Sunday, November 19, 2006


I thought I'd written something really offensive, particularly to papist scum in my last post, but I realise belatedly that all along I'd been trumped in advance by the Impostume, with a truly revolting outburst from his forthcoming, eagerly awaited novel. Hats off, there's no way I can compete with that.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Married priests?

The Deutsch Pope continues to rise in my estimation by issuing a resolute NEIN over the issue of whether Catholic priests should be allowed to marry. What kind of nonsense is this anyway? These selfish imbeciles just want to have their cake and eat it. Well tough. It’s an either/or situation. Anything else stinks of foul, corrosive compromise. Look at the contemptuous derision in which the C of E is held amongst non-churchgoers, who make up the vast majority of the population. The dwindling congregations dankly festering in its forlorn pews are made up of either befuddled, well-meaning coffin-dodgers or embarrassingly simple-minded hypocrites who only go there every Sunday because they still think it makes them look respectable. The C of E is hell bent on a suicide mission of being nice, of modernising. It will just not learn from its mistakes, tearing itself apart over women priests, gay priests, women bishops… Some, like the inspiring figure of John Selwyn Gummer, have baulked and run to the august, unyielding Catholic church for cover, where they remain condemned to be rightly regarded as second rate weaklings, papists by default.

I’ve always thought that the Catholic church had a much better grip on human psychology than the modernisers. Whilst the C of E is disdained, even resented for pandering to society’s whims with its servile, liberalising tendencies, the very strength of the Catholic church resides in its stalwart refusal to change with the times. It is revered precisely for its austere, righteous inflexibility, binding communities or even entire nations like Poland or Ireland together through a heady combination of guilt, fear and masochism. We like our religion brutish. It gives us a sense of place, of identity. Anglicans get bogged down in grey areas and trying to understand the other point of view. Catholics on the other hand are people who know about rectitude. Admittedly they are without exception inveterate pissheads, but this just serves to fuel their glorious, chrome-plated bigotry. Catholicism is about terrorising defenceless children into submission from an early age by bombarding them with bloody images of crucifixion, one of the most gruesome deaths imaginable, about raping altar boys, meting out sadistic canings for wicked thoughts and condemning infidels to burn in the eternal fires of hell. A paternal religion. The Catholic God hates poofs, Jews, artists, masturbation, fornication, dancing, all books except the Good Book. The Catholic God hates life. The Catholic God disapproves. And if you don’t like all this intolerance then you should fuck off and convert to Islam.

Err, actually, have I got that bit right?

Ahh, after a brief lull which may have infected the last few posts I’m beginning to feel myself again. And to top it all, that cunt Milton Friedman’s died. It’s been a fucking marvellous week.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


It’s impossible for me to be objective reviewing Wotienke, since she’s been a good friend of mine for a number of years now. Nevertheless, the first time I saw her perform was before I got to know her and I remember thinking that here was a major talent. I also clearly remember which songs she played – there were only two, it was a quick, impromptu performance – still my two favourites, Open End and Guitar Song. She immediately struck me with her blend of directness and subtlety, not necessarily extraordinarily original (ah, now there's a word) but clearly with her own style, presented without any artifice.

And since we all have to come from somewhere, what influences can be identified in her music? There are obvious jazz elements, and she is within the singer-songwriter genre, one I’m not always particularly keen on, but specifically? I once suggested Tom Waits, to which she replied that she’d never heard of him (she’s now a big fan and covers a couple of his songs – oohh, can I claim the credit?). At this point it came to me that maybe I was thinking too much like a music critic, keeping my distance, nodding sagely to myself whenever a trace of familiarity appeared… whereas this seems inappropriate in her case, this is music to simply be enjoyed.

I should at least give a little background information. Wotienke is from Amsterdam, and is still based there, though she has studied here periodically in both Olomouc and in Prague on exchange programmes and still maintains a strong relationship with the country. She sings mostly in English, occasionally in French. Her songs have a haunting quality, her voice at times breathy and soothing, but capable of gliding effortlessly into strident and even sharp. This is music that evidently contains emotion, but doesn’t shove it right up your nose. She avoids the pitfalls of many other female singer songwriters, the cosy, knowing smugness of some tame mediocrity like Suzanne Vega, and doesn’t come across like some shrieking, bullying harridan like Courtney Love for example. Although musically nothing like PJ Harvey, she has the same kind of class, the same ability to just be herself, and be good at what she does.

In fact it’s quite striking how little she assumes a stage persona. Last night she appeared with her band, who are based here in CZ. Between quite affecting, confessional songs she smiles openly and talks to the audience in Czech (always a winner). Initially I wasn’t convinced by the band, and in certain cases I still think they can tie her down to a more obviously conventional jazz format, not allowing her to express herself as intensely as before with more interestingly jarring changes of rhythm. However, that depends on the song, and in addition to that they have improved a great deal and now add some welcome diversity, even introducing a brief drum n bass interlude, which was certainly unexpected, plus a couple of stonking Waits covers. Apparently she has no ambitions to "go professional". I don't blame her, but in some ways it's a shame.

For more information check out

Maybe it’s my hormones, I seem to be going through something of a dewy-eyed, sentimental phase at the moment. First it’s Christmas (incidentally, following the first fall of snow, the inscrutable God of Czech Weather has now turned the heating up to a balmy 16°), then it’s cheese (cheese? Sentimental about cheese?), then the Impostume mercilessly prods at my sentiment bone (oo-er) by posting videos by such favourites from our university days as Nice Strong Arm, Cop Shoot Cop and Thin White Rope. Memories come flooding back of a coach journey down from Leeds to London, which back then seemed like a mammoth adventure and audacious raid into the big smoke, to see the then supremely hip Cop Shoot Cop’s only UK gig, filled with a sense that we were the elect.

