in every city centre shop

Music The story of Bing and Bowie's Little Drummer Boy, from the Washington Post a couple of years ago:
"The original plan had been for Bowie and Crosby to sing just "Little Drummer Boy." But "David came in and said: 'I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?' " Fraser said. "We didn't know quite what to do."

"Fraser, Kohan and Grossman left the set and found a piano in the studios' basement. In about 75 minutes, they wrote "Peace on Earth," an original tune, and worked out an arrangement that weaved together the two songs. Bowie and Crosby nailed the performance with less than an hour of rehearsal."

"And that was almost that. "We never expected to hear about it again," Kohan said."
Or see the performance looped all day on television. Or on repeat in every city centre shop.

Lost In Time.

TV In case anyone is visiting searching for up to the minute opinions of the Eighth Doctor and Lucie's latest audio adventures which were broadcast completely unheralded on BBC7 these past couple of nights (not even a mention on the official site), they were originally reviewed this time last year as part of their proper season.

Sisters of the Flame: "Let’s be honest, this is really a sisterhood in the Alicia’s Attic sense of the word – we only hear from two of them, with Olsson joined by Nicola Weeks as Lucie’s initial abductor Haspira (who’s just one vowel away from sounding like a Paul Magrs creation). I particularly appreciated the back reference to Tom and Paul's underscoring of the subtle differences between the two of them."

Vengeance of Morbius: "It’s a bit of a mess, but endearingly so."

Ambiguously all the announcer gave us at the end of the second episode was a "wait and see" and a trail for the Christmas tv special so lord knows when and if the next series will be broadcast. But rest assured etc.

Tree Up!

Tree Up!Tree Up!

simply wasn’t in the mood

Wittengenstein's Poker by David Edmonds and John Eidnow is a forensic analysis of a truncated but still legendary seminar in 1946 at Cambridge University between two great philosophical minds in which Ludwig Wittgenstein seemed to threaten visiting speaker Karl Popper with a red hot poker when the latter had the audacity to challenge the former’s ideas.

Evidently Karl saw Wittengenstein as his nemesis and the meeting as the defining moment of his career, whereas for Ludwig this was just one of dozens of similar evenings and simply wasn’t in the mood for the upstart visitor, who continued to see himself as the winner of the encounter even though Ludwig was known for his temper, known for waving things about and for leaving sessions noisily and unannounced in the middle.

At first it’s difficult to understand why two grown men would argue over something like the meaning of a sentence, but then as Edmonds and Eidnow begin to explore their Jewish heritages and the experience of their families in Vienna during the annexation by Germany, we're reminded that people have gone to war for much less and at least Ludwig threw the poker back into the fire before he did any real damage other than bruising a few egos.

Writing in a quasi-academic, generally accessible style, the authors are at their best when attempting to filter the truth of the ten minute incident from contemporary accounts including Popper’s own unreliable autobiography. If the book isn’t as lucid when describing the philosophical underpinnings, it’s because the work being carried out in that period has drifted into the realm of self-evident truth, underscoring the importance of the encounter within the intellectual history of the country.

For nostalgia.

Music I've bought the Rage Against The Machine single. For nostalgia. It was one of the key tracks I'd dance to at The Krazy House in Liverpool when I was still young enough to go there without looking like somebody's parent. The band incongruously appeared on the BBC's 5 live Breakfast in the white heat of promotion and after a fairly clueless interview played the track live. The iplayer version has a Guidance notice "contains language that may offend". Oh yes they did:

Apart from the swearing, the best bit, as they're being faded out, is Shelagh Fogarty saying "We asked them not to and they did it anyway". Clearly forgetting:

(a) They're called RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE and

(b) The lyric is: "FUCK YOU, I WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!!"

The sad thing is, in this media saturated world, this is the modern equivalent of The Sex Pistols vs. Reg Grundy on Windmill, but all the BBC needs to do is issue an apology and neither Campbell or Fogarty will lose their jobs. As if more proof were needed that swearing has lost the power to shock.

