James Conmy

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SkyFall – Does “M” stand for Mother?

The first film I ever saw at the cinema was “For your eyes only”, in case you’ve never seen it, it’s a film where a ginger comedian / assassin looks for a giant calculator. Highlights include a talking parrot commanding a sexually aroused Margaret Thatcher to “give us a kiss” and in the pre-credit sequence our hero kills a disabled person by dropping him down an industrial chimney stack from a helicopter, the disabled man’s screams then morph into a sexy love song while Sheena Easton writhes out the credits.

I was 5 years old.

It is definitely one of my favourite films ever.

At the time I had never seen skiing before, let alone someone skiing down a luge run whilst fighting stuntmen. I had never seen mountain climbing before – a still exciting assault with Art Garfunkel? (see picture) on the mountaintop monastery St Cyril’s, or the old smugglers trick with cashew nuts or two unbelievably beautiful women throwing themselves at a middle aged pun merchant wearing a polo neck (actually one of them was just a sexually promiscuous child who Bond, quite sensibly, spurns and then offers to buy an ice cream). It was a crazy winter-olympics-mediterranean-diving-holiday adventure, a mishmash of what was hot at the time, culminating in Bond throwing the object he has spent the entire film chasing off a mountain. So all a bit pointless really. Luckily though they end on a high: a parrot talking dirty to Thatcher whilst Bond goes skinny dipping with a greek orphan.

Classic entertainment.

You see, the thing about the Bond franchise is that Post-Connery it didn’t take itself seriously for a very long time; from “invisible cars” to Roger Moore’s karate, it coasted along with a knowing wink – Bond’s casual indifference to killing only palatable because they never suggested it was real. Let’s not forget, Lazenby aside, for all the exotic travelling there was rarely any emotional journey at all; the man who started the mission was the man who ended the mission.

But indifference isn’t cool anymore. Gone is the is the casual shruggery of by-gone heroes, the men with nothing to lose, nothing to be threatened with. Today’s audience need good old fashioned motivation. Peril isn’t really peril if there is no emotional investment in the character and in the action genre it’s vital, it’s the difference between Cobra and Rocky – the audience only feel the thrill of victory, they only cry, with one of those films.

Spectacle can no longer distract from dodgy plots and poor characterisation.

In short, these days it has to take itself seriously.

So what to say about SkyFall, the 23rd film in the mega-franchise, following 2008’s universally disappointing Quantum of Crapness?

Well, what a difference 4 years can make. Sam Mendes has delivered a film with that most elusive of qualities: balance. We have an original story, a character arc and some serious acting talent including Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney and Judi Dench’s M, who is given a more pivotal role than the usual “scowls and exposition”. There’s a genuinely creepy but ultimately well motivated Javier Bardem, the man with the golden mullet, playing unhinged cyber terrorist Silva and a new Q in Ben Whishaw, a move which at first suggests that MI6 are recruiting their quartermasters from One Direction or Skins but which we become quickly comfortable with. Most importantly though, we are given the man himself – Daniel Craig’s Bond. Gone is the glacial, invulnerable super-spy and in his place a conflicted, driven, human being: Does he walk away or does he stay and risk his life defending the woman who has no compunction about sending him to his death?  And how much of his decision has to do with the loss of his own parents? Does M stand, in some way, for Mother?

Craig is good at unspoken dialogue, with no mention of what has gone before in the previous 2 films, his Bond wears regret, loss and sheer emotional mileage on his granite face, a far cry from Moore’s levitating eyebrows.

The requisite action sequences, from the candle lit ‘dragon’ casino to the stygian murk of the last act’s caledonian siege, are convincing, gorgeously shot and refreshingly diverse in palette; the gadgets almost non-existent and for all the usual outcry about product placement there is only one really obvious one that grates. The ending is surprisingly touching and closes the circle nicely.

With enough nods to the past to keep the die-hards happy and enough depth to ensure Bond’s future it is a well balanced entry in to the Bond canon – there is little doubt that James Bond will return.

