This category contains 29 posts

Watching All Of Shakespeare: Ground Rules and Confessions

Confession first: I haven’t seen much Shakespeare.

Lots of people have probably seen less, but they’re probably not very bothered. I feel like I really should have.

I’ve studied English Literature at post-compulsory level off and on for over two decades (although admittedly without getting any meaningful qualification), got to the semi-finals of Mastermind twice, and been quite willing to argue with people about Shakespeare and quote him. I’ve got a sort of Roger Craig type knowledge – I can identify all the most famous quotations, probably even give you a precis of the plots of most of them, but as far as ACTUALLY HAVING SEEN them, on stage or screen, as far as I recall I’ve ticked off:

King Lear
Titus Andronicus
Twelfth Night
Midsummer Nights Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Taming Of The Shrew
Richard III
Henry V
Julius Caesar

And that’s it. Maybe they were all bluffing it as well, but I’m sure most of the people I’ve done Eng Lit courses with had seen more than that. Christ, I’ve never even seen Othello, or Merchant Of Venice, or Romeo and Juliet (I got about half an hour into the Baz Luhrman thing before metaphorically putting my foot through the screen and sending him the bill). Romeo and Juliet! There’s undiscovered tribes in Papua New Guinea who’ve seen three versions of Romeo and Juliet, for Christ’s sake. I’m pretty sure I’ve written essays on others not on that list, and got fairly good grades, but I’ve not actually watched them. Maybe excerpts, but not all the way through.

This has to change.

So – and this is basically me muscling in on one of the entries on my wife’s “Things to do before turning 30” list, which gives us a deadline of 4th January 2015 – we’re going to watch it all.

A few ground rules:

1. Only original text versions. Obviously there’s much dispute about what the original text even is, I’m not going to get excessively anal and insist on unabridged first folio versions or something, but no modernised language versions, or “based on an idea by” stuff. There’s some excellent stuff of that nature – I saw a really good Othello update set in the Metropolitan Police with Christopher Ecclestone a few years back, and Neil Gaiman’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is pretty damned peerless, but you’ve got to have rules. Start letting Throne Of Blood in and next thing you’re counting Ten Things I Hate About You, and before you know it you’re ticking off Hamlet because the child watched The Fucking Lion King – AGAIN – while you were in the room.

2. The list I’m using is this:

All’s Well That Ends Well
As You Like It
Comedy of Errors
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Measure for Measure
Merchant of Venice
Merry Wives of Windsor
Midsummer Night’s DreamA picture of William Shakespeare, who is the focus of this challenge
Much Ado about Nothing
Taming of the Shrew
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
Winter’s Tale
Henry IV, Part I
Henry IV, Part II
Henry V
Henry VI, Part I
Henry VI, Part II
Henry VI, Part III
Henry VIII
King John
Richard II
Richard III
Antony and Cleopatra
Julius Caesar
King Lear
Romeo and Juliet
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida

I know there’s others attributed, but that’s what I’m going with. It seems generally accepted and lets face it the world’s not going to end if I’ve missed one. 3. “Watched” means that. It can be stage or screen, amateur or professional, but it has to be watched, radio versions don’t count. Why this will be of interest to anyone is beyond me, but there it is. We currently have David Tennant’s Hamlet, Al Pacino’s Merchant Of Venice and a Globe version of Othello on the TiVo, any recommendations welcomed but not necessarily followed. BRING ON THE BARD.

Quick Reviews: Real Life, Alive…

Every week, one of our writers will be given five 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, Janice Jong takes her 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

Wirescan, Amps, from the Album VectorWIRESCAN – “Amps”

I’m not usually a fan of electronica, but this track was a pleasant surprise.  It is a cheery song with a sunny disposition that reminded me of ‘80’s music without being cheesy.  At first, I thought this would be great music to play in the background at a party, but my kids both loved the track and it got them dancing – it’s definitely fit for centre stage.   This track is the perfect length – it is interesting the entire way through and there are no slow bits, even without any vocals.

Jo Hamilton – “Alive, Alive”

Jo Hamilton has a beautiful, haunting voice.  She sings like a human cello, with clarity and emotion.  I loved the first thirty seconds of this track where Jo Hamilton reminded me of k.d. lang with her soulful lyrics and serious temperament.  Then, the beautiful sounds were invaded with otherworldly alien noises.  This ruined the track for me – as soon as the strange sounds started, the piece took on a cartoonish quality and the delicate emotional balance was destroyed.  I found myself unable to focus on the lyrics – I could only hear the invasive sounds.  I kept thinking about Bjork and outer space and the entire experience was ruined.  Pity.

