Possibly my dullest-ever post, but two years after moving into a somewhat run-down Victorian house in South Birmingham (West Midlands, UK not Alabama) I’ve used lots of tradesmen – on one memorable occasion, I had 2 plasterers, 2 roofers and an electrician in at the same time.
These were all recommended to me by people I trust, and I can definitely recommend them to anyone else.
Badger Windows – a double-glazing company recommended by a friend, that didn’t try a hard sell or do stupid shenanigans to “give a discount”. They turned up when they said, did the job cleanly, and didn’t ask for money up-front, but invoiced a month later. (I regret using Anglian previously – they mucked around with installation dates, had to come back because the factory had sent the wrong thing then had to be called back because the new double-glazed door had a draught.)
Decorator, wallpapering, painting
Andy Day (0121 733 7359) decorated my previous house. Ten years later, we moved out and the decoration was still really good so we hired him again. He redid almost all of my new house, hanging paper immaculately on 10 feet high walls. He turns up when he says, takes half an hour to eat his sandwiches, and leaves at six until the job’s done. He was recommended to me by a police officer and is also a very nice bloke, which is helpful when you work at home and have someone in your house for 3 weeks.
Andy Day (above) recommended Dean Beach (07833 974859) who did some beautiful work clearing artex off, skimming and repairing some walls and broken coving (from when electricity had been installed half a century ago). Very good price, takes real pride in the job.
My brother recommended Gary Coles (07949 739056) who painted the eaves on my three-storey house, sorted out a couple of leaks, capped some chimneys for a very fair price, without trying to tell me I need a new roof (which the surveyor said I might).
Jason at Knight Security (they do burglar alarms too: 0121 706 5799) added some lights, light switches and plug sockets, lowered the main fusebox (it was 10 feet up – hard to deal with in the dark if the lights go!), installed extractor fans in the shower. Recommended by two different friends.
Jason the electrician – who’s also a guitarist – recommended his mate Paul (07902 624295) who’s both a plumber and a drummer to install a new radiator in a radiatorless, cold hallway. £150, including the radiator.
Handyman, shower installation, tiling, handmade oak garage doors
I recommend my old schoolfriend Matt who did loads of stuff for me. Drop me a line if you want details.
After extensive scientific research, I can reveal the four tiers of David Bowie.
I realised I own no Bowie except an old 45 rpm single of “Sound and Vision” which I can’t play as I have no record player, went to the web to buy The Platinum Collection and listened to it a few times.
- 20% is awarded for a catchy chorus
- 20% for having a good verse as well (often why some songs are relegated to Tier 2 or below – great choruses but weak verse)
- 20% for weird lyrics, sexual ambivalence
- 10% for singing in a funny voice (machismo of “Boys Keep Swinging”, mockney sneering)
- 10% for odd instrumentation (“Heroes”)
- 10% for a blistering guitar part (whether medlodic like Starman or just nasty like “Boys Keep Swinging”)
- 10% for being seminal (“Ziggy Stardust”)
1 bottle of Toro Loco Tempranillo wine, stereo cranked up so loud your partner wakes up and comes downstairs to give you a bollocking before stomping off to bed and waking early to turn on some bullshit Kerrang radio in revenge.
Tier 1 (80% or more): Starman, Ziggy Stardust, Suffragette City, Heroes, Scary Monsters, Let’s dance, Boys Keep Swinging, All the Young Dudes (but Mott The Hoople’s version is still better at 100%; Bowie’s suffers from too much sax)
Tier 2: (65% – 79%) Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, Fashion, Jean Genie, Space Oddity, Sound and Vision, Diamond Dogs, The Prettiest Star
Tier 3: (50% – 64%) China Girl, Changes (great choruses, weak verse) Rebel Rebel, Oh You Pretty Things
Tier 4: the rest
Tier 67: Laughing Gnome, Tin Machine stuff, execrable covers of Let’s Spend The Night Together, The Alabama Song
Bowie’s best is sublime, and had hardly dated at all. There is a perception of a quality drop-off in the 80s, but some great songs came about during that time, although there was a lot of mediocre funk nonsense too. In a career spanning four decades, there is a good deal of filler but that’s both unsurprising and forgiveable, given the brilliance of his Tiers 1-3 work.
If Bowie came round to my house, I’d share a bottle of red with him and we could have a jam, and I’d even let him use my 12 string elecro-acoustic guitar.
It’s been an interesting year. I had my mother-in-law stay with us for six months. I can heartily recommend everyone do this. My cousin Mark got married; my uncle Colin died; my aunt Sue died of Multiple Sclerosis.
