All entries for December 2004

December 31, 2004

The Rubbishest Christmas Ever

Follow-up to México from Esprit de l'escalier

I should qualify the title of this blog by saying that the day in question was the rubbishest Christmas I have ever experienced, which isn't saying much, considering my family are a wholesome, loving and stable, albeit slightly eccentric bunch. For all you poor souls out there who didn't get the chance to go to Mexico and soak up the sun and Tequila and had much worse Christmas than I am about to describe, then all I can say is: 'bless'. All the same, please read on…

We spent Christmas in Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan (sorry, pedants: I can't be arsed to use the accents today). Not your typical traditional British Christmas with the relatives, the drinks cabinet and the Great Escape, of which I am deeply fond. Rather, we were holed up in a crappy hotel way inland (so no beach to while the day away upon), with few presents to open and no Christmas meal to start preparing. On top of that, I had developed some kind of lockjaw ailment. Obviously, having not been bitten recently by anything bigger than a skeeter, it wasn't, but this did not make eating any less painful. Jake was also ill.

We were bored. Not even the weather was a winner. If it had been sunny, a dip in the hotel pool would have been something to do. But oh no. It went and bloody rained. In the middle of the dry season. All day. It wasn't even warm rain. It was cool. Possibly not as cool as you had it here, but it wasn't fun. If it had been as sweltering as was before, my Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now-style fit of existential ansgt while lying on my bed would have been pretty sweet. What a waste of a good mirror.

Luckily I had bought my Dad the Private Eye 2004 Annual, which gave me something to read. That and the closing chapters of Crime And Punishment. Festive! The telly offered little better than a dubbed Titanic and regular adverts. Despite early enthusiasm, the family procrastinated all day – quite typically, in fact – so that we missed Mass, which was quite hard to do in Merida seeing as there was one every hour.

My desire for turkey had peaked, as it usually does, at 3pm; when we got to one of the few restaurants that were serving it (out of the few restaurants which were actually open) it was nearer 9. I suppose the saving grace of this Christmas meal was that it was a darn sight more memorable than other ones. It was a coffee bar, with a tiny restaurant upstairs. The other group of people there were roughly my age, clearly having escaped their respective families to socialise. Music of the 1980s (Spandau Ballet, Queen and Phil Collins – my, do the Mexicans love The Collins?!) was drowning out what was left of our Christmas cheer. And the icing on the cake: for some reason they brought us our starters at the same time as the turkey, so after I finished my beautiful Sopa de Lima (look forward to lashings of it next term, mis housemates!), I ate cold turkey. Brilliant.

So that was my Christmas. How was yours?


December 30, 2004

México

I tried not to be too self-indulgent but prepare yourselves, my friends, for a long read…

So I returned from the wonderful country that is México. Pronounced, of course, 'MEH-hee-coh', unlike most other 'x'es in the Spanish language, which are pronounced 'ks'. Of course, don't get the Spanish 'x' confused with the Mayan 'x' which is pronounced 'sh'. I thought I'd better get all the confusion out the way first. That's about it for confusion actually, everything else was pretty straightforward, possibly too much so. To be fair, it was a family holiday so it was bound to be somewhat conservative in tone.

We were on the Yucatán Peninsula, taking in a bit of Cancún, Tulum, Chichén Itzá and Mérida over ten days. The place is utterly flat, and covered in jungle. I'd describe it glibly as an Americanised Cuba – a mixture of colonial styles and tourist development. Plus the whole Mayan thing, which I'll come on to later. It was fairly hot and 'muggy', which was a nice change.

We drank a lot of Corona Extra (other Mexican beers are available) and Margaritas (no other Mexican cocktails are available) and ate some quality food (try the green stuff they bring you with the tortilla crisps. My advice: heap as much of it as you can onto the crisp and eat in one go). We stayed near a beach for the first half of the holiday, which was very nice. I could sit back, pretend to read Crime and Punishment while ogling the nipples of the surprisingly nubile nudists. It took a while for my body clock to adjust to the new time so I felt sleepy most of the time. Hey, I was supposed to be relaxing anyway…

With me in México were my folks, and Wilson Craw the Younger: Jake. As I inferred above, the country didn't have many foibles to amuse me but, atypically for foreign travel, I was with my brother, so our Les Enfants Terribles-style in-jokey banter saved the day. Unfortunately for you, this humour does not transfer well to blog form. Anyway, we raised seven circles of Hell in México, in Tequila-fuelled rampages throughout town. We didn't leave a good impression on the locals, let me tell you. Not least with a particular group of ne'er-do-wells, whose prize-winning mongrel our adopted stray, Pepé, savagely beat good and proper in an illegal backstreet dogfight. Not only did they refuse to pay up fair and square, they rode us out of town on their numberplate-less Chevy pick-up truck.