Pepper – “Running Rings”

This is a song that I would turn up to full volume in the car.  It is also a song that I would be tired of listening to after a couple of weeks.   (Ahhh…such is my fickle nature.)

“Running Rings” is a high-energy pop track with a repetitive and pervasive raw acoustic guitar backing.  It has a slightly angry vibe that showcases Pepper’s gorgeous voice as it intertwines with the choppy guitar.   Our local pop radio station loves to play chipper tracks like this; it would fit right in to their regular playlist.

Padraig Whelan – “Off & On”Padraig Whelan writing in the dark

I wanted to like this track.  It is exactly the kind of music I love to listen to – a folksy-slow track sung by a man with an interesting voice.  Problem is, I found the song boring.  At full volume, it barely seeped into my consciousness, the music and lyrics did not pique my interest, and the emotional effect of the track was entirely benign.  I loved the relaxed feel of the song and Whelan’s smooth voice with the pared down band and clean guitar notes.  It was just so boring…

Alonestar feat. Ed Sheeran – “Real Life”

Listening to hip-hop, rap or urban music of any sort is way out of my element, so I was not sure what to expect from Alonestar.  My impression of this track is that it is hip-hop “lite” – it is not particularly gritty or tough.  The “Real Life” lyrics are appropriate for an after-school special, with a peppy and utterly unconvincing hook about how “this is the real life and it will only get harder…” This track reminds me of the only old school rap I had any contact with – Will Smith in his “Fresh Prince” days.  It is easy to listen to and not offensive.

Being the Next Big Thing is Old News

It must be hard living up to a label like ‘the next big thing.’ There’s a weight of expectation engendered by the title that nothing can possibly live up to. In terms of popular music, so many next-big-things have fizzled out or else failed to ignite altogether that after a while you stop paying any attention.

Predictions of this kind are common, and made in the expectation of scoring ‘cool-points’ for being the first to make the correct call. But being tagged and branded in this way has its disadvantages.

I have a slightly scattergun approach to new music. I don’t go to a specific magazine or website; I don’t rely on a radio station. That’s too prescriptive and I never get to hear enough of the kind of music I like. Word of mouth, specifically through the internet, is the best source, and it’s easy, with the use of YouTube, Spotify and the like, to adopt a try-before-you-buy approach.

One artist about which you should believe the hype is Blackpool born singer-songwriter Karima Francis. Radio One DJ Edith Bowman named her one to watch in 2012 in an article in the Mirror, describing her as having ‘a voice that spits emotion.’ She also claimed her to be ‘something totally new,’ and that’s not strictly true. Labels of this kind have been applied to Karima before. In 2008, the Daily Mail called her ‘the next big thing,’ and the Guardian put her on their list of the best new acts in 2009. So why, in spite of this high praise, is her name not yet on the lips of every music lover in the UK?Karima Francis Singing - Photo: saintupnorth

Those kind of unhelpful labels often play no insignificant part in that, although Karima told The Camel’s Hump she doesn’t really feel the pressure. “I’m just excited to have the support of a label like Vertigo,” she said.

People are smart and discerning enough to make up their own minds what they do and don’t like. The music press do play an important part in informing and sharing opinion, but if informed by, say, the NME, that something is hot or upcoming, I automatically disregard it. That’s partially because I don’t trust many opinions other than my own, but mostly because I don’t like to be told what to think. The unfortunate down side of that stance is that sometimes something genuinely good passes right over your radar, and you don’t hear about it until it’s already gone beyond new and cool into the realms of the vulgar mainstream.

Her first album, The Author, was released on her old label, Kitchenware, in 2009, to mixed reviews, receiving almost universal praise for her vocal performance but with many critics citing some weaker songs as its main flaw. But one thing commonly agreed by critics is that where she makes the greatest impression is live.

