Monday, 28 March 2011

My First Ever Published Article!

Woo hoo, my first ever published article came out today in a magazine called Living South! It's called 'Hidden Treasures' and is about the rejuvenation of Brixton Village Market, in South London. 

After deciding in the new year that I wanted to write, I set up this blog and pitched the article idea to the magazine, which was accepted by the editor. 

Anyway, check it out and let me know what you think. You can find it on pages 17 and 18 by following this link and going to the April 2011 edition.

What do you think?

Monday, 21 March 2011

Beth Ditto Goes Solo: Beth Ditto EP


I absolutely love Beth Ditto's new self-titled EP, her debut solo effort, and since downloading it I have played it over and over. It's small but perfectly formed and consists of four brilliant tracks produced by British electro kings 'Simian Mobile Disco'.

Although her distinctive vocals are unmistakable, Ditto has shown a different, softer side to her. The tracks are less 'rocky' and have an eighties disco and early nineties house feel to them, with Ditto going into full diva mode on 'I Wrote The Book'.

Here is a breakdown of the tracks below:

First up is my favourite track on the EP, ‘I Wrote The Book’, a fabulous up-tempo track with an old school house sound. Ditto’s voice works perfectly on this and the song gets me up and jumping around my living room, TV remote in hand, giving it ‘all that’.

There is also a fantastic video, which I can't show on here because it's through Vevo, which has Ditto in full blow Madonna appreciation mode, borrowing from ‘Justify My Love’ and ‘Vogue’, in particular.

Things slow down on the second track, Goodnight Good Morning, an end of the night track for those that still don't want to leave the dance-floor. Featuring retro synth sounds and a repetitive drum-beat, it is left to Ditto's vocals to gently carry you along, which she does with ease.

The pace picks up slightly on Open Heart Surgery, the most retro inspired track of all, in my opinion. There is a synth overload, in a good way, on this song that builds progressively and reaches a crescendo of brilliant Ditto vocals.

Do You Need Someoneis the track that made me decide to check out this EP, after hearing on the radio a few weeks ago. A dark and deep song, which for me has the most obviously 'Produced by Simian Mobile Disco' sound. Ditto's voice is brilliantly haunting on this track particularly in the chorus. It was a tough call but this track was just edged into second place for me.

So what do you think of the EP? What do you think of video? Which is your favourite track? Let me know in the comments below.
What do you think?

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Garden Theft - Are People Really That Desperate?

As it was quite a nice day today, weather wise, I decided to do a spot or gardening. I have a couple of empty water-logged planters in the front garden, which I needed to drill holes into so that everything I put in it doesn’t die within a month. I also needed to clear away the pine needles from the Christmas tree I lobbed out of the window from my first floor living room in early January. Not a good look in mid March.

As I was merrily weeding away, sweeping up leaves, discarded crisp and sweet packets (living next door to one of the areas best primary schools does have its downsides) I noticed that something didn’t seem right.

It came to me a moment later; there was something missing. Some low-life thieving bastards had stolen my lovely bay tree, along with the zinc planter it came in, even though I had drilled holes into the planter and screwed it into the paving so that it couldn’t be lifted away (or so I thought).

I have to say, I am disgusted. It might be a tad dramatic but I feel violated. Not only have they stolen my plant, they have stolen pretty much the only plant I have ever managed to keep alive!

We were very pleased, the Grumpy One and I, when we planted it, along with the (long since dead) box hedges we lovingly shaped and planted in neat little rows (who actually kills a box hedge by the way?) Us gays had brought a touch of class to the otherwise drab and dreary front gardens on our street. Well not any more.

The value of the plant and the pot can’t be more than about £80. I haven’t checked the policy but I am sure the excess on my home insurance is higher than that, plus to claim I would probably have to call the police and I would feel a right muppet complaining to them that my bay tree was stolen. So I guess I will just have to put it down to experience.

Have we really now got to the stage that people are stealing plants from gardens? Well, yes it turns out. I did a quick look online and realised that garden theft is in fact big business. Items are often stolen to order and Halifax has reported that insurance claims for garden theft have gone up by 52%.

So what do I do now? I am certainly not going to plant another bay tree and I won’t be spending a small fortune on box hedge either. I may as well write 'mug' across my garden wall. No, instead I will have to plant something decidedly less trendy, something that nobody wants to steal. Any ideas?
What do you think?

