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Friday 23rd September 2005

September again, a month with the potential to fling you into a mortar and, with its autumnal pestle, grimly powderise you. Then drive a steamroller over your remains.

Yep, September grinds me down. With the exception of last year's glorious ninth month, it brings the end of any hopes for summer, unwelcome memories of new school years (disinfected classrooms and being forced to play football in arctic storms) and getting out of bed and leaving work when it's dark.

And I haven't done much with September this year, except work and worry about work. There have, however, been a couple of recent noteworthy events.

Last week Matt, Jerry and I went to Zigfrid in Hoxton and saw Lou Rhodes doing her thing. At the risk of sounding like a broken record (and not a very good one at that, certainly not Beloved One by Lou Rhodes) it was great. My six month Guinness hiatus came to a malty end and by the time the support (excellent acoustic sets by Ed Laurie and ex-Lamber Oddur Mar Runnarson) had ended I was half-cut. Guinness or no Guinness, the atmosphere there was relaxed and ultra friendly. I found myself chatting to various people, all of whom enthusiastically chatted back. It's so unusual in London to be at a gig (or out anywhere) and for there to be a complete absence of aggression. Perhaps encouraged by this, after spotting Lou packing away and with the desire to right past wrongs, I trotted over.

"Lou," I smiled. "My name's Rob. I'd just like to say how much I enjoyed your music this evening."

Her eyes sparkled with delight. "I recognise you", she purred. "I've noticed you at some Lamb gigs. I once saw you in the Tipi field at Glastonbury, and felt so sad when you didn't come and speak to me. And then I saw you again at this year's Glastonbury. You seemed so ill, all I wanted to do was abandon the gig and nurse you back to health. But unfortunately that would have meant breaking my deal to perform there, and Michael Eavis is a real fucker when it comes to breach of contractual obligations."

"Tell me about it," I said archly. "What you need is a clause in there allowing you to forgo a performance on compassionate grounds. I'll happily draft one for you. Here's my business card."

She took it coyly. After a moment she said, "All this talk of the niceties of legal drafting makes me go weak at the knees. I don't want your office address. Take me to your home, now."

Actually, I can't quite vouch for the above being a verbatim transcript of our conversation. I'm having trouble remembering. I suspect the following may be more accurate:

Me: "Bleurggh, um, Lou, how the fahk are you you were fuurrrrkin great man."
Her [eyes sparkling with terror]: "Thank you."
Me: "Buerouhgg jegh hergl I love Lamnalldatshit and I think that...um...all reeeeeeallly good...great...urm...hfoipn."
Her: "..."
Me: "I'm ganna come again, aaand again yes I aam. Bye, great chhat."

Ah well.

The following evening I went to another gig, JJ72 again, in the Islington Academy. The requisite aggression was there this time, mainly from me getting pissed off with the gig goers who insist on barging to the front and then spend the entire gig either (a) standing there like one of those wanky out of work actors in Covent Garden pretending to be a statue or (b) chatting loudly all the way through. One such talky twat put me off-side from the start by braying away to some midget woman he was obviously trying to pull.

"Yeah, they were quite big about five years ago, they're a bit crap actually, middle of the road." Could have been worse I suppose. He could have said they sounded like Placebo.

I enjoyed the gig and was pleasantly surprised by the support, a band called Red Organ Serpent Sound. I wasn't feeling particularly optimistic when they strolled to their instruments, all face paint and bowler hats. The lead singer then bounded on stage. He was wearing what appeared to be a red sock over his head and large white rimmed dark glasses. A top hat was rammed down firmly on the sock. He was also clad in a leotard, and wore a red boxing glove on his left hand. In fact he looked a bit like this. At first, as the guitars screamed into action I worried that this might be a death metal/performance art hybrid. But it was fun, highly charged, good music. Kraftwerk inspired lyrics from a song called Autobahn - "Autobahn, autobahn...DAS AUTOBAHN". I think they probably all went to art school together.

