Posts from 20th December 2004

Dec 04


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Christmas 1978

It never occurred to me that Lobster & Shrimp Fra Diovolo might not constitute a “real” Christmas dinner. It also never occurred to me that it was an especially Italian-American thing, either — if anything, it seemed appropriately “fancy.” But I never really paid much attention to Christmas dinner anyway, it being an unwanted interruption of my toy ecstasy when I just as easily have taken a plate upstairs to my room. I bet I liked it, though (the shrimp, anyway): along with predilections towards thick-framed glasses and melodic yawning, I inherited from my dad an appetite for really spicy foods, something I know I got from consciously imitating him. Of course, I could never keep up. At five or so, I tried one of his breakfast grapefruits, finding it a completely impenetrable eating experience now matter how much liquid sugar I put on the damned thing. Much later, on a mid-eighties trip to Washington D.C., he and his future wife took me to my first Indian restaurant; for me, it was an obstacle course of taste-bud death-by-misadventure and rivers of mucous — him, no problem. Getting back to Christmas, there were a couple times when I stayed with the adults long during the dessert trying to finish an espresso, just like the adults at the table were having. Yeah, I would finish it, but taste-wise, I couldn’t see the point of it. Much too bitter. There was a grand upshot, though. A little later (but still a kid), emboldened by the times I had espresso, I would take every opportunity during my day camp’s “Parents’ Day” to ostentatiously take some free coffee at the industrial urns placed at strategic locations throughout the grounds, thereby freaking out both parents and counselors. That was fun, a little. Probably nobody would blink now if they saw such a thing.

Judging from yesterday’s picture, this year’s Christmas table seated at least thirteen, and some subsequent Christmases probably had even more when even more folks from my mom’s side of the family joined in. Yet to my parents’ (and grandparents’) credit, we never had a separate “children’s table” at special occasions, at least as far as I can remember.

CILLA BLACK – “Anyone Who Had A Heart”

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#164, 29th February 1964

“Anyone who had a heart would love me too”. When Cilla Black sings it, this is not a request. Dynamic to be sure, but this song requires its singer not to lose the vulnerability when they turn up the volume, and Cilla never pulls that off. Her demand to be loved is almost bullying in its stridency. And the British public listened, making this the best-selling single by a British woman and making Cilla Black a star.

And there’s the trouble. On paper the story of the hat-check girl turned pop star is wonderful, in the real world it ends up at Blind Date, which of course as a sensitive boy I despised. (And even now I’ve sluiced out most of the virginal bile that prompted such hate, the thought of the program makes me wince). It’s terribly unfair on the Cilla of ’64 to hold the Cilla of ’89 up as prosecution evidence, but I can’t help it. Playing this song I don’t just hear a young woman with a remarkable ability to shift voices, I hear Cilla Black accessing her own future, the full-on parts a preview of the prime-time caw that blighted my Saturdays.


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#163, 22nd February 1964

An unwitting example of how quickly things change, the cod-country yokelry of “Diane” would have blended perfectly into 1962’s list of No.1s, but now seems quaint and entirely out of place. Innocuous enough, though, even charming if you catch it on a good day. The group’s website describes them as “the original Irish boy band”. It’s a witty and canny claim, as it’s not hard to imagine Louis Walsh running his eye over this, though no doubt his boys would have erred on the ponderous side. At least the Bachelors keep things light.

Who is Jonathan Creek

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Who is Jonathan Creek
During the recent FT server move, a massive and improbable system error generated this oddity on our new “essays” blog. Somehow it also managed to be published BACK IN TIME.

THE SEARCHERS – “Needles And Pins”

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#162, 1st February 1964

That slight increase in tempo on “she will see just how to say please – and get down on her knees” – the sudden enthusiasm in “hurtin’ her! hurtin’ her!” – in this song there’s a hint of whitened knuckles, tightened expressions, a savage quality that’s surprising and discomforting. At the same time the band are playing with a lightness and control that makes the surges of quickened anger that bit more effective – and the sounds they’re drawing out of their guitars are nothing short of lovely. How can something so delicate be so bitter?


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aka Edvard Munch?s The Scream in film form. How much of a selling point was the cute moppet, head in hands, yelling. This is an idiosyncratic gesture considering the plot of the film. Certainly being left behind leaves Mac in a tough spot, but even when the burglars turn up he always has the upper hand. Be it laying down his little dainty man traps made of matchbox cars, or organising a timed to precision splatting of Joe Pesci, panic is well outside his arsenal of emotions.

The joy of being the master of your own destiny is implicit in the Home Alone films (perhaps more so in the less simple but more magical Home Alone 2: Lost In New York). Indeed whilst the title has become short-hand for horrific tales of child neglect, this comes straight from the school of the “kids are smarter than the adults” world of fiction. And at the heart that funny looking kid, Macauley Culkin, happily taking centre stage without a coterie of friends or family. Perhaps as a metaphor for the lonely child at Christmas Culkin gives hope to the increasingly small family sizes these days. Every era deserves the child star it gets. The early nineties got Culkin to show that it was okay to panic before you sorted everything out.

the grebt pie debate (additional notes)

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once again it is the outlier position producing the cherishable facts: a stout defence by the unpeeled-hard-boiled-egg=a-pie faction impelled sistrah becky to argue that, in that case, a PYRAMID must be a pie (providingof course the tomb remained unbroached) —> this may or may not be the case but it dimly stirred a memory i couldn’t access till this morning, which is that suet-wrapped meat pudding we used to have WAY TOO OFTEN at my second school was known as BOILED MUMMY!!