My first experience of Karima as a performer was as support for King Charles (another artist bubbling under on many of those annoying ‘artist to watch’ lists,) where she not only blew my socks off, but blew them right out of the building, and all the way home to my wash basket. As insubstantial as she appears on stage – a nervy looking, dark-haired dandelion-like thing – she projects more passion and spirit with her performance than you could believe possible. “I feel alive when I’m on stage,” she says. “It’s the only place I want to be.”

Karima is still very young, and not yet fully grown into her talent. She needs the chance to flourish at her own pace. Her incredible ability and potential have been recognized by the industry people who make those kind of calls, but, in this time of transition for the music business, they’re too eager to drop something into the pool of artists then act surprised when it doesn’t make the expected splash. It’s abundantly clear to anyone who hears her just how good she could be, but these things take time and can’t be forced.

Her upcoming second album, The Remedy, is due for release early in 2012. Of it, she told us “this album is so much better than the first; more mature and more about the things that are going on in my life right now.” If that’s true, and her new label give her the support this kind of young talent needs, then 2012 really could be the year in which she becomes the musical prodigy she deserves to be.

Quick Reviews: The Wolf in the Shallow End

Every week, one of our writers will be given five 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, Nick Duffy 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

SINEAD O’CONNOR – Wolf Is Getting Married

It’s easy to take the piss out of Sinead O’Connor, so let’s get right on with it. “Wolf Is Getting Married” is presumably the first in a series, the next ones being “Wolf Is Getting Unmarried A Few Days Later”, “Wolf Is Tweeting About Bumsex Again” and “Wolf Has Checked In To A Clinic Suffering From Exhaustion”. The song itself is thoroughly meh – take away O’Connor’s admittedly fantastic voice, and it could be any Radio 2-friendly, mid-tempo rock-lite waster. Like Morrissey, she’s far more interesting as an interviewee than an artist these days.

SAM SPARRO – The Shallow EndSam Sparro in black and white

Likeable enough hipster-friendly disco-funk that never quite gets to the big chorus you feel must be along soon, instead veering off into an ill-advised sax solo (as if there’s such a thing as a sax solo that isn’t ill-advised). Probably destined to soundtrack a few hen parties which think they’re too good for Abba, and the tamer sort of gay bar over the next few months, but unlikely to match the success of “Black And Gold”.

IO SECT – Sneaker

I’m sure the editors put this one in just to watch me make an arse of myself. They know I know bugger all about dance music. That said, I know what I like, and I used to be vaguely up-to-date about a decade and a half ago, which by a happy coincidence seems to be where this lot take their inspiration from – this would have fitted in quite happily between Daft Punk and LTJ Bukem back when I knew where to buy drugs and my knees didn’t hurt when I danced. The Kids – and indeed my kids – will probably think it’s shit, but there you go.

The Knocks posing against a wall to promote Midnight CityTHE KNOCKS – Midnight City

I was liking – honest, I do sometimes like things – this electro’d up cover of the M83 song, which if nothing else, doesn’t have the sax solo which blighted the original.  Could easily imagine being driven through a city under the influence of substances and this sounding like the best song EVAR, but then it hit me: guest vocalist Mandy Lee sounds like a combination of Ellie Goulding, and whatsherface from The Cranberries. And there aren’t enough substances in the world to remove that kind of bad taste in the mouth.  Shame.


KIDS! Do you want steamhammer beats clashing with buzzsaw rock guitar?  The sound of alienation sliding into euphoria with vodka and amphetamine coursing through it’s veins?  The new sound from far out?  DO YOU?

Well, better luck next week, because Graeme Clark doesn’t do that.  He does earnest, beardy, easy-listening singer-songwriter filth.  I daren’t read the press release, because I’m sure at some point it’ll use the words “heartfelt” and “craftsmanship” and I shall be violently sick.  Will somebody tell him they stopped making Cold Feet years ago, so they don’t need any more soundtrack for it?

Why I Don’t Do Reviews (Warning: Contains Reviews)

It was bound to happen just days after I post my only review, in which I clearly state I don’t normally do reviews, that I get sent a number of CDs to pass my judgement upon. Although not a dedicated music site, many releases have landed on the desks of The Camel’s Hump*, and, for one reason or another, we feel inclined to write about them.

I never feel so inclined. Without wanting to discourage or dismiss the efforts of reviewers, to be frank I find them a little too easy. They’re a bit of an excuse to avoid actual writing and, when uninspired, they’re little more than filler material.

