Thursday, 31 May 2012

Geeks, Guffaws and Gladioli

It's been a curious few days. Last Friday saw me at the launch of my very talented friend Andy Robb's new book Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind; a very sweet and funny tale of a geeky boy discovering the curious world of girls for the first time. The party was at Waterstones in Oxford Street and people really got into the swing of things with some splendid cosplaying. There were several special guests too.

Top marks go to three guys from the UK Garrison who turned up as Darth Vader and Imperial Stormtroopers. The UK Garrison, if you didn't know, are Lucasfilm-approved fundraisers. They've raised over £1 million for children's charities in just a few years. They make no profit and you can hire them by simply paying a minimum fee of £150 into their charity, which is then used to help children. They were great fun - never once dropping out of character - and it was hilarious watching people trying to make their speeches while Vader's asthmatic breathing dominated the quiet room. Vader seemed to have a particular enjoyment of throttling people, including Andy, my mate Steve Hills and myself ...

... while his troops seemed more interested in figuring out why the white shiny armour and machismo approach wasn't working for them relationship-wise ...

A great event and lovely people. I wish Andy every success with his book.

The weekend flew by and was mostly concerned with more preparations for my daughter's wedding this coming Saturday. And sweating. The weather has been extraordinarily nice this past week. My Father-Of-The-Bride speech is all done now. I prefer to call it 'The Powerpoint of shame'. Mwah ha ha. However, poor old daughter managed to break her foot on Friday night so it's fingers crossed that she'll be able to walk, rather than hobble, up the aisle.

On Tuesday I made my first ever appearance on a panel show on an episode of Do The Right Thing. The Sony Award-winning podcast is hosted by Danielle Ward and has team captains Michael Legge and Margaret Cabourn-Smith. They, and their guest panellists, are given a series of scenarios and asked what the right thing to do is in each. They range from zombie apocalypse to getting away from a swarm of bees and everything in between. There's also a round where they have to guess the correct advice as proscribed by various Agony Aunts and try to sort out problems presented to them by the audience. Then there's a round called Ask the Expert. And that's where I came in. I was the expert on problem solving policing and it was my job to explain the right ways (or some of them anyway) to tackle various crime and nuisance problems. Helping the regulars were Jenny Eclair and John Finnemore. I stayed for the second recording too where Jon Ronson was the expert (on psychopaths) and the guests were Robin Ince and Josie Long. A great fun experience. I'd love to do more.

But then it was back to crashing reality. Daughter Sarah had arranged to go to New Covent Garden Market in Vauxhall, South London, in the wee hours to get her wedding blooms at trade prices. Now, of course, her broken foot precluded her from driving. Which is why, at 2am this morning, I was driving her - and a borrowed wheelchair - into London. We got home at 5.30am today. Still, a fascinating place to visit. It's huge. This building alone (below) is just for flowers; the fruit and veg building is at least 5-6 times larger. Making the journey was great for the wallet - the prices were more than half what you'd pay at a florist. Not so great for my hayfever though!

(Apologies for crappy low-light phone camera images).

Next big thing on the horizon is the wedding on Saturday. Let's hope I can stay awake for it eh?

Guest Blogger - Darren Goldsmith

Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. I mean, look at my waistline. And, to utilise another cliché, a change is as good as a rest. So, how about we have an occasional respite from my wittering, blathering and general verbosity? How about me hosting a guest blogger once a week, say, on a Thursday? What a good plan. I like that idea.

So, to kick us off, here's the first guest post by novelist, screenwriter and CG artist Darren Goldsmith. Enjoy! Oh, and if you want to be next Thursday's guest blogger, tweet me (@stevyncolgan) or mail me ( or despatch a carrier pigeon or trained racing newt. I'd love to hear from you.


Hello, Darren here. I don’t have a blog of my own so a million thanks to Sir Colgan for the loan of his, for the next 581 words.

After a mini-Twitter debate today - regarding those who find themselves unfollowed and their subsequent reactions - I just wanted to bang some thoughts down. Normally, I wouldn’t bother. I’m busy writing my second novel and that occupies most of my time. I’m taking a week off however, to recharge, so typically I find myself writing other stuff. Yay.

Right. Social media. I’m no expert and I don’t suppose anyone else is either. We make what we will of it and that’s all fine. By the way, I’m referencing Twitter here. I don’t use Facebook or… um, are there any others? Anyway, I replied to a tweet about people being unfollowed this morning. The guy who posted it (utterly lovely man, great writer, has many followers) said:

“Whenever I see someone asking someone else why they've unfollowed them, I become more fearful that Twitter will dissolve into neurotic gloop.”

