you'll know where to go if you're ever in the Netherlands and you want to score some Night Nurse.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Album Review: Richmond Fontaine - The Fitzgerald

There has been a movement of late to make Country cool. Let me put this out there, Country will never be cool. You may as well ask, will it ever be hip to have a pick-up truck in your front yard up on 4 bricks with grass growing out of it. No, it won't. Country may reach the heights of kitsch, occasionally be savvy, and even throw out the occassional good song. But cool? No way, Joakim.

In recent years there have been movements such as (Country Indie), serious cross-over attempts and even Country heroes covering Nine Inch Nails songs. Nice attempts, but these are the exceptions, not the norm. Country will always be the illiterate, illegitimate son of rock'n'roll and folk music. It will always live in backwater shacks with its sibling / partner, Western.

That doesn't mean that amongst the sewage you can't occasionally stumble upon a watch or ring that someone has dropped. If you'll forgive the imagry.

NB: Officiados of Country and Western music, won't mind a bit of what I say. They consider themselves a breed apart. Well, an inbreed apart. They probably welcome the derision of outsiders as the herecy of the non-believer. This attitude was best summed up in the film The Blues Brothers when they blag a gig at a giant shack of a bar. "What kind of music do you guys have here?" they ask. "Both kinds." replies the proprieter, "Country AND Western."

Richmond Fontaine belong to the recent movement. They are lo-fi balladiers, croniclers of bleak, dispossessed lives. A sort of Tindersticks from the sticks. Except they are not from the sticks. They sing of urban decay: desperate crimes gone wrong; sad and lonely deaths; cheap sex in unfulfilling motels. Don't expect to bounce up and down at a Richmond Fontaine gig. But do expect to be richly rewarded with beautifully-painted verbal-imagry, even if the palette is very dark indeed.

PS since writing the review, I did go to a Richmond Fontaine gig. They are a lot more upbeat live, than their last album suggest. More than Mourn-o-billy.

Rating: 3 dead ex-con thumbs poking up from the undergrowth.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Album Review: dEUS - Pocket Revolution

Not sure if the title of the latest offering from Belgian Art Rockers dEUS (sic) comes from the terrible chat-up line, "There's a Revolution in my pocket, want to join the revolution?" I doubt it as it's a terrible line. Especially as the come-back is, "You mean in your trousers it's revolting?" Anyway, I am digressing before I even start.

It's been a while since dEUS released an album. The last was 1999's An Ideal Crash. That's a long time. Oh, there have been numerous side projects and solo albums in that time, but from the group themselves, there have just been the occasional gig. This year there is a new album and more tour dates. The problem is, An Ideal Crash was such a corker of an album, it's not easily going to be topped. The album does not top An Ideal Crash, but it is their most approachable album yet - a long way from the impenetrable "My Sister = My Clock."

The usual mix is here: quirky lyrics, good tunesmanship, the rock/jazz/pop influences, the great production. It's an album that fits in very well with the current trends of today, especialkly with bands the likes of the Kaisers, the Franzes and the Art Brutes around. There aren't any real dancefloor fillers (although Nightshopping and Sun Ra come close), but there are plenty of head-nodders and a few lines that make you go, "ooh, nice."

So what are they link live now? Well, that I'll tell you next week.

Rating: 4 Thumbs to the clouds

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Band Review: Rialto

Rialto make pop music. Ordinarily this is all I need to write in order to give a two thumbs down at the very best. But Rialto are going to get 4 well-dressed thumbs up. Why do I like them when they make twee-sounding pop? Well, because whilst the music has an edged, twee-ness to it, the lyrics do not. The lyrics are of relationship paranoia (Monday Morning 5:19), of drug-induced broken dreams (Broken Barbie Doll, Lucky Number), alcohol abuse (Untouchable, Milk of Amnesia), and stalking (When We're Together). It's because of their being dressed up as pop melodies, not despite that they are such good songs. The tunes a renice, but the key minor and feelings induced are a kind of pleasant melancholia tinged with nostalgia.

Rating: 4 well-dressed thumbs up.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Anything, Anytime

I have recently been reliving my childhood since a good friend of mine recently gave me a copy of every single BBC episode of the Goodies. That's 8 TV series - 4 CDs full. It's been a trip down memory lane, and reminded me of how much fun they were. They were very much the Young Ones of their day, except they did not swear particularly and things were destroyed by them as an unintentional consequence of what they did not by direct action. But it has the same semi-amarchic, on-the-cheap-yet-prop-heavy style.

The three Goodies have all gone on to be eminent broadcasters, especially to be heard on the ever-running "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue". Graham Garden was always a doctor and is brought in when science and levity need to be combined. Bill Oddie is Mr Great British Nature where David Attenborough was Mr World Wildlife. And Tim Brook-Taylor is often called in when they need someone very British and very slightly camp.

The series is occasionally as good as I remember it. But with so many episodes, some, of course, are a bit lame. But the humour is good, sometimes clever but mostly silly. They are also responsible for some of the great comedy images of the era (1970-1981). For me at least. These include, the three of them on their 3-seater "trandem" bike; BBC TV center exploding; and of course, The Post Office tower being felled by the giant "Kitten Kong."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Running Amock

I read in the paper today [6/10/05] that running was never so popular as now. I can well believe it. Back in the UK, I heard that there were such people as those who ran for pleasure or some notion that stinking and being short of breath was healthy, but did not know any. When I arrived here some 4 years ago, I met one girl who did this. Right now it seems that every other person I know is planning to run in one of the many long distance races here. Distances range from 10 km to the forthcoming Amsterdam Marathon.

Marathons are 42.195 km or 26 miles 385 yards or 22525.7 Fathoms. They are named after the city in Greece where the Athenians beat the Persians in 490 BC, from which news was carried by a messanger who ran all the way. People think this is such a great story, except they forget the rest. The legend also states the runner fell dead on arrival.

This year I will not be running in the Amsterdam Marathon, but cheering on my friends who are, and hoping they don't have anything important to tell me when they are finished.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

France pt4: Sleep

Something I forgot to mention was that in France I slept some of the best sleep I’ve had in many, many moons. I put this down to 3 things: 1) the purity of the air; 2) the peacefulness of the surroundings where, at night only there is a silence only broken occasionally by the scurrying of curious creatures around the yard or chickens going for a midnight snack; and 3) the fact the air is much thinner due to us being many metres above sea level, whereas in the Netherlands I am used to being several metres below it.