They can also become the causes of very ugly arguments. Someone, somewhere, will be offended by your opinions, even if you’ve been relatively nice, and take it upon themselves to dissent in the strongest terms. Reviews are potential cans of worms, and I prefer to steer well clear.

That said, the selection I’ve received have made my job easier. They’re neat little four or five track EPs, and neater still all pretty good.

Hello Bamboo – Garçon

You’d be forgiven for believing the four slabs of hairy, testosterone pumped man meat that grace the cover of Garçon were the members of Hello Bamboo. Their riffs are beefy enough and their sound sweats manly juices. As it happens, these prime examples of the male beast are their fathers, and families are clearly a subject of concern to the band. As are the subjects of life after death, David Gest and cheap clothing retailer Matalan, if this collection of recordings is anything to go by.

It seems the only way to legitimize more traditional heavy guitar music in the post-rock era is to play with a sense of irony. Although by no means a novelty act, they do not take themselves too seriously, which only adds to their charm. For example, on The Cycle of Domestic Abuse, probably the best track, they juxtapose dark imagery of an abusive patriarch (“Daddy, why did you fuck Mummy up?”) with a ridiculously over the top, old fashioned guitar solo, and make it work surprisingly well.

Fighting – Thriller II

Calling your band Fighting and your first release Thriller II (presumably to be followed by Led Zeppelin IV-A) suggests its creators are either geniuses or idiots. Or both. Whilst not in itself punk in its stylings, it follows punk sensibilities – keep it fast and grimy and no one will notice or care if you’re rough around the edges. Their sound is reminiscent of the sadly defunct Test Icicles and the emerging Pulled Apart By Horses, but with less art college pretentiousness, and a distinctly northern no-nonsense edge.

The duo take turns on vocal duties, although I can discern little meaning from the indirect lyrics, except that on the opening, and best, track Keelie Needs Practice, someone called Keelie needs to practice. Their main raison d’etre appears to be the acquisition of girls, booze and their due amount of fun. Although let down by the song Guest Appearance Bruce Springsteen, they deserve respect too on the strength of this promising recording.

Stephen James Buckley – Patchwork Guilt

I can’t listen to these four tracks, probably the best selection from those on offer in this article, without thinking of Beck, which, for me, is a huge compliment. Although bearing little vocal similarity, the sound, achieved with a mixture of samples and live instruments, combined with the whole being a solo effort, is reminiscent of the artist, whom I consider one of the most inventive and distinctive recording artists of the past twenty years. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was also a pint or two of the Eels influence pumping through this CD’s veins.

A trawl though the bandcamp back catalogue of Stephen James Buckley reveals a series of short studies that sincerely chronicle a life by the instalment plan. Previously more of a troubadour, his heart worn on the strings of his acoustic guitar, this is an evolution in his sound – a maturing – although he still sings with emotion, irony and wit, such as on She Drove Me Like She Stole Me, one of the highlights here.

*Not physically, of course, as we are a loose collection of writers, with our respective desks scattered all over the world. Some of us don’t even have desks, just laps.

They Burn Witches, Don’t They?

It seems, on the surface at least, an obvious decision for any moderate, modern thinker, to convict the three Derby men accused of stirring up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. Specifically, for those whom the story passed unnoticed, they distributed literature outside a mosque and through letterboxes calling for the death penalty for homosexuals. The leaflet in question – other, equally offensive ones, were previously used by the men, although charges were not applied to them in this case – displayed a picture of a hanging mannequin accompanied by the legend ‘Death Penalty?’ The leaflet quoted Islamic texts and called for the death penalty as a remedy for society’s homosexuality problem.

The men admitted creating and distributing the leaflet, but based their defence on their right to freely express what their religion taught them. In spite of testimony to the contrary from homosexual men who received the sheet, the accused claimed they intended to inform, but not threaten.

The three men were found guilty on 20th January 2012 and will be sentenced on 10th February. What is interesting and unique about the ruling is that it is the first of its kind since new laws came into force in 2010. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 made it an offence to use words, actions or to publish, display or distribute written material; to publicly perform a play, distribute, show or play a recording, broadcast a programme or to possess material that would be considered inflammatory. In regards of hatred based on religious belief or sexual orientation, the material would also have to be proved to be a incitement to hatred and threatening in its intent.