I guess Twitter might do that. But it probably won’t.

I responded by saying that I thought it was OK for someone to ask why they had been unfollowed. There is the infamous Twitter bug which will randomly unfollow people on your list, for a start (it’s happened to me many times), so it’s nice to know if someone has dropped off without you noticing*. Also, is asking so terrible? The askee might gain some valuable insight. Or not.

The argument is that someone asking why you unfollowed them puts you, publicly, in a corner. I guess it does, to some degree, but so what? Tell them the truth. Or lie. Or tell them nothing. But you can’t expect every person you unfollow to shrug it off. No, you can’t. Some people just won’t. Sorry. That doesn’t make them mad or needy or neurotic. They could just be curious. They could have thought you were getting along just fine and be confused or yep, even hurt, you unfollowed. They could just be having a hard day.

Obviously, if they are being whiny, slap ‘em down. No one wants that shit.

The other argument is that unfollowing someone is not personal. I hate that. Twitter is social media. It’s about people, not data. It’s personal. There are degrees, naturally. You’re not going to be best buddies with everyone in your timeline. If someone I had chatted with regularly decided to unfollow me, I’d like to know why. If someone followed me and then didn’t engage, even infrequently, I would wonder why they followed me in the first place (frankly, what I have to say is mostly shite). I certainly wouldn’t worry when/if they decided to unfollow. I wouldn’t have known them, see? It wouldn’t matter. Degrees.

Yeah, I know the original tweet was about the whiny bastards. I just thought I’d make a case for those who weren’t. People like me. Not that I’ve ever asked anyone why they’ve unfollowed. But I might.

In the case of the original Tweeter, he doesn’t follow me. Never has. It doesn’t stop me chatting with him and making a nuisance of myself. And hey, he can never unfollow me.**

Are you happy to unfollow and not provide a reason (if asked for reasonably)? Do you get a bit miffed or upset if you’re unfollowed? I’d like to know what others think. Comment away!

Many thanks, again, to Steve for the use of his space.

* Yes, it’s possible not to notice, especially on a busy timeline.
** He might block me though. And bloody right, too.


So there you go. If you have any comments, please add them. Or maybe you don't have a comment on this subject but would like to say something on another. Maybe you don't have a blog of your own but would like to get something all off your chest. Whatever the reason, contact me. New guest blog next Thursday. You could be next.

Beetles and Lizards and Bugs, oh my!

Wonderful close-up and often humorous wildlife photography by Igor Siwanowicz:

Two baby Fischer's chameleons are seen in a photo composition in a studio in Wamena, Indonesia

Two Death's Head Hawk Moth caterpillars

...Two male African Pseudempusa pinnapavonis (Peacock Mantis) show their colours in Igor's home studio in Munich, Germany

A Giant Malaysian Shield Mantis grooms itself

Two Papuan Stag Beetle males fight in a studio in Wamena, Indonesia. Polish photographer Igor Siwanowicz has spent hours capturing beetles wrestling and praying mantises in kung-fu-style poses.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Aural Sexiness!

So, here's the thing ... with me not being as famous as Terry Jones or as popular as Robert Llewellyn or as fashionable as Hardeep Singh Kohli or as good a dancer as Katy Brand or as downright sexy as Mrs Stephen Fry or Adrian 'Ferocious Duck' Teal, I felt that I needed a way to give supporters of my new book, Constable Colgan's Connectoscope, more bang for your buck.

You see, £10 for an e-book - the lowest level of pledging - is money well-spent when it allows you to chat directly to someone you admire - such as George Chopping or Kate Mosse - in a small, cosy private place like an author's shed. Plus, who wouldn't want their name recorded within the same covers as Jonathan Meades or Jennifer Pickup? However, it seemed to me to be a lot to ask you for when (a) I'm not on the telly, (b) I don't look as good as Mark Curry in a sweater and (c) I don't have the luxuriant locks of Keith Kahn-Harris or even Rupert Isaacson. Plus, in these days of austerity, the very people who can only spare a tenner are probably the same people who can't afford a Kindle, iPad or other e-book reader. However, everyone has a mobile phone and many people have some form of music player.

So here's what I'm going to do ... I'm going to come in your ears.

