Jetlag: Extended

It always takes so long to recover. Probably not helped by a four-hour shopping trip in blazing, life-sapping heat. Still, farmers’ market, Toast, secret locations, and two very different parties in the first full day here…

And So We Return To The Beginning And Begin Again

I didn’t intend to let the blog lie fallow for a month, but family issues combined with an intense lack of things to say seemed to call for a hiatus. I even thought about stopping it altogether, but, after seven years of doing this, I didn’t want to end the blog with a whimper.

So, back again, and yes, just like July 2002, I’m heading off to North Carolina. But only for a week instead of a year. And other differences, too. Back in 2003, I dismissed Durham as a demonstration of what a city centre would look like after a neutron bomb detonation. Today, I’d love to live there. Things have changed a little.

But right now, I’m deep in a form of Östalgie. Yesterday, Teletext UK announced that they will be shutting off transmission from January 2010. It’s one of those things that has always been there, but from next year, it’ll be gone, confined to nostalgic clip shows.

REGGIE & FERNE COTTON: Oh my God! It was mad! You had to press a ‘Text’ button, and then you saw this awful set of graphics that looked like a child’s lego set gone wrong -

STUART MACONIE: And it always landed on the page just after you wanted! You were after page 4, it came on at 5. Of 30. By which time you could have looked it up in a newspaper!

STUART N. HARDY (MP Flydale North): They mocked me on their letter pages, but now I will have my revenge!

STUART CAMPBELL:You useless, cretinous morons.

Teletext is one of those British inventions that makes you smile. An entire news and weather service squeezed into two spare lines of a PAL television system, even capable of graphics display (character-based graphics, sure, but you try doing better in 1974). It’s a feat of ingenuity up there with Sir Clive Sinclair’s decision to multiplex faulty RAM chips in order to keep costs down on the Spectrum (anybody else would just get memory that worked. The British make do and mend!). The system’s major weakness was that you couldn’t send the whole data stream at once, only a certain amount at a time. However, this turned out to be a plus; because the data had to be continuously refreshed, news stories would often break on Ceefax/Teletext before you’d see them on television news.

As the years passed, the teletext specification was improved, adding things like hi-res graphics and extra navigational features; I’m not sure why Britain never took up the Minitel/European enhancements and instead stuck with the bare minimum, though probably it had something to do with the lack of TV sets that were capable of displaying the new graphics system (we did get Fastext, though! Ah, Bamboozle…). When ITV’s teletext franchise passed from Oracle to Teletext UK, I feared the worst, but instead we got a new Golden Age: the era of Digitiser, Planet Sound/Generator, and Turner The Worm. Moc-A-Moc. Digi was the pinnacle - a computer games ‘magazine’ (pages 470-475) that followed in the tradition of Your Sinclair and Amiga Power of being funny, strange, fiercely critical, and an ability to wind up Amiga owners in a hilarious manner.

These things don’t last, sadly. Mr. Campbell and Mr. Biffo were taken out back and shot for budgetary reasons, and Digitiser was no more. The Internet became a standard feature in almost everybody’s home, and Teletext looked more than a little quaint in comparison at the turn of the century. But, in a pinch, it was still easier to go to page 601 to get the schedule for BBC1 rather than go to the BBC’s website.

But teletext’s death warrant had already been signed. Digital television was, and is, our future. MPEG-4 streams of data sent over the air, allowing tens, perhaps hundreds of channels to occupy the same space as the current five do today. There’s just one problem - teletext hides in the vertical blanking interval on a TV signal. But with digital transmission, there is no VBI; it’s just a stream of data which doesn’t need one. There’s nowhere for teletext to hide anymore. There is a ‘successor’: MHEG-4, a specification that seems to aim for a ‘rich multimedia experience’, mixing text, video, and hyperlinks…but it looks like a cut-down attempt at recreating the web, and is much slower than standard Teletext to boot. I don’t see it taking off, to be honest.

It looked like Teletext UK would limp on until 2012 (the date at which the final analogue TV signal is switched off), but yesterday, they announced the closure of the service at the end of this year. Come January 1st, 2010, pressing ‘TEXT’ on your remote on ITV will give you a blank screen (although, to be fair, that’s probably better than 95% of ITV’s programming). Only the BBC’s Ceefax will remain; the dying embers of a great British invention.

And that’s what I’m thinking about this morning as I head towards Heathrow. Another part of my childhood disappearing as if it was never there. And it makes me more than a little sad.



