Normal Service Will Resume Shortly

I haven’t gone anywhere. But I’ll probably update the events of the past 48 hours tomorrow. I think it desrves a little extra effort. In the meantime, squint your eyes…

currently playing: Nick Cave — Love Letter

And I Don't Even Like Coffee…

I like to think that the reason that I’ve spent so much time in coffee shops the past few days is because I feel guilty about not using them while I was here. The guilty feeling will also help to explain why I bought another chapstick last night, because I didn’t have any change for the homeless man outside.

So, erm, once again, not too much to talk about. Went to New Hope Commons, a disastrous lunch in Miami Subs (arrg! mushrooms!), and then I met up with Kavi at the Pit. Then Stacie came by, and we had a chat with her. She'd just come from eating dinner with Laura, who came by a little later on (she had a friend with her, but I can't remember her name. I suck). Then Sona turned up, and then Shatil. A mini-UNITAS reunion!

Tea…was weird. There's an awful lot of tension going on between some of my friends, so I was quite happy to spend most of the evening advising Shatil whereabouts he should visit when in Britain later this year (I suggested Manchester, which, now that I think about it, doesn't have too much going for it that you wouldn't find, say, in London, but oh well).

But hark! I shall leave you with another picture with nobody in it!

currently playing: Camera Obscura — Eighties Fan

And lo, there was yet more walking

The weather report lied. But the sunshine blazing through the window when I woke up suggested that it might be a good day after all, so I dressed accordingly.

Breakfast at Caribou Coffee, because I’d never been there before (I think I’m down to one last coffee shop that I haven’t been in - the Open Eye in Carrboro), and then walking around campus trying to find somewhere to write. I settled on a patch of grass near Morehead Planetarium. I spent a while attempting to write, but all that would come out was gibberish and backwards text, to I went walking again, spending an hour going around the arboretum (for those of you who know the place, erm, yes, but there was a reason, honest).

Then, off to the comic shop to get hold of the third Animal Man book. Except they didn’t have any copies left. But the owner said that they were expecting some more either today (Wednesday) or Thursday, and if I left my phone number, they’d give me a ring when it came in. Did I mention how much I like that shop? I bought the cheap reprint of Andy Diggle and Jock’s The Losers, which was a great heist story and well worth the $10.

After lunch, I went to the graveyard in the middle of the university (yes, I’m still not sure what it says about this place), found the Centre for Dramatic Arts, and got lost in the woods next door. Eventually, I found my way back to civilisation, and flopped into one of the new comfy chairs at the rebuilt union building (it’s very cosy).

As the evening drew on, Laura called, comfirming that she could make it to the cinema tonight, so I wandered around the town for a few more hours, getting something to eat, and bumping into Leigh and Jo along the way.

Laura and Stacie met me outside the Carolina Theatre, and we headed off to see “Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind”. Go. See. It. Carrey turns in a performance that’s even better than The Truman Show, the film is interesting and intriguing, it’s visually stunning (borrowing ideas from Animal Man, funnily enough - and directed by the guy who did the Smirnoff cinema adverts from a few years ago - the one with the couple being chased by an army), and, not forgetting: Kate Winslet with blue hair.

The ending provoked some discussion over the nature of relationships, pessimistic versus optimistic outlooks on life, and resulted in two of us being pushed into the road ;-). Laura then suggested that we go back to her place to eat some ice-cream (Stacie fought long and hard over whether she should do her paper instead. A two minute knock-out performance). We picked up Stacie’s friend Srav (that’s not her whole name, but I fear I will mangle it beyond any resemblance if I attempt to go beyond that), and we had a great couple of hours talking about lemmings, strange things to do in a forest, delayed reactions, and the wild and varied acting career of Saddam Hussein. A fun night, although I hope we didn’t keep Rebecca awake upstairs…

currently playing: Bob Dylan - Visions of Johanna

Pictures of A Town

currently playing: The Divine Comedy — Come Home Billy Bird

Sunday afternoon can’t last forever

Day 4: In Which The Writer Gets Bored Of This Silly Device And Resolves Not To Use It Tomorrow.

Aptly, today was a day of rest. The rest of the house got back around 4am, but soon went to sleep after a hard night's drinking. I managed to get an impressive amount of rest, eventually waking up at 10am. After I'd been up for an hour or so, the others began to stir. Slowly. Everybody was a little worse for wear, so it took quite a considerable time for people to get up and dressed.

We all traipsed off to Franklin Street for breakfast/okay-if-we-were-being-honest-it-was-lunch, and well, that's been about it for the day. Bought a staple gun. Worked out how to use it. Stood around the back of the Chrysler Garage like an idiot for about half-an-hour while freezing (the sun disappeared and all the warmth went away).

And this evening, home-made nachos with Kavi, Michelle, and Kavi's old roommate Cat, whereupon I explained the difference between England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom. Then, an hour and a half attempting to blow up an air mattress with a hairdryer. It looks okay, but it sags in the middle a little…

currently playing: Sister Hazel — Your Winter


Day 3: The Idiot forgets about the sun.