Jake and I became separated and were lost in the middle of the Yucatán jungle. After wandering for hours, fretting about Jake and what the mosquitoes were doing to his tasty gringo skin, I stumbled upon a Mayan village. Yucatán inhabitants are mostly of Mayan origin and tend to be very short. The people I found in this village were no exception but they were so cut off from the rest of the world, it seemed that I was the first Caucasian person they'd ever seen. With my white skin, towering above them at 5'8", they thought I must be some sort of deity. The village was in a pretty bad state and they were clearly in need of some Good Fortune. In their broken Spanish, they pleaded with me to perform a miracle. In my broken Spanish, I said: 'Okay'. So I did the first thing that came to my head, which just so happened to be to walk into the newsagent, reach up to the top shelf and pick up the latest issue of Hustler*. They were so impressed by the titties on display that they asked if I could provide them with more. So I did and before long the entire village was all jazz-magged up, holed up in their palm-leaf huts, masturbating furiously. Needless to say, after performing this miracle, I became their Porn God; they put me up in the penthouse suite, furnished it with a fresh virgin every day (it took a lot of persuading to stop the savages sacrificing them in my name), and let me have all the hallucinogenic smoking leaves I required. The effect of this last gesture was diminished as the leaves in question already littered the jungle floor, but it was the thought that counts.

Hunky dory, you may be thinking at this stage. Not so. The neighbouring village were rather more conservative than the one in which I'd become a god, and took violent exception to my distribution of lewd literature. They captured me and after a pretty unfair trial, I was sentenced to death by fire. Despite the grim circumstances, they made the effort and put on quite a show by erecting a wooden platform and everything. They even allowed me to choose the date and time of my execution. Now this proved to be a rather happy coincidence as I'd read in the Yucatán Times the previous week that a solar eclipse would be happening and even though I'd thrown the paper away, I remembered the precise time at which one could witness this majestic feat of nature. Fortunately - and you'll see why - they had no matches or gas rings so could only start fire by holding a magnifying glass to the sun. What I did was to choose my execution to take place on Thursday at 2 (the time of the eclipse) then just as the head priest was getting out the magnifying glass, knowing how gullible these Mayans were, pretended to be the Sun God and 'commanded' the sun to disappear, which it duly did. Not only did I avoid horribly burning to death, I became this tribe's Sun God. Once again, I was put in the penthouse suite and furnished with daily virgins. Folks, I had it made.

I would have loved to stay but in the end dear old Blighty and Warwick University beckoned. I figured, 'Hey, if this degree business doesn’t work out, I've always got something to fall back on.' At which point I awoke to possibly the Rubbishest Christmas Ever...

*Apologies for going a bit Sofia Coppola on the Mexicans' short-arses, but it's true. Also apologies to Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu and Hergé.


December 29, 2004

Bring Back Foxhunting

Rah rah rah and yah boo sucks to Tony Blair.

The government bans fox hunting, my family and I go away for 10 days and then what happens? A fox creeps into our garden and tucks into our hens. Can't believe it. Where are we to get our eggs from now? Oh. Right. The shop. Well, there were five of them – he/she didn't need to kill 'em all, surely? What's clear is that if we still had a regular agreement with the local aristocrats to ride around with a bugle and a pack of hounds, this sort of thing wouldn't have happened.

Before I become a Tory, I think I'll let the fox off – it's Christmas after all. Spending most of my time in Leamington, I wasn't that close to the hens anyway. I'll miss Honky though – she was the best.


