Friday, May 8, 2009

My Name Is Michael Caine

It’s the Radishes; I am now absolutely certain of it – it can only be the Radishes.

Which means I have to face up to something of a quandary – do I continue to succumb to my early-Summer craving for the slightly peppery, raw-earth tang that so-tickles the Storey taste-buds? Or…should I embrace the almost unthinkable..?

There’s nothing quite like it, is there? That careful selection of a nice, firmly-rounded, reddened globe, choc-a-bloc full of fresh-out-the-ground taste; the clinging grit washed carefully away under cold water, then… gently now… patted dry before being placed on the chopping board to be topped, tailed and ultimately quartered with the sharpest of available blades.

This season’s crop, however, appears to be carrying an unidentifiable strain of something really rather dastardly that, I would offer up as being about as unpalatable as a train-load of commuters strap-hanging their way to work, fetchingly adorned in off-white and / or blue surgical masks in their collective way of avoiding the spread of... Swine Fever.

Nervous, piggy-eyes cast darting glances left and right; up and down from their tappety-tapping fingers across the massed battalions of BlackBerrys and i-Phones and other Personal Hand Held Devices. Oh, drat, I’ve just missed another Tweet. Has he got Swine Fever, is she – the one over there with the huge arse – a carrier? Breathe out, don’t breathe in.

They’ve become even more must-have fashion accessories now, haven’t they – these Personal Hand Held Devices; only the latest versions, the most trendily-coloured and totally up-to-date gadget will do. And, if you brandish a different make in either hand, so much the better.

Does it matter that it takes a degree in applied mathematics to actually operate them..? Oh no, of course not – so long as gadget X looks the part and thus becomes the envy of one’s fellow-commuter… that’s the bit, the only bit that counts.

Can you Facebook with it… of course… you can do it, you can B and bloody-well Q it. Can you be Captain Twitter and send and receive Tweets… most assuredly so. Can you be e-mailed anywhere that’s deeply inconvenient – that’s what we’re all after… isn’t it? Being seen to be important; being seen to be always in touch; being seen as being… well, one of the crowd.

Don’t I want to switch off once in a while and actually kick back a bit, take some time to think and… relax?

Oh no I don’t! Why should I do as Frankie said? Isn’t it better being… a Lemming?

Yeah... well – each to his own.

There’s a stack of things that could be so-described as personal hand held devices… aren’t there..? Toothbrushes for instance… A knife, a bottle opener, a fork…. A bar of soap or a hair dryer or a lady’s vibrator… all are equally personal as well as hand-held but, hmm… maybe we shouldn’t go there, eh?

So, young fella-me-lad; what are you going to regale us with today eh? Its been a while since you wrote anything – is that because you’ve been busy being busy or laid up with Swine Fever or have you been down in the dumps due to Reading’s largely lacklustre performance against Birmingham at the Mad Stad last Sunday?

Hmm… well, now that you mention it – I really was pretty miffed at the hugely inept performance that I finally managed to watch via the wild west wait. Two-nil down on the hour whereupon I became so distressed that I totally missed the Royals – to whom I first swore life-long allegiance long before my chin and a razorblade had made their own acquaintance – finding the back of the net less than a minute later.

At that point, I was trying to console myself and face up to the inevitable by adopting outlaw status and annoying the near-at-hand smoking Stazi by Bill Clintoning nicotine; neither worked and it all came to a crashing and thoroughly unsatisfactory end when the internet connection fizzled out with ten minutes left to run on the clock.

Sadly and by that point, even I had realised that nothing much short of a miracle was going to change the result and… unhappily, that miracle didn’t come to pass. Equals Burnley away in the first leg of the play-off semis.

Still, there is the Giro d’Italia to look forward to – three weeks of heavily muscled shaven legs pedalling up and down the length, breadth and backbone of Italy and who’d put odds on it being a non-homeland victory?