Monday, October 10, 2005


Earlier this year a very good friend of my was de-horsed and landed on her spine. She broke her pelvis and fractured a few vertibrae. Recovery is progressing well, but gymnastics will never be advisable again. I was a long, long way away, before you start reminding me of Christopher Reeve.

If you recall, I feel personally responsible for what happened to Mr Reeve, in that I arrived in Charlottesville the day he was disenhorsed. Then to compound this, the week I returned back to the US for the first time since then, he popped his clogs. I am assuming I don't have kriptonite bones and that it was just a coincidence.

But sometimes these things have a connection. It always struck me as significant that Mother Theresa died on the same day as Princes Diana. My theory was that Diana was indeed The Evil One and Mother Theresa could not die until she had defeated her. Once Diana had passed on, Mother T's purpose on this Earth was complete and the years of fighting were able to take their toll finally. This is of course not a popular theory. In fact it's so crazy even Mohammed al-Fayed refused to buy it. Especially as it would have meant his own son was a consort of one of the devil's minions. With time, I have since reflected that Diana was probably not The Evil One (even though her death released enough power to short out the TV stations for several days!) but was just a poor little rich girl hounded from a multitude of directions.

Thank the Spaghetti Monster, my friend has not the same level of severity as Mr Reeve. And should return to full mobility, which was not always obvious. If there is some conclusion to draw from this it, er, must be that... er, I am evil? That sounds about right.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Band Review: The Goo Goo Dolls

For some reason I think I should not like The Goo Goo Dolls. I think it is because they are definitely on the edge of pop rock. I think also it is because the lead singer does look a little bit like Jon Bon Jovi. But I should look beyond such facial disfigurations.

The Goo Goo Dolls have a passion about them. They don't just throw out a few choice sentances that rhyme and fit the line, they write thoughtful (even intelligent) songs that hover in the grey area between euphoria and dejection. They also have the ability to write killer hooks. And these songs they sing with a poignancy and feint sinisterness that grabs you by heart and squeezes.

And even if I did hate them for reminding me that Bon Jovi exists and for the fact they are definitely in the pop camp, albeit in the rock corner, I would still have to admit that if someone started to play "Iris" (From 1998's fantastic "Dizzy") in the metro, I would find it impossible not to sing along to that glowing hymn to the bitter curse that is love.

Rating: 4 black nail-varnished thumbs up

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Ronnie Barker

I read yesterday in a Dutch paper that Ronnie Barker has died aged 76. Ronnie was one of the great British Comic Actors. Excellent as incarcerated con, Norman Fletcher, and hilarious in his various sketch guises with long-term cohort, Ronnie Corbett. Their sketches often had a kind of cleverness to them that most sketches do not. They tended to rely on characterisation rather than strings of jokes or crudity. Some of the best sketches were when Ronnie B would be the spokesperson for some organision or other orator with a particular typing or speech impediment such as b's replaced by p's, etc.

This is not an obituary, just a heads-up for those of you who who didn't know the man or that he had died. In either case, try and find something to watch in his honour. Perhaps one of the TV specials that played in the Uk in later years. Any of the great character roles. Or the series... Not "Clarence", but definitely "Porridge" or "Open All Hours."

"And it's goodbye from him."

Friday, October 07, 2005

Album Review: Part Chimp - I am Come

It's nice to hear an album that sends you back to those glorious days when grunge meant something dark and horrible, not a form of sordid pop. The whole point of Grunge was that it was never slick. It was dirty and only produced in as much as the noises made were somehow transfered onto vinyl and/or CD. That was before Nirvana came along, got themselves a real pop record producer and still claimed to be Grunge.

Part Chimp recall dirty grunge rock bands like The Bastards and Bullet Lavolta. They also recall the days when metal was dirty, like the early days of Black Sabbath. There's even some occasional 60s keyboards thrown in for that, stoned, garage band feel.

Rating: 3 skeletal thumbs up.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Album Review: The Killers - Hot Fuss (extra)

Since I published the review, I now realise "Mr Brightside" is all in the mind of Action Man. This is because of the line, "Open up my Eagle-Eyes®"

Album Review: The Killers - Hot Fuss

The Killers sound is very much of the here and now, super-influence, retrospective indie rock. Maybe that should be 'hear and plough' instead of 'here and now'? I'm not being harsh. The current trend for guaitar bands is very retro. Right now is a very good time to be a fan of Joy Division. On Hot Fuss there are several moments where you go, "Mmmmm. Whatever did happen to Joy Division? Oh, yeah."

But there are other moments where you go, "Mmmmm. Late Beatles," "Mmmmm. New Order," and even "Mmmm. Glam Rock." Don't let this put you off. The album has a nice sound, and when the strong influences are peeled away, you can get some great tracks. There are two absolute corkers on this album, but you know them as they have both been released as singles. But there are several other tracks that are very good indeed, but not floor fillers in the same way.

The corkers are of course, "Somebody Told Me," one of several songs on the album refering to pursuing girls in clubs. In this case feeling you are in with a chance with a girl because she went out with a boy who looks like one of your ex-girlfriends. But the trouble is, our lads are a bit too sensitive as is evinced by the other corker, "Mr Brightside." There has been much debate about what this song is actually about. Sure, jealousy is in there, as it is screamed fairly often. But what is the story? My take is that it is the tormet of a sensitive soul who during a party or the like kisses a girl, but she goes home (seemingly) with someone else. Thus our hero imagines all sorts of disturbing goings on (chest touching and dress removing), but he also realises this is just in his head, and this could be the start of something destinal. After all, he is Mr Brightside (he keeps telling himself).

Since then I have listened again, and I am now erring towards it being that the relationship is blossoming (but not started) and he sees her kiss someone, but not neccessarily sexually and all the jealous anguish he is going through. He has not kissed her yet.

It's a very reminiscent thematically of Rialto's epic "Monday Morning, 5:19," a classic tale of a man anguished by not being able to get hold of his girlfriend through the night who, he concludes, must be cheating on him. We never know if it is true or if she just switched off her phone.

Rating: 4 thumbs up.

Friday, September 30, 2005

France pt3: Miscellany

There are two regional drinks of the Charente. One is Cognac, named after the town there where from the 13th century this brandy has been brewed. The other is Pineau, a kind of poor-man’s cognac, originally made from the dregs from the cognac. It is more likely what you’ll find the local’s drink. It is not as strong and has a very nutty taste. In fact it tastes very much like a mix between cognac and amaretto. Two thumbs up.

