Sunday, March 31, 2013

Where on Earth is Wichita?

Last night I found myself in a bar watching college basketball with a couple of mates. It was either that or dressing up as Scary Easter Bunny - strapping on some big teeth and growling : "No chocolate eggs for you!"

Seriously, what have chocolate eggs got to do with Easter and resurrection etc? What came first, the chicken or the egg?

Wichita by night (Andrea Allen)

Back to college basketball. The honest truth is I haven't assimilated well to American sports. I saw one Super Bowl that was won by the Green Bay Packers and found myself wondering:

1 What are the rules here?

2 Why is it so long?

3 Why do they stop all the time?

I was glad the packers won because they were playing the Steelers and Steelers fans always strike me as loud, overly pale and in-yer-face. Packers fans are probably pale too but I guess it's so cold up there they are probably green so that's OK.

I knew bugger all about NCAA basketball but at least basketball is easy to understand. I played it a bit at school in England, although it's nothing like the US experience in that there was little expectation and no cheer leaders. Generally I sucked but there was one majestic game in which I shot almost from the half way line and it went in the hoop.

I'm not saying I was like John Updike's antihero Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom who goes through his midlife crisis with dreams of his basketball glory days at school. In fact, I had forgotten about the magical trajectory of ball through hoop, until I started writing this post.

The game I was watching on Saturday was Wichita State v Ohio State and I instantly found myself identifying with Wichita. This was no surprise because Brits normally relate to the underdog. But all the way through this unlikely victory it bothered me that I had no real idea where Wichita was, although a song from the White Stripes kept going through my head.

I concluded Wichita was somewhere flat and cold, North Dakota probably. But when I checked it out today  I discovered it's the biggest city in Kansas, with a population of 384,000 plus which doesn't strike me as very many people for a largest city, unless they are all crowded into a phone box at one time.

This surprised me because I assumed Kansas would be the biggest city in Kansas, but there's some speculation it might not even be in Kansas which is all screwed up if you ask me.

I pulled up some pics of Wichita and concluded I'd be bored there after a couple of days. No wonder the students get a lot of basketball practice in. Wichita is known as the air capital of the world and is also responsible for giving us Pizza Hut. This made me realize it has been a long time since I've been in Pizza Hut and they really might want to replace those dumb looking buildings with red roofs with something that cries out : "Visit me now."

Anyhow I have no desire to live in Wichita as it appears to be far too far away from the ocean. But I may take more interest in basketball and check out Wichita's progress in the Final Four or the Fab Four, or whatever it calls itself.

In saying that, as I left the sports bar I saw an English Premiership game being played in another room on a glass screen. It was Manchester City v. Newcastle.

At this point one of my friends asked me if I was OK. I was drooling on the glass.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Moon and Sixpence, Gauguin and Artistic Disintegration

It occurs to me now that as writers we disintegrate for our art. I have been wondering if this is the case ever since I recently read The Moon and Sixpence by W Somerset Maugham.

In the novel Charles Stickland is an unremarkable and dull stockbroker from England who unexpectedly leaves his social climbing wife and children to become a penniless writer in Paris.

One of Gauguin's paintings from Tahiti

Strickland shows no interest in his comfortable previous life and is driven only to paint. He goes from Paris to the seedy underworld of Marseilles and eventually to Tahiti. He is ridiculed for most of his life and dies an appalling death in paradise. Only after his death is his genius recognized.

The novel is loosely based on the life of Paul Gauguin, the leading French Post-Impressionist painter, who worked as a tarpaulin salesman in Copenhagen before his family fell apart and he became a painter in Paris.

The search for an elusive paradise took him in 1891 to French Polynesia where he sought to escape European civilization and "everything that is artificial and conventional".

Tahiti, marooned in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean seems to conform to all of our ideals of a paradise lost.

"Tahiti is a lofty green island, with deep folds of a darker green, in which you divine silent valleys; there is a mystery in their sombre depths, down which murmur and splash cool streams, and you feel that in these umbrageous places life from immemorial times has been led according to immemorial ways," writes Maugham.