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Cereal Killers

Last week, research scientists sent an open letter to a group of activists called “Take the Flour Back” imploring them not to damage and destroy a field in Hertfordshire during a day of “planned action” at the end of May. The field is part of Rothamsted Research’s study into a genetically modified wheat which, it is hoped, will be highly resistant to aphids. A crop, which if successful, could eradicate the need for pesticide use.

Which is a good thing right? Well clearly not according to some.

We’ve been tinkering with the science of genetics for thousands of years, it’s almost as old as agriculture itself. Wheat, the most widely grown crop on the planet, is already a hybrid of many different species. Commercially grown modern wheat, untended, wouldn’t even survive in the wild; human beings have changed it beyond what would ever appear naturally. The grains are a lot bigger than undomesticated varieties and it has a real issue with seed dispersal, an impotence which has been cultivated through years of selective breeding: so it’s easier and more worthwhile to harvest. We’ve also bred in “dwarfing” which means the stalk is shorter, so the energy of the plant can be more usefully diverted to the production of seed. Trying to grow it in the wild would be the agricultural equivalent of releasing a sausage dog into the wilderness and expecting it to survive. All the aspects that make the dog desirable to us – in this case resembling a tiny-legged-sausage-with-a-face, would be exactly the things that would give it no chance. It is as far from a wolf as it’s possible to be – because that’s how we want it. But to most of us it’s not a dangerous abomination, it’s just a sausage dog.

So what has inspired such promises of violence towards a field of GM wheat? After all, since the late 90‘s when the widespread commercial use of GM crops started in the US, there has never been a single proven case of anyone ever having suffered ill effects through their consumption. All those millions and millions of people and nobody’s grown another head or a third armpit. Presumably because extensive trials, like the one under threat in Hertfordshire, are carried out to ensure the product is safe. GM Crops undergo a far more rigorous process of regulation than their non-GM equivalents and have since the very beginning.

“Take the flour back”, have suggested the threat of contamination, but that doesn’t really ring true. The safety measures in place for this particular trial are impressive to say the least: the crop will be surrounded by inert fields far beyond the dispersal range of the wheat’s pollen, making the threat of contamination as effectively close to zero as it is possible to get.

It’s difficult to understand the mindset of a group, whose concerns regarding GM include the fact that not enough research is being done, destroying that very same research. Protesters often cite the dangers of corporate oligarchy – control and profit, as a reason against GM crops, and whilst this is a very valid reason for scrutiny and where my own concerns normally lay, it doesn’t apply here either: the end-product, if successful, will not become a patented biocrop only available to the highest bidder. Despite all the doom-mongering, Rothamsted Research is not a malevolent multinational, hushing up mutants in it’s basement, it’s a group of well respected scientists whose aim is to improve on what we have and share it with the world. Their ultimate aim is a crop whose yield, resistance to drought, nutritional value, shelf-life and cost to grow could help end starvation in the Third World.

When I hear people say that we don’t know the results of long term use, that we’ve only been using GM crops for 20 years, I think to myself – that is considerably longer than millions of Africans are currently living. With around 15 million children dying of hunger every year, destroying this important work is destroying a manifesto whose ideals would wipe out famine.

In keeping with the subject of mutation, the word “activist” is one whose meaning has perhaps mutated as much as the crops some seek to destroy. In this instance though it is a moniker that seems destined to ring true. Rather than the admirable mission of concerned citizens, activist is now the “go-to” word to describe any campaigners associated with some degree of violence or destruction. I’ve felt for as long as I can remember that this is exactly the wrong thing, as a protester, to do. As soon as you become a crusader with the mindset of a terrorist, then you sacrifice, not your ability to be noticed, but your ability to be taken seriously, it dilutes the purity of your message. The role of a protester is to engage sympathy through peaceful actions, to shine a light on inequalities or dangers and thereby expand your audience. Once this has been achieved you voice valid points to that audience – be they the community, the government or the world.

You raise your voice, not your fist.

