Category Archives: Cool stuff

Cool things: Gorillaz, Radiohead… and Jamiroquai

It’s about time I did this, and it’s three bands for the price of one — especially since I’m now, in the lead-up to my time off work following surgery, playing a medley of all three as I walk around London… and my mother doesn’t like the first two, but although she likes the third, “boss lady” doesn’t — hence these are musicians I listen to by myself, on my own terms.

(Oddly, I haven’t listened to Eminem or Gwar for a couple of months now, despite getting their albums for Christmas… maybe later in the year I’ll add them in?)

— — —

Just so you know what they looked like at the start of the band’s career, in “Clint Eastwood”

First of all, Gorillaz, the “virtual band” created by Blur’s Damon Albarn, who provides the singing voice of “2-D”, the lead singer — so named due to the “two dents” in his head left by the actions of Murdoc, who was put in charge of him as a punishment, discovered his excellent singing voice, and decided to form a band with him, taking on himself the role of bassist and manager (signing off his press releases with “Hail Satan!”).  They found a lead guitarist, a mysterious Japanese girl known as “Noodle” (the only English word she could say at first), and as drummer an African-American named Russel (who had the ghosts of his dead homies living in his head).

At least, that’s how they started in 2001, when I learned of their presence through the video “Clint Eastwood” (guest starring American rapper Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, who I got into separately afterwards, thanks to my old American roommate).  I soon bought their self-titled debut album — the first time in my life I’d bought an album when it was new and in the charts — but it took me time to get into them, as they have not one musical style, but about a dozen!  However, I learned that albums can grow on me, even if I’m a little perplexed at first, and later in the year, when I was unemployed and spent a lot of my time watching music channels, I recognised the songs “19-2000” (with Noodle singing in English but subtitled in Japanese!), “Tomorrow Comes Today” (apparently their original video, made before their album), and “Rock the House” (again featuring Del as a ghost who lives in Russel’s head).

However, it’s later that I began to enjoy the tracks that weren’t released as singles — such as “Sound Check (Gravity)”, “Double Bass”, “New Genius (Brother)” and “Latin Simone (¿Qué Pasa Contigo?)”, and added those to my musical rotation (back before I began putting whole albums on my music player du jour), and this persisted with their second album, Demon Days, which I first heard (courtesy of a housemate) in 2005, but only got hold of for myself in 2008.  Much as I enjoy the classic “Feel Good Inc.” (which I liked for the music before I even saw the video), “DARE” (performed by Noodle with help from Shaun Ryder), “Dirty Harry” (with a creepy child choir) and “El Mañana” (the video being something of a sequel to the first one in this list), I’ve also enjoyed the album tracks “O Green World” (very distinctive sound) and “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head” (guest starring Dennis Hopper, no less!).

I got hold of their third album, Plastic Beach, in 2010 (on a day when I tried to go on a date and failed miserably), but as before it took me a while: at first I only really enjoyed “Stylo”, and I wasn’t even aware it had a video!  However, partly thanks to being allowed to play this and Demon Days in the minibus during my 2013 American camping holiday (by this time I had all my CD albums completely ripped to my smartphone instead of just discrete tracks), I experienced a resurgent interest: two songs in particular, “Glitter Freeze” (featuring Mark E. Smith of The Fall) and “To Binge” (with vocals by Yukimi Nagano from Little Dragon), bring back memories of our drive to Las Vegas.

In 2014 I watched a load of their videos, and again this year, which made me realise how much they’ve done: here’s a list, in approximate story order, of the best songs in Plastic Beach (which I now know to be underrated — it’s a pity they never made it into a trilogy in the end).  Note here that 2-D and Murdoc sometimes as 3D characters, along with Cyborg Noodle (built to replace the real Noodle after her apparent death in “El Mañana”), while Russel, having been replaced with a drumming machine, swims to the island and grows enormous due to sea pollution…

  • Welcome to the World of Plastic Beach” (guest starring the almighty Snoop Dogg)
  • Stylo” (guest starring Bruce Willis, but not on vocals!)
  • On Melancholy Hill” (with the real Noodle still alive, and giant Russel rescuing her at sea)
  • Broken” (a backdrop projection used in concerts — I wonder if they used pyrotechnics and other special effects to scare the audience?)
  • Rhinestone Eyes” (never completed, so this is a storyboard — but fans made an excellent version of their own over the following seven years)
  • Empire Ants” (guest starring Yukimi Nagano)
  • Plastic Beach” (something of a compilation in video terms)

And finally, this year I got hold of their other two albums, The Fall and Humanz; the first was something of a postscript to their 2010 work, and I don’t think any official videos have come out, but I do find “Little Pink Plastic Bags” to be one of the eeriest things I’ve ever heard!  They’re back in the big time with the latter album, which came out in 2017; I’m still learning the songs (as always happened when I got Gwar albums in 2013 and 2014!), but it’s good to see the videos of “Strobelite” and “Saturnz Bars” (the former showing the band having fun in a nightclub, the latter not unlike Scooby-Doo)!  My discovery of these albums is what encouraged me to listen to the band’s works all over again, and I also looked on YouTube to find more of their videos — including Murdoc showing MTV Cribs around their mansion…

— — —

Radiohead were good enough sports to guest star in South Park, although they didn’t play any songs!

