31 January 2010


Ah, the Victorians. Frantically covering nicely-turned table legs one minute, then indulging in suggestive hand manipulation the next. Furtling, a fantastic word which rolls off the tongue with just the slightest allusion to furtiveness and fondling, is classic Victorian entertainment, and it works like this:

Take one image - possibly a woodcut of a young lady, sitting at her dressing table, or a gentleman on a beach, drying himself with a towel. Note that the image has cut-out regions: the young lady's legs appear to be missing, and the gentlemen's buttocks have been replaced with a suspiciously-shaped hole.

Having read the instructions, place one's hands appropriately behind the image, filling the gaps, as directed, with skin. Mmm... sensuous, realistic, strokable skin! Well, actually we all know it's just fingertips, but to the repressed and easily-amused Victorian masses a gentleman on the beach sans knitted swimsuit was akin to hardcore porn. As for the lady, her legs nicely filled in with a pair of fingers, the knuckles cunningly forming her knees... well, it certainly brought a giggle to after-dinner proceedings, and led quite nicely to the suggestive songs about coconuts.

The practice, unsurprisingly, was a subject of much controversy. The Reverend F.B. Cummings got into quite a stew over the practice, declaring forcefully 'The hand was not meant for this, Sir'. Others disagreed and a range of high society members proclaimed its virtues, even as the practice dwindled.

Strangely, furtling lives on. A good source of history is The Naughty Victorian Handbook: Furtling: The Rediscovered Art Of Erotic Hand Manipulation by Burton Silver and Jeremy Bennet. Alternately, the internet can be relied on, as usual, to produce a range of people who think furtling is more fun than a barrelful of monkeys.

A gallery at www.xenophilia.com features such diverse individuals as Sarah, 23, who runs an ostrich farm, and Bill, 30, an Egyptologist, who are all keen to show you their 'finger buttocks'.

Also, there are exciting things afoot at Fentiman's, with only the slightest ulterior motive. I tried the ginger beer once, and I must say I wasn't entirely impressed.

The Sporting Life - Diamanda Galas

The Sporting Life was released in 1994 by Diamanda Galas, along with John Paul Jones. Now, he's the multi-instrumentalist from Led Zeppelin, apparently, but to most of us he's a very talented guitarist. You can, however, include bassist, keyboardist, mandolinist… well, these 'ist's are becoming tiresome. Let's quote what Wikipedia says he can play, right here right now, at the beginning of 2010. That would be bass, guitar, keyboard, mandolin, guitar, koto, lap steel guitar, autoharp, ukelele, sitar, cello, continuum and recorder.

Diamanda Galas, on the other hand, plays piano like you wouldn't believe, and sings like an angel. I may need to remind you that Lucifer, too, was an angel. Diamanda's voice is an instrument controlled only by Diamanda herself. It swoops and hollers, screams and dives. It's been recorded doing such things, and surely by now you're hunting on iTunes for examples of this. If not, if you're worried about your ability to survive even a short burst of Diamanda's vocal gymnastics then you want the softer side of Diamanda. It exists. Find Erasure's 'Rock Me Gently', or 'Angel', where she provides the most sublime background vocals, so unsimilar to what might be expected from human vocal chords that we think it may even be synths. Sorcerer Sound did Erasure proud.

30 January 2010

Yorkshire Puddings

Yorkshire puddings are a popular accompaniment to a roast dinner, originating (as the name suggests) in Yorkshire, England. Although Yorkshire puddings are, nowadays, treated as an accompaniment to a meal, this status is a recent development. Originally, not so long ago, the single and sole purpose of a Yorkshire pudding was to fill you up. Served separately at the beginning of a meal, the cunning housewife would pile up her husband and children's plates with as much Yorkshire pudding as they'd let her, provide gravy (sometimes with onion), and wait. There was even a saying: Them that eats most pudding gets most meat. Which was a tongue-in-cheek blatant lie, actually...

The reasoning behind it all was simple. A joint of beef, for many families, was an extravagance that went so much further if everyone was already full of batter pudding. Another recipe designed to achieve the same result was the suet pudding, sometimes known as a crispy pudding. Stodgy, yet tasty and (above all) filling and cheap, there was always plenty of crispy pudding, or a goodly heap of Yorkshires. Far from being a cut-price hors d'oeuvre, Yorkshire puddings were an essential element of making sure there was enough food to go round.

Nowadays, Yorkshire puddings are seen as an accompaniment to a meal, and occasionally double up as a kind of trencher. Small, bun-sized Yorkshire puds will fit nicely on the edge of a plate, and one or two per person is more than sufficient to accompany a main meal. Larger puddings will fill a plate and are capacious enough to contain the whole meal; a yorkshire pudding filled with mince, sausages and gravy or even baked beans is a common sight on café menus, and a meal worth sampling.

Another traditional British dish which incorporates Yorkshire pudding is toad in the hole, a delightfully-named recipe which features no amphibians at all, coming up trumps instead with pork sausages, poking alluringly through a landscape of batter pudding.

The actual creation of Yorkshire pudding seems, at first glance, to be suspiciously simple. You can make pancake batter? Then you can make Yorkshire pudding batter - just make it a little thinner. Put it in the oven and wait a while. And that's it. In theory.

Realistically, getting the hang of Yorkshire puddings can be a little tricky. Novice pudding-wranglers may end up with a set of entirely flat mini-pancakes or a large dome of batter. Promisingly large puddings may churlishly deflate upon being observed, or a previously docile mixture might suddenly develop rebel tendencies and attempt to escape over the side of the pan. The solution to all these problems is, unhelpfully, experience. Yorkshire puddings, for all their simple and subtle charms, can be bastards at times, and the key to their mastery is simply to try again.

Recipes for Yorkshire pudding vary wildly. One can produce passable, even delicious, Yorkshire pudding with either a thick, stodgy batter or a thinner, more milky batter, and you'll find people who swear on either type. The following recipe produces a batter of medium consistency. Should you be unsuccessful with this, you may wish to experiment with either more flour or more milk, though a more likely cause of problems will be the temperature of your oven or the type of flour itself. Don't even think of using flour that's been lying around for months - invest in some good, fresh plain flour. And get that oven stoked up! Yorkshire puddings may seem plain and boring, but they're just reclusive little minxes - they like it hot and they like it quiet; don't disturb them once they're in the oven, not even to peek!

I used to do the following:
  • 4oz (100g plain white flour
  • 300ml (1/2 pint) milk
  • 1 egg
  • Oil, lard or dripping (for cooking)
Recently, however, I've adopted a new method based on volume which seems to give better results, but can be a little extravagant on the egg front:
  • The same volume of flour, eggs and milk
  • Oil, lard or dripping (for cooking)
Whichever you choose, place the flour in a bowl, break in the egg(s) and add the milk before beating into a batter. You may wish to add salt and pepper to season it. The surface will be covered with tiny bubbles when you've thoroughly beaten it together, at which point the mixture should be allowed to rest.

While it's resting, you'll want to get your oven to a high temperature - at least 425 degrees Farenheit, or 220 degrees centigrade. A little hotter won't hurt; it all depends what you have in the oven to begin with - your roast may not appreciate too high a temperature.

The tin in which the Yorkshire puddings will be cooked must be heated, too. Place a small amount of fat in each well if you're intending to produce many bun-sized puddings, or just grease out a larger tin if you're heading for a six or seven-inch pudding. Place this tin in the oven, and wait until the fat begins to smoke. Do not be tempted to add the batter before the fat has reached such a stage: very hot fat is an important part of the cooking process. Conversely, don't go to the other extreme - the fat should be slightly smoking, not billowing clouds of sooty malevolence.

When you have a hot tin of smoking fat you can safely add the batter. Cook it in the oven for ten to fifteen minutes if producing individual puddings. Larger puddings will require at least half an hour to cook. You may check after ten minutes or so, but do remember that a disturbed Yorkshire pudding will usually go flat. Allow it a little time on its own before checking - at least ten minutes.

Experience, a little tweaking, and a patient and systematic approach will easily produce excellent results. And once you've mastered a plain pudding, then the joys of toad in the hole are only a trip to the butchers away!

29 January 2010

La Cage - Jean Michel Jarre

La Cage is a 1971 pastiche of scary musique concrete and experimental electronics, the very first single by Jean Michel Jarre, five years before Oxygene entranced listeners with its gentle, melodic ambience. It's a three minute fifteen second track, rather discordant, with clanging percussion and a jumpy, random-sounding bassline with ghostly screeches. It relies heavily on the electro-acoustic manipulation of audio tape, and is very, very different to any Jarre tracks you're likely to have heard.