ZX Spectrum – Eighties icon

Keyboard30 years ago this week the ZX Spectrum was released upon the unsuspecting Eighties; very quickly it claimed a huge chunk of market share and many happy hours of my childhood. At £125 it was cheaper than it’s rivals and looked it; anyone that has ever used one will still miss the iconic grey rubber keys with their bouncy/sticky feedback, the rainbow slash, the separate tape player and that signature tune as the screen border flashed and frazzled whilst loading some of the most wonderfully BASIC computer games ever devised. Yes kids you had to wait for a program to load back then, there was none of this instant clicking of icons, you had to load software via tape cassette every time you wanted to use it. A full 5 minutes of growing excitement with only a heavily pixellated screen still for company – it was almost always worth it. Released during the employment famine of the early eighties when £125 was a proper investment, it was the enfant terrible of Clive Sinclair, later knighted for his efforts. His mission was simple and audacious: to bring home computers into the UK mass market. He achieved this by keeping the price down and giving us the barest of bones: a black box of RAM and a tiny processor. And I do mean tiny. To give you some idea of the genesis of the home computer and a snapshot of how far the PC has come, I am tapping this article out on a MacAir which has a processor speed of 1.7GHz and SDRAM memory of 4Gb – very modest by today’s standards. In 1982 my ZX Spectrum had a processor speed of around 3.5MHz and an 8-bit memory, in other words my laptop is getting on for 500 times faster and with a staggering 4,000,000,000 times more SDRAM memory.

JetPac game loading screen

The loading screen.....

And yes of course my laptop has many features that the “Speccie” didn’t have, but it doesn’t have the kinky rubber keys, it doesn’t run on a computer language so basic it was actually called BASIC: a language so easy to programme in, that at the age of 7, I was writing rudimentary programmes. And that was the real joy, it was a computer designed for you to tinker with, to see what you could make it do. It willingly led you behind the curtain, admitted there was no great Oz and said it doesn’t matter, tell me what to do and I will do it, my limitations are your challenges. It trusted you. Weekly magazines were available which published lines of code that were there, ostensibly, for you to change anyway you wanted. A generation of coders became very talented at getting around the limitations of the hardware, producing classic games like Horace and the Spiders, Manic Miner and my personal favourite: JetPac.

When the more powerful machines came along the UK had already grown some very talented programmers with a real problem solving mentality, well placed to take advantage of the burgeoning software market and the unstoppable tide of the games consoles.

spectrum 16k

A proper rubber fetish.....

And then, in the late eighties, admitting that it’s time was up, the black slab of dreams wished them well and went the way of all computers. But unlike other computers, the ZX Spectrum still retains something that has never been seen since, surely the most elusive quality for any computer: charm.

The Magic of Reading

adults reading Harry PotterI’ve never really understood the depth of bad feeling that “proper readers” have towards “grown-ups” reading Harry Potter books, it smacks of adolescent elitism and a condemnatory bias based on a book’s sleeve (Hey there should be a saying about that?) for surely by their own logic they couldn’t have read the books themselves? So it’s hardly the strongest base from which to attack?

J K Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series is about to release her new novel “aimed at adults” and I wonder if the Potter snobbery will cling to this new title as well. I will not critique the original books themselves (I’ve only read a couple) beyond saying that I found them hamstrung by their own logic until the point in the story where it was no longer convenient for the plot progression, at which point new rules were added which circumvented the bothersome pre-established rationality – the resulting inconsistencies got right on my tits.

J K Rowling

J K Rowling authour of the Harry Potter Series

But it happens in this particular genre due to the flexible nature of magic (Witness Aslan’s resurrection and the subsequent awkward exposition in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). The concept of a normal boy (or girl as in the worst witch series which trod very similar ground over a decade before) finding that they are chosen for a higher destiny undeniably appeals to something primal in all of us, whatever age, it taps in to the hope that we are all special, that the mundanity of our normal lives can be shed: that adventures are waiting for us all. My fondness for this series though, is as a way of reintroducing those that would never normally read a book to the power of fiction. The real magic of the Potter phenomenom was that children and adults were and are picking up books again; they’re discussing characters and motivation,  asking themselves what they would do? Morality, hypotheticals, nomenclature, relationships, adolescence and at a stretch war, racism, betrayal, propaganda, tragedy, love and loss are all in there. What’s not to like? And if that leads someone to pick up another book on a similar theme and then another on less similar theme until they are in the habit of reading then surely it is to be applauded? Often the disinterest or even the fear of reading starts at school where the chosen literature has a profound effect on reading appetites – if reading feels like work then it is work. I would far rather give a class of 11 year olds a Harry Potter book – which for many might be the first real book they read, than say, Wuthering Heights which remains a staple on the curriculum? I don’t know too many 11 year olds that fully appreciate the destructive force of Heathcliffe’s love or the inherent elemental symbolism, in fact, I can see certain children being very confused by such adult subject matter and put off books for a good long while following such a baptism of fire. That doesn’t mean Wuthering Heights is not a far superior book, it just means, perhaps, it’s something to work up to.

