Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Big Meet

It was about twelve o’clock, late February, with the sun not shining and a look of cold rain in the flat grey clouds silhouetting the Liver Building. I was wearing my black jeans, polished black boots, and a dark blue sweater with a v-neck. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the casually-dressed archaeologist ought to be. I was calling on the Head of Archaeology.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

And You Know What They Said? Well, Some Of It Was True!

I've decided to give my ego a good stroking this time, by doing a "What They're Saying About..." thing, in the manner of the adverts for godawful West End shows. Expect to see yourself misquoted:

"Funny and everything!" - Peat Carrington

"Laughed out loud several times, matey." - Andy Holmes

"Mighty congratulations to Stephen!" - Jen Tarr

"What's this 'blogging cohort' thing all about?" - Tom McGrenery

"A slackers communication method." - Emily Brown

The estimable Mr. McGrenery has also invited me to join his fiction (or is it?) blog Not All Of What Follows Is True. I've accepted, and he's put up a random bit of fiction by me called "This Is The Way - Step Inside". Why not go there and see...

There are some Bolsheviks (and yes I do mean Bolsheviks) outside ULU. Disappointingly they haven't set up a barricade with machine-guns or anything, they're just standing about giving out leflets. You just don't get the same quality of armed struggle against the bourgeoisie these days. I did consider annoying them by putting on a White Russian officer's uniform and repeatedly walking past them. Like all of my best plans, this had to be dropped due to lack of resources.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

I Want You To - Take Me Out

Some albums answer important questions. Franz Frediand’s eponymously-titled (a certain lack of imagination there, guys. You could at least have called it “Mind That Serbian”) debut is one of these, answering the question “What if Noel Coward had been in Gang of Four?” (the post-punk group, not the Chinese dissidents. Or the founders of the SDP).

I’ve always been a big fan of concealing darkness behind a jaunty façade, and with the album’s standout track “Take Me Out”, Franz Ferdinand do this perfectly. The band’s stated intention is to “make girls dance”, but lyrics like the following indicate that there’s more to them than that:

So if you're lonely
You know I'm here waiting for you
I'm just a crosshair
I'm just a shot away from you
And if you leave here
You leave me broken, shattered, I lie
I'm just a crosshair
I'm just a shot, then we can die
I know I won't be leaving here with you

Outside this excellent single, though, how does the album stand up? I think it’d be easier to like it if the entire media hadn’t repeatedly told me that it’s a work of genius. It isn’t. What it is is an interesting debut, but one which leaves a certain amount of room for improvement. For a band which prides itself on an art-school aesthetic, a lot of the lyrics aren’t that good, although the ones in the standout tracks (“Take Me Out”, “The Dark Of The Matinee”, “Darts Of Pleasure”) are good enough. I was amused by the fairly MOR homoeroticism of “Michael” – the more cynical part of me thinks this is included to make the lads in the band even more attractive to the aforementioned dancing girls. The music is really the strong point, reminiscent of late 1970s and early 1980s groups like Pere Ubu, Gang of Four, and Wire.

In conclusion then, don’t believe the hype – but if you like the post-punk/New Wave era, or like a few well-written lyrics, then you might well like this album. If the next Franz Fedinand album builds on the strong points of this one, then it could well be the work of genius we were promised.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Train In Vain

This weekend I went up to Stockport to see my parents, catching the 7.10 train out of Euston. The journey was dull until we were somewhere between Birmingham and Stoke. The intercom binged on, and the most hardcore train manager in Britain began to speak “There is a smoke alarm going off in Carriage B. This train is a completely smoke-free area. If this smoking continues I will take this train out of commission and we will not be going to Manchester Piccadilly” to top this off, he closed with the cold-as-ice words “Good luck to you all”.

Minutes later, two of Virgin Trains’ Corporate Stormtroopers appeared at my end of Carriage B, and advanced on some Asian lads who were drinking (at about 9.30 am) at the other end. It appeared that they had been doing the smoking, although they also appeared to have flushed the evidence (remember, we’re talking about a completely legal substance here). The Stormtroopers went away again. I thought this was the end of the matter. I was wrong. At Stoke the train stopped and remained stopped until British Transport Police arrived and questioned the lads, who denied being the smokers, grinning all the while. Then the Transport Police went away, and we continued on to Stockport, 10 minutes late. So that was well worth everyone’s time and effort then. It amused me though.