This week I decided to go upmarket, and accompanied my parents to the Ritz for afternoon tea, after starving myself. I was a little disappointed in that it reminded me of the Egyptian Hall at Harrods, the columns dripping with gold leaf while stucco lions roared down from the ceiling. Also, our fellow tea takers were hardly what I would have expected (something out of Agatha Christie perhaps) although at least their hoop earrings went with the décor. But the service was impeccable, the tea perfect and the sandwiches and scones just kept coming. I left feeling quite sick, exactly as planned.

82 - posted at 15:58:32

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Friday 26th August 2005

"Wonderful" - Daily Mail.

So say the billboards outside Wyndham's Theatre, tempting punters into the current production, Arse You Lick It.

Private Eye helpfully places this in context:

What Quentin Letts actually said was this: "All the knowing innovation finally proves too much in David Lan's arch-casual direction...Shakespeare's wonderful story is near indestructible but the aftertaste here is of tinny, modernist zeal."

Of course, anything that provokes even the slightest grumble from the Daily Mail has to be checked out, so I bought a couple of tickets. I've always been a bit irritated by AYLI, but my interest in all things bardic had been revived by seeing the National Theatre's excellent Theatre of Blood the week before. I skipped down to the box office 90 minutes before curtain up in good faith.

The performance started a little earlier than I had anticipated. As I was leaving the box office, tickets in hand, I noticed two burly fellows standing just outside the doors, large cameras discretely held behind their backs.

"'Ere she is," said one of them.

A car had pulled up to the curb. Sienna Miller and a yobbish looking bodyguard got out and made a beeline for the door, as the Paps let off multiple flashes in her face. As they did they crashed back and forth, barging into anyone unfortunate enough to be in their path. I was shielded by two women, who were bundled into the wall in pursuit of that elusive shot of Miller brushing some grit away from her eye ("Sienna Weeps!").

The play itself was faintly tedious, but the terminally unfunny source material was often managed in a way which brought some humour to the lines. The above mentioned Ms.Miller, although a bit awkward on stage, acquitted herself in her supporting role better than her erstwhile fiancé could ever do. I enjoyed Reece Sheersmith's Jacques but I imagine purists would disapprove of the absence of melancholy in his performance. Dominic West and Helen McCrory were, y'know, alright, as the leads. I thought the latter a bit too shouty. In fact everyone on stage was a bit too shouty. This was a bit frustrating because really all I wanted to do myself was shout. Loudly. At my fellow audience members.

It amazes me that people don't know how to behave in a theatre. For a start, it was like sitting in a TB ward, the two old gimmers behind me hacking up their guts at frequent intervals. It was as much as I could do not to turn round and look at them pointedly as Sheersmith gave us life's final scene - "...second childishness and mere oblivion/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." Actually, it sounded as though they were already sans teeth. In between the curdling of their phlegm, they popped cough sweets, which rattled around their mouths resulting in the unpleasant salival smacking of lips. I could have done that for them.

At other times I could hear theatregoers' comments on the action unfolding on stage from three or four rows away ("Oh yes, isn't he fan-tas-tic?"). Another cougher on the opposite side of the theatre was prompting annoyed head-turns from all around her. Someone (remarkably not an English teacher) was laughing like a deranged harridan at Sean Hughes's Touchstone, perhaps Shakespeare's least amusing character (and that includes Lear, Macbeth and Bottom).

There was a point where I was convinced it must have been some kind of conspiracy. Behind me, there was the sound of frenzied hacking and bile bubbling on lips. To my left, a man was furiously playing with his change. To my right, a girl was loudly complaining to her boyfriend in Japanese. But no, it was just your average Wednesday night at a celebrity-heavy play in the West End.

Perhaps my indifference to the play itself is testament to the quality of the production. Given the distracting goings-on off stage, I could easily have turned my anger towards the performance. But although it wasn't great, I enjoyed it. Maybe then, if those behind me had already reached the eighth stage of Man, the Japanese had stayed in Tokyo and the harridan had laid off the Seroxat, I would have been treated to a "wonderful" play.