Children reading adult books

A recent study suggested that a fifth of teenagers leaving school in the UK cannot read or write, making them virtually unemployable – I can only imagine how angry and scared and let down that must make them feel.

We should try to avoid making the same mistakes as the schools in that we should ask no more than books must be intellectually accessible to their own audience, it is not up to us to judge or dictate that audience.

Last Word Merchants…

Everyone capable of speech has last words, of course for many of us we just don’t know that’s what they are when we say them – “Slow down Grandad!” or “He looks tame!” being good examples, but let’s ignore those utterances that meet the criteria only through their proximity to abrupt demise and talk instead about those delivered with the conscious recognition of their own morbid significance. Y’know, “proper” last words.

Whether it’s suicide, disease, old age or Death Row, one of the admittedly few benefits of an expected death is that you might get the chance to choose and deliver some “proper” last words – to have them documented and remembered: a legacy of sorts. You might express love or regret, fear or courage, it might be amusing or sad – the point is, if only for a little while, these words will outlive you. So what’s worth saying?

There are famous last words that we might be familiar with, such as Voltaire who, when asked on his deathbed to renounce Satan, said to the priest “My good man, this is hardly the time to be making enemies” or Kurt Cobain’s hijacking of “It’s better to burn out than just fade away” (A forgotten Neil Young lyric). I can’t help but think that while Jack Daniel’s “One last drink please” was playing to the crowd, Churchill’s “I’m so bored of it all” was cocking a final snook at expectation.

But it’s not just the famous and infamous whose last words we care about, nor just our families and friends, it goes beyond that – because with the possible exception of Bruce Forsyth (whose forays on television increasingly remind me of “Weekend at Bernie’s”), death will come to us all, fuelling our macabre interest in the terminal attitude of others: its universal relevance – our own inevitable demise. Last words are our glimpse of that mindset, our window on how we might choose to face the last great mystery when our own time comes. We learn about ourselves by learning about others.

A recent article in the Guardian listed the most popular deathbed regrets as recorded by a nurse who’d heard her fair share; quietus confessions with little contrition but awash with missed opportunities and experiences.

I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.

I wish I’d let myself be happier.

I should’ve gone with him.

I didn’t write that book.

I never told her I loved her.

I wish I’d paid better attention to the best before date on that ready meal.

Okay I made that last one up  – but clearly part of the intrigue surrounding last words is that we might learn from the near-passed while we still have some sand left in our own hourglass, because intentionally or not, they are bequeathing real wisdom and from an unrivalled perspective, offering us a chance to avoid repeating their own eternal laments.

Now if I’ve got you thinking anxiously about your own last words, then let me give you this comfort: it’s true that most of us will lack the wit and the eloquence for memorable last words. After all, the distillation of a lifetime’s experience condensed down into the last few shaped breaths is a lot to ask. But try to not to worry: the context of your delivery should imbue even the most bombastic deathbed rhetoric with enough profundity to temporarily transcend the content and by the time people realise that your last words were, in fact, the verbal equivalent of a bowel movement, you’ll be blissfully unaware.

My last words on this belonged to my wife’s grandfather, a Lincolnshire boy, who died a great-grandfather, holding the hand of his wife of over sixty years. I like to think that within his succinct summation lay the words of a man whose life was well lived.

All he said was:

“Well……. I wouldn’ta missed it”

What Can We Learn From the Inherent Malice of Seagulls?

