Friday, 30 May 2008


It's been and gone for another year, and it's not something that I've watched for a considerable while now seeing as how my household is television-less. Maybe it's on the wireless too? Not Radio 1, that's for sure, but I've never looked. It could of course be that it's made its way to Radio 3 by now, seeing as how they've almost abandoned the classical music lover entirely.

It is a great source of entertainment though, and it's curious that only the Brits seem to appreciate its true awfulness. Terry Wogan seems an irreplaceable element in the evening's entertainment, so it's sad to hear that he's thinking of stepping down. Any successor is on a hiding to nothing, that's for sure. They'll not be able to play it straight, and it'll be difficult to find a different angle for humour.

Actually, not having a TV diminishes the pleasure of the contest not one iota. It takes only one single Wogan quote (this year he described an act as like 'the four brides of Frankenstein and a man with a washing line') to make me laugh out loud.

It's disappointing that the UK never applies itself seriously to finding an act that really lives down to our expectations of Eurovision (well, some would say we do), rather than simply going for the irredeemably naff.

Other bloggers have been very good on Eurovision. The one I enjoyed most was Rachel from North London, although Norm struck a slightly more serious note over on the wonderful normblog. Norm offers the usual excuse (we only really used to watch it for the children) with the almost plausible (we only watched 'about half a dozen songs' this year) before he deals at length with the unfairness of the voting system. I rather suspect that he watches the programme avidly from beginning to end, despite his denials. Given the surreal nature of the contest, it is difficult to see what a 'fair' voting system could possibly add to the already ludicrous.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Book Swap

Jeanette Winterson has been sounding off about book-swapping, and has stirred up a fair bit of comment, so I'll put my own ha'p'orth in too.

Her position is ludicrous; authors are not being cheated in the slightest by book exchanges. The curious notion that a book should only be read by the original purchaser is about as daft as suggesting that cars should only be travelled in by the first owner. A book after all can only be read by one person at a time, quite unlike the comparison she makes with file sharing, where material is repeatedly duplicated. And it is a book on which the author has received a royalty.

Just suppose that Ms Winterson were taken with an urge to fling away a good part of that next large advance on an Aston Martin. Would she refuse to consider buying a used car on the basis that it cheats AML of their proper reward for having designed and built it? Of course she wouldn't. The only logical conclusion of Ms Winterson's rationale is that all second-hand trade, of any nature whatsoever, be banned. And that books should be burned as soon as they've been read.

Then of course she has a moan about royalty returns. That's a somewhat different matter, but the hard truth is that it is the writer who accepts the terms offered by a publisher, and they are not forced to. They can always look elsewhere or, since it has never been easier, elect to self-publish. Not whinge on about how hard done by they feel.

Ms Winterson's debut novel was terrific but lets face it the rest have been a sequence of dull, pretentious duds. If she doesn't like the idea of her books being swapped, she could always try writing ones that people want to keep.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

The joy of vinyl.

Even as CD sales plummet, vinyl sales are very much on the up. This is not entirely surprising. The progression from LP to cassette to CD and now to digital download has made music a disposable commodity; download today, delete tomorrow. The fragile LP though always demanded respect; the ease with which it was damaged underlined the value of the music relative to that of the plastic disc that stored it. If you cared for the music you had to care for the record.

The new Portishead album came out this week, their first in over ten years. It's lengthy, a double disc on vinyl, primarily rhythm driven now against their earlier work's sense of melodic structure. I had to wait an extra day to get it on vinyl (you can't exactly pick it up on your weekly supermarket shop) but it was worth it. I'm still finding my way into it, but it has flagged up one of the less obvious benefits of vinyl. You're limited to hearing the music in bites of 20 minute or so, a pain with classical music, but a real boon for just about everything else. Different sides of a record tend to take on their own individual character, regardless of artistic intention, and listeners do tend to acquire a 'favourite' side over time. On top of that you can't easily skip the tracks that lack immediate impact, so they do tend to get equal time in the listening process. I wouldn't want to listen to this record straight through on a CD, the sheer length would dull my responses.

At the moment it's side 4 that has caught my attention. I love the long bass notes towards the end, falling somewhere between a ship's foghorn and an air raid siren. I suspect that I'm actually going to work my way through the record back to front, because side 3 is sounding pretty good too now. I don't mean to sound half-hearted because I'm not. But some music requires a little familiarity before you fully appreciate it, and vinyl eases you in almost without you realising.

Only one complaint here. The LP sleeve offers a wonderful opportunity for striking artwork, but Portishead haven't taken it.