Tuesday, November 26, 2013

High Hopes

Bruce is back and he's still dragging around that half-decent guitarist Tom Morello with him. Below is the first song from the new album. A joyous, rollicking New Orleans sawdust-and-spit rocker that infuses trumpets and wailing guitars into a sound that is similar to Wrecking Ball but seems to bring back some of the Seeger Sessions vibes too. Certainly gives me 'high hopes' for the rest of the album. Sorry.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

In print

Despite being a journalist for almost seven years (!) I rarely see my name in print. As such, on the very rare occasions when it happens I can't deny getting a thrill that was one of reasons I was drawn to writing for a living.

So, when I was asked by London's free paper of choice the Metro if I could offer some comment on the success of the iPlayer, I jumped at the chance, although not literally. The fruits of my waffling can be seen below. For those of you that like it online, you can read it here.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Radio punning

I went on BBC FiveLive this week to discuss more woes at BlackBerry. I went into a remote studio in the BBC for this and stared into a big, fluffy red mic as I chatted to the invisible Nicky Campbell and his colleague, whose name I can't remember, via the big, official looking headphones placed upon my head.

This was a particularly fun interview, I thought, because we break down in the middle for a brief bit of punning, which I definitely regard as a bit of a career highlight.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

More radio words

I was on Radio 2 last night talking about Twitter's move to float on the stock market. You can listen to my insights below.

Barging about

I have just spent a very enjoyable week in France visiting the parents who are travelling through that strange and charming country, living the retirement hippy dream of a barge lifestyle. It involved plenty of lock work - looping ropes, fending off, looking out for boats coming the other direction, and other boaty goodness, as well as eating plenty of nice food, drinking beer and wine and playing with the dog, so all in all, a lovely sojourn.

Getting the ferry across the channel was also fun - travelling as a foot passenger along with my brother - as I always used to wonder when I was younger why anyone would be travelling by foot, how you could end up needing a ferry crossing but no car, and now I know as I was one of those people.

However, the good folk of Calais have certainly no desire to please the foot travellers of this world, with little help or information for the onward journey you need to make in the town to stations. Still, through a combination of walking, ranting and taxi drivers (bizarrely wearing English football shirts but actually French) we managed to make it to our connections - well, excluding the ferry we missed on the way back because we had to spend 20 minutes waiting for a bridge to raise to let a large Danish boat out of the harbour in Calais.

Back to the barge. It's a strange idea, that you can just move your home around as you wish, waking up in one city and moving to the next, having negotiated a few locks and long, slow bends of course. Then you're free to wander the towns and fields at your leisure. We stopped in a lovely town called St Quentin which has a fascinating history and some lovely architecture and monuments.

We were passing through the heart of the First World War battle grounds, with flat and gently sloping fields rimmed by hedges and trees and numerous cemeteries and monuments to the fallen, a war now 99 years old.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Whale song

Some of my favourite text, from Moby-Dick:

"Why, thou monkey," said a harpooneer to one of these lads, "we've been cruising now hard upon three years, and thou hast not raised a whale yet. Whales are scarce as hen's teeth whenever thou art up here."

Perhaps they were; or perhaps there might have been shoals of them in the far horizon; but lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie is this absent-minded youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature; and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him; every dimly-discovered, uprising fin of some undiscernible form, seems to him the embodiment of those elusive thoughts that only people the soul by continually flitting through it.

In this enchanted mood, thy spirit ebbs away to whence it came; becomes diffused through time and space; like Crammer's sprinkled Pantheistic ashes, forming at last a part of every shore the round globe over.

There is no life in thee, now, except that rocking life imparted by a gently rolling ship; by her, borrowed from the sea; by the sea, from the inscrutable tides of God. But while this sleep, this dream is on ye, move your foot or hand an inch; slip your hold at all; and your identity comes back in horror. Over Descartian vortices you hover. And perhaps, at mid-day, in the fairest weather, with one half-throttled shriek you drop through that transparent air into the summer sea, no more to rise for ever. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Childhood memories

When I were a lad my parents took us on holiday to France in a camperva
n. We chugged around France, stopping at campsites, eating bread and other French-related activities.

During the trip my Dad read us a story called The Haunted Reef. In my memory this was an amazing tale of treasure and sailing, sharks and great escapades of derring-do. It was with nostalgic glee, then, that my girlfriend presented me with a copy after I'd mentioned it, sealed in a plastic sandwich bag.