It was Gorillaz that got me into their predecessor, Blur, whose albums I’ve been buying from charity shops, and listening to along with other Britpop bands like the Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand and Travis; however, the one I’ve been enjoying the most lately is Radiohead, a group I originally only knew from one video in 2001: “Pyramid Song“, which I saw around the same time as I got into Gorillaz, as I remember speaking to my old American roommate about it when I visited Michigan that summer.  However, aside from their guest appearance in South Park, I knew little else about them…

It was in 2015, when I was putting my life back together as I worked towards an IT career, that I started dipping into other music, buying CDs at charity shops in order to give bands a try, and found I enjoyed The Bends, their 1995 album which had passed me by back in those days; my favourite from there would have to be “My Iron Lung“.  It’s their 1997 album OK Computer (which I happened to find second-hand at the same time as Amnesiac), which contains the most songs I like and recognise: “Paranoid Android” (never mind the silly animated video and listen to the song), “Exit Music (For a Film)” (which I heard at the end of Christina Ricci’s movie After.Life), and most of all, “Karma Police” (a pity my mother thought it sounded “dreary”, but I embrace melancholic music rather than rejecting it).

(You may be most familiar with “No Surprises” musically (owing to a scene in The Royle Family where it’s “sung” to Baby David), but check out the original video, with lead singer Thom Yorke almost drowning during filming!)

I also enjoyed Amnesiac (2001), in particular “Morning Bell/Amnesiac” (not available online, but it’s worth noting that the line “Release me” oddly reminding me of Brent Spiner in Independence Day!), as well as the surreal “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors” and the eerie “Like Spinning Plates” (both combined into a single video here)… and not forgetting the somewhat jaunty yet sinister “Knives Out“.

However, as with Gwar, it was after I got their second, third and fourth albums that I got their first, Pablo Honey, which by an amazing coincidence I’d bought for “female best friend” ten years earlier!  And as with “I’m in Love (With a Dead Dog)” on Gwar’s Hell-O, there’s one significant song I like: “Creep” (though note this is the “clean” version, of course!).

— — —

Hey, c’mon, I only had cartoon versions of the other two bands, so here’s an impression of Jay Kay in 2DTV!

Both Gorillaz and Radiohead are largely surreal and melancholy, but the former is capable of cheerful songs (though intended to mock manufactured “poppy” music); a more consistently cheerful band, albeit with some slow, quiet songs, is Jamiroquai, who I’ve been playing in rotation with Prince and Michael Jackson (for whom I also own a great deal of music) over the past couple of years, during my daily walks while commuting.

I first heard the band in my mother’s car in 1996-7, when she drove us both between Worthing and Surrey (where I was attending university and she was working during the week), and often played the tape version of their 1996 album, Travelling Without Moving, the songs of which always bring back my memories of those days.  However, I didn’t see any of their videos until “Virtual Insanity” in 1999 (upon returning from my American odyssey)!

Another song I remember, for more poignant reasons (despite, or perhaps because of, its up-tempo jauntiness), is “Cosmic Girl“: I had it as a discrete track in 2012 (before I bought the whole album on CD), and hearing it in early November made me feel sad, missing those days when we drove together, thinking I’d left part of my life behind and needed to reconnect with her, as gratitude for all she’d done to keep me going during the bad times…

(Mind you, it’s perhaps “Funktion”, the long final secret track, which I recall best in this context: someone blows a raspberry in the opening, and I’d always act mock-indignant about it!)

I didn’t get my own copy of Travelling Without Moving until 2014; before that, I’d received a copy of Synkronized (1999) from “good housemate” (surplus to his requirements), and “borrowed” my mother’s copy of Emergency on Planet Earth (1993), which technically means I broke the law (though even ripping my own CDs is technically a crime!); I think she may have also played that one in the car at some stage during my university years (or when we drove to work together in 2003), as at least one song is very familiar.  I later found Return of the Space Cowboy (released in 1994, the only one in which Jay Kay drops the F-bomb!), A Funk Odyssey (2001) and Dynamite (2005) in second-hand shops, so I feel like I’ve got a full collection of their music now… oh, aside from their 2010 album Rock Dust Light Star (thanks Wikipedia), but I’ll keep my eyes open!