Despite its 1971 release date, the single was actually recorded in 1969, and it says something that Jarre was unable to find anyone willing to release it until the record company Pathé-Marconi rose to the challenge two years later, releasing La Cage on 7" single with a b-side of Erosmachine.

The company's confidence was ill-founded; only one hundred and seventeen copies of La Cage were sold, and the remainder were destroyed. This, of course, makes the single fantastically rare, although the tracks (La Cage and b-side, Erosmachine) were released on a 1978 compilation, 'Made In France', and have popped up on various bootleg recordings.

25 January 2010

Sinclair ZX-80

Although not truly the first Sinclair computer, that honour going to the MK14, the ZX80 is widely considered to be the machine that kick-started the home computer market, particularly as the MK14 has more in common with a calculator than a computer. Although, like the MK14, it was available in kit form, a ready-built version was also available, and it was this that made home computing accessible to everyone - not just those who were handy with a soldering iron and confident enough to assemble and solder together a hundred pounds worth of kit.

£99.99, actually. In 1980 the ZX80 became the first computer available in the UK for less than a hundred pounds, and these two factors - price and the fact that it worked right out of the box - led to an immense popularity, selling 70,000 units in about a year and easily paving the way for the success of the ZX81 and its worthy successor the ZX Spectrum.


Containing a total of twenty-one chips, the ZX80s specifications were groundbreaking, though now they seem almost paltry. At its heart was the processor: an NEC 780-1, a clone of Zilog's Z80 chip, running at 3.25MHz. RAM amounted to 1 kilobyte, and its display, black and whiteonly, could manage 22 x 32 text characters. Cassette ports were provided for loading and saving data, and there was an extra memory port which one could use to bring the RAM to 16K, sadly also exposing oneself to the dangers of RAM pack wobble in the process; one slight knock and three hours of work disappeared into the black hole of a hard reset. The ZX80 also included a 4K ROM chip containing Sinclair BASIC. There was also support for the Sinclair ZX Printer, released in 1981, provided you updated the ZX80 ROM chip.

The Operating System: Sinclair BASIC

Sinclair BASIC itself is worth a moment of reflection. Each key on the machine produced an entire keyword: pressing 'R' would enter 'RUN', whereas 'K' would produce the command 'LET'. Other commands were produced by using modifier keys such as shift. Although this approach introduced a slight learning curve, it had a number of advantages. Proficiency was quickly established through repeated use, and the system entirely avoided potential spelling errors, and allowed each command to take up only one byte of the precious 1024 available.

The minimalist design of the computer meant that the generation of the video signal was partly done in software, with the processor taking up most of the strain. This had the unfortunate side-effect that the display was blanked out whenever the processor was doing something other than waiting for an input. Moving graphics were, therefore, out of the question: if a program was running then the screen was blank. There were ways round this, but they were hardly efficient - one website offers a version of Space Invaders which hacks its way round the problem by repeatedly calling the display routines manually. The problem was partially solved with the ZX81, which allowed the BASIC interpreter to run in 'slow' mode, with graphics, or without them in a 'fast' mode. Moving on further, the Spectrum's hardware, with considerable improvements, had no such problems.


The physical design of the machine reflects two factors. Most prominently, the industrial design work of Rick Dickinson, who produced a white, plastic shell about the size of two paperback novels. Also clearly visible is the influence of the sub-£100 price tag. A one-piece membranekeyboard graced the top of the machine, threatening to wear out rapidly unless handled with care, a clear nod toward price-cutting.

America and beyond:

In February of 1980, the ZX80 was also launched in the US, at a price tag of $199.95, just one month before their release of the ZX81 in the UK. Later, American company Timex would begin selling the ZX81 as the Timex Sinclair 1000, halving the price tag to $99.95.

Finally, we reach the glory days of Sinclair Research: A year after its release in the UK, January of 1983 saw the Timex Sinclair 2000, more popularly known as the ZX Spectrum, go on general release to the American public.

24 January 2010

Johhny, Remember Me - John Leyton

Johnny Remember Me was a number one hit in the UK for John Leyton. It's a thunderous sixties track that fits perfectly alongside the abject misery of The Shangri-Las in anyone's iTunes library, and also nuzzles alongside the track 'Telstar', but for a different reason. The Telstar association is Joe Meek, one of those legendary record producers once comes across every now and then.

John Leyton himself is interesting enough - an actor and singer, who made a great Ginger in a 1960s version of Biggles by Granada TV. But Joe Meek is where my interest lay when I found this track. In his time, Meek invented new production techniques; he was a wizard with a soundboard and a whole host of unconventional ideas. And yet, while Phil Spector is free to march the streets with outrageous hair, Joe Meek is dead, having blown his own head off after murdering his landlady.

The single is a lament and a half: nearly three minutes of abject misery as this poor chap remembers his dead girlfriend who calls to him from the wind in the trees, represented by ghostly girl vocals on the track. The guitars gallop along behind all this. Mist swirls, rain falls and the moors are dark and desolate. It's Wuthering Heights with extra ghosts and it's brilliant.

Johnny Remember Me was released in 1961 in the UK where it hurtled to the top of the charts. It features John Leyton on lead vocals with backing from The Outlaws. Joe Meek produced the record, and is merely one example of the sixties musical equivalent of the misery porn novels that populate supermarket bookshelves nowadays.

23 January 2010


Destricted is a collection of short films linked by a common theme of sex. Like Shortbus, Lie With Me and 9 Songs, the film has achieved notoriety for its inclusion of unsimulated, graphic sexual activity. Ostensibly investigating the realms of art and pornography, the film has been exhibited at the Tate Modern in London, followed by a number of other events, and is now on UK DVD release with an 18 certificate. The DVD was released in a limited edition silver vacuum-pack on September the 25th, 2006.

The classification of the film as an 18 in the UK is itself an indication of the content of the film, a reflection of its intent to present itself as art rather than pornography, for which a Restricted 18 classification would be more suitable. A US release is, of course, unlikely.

The films:

Balkan Erotic Epic / Marina Abramović

Almost educational, this film features old rituals from the Balkans. Each ritual is introduced and followed by a short film section or animation showing the mechanics of the ritual. We see a variety of women leaping about in the rain, trying to get the raindrops to fall on their labia. A field of men, viewed from above, fuck the ground to ensure its fertility for the coming year; a rather bizarre sight if truth be told. Three sets of men in traditional Balkan dress stand proudly before us as a Balkan folk song is played over the top, the subtitles looking strangely incongrous beneath their erect penises which protrude from their flies. The animation of a Balkan housewife removing a dead fish from her vagina is surreal, particularly when she grinds it up to brew a love-potion-esque mug of tea, but not as alarming as the one where she wipes her vaginal secretions on her son's face to bless him for a journey.

Hoist / Matthew Barney

Made up in greens and browns, with shredded leaves and moss surrounding it, a penis slowly becomes erect over a period of minutes. For the first few minutes it is unclear what is happening; it seems as though some strange, slug-like creature is writhing slowly over a forest floor. A large machine is then introduced to us, and workmen attach it to a crane so that its wheels might be hoisted from the ground. Rumbling into action, the camera slowly zooms beneath to the drive shaft of this massive vehicle. There, initially stroking it before raising himself to rub his erect penis against the wax-coated, spinning shaft, is a man. Presumably the owner of the penis at the beginning of the film, he is covered in leaves, dirt and other plant matter. A large gourd hangs from his anus and there is a similar protrusion from his mouth. He continues to rub his penis against the drive shaft as the camera zooms and pans, slowly, occasionally showing the edges of the massive, lazily spinning wheels of the machine. Eventually, after drawing back his foreskin, the man achieves orgasm and ejaculates. We zoom back out from the belly of the machine, past the spinning wheels, and the film ends.

Sync / Marco Brambila

Short, but clever. Taking hundreds of scenes from different pornographic films, the director cuts it all together with a frantic drum track to make a new film. The scenes are chosen and cut together so that it looks like one shot, but with the actors' faces, legs, buttocks and genitals changing in a constant blur. It produces a kind of generic porn film and serves to show that there truly is only so many ways you can fit people together.

