And so to The Terror: Infamy, a confusingly named follow-up to the 2018 TV series based on the ill-fated Franklin expedition to seek the Northwest Passage. Only this is about a different group of people being beset by terrors both material and supernatural. In this case it was their own government, ably assisted by the usual pitchfork-wielding suspects and people who ought to have known better who had it in for them.
I reviewed the AMC TV series The Terror a while ago, and had a little moan about the lack of parts for women in the show. And now, belatedly, here comes this second series (which has appeared on the BBC iPlayer over here), and what do we have? Why, not only are there plenty of women in it (see? it can be done!), but there are women behind the camera, directing, writing episodes, and producing.
Infamy first appeared on AMC in 2019, a year after the original series. I said that it’s confusingly named because it has nothing to do with the original Dan Simmons novel, nor the series based on it. Instead, this sequel (?) is based on one of the most shameful events in the history of the United States. Which is saying something, because there are so many to choose from.
Following the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, American citizens of Japanese heritage were rounded up and sent to prison camps. Their fellow Americans mostly stood by and let this happen. Beloved children’s author Dr Seuss draw a cartoon for a New York newspaper depicting all Japanese Americans as potential saboteurs.
So on one level, this show is about that horrorshow. People being rounded up and sent to camps. In America. Denied their civil rights, their livelihoods, due process, dignity, fairness, recognition. One member of the cast, George Takei, was there in one of the camps. Other members of the cast and crew had family members, grandparents, and so on, who were there. Many Japanese-Americans joined (still! joined!) the 442nd Infantry Regiment and were involved in fierce fighting in the Vosges mountains in 1944. All of this we learn in a touching post-script to the final episode.
On another level, because this is The Terror, we have a story of a Yōkai – or perhaps a bakemono –, a mysterious spirit, which is variously haunting, possessing, and shapeshifting as it seeks something lost, and which will destroy anybody who gets in the way. In summary: scary Japanese ghosts, in America. Soldiers throw themselves from watchtowers, babies are still-born, people behave – and move – in disturbing ways.
So if you enjoyed being creeped out by the weirdly-moving ghosts in Ringu, you will probably enjoy this too. It probably lasts a couple of episodes too long, but that’s a fault with all kinds of shows. There are quite a few subtitles too. Still, this is a step up from the original, and it’s good to see that so much of the story (at least half!) centres around women.
When Amazon dropped Ten Percent, the English language version of Dix Pour Cent, which was the original French title of Call My Agent (keep up at the back), the tenor of the reviews was that the adaptation was fairly pointless, largely because the producers chose not to depart from the original storyline very much.
A straight remake, then, almost a shot-for-shot duplication. The action is transplanted from Paris to London, and the cameo appearances are well-known British actors rather than well-known (?) French actors, other than that, same show, complete with all the flaws of the original.
Why was Call My Agent so popular on Netflix in the first place? My theory is that it was because of lockdown. People generally don’t really like watching subtitled shows, but because of the lockdown(s), everybody got desperate.
For myself, I did “watch” Call My Agent, or I should say I was in the room while it was on, but as I treat television as radio with pictures, I didn’t really read the subtitles. My understanding of the show, therefore, was based on my shaky schoolboy French and my high level of media literacy. Anyway, my opinion is and was that it was fairly harmless, lightweight, but that it wouldn’t have been so popular if not for lockdown. It was two kinds of escapism: light entertainment, and dreaming about Paris when we couldn’t go there.
So the English version is almost exactly the same, as I said, except we’re no longer in lockdown and only wankers think London is cool. The show does have several flaws that make it a bit irritating. Here goes.
First of all, the theme music. JESUS CHRIST. If you’ve never heard it, count your blessings; if you have, then rest assured that the deafness is only temporary, unless you deliberately stuck knitting needles in your ears so you wouldn’t have to hear it again. The screeching singing is like two forks tangled together in a drawer, and it’s possibly the worst thing I’ve ever heard.
The irritant music, sans vocals, continues throughout every episode, with the jaunty piano bar interludes padding each one for length. It’s the kind of music used to make unfunny comedy shows seem more, you know, funny. It’s the Comic Sans of music, and like Comic Sans, it’s terrible.
Moving on from the music to the premise of the show, are we supposed to believe that this talent agency in London, which seems to have so many prominent and successful actors on its books, is also in deep financial trouble? Clearly, the joke of the programme is that nobody knows what they’re doing, but still. I’ll redact the names, in case you are the one person who enjoys cameo appearances, but these people are all working and presumably paying the commissions. Shaky premise aside, the show really rests on the one joke (nobody knows what they’re doing) and repeats it over and over again.