"Even here is something sad and terrible. But the impression is fleeting, and serves only to give a greater acuteness to the enjoyment of the moment."

Artists crave such places because of their solitude and majesty. We crave them every time we find ourselves looking for a bathroom part in Lowe's.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Big Reveal - A Blog Hop Before the A-Z Challenge

It's time to reveal my Big Reveal, co-hosted, and more effectively hosted by Mina Lobo at Some Dark Romantic. I was somewhat skeptical about this idea at first but it seems we have attracted 60 plus hoppers which is none too shabby, even if the A-Z Challenge has probably attracted a couple more.

A rather hectic workload and the fact I have mislaid my laptop power cord will make my big reveal short. Were I a stripper I would be booed off stage and pelted with rotten tomatoes. Fortunately for all concerned, I am not a stripper.

Last year my A-Z Challenge theme was music. The year before it was random stuff. This year it will be animals because - let's face it folks - there are lots of them and we can neglect some of the more obscure ones in the rush to see the tigers at the zoo. As my great uncle Albert always said (or would have said if I had one), never neglect the tapir in the rush to see the tiger, just because the poor boy has an unfortunate nose. I can't think of one beginning with X off the top of my head but maybe it will come. Have a great weekend fellow A-Z sufferers.

And while Brits in the US may appear at the top of this badge, this was mainly Mina's baby so do make sure to visit her blog to find out what it's really all about.

And visit all these great bloggers below now, as I surely will when I find that pesky power cord.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Is Blogging an Art Form That Has Had Its Day?

In the 2011 French movie The Artist George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the superstar of the silent screen. Everywhere he goes he's feted and starlets swoon at his feet.

Yet his downfall is just around the corner, although nobody realizes it in the roaring Hollywood of 1927. When he refuses to do "talkies" dismissing movies with words as a gimmick, his fate is sealed. As his star wanes that of Peppy Miller, his one time lover and movie extra, rises inexorably.

I thought of The Artist when I read Jennifer Fabulous' blog Is blogging dead? When we got into blogging a few years ago it was edgy, avant-garde, even. Now, it seems, every man, dog, cat and cat's half strangled mouse has a blog and nobody is excited about it anymore. Like everybody else's my blog's visits seems to have been cut in half. The stats look like a cardiograph of someone with a terminal disease. Sometimes it feels like being in the market square trying to flog a Betamax player.

In some ways this is sad. While the pressure to blog can produce some tripe, occasionally I stumble on some truly moving blogs out there such as Kittie Moore's blog about her father.

But sadly some other good bloggers seem to have tuned out and moved on.

Can the future really be no more expansive than a tweet or a status update, or will it move on to something different altogether, leaving us slapping around our blogs like Monty Python's dead parrot?  At this rate it's going to feel like being back in the world of newspapers again.

In England in the 1830s desperate agricultural workers in the South of England went around rioting and smashing up the threshing machines that were killing their livelihoods, enlisting a menacing, but fictitious figure called Captain Swing to write threatening letters.

"Sir, Your name is down amongst the Black hearts in the Black Book and this is to advise you and the like of you, who are Parson Justasses, to make your wills. Ye have been the Blackguard Enemies of the People on all occasions, Ye have not yet done as ye ought,.... Swing.

The Swing Riots failed to stop progress.

In the 1980s and 1990s I saw those old characters with the ink stained hands walk out of print factories for the last time and into oblivion. Who knows where they went and what they did? As the Wapping riots can testify, they didn't always go without a fight. But go they did.

Makes you wonder about Blogger doesn't it?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Gigi Redux

In December I blogged in over dramatic terms about the degeneration of the human spirit in relation to my stolen cat Gigi.

I am pleased to report the boy has shown up alive and well, albieit a bit smelly. In fact three cats that vanished from our street, were later found at various times in the same part of the city about two miles away from home.