Yes! At no extra cost to you, I am going to record Constable Colgan's Connectoscope as an audiobook and make it available to everyone who pledges: from the £10 level right up to the dizzy heights of £750. So, even at the lowest level, you'll get an e-book, an audiobook, access to my shed, your name in the book and be in with a chance of winning the original book cover painting. And all for less than the price of a pizza. That's pretty good value isn't it? It's even cheaper if you were lucky enough to get one of Unbound's celebratory 1st birthday £5 tokens today.

The Unbound site doesn't mention the audiobooks yet but will shortly be updated. Today, they're probably all horribly drunk and spewing up birthday cake in an alleyway. Meanwhile, you don't need to do anything. If you've already pledged, you'll get the audiobook automatically, same as all new pledgers. So enjoy the sunshine and bully all of your friends, colleagues and even enemies to support this book.

Now where's that gin and tonic ...

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Jacket in!

Here's the painting that I've been working on this past fortnight. It may well be adorning the jacket of my new book, Constable Colgan's Connectoscope in a couple of months time.

As you know, I'm publishing the book using the crowd-funding site and, at one of the pledging levels, you'll be getting a very limited edition high quality signed print of the painting. But, if you can't afford that, don't dismay. For when I reach that magical 100% funding target, one lucky supporter will win the original painting - and it doesn't matter what level you pledged at. The painting is in acrylics and painted on a 1cm deep box canvas that measures 50 by 40cm. Or about 20 by 16 inches.

So pledge now and be in with a chance!

Here's me pimping the book at Unbound Live 3 a week ago.

Oh, in case you're wondering if the 227 number on the constable's collar is deliberate, it is. 227 was my first and last 'shoulder number' when I was a police officer. London Metropolitan Police officers get issued with a six figure warrant number (that doubles as a pay number) that stays with them for their career. However, there are over 30,000 officers in London and that's a lot of numbers to fit on a pair of epaulettes. So, each London borough gets an allocation of numbers and a dual letter suffix that denotes borough and division. My first ever shoulder number was 227. And because I worked in Hillingdon borough on Ruislip division I was 227XR. Throughout my 30 years service I worked on various divisions and in several CO (Commissioner's Office - Scotland Yard and Hendon Police College) departments and my shoulder number was, at various times, 827CV, 2253CO, 330XD, 1565CO, 2563TS and, for my very last posting, 227CO. So now you know.

Me? Worried? Pft.

Next Tuesday I'm recording my very first appearance on a panel show. I'll be on an episode of Do The Right Thing, the award-winning podcast fronted by Danielle Ward and, on this occasion, featuring team captains Michael 'Gregg Jevins' Legge and Margaret Cabourn-Smith and guests Jenny Eclair, Robin Ince and Josie Long. I'm in the frame as the 'guest expert' along with the much more famous Jon Ronson. So no performance anxiety for me then. I'm told there are still a very few tickets left so, if you're in London town on Tuesday evening (29th) and you fancy it, come along and laugh at the fat beardy virgin.

Tickets are available here. You can hear (and download) all of the last season of Do The Right Thing here.

Friday, 25 May 2012

The Colganology Podcast - Episode 7 - You're on in Five, Mr Blackfriars

Hello and welcome to the Friday podcast. This week: our ability to accept the strangest things as 'normal' if they become familiar enough.

Six and half minutes of your life that you'll never get back.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Monkeys and Synthesisers - What part of that sentence isn't brilliant?

Celebrity can be ugly

Watch this slideshow but keep your eyes trained on the white cross between the pictures. Nothing has been done to alter the portraits of the people who appear. And yet, very quickly, your brain will turn them into grotesque monsters.

It's something that researchers are calling the 'Flashed Face Distortion Effect' until they come up with something better. By flashing ordinary portraits aligned at the eyes, the human brain begins to compare and exaggerate the differences, causing the faces to seem hideous and ogre-like. The effect was discovered quite by accident when an an undergraduate student, Sean Murphy, was working alone in a lab on a set of faces for one of his experiments. He aligned a set of faces at the eyes and started to skim through them. After a few seconds, he noticed that some of the faces began to appear highly deformed and grotesque. He looked at the especially ugly faces individually, but each of them appeared normal or even attractive.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Goths-Eye View

As I write this, it’s World Goth Day (it’s also Biological Diversity Day which, as you'll see, is kind-of appropriate) and, all over the UK, pasty youths are cringing into darkened corners seeking penumbral sanctuary from what is, ironically, the brightest and sunniest day of a pretty crappy year so far. Or, at least, that’s the public perception of Goths. It’s certainly the basis of almost every Goth-related comment on Twitter this morning. But how true is it? Are they really all death-obsessed vampire wannabes? Or are they just misunderstood leather-clad teddy bears with body piercings? On this, their special day, I’ve decided to try to put the record straight.