The script that accompanies this one joke is dreadful, and it’s one we’ve seen before in a slightly different (but not different enough) context. While there is a team of writers, and they were clearly adapting the original French thing, the principal brain behind this is John Morton, who was also responsible for the BBC-satirising W1A, and the Olympic Games-satirising Twenty Twelve. If you know those scripts, then you know Ten Percent. It’s a lot of people sitting in meetings looking bewildered and or bored and saying, “Yes…” and “Of course…” over and over again.
It’s tired and it is tiresome. Haven’t we been here before, with a show about the meaninglessness of work, the pointlessness of meetings, and the vacuousness of corporate communication? We have. And we have the “Great!” “Super!” guys from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin to thank for it. Jack Davenport has almost nothing to do except look puzzled and say, “Yes…” at intervals. Meanwhile, Maggie Steed says, “Of course they do,” at similar intervals. Another actor (actually several of them) get to make the same face across the office over and over again. And then there’s the perky American who is “Really excited!” but secretly sad. It’s all very lazy writing. Why give anybody anything to say when you can just have them hem and ha and apologise all the time?
It’s all a bit unforgivable. As to the actors who were clearly queueing to gently send themselves up as the variously stitched up, long-suffering, disenchanted, tolerant, slightly insecure clients of this agency? Shame on them.
I’ve got very mixed feelings about Grace, which has been running on ITV on Sunday nights, and is available on BritBox without adverts if you’re a subscriber.
On the one hand, it stars John Simm, who is always a very watchable actor. It’s set in Brighton, which makes a change. The series is based on the novels by Peter James, which I’ve never knowingly read but which seem to be very popular. There have been 18 of them!
On the other hand, the show is a very by-the-numbers procedural, apart from the one thing that might set it apart, which the producers seem to have downplayed to make the show more standard. More on this below. Then there’s the unforgivable use of the hoary old trope of the dead/missing wife. Roy Grace’s wife is 10 years gone, and of course he’s obsessed/haunted etc., and apparently unable to move on with his life. *thunk*
ITV seem lukewarm on the show. Sure, it has a prime Sunday night slot, but at this time of year; and Season 2, so-called, comes a year after Season 1, which in the UK at least consisted of just the one episode. Wikipedia has it as two (ooh), but the second was shown on the 24 April this year, not last year, which was when the first episode appeared. Call episode 1 a pilot, and what we’re watching is Season 1 proper, which is still only going to be 4 episodes, making 5 in total.
All of the novels have the word dead in the title, and the TV show follows the same styling. But this conceit is fairly pointless, and the titles don’t seem to bear much relation to the episode contents.
The one wrinkle this show has is that Roy Grace sometimes takes items belonging to murder victims and consults a psychic. This is a background rumble to a lack of respect for him from his superiors, and sometimes shouted questions from fictional journalists, but it doesn’t seem to lift the show enough out of the ordinary. The producers have definitely shied away from making this a show about a detective who solves crimes by consulting a psychic.
John Simm remains watchable, but while the show is competent, it doesn’t zing. Also, if there were that many murders in Brighton, I think we’d know about it.
I’ve pointed out before that Amazon are terrible at curating their own premium television service. There is actually quite a lot of decent stuff on Amazon, but you would never know it from looking at the interface for Amazon Prime, which mixes so-called “originals” with back catalogue, mixes stuff you have to rent or buy with the stuff included in your subscription, and – now – mixes Amazon Prime stuff with Freevee stuff as well as stuff – like Station Eleven – that you have to get a subscription-within-your-subscription to see.
It’s way too complicated in a universe of premium TV services, and if you’re looking for something to watch, your heart might sink at the prospect of negotiating that interface. And on top of all this, Amazon are simply terrible at telling people when new stuff is going to be available. To the point, I think, that TV critics can’t even be arsed with it. I listen every week to the Radio Times podcast, and it seems they’re much more likely to talk about something on BritBox than something on Amazon.
In the middle of all this nonsense, and for reasons best known to themselves, Amazon have decided to take what is probably their best show (and the main reason to get a Prime subscription) and put its sequel series on Freevee, a television service so pointless that it’s already on its third name — and still nobody cares about it.
Laving aside the terrible (and non-compliant) Prime TV apps, the problems begin on the Amazon landing page, where you’d barely know that there is a whole premium television service with expensively made shows somewhere behind it.
When you do get to the Prime page, what do you see?
