Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The immovability of birthdays (etc.)

I just put a little post over on the Barstool, confessing my strictness on the issue of whether you can observe 'special days' - in party fashion - on a more convenient alternative to the calendar date on which they actually fall. I say NO.

When my lovely lady friends started spurning my overtures for a birthday night out a couple of weeks ago, one or two of them asked whether we couldn't do something on the following day, Sunday, instead.

I'm afraid I was unimpressed, unethusiastic. I pointed out - by return of text message - that after the anticipated (solo, if need be!) drinking session on Saturday evening, I was likely to spend the whole of Sunday "in the ICU, with liver failure".

It wasn't that bad, as it turned out (although it was essentially solo). But I did spend most of Sunday hiding under the duvet, trying to catch up on the sleep I hadn't had the night before (or for some days and nights previously).

There is (mercifully) only one birthday (unless you're The Queen, that is). There is only one Christmas Day. There is only one St Pat's. There is only one Mid-Autumn Festival. If you can't make the effort to celebrate it when it falls during the working week (or at some other time that just isn't convenient for you), well, you'll just have to skip it this year. That's just the way it is, as far as I'm concerned.

Doubtless, this pronouncement could stoke up a fair bit of discussion... Well, that's what we like on here - a bit of to & fro, cut & thrust, sally & riposte, blahblahblah.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Say it ain't so

On a shopping run to my nearest supermarket - inconspicuous out-of-the-way location, somewhat downmarket, exclusively Chinese clientele (but for me) - this evening, I couldn't help but notice an unusually large number of chocolates, dried fruits, and candied nuts on offer.

And we're talking aisle-end display racks here, and special festive packaging.

The Chinese New Year (based on the shifting lunar calendar) is again fairly late this year, not until February 7th. The only other major traditional/family/'religious' Chinese holiday (the Mid-Autumn Festival) in these dark months of the year is safely behind us; as is the major political holiday, the October 1st nation-founding day (the other week-long secular holiday in the annual calendar is not until the Labour Day celebrations at the beginning of May).

So, I can only conclude that this incipient promotional frenzy is for Christmas!!!

Western holidays (Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Easter.... even Thanksgiving) have been rapidly gaining in popularity in China in recent years; and Christmas is probably the leader amongst these (the impact of Valentine's day is huge - but at least it doesn't drag on for long). However, my observations over the past few years had suggested that it was still largely limited to students (who relish any excuse for a party, and any opportunity to impose upon their 'foreign friends'), and certain of the increasingly affluent middle-class who readily seize on another pretext to 'Westernize' their offspring by showering them with presents. The sales push in my local supermarket would appear to suggest that the holiday is this year being marketed to ordinary Chinese.

I wonder how that will go. I watch with interest.

But I can't help feeling - like my dear blog-friend OMG - that this is way too goddamned early to be rolling out the yo-ho-ho-ness!!

"Hark, the Herald Tribune sings:
'Go and buy expensive things!'"

The Recording Studio: amusing & depressing at the same time

Another session behind the microphone today.

One of the dispiriting things about this work (one of the many) is how many glimpses it gives you of the relentless indoctrination that goes on in teaching materials here.

Today I was struck by one of the simplest - and perhaps most benign, but still a tad discomfiting - examples.

It is very common, especially in the lower-level texts such as the one we were reading today, to set up a simple antithesis in a two-line dialogue, or even a single sentence, in order to spoonfeed a straightforward answer to a listening comprehension question.


"I like hamburgers. Susan likes dumplings."

"David is good at football. Tom prefers to play basketball."

Prompting gimme questions like "Who likes basketball?" or "Does Susan like hamburgers?"

But today we got one that went:

"Jill likes China. Judy likes China too."

I can't work out what the question would have been!

Monday, October 29, 2007

If it's Monday, it must be time for a bon mot

"Always be smarter than the people you work for."

Lena Horne

Of course, in show business, where there have been so many infamous examples of naive or unwary entertainers being robbed blind by unscrupulous agents, impresarios, record companies, etc., this may be a particularly essential tip.

For me, though, I don't think it's ever been an issue. No, what I have to remember is:
"Try not to be seen to be smarter than the people you work for."

As far as I can gather from a quick Net search, the lovely jazz singer Lena Horne is still with us; just turned 90 this year - way to go, Lena!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Sunday poem

I haven't posted any poetry of my own for a while (well, apart from the weekly haiku, which seem too small to count, really). The reason, I fear, is that I have been too busy - or too depressed or too 'uninspired' - to write anything for the past few months (well, apart from the blogs, which don't really seem to count either).

So, I've dug this out of my archives for you. One of my more frivolous things - inspired, I think, by one of my Charles Bukowski 'phases'; and probably also by some ruminations on the French expression petit mort.

the important things?

life and sex
are a lot alike:
generally POPULAR
and almost obligatory
yet somehow never
quite as much
as one would wish

perhaps because
we are distracted
by the constant effort
of trying not to come
trying not to die
but of course
we do come
and always too soon
and we will die
too soon

and maybe
that is the point
and maybe afterwards
there will be

Friday, October 26, 2007

Last orders: the Play It LOUD addendum

When compiling my huge, would-be definitive list of favourite songs to PLAY LOUD the other week (in two parts, of course: here and here), there were - inevitably - a few which really, really should have been included, but which somehow slipped my mind just then. The time has now come to rectify these unforgivable omissions.

So, this is the final supplement to the Play It LOUD list, bringing me up to 50 (or so) PLAY LOUD classics in all.

I treated myself to a few of these to wake myself up before heading out for dinner this evening.

Shoot Shoot - UFO
Got to have a 'metal' track in the list somewhere; and I've always loved Michael Schenker's guitar. (It would either have to be this or Rock My Nights Away from the Michael Schenker Group album 'Built To Destroy'.)

Dirty Boulevarde - Lou Reed
My favourite song from the great 'New York' album - which actually includes the exhortation "Play Loud" on the sleeve notes.

Road To Nowhere - Talking Heads
Nihilism was never done better. I've never been that much of a fan of David Byrne, but it's impossible not to love this track: a gospel intro, cowboy yells at the end, and that accordion.

Every Breath You Take - The Police
For sheer head-banging, I'd take Synchronicity 2; but Every Breath is such a compellingly obsessive love song, and the bass line demands to be played LOUD.

Home By The Sea/Second Home By The Sea - Genesis
I was never much of a fan of this group - either pre- or post-Peter Gabriel - but they were rather foisted on me by some friends at University. And the 'Genesis' album had a much broader appeal than most of their other stuff - it was one of those records that just about everyone seemed to buy. Side 1 ends with this very creepy two-part song (a kind of geriatric Hotel California); and - after a quietly atmospheric, suspense-building bridging passage - the closing instrumental section kicks off with a ferociously punchy drum pattern, a real floor-shaker; my hi-fi nerd buddies regularly used to use it as a speaker test (and I think on at least one occasion we managed to blow a woofer). I get tinnitus all these years later, just thinking about it.

I Fought The Law - The Clash
Had to have something by The Clash, the best English punk band - and this gets the nod narrowly over Should I Stay Or Should I Go? Mind you, the early version by The Bobby Fuller Four is pretty darned good, too.