My first taste of the Gothic was dating a young woman called Sarah-Jane in the early 1980s. I guess you should call her a proto-Goth as the whole sub-culture was fairly embryonic, having arrived in the wake of post-Punk bands like Bauhaus, Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Sarah-Jane wore heavily-applied kohl around her eyes and a red lipstick so dark it was nearly achromatic. Her hair was back-combed into a frothy bat’s nest and her sombre clothes were figure-hugging and equipped with enough catches, buckles and chains to secure the most athletic loon. I, sadly, don’t have a photo of her but knock 20 years off Helena Bonham-Carter in Sweeney Todd and you’re cock on. Anyway, for our first 'date' we met, somewhat incongruously, in the anodyne blandness of a McDonalds in Uxbridge. She looked into my eyes and said ‘Tell me about the dead bodies you’ve seen. Did they look … peaceful?’

Now, I should explain that, at the time, I was a spanky new police officer fresh out of Hendon and I’d met Sarah-Jane at a nurses’ disco the week before. I’d immediately taken a shine to her because she was very different from girls I’d met before. I’d grown up in West Cornwall and I was still somewhat bewildered by London’s diversity. My teenage peers had dressed in a way best described as ‘young farmer’ or ‘child of hippies’. Sarah-Jane was something new and exciting. I was never quite sure what she saw in me; I suspect my USP was that I’d seen a lot of death – it goes with the job, sadly. She worked in Accident and Emergency but I got the impression that she was aiming at a career in Intensive Care or, with luck, Post-mortem Pathology. She was fascinated by death. She also came pre-packed with a love of magick (always spelled with an additional K), ghost stories and Victoriana. She persuaded me to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and I’m glad she did; it made me re-evaluate the entire story. Up until that moment, my knowledge extended no further than Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, some rather dire old Hammer Horrors and Carry on Screaming. I now know what an extraordinary book it is.

She also took me to The Batcave in Soho where my mode of dress and blonde hair made me stand out like a polar bear in the Parthenon. But they were a great crowd there, really friendly and welcoming. They took me in – even though I was a ‘Normal’ - and they accepted me. And, boy, did they love my stories about people jumping off buildings or being mangled in various horrible ways.

Sarah-Jane and I weren’t together for very long but she taught me one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned; not to judge people by appearance alone. Remember, I was only 20. I’d come from a small Cornish town in the furthest nethers of the UK where Punk hadn’t really happened. Despite being the poorest county in the UK – my careers teacher’s advice to me was ‘Get out of Cornwall’ – it didn’t produce gangs of disaffected youths etching ‘No Future’ into their arms with safety pins. My teenage years were much more Pink Floyd than Poly Styrene. More surfing than gobbing. So I’d come to London as a blank slate; I had no prejudices other than a natural in-built fear of the unknown. And, almost immediately, I was faced with people who looked, when compared to my naïve paradigm, scary as fuck. But the Punks and the Goths were some of the most welcoming people I met. And their music was exciting and new and broadened my tastes considerably. I’m 51 this year but I still have an occasional urge for a bit of Alien Sex Fiend.

And yet, there is a wholly-undeserved belief that Goths are in some way dangerous. It’s hard to identify exactly why and how this happened but my money is on 20th April 1999 and Jefferson County, Colorado. The Columbine High School Massacre was one of the truly gut-wrenching real-life horror stories of the 20th century. And, in the immediate aftermath, it was wrongly reported that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were part of the Goth sub-culture. In the weeks and months that followed, what Marilyn Manson would call ‘the news media's irresponsible finger-pointing’ whipped up a storm of intolerance, fear, mistrust and suspicion of anyone who looked a little ‘dark’. All this despite the fact that the killers held Goth music and culture in utter contempt. But shit sticks and, to this day, the link between Goths and murder remains.

Just recently I’ve been watching the re-runs of the 2011 TV series American Horror Story. The High School massacre storyline involves a Cobain-style grunge kid called Tate Langdon. He commits the atrocities in a trench-coat and yet, when he re-lives the event in his mind, he sees it quite differently. In his fantasies he is seen swaggering through the school corridors dressed in black and carrying a shotgun. His face is pinted like a Gothic skull – almost as if he’s being the person that the media expects him to be. Twelve years on and the old prejudices remain. And they are so underserved.