Impaled / Larry Clark

One of the more intellectually fascinating pieces. A series of young men appear and are asked a variety of questions about their attitude to sex. It becomes apparent that they are auditioning to take part in a porn film, although the interview also reveals their own attitude to sex as a generation that has grown up with readily available porn. It's fascinating, for example, to find out that each of the men believes it is important to ejaculate outside the vagina, or to note the utterly naive expectations of various aspects of sex. One young man is chosen, and at this point he is asked to interview and choose from a range of female porn stars. He chooses an older woman who is willing to have anal sex with him. She performs fellatio on him, and they have vaginal and anal sex. He eventually ejaculates, following a slight accident during the anal portion of the activity. Most people realise that if you're going to try that you're inevitably going to notice something brown one day. Of course, in the glorious world of pornography such things never happen, and the revulsion on the young man's face is wickedly joyful to behold. A sad film, actually, and probably the best of the bunch.

We Fuck Alone / Gaspar Noé

Strobe lit for about twenty minutes, I'm afraid. Two people in separate rooms masturbate while watching the same piece of pornography. A young man with a bizarrely Hitler-esque haircut masturbates and fucks a sex doll before fucking its mouth with a handgun of some kind whilst ejaculating into its vagina. The woman uses soft toys to stimulate herself. Every now and then we zoom into the television, through the pornography which forms a reflection of the solo sex act, and back out into the other room. The message, one presumes, is that sex without love is merely masturbation using another human. Either that or Gaspar Noé is actually mad. (See Irreversible for further evidence of this, but take care to check for some further details before committing yourself; it's violent.)

House Call / Richard Prince

An old porn film with the soundtrack replaced with strange, industrial-tinged electronica. The film has been produced by recording a television showing the porn video. You can't see the edges of the screen, but the pattern of phosphor dots is clearly visible, making a grainy, washed-out image. It's strangely clinical to watch, and not even slightly erotic. Although, come to think of it, not one of the videos has been remotely erotic so far. Plenty of genitalia and nudity, but not a lot of eroticism. Perhaps that's the point.

Death Valley / Sam Taylor-Wood

We pan slowly across a desert scene. A man appears, walks nearer to the camera and removes his shirt. He opens his jeans, pulls them down to his thighs, kneels and masturbates. A few minutes later he uses his t-shirt to lean his elbow on and continues to masturbate, keeping his body off the ground by supporting it on his knees and elbow. He kneels up, wanks some more, props himself up again and eventually ejaculates onto the desert floor. And then it ends. If you like men then I suspect this is the nearest you'll get to erotic, and I'm not sure why this isn't just pornography - it's a man wanking in front of a camera. Still, there you go. Art needs no explanation...

Sources: Do visit the imdb for more information. Someone there has also gone through the films one by one for you. There's not a lot of information on Wikipedia, but you can always pop over to the Destricted website for more info.

20 January 2010

Astonish Yourself: 101 Experiments In The Philosophy Of Everyday Life

101 Experiments In The Philosophy Of Everyday Life: A book with an undeniably great title, at least until they shoved 'Astonish Yourself' in front of it and republished. Still, it incorporates that magical number, 101, and (more importantly) incorporates that other magical word: philosophy. A scary word, in truth, to the uninitiated, but at least it's tempered here by the words everyday life. One of those new, and currently fashionable, popular philosophy texts, the emphasis is on experimentation and fun, eschewing completely the idea of relating the book to established schools of philosophy. This will either thrill you, or disturb you, depending on whether you feel philosophy can, or indeed should have a more frivolous aspect. I suppose, on reflection, it may leave you entirely unmoved; who can say?

Each of the 101 experiments is presented in the same, simple manner. Duration, required props and the intended effect are followed by a short exposition on the experiment itself. The tasks range from deep and meaningful experiments on the relation of oneself to the universe (See The Stars Below You, in which one imagines oneself to hang above the infinite depths of space.), through to the more whimsical or potentially perverse: Watch A Woman At Her Window.

Other experiments invite you to Kill People In Your Head, in case the less serious Run In A Graveyard doesn't appeal. Whatever your state of mind, however you feel about philosophy, there is something in Roger-Pol Droit's book that you can do, whether you wish to go wild in public and Tell A Stranger She Is Beautiful, or you'd rather stay at home and Make A Wall Between Your Hands. The effect of those, if you're interested, is to induce fireworks of some description, and to cause a sense of 'doubleness'.

Roger-Pol Droit produced the original work in French, a fact which has caused at least one reviewer to dryly comment on the humorous qualities of the book, as though a Frenchman should be incapable of such wit. There is, you see, a large dose of humour involved, but however bizarre the notions are, however foolish one may feel carrying them out, the potential for philosophical thought is undeniable. It may be that the only effect is to have you thinking why, but at least that's a start. At least half of the experiments are whimsical, and to a large extent involve the utter desertion of what is considered normal behaviour. A further quarter are sinister beyond words; visualising a pile of human organs (Effect: pitiless) does not come naturally to the majority of us. Nevertheless, trying an experiment and then reading Droit's dry, insightful prose is a delightful way to indulge in a little popular philosophy. You may not agree with Droit, of course, but that's all part of the experience...

You may well be among those who have found popular philosophy to be a life-changing experience. Alain de Botton's books may crumble in your hands due to excessive re-reading (though I doubt it). It's unlikely that this will do the same, regardless. It's a wonderful book, well worth a dip into, but it's hardly a guide to living. Of course, you may be one of the enlightened few who realise that this is the whole point of popular philosophy. On the outside it's designed to appeal to the 'common man', whomever and wherever he might be, and on the inside it's supposed to afford miraculous effects with minimum exertion. Treat 101 Experiments In The Philosophy Of Everyday Life as an entertainment and you'll be fine. Expect miraculous, life-affirming experiences, and you're heading for disappointment.

18 January 2010

Bunny Club - Polly Scattergood

'I've got a dog and a gun, and I'm living in London now... living in London Town.'

'Bunny Club' is track eight from the eponymous album Polly Scattergood. It's an ethereal mixture centred around a relentless Roland CR-78 bass drum, which starts slowly and picks up quickly with spoken word intro (including every one of the words 'spit', 'french' and 'knickers') and soon adds occasional, vaguely muted and somewhat beautiful analogue synth melodic pickings. Behing all this activity, a slowly growing mixture of breathy pads and growling square wave bass tones mix with a second set of Pollys, all vocally layered and entirely un-autotuned. There's no attack or decay to the bass tones, which remain strident and somehow glorious; they buzz in and buzz out, while Polly half-speaks, half-sings over the top. It's almost angelic, if angels were analogue and used Garageband, and brings back memories of eighties heroes and nineties dance stars, taking me back to those heady moments when they play the last song before the DJ takes his ball home and you all head out into the night to couple with whomever you were dealt by the cards of fate, 2am edition.

I like you think you've heard of Polly Scattergood recently, particularly with regard to the track Other Too Endless, which appeared in the UK as the iTunes track of the week - this meant it was free to download but you were constrained to go back to the iTunes website and post a review saying it wasn't as good as the free tracks they had when you were a lad. Anyway, you might even have seen music press comparisons to Kate Bush, and might even have chuckled to yourself at the very idea that some young art-school whippersnapper could ever challenge the great Kate to a duel of demented dabblings. As a long-time supplicant for more and more Kate Bush, it's hard to surpass the lunatic weirdness of Breathing (for beardy men in boiler suit madness) or Sat In Your Lap (for men with roller skates and bull heads). Even the album covers have a certain inordinately weird panache that Polly Scattergood standing around looking windswept and vaguely hamster-like can't challenge. Mind you, Vince Clarke has remixed Other Too Endless, and while Kate has many charms, a Vince Clarke remix of Running Up That Hill isn't one of them. Sadly.

So, can Polly Scattergood ever live up to hype? One might click along to the iTunes music store and click one's way into eight English pounds worth of audio madness which I have to confess quickened my heart, at least, into a fevered delight that I've not felt since Goldfrapp's Black Cherry glistened its way into the tagged-with-mega-glam section of my iTunes library.

I mentioned earlier that Bunny Club is the eighth track of ten from Polly Scattergood's imaginatively titled album 'Polly Scattergood'. If you're still unsure of the album's virtue, I can also tell you that it's released on Mute Records, home of some of the finest musical noodlings you can imagine. You might also ask why I didn't write about Polly Scattergood in general, rather than focusing on one track, one single track of pure synth joy with a viciously bitchy message and a hint of madness. I can say only that it's my favourite track so far. It may well prove to be the best track on the album as well; I have my suspicions.