Oliver's Army - Elvis Costello
Elvis really, really irritates me. I know he's terribly bright and his heart's in the right place and he writes some great music - but he is way too full of himself, his lyrics tend to be either perversely obscure or oafishly literal, and I find his voice almost impossible to listen to. Having said all that, this is just an irresistibly catchy song (maybe it's the piano?) - one of my favourite singles of all time. Great, great opening lines, too:
Don't start me talking;
I could talk all night -
My mind just sleepwalking
While I'm putting the world to rights.

She Drives Me Crazy - Fine Young Cannibals
I liked the name of this band more than most of their music - Roland Gift's thin falsetto got on my tits rather. But this song..... well, it just rocks. It's the guitar.

There She Goes - The La's
I don't know anything about this group, or about when this song was first released. I just know they often used to play it before the films started at my favourite cheapo arts cinema in London, the Prince Charles, when I was going there a lot in the late '90s, early '00s, and it instantly got under my skin. A perfect pop tune: sounds as if it comes from an earlier generation, sounds kind of like a Kinks song. And, of course, the theme of lingering infatuation struck a chord with me: I've never quite been able to rid myself of my fixation on the two great failed loves of my life.

Scapegoat - Chumbawamba
The final track on their awesome 'Tubthumping' album - I have come to think of it as my 'China theme song'. Sing along with me: "Scapegoat, looking for a scapegoat..... There's always someone else for you to blame." Oh yes, play it LOUD.

OK, that's it for the music recommendations. I promise. Well, for another month or two, at least.....

Another gem from the studios

I have only experienced this one secondhand as yet, gleefully recounted by various of my recording partners who've had to read it. I'm really rather looking forward to having a crack at this one myself: it will be quite a challenge to my powers of mirth-restraint.

Yes, apparently there is a new dialogue going the rounds, which involves a young man calling a hospital to report having been in a traffic accident, and a nurse attempting to assess his injuries over the phone.

Nurse: Did you fly through the windscreen?

Man: No. I only crushed my chest on the steering-wheel.

Nurse: I see. Are you still breathing?

Man: Yes. But I'm in a lot of pain.

I gather it goes on in similar vein for several lines more. Priceless.

Haiku for the week

best of work is being
confident in what you do
doing good in it

Yes, I'm going through a stripped-down, E E Cummings-ish phase. I think some of my recent ideas benefit from being freed of syntactical boundaries. There's something similar over on the Barstool. Probably a little bit inspired by distant memories of Pindar too: ariston men hudor

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Conspiracy Theory #99 - blame it on The Congress

Blogspot was freely available in China - mysteriously unblocked by those tiresome fellows down at Kafka Central - for less than one week. Yep, it's now blocked AGAIN.

The week of 'opening up' just happened to be the week that the big Party Congress was on.

Danwei has an intriguing - and horribly plausible - theory to explain this: it was just a sop to visiting journalists, to allow them to carry on reading (and writing?) their favourite blogs without any hassle, and to try and dupe them into thinking that Net censorship in China is not so bad after all.

Yes, I think that's probably it. When is the next big media circus due in town? We don't have to wait until the Olympics, do we?

A SLOW news week in China?

All last week - while the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China was in session - we were bombarded in the local media with pompous pronouncements about how this was the most important event happening anywhere in the world and how gazillions of journalists from every country you could think of (except Taiwan) were in town, hungry for stories about it. (Well, that's all we heard morning, noon, and night on CCTV-9 [the English-language channel] anyway, and I don't imagine it was much different in the Chinese-language coverage.)

Oddly enough, last week's Asia Media roundup of stories from across the East Asia region was the first I can remember that didn't have a single China story amongst its headlines.

The Congress perhaps had limited success in generating international media attention for itself - but it may have provided a potent smokescreen to keep other China news out of sight for a while (and let's face it, it's usually negative news, isn't it?).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It's not all Chinglish

One of the poor, overstretched English teachers in one of our partner schools just sent me an e-mail reporting that her cohort of Chinese teenagers were showing improvement "slowly, but surly".

A truly inspired slip-o-the-keyboard!

I know just what she meant.

Maya Angelou knows....

.... why the caged bird sings.

I imagine it's much the same reason why the caged office-worker blogs.

Why we love the Internet

Because of obsessive weirdo corners like this, where people catalogue photos of family pets that bear an uncanny resemblance to Der Führer. This pic, I think, is way the best. Lots of cats have an unfortunate splodge of black beneath their nose; but this one has the hair too..... and the wild staring eyes!

I am disappointed to discover that an old, old favourite in similar vein,, seems to have vanished into the ether - although their gimmick (product? were these ever for sale??) can still be found out there on the Net on sites like this.

Other oldies-but-goodies like Hats of Meat and Black People Love Us! are, I find, still hanging in there.

Actually, revisiting BPLU just now, I happened upon a splendid, very fitting quotation:

"Being a great writer is 3% talent and 97% not becoming distracted by the Internet."

Yes, indeed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Today's hilarity in the studio

Hopes for a rare day free of corpsing behind the microphone were soon dashed, when after just a few minutes my (female) recording partner DD was required to chastise me with the line:
"See what trouble your Willie has got into this time!"

(I'm not sure if this is a universal usage throughout the English-speaking world, but in the UK 'willie' is frequently a coy nickname for the penis. In this script, we merely had a father being blamed for the mischievous behaviour of his young son.)

Later on, complimenting a woman (apparently on weight loss - the rest of the dialogue was a tactless interrogation on crash diets and slimming pills), I had to open with the improbable, but oh-so-definitively Chinglish line:
"You look so fresh and cute these days."

It's "these days" that particularly gets my goat; Chinglish, for some reason, refuses to have any truck with the word 'recently'. But "fresh and cute"?? Is any woman going to allow herself to be charmed by such a mangled, obscure compliment?

Monday, October 22, 2007

End of my widowhood?

There are a number of my principal drinking buddies - notably The Choirboy and The Suave Bengali - that I have scarcely seen in the last 6 weeks. Their unfortunate addiction to the wretched game of rugby is to blame.

So thoroughgoing is my lack of interest in this that I had been completely unaware of the event in question (the World Cup, apparently??!!) until it was well under way, managed to avoid seeing even one second of TV coverage of it, and had not heard a single result until last week. I even remained obstinately unmoved when I learned that England had unexpectedly made it to the final; or when friends afterwards complained to me that "we were robbed". I have NEVER in my life watched a game of rugby on TV; and I don't want that record ever to change.

Imagine my dismay when I learned that a number of my female chums had planned an all-girl 'sleepover' to watch the final game this weekend.... rendering them unavailable to join me for revelry on my birthday.

When I was informed of this unfortunate clash in a text message from my lovely friend DD, I responded bitterly (oh, how I love the succinctness of SMS!): "Aha! Now my spurning is COMPLETE. Bloody rugby!"

A detailed description of the depth of my loathing for this game can wait until another time. For now, I just want to celebrate being once again free of its baleful influence for another 6 months or so. Vile, vile, boring, vile game!!

Weekly bon mot, dedicated to OMG

"Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else."