In British law, rights of freedom of sexuality, religion, speech, and the expression of such and protection from persecution based on the above, are very rightly enshrined. But where, such as in this case, they clash, it’s like opening your cupboards to find all they contain are cans of worms.

It is not a crime to hate someone based upon their sexuality, religion, race, gender, age, disability or social position. ‘Thoughtcrimes‘ may befit the world of Winston Smith, but no progressive society would ever prescribe such dystopian control. You can also express those thoughts, if you’re so inclined, in private or public, but with the possible consequence of judgement by and ostracism from polite society.

Celebrity gaffes, like those recent ones by Jeremy Clarkson or Diane Abbott, on television or Twitter, are quickly seized upon by the public who express their collective, and often over-inflated, outrage. The celebrities then suffer a usually temporary but sometimes fatal loss of public favour.

When a member of the public causes offence, outrage often follows, but only locally and in a much reduced way. The man-in-the-pub, armchair pundit, who thinks sending everyone back to where they came from is the cure for society’s ills, is usually written off as a casual racist or, depending on the extremity of his views, a nut. We may not like or agree with what he’s saying, but we can’t do anything about it. It’s as much his right to think and say what he likes as it is yours to disagree.

The change in law was an amendment, to be applied where the intent could be proved to go beyond the mere expression of opinion. In this case, the men’s efforts amount to a campaign against homosexuals in the area – little more than a gay witch-hunt. Their previous leaflets – brought to the court as supporting evidence – were entitled ‘G.A.Y.’ (God Abhors You) and ‘Turn or Burn,’ and homosexual men were targeted both in the street and at home.

If they practised what they preached, the men would have formed a lynch mob and acted upon their own proposal. There’s a huge gap between saying something should be done and actually doing it, and I’ve never been one to apply argumentum ad consequentiam to my reasoning, but I don’t believe it’s as far fetched as it sounds. There is a trend toward increasing, and unregulated, use of Sharia law in the settlement of disputes. The judgements are not legally binding, and are given in the spirit of advice based on Islamic law, but it is usually expected that those in receipt act upon them. According to the men, they were only reiterating the position of Islam on the practice of homosexuality. Where Islamic law differs so fundamentally from British law, they are completely irreconcilable, and it worries me that an impressionable recipient of such teaching might take it upon themselves to act in a manner they believe to be correct.

This law, and, by extension, the conviction of these men, is designed to protect those of a certain race, religion, sexual orientation etc. from threatening intentions, words and actions. It does not exist to restrict the thoughts and expression of opinion of an individual. It is an important distinction to make and, hopefully, an indication that no one need hide what they are or what they believe, and the law is finally on their side.

Quick Reviews: Lana isn’t quite the Rey of sunshine that we’re searching for.

Every week, one of our writers will be given five 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, Sam Lawson 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

Thomas Truax holding a gramaphone.  Photo: Chris Saunders

Now I don’t know if I’m ignoring the clique by including a foreword here, but I always think it’s nice when writers introduce what they’re about to say. Isn’t it nice? Isn’t it? Yeah. It is.

This week’s five tracks aren’t anything to rave on about in particular. There are some good tracks. Some. But 50% of the tracks I’m about to review are horse shit. Well, not horse shit. But they’re certainly close to being part of the dungheap. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m trying to be honest, and as an avid, avid fan of music I will stay true to my opinion. Thank you for taking the time to read, and I hope what is said doesn’t ruin any careers!
Deep breath before the plunge, here goes.

Thomas Truax – Beehive Heart

As soon as I heard this, the Mighty Boosh theme song began playing in my head. Think of the ‘crimping’ that they made famous, and then think of this song. They sound alike, yes? Yes. They do. Compare the two until you agree. I think this song is very much the sound The Ting Tings would make if their front person was of the male gender. Although this song lacks in melody and singing, it isn’t without a tune. Very toe tap inducing, I’d expect to hear this in a teen angst moment on UK Drama Skins.

Lana Del Rey  – Born To Die

I’m hearing violins. Violins? From the girl who’s meant to be the next Lady Gaga. First impressions are that it would fit in well at a funeral or some other sort of bereavement event. Obviously, the song is about death and being prepared to die, but perhaps you could play this at the burial of one’s pet? If you’ve ever heard Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s The Power of Love, this will not sound unfamiliar. While the whispering is reminiscent of “I’ll protect you from the hooded claw” introduction from Frankie’s Christmas classic(?). The song is extremely pessimistic, just look at the title. I will not buy the album.