My son started high school and somehow became taller than my wife and turned from good humoured child into occasionally ill-tempered adolescent who’s the finest gamer in his gang. My daughter turned into a beautiful and strong teenage woman; her strength of character is an immense source of pride. For example, for months she and some colleagues had been bothered by an adult male taking upskirt photos of them with a mobile phone on the bus to school. No-one said anything until my daughter bravely called him out on the bus (getting an obscene tirade in response) and reported him to the police who deported him.
I visited Amsterdam in The Netherlands (twice); Oslo, Norway numerous times (where I bought the most expensive beer I’ve ever bought: £12.50!); Sofia, Bulgaria; Toulouse, France; Dusseldorf, Germany; Krakow, Poland; Moscow, Russia; Prague, Czech republic and Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town was particularly surprising; I didn’t expect to like it much and came away believing it to be one of the few places in the world outside the UK where I could actually imagine myself living.
I didn’t visit the USA in 2012 (but already have plans to go to Future Insights, Vegas) and had to turn down trips to Istanbul in Turkey, Lisbon in Portugal and Venice in Italy because of scheduling conflicts. Thanks to all the conference organisers, fellow speakers and attendees who allow me to travel to beautiful, interesting places and drink beer with and learn from some of the finest minds in the industry.
For pleasure, I visited Thailand and Cambodia with my mum, uncle and cousin and also my grandmother in powdered form, scattering her ashes in Angkor Wat. I did some Asian posing and got papped by a monk.
Having survived Cambodia and Thailand unscathed, I got a horrible bite in the UK which had me in A&E for the second time in two years. (The first time was after I was onstage barefooted in Sweden and stood on a rusty nail.)
After finishing the second edition of Introducing HTML5, I needed to do something unrelated to web in my free time and was commissioned to develop and write a weekend course to train teachers how to teach English to very young children (which is what I did in Thailand before the millennium and getting into the web business).
Talking of web, my personal website saw a few bemused visitors in 2012. The top search phrases were
bruce lawson (2.6%)
personal website (1.5%)
personal site (1.2%)
jacobean plays (1%)
friday jokes (0.7%)
pui fan lee (0.6%)
pui fan lee husband (0.6%)
cartoon newt (0.6%)
pui fan lee married (0.5%)
html5 form (0.5 %)
It’s good to see that I’m not just a one-trick pony (although “html5″ was the top single term). In the full list, I was pleased to see “naked men showering”, “spiffing” (an adjective, not a verb), “the pencil test”, “lovely bums”, “kerala beautiful ladies” and – by way of geographic balance, “uk anal sluts”.
A fantastically hummable, happy tune that manages to sound both fresh and comfortable every time you hear it. In contrast to the plodding obviousness of Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” lyrics, the Lightning Seeds’ lyrics are full of metaphors like “leaves pour down, splash autumn on gardens / as colder nights harden”. The chorus is just lovely:
Just lying smiling in the dark
Shooting stars around your heart
Dreams come bouncing in your head
Pure and simple every time
Anyone who doesn’t smile when they hear this has a heart of stone and ears of cloth.
Hazel O’Connor – “Will You”
A song about yearning:
Take off your ice, bare your soul.
Gather me to you and make me whole.
Tell me your secrets, sing me the song.
Sing it to me in the silent dawn.
It’s getting kinda late now.
I wonder if you’ll stay now, stay now, stay now, stay now
or, will you just politely say “goodnight”.
What elevates this from “very good power ballad” is the finest saxophone solo in the history of everything. So here’s a version with just vocals and sax.
Bob Dylan -Love Minus Zero (No Limits)
A catchy tune, with Dylan’s usual obscure metaphors and literary references, culminating in the uncharacteristically direct and emotive description “my love is like a raven / at my window with a broken wing”. Here’s Bob, with bonus George Harrisson at the Concert for Bangladesh.
Joni Mitchell – “Morning Morgantown
A beautiful tune and typically poetic lyrics celebrating being in together at dawn, having fun with the one you love.
But the only thing I have to give
To make you smile, to win you with
Are all the mornings still to live
In morning Morgantown
Fairport Convention – “Who knows where the time goes?”
Sandy Denny’s finest song ever. Her voice is so clear, and so pure, and the lyrics are just a tiny bit dark (what does “until it’s time to go” mean? Their death?). But it’s not just a Sandy Denny solo song; the lead guitar, bass and drums add so much, too.
And I am not alone while my love is near me
I know it will be so until it’s time to go
So come the storms of winter and then the birds in spring again
I have no fear of time
For who knows how my love grows?
