Archive for December, 2007


The version of Microsoft Office appears to allow you to upload posts directly to one’s blog.

This is handy for those who are wont to engage in the filthy and depraved habit of typing posts while at work. Regrettably for our captains of industry, sick and indolent bastards like these will now be able to evade the vultures in network administration who pore over lists of websites accessed.



But does it work?

UPDATE: Yes it does, but with strange formatting.

UPDATE 2: Now I’m messing around with graphics:

UPDATE 3: Why didn’t someone tell me about this before? This is quite impressive. And doesn’t Flaubert look like the fella who used to be on The Bill years ago?

UPDATE 4: Looks like it doesn’t upload photos automatically.


LIL Vol 2: Tom Lehrer

By pure coincidence, the last posts with music videos were by artists called Tom. Here’s another.

So Long Mom (A Song For World War III)

Send The Marines:

Barely Live

To paraphrase Stevie Wonder, I don’t know why I ended up watching UTV Live today, but I ended up watching UTV Live today. What a terrible news programme. By that I mean the programme is terrible: not the news. The news is just excruciatingly dull. There was a report on the ‘national’ stadium for construction at the Maze. People were asked to text in and say whether they think the stadium should be built there, or somewhere else. My own preference -that the stadium should not be built anywhere because it’s a stupid idea so go to hell- was not an option. Paisley and McGuinness were also on, back from the heady heights of going cap in hand to the Bush, sawing a log at IKEA. Northern Ireland is an awful idea, badly executed.

And another thing…

Has anyone noticed how commerce is getting too Christmassy these days?

Sing It Loud (Or Not)

A common fear is speaking in front of groups of people. I have never had too much difficulty in speaking in public, though most of my audiences have been relatively captive, since there was some degree of common interest in whatever it was I was talking about, and the character of the occasions were generally such that it would have required an exceptional irruption of individual will to sabotage my appearance.

It is fair to say that I prefer to speak -as the old Hitler cartoon would have it- without fear of contradiction.

Not that I have ever required battallions of paramilitaries to speak: simply, all my experience of speaking in public has been in the context of relatively polite society. I have never had to confront a lynch mob, and no-one has ever acted upon the urge to get up and belt me, though, and if my own experience of sitting through various speeches is anything to go by, this urge is nearly always present among the assembled. Many’s a time I sat through a dreary homily convincing myself that, on the count of ten, I would rise from the pew and deliver an uppercut to the teeth-grindingly dreary pastor. …3,2,1….he was lucky this time. In most situations of public speaking, at least in the society I inhabit, there are strong unspoken conventions restraining disruptive behaviour.

I once knew a rather diffident and awkward individual who signed up to Toastmasters. Speaking to him about it, he felt that there was a general fear of speaking in public he could overcome, and that by attending the classes, he would become a little more like Peter Ustinov. He thought that learning to speak with confidence in public would improve his own confidence in himself. He might have been right to a point, since practice helps, but he was disregarding the fact that speaking confidently in public has a lot more to do with the specifics of the situation than any underlying character trait.

If you know what you’re talking about and you are interested in it and you want other people to hear about it, and you are doing so in a fundamentally receptive situation, you are a lot more likely to speak confidently than if, say, with no prior experience of the topic, you suddenly find yourself addressing the general assembly of the UN about global rates of bowel cancer in your underwear. One of the reasons motivational speakers exude confidence is because they know their audience lacks confidence. If they didn’t, why else would they be there? Like Hitler, they too speak without fear of contradiction.

So, I have no real fear of speaking in public. The idea of singing in public, however, I find terrifying. Singing solo, of course. Singing in a choir or in a pub sing-song is easy. In fact, I find it excruciating to sing in front of one other person, even though I know I can hold a tune quite competently. I contrive to avoid any situation where I might end up having to sing on my own. (I’ve sung in karaoke on a few occasions, but only after several pints and in the knowledge that the rest of the people in the room are too drunk to remember. Even now, I find myself looking back and frowning aghast at the awfulness of my rendition of Suspicious Minds) I can’t do what most singers seem to do, which is to treat my voice as though it were a musical instrument. For me it is as though, by singing, I am not just exhibiting my voice, but putting the history of my entire body on show. It is as though the light, reedy quality of my singing voice were revealing something fundamental about who I am, in a way that standing up in front of a crowd of people and speaking -whatever the considerations about accent, intonation and eloquence- does not.

Although both are types of performance, one key difference between public speaking and public singing (in my terms, singing in front of one or more persons) is that the former at least provides the possibility of all manner of improvisation, whereas the latter has certain formal constraints: rhythm, melody, words, sequence of verses and chorus, and so on. In the former, you can ad-lib a joke, or re-iterate a point you didn’t get across properly, and even come across better for it. That doesn’t work when you’re singing: repeating a bum sequence of notes comes across as a definite sign of failure.