I’ve listened to their music enough times to know which songs I like best — in no particular order, and with no tedious references to which albums they’re from, I’d say “Canned Heat“, “Emergency on Planet Earth“, “Little L“, “Revolution 1993” (a long one, but with no video), “King for a Day“, “Light Years“… had enough of me linking to YouTube videos yet?  I’m sure Google aren’t, as it increases their advertising revenue…

Dynamite is my most recent acquisition, and I’m still learning the songs, but one track is most distinctive to me: “World That He Wants” — it creeped me out one morning as I started playing it in my headphones as I set off for work, and thought something had gone wrong: the first 60 seconds are quiet and in the left speaker, before it goes full stereo and high fidelity!

— — —

So there you have it — my three favourite bands at the moment; sorry I’ve spent so long droning on about them (this took me days to write, way longer than my long “cool things” post about Doctor Who in 2013), but it’ll be interesting to see how I feel when I’ve recovered enough from brain surgery to listen to music again (assuming I’m even allowed to put headphones on any time soon!).

I’ve still got 100 of their combined tracks left to listen to in my phone music app’s queue, and I won’t get through all of them by Tuesday (when I check into hospital for the big event), but this just means I have one more thing to live for — or, as Jamiroquai themselves put it: I’m “Too Young to Die“…

I’d say all three artists make me feel both happy and sad in equal measure… which of course is the very nature of music, right?


Cool things: My Mum

I know I’ve often insulted her in this blog, and acted like she’s an annoyance, but my mother is a wonderful human being, and without her I wouldn’t have made it this far in life — and I want you guys (and her!) to know how grateful I am for her.

Yeah, okay, there have been times she’s done me wrong — the time in (probably) Spring 1986 she told me to go to school in shorts, only for the temperature outside to be much colder than expected; and the time in 2012 she told my grandmother to forward my latest Student Loans letter to me without warning (leading to it being thrown out by accident, as I’d just moved to this house Finchley and didn’t know to pick it up from beside the front door), but just about everything else she’s done for me has been positive.

For example, in 1998, when I went to Michigan for that university student exchange (leading to the one romance in my entire life, and the roommate’s family I’ve visited many times over the years), she acted as my anchor back here in Britain, keeping in e-mail contact, lending moral support, and ensuring I had enough money to get by on — even though the last meant she had to commute between Worthing and her job every day in late 1998, instead of staying in Surrey during the week (she worked near my alma mater, so she’d drive me home at the weekend if I wanted to visit the rest of the family).  It was my grandfather (who we sadly lost a year later) who sorted out the admissions process so I could go in the first place (both universities having blundered), but it was my mother who made sure I was able to go through with it all, and stay the course.

In 1999 she started house-sitting for her friend in Woking, which meant that when I came back from Michigan in May, I could live with her for a few months and work in Surrey instead of Sussex, meaning vaguely decent wages for a change!  She also let me play games on her new PC (most notably Duke Nukem 3D and War of the Worlds), and access the Internet from home (even though this was in the dial-up days… ecch!).  And together we looked after a friendly black cat, which made up for our dog dying during the summer, and gave us plenty to talk and laugh about.  I’m grateful for the time I was able to spend with my mother away from Worthing, even if it was only for a few months!

And even though she’s tired of me playing Gwar and Eminem in the car, I still visit her in Worthing now and then (even if Christmas doesn’t always cheer me up), and sometimes even manage to play games against her (like Wii Sports Resort), though frequently I’m down to set the clocks forward or back, fix her computer, or transfer stuff into the loft — all of which I’m willing to do (despite complaining), as I’m her dutiful son.

Most importantly, she’s pledged to help take care of me later this year: my brain condition has been confirmed to be astrocytoma, which will need surgery to resolve, and while my life apparently isn’t in serious danger, I will need a few weeks of convalescence before I can return to work in London.  On that basis, she and my grandmother will be cooking for me and making sure I regain my strength safely, before I start taking care of myself again.

(Yes, I’m grateful for my grandmother as well — but it’s my mother who takes care of her, and ensures she can live on!)

The best news is that my mum has finally convinced my grandmother to let her get a dog, for the first time since 1999 — only a small one, obviously, since they live in a flat above shops, but nonetheless this is a fantastic development.  She’s going to wait until my recuperation before taking me to meet rescue dogs, to ensure we both get on with the one we choose — but the prospect is a reason for me to go on living through the ordeal I’m facing in a couple of months… though, of course, she and my grandmother are the most important reasons for me to live on, as I’ve said before.  I don’t want to bereave anyone, and I don’t want my folks to outlive me, especially as I’ve not yet become a father!

And there’s always the possibility that, after my health is restored, she and I will be able to go climbing together again, for the first time in four years… but that’d require the climbing centre in Shoreham to reopen!

Cool things: the Japanese language

“Ah, we soon get old.”

Moeagare, moeagare, moeagare Gandamu!

The intelligentsia among you will, of course, know that I’m not expressing a midlife crisis (I’ll be in my twenties forever, dammit!): it’s a mnemonic to remember the five Japanese vowel sounds, aa ee oo eh oh, which (thanks to Hepburn romanisation) we represent in the Roman alphabet as a i u e o.