Two (2) prominent promotions for an undoubtedly shit film; something that might be a comedy aimed at teenagers, some kind of undoubtedly shit true crime documentary, and some kind of undoubtedly shit live comedy thing. None of which, you’ll notice, is Bosch: Legacy, the sequel series to the five (excellent) series of Bosch. Bosch: Legacy dropped its first four episodes on Friday 6th May – two days ago.
Scrolling down, and we get two almost identical tiles for something called The Escape Artist. Ooh, is this new? No: 2013. Then a bunch of films which were made in years ranging from 1962 to 2019. These are categorised, variously, as Movies We Think You’ll Like (or How Algorithms Get Things Wrong), Popular Movies. Then we get TV Shows We Think You’ll Like and then New Movies Every Day,Science Fiction Movies; suggestions based on the fact that I watched an episode of The Wilds before deciding I couldn’t stand it; then Documentary Movies, Top Rated TV Series, Noughties Movies, Popular TV Shows, Documentary TV Shows, Emotional TV and Movies, Action and Adventure TV Shows, Tense TV and Movies, Because You Watched William and Kate (I didn’t), Comedy TV Shows, Top 10 in the UK, Comedy Movies, Feel Good TV and Movies…
And so it goes. None of the above included Bosch: Legacy.It took till I scrolled down to Top 10 in the UK to even see the latest episode of Star Trek: Picard, a show I have actually been watching. You’ll also note a huge number of movies, comedies, and documentaries, which I almost never watch. I skipped over mention of the sport that I never watch. You’ll also note there’s not a single opportunity to Continue Watching things I’m in the middle of, no Wish List (even though Amazon does let you add things to a personal list). Even the My Stuff tab at the top takes me not to my current list or shows I’m currently watching but to things I have already watched.
Amazon spent $11 billion on TV production in 2020, and $13 billion in 2021. But their trash interface makes their TV service look trashy, and completely hides the good stuff. Stuff like Reacher, Wheel of Time, Patriot, The Man in the High Castle, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Homecoming.
And so to Bosch: Legacy, which has been made with the same great production values, same lead actor, same high-quality scripts, some familiar faces and some new ones… and yet where is it?
It’s on FreeVee, which used to be called IMDb TV, and before that IMDb Freedive. Amazon own it. It has stuff on it. You can watch it for free (with ads). And I must say that the phrase “free with ads” did make me hesitate. But it turns out I needn’t have worried. Here in the UK at least there are hardly any ads. You barely even notice them. It seems that its only purpose is to allow Amazon to offer a free, ad-supported tier, although it doesn’t have the same stuff on it as the paid-for Prime service. And all it seems to do, for me, is cheapen the offering, make it harder to find Bosch: Legacy, and make it less likely that people will watch it.
It’s all absolute insanity. Still, as long as Bezos gets to play astronaut, I suppose. Do you think Amazon know how close “Freevee” is to the UK’s “FreeView”?
As to the actual show: in spite of Amazon’s efforts to prevent me from ever watching it or knowing it existed, I enjoyed it. Didn’t like the theme tune much. Bosch has left the LAPD and is working as a private detective. He’s hired by a rich old man in a wheelchair (in a scene reminiscent of The Big Sleep) and is also working with his former nemesis Honey Chandler (Mimi Rogers), who is pursuing to corrupt billionaire who tried to have her killed. And Bosch’s daughter Maddie (Madison Lintz) is a rookie cop. The story picks up exactly where Season 5 of Bosch left off, so that you’d barely know the difference. So a great big shrug emoji, but catch it if you can.
To my horror, I woke up last Tuesday with a gammon complexion because the day before I’d been to the coast for a roast in the hazy sunshine of North Norfolk. By Thursday my forehead was peeling in a delightfully attractive way, and what with the fact that I’m in need of a haircut and haven’t trimmed my beard in a fortnight, I looked like a gentleman of the road, a hobo, a vagabond, a drifter.
My wife, who really needs to get a hobby so she can leave me to get on with mine, wanted to go somewhere on Bank Holiday Monday. So although it goes against my every instinct to go anywhere in this country on a bank holiday, I found myself heading off for Hunstanton: well, it was an excuse to go somewhere in the new car. It’s a bit of a trek, Norfolk, but I’d rather do the extra half an hour than go anywhere near the M25 or the South coast. North Norfolk, by the way, seems very tautological.
Hunstanton might be quite nice if it wasn’t for all the eyesores along the sea front, which includes the vast expanse of concrete that is the sea wall, behind which you find all the static caravans, holiday homes, and even – laughably – beach huts. I know these latter can cost a lot of money, but I wonder how much the one I saw for sale was: it was bang next to the hideously noisy amusement park but had a direct view of the sea (as long as you have x-ray vision and can see through half a metre of grey concrete sea wall).