I live near High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire and, every year, it’s home to the Alternative Wycombe (Alt Wycombe) Festival where people with ‘alternative’ lifestyles (Don’t we all have alternative lifestyles?) come together for a couple of days of music, fashion, socialising and having fun. Yes, Punks and Steampunks and New Romantics and Emos and even Goths all having fun. I’ve been to the last couple and had a great time despite being the obvious pigeon among the peacocks. Dressed in T shirt, jeans and a suit jacket, I’m the odd one out. But that doesn’t matter – no one judges me or anyone else. It's as if, by positioning themselves slightly outside of conventional society, they get a clearer view of it; the Goth’s-Eye View. All petty bitchery about labels and brands is gone – much of the clobber is hand-made or sourced from charity shops. There isn’t a fake tan in sight.

Actually, there’s no tan at all.

Proceeds from the festival are passed on to charities including the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, named in honour of a 21 year old Lancastrian woman who was kicked to death in 2007 simply for being a Goth. The charity works to tackle prejudice, hatred and intolerance. Sophie’s murder didn’t result in a change in the law but lobbying the then Justice Minister, Jack Straw, did result in new sentencing guidelines whereby judges should now treat an attack on a member of a subculture with the same seriousness as a racially-motivated or homophobic assault. It’s a good start.

At the last Alt Wycombe event I saw, tattooed on the small of a young woman’s back, the words: ‘Judge not by what you see’. It’s a popular phrase among the Alt community and, although I can’t directly attribute it to anyone, it does smack of the Biblical ‘Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgement’ and the more familiar ‘Judge not that ye be judged.’ Throughout my life, I’ve learned to look a little deeper before forming any kind of opinion about what a person is like. An end to prejudice, hatred and intolerance ... now there's a lovely idea. You won't see it espoused on Eastenders or The Only Way Is Essex but it is the Goth creed.

And so I ask you, as you wander around in the sunshine today, spare a thought for the misunderstood, often-mocked and wholly misrepresented Goths in your community. Chances are, they hold the secret to making where you live a better place. The Golden Rule of Reciprocity – ‘Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself’ exists in every religion, faith and philosophy. If we all held to that, the world would be a happier place for Normals and Goths alike.

I feel some Sisters of Mercy beckoning me.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Weight of Office

I popped into nearby High Wycombe yesterday to pick up a new suit (one of my daughters gets married in a fortnight - thought I'd better make the effort) and, quite by chance, found myself in the middle of the town's curious annual mayor weighing ceremony. Apologies for the crappy photography - it was dull and cloudy and these were taken on my phone.

Annoyingly, it was just coming to a conclusion and I didn't get a photo of the weighing itself but here are the scales that they used, to give you an idea. And here's a photo of last year's event when Chaudhary Ditta was weighed-in. They had much better weather back then.

The area of the town it took place in is called Frogmoor and the street was filled with Civil War re-enacters, jesters, Morris Men, minstrels, police officers and Maypole dancers. Oh, and tiny horses, for some reason.

The event - which takes place on the third Saturday in May involves the Mayor, the Aldermen, Councillors and Officers of the Borough Council being publicly weighed. As their weight is recorded, the Macebearer shouts out the weight, adding the words ‘and some more’ if any of them have gained weight over the year, or ‘and no more’ if they are the same or have lost weight. The ceremony fell into disuse during the 18th century but was revived in 1892. During the Great War it was again suspended, but revived in 1917. It's been going on annually ever since.

Wycombe's curious custom of weighing its mayor is unique in the world. It all began back in 1678 when a Mr Henry Shepard was reported as being drunk and misbehaving himself while in office. It was decreed that the bell of the town church should be rung out in testimony of his misdemeanours and, for many years, an outgoing mayor was 'tolled out'. This has since been abandoned. However, another decree stated that the mayor and his/her officers should be weighed upon entering and leaving office and this event still takes place. If there has been a weight gain during the year, the person is considered to have been gaining that weight at the taxpayers' expense. Traditionally this would mean that they were jeered and booed and would have rotten fruit thrown at them. Mayors these days are too savvy to let that happen and none of them ever seem to put on weight. Shame.