J.M. Barrie (1860-1937)

I was prompted to choose this quote for the week by a blog-conversation over the weekend with OMG, who is fretting about whether she could/should post about her new J-O-B. I have encouraged her to post about meta-work instead, about what it makes her think and feel, rather than what it is and what she does. I wonder if she'll run with that.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A busy 'birthday'

Despite my general distaste for the idea of birthday celebrations (and a certain paralysing lethargy which has been dogging me for some weeks), yesterday's 'big day' turned out to be not soooo bad.

It included:

Afternoon tea with two of my favourite ladies (mother and daughter)

A first-beer-of-the-day and a quiet read in the soothing atmosphere of The Bookworm

Sharing a quick dinner (one of the few decent burgers to be had in this town) with Tulsa

Seeing the final recital by the group of touring Indian classical musicians I'd been repeatedly failing to catch up with for the last week-and-a-half (and, at long last, getting to meet the lovely Hortense, who had helped to arrange the event)

Following that up, for contrast (and a bit of a wake-up!), with a rock'n'roll gig at one of my neighbourhood music bars

Not bad. Not bad at all. But also less-than-entirely-satisfactory. I was feeling desperately exhausted and lacklustre. My lovely tea companions had to rush off to another appointment after 45 minutes. Dinner had to be compressed into a scant 15 minutes; and then Tulsa got sidetracked for the rest of the evening playing host to some work colleagues. The Indian concert was fascinating, but...... it did go on rather (I noted in a text message to a friend who had quizzed me about it: "This music is very long-winded and repetitive; kind of mesmerising - if you can lapse into trance, you're fine; but as soon as you 'wake up', it becomes ferociously boring. I was in trance most of the time..."), and I felt the need to do a runner before the last (15 or 20-minute!) piece started. The following rock gig was a big disappointment: a new laowai band, good but not great; an hour late starting; a tiny crowd; an atmosphere-free barn of a venue - again, I succumbed to the urge to quit early, after only 30 or 40 minutes this time.

But then......

Well, it was a fine night for a walk home: clear and mild, with a fat half-moon shining down on me. I strolled up the Nanluoguxiang bar street, feeling very mellow and meditative. I looked into one or two of my favourite haunts down there to see if there were any familiar faces about, but NO. I thought of stopping in to the Yacht Club for a nightcap, but resisted the temptation. But, just before I reached the top of the road, I thought - "Well, I do fancy one more drink. There are always people in the Pool Bar; and it's a cool place to hang, even if I don't know anyone. And I do know the owners, and a couple of the 'regulars'. Shall I, shan't I? Oh, what the hell...."

If I had turned left instead of right at the top of that street..... well, I would have been in bed by 12.30, and probably rueing a bit of a fizzle of a day. But I turned right, to check out the Pool Bar. It didn't look promising at first: there was no-one I knew in; the list of people waiting for the table was too long for me to have any chance of getting a game in; and Luke, the owner, was getting ready to go home. However, just the one, I thought. Qualifying for the Brazilian GP was just starting on the TV, so that would provide reasonable distraction for a while. And then.... just as I was about to leave, a friend of a friend dropped in. I'd spoken to him in there a few times before, knew him to be a decent pool player. We chatted for quite a while about this and that; I bought him a drink to celebrate the 'b-word day'; the crowd thinned out; we got our turn on the pool table after all; I was actually starting to rediscover my form, and managed to win several games in succession..... it was only with some difficulty that I finally dragged myself away around 3am.....

Good things often happen in the Pool Bar. A fine end to the day.

Well, at least that's all over for another year.

The Nanny giveth, and The Nanny taketh away...

I discovered - quite by chance - just the other day that the long-standing block on Blogspot in China has been lifted. I was Googling for some birthday-related images I might be able to post, and one of the pics I was checking out happened to be on a Blogspot blog. I hadn't noticed this, just clicked on the link, was amazed when I found the page displaying on Explorer. I have no idea why China's Net Nanny has decided to relent on this ban (and the decision may well be reversed at any moment, with similar absence of rationale), but I am touched and grateful.

However.... we have been without YouTube since last Tuesday. Why?? You bastards! I imagine it's probably something to do with the current shindig for the 17th Party Congress; but is there something in particular they don't want us to be watching at the moment? Demonstrations in Myanmar?? A speech by the Dalai Lama?? I am particularly vexed by this loss of service because I had just located some rather good clips of my local musical hero Xiao He in concert and was looking forward to posting them for you on the Barstool. One day, one day....

What is, if anything, even more annoying is that the censors have also just found a way to block Wikipedia even via the Firefox proxy-routing that has served us so well for the past several months.

It looks as though I am finally going to have to get around to checking out the proxy software that Jeremiah recommended a few weeks back. Groan.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Return of The Anti-30 League

Together with some old University buddies, I long ago created The Anti-30 League - a group dedicated to revelling in the freedom and frivolity of the middle-20s (and denying the aging process) for as long as possible..... or at any rate, for as long as it was even vaguely plausible.

As the original members one by one settled into the conventional comforts of marriage & children, they gave up on this dream of eternal youthfulness - they lost their hair and grew fat and stopped lying about their age.

I am the last survivor of that noble crusade, the last Canute-like hold-out against the remorseless tide of Time. And even I have been tempted to think in recent years that it might be more seemly, more dignified somehow (and certainly more believable - yes, my hair is finally starting to thin, my face is getting a little puffy, the laughter-lines around my eyes are become ravines) to re-brand as The Anti-40 League. But NO - I must stand strong..... on a good day ("in the dusk, with the light behind me") I can still just about pass for late-20s.

So, today The Anti-30 League is revived, and heads out into the city to campaign with a new militancy. "Who are you calling old, you fuck? Do you want to take this outside?"

Birthday, schmirthday!

Oh, and by the way..... this post over on the Barstool was my 1,000th. This I-can't-believe-it's-my-fucking-birthday post is No. 1,001. The verbal diarrhoea flows on and on.

Catalogue of a gruelling week

I followed up a run of 5 consecutive gig-nights the previous week (and thus, 5 consecutive doses of late-to-bed-and-early-to-rise), and a weekend that included openings for a couple of friends' art exhibitions, dinner with one of the gallery owners and assorted hangers-on, a documentary film premiere, a leaving party for some friends, and a farewell dinner for a favourite former-Beijinger who was just passing through again for the week, with.....

Spending two full days in the recording studio.

Suffering a more than usually stressy week (well, three days that seemed like six) in the job job.

Attending three evening speaker meetings.

Wrestling (unmanfully...) with a bout of gastric 'flu.

Hooking up briefly with best friend 'The Chairman', to meet his sister and other friends visiting for a few days.

Trying (and failing, but at least trying) to hook up with gal pals Dishy Debs and Sexy Sarah and their coven.

Hooking up with a friend up from Shanghai for a few days.

Hooking up with FG for dinner (and bar crawl).

Finishing a novel (in one week - remarkable for such a slow reader as myself!).

Extensive text-messaging to try and arrange something for the dratted birthday this weekend.

Phew..... such is the crazy pace of life as we live it here in Beijing.

The weekend is now here again, and all I want to do is sleep.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Intelligence Test

What is the next number in this sequence?

1.... 2.... 13.... 5.... ??

