Miscellaneous Blog

Odds and ends that don’t fit neatly into any other category.

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas to all our readers!

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What is Criticism For?

Thiis comment left on Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog resonated very strongly with me

Being a good critic takes a lot of courage of a certain kind, I think. Perhaps this is why I don’t write a lot of reviews of more contemporary media. Especially for critics who fraternize with the writers they’re charged with reviewing (of course they same applies with video games or what have you), I think it can be difficult to write honest criticism and there is the temptation to inflate positives. Hell, these pressures are even present when you don’t personally know the creator. I’ve reviewed or wanted to review games I’ve played where it pained me to list negatives because I really liked or sympathized with the developers.

I’m reminded of that line in the film “Almost Famous”, when Lester Bangs tells the novice music journalist “These people are not your friends”.

When you’re on first name terms with some of the people you’re reviewing, there’s always the potential for conflicts of interest. No matter how much you try to be objective, once you know the people involved it does change the way you perceive their music.

When you’re writing enthusiastic positive reviews, they’ll always love you, but if you say something critical you can sometimes find out how professionally they handle it the hard way. Nowadays I’ve got a self-imposed rule that I’ll restrict strongly negative reviews to artists I don’t know personally and am unlikely to meet, and will decline to review albums or gigs by people I know if I think they’re sub-standard. I haven’t always followed that rule in the past, but the damage it can do to relationships just isn’t worth it.

The linked blog post raises wider questions, which it doesn’t really answer, over what criticism is supposed to be for. I’m a strong believer in critic-as-curator, someone who sifts through the dross and tells the world about the good stuff that might otherwise have flown beneath people’s radar.

There’s a place for criticism highlighting where artists can improve, but I’ve not got much time for critic-as-gatekeeper, or worse, critic-as-would-be-censor. The most obnoxious failure mode of rock criticism is the sneering dismissive review by someone with no love or understanding of what the artist is trying to do, that challenges their work’s right to exist. Too much mainstream music press coverage of progressive rock by people steeped in the thirty year old revisionist punk narrative falls into that trap.

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Tony Cozier

“And Greig is bowled, bowled by Holding for one”.

For some reason that one line of commentary from the Tony Cozier, who died last week, has stuck in the mind. It’s from the Oval test in the long hot summer of 1976, when England were completely outclassed by Clive Lloyd’s West Indies, and Michael Holding took 14 wickets on a pitch no other bowler on either side could do anything on. We were on a family holiday camping in the North York Moors, and followed the game through snatches of commentary on the radio in between other holiday things.

Tony Cozier was the West Indian voice on the BBC Radio Three commentary team, which in those days included the very English Brian Johnson and John Arlott.

Scyld Berry’s obituary in The Daily Telegraph sums him up well.

When radio commentary took off in the Caribbean in the 1960s, with cricket binding together the region like nothing else, Tony Cozier was the man. He steered exactly the right path between the dryness of traditional Australian commentary, which focused solely on the score and play, and richer if sometimes self-indulgent English commentary where cakes and buses mattered as much as the game.

Possibly because he was a voice on the radio rather than a face on the television, and spoke with a distinctive Barbadian accent, I had never realised until this week that Tony Cozier was white.

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First World Problems

Terrible lunchtime news in London, where a fire in Charlton savaged Sainsbury’s sandwich supplies in London.

There were scenes of misery across the city.

A Sainsbury’s shopper told News Shopper: “When I went there at lunchtime for a sandwich there was nothing, nothing at all, the shelves were empty like they’d been cleaned out.

“It was me and a small crowd of people, all standing there, disappointed and confused.

“When I asked one of the staff what had happened she said it was because there had been a fire at the depot.

“It was quite sad, how can one fire bring everything to a standstill?

“It might sound ridiculous but it ruined my day a bit, I had to go to Morrisons but they don’t have a £3 meal deal.”

If there is ever a zombie apocalypse, these people are not going to survive….

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A Wedding in Scotland

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When my brother asked me to be best nan at his wedding, the biggest challenge aside from remembering not to lose the rings was deciding what to say in the best man’s speech. It had include some stories the groom would recognise, but it couldn’t contain too many in-jokes and references that would go over the heads of most of other guests.

Anyway, after many revisions, and one or two anecdotes getting vetoed, this was what I said. It seemed to go down well.

I could tell spend the next ten minutes telling you all what a wonderful person Christopher is, but I am pretty sure all of you know that already. Katrina wouldn’t have agreed to marry him otherwise.

Being his elder brother I’ve known him all his life, which is more than he can say about me. That was even a sore point when we were little; events from before October 5th 1964 could not be talked about.