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Does Clicktivism Really Work?

A few months ago I received a mesage, via Facebook I think, to 'Save Sakineh Ashtiani', an Iranian woman who faced death by stoning for supposed (and apparently unsubstantiated) adultery and being an accomplice in her husband's murder. 

I clicked the link, read about her plight and signed up to 'help'. Using an already provided template, I sent an email to a number of embassies around the world to higlight my outrage at this injustice. I felt good, I had done something positive and for the next few days I kept up to date with what was happening. 'Was the campaign working?' 'Was her sentence going to be quashed'?

Sakineh Ashtiani
A few days later, I received another email. I forget the cause now, but it was the first of many I have received since. From Conflict Cocoa in the Ivory Coast (which I have blogged about previously) to fighting against the Tory Government cuts, it seems not a day goes by where there isn't a new cause to get involved in.

Now, after signing up to more than a dozen campaigns, sending emails and writing to various Governments, embassies and multinational companies, I am wondering if it is all really making a difference? 

Does clictivism, the snazzy name given by the media, often done from the comfort of ones home, (armchair activism if you like), really work? I decided to look into it and found that there was a wealth of opinion on the subject, passionate discussions about the merits or ineffectiveness of clictivism.

I learnt that the name clicitivism comes from the fact that for many of the organisations involved in raising awareness of these causes, the number of 'clicks' was the barometer of success. The more people that opened an email the more successful a campaign.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, A/B testing, bounces, click through rates, referrals - these were the jargon and marketing techniques that according to some appeared to be most important. Organisations boasted of having millions of active members but in truth it appears that many of these 'members' rarely open the emails, or bother to click the links.

However, there were also examples of where these campaigns appear to have achieved the desired effect. According to the BBC, "much of the world has agreed not to buy cocoa from Ivory Coast until Laurent Gbagbo hands over power to Alassane Outtara, widely recognised as the winner of the November 2010 presidential election."

Egypt Protests

The goings on in the Middle East over the last few weeks has shown that people power, protest and demonstration can have a huge effect and bring about change - in some of these cases even a change in the Government. Millions of angry and frustrated Egyptians, Tunisians and Libyans, as well as those from a host of other countries in the region have made their voices heard.

With media blackouts being imposed, mobile communications blocked and in some cases the internet being shut off there have been many internet and email based campaigns to raise funds for satellite equipment to allow those on the ground to communicate with each other and organise themselves. Other campaigns have asked us to sign petitions, or write to the various Governments to voice our concerns. Whilst millions of people in these affected countries risk their lives to fight for what they believe in, we are being asked to click on an email link.

On the one hand, there is the argument that something is better than nothing. An email sent, or a link clicked, is better than just watching things unfold without taking any action at all. 

On the other, is that this is the easy way out, that it doesn't really involve taking any action at all. That with the number of causes fighting for our attention growing, the messages are being diluted.

I am unlikely to go and physically protest against all of the injustices in the world. To put it bluntly, I am just too busy, and that is probably the case for most of you reading this too. I think clicktivism does have its place, but its place as an effective method for bringing about change probably ranks lower than actual activism, the kind where you get up onto your feet.

Passionately worded emails and petitions would not have brought down the Government in Egypt or Tunisia. Marketing speak and SEO will be useless in defeating Gadaffi. In these cases it is the physical presence and actions of the people that will have the desired effect.

I will continue to be an armchair clicktivist, I will continue to be horrified by the injustices in the world and try in my own small way to 'do my bit', but I won't be under any illusions that the real activism is happening on the streets and involves more than a click of a few buttons.

So what of Sakineh Ashtiani? Well she gained a temporary reprieve from her sentence of being stoned to death but the fight for her freedom still goes on. Click here to save her.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

How Not To Do DIY!

I came home from a long day at work today, having left the Grumpy One (as he now wishes to be known) with a list of tasks to complete on his day off. 

The list included a trip to Ikea to buy the missing installments of our (hopefully) soon to be completed kitchen and to create some some kind of oasis, amongst all of the built but not yet installed kitchen units, so we could relax over a nice home cooked meal (the other task on the list), made using our temporary oven.

