Oh God, Not Another Jacko Blog…

At the risk of slowing the internet down even further by tagging this blog with the name ‘Michael Jackson’, I felt compelled to write a little bit about this tragic man. A task made difficult by the current media frenzy surrounding his death.  Indeed, I’m sure anyone who’s reached this page by mistake will be reaching for the little X at the top right of their screen. Bear with me, though.

A child of the 80s, I grew up to the sound of Thriller and Bad and I was introduced to the digital age of music when my dad bought his first CD player and a copy of Dangerous to ‘test it out’ (we did a lot of ‘testing’ back then – I’m not entirely sure why, this is something usually undertaken by the manufacturer). Unlike many lads of my age, I didn’t want to be Jackson, more I wanted to be a part of the MJ Bandwagon. Kick out Slash, Van Halen or Jennifer Batten and let me bash out that Beat It solo next to him on stage. Get rid of those backing dancers in the Thriller video and let me have a go.

Of course, I wasn’t up to task for either of those jobs and attempting the latter would almost certainly have earned me a punch from one of my peers, but such was the spectacle of the Michael Jackson era, I simply couldn’t resist dreaming. The huge concerts, the self indulgent solo dances at the beginning of videos, the grated wind tunnels he stood on at Wembley… he was seriously cool.

It all got a bit weird after that. Resembling something of a wax work doll and putting out odd naked videos featuring his fake wife, I quickly lost interest, as did the majority of the non-hardcore fans. Later, kiddy fiddling accusations helped little as did that ‘spoon bending motherfucker’ Uri Geller who inexplicably began to follow him around like a particularly uncomfortable child abuse case.

Michael Jackson - died last week.  Pop died a long time before.
Michael Jackson - died last week. Pop died a long time before.

I’m not an emotional man and I’m not from across the Atlantic, therefore I won’t gush about how he was a part me and how that part has now died as a result… No, I’ve realised the sole reason I’ve felt a tinge of sadness this week is because of the music. It really was a massive part of my growing up and we won’t ever return to pop of that brilliant kind ever again.

Big Brother – Take Robert Webb’s Word For It

Big Brother 10 - The least interesting house on earth
Big Brother 10 - The least interesting house on earth

I was one of the many who sniggered at Robert Webb’s Big Brother comment during Jonathan Ross’ chat show last Friday.  Having been asked by Ross if he’d name his forthcoming child after a member of the current Big Brother house, Webb replied with the gem: “What, and later tell them ‘we named you after some tawdry piece of shit on telly’?”  A brilliantly concise description, tactfully delivered during a chat show Davina McCall was waiting in the wings to appear on.

I’ve never been ashamed to admit I watch and enjoy the show.  It’s rather addictive and fills the summer void during which the BBC presumably thinks everyone is too busy playing tennis to watch anything marginally interesting on TV.

However, I’ve finally given up with it this year.  It has reached the stage where all contestants are fully Big Brother trained.  They know how to work the cameras, they know what should and shouldn’t be said, they know how to swing the public vote.  But, most of all, every single one of them in this years’ show is utterly unlikeable.

I have watched very few episodes, but here is my rough guide to the current house’s occupants:

Angel: A former Russian pop star turned boxer.  Not the most obvious career switch and, unsurprisingly, not the most interesting person, either.  Declined to eat for four days and you know what?  She ended up looking like she hadn’t eaten for four days.  Entered the house sharing the dress sense and swagger of  Jonny Depp’s Willy Wonker.

Beinazir: Booted out after a couple of days in what was television’s most poorly orchestrated departure.

Cairon: Evicted last week.  Innit.  He was street-wise, therefore possessed the right to be overly defensive about everything and hugely offensive to anyone who questioned his ‘integrity’ and, oh I don’t know what else, probably ‘respec’…. blah, blah, blah.

Charlie: ‘As camp as Christmas’ says the Big Brother website.  Yes, and as dull as dishwater, to boot.  I can’t think of a single thing to write about him.