Superstition is a funny thing isn’t it? Not the Stevie Wonder classic, which is an attack on superstition and only funny if, like me, you think that a blind man singing about graffiti is amusing. No I’m talking about the weird little things we still say and do even when, in the main, we don’t consider ourselves superstitious anymore. But we are aren’t we? Deep down in the places you don’t like to talk about at parties you still think that agency can be superimposed upon non-human and inanimate objects – go on admit it! For all our supposed sophistications we still act as if good luck and bad luck can be attracted to us through seemingly unrelated actions. How did that happen and why does it still happen?

Firstly, hats off to the guy or gal who, when told that a seagull had just taken a big liquid crap on them, thought on their feet and in a ballsy voice said

“Nah you’ve got it all wrong – THAT’S LUCKY THAT IS”

“Is it? It doesn’t appear to be very lucky, you have liquid white shit in your hair”

“I’m telling you – someone is smiling down on me today. Wow I feel so blessed”

Seriously 10 out of 10 for that person – that’s probably where the word gullible comes from. I applaud you, whoever you are – but I don’t believe you. I believe in the inherent malice of seagulls. Presumably they then trod in dogshit the following week and thought “Can I get away with this twice?” and to their credit they did. My mum once worked in a care home and one day an old man threw a poo at her. I can assure you she didn’t feel particularly lucky that day. She didn’t rush out and buy a scratch card. She rushed home and sat in a bath of hot bleach for an hour.

Horseshoes, rabbit’s feet, birdshit, crossing your fingers, the right number of magpies and mutant clover are all good. Black cats, the wrong number of magpies, crossing on the stairs, ladybirds, the number 13, ladyboys, going to Dover and walking under ladders are all considered bad luck (I made the one up about Dover, but seriously have you been there recently?). Planes miss out the 13th row, skyscrapers skip the 13th floor; clearly they’re still there but the airlines and builders think that they can outsmart the powers of fortune with the old “different label” trick – in your face destiny, we’ve circumvented your unguessable designs!

The truth is we can’t really deal with the random nature of the universe so we have to create “rules” which we can then mould our perception of reality around. Karma is a perfect example;  I am not denying that the by-product of such a precept is beneficial to mankind but it struggles to explain itself more often than not and we tend to ignore the inconsistencies, the things that don’t fall in line with our beliefs. Witness the Sri Lankan fisherman who, on a whim, went out early and missed the Boxing Day Tsunami – this he might attribute to Karma or to supernatural powers or his lucky fishing rod. He will congratulate himself on being lucky never wondering what the 12,000 drowned children did that morning to deserve their fate.

Because of these inconsistencies I am not superstitious and I believe in no higher powers, so I cock a ribald snook at capricious fortune. You should too – there’s no-one watching.

If that’s too sobering a thought, don’t panic guys, we’re not alone in the universe – there are seven billion of us, each one a marvel of contradictions – it’s what will keep life interesting. Fingers crossed.

The Jeremy Kyle Show, and Why You Are Ronnie Barker.

What follows is something like a typical scene from the ever popular Jeremy Kyle show – if its enduring appeal mystifies you then consider my theory…………..

“You two don’t have any simple human respect for each other”

“Yes but we came on the show to try and fix….”

“SHUT UP!!! I HAVEN’T FINISHED TALKING AT YOU YET”

“I’m not sure this really was the best forum for trying to reconcile our difficu….”

“I SAID SHUT UP! SHUT YOUR POISONOUS MOUTHS AND LISTEN TO ME!!!!!” BLACK T-SHIRTED HENCHMEN RESTRAIN THEM!!! FORCE THEIR FILTHY MOUTHS CLOSED WHILE I CLIMB UPON MY HIGH HORSE AND EXPATIATE!!!”

Jeremy Kyle Pointing and looking annoyed

Firstly, it doesn’t have to be Jeremy Kyle, you could really put any angry, sneering, self-righteous, disapproving ringmaster into that circus and they would appear, relative to their on-stage participants, well dressed, successful, intelligent and moral.

It’s what we perceive as Kyle’s moral compass that’s meant to link us to him, that connects the audience at home with the audience in the studio and sets us, as a collective, apart from the scrapping sub-human scum on stage. In the real world we know that Jeremy Kyle isn’t any more “moral” than us because he stole from his ex-wife to fund a destructive gambling habit. He met his current wife after she “won” a competition on his radio station to marry a complete stranger – not very surprisingly, this didn’t last. But hey, all that was before he was canonised by ITV to referee human bear baiting – so that’s all right then.