Even more than that though, Thin White Rope have always held a special place in my heart. I think I can still say, and naturally this is inevitably all muddied by nostalgia, that their gig at the Duchess of York in Leeds back in summer 1991 was the best gig I’ve ever seen in my life. I remember that this was an otherwise pretty dispiriting time – it was the summer vacation, and instead of sunning ourselves in the Med, meeting interesting new people and improving ourselves culturally whilst inter-railing round Europe, out of abject desperation for cash both the Impostume and myself were working on the evisceration line in a turkey factory in Thirsk – a time definitely better contemplated from a distance, not your usual nostalgia fodder. Without doubt the worst job I ever had (cue Peter Cook impression). Perhaps it was out of gratitude then that it seemed such a monumental occasion when culture came to us in the form of the magnificent Thin White Rope. Such a huge, brooding sound, refreshingly free of the usual crummy macho affectation of most grunge bands, instead expertly employing feedback to convey frailty, genuine pain. There is not an ounce of fat on their music, it goes straight for the jugular. How many bands can you think of that are capable of reducing grown men to tears by simply repeatedly shouting the word “fish”? (Oh yes all right, maybe it was those early mornings at the turkey factory that made me tired and emotional. Damn, I’m meant to be the frothing spleen, you’re not supposed to see this side of me).

The next night saw Mercury Rev play at the same venue. Bunch of tedious, smelly old hippies.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Stoppard update!

A few days ago I had one of my regular pub meetings with the by turns urbane and debauched university lecturer, translator and poet Matthew Sweney originally of Waterville ME, now long-term fellow ex-pat in Olomouc CZ. Mr Sweney had just returned from London, where he’d been to see the Tom Stoppard play Rock n Roll, which was apparently thoroughly enjoyable but potentially rather bewildering to those unfamiliar with the context and with the Plastic People of the Universe and their manager Ivan “Magor” Jirous. So if anyone reading this is considering going to see it I strongly recommend that you check out the highly informative article about the Plastics I mentioned a couple of weeks back – in fact I’ll put it on the links bar.

Mr Sweney also proved what a thoroughly fine gentleman he is by bringing me a chunk of Mature Stilton, which made my week. Stilton is difficult if not impossible to get in this country, I’ve known it to pop up sporadically in the central Prague branch of Tesco, but I haven’t seen it there for a good while now. In Olomouc the prospect of finding it is laughable. I’m not sure why this is. The Czechs aren’t big cheese gourmets, there are a few local varieties, and in fact Olomouc is famous for its awesomely pungent smelling curd cheese – an acquired taste perhaps – but here there is nothing like the diversity of other European nations. They do however compensate and import a number of foreign cheeses, though some of these are outlandishly expensive. Nevertheless, French, Danish, German, Swiss, Dutch and Italian cheeses are available in the supermarkets. British cheeses? Most Czechs aren’t even aware they exist, and upon any mention of them look at you as if you’d suggested British wines. Whereas cheese is one of the things that brings out the sentimental patriot in me. I genuinely believe Britain boasts some of the best cheeses in the world, with the Holy Grail of them all the aforementioned Mature Stilton. You can keep your Camembert and your Gorgonzola. It’s been a calorific week out here. Not long till the next pig out at Christmas either… but what after that? A barren period of what could be half a year or more. If you live in Moravia, it ain’t easy being cheesy.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ho ho ho!

Seasons have a habit of changing at an alarming pace in this country. Two weeks ago I was out in the mountains, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air (in contrast with the polluted towns here), drinking beer and barbecuing sausages in a T-shirt. Today I woke up to 2 inches of snow. Unable to resist a cliché I stuck the Sisters of Mercy on my iPod and walked through the bleak, wintry landscape up to the local gym (ok, going to the gym might not be very goth, but I was wearing a black tracksuit). Spring and autumn tend to be very fleeting affairs in this part of the world, the Czech climate doesn’t like to mess with Mr. Inbetween. This year the temperature has rampaged between -25 (last two weeks in January) and +35 (second half of June and most of July). You have to buy long thermometers here.

With the fall of snow, plus the clocks going back (dark at half past four here now) and yes, the first adverts springing up in the supermarkets (fucking capitalism!), it seems that I’ve been compelled to contemplate the concept of Christmas this week. I can’t help it – I love Christmas, or at least I think I do. This year as always I’ll be coming back to the UK to see family and friends, laze around, eat rich food and get agreeably drunk during the daytime. It might be because I live in another country that I always look forward to Christmas so much, since I catch up with people I don’t get the chance to see any other time, and frenetically try to compress six months to a year’s worth of socialising into two weeks. In addition it is no doubt a case of it being rather better to travel hopefully than to arrive – Christmas is a time of festivity in an otherwise fairly grim season, and if we didn’t have that to look forward to then I suspect suicide rates might rocket. Whereas I know the reality will be that of suppressing inner rage, biting one’s lip and trying not to bicker with in-laws, children’s new toys getting broken, having to laugh at sickeningly unfunny banter foist upon us by vexatious, penis-brained oafs bullying us into being jolly, wincing every time Slade come on the jukebox (and I actually like Slade), pretending to be pleased to see people you always hated from school, watching helplessly as the family gradually melts down into a seething cauldron of stress and spending most of the day feeling bloated, hung over and doing abominably noxious farts.

But the chirpy, inane (and probably thoroughly irritating, I admit, sorry) optimist in me wins every time. I can hardly wait. And I’ll probably spend most of January scraping the egg off my face.