Archive for September, 2008

Banking – It Makes You Go Blind

Posted in Grave News on September 30, 2008 by Johnnie

Oh the poor bankers.  It’s tragic that, after years of charging us to use our own money and then using the profits to give it all away to idiots who couldn’t afford to pay it back, they suddenly found themselves in something of a mire.  Now, they not only wanted to be bailed out, they actually expected it.  If nothing else, it may just concentrate the minds of banks who survive the current “crisis” on future business practices.  When I moved to Ireland ten years ago, I struggled to actually open a bank account at first.  When I enquired as to why it was so difficult to do so without umpteen references, I was told (in no uncertain terms) that it was because ‘there had been a history of money laundering’ in the country.  What, so every ‘foreign national’ (as RTÉ is fond of saying) is assumed to be a money launderer until proven innocent?  What sort of way is that to run a business?  When I was eventually accepted, I was asked how I wanted to pay my charges.  What charges?  You know, using an ATM, writing cheques, etc.  Now, I first opened a bank account in Scotland when I was eight years old, not once was I charged for withdrawing my own money; I was utterly appalled.  But then you look at their other practices and realise that banks simply aren’t cut out for competitive business in the modern era.  Wasting money by sending out junk mail to tell you how you qualify to borrow more money from them – what’s that all about?  Credit cards? Second and third credit cards?  Another well-known financial black hole they’re only too happy to invite you to join in.  100% mortgages?  That one certainly bit them and their customers savagely on the arse.

And then there’s the really infuriating practices that make me wonder why they’re still operating in the Dickensian era.  They are money shops and they should takes their responsibilites seriously in this regard.  “Bank” holidays – why?  They should be open the same as every other retailer who wants to stimulate their own enterprise.  Closing in the afternoon – why?  If they want to finish work at a reasonable hour, they shouldn’t expect any other services to be open for them when they leave work.  Same goes for late-night shopping on Thursdays and at Christmas – banks would actually do great business at this time as well as being convenient for other people who can’t get to the bank during the week.  Not open at weekends – why?  Because the stock exchange doesn’t ‘do’ weekends?  Ridiculous.  Banks – the world has changed since the time of Ebeneezer Scrooge and it’s high time your curmudgeonly managers and customer-facing sharp-end realised this.

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“Spanking Carol Smillie”

Posted in Grave News on September 29, 2008 by Johnnie

Oh dear, it seems that there is a person, or are persons, who keep stumbling across this blog by Googling the words “spanking Carol Smillie” – on a remarkably consistent basis too.  I’m not sure if these are the workings of a weird cult, or simply nerds trying to investigate some hot internet urban myth, but this search seems to have turned up on my list every other day since I posted the 1980s’ KitKat ad which featured a young Carol as part of a band sealing a record deal.   I didn’t write that the ‘Alien Invasion’ song was “spanking good” or any such thing but still they find me; I’m impressed by their dogged persistence.   So, whoever you are, I’m making it easier for you to find me, right down to the quotation marks.  Thanks for reading and sorry if my articles are a crushing disappointment once you get here; I Have Grave News remains, for at least the time being, spanking/flagellation-free.  While I’m at it, I may as well say hello to all you “Carol Vorderman lingerie” and “Kim and Aggie rubber” fans too – you’re all very welcome.

Planet Of The Apes

Posted in Interviews, Music on September 26, 2008 by Johnnie

flapesZoranOrlicToday sees the Irish release of Fight Like Apes‘ debut album, Fight Like Apes And The Mystery Of The Golden Medallion. For me, and not to over-state the case, this release is a major milestone in Irish music history.  For the current pop generation, FLApes represent something that is truly theirs; in sound, image and deed, this band have brought something to the table that is so wildly different in nature to our usual exports of singer-songwriters, slickly-veneered, derivative indie-pop or stadium-chasing anthemic rock, that it should be hugged long and hard by their legion of fans and those hacks who, like myself, trawl around venue after venue in the constant and ongoing search for something with a creative energy and spark.  I’ve loved them since the first time I saw them and have been lucky enough to chat to them, personally and professionally, on several occasions.  I’m reproducing my first little interview with them here, which took place a year ago in the cosy surroundings of the Library Bar at the Central Hotel in Dublin, just before the release of their second EP, David Carradine Is A Bounty Hunter Whose Robotic Arm Hates Your Crotch.  I also make no apologies for reproducing Zoran Orlic‘s brilliant photograph of the band, taken in Austin, Texas during this year’s South By South West festival – not just because it’s excellent, but because (take my word for it) it’s me who’s holding the bike steady behind MayKay. Continue reading

Audience Shuns New-Look Village People

Posted in Grave News on September 26, 2008 by Johnnie

Yesterday afternoon, I had a thoroughly pleasant guided tour around the new-look Point Depot, now known as the O2. And very lovely it is too.  It’ll be even nicer when it’s finished. Read all about it (although not about the delicious pecan pastry I had afterwards, or the bloke I bumped into on the site, whose name was Brian, and  who recognised me because he knows my sister – how bizarre, small worldly, etc) over at State.

