Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A Song For All Seasons

Certain songs are undoubtedly associated with Christmas. Other holidays have less obvious accompanying tracks. My recent return from Copenhagen has had me thinking about songs that remind me of previous getaways.

Earliest memories generally stretch back to family holidays. Multiple trips to France listening to Paddington Bear story tapes as we drove through country roads surrounded by sunflowers or driving around The Isle of Wight singing along to The Carpenters or The Nolans.

Later as a teen, I remember holidays to Turkey in the days when Scatman John dominated the charts and the poolside bar's sound system. In the resort's nightclub, The Cranberries' Zombie and The Moody Blues' Nights In White Satin seemed to feature nightly on the DJ's set list.

Years later finally able to fly without parental supervision, I recall my first holiday with The Boy in Cyprus nearly being driven mad by DJ Ötzi's version of Hey Baby – a 60s song by Bruce Channel I was already more than familiar with from its inclusion on The Dirty Dancing soundtrack and had previously liked.

During our year on the road travelling, The Kings Of Leon's Sex On Fire was continuously played all around New Zealand/Australia and Ozzie radio station, Triple J, first introduced us to Florence + The Machine's Dog Days Are over.

In Copenhagen a rather familiar-sounding song was played in bars and restaurants all over the city. Although I no longer really follow the UK's Top 40 chart, I was already familiar with Gotye's Somebody That I Used To Know from an amazing YouTube version of the song by Walk Off The Earth, performed by five band members on one guitar:

Currently still at number one, Gotye is an interesting artist with a pretty eclectic back catalogue, both as a solo artist and drummer of The Basics. Although he's made it back to number one again, I'm sure the latest talentless manufactured-sounding reality TV show product will shortly take-over.

While Olympic news dominates and Marks & Spencer's push Gary Barlow's remake of George Harrison's Here Comes The Sun as the UK's summer number one, I look forward to seeing what my song of the summer vacation becomes and can only hope it's more of a Gotye than a Ötzi.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Blast From The Past

Recently in Copenhagen for four nights, we popped over the bridge across to Malmo for the day. Walking around Sweden's third largest city prompted the predictable discussion about famous Swedish exports. Naturally being a teenager in the 90s meant Ace of Base were one of the first to get a mention.

Based in Gothenburg, Ace of Base were original comprised of Ulf "Buddha" Ekberg, and the three Berggren siblings - Jonas "Joker", Malin "Linn"and Jenny. Although they released four albums between 1993 and 2002, I only really remember their debut Happy Nation/The Sign. It was this album that dominates our reminiscent discussion. As hard as I try, I'm only able to recall the singles The Sign and All That She Wants doing particularly well, having somehow temporarily wiped Don't Turn Around from my memory.

It is All That She Wants that triggers the most early memories. Described by Wikipedia as a "dark fusion of dub-reggae with pop"and released in 1992 when I was merely thirteen, All That She Wants quickly became the window into my French pen friend's world. I recall the first time I stayed with her, meeting her extended family for an Aunt or Uncle's Birthday. My French was always far more limited that my pen friend's English so communication was generally somewhat stilted. Trying to talk to her cousins proved almost impossible but a universal love of Ace of Base saved the day. Even though we could barely talk, we were all able to sing-along to All That She Wants - my English may not have impressed but my knowledge of the song lyrics clearly made an impression.

Even to this day, I can almost recite all the lyrics and doing so while walking around Malmo raised some interesting previously untouched questions. As a teen, I'm not sure I ever seriously contemplated the meaning of its lyrics:

"She leads a lonely life

She leads a lonely life

When she woke up late in the morning

Light and the day had just begun

She opened up her eyes and thought

O' what a morning

It's not a day for work

It's a day for catching sun

Just laying on the beach and having fun

She's going to get you

All that she wants is another baby

She's gone tomorrow boy

All that she wants is another baby

All that she wants is another baby

She's gone tomorrow boy

All that she wants is another baby

All that she wants, all that she wants

So if you are in sight and the day is right

She's a hunter you're the fox

The gentle voice that talks to you

Won't talk forever

It's a night for passion

But the morning means goodbye

Beware of that is flashing in her eyes

She's going to get you"

On a superficial level, the song seems to be highly inappropriate for influential young children to adoringly parrot and frankly slightly sinister - although "these days" there are of course plenty of artists worshipped by very young kids who release material well-beyond the years of their comprehension. Initial analysis of the lyrics leads to the interpretation that the song is about a sexually promiscuous girl who is actively seeking a baby from a one night stand she has no intention of ever seeing again. Hardly a wholesome or indeed responsible message.