December 14, 2004

Dan’s Review of the Year

Well, that was 2004. Okay, there are a couple more weeks to go but face it; the world’s just going to be pissed/hibernating/in Mexico for the rest of the year. So I hereby present my Review of the Year, in which I look back at all the great things that have gone down. Except me – I’m guessing you don’t want to hear about my sex life.

Music
For the Top 40 singles of the year, look no further than here. Here are the five greatest albums of the year:

  1. The Libertines – The Libertines
  2. The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come For Free
  3. Dogs Die In Hot Cars – Please Describe Yourself
  4. Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand
  5. Razorlight – Up All Night

I suggest you buy them all. That said, there was a hell of a lot of other great stuff produced this year from the Killers, the Zutons, the Ordinary Boys, Morrissey, Graham Coxon, Goldie Lookin’ Chain, N*E*R*D and Jimmy Eat World. And some new acts emerged to watch out for next year like Babyshambles, Bloc Party, the Futureheads and the Kaiser Chiefs.

Craziest of all, there was some really good non-indie – i.e. pop – music out this year. Scissor Sisters, Maroon 5, Kelis and the Black Eyed Peas are so annoyingly catchy, despite my attempts to dismiss them.

Film
There were plenty of half-decent films out but few truly great ones. A glut of comedies, from the Stiller-Ferrell complex, which is currently dominating Hollywood, dominated the releases. This is my top five:

  1. The Incredibles
  2. The Motorcycle Diaries
  3. Starsky & Hutch
  4. School Of Rock
  5. Lost In Translation

TV
Obviously, by TV I mean comedy shows – to be fair, British comedy shows. My top five:

  1. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace
  2. Peep Show
  3. Black Books
  4. Little Britain
  5. The Green Wing

Books
Are you kidding? I’ve not read anything from this year – fictional, at least. Might read Da Da Vinci Code before the end of December though. I’ll let you know what that’s like.

Obituaries
Okay, it’s not all great: here are some of the people I respected who all kicked the bucket this year…

  • John Peel
  • Marlon Brando
  • Ray Charles
  • Peter Ustinov
  • Brian Clough
  • Johnny Ramone
  • Ol’ Dirty Bastard
  • Alistair Cooke
  • The university’s very own Lord Scarman

I guess this’ll be the last blog I’ll write before jetting off to Mexico for Christmas. Perhaps I’ll be able to write while I’m out there, but I ain’t promising owt. So dear reader (shit, that's another dead one: Derrida!), have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


My Spiritual Pyramid Scheme Theory

Okay, it’s about time I had a rant about organised religion proper. This one concerns Christians – at least Christians who try to convert people. Evangelicals, I suppose.

I think the classic example in terms of denominations is the Jehovah’s Witnesses (“but in the Latin alphabet, Jehovah beginsh with an ‘I’!”), who we get a lot of up here in Newcastle, and I’m guessing elsewhere. The last time they came around all they did was ask casually about my religious beliefs then gave me a pamphlet, which went on about the Kingdom of God (which, for those of you who don’t know, contains many rainbows, and giraffes) without saying anything about who these religious nutjobs were until you got to the last page, where it said: “If you want to learn more about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, come along to…”

“Why do they bother?” you – at any rate I – ask. Well, to get to Heaven, not only do you have to subscribe to the one true religion, which according to Jehovah’s Witlesses/generic American born-again Christians is – surprise – their own one, you’ve got to convert a bunch of non-believers to your faith. This is because there’s only something like 144,000 places in Heaven and to get into that lucky few come the Apocalypse, the more conversions under your belt the better your chances. To convert heathens to one’s puritanical ways is a tough job, especially if you’re a Witness, not being allowed to have blood transfusions, celebrate Christmas, etc. – hey, if I were God I’d let them in on the basis of merely making those sacrifices – who’d give ‘em Hell after such a shitty life as that*?

What’s worse is the fact you’ve got to convince your converts that to get to Heaven they’ve got to convert as many heathens as you, and convince those heathens to do the same. Why, that’s gonna create a fuckload of people who’ve just given up their enjoyable lifestyle for one of chastity, etc., so that they can enjoy all the stuff they’ve missed on Earth in the eternal afterlife (they do fornicate in Heaven, right? If not, then what’s the point? I’d sure get sick of giraffes and rainbows), which far outweighs the 144,000 places that are up for grabs. Sorry, but a lot of pious, God-fearing people are gonna be disappointed at the end of the day (i.e. world).