Here's the current mayoress Mrs Jane White who was the previous mayor - when it comes to mayor-weighing, sex means nothing; they all go on the scales. And there's a wonderful little snippet from the 1937 weigh-in on the British Pathe News website here.

Nice to see these old customs being kept alive.

Friday, 18 May 2012

My interview with The Guardian

A week or so ago I did a long, rambling but thoroughly enjoyable podcasty interview with The Guardian's Lay Science chap M J Robbins. It was recorded in a pub. There is beer. That's how all interviews should be surely? Anyway, it'll give you an insight into some of the weird and wonderful work I did with the Problem Solving Unit at New Scotland Yard.

And there may be just the tiniest of plugs for my new book too.

Here's the link.

Seth McFarlane to resurrect Carl Sagan's Cosmos

Wonderful, wonderful news. Let's hope it happens.

The Colganology Podcast - Episode 6 - It's Mrs Miller Time

This week's slightly longer (14 mins) podcast is all about the inimitable Mrs Miller. Brace your ears.


Hello. Today I’m going to talk about the owner of this extraordinary voice (clip):

Elva Ruby Connes Miller - known to the record-buying public simply as Mrs Miller - was born on the 5th of October 1907 in Joplin, Missouri. When she was 27, she married a professional investor called John Richardson Miller who was 30 years older than she was. And, around this time - and funded by her wealthy husband - she began making vanity records for her own amusement. At least one called ‘Songs for children’ was pressed as a 45 single and featured four tracks with Mrs Miller’s vocals accompanied by organist Laurie Metcalfe.

Now, it just so happened that Capitol Records was experimenting with new recording techniques at the Los Angeles studios where she was recording with keyboard player Fred Bock. They decided to use her as their guinea pig and Mrs Miller consequently provided vocals for a host of popular classics, much to the amusement of Bock and the men from Capitol. Mrs Miller's curious operatic warbling vibrato and strange whistling technique (she would fill her mouth with ice beforehand to get a better sound) made every song … unique.

Bock passed the recordings onto A & R man Lex de Avezedo and she was soon signed to Capitol Records. Her first LP on that label, ironically titled Mrs Miller's Greatest Hits, appeared in 1966 when she was 59 years old. It was made up entirely of pop songs, and sold more than 250,000 copies in its first three weeks. It even spawned a hit single; her version of Petula Clarke’s Downtown. Here it is in all of its delicious glory (clip).

An article in Time magazine described the single like this: 'While Elva may not replace Elvis, her rocking-chair rock features a kind of slippin' and slidin' rhythm that is uniquely her own. Her tempos, to put it charitably, are free form; she has an uncanny knack for landing squarely between the beat, producing a new ricochet effect that, if nothing else, defies imitation. Beyond that, her billowy soprano embraces a song with a vibrato that won't quit ... ' Though Irving Wallace and David Wallechinsky, writing in The People's Almanac, were less kind. They compared her voice to ‘the sound of 'roaches scurrying across a trash can lid.'

Shortly after her second album Will Success Spoil Mrs Miller? was released in 1967 she was invited to appear in a feature film called The Cool Ones, starring Roddy McDowell.

Her third album The Country Soul of Mrs. Miller followed a year later and was, as the name suggests, focused on country and western songs like ‘There goes my everything’ and ‘A little bitty tear’. She was a huge hit with the public and appeared on the Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan shows, and duetted with Jimmy Durante on his live Hollywood Palace show.

She was even flown out to Vietnam to sing for the troops and appeared on stage with Bob Hope. But then, all of a sudden, the vogue for out of time and often out of tune elderly lady singers passed and she was dropped by Capitol. But, undeterred, she signed to the smaller Amaret label and, in 1968, she released her final album, Mrs Miller Does Her Thing. The cover saw her dressed in a psychedelic kaftan and holding a plate of hash browns – presumably containing hash. The album featured several trippy songs associated with drug culture, including the theme song she provided for the drug exploitation movie ‘Mary Jane’ which featured pop star Fabian and a very young Terri Garr. Mrs Miller was apparently completely unaware of the drug symbolism until the album was already in stores.

But her professional career was over and by 1973, barring a few singles that she put out on her own Vibrato Records and Mrs Miller labels, she had officially retired. She died in 1997, at the age of 90.