81 - posted at 10:25:50

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Wednesday 17th August 2005

This year I've been raising the bar of various personal records. These include some lows:

- Most Hours of Reality Shows Watched

- Loudest Volume Shouting at the Television

- Least Exercise Done

I think the above must be related. There have been some high points as well:

- Most Wafers Eaten in 60 Seconds

- Most Hours Wasted at Work Surfing the Internet

The year has also brought Most Weddings Attended. This wasn't a particularly hard one to beat, given my previous personal best of one. But I've just attended the third of 2005, with at least two more on the horizon.

The most recent occasion I was invited to bathe in the soft-focus union of two consenting adults was over in France, where two friends from my Hong Kong days were tying the knot, or attacher le noeud if you fancy. So the other weekend, the petite-amie and I scurried past the copious machine gun bearing policemen at Gatwick towards the EasyJet counter and then onto one of their lurid shabby aeroplanes. The craft itself was staffed by miserable looking individuals, dressed like shelf-stackers from some low-rent provincial supermarket, and indeed they pushed the drinks cart up the aisle with as much goodwill as they would trolleys around a car park.

Why such bile for this cut-price, cut-corners airline? After all, we took off without a hitch, cruised across the Channel and France without difficulty and neatly glided onto the runway at Geneva.

Because they lost my fucking luggage.

Yes, in a just world my ugly words would be directed towards the baggage handlers - but I didn't see them, busy as they probably were rummaging through suitcases and planning wildcat strikes. Somehow I knew it was going to happen - perhaps it was the moon faced cretin at the Gatwick check-in desk who piqued my vague premonition. He told me that I couldn't check in my half-empty rucksack at the normal desk. For some reason this bag, which when full has travelled around the world without a problem, had to be checked in at the Oversize Baggage Desk. This 'desk' was actually a hole in the wall on the other side of the terminal. Clearly my precious things weren't going to turn up at the other end. So, in Geneva, when the empty carousel shuddered to a halt it was only frustration, not surprise, that accompanied me to the office to make a report.

Lost baggage reported and new road maps bought, we picked up the Seat Ibiza (another record: Shittest Vehicles Hired) and headed into the suburbs of Geneva. Unfortunately the maps I'd bought in the airport, as opposed to the one sitting in my bag in Calcutta (or wherever), weren't especially good at particularising the niceties of the city's roads. This, coupled with the baffling Swiss aversion to sign posts, meant it was a good hour before we were in France and crawling over the foothills of the Alps. From then on the journey was pleasantly straightforward. Stopping at a hypermarché, I replaced various toiletries and bought some underwear. Luckily I had travelled in my suit, and only lacked a shirt and tie. I found a white shirt, neatly folded in a cellophane wrapper. It did have a button down collar, but I was happy to make concessions for being on the continent. And so we motored towards the pretty village of St. Jean de Losne, the journey only remarkable for the alluring countryside and a couple of beret clad men in stripy shirts on bikes whom I had to swerve to avoid. And they had strings of onions around their necks and were smoking Gauloises and everything.

The hotel was situated on the banks of the Losne and run by a very friendly woman, obviously charmed by my crap French. I managed to convey to her that I had lost my bag, and the following day she was extremely helpful in trying to retrieve it. After checking in (which can be more accurately described as being waved upstairs) I eagerly ripped open the packaging of my new shirt to discover that it had short sleeves and was clearly designed for gentle afternoons of pétanque in dusty village squares, rather than attendance at upmarket international weddings. Another piece of luck though - a friend was staying in the same hotel and he had a spare shirt (my size), tie (almost my taste) and women's cufflinks (I'm game), so I was more or less fully equipped.

The following day we spent the morning idly navigating the streets of the town. Dogs lolled in the sunshine, a suspicious number of 1950s Citroens puttered along the roads and fishermen lined the banks of the river, along with the one sitting in the middle of it on an inflatable armchair. We had an enormous lunch - mussels and a plate of meats (possibly a mistake as it turned out) before getting in a taxi to a neighbouring village for the wedding, about which I had almost forgotten.