Halfwit: “Where do you live?” asked one housemate upon meeting the man formerly known as Freddie.  “I live in the country!” he replied, joyfully.  No, no.  Where the fuck do you live?  We need at least a county, you stupid prat.  Some may find his quaint, dreamy take on everything endearing but I find it more irritating than Graham Norton’s entire catalogue of TV appearances.  Of more concern, however, is his incessant singing.  Which is just horrible.  There should be a legal requirement for anyone who breaks into song at random intervals to receive a punch in the face three seconds into the first verse.  I’d be at the front of the queue every time.

Karly: Can’t understand a word she says.  Usually looks like she’s accidentally walked into the house after a night out at Lava and Ignite.

Kris: Openly gay with Charlie although spends the majority of his time pretending to get close to all of the girls.  Stupid hair.

Lisa: Token butch Lesbian.  Professed to being able to turn any woman but has so far spent most of her time in the house smoking and arguing with everyone.

Marcus: Thinks he looks like Wolverine.  He might, but I don’t think anyone cares.  I’m not sure many people will even know who Wolverine is.  Stupid beard.

Noirin: Gets ‘hit on’ 4,000,000 times a night, or something.  I’m not sure why.  Wanted to stay in the house so much she agreed to shave her eyebrows off and draw fake glasses and mustache on her face every day.  Started to cry when she realised the latter made her look like a twat.  Unpronounceable name, therefore eternally annoying.

Rodrigo: Sorry, I’m not entirely sure who this is, but he was on the official website.

Saffia: Token unstable bird.  Left her tiny kids at home in the selfish pursuit of fame.  That should be a criminal offence.

Siavash: There are no words to describe how much of an idiot this bloke is.  Dresses like an extra from Pirates of the Carribean and has about as much to say.  Weeped uncontrollably when Cairon was booted out, having spent most of the previous evening drawing stuff on the aforementioned’s arse.

Sophia: Horrible little goblin who was rightfully evicted early on for having an argument about someone being boring.  Wore more than one pair of glasses on her face, a crime which should be punishable by death.

Dogface: Drags her comedy frontal balloons around the house in an unsuccessful attempt to win the affections of all male viewers.  My moobs are more attractive.  And I’m quite hairy.

Sree: Professed his undying love for Noirin after about three days.  At least, I think he did.  It’s difficult to tell when he talks with the same nonsensical sentence structures Yoda invented.  Wears stupid sunglasses.

So there you have it.  I hope you found that informative.

Sorry, We Don’t Require Your Custom Today, Sir

"She's only done 100K, runs like a bird."
"She's only done 170K, runs like a bird."

Of all the industries facing major problems during this global recession (and let’s face it, there are few that aren’t) we are consistently reminded on virtually every news bulletin of the motor industry’s plight.

Huge companies such as GM, Chrysler and Ford walking cap in hand to the American government and virtually begging for money is a stark reminder that the mess the world banking system has left us in holds no mercy. No matter how big you are, you’re potentially in trouble. No one, at this moment in time, should feel their job is safe.

It was therefore somewhat of a shock that my girlfriend and I were allowed to walk out of a car dealership on Saturday having willfully explained that we would be spending money that day. No, really.

Having already been to VW to get a valuation for the trade in of my girlfriend’s Polo, we trundled off to see what other dealers would offer. As wacky as this may sound, we hadn’t made our mind as to which car should replace the Polo and were therefore open to suggestions. So, enter Peugeot, Riverside Park, Northampton.

We scoured the forecourt for a salesman, although only one was in view. This guy had a limp and he could be seen painfully making his way around the parked cars, as though having just been hit by shrapnel. I was therefore keen to avoid him at all costs. Time was tight and I didn’t want the valuation of the car to take three hours due to Sir Limpalot dragging his poorly foot around our car.

Of course, we got Sir Limpalot.

As he waddled across to greet us his grim expression didn’t appear to ease at all. In fact, he did all he could to avoid us, scanning the room for someone else to speak to but instead being met with a barren landscape of French hatchbacks and saloons. They weren’t going to give him an excuse to make us wait, so he had little choice but to continue his pain-ridden path towards us.

It certainly wasn’t the cheery punch-me-in-the-face car salesman greeting you expect to receive on entering their domain.  Although I did fancy punching him in the face…

Having explained that we didn’t have a particular car in mind and that our budget very much depended on the valuation of our current car, I moved on to ask if he could match VW’s valuation.

After a pause (and possibly a wince), Limpalot replied: ‘I’m sorry sir, we don’t just do valuations.’ He shuffled his stance and took the weight off his compromised leg. ‘You’ll need to book a test drive first, or choose a car before we can do a valuation.’

This was a surprise.  Even when I pointed out VW had offered £4,000 trade in, he simply replied: ‘Which system did they use to value it?’

Now, call me ignorant, and perhaps VW neglectful, but I hadn’t entered the show room with this knowledge. Helpfully, he offered two options as to what the ‘system’ might have been; ‘Was it Lazarus or Panda?’ (I’ve made those up, but the real ones were equally as meaningful).

I explained that I wasn’t a car salesman and was therefore unable to explain the exact system or formula used to calculate the valuation of our car. This didn’t do much to lift the conversation, as Limpalot, having run out of ways to confuse us, simply reiterated their policy of being unable to ‘just value a car’.

‘But we’re willing to spend money today,’ offered my Girlfriend. ‘And we don’t know our budget until we know what you’ll give us for our car.’

She may as well have explained this to the car bonnet that was inexplicably placed next to the service desk behind Limpalot. Although I would suspect the response that would have offered would have been slightly more animated. Limpalot simply shrugged.

And with that, he let us leave, my girlfriend offering the parting gift of ‘Well, there’s plenty more dealers around,’ which was also met with a shrug and a kind of ‘Mmm’ sound.

Later that day, we purchased an 08 plate Vauxhall Corsa. A car we’d had no prior intention of buying.

The more I’ve thought about Saturday’s episode, the more it has bothered me. Limpalot had a prime chance of selling us a car. We had openly admitted that we were willing to look at what they had on offer, we had a car worth £4,000 waiting to be traded in (therefore it would be reasonable for him to expect to sell something worth at least £6-7k and still make a fairly decent profit). The fact that we didn’t have a car in mind appeared to be our downfall but surely that gave him even more leverage to sell us the most expensive car we could afford?

I’m a salesman, and I would fall over myself to attend a prospective buyer like that. And at Ford and Vauxhall, they did. The latter, as a result, sold a car.

So what does this mean for the automotive industry? Well, I hope this was an isolated incident, I really hope we were simply unlucky.  But if there are more Limpalots out there, it is in more trouble than we perhaps think it is. How many other sales were turned away at the weekend due to jobsworth employees? How many other salesmen are sticking so stringently to the rule book when a little common sense and a few niceties might net them a sale?

Frightening stuff. Regardless of whether or not there’s a recession on, the world doesn’t turn without salesmen and all opportunities must always be fully explored. To turn away a possible sale, no matter how small, is utterly nonsensical. To make people feel uncomfortable and, in our case, a little silly, is simply unfathomable.

As for our injured friend, I truly hope he’s handed his P45 soon. We could do without people like him unnecessarily crippling the recovery of consumer confidence.

In any other business, the lot of you would be out…

Time to call it a day?
Brown: Time to call it a day?

I’m fed up with their stupid, faux-cheery grinning faces.  I’m fed up with their inability to give a straight answer.  I’m fed up with their cavalier use of public money to fund new BBQs and sink plugs.  I’m fed up with the utter mess they’ve put our country in through slack policing of the banking system and too much back slapping of its criminal bosses.  I’m fed up with daft rules and refulations, high tax bills, increased petrol prices and television adverts which treat us all like dribbling buffoons.

But most of all I’m fed up with our government’s lack of respect for the public’s collective intelligence.

Just how stupid do they think we are?  Forgetting the recent slate of MPs clamouring to get out of Westminster’s back door and instead looking back at the last few weeks of expense claim scandals, I can’t express how angry I am at these bungling, arrogant, tax-doging tosspots we’re supposed to rely on.

Pulling such stunts in any other job in Britain would see them out on their ear without as much as their pencil sharpner to keep as a momento.  It’s made all the worse by the fact that the very systems they’re dodging and taking advantage of are the systems they develop and instruct us to follow.

The fact that so many of our illustrious politicians are clinging onto their jobs until they can claim a substantial pay off only serves to remind us of one thing; greed is the cancerous underbelly of Westminster.

What I can’t get my head round is what these people actually spend their money on.  Let’s be frank, they’re not exactly on the minimum wage, yet the fact they literally claim for everything from ‘gardening services’ (I wouldn’t be entirely suprised if we hear some of those services being of the uphill variety in the coming days…) to, unbelievably, an actual kitchen sink, leaves very little for their genuine wage to cover.  One minister even claimed for Sky TV, citing its 24 hour rolling news channels as an essential tool for his job.  I wonder if he’s watching them now.

It’s greed beyond belief.  The minister who claimed for a church donation of £5 should be shot.  I mean that.  I’m not a religous man but what he’s done there is wrong on just about every conceivable level.  The idiot who claimed for that kitchen sink (I can’t remember who it was exactly but I’m fairly sure it was gaffe-prone Jacqui Smith) surely, at some stage, must have thought when they filed the receipt that, one day, such an expense claim would allow the Sun’s headline pun department to leave work early.

I file expense claims every month.  It has never, and will never, cross my mind that I could perhaps slip the odd TV license or pair of flip flops through.  Like most companies, we check all receipts and so we should.  Providing a ‘floor limit’ for claims – the government’s being around £400 – is a recipe for piss taking on a major scale.

So where do we go from here?  As I write, Defence Secretary, John Hutton, has resigned.  This follows several other big name resignations including Jacqui Smith, James Purnell and Hazel Blears.  You’ve no doubt read enough superlatives about Brown’s empire collapsing around him, so I won’t embellish on it any further.  Instead, I’ll finish on a letter to our right honourable oiks:

Dear The Government

Just go away.

Yours

The Public

Korg SP250 Has Arrived

Korg SP250 digital piano
Korg SP250 digital piano

After weeks of deliberating I finally put my hard earned down on a Korg SP250 last week.

Having spent many hours fantasising about owning a Nord Stage or one of the top of the range Rolands, I had an unsual bout of sensibleness and realised that I neither required nor could afford such extravagance.

A trip to the local music shop rammed this fact home even harder as the assistant suggested I try out the Korg which was a quarter of the price of some of the previously mentioned digital wizardry.

Suffice to say I was knocked out enough by the sound and feel of the keys to place an order.  And now it sits comfortably in my home studio.

Having spent most of the weekend learning the intro to Pink Floyd’s Great Gig in the Sky I can honestly say the £559 I paid for the piano was an absolute bargain.  If, like me, you dont possess a fantastic knowledge of pianos and their individual nuances and tonal qualities, the SP250 will do you perfectly.  If the reviews on the web are to be believed, it isn’t that far off the RD700’s of this world.

Inbuilt speakers are handy, as is the metronome and while many will be dismayed at the lack of USB connectivity, it can be hooked up to your PC or Mac via MIDI, as you’d expect, if you wish to use it as a controller keyboard for your software synths.

As previously mentioned, the piano sounds come highly recommended and the electric pianos are more than adequate offering the enevitable Rhodes clone along with a few other punchy patches to boot.  Strings ain’t half bad either and complement the piano sounds nicely when used in tandem.

The organs are probably the weakest of the lot but still perfectly useable.  If truth be told, I have little interest in the other instruments, as my studio already contains everything from full orchestra sections to burning piano samples (courtesy of Omnisphere), therefore everything is covered and it’s not really the reason I bought the piano in the first place.  Those that are expecting a wealth of general midi sounds will be disappointed.  But then, GM is so 90s, isn’t it?

On the learning side of things, I’m still engrossing myself in some of YouTube’s tutorials and, in particular, as mentioned above, The Great Gig in the Sky.  Rick Wright, god rest his soul, wasn’t Mozart which makes his pieces quite a nice way of easing yourself into piano.  He uses relatively basic albeit unusual chord structures which are a joy to play.

Next up – it’s time to book some real lessons.