If they really have the form then there can be no discounting Cunego or Basso but… somehow I sense that the centenary victor-ludorum laurels may just get laid to rest atop the balding pate and curiously squeaky-voiced American, Levi Leipheimer.

However, with his team’s current diabolical financial problems – as revealed and reported over the last forty-eight hours – one wonders if that pressure will count against him and his Astana team? Which begs the question – is this the time for Lance to lead the warrior charge and Livestrong / Nike / Twitter his way to absolution and bring in new American title sponsor(s) to prop up the ailing Kazak registered squad?

Whichever way it pans out, it’ll be a fun distraction as always it is however, focus of late (since you so very kindly ask) has been across two fronts – AlphaBetaMusica is grinding its way forward and, within the next few days, we should have more filmed interviews in the bag.

That is, so long as technology is on side.

Technological re-acquaintance by way of test-driving super-duper HD camera X proved to be a trifle fraught the other day. For why? Well… there it stood on its tripod; it did all I asked of it by zooming in and out happily while focussing automatically and doing all the neat things its spec-book says it will… but… come trial footage playback time (with self reciting Mary Had A Little Lamb a few times) the sound it emitted reminded me of my car on mornings when it refused to spark into life.

A peculiarly annoying hissing sound and certainly not the satisfying – in this instance – sound of my own voice coming at me via headphones, narrating rhymes first learned on my Mother’s knee.

I’ve had that before – not with this camera or, indeed, nursery rhymes…but with cars. My elderly French vehicle – the one that was so old and dirty, it had stuff of uncertain lineage growing out of the back seat as well as further behind – quite often refused to behave and obey its master. One’d turn the key and the engine would wheeze away but, basically, it couldn’t be bothered to kick itself into life.

Generally speaking, this’d occur on cold and ever so frosty mornings.

And, during this wheezing process, it’d belch vast volumes of blue-black nauseous fumes from its backside – clearly some kind of mechanical gauntlet was being laid down between ancient Renault and elderly owner.

So, Basil Fawlty-like, I’d kick the tyres – an action which was, of course, totally useless but eased my frustration a bit; I’d raise the bonnet and assault the engine with sundry sturdy weapons (like spanners), I’d tighten various nuts, knobs and other protuberances in the vain hope that that might help – usually it wouldn’t largely because I hadn’t a clue what I was tightening up – and then I’d settle back into a state of… I’ll be more patient than you will… that generally worked although not before most of the lane and the entire front of Merle HQ stank of fetid diesel.

I wasn’t allowed to indulge in this game of patience with my car when washing had been put out on the line – or rather, I learned that it was wiser not to… the wrath of one who has just placed freshly laundered stuff (especially white bed-linen)on the line was, I learned, to be avoided – at all costs.

None of this was probably helped by the fact that I ran the darned thing on illegal diesel. Really..? Yeah… I did.

Time was when cash was in short supply. So short, in fact, that there wasn’t any. And I was down to about a litre left in the tank – it was my pal Rik’s birthday - he, his wife and five year old lived about six villages away and he’d made mention that there was a bottle of home-brewed walnut liqueur in their cupboard.

Equals do I chance getting there and back on diesel fumes or… do I investigate what the unidentified for nearly two-years liquid is that sloshes around inside the gigantic metal container-thing just inside the barn door at Merle HQ?

Yet another of life’s little quandaries that I get thrown from time to time.

Investigation is the only logical route forward, not least because the card that my bank has helpfully given me – the one that works at petrol pumps – has also stalled. This, in essence (sic) is last chance saloon; the swing doors beckon, the floor creaks, the woodwork squeaks. Am I gonna be Captain Fantastic or the Dirt Brown Cowboy?

Besides, its way to dodgy a trip to attempt when the fuel needle hasn’t budged off of zero for days on end, no matter how enticing the thought of Rik’s home-brewed walnut wine may be – and, I can honestly certify to that… not quite as lethal as my own variant which would have forced breathalyser bag-manufacturers to invest in double-strength plastic… but bloody potent nonetheless.