And who knows where the time goes?
Beatles – “Here There and Everywhere”
Of course, there are loads of fab Beatles love songs, such as “I’ve just seen a face”, and “something”. But this gentle McCartney composition gets my vote for the simplicity and directness of the lyrics and the minimal instrumentation.
Undertones – “Teenage Kicks”
From the first drum beats, to the opening chords, to the guitar solo and handclaps, to the three chord ending, there’s nothing superfluous and nothing missing from this perfect song about teenage attraction.
Nick Drake – “Northern Sky”
Nick Drake made a lot of pretty tunes before he died, but this is the finest.
Dolly Parton – I Will Always Love You”
Forget the preposterous hair and Vegas trimmings; this is a great song, beautifully sung by its author. Forget the horrible, incomprehensibly caterwauling vile mess that Whitney Houston made of it out of your head and listen to it again. Now.
SLF – “Barbed Wire Love”
A lovesong set in the warzone of late 70s Belfast, with wit and acid, some sex and a great punk rock tune.
I met you in No Man’s Land
Across the wire we were holding hands
Hearts a-bubble in the rubble
It was love at bomb site
When I fell it was awful nice
Caught when not suspecting vice.
The night was rife with wasteland life
You set my arm alight
My list of the best non-English language songs coming soon. In the meantime, any disagreement with this top 10 should be recorded below, although doing so is an admission that you don’t know the first thing about music, and your favourite band is rubbish.
Last night, I got a few angry emails after I wrote on Twitter that some visiting relatives were “Bible-Bashers”. I’m happy to accept I’m wrong; they are “God-Botherers” who enjoy going to church but otherwise don’t mention it to people who don’t share their views. There’s a difference.
“Bible-bashers” are those who feel the need to spread their views to others. It’s a term that comes from the religious pamphlets of the English Civil War of the seventeenth century, describing aggressively religious people.
To find out which you are, take this handy quiz:
Do you believe you have an Invisible Friend In The Sky? (Yes=1 point, No= 0)
After spending a few days creating the billions of stars in the billions of galaxies that fill the awe-inspiring majesty of the universe, does your Invisible Friend In The Sky now spend its time closely monitoring your daily actions and reading your thoughts? (Yes=2 point, No= 0)
Does your Invisible Friend In The Sky care which adults you have consensual sexual intercourse with? (Yes=5 points, No= 0)
Is your Invisible Friend In The Sky eternal, beyond the laws of causality and entropy and undetectable by science? (Yes=1 point, No= 0)
Does your Invisible Friend In The Sky regularly intercede in the material world on your behalf (good grades, safe journeys, speedy recoveries) because you ask it to? (Yes=1 point, No= 0)
Does your Invisible Friend In The Sky routinely neglect to help blameless people caught up in calamities like genocide, war, famine, earthquakes or tsunamis because it “works in mysterious ways” (or other manifestations of inscrutability)? (Yes=5 points, No= 0)
Does your Invisible Friend In The Sky require subordinate behaviour from women such as covering their hair, wearing shapeless garments, not being allowed to teach in places of worship or hacking off each others’ external genitalia at puberty? (Yes=10 points, No= 0)
Does your Invisible Friend In The Sky require you to tell people with a different Invisible Friend In The Sky (or no Invisible Friend In The Sky) that they are wrong? (Yes=10 points, No= 0)
Does your Invisible Friend In The Sky think it legitimate or laudable to kill people with a different Invisible Friend In The Sky? (Yes=20 points, No=0)
Are you angered/ offended by this quiz? (Yes=5 points, No=0)
If you scored zero, you are not a God-Botherer.
Between one and five, you might be but don’t know it; you probably tell people that you’re “a spiritual person”.
Between five and ten, you’re a God-Botherer.
More than 10 makes you a Bible-Basher. 20 or more and you’re a fundie.
Langridge tagged me with one of these meme things. It is supposed to be called “seven things you may not know about me”, and Langridge wanted some comedy, but looking at my list I think my title is more accurate.
I’ve had carnal knowledge of women from all the world’s major religions except Judaism. Before you shout “anti-semite”, I tried very hard to rectify this deficiency with Ayelet from Tel Aviv but her room-mate came home too early.
When I got married I decided that abandoning this particular spiritual quest would be prudent to preserve nuptial harmony. My wife agrees.
I have difficulty playing the basic F major chord on guitar.
I’m actually quite shy, but conceal this with an loud egocentric persona. People think I’m quite easy-going, but I have a vile temper.
I once got a girlfriend pregnant and we agreed she should have an abortion. Our never-was daughter would be 17 years old now. That thought haunts me.