'Call me a fake, sir? You can call me a fraud. You can spit on my French knickers. You can call me a whore.'

16 January 2010

The Villain - Trick Trick

"I don't want your faggot money any goddam way..."
The Villain is an extremely exclusive album by US rapper Trick Trick, probably best known for his work with Eminem, since his solo efforts don't appear to have troubled the charts very much at all. Anyway, what makes it exclusive is that you're not to buy it if you're gay. Or lesbian. Or even bi-curious. I'm not sure if wanking off in the shower with the rest of the football team after soccer practice would preclude you from purchasing, but it's probably best to err on the side of caution, particularly if you looked to the left or right to see how your neighbour was getting on. Similarly, if you've ever thought a same-sex friend to be vaguely ripped, or if, indeed, you use the word 'ripped' seriously, you'd best leave this album on the shelf: Trick Trick don't want your dirty faggot cash. Okay?
"Every time you turn on the TV, that sissy shit is on, and they act like it's fucking okay."
'Dyke bitches' Ellen Degeneres and Rosie O'Donnell come off particularly well on the album, apparently, although Mr Trick Trick did want to go on the record about all this, telling All Hip Hop that the album wasn't really aimed at a homosexual audience. Whether his co-performers Eminem, Ice Cube and 50 Cent share Trick's views is beyond the scope of the interview, sadly.
"The world is changing for the worst when shit like that happens. And I address that issue. I address it as hard as hell"
So, yeah - if you are a bit poofy, then watch out. Mr Trick's determined to send a 'scud missile right through (your) fucking cruise ship'. Oh - full disclosure time: I'm slightly camp at times, so I've not been allowed to listen to this album. Instead, I got my bitches together, we went on a bit of a cruise around town looking for a real trick. The treat is optional!
"He goes both ways / Either way he's gay / Ain't no other way to say / He's a fucking faggot so I'm lettin' off my AK / Bust 'em in his forehead / He ain't worth lettin' live / A man and man shouldn't raise another man's kids!"
The Villain was released by Koch on the 29th of September, 2008. It doesn't come with free bullets, so if you do want to shoot some faggots as suggested above, bear in mind that will cost extra. The eloquent, achingly poetic quotes are by Christian Mathis, better known as portly rapper Trick Trick. And oh, is it just me or the fact that he's called 'trick', he's released on 'koch' records and he's got an obsession with being gay lead you to think that he might just be a screaming bender, trapped in the tortured closet of his own internalised homophobia... oh, okay; just me then.

Original interview hereAlbum available hereDustbins available here.

15 January 2010

Gang Bang

A gang bang is serial sex with more than two partners. It has been claimed that this is the sort of sex for which our bodies are designed, citing the difference in average time for orgasm between men and women as primary evidence for this view. It is well known (and sometimes cursed) that men can reach orgasm in a relatively short time - as little as two or three minutes - whereas some women may take twenty minutes or more. Certainly, one can see the advantage a clan of primal humans could gain from having more than one male inseminate each woman, however distasteful this may seem to more socially aware minds. Such sex and indeterminate paternity of the resulting offspring would bring the clan together and ensure the sharing of food and resources when necessary. This is, of course, the type of behaviour engaged in by many primates, ostensibly our closest relatives.

Gang bangs differ from a menage a trois, troilism, candaulism, or the practice of having simultaneous sex with multiple partners (also known as the Mongolian cluster). The term gang bang can unfortunately be applied to rape situations in which a group of rapists take turns to violate the victim. However, a gang bang can also be organized and consensual, and notable gang bangs have even made their way into the public eye recently, such as the case of Annabel Chong, whose exploits are now world famous. Waiting in line at such events, televised or not, may have some benefits, as (according to various participants), watching other men have sex can be both stimulating and educational. The tension and anticipation is undoubtedly higher than during ordinary group sex, where the group's attention is shared amongst multiple acts and focused on the current partner.

Individuals may, of course, indulge in less organised gang bangs, experiencing many partners in one night. They may slip away from social events with a range of partners to have sex at intervals during the night, perhaps even without their sexual partners being aware that they are merely one of many that night. Whether such behaviour is indicative of satyriasis or nymphomania is debatable. Safe sex practices are imperative in such situations, however, and the responsibility of each individual.

Other examples of gang bang related practices are the so-called two-minute parking lot test, where an individual can check out a string of prospective partners, without any committment, before settling on a final choice for the evening. Rejected partners are said to be content at having received the consolation of a couple of minutes of sex, and subsequently chosen partners receive a boost to the ego and the promise of further participation later on.

Both these examples differ from the standard idea of a gang bang in the sense that subsequent partners are unaware of their participation in the event; the situation is more one of an individual sleeping with separate partners in a short timespace.

The moral view of gang bangs varies greatly. There are those who frown on anything other than a one partner per life, let alone one per night. Even those who consider one partner per night to be permissible may consider more than one partner in such a short space of time to be irresponsible or wanton behaviour. The moralities of consensual gang bangs are for the individual to decide, but the desire for safe sex should be paramount, regardless of personal philosophies or morality.

(Bonus points for working out the relevance of the image.)

14 January 2010


Photosynth is a relatively new application from Microsoft Live Labs which takes a group of related photographs and analyses them to produce what they call a 'three-dimensional point cloud' of a photographed object or scene. Following that, the Photosynth browser plug-in allows one to view the object from any angle, limited only by the quality of the photographs and the extent to which they overlap.

Which all sounds very interesting. It basically means that you can move through a Photosynthed scene to see the photos from any angle, or to zoom in on areas of interest. You can see the actual position from which a photograph was taken, or look for the same scene from a slightly different position. Furthermore, because it's an online application, anyone can use it... or that's the theory, anyway.

Practically speaking, at present Photosynths can only be created on Windows Vista or Windows XP. Using Silverlight, anyone can view them, provided they're willing to install Silverlight. Perhaps one day there'll be true Mac or Linux support, but this is Microsoft Live Labs - why would it ship for anything other than Windows? Why would it embrace HTML5, or even, at a push, Flash?

Regardless; there are two stages to the Photosynth experience. Uploading and analysis is the first step. Your set of photographs are subjected to an algorithm that matches points of interest. Little chunks of image which appear in a range of photographs are matched up, and the program uses this to calculate the three-dimensional relationship between the images. Angles, distances, perspective - it's all put together into a 3D scene. They call it bundle adjustment, though it might as well be called reticulating splines for all I know, and in fact that might have been geekily amusing, had they thought of it. 'Bundle adjustment' sounds good, however, and once you've completed this one-off, rather computationally-demanding process, you can move on to step two. This is where the 3D point cloud is navigated using the Photosynth Viewer. The server stores the original photographs, and the client does the displaying and requesting. Natively, if you're a Windows user, and via the delights of Silverlight if you're not.

So, after reading all about it, looking at the comments on slashdot and the videos on YouTube, curiosity got the better of me. I played around for a short while and never quite got round to uploading my own photographs. It was interesting, and I had a bit of fun getting lost on the outskirts of the Taj Mahal, but in the end it was all rather underwhelming, considering the hype. At the moment, I feel there's more excitement imagining the underlying technology than actually using it; it takes me back to the days of finally managing to get the library to order The Science Of Fractal Images for me, or Martin Gardner's mathematical recreation columns. Maybe when there's a Mac version, I'll have another go, but at the moment it's not really worth rebooting into Windows for, let alone selling out and installing Silverlight.

http://photosynth.net/, if you're interested. Despite the amazing concept, I'm nearly ashamed to admit that I'm clearly not.

13 January 2010

Apocrine Gland

Apocrine glands are one of the two types of sweat gland that cover the human skin. Apocrine glands occur only in the armpits and about the ears, navel, nipples and genital region, and are scent glands, playing no part in the regulation of body temperature; this is left to the eccrine glands, which are more than up to the task.

Scent glands... that sounds ominous. Are the apocrine glands responsible for body odour?

Well, yes and no... the apocrine glands do deliberately produce some form of stench-laden secretion, but it's not the same as body odour. The sticky fluid they produce, usually in response to stress or sexual stimulation, contains organic substances, with a very slightly milky consistency and the normal smell of an everyday clean human being.