Conspicuous Consumers: (Sir) George Martin

Posted in Conspicuous Consumers on September 24, 2008 by Johnnie

It was a sticky, early-summer’s morning in 1992, in the air-con-free Our Price, Selfridges concession; as usual, there was only a mother and child browsing the racks, the place was spotless and well-ordered, and my manager was making the soporific staff rearrange the dust around the till area.  It was just then that this tall, upright, elegant and highly distinguished man strode up the steps and up to the counter.  “Good morning,” he said, ever so politely.  “Can you tell me, did ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ by The Beatles ever make it on to an album?”  For a brief period, I was a bit taken aback at the sight of him.  I didn’t want to utter the corny line, “but… aren’t you George Martin, legendary Beatles producer and one of the 57 people known as ‘the 5th Beatle’?” , just in case I’d got it wrong.  So I said, with as much authority as I could muster, that I thought it was on Magical Mystery Tour, but I’d check.  “Oh, and can you see if Sgt. Pepper ever came out on CD, please?” he asked, as I stepped away.  Once behind the scenes, and flicking through the Beatles’ section of our back catalogue, my manager, who was a massive Beatles fan, and a good two feet shorter than me, shook both my shoulders as he squawked, “that’s George Martin!  Fucking George Martin!”  I know, I said, he wants to buy ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and Sgt. Pepper.  “Does he?”

When I returned with the items, the man who was to become Sir George was chatting to the mother and child who’d been browsing.  He looked the CDs over, thanked me profusely and said, “I’ll take them.”  I don’t mean to be impolite, I said, but why don’t you have these already?  Don’t they just send them to you?  “I do get things sent to me,” he smiled back, “but I also give things away all the time.”  He paid with his credit card and off he went, the proud owner (not to mention producer) of two Beatles CDs.  Returning to semi-reality, the previously browsing mother cheerfully handed me a Lulu Greatest Hits CD she wished to purchase.  “You know that guy you just served?” she said with wide-eyed wonder.  “He knows Lulu!”

Heard About Your Band…

Posted in Music on September 23, 2008 by Johnnie

As the colleges go back, new students all over Ireland will start forming bands to distract themselves from study.  I do wonder if it’s really worth all their effort, though.  As Wilde said, “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”  It’s a safe bet that Oscar didn’t dream up that line by lying in a Wexford Street gutter on a Tuesday night, electric guitar in hand, wondering why only quarter of his guest list bothered to turn up to watch his band support little-known Brooklyn art-twank band Jeet Cujinette in Whelan’s.

Still, as a new term begins, halls of learning all over the country will be hotbeds of aspiring rock stars – the vast majority of whom will end up in bands who will languish in heroic or apathetic obscurity.   This isn’t supposed to be a discouragement, everyone who wants to be in a band should be, it’s the best hobby on earth – but to what end?

There are thousands of bands in Ireland at the moment, most of them trudging around the Dublin circuit supporting each other, copying each other and playing to the same faces, or collection of similar hairstyles, every time.  Usually, there are only half a dozen obvious influences shared between them.  All of which might, depending on the crowd, be good for the local economy, particularly in licensed premises, but, in bands’ anxiety to get themselves noticed, what seems to be suffering more than anything else is originality.  Even some of the more high-profile new local bands are so aggravatingly derivative that they deserve nothing beyond highly local notoriety – and critical contempt.

Too often, bands take the compromise route; they keep a lid on their creativity and go for tried and tested formulas.  And it can work too.  It’s just too bad that idleness often pays in terms of mass publicity; the safer, more derivative, less wacky and generally blander you are, the more likely it is that the creaking, past-it editors of ancient publications are going to laud you as spokespeople for a shrugging new generation.

Cheerfully, this year’s Hard Working Class Heroes festival highlighted one or two acts whose passion, imagination and live brilliance gave this reviewer a lot of hope for the immediate future.  So please, students of 2008, give us something great to listen to, something exciting to see, something to get truly enthusiastic about – and don’t just use that tired old mantra so many bands seem to use, even if they don’t realise it: “sure, if Razorlight can do it, anyone can…”

The Second Flush Of Youth

Posted in U Lads on September 23, 2008 by Johnnie

Originally published in U MAGAZINE in December 2007

Internet shopping is great, isn’t it? Why would anyone bother to go out to actual shops, where you run the risk of frostbite, turning the balls of your feet to puree, getting your face elbowed in queues or being forced to have lunch in Starbucks, when you could sit at home in your underwear and buy anything you want on the computer?  Books, CDs, groceries, surf boards (“the best surfing gear in the midlands – guaranteed!”), reptile eggs, anything can be delivered to your door these days, all without the inconvenience of leaving the house or lifting the telephone.  Or even chatting people up, it seems.