The wedding seemed to go well, although I can't be sure as most of it was in French. The bride looked lovely, the groom sheepish, there were no hymns (hurrah!) and the reading from 1 Corinthians 13 completed a language hat trick for that particular passage (I've heard it in English and Welsh at two other ceremonies). The reception was at the bride's family's chateau on the edge of the village, an attractive country house sitting in its own wooded grounds. We were treated to English and French speeches in between courses as well as what was apparently a traditional Burgundy hand clapping/waving ritual and a very drunken, very Irish, a cappella rendition of "Where the Blarney Roses Grow". By the time the croquembouche was wheeled out I was far too full to eat anything else. Besides, there were ominous rumblings in my stomach. After the meal a huge bonfire was lit and fireworks let off perilously near the house.

It was an exceptionally happy and classy wedding. So it was with a sense of sorrow (as well as rising nausea) that I had to splatter a remote toilet of the chateau with the effects of mild food poisoning. I blame a dodgy mussel. This, combined with a bottle of wine, meant that I was pretty dehydrated by the next morning and felt terrible. Despite unfortunate bodily malfunctions, I managed to safely return the car to Geneva, although in my weakened state I was vulnerable to the empty promises of the Duty Free shop.

80 - posted at 09:35:46

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Thursday 11th August 2005

Coming out of Clapham South station yesterday evening, I turned down Balham Hill. Walking towards me I noticed a text book example of mutton dressed as lamb, exposing far too much dried out flesh on the top half of her body, so orange it would have put Donatella Versace to shame. Inevitably her bottom half was clad in one of those ubiquitous white gypsy skirts. Surely the only statement these things now make is 'my smug balding partner is cheating on me with the porcine hired help.'

Then she stepped on a dog, a small terrier innocently trotting along the pavement with his owner. The dog let out a shriek, which I initially took to be the opening note of a nearby siren, before shakily trying to hide himself in between his owner's legs. The owner turned to look at the old hag, waiting for an apology. None was forthcoming. The woman, who has clearly never taken responsibility for a thing in her life, simply looked disgusted with everyone in the world bar herself, before continuing to drag her carcass towards the nearest Yates's Wine Lodge (or wherever).

When I'm walking on the street and someone bumps into me or steps on my toe, I normally wait until they are a safe distance away and proffer up a small curse (e.g. 'I hope all your children have very small dicks...and that includes the girls'). Despite this, a part of me recognises that I'm not a helpless victim, being blessed with the ability to move (at least until I misjudge the appropriate volume of some post-collision insult). But this woman was about 5 times the height of the mutt, and, unlike him, not hindered by a lead. And yet somehow it was the dog's fault. To fall back on my extensive knowledge of canine terminology, what a bitch.

Further down the hill I passed the Duke of Devonshire. The pub, not the grandee. On the blackboard outside was written, in that spiky chalk lettering so beloved of aspirational boozers, 'As winter draws in, enjoy the fire in our saloon bar.'

It's 10 August, for fuck's sake! Don't take summer away from me just yet. I don't get to enjoy it much, being cooped up in a tall chunk of glass for the best part of the day. I'm stuck in an office, the window of which doesn't entice streams of sunlight to fall across my joyfully tapping fingers. Instead it looks even further into the tower, all artificial light and Sick Building Syndrome. So let summer stay, just for a while.

79 - posted at 08:52:01

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Tuesday 2nd August 2005

I spent the weekend with the lemon curd, wandering around my new neighbourhood, and very pleasant it is too, all wide pavements and tall houses. And trees. Happily I've also found a good Dim Sum restaurant in which to spend lazy Sunday afternoons. I'm rather suspicious that the Sunday lunch crowd in the local pubs consists largely of posing trustafarians, so countless bamboo baskets of steamed dumplings and chickens' feet are a perfect alternative to roast beef and mustard.

But I'm obviously not keeping a close enough eye on the missus - she needs watching. As I was finishing off a plate of Cheung Fun, she noticed that our pot of tea was getting a bit strong.

"Shall I add some hot water?" she asked, picking up a spouted vessel from the table.

"Yes," I said, "but make sure that isn't soy sauce".

Completely ignoring me, she proceeded to pour, a gloopy black liquid slithering into our previously delicious pot of tea.

78 - posted at 09:23:13

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