Re-reading it, it was funny how little of the story I remembered, with almost none of the major incidents jogging any memories, while the story itself, read with critical, English literature degree eyes, was full of weird moments, and unsatisfactory outcomes. Also, the main character Dirk, (or, Dork, as my Dad reminded me he called him), is an annoyingly perfect hero - cool, strong, impervious to nerves and always quick with an explanation. He's hard to like.

Despite this I enjoyed reading it again and the story, with a few modifications, could make an excellent film, as there are plenty of good characters and some excellent potential landscape shoots, while the story has plenty of death and savagery that is required for all modern action films.

Pretty Saro and tired horses

As a big Bob Dylan fan it is no surprise I enjoyed Self Portrait (for the most part at least) and have also found the Another Self Portrait album a very enjoyable listen too.

The standout track from the latter is Pretty Saro, as you can watch and listen to below. It clearly dismisses the lame old criticism leveled at Dylan by people who have never listened to him, that he can't sing, as he croons his way through the lovely ditty:

Pretty good eh?

By the by, one of most intriguing tracks on Self Portrait, and no doubt purposefully placed at the start to confuse the hell out of listeners, is All The Tired Horses, which you'd never believe or guess for one second was Bob Dylan. Check it out below too.

DYLAN: all the tired horses in the sun by mrjyn

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Been listening to the new Bob Dylan, Another Self-Portrait at the moment on Spotify. Lovely stuff.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Unknown history

There are just so many stories in the world it's impossible to read them all, but it's always fascinating when you come across an incident you never knew of before, despite it's clear interest and wider impact on society.

The Bristol Bus Boycott, covered in great detail by the BBC today, is one such example, with a nice echo to the wider US race issues taking place at the same time.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Why is Bill Bryson so funny?

I've read several Bill Bryson books - Notes From a Small County, Neither Here Nor There, Shakespeare, Notes from a Big Country...and enjoyed them all immensely. Well, maybe not the last one, that was just a bunch of columns strung together.

Anyway, I'm now reading A Walk in the Woods, which is an enjoyable, funny account of his attempts to hike the 2,000 mile plus Appalachian Trail. I'm about two-thirds through.

The thing that has struck me is just how often I keep laughing, out loud, at what he writes. Yet, when I look back at what made me laugh, I don't really see why I laughed. It was an easy joke, and sign-posted a mile off, but he just delivers them with perfect timing.

I've read many travel books where the writer tries far too hard to make jokes in every paragraph and it becomes utterly tiresome and you just wish they'd focus on the traveling.

Bryson does it the other way, spending most of his time talking about the travel or the job at hand, and then throwing the jokes in at appropriate moments, meaning most of the jokes hit their targets with enjoyable regularity.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Face for radio

I was on BBC Radio 2 last night talking about the phone maker BlackBerry. As usual pre-call nerves disappeared the moment my name was said, leading to a jolly pleasant discussion about the firm and its troubles and what could happen next.

Listen below - nicely bookended by carvan chat and the theme tune to Grange Hill.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Kew Gardens

I've lived within 30 minutes of Kew Gardens for about four years and never once headed to its leafy environs - until now! (Well, yesterday).

What a lovely place. I highly recommend it - lush and verdant and full of lovely little hidden treats such as a Japanese pagoda or a bamboo hut that had been shipped from Japan. Huge greenhouses full of exotic plants (as you'd expect) and lovely rolling grasses and trees that you can wander around without over-zealous staff or officious signs directing you.

All in all, lovely, and worth a day out. And no queues either!

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Morning blues

I love endless skies of blue, so blue they seem to shine. This morning was one such example, with East Putney's ancient red-brick facade a brilliant and stark contrast to the backdrop.

In fact it was so good I actually stopped to take a picture, aware people walking past would be casting quick glances my way. They should have joined in.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Empty roads

The London cycle event over the weekend left Putney devoid of traffic for almost the entirety of Sunday. It was an odd sight and experience, to be able to wander down the high street that is so usually packed with buses and cars and instead hear nothing but the regular passing of cyclists wheels  - ssshm, ssshm, ssshm - zipping past. 

It reminded me slightly of the moments you get at crossroads with traffic lights where there are no cars, or you're the only car, stuck at red while the other lights change for nothing, as if allowing ghosts to proceed on their way. 

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Adventure stories for adults

The phrase page-turner is a highly subjective one. To some it's the single best description they can hear to be enticed to a book, while for others it implies moronic, endless-cliffhanger rubbish. And of course it can be a bit a of both. I read Child 44 earlier this year, the first 'page-turner' I've read in years, and I highly enjoyed it. Both for that longing to continue reading when each chapter ended with a twist or moment of drama, but also because it was an engrossing story. 