I’m not racist, sexist or homophobic. But I dislike spending time with stupid people.
About a year after we were married, my wife woke up and told me that she’d had a dream of a small girl swimming towards her in the ocean. Later that day she used a pregnancy testing kit and it was positive. That’s why our daughter is named Marina (after the T.S. Eliot poem).
Ah, London. Galleries. Theatres. Ethnic enclaves. Parliament and Big Ben, tourist traps, and carnivals; the Tube; Black taxis and red buses; medieval streets and hideous 1960s brutalist developments. Finest city in the World (if you don’t have to live there!)
the English countryside
The English countryside is gorgeous. Across the Vale of Evesham in the spring, the beauty of the Yorkshire Moors, the Lake District, the Cornish coast, the Severn Valley in autumn, we don’t have towering mountains, glaciers, or rift valleys. The English countryside is varied, but moderate and dependable. Just like English people are.
Even the animals that populate our countryside are the same. You don’t get malaria from our bugs. We have no poisonous spiders, and no large animals which can eat you. Our single venomous snake – the Adder – is only as nasty as a wasp sting (and I’ve never seen one, ever).
The Beatles, Stones, Sex Pistols and The Clash
For a small country, we’ve produced a lot of world-changing music. We rock. Nothing more to say.
They’re chocolate box-perfect English towns. They’re a bugger to live in, as you can’t put a nail in the wall without someone from the local Council making sure you’re not damaging the character of the area, but they’re damn gorgeous. There are houses in Henley that are older than many countries.
Pubs and proper beer
Pubs – not bars. They don’t need to be all thatched roof or horsebrasses. They don’t need to be picturesque, but do need to be authentic rather than brewery-mandated “English Pub Experience”. They need a sense of community, a character behind the bar, some grumpy regular drinkers, proper beer and probably a resident dog.
People think English food is just fish and chips or curry – and there’s nothing wrong with either of those. But real English food can’t be beaten, and is rarely encountered by visitors. Take great cuts of meat, fresh vegetables like parsnips, sprouts, roast them all and lightly season, serve with a rich gravy and a pint of proper beer and you’ve got the best Sunday family meal in the world.
World War 2
We English bang on about the war a bit, it’s true – but it’s because it’s deeply embedded in our psyche. OK, it was sixty years ago, but the reason it stays there is because, for a couple of years until the yanks could be arsed to help out, England and our Gaelic cousins Scotland, Ireland, Wales stood alone: we mobilised our entire workforce, turned civilian factories to making armaments, ploughed up parks to grow food on, and tore down metal railings as raw material to make guns.
We evacuated our children, split up our families and sacrificed our men, while the rest of the world sat on their hands or laid down their arms, because fascism so repelled us. And why shouldn’t we be proud of that?
Jan 2 2007: It’s been pointed out to me that I may not know my history, and the UK may not have stood alone in quite the way I wrote. So don’t listen to what I say…
The National Health Service
I’m always astonished when I read that in other, allegedly civilised countries, health care is based on ability to pay. God knows, our NHS isn’t perfect, but get this: if you fall sick in the UK you will get treatment of the highest possible quality that the NHS can provide, free at the point of delivery, regardless of whether you’re a millionaire or a vagrant. Now that’s a civilised idea.
Jane Austen and George Orwell
Both used the English language perfectly to celebrate and satirise the England that they loved. Orwell, in particular, is a hero of mine with his fierce promotion of clarity of language, his love of fairness and his defence of the weak. I reckon he should be the eponymous St George today.
I’ve a mix of Scottish and English extraction with a dash of Italian too. My wife is a naturalised Brit, from Thailand, so my kids are utter mongrels, which is itself quintessentially English. Everybody is mixed race here.
We live next door to Naz, a British-born muslim of Pakistani background, and our other neighbours are the Murphys, of Irish descent. Across the road are the Singhs and the Cohens and the Smiths. It’s a crappy grubby urban English proper street, full of proper English people.
It’s three years since Wrox Press went bankrupt and I got caught with redundancy for the first time, having survived four previous rounds of downsizing in various organisations. It got me thinking about the common signs of sickness I’ve seen in each company before it slides into corporate intensive care. Continue reading Signs of a sick organisation
Noise. Breathy vocals mixed low. Mellow tunes almost submerged by chainsaw guitars. They’ve picked up the torch from My Bloody Valentine and taken it somewhere else – round to Cindytalk and Loops’ houses. It’s on almost continual repeat on my Zen mp3 player. And – staggeringly – they’re from Norway, the dullest place in the Universe.