Azari & III- Reckless (With Your Love)

Obviously I’m far too young to have experienced the 80s, but this song reminds me of that era immensely. It’s the type of house beat that I’d expect to hear in a nightclub at the beginning of the rave scene in 1989. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear this thumping from my local social club while they attempt to be gay-friendly. The introduction is very reminiscent of that famous beat Insomnia by Faithless. Repetitive, but not annoyingly so. Vocals wise, think Cee-Lo Green in his Gnarles Barkley era. I highly recommend this to anyone.


These Reigning Days – Changes

Surprisingly, I don’t have much to say about this one. Except that it’s very good, and I like it a lot. I extremely recommend buying this as soon as it released on whatever platform is popular in February. The song is a sort of love-triangle-come-bigamist-marriage between Coldplay, Bullet For My Valentine, Editors and Glasvegas. Though frowned upon in some societies, this marriage works extremely well, and I can’t get enough of it. It creates a relaxing atmosphere that is simultaneously very upbeat and catchy and damn I just can’t get enough. (Turns out I did have a lot to say).

Zenon – Love You Forever

I’m trying to listen properly and drown out the ringing sounds of Irish heartbreak pop, but all I can hear is Westlife. The singer’s voice doesn’t particularly suit the genre, the melodies are mismatched with the vocals and there is too much versatility concerning the verse and chorus. If this was placed in line with 1000 other love songs, it wouldn’t particularly stand out. Trying to be unique but failing. That’s not to say that he cannot sing well. Unoriginal but not unpleasant. Top marks for trying, though.

‘s Out

The much abused and maligned apostrophe has suffered greatly at the hands of the barely literate. Now, as bookstore chain Waterstone’s has decided to drop this humble piece of punctuation from its store fronts, even the supposedly literate have decided it’s just not required.

Its widespread and inconsistent misuse can lead to misunderstandings and sometimes humorous results, typified most famously by the “greengrocers’ apostrophe.” Superfluous apostrophes in “sprout’s” or “cabbage’s” [sic] used to be a common signage mistake – common until the supermarkets put them out of business, at least. But, in their honour, the supermarkets continue the tradition, with signs in Tesco advertising “mens magazines” and “kids books,” omitting them where they are required.

The reason given by the high street store is that, in a digital age, it is cumbersome and confusing – in other words, when typing in a website address. The excuse is a little paper-thin, as an internet search either with or without the apostrophe brings up their website as the top result. I have to question whether the business they feel they are losing due to this niggardly difference sufficiently outweighs the cost of completely rebranding their image and re-signing their store fronts.

Elsewhere on the high street, mixed messages abound. Sainsbury’s and McDonald’s get it right, Morrisons and Greggs don’t. Ultimately, it’s entirely the choice of the business to decide what it is or isn’t called, just as we pedants have an obligation to point out they are wrong.

Place names are another rich hunting ground for the elusive mark. In 2009 Birmingham city council dropped possessive apostrophes from their road signs and council literature, so the likes of King’s Heath or Acock’s Green became Kings Heath and Acocks Green. They were considerably behind the rest of the world in dropping the pesky punctuation. America dropped them from place names from as early as 1890 onwards, maintaining them in just five locations as of today – in, for example, Martha’s Vineyard.

In its defence is the Apostrophe Protection Society, whose campaign for correct and accurate use began in 2001. Its intended function is to inform, not criticize, those who are responsible for misuse, and a downloadable explanatory letter is available to be forwarded to offenders. I find it sad that it is necessary for such an organization to exist.

As a graphic designer, I daily receive copy for advertising that needs correcting. I need to be sufficiently literate to spot the errors. Aside from spelling and grammatical mistakes, apostrophe abuse ranks highly – from nightclub “DJ’s” to garages that sell second hand “car’s.”

Here at The Camel’s Hump – note correct use – the apostrophe is our friend. It’s such a small, unassuming curve, whose inclusion, omission or misplacement can change the whole meaning of a sentence. For example “The Camels’ Hump” would mean the hump possessed by more than one camel, where “The Camel’s Hump” means the hump owned by just one – a significant difference. It’s so simple to get right and Waterstone’s, a purveyor of literacy, should know better.