Imagine Cluedo

Games Even though I'm no gamer I couldn't fail to be fascinated by this hypnotic video which shows table top or board games merging with computer games. Imagine Cluedo using this interface:

SurfaceScapes Gameplay Session from Surfacescapes on Vimeo.

"a pharmaceutical interfaces for Google"

Spam So that's what Google Labs is for ...

Presumably that's the doodle Google will use if they ever decide to commemorate the birthdays of Timothy Leary or Hunter S Thompson. Incidentally, "Google's Accredited Pharmacy" is hosted at Yahoo!

the old golden Kismet restaurant sign

Liverpool Life You may have noticed that a Big Wheel has been installed at Liverpool One. Dad and I visited yesterday. I've been on a few ferris wheels before and always marvelled at the ingenuity of bringing the Meccano brilliance of bridge building to something which spins about in circles. The design hasn't changed much since the original created by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, essentially a giant bicycle wheel made from girders. They're simply safer, more durable. Standing next to them, looking up at the physics defying baskets, I was reminded of the shapes my spirograph would make.

For your six pounds (five for OAPS), you're given four revolutions. On the overcast day we were gifted it was difficult to see too far onto the horizon, but like visits to the Anglican Cathedral and Restaurant towers it's a chance to see the city from unusual angles, the difference being that those angles are forever moving. Spend too long looking in one direction and you've missed something interesting on the other side. You need the multiple trips so that you can focus on a different window and the roof related revelations it yields. I've flickr'd the photos I took:

Liverpool's Big Wheel By Day
Liverpool's Big Wheel By DayLiverpool's Big Wheel By DaySkyline Viewed From Liverpool's Big Wheel By DaySkyline Viewed From Liverpool's Big Wheel By DaySkyline Viewed From Liverpool's Big Wheel By DayHilton Hotel and Echo Arena  Viewed From Liverpool's Big Wheel By DayJohn Lewis's Restaurant Viewed From Liverpool's Big Wheel By Day
Liverpool's Big Wheel By DayLiverpool's Big Wheel By DaySkyline Viewed From Liverpool's Big Wheel By DayLiverpool's Big Wheel By Day

Afterwards we visited the nearby Wagamamas for dinner. By the time we'd finished with the noodles night had fallen and I was blessed with seeing the wheel in its full majesty, the geometrics all the clearer. Firstly, reflected in the restaurants opposite:

Liverpool's Big Wheel At Night Reflected In Nearby Restaurants
Liverpool's Big Wheel At NightLiverpool's Big Wheel At NightLiverpool's Big Wheel At NightLiverpool's Big Wheel At NightLiverpool's Big Wheel At Night
Liverpool's Big Wheel At NightLiverpool's Big Wheel At NightLiverpool's Big Wheel At NightLiverpool's Big Wheel At NightLiverpool's Big Wheel At Night

Like the London Eye, it's dominating the skyline. Stand at the top of Hardman Street at night and the lights can be seen above the building were the old golden Kismet restaurant sign used to be at the bottom. We can see it from our flat, in the distance peaking above the cathedral. If like the London Eye or the wheel in Manchester it's to become a permanent fixture, it'll be a welcome contrast to all of the other verticals and curves that make up the redevelopment of the city's waterfront.

"Over 26 years, the hitrate is not high enough."

TV New showrunner Steven Moffat on the writers of Doctor Who:
"Mostly they were middle of the range hacks who were not going to go on to do much else. Over 26 years, the hitrate is not high enough. There are people who have worked on Doctor Who and gone on to great things, like Douglas Adams. I just think most people thought this was going to be the big moment of their lives, which is a shame. As a television format, Doctor Who equals anything. Unless I chose my episodes very carefully, I couldn’t sit anyone I work with in television down in front of Doctor Who and say ‘Watch this’."
... in 1995. He's since become slightly embarrassed about this.

Liverpool One's Christmas At Night

The Noughties: Doctor Who's Decade. Part One.