Hunstanton does actually have a nice beach, only not the beach in front of the town – the nice one is a little further along the coastal path, through the dunes, and away from the noise of the jet skis and the fairground.
Two observations. Firstly, if your idea of fun is speeding up and down the same short stretch of water on a jet ski, then fuck you. Secondly, there are too many dogs. I don’t remember this many dogs at the sea side when I was a kid. There were clear signs saying that there were no dogs allowed on the beach between Groynes 1 and 19, and yet countless dog owners cheerfully ignored them. And at least three of these owners let their dog shit and didn’t pick it up. So fuck them as well.
It wasn’t particularly sunny, but I didn’t wear a hat and I didn’t put on any sun screen, so I ended up looking like a honey roast ham, dammit.
So I finished this book, but I’m going to avoid mentioning the country in which it is set because I don’t want their bots/trolls coming here and taking an interest, which is what happened the last time I mentioned The Country to the East.
You’ll have noticed that I have been reading a lot of Robert Harrises lately. There was a day on the Kindle store when a whole lot of them were 99p. And unlike the time I bought a load of Inspector Montalbano novels for 99p and then discovered that I didn’t enjoy them, I do enjoy a Harris.
I was discussing a different novel with someone the other day (Station Eleven, as it happens), and they said something along the lines of, “It’s good, but I wouldn’t consider it literature.” Which, coming from my background, I don’t even know where to start. So literature seekers beware, you might not consider a Robert Harris thriller to be Art or Literature, but there is a whole world of highly competent, readable novels out there, written by the kind of writers who seem to be able to reliably knock ’em out on an annual basis.
The premise of Archangel is that an underachieving historian, Christopher Kelso, stumbles across an extraordinary rumour. A former leader of The Belligerent Country to the East – arguably the worst monster in history – who conducted a reign of terror, murdering or starving millions through purges and famine, left behind a notebook. And Kelso meets someone who claims to know where it is.
Chasing this rumour around the capital city of The Belligerent Country to the East, Kelso finds himself, by turns, frustrated, tempted, threatened, followed, arrested, and so on. Eventually, he reluctantly joins up with an American (journalist? CIA?) and they find themselves in the Northern city of the title. This is a place of rusting submarine hulks, decommissioned weapons, and grim, endless winter. What do they find there? Well, that would be the Big Reveal. Needless to say, this being The Belligerent Warmongering Dictatorship to the East, they are followed. To be fair, the novel is set pre-Dictator, in the régime of the Drunken Galoot called Boris (not that one).
It’s a decent enough page turner, though it didn’t grab me by the throat. When the grabbing doesn’t happen, I find myself focusing on silly details, like the lack of sleep had by the protagonist, or the lack of food, drink, washing etc. These kind of mechanical details shouldn’t matter, and don’t, but you can’t control reception.
Anyway, decent. Of course, there’s a film TV mini series (Daniel Craig), just as there was for The Ghost (Pierce Brosnan). I should have a mini Films Based on Robert Harris Novels Starring Actors Who Have Played James Bond festival.
I wanted to write a review of the experience of buying a car through Cinch — although quite a lot of what I have to say could be said of Cazoo, so I’ll also discuss that because that’s where my OH got her car.
Although we have been a two-car family for quite a while, I draw the line at being the (local average) three-car family. So when it was time for the kids to learn to drive, I replaced my late lamented automatic VW Golf with a manual VW Polo. And – in spite of falling out of love with Volkswagen – I quite liked the low running costs of this quite shitty little car, so I have kept it for years.
It’s not in good nick. Even though I didn’t even have the alloys on it for several years (I put on some winter wheels and couldn’t be bothered to take them off… pandemic, etc.), they’re in a sorry state. Plus there’s the big dent and scratch in the bodywork from when daughter #2 was trying to drive into a narrow stone gateway. Plus it’s covered in actual moss and has always been susceptible to the automotive equivalent of rising damp. Plus I hate it and haven’t looked after it.
In spite of these years of neglect and abuse, it still starts first time and even though it’s 10 years old it has under 50,000 miles on it, because it turns out when you hate your car you don’t drive it much. Less than 4000 miles a year!
All of which leads up to the moment my inertia was overcome and I clicked “buy” on a used car from Cinch.
My OH had previously done this on Cazoo. Our old Touran was a high miler and I was just idly clicking around when I came across a Tiguan in orange: sold. It was her dream car. It was delivered inside a week; the Touran, after very close scrutiny by the delivery driver, was taken as part-exchange, and my OH then had just 7 days to decide to keep the car (she did).