Since returning from Copenhagen, I decided to look-up the lyrics and gauge whether I'd entirely missed the point by visiting: There seems to be little consensus on what the band were actually singing about - some believing "baby" to colloquially refer to the girl in the song's desire for a new man in her life, others actually interpreting the song to mean she's recently suffered a miscarriage and is keen to get pregnant again by any means or that she merely enjoys sleeping around. As a result of my findings, there has of course been further discussion at home, resulting in yet another possible lyric meaning dependent on whether a comma between "another" and "baby was originally intended - the girl in the song is rather horny and wants her baby (boyfriend) to “give it to her” again.

Without interviewing the band it's unlikely I'll ever discover the true meaning but in researching the song, I have at least made another shocking and educational discovery... Apparently after Linn left the band in 2007 (yes, they were still together then!), they continued to perform as a trio right up until 2009 when Jenny left the band. Even more surprising however, is the news a new line-up with half of the original band released an album in September 2010 (The Golden Ratio). Anyone keen to hear how Ace of Base have progressed over the years and whether they brought into the whole Euro-pop sound, will perhaps be disappointed by the Youtube video for their last album track:

Thursday, 16 February 2012

A Dreadless Decade Drips By

It's because you're older now and you've been together a while,” says a work colleague when I tell her that we no longer exchange Valentine's cards, never questioning where the tradition even came from or why it's celebrated in mid February.

Leeds Metropolitan University's festival expert, Stephen Sayers, points out that Valentine's Day coincides with a fruitful time of year when the increase in day length allows birds enough time to repair nests and mate. Explaining why this is central to February 14th, he says: "Our ancestors saw [this] as the first signs of respite from the deprivations of winter [and the awakening] of new life. Courtships that started now might lead easily to marriages in May, which in turn might lead to the birth of babies in January and February when they had a good chance of survival."
That's fast moving for you!

Since Roman times people have sent cards to each other at various times in the year and in the late Middle Ages St Valentine's day gifts became popular with Valentine's specific cards arriving after the penny post in the nineteenth century. By the First World War sending bawdy Valentine's cards was no longer popular but sadly during the 1950s the custom was revived.

At school Valentine's Day was a day to dread. Once a year especially to celebrate the occasion, my secondary school allowed pupils to purchase roses to be delivered by designated students throughout the day during lessons. Obviously those who'd been sent roses, wandered around school proudly displaying them. I seem to remember only ever receiving a rose once and disappointedly discovering that a sympathetic friend had kindly sent it.

As the years passed and I moved up the school, any boyfriends that I did have were out-of-schoolers. I may not have received any more roses but I at least got the odd card. I remember the build-up to Valentine's Day being full of anticipation and worry – would he like the card?, was it too soppy?, should I buy a present and if so, what?...

Having been with the same person now for over a decade, Valentine's Day began in a similar vein but has since been overshadowed by his Birthday falling five days later. We used to buy cards and certainly bought presents too but as we've spent several Valentine's Days living in separate cities, we often had to commemorate the occasion days earlier or later, and in a few cases weeks later!

With age, we have also begun to avoid Birthdays by going away. This relatively new tradition has meant that over the last three or four years, we've been away immediately after Valentine's Day and decided that we'd be going out for enough meals already. This year is no different, except as our tenth “V-Day”, we decided a visit to Mahmoods was finally on the cards.

For those unsure, Mahmoods is a Yorkshire-based eatery similar to McDonalds. I detest McDonalds and actively try to avoid crossing the threshold, unless I'm taking advantage of their toilet facilities so you might ask why I wanted to try Mahmoods for Valentine's Day? The answer... The sight of a billboard advertising their “Big Dripper” burger. The name seemed so inappropriate and the connotations so wrong, we have both been threatening to sample a “Big Dripper” for some time.

I've munched through some enormous Kiwi burgers and as a result, worryingly experienced the early signs of a heart attack so approached Mahmoods with caution. Perusing the menu, we discovered the “Big Dripper” is no longer top man. The “|King Kong” has two more burgers than the “Dripper” stuffed inside, taking its number to five. Remembering the heart palpitations I had in Queenstown after the “Ferg Burger”, we both opt for the “Dripper” and agree to save the “King Kong” to celebrate the next decade together. Although disappointing in size, the “Dripper” is tasty and partially lives up to its name, leaving my face caked in burger sauce.

We may not have had a romantic meal but have at least finally ticked off something from our joint “to do” list. Whether you celebrate Valentine's Day and how you do so is nothing to do with age – except of course, teenage feelings of anxiety thankfully pass. My father still writes his annual poem in the card he buys my mum and we still at least acknowledge the day's existence.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Strange But True

Two stories featured in issues of this week's Metro particularly attracted my attention - one took me back to early post-University days when we seemed to be in constant battle with our postie and the other was so surreal I wondered whether I'd slept for months and awoken from my slumber on April Fool's Day.

Living in the end house with a large hedge, led to various disagreements with the postman who'd often refuse to deliver our mail if we failed to reduce our foliage. He'd scrawl warnings across letters and packages. One day, he did indeed carry out his threat.