Image Source:

So at about 8.15pm this evening I put the key in the front door and wondered to myself, 'what would be for dinner?' I stepped into the hallway and flicked the light switch. 


'That's funny the bulbs must have gone' I thought. I climbed the stairs to our flat, noticing that the light here too wasn't working. 'That's very strange', I mused.  'The bulbs have all gone out' I shouted out as I entered the flat. 'Well', muttered the grumpy one. And then I knew, the look on his face said it all. 'There was a pop', he said. 'What do you mean, a pop?', I responded. 'What have you done?'

Image Source:

Well, what he had done, it turns out, is drill through the electrics whilst trying to 'install your fucking wine rack'. I didn't realise the wine rack was mine, i'll remember that when it is stocked. We now have no lights in the flat. Thank the lord we love a lamp.

'Oh no, we are going to have to chip the wall away now, I sighed. The wall has not long been plastered. 'I'm okay thanks, I was only thrown off the ladder and electrocuted', he replied. I admit, in my concern about the wall, that I had not even considered that the 'pop' might have electrocuted the Grumpy One. Anway, as he said, he was fine.

A quick call to my brother, who thankfully is an electrician, allayed my fears that most of the walls would need to come down. A little chasing here and there and all should be right as rain. He is popping round on Sunday.

Image Source:

'I think what we have learned, is that you shouldn't attempt DIY without me being here', I said. He looked at me indignantly. 'Why?', he snapped back. 

I reminded him of the time he dropped the light fitting he was trying to install in the bathroom onto the newly installed bath, taking a massive chunk out of it, the day before the tiler was coming and resulting in a mad panic to get a new one purchased and installed, so we didn't lose the slot the tiler had given us. Sometimes I should probably keep my mouth shut. He looked dejected.

Image Source:

'Oh well it's not the end of the world', I said. So what's for dinner?' Well, a Tesco ready meal as it turned out. I later learnt that the quick trip to Ikea had in fact taken over three hours and after recovering from the shock of being thrown off a ladder there was no time for anything home cooked.

The Grumpy One has another day off on Friday. I won't be giving him any tasks, I think I'll just let him sleep in!

What do you think?

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Mr Musing Thinks: Car Insurance Equality

The one thing about trying to mix hi-brow and lowest common denominator posts in one blog is that the hi-brow ones always take longer to write, needing a bit of research and thinking before they can be published. I find there is a tendency therefore to post less intense fillers just to let my small (but growing) number of followers that I am still here and posting.

I have a couple of interesting (well I think so) posts on the go at the moment, which will take a few days to complete but today I thought rather than resorting to knocking something out about the latest Lady Gaga video (self indulgent but entertaining nevertheless) I would do a quick 'Mr Musing Thinks' feature, where I comment briefly on one of the current news stories.

So here is the first one... Car Insurance Equality 

Image Source: Daily Mail (I don't read it BTW)

This week it was announced that the EU has ruled that insurance companies can no longer discriminate based on gender and set insurance premiums that differ due to a person's sex. This is likely to mean an increase for women and a slight decrease for men and many commentators in the press thought this unfair.

My first thought however, as a male driver who has never had an accident (well not since passing my test anyway) is it's great news. Why should I be lumped together with other drivers and charged more just because I have a penis? 90% of accidents may be caused by young male drivers but not by me - and yes, even at 31 I am still young!

Imagine if insurers used racial profiling and charged Black and Asian people more for their insurance (and I am not saying Black or Asian people are more likely to have an accident - I haven't the faintest idea if there are even statistics on it)? There would be an outcry, so why is it acceptable to profile based on gender?

Of course, it is unlikely to stop with gender and surely it can't be long before insurers cannot set premiums based on age either? So no discounts for the middle-aged driver.

In reality though it is only the insurance companies themselves that will benefit from this ruling. The premiums for men will not drop by the level that they increase for women, meaning that insurers will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Though perhaps, the biggest issue in all of this is whether, stripped of their ability to offer bonzer car insurance deals - girls will bother getting onto Sheila's Wheels? In fact that's another reason why it's a good idea, we may never have to hear that annoying advert (below) again.

What do you think - fair or unfair? Let me know below.

Ps...check out the Sheila's Wheels parody video below (bottom).

What do you think?
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