This, of course, is why the classic video game Ninja Gaiden is “ninja guy den”, not “ninja gay den”, so stop sniggering at the back, baka!

(Leaving aside, of course, the fact that the game is supposed to be called Ninja Ryukenden, “legend of the ninja dragon sword”; gaiden means “side-story”, and thus has no business being in an original game’s title!)

After a long time, I seem to have rekindled my enthusiasm for translating Japanese text, and helping Japanese people with their English — just when my brain was about to atrophy from lack of use outside work (where it’s moulded by the stress of having people rely on me), I’m back enjoying Nihongo.  I guess it’s a bit like how I stopped watching Doctor Who almost entirely in the early 2000s, but then got my own DVD player, and disposable income…

It was back in 2003 that I got hold of the original, unedited version of Space Battleship Yamato (as opposed to Space Cruiser or Star Blazers) and in a weird way, it made me feel like I might actually be able to learn Japanese if I put my mind to it (perhaps hearing phrases like senkan sentou haiji! and hadou hou hassha yoi! repeatedly); my Japanophile mother (sorry, hahaue) was also inspirational in this, as she was the one who taught me some basic Japanese words she’d picked up when I had a Japanese friend at school (imagine my delight at hearing warakimashita in one episode!).

I made fledgling attempts to study the language myself around twelve years ago, as well as getting hold, by (ahem) any means necessary, of subtitled Japanese-audio versions of animes I liked (Macross, ChobitsEvangelionX and the classic Science Ninja Team Gatchaman), as I wanted to enjoy them in their original form: not just to hear the language being spoken so as to familiarise myself with it, but also because I can hear American voice artists any time (Family Guy etc. etc.), and have no interest in “dumbing down”.

However, it wasn’t until 2008 that I finally began taking proper Japanese evening classes, and meeting actual Japanese people here in London, which meant I formalised my existing knowledge and built upon it.  Our sensei recognised that I wasn’t an “absolute beginner”, despite starting at level 1… and although real life later interfered, for the first couple of levels I was so enthusiastic that I used to do my homework during the last couple of minutes at the end of the lesson in which it was issued!

(By an astonishing coincidence, “best mate” joined one of her classes as well, at a different time to me, and thus was her Facebook friend as well — chiisai sekai, ne?)

One thing that’s really helped me get used to Japanese has been to translate Japanese text, including that in children’s books that hahaue bought for me on her many visits to Japan, or that I bought from sensei when she was having a house sale.  Obviously I need translation tools to assist with this (I highly recommend the Firefox add-on Rikaichan), but more to translate the words individually, and then figure out the grammar and context on my own, sometimes using the Inter-thingy to look up weird phrases and verb endings.  My Japanese friends over the years have also helped me with this, which is only fair as I try to help them with their English!

Getting the Japanese text off the paper and into a computer document in the first place is another matter: I used to have to copy and paste the characters, one by one, doing my best to figure out which kanji I was looking at by estimating the number of strokes, but Microsoft helped out here with the Language Bar, enabling me to type out the kana, and either hand-draw the kanji (something my Japanese teacher taught me), or type out any available furigana and cycle through the possible forms.  Boy, did this ever speed up the process — though I can’t help but miss those evenings when I’d copy out characters laboriously, while Star Trek: Voyager played on TV…

(And by an astonishing coincidence, Voyager came on TV this morning, as I translated a Japanese story… Sutaa Torekku to honyaku ga issho ni omoshiroi!)

At one point in 2008 or 2009, I was telling my boss that I was thinking of becoming a Japanese interpreter as a career change from local government admin; obviously I’ve never been quite that good, and one aspect I still find difficult is hearing Japanese when real people speak it.  I know enough to be able to tell when anime subtitles are being dumbed down (this is why I couldn’t finish Bleach — the subtitlers weren’t even consistent!), but I can hear that because Japanese seiyuu, like American voice artists, speak clearly into microphones; understanding Japanese people speaking to me in normal life is definitely an area where I need to improve.  I do try going to Japanese meetup events, but they become so crowded and urasai so quickly that I can only stay a short time before giving up — so it’s all the more essential that I make Japanese friends and engage in “language exchange” regularly.

And on that topic, my original Japanese female friend from 2008-9 (when I was just starting out) is coming back to visit London in May, and I’ve recently made a new Japanese female friend (should I say atarashii Nihonjin onna no tomodachi?) — I’m helping her with her English, and I’ve even taken her climbing at the Castle!  Don’t worry, I’ve had male Japanese friends too, including one who was working as an unpaid intern in my first proper IT job, in September 2014.  However, I do prefer female company as a rule, which is why my knowledge of Japanese is something I mention in my dating profiles!