No, it’s the poor people on stage that keep so many tuning in. Poor in every sense of the word. Because here’s the thing: seeing the morally destitute, airing their dirty laundry in front of a studio audience on a daily basis is, for millions, oddly comforting. It plays a very important role in the ongoing pacification of the lowest social strata, because this show and others like it are the social counter-balance for the abiding culture of celebrity.

Consider that comfort is measured by humans in terms of relativity: a billionaire and a homeless person could describe exactly the same bedsit and their perception of its merits would, no doubt, be polarised. Bearing this in mind is important in realising how the satisfaction of a normal person could be adversely affected by continuous media exposure to the social elite: Hello, OK, Cosmopolitan, a plethora of TV shows mistakenly labelled “reality”. Young, beautiful and rich people are constantly paraded before your eyes, people whose concerns appear to be limited to matching stilettos to super-yachts, deciding on the name of their new aftershave or being vocally ungrateful about the contents of their after-show party gift bag. Their ubiquity normalises their concerns and their conduct, even though it bears no resemblance to normal life.

Understandably, if you’ve been lugging-2-kids-and-a-week’s-shopping-back-through-the-rain-because-you-missed-your-bus-because-you-had-to-put-something-back-because-your-benefits-have-been-cut-but-you’re-still-trying-to-not-let-the-kids-know-just-how-close-to-desperate-life-really-is, then reading about Posh’s “struggle” to settle down in Los Angeles could make you feel just a bit unsatisfied with your position in society.  When literally anyone can be famous, just for being famous, who is to say what’s normal? Where the focus of the TV and popular press is all about the social elite, the fact that you haven’t shaved your legs yet this year and you won’t be going on holiday again and there is catshit on the front lawn again even though you don’t own a pet, can really put a crimp in your perceived level of comfort. The phenomenon dubbed “status anxiety” means that your perception of your place in society can be drastically affected when you unconsciously reconfigure what is “normal”.

The Jeremy Kyle show, under the guise of helping its victims, shines the spotlight at the gutter rather than the stars, parading the under class of society through your living room and letting you know that, whilst you won’t be going to the Oscars this year, at least you don’t have an electronically tagged son who is stealing from you to pay for his alcoholic girlfriend, who is also your half-sister and your mum, to have a backstreet abortion so she can continue her porn career. It doesn’t matter that the conflict has been carefully orchestrated and edited for your viewing pleasure because all it needs to do is put a smelly and stupid Ronnie Corbett next to your Ronnie Barker to distract you from the well dressed John Cleese.

It re-establishes the norm.

Hobophobia

Dealing with the homeless is tricky and no mistake. I don’t know the differences between beggars, tramps, hobos and homeless people but if I had to define myself in relation to them I might call myself “hobophobic”.
I wasn’t always like this, I used to buy the big issue on a regular basis and I do still give “Tattoo Sid” a tenner at Christmas. But these days I tend to avoid getting into conversations, I tend to look away.Cartoon old fashioned tramp.  Photo: dutchb0y
It’s not the smell or some fear of transmittable lurgie, it’s the not the vicarious shame and indignation that a modern day society can still allow people to fall between the cracks, it’s not that they keep dogs when they can’t even feed themselves properly or the fact they insist on drinking cans of super-strength Tenants when they are clearly not “tenants” of any kind. It’s not because they have perfected the inflections on “You have a good night” to ensure you’ll spend the next few minutes imagining the hardships they’ll experience with a lump in your throat. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the work that’s gone into “the unconvincing back story” or that they’ve taken the trouble to steal an old copy of the Big Issue which they cling to like tattered dignity.
And it’s not the fact that but for a few pieces of random luck it’s them and not me huddled under a wet blanket howling at the moon.
No it’s not any of these things. It’s worse than that.I am in a uniquely bad position at this time of year when it comes to dealing with beggars because they think I’m lying to them, they think I’m teasing them.Just before Christmas I noticed that i had a small hole in one of the pockets of my covert coat – just big enough to allow coins to fall through (You can see where this is going. I’m sure the penny’s dropped – so to speak). I took it in to the Dry Cleaners, explained the problem and they said they could repair it in a day. Later I realised that although they had indeed repaired the hole, there were still a handful of clinking coins at the bottom of the lining, gaily bouncing off my knee when I walked and calling homeless people to me wherever I go. To the destitute I’m the pied fucking piper. And you trying explaining that to a vagrant – it was costing me a fortune.