Finally the call came in and Gigs was back. My wife is apt to point out I put up no posters related to the disappearance of the boy; did not sort out the amber cat alert etc., did not pace the mean streets until the early hours etc. In my defense I spend a few cold hours in the cemetery and checking out a report by a listless teenager who took me down a muddy lane by the same cemetery where I feared I was about to be ambushed by a crowd of thugs.

But yeah generally I did very little. I am an existentialist and I would be lying if I didn't find myself believing some of the worst sayings of the naysayers who told me Gigs had probably ended up in Lo Mein down at House of Willy Wong.

Always disconcerting when a fortune cookie says "look for wisdom and your cat in Chop Suey."

My lack of urgency is curious when I consider I have always championed the cause of the boy and defended him when he has clawed furniture and been threatened with a return to the farm from whence he came. Maybe I just put my legs up and trusted to Karma.

But OK I'm no saint. And indeed some of the Saints were no saints if you know what I mean.

Butler's Lives tell us Saint Christina the Astonishing was unable to bear the smell of human beings and lived "by begging, dressed in rags, and in many ways behaved in a very terrifying manner."

It adds: "There is little in the recorded history of Christina ... to make us think she was other than a pathological case."

The disappearance and reappearance of Gigs has made me ponder more weighy things (momentarily). When we come back again are we ever the same? I can think of a lot of football players who returned to clubs to great acclaim, only to be a shadow of their former selves. We are told Jesus Christ returned again to earth but failed to do anything whizzy with loaves and fishes to please the crowd this time, and just reappeared to disappear.

Similarly in Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, which (implausibly) is one of my favorite novels, Michael Henchard is reunited with the wife and daughter he sold while on a bender 18 years earlier, but things are never quite the same second time around for the man who has now risen to the lofty position of Mayor. I'm not convinced by my own rationale here because things may not have been so peachy first time around if you are going to auction off your wife and daughter.

In contrast Gigs is showing no sign that he has been held in a dungeon and abused by a kitty fiddler, I am relieved to say. He's still his same good natured self, although he's want to cause lacerations when annoyed. And he can be an arsy bunny.

Indeed the catnapping incident has improved his condition. No longer confined to a garage for long periods, he now has a free run of the house and is probably on course to get up to 25 pounds again.

This post had run out of speed because I am in Starbucks and distracted (naturally). I have just discovered the barista (yup still hate that word) who I have given funny looks to when he puts on that annoying fake Italian accent is indeed Italian. Oh well.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Sexiest 10 Songs of All Time - And the Winners Are...

Finally the 10 Most Sexy Songs of All Time has reached its - want to say a different word - ah conclusion.

I have been slow getting here, mainly because little people have removed the rubber bits from my earphones and I do so hate shoving sharp pieces of plastic into my ears. Maybe I am OCD, although I really don't think so as I tend to usually veer toward the shambolic.

So here goes the final two. Cue drumroll....

2 - Sexual Healing - Marvin Gaye
This could be the sexiest song of all time really as it simply drips with lust, longing any other words you can think of beginning with l, with the exception of lemon and lorry which is a British word for truck.
In contrast Gaye's life wasn't particularly sexy. To say he had parent issues is an understatement. Marvin's father was a Pentecostal minister with a penchant for beatings and wearing women's clothing. He described adolescence as  "like living with a king, a very peculiar, changeable, cruel and all-powerful king."
A painting of Marvin Gaye
More evidence that Gaye Sn. did not follow a very Godly path is provided by Wikipedia. "Marvin Gay, Sr. eventually quit the House of God in the mid-fifties, after he wasn't named Chief Apostle of the church. Marvin's father never kept a job, working for a total of three years at the Western Union and the post office. He withdrew from social life after dropping out of the ministry, later developing alcoholism and spent his seclusion cross-dressing, wearing his wife's clothes and wigs, which embarrassed his son."
There was also the small matter that he shot Marvin to death, bringing a premature end to the life of a great soulful singer at the age of 45, an age when most of us are just thinking about getting into gear. How come nobody looking remotely like the nurse in the vid has ever taken my pulse? You'd even forgive her those oh-so 80s specs.
1 - Slave to Love - Bryan Ferry
It was a close one but the classy, sexy sophistication of this song - and indeed most things by Bryan Ferry makes this the sexiest song of all time for me. There's also the rather important little fact he's British.
For a guy who hangs out in lounge suits and oozes upper crust breeding, it's interesting to learn he was born from a working class family in the impoverished north east of England whose father Fred bred pit ponies. Perhaps wary of his background Ferry avoided women who reminded him of pit ponies, dating a string of models such as Jerry Hall, who was famously snatched away by Mick Jagger.
In recent years he had made some headlines that have been more euww than woo. He dated a woman 35 years younger than him and is now married to one of his son's ex-girlfriends, which must make family dinners a bit hard to stomach. It remains to be seen if his allure with younger women has any relation to the $30 million he has in his bank account. Slave to dosh baby...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Sexiest 10 Songs of All Time - Part 4