As soon as I find out, I'll let you know.

Work sucks

I have just learned that I won't after all be going to the company's conference in Macau this year. I had been led to believe that I would. I have been telling my clients I would. I had already started laying outline plans for a satellite trip to catch up with a couple of friends in Hong Kong.

And the whole of the rest of the Beijing office is going - which tends to diminish my (already vanishingly negligible) status amongst my colleagues even further. Oh, joy!

Allegedly this was all planned and settled before I even joined the company, and it was just that nobody had got around to mentioning it to me (it's only a few weeks away now!) - but it does raise concerns that I don't figure in their long-term plans.

Sucky, sucky, sucky.

Another thwarted romance haiku

My first morning thought
Always you, your face, your smile.
Persistent longing.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A milestone among milestones

There are many possible reasons behind my recent profusion of posting (a reaction against the two weeks of complete suspension of blogging last month; hating my job; ill health and depression confining me to the apartment a lot...), but I wonder if one of them - at a subconscious level - isn't my recent realisation that we are rapidly homing in on a rather ginormous number. Yep, count up the number of posts for Froogville and the Barstool, put them together, and you find... very nearly 1,000!

I suspect I have allowed myself to be seduced by the notion that it would somehow be quaint or apposite to reach this landmark on my birthday in a couple of days' time.

My posting has been so prolific this week that I might actually get there before that....

An addendum to The Teaching Dream

I omitted one strangely vivid detail from my account of that dream I had the other day (in the interests of conciseness rather than through lapse of memory); but I mentioned it when I happened to run into my friend The Poet last night, and this prompted me to think of adding it here after all.

I was somewhat shocked and surprised to find myself face-to-face with Eric Morecambe. A rather youthful and vigorous Eric Morecambe, at that. I knew something wasn't quite right about this, but couldn't quite place what (Eric, of course, died of a heart attack more than 20 years ago).

I found myself for a few minutes before the class trying to make small-talk with the great man, and this doubt about whether he should - could - actually be there was nagging at me more and more insistently. But I thought it would seem rude to say (to a professional entertainer, who might, after all, simply have been going through a sluggish spell in his career), "I thought you were dead."

So instead I conjured up the bumbling euphemism: "I thought... you'd been performing elsewhere."

The Poet said she found it fascinating, charming, that these fundamental elements of our personality, the social impulses such as politeness, or the fear of embarrassment, endure even in our dreams.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The question you should never ask

Of course, all this talk of birthdays is likely, I know, to arouse a certain curiosity in my readers.

I believe Oscar Wilde once said:
"After 25, everyone is the same age."

That's the only answer you will ever get from me. Don't bother to ask!

Planet of Women

A supplement to my last post;-

The main reason why I gave up on trying to organise a celebratory get-together for my birthday this Saturday was that I suddenly realised just how huge an imbalance has arisen in the numbers between my male and my female friends.

It's not that I don't have male friends any more; but rather fewer than in the past, I think. Many have left Beijing. Of those that remain, a number have become so tied up with work and/or girlfriends that they have little time for socialising any more. Several more (including my oldest buddy here, 'The Chairman') work at weekends administering the IELTS English exam, and are regularly sent away to other Chinese cities for this. And a few (poor, misguided souls!) would rather be watching rugby this weekend than hanging out with me.

So, the number of men that I could rely on to join me for a night out this Saturday was: 0.

The number of close female friends I would have liked to have invited was at least 7 or 8. But only a couple of them have boyfriends (and even these are absent most of the time), so I really was looking at being the only man in the party. Lucky me, you may say! Well, perhaps. But not so lucky for the ladies - they like and expect a reasonable balance of numbers between the genders. I just didn't feel I could keep them all adequately entertained on my own.

How did I get myself into such a situation? Now, there's a question....

Christmas is cancelled

Or rather, my birthday is.

I don't really like celebrating, or even remembering birthdays. But then again, I do like any excuse for a party. And, oddly enough, I do seem to have fallen into the habit of doing something or other to mark my birthday every year that I've been in China (whereas I just about never did back in the UK or the US - at least, not since I was about 10 or 12) - I suppose we are all just that much more social in an expat community.

This year, however, I am short of inspiration, short of energy - and short of friends. So many people have decamped recently - gone back home, gone to other, more exotic countries, gone to The Other Place (i.e. Shanghai). I really need to start getting out there more, and making myself some new friends.

My buddy Tennessee Tom is threatening to throw a party at his apartment this weekend. I think that will have to do in lieu of my organising a repeat of the wild Froogian Bacchanalia of last year.

Details, Tom?? Only three days to go now!

A teaching dream

I had the weirdest waking dream yesterday morning.

I found myself back in the world of teaching. (I haven't actually done any classroom teaching in nearly a year now - oh joy, oh bliss) Chinese students. Two quite large classes of 30 or so each.

My fellow teacher was Eric Morecambe! (Late, much-lamented English comedian - a fabulous entertainer.) I was a little surprised to find him alive, and youthful and healthy - and a teacher. I was just a mite sceptical about whether he was qualified, would be any good at the job. But, you know, it's a dream - you just sort of accept things. And I didn't really have a chance to speak to him before the first class, to find out why he was there.

My class does not go well. No books, disaffected students, ramshackle discipline - I am wading through treacle trying to get them to pay attention, and not wander off to make phone calls or take loo breaks (i.e., cigarette breaks) whenever they feel like it.

But then, things suddenly go strangely quiet when I've turned my back for a moment to write something on the board. I turn around, and find the classroom suddenly empty. I think I've seen Eric once or twice lurking outside the classroom door (always open, for some reason), heard him whispering, cracking jokes, making sympathetic eye-contact with some of the students near the door. I immediately figure out he is responsible somehow for the mass disappearance of my students.

So, I go next door to his classroom - and find the students all there enjoying a lesson with him. It seems that no students had turned up to his class, so he thought he'd just come and poach mine!

Strange, no? I mean, it does sound very much like an anxiety dream - but I am one of the least anxious people you will ever meet; particularly in regard to my teaching, about which I have always felt robustly self-confident. Perhaps it is a mark of my enormous self-confidence (arrogance?) that only the funniest man in the world can compete with me in the classroom?? Then again, perhaps it's something else entirely....

Oh, what does it all mean, Doctor?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Today's gem from the recording booth

"I'm going on holiday to Egypt. I really want to see the Pyramids and The Neil."

Well, OK, it's more a typo than a classic piece of Chinglish - but it would never find its way into a tapescript or a student textbook in a country that could be bothered to make any investment in proof-reading.

Fighting the good fight, Chinglish-style

In tandem with the recent mass arrests of Africans loitering with intent to hook you up with some ganja ("Hey, man, how you doin'? You need something?") I reported yesterday, a number of bright red 'big character' propaganda banners have just sprung up in the Sanlitun bar district. I noticed a bilingual one outside the Tongli Studios building last Friday, with this priceless Chinglish rendering of the original slogan:

"Severely blow the drug-related crime."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Signs the Olympics are coming

Well, all of the things I just mentioned, of course. And some other, more sinister omens:

1) We have our own little 'war on drugs'. This has so far involved arresting (and, probably, shaking down) anyone African showing their face in the bar district. (I hear that one of the guys they arrested in a recent crackdown was the son of one of the African ambassadors, so they may have to lighten up a little on this.) Apparently, the next step is to make it next-to-impossible for Africans to get visas. (I wonder if they'll make an exception for the athletes? Or is this part of The Great Masterplan to try to ensure that China snaffles all the medals??)