And so, one empty litre plastic bottle in hand, I stride manfully into Merle HQ’s barn, lighting my way with a torch whose own batteries are on their last legs and set about decanting the liquid that’s in this colossal metal container; liquid that had been imagined as some form of heating fuel but which might just be… something rather more helpful.

It spurts out in a most satisfactory manner and smells a bit like diesel but is coloured... bright red.

Hmmm… time to call Rik and discuss the possible properties of this liquid and, more importantly discover if my car might run on it or will inserting said liquid completely trash the engine.

Rik – in another life – was a physicist and more understands boffin-stuff like this miles more than I do.

Twenty minutes later he’s convinced me that insertion of said liquid is not going to harm my engine and so, with the walnut-wine on the near horizon, I siphon it in and bingo… the fuel-needle hovers satisfyingly above zero… the car starts… and purrs away contentedly.

How illegal is this illegal fuel? Is the first question I field as we set sail, destination walnut-wine land.

Well… Rik said it was completely illegal; he reckons its agricultural diesel and, if the Gendarmes stop me and fiddle about in the engine then, basically, I’m fxxxxd.

Oh… I think perhaps it’d be best if we went on the back roads, don’t you? The ancient Cairn settles back on her lap as we trundle along on lanes unlikely to be frequented by the local Gendarmerie, happy to be going somewhere... anywhere. How much is in the tank in the barn?

With my eye on the far horizon, scanning for flashing blue lights, I hesitate. Not too sure, I reckon about 500 litres, maybe a bit more.

Brilliant… that should last you about four months, don’t you think?

And it did… even during the days when cash became a bit more plentiful, I didn’t put any legal diesel in the car for nearly six months.

Anyhow – as it turned out the malfunctioning camera’s malfunction was caused by there being a run down battery in the microphone… I’d left it switched on having recorded the stuff I did for Rob and the Music Week Awards and… needless to say, it had breathed its battery-last… equals, one miniscule newly-purchased battery later and all was fine.

OK… so, does that mean that the AlphaBetaMusica project is coming together?

It does… Essentially, it means that, even though the monetisation isn’t there yet (and I’ve had enough people tell me I’m totally insane trying to pull that bit together in the current financial climate) – the interview process – which’ll form the backbone to the whole – can carry on apace.

OK… that’s great but… you mentioned a second front?

Ahhh… yes… not long after I moved to France, I quit working within artist management; detailing that hugely acrimonious sixteen months is pointless… lets just say that it left such a hugely bitter taste that I vowed and declared never, ever, to enter that particular arena again.


About a month ago, a hugely circuitous set of circumstances began evolving as I perused a wide variety of vaguely-related web sites. This, in turn, led to a spot of e-mail correspondence which led to a mid-morning meeting in a vegan café with someone who I’d come to know pretty well rather a long time ago.

Two decades or so of water under the bridge and… yes, that’s a fair degree of catching up to catch up on… So much so that we decamped from the diced cucumbers, whole grain nuts and soggy tofu sandwiches to a different café altogether whose menu offered high end cappuccinos and a lot of cakes, none of which contained a carrot.

After a further hour or so, we parted – his umbrella was heading one way, I was about to get drenched in a different direction. And within that parting, I was handed a small carrying case containing ten or so CDs… most related to an artist whose music had led us to meeting in the first instance but… right at the back of the carrying case was a single disc marked with the one word: demos.

To be entirely truthful, I hadn’t a clue that person-X – who’d been sipping on water as I’d quaffed so many full-strength cappuccinos that I was almost astral-projecting – had carved out any form of a musical career at all until really quite late in our chat. However, in those intervening years he had achieved a very fair degree of success with album sales not to be sniffed at.

