Friday, March 16, 2007

New Location

I'm so fickle. I switched to Wordpress. Again. My site is now at

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My First Gig

Despite the advancing years, my memory remains excellently "fit-for-purpose", as any number of public figures currently seem unable to avoid saying. The purpose being... to rewrite my past in a way which fits my current needs.

When my son asked me about the first gig I ever went to, I told him about Killing Joke. They were a product of the early eighties post-punk scene, and are widely cited as influences by better known bands such as Metallica, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, or more recently Korn. It was 1982 and I went with my mate Lofty. The venue was just down the road from the Birmingham Hippodrome. I was conmpletely out of my depth and only knew a couple of songs. I was soaked with sweat and my head throbbed all the way home, but I'd loved it.

It was a perfectly formed memory. It reminded me of the joys of innocence and experience, while boosting my musical credibility in front of my teenage son. There was only one problem. It was not my first gig.

That was the rather less streetcred enhancing Altered Images at the B'ham Odeon in 1981. Like a host of other teenage wanabee punks in the audience, I was there to get the best possible view up the ra-ra skirt of girl-next-door-sexy lead singer Claire Grogan, and brag to all my schoolmates about it the next day. I seem to remember that at the time they were considered vaguely cool because of the alleged Banshees connection. However, they were later known for their commercially successful but slightly embarrassing punk-pop fusion, the skinny cringe-inducing little girl singer, and the utterly uncool single "Happy Birthday".

I am sure that when asked by my son, I had genuinely forgotten all about Altered Images. But now, in my quiet moments, I can admit I liked them better.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Surge of Sperm in Belgium

Flemish men are much more potent now than they were 15 years ago, according to the latest scientific study. The dramatic improvement started in 1995 - the same year that I arrived in Belgium. However, no statistically significant correlation has been established between these two facts.

On 22 February reported encouraging new research under the noteworthy headline "Quality of Flemish sperm surges". Ghent University andrologist Frank Comhaire recorded an amazing improvement in the quality of Flemish sperm. Prof. Comhaire says that since the low point in 1992, the mobility of sperm has increased by an amazing seventy percent.

Prof. Comhaire looked at the relationship between sperm quality and birth figures on the one hand and the presence of heavy metals, dioxins, pesticides and other chemical pollutants in the environment on the other. His team established a clear link between a drastic reduction in dioxin emissions and improved sperm quality.

In other news, Belgian underwear sales are buoyant, with strong growth in all areas.

* Apparently an andrologist is a medical expert focusing on diseases in men, especially those of the reproductive organs. Obviously I wouldn't know myself.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Cool Podcasts

I've been into podcasts for quite a while now - since I discovered the joy of listening to all those BBC Radio 4 programmes I'd normally miss, while travelling into the city on the train. I don't spend a lot of time exhaustively combing the podcast listings, but I've found there's some good stuff out there - amongst the piles of rubbish.

I never much cared for the idea of the walkman, or the ipod. Partly because of my low opinion of those inflicting a drum beat serenade on their fellow travellers, and partly because I've always enjoyed music in a social context rather than as a solo activity. If I could have listened to the Today programme (BBC Radio 4) on my way to work every morning, like I used to do when I took the car, that would have been perfect. But getting a transistor radio to receive 198 LW whilst on a Brussels tram is pretty difficult. Believe me. I've tried.

So downloadable BBC radio programmes have been a welcome step forward to me, and so in more recent times, has the discovery of good quality podcasts from other sources. In the beginning most examples were pretty poor, but some have turned out to be excellent. The consistently high quality still comes from my trusted channels like the BBC (UK) and NPR (USA) but I've come across great independent ones too.

To add to my previous meme lists, here are my four favourite podcast channels:

The Seanachai - Consistently clever and charming short stories
The President's Weekly Radio Address - Can parody outdo Dubya?
The Now Show - BBC Radio 4 - Weekly British political satire show
Science Friday - NPR - Weekly American popular science show

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Nice Green Glow

Just like a certain major British retailer, I feel the need to demonstrate my environmental credentials today.

I could walk the 10 minutes to school with my kids in the morning instead of taking the car. I could invest in energy-saving improvements in my home, like new light bulbs. I might get radical and turn off the lights when I'm not using them. It's even been suggested that I might put on a jumper and turn down the central heating thermostat by one degree. I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet.

But the longest journey starts with a single step. So today, inspired by the example of Britain's returned prodigal retailer, I'm taking a first few tentative steps. I've saved food miles by buying 50 kilos of winter apples from the very nice farmer who knocked on my door, and I've changed the template on my blog to a nice leafy green.

Like many ordinary concerned consumers, I am instinctively cynical of profit centred big business and their green claims. That's because I know that even when the nice green choice is laid on a plate in front of us, I - and millions of others like me - need a dose of ECT to change our behaviour in anything more than the most simple of ways.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Public Smoking Ban

Seven weeks into giving up the fags and I'm finally ready to risk going to a pub again. After all, from 1 January 2007, smoking is banned in all public places in Belgium right? Oh, I see. All public places where people don't mind not lighting up.

I gave up smoking for the somethingth time about 7 or 8 weeks ago. The last time I tried lasted all of 2 heroic weeks, so this is pretty good going so far. I gave up for the usual reason - I want to live. But there's also various other contributing factors like care and concern for my wife and kids, general fitness, recurring hypochondria etc. But what really helped this time was the thought that I wouldn't be able to have a drink and a cigarette together in the bar in any case.

Even though I originally thought the Irish ban on smoking in pubs was bizarre, I came round to the idea. When it was discussed in the UK, I was one of those smokers supporting it. The reason is simple. I am a smoker because I enjoy having a cigarette. Giving up can be tough, and the chemical addiction is real and fairly powerful. But when I'm giving up, the worst temptations are those situations where you enjoy having a cigarette. For me, that was in the pub over a beer. So the much discussed Belgian ban on smoking in public places (from 1 January 2007) was an encouragement.

However, in true Belgian style, the ban is not all it seemed. What they really meant was that smoking is banned in all public places, except those where it's not. That means that most cafes and bars I've come across so far are still smoking zones. So back to relying on willpower then...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

School Photos

If there's anything calculated to bring me out of a blogging stupor it's a case of parental dotage. October is school photo time - so here they are.

These are pretty cool compared to the horror cases produced by Cecil Wilkins "Photographer to the Stars", who blighted the lives of thousands of Worcestershire schoolchildren in the 1970's and 80's. I was victim of a few of those in my time and they were, of course, the one's my Mum loved. You know, those ones with eyes half-lidded and mouth open guppy style. Or even better, showing the victim in the act of suppressing a particularly strong impulse to break wind.

She'd order extra copies of the mini ones and send them to every single auntie (including the pretend ones who lived next door), great auntie, nan, grandma, great grandma, and all the ladies at the Kingdom Hall.

They were the ones for which she ordered the biggest enlargement possible. The megalux 90x60cm poster print would then take pride of place - in the front window - or on a specially erected poster board left behind by the unsuccessful labour candidate for the Mid Worcestershire constitutency in 1983.

Of course I would never inflict such excruciating horror on my own children. Well... the web's different. The picture's aren't so big.