Farm life is a manly world of hard work and self-sufficiency. As such I felt right at home. Is someone laughing? Whilst there, as well as ridding a wall of a vast, dangerous, and, some would say, carnivorous, Ivy infestation, I sifted rocks, hacked down nettles as tall as a short human, encountered all manner of wild beasties, and, people, I repaired my own hat. There are people – many people – who faced with the non-fastenability of their hat would throw said hat to the ground and declare it lost. I used to be such a guy. Now, I reach for the pliers, then the hammer and a piece of wood and I repair that hat and then I place it upon my head and declare, people, I fixed this!!!
Meanwhile my father has almost-single-handedly extended the house, repaired several barns and dug metres and metres of trenches. But, people, forget perspective: look at the hat.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

For Pete's Sake...

Service announcement:

If you are a Pete*, needs you.
If you are not a Pete*, but know a Pete*, tell them about it.

(* - or relatedly named)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

France pt2: Creatures

Here is a list of wildlife seen during the trip because all modern British travel writing is influenced by Gerald Durrell:

1. sheep
2. cows
3. goats
4. dogs
5. snails (intact, moving)
6. snails (steaming in garlic sauce)
7. grasshoppers (many)
8. praying mantis (several)
9. spiders (sitting in web - many)
10. spiders (wrapping fly - one)
11. spiders (scurrying away - many)
12. spiders (being huge and lounging above the fireplace - one)
13. worms, flies, beetles, woodlice, aphids, bees, wasps, caterpillars, pond-skaters (many, many)
14. ticks (one)

Animals hoping to see, but didn’t:

1. deer
2. wild boar
3. snakes
4. crosses

The praying mantis were the real find. I had never seen one live outside a zoo before. As a child, my first encounter with one was not as a living specimen, but as a model kit. A model kit which made a giant paying mantis attacking a city. They had always had a sinister connotation for me, and live they live up to that. Their heads that look like hose of the ‘hobbs’ from Quatermass’s pit, their twitching, miserly stance, the fact that the female will often bite the head off the male during sex. The latter I did not see, but I did see one fly, and that was scary enough.

One huge paying mantis we saw was beautifully camouflaged as a bright green leaf. Unfortunately it was sitting amongst a collection of dark leaves making it stand out like a sore thumb at a healthy toe convention.

"You looking at me?"
(picture of typical praying mantis of type seen)

The one creature not mentioned on the list was le loir (or glis glis as the Latins would call it). The local word sounded like ‘Lurie’ but this was an English repetition of a local-dialect French word as told to them by another native-English speaker. But then French being ALL about pronunciation, is always murdered when anyone non-French speaks it. If you don’t say “Coeur de Lion” in a French accent it sounds like “Curdle Ian.” The English word for le loir is the Fat Dormouse, Edible Dormouse or the Squirrel-Tailed Dormouse. I guess it could also be called the Big-Black-Bug-Eyed Squirrel-Tailed Laid-Back Dormouse, but I suspect it isn’t ever called that.

Loirs, with their black beady eyes and busy tails are one of the cutest creatures going. There used to be two that lived somewhere up in my parents’ house and ventured frequently to the storage room to forage. Now there is just one, presumably due to death or estrangement. Cute as they look, they are however considered pests by the locals due to the fact they will chew through everything from plastic bags to electrical wire. My parents’ don’t seem to be chewing much yet, and so have been tolerated. We surprised one in his daily storage rounds, and it sat there trying to make us out in the bright light (they are nocturnal) for a few minutes before it scaled the wall and went beneath the upstairs floor.

"Are yoo ooking at ickle me?"
(picture of typical edible dormouse of type seen but not eaten)

Monday, September 26, 2005

France pt1: On the rails to Nowhere

The importance of getting away from it cannot be over stressed. No matter what ‘it’ is, there is some argument for getting away from ‘it’ for a short period of time. This week’s ‘it’ was civilization. Or more accurately, city living.
The perfect location for this is central France which boasts less towns per square kilometre than most other places in Europe. And at the tail-end of the summer still has pleasant weather, unlike the Netherlands which barely had pleasant weather in the height of summer.
In the middle of the ‘Nowhere’ region of France my parents are (in short bursts) transforming a disused farm into something very habitable. They’ve come a long way in the years they’ve had it, but still there is much to do. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and, as they say, renovation takes twice as long as novation.
The house at least is mostly habitable and one day the associated barns may also be. But for now they range from intact to tumbledown.
One other set of farm houses are visible from the house, but apart from that, and two others not too far away, the place is isolated as far as us city dwellers are concerned.

If you feed in the local airports into the Air France site, it comes back trying to sell you train tickets. Approaching by the air is possible, but not easy, unless you are coming from England, in which case you can fly into some of these smaller airports. This is because the people in that area with any money are not French, they are English.
In fact it was interesting to see how the area has changed in the last few years since I was there. The Charente is getting more like the Dordogne, where, if you meet someone who isn’t English, it is because the are German or Dutch. Okay, this is a slight exaggeration. But when you go into a small town and you hear more people speaking English than in Amsterdam, something is up.
The fact is of my parent’s three neighbours, one of them is an English family.

In the end we flew to Paris and took the train down. French trains are fast and comfortable where English trains are... delayed, so the journey was very pleasant. And the flight was just about up in the air long enough (45 minutes) for the stewardesses to throw sandwiches and coffee at you.

We were met at the train station by my parents. My parents have three modes of transport currently in this country. A jeep, that doesn’t start, a campervan that is plugged in to the electricity and a large, noisy, white van. It is the latter they used to collect us. The seats in the back being especially re-added after much time spent carting building supplies.

In recent years, my parents have had some company when they are there. Not only the dog, suitably chipped for easy movement around Europe, but also two chickens. The chickens spend their day nervously clucking around the grounds pecking at the ground and their evenings bathing in the dirt. They eat well. As well as things they find themselves, such as worms, snails, and even frogs, they have a meal specially cooked for them (I kid you not). In return they lay (usually) one egg each per day. The chickens are definitely free-range – but rarely wander too far away from their barn, even wandering back there at night fall and waiting for it to be shut up.

Chickens have the same walking motion of pigeons and certain other birds, whereby their leg muscles are connected to their neck muscles so that their heads move back and forth as they walk in a ridiculous and not un-John Cleesiastical way. They are endearing and stupid creatures, fussing around like old ladies and eyeing humans with the highest of suspicion.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Smell of Mussels

Once I had a job that sent me all round the world. Beijing, Singapore, Shanghai were all places I knew quite well. Now after two and a half years, my latest job finally sent me on a business trip. To Belgium.