But why are we compelled to think about singing in terms of success or failure? Plenty of adults claim that they can’t sing, or are tone deaf, but I suspect that the majority of these people have simply no confidence in their ability to make sounds at a set pitch. We think of singing as an innate function, but you learn to sing just as you learn to write, read, speak etc. If you’re told at an early age that you can’t sing -often a humiliating experience that marks you as innately deficient- you’re unlikely to learn. In future years, when someone asks you to sing, you will point blank refuse, unwilling to repeat the original humiliation. Or, you will be so self-conscious and lacking in confidence that you will end up re-enacting the initial feeling of humiliation for yourself.

If you look at any of the Pop Idol-style programmes, a large part is dedicated to portraying people with grandiose ideas about their own singing abilities as ridiculous. But Pop Idol and the rest represent singing as though the only sole point of it all were to raise cheers of adulation from the paying public. Pop Idol tells you -and it is not alone in this- that unless you can sing like an angel there is no point, so stop deluding yourself.

In many public situations in the UK and Ireland, singing is simply unacceptable. In the queue at the supermarket, you can jabber away on a mobile phone at sustained high volume, gurgling forth all sorts of banality and no-one will pay any heed. If you sing out loud at the same volume, people will sweat in fear of the psychopath about to cause a scene.

So, the odds are heavily stacked against many people singing solo, beyond the confines of the unaccompanied shower. Personally speaking, I find it hard to even listen to my own voice in the shower.

It turns out, though, that I’ve been doing a fair bit of solo singing recently, albeit with a captive -though receptive- audience with very low standards. One thing I’ve discovered is that there are few songs I actually know the complete words to. So most of the songs start off with the first verse (which I normally do remember), the chorus, then a bit of humming, a bit of whistling, then the first verse again. And even in those I do know completely, tiredness frequently causes me to fluff my lines (e.g.: ‘and on that farm he had some pigs/with a baa baa here, a baa baa there’). So far, my uneven efforts have been treated with patient silence and the odd appreciative gurgle.

Not Blaming The Parents

What is disturbing is that many paediatricians and other doctors support Southall. They claim that he is being hounded by a determined campaign to deny the existence of child abuse. This is nonsense. The country is obsessed with child abuse. So far from denying it, we all suspect it or are encouraged to suspect it everywhere.

Minette Marrin, in the Sunday Times, on the case of David Southall. Southall had ‘accused a Shropshire woman of drugging and killing her 10-year-old son who had hanged himself’.

What she says about ‘obsession with child abuse’ may be true, but only to a point: there is an obsession with the figure of the paedophile in our midst – the feared outsider who shatters the innocence of the child and the family idyll. However, the most common perpetrators of child abuse are parents and other close family relatives, and this is largely denied. In many situations, the idea that a parent, or parents, might be responsible for abusing their children is frequently denounced as horrifying. To be permitted to entertain such an idea, one must first of all attribute some degree of guilt to the child. One need not think too hard to come up with a germane example.

One of the paediatricians whose support Minette Marrin found ‘disturbing’ wrote a comment piece on Southall for the Observer:

This present case that has led to his erasure from the medical register concerned a woman whose 10-year-old son had been found dead in the family home from hanging. Her other eight-year-old son was subsequently taken into care because he was allegedly expressing threats to kill himself.

Because of concerns about the possibility of an abusive cause for the first child’s death, Dr Southall was instructed by the family court and social services to interview the mother and explore these issues. This he did in the presence of a senior social worker who took a written account of the whole interview. The mother claimed – and the GMC chose to believe her – that Dr Southall had accused of murdering her son: Dr Southall denied that he had said this or that he had interviewed the mother in an aggressive and intimidating manner and his statements on this were completely supported by the social worker who had been present throughout the interview.

Whilst Marrin exults in the fact that Southall was struck off the register for what she calls ‘monstrous déformation professionelle’, one is still left with the question of what factors could bring a ten year old child to hang himself.

Swede Emotion

Apparently the PSNI were over in Spain learning about traffic control at an IKEA store.

Also of interest would have been what they could learn from crowd control inside the IKEA store, if they managed to drag themselves away from scarfing down the plastic meatballs.

I was at one in Spain last year. Forget the functional matter-of-factness of its furniture, the design masterpiece is the shop itself: laid out like an experimental obstacle course for hordes of giant rats. You shuffle around, sweating and fearful of the thousands of mad-eyed furniture fetishists traipsing behind you, yelping and howling with delight at the plain slimline bookcases lent an air of Nordic sophistication by the sparse clusters of Swedish titles on the shelves. The point seems to induce anxiety and hysteria, so that people flee the place quick smart but pick up at least one product to confer the unpleasant experience with some meaning and to get the hell out of there before they get flattened or eaten.

If I ever return, it’ll be because I’m getting fitted out for a flat-pack coffin.

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December 2007
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