You know what this reminds me of? In the eighties, I believe it was, there was a fad for these so-called Pyramid Schemes. Say a bloke comes up to you and says he’s got a sure-fire way of making a shedload of cash. All you had to do was hand over your lifesavings (or a fraction of) and then you had to get a bunch of your mates to do the same. You’d get a commission of what you’d collected and then make a veritable packet once you recruited enough people. Too good to be true, no? Correct: only the people who started up the Scheme would get rich; down at the bottom of the ‘Pyramid’, new members of the Scheme would run out of gullible people to ‘sell’ to, they’d lose their life savings and get rather screwed over. Do you see the parallels with Evangelism now? Do ya?

I call it my Spiritual Pyramid Scheme Theory. Or possibly Theorem. And it’s just one of many Evils of Organised Religion. And isn’t it funny how both are associated with the United States?

*If only they didn’t go around annoying people.


The Ordinary Boys – Over the Counter Culture

“Originality is so passé”, sings Sam "Preston" Preston on The List Goes On – Track 2 on the Sussex-based band’s debut LP – giving him licence to liberally rip off such musical luminaries as The Jam and Morrissey throughout the rest of the album. Once we have the boy’s acknowledgment of his debt to the greats, the listener can enjoy his tunes at face value. And they’re cracking – the title track is storming, urgent guitars building up to a blistering mute trumpet solo. The rest of the songs can’t top it, brilliant as they are (mostly).

Then you listen to the lyrics and that’s where the problem with the Ordinary Boys begins. For one thing, Preston’s trying too hard to produce witty, oh so British lyrics, in the vein of Mozzer, Davies and Dammers that it just doesn’t really work. Each song takes issue with an aspect of contemporary British life, creating a strong theme to the work, which is quite commendable but just leads to the Boys’ output being really samey. They don’t seem to have much of a message except that “Modern Life Is Rubbish”, and we all knew that after Blur told us a decade ago. Week In, Week Out attacks consumerism; Seaside and Weekend Revolution scoff at the drudgery of the British workplace. A solution seems simple: why don’t we just become carefree individualists? Because if you’d paid attention at the start of the album, 007, it seems we can’t: “Now it’s in to be out”, he sings in what I perceive to be a rather derogatory tone. So what’s it to be, Preston? Are you just taking pot shots at any lifestyle choice going so you can build up your Angry Young Man image in the eyes of the NME? Or are you just being ironic? If so, the Mozfather does it better.

Listen to OTCC for the tunes but skip Track 5, a cover of The Specials’ Little Bitch which has no place on the album – by all means play it at Glastonbury with special guest fat man, Phill Jupitus, but it’s too rubbish for anything more.


December 10, 2004

Dan returns to Newcastle

So I got back to the ancestral seat yesterday. I won't bore you with the details of the train journey except to mention my getting locked in the toilet for about five minutes. Fuckin' Virgin Trains and their futuristic doors. Oh, I travelled first-class again – wasn't as exciting as last time. Still, if thetrainline insists on selling first-class tickets so cheap I'm gonna keep buying 'em.

Looky! There's my house!

So upon my return to Newcastle after almost three months away, I set about catching up, intending to restore my Geordieness as my time away has caused me to fall victim to soft Southern shandy-drinking ways. So far I have:

  • taken Shearer, my faithful whippet, out for a walk
  • raced my pigeons with Ross Noble
  • swung by the 'Grove – apparently Jeff's dead!
  • had a Broon Ale or ten with Oz, Dennis, Nev and the rest of the lads
  • tried, with 'hilarious' consequences, to raise money for a season ticket
  • and burgled a few houses (only kidding – that's what they do in Sunderland!)

After a few shifts doon the pit, I think I'll have settled back in nicely.

Then it'll be off to Mexico!