“Any loose change Boss?”
“Sorry I don’t have any change”
“I can hear you’ve got some change Boss”
“Yeah but it’s not loose change, it’s stuck in the lining of my coat”
“I’m not on drugs you know Boss”
“No really – although “technically” I have some change I literally cannot give it to you”
“I just want a cup of tea Boss – I’m not Amy Winehouse”
“What?”
“I mean I’m not on drugs”
“Oh for God’s sake here’s a fiver – I don’t suppose you’ve got any change?”
“I do actually Boss………….but It’s stuck in the lining of my coat”
“Funny guy – and now that you have my money – are you on drugs?”
“Yep – can’t get enough of them”
“You have a good night”

As I said “hobophobic”

Quick Reviews: Never Say RIP

Every week, one of our writers will be given a selection of tracks – they could be unsigned, they could be international superstars.  Any genre could be included, and the writer gets one week to give their verdict on each song in under 100 words.  This week, James Conmy takes his turn.  If you like what you hear, click on the band names to visit their website, and if you want your music to be included in the future, send an MP3, picture, short bio and link to music@camelshump.co.uk.

Rita Ora – R.I.P

An excellent homegrown supporting cast means Rita Ora shines here. Rita Ora, promoting her new single RIP, wearing a loose blue dress featuring the union jack

Produced by the ubiquitous electro-Gods Chase & Status and dexterously introduced by Tinie Tempah, R.I.P is the sort of anthemic head bouncer that works as well in the car as in the club. It’s positive swagger, girl-power hook and euro clubland dub beats lift an accomplished vocal above the clamour – but they never really soar despite the edgy stringwork underscoring. If there’s a problem here for Rita it’s identity: you forget it’s her halfway through the song and replace her with Rihanna. Which should be high praise – right?

 Eyes on Film – Something Wicked (this way comes)

This one hits the ground running, infectious reverb guitar strings smash ‘n’ grabbing your attention with an insanely catchy riff. There is something fresh yet familiar here: try taking a dark distorted bite of INXS, Placebo and Mark Bolan and you’re getting there. A vocal of hushed menace is egged on by guitars with teeth. This, my friends, is a song that struts into the room and says something dirty to your mum. As pretty as a flick-knife, I can’t recommend it enough. Something wicked has arrived.

Christiaan Webb – We’re Under the Same Stars

In this track “Christiaan” Webb (additional “a” singer’s own) seems so mystified by the most basic of natural phenomena that I’m not entirely surprised he’s kicking around on his own. The sun, the moon, the stars, his true love and even “air” (!) all appear to be beyond his grasp. The lyrics boil down to the well trodden country path of question after question following a break-up, but it lacks the necessary cohesion to be evocative. His scattergun droning rhetoric, like his probable view of the Earth, can best be described as “flat”. Unless you like whinging-to-music, avoid.

Et Tu Bruce – Never say Trevor Again

Funny, playful and sad, imagine a tongue in cheek updating of “Jolene” sung by a Beatles tribute band and you’re on your way, but it’s so damn polished it’s better than it has any right to be. If this is representative of the band’s style then it’s head-out-of-the-car-window refreshing. The divine comedy and “Corky and the juice pigs” used to do a nice line in this sort of facetious folk merrymaking and like them, you can’t help but feel that intelligeCentre Excuse, promoting Drop and Rollnces vast and cool sit behind all the silliness.