I’ve been going on these web sites, off and on, for a year or so, but I was never in a hurry and didn’t really know what I wanted. After promising myself a few years ago that I would not buy another VW, I knew I couldn’t bring myself to get anything else. This is not badge snobbery, it’s just a reluctance to change. And by now I’ve got such a (39-year) streak going, I don’t want to break it.
The sensible thing to do was get another Golf. But the truth is, I never much liked driving the Golf. I’m not a fan of the wheel-at-each-corner rollerskate type of car. I don’t like skittering around corners. And I like a car shaped car: a saloon, or coupé, something that at least looks like it has a conventional boot. My benchmark here is the old VW Polo saloon, of which I have driven two, both back in the day when Polos were perfectly comfortable to drive. The Polo saloon I had with the 1.6 engine: that was a good car. I also had a Bora, which was the old Golf with a boot. Again, a great car to drive, feeling better balanced and more planted than the hatchback.
Passats being the most boring cars in the universe, I ended up with a yen for a VW Arteon. These look prettier than the Passat, but are pretty similar inside, although with more leg room at the back. And I know from driving a Passat estate for a few years that this is a car that makes you feel secure on the road.
After this notion entered my head, it was a question of waiting for the right one.
Well: the right one went wrong, as previously reported, so I ended up with a slightly less right one on order. The price seemed reasonable, and not having to pretend to haggle is worth three times as much as you would save by doing it. I have a few regrets/moans about the not-right-one, which I’ll get off my chest later.
Cinch had not alarmed me unduly with the one that went wrong; they processed the deposit refund swiftly and were very responsive. I even got an email from the first person I’d spoken to on the phone after I’d phoned and spoken to somebody else: in other words, she was keeping an eye on the account. So I had no qualms about ordering from them again. If you’re a fan of avoiding interaction with humans, it works quite well. Doing all the finance forms online was so much better for me than having to sit with some 25-year-old in a shiny suit and reveal unto them all your private financial info. Everything is achieved online, then you get an email confirming it’s all gone through, and you can book your delivery date. You get an email with information about how to tax it, and an offer for 3 days drive away insurance.
Sidebar: The only real issue with buying on line is with phone calls, which I blame the iPhone for more than anything. As my friend Roy said when I bought my first iPhone: “You might want to get another phone to use as a phone.” Things haven’t improved. The iPhone is just about impossible to use as a phone. I also have an issue with those headsets people wear in call centres: distortion of the voice. Cheap crap, or wearing it wrong? Who knows.
Having taxed the one that went wrong, set up a direct debit with DVLA, and then had to cancel, I can tell you that it’s not necessarily a huge hassle. Because you’ve never been in possession of the non-delivered car, you can just cancel your DD and ignore the follow-up email. The insurance change was a bit more of a ball-ache, so I decided to wait until the car was sitting on my drive before changing it all again. It’s good therefore to have the three free days.
You get a courtesy phone call from Cinch a day before delivery. This is no guarantee that the delivery will happen, however, because it seems as if their “250+ checks” don’t take place until just before the car is driven off the lot. In the case of my went-wrong order, it was only then that the warning light was discovered.
My OH’s car from Cazoo, by the way, was delivered on the back of a Cazoo-branded truck, and the car itself is hidden away inside the lorry until they start lowering the ramp. Both Cazoo and Cinch offer pick-up centres, and Cazoo now charge £99 for delivery, so add that to the price of the cars as you browse. Cinch was still free delivery when I ordered, although the very idea is nonsense, because it’s all built into the price. Anyway, Cinch don’t come up your street with the car concealed behind a curtain on a truck. They just drive it to you. So the first delivery that went wrong really went wrong because it was a non-runner and the AA couldn’t fix it.
When my OH’s big orange Tiguan was delivered, you could practically see the curtains twitching in the houses opposite. I don’t know how they reacted to mine. I got home from work on Friday and on checking my phone saw a text from the driver saying she could deliver early if it was convenient. As I typed the reply: not a good idea because of the school run chaos outside our house, I turned around and there was a big yellow car on the drive. Luckily, she’d arrived just as the last parents were leaving. We now have the most garish pair of cars on the street. Result!