Actually, I was excited. I'd never stayed in Belgium before. I've driven through it a few times, but apart from one football match, once to ask for directions and twice to urinate on my way to and from France, I have never stopped. So it was about time I checked out Brussels and viewed Belgium as more than a convenient loo stop.

Belgium: More than just the road to France.

Belgium is a bilingual country and depending on where you are signs are in Flemish, French, Flemish followed by French or French followed by Flemish. Flemish is Dutch in the same way Geordie is English.

I had experienced this before, in fact. Our directions said we had to go through Liège, then to keep it on one side. But having been through it, all signs for Liège disappeared. But suddenly signs appeared for a place called Luik. We had to stop at a petrol station and ask to realize these are the same place but in the two different languages of the country. It just happens that outside of Luik (Lauk) is Dutch speaking and inside Liège (Lee-eje) is French speaking.

Streets in Brussels have two names, one in French and one in Flemish. Often the names are very different and you have to know them both in order to get around. But it is good to see them together as it helps you decide which is the more pleasant language to read and pronounce, French or Flemish/Dutch.

There are many great, old, ornate buildings in Brussels, avoiding, as it did, much of the demolition work that took place in most European cities between 1939-1945. It has some nice narrow streets which tourists love and commuters hate, and it feels quite French at times.

One feature of the Brussels landscape that does not have two names is Manneken Pis. This is only written in Flemish, even in French sentences. Manneken Pis translates roughly as Piss boy and is basically a small water-feature on the corner of two streets depicting a small boy urinating. It refers to the Belgian equivalent of the Dutch boy who stuck his finger in the dyke. Except this boy did not use his finger, and instead of sticking it in a dyke, he used it to wee over the fuse to a gunpowder keg which would have meant the Spanish could have poured into the city and drowned everybody. [See for more information and shameless animation.]

The smells that permeate the streets at certain points of town are of waffles and mussels. Both are smells the country is famous for. The mussels must be fresh water as Brussels is a long way from the sea. The latter smell reaches a peak on the famous narrow street full of restaurants. It’s also full of waiters trying to get you into their restaurant. We picked one because the waiter tried really hard. The chef didn’t do too badly, but didn’t try nearly as hard.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Book Review: Sword of Honour Trilogy by Evelyn Waugh

Answers to SoH FAQ for Evelyn Waugh was a man; Waugh is pronounced War; Yes his work has been filmed.

These three books follow the military career of Guy Crouchback. A career that lasted the length of the second world war. It is suggested that it is semi-autobiographical.

AtSoHFAQ: semi-autobiographical is not the longest word in the English language; The Second World War happened 60 years ago and was a war bet... yes there are films about it.

This is not one concise story, rather a series of badly-organised events separated by long periods of waiting and convalescence. Life in the army is not all battles and heroism, it is mostly spent being transported to one place and then back again. The men are not perfect heroes, but ordinary, somewhat damaged men. In Guy's case, men hoping for the war to redeem his neglect of self, family and country. They do not spend their days chopping off the heads of foreign guards as souvenirs or single-handedly attacking enemy outposts. That is if you ignore Brigadier Ritchie-Hook, who represents the spirit of gung-ho and is down an arm and and eye as a consequence.

FAQ: gung-ho: US-adopted meaning: "(almost recklessly) eager", from Chinese meaning "work together".

The waiting and recovering are not fun for those involved, but with such shatp writing you don't share the boredom, but do get the expectation. And there are some wonderful set pieces, such as the battle of wills over the 'thunderbox' and the 'show' outpost assault. It has been said this was the finest novel to come out of the war. For portraying the madness, disorganisation and frustration with wit, warmth and pathos, they could be right.

FAQ: War, noun, related to werra, ultimately from Frankish/Germanic, related to Werra, Old High German for confusion. Thus "War on Terror" translates as "Confusion about Terror."

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Lowlands 2005 pt5 - The Return

After the rigours of getting in, getting out was relatively easy. It’s not a regular holiday where people come away with more than they took, no way. Maybe you bought a T-shirt or a CD, but probably not. Most people go back with less than they took. Many even without their tents. The trend amongst the tent-leavers is to set fire to them before you go, and a small squad of security bods rush around putting out tent fires and crushing down those tents that have not been burnt to make them less attractive to would-be pyromaniacs.

Those of us who value (or are borrowing) their tents lugged them out of the field. Past the toilets (now closed); past the entrance to the performing area (now being dismantled); past the ‘supermarket’ (now almost closed, but receiving last chances for people to spend their Lowlands Muntjes (the irredeemable local festival currency (which may get its own write-up some day)). So with our coffees and teas, we met up for the last time just inside the entrance to the camping area. Minus J and N who had to go to work that day and had left at the crack of dawn.

And then the train half of us was in the queue for the bus and those travelling by car in the line of cars waiting to leave the car park. And slowly, as the bus transferred us to the train and the train transferred us to Amsterdam and there the trams, metros and bikes took us home, we began to return to normal. Our brief period as social refugees in a land where there is nothing but the pursuit of pleasure and coffee was at an end. And the only souvenirs are a little bit of extra mud on the tent, some blurry photos from my phone and the remnants of a temporary tattoo that started out as a Chinese dragon, and soon resembled a snake in a pile of rubbish and now increasingly looks like an ancient, abstract mosaic of something that could be a frog or maybe a king falling on his sword. In some lights, if you squint, it looks just like a small group of people in a cosy huddle of tents.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Lowlands 2005 pt4 - Sunday

First band we looked in on were The Editors, a popular choice for 3:30 in the afternoon. Which is quite early at a festival. The Editors should team up with The Features to start a newspaper or maybe an Interpol fanzine.

Next up (with rocking Alkaline Trio providing the sound track for part of the walk) are Boston-Irish punk rockers, The Dropkick Murphys, who know how to entertain a crowd and sing about (American) Football and (Irish) Drinking.

The Dresden Dolls cancelled shortly before the shebang and were replaced by Scotland’s Sons and Daughters. This four-piece manage to sound like Siouxie and the Banshees and feature a singer who dances on stage the way drunk women do when they want to be seductive. It made for compelling viewing.

The next meeting point for most of the group were The Queens of The Stone Age who took the main stage and rocked the tent. It was great to find out this band were even better than expected. And fom the songs I knew I was expecting greatness. One for buying more of.

Due to a particularly slow coffee machine and serving practice, Only the last few numbers of Heather Nova’s excellent repertoire was heard. But I have heard the Bermudan lass let forth her tunes on many occasions and was fine to let her mostly pass me by this time. There will be other dates. Whilst we were sitting on the grass outside the tent, and extraordinarily handsome man wandered along carrying a baby. He pointed out the band playing on the screen to the child and then wandered through to the backstage area. I was glad I was not some obsessive fan, as I had to conclude this was Heather’s newishly-sprung sprog being shown mummy at work.