Finally, yes, I’m still watching anime, as you know from my previous posts — Gatchaman and Chobits on my morning commutes recently, not to mention Yamato many, many times in the past; at the moment I’m revisiting the original Mobile Suit Gundam, with a view to possibly moving on to Armored Trooper VOTOMS after that (a show I discovered after hahaue got me a T-shirt with the protagonist, whom she reckons I resemble)… or perhaps I’ll even rewatch the gigantic, 110-episode epic Legend of the Galactic Heroes.  Hey, I’ll be in a public place, so I won’t watch anything involving magical schoolgirls in ludicrously-short miniskirts, or dutifully-amorous maids… or indeed the hideously gruesome Elfen Lied, which starts with a naked woman literally tearing security guards limb from limb with her invisible arms!

I could always go back to doing what I did when I was in local government admin, and watch anime while taking comfort breaks… okay, too much information, mo ii!

Cool things: The War of the Worlds (most versions)

It seems totally incredible to me now that everyone spent that evening as though it were just like any other.  From the railway station came the sound of shunting trains, ringing and rumbling, softened almost into melody by the distance.  It all seemed so safe and tranquil.
—Richard Burton, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds


Since this old cover was in my sci-fi encyclopaedia, this is how I always imagined the Fighting Machines to look, not the album or computer game version

It’s about time I posted about something I enjoy, isn’t it?  Two years without a proper “cool things” post is more than long enough — and since I listened to the musical version over the weekend (while travelling to and from Worthing), this particular franchise came to mind.

I’m not sure when H.G. Wells’ masterwork first came to my attention, but I suspect I knew about the 1953 George Pal movie before any other version, thanks to clips on TV and images in my childhood science fiction encyclopaedia, but it was Jeff Wayne’s musical version which I first experienced properly, somewhere around 1988 or early 1989, when for no apparent reason I was looking through my family’s vinyl (back before it was cool, you understand).

This version certainly captivated me when I got my folks to put it on for me (which I had to do, as I was scared to put records on myself); because of this they got me the original novel, which proved to be highly interesting when I realised I lived in the general area in which it took place!  Indeed, Walton is mentioned by name at one point, and I was going to school in Weybridge — and imagine my surprise to discover Horsell Common is a real place…

It wasn’t until November 1991 (according to the BBC Genome project) that the 1953 movie happened to be on TV, and I recorded it; during the latter half of 1993 (by which time we lived in Worthing, a podunk town only mentioned in a lesser work, The Importance of Being Earnest), both versions proved important to me.  During the summer holiday I tried, repeatedly, to get a decent recording of the musical onto an old audio tape; and during the run-up to Christmas (when my folks got me a proper official tape copy of the album), I had a working VCR for the first time since we’d moved there, and watched and rewatched my recording of the film version, staying sane during a difficult part of my life.

(I didn’t realise at the time how the movie twists one of Wells’ original lines, about the bacteria that kills the Martians being put there by “God in His wisdom”, and implies that instead of evolutionary immunity saving us, it’s a literal deus ex machina thanks to Christian prayer!)

A year earlier, in December 1992 (a few months after Ghostwatch did something similar on TV and really scared me), I was able to enjoy the 1938 audio version of the story performed by Orson Welles (no relation) and the Mercury Theatre on the Air; I’ve also since obtained (ahem) an MP3 version, and listen to it occasionally.  While the last third is Welles’ character narrating his journey through the wreckage of the eastern United States, even knowing that the first part is fictional and not a live radio broadcast doesn’t soften the palpable fear of hearing the reports of the Martian invasion as it happens — especially that final radio broadcaster in Manhattan being suffocated by the Black Smoke (as all the klaxons and horns of the evacuating traffic are silenced), and a surviving military man plaintively calling out to anyone left alive in the world… isn’t there anyone on the air?


“The chances of my train getting out of London are a million to one”, I thought until I made it to Woking at Christmas 2013 and took this pic

And then came late 1998, when I was Christmas shopping with my “second family” in Michigan, and in a computer shop saw there was a PC strategy game based on the musical; when I came back to Britain, my old school friend let me have his unwanted copy (you could do that back before DRM, kids), and I spent the entire summer holiday — in which I was housesitting with my mother in, of all places, Woking* — playing it to death, though I had to start off as the Martians in order to really “get into” it, and it notoriously crashed a great deal.  I ended up with the game’s soundtrack, a set of instrumental arrangements of the album’s famous songs, stuck in my head as I worked in a dead-end data entry job before returning to university, perhaps the only thing that kept me sane.

(* Well, technically Knaphill, though it’s mentioned in the book, and we visited the main town and the above-pictured statue several times!)

With a lot of franchises that have multiple versions and reboots, I normally find myself choosing a “definitive” incarnation — the BBC TV version of Hitch-hiker’s Guide, the 1990s cartoon version of X-Men, the only versions ever actually made of The Wicker Man and Total Recall (yeah, I went there) — and in this case, while I enjoy all the other aforementioned versions of The War of the Worlds (and yes, even the Tom Cruise movie version in 2005, though I can’t comment on the others around the same time), I have to pick the original novel.  Somehow it’s always spoken to me the most, perhaps because I spent my formative years in the general area.