Whereas the Cazoo driver had gone over the old Touran with a fine tooth comb, the Cinch driver just took the Polo keys off me, jumped in, and drove away. All in all, a pretty good experience. The car was clean, the paperwork easy. I just went to the DVLA web site, told them I’d sold the Polo, then changed my insurance over — also online. Cinch’s “welcome gift” does not match Cazoo’s, however. My OH got a branded umbrella, demister, and ice scraper. I got a garish branded sippy cup and a garish branded fold-away shopping bag. Cazoo’s branding is classier, I have to say.
The Wrong Arteon
Perhaps the most upsetting thing in the whole enterprise was that my dream car was the original one I ordered. It was red, it was the Elegance trim, tuned for comfort rather than “sport”, and the options ticked were the options I valued: basic stuff like Apple CarPlay, but also convenience for the rear passengers such as their own climate zone and USB etc.
If you read reviews of the Arteon, you’ll come across phrases like “Nice car, but why would you buy this when you could buy an Audi?” Clarkson wrote in The Sunday Times,
Before you sign on the dotted line you’ve got to think: “No, I don’t want a Mercedes CLS or a BMW 4-series or an Audi A5 Sportback. I want that sort of thing but with a VW badge at the front and a boot the size of the Blue John Cavern at the back.”
This made me laugh because this is exactly who I am. Mr 39-years-of-Volkswagens. I don’t want rear wheel drive, I don’t want “sportiness” and I don’t want a fucking Audi. My inverse badge snobbery is that when I see an Audi badge, I see a tosser behind the wheel, and I don’t want to be that person. So the Arteon really was my personal dream car.
The only problem is, the wrong Arteon is just slightly off-axis. The colour, yellow(ish): fine. The R-Line trim and suspension, not so much. And although R-Line is supposed to be the slightly more expensive option, whoever specified this didn’t tick any of my boxes. So there’s no Apple CarPlay, dammit, and the rear passengers aren’t quite as cosseted.
It does have a big boot though. And I reckon I could get it from front door to front door, Buckingham to Auxelles, without needing to top up the fuel tank. Vorsprung!
I was half-listening to one of the million or so podcasts in my feed the other day, and whoever it was on whatever it was mentioned something about “12 songs to tell your life story”. Or did they? Is that vague enough for you? Anyway, my immediate thought was Desert Island Discs, which we’ve covered before. And then I thought, no, 12 songs to tell your life story is a different list, isn’t it? Not necessarily eternal favourites or can’t-live-without, but songs that are kind of kilometre markers on the way from there to here.
And of course, getting to my age means that 12 is an entirely inadequate number. Or maybe not. Maybe, after a certain point, everything is rinse and repeat. Here is a link to the playlist on Apple Music — apart from the Jonathan Richman song, which is not available. Domage! So here it is on the YouTube:
I Feel Fine — The Beatles. This late 1964 single is one of my first musical memories, so I’m assuming there must have been a copy in the house at some point, bought around the same time as Beatles for Sale, and long-gone by the time I adopted all the Beatles records. My memory dates not from 1964, or even the year after, but from the time I was at infants (?) school and going home for lunch. Going home for lunch, everybody. Remember that? When school lunchtime was long enough to go home, eat, watch something on the TV, and go back again? Anyway, a single frozen moment of me, shortly after crossing the Luton Road with the lollypop man, and on my way up Allenby Avenue with the guitar riff in my head.
Mr Blue Sky – ELO. Not sure I’m doing the chronology justice here, but certainly this song belongs in the late 1970s and is here to commemorate my first proper gig, as opposed to going to a local venue to watch a local band. My sister took me to Wembley Arena to watch ELO, big spaceship on the stage, terrible sound, rattling chandeliers etc.
American Girl – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. From around the same time. I’ve blogged about that period of time when I was first obsessed with The Beatles and other 60s acts, and my peers at school were mostly scorched earth punk rockers. Lot of peer pressure on me to prove I was not as closed-minded as I appeared. Tom Petty came along at this moment: definitely not punk, but also definitely not the “dinosaur rock” that was being blown away by the Year Zero punk rockers. Sigh.
Precious Angel – Bob Dylan. I was getting seriously into Dylan at about the time he “went gospel” and became a born-again Christian. I remember my Bejam cold room chats with my open-minded friend Martin, who said that Slow Train Coming was quite good. And I was dead-set against it, whilst all the time secretly loving “Precious Angel”.
The Ties That Bind — Bruce Springsteen. The River was my 18th birthday present, and I was gone before the month was out. The opening track, the chime of those guitars, and I can smell the sleeve of the album, indelibly associated with that awful December: glandular fever, the death of Lennon, and me leaving home after the last massive blow up by my mother. Christ.