I love Mrs Miller. She had a passion for singing and didn’t give a brace of hoots what other people thought. She lived to sing and, if nature hadn’t equipped her with the voice of an angel, it had at least given her balls of steel. The liner notes on her LP ‘Mrs Miller does her thing’ have this to say:

‘Mrs. Miller is an experience that should happen to everyone once. We don't mean just seeing or hearing Mrs. Miller. We mean being a Mrs. Miller, and having that elusive, magic chance we all dream about. The chance to do your own thing, whatever it may be. Mrs. Miller's thing is singing. Singing her heart out. And it's all she's ever wanted to do. Go back a few years. Singing was still her thing, but there was no one to listen. Success in the music world was limited to a chosen few. Beautiful people who looked just right or sounded just right and always seemed as though they'd just come from a refreshing dip in a vat of plastic.

Things are different now. In the mid sixties, a chain reaction of mind-blowing and time-changing young musicians began to explode all over the world. They were open, honest and real. And their communication with their audiences was both instantaneous and permanent. Suddenly, the lamination process was over. Music was no longer a spectator sport. It was a game the whole family could play.

Five years ago, Mrs. Miller's success couldn't have happened, and it's a compliment to our times that it can now. That she can get up on a stage or stand in front of a recording studio microphone and let it all hang out without being afraid or uptight about what she has to offer. What she has to offer is herself, and she offers same on this album. In her own inimitable style, she socks a selection of songs to you. Songs that are somtimes funny, sometimes hip, and sometimes both. In other words, she does her own thing. Don't you wish everybody would?’

There’s an interesting parallel here with what’s happening in music today. The big music companies are dropping what they call ‘unprofitable’ artists – even though they may sell thousands of records. But the advent of affordable digital technology and the abundance of social media means that artists can now make the records they want to, free of company control, and sell direct to the customer. And websites like Pledgemusic and Bandcamp even generate income through crowd-funding.

So that’s why I love Mrs Miller. She’s the embodiment of everything I hold to be true; that if you have a passion for something - follow that passion and to hell with what anyone else thinks. If it doesn’t hurt anyone – do what you want. We only get to live once and we’re dead a long, long time. So, if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve just heard, just pop Mrs Miller into a search engine or Youtube and you’ll find a wealth of her work. She also has a fansite at And, while her vinyl albums are hard to find these days, you can get a compilation of her first three albums on CD. Buy it and smile. I know I did.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The answer my friend ...

A wonderful set of images from Lithuanian photographer Tadao Cern entitled (sorry) Blow Jobs, in which his models were asked to face a direct stream of gale-force speed air. The results are at once hilarious and hugely disturbing. Who knew that skin was so plastic?

Gale Force Winds Directly to the Face portraits photography

Gale Force Winds Directly to the Face portraits photography

Gale Force Winds Directly to the Face portraits photography

If you want to see LOTS more, he's done over 100 of these now and you can see them here.

Unbound Live 3 - Supplemental

Well, as I suspected, the well-endowed Mickey Mouse from last night's Unbound Live event was not a Jeff Koons. Some brilliant detective work from Mo McFarland turned up this blog post which reveals that the sculptor was, in fact, a French artist called André Saraiva (aka André or Monsieur A) who is part-owner of Le Baron, the club where the Unbound event took place. There's an excellent New York Times article on him here.

It says in the blogpost that he 'was asked by Disney to create a sculpture of Mickey Mouse and came up with this lustful proposal. Needless to say, it was turned down. The sculpture is called Mickey Viagra.' I'm assuming (and the dates are about right - around 2005) that Saraiva was one of a number of artists invited to customise a Mickey in the same way that other artists have done cows, elephants and eggs in recent years. Certainly, it's exactly the same figure. Here are some of the less controversial custom Mickeys by (in order) Gary Baseman, Susan Lucci, Andreas Dega and David Willardson.

There are 75 such Mickeys and I guess, looking at the location, it's easy to see why Disney didn't accept the Saraiva's version (as if they would have anyway). I know of at least two Mickey Viagras - the one in London and one at a club in Paris. Both are part-owned by Saraiva. However, at least one must be available to the general public somewhere because photos like these (below) turn up occasionally online.

Some quality parenting there. So, there you go. The Mystery of the Monstrous Mickey is solved.


The Disneyland Park photos were taken from a public Flickr album by Brian Lau. I'll be happy to remove them if there are any objections to their use. I have no idea who took the shots in front of the curtains.

Life on Mars ... in the 1970s

Fascinating news about a re-evaluation of the Viking lander missions ...
The USA’s Viking mission found life on Mars, says a new paper that has re-analysed data collected by the two probes.