When we moved to Worthing, I found myself trying to locate the various places in the atlas, and on old maps we’d brought down from Walton.  Google Earth has made this an awful lot easier, and I’ve been able to visualise where the cylinders came down, where that one Fighting Machine was destroyed in Shepperton, the extent of that mighty crescent of Fighting Machines spreading the Black Smoke over every possible artillery position in Surrey, and how enormous that crowd of evacuation shipping must have been around the mouth of the Thames.  And, since I’ve been living in London for the past (let me see) 13 years, I’ve been able to locate a number of places mentioned at the book’s climax… making it seem more real, perhaps?

Ah, I even remember walking home from school in late 1991 and early 1992, fantasising that Martian Fighting Machines (tripod versions faithful to the book) were laying waste to Walton town centre with their Heat-Rays (sounding like the ones from the 1953 film version).  Weird though it may seem, I guess that shows how much I liked living in that area — as I never bothered to have such thoughts about Worthing, a town far more deserving…

(P.S. Why that opening quote?  Well, think how everyone’s carrying on with their lives despite the world-ending disaster hanging over us: Trump’s inauguration on Friday…)

Cool Things: The Revenge

ss_ffIt’s been a good long time since I posted a blog entry about the cool things that cheer me up, hasn’t it?  Although I started this blog as a way of charting my rise in spirits after the blackest depression of my life, its original subtitle was “for all the little things that keep me going” (before I put in the current joke about cats), and so posting about the things that make me happy made sense back then.

You’ll be pleased to know that all the things I’ve posted in this category still delight me in their own ways — see, they weren’t just random things I happened to be thinking about at the time:

  • I pet strange people’s dogs whenever I get the chance — it’s one of the few things I can do when visiting my folks in Worthing (such as this weekend just gone, in which I petted more than my fair share along the beach walk);
  • I rewatched both seasons of Space Battleship Yamato during my daily commutes in 2015, when I was in the early, scary stages of the two jobs I did that year (and, as you know, watched the whole of Gatchaman after the second season);
  • At night I’ve been reading through my old Judge Dredd comic strips, including numerous appearances by the dreaded Four Dark Judges, who were my gateway into the franchise;
  • Naturally, having finished the classic Doctor Who, I’ve continued watching the 21st-century seasons (interspersed with Torchwood), and aim to get the later seasons in Blu-ray format.

But what’s the most significant to me?  It’s not Beavis and Butt-head, which I watched through in 2013 and continue to quote amusing lines from with “best mate”; I’ve still got the series, but like the Doctor’s parents, they “sleep in my mind” for now.  It’s also not thunderstorms, because there still just aren’t any for me to watch — though if one starts while I’m at work, I can always fink off to the top floor and get a nice panoramic view of London…

And, believe it or not, it’s not Gwar, despite the ludicrous amount I go on about them in these hallowed pages, and despite the fact that putting their music on shuffle is my default fallback position when I run out of new music to listen to during the walking parts of my commute.  It’s not even Eminem, the guy whose example has encouraged me to keep trying after all these years (and who I’ll be playing in my mother’s car at some point this year, as I’m putting the finishing touches to three mix-CDs of his music).

No, the most significant of the “cool things” I’ve nominated in this blog so far is… Amnesia: The Dark Descent.  The scariest video game of all time (though Outlast comes a close second), one of the few things that can genuinely terrify me… but it’s not so much the game itself (though I occasionally replay it) as the music, which I, er, continue to use as my morning alarms, and have done for virtually as long as I’ve owned a smartphone in 2012 — the year that marked the beginning of my journey.

At the moment I wake with Chris Evans on the radio at 7am every working day, only to be jerked back to wakefulness 15 minutes later when my phone plays the “screaming madness” sound effect that means a Gatherer has seen you and is running towards you, and at the weekend I have the “nice” music (from the “blue room” at the back of the castle you reach just after being pursued by the invisible water monster), and don’t expect me to change either any time soon.

(I even have a Gatherer’s growl as the notification noise for my mother texting me from her mobile… sorry, Mumsy!)

Phew!  I’m not sure why I stopped these posts back in late 2014, unless it was simply that I was in a very, very bad place during my early career change days, and have only just recovered now (or only just realised that I’d already recovered).  Well, I guess I’ll have to get back into the habit of telling you goons about all the little things that make me happy…

But what can I focus on next?  The Mass Effect games, Game of Thrones, the works of Stephen King (especially the Dark Tower series), the music of Prince (which, as you know, I was collecting before he died — does that make me a hipster?!)… I’ve been watching South Park during my daily commutes, but I still catch new episodes of Family Guy even if I’ve stopped watching it (and American Dad!) every night since BBC3 went off the air… and I still watch old Columbo episodes at the weekend… oh, decisions, decisions!

Cool things: Thunderstorms


Even this is more than I normally see

You’ll probably think I’m some kind of Swiss Toni-style chauvinist, obsessed with women and comparing everything to them… well, you probably already did, but anyway, stop distracting me — I think of thunderstorms as very similar to women: part of their mystique is that I never seem to encounter a good one, and either miss them entirely, am left disappointed, or watch them go to someone else less deserving.  How so?  Let me count the ways…

  • All too often it’s a no-show: many’s the time I’ve updated the weather report only to see the thunderstorm symbol disappear from the forecast, or watched dark clouds pass by my window (as is happening a lot in August) without any kind of interesting outcome, much as occurs with attractive women in summer dresses on the Tube.
  • A sub-type is when instead of disappearing entirely, they visibly go to someone else; we all know how hot chicks inevitably have boyfriends (who are of course total jerks, simply for existing), but in thunderstorm terms this happened to me in 2004 when I was at university in the East End.  I watched helplessly as a big thunderstorm ignored me and went towards the centre of London… oh well, at least the people queuing up for the premiere of Catwoman in the West End had something interesting to watch (okay, maybe they needed it more).
  • When one does come into my life, mostly it’s over before it’s even really begun — one crack of thunder and then nothing but rain and dark skies, or one date and then nothing but unanswered text messages.  This happens too often in either case to give an example.
  • Very occasionally one will come into my life that seems pretty good, but for whatever reason I’m unable to see anything — be it a powerful thunderstorm in July that I could barely see due to surrounding houses, or the (allegedly) pretty girl I chatted to via Tinder in Michigan who lived too far away for me to go and see her (it was my last night and I couldn’t impose upon my “second family” to drive me from Fenton to Lansing at such short notice)!

Of course, the analogy breaks down when you consider that I witnessed some spectacular thunderstorms back in the 1980s and 1990s (since this coincided with the rise of hot summers, I imagine global warming had a part to play), long before I got interested in girls.  Unfortunately, with me being a timid child (and later teenager), night-time thunderstorms scared the hell out of me if they woke me up — I still recall all those times I cowered, covering my ears, whenever lightning flashed through my curtains, as I waited in trepidation for the inevitable deafening crash… at one point in my childhood I used to spend the night in my mother’s room, on the ludicrous pretext that my bed was between two power sockets, and thus if lightning struck the house, I’d be electrocuted!

(Obviously nowadays, as a mature, sensible grown-up, I spend the night in your mother’s room, heh heh heh…)

Our dog Scraps was also scared of thunder (and fireworks), and since my mother was her favourite human in the family, she tended to do the same thing.  During a nocturnal storm in the summer of (I think) 1994, when we lived in Worthing but my mother worked in Surrey during the week, I heard Scraps scratching at my door; she’d clearly been scared by a particularly loud roll of thunder (which sometimes vibrated very loudly against the patio door in the room where she slept), and was seeking comfort wherever she could.  As she trotted into my room, she refused to look up and make eye contact with me, almost as though she was ashamed of having to resort to me instead of her mum, and was saying: “Don’t say a word, we both know what this is!”

Going abroad has frequently led to superior thunderstorms — not Michigan recently, alas, as they kept avoiding me (my old roommate’s brother-in-law says the same thing happens to him when he comes over from Washington), but certainly when I was there in 1998-9, and I saw sparks emerging from a street light!  Years before that, my mother and I saw lightning in the distance from a high-up hotel room in Florida (I worried we might be in danger, but my mother just breathed: “It’s spectacular!”), and before that, during a holiday in Spain for the whole family, we witnessed an awesome day-long storm.  That one led to leaks in our villa and the power being out for most of the next day, so it was a mixed blessing…

Oh, and I should mention the fact that “female best friend”, who was once terrified of flying, actually asked to look out through the window next to my seat as we flew over a night-time thunderstorm in 2008, on our way to Turkey.  How’s that for bravery?  But I suppose it highlights how hotter countries get far more spectacular thunderstorms than the damp squibs with which we are frequently insulted in this country.

I know, be careful what you wish for: lightning is dangerous and can start fires, and tornadoes (the very idea of which scared me as a child, and still scares me today) are created by thunderstorms.  But even so, nature’s fireworks are far more interesting than the boring old gunpowder-based ones that chavs like to fire at people in town centres, so you’ll forgive me for continuing to hope and pray for a good thunderstorm… and to continue playing video games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, which fills the void to some extent (as games often do).

(And just to return to my opening theme: yes, video games also help me cope with the lack of a girlfriend — especially ones where you can get laid, like Mass Effect and The Witcher!)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to staring out the window at the dismal, overcast sky, wishing it would erupt into dazzling violence… well, not right away, I have to go to the shop…

Cool things: Gwar

Through the space, through the stone
Where the Master grows his clones
Where legions wage eternal war
We were born in this place
Slaughtering race after race
We were part of the Scumdogs of the Universe!
–Gwar, “Death Pod” (Scumdogs of the Universe)

L-R: lead guitarist Flattus Maximus (RIP), bassist Beefcake the Mighty, drummer Jizmak da Gusha, lead vocalist Oderus Urungus (RIP) and rhythm guitarist Balsac the Jaws of Death

Yeah, c’mon, you didn’t really think I was serious on April Fool’s Day when I said I’d faked being into this band just to be “ironic”, did you?  After I did that touching tribute to the late Dave Brockie, a.k.a. Oderus Urungus?  I’m frequently too lazy to post in this blog, yet could I really have managed to weave such a web of deceit over the past year just to sneer at a band that’s not even famous outside the USA?

Okay, maybe part of their allure is the fact that virtually no-one in Britain has heard of them (and most of those who have, heard of them from me) — but perhaps I got into them the same way I got into the Bee Gees: they were bigged up on a beloved comedy show.  With the Brothers Gibb it was that Kenny Everett sketch; with the Scumdogs, however, it was Beavis and Butt-head.  An “air guitar” section in their book, This Book Sucks!, inspired me to listen to some tracks from their second album (and first decent one), Scumdogs of the Universe, and I ended up listening to the whole thing, and eventually buying it on CD!  (So there, all you anti-piracy people — they actually got a sale because I tried before I, er, buyed!)  Before this, I’d seen them review two of their music videos, “Jack the World” and “Saddam a Go-Go” (which I also watched on YouTube in their original form), but I recognised the band at the time because even before that, in 1996, they’d featured on The Big Breakfast one morning, performing “Meat Sandwich”…

(It’s not on YouTube any more thanks to damn inconsiderate copyright vultures, but the Internet equivalent of a white line around a corpse indicates that the exact date was 22nd February 1996, which was a… let me check… Thursday!)

(Oh, and even more creepy: searching Google for “big breakfast 1996 gwar” leads right back to this blog… I’m on Google!!!)

What do I like about them?  Well, I could go on about the hideous costumes, the offensive lyrics, the disgusting stage antics and the bizarre backstory (they’re evil alien barbarian demigods with a base in Antarctica, yet they have a mailing address in Richmond, VA?), but really, it’s the music that I love — the rip-roaring guitars, bass and drumming that make me go “yyyes!” whenever they come on in my general music rotation, and sit there bobbing my head and tapping my feet while I’m typing some drek or other into my computer at work.  Eminem may help me with my emotions, and inspire me to carry on when things are at their worst, but Gwar just basically rock out, and cheer me up when I’m down.


Flattus and Balsac in the movie “Skulhed Face”; note the older versions of their costumes (and that Flattus was played by a different person back then)

I’ve already spoken at length about how I listen to them in a cycle with my other music, so there’s no need to go over that ground again, but suffice to say, when I was waiting in the cold for my mother to finish her Nuts Challenge mud run, I had them on rotation as a way of staying (in)sane.  I also had them on rotation when I was in America last year (even though I only had four albums at the time), and found they helped me get to sleep when my fellow trekkers were staying up late.  Hey, I found myself drifting off during “The Obliteration of Flab Quarv 7”, a song in which Oderus sings so loudly and incoherently that Balsac the Jaws of Death has to translate, so there you go — I’m not saying they’re boring, I’m saying they’re soothing!

(Yes, there’s a couple of songs whose lyrics have caused me a little ethical dilemma, being of such a nature that Ian Watkins of Lostprophets would doubtless consider “mega lolz” — put it this way: the “B” in “B.D.F.” stands for “baby”, and the “D” and the “F” also stand for four-letter words… I wouldn’t play them in the car for my mother, but hey, they’re just songs sung by fictional aliens, get a sense of perspective!)

Of course, Dave Brockie dying means I’ll never be able to see him in concert as Oderus Urungus, but I’m too much of a wuss to go to concerts anyway (and being sprayed by the Biledriver, or worse, the Cuttlefish of Cthulhu, sounds like more of a spectator sport to me — blood is, ironically, the least disgusting fluid they dispense).  However, after I’ve bought their last few albums there’s still the prospect of tracking down their live albums and concert DVDs (such as You’re All Worthless and Weak)… and who knows, perhaps the band will find a replacement for Oderus, as they did for Flattus?  A band this awesome can’t be allowed to die, merely to mutate…


Oh, you want me to post an actual video?  You are never satisfied, are you?  All right, here’s one of my favourites — it’s from their early days, and features early versions of their costumes (and indeed, two different versions of Flattus Maximus!), as well as some characters who left later, Sexecutioner (the one who looks like an orc in bondage gear) and Slymenstra Hymen (the girl in a metal bikini).  This is a song Dave Brockie used to like on stage because it meant the show was over and he could finally rest, and it’s also a song my mother enjoys…