That’s Entertainment – The Jam. Sound Affects came out towards the end of 1980, and by the time I found a cheap copy of this single, I had left home/school and moved down to Kent to live with my sister for a bit. I was stony broke all the time, but I think I found this in a charity shop (already!). I loved this song, and it still delivers a powerful memory of walking the back streets of Herne Bay.
Come on Eileen – Dexys Midnight Runners. A year or so later and I have moved back to Bedfordshire, living with still another sister, starting my first job. 28th June 1982. A month later, my first pay packet, of course I’m straight in the record shops. Too-Rye-Ay was released on 22 July 1982. And we’re back! Money in pocket, not even touching the sides of my bank account.
Deeper than the Holler – Randy Travis. How did country music enter my life? I was still working in Luton and living in Milton Keynes. A colleague gave me a tape. On one side, Randy Travis’ album Old 8×10, on the other Dwight Yoakam’s Guitars Cadillacs etc etc. I think the Judds were on there too, but they didn’t take. Nothing at all took until one night my girlfriend, best friend and I all got drunk on whisky and put the tape on. Amazing, and a million miles from what passed for rock music in the 1980s. I was forever converted, and although Randy Travis faded into obscurity, addiction, and was eventually picked up wandering naked down a Nashville street, this song still hits me.
It’s You – Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. Another stalwart of the Town and Country Club and the Mean Fiddler (see below), Jonathan Richman always came closest to the way I wanted to sound. Nine times, I think I’ve seen him live, most of them a joy in one way or another. This particular song, from his 1986 album It’s Time For… is such a lovely sound. I complain constantly about 80s music (again, see below), but the sound of his records was perfect. Acoustic guitar, brushed drums, a little bit of surf lead, no big reverbs, no synths, no drum machines.
Am I the Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way)? – Maria McKee. The 80s is the decade that taste forgot when it comes to rock music. From the acceptable folk-soul of Dexys to Maria McKee’s debut solo album in 1989 lies a wilderness of thin synths and blatty drums. Look, I know loads of people love that shit, but I cannot stand it and I won’t have it in the house. I’ll even go so far as to say that I cannot listen to Springsteen’s Born in the USA album these because of the production values. I bought my first proper HiFi towards the end of the decade, adding a CD player a year or so later, and this record was the opening track of the first CD I ever bought. A little while later, I saw Maria McKee performing at the Town and Country Club in Kentish Town, and it remains – probably – the best gig I’ve ever seen. An incredible voice, so loud, so HUGE, that no recording equipment could hope to capture its reality. This record is okay, but McKee in person was something else.
Lone Star State of Mind – Nanci Griffith. I went to visit John Harvey in Nottingham some time in the late 80s. It’s all coming to a head around now. I’d been in a five year relationship that was ending. My once best friend was just off the scene forever (we’ve talked about this before), and I was at a loose end, still working in the job I’d started in June 1982, but ready to make a move. I ended up falling in love in (and with) Nottingham and applying to the University, where I started the first of my three degrees. And from that first visit, a memory of this song, the opening track of the album of the same name. More great music from the 80s that isn’t rock and isn’t horrible.
Roll of the Dice – Bruce Springsteen. From that odd little period when Bruce had got sick of the bullshit of certain members of the E Street Band, and had sacked them and gone off to work with some LA Session musicians. And from the pair of unregarded early 90s albums that resulted, comes this, a heavy rock/soul number that is perhaps trying a little too hard, but which stays with me because it was in my headphones when I got a bit low and a bit homesick when I was at the University of Illinois for a couple of months. I learned a lot about myself back then. I’m walking around the U of I campus, I’m lonely and a bit depressed, and I’m about to head back to the UK and start my second year, meet the woman I’d go on to marry, and attempt to brainwash my kids into loving the same music as me. It worked with one of them… and maybe half-worked with the other.
I’ve been meaning to post a couple of updates about some Apple kit that has been less that stellar in my experience.
First, the HomePod Mini, which has been a huge disappointment to me. I hate to write this because it was a gift, but I kind of hate it, and I’m so done with it really that I’ve taken to using my old Wonderboom bluetooth speaker in the kitchen instead of trying to use the HomePod.
I first wrote about HomePod Mini here. Back then, I said that the Siri features of HomePod Mini could be quite useful, when it works, but weren’t reason enough to use it. I’d say that 90% of the time, it works to set a kitchen timer; 80% of the time it’ll add something to my shopping list in Bring (if I use the magic combination of words), and it’ll occasionally tell you whether you need to wear a jumper or not.