The State of the Union

The Scottish Parliament - ready to go it alone?

Scotland is going through the motions of divorcing itself from England. No counselling, no trial separation, straight to the severing of their union, followed by the ugly scene of dividing the spoils and arguing over who gets custody of their shared debts.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond was elected to the post with a mandate to push the agenda of further devolution. The SNP leader, independent of the UK government, this week set a rough date for a referendum on the constitutional future of his country for the autumn of 2014, in a bold move designed to bring the debate to the forefront of Westminster politics. Unsurprisingly, both sides of the House of Commons united in support of the continuation of the status quo, and made moves to ensure that, if the question of Scotland’s position within the union is to be on the agenda, then it is so on their terms. A unilateral move towards independence, it has been pointed out, would be illegal and illegitimate, and talks between the First Minister and Prime Minister David Cameron should be entered into before any decision is made by either government.

One of the main sticking points is what question or questions, exactly, should be on the ballot paper. The bottom line would be a decision on whether or not Scotland wants to remain part of the United Kingdom – a simple yes or no, in or out choice. The most likely outcome of that vote would be in favour of maintaining full membership. It would not be in their best interests to leave, nor is it quite yet the right time. David Cameron knows this, as does Alex Salmond. The First Minister is angling to change the paper to a multiple choice vote, with the aim of compromise being the outcome – more powers than are currently held by Holyrood, but short of complete independence; so called ‘Devo Max,’ until the Scottish people are better prepared to cope with the idea of freedom, and all the problems engendered by it.

A change as fundamental as the complete removal of Scotland from the British landscape is difficult to envisage. At no point during the life of any living person has Scotland not been tied to their English neighbours like an old married couple – sometimes bickering, sometimes sleeping with their backs to each other, but they’ve been together for so long it’d be unimaginable that they ever separated. You have to go back to 1707, when the Treaty of Union between the countries was ratified – before that, they were merely dating – to reach the point where the two were not officially joined. The shared history of our respective countries goes back a lot further than that, much of it conducted with feelings of animosity that occasionally makes good, if inaccurate, Hollywood fodder. It’s been a long and not always amicable relationship.

Much of the mental block comes from sharing this small island. It’s not like the whole nation can weigh-anchor and let itself float into the North Sea. We’ve always been physically attached, and that has proved problematic in overcoming many barriers. Were the countries to go their separate ways, it’s not as if it’d be necessary to erect another wall and set up check-points with border guards, but so many cultural signifiers are shared, as is co-dependence in terms of finance, defence, energy, and the infrastructure that has been built up in the past few hundred years of mutual habitation that no severance could be an easy or comfortable one for either party.

We are still just passing through history. The shape of the British isles may only be altered on a geological scale, but the boundaries within have been altered many times within the past two thousand years. The Romans drew their northern frontier a little short of where the current dividing line lies; the various Germanic and Danish settlers cohabited along different lines. The current map may have been settled for the longest, but that doesn’t mean it will remain the same forever. We have the habit of presuming change can’t and shouldn’t happen.

From an English perspective, only the most xenophobic, Daily Mail-reading nationalist would want Scottish independence. Politically, the Tories are unionists, despite it being against their interests, as, without its fifty or so Scottish MPs, the chance of there ever being another Labour government would be all but buried. I do wonder, however, how much of a role post-imperial collapse trauma plays – without its empire, Britain is desperate to hold on to whatever it still has.

If the split were to include a fair proportioning of debt and assets, it wouldn’t be favourable from the Scottish side either. Since the founding of its parliament in 1999, Scotland has been subsidised to the sum of 45 per cent more than the tax it generates, and, as of 2010, on average a Scottish citizen receives approximately £1,600 more of public spending per annum than an English one. Given the powers to raise and spend its own taxes, an independent Scottish government would have no choice but to plug the gap with savage cuts – with the loss of such generous policies as free university tuition – and make a substantial increase in personal contributions. Chancellor George Osborne has also presaged that Scotland would not be permitted to retain Sterling as its currency, and would be forced to adopt the faltering Euro. Historically, the Scots have been willing to fight for their freedom, but would they be willing to pay for it?