Complexity Analysis of the Viking Labeled Release Experiments (PDF), published recently in the International Journal of Aeronautic and Space Sciences, asserts that a test designed to detect microbial life did so, when re-interpreted in light of other recent discoveries about the red planet.

The two Viking probes landed on Mars in 1976 and carried an experiment that heated soil and then released certain in the hope they would initiate chemical reactions that would indicate the presence of life. One of the three experiments of this sort, the “Labeled Release” (LR) experiment, produced results that hinted at the presence of life. Two others did not. Extensive analysis of LR data went on for years, without ever offering firm conclusions.

The authors of this paper have applied “complexity analysis to the Viking LR data” and say their techniques “permit deep analysis of data structure along continua including signal vs. noise, entropy vs.negentropy, periodicity vs. aperiodicity, order vs. disorder etc.” Seven complexity variables were used to re-analyse and compare original LR data so they can “be distinguished from controls via cluster analysis and other multivariate techniques.” The team also mentions the importance of even very small patterns in data, characterising them as “pink noise” suggestive of biological processes compared to the “white noise” produced by “the complete unpredictability of pure random physical processes.”

At the end of all that they argue that new analysis of the LR experiment suggests the reactions it detected were the result of biological processes and the lander did indeed “… provide considerable support for the conclusion that the Viking LR experiments did, indeed, detect extant microbial life on Mars.”

Source: Simon Sharwood, in The Register

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Unbound Live 3

Le Baron at The Embassy Mayfair in London was the venue last night for Unbound Live 3; an evening of readings, talks and general tomfoolery by a bunch of authors who all have books either funded or part-funded with Unbound Publishing. You get to Le Baron by walking through a set of plush leather-covered doors and descending a staircase. Once you get downstairs, you find a cosy cellar club - very cool, very sophisticated - the kind of place where beat poets have throw-downs and B-list celebs hold birthday parties for their chihuahuas. The first thing that greets you as you walk in the door is a six feet tall sculpture of Mickey Mouse in bright pink fibreglass. Good grief. I'm told it's a Jeff Koons (it doesn't look like it to me - it kind of looks more like a Ron English - but I will track down the artist). All I know is that it's very very scary. And just a little bit humbling.

The second thing I spotted was this notice behind the bar ...

... which I immediately took a photo of. Many private clubs do, of course, have a no photo policy. It's nice to have little havens where the paparazzi are politely invited to feck off. However, because this was an organised event and not a normal members night, I could snap away with impunity. So I did. And here are a few of the pictures I took.

The evening started with a rousing introduction from Unbound co-founder John Mitchinson followed by Mr Robert Llewellyn reading from his Utopian novel News from Gardenia. It's a lovely book - I've read mine already - which has a genuinely positive view of the future. Robert gives us a story in which a chap from the present day is thrown 200 years into the future but, rather than the usual post-apocalyptic or dystopian societies so beloved of Hollywood and sci-fi novelists, in this future we got it right. The book shows us how things could be if we make the right choices now about technology, fuel, even how we choose to live our lives. As you'd expect from someone with Robert's CV, his reading was funny, animated and great to listen to. But could I wheedle any snippets from him about the new series of Red Dwarf? Could I smeg.


Then it was me, doing my bit to convince people to fund my new book Constable Colgan's Connectoscope. It seemed to go okay. No one threw anything anyway. Well, nothing too hard or spiky.

I was followed by the always entertaining Adrian Teal with a pitch for his excellent Gin Lane Gazette. His lurid tales of Georgian debauchery were hilarious - even more so because they were all true. I was particularly amused by the tale of how John Wilkes hid a baboon in a trunk and smuggled it into a meeting of the notorious Hellfire Club. During a mock black mass, the animal was freed from the box, causing many there to believe that the Devil had made an appearance. It just so happens that I live about three miles from the Dashwood estate and the Hellfire caves so it's a story I know well. I've rarely heard it told so humorously though.

We then had some spirited poetry from George Chopping's Smoking with Crohn's anthology and a musical interlude from the very talented Miss V. George had even gone so far as to write an anthem for Unbound which he sang with some gusto and in a variety of keys. Miss V, thankfully, was very much on key and has a glorious voice. She serenaded us beautifully as we scrabbled at the bar during the intermission and tried to avoid bumping into Mickey's nob.

Part Two kicked off with Keith Kahn-Harris plugging his book The Best Waterskier in Luxