Thursday, July 28, 2005

Friends like these

In the gym on Monday morning (another story) my iPod maintained its Kokomo and Clash fixation before finally choosing to play Snooks by Elbow;

Stuff was started
Things had ends
Stuff regarding all my friends
Some were married
All were fine
These are good friends these are mine

As I sprayed those around me with sweat and snot (why am I the only one?) I mused my fleeting weekend. The first time in two years everyone had been in the same place at the same time; from the moment Jo and Brian landed from Sydney on Friday afternoon until Katie and James departed for Melbourne on Sunday evening.

Willy and Leo’s wedding was a gently stylish affair. Sometimes with weddings you get to a point at the end of the evening when you’re too drunk, tired, exhausted or bored to keep going, but not this time. The ceilidh was frenetic, swinging the bride’s mother at 120rpm desperately trying not to fling her into the fiddle player with a beard the size of a nuclear winter. This was balanced against the serene surrounds of Ashfold School, sitting wearing balloon sculpture hats talking about Girl Guides and Hogwarts, the band apologising to the DJs (us) about the music they were about to play ‘oh yeah we don’t normally play this kind of stuff, it’s just a one off for the wedding’ and vice versa . I’m sure you can get bored of a cheese and crackers buffet, but it didn’t feel like it at the time. I could have lived there forever, cocooned from a world increasingly becoming a straight to DVD spin-off of 24.

Stuff is started, things had ends… conversations babble and blend about nothing and everything, about forthcoming children and existing mortgages, how to give a urine sample in three equal parts and how to make money from throwing people in the sea.

Blob, gloop, blob… a fluid interaction without edges or seams … Despite the time lags, everyone just gels back together as though continuing conversations held yesterday. …these are good friends, these are mine.

As suddenly as it began, it ended and the world and its woes returned. “…Bermuda, Bahama come on pretty mama Key Largo, Montego baby why don't we go…”

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Aylesbury, of course, is now a hotbed of terrorist activity, apparently. Last week’s raid on a house (on the other side of town, I hasten to add, lord knows what this is doing to house prices) linked to the London bombings was, well, a bit of a surprise to say the least.

According another Aylesbury based colleague; the expectation is that Aylesbury is about to be hit by a firestorm of racial hate. Insurgents everywhere. A BACKLASH! Apparently it’s no longer safe to go into the town because of reprisals. All her friends say so.

Backlash? Against who? By who? Presumably the table of 10 white and Asians mingling happily at a table Pizza Express on Friday night were just taking a well earned break from Buckinghamshire’s micro-Jihad. I suppose it was the weekend, it’s not all work, work, work y’know.

My informed colleague also said that ‘at least’ fifty per cent of young Asians have it in them to be suicide bombers. Crikey.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

It's all Greek to me

In an unusual act of random kindness at work, we’ve been given a Red Letter Day voucher. Amongst the activities on offer is zorbing, whereby you are put in a large inflated rubber ball and thrown down a hill.

Also on the agenda, is hydro-zorbing. Which, to the untrained eye, may appear to be something like being put in a large inflated rubber ball on water. Read more closely, however, and it turns out that hydro-zorbing is, in fact, exactly the same as zorbing, expect you’re given a bucket of water to hold before being thrown down the hill.

Next week I’m going to go hydro-cycling; like normal cycling, but with a bucket of water on my crossbar.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


Feeling proud to be British is not very cool, is it? After all, people ‘proud to be British’ are members of the BNP or blue rinse royalists who keep their1981 Charles and Di Evening Standard souvenir pull-out in a special cellophane wrapper. Ain’t they?

This week, I’m proud to be British because London is going to host the 2012 Olympics. I don’t mean to be all Labourite about it, but part of what I loved about the bid is that it was built on a set of new British principles. The whole thing avoided the hackneyed images of Guardsmen in bearskins and the British bobby on the beat. Instead it focussed on our emergence as a progressive regenerated nation and a much more cosmopolitan and internationally integrated country. The masterstroke was Tony Blair’s final address delivered in French; this was Britain at its best.

This change in Britain has been ten years in the making, shifting from a paranoid, clunking, grinding, belching empire obsessed jalopy to a country which has had sustained prosperity with a refreshed culture. For the first time, however, the international community has endorsed and recognised the change.

When Sydney won the Games, Australia’s became the world’s utopian holiday home, but the Australians are still detached from much of the International community (perhaps life is too good in Australia). This is where Britain can prosper, as the barometer of the international community, the model of a modern progressive country. Delivering the Games means delivering the model.

There’s still a lot to do, delivering the Games, of course, but breaking down the barriers between us and Europe and getting out of the pockets of the US. We’ve been given the chance to prove that we can do it. The two weeks of the Games will be the party to celebrate the achievement. I for one, am all for it.

Postscript: this was written on Wednesday when the announcement was made. I’m still proud to be British as a result of the London bombings. Probably more so, the reaction all round has been another example of how strong this country has become. Nobody has made rash accusations, the city hasn’t collapsed and the world continues to turn. Bad things happen and bad people exist, but that doesn’t mean good things should stop and good people should go away. It’s been a great week to be British. Anyone want to join me in a verse of Jerusalem? No? OK then.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Love it or 8 it (extended mix)

I’ve read the reviews, seen the news and I realise that history will say that everyone on the Live8 stage was perfectly brilliant. This simply isn’t possible and just not true. I support the sentiment; I don’t understand the methods, I’m sceptical about the bullying tactics (both of the G8 and the general public). The belief that G8 will solve the problem is simplistic in the extreme. But, sod the politics, here’s the Ruffles opinion of each and every bloody act of the show…

U2 and McCartney
I don’t remember Quo opening Live Aid with ‘White Cliffs of Dover’, so why open Live8 with a song nearly forty years old? It’s been a while since U2 and McCartney were at the bottom of a bill, but as party starters, they’ve got a long way to go. Francis Rossi’s bugged eyed wonderment beats Bono’s self importance all hands down. Why did nobody tell me we can ‘cure AIDS with drugs’. Apparently ‘we’ve got those drugs’, although maybe he meant the band had the drugs, and we can’t have them. I dunno.

Has the stage manager got his set list upside down? At this rate the show will be closed by Northern Line. Good old Coldplay, unremarkably mid-paced, Richard Ashcroft arriving holding his shoes above his head raises hopes for a moment but even Bittersweet Symphony is a bit dull. The same set, played as the sun goes down would have been a different story. Perhaps Apple, wearing an enormous pair of pink headphones, needs to get back for her tea.

Elton John
Thank god for Elt. His backing band is a tidal wave of mullets and orange silk shirts but he stands on his piano before playing his own brand of honky tonk piano rock like he’s back on the coke and booze. Pete Doherty appears for Children of the Revolution, he looks better than he sounds but the whole event is lifted by the skag junkie and the fat poof. Like Chris Martin, Elt thanks ‘Bob Geldof’; on stage Geldof mentions: 2 Poverty mentions: 0.

Billionaire Bill Gates of IT monoliths Microsoft comes on to chastise the world’s powerbrokers for exploiting the world’s poor for their gain. I think I need a cup of tea.

She’s funny Dido, she puts everything into her singing then nothing comes out of her mouth. It’s like they turned down the bass EQ on her voice. Youssou n’Dor comes on; all these surprise guests are making it feel like the Brits. They do Thank You; Youssou resists the temptation to do Eminem’s bits. Seven Seconds is good, finally somebody is on at the right time of day. Dido’s inoffensive mid-ranking pop on at an inoffensive mid ranking point in the bill. She also mentions poverty, 2-1.

You suspect that the ‘phonics are incapable of being smart-arses. So they strap on their guitars and play some ballsy rock n roll. They’re a bit like Makosi from Big Brother, you wouldn’t want to live with them but on telly, when you can switch them off, they’ll do. The crowd don’t seem that bothered, the BBC show close-ups of people going mental, but the long shots seem almost completely static.

Ricky Gervais comes on to fill with some distasteful jokes, I cringe, then realise it’s the sort of thing I’d say for a cheap laugh.

It’s difficult to play a twenty minute stadium gig, but REM can play stadiums, and Michael Stipe does all the big gestures and it all starts to come together. Just after they finish Everybody Hurts, the BBC cut to Fern Cotton interviewing Razorlight, presumably it’s what the nation was waiting for. When they finally cut back to the stage, Stipe’s got the whole place in the palm of his hand, but who cares about that when Razorlight are available to tell us that they’ve seen the Live Aid DVD because they missed the real thing.

Ms Dynamite
… is crushingly dull but she’s the first person to say that we all are responsible for creating world poverty (2-2, Bob must be worrying).

They cut to Berlin where a raven haired beauty is rocking out. “Is that Neneh?” says Ricky Gervais “If it is, she’s shaved under her arms” he’s then caught saying “this isn’t going out live is it”. The BBC is ragged; they cut to Paris to see Muse who sound exciting and noisy. Hyde Park may have the biggest stars, but they’re getting a rummest of deals so far. … and, oh god, it’s Keane on next.

Keane are sensible boys playing sensible music at a sensible time to people with sensible haircuts. The crowd response is weirdly Pavlovian, when thingy (Tarquin? Giles?) tells them to make some noise they do, then they shut up very quickly. There’s nothing wrong with what they play (something strangely familiar yet equally anonymous). As a musical event, this needs a raging bender in a white t-shirt with a poodle permed guitarist in clogs.

… or a androgynous man in a powder blue suit with different coloured eyes. Travis’ pop is vanilla even if it is made with good ingredients. I like Fran Healey, he crafts good pop songs, but the article in When Saturday Comes about Stirling Albion’s 1984 cup game against Selkirk was more interesting.

Bob Geldof
Geldof was brilliant at Live Aid. The Boomtown Rats were well past their best but Geldof came on like a snarling dog, seething with anger and passion. This time he’s soporific, they roll out Midge Ure. Fern Britton tells us that it was an ‘amazing historic event’ it was Midge says he can’t believe how bad it was. Good old Midge, somebody who is aware that a good cause does not necessarily make a good concert.

Annie Lennox
Venus Williams wins the woman’s Wimbledon crown and I realise I’ve sat on the TV control. Then I see that I can go Live8 interactive, Lennox is doing her yummy mummy dancing to Little Bird, but in Philly Bon Jovi are doing Living on a Prayer and Ricky Sambrosa is playing a double headed guitar. In Toronto somebody is playing some great soca. I didn’t buy the whole racist thing to do with Live8’s line up, but the Eden project gig looks very black, and empty. Back with Annie, she’s doing Sweet Dreams, the BBC manage to cut to the only person in the crowd who doesn’t know the words.

They show Green Day in Berlin, the German’s are having all the fun. Billy Bob what’s-it says “Fucking” during American Idiot, then does a Freddie Mercury call and response. People are slam dancing and crowd surfing. They cut back to Jonathan Ross who tells us that UB40 are on next. Why does everyone keep saying what an amazing day it is? If I was Wolfgang in Berlin I’d believe you.

At Live Aid Queen were a fading rock band with a tea time slot. They came on stage and walked straight into pop cultural history. UB40 are a fading band with a tea time slot. Well, I suppose Red Red Wine and Radio Ga Ga are songs which have the same word twice in the title.

Annie Lennox unleashes a brilliantly impassioned tirade about the AIDS epidemic, she’s seething with anger, I stop and listen. Making poverty history might start sort AIDS out, but the Catholic Church and the trucking industry have a lot more to answer for. I suspect Annie knows that a big gig in Hyde Park might not be enough.

Snoop Dogg
Snoop’s so good he should be in Berlin. It’s a twenty minute showcase lauding the “Mother fuckin’ DRE” and dropping bitches like they’re hot. Snoop knows his job, like all the great acts, they perform first, which is what they do best. Leave the messaging to the video screens. Snoop is straight up gangsta, he just never flinches, and for that he deserves to join the top table. Coldplay seem like a long long time ago.

Whilst all the songs sound the same, Razorlight play a furious rock-a-billy. They don’t quite make the career defining statement they clearly hope to make, but it’s all starting to come together. I check Berlin on Interactive, they’re not having as much fun.

Bob’s back, introducing that Cars video, Geldof’s problem is that we’re not allowed to question him. He’s self righteous and pompous. Annie Lennox, of all people, starts to give me a degree of belief, then Geldof comes on to show how much angrier and cleverer and more informed he is than me. Religious zealots are like this, tripped out by their own self worth. He’s been on stage about six fucking times telling us the same fucking thing. I’m getting the principle, but Geldof chooses not to tell us how this is going to happen. All we’re supposed to do is text and he’ll do the rest like we’re a bunch of dumb-asses. Geldof is the one who’s spoiling it. Presumably everyone is too scared to tell him.