Next up on at the tent were sat outside of was Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. So we hung a round. A few people wondered over to see The Jam. The Modern Jam as they could be called, or the Future Heads as they exactly are called. The look, dress and sound like the Jam, but since Oasis made it okay to sound entirely like another bad from way back, there has been little shame in it.

Nick Cave put on a good show. Nick is not so much a rocker as a twisted balladeer. He sings songs of love girls he’s just murdered and profiles the sinister men in the shadows. We did however have to leave him early because a strange phenomenon in the shape of The Foo Fighters was drawing us to them. Sunday’s headline act did not disappoint; Did not put a foot wrong; and made you realise Dave Grohl is a musical marvel despite the world-wide success which usually suggests otherwise.

This being the last night, the feeling was to enjoy the night. The best dancing was to be had at the Silent Disco. If you don’t know this phenomenonal new way to club, you have missed out. It’s a Dutch invention and involves the attendees all receiving headphones which have 2 channels, meanwhile two DJs play different tracks and you can pick which one you dance to. This means people watching have no idea what you are dancing to, other than when you shout out along with the song (as does happen more than at a normal disco) and also that the person you are dancing with may not be dancing to the same song.

There is something about the Silent Disco that makes people dance that bit more theatrically, knowing as they do many of the onlookers can see them dancing but not the music. This tendency to dance sometimes camply as well as the fact I had my sleeves taped up to reveal my soak-on dragon tattoo made one guy come up to me and ask, something like “heb je ooit een pennetje van mij?” It seemed to mean have you ever been a pen of mine, so I queried the meaning in particular the word pennetje. The chap did a quick mime of taking several thin, blunt objects in his mouth. Basically he had asked me if he had ever blown me before.” I had to regret that situation had never occurred before but thanked him for the history lesson and bounded over to the little woman to pass on the benefit of my new-found knowledge. Not sure I’ll ever use the line, but next time it is used on me, I will not pull such a lost expression.

It was, in short, a great festival. In particular because of the large and very agreeable group. Even the wild card, James, who none of us knew that well except that he had good taste in music as is evidenced by what is played at the club he DJs at, was a great asset to the group.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Lowlands 2005 pt3 - Saturday

Throughout the weekend, the festival god kept us believing by keeping the sun out for much of the time, but occasionally throwing down a little rain. Not too much, just enough to let us know who was boss, and who could easily ruin the festival if he or she so decided. Saturday morning was hot again to wake up all but the comatosed. Even our small group had a couple of those.

We wandered into the ground early to pick up caffeine and (late) breakfast. We caught a little of pretty-boy Dutch rockers 2nd Place Driver, who were pleasant.

The first music we made after a period back at the tentstead was the end of El Pus. El Pus are crunk (Southern rap/hip hop) with guitars and were lively and requiring of more investigation. A little bit of Zita Swoon accompanied some food, but it wasn’t so long ago that I saw this great dEUS spin-off band at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, plus Death From Above 1979 beckoned. Death From Above 1979 are two seventies homosexuals who beat seven shades of shit out of drums and guitars to make interesting music. Compelling because it’s not often you see a full-on live rock group with own two members. Don’t expect to hum too many of the tunes.

Before the end, after a brief meet up, a very small contingent made their way to see Bad Religion. Bad Religion are one of the greatest bands ever to grace this small planet. Intelligent, tuneful punk with a social conscience. I could go on forever about how good this band is, but I won’t. Just to say that they still rock, performed well and did an interesting version of Generator.

Another brief meet-up to the tunes of The Arcade Fire, who are best described as Interpol. Nine Black Alps who had intrigued at London Calling cancelled at the last minute and were replaced by Art Brut, knowing, mischievous Art Punksters with the difference of being more 60s influence than 70s influenced. Best appreciated intellectually than any other way.

From here, it was time to speed over to the Grolsch tent for The Pixies. This time fully reunited (unlike last time which was only a partial reunion). The Pixies churned out their great old classics and were even enticed back for an encore for an enthusiastic audience. A definite walk down Nostalgia Alleyway.

The next destination was the Alpha tent for today’s headliner, Marilyn Manson. Marilyn’s inspired industrial phase has given over to a more mediocre Goth phase. Even people with their faces Marilyned up were leaving during the middle. He did 4 cover versions, none of which were surprising. In all it was a little disappointing, as I had high hopes for an entertaining show. Perhaps it would have been better if we were IN the tent. And huge fans. And on something.

Much of the night after this was spent enjoying (and later being annoyed by) the kitsch irony of dancing to 90’s dance classics of the kind that used to play in the clubs your friends forced you to go to. But it was nice to end the night chilling and dancing at the same time to the wickedjazzsounds DJs.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Lowlands 2005 pt2 - Friday

In the morning, the sun bore down on the tents baking the inhabitants and forcing them to rise early. Following the refugee feeling outside the border to ‘Paradise,’ it has to be said the camping at festival very much resembles a refugee camp. Thousands of mismatched tents packed close together. The major difference is that the festival goers are very happy, healthy and don’t fear leaving because of persecution. Although some of them will have to tidy their rooms when they get home.

We kicked aside the cold barbeque to realise that it had cooked something. A small square of burned grass outlined where it had stood. It seems the design of the barbeque was to cook what lay underneath it not, what we put on top. It wasn’t a good start to the day. Nor were the queues for the toilets and showers.

Lowlands presents you with a dilemma. At most festivals, the toilets are unvisitable after the first hour, and showers, if there are any, are so rare and delicate that if you queue for one the moment you arrive you might get one by the end of the weekend. At Lowlands, the toilets are cleaned regularly and the showers work. There is the matter of queuing for them, but it is maybe 20 minutes or something like that – nothing for people who queued for 4 hours to just get in.

This means that you actually want to have a shower, whereas at a festival, people usually just say, “Oh, It’s impossible,” and feel content to not be as fragrant for a few days. After all, everyone is in the same boat.

The first band of the first day was the perfect warm-up band. The Beatsteaks, German punksters with a sense of humour who aren’t ashamed to show their influences. They woke up the crowd and did great versions of both Rappers Delight (ironically as far as I could tell from that distance) and Sabotage by the Beastie Boys. The latter being a faithful barnstormer done without samples.