2) News management is ramped up; more journalists are arrested. (Check out this article on the Committee to Protect Journalists website about the recent detention of freelancer Lü Gengsong - which is being widely described as part of "a pre-Olympic crackdown". Just what we need! It really is high time that the IOC took its blinkers off and started throwing its weight around a little on issues like this.)

3) All social problems mysteriously disappear, as the government resiles from its half-hearted progressiveness and lapses back into its more traditional cult of denial. For example, I have just learned through a friend that virtually all AIDS awareness programmes are being cut this year. No programme, no problem.

It's a depressing old world.

Signs the Party Congress is in town

And this is the BIG one for the Communist Party of China, the once-every-5-years unveiling-the-next-master-plan one.

Now this might very easily pass by completely unnoticed..... except for:

1) They have built eyesore scaffolding pylons (I hope temporary) down in Drum Tower Square to augment the floodlighting of the two historic watchtowers there.

2) The police have suddenly become very visible. There is a squad car parked permanently outside my local subway station.

3) Most of the beggars have been mysteriously swept clear from the streets and the subway trains. (Expect this to be 10 times more thorough and ruthless during the Olympics next year.)

4) The 7pm news on CCTV-9 (the 'international', all-in-English TV channel) becomes even more boring and propaganda-laden than before - something you would scarcely have thought possible.

It's a funny old world.

'Tiny pushes' - a bon mot for the week

"I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker."

Helen Keller (1880-1968)

Sunday, October 14, 2007


There is some construction work currently going on with the moat at the junction with the 2nd Ringroad by my nearest subway stop.

There is a truck offloading scaffolding. Some hundreds of hollow metal pipes. They are being rolled off the side of the truck on to the roadside, rolled down a steep, knobbly bank, and are then going over a sheer drop of 15 or 20 feet on to the bare concrete bed of the canal. And they are doing this, with great care and deliberation, one at a time.

Can you imagine what a racket that makes?

There are supposedly laws prohibiting the carrying on of noisy construction work near to residential areas between the hours of 11pm and 6am; but these are seldom if ever enforced. And doubtless the canny truck driver would argue that this is not construction, it is merely delivery of materials. Oiveh!

It's now 12.45am. And this seems likely to carry on for quite some time.

My apartment is half a mile away from this unloading operation, but.... yes, I can still hear it!

Music video of the week - Belly

YouTube doesn't seem to have many original videos of this band's songs; but there is a whole series of clips of this small open-air concert they played on the pier in Santa Monica in the early '90s, which appears to include just about everything from their first album, Star. Worth checking out.

This is Angel - the track I just recommended in my second 'Play LOUD' list. And it's followed by Gepetto.

(More) Play it LOUD

As promised, my provocative little conversation piece on favourite LOUD songs at the start of the week was only the first instalment. Here are my further nominations in the category. [I subsequently came up with a brief addendum as well.] What do you think?

Whiskey In The Jar - Thin Lizzy
I had to include something from this great Irish band of the '70s, and this wins out narrowly over The Boys Are Back In Town and Jailbreak. A traditional Irish tune - with all of the tragedy and melancholy that entails - given a thrilling rock makeover by Phil Lynott and Gary Moore. I especially love the opening of this, the wailing, echoey guitar sounding as if it is far, far, far away across a windswept moor.

Sunshine Of Your Love - Cream
I hadn't heard this for years until I found a little blues trio playing it in a local bar a few nights ago. I haven't been able to get that riff out of my head since. I definitely used to play this one LOUD a lot back in the early years of my working life. I don't have any Cream with me here - must dig some up somewhere.

Homework - Fleetwood Mac
I love many bits of Fleetwood Mac, from all of their diverse 'periods', but I love best of all their original incarnation under the leadership of Peter Green as one of the leading lights of the British 'blues revival' in the '60s. This is an old blues tune (Elmore James, I think) from a rare double album of studio jam sessions they recorded in Chicago with an awesome roster of the local bluesmasters. I don't recall who the guests are on this, but it's a scorching track.

Bad Moon Rising - Creedence Clearwater Revival
My phenomenal guitarist buddy Daniel nominates Creedence as the greatest of all American bands, and I am tempted to agree (despite the terribly cumbersome name). All their hits are worth playing LOUD, but I think this is probably the one I go back to most often.

One More Time/Is She Really Going Out With Him?/
Happy Loving Couples - Joe Jackson

Joe is my favourite British solo artist: articulate, intelligent, and always exploring new territory in style, arrangements, and production techniques; lyrically and musically he's just in a completely different class to anyone else I can think of. His braying voice gets a bit wearing, but you put up with it because the songs are just so goddamned good (an indulgence Elvis Costello or Billy Bragg rarely win from me; their voices are more irritating, their songs less good). Although there's so much marvellous stuff on the later albums (I have a particular thing for Vinnie Zumo's guitar on Tonight and Forever from Big World - another of those albums that everyone of my generation at college bought), it's the raw energy of his debut Look Sharp! that gets to me most - a great album to play LOUD all the way through. Yes, I know this is a bit of a cheat: the opening track One More Time is my main nomination here, but I do find it impossible to listen to it without the two songs that follow. [It had slipped my mind that the second track here is Sunday Papers - which is not quite as good as these, but still a hell of a song. And then these are followed by Throw It Away, which is also great. And then there's Side 2... God, this is a brilliant album! Really difficult to isolate just one song from it.]

Angel - Belly
Fast, poppy, endlessly catchy, hook-laden songs with intriguingly cracked, dreamscape lyrics and LOTS of guitar. And Tanya Donnelly is hot. What's not to like about Belly? I saw them play at the Astoria on Charing Cross Road in London in the mid-90s, just after they'd brought their second album out; and it was one of the best gigs I've ever been to. This has always been my favourite of their songs - a fantastically atmospheric opening, with a slowly building wall-of-sound of multiple chiming, buzzing guitars (I've often thought it would make great title music for a film). And full of great lines too: "I've had bad dreams/ So bad, I threw my pillow away."

Whole Lotta Rosie - AC/DC
Yes, my original rule for compiling this list was that I was only going to include one song for each performer but..... actually, it's more of a guideline (Spot the quotation, anyone?). I couldn't resist slipping in at least one more from AC/DC. (Also, it's a bit of a test to see if we get the spam-invite from the Bon Scott fan club on Google Groups again!) I remember reading a review of them once that said their music was chiefly characterised by "piledriver riffs - and spaces you could drive a truck through". A pretty fair summary, and nowhere better illustrated than on this blockbuster closing track from Let There Be Rock. For me, this is the archetypal AC/DC number, the archetypal headbanging number - a five-minute song with three minutes of soloing! It also has a particular poignancy for me because it became one of my 'theme songs' with my drinking buddies during the wonderful year I spent training as a teacher at the University of Durham. I was for a while trying to date a lovely young art student in London called Rosie (a very slender girl, I might add, quite unlike Bon Scott's Rosie). So, when I was pining for her from distant Durham, my friends loved to wind me up by putting this song on the jukebox in the student bar we occasionally hung out in (curiously enough, that was the live version from If You Want Blood - though these days I think I prefer the album version).