Trapped In A World He Never Made!

Day 2: In Which Our Hero Is An Idiot.

I was going to be good, and get the magazine that Bonnie wanted at Southpoint Mall. So I hopped on the bus in the morning, and headed off. It was only when I stepped off the bus at the mall itself that I remembered that they changed the schedules last year, so that there were no more buses until mid-afternoon; just after three.

It was 10am. I was stuck there for five hours.

I wandered. Bought Bonnie's things. Wandered. Went into the Apple Store and pulled myself away from the shiny things. Wandered. Had lunch. Wandered. Wandered some more. Cursed myself for being an idiot.

At around two o'clock, Laura phoned, wanting to know if I wanted to watch Friends with her and Leigh. I explained my little predicament, and they came to pick me up. We then went around the mall a little more; Leigh showed me where she worked (where they have nice samples), and Laura decided that she would try out all the massage chairs in the Innovations-like shop. Leigh and I actually had to pull her out when it was time to leave, she was that relaxed. And I still think there's something disturbing about the bear skins in the Build-A-Bear shop.

We watched Friends and then took Leigh back to the mall so she could meet Joe after he finished work. On the way back, Laura and I took a left when we should have gone right, (or right when left), and ended up taking a nice tour through North Carolina's countryside. We were not lost. Never.

Laura dropped me off at Kavi's house, as she was going to take a nap before going out to the 80s Dance at the Cat's Cradle. I went up the steps and knocked on the door.

No answer.

Knocked again. Still no answer.

Oh dear. I phoned Kavi to see if she was around anywhere, but the number I had for her lead to somebody else's voicemail. I wasn't panicking just yet. I rang Sona, and he gave me Kavi's new number, which I then rang, but there was no answer. Just then, one of the people staying in her apartment turned up, and he had a key. So I was saved. Except that when we got there, it turned out that Anita was in; she just hadn't heard my knocking.

The hours wore on; everybody else had left for Sangam night, and I got ready for going out with Laura, Stacie, and some others. Only I was the sole person in the house. And I didn't have a key. How was I going to lock the door? I phoned Kavi again, who said there was a deadlock on the door. It didn't look like a deadlock, so I thought I'd experiment.

I am the dumbest person on the planet.

Amazingly, I had all I needed for going out, but I was locked outside. Now, any sensible person at this point would have, say, called someone (especially since Laura had rang about ten minutes ago), but no. I spent an hour walking around the complex in the quite chilly evening until Laura, Stacie and Mike turned up.

"You look cold," said Laura when they arrived. I explained, and was quite rightly told off for not phoning them up and telling them. We had a brief stop at Collin's house, where I met Collin and had a pre-dance drink, before setting off the 80s Dance.

That was quite fun; lots of songs that were much bigger in America than they were in Britain, so it was interesting to see which songs were common to both sets of people (that would be "Wake Me Up Before You Go-go", "Don't You Want Me", and yes, "Come On Eileen"). There may have been some dancing involved. But of course, I went back into my infuriating impression of a lamp-post for much of the non-dancing bits, which was annoying. Fun was still had, however.

Then back to Kavi's apartment; the first night had gone well, and she was looking forward to the point tomorrow when she didn't have to worry about going to dance practice any more. We talked for an hour about various things, then off to bed.

So, children, the moral of the story: talking can be useful. And the next time you find yourself stranded somewhere, for goodness sake tell somebody…

currently playing: Life Without Buildings — 14 Days


Day 1: In Which Our Hapless Hero Is Harangued And Hassled

Things are getting really bad when even the check-in assistants mock your packing skills. "That's an awful lot for two weeks," he said. Ho ho ho. I've never been able to master the fine act of packing lightly. To be fair my trolley bag is quite a bit smaller on the inside than it looks on the outside, and there's a few bulky items which take up a lot of space, hence the need for the second bag. Coupled with the confusion over my visa (which didn't seem to be a problem last September), I raise enough attention to get my bag searched.

No problem. Except there's a very suspicious looking parcel right in the middle. It's only full of sweets, but looks like either a box of drugs or a bomb. I'm not looking forward to explaining that. The inspector performs the search right in front of me — and doesn't find the parcel. I am at once releived and terrified/ I'm pleased not to have to go through explanations, but I'm now concerned about blowing up somewhere across the mid-Atlantic.

I continue to make a fool of myself in the duty free shopping area, throwing money all over The Body Shop, fumbling for my boarding pass, and other general clownish behaviour. I'm convinced that my arms and hands have an evil sentience. When I try to do something normal, like open a wallet, they interpret this as "flail limbs wildly and hit shop assistant in the face with a penny."

At the gate, my visa once again flags me for special attention; a search of my backpack and a pat down. I've come to look forward to the question "Do you have any electrical items today, sir?" I just reel them off, stopping short of throwing my arms into the air and screaming: "I worship at the altar of Electricity! Tesla and Edison are prophets of a new dawm!" One day, I'm going to crack. You'll no doubt hear about a crazed Englishman threatening to take the world on with his electric toothbrush and copious MP3s.