Some of the best Doctor Who adventures this decade have torched the usual format in an attempt to do something different, something other than the TARDIS materialises, the Doctor overthrows an oppressive regime/repels alien invasion/causes some history to happen, the TARDIS de-materialises. There have been musicals, reality tv parodies, stories set in single rooms, that happen backwards or repeat themselves or take place solely in the form of emails. Here are three of my favourites:


So why was Blink voted the second best story of all time by Doctor Who Magazine readers? It’s certainly as atypical as some of the other adventures on this list, in that the Doctor has precious little screen time and we don’t see the climax to his side of the story. You could point to Steven Moffat’s writing, the willingness to text the audience’s ability to comprehend the complex narrative pinioned around a pre-destination paradox and the poetry of the dialogue (“I have til the rain stops.”), the strength of characterisation particularly in Sally Sparrow who within her forty-five minutes is just as interesting and strong a figure as the Doctor or any of his companions. There are the performances, far more naturalistic than we’re used to in the revival with Carey Mulligan’s understated deadpan a refreshing change from the heightened emotions seen elsewhere. The imagination fuelling story happening on the fringes, of the Doctor and Martha trapped in the 60s recreating Star Trek’s City of the Edge of Forever. The subtle photography presenting an overcast and more scuzzy image of the Whoniverse than usual. If we're looking for indications of what new nu-Who under Moffat’s guiding hand will be like, let’s hope it will be like this.

The Earth Arc

Or what happened after the first time Gallifrey was destroyed. In similar circumstance to the revival, the Eighth Doctor of the novels is forced to destroy his home planet to save the universe from an intractable enemy. But rather than leave him with the guilt, his then companion, Compassion, a living TARDIS (with me so far?) exiles a now mysteriously amnesia-gripped Doctor to the late nineteenth century his only direction to meet a friend in a café in 2001. The following six novels describe his journey through the twentieth century, focusing on his interactions with the world wars, the cold war and the space race as he attempted to reconstruct his identity and wondering what the enigmatic blue box, his only possession really is. Often very poignant, we watch as this figure so familiar yet so alien bluffs his way across the years instinctively knowing that he can’t be too special but desperate to help if the need arises. The best entry is Lance Parkin’s nostalgic 80s set Father Time, in which the Doctor gains a daughter and repels an alien invasion with a realistic interpretation of Thatcher’s Britain as a backdrop.

Unbound: Exile

Big Finish’s What If? series from 2003 threw up a peculiar group of scenarios in dramas of varying quality but for my money the most unusual and enjoyable is this adventure in which to hide himself from the timelords at the close of 60s adventure The War Games, he commits suicide and returns as a female in the form of Arabella Weir and takes a mundane life on Earth, supermarket worker by day, alcoholic by night. Written and directed by voice of the Daleks and later Big Finish exec Nick Briggs, it’s rather like Human Nature played for laughs, the incongruity of the timelord (or lady) preferring to get pissed than deal with the world’s ills. In other words, Bridget Jones hiding in the working classes. Not hugely popular at the time of release, in retrospect, it has the intelligence and humour of some of the best Radio Four drama. Features somebody called David Tennant in minor roles playing one of the Doctor’s timelord pursuers and a barman (he was formerly Weir's lodger and is godfather to one of her children).

will also be entertainment on the night

Plug! Right then, Cancer Research UK have been in touch about an event in Manchester next year and since it's for charity and since I know at least some of you will be in the area I promised to post something here:
Shine is the charity’s first night-time walking marathon in Manchester on Friday 17 April 2010 and is open to anyone over 16 and entrants can choose to walk either a 13 or 26-mile route.

• Here is the route map:

• The city will be illuminated for an inspirational procession of light. There will also be entertainment on the night to make the atmosphere at Shine even more unique.

• Shine is unique in that you can choose to fundraise for one of 12 different cancers, or you can walk to raise general funds for Cancer Research UK's life-saving work.

• The £30 entry fee will help fund vital research into a disease which affects one in three Brits at some stage in their lives.

• If you want to see who is talking about Shine or help raise awareness on Twitter then check out #shine2010

• You can also add a Twibbon to your Twitter page in support.

If people would like any more details they can also contact Cally at
Cally also asked me to post the following question:
‘Would you take part in this race, if not, how would you support the event in your own way?’
Good luck.

Review 2009: Subjectively Speaking

The News

The following short exchange happened on Twitter ...