Madonna has the songs to choose from, not that she chooses her best, but the performance is top notch, slick, professional and tightly choreographed. Because it’s Madonna, and she’s built a career on cold professionalism, you got to love her for that.

Snow Patrol
Are brief, but they seem so happy to be on stage. Their songs don’t reflect their bon viveur. They play two, the second I recognise, although if you’d have played it to me yesterday, I’d have told you it was Embrace.

In the Reading Festival phase of the concert The Killers are excellent but they only do one song. You feel that if they’d been given twenty minutes like other bands they could have been a bit special.

Joss Stone
I like Joss Stone the kooky teenager with a powerful voice, but she plays the kind of music I absolutely detest. It’s noodly soul which never had its moment, but seems to have been around for ever. The drummer appears to be behind bullet proof glass, he so fat it looks like he’s just part of the kit. Perhaps he’s stuck and lives there, maybe the glass acts like a shower cubicle. Why does she get to do three songs and the Killers just one? It’s no fair. Joss asks who loves Bob Geldof, there it is, confirmed, pop stars really don’t understand why they’re there.

Scissor Sisters
You suspect that all the Scissor Sisters’ songs are about snorting cocaine off dwarves’ bumcracks, but they still sound like Supertramp. They play a song no one has ever heard before, it also sounds like Supertramp. This is very perceptive of them, great moment for a toilet break.

I might be the only one who sees the irony that Joss Stone and the Scissor Sisters have a lot to thank the poverty industry for. The big multiples (supermarkets) have the buying power to drive supplier costs down below the cost of production; this means they offer great value for money, which means demand, which means massive buying power, which means they can sell CD’s for under a tenner. This is where a majority of Scissor Sisters and Joss Stone fans (thirty something families) buy their music.

Velvet Revolver
On the TV its obvious that this is Slash from Guns and Roses new band, but if you’re at the back of quarter of a million people, it’s possible you might be feeling a bit bemused. They do three songs; The Killers could have done their whole album. Who says nobody is on the bill trying to promote their records? It’s not that they’re bad; it’s that they’re the Velvet bloody Revolver, whose hits include… erm.

You just know sting lies awake at night wishing he’d thought of Live Aid. In supporting de-forestation he backed the wrong horse in terms of beatification. Still he’s not burdened with his own self-worth (that much). He plays a solid set that’s all very Sting, he’s the consummate professional. Earlier in the day he says he’s not nervous, well, he’s just doing his job.

Mariah Carey
A woman who has managed to have a very long career without ever having a song of note.

Robbie Williams
Robbie is the only person here who was not at Live Aid who seems comfortable at this level. He’s a composite of all great performers over the last thirty years, which either makes him supremely post modern, or a big fraud. It’s a damning indictment of our cultural development that it’s a relief to see him on stage. Either that or a clear indication of Geldof’s myopia.

The Who
Are lardy and dis-engaged, they play the same set as they did at Band Aid, which says it all really. During the big interlude during Who Are You, Pete Townshend spends his time pulling at his t-shirt to stop his man boobs showing.

Pink Floyd
Are awful, their songs are crafted to within an inch of their lives. There’s no excitement, no engagement. It’s a self important set weighed down with its own falsely created gravitas… Let’s face it, because they couldn’t get the Spice Girls to reform, the Floyd were next best thing, then they pretended that all the Spice Girls stuff didn’t happen they bigged up the the Floyd reunion like this was what people really wanted.

Paul McCartney and the Finale
Macca does his thing. Like Madonna he’s earned his right to fix himself in time. George Michael comes on and is woefully underused. Then everyone comes on, Hey Jude is anthemic but brief and the cheering doesn’t linger quite as long as it seemed to at Live Aid. Perhaps everyone is tired.

So who won? Snoop was ace, Robbie knows what he’s doing. Elton John, Madonna and REM, Sir Paul do what they do. The Killers and Razorlight didn’t get enough airtime to really make a dent, but where good while they were on.

Who lost? Pink Floyd, The Who, Mariah, U2 and Coldplay

Only Robbie gave anything like a U2 or a Queen type performance. Overall it was a bit bland; where were The Darkness (who should have opened), Franz Ferdinand, Radiohead, Blur, Oasis (who according to Noel Gallagher wouldn’t bow to Geldof’s bullying) and why were Faithless ‘relegated’ to Berlin?

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