More than a few times lately, I seem to have spotted some middle-aged, approaching elderly, old fart with his arm ostentatiously hooked around a very young, cute, shapely, exotic and, sadly, lost-looking woman. Upon spotting this type of couple, it’s entirely normal and expected that most people will look away in embarrassment and speculate on: A) how much he might have bid for her on http://www.ForeignTotty.com; and B) does she look as nice as she did in the catalogue?

On a night out with The Expert, relationships advisor to the bottoms of pint glasses everywhere, we witnessed one such couple giggling playfully in a city-centre pub. While a grizzled assembly of the man’s peers sat gawping at her in envious disbelief, we looked upon the whole spectacle with amusement, trying to work out what it was about him that first attracted her. The acres of spare face? The wispy fluff sprouting from his ears? The wiry, copper-tinted comb over? The whiskey-ravaged nose that protruded from his face like a giant, bursting, scarlet raspberry? Or was there something large, bulging and enticing concealed in his pocket that he was only too happy to whip out at a second’s notice if she so desired?  Yes, his wallet.

Unable to stomach the sight of them any longer, we averted our gazes from the unfolding tragedy and began to speculate on the wider implications of older people making fools of themselves with partners from an entirely different generation. I trusted that The Expert would be experienced in these matters and, bang on cue, he related a little tale of his teenage self and a mate being propositioned by a couple of doughnut-midriffed mums in a club. “One of them was actually quite hot,” he claimed. “But we couldn’t work out what to do about the other one, so we legged it.”

Cougars, women 35 years plus who prefer the ‘company’ of younger men, seem to be on the increase these days – or perhaps they’re just putting themselves out more. There’s been a persistent hoo-ha in the press over Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s beautiful relationship, and those of past age-gap couples like Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake – but the non-celebrity versions, the fabled “modern-day Mrs Robinsons”, seem to be filling the pages of magazines and tabloids with their ‘true-life’ revelations every other day.

“And why shouldn’t they?” mused The Expert. “It was always acceptable the other way around.” True, I said; old movie idols like Ronald Colman, Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant were generally seen canoodling with much younger women, all of whom seemed to be swept up in a fit of dramatic sighs by these men’s ‘distinguished’ features, general maturity, life-experience and rather sinister protective instincts.

Of course, these were the days of beautiful black and white movies where even ageing film stars had a photogenic flawlessness about them; and manners of the day dictated that there was no gritty, sweaty, close-up on-screen rumpy-pumpy, thus preserving everyone’s dignity and Brylcreem. By contrast, anyone who witnessed the clearly crumbling Sean Connery getting it on with Catherine Zeta Jones in glorious, gaudy colour during Entrapment only put people in gruesome mind of Ms Zeta Jones’s actual husband, Michael Douglas; a man she has to help up hills, up stairs, up ladders – up everywhere, no doubt.

So, what, I asked my learned friend, were the advantages of the older woman? As usual, The Expert paused to consider his answer with the look of a toothless judge sucking a lemon.  “Well,” he declared, “older women are going to die sooner leaving you free to hit on younger chicks. But while they’re still here, they know plenty of tricks they want to try out on energetic younger men.”

However crude his latter point is, it actually makes perfect sense. As every schoolboy knows (or thinks he knows), a man’s sexual peak is already behind him before he’s out of his teens; a woman’s, meanwhile, doesn’t ‘climax’ until she’s in her mid-30s. It’s little wonder that there are reported increases in the numbers of older women reinventing themselves as sexual predators and preying on men half their age – who seem only too happy to oblige. It’s everywhere you look at the moment. A new Sharon Stone film, entitled Cougars, depicts just such a predator (can’t think why they chose Stone for this role, she’s like America’s answer to Penelope Keith), while even that nice Agnetha “I’m not just a sexy bottom” Fältskog from Abba, the 57-year-old blonde one who used to be married to Bjorn, is asserting her mature sexiness by stepping out with a chap 20 years her junior.

Relationship-wise, though – what do these age-gap couples talk about? What do they do? Women always seem to know what to talk about and their younger men are astonishingly malleable for the duration of their relationship – although the briefer the better, perhaps. But what of those men who go all out to woo a younger woman? While there are many young women who are so frustrated by the relative immaturity of their male contemporaries that only an older man will do, the male ego soon finds the initially attractive energy, flightiness, and flirtatiousness of the younger woman hugely threatening.

The girl’s male friends are a constant worry, their own friends’ sanctimonious approval of the relationship is irritating and there’s often a gulf in what they find fun socially; dinner parties turn her off, clubbing for him is something they do to seals – and renditions of The Oldest Swinger In Town will only prickle him like a Hessian vest.

So, quietly between ourselves, The Expert and I wished our whiskey-nosed friend with the imported girlfriend the best of luck; he’s going to need it, with the best will in the world, and all the ginseng and Viagra money can buy.

The thing is, neither of us could seriously be smug about it; if what all of us ultimately wants from life is someone to cuddle us warm on cold nights, someone to share intimate little moments with and someone who’ll look after us selflessly when we lose control of our bladders and forget who we are, maybe his is the best path to happiness. We can’t all be Rod Stewart, can we?