Let me share one story from when Christopher and I lived under the same roof.

This is about Saturday morning lie-ins.

Whenever I was still in bed for longer that Christopher thought was appropriate for a weekend, I would be rudely awoken by the sound of his record player turned up to Eleven. It was always the same record. It began with the words “Time for you medication”, followed by maniacal laughter, then a monstrous guitar riff.

When you get home, search for “Madhouse” by Anthrax on YouTube. That was my Saturday morning.

There were the occasional Saturdays when I was the first up, when my response to Anthrax was the “Furry alarm clock”. There is nothing quite like putting the cat under the duvet to get someone up in the morning.

So, if you ever find yourself repeatedly awoken by 1980s thrash metal at Far Too Early O’clock on a Saturday morning, you will have to get a cat. Though if you do, never, even confuse him with the cat. “Christopher get down off the table!” really doesn’t go down well.

Chris’ professional life has taken him to many different places, from Poland to Oxford and eventually Swansea, where it always rains. Well, it does whenever I go there. And all the time he had to brave the fierce pigs.

I suppose I had better explain the fierce pigs…

This goes right back to when our ages were still in single digits, I had read a book about wildlife, and it had mentioned wild boar were still found in some parts of Europe. This was just before a family camping holiday in Denmark, and I warned my five year old brother to watch out for the Fierce Pigs.

He spent the whole holiday in fear of the things.

Little did either of us know that Denmark was actually the only country in the whole of Europe that has no native wild boar. There are herds of them in Wales, and they’ve been known to take over entire towns in Poland.

Older brothers can be unintentionally cruel at times.

So, since Chris is a loyal Arsenal fan, I have to include an Arsenal joke…

“Why are Arsenal fans attracted to intelligent women?”
“Because opposites always attract”

Chris is a musician, who is no longer allowed to buy any more keyboards unless the new household also acquires a horse.

But he now has somebody else other than me to ask “Can you listen to this” for each new piece of music he’s recorded. He’s been asking me this since he led a band back in the 1980s who sounded like a cross between Magnum and Hawkwind. It’s just the same now he’s doing industrial metal trumpet and accordion duos.

If in doubt, just say “Oh, it’s deeply symbolic of man’s struggle against his social-political environment” or even “I like the way the bridge resolves the rising chromatic pattern”.

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New Look!

As you will probably have noticed, I’ve redesigned the front page of the site. Let me know what you think in the comments…

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The Guardian’s Marina Hyde thinks meetings should be banned for a month, as a way of improving productivity. I think she may be on to something here. But I wonder how much attitude towards meetings is an extrovert/intravert thing. Do extraverts ever understand how much introverts loathe meetings?

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This blog has had a new front page format for a couple of weeks now, long enough that almost all the content on the front page is more recent than the revamp. What do regular readers think of it? Is it an improvement? Let me know in the comments.

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A Bit of a Makeover

I’m part way through giving this blog a bit of a style makeover, as you have probably noticed. I’ve introduced “asides”, which are those short one-paragraph posts that don’t have any headers and categories displayed on the blog pages.

The changes aren’t complete yet. One thing that still needs doing is to sort out the headers of the category pages – They’re really subject-specific sub-blogs, and I’m considering giving each one a different colour scheme to differentiate them further.

I’m also changing the front page so it’s no longer an all-category firehose but something more cut down and intended to lead people to the individual category sub blogs. Another thing in the pipeline might be to completely restyle some of the individual category pages, especially the record review and live review pages.

What does anyone think?

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A Question for Readers

This blog got it’s name because it covers a diverse range of different subjects – I neither want to force myself to blog about one and only one subject, nor deal with the overhead of maintaining half-a-dozen separate single-subject blogs, each of which gets updated once in a blue moon.

Since I can’t imagine anyone out there is really interested in every subject I write about, what I’ve done is subdivide it by the different subjects you see on the menu above, using WordPress’ category feature, and each category functions like a separate sub-blog. Several of them, like Music or Testing have their own unique header images to make it clearer which part of the site you’re in.

I’ve considered getting rid of the all-subject fire-hose view on the front page altogether, replacing it with a static introduction page, and encouraging readers to bookmark individual category pages instead.

So, before I make any more changes, I have a few questions for those of you who read this blog.

Which of the subjects on here are you interested in reading about? Do any of the other subjects make you less likely to read the blog on a regular basis?

How do you read the blog? Do you just keep checking back on a regular basis, use RSS feeds, or follow the links I post on social networks? Or are you one of the many who just stumbles on random pages as a result of Google searches?

Answers in the comments sections.

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