Where does the body odour thing come from, then? Well, although initially fresh and wholesome, these organic compounds are quickly degraded by bacteria on the surface of the skin, resulting in the well-known smell of unwashed armpits. Thank goodness for showers, eh?

12 January 2010

Blood On Satan's Claw

The Blood On Satan's Claw is classic British horror, a Tigon films production which adheres very nicely to the Hammer Horror mould. It's all set in seventeenth century England, which means 'authentic' costumes (which are almost supernaturally clean, even those belonging to the peasants and farm labourers), and 'authentic' dialogue, which basically means people swap round the order of the words and use 'thou' and 'mightn't' an awful lot. But you either love these sort of horror films or you don't, and if you do then part of the whole delight of them is the cheesy dialogue, the pristine costumes and the egregiously bad special effects.

As the film opens, a strangely deformed skull is unearthed (featuring what looks like a real sheep's eye), surrounded by strange fur. It promptly vanishes whenever anyone of any importance comes to look at it, and instead the more gullible members of the village are slowly taken over by its evil and sinister power, ring-led by Angel Blake, finder of a most sinister and unearthly claw. Most of the possession and evil acts centre around the children of the village (all of whom seem to be played by teenagers, probably because there's a fair bit of nudity and clothing removal in the later stages, along with the odd satanically-induced rape). Very shocking, for 1971 standards.

Thankfully, the chap who dug the skull up in the first place figures out what's going on when he comes across a band of men trying to drown an innocent woman as a witch. He recognises the same fur, growing in a patch on her body - 't'is Satan's skin' he declares, and after a pretty good attempt at removing it with a straight razor, grabs the judge from a nearby village. That's just what's needed to get together a band of burly peasants and give the satanic beast a good hiding. Phew!

The Blood On Satan's Claw misses off the 'the' for most film listings, although it appears in full on the actual film's title shots. It was released as Satan's Skin in the US. The soundtrack, by Marc Wilkinson, is hardly noteworthy, yet managed a CD and limited edition vinyl release in 2007.

Released: 1971
Director: Piers Haggard
Genre: Horror
Barry Andrews as Ralph Gower
Patrick Wymark as The Judge
and Linda Hayden as Angel Blake

11 January 2010

Mute Records

Formed in 1978 by Daniel Miller, Mute began life as a one-man operation which was set up specifically to release the single T.V.O.D.. The single was backed by the Crash-Inspired b-side Warm Leatherette, which minimalistically mused on the erotic potential of vehicle collisions. The b-side, ironically, went on to become more famous than T.V.O.D, and has since been covered by Chicks On Speed, embedding it firmly into the recent Electroclash movement.

More importantly, the single, recorded under the name The Normal, produced enough cash to push Mute into full-time operation. This humble beginning has now led to an independent record company with offices in Prague, Paris, New York and Los Angeles, continuing to chart with artists likeMoby, Erasure, Depeche Mode and, more recently, Miss Kittin's first solo album.

Despite its mainstream leanings, Mute supports and, indeed, relies heavily on its less commercial artists. Disturbing sounds from Diamanda Galás, Einstürzende Neubaten and Laibach provide a darker edge to Erasure and Depeche's ultimately shiny pop. Industrial-classical harmonies from Miranda Sex Garden sit alongside edgy synth offerings from ex-Depeche Mode Recoil.

A whole range of subsidiaries exist beneath the main Mute label: Mutefilm handles video and, more frequently, DVD releases. Nova Mute takes care of electronic dance and The Grey Area maintains classic industrial recordings, including Die Krupps and Throbbing Gristle. The Fine Line, on the other hand, features a diverse range of soundtracks, including music from Simon Boswell and Barry Adamson amongst others.

There is no doubt now that Mute has achieved worldwide success, maintaining a position alongside the mainstream music industry, unafraid to work alongside other such labels to ensure its survival. Mute continues to work hard to ensure that the exposure of new groups continues apace, including my current favourite Polly Scattergood.

10 January 2010

Parma Violets

(i) The Flower

Parma violets belong to the more exotic branch of the violet family. First appearing in Italy, in the 16th century, most types of parma violets sport lavender flowers of varying sizes. The d'Udine, for example, features large, bluish-lavender flowers and a strong perfume, whereas the Neapolitandisplays much paler flowers, although very rarely - it seems to be far more fussy about its living conditions.
There is, also, a single variety of white parma: the Comte De Brazza. Hardy, and with a sweetly delicate perfume, the Comte produces pure white blooms, which in some climates, produce pale blue tips when they are exposed to plenty of good, strong spring sunlight.

The origins of the parma violet are a source of some mystique. First imported into Naples a certain Count Brazza took the plant to Udine in the latter part of the 19th century. There are no records of his work, though it is widely believed that he made deliberate crossings to produce at least two varieties of parma. One of these is still available, whereas the other one is romantically believed to languish in some forgotten back garden somewhere, just waiting to be rediscovered.

Parma violets are widely believed to be sterile, and there is much store laid by their reproduction through cuttings. Armand Millet, French violet grower, proved this belief to be a myth, however, and with the right conditions any sturdy and content violet could well produce a seed pod.

(ii) The Sweet

The delicate purple flowers of the parma violet plant also give their name to a delicate, violet-scented sweet. Parma Violets, manufactured by Swizzels Matlow for decades, come in a cellophane roll. Delicately scented and flavoured, the sweets are a cheaper version of the traditional cachou. Though their taste is, apparently, an acquired one, Parma Violets are undeniably popular; they are aimed squarely at kids, despite their peculiar flavour, although the occasional offer of a trip down memory lane must sell a few packets to more than one wistful grown up. As well as their original, diminutive form, Parma Violets are also available as a 'giant' roll, just for those of us who can't get enough of their chalky-yet-fragrant perfection.

09 January 2010


To begin with there was The Hellbound Heart and Cabal, both short but intense novellas by author Clive Barker. Scarcely a year later he created Hellraiser, a film version of The Hellbound Heart, producing an intelligent but gory horror. Following the success of Hellraiser - and it was a success, introducing some of the most enduring and grotesque images of horror ever seen - Clive and a Hellraiser-impressed Fox were keen to follow up with something better. That's where Cabal came in.

Naming the project after Cabal's main protagonists, the Nightbreed, Barker adapted and shaped the novella to produce a complex script involving a shadowy underworld of exiled horrors. The Nightbreed are not accepted by society; each one has killed and is, through the power of their brokendeity Baphomet, provided with some sort of power, or at least something that makes them different; the changes in question are not always beneficial. Young Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer), carefully framed for multiple, bloody murders by his psychiatrist, Decker (reassuringly played by David Cronenberg), makes his way to Midian, 'where the monsters live'. He's followed, of course, and pretty soon Decker turns out not only to be homicidal, but genocidal, too. The monsters must die, particularly as Boone is one of them and knows Decker's secret, and thus Nightbreed becomes more than simply a horror film, taking on the role of an allegory about intolerance. Primarily, of course, it's a horror film, as shown by the make-up effects, the ambitious sets, and copious quantities of blood. It's subtle horror, too - the scene in which a family is deliberately and matter-of-factly slaughtered by Decker is chillingly plausible.

Sadly, though moderately popular on release, Nightbreed has not stood the test of time. Like Hellraiser, upon its release Nightbreed was accompanied by a range of tie-in books, computer games and comics. Unlike Hellraiser, however, it failed to spawn a sequel (although this is not necessarily a bad thing), and (more importantly) failed to produce an enduring image: Hellraiser had Pinhead, the chief Cenobite, whose pin-studded visage has since become a universal symbol of the horrific. Nightbreed has no such icon - despite its lavish sets, equally grotesque make-up effects and intelligent script, it has simply faded. A recent DVD release may go some way toward reviving it, but ultimately Nightbreed has had its chance and missed it, for whatever reason. It's a shame; maybe Nightbreed wasn't the perfect horror film, but it was by no means a bad film.

Don't forget the Danny Elfman soundtrack, either. Nightbreed was supposed to be a success - the next big Barker movie. So what went wrong? Nightbreed was dogged by unforeseen complexities. Marc Almond, given a part by Clive as a friendly gesture, was later forced to pull out, leaving the film with one Almond-sized full body prosthetic and no-one to fill it. The complex underworld of Midian was expensive to produce - all rope bridges and suspended walkways; corners had to be cut. Add to this, too, the twenty-five minutes of material Barker was forced to remove. Fox were unhappy with the explicit horror and unpleasant sexual imagery - in the original cut the Berserkers, described by other Nightbreed as 'mad bastards', were equipped with savage, penis-like heads, not dissimilar to that of Rawhead Rex in an earlier Barker film. Add to this mix, also, more than a little overacting on the part of Hugh Ross, and some dreadful eighties hair on the part of Anne Bobby.