I Will Survive - Gloria Gaynor
Accept no substitutes! I really can't see why people bother to cover a classic like this - they're never going to come near the original. I mentioned a few times in the first half of this list that I have a great weakness for break-up songs. This is a very rare example of one that's actually empowered and recovering, rather than maudlin and wistful. Definitely one of those where the knob has to go up to '11'. (Also - guilty confession - this song acquired a powerful extra layer of associations for me as a result of a TV documentary I saw in England 15 or 20 years ago about life in one of our leading private girls' schools [I think it might have been Roedean]. Singing this song together was apparently something of a bonding ritual for the senior girls in one of the boarding houses. Seeing a bunch of posh, pretty 17-year-olds bouncing up and down on their beds, belting out this song [while wearing oversized, strangely masculine pyjamas!] is, er, well, somewhat erotic, I have to say.)

Lorelei - The Pogues

A somewhat untypical Pogues' song - one of Philip Chevron's compositions, I believe (as was Thousands Are Sailing, which would be my No. 2 choice for a Play LOUD track of theirs). There's plenty of their more traditional folk-influenced, Shane MacGowan-composed stuff I like to play LOUD too, but this is in a class of its own because it has a - wonderfully simple but hugely powerful - electric guitar line front-and-centre of the mix.

Common People - Pulp
I tend to find Jarvis a little too irritatingly up-himself most of the time, but Pulp were certainly more worthy of attention than just about any of the other 'Brit Poppers' of the time; and the Different Class album was exactly that, one of the standouts of the decade. This track has plenty of the usual deadpan wit, but it's also unusually profound - and coruscatingly angry.

All Things Bright And Beautiful - The Goodies
I already nominated this fabulous English comedy trio in the first half of the list for their surprisingly rocky, growly version of Wild Thing. They once gave a rather similar - superbly incongruous! - treatment to this traditional hymn. A silly choice perhaps - but that's me.

Just - Radiohead
In their early days, there was a grungy simplicity, a violent energy to Radiohead's sound. Their first two albums, Pablo Honey and The Bends, are Play LOUD classics. And if I have to choose only one track, it has to be this. Great video, too.

It's Only A Paper Moon - Ella Fitzgerald
A slight change of pace and mood here - yes, it is possible to get a little bit of a 'headbang' on to jazz standards as well. There's a wonderful, swinging, full-orchestra version of this I have (a Nelson Riddle arrangement, I fancy, circa late-40s), which has long been one of my top pick-me-up tracks. It was a great favourite also of my pal The Arts Entrepreneur: the theme of optimistic fantasy ("It wouldn't be make-believe/ If you believed in me...") struck a poignant chord with us when when we were both trapped in the wilds of south-west England, clinging forlornly to our dreams of a more fulfilled and exciting life elsewhere.

Voodoo Chile - Jimi Hendrix
What? Did you think we could get through a list like this without including some Hendrix? Of course not! The greatest electric guitar track ever.

Come A Long Way - Michelle Shocked
I'm a huge fan of Michelle, and there are many songs of hers I like to listen to LOUD; but for some reason this 'road song' about riding a motorcycle around LA has always been way out in front as my pick for a quick pep-me-up.

Rebel Yell - Billy Idol
Another artist who merits a second entry in the 'Headbanging Hall of Fame' - and might well have had a few more besides. Great guitar work on this from Steve Stevens.

I Scare Myself - Thomas Dolby
Dolby gets a second entry as well, though very different from his first, Close But No Cigar. This is an old jazz tune and given a fairly traditional treatment - with piano and trumpet dominating - but it's beautifully produced, and the bass line is so damned deep it hits you in the pit of the stomach.

I Want Your Love - Transvision Vamp
Infectious pop-punk tunes belted out by a stunningly sexy, dangerously intelligent blonde who could also actually sing - yes, Transvision Vamp had the makings of one the great bands; but sadly, it all fell apart within a few years. Some of us, however, will always remember with fondness - and, yes, a certain degree of arousal - their brief heyday at the end of the '80s. They had quite a few decent songs, but this, their breakthrough hit, was the best of the lot. I still enjoy a little jump around to this once in a while.

Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd
Another entry also for The Floyd: the highlight - or low point - of the magnificently depressing The Wall album, with just exquisite guitar from Dave Gilmour (I really wish they would let the final solo go on forever without fading it out).

Skokiaan - Louis Armstrong
The song is pretty piss-poor, but the extended instrumental opening - fully half of the 5-minute track - is possibly the most perfect piece of music I have ever heard. Jaunty African rhythms and soaring clarinet lines - it's just wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, irresistible; and then Louis comes in. Bliss. [Hmm, I hope I 'm not confusing clarinet with alto sax there. I suspect there are both, actually. There's a lot going on in this track. And it is a little while since I last listened to it.]

All The Way To Memphis - Mott The Hoople
Mott were a 'local' band for me as a kid (born in Hereford, grew up in Monmouth), and a big favourite of my elder brother's. Therefore it was more or less obligatory for me to hate them. However, through incessant exposure, I did find myself gradually coming to like some of their stuff despite myself. (The bro was also responsible for turning me on to Queen and Pink Floyd, despite my strong initial scepticism and disdain.) They are probably little remembered now, but were - briefly - quite 'big' in the early '70s (when Queen first toured the States, they were opening for Mott - amazing but true!). This is the best of those grudgingly-adopted favourites: a rather dull anecdote of life on the road somehow elevated into something amazing by a rollicking chorus and an infectiously bouncy honky-tonk piano.

I Don't Like Mondays - The Boomtown Rats
I think this was the most intelligent, the most unusual, and the most ragingly rebellious song I can ever remember getting to No. 1 (I really stopped paying any attention to the charts round about 1981, though; but it seems unlikely that there's been anything else quite like this since), and it was a landmark moment in my childhood. Another of the great, great openings, too (there haven't been too many rock bands who've bothered to include a pianist in their regular line-up). The fact that this was inspired by an early high school shooting incident occasionally makes me feel a little uncomfortable; but this context is swept aside by the fact that the song is so overwhelmingly anthemic. "What reasons do you need?"

And so, there we have it - the conclusion of my definitive list of the best songs for Playing LOUD. Now, this was supposed to be a Top 40 - but if you count up carefully, I think you will find that I've ended up with 42. Oh well, what the hell. It is a well-starred, highly significant number, after all.

Feel free to quibble and disagree (that's what the 'comments' section is for). But hey, give them a go first!

The Chairman writes a guidebook

My pal Tony 'The Chairman' is away in the north-eastern city of Shenyang this weekend.

I've never been there, but might have to go soon for work; so I quizzed him by SMS yesterday as to what it was like.

His terse reply: "Cold and non-descript."

That could - unfortunately - apply equally well to just about every city and town in China.

I was, of course, reminded of Ford Prefect's painstakingly researched summary of Planet Earth for The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy: "Mostly harmless."