The Polyphonic Spree (hippy musical band – think Hair) and The Magic Numbers (Fat 60s retro group (think Mamas and Papas) who don’t like being called Fat, so don’t say the word ‘Fat’ in front of them) were wandered by before a little time was spent watching KT Tunstall, Scottish balladeer with some good songs.

The Kaiser Chiefs were next up, and as ever were their usual cheeky selves. Good songs, entertainingly delivered. The Bravery were too far away to make and eat, so were skipped. But think New Order in their rockier moments. The second Germanicly-name Cheek-rock band to take he Alpha stage were Franz Ferdinand, who proved why they were further up the bill than the Kaizers. It was good to finally see the Ferdies live.

The next band we saw were aging punksters Social Distortion, who I knew a little but had failed to really get into. They came on and said “Hello Belgium” and acted so much like they had something to prove that they were somewhat of a disappointment. Fortunately The Prodigy, who are always at festivals, and expected to find nothing special this time, thoroughly rocked the joint in a way most rock bands would kill to do.

Plans to party all night were abandoned for at least my small party in favour of obeying my protesting body. Others did party all night, but that’s their story.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Lowlands 2005 pt1 - The arrival

August 2001 is when I last used my tent and made a pilgrimage to hallowed ground near Biddinghuizen where annually is held the Lowlands festival. This sacred place (right next door to Wallaby World) is attended by 50,000 of the most faithful followers of good music and outside camping.

This year a group of 11 people went. Who will be designated A, B, C, D, I, J, N, P, R, S, and T. Or referred to by their names: Peter, Catherine, Rebecca, Nadja, Ian, Trista, Dave, James, Sarah, Ben, Andrea (not in that order).

The advance party (consisting of ABCJNPRandT) arrived on Thursday evening having travelled on the train from Amstetrdam. From the train, there was a longish queue to wait for the busses especially laid on to ship the festivallers from Lelystad to ‘Paradise.’ The queue moved quite quickly and everyone was too excited with anticipation to be got down by it.

Then came the coach journey, which lasted a lot longer than anyone had expected - longer than the train journey, but through this, spirits were high. We were all looking forward to the BBQ we had planned for the period immediately following the erection of the tents.

Now there was an advance advance party consisting of N’s flatmate and several of her friends. They were intending to get in, set up a base camp and have us join as reinforcements later. Alas the best laid plans of mice and festival organisers very often gang a-gley. It seems everybody turned up Thursday late afternoon / early evening, and outside the door there was a huge throng of people doing what the Dutch would call queuing and most other people would call laying siege. But being mostly Dutch, it was a good-natured siege. Whereas in many places a riot would have ensued, here the people waited like refugees at the border. Impatient, but not daring to surge forward for fearing being turned back to the horrors of war, genocide or their day job.

N’s flatmate, N, reported she had been in the throng for over 2 hours and was only just getting close to the front. We joined hoping it would move forward as somehow they must be able to cope with the number of arrivals some how. Rumours flowed through the throng - they ranged from ‘everyone was being thoroughly searched’ to ‘it was really some sort of extermination camp.’

The mood in the throng was that of perseverance in adversity. Humour was relatively high and the sought-after prize of a new life in the ‘Paradise’ of Lowlands, as well as the barbeque we had planned, kept us going.

It took us 4 hours to get into the camp. There was no ‘search everyone’ policy, just the logistics of trying to squeeze 10s of thousands of people through 8 doors one-at-a-time.

We were unable to camp near the advance advance party as we needed an area big enough for us to be roughly together and with spare space for the not-so-advanced party.

It was the wee small hours when we pitched out tent. Thank some wondrous deity it was not raining and we were soon tented and despite our tiredness, sat in a huddle hoping to prepare our much hoped-for feast. That same benevolent god can also mock. Due to some sort of design flaw or a lack of functioning brain cells at that time to understand the instructions, the disposable barbeque failed to take. Despite repeated applications of lighting fluid. We began to wonder was this coal or just black rocks. Eventually, we gave up: the coal was starting to glow a little, but it would be dawn before it would cook anything.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Flighty to Blighty

Recently I went back to the UK for a long weekend. Having done some calculations, it works out that the last time I was back in Blighty was nearly a year ago. Shocking considering how close it is and how cheap and convenient flights can be. Easyjet, if you book them far enough in advance, practically pay you to fly them, and Ryan Air tickets cost less than sweets, although the tax rate then is about 5,000%.

Ryan Air flies to and from Eindhoven rather than Schiphol airport. Schiphol is 15 minutes from Amsterdam, Eindhoven over an hour. However, given the amount of taxiing time the airplane needs, I do wonder if the plane drives to Eindhoven to actually take off and land.

In the UK, they have long since found the solution to needing more runways to service the city - make out that any airport within a 300 mile radius is IN London. Not only is Stansted in London, but so is Luton and I am looking forward to the day when I come in to Glasgow Airport, London. Or even when I take off from Schiphol Airport, London to fly over The New Thames (formerly The English Channel) and land at Heathrow East Terminal (formerly Gatwick Airport).

Monday, August 22, 2005

Karne-foul Time

As with most countries, the Dutch have a national anthem, dress and colour. The Dutch also have a National Milk. It is called Karnemelk.

How you make Karne milk is a mystery, but from what I have tasted, here is the method:

1. Take one carton of regular milk.
2. Leave it to stand at room temperature for 2 days.
3. Add cat vomit.
4. Break open one cockroach and pour in contents.
5. Stir with dirty finger in the clog of a tramp.

Serving suggestion: leave in carton.

The verb Karnen is the churn, which is exactly what it makes your stomach do.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Out the Navy

Amsterdam's Gay Parade is the time when the Gay men and women of this great city commandeer (or is it commandear?) every canal-worthy vessel they can lay their hands on and cruise (yes that's the word I mean) through the city. The straight members of the city line the sides of the canals, cheer and accept the free condoms.

As you can guess, this is not staid, naval parade. The boats are usually highly decorated, although never more so than the crew, and music blares out ranging from camp disco classics to over the top opera. Actually, that is not much of a range, really, but what is most important is that on every boat everyone is having fun, dancing and otherwise shaking their thing (or things).

It's nearly always a very bouyant day, if you'll forgive the pun. It was marred last year by an American gay activist being beaten up by a gang of youths from a culture not as understanding of things not straight (which is actually all other cultures). But you'll noticed the gang picked on one man, not a boat full. Poofs!

This year I went to a party at the flat of a girl who was not there. She was on holiday and kindly allowed it to be used for a party on this day because of it's proximity to the canal. We have a great view which was only spoilt by the fact the parade was on a different canal.

But we had a good time none-the-less, and saw about three boats, two heading home and one lost.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Delayed post.