Steven Wells RIP

So how ‘kin ace are Sleater-Kinney, hmmm? Depends on your criteria, innit? Lazily compare them to the monstrous regiment of ‘I’m Mad Me!’ singer-songwriter womyn who dominate the Yank charts and you’d have to conclude - ‘Ooh, no! This simply will not do!’ They’ve got the tunes that make the young boys cry and clever-clever lyrics delivered in the delicious, crazy, Yank ‘Momma’s Got A Brand New Baglady’ wobbly sub-soprano vocals that make male critics go weak at the knees, soft in the head and hard in the groin BUT worrabart the Chad Valley toy-town pocka-pocka drumming and bum-note strewn can’t-play-won’t-play-punk-rock electric guitar, John? Airbrush, sanitise, cleanse and moisturise Sleater-Kinney and you’d have a shit-hot sure-fire unit-shifting monster of staggering commercial potential. But you wouldn’t have Sleater-Kinney. So don’t go changing a thing, mad Yank punk rock lasses, we love you just the way you are.

The last album, ‘Dig Me Out’, was the ace but rough-as-a-bear’s arse, post-riot grrrl album Huggy Bear could’ve made if they hadn’t been suicidally stupid ideological arseholes. ‘The Hot Rock’ is ever so slightly slicker which means - oh joy of joys - that the fascinating death struggle between lo-fi form and hi-fi content is even more sharply defined. “I’m a mess/I’m the worst/But the best that you’ve heard”, warble the Kinney on ‘Start Together’ - a lyric that could be inscribed on their birth certificates, manifesto and tombstones.

Elsewhere (‘Hot Rock’, ‘The End Of You’) the Sleet use mad metaphors for lurve to vengefully monkey boot the living fuck out of inadequate and discarded lovers. “Don’t talk to me like you’re 19…”, they hoot on ‘Don’t Talk Like’, “…you’re 35 if you’re a day”. Ooh err! Then they wrestle The Beast Of Pre-Millennial Tension to the spit’n’sawdust covered floor and give it nuggies with gusto (‘God Is A Number’, ‘Banned From The End Of The World’).

But for total lyrical insanity look no further than the utterly insane ex-basher ‘Get Up’ where the Kinsters blow our tiny little indie-monkey brains out with lyrics that make the Manics, Mansun and Kula Shaker combined sound like Ug, lead grunter with Neolithic proto-punk rock-bashers Ug And The Knuckle Scrapers (ask your grandad).

“And when the body finally starts to go/Let it go all at once… like a bucket of stars/Dumped into the universe/Whoo! Watch it go!”. Eat their space dust, supermodel scum! Top folky-punky DIY agit-angst written, made and played by lower-middle class Yank lasses with fingers like bananas and voices like sex itself. Irresistible.

Fortress Britain

From The Desk Of The Metropolitan

My goodness, the summer is here. Yes, you may be thinking ‘but of course, Cynthia - haven’t you looked outside?’, but I have been much too busy holding forth on the subject of developments on East Forty-ninth Street these past few weeks to have noticed the summer fashions creeping in. A thousand apologies, dear readers - but my eyes were distracted again just this last Friday by Bill Magil’s lovely new Cameo establishment, right smack in the middle of said street. The grill is perhaps nothing to shout about, but the real attraction of Cameo is the two-level dancefloor, where dancing goes long into the night, and even past curfew if you get the right evening. Of course, to spare Mr. Magil’s blushes to the constabulary, I will refrain from mentioning exactly when. One tip for Good Girls: the slats on the upper level are spaced apart more than you might imagine, so dress accordingly.

After falling out onto the street sometime later that night, we ended up in Harlem. Now, as you know, I have pointed out the failings of Harlem many a time in this column, but I always like to keep a somewhat open mind, plus my companion for the evening was an out-of-towner who couldn't bear the thought of returning back to provincial settings without some tales of debauchery uptown. The crosses we bear for friendship. Anyway, after showing her around The Cotton Club, we chanced upon Hulu's. Small and spartan it may have been, but the bartender's gin and ginger lime was exquisite. I shall return again when I have a more experienced partner on my arm.

Now that summer is here, expect some of the more popular terraces to empty out a little as the cruise season takes off in earnest. No Paris for me this year, but I will drown my sorrrows at the Cecil's Terrace on Forty-third. Do come by and say hello.


Oh My! Gin Ginger Lime!

Halfway Through...

I can only say at this point that July may be better. But I’m not promising.


Oh my.

(though, if I’m honest, I’ll be holding out for LeChuck’s Revenge. And I don’t have a PC. But hurrah nonetheless!)

Durham: A Guide

You may notice some familiar people in the Toast picture!

(also: The Pinhook has a lite-brite? One day, I will get there!)

What The Internet Was Made For:

Tim Westwood’s Twitter stream. It is a thing of beauty.

Ladies I'm in Primark - do you want me to get you anything? Let me know