Waiting on visa bills and my new passport, I grew suspicious and anxious when several weeks passed without any mail and my holiday departure date drew nearer. I rung the post office who seemed equally perplexed and said they'd investigate the matter. Days passed before we were eventually told the postman had been keeping our mail in his van and that he'd be reprimanded.

A story this week told of a postman who was unable to complete his route in time. Fearing he'd get the sack, he'd hidden thousands of letters for two years, eventually even hiring a Big Yellow storage unit to house them. Unlike our postie, his actions did indeed lead to a dismissal. Unlike this sorry tale, the second article that caught my eye seemed entirely implausible.

Over in Zimbabwe, work on a planned reservoir has stopped because mermaids are apparently hounding workers. Water Resources Minister, Samuel Sipepa Nkomo has unbelievably said the only way to resolve the problem is to brew traditional beer and carry out rites to appease the pesky mermaids. Strange but so true that even The Mail has deemed this story worth covering:—mermaids-hounding-workers-away.html?ito=feeds-newsxml.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Top Five Pathetic Injuries

School staff rooms can be intimidating and hostile for newbies but thankfully where I'm currently doing my part-time stint this isn't the case. Escaping talk of children, us English department folk moved on to the topic of pathetic injuries. One of our number had managed to give herself a painful blood blister on her hand, merely from clapping in a lesson - and not even particularly enthusiastically! I too, had recently managed to scissor cut my hand, drawing blood in an attempt to remove a clothes' label. As stories of toe stubbings unfolded, I was instantly reminded of a friend who succeeded in bursting a blood vessel in his eye through hard straining during a hung-over vomiting session. I'm also transported back to the time I managed to fall off the stage at Primary School onto a precariously stacked pile of gym equipment and spare seating, nearly impaling myself on an upright chair leg.

I've heard of the Darwin awards recognising individuals who contribute to human evolution by self-selecting themselves out of the gene pool through putting themselves (unnecessarily) in life-threatening and often stupid situations (, and wonder whether there's an equivalent for embarrassing injuries. With the growing number of dubious award ceremonies cropping up and popularity of top ten lists, I'm surprised to discover that no such equivalent exists. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only the sports world and journalists specialising in this field seem to recognise and document such embarrassing and dubious injuries. So for the average Joe who doesn't necessarily play enough sport to risk daily injury, the following are my favourite everyday mishaps from an on-line chat room that could easily happen to anyone (

The Perils Of Excretion

"On Saturday, I was finishing off on the toilet (FYI, fully clothed and folding the paper) and my back started to hurt. By the time I had flushed, I could barely stand up straight. I spent the rest of Saturday on the floor, dosed up with paracetamol and ibuprofen. So, my truly pathetic injury is... I put my back out while wiping my arse."

Spaghetti “Ows!”

"I think I was thirteen. I wanted a can of Spaghetti Os and I wasn't sure which bowl was microwave safe. I opened the can, stuck in a metal spoon, and cooked it in the microwave for a minute and a half. I opened the microwave, grabbed the can with a pot holder, and grabbed the spoon with my bare hand - sort of like you'd hold a pencil. It took a moment to register the pain. I flung the spoon back over my head, and it nearly hit one of my friends in the forehead. My mum took me to the hospital after she got home from work - the doctors said something about third degree burns."

Bloody Clean Shoes

"As far as the most stupid, it's the most brainless injury I've ever seen... I was pressure cleaning my grandma's driveway and thought it would be a good idea to pressure clean my shoes with them on. It didn't dawn on me that the water pressure would push the tongue of my shoe out of the way, exposing my tender flesh. I didn't feel any pain at first, only the water on my foot, but when I looked down there was a fairly big gash on the top of my foot. The pain started a little while later."

Freshman Follies

"I fell off some bleachers during my Freshman Year. When I went to scoot over, I was sitting on the next highest row, and I did not notice that the adjacent set of bleachers had been pushed back in. Somehow I landed flat on my back and knocked myself out. It took me a couple of minutes to haul ass and stand to see a nurse. I missed half of the PEP rally, and watched the other bit lying on a bench. I got on the bus and made it down my Aunt's extra long driveway, told them what had happened and went to lie down. I ended up going to the emergency room to be x-rayed."

Potty For Tango

"Jogging on a very dark but relatively warm winter evening, I had my earphones on and was listening to a jazz station. When a tango suddenly came on, I of course had to do a couple of tango steps in the middle of the rural road in the dark while running. I've never tangoed in my life. You guessed it... I stepped into a pot-hole, broke my ankle and had to hobble a quarter of a mile to the nearest house where I called my wife to come and pick me up to take me to the nearest emergency room."

No top ten but a top five that hopefully reminds us we are only human after all and that if we find ourselves doing equally stupid things, we're not alone. What's your story? I'm betting everyone has one - even if it's a distant memory...