Saturday, October 13, 2007

My fantasy girlfriend - Irma La Douce

Since it is increasingly clear that I have no chance of ever having a real girlfriend again, I have to compensate with my imagination. A couple of months ago I mentioned in passing this charming Billy Wilder comedy (in which a young and heart-meltingly gorgeous Shirley MacLaine plays a Parisian prostitute being romanced by Jack Lemmon's neighbourhood gendarme).

I would never have thought that green stockings could be such a powerful erotic aid, but..... since seeing this film, I have been quite obsessed.

Sassy, sexy, dynamite in bed. But also vulnerable - needs saving. Irma, you are my ideal woman!

I'm not so keen on the dog, though.

More avoidance of running

The Beijing tourism authorities like to tout October as the best time of year to visit the city, dubbing it the 'Golden Month'.

In fact, March, April, May, and September are much better. In October the nights draw in quickly, and the air gets bloody nippy. It is significant that the wait staff at all the restaurants change into their 'winter uniform' (often just tracksuits for the cheaper places) on October 1st. September 30th is usually warm. Sometimes October 1st is too; but it has on occasions been absolutely arse-freezing. And you can pretty much guarantee that by a week or two into the month, the temperatures will have plummeted.

To me, it always feels like the coldest month of the year - partly, perhaps, because it is also the windiest; and partly because of the abrupt contrast (two or three weeks ago the temperatures were still mostly in the low 80s or high 70s F; now, they're down in the 50s).

It's a difficult month to dress for, a particularly uncomfortable month, because, when the sun shines, it can still be pretty warm. At times, you can be walking (or, yes, running) along feeling quite hot and sweaty; and then, the breeze will pick up, or the sun will drift behind a cloud, or you'll pass through a long patch of shade, and the temperature will drop 10 or 20 degrees in an instant and it will feel like the sweat is freezing on your back. This is a prime time of year for catching colds.

Ah yes, when the sun shines, it can indeed be a beautiful - if somewhat chilly - month. However, for at least half of October we are assailed by ultra-damp air, leaden grey overcasts, thick white mist. It tends to be the month with the heaviest air pollution of the year.

It's one of those days today. And the run that I really ought to, need to go on just doesn't seem very enticing in these conditions.

Well, to be fair, it's probably more to do with my general state of exhaustion than the weather. If' I'd bounced out of bed at 6am (as I usually do), 3 laps around the lakes might have been a realistic prospect. But I've had two successive nights of not turning in till nearly 3am.... and I'm knackered.

I really can't allow myself too many more of these 'days off', though. My 'training schedule' is way behind.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cryptic visual

What is this? You may well ask.

Well, apparently, it's: "[a] projection of the 600-cell truncated to the edge midpoints. This may be called the rectified 600-cell or the ambo-600-cell. In four dimensions, it consists of 120 regular icosahedra and 600 regular octahedra, but in this three-dimensional projection, it lays on top of itself, so it is only half that complex, but it still requires plenty of pieces."

Why is it here?

Well, this is Froogville's 600th post. No, really?! Yes, I'm afraid so. Staggering, isn't it? Somewhat frightening...

An office haiku

My Least Favourite Colleague

Emotions simmer
Always, poised for argument;
Human volcano.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Clock-watching, Chinese style

Have you ever noticed how, if you work in a Chinese office building, after about 4pm your Internet connectivity tends to get unworkably slow?

It's because everybody, but everybody, is going to spend their last 2 or 3 hours at work noodling idly around the Internet (and the higher the bandwidth use, the better - an ideal time to download a pirated movie to watch at home later tonight!!).

Me, I would never be so selfish as to tie up precious bandwidth by browsing on YouTube for an hour at a time! Just being able to get into Blogger would be enough for me. God, it was a LONG WAIT, though.....

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Don't forget The Barstool, music lovers!

I am gratified that my 'favourite headbangers' list has produced such a vigorous response from my regular readers over the past day or so. I hope some of my less regular readers will get in on the act too.

Alas, fellow-blog, The Barstool, seems to have been rather neglected of late.

People, there's A LOT on music over there - do go check it out sometime.

In particular, there's a video I recently dug up of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (who were playing in Beijing last week, but I missed them), which is threatening to fight its way into the second half of my 'headbangers' list - very, very catchy.

There's also a brief clip of Kang Mao, the super-sexy punk princess who fronts my favourite Beijing band, SUBS (picture and sound quality are both pretty poor, but it gives you some sense of the energy of her performance).

Please, take a look at these and tell me what you think.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A communal headbang!

I just hunted this down on YouTube - Why Can't I? by Liz Phair. OK, it's the bowdlerised-for-MTV version with the f-words muted out, but..... still a fantastic LOUD song (as celebrated in my previous post on here today). Share with me.

Play it LOUD

A slightly delayed splurge of listiness for you. I had been planning to institute a list post as a new regular first-weekend-of-the-month feature..... but somehow didn't quite get around to it last weekend.

This offering is inspired by a post of OMG's a few weeks back on songs she likes to play loud.

I probably more often think in terms of albums I like to play loud (perhaps that could be a subject for a list another day), but after reading OMG, many, many favourite LOUD single tracks soon started flooding into my mind. I think it's ended up being a Top 40 (in no particular order of preference).

In the interests of manageability (and minimising your boredom), I think I'd better break the list up into two.

It will, I hope, give you an inkling of the range - and oddity - of my musical tastes, even if it doesn't provide any deeper insights into the inner workings of my psychology. And of course, it may prompt you to share some of your musical enthusiasms with me.

Here goes.....

Teenage Kicks - The Undertones
One of the great singles of all time (although, strangely, it didn't manage to break into the Top 30 in the UK) - songs of adolescent lust are what punk is best at. It has a rather disturbing, stalker-ish quality to it, though: the tremulous intensity of Feargal Sharkey's voice suggests neurotic fantasy rather than self-confidence.

Rat Trap - The Boomtown Rats
The Rats were probably my favourite band in my teenage years. These days they are remembered, if at all, for their two great No. 1 hits (the other one of which is also going to muscle its way into this list), but they actually had quite a lot of good songs, even some good albums. This, though, is surely their very best piece of work - a bitter outpouring of the anger and hopelessness of working-class youth.

White Wedding - Billy Idol
Isn't this on everybody's list? A fantastic song. Billy had such a great voice, and such a sinister intensity.

My Baby Just Cares For Me - Nina Simone
Nina is my favourite of the classic jazz divas - for her personality, her wit and intelligence and rage, as much as for her wonderful voice and piano playing. This is such a happy, jaunty song - proof that you don't need electric guitars to justify playing something LOUD.

Hot For Teacher - Van Halen
But electric guitars are good for playing LOUD - and they don't come much better than Eddie van H's. This was a great band, especially in the ebullient heyday of David Lee Roth. Just about everyone of my generation owned the 1984 album from which this song comes. Of course, it later acquired a particular resonance for me when I became a secondary school teacher (although I'm not aware of any of my students ever having a crush on me).