The end of Nightbreed clearly leaves the way open for a sequel. It is unlikely to ever appear, of course, but just in case, the DVD edition is readily available. Now may very well be the time to acquaint yourself with the novella Cabal, closely followed by the film...

Nightbreed was directed by Clive Barker and produced by Gabriella Martinelli and Joe Roth. It was released in 1990 featuring the acting talents of Craig Sheffer as Aaron Boone, Anne Bobby as Lori Desinger and David Cronenberg as Dr. Philip Decker. The music, released on CD but difficult to obtain, was composed by Danny Elfman.

08 January 2010

The First Blast Of The Trumpet Against The Monstrous Regiment Of Women

"I affirm that to promote a woman to bear rule or empire above any realm, nation, or city, is repugnant to nature, contumely to God, and a thing most contrary to his revealed and approved ordinance..."
The First Blast Of The Trumpet Against The Monstrous Regiment Of Women is a treatise by the Protestant John Knox which, quite simply, warns of the inherent dangers of allowing women to take positions of authority. It is, undoubtedly, Knox's most famous work, though its message is outdated and seems almost naïve. Indeed, the text is now more valued as an example of post-medieval misogyny rather than a definitive warning of the evils of feminine power.

The treatise itself is wordy, obsessive about minutiae and filled with an array of scriptural, historical and religious quotes, all of which are used to espouse Knox's main point: 'I am assured that God has revealed to some in this our age, that it is more than a monster in nature that a woman shall reign and have empire above man'. The abundance of alternate sources he quotes does little aside from show the long and drawn out history of opposition to the rule of women. Ultimately, the whole work comes across as the fervent ravings of a madman, though in truth Knox was merely recording the general attitude of the time.

The treatise itself begins with a preface, in which Knox outlines the religious background to his viewpoint. It moves on, albeit at a snail's pace, to sound the first blast, aimed (according to Knox's title) at 'women degenerate'. The empire of women is, he tells us, degenerate to nature, contrary to the revealed will of God. What's more, it is subversive of good order, equity and justice. Expecting trouble, Knox then answers some common objections bandied by less-clear thinkers. This section is almost as long as the first sections combined, and is followed by a conclusion. The contents of his conclusion will come as no surprise, and it ends, quite simply, with 'Praise God, ye that fear him.' It appears there can be, at least in Knox's mind, no possible argument against the divine truth of his words.

Knox's work was published in Geneva in 1558, and was initially an anonymous publication. The 'first blast' was to be followed by two more works, and Knox intended to reveal his identity on the publication of the triumphant third blast. His two sequels remained unwritten, however, although a short summary of his intended subject matter was later published.

The full text is available at http://www.swrb.ab.ca/newslett/actualNLs/firblast.htm

The First Blast Of The Trumpet Against The Monstrous Regiment Of Women is, of course, the inspiration for Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Monstrous Regiment. (Well, the inspiration for the title, at least, although you can see the thematic links...)

07 January 2010


Nephrops norvegicus is a decapod - a ten legged crustacean - belonging to the family of clawed lobsters. Closely related to freshwater crayfish and slightly more distantly related to the clawless spiny lobster, the langoustine spends much of its time in burrows on the muddy sea bed. Around dusk it likes to emerge for whatever langoustines do socially; feeding on molluscs and other crustaceans seems popular. The Venetians, who have fished langoustines from the Adriatic Sea for centuries, refer to them as scampi, a term perhaps more familiar to many. Nowadays, much of Europe's langoustines come from colder, deeper waters, and they are fished from the sea off Brittany and Norway. Scotland, in particular, takes the langoustine trade seriously, producing more than a third of the world's catch from such regions as Loch Fyne and Loch Torridon, much of which is exported around the world.

With regard to appearance, the langoustine's similarity to a miniature lobster rapidly gives away its heritage. Slim and pink, with a body between three and ten inches, the langoustine's most notable feature is its claws. Often as long as its body, this long and skinny pair of nippers would be admirable claws on a full-sized lobster, and even on this smaller cousin one cannot help but feel they could provide a decent nip to the unwary.

Thankfully there's little chance of this, as the langoustine is generally sold uncooked and fresh, but rarely alive. Simple to prepare at home, a light coat of oil can be applied before roasting them in a hot oven for five minutes. More economically, they can be plunged into rapidly boiling water for between two and four minutes. The meat is removed from the tail in exactly the same way as a lobster. Alternately, enjoy the langoustine whilst eating out. The London restaurant serves them, quite simply, in butter with the merest hint of ginger, while Pierre Gagnaire chooses to encapsulate the langoustines in a clear aspic with almond caramel and corn kernels. Either way, the experience may be a little fiddly, but taste-wise it is sure to please...

06 January 2010


Bollocks, at its plainest, means testicles, and thus makes a perfect expletive. That said, on a more complex level it can also refer to utter destruction. Utter destruction, yes: the kind of utter destruction you only get when you've left your nan alone with the DVD player and she's pressed all the buttons on the remote trying to get the tape to rewind. It's a simple yet pleasing word, favourable to the tongue with a pleasant aftertaste, and one which is well known to anyone of British origin, though recently it's made a pleasing bid for world domination. Online dictionaries, however, will politely refer you to the word bollix, for which www.thesaurus.com provides alternatives such as blunder, botch, flounder, mistake or the more appropriate muff up. In Britain, you see, bollocks fits perfectly alongside every other sexual swear word ever invented, solely because it refers to balls but also because it can be used in a whole range of situations. This is the acid test of swear-words, and bollocks passes with flying colours.

How? Well, despite this simple definition, bollocks (like any other swear word) has a whole plethora of obscure meanings. Just like shit, in fact: everyone's favourite brown word. Shit can mean the worst of the worst ("These cornflakes are shit!") or the best thing ever ("This oregano, Brian, is the good shit"). Fuck works in just the same way, maybe to an even greater degree.

It comes as little surprise to find, then, that bollocks is also possessed of this marvellous ability, though with one proviso. For bollocks to mean good it is usually, though not always, accompanied by the word dog's. The dog's bollocks apparently arrived on the scene in 1989, though where and how remains entirely unclear. Viz magazine, in particular, had a penchant for the phrase, but then anything even vaguely smutty was a magnet for the Viz crowd. Incidentally, apostrophe freaks will note that it is a particular canine's testicles which are undergoing scrotal scrutiny, and not the general testicular region of all dog-kind, though nobody stops for an instant to imagine why the balls of a dog would be quite so exciting. (Perhaps it's those afternoons of fun round at Auntie Maud's, flicking the prominent testicles of her jack russell just to hear it yelp. I know it is in my case...)

Things probably came to a head with Sex Pistols' 1977 release of Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols, which sparked various courtroom-related shenanigans concerning the use of the word bollocks. Legal action took place under the Indecent Advertisements Act of 1889 after the manager of a Virgin Record Shop in Nottingham was forced to dismantle his display of Sex Pistols' posters and subsequently arrested. Arriving in court, the whole case revolved around the use of the word bollocks, an alleged obscenity. The issue was eventually sorted out by Richard Branson, who called upon James Kingsley, a professor of linguistics and a former priest, to testify that the word bollocks was eighteenth century slang and entirely acceptable. He explained the bollock was an Anglo-Saxon word meaning 'small ball'. Additionally, bollock was used as a slang term for clergymen, indicating their reputation for talking nonsense, or a load of old balls. Some things never change.

Since that time the use of the word bollocks has become as much part of British life as fish and chips, roast beef and mushy peas. Anyone now, at approximately quarter to eleven in the Dog And Duck on a Friday night, espousing their theory of world domination with gay abandon, can expect several shouts of Bollocks! and, in fact, will appreciate it. Such is British culture.

Memorably, Jasper Carrott recalls in one of his books, how there was a time where the whole of North America were blissfully unaware of the word bollocks. A friend, moving to the United States, took the opportunity to have a licence plate which displayed the word 'bollocks' in a slightly bastardised form. Upon, one day, being asked its meaning he collapsed into laughter and informed the enquiree that it meant 'spots'. Apparently, Jasper was with the unfortunate lady when she marched into Boots, pointed to a large zit on her chin and asked for some cream to rub into her bollocks. With regard to the veracity of this story, curiously enough the word 'bollocks' springs to mind...