@feelinglistless Right then, let's begin. What would you like to talk about?

@ThatNeilGuy Well, I thought we could talk about my decision early this year to tune out the news as much as possible.

@feelinglistless A bold move. What brought you to that decision?

@ThatNeilGuy I got sick of hearing partisan bickering all the time. Everything is so implausibly black & white in political discourse.

@feelinglistless Just for some context, where do you live?

@ThatNeilGuy I am in the US of A. In South Carolina.

@feelinglistless Was there a particularly story or report that turned you off in particular?

@ThatNeilGuy So political discourse in general made me angry. Why is compromise such a bad word in politics? Isn't life about synthesis

@feelinglistless -- but surely the news is simply reporting what it sees. I know that's slightly different in the US with network bias but ...

@ThatNeilGuy Everything seemed to come thru a lens of "bush is infallible and all democrats are antiamerican."

@feelinglistless Would it not be possible to simply just tune out politics?

@ThatNeilGuy Hard to not hear all news reports as "this politician says the other side is evil."
@ThatNeilGuy So I've stopped listening to top of the hour news reports. But I still get info from other sources.

@feelinglistless So it would be truer to say that you've stopped with broadcast sources?

@ThatNeilGuy Yes! If I had Comedy Central I'd probably watch Daily Show and get news slanted thru that lens, yet still be informed...
@ThatNeilGuy So I get most topical news from Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, a radio comedy quiz show...
@ThatNeilGuy Via podcast. And also learned about financial crisis stuff thru This American Life podcast...
@ThatNeilGuy And science news thru podcasts of Skeptics Guide to the Universe and This Week in Science.

@feelinglistless I should add though that the Today programme on Radio 4 tends be criticised for bias against whoever isn't in power at the time
@feelinglistless But isn't it true that it's impossible to present the news without some kind of bias or agenda political or otherwise?

@ThatNeilGuy Yes. And I am hypocritical, I know, for wanting the agenda to be more akin to my own. Like viewed as comedy.

The Noughties: Girly-Pop and other experiments.

Vinyl Exchange, originally uploaded by photocat7.

At the turn of the decade I wasn’t entirely sure what kind of music I liked, forever standing in Vinyl Exchange in Manchester looking at the racks full of inlay cards, not have a clue what to buy, pocketed hands desperate to flick through the racks but paralysed by indecision. The stock answer was that I’d listen to anything but in truth the pregnant pauses of life accompanied by Alanis Morissette or Sheryl Crow albums with the odd film soundtrack on heavy repeat. Slowly it became apparent that in fact my approach to music was similar to most people’s approach to art, I knew what I liked, but I couldn’t simply acknowledge that. I was embarrassed by it. The whole of music history has passed me by. All I knew was that I hated country music and dance (without much of an inclining about either of them).

Across the decade, I’d like to think that has changed. Firstly there were the world music courses, reading Rolling Stone Magazine, the trips through the local libraries listening to everything from folk to R&B indiscriminately, then ploughing through all of the Proms in 2007, forced myself to experiment across the genres, slowly educated myself with cds and latterly Spotify as my Henry Higgins. Eventually I realised that I didn’t hate country music and dance, that there wasn’t much music worth detesting, prejudice and ignorance blown apart. The month of music writing contributed to this blog in 2008 is symbolic of that change, of embracing the eclectic. Now I’m the kind of person who can genuinely say they like Britney Spears’s early releases, Haydn’s Mass In Temore Belli and Miles Davis’s A Kind of Blue, which doesn’t make me deep, I know, just more receptive than I was.

Despite all of that I’ve also spent much of the decade listening to girly-pop, which I hadn't properly noticed until I was working my way through the 411 album the other day noting the influences and imitations. Honestly. For all my snootiness about the Simon Cowell axis of shit, I’ve somehow managed to amass a surprising knowledge of a genre which I’m only about fifty-percent appreciative of. I know all of the words to Avril Lavigne’s Let Go album. The Promise by Girls Aloud grew on me. Which means I have had to listen to it enough times for it to grow on me. And let’s not get started on the Sugababes saga which has threaded through this blog like poison ivy. I was one of the three people who thought Jewel’s only proper pop album 0304 was a good idea. I’ve heard of Gretchen Parlato. No one’s heard of Gretchen Parlato.