December 08, 2004

The Mighty Boosh

Writing about web page http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/tv/mightyboosh/

Finally saw this fine piece of programming this evening upon my return from Brum, where I made a right-royal pear-shaped pig's ear of my Diplomatic Service Fast Stream supervised e-tray assessment*. I had seen it before, twice: once when tired and once when I'd been smoking a certain decriminalised substance. The first time I wasn't impressed; the second time I was very impressed. You can probably guess what kind of show it is. This was back in the summer when the Mighty Boosh was on late evening BBC3 - it started on early evening BBC2 a few Wednesday ago, and doing Spanish/skiving Spanish to go drinking around that time, I always missed it.

Now I've seen an episode in relatively sound mind I feel I can pass judgement. Oh, you want some background? Well, the series, the Mighty Boosh, concerns two zookeepers called Howard Moon and Vince Noir and the crazy adventures they get up to in their 'Zoo-niverse' with its array of weird n wunnerful characters. The episode I saw today was the one with the Spirit Of Jazz. Jake WC got me 'into' the series originally and has been going on about this character for ages.

If you liked Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, you'll probably like this (and that's not just because they share actors). It takes a while to 'get' but once you do, you can't put it down, like you would a book. It, however, ain't as good as GM's DP, or Peep Show. It does have some laugh out loud moments, but even the Spirit Of Jazz was kinda disappointing – a poor man's Papa Lazarou mereckons.

The issue I took while watching it this time (I knew this post had a point!) was the time. It's on at 7pm on Wednesdays. Why? If I'm anything to go by, its core audience is at Spanish class then. I'd've thought its surreal brand of comedy suits it more to the 11.30 slot. The most conspicuous evidence for this view comes in the form of them bleeping out pretty much a word a sentence. I sat there, trying to enjoy the programme – which would have been enjoyable, trust me – and the BBC suits go all censorship-happy on Vince's "Fuck the animals" speech. It was so annoying. New time please, BBC2 Controller.

Sorry, for some reason I feel the urge to add this:
"Yeah, give me a second series, y'shit."

*For those of you yet to take the FSSETA: relax – it's fine. I merely made a couple of schoolboy errors. 'Course don't know the results yet so it might be fine. One thing's for sure, I ain't giving you the answers, seeing how you're kinda competing against me.


December 03, 2004

Single of the Year 2004

Writing about Single of the Year 2004 from Hub of Creativity...

Presenting [drum roll]... the RaW Single of the Year 2004, as broadcast yesterday (Thursday) 4–7pm, with yours truly at the helm for much of the show. In reverse order…

40) Busted – Air Hostess
39) Dizzee Rascal – Dream
38) REM - Leaving New York
37) Dogs Die In Hot Cars – I Love You 'Cause I Have To (my no. 5)
36) The Strokes – Reptilia
35) Britney Spears – Toxic
34) Goldfrapp – Strict Machine
33) Kanye West ft. Syleena Johnson – All Falls Down
32) Shapeshifters – Lola's Theme
31) Basement Jaxx – Good Luck

30) D12 - My Band
29) Anastacia – Left Outside Alone
28) The Darkness – Love Is Only A Feeling
27) Snow Patrol – Spitting Games
26) Jay Z – 99 Problems
25) Muse – Sing For Absolution
24) Goldie Lookin Chain – Guns Don't Kill People Rappers Do
23) Modest Mouse – Float On
22) Jimmy Eat World – Pain (my no. 1)
21) N*E*R*D – She Wants To Move

20) Lostprophets – Last Train Home
19) Graham Coxon – Freakin Out
18) Eric Prydz – Call On Me
17) Futureheads – Meantime
16) U2 - Vertigo
15) Estelle – 1980
14) Morrissey – First of the Gang to Die
13) Razorlight – Stumble and Fall
12) Embrace – Gravity
11) The Zutons – You Will You Wont

10) Scissor Sisters – Laura (my sweepstake)
9) Maroon 5 – This Love
8) Damien Rice – Cannonball
7) Keane – Somewhere Only We Know
6) The Streets – Dry Your Eyes
5) Wolfman ft. Pete Doherty – For Lovers (my no. 4)
4) Green Day – American Idiot
3) The Libertines – Can't Stand Me Now
2) The Killers – Mr Brightside (my no. 2)
1) Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out (my no. 3)

[cue much debate]


December 2004

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