05 January 2010

Your Spectrum / Your Sinclair

Your Spectrum: January 1984 - January 1986
then Your Sinclair: January 1986 - September 1993

Your Sinclair: A Brief History

Your Sinclair began life as Your Spectrum in January 1984, when Dennis Publishing realised there was a market for a magazine which catered specifically to to owners of Clive Sinclair's range of ZX Spectrum owners, with the occasional nod to the ZX80 and ZX81 crowd. A great success, the magazine continued for almost ten years, pausing only to change its name at the beginning of 1986 when Sir Clive looked set to branch out with a new range of computers. As it happened, the Sinclair QL made little impact on the world of computing, but the name change stayed.

The near-decade changed Your Sinclair considerably, and yet somehow the underlying ethos remained the same. Even when Your Sinclair reached the bitter end, its publishers having realised just how few Spectrum users there really were out there, the magazine went out with a bang. The final issue's back cover, showing two of the Your Sinclair troupe riding off into the sunset, was a sad moment for many a geek of the eighties: 'Our work here is done...'

Your Sinclair: A Little More Detail

Your Spectrum was launched in December 1983, direct competition to Sinclair User and ZX Computing. Your Spectrum quickly made its mark with quality games reviews, conducted by the Joystick Jugglers, and a screenshot to go with each one. With their own unique style ('In short, play Ghosts 'n' Goblins and you'll be grabbed by the ghoulies. And as a non-sexist note for that half of the population without ghoulies, don't worry - it'll give you the willies!'.) the Your Sinclair reviews were something special, even if you might not always agree. The magazine itself had plenty of colour pages, and the programming strength of the Spectrum was indulged in with plenty of hardware articles, as well as a focus on both BASIC and machine code programming.

Other popular columns included Hacking Away, which catered for the experimental nature of Spectrum users, dedicating a half page, at least, to cheating in popular games. Jet Set Willy, in particular, was better for this...

There were other delights, too, many focused on the writers themselves. Teresa Maughan, known affectionately as T'zer, became the breaker of a thousand hearts when she married after years of innuendo-laden commentary as the YS editor. Matt Bielby, her successor, did much the same for the rest of the world, and in later years Rick Wilson managed to get a badly-recorded song onto the cover tape. No-one knows how many people fell in love whilst listening to 'Hold My Hand Very Tightly' by Whistlin' Rick Wilson, the Rick Astley mocking alter-ego of staff writer David Wilson, but current estimates centre around zero.

1986, and Your Spectrum became Your Sinclair, scarce months before Clive sold his computing division to Amstrad. Not that it would ever have been known as 'Your Amstrad' - few Spectrum owners were impressed by Alan Sugar's takeover. This was, nevertheless, a period of immense popularity for the Spectrum. In this time, games became the main focus of Your Sinclair, though there remained a large focus on programming.

By 1988, Future Publishing had bought Your Sinclair, taking on a difficult challenge in the process. The 8-bit computer market was, at this point, dying. Games consoles were taking up residence in people's homes, reducing loading times for gamers and making life a whole lot easier for anyone who wasn't seriously into computing. The technical crowd, meantime, were switching to the Amiga or Atari ST - 16-bit computing was taking off. To counter the trend, Future Publishing began offering cover tapes, posters or booklets containing tips. All of which cost money, of course, and in the face of falling sales figures the content of the magazine suffered. By the end, Your Sinclair was considerably thinner, with very few articles actually focusing on new Spectrum games. Not that there were many... the glory days of the Spectrum had clearly come to an end, despite the best efforts of Sinclair, then Amstrad, and finally Miles-Gordon Technologies. The 8-bit era had to end sometime...

Other Fondly-remembered Bits

YS Badge: More prized than a Blue Peter badge, the Your Sinclair badge was a square, metal pin badge with the YS logo in red. It was awarded for having something printed on the letters page, more commonly known as Input/Output.

Doodlebugs: Send in a cartoon, have it printed. There was a new game for any cartoon printed.

SAM Surgeon: A later addition to the magazine, in which Robin Alway answered problems concering the SAM Coupé, including the burning question: what exactly happened to the much-touted machine?

YS Adventures: Text adventures were big on the Spectrum, and this column provided hints and tips for those who were stuck with The Hobbit, had no idea what to do with the crystal on The NeverEnding Story or couldn't cross the river on Mountains Of Ket.

Rage Hard: A look at new or upcoming hardware.

Program Pitstop: The joy of hex! After typing in a hex editor one could enter line after line of code, then eventually run it using the fabled 'RANDOMIZE USR' command. Alternately, BASIC programs were often listed in full, allowing the amateur programmer to type them in, edit them and generally cannibalise the bits they wanted, all to be squirreled away on cheap C60 cassettes.

04 January 2010

Newcastle Brown Ale

As you might expect, Newcastle Brown Ale is brewed in Newcastle, said to be the oldest beer-making city in England. The beer is actually a mixture of two ales - a stronger, dark brew and a lighter blend. It's certainly well known, and a glass of 'Newkie Broon' goes down nicely if it's ice-cold and carefully poured so that the glass is always half full. Indeed the makers of Newcastle Brown Ale are so concerned about the temperature their beer is served at that a temperature-sensitive blue star is placed on the back label. Newcastle Brown Ale is a serious business...

Newcastle's first commercial brewery, John Barras And Company Of Gateshead was established in 1770, successfully expanding in 1890 to form (with some other smaller breweries) The Newcastle Breweries Ltd. It was in 1913, however, that the blue star was adopted as the company's trademark, and it was 1927 before Newcastle Brown Ale was first brewed, by the nearly-appropriately-named Jim Porter, who had already devoted three years to the development of his special brew.

The beer is produced from selected barley, soaked in water, spread on wide floors to germinate and is, at the right time, cured in a kiln. Before kegging, bottling or canning, however, the beer is pasteurized, ensuring high consistency as well as freedom from bacteria. The yeast strains used have not changed for many generations and this helps to give the beer a consistent flavour.

Upon its revelation to the world, Newcastle Brown Ale was quickly recognised as a superlative ale, winning gold medals at the 1928 International Brewers' Exhibition in London. Keen to capitalise on the success, the oval label on the original bottle was modified to carry the details of Newcastle Brown's success, and the vague figure-8 shape, now familiar to Newcastle Brown drinkers everywhere, was born. The blue star emblem, too, became part of the bottle's new design.

Newcastle Brown Ale was quickly established as a favourite beer in the North East of England, and sales were still climbing at the beginning of the Second World War. Despite the shortage of staff, raw materials and drastic Government restrictions, Newcastle Brown Ale was hardly changed during the war years.

The eighties saw further changes to the bottle design, and a new slogan - The One and Only - was adopted. New advertising campaigns were produced, based around the Northern habit of proclaiming oneself to be walking the dog, which in reality declares an intention to spend a couple of hours in the pub with the dog underneath your bar stool. By 1990, Newcastle Brown Ale had become the best-selling bottled beer in the UK, as well as Europe.

Newcastle Brown Ale is also available in America, and while I'm assured it is far better than the Budweiser over there, it has yet to achieve the same popularity. The American labelling is somewhat different. The main label, around the wide part of the bottle, remains the same, but the mini-label on the neck contains details of its origins: IMPORTED FROM ENGLAND. The bottle tells us that the product is distributed by Scottish & Newcastle Importers Co., San Rafael, California.

03 January 2010

Turbo Truffles

"Turbo Truffles are the original and best tasting caffeinated chocolates on the planet! Supercharged with caffeine and maximum flavor! Better than duct taping your eyes open, Turbo Truffles will ready you for anything that comes your way."
Or so the marketing says. What we have here is a 'gourmet supercharged chocolate truffle' that 'tastes like after-dinner candy', the Turbo Truffle is part of the trend for caffeine or guarana laced products which saturate the market at present. Everyone wants more energy for less effort, and a quick glance through ThinkGeek's special category devoted to caffeinated products is a mind-boggling experience. From penguin mints to a re-energizing soap, you can enjoy caffeine in an amazing range of ways - smearing it on yourself, frantically rubbing caffeinated lip balm into your mucous membranes or, if you want to be boring, plain old ingestion.