I bought the latest issue of Word to read. I’m not going to write about he highlights this week, ‘cos I don’t want this blog to become a compilation of someone else’s humour. However, my attention was caught by one particular turn of phrase, in which a reviewer claimed that an author “flamboyantly spunked*” their research in the first three chapters. I wonder if me wanting to do a PhD is actually a sublimated desire to flamboyantly spunk some research. I’ll have to check with Jen, see if she’s ever been guilty of research-spunking.

* My computer does not recognise the word “spunked”, but suggests that I probably mean “spanked”. Either way seems fine…

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Blogging Cohort

I'm temporarily breaking the self-imposed internet silence I'm having over the Valentine's period (Self-imposed on the basis that if you can't say anything nice...). I just wanted to let people know that I have a new blogging cohort, and his blog can be found here:

This Is The Pasty I'm Gonna Die In


Monday, February 09, 2004

You Did A Man's Job, Sir...

Oh glorious day! I finally find out how to make my very own folded paper unicorn!

Saturday, February 07, 2004

In Which the Word "Cyber" Appears With Annoying Frequency

I'm writing this from the computer room at the Institute of Archaeology, the misguided fools who run this place having seen fit to leave my account open. I have once again been indulging in the consumerist merry-go-round by buying books, namely Keith Roberts' Pavane and Dani Cavallaro's Cyberpunk and Cyberculture. I got the latter because the more I talk to people about cyberpunk, the more I realise that I don't really understand what it is. Now it's perfectly possible to like something without understanding it, but, me being me, that would never do. Plus I got it for £3 at Judd Books. God I love that shop.

There are posters on the tube advertising a show called Cyberjam. Every time I see one I have a strong urge to ring up the person who wrote it and say "So, what's so 'cyber' about this 'jam' that you speak of, then?". So far I have been able to resist the urge, but it's only a matter of time...

On Wednesday night, I will attempt to entertain people at Gamesoc with a short campaign that I've written. I do worry that it may all go terribly wrong. For example, last week one member (who shall remain nameless) made, quite innocently, the statement that he was going to "fist his way" through a crowd of people. Should this happen again, I may die laughing. Even worse, they'll have to hide my corpse for insurance purposes. An elaborate farce a la Weekend at Bernie's beckons.

So far, my request for a PhD supervisor has had two replies. Chris Mee at Liverpool not only claims to remember me (ah, the advantages of being the only student archaeologist to dress like Ernest Hemmingway), but is also quite interested in the proposal. Paul Halstat at Sheffield has forwarded my e-mail to John Bennett. The fact that a real archaeologist likes my idea has cheered me up no end.

Monday, February 02, 2004

A Weapon Called…

In this instalment, I’d like to sing the praises of Word, a fairly new music and entertainment magazine – sort of like Heat, but for people who aren’t slack-jawed yokels (apologies to any Heat readers I know). Among the reasons I like the edition I bought are:

1) It informed me that Ian Rankin really, really liked Treasure Planet. For some reason, this makes me giggle every time I think about it.

2) Their resident critic implicitly agrees with me that Jack Kerouac was a talentless hack who wasn’t fit to spike William Burroughs’ veins.

3) The suggestion that The Cure's "Let's Go To Bed" - a pop song about being frightened of the prospect of having sex - is the most English piece of music ever. I propose we adopt it as the National Anthem.

4) Mark E. Smith (Yes, that one) gave his views on Alan Clark’s The Fall of Crete, in a passage so wonderful that I fear I must quote it:

“It’s a great picture of British incompetence. We’ve got these Greek irregulars, farm lads from the Lake District and some Maoris lined up against these supermen Nazi paratroopers falling from the sky. There’s a good bit where the Greeks attack the Germans – women with knives tied on brooms and some kids with dogs up against machine guns firing three hundred bullets a minute.”

I also decided at the weekend to go out and spend some of the cash I’m earning. Armed with some of my vouchers from Christmas, I returned with No Pasaran!, a graphic novel set in the Spanish Civil War (How could I resist?), a book on screenwriting, and Peter Ackroyd’s novel Hawksmoor, which I got for the bargain price of £3.

The weekend also saw me channelling some kind of burst of restless energy: I knocked off the first draft of a screenplay (that book paying off already), tarted up a short story that I’ve had in a semi-finished state for a while, put together a basic outline for a PhD proposal, and went to the Science Museum to grab a couple of photos. Crikey.