Tales From The Retail Hinterland

Four weeks ago I was an IKEA virgin and now I’m a flatpack slut. There are only a dozen blue-and-yellow warehouses in the country one's a mile from where I live, on the site of Bristol Rovers old football ground.

Poor Rovers have been pitch-less for years now, playing wherever other teams will let them even if that team plays rugby rather than football and fans have to travel thirty miles to watch. I’d be more upset about this if I didn’t prefer shopping to football. I’ve seen Rovers play once and that was an away match. (The only tickets available on the gate were in the red end and we were wearing blue. You’ve never heard three people cheer so quietly.) By contrast, Saturday was my fourth visit to IKEA in as many weeks.

They didn’t have everything I wanted so I had a small strop and my girlfriend chastised me for being ridiculous. And rightly so. I think I had cabin fever. I know some shortcuts now but there’s one prescribed route through the gargantuan showroom - with arrows on the floor, no less. You’d better plan ahead if you want to get out to smoke or pee. The trade-off for cheap furniture is that you have to do more work than you’re accustomed to, like picking your own stuff in the warehouse. When they go out of stock you wish you were in a normal shop where someone would have told you that half an hour ago. But you can’t beat those prices!

Not wanting my home to look completely like a page from the IKEA catalogue, I’ve thrown in a few items from other catalogue stores. I asked about vases in NEXT and the manager gave his answers to Alice (for that is she). You know... because it's a girly subject. I was most surprised when she didn’t deck him there and then. Once, watching a World Cup match in an Oxford pub, an American tourist asked her if women had any interest in football. She cut him down to size rather effectively!

I had another overwhelmingly positive experience with amazon.co.uk. Who knew that all you had to do to achieve customer satisfaction in Britain was remove the human beings from the process? Want this delivered guaranteed by midday tomorrow? Order in the next 38 minutes and choose Express delivery. By the time I got to the checkout I decided it wasn’t worth the extra expense and chose regular post instead. It arrived the following morning anyway.

I love shopping. Alice says I'm due to leave the closet any day now.


New Who Publicity Shots

It’s like my public duty. Or something.


Top Five Contemporary Chanteuses

I wish I could sing better. The voice is the most evocative instrument there is. With the exception of David McAlmont (who sounds like a girl) and Chet Baker (him too), the best boy singers don’t touch me the same way the ladies do: in my head, my heart and right down to my boots all at once. Even that Seal fella and other so-called "soul" singers who will never find a place in my music collection!

These five ladies are my current favourite female vocalists.

5. Amanda Palmer
Half of Boston’s Dresden Dolls, spearheading that one-band cabaret-punk revival. I switched on coverage of the Reading Festival on Friday night in the middle of them covering Black Sabbath’s War Pigs, which they followed with [the] Kaiser Chiefs’ Every Day I Love You Less And Less. The Kaisers were playing in the next field at the time. Amanda’s voice ain’t so superlative but I’m hooked on this band at the moment and wanted to plug them.

4. Jenny Lewis
Of Rilo Kiley fame. A child actor in the Eighties (I’m imdb-ly informed) now enjoying a “solo” career backed by alt.country's The Watson Twins. Her voice is warm and friendly.

3. Neko Case
Member of several Canadian bands including personal favourite The New Pornographers. She has a solo album but I didn’t hear it yet. Didn’t fall out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down either.

2. Sarah Cracknell
Goodness only knows why Saint Etienne aren’t more popular with Sarah at the vocal helm. Her voice is like putting sugar on Frosties. I can’t get enough. Seminal works: Sound Of Water and Tales From Turnpike House.

1. Sia (Furler)
Her two solo albums have been largely ignored by the record-buying public, myself included, though some of us heard her in the final episode of Six Feet Under and on the best songs from Zero 7’s Simple Things. I saw them on a freebie years ago and was blown away when Sia opened her mouth. To this day I can’t articulate how heavenly that moment was, but that’s half the fun of music, isn’t it? The way it transcends mere words? Yeah.

With honourable mention to Aimee Mann, Polly Harvey and Liz Fraser.


Below The Belt

A lot of sci-fi went out-of-date today when Pluto was downgraded to not-a-planet-just-a-big-lump-of-ice by the International Astronomer’s Union.

It was discovered in 1930 and its status has been hotly debated for the last decade – since we’ve had telescopes that can see as far as the Kuiper Belt, where dozens more “Plutonian” objects live. Several Kuiper Belt Objects are much larger than Pluto, which is only about the size of North America. I wouldn’t be surprised if half a dozen more actual planets are discovered within our lifetime, as technological advances lead to increasingly more powerful telescopes.

Here are two more good common-sense decisions from recent times: Herceptin will be available on the N.H.S. and stem cell research is funded by the European Union. Did I mention that I think I belong here?

Factory Lines

"So what did this Factory make?”
"It wasn’t that kind of factory, unless you count making trannies and they only turned out two or three of those a year so they would have gone bust."

- David Quantick in The Blagger’s Guide on Radio 4.


The Reports Of My Laziness Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

I’m in. I got the keys three weeks ago. I still don’t have a phone line or the internet so, to post this, I walked to Broadmead where a store called Evesham Technology has an unprotected wireless network. This is my third afternoon on a bench in the street. I suppose I could sit in the McDonalds next door, but you have to have some class.

The day I moved in I brought my computer, some tools and a bag full of clothes. Moving the rest of my stuff out of Phil’s took a single trip, not counting the double mattress I took on loan. Try getting one of those in the back of a Ford Focus without bending it, missus.

I spent the equivalent of five thousand dollars that first day. Add it up: a month’s rent, six weeks’ deposit, bed, sofa, armchair, bookcase, coffee table, kettle, toaster, video recorder, cuddly toy... I rushed back to Phil’s and bought something online (about which more later) that evening so it would add to the day’s total. The salesman needs to make his targets! It was all budgeted-for, naturally, but splurging that much at once felt good.

“The comfort of my own home.” How good does it feel to say that after leeching off my friends and family since September? I feel like I belong where I am for the first time since Brighton, which was before I went to America and misplaced my mojo two-and-a half years ago. In fact, I may even have to call it progress on Brighton.

Briefly now because I’ve said it before, the bathroom’s on your right as you enter. I can’t stand up in the shower so I bathe a lot. Stairs on the left lead up to my bedroom. It has a sloping roof so it feels like converted loft space. The main room is a 1000ft cubed box with a kitchen in one corner. A brand new kitchen with brand new appliances. In a refreshing twist on the norm the few things that don’t work here don’t work yet because they’re still being installed, not because they’re broken and the landlord doesn’t care to fix them. It was definitely worth the wait.