Even so, the jaded cynic in me left his CD of demos alone as I fire one much loved tune after another much loved newly digitised tune directly into i-Tunes. I could almost feel my i-Touch salivating at the prospect of long-awaited music such as I’ve just been given.

His CD is laying there and something – I know not what – is saying… Go on, play it… have a listen… you never know.

I’m about ninety seconds into the first song and the first Helloooooooooooo? moment arises.

Track two is going to be a let down, isn’t it..? Nope…. Wrong, very wrong… This one's even better.

Track three is even better. Track four is sensational and five holds its own admirably in such company – they’re all work in progress but sound like they’re not too terribly far away from being ready to master.

Later that night I’m sent another song… apparently its one that he’d forgotten about. I download it, i-Tunes launches and… oh fxxk….

It is… in one, single, word… incredible.

I play it again… immediately… all four and a bit minutes of it.

Its extraordinary… can this be for real?

Time to check in with my vinyl guru whose impeccably tuned ear lives near the best boulangerie in all of France; as bedtime beckons, I send him a link with a single question – is this as good as I think it is?

The next again morning I wake and that last song is running through my head… can it be, was it really that good when I listened last night..? Surely not. Press play and… Holy Mother… its even better than I’d thought.

The machine sparks into life and indicates that I have an e-note awaiting me; the man from Del Monte, with ears I totally trust has got up early, listened and responded… Not for him the single sentence… he doesn’t do single sentences… oh no, he’s offered up a full scale, paragraphs long, critique that ends with thumbs very much in the ascendant.

In brief, his ears are hearing what every fibre of my body has been yelling at me for twenty-four hours – this is special… bloody special.

As a consequence, I’m now wearing two hats… both the Fedora and the rather fetching cap are seriously in play.

In the meantime and in amongst all of this, the small matter of a Rupert Murdoch news conference-call reported in the Guardian catches my eye.

From which I learn that it appears that News Corp are looking into and ‘expect’ to start charging for access to content posted on their newspaper web sites with a calendar year – the opening comment being that Murdoch is ‘striving to fix a malfunctioning business model’

Rupert, the billionaire bear has clearly been looking at – amongst others – The Wall Street Journal who do charge (and are seeing on-line subscriptions rising) and was quoted saying, 'The current days of the internet will soon be over'.

The cynics will (probably) come up with lots of pithy adjectival phrases involving bolting horses and stable doors but… this, to borrow one single billionaire word is… epochal.

Because, once one organisation kicks out the traces… and without a shadow of a doubt, Murdoch and his henchmen and women within his plethora of owned newspapers will lead the charge, then everyone else… no matter how long it’ll take them to catch up… will follow.

He’s right – and not because what he’s saying is precisely what I’ve been saying for months on this Voltaire on its grassy knoll.

He's right because you cannot expect to create content… costly content… and give it away for free; its not a very clever business model.

So… where were we, where did this all begin… in all the excitement, I’ve rather lost my train of thought… ah yes, the multiplication tabular spread of Swine Fever – the newest variant on Bird ‘flu.

Don’t fret, I have the solution… eat Radishes.

Because… this season’s crop contains an unidentifiable strain of… something… that, somewhat disturbingly, causes buttock-clenching flatulence on an industrial level.

Which therefore means - radishes, eaten prior to that daily commute, become the perfect antidote to the spread of Swine Fever.


Drew said...

A welcome return to the grassy knoll, Neil.
I'm with you on the radish subject; I could make three courses out of them.
My 'Del Monte' approval for DL stands and I'm flattered that my ears are so trusted.
As for the Australian media predator. If he says something's happening, it's happening. Tell me that won't convince the backers that ABM seeding is a viable option.


Fifi Dessein said...

... I've been privileged too... heard the deiciously haunting songs... that fill the empty spaces in the mind... and when you least expect... come back to fill voids beautifully.... can not wait for the album... sorry.. can NOT wait for the album... it will touch a lot of souls