Today [27/6/05] I was actually asked, was I South African. This is the final proof that my accent has gone completely off the scale. That's one of the things about living abroad, you can lose some of your national characteristics. For example, I don't recall the last time I binge drunk. However, my friends seem to vividly, so I must still be British.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

World's best DJ joke

Someone wonderful told me one of the cleverest DJ jokes last night. Not hugely funny, but spot on.

2 DJs are talking and one says to the other, "I went to see the new Star Wars
film last night." "Oh, really?" said the other, "Who was the projectionist?"

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Fawin' Down

In January, for the second time in my short and lustrious(?) life, I went skiing. Skiing is the art of staying upright on a slippery surface and is the richer cousin of skating. When I first when skating, some 15 years ago, I took to it like a fish to a food processor. It hurt. I went home with a wet, bruised arse. Something I don't want from any of my hobbies.

When I went skiing for the first time, some 5 years ago, I took to it like a fish to vodka. I was not completely at home in it and it made me very unsteady, but I soon adapted a little. Actually I progressed very well in that week.

This time round, my progress was not so marked. It was still quite impressive, but very soon, I found myself left behind.

Our instructor, Jean-Pierre - or as Joanna could only say, Champignon - was of the school that there should always be one person in the group who makes the rest look better. I was impressed at the way he did this, so that on the first day, there was one guy we were always waiting for who seemed to spend most of his time getting out of snow drifts. By the second day, he had given up, and two days later it dawned on me the group loser - the guy who came home more snowman than human - was me. I was the one who did the spectacular falls. I was the one who would always have to go off and search for his skis. or sticks. Or gloves.

Joanna sounded like the one he was nurturing in the snowboarding group. His only advice to her consisted of "Don't fall, Joanna, don't fall." A less helpful thing to say is not imaginable.

The last few days, I dropped out of ski accademy 102, leaving the group to find a nother 'bottom of the class' to land on his ass. This was after a superb fall finding me landing on my shoulder with the full weight of my body. Pain came instantly, and I was almost rude to the French girl who came to help me, as I did not want help up. I just wanted to lie there and nurse my shoulder. Eventually, I made it to my feet, but found most bodily movements caused my shoulder to let forth shots of pain. I skied down slowly went home and found even climbing into bed gave me great pain.

Nothing was broken, but for several days most bodily movements made me want to give up and go back to bed. Except going to bed was painful as I was on the top bunk.

The journey there had been overnight on a coach packed with excitable girl students from Leiden. It had been uncomfortable and there had been an incessant schoolgirl chatter.

The journey back should have been worse for the injury, but somehow my expectation of it being unbearable and the fact that the group of gaggling girls was on another bus, meant it exceded expectations, whilst not being in any way good.

After this holiday I made a proclamation - one I made after the last time - that skiing, whilst fun, is not for me. It is a very active holiday, whereas I like mine to have some time for writing and relaxation. I would probably never go again. A few days later, Jochem - organiser of the trip - announced next year the group would be even bigger and even more fun. We'll see how this proclamation holds up, shall we.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Squeak Squeak

Just to show that the whole mice thing isn't new, here's something I wrote early 2001 shortly after arriving in the Netherlands. The only people I know in the Netherlands who don't complain about mice, have cats. So you have to make your choice.

Mouse Hunt.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Dubya Dubya 2

American President and Commander in Chief of the Safekeeping of the English Language, George W. Bush was in the country this weekend to celebrate the liberation of the Netherlands at the end of WW2. (Note: The W in Bush's name does not stand for the same thing as either of these two W's, apparently.)

As ever, there were protests. Not about WW2 or the liberation of the country by the Americans or Canadians, but about a more recent conflict, namely the liberation of mineral deposits from the Iraqi authorities.

I mention this because reading about it reminded me that here was a president whose policies and those in his international alliance had inspired even me to protest. ME! I am the laziest, most indifferent, most cynical man who ever put digit to blog (modern equivalent of pen to paper), yet I got off my skinny, uninterested arse, went out into the cold and joined hundreds of thousands of others who marched the streets of Amsterdam along a path marked out for us by police-horse shit (or is it police horse-shit?). Twice!!

"Do you think this will change anything?" asked a co-marcher on one of those days. "No," I relied with my own version of absolute certainty, which probably didn't sound like it. But I was sure it wouldn't. I was not there because I thought I or even we could change something, I'm far too cynical for that. I was there to make my views felt. I was there to increase the number of official count of protesters by 0.5.

When I was in the US a few months later - after the war was won, but the peace being very hard fought - I was introduced to the concept of counter protesting. This is where you march at the same time as the protestors and protest at their protesting. Or rather you promote that which is being protested about. My fear for this method, apart from the fact that it can appear to be anti-freedom-of-speech, is that if there is much less of you that the protesters, it makes them seem like the majority. And it is not as if the other side needs to be made any more visible. In this case every time Messrs Bush, Rumsfelt, Blair, Rice, and Fox News open their mouths, this point of view is promoted.

One of the reasons people feel compelled to counter-protest is that on protest marches there are usually people shouting to go beyond the changing of immoral foreign policies and to bringing down the whole country. The trouble is, any protest, from Keeping the Library Open to bringing about an end to WW2 and restoring Europe to the German people is going to bring out extremists. These people are always there and protesting is part of what they do. No, it isn't such people that the pre-Iraqi-invasion protests were remarkable for, but for the sheer number of people out protesting for the first time. People like yours truly, who have never protested at anything in their life - except at the age of 10 when they threatened to remove a mobile classroom from my school (but that's a different story) - and probably never will again.

My favourite image from around the world was from the London march. It showed a little old lady who probably lived through the Blitz and waved flags when the fleet came home The Falklands, holing aloft a placard saying "Make Tea, Not War."

Hear, hear. I take milk and no sugar.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Is Googling the new Stalking?

Chances are, you've been googled very recently. I have recently discovered it is the new way to find out about your friends. It's cheaper than hiring a private detective, more socially acceptable than stalking and much, much easier than phone tapping.

I have a friend who seems to think the more times you are mentioned on the internet the more you exist. Alas this is merely an indication of the amount of spare time you have and how prepared you are to use it to do things on the web. Having your own website helps.

What also helps to be found is having an unusual name. If your name is Robert Smith, you will get lost in amongst all of the other Robert Smiths in the world, not to mention all of the many sites dedicated to the lead singer of The Cure.

However, if your name is Hazibob Mansolatournicapopolous, you can be pretty sure there are less people with that name, but you can also be sure people will often spell it wrong, so people may not find all the references to you.