Where the ugliest and, literally, dirtiest disagreements will be encountered, will be in the ownership of Scotland’s oil industry. Alex Salmond has claimed ownership of 90 per cent of the precious black commodity on behalf of any prospective independent Scottish government. Technically, as Scotland is not a sovereign state, it has no claim over maritime boundaries, whereas the United Kingdom does. Were Scotland to suddenly become a sovereign state, its ownership would depend on international recognition of their latter claim over the UK’s current and long standing one.

I’m a nine-parts Englander, with some Scottish heritage on my father’s side – my first name was chosen as an acknowledgement of the family surname. I like to regard myself as Scottish in a shortbread-tin, touristy way – ostensibly so. I have divided opinions on the issue. I’m generally for giving people what they want, and if the Scottish people want independence I’d let them have it, along with everything that entails. It couldn’t happen without severe damage to both sides, and any negotiation entered into would have to be intended to minimise fallout, but I think it an accommodation could be reached.

A simile like the loss of a limb would be a little unfair – the body is stronger with it and the limb can’t survive on its own – as I believe the limb could survive, the question is if, after all this time, it’s really the right thing to do. As the Rolling Stones put it, you can’t always get what you want, but…sometimes…you get what you need. For the foreseeable future, Scotland and England need each other, and any decision taken now on their independent futures would have repercussions that could do untold damage to both for generations to come.

Zooey Deschanel: Introducing the New Girl

What exactly can you do with Zooey Deschanel? I know a number of indie boys and girls with crushes who’d have a few answers to that, but none worthy of printing. For those unfamiliar with her, she’s a 31-year old American actress, musician and model, famous for her geek-chic image and being described as ‘quirky.’ Her acting career so far has been underwhelming, having featured in a string of Rom-Coms that read like Jennifer Aniston’s cast-offs, punctuated with the occasional more interesting indie-movie. US channel Fox believes it has the answer to the question of what to do with her with its latest sitcom New Girl, the pilot of which premiered on Channel 4 in the UK this week.

Considering she has spent most of her career playing what is essentially herself – an offbeat, quirky, deadpan heartbreaker – its the perfect vehicle for her. Unfortunately, a whole series revolving around this adorable, attractive oddball, as an idea, has very short legs. Although only quickly sketched in, and immediately likeable, her character isn’t fleshy enough to carry the whole series. The wafer thin supporting characters – namely her room mates – give the impression that they’ve been selected, in the dark, from the stock cupboard of sitcom cliches: The Jock, The Sex-Pest and The Nice One with Ex-issues. They’re tossed the occasional funny line – like a keeper tossing a disregarded pet a morsel – but the humour is so underdeveloped and the characters so interchangeable any of them could have spoken any line. If you want my prediction, she helps them all respect women more, improves their lives, and, if you’re feeling sentimental, ends up involved with the nice one.

It’s little more than a vehicle for Zooey Deschanel to play the kind of role with which she has become synonymous, and to bring her to the mainstream audience which has so far been only vaguely aware of her. But, unless serious development occurs, I can’t see it having the longevity of the likes of Friends and Scrubs.

She is at risk, unless she chooses her next few projects with care, of becoming typecast – like Jennifer Aniston and a few others – for the rest of her career. She’s appeared in supporting roles in a few more, for her, unusual choices of film – The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford and The Happening spring to mind – but essentially she always seems to end up as the same kind of unobtainable, slightly weird love interest, which reaches its pinnacle in the very enjoyable (500) Days of Summer. In the April 2011 issue of Lucky Magazine* she was quoted that she finds the label ‘quirky’ annoying, but if she is getting confused with the characters she consistently plays she should select her roles a little more carefully. I don’t know if it’s the roles she gets offered, or just the ones she chooses, but if she wants to shake off the tag she should accept more challenging parts.

Beyond the world of television and cinema, she has a low-key career as a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist in musical duo She & Him, with guitarist M. Ward. I’m confessedly a fan of all three of their albums, which sound like a playlist for an oldies station but with a modern, indie twist, and Deschanel is easy on the ear. In this endeavour, like her acting career so far, she hasn’t made great waves, but has instead gained an underground following.

It’s not a sustainable career plan, because her looks will fade and the quirky act will become annoying, so, unless she plans to step up to the serious acting plate soon, the New Girl will quickly become old.

*Disclaimer: I stumbled across the interview. I’d like to make clear I’m not a regular reader.

New Girl is on Channel 4 on Fri 6th January at 8.30pm


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