Close, But No Cigar - Thomas Dolby
Dolby was really the only one of the '80s synth-pop crowd I had any time for - musically and lyrically far more interesting than any of the others. This has long been one of my (rousing, but slightly melancholy) favourite psyching-up-before-going-out-to-party tunes: a fantastic chugging guitar (by Eddie Van H!) and a HUGE chorus. And how can you not love the opening: "Some people sing love songs. Everybody's got one. This isn't my love song. It's more like my love-gone-wrong song."

Tie Your Mother Down - Queen
Queen are, I think, my very favourite band of all. Certainly they were in a league of their own as live performers - Freddie was one-of-a-kind. I love almost all of their albums, and they all deserve to be played LOUD. However, if I have to choose just one of their songs as my favourite headbanger, then it would have to be this, Brian May's celebration of adolescent lust (Teenage Kicks again!) that opens the Day at the Races album.

Mr Blue Sky - Electric Light Orchestra
Oh, I'm really betraying my age here - I'm such a 70s child! But I'm not going to be ashamed of this: ELO were a great band; and the Out Of The Blue double album is quite wonderful, another of those that I like to play LOUD the whole way through. There are several songs on it I especially like, but I suppose this one strikes a particular memory-chord with me because it became a hit single in the UK and thus got a lot of exposure during a critical period in my childhood.

The Winner Takes It All - Abba
And while I'm being defiantly unashamed of my 70s childhood, I may as well admit to a hopeless weakness for Abba (although, somewhat unusually, I fancied Anni-Frid the redhead rather than Agnetha the blonde). I've always liked break-up songs - and this is one of the best (and particularly poignant when it first came out, of course, because we knew it was founded in reality; and because the fracturing of the romantic liaisons within the group was likely to lead to the group breaking up also.... No more Abba? Boo!).

Downpayment Blues - AC/DC
God, I love AC/DC. Again, I would recommend almost every song on every album of theirs for playing LOUD, and there are quite a few I found it really difficult to omit from this list (Highway to Hell, Dirty Deeds, What's Next To The Moon?). And I love the blues; it's probably my favourite musical style. Angus Young is a superb blues player, although that's often overlooked because his trademark solos are so loud and fast (I've never seen anyone get through as many guitars as he does during a live show: he beats them out of tune in no time!). So, if I have to choose one favourite, it would be this slow blues number, with its landslide opening chords, and some fantastic lyrics too. "I know I ain't doin' much, but doin' nothing means a lot to me."

Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Part 1 - Pink Floyd
The Floyd are probably my top PLAY LOUD band; particularly the heart-breaking Wish You Were Here album (my favourite depression-wallow music - now, that could be another theme for a list!). This opening track is so atmospheric (many 70s kids like me remember that it was the soundtrack accompaniment to Arthur Dent's momentous first setting foot on an alien planet in the original radio series of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy) and I adore the ringing tones of Dave Gilmour's guitar here.

Gun Law - The Kane Gang
Ah, who now remembers The Kane Gang? They brought out two albums (on the ZTT record label, if I recall correctly) in the mid-80s, the first of which, The Bad and Lowdown World of... The Kane Gang, was absolutely fantastic. This opening track, with its spaghetti western ambience of distantly tolling mission bells and its blistering programmed drum patterns, was a top choice for playing LOUD during my college days. Hey, I think I still have a tape of it somewhere - maybe I'll give it a blast right now. I also loved the song Losersville on this album, although that's not quite so much of a headbang as Gun Law. Now, where is that tape?

Wild Thing - The Goodies
One of the great - perhaps the greatest of all - air-guitar songs. But the thing I really like about it is the demented obsessiveness of the lyrics. And, for me, Bill Oddie (of the classic BBC comedy trio, The Goodies - yet another of my 70s childhood weaknesses!) brought that out best. The Troggs' original version was fatally compromised by the naffness of that hippy flute solo in the middle, and Hendrix's cover was more about the guitar than the song. Really - check out The Goodies' version, if you can find it.

Misirlou - Dick Dale & The Deltones
Yes, like everyone else, I discovered Dick Dale after this frenetic 'surf guitar' track was used by Quentin Tarantino to accompany the opening credits of 'Pulp Fiction'. I do now have a couple of his albums, but this is still my favourite track - I suppose at least partly because of its associations with that terrific film.

Only The Lonely - Roy Orbison
Back in the beginning of the '90s I found myself taking care of a young doctor friend's record collection for a year or two, while he was going through his houseman training, living in grotty hospital rooms. This provided my first sustained exposure to Roy Orbison - and I was soon hooked. I mentioned that I liked break-up songs? One of the best!

Tubthumping - Chumbawamba
I am not going to be ashamed of this nomination just because it has become such an overplayed pub jukebox anthem. Heck, it was designed to be a pub jukebox anthem. In fact, it is a brilliantly ironic critique of the phenomenon of singing-while-drunk. Chumbawamba are a great, great band, and the Tubthumping album was a work of genius - easily one of the best records of the 90s. It's a pity most people only know this song; the rest of the album is even better (with many other 'play LOUD' candidates: Drip, drip, drip, One By One, Good Ship Lifestyle). It's a shame I've never got around to seeking out any more of their stuff; I can't believe their other work is rubbish if they can produce something as brilliant as this. This is not at all my favourite song from the album, but... anthems are good for playing LOUD, and this is a great anthem.

If It Makes You Happy - Sheryl Crow
Had to have something from Sheryl in here - so sexy! Although in general I prefer her mellow late-night crooning voice, her hoarse shouting is pretty good too. And I suppose this is the most anthemic, the most singalong simplistic of her songs. Love the guitar in this too! Surely I should be able to learn to strum like that? (And turn my amp up to '11'!)

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye - Soft Cell
OK, I earlier disclaimed any interest in synth-pop; but Soft Cell would be one of the few other exceptions - mainly because of Marc Almond's brilliantly twisted lyrics. This is surely the bitterest break-up song of all!
"What about me?
Well, I'll find someone
Who's not going cheap in the sales;
A nice little housewife
Who'll give me a steady life,
And won't keep going off the rails."

Chain Gang - Sam Cooke
One of the R&B greats - there are several of Sam's songs in contention for inclusion here. Leading runner-up would probaby have to be Wonderful World, which I always fondly associate with the celebrated cafeteria scene in John Landis's great college comedy 'Animal House'. However, I think Chain Gang just edges it out. I sang this in a pub once (and I am not one of nature's singers!) - but that is a story perhaps best reserved for the Barstool.

Why Can't I? - Liz Phair
Probably the most recent of my selections, this was the opening hit from Liz's self-titled comeback album of 3 or 4 years ago. I adore Liz Phair - even if her sexual 'frankness' sometimes goes to extremes that are more comical than discomfiting or erotic, and even if her songs regularly have just too many hooks for their own good (a foible that was nicely sent up in the video for this song, where almost every phrase was shown as the 'title' of a Liz Phair song on a jukebox menu). Her debut album, Exile In Guyville, came out while I was backpacking around the world in '94; a guy I met in China introduced me to it, and made me a taped copy to take with me, so it became the soundtrack to my travels that year. Now, that is a superb album - if you only buy one album this year, in the rest of your life, this should be it. But it just doesn't have anything quite as rocky on it as this irresistibly catchy lust-song; so this has to be my Liz Phair choice.

To be continued.....   [Oh, and I came up with a final addendum as well.]