I’m not embarrassed by this. While strong musical tone of the nineties was indie music and Brit pop, the noughties saw a proliferation of purer pop music, most specifically by female artists. There’s been the odd boy band and revived boy (now man) band, and the three guitars and a drum kit model still ploughs on ahead, but its female voices have been the prevailing sound. For once, the zeitgeist caught up with me (or the other way around). The quality threshold hasn’t been brilliant. It’s the singers on the fringes of the genre that seem to work best in album terms, the Norah Joneses and Regina Spectors. Those in the epicentre tend to be sustained by their singles, a reaction to the increase in downloading probably. The aforementioned 411 album genuinely only has one and 1/8 good tracks, the one everyone’s heard of On My Knees and the unison singing that greets the opening of Chance.

It’s plaudits then for Norah Jones’s politically tinged Bush-era Wake Me Up with the opening refrain “Wake me up when it’s over, wake me up when it’s done, when he’s gone away…”. To Natalie Imbruglia’s White Lillies Island and its opening track That Day which comforted me through the rubbish commutes earlier in the decade. To Little Boots, A Fine Frenzy, Kate Nash, Joss Stone, Lilly Allen, Lady Gaga, Paloma Faith, Girl Aloud, Bananarama, Christina Aguilera, Jewel, Madelaine Peyroux and everyone I've missed for producing at least one good singable single each. To the Sugababes for being so consistently entertaining even if their music always hasn’t been. And to All Saints for setting aside their differences and trying again, even if the resulting album lacked the power of some of their solo efforts (particularly Appleton’s Fantasy). C’mon Siobhan, if Shazney can do it …

But my favourite singer of the decade, and the most consistently brilliant is Shakira. Oh yes. Most Europeans probably first encountered the Columbian hip-wiggling prodigy as be burst from the sea in the Whenever, Wherever unaware of her already lengthy career in her home country, but the depth of her subsequent English-crossover album, Laundry Service demonstrated that she wasn’t some thrown together new blonde sensation but an artist of real substance. Subsequent listens demonstrates that the key to her success is the fusion of the Latin American sound with more standard rock tropes laced with hints of dance music. It simultaneously sounds like nothing else but entirely familiar and if anyone sought out her earlier nineties material they’d find that the only thing that had changed was the shift in language.

But threading through her work is the undercurrent of intoxicating oddness, of the music and of her image. Hoots of derision greet her lyrics. A standard interview or profile piece will mention some of the linguistic hoops she spins through but the truth is that a large proportion of her words are poetry. Don’t Bother from her next album Oral Fixation Vol. 2 (whose title is easily explained by the previous overlooked in this country Spanish language Fijación Oral Vol. 1) is almost Dickensian in its subtle setting out of a character, the popular rival for a boy in her school. Unlike those purveyors of girly-pop whose albums are structured around singles and whatever else can be bunged on a cd, Shakira’s album are consistently interesting and refreshing right the way through.

And like the fusion of world music sounds within mainstream pop, Shakira constantly seeks to be different to the pack yet remain popular. So while she’ll collaborate with Beyonce she’ll also appear on album covers mimicking the Virgin Mary or Eve in Eden accompanied by a snake or on her latest a ferocious image of feminity. The other interview cliché is to mention how clever she is, and she is. When Evan Davis interviewed her at the close of the decade for the Today programme about her charity work, it was car crash radio simply because he’d expected a pop princess using poverty as a vehicle to sell records. It didn’t take the listener long to realise that there was far more to her than that.

our living room

Travel Adam from Invisible Paris seeks out the scene of Claude Monet's painting Les Coquelicots à Argenteuil which we also have on the wall of our living room:
"Walking through Argenteuil today, there is an immediate sensation that something is not quite right. It is an ancient site, which has been inhabited for thousands of years. The river Seine still flows powerfully past the town, but it is cut away from the centre by a very busy four lane road. It has become literally impossible to walk down to and alongside the river. Running adjacent to the river are the historical arteries of the town, ancient roads with low stacked buildings and houses, many still fulfilling a commercial role that has been theirs for generations."
Of course the architectural features that Adam describes as banal are still somewhat more interesting that what you find in the average British town.

wonderfully named

Elsewhere I've reviewed 'The Mystery of Hamlet: A Solution' by the wonderfully named Myron Stagman: "I’m probably not the best audience for Stagman’s book which spends its time seeking connections between symbols and words and treats the play as a puzzle book that Shakespeare has offered up to be solved like Kit Williams’s Masquerade."