Another secret I have realised is to post articles, pictures or trivia about famous people that internet users are obsessed with (and believe me, most of them are obsessed with something). If you post a picture of Jean-Luc Picard you painted or a song about Star Wars to the tune of a rock classic, this will get propagated around the net by a process known as Spodmosis and very soon one search for your name reveals hundreds of sites mentioning you.

It also helps a great deal if you are famous in the real world or at least have some sort of role (such as performer, writer, CEO or guru) that will mean you are mentioned by other people.

Thus the most prevalent person on the web that I know personally is Claartje van Swaaij who has everything: her own web site (, the unusual name, she performs, she posts frequently and she paints lots of pictures of Jim Carrey.

My other friend Sarah Smith, who has great difficulties with computers, is unemployed, rarely goes out and doesn't paint or watch TV seems to not exist on the Internet at all. In fact I cannot be sure I didn't just make her up. Sorry Sarah.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Gig Review: London Calling @ Paradiso, 30/4/05

Why the Paradiso scheduled this great gig on Queen's Day I don't know. Normally I love to go to this regular showcase of up-and-coming (usually) British bands, but the timing actually made it a tough decision. In the end, I went for the latter part of the second day rather than the whole thing.

When we arrived, already tired by a day spent floating in the sun, Nine Black Alps were already playing (they were not the first band). We only caught the end of them, but they sounded good. But without listening to more and/or undergoing deep hypnosis to remember it better, I can't comment any more than this. Will try to check them out and give you a more informed update.

After this, we crammed ourselves into the Kleinezaal and saw wunderkind, Tom Vek. Tom Vek makes you think of David Byrne and a little bit of Prince as I remember. But mostly David Byrne. He is a little enigmatic, but didn't seem entirely at home - a charge I would lay at the door of most of the acts there.

Next up came The Others, the answer to the question "Could Echo and the Bunny Men ever happen again?" The answer is an equivocal "yes." The music was enjoyable but nothing to grab you by the shirt collar and shake you. But there was something likable about them, and the fact they hang out with The Libertines (constantly in the British press due to drug abuse and the more shameful dating of supermodels) they will probably do well.

New Rhodes followed in the small room. Erm. My memory fails me here. I think they were enjoyable but not enough to make me go into the room rather than watching them on the screen. The live editing within the Paradiso was first rate. It was so good, it made you think you were watching a video that had been edited after the fact. Well done chaps.

Next up on the main stage were the band everyone was talking about, The Kaiser Chiefs. Kaiser Chiefs sit very much on the retro boat that pretty much all bands sit on these days. They have a similar sound / influences / attitude as Franz Ferdinand, who also have the Germanic name thing going on. The Kaiser Chiefs took the stage whereas other bands had just stood on it. The entertained and played their upbeat mix of influences. Sometimes making you ponder Madness in their rockier moments. Sometime making you say "Ooh, The Jam." But mostly you don't care about the influences, but enjoy a band playing good songs well together. Everything they do is tinged with humour and some lines just tingle. NB This was the only band I bought a CD for.

The small room then played host to Engineers, who follow the tradition also continued by British Sea Power of chugging out well-crafted tunes that you can't always hum, but that you don't mind that they can last for ten minutes.

By the time the last band came on, the place had emptied out considerably. It was the early hours of Sunday, and most people had been out wearing orange all day. Plus the last band, I Am X, apparently fronted by a former Sneaker Pimp, were pure electro. Retro electro. A New New Order with a harder edge, but after a long day in the sun and on the booze, not able to keep most people from their beds. Your reporter included.

In summary: British guitar pop music in better shape than it has been since the mornington glory days of Brit Pop. They all owe so much to The Clash in the same way that Brit Pop owed so much to the Beatles.

Pete’s tips for the future: There will be many, many more bands with Germanic names sounding like Franz Ferdinand / Kaiser Chiefs. E.g.: Der Wünder Bars; The Auf Wedersehen Pets; München Gladrags; Heil Kevin; Kapitein Zensible; and Einstürzende Neubauten.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Queen's Day

There are a few crazy days on the Dutch calendar. None is more so than Queen's Day - Koninginnedag. This is when the whole country goes on a mild-mannered drinking and profiteering spree.

The whole shebang kicks off on the night before, Queen's Night as it is called. This is the night those with any form of partying streak go out and celebrate the forthcoming (official) birthday of the Queen in the traditional manner of cramming themselves into or around bars and downing quite a few jars of the golden happy juice.

That night, I met an increasing number of friends in a bar on one of the "Nine Streets," so named because there are nine of them, and they are streets.

Despite the sheer numbers of people out, there is rarely any trouble. It's all very good natured and thoroughly friendly. A great night to meet new people. In many cities in the world, especially in the UK, this number of people drinking this amount of alcohol would have resulted in fights every five minutes and police on every corner.

The following day is Queen's Day. Supposedly the Queen's birthday, it's actually the birthday of her mother. But who cares. So how do people celebrate this day? Well, by royal decree, anything goes. People are permitted to wear what they like, so they wear as much orange as is humanly possible. They are permitted to buy and sell things on the street, so from early morning, people set up stalls and sell stuff they don't want. 95% of it is stuff that no one else wants either, but there are usually some good little bargains to be had and the Dutch, who have trading in their blood, get up early to snap them up. This means for those of us with nothing that morning in their blood except alcohol find that when they emerge to buy things, the things that are left are not even attractive to people who are hung-over and sleep-deprived.

This Queen's Day was spent on a boat. It's my first time on a boat on Queen's Day, and whilst the canals do at times get very congested, it is actually less congested that the roads get over certain narrow bridges. And tro get stuck in the middle of several dozen boats is a pleasure compared to being stuck between several hundred people. At least in my opinion. Some people may prefer the other way round.

Trends this year included: boats of people wearing all white instead of the traditional mostly orange (Is white the new orange?); Then later a boat of people all dressed in black (Is black the new white?).

As ever there were constants: Hastily erected podiums at key spots and the Museumplein turned into a music festival; People (mostly men, but not exclusively) urinating in every half-unused corner.

As ever the low percentage of police and trouble was a source of amazement. It must be something about the occasion and the soothing effects of the colour orange. Because it ain't the same when Ajax play Feyenoord, that's for sure.

After the boat trip - for which I will release some pictures soon - there was a mini-festival of up-and-coming British bands, London Calling. But this I will speak of later.

So I say, enjoy the weather (if it's nice where you are) and wear orange as often as possible. Even if it clashes with your hair.