I have been reluctant to post the latest instalment of my sexy song series for a while because working in legal marketing makes one feel seriously unsexy. You have to be very creative - ie. go on about legal briefs.

Also I seem to be spending a lot of time in a small room with a small kid armed with a piece of plastic that makes a jingling noise of a magnitude inconsistent with its size.

But eventually I reached an earth moving conclusion - the sexy songs must go on so as we can all roll over and get some sleep. So here goes.....

4 - Justify My Love - Madonna

Madonna circa 2013 reminds me of a particularly frightening Naples fishwife who works out too much. So it was something of a shock to stumble across this track from 1990, during the time when Madonna generally got her kit off a lot and shocked lots of people. Just a word of warning this video is not very Perry Como and generally lacks old men wearing pullovers hanging out by the fire. It was banned in various places for containing images of a sadomasochistic, voyeuristic and bisexual nature. I am reliably informed no camels were harmed in the making of the video. Also Madonna is really rather hot in it. I'll certainly look around the hallways a bit more the next time I check into the Days Inn.

3 - I'm On Fire - Bruce Springsteen

You wouldn't normally associate Springsteen with sexy, more blue collar blues, but I'm On Fire is a bit of a departure from the normal Springsteen thing and positively simmers with sexiness. Sure there's the blue collar thing going on - Bruce in oily overalls and then there's the classy chick with the red nail polish, always guaranteed to blow the odd gasket or two, not to mention a very sexy auto. This vid would so not have been the same with a Chrysler Town and Country van. Hey you said you'd get the car back to her in the morning dude, not the middle of the night.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Sexiest 10 Songs of All Time - Part 3

So the sexy song countdown judders on to its inevitable anticlimatic conclusion. Number 6 is probably the only song I can think of by Chris Isaak, sexy song and sexy singer - or at least I thought so before pulling up this modern day pic which just makes me even more depressed than normal about the aging process. Cue to pull out another clump of hair. Pity poor Chris - not only did you once look like James Dean, but nobody can recall any more than one of your songs. Oh well he'll live - off the Royalties of Wicked Game.

Chris Issak then (left) and now (right)

6 - Wicked Game - Chris Isaak

Wicked Game has all of the elements of a sexy song, namely a haunting sound, lovelorn lyrics and model Helena Christensen on the beach. This song changes my conception of passion at the seaside which hitherto entailed a big old battered cod and chips, dripping grease - which still sounds rather yum actually. Anyhow Wicked Game was used in David Lynch's harrowing but also rather  graphic movie Wild At Heart, rather effectively to encapsulate the loneliness of a desert road at night.

5 - What Goes Around Comes Around - Justin Timberlake

This song may be about betrayal and revenge but the beat of Timberlake's song screams pure sex. Scrap that it oozes pure sex. The risque, Moulin Rogue nature of the club and the presence of actress Scarlett Johansson in the video do little to harm its sexiness rating.

Lost by the Sea

 A tiny tragedy in an ocean of sadness makes barely a ripple. Still, I was taken aback to receive an email from a former wife (the one I nev...