Brian Cox's Hamlet masterclass with Theo. A two year old.

'The Mystery of Hamlet: A Solution' by Myron Stagman.

In Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, a race of hyper-intelligent, pan dimensional beings create Deep Thought, a city-sized super computer, to find the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything. After seven and a half million years, the massive computant presents the irrelevant answer “forty-two” on the basis that for all their hyper-intelligence, the pan dimensional beings didn’t really define what the question was going to be. Which is rather my approach to the question Myron Stagman considers in The Mystery of Hamlet: A Solution – why does Hamlet take up to four hours stage time and up to six months narrative duration to kill Claudius? Stagman suggests it’s the “single most famous and controversial issue in Literature”. I'm not so sure.

My prejudice against this line of literary criticism is that if you set aside the play’s literary merit and whatever secret codes Shakespeare (or "playful beguiler" as the cover has it) may have layered into the text and simply treat it as a piece of drama dealing with human emotion, there is no question. Hamlet, an aristocratic prince and scholar (and depending upon which text you're reading a teenager), has been tasked by the ghost of his father to murder his uncle, and though his immediate reaction might be to speak of revenge, a very human reaction, of course he dithers when faced with the reality of process. Instead he fains madness and does everything he can to get Claudius to expose himself and it’s only after, in a fit of oppressed anger, he kills Polonius, that he finds that he has that murderous ability within him.

In which case I’m probably not the best audience for Stagman’s book which spends its time seeking connections between symbols and words and treats the play as a puzzle book that Shakespeare has offered up to be solved like Kit Williams’s Masquerade. There’s no argument that Shakespeare uses metaphor and analogy, but just I’m not sure that the dramatist has deliberately obscured the meaning of his story as Stagman seems to be suggesting, that, for example, ”the time is out of joint” was his way of indicating Hamlet’s reluctance to ram a sword into Claudius’s heart. It would be wrong to spoil the solution. To paraphrase Stagman's analogy when considering the approach of other critics to his problem, it would be like giving away who the killer is in the review of an Agatha Christie mystery. Except to say that if it’s not exactly “forty-two”, I can't completely agree with him.

The book is also oddly structured, opening with forty pages of quotes from other plays to demonstrate the various aspects of “the greatness of Shakespeare” then continues with three shortened versions of the play in varying degrees of detail. Someone picking up this book should already have this material to hand and though Stagman’s enthusiasm infectious as he points out his favourite speeches and lines there’s an element of the Derren Brown magical tv event about the way he’s effectively teasing us with other treats before revealing the final illusion. The summary of his argument appears first in over eight pages then fifty, some of the text repeated with quotes and evidence. Just one quarter of the book really deals with Stagman’s analysis and then feels rushed as though he’s as desperate for us to come to the solution as quickly as he does.

Part of the author's solution is determined by his assumption that “the story takes place in Denmark during the Viking period, 8th to 11th century AD” in approximately 1000 because in the text England is paying tribute to Denmark and he spends most of the book describing him as a “Viking prince”. Shakespeare doesn’t specifically give a period in the work, and though the source legend is from that period, and I’m more persuaded by Steve Roth’s argument that Shakespeare meant for his audience to see the play as happening in contemporary Europe. The text is laced with such assumptions even when the textual evidence seems shaky or open to dramatic choice, such as the exact relationship between Claudius and Gertrude. It’s difficult to concur with a argument when you disagree with the interpretation of the individual data.

The Mystery of Hamlet: A Solution by Myron Stagman is published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. £34.99 . ISBN: 978-1443814409.

A sample of the book is available here.