But the audio features are still useless, to the point that I feel like throwing it out of the window. You’re supposed to be able to transfer what you’re playing on your phone to the speaker by just holding the phone near the speaker. Does this work? Maybe one time in ten. The rest of the time, nope. So you tap the Airplay symbol on your phone and choose it manually instead. Does this work? Not always. About 50% of the time, I’d say. And even when it does work, it often just randomly stops working after a minute or so. And then it might let you reconnect… or not. HomePod Mini especially seems to hate BBC Sounds and the Overcast podcast player.
My daughter suggested I try it with Apple’s own Podcasts app, but although I got as far as downloading it, I just can’t bring myself to use it. It’s so horrible as an app.
On those occasions when the audio playback from the phone does fail, you look at the (very grubby by now) speaker and wonder what the fucking point of it is.
What is 100% reliable is what happens if you accidentally brush the speaker while reaching for a stock cube or something. It immediately starts blasting music at quite a high volume, to the confusion of whoever it was did the brushing. And the music it plays is whatever music you were last playing on it, which might have been six months ago. Great. It can’t remember the podcast or the radio drama you were playing a minute ago, but whatever was up in Apple Music in 1935, sure.
In the end, all it is designed to do well is respond to the command, “Hey, Siri, play some music”, at which point it will play some random shit “tailored” for you. In other words, nothing you’d actually want to listen to. It doesn’t even want to play your own library or your own playlists. It just wants to feed you its algorithm directly from Music, bypassing your phone, because frankly it cannot maintain a connection to your phone for more than a minute or two.
It really is a piece of shit, and a Wonderboom sounds just as good, plus you can carry it with you into the next room if you want to. Sure, it can’t set a timer, but that’s hardly earth shattering.
Finally, and briefly, I have to complain that the BeatsFit Pro noise cancelling earbuds I ordered a while back have been a bit disappointing in long term use. As I indicated in my initial review, the sound quality (for music) is pretty good. For some podcasts, however, they are a bit on the quiet side. This is a problem because as you may have gathered, 90% of my listening is to podcasts and radio dramas.
As to the noise cancelling, well, it doesn’t seem very cancelly. I mentioned in my review that you should use Transparency mode when exercising outdoors, but the truth is you could use Noise Cancelling mode and still hear the cars coming. I mowed the lawn wearing them today, and I could barely tell the noise cancelling was on.
But the worst thing about them is: those wingtips designed to hold them securely in your ears? They hurt. Not both ears, no, that would be too ordinary. My right ear is fine. My left ear, on the other hand, hurts every time I put them in. It’s like being stabbed in the ear.
So in answer to the question posed in my earlier review: yes, I am too old for them.
I’ll confess I’ve succumbed to a little bit of superstition over the past few days. APOLOGIES THIS IS A BORING POST ABOUT CARS. Or is it?
It all started when I ordered a brand-new second-hand car from Cinch. My OH had previously ordered a car from Cazoo, a process that went quite well, touch wood, white rabbit. I’m actually an old hand at buying cars online: I bought a VW Bora on some scheme run by Sainsbury’s, back in the early 2000s. I’d much rather buy over the internet than from a person in a shiny suit. So I had little trepidation about an online purchase, and once I’d worked myself up to it, I pulled the trigger with no qualms.
A delivery slot was booked, and I emptied the detritus out of my current car in preparation for handover. I didn’t go ahead and tax and insure it, however. I thought it would be better to wait until the bird was in the hand, as it were. But then I got a courtesy call from Cinch and they recommended sorting out the VED prior to handover. So I logged into the DVLA and sorted that out.
Then I made the mistake of tweeting that I was about to take delivery of my thirteenth Volkswagen in 39 years.
Touch wood, cross fingers, white rabbit white rabbit.
I am not remotely superstitious. But I did mention, on the courtesy call from Cinch, that I hadn’t taxed and insured the car because I didn’t want to jinx it. Felt faintly ridiculous when I said it out loud, which was why I somewhat shamefacedly logged into the DVLA.
On the morning it was due to be delivered, I got a text to say that it would soon be on its way. There then followed a series of phone calls, apologising for a delay. There was a warning light on the dashboard. There was an electrical fault. The vehicle would have to go to a garage for repair. It was a non-runner. Dead parrot.
It didn’t look good, going into the bank holiday weekend, so last Saturday I phoned to cancel. To be fair to Cinch, they were absolutely great, refunded the deposit, unravelled the finance, would use again.
It was all a bit of a shame, because on paper, it really did look like exactly the car I wanted.
The question is, does the alternative, not-quite-as-perfect car I just ordered count as the fourteenth, or is it still the thirteenth Volkswagen I’ve bought in 39 years?