When you start recognising waitresses, you know you've been on the same flight a little too much. That was weird. The flight itself wasn't too bad, just long. I slept a little, read "The Man Who Was Thursday, tried to go back to sleep again, and listened to music. Much the same as ever.

The immigration at RDU was also annoyed that I had a visa. But he helpfully cancelled it when I explain, so it shouldn't be a problem in the future. Then it was off to the "take all your clothes off and walk through the scanner" bit. I like to think that the airport-wide alarm that went off when my bag went through the scanner was a simple coincidence.

Kavi met me at the airport, and took me back to her house to get settled in. Then, back to campus! She had to practice for the Sangam dance today and tomorrow, so I amused myself by walking to Carrboro and back, ending up back at the computer building. Thankfully, I wasn't there too long; Laura offered to rescue me. I helpfully suggested to meet at the union, forgetting that it probably has the most entrances and exits of any building on campus. I'm practical. Oh yes.

Eventually we met up, and found Stacie a little while later. There then followed the "what are we going to do?" period, which ended up with us going back to Laura's, bumping into Rebecca, and hanging around there for a while. We watched Laura's re-enactment of a scene in "Boys Don't Cry" that she did for a class, guest starring Leigh, Rebecca and the important role of Natalie Teague, and certain individuals revealed embarrassing details about their inability to spell or say their name. We managed to decide on a course of action (okay, a course of action was suggested, and I said "sure"), and headed off to the Irish pub W.B. Yeats on Franklin Street. I then gave a shameful trivia performance, not even managing to to get a question right for ten rounds. There was some mocking involved over that…

currently playing: New Order — Fine Time

Leaving On A Jet Plane III

Back soon…

currently playing: The Stranglers - Golden Brown

The State We're In

The UK album chart for last week:

  1. Call Off The Search — Katie Melua
  2. Feels Like Home — Norah Jones
  3. The Jukebox Years — Daniel O'Donnell
  4. Twentysomething — Jamie Cullum
  5. Just For You — Lionel Richie -Mercury
  6. Only You — Harry Connick Jr
  7. His Greatest Love Songs — Engelbert Humperdinck
  8. Thank You — Jamelia
  9. When It Falls — Zero 7
  10. Friday's Child — Will Young
  11. Ultimate Manilow Barry Manilow

Is this it? Is this what 2004 holds for the music industry? Endless iterations of Terry Wogan-approved jazz-lite singers and repackaged Greatest Hits collections, forming a Julia set of mediocrity? With the advent of the 50-Quid Man, it certainly looks that way (in case you were hoping for solace from the rest of the chart, I must point out that Barry Manilow is number eleven. There's no good news to be found, I'm afraid).

Surely, though, things have always been this way? Well, not really. Here's the chart from ten years ago, before the big Britpop explosion, during a time when the halcyon sales of the 1980s and 1970s were a distant memory:

  1. Music Box — Mariah Carey
  2. The Cross Of Changes — Enigma
  3. Debut — Bjork
  4. Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? — The Cranberries
  5. So Close — Dina Carroll
  6. Bat Out Of Hell 2: Back Into Hell — Meatloaf
  7. Elegant Slumming — M People
  8. Tiger Bay — Saint Etienne
  9. Ten Summoner's Tales — Sting
  10. Under The Pink — Tori Amos

You can see the difference instantly; rock, dance, MOR, indie, and the goth audience all share the honours, instead of the rather bland, samey line-up of today. And yet, in the past ten years, the amount of albums sold has increased considerably since then, to the extent that the single market is now less important than it used to be. It's just that all the excitement and interest seems to have vanished.

Perhaps the singles chart provides a glimmer of hope? Well, it does, but not really. It has much more variety than the album chart, but this is because hardly anybody is buying singles any more. Consider Graham Coxon's new entry this week, "Freakin' Out". With a placing at #37, it looks like a poor showing at first; he's reasonably popular with the indie crowd, and he should have done a little bit better. But this single is a limited edition 7". Only 2500 copies have been made. And yet it still managed to enter the Top 40. The singles chart is not doing well at all.

To make matters worse, the record companies refuse to adjust to this new reality; relatively established names like Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Emma Bunton are under the threat of being dropped from their record labels unless they generate hit singles. But their fanbase no longer buys singles in any significant amount, instead going for the better value album, watching the video on one of the many satellite music channels, or downloading it from the Internet. With the change of who's buying albums, album sales that would have looked respectable a few years back are dwarfed by the big name collections and this month's Radio 2-approved fad. They will find themselves dropped by the end of the year, as the record companies shed bands to save money, decimating the mid-list and concentrating solely on the big names who can guarantee sales.

Most of the independent labels of yesteryear that nurtured new talent are now themselves part of the big companies, and are little more than a storefront to project an image of cool. Perhaps we've reached the end times of pop music. All we have left is nostalgia mining; endless ways of convincing the public to buy a resequenced version of Engelbert Humperdinck's greatest hits.

currently playing: Dexy’s Midnight Runners — Let’s Make This Precious