Centre Excuse – Drop and Roll

This talented trio have whipped away the chintzy tablecloth of 80’s synth pop and left all the important things still standing on the table. If the eco message is a little worthy given the messenger’s obvious predilection for electric over acoustic then we can forgive them this once as they are creating an energy all their own. Although the rock guitar suggests otherwise there’s heart here rather than anger which keeps them just on the right side of likeable and away from the commercial suicide of preachy. Accomplished scouts on a familiar frontier – but no more than that.

Very Moving…

Buying a house is weird isn’t it? The whole system is unlike any other purchase you’ll make.

You get to see probably the biggest purchase of your life, aboSign  outside a house, reading "house for sale" in a shabby chic styleut twice, for about half an hour, before committing hundreds of thousands of pounds to it. Half an hour?  You spend a longer period of time deliberating over buying a puppy or trying on sunglasses (trying to hide that bloody tag behind one of the lenses so you don’t look mental). But 30 minutes for a house? Personally I’ve spent longer choosing pick’n’mix.

But if that’s weird then selling your house is a whole lot stranger. We really do just disengage our reason for that part of the process. Take, for example, the phenomenon of “dressing” your house for viewings. This normally involves two parts.

The first part is mainly just hiding all the shit. All the clutter of everyday life will be scooped up and concealed in cupboards or hidden guiltily in the car boot like a dead body. You’ll binbag the billions of shoes you’ve somehow accumulated in the porch. The post at the bottom of the stairs will be freed from the hump of coats that usually shroud it. The fridge will be stripped of magnets and kiddie art. Toys will be stacked into neat towers of plastic or dumped at your parent’s house. But you won’t bother trying to tidy the garage because let’s face it – life’s too short.

The second part is where you add things that aren’t normally there. You’ll set the dining table just in case potential buyers hadn’t figured out that this is where you eat food. Beds will overflow with carefully arranged scatter cushions. The coffee table will try it’s best to look natural with carefully fanned out magazines. You’ll buy flowers. Oh yes fresh cut flowers will spring up in your kitchen as if it’s perfectly normal. You might wait until the last moment before puncturing a few satsumas and let their aroma whisper “buy my zesty house you citrus-loving bastards!!”

But dressing is painfully transparent isn’t it? It’s a bit pointless unless you think that potential buyers have the following conversation after seeing your home.

“Darling, that house we viewed today was perfect wasn’t it”

“Yes, yes it was. A nice aspect in a beautiful area. I loved the kitchen/diner and those French windows onto the garden”

“And great schools nearby… ”

“and that third bedroom would make an adorable nursery”

“Oh yes such a lovely family home”

“…”

“What is it Darling?”

“It’s just a small thing really but …”Orange Gerbera on a green background

“Tell me Darling”

“Well it’s just the downstairs bathroom…”

“The downstairs bathroom?”

“Yes. It was fine and everything but it’s just that the vase on the window sill…”

“Go on”

“Well it didn’t have a single stem of Gerbera in it. I just don’t think I could bring myself to buy a house that didn’t have a single stem of Gerbera in the downstairs toilet”

“You’re right dear, now that I think about it. It just didn’t have a single stem of Gerbera in the downstairs toilet.”

“Oh well we have some more houses to view, we’ll just have to keep looking.”

“I quite agree. It’s better to be safe than sorry dear”

Clearly YOU don’t do that with houses you look at do you? YOU can see past the empty vases? Of course YOU can. And so can THEY. Because that’s not the house, that’s just the crap IN the house.

Then there are the awkward questions. The ones you happily lie about. Lets play multiple choice.

“Why are you moving?”

  1. “We want somewhere better than this shithole and we can afford it because we’re clearly richer than you”
  2. This place is haunted by the ghost of a dead peadophile and we hate the neighbours – their cats shit all over our garden.
  3. My husband’s work.

“Does the garden get the sun?”

  1. No it get’s the fucking Telegraph you bum diseased yokel.
  2. On midsummers day for about 10 minutes. Other than that it’s like an outside cave. Only darker.
  3. All the time. Oh yes we’re very lucky.

“Are the local schools good?”

  1. They’re good if you want to score drugs.
  2. Their metal detectors are good –  they have to be what with all the flick-knives…
  3. Very good. Certainly well up there in all the league tables.

If you answered mostly Cs you are a liar (and a perfectly normal person trying to sell their house).

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