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overheard, small sister (7?) and brother (8?) sitting together on a bus
(the brother is the older one)

b: there IS no largest number!
s: yes there is!*
b: there could be a number that started at the beginning of this bus and went all the way to the back**!!
s: HOW!!??
[generally inaudible, though some of it involves the brother’s disparagement of the sister’s maths teacher’s method, qualifications and intelligence, all of which are hotly defended]
s: (…) like 12 divided by 100!
b (triumphant and gleeful): you can’t DIVIDE 12 by a 100 hahahaha (etc)

*i tend to side with the sister here: assuming the universe is geometrically closed, and that there is a lower-limit granularity to the size of objects, then there is an upper limit to the number of possible “things”, and thus an upper limit to the number of possible relationships between those things… there will thus be numbers which are just too big to have a use, hence since use = value, there are values which don’t exist (this is not a proof so much as an indication obviously)
**we are on No.73 ie a v. long bendybus – so there was potential for the discussion to invoke the very curvature of space which allows for the possibility of geometrical closure!! ie what if the bendy bus was so bendy that its back curled round to touch its front??

If you sing Blue Moon it’ll all be over soon

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If you sing Blue Moon it’ll all be over soon

A starting discovery after an ill-advised trip to the dodgy late-serving Irish bar on Caledonian Road near Kings Cross (is the dodgy necessary or already contained within the words ‘near Kings Cross?).

There’s a particualrly pissed pre-Christmas karaoke. There’s a comedy bouncer; imagine Richard Fairbass with a serious steroid addiction. The office parties have turfed out and there’s a good deal of inappropriate frotting going on. In the midst of a usual karoake set, we notice a table of punters who sing very well. They’re head and shoulders above the rest.

But after the last one has sung their song, they get up and leave as one, and get in a van, and then they’re off*. Are they a roving troupe of karaoke stars, dedicated to raising the standards of London’s karaoke, like some League of Less-Appalling Vocalists.

* – I can’t actually remember this part. I remember seeing themj leave as one. I can remember someone saying ‘they just got in a van!’ There is a chance that the above incident is a karaoke dream.


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Christmas 1978

L-R: Grandpa, Aunt Pat, Tommy, Mom, Aunt Millie, Nanny, Me, Grandma, Holly, Bobby, Uncle John.

There’s me in mid-bodytwist, dodging Holly and Tommy, wearing a clingy lavender-colored batik unicorn shirt. (Not only wore it, but loved, bragged about it.) A really busy photo, made more busy than usual by the presence of relatives on my father’s side of the family: Aunt Pat, Uncle Mike (not shown), their son Chris (also not shown) and Grandma. They start coming to our Christmases for the next couple years, after having their own little celebrations at their own house, maybe a ten-minute drive from our own. I really hope they weren’t bored senseless by all this — how exciting could it be to watch other people unwrap presents? (Well, maybe there was some for them, too, I dunno, can’t remember.)

Probably taking after my parents’ lead, I called my maternal grandmother “Nanny” and my paternal grandmother “Grandma,” and while I loved them both, Grandma definitely had the edge for a long time. Initially, though, while she would do neat things like let me and my brothers play with watercolors in her Brooklyn apartment, I remember also being a little intimidated by this scolding edge she had, telling me in no uncertain terms there were parts of her apartment I couldn’t go into. One time when I was very young, she came over, probably spending some time over at our family’s house, and (I suppose undbidden) went through my closet and throwing out a lot of minute things that, because they were mine, I had an attachment to, and that made me unhappy. Dad told me that when he was a kid, she used to throw out his toys — baseball cards, comics, things like that — without the least warning. Mom told me similar stories about her mother, and I think this might supply a facile reason…no, probably a pretty straight-forward and conscious reason for both my parents’ un-ending Christmas generosity and my Dad’s adult love of trains. (I probably should’ve mentioned this earlier, but seriously, I don’t think that’s crossed my mind in maybe twenty years.) I also remember her getting angry at me for not eating a sandwich in the kind of argument that mom and dad would never get into with me, them being largely laissez-faire about my eating habits. And then, after her apartment was broken into, she moved to North Bellmore, a mere fifteen second walk away from my maternal grandparents. And then she seemed very different to me, very generous, very uncomplaining, very up-up-up, and so I gravitated towards her. I started spending a whole lot of nights over with her for a couple of years, and we would amuse ourselves, watching TV on Friday (the first night might’ve been the same night as the premiere of Diff’rent Strokes, November 3, 1978), then going somewhere, maybe to a card store or maybe to the mall, then come back, and then I’d get picked up to go home. At a moment when family tensions were beginning to come to a head, she was somebody who could give me a willing ear and — I’m absolutely not proud of this — deep pockets for whatever random shit that caught my eye. (I’m almost positive that she got reimbursed from my parents.)

And then I stopped. I tried again, for old time’s sake, in 1984. It says something about my obsessions of the time that I fix this moment with musical reference points: I fall asleep on her couch watching Friday Night Videos, and when we go to Sunrise Mall, we get Phillip Norman’s Shout! and the Jacksons’ “State of Shock.”‘And in the record store there was this one moment when, looking up from the stacks, I saw her bopping her head — only briefly — along to the piped-in music in a way that scared me: I was losing her. I avoided her a little after that, only seeing her on family occasions, my dad’s wedding and Christmases, and she was still very much my ally but with little eccentricities creeping around the edge of her behavior. Mom, Bobby and I went to see her much later, maybe when I came home from college my freshman year, I’m not sure. Still chipper, and dishearteningly gaunt-eyed, we made small talk I couldn’t wait to end. Then she died. The first family member I knew to pass away. I was in school, in Santa Fe, and it was just…I couldn’t do it.