Most page-turners are, though, based around notions of terror and horror. How many awful-sounding novels do you see advertised on the walls of stations saying things like, "A horrific murder, a missing child, no time left... - Read the new thriller from..." and it sounds like utter rubbish. Yet these books, like those by Lee Child for example, sell by the millions and must have something to them. Yet I have no interest in reading about horrible murders or about ex-military types solving crimes where half a page is given to clinical descriptions of guns and cars.

This got me thinking, why are there no 'adventure' stories for adults? As children tales of pirates and treasure and all those sort of things were what you craved (see TinTin) and as adults, we still enjoy this - see the films of Indiana Jones or Back to the Future, but I don't know many books of this kind. Books that employ a shameless page-turning strategy, but cover adventure and escapades, without resorting to the darkest recesses of the human mind to stimulate interest.

Perhaps I'll write something, before anyone else has this idea. However, perhaps there are such books out there - if so please let me know!

Friday, August 02, 2013

A salute to Friday

Ah, Friday. Hallowed day, harbinger of the weekend, bringer forth of good times, and usually-quieter-day-at-work-than-other-days day.

Some Fridays rush up upon you, catching you unawares, some idle by, taking an age to reveal themselves, some seem days away, and some, like this week, just tick by with reassuring regularity.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The ups and downs of escalators

I read an article the other day about the etiquette of standing or walking on escalators - let's not call it 'riding', it's not a roller coaster or a whale is it?. Apparently, in some cities, hardly anyone walks on the escalator while go-getter Michael Bloomberg said he walks up and down escalators at every opportunity.

Well, being financial titans isn't the only thing I and MBB (as his friends call him) have in common, as I too am a committed escalator walker. I love the double rising sensation of your legs being given a boost by the endlessly revolving loop of an escalator's giant silver steps. Twice as fast and half the effort. Of course sometimes I don't (see: hangovers, very early mornings) but this is rare as even in poor states I find a bolt up an escalator does you a world of good. 

It's also great free exercise and whenever escalators are out action on the underground, forcing commuters to trudge down and around spiraling staircases, it must make London a much fitter city. There should be a No Escalator Day. 

Two fun things: 1. In tube stations with two parallel escalators, take a different one each (if with someone else of course, or do it secretly with a random) and stand on steps opposite one another. Then watch to see if one goes faster than the other.  At Angel tube it used to be that one escalator was considerably faster so I'd give people six or seven steps head start and still win

2. When going up, stand (yes yes I know) and look straight up. If you do it right it gives the sensation you're at 90 degrees and the people above should be tumbling through the air towards you. It's worth practicing as it's a brilliant sensation. Waterloo is good for it. 

Of course the most importance thing in all this though is, while there is nothing wrong with standing, if you're going to, please stand on the right. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Thylacine blues

As mentioned in an earlier blog (scroll down lazy) I've been thoroughly enjoying The Sea Inside by Philip Hoare and yesterday I read a fascinating chapter in which he documents the plight of the poor old Thylacine.

This was a sort of wolf-dog marsupial that was driven to extinction by settlers in Tasmania over the start of the twentieth century in that classic way people behaved then with absolutely no forward-thinking about what they were doing - such as slaughtering animal populations or wiping out indigenous populations. 

However, you can't keep a good wolf-dog-marsupial down and the Thylacine may well have managed to survive. Hoare recounts many testimonials from eye witnesses who claim to have seen the creatures still in the wild, with many sounds highly creditable. Given the wildness of Tasmania it seems possible a few creatures could have survived against the odds and still be scavenging their way through the undergrowth.

There's some uniquely tragic about the idea humans have wiped out some animals from the face of the earth, without any one at the time really thinking, "Er, chaps, what happens when there's none them".

I hope the Thylacine makes a return in the future, with firm proof, and that it's well protected for the future. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Hey, hey, two blogs in under a week – what is this, some kind of record? (No, obviously not).

However, perhaps I will reconnect with the blog, as I miss updating it and enjoy having it as a location of digital whiteness for brain thoughts and book opinions and whatnot. I've experimented with other platforms – Posterous, Tumblr, Wordpress, and all that – but I do like Blogger – plus I've been using it since 2006 so it has all my posts and stuff on it.

I helped a friend move house yesterday – he still has his CDs – and it was sort of fun. I don't know why I find helping people move house oddly enjoyable. I think, perhaps, it just comes from the sense of easy completion – move this, to there, by this time, done. Easily quantifiable success.

It was a lovely sunset yesterday too, followed by hazy summer rain and glorious rainbows. Got some great pictures, as you can see below.

Putney Bridge at sunset

Through the hoop in Fulham

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Weary words

Oh weary worldly traveler of the internet. How did you come to these shores? How long has it been?

The internet has too many words on it. Everyday we make it heavier and heavier - it must be sagging - especially around the Facebooks and BBCs of this world, where all the news and photos sit. It'll be fine, though, they'll just keep propping it up. 

I read Revolutionary Road earlier this month as the temperatures soared. It was a strange book, I feel as though I read it as it dates, like fruit turning moldy. Some of the characters were hard to relate to, and the story line seemed laboured. Yet, there was a horrible reality to it too, the easy-to-relate-too failure of relationships and the terrible ways people get entwined and entangled without being able to unknot themselves without severing something of themselves, and the other person, in a way that'd can't be undone, or fixed.

I've now started reading The Sea Inside by Philip Hoare. Regular readers (anyone?) will remember my love of Hoare's Leviathan (stop sniggering at the back) from 2009 (was it that long ago?) and this book has a similar style, with the love of wildlife, sea, sky and, of course, whales, all thrown together in a lyrical, poetic pot of simmering beauty. I'm only a third through but already I love it. You could hate it if you dont' care for over-the-top rhapsodising but for myself, it's a joyous read.

I went to Lords for the cricket just over a week ago. I sat in a corporate box, I drank Pimms, I ate cucumber sandwiches, the English team batted wonderfully, a century was made, the Queen came for goodness sake - it was the most English day I've ever had. I rewatched the Olympic Opening Ceremony over the weekend. Ah, This Sceptered Isle.

I'm so sorry this blog is updated so irregularly an so erratically. Then again, does it matter, does anyone notice? It appears not. The internet is heavy enough.

Friday, July 12, 2013


Hey hey, it's been months since a blog post so what about a nice bit of music to cheer us all up.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Throw away your CDs, but keep your tapes

I helped a friend move house the other day. One of the last boxes we heaved into the back of a Zipvan (great service, very Grand Theft Auto) was a heavy lot and I asked him what was in it: “Oh just CDs,” he replied. I let go there and then, letting the whole box come crashing down:

“What the hell did you do that for?” he shouted.

“CDs?! Are you mad?” I yelled back.

Ok this bit didn’t happen, but it did in my mind, for who in their right mind keeps CDs nowadays?

With music now all digital, why would you keep plastic cases and linear notes you’ll never, ever read, when you have all your music stored in invisible digital files on your iPod, iPhone, laptop and accessible on services like Spotify? Stick it all on an external hard drive and you’re sorted.

If you must keep the discs, buy a single travel case for keeping the discs as back up, just in case.

My friend disagreed, but it got me thinking: why do people care for CDs? They have none of the aesthetic appeal of vinyl, or that lovely timbre and hiss, and none of the nostalgic appeal either. To my mind, the more beguiling, fading format is tapes.

At home we still have a car that only takes tapes and I love driving around with old random mixes (sorry record industry) that have no way of being controlled beyond a blind fast-forward/reward. Of course, I enjoy this partly because it’s a novelty and I much prefer the digital control in the modern world, but there’s much more fun to be had with tapes than CDs.

As for vinyl, lovely as they are, why anyone would buy them now is beyond me. Inheriting a collection from parents, for example, is one thing, but to actively seek out old albums in massive formats that will often scratch and be unplayable and require heavy, expensive kit to play them, makes no sense to me.

And that’s the thing about music – it should be based on cold, hard, rigid logic.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

The sound of perfection

I was listening to Simon and Garfunkel this morning - as I often do, it's excellent morning music - and Bookends came on - as it always does, it's on the album - and, for about the millionth time I thought, this really is just a perfect piece of music. The guitar, the lyrics, the pauses, the timings, the phrasings, the everything basically:

If you don't agree, well, you're wrong.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Lines on A Line in the Sand

I was lucky enough to visit Jerusalem last year for work purposes, and it’s an amazing city with an incredible history, which is still being fought over in a conflict that’s hard to fathom.

Having now visited  and seen just how close three of the major religions of the world live, it strikes me no-one will ever solve that city or reach a compromise that could bring any real ever-lasting peace.

Such thoughts were reemphasised this week when I finished A Line in the Sand by James Barr. This was an excellent piece of engrossing historical writing about the problems caused by the British and French intervention in the Middle East dating back to the eve of the First World War when two diplomats, in that brilliantly awful high-and-mighty manner of the old era of colonial dictatorships, drew a line across a map and apportioned themselves a piece of the Middle East to manage, maintain and manipulate.

Of course, as in other areas, this didn’t go as smoothly as they’d hoped, especially when the locals realised they were being had. What was even more fascinating was the rivalry between the French and the British over the years that led to endless in-fighting and even the funding of local militia to covertly attack one another, even when they were supposed to be allies during the Second World War.

The research Barr must have undertaken is mind-blowing as not a paragraph goes by without a reference to a letter, some archived minutes, a newspaper article, a diaries and other first-hand sources he scoured to tell the story in minute and revealing detail. 

At school and university there was often a surface level debate about whether history was about the fates of people or nations i.e. should you study macro or micro history. What Barr does so well is tell both in an interlinked fashion.

So we see the frontline intrigues and personalities of those who shaped the history of the region, from TE Lawrence to Churchill to Truman as the household names we know, to the local gangs and tribes people, like Avraham Stern, while also seeing explaining the wider picture from the national and local interests of numerous competing groups and how their aims affected the actions of those on the ground, and vice versa. 

Highly recommended reading.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Walking for miles

I did the 45 miles Ten Tors challenge on Dartmoor ten years ago (yeesh, ten years). It was hard but a lot of fun and I definitely developed an appreciation of the simple pleasure of walking. Some mornings as I walk to the tube I get an itch to just walk straight past the station and keep on going, just to see what's around the corner (I know what's there, it's Wandsworth, but you know what I mean).

I never do, though, I turn into the tube and stand with all the other travellers staring out the window as we rattle into central London. It was with a mix of envy and awe then that I read The Places In Between by excellent person Rory Stewart who walked straight across Afghanistan a few weeks after the fall of the Taliban in 2002 (the same year I walked 45 miles on Dartmoor).

Of course such a walk is sheer madness, except Stewart can speak the dialect and had already walked across Iran and  India and Nepal and other nations before this leg of his adventure, so he had a bit of advantage over the wanderlust of a South West London walker.

Furthermore, the book is a brilliantly vivid, engrossing account of a trip few would ever take, or want to take, and has a lovely mix of hard, straight talking language about the people he meets and the difficulties he faces, and descriptive brilliance of the strange and inhospitable nature of the walk, the weather (lots of snow) and the sights he encounters, such as the Minaret of Jam. Even better, though, is the mix of history he weaves, revealing fascinating insights into the cultures that have shaped a nation that remains so utterly unknowable to the west.

Even better, he buys a dog to walk with him, pictured above, who proves as much as a character as any of the Kalashnikov-touting, religious zealots he meets along the way. A much recommended book. And don't just take my word for it.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Night buses, men in boats and toast-munching toads

I read Three Men in a Boat last week. It was written in 1889 and yet remains genuinely funny and relatable all these years later. There’s a bit at the start when Jerome Klapka Jerome wonders if people in the year 2000 will find their everyday trinkets of interest, value and worth. Which we do mostly. Just struck me as interesting. Apparently the book sold so well and was so popular people in other countries would put his name on books to trick people into buying them. 

Another nice aside, his publisher said, with reference to how much in royalties the book was earning for JKJ: "I cannot imagine what becomes of all the copies of that book I issue. I often think the public must eat them." Which I think is almost as funny as some of the lines in the book. The book is up there with Lucky Jim, also hilarious. 

I was sat on the night bus last night, somewhat drunk, and fell into that maudlin state of staring out the window as raindrops rolled down trying to reach some great thought, or insight or revelation that I was sure was lurking in the dim recesses of my brain. Something about life, or love or work or the like. Of course, I never captured it, if it was there at all: I think the revelation is there are no drunk-night-bus revelations to be had.

However, the event put me in mind of this wonderful excerpt from The Wind in the Willows, a far better book than any dramatisation has ever managed to capture, they all seem to cheapen and ruin it. 

“But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, but can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty in it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties.” 

My other favourite line in WITW is: 

Toad sat up on end once more, dried his eyes, sipped his tea and munched his toast, and soon began talking freely about himself, and the house he lived in, and his doings there, and how important he was, and what a lot his friends thought of him.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Bill Jones school of motivation

New year, new you? That’s what everyone says but few of us ever have the gumption to stick to our plans – higher, faster, stronger and all that – as often the motivation that the number 1 appearing on a calendar gives us dissipates as other numbers such as 4 and 12 and 26 start appearing.

However, one man who may be able to give us the resolve we need to stick to our motivational guns is Bill Jones, a fascinating character from the 1920s dreamed up by some advertising wonks to inspire the business folk of Britain – and later the US and Canada – to strive for greatness.

These are two of my favourites below and there’s a whole raft more on the Retronaut website. I came across this via someone on Twitter but I’ve forgotten who it was now. Sorry mysterious Twitter person – please reveal yourself if it was you and I’ll credit accordingly.