Why? Marketing for these products tends to focus around key words and phrases. Energy boost, kick, fizz and buzz. Realistically, what actually happens? Well, caffeine is absorbed by the stomach and small intestine and alters the process by which your brain absorbs adenosine. The result is increased blood flow, increased blood sugar, dilated pupils and an increase in heart rate. Add an increase of dopamine levels in the brain, and yes, there's a bit of a boost going on somewhere; something of a caffeine rush. Thinking practically, are you going to notice it? Is the dose of caffeine in one small Turbo Truffle going to shift you into some higher plane of consciousness? Just how much caffeine is there in a Turbo Truffle and what is it going to do?

Well, each truffle contains 150mg of caffeine. That's about the same as three cans of coke, a little more than a cup of freshly-brewed coffee and approximately a third more than a mug of instant. If you're a fan of Excedrin and follow the instructions rigorously, then each of these Turbo Truffle chaps clocks in at two Excedrin tablets, but without the painkilling portion. No DoZ users will find they need to munch one and a half tablets for the same effect, while those of us in the UK will be disappointed to find out that the weak and puny Pro Plus tablet contains only a third of a Turbo Truffle. (This, incidentally, goes some way to explaining why munching Pro Plus by the handful seems to have almost no effect.)

Are they safe? Since the LD50 for caffeine is around 10g, you'd have to munch down about sixty truffles to get close, and at $16.95 for fifty of them, your wallet's likely to be complaining long before your nervous system even gets round to noticing. A recent review noted, however, that the kick comes pretty hard and pretty fast, and you're unlikely to want to eat two. Looks like fifty of them could last you a goodly while.

Taste-wise, Turbo Truffles generally come up trumps, although the review for 'Hot Rod Hazelnut' seems less than complimentary - "What the hell did I just eat? I know it says hazelnut, but that wasn't hazelnut..." If you've tried them, you'll undoubtedly have your own favourite flavour; if you haven't tried them, just be sure to avoid the hazelnut. There are eight different varieties, all ridiculously-named: Cosmic Coconut, Coffee Craze, Hot Rod Hazelnut, Chocolate Mint Madness, Outrageous Orange, Peanut Butter Blast, Racing Raspberry and Toffee Tornado. You can also, if you're unable to make up your mind, order a mixed bag and let God play dice with your chocolate selection.

02 January 2010

Castle Rock, Maine

Castle Rock is a fictional small town which is featured prominently in a number of Stephen King works. It is first introduced in The Dead Zone, where unwilling psychic Johnny Smith is drawn into the search for a murderer. The man in question, when discovered, is none other than... well, you don't want me to spoil it, do you?

Anyway, Castle Rock's Sheriff Bannerman, having recovered from this unmentioned incident, later reappears in Cujo, which takes place entirely in the town. Following this, The Dark Half, The Sun Dog and Needful Things all take place within the boundaries of this rather beleaguered location.

Thankfully, the residents of Castle Rock can breathe a sigh of relief: Needful Things was subtitled The Last Castle Rock Story, and although references to the town pop up in Gerald's Game, Bag Of Bones and King's latest (massive!) Under The Dome, a rewrite of It Grows On You from the short story collection Nightmares And Dreamscapes forms the final glimpse of Castle Rock as a main location.

Castle Rock Entertainment is also the film company that has produced several Stephen King adaptations: Misery, Hearts In Atlantis and Dreamcatcher being notable successes. Despite the name, a homage chosen after success with Stand By Me (based on the novella The Body), Castle Rock Entertainment does not exclusively work on King movies. Television programmes like Seinfeld were a part of Castle Rock Entertainment's output, and other successful films including When Harry Met Sally and A Few Good Men, were also produced by the company.


Jägermeister is a thick, dark German liqueur (35%) produced from a blend of fifty-six herbs, fruits and spices. It is best served ice cold, and is thus commonly kept in the freezer, where it becomes slightly thicker and infinitely more pleasurable to consume. Its taste is similar to the Hungarian liquor Zwack Unicum, or its German contemporary Schierker Feuerstein; the herbal quality really shines through.

Jägermeister means hunt master, a title reflected in the Jägermeister logo: a stag, replete with impressive antlers between which floats a cross. So the story goes, a seventh century lad called Hubertus was moved by such a vision to change his life, joining a monastery and, ultimately, becoming the patron saint of hunters. Whether it's true or not, the label is distinctive and undeniably appropriate.

The company that produces Jägermeister is keen to promote its consumption, as you'd expect. Special tap machines serve the liqueur at freezing cold temperatures, and the website www.jager.com features a host of suggestions and potential purchases. Snowboards, watches,hats and glasses: Jägermeister are going for a younger market here. It's working, too - Jägermeister, worthy of such claims or not, is slowly acquiring a reputation similar to that of absinthe. It is suggested for use in a range of cocktails, too, though its bitter taste does not work well in most cases. The more popular Jägermeister cocktails are those which provide an opportunity to display some sort of drinking prowess. The provocatively-named 'Screaming Nazi' is one such alcoholic trial.

And with this comes the danger: that Jägermeister will come to be regarded as a fad liquor, taking its place alongside Aftershock and Goldschlager as a dare-you-to-down-it shot for the end of the evening. This would be a shame: the best way to drink Jägermeister is to slowly sip its icy depths; the subtle blends of flavours deserve more than a quick tip down the back of the neck. Certainly, claims as to its potency are over-rated; its alcohol percentage is a significant five percent below most vodkas. Drink enough, or drink it fast enough, and it's going to give you a serious hangover, this is true, but exactly the same is true of enough Jack Daniel's or Grey Goose. But however you choose to drink it, the fact remains that Jägermeister's bitter, medicinal taste and alcoholic strength are an acquired taste which, once firmly ingrained, will not be regretted. Unless you indulge a little too much, of course...

01 January 2010


Pikelets and crumpets - both traditional British tea-time dishes. What's the difference? A good question, because there isn't much of a one. Crumpets and pikelets are both raised bread products made with yeast, and they're both baked on a griddle (although a frying pan does just as well).. Crumpets - proper crumpets - are thick and usually cooked in a circular mould leading to a seven or eight centimetre diameter circle with a top covered in little open bubbles. When toasted and buttered, the melted butter oozes into these holes, producing a soft, buttery honeycomb with a crunchy exterior. A pikelet is usually flatter and less regularly shaped as you simply spoon a small amount of batter out rather than filling up a mould. Although other countries have their own versions, the traditional English recipe involves yeast, and so is a little more involved and lengthy than other recipes which use eggs or bicarbonate of soda as a raising agent.

This one contains a bit of both - yeast and bicarbonate of soda. Fresh yeast is always best, and it's surprisingly easy to get hold of if you don't mind asking at the local bakery. Even the supermarkets with in-store bakeries are usually happy to sell you a lump, and I know for a fact you can get it at Morrisons because I usually do; it's near the butter in our local store, and the bakery politely but firmly point you in that direction if you get mixed up. Strong bread flour has proteins necessary for making that wonderful gluten, which helps when you're making yeast-based bread treats, so do check your packet carefully and go for a good, strong flour.

Making the batter:
125g strong bread flour
125g plain flour
1 and a half teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
Half a teaspoon of salt
8g fresh yeast (if you're using powdered, you may need to prepare it differently)
75ml lukewarm whole milk
250ml lukewarm water

Sort your yeast out first, adding the water to it slowly until you've made a yeasty paste into which it's easy to combine the remaining water. Add this to the flours with just half a teaspoon of the bicarbonate of soda and mix it into a very thick batter.

You're going to leave this in a warm place for two hours, covered with a damp cloth. The batter will go very frothy, and you can now dissolve the remaining bicarbonate of soda in the lukewarm milk and add it to the batter. Yay! You're now ready to make pikelets!

Cooking the pikelets:
Lightly butter and heat a non-stick frying pan. Spoon tablespoons of the mixture onto the pan and watch the pikelet for signs of the bubbles beginning to burst on the surface. When this happens, turn over the pikelet and continue to cook for a little longer until the top, bubbled surface is golden.
It's best now to allow them to cool, then re-toast them and slather them with plenty of butter. In practice, however, the freshly cooked pikelets are a little too tempting to be left alone, and a good smear of butter on top of them is hard to resist. Either way, enjoy.

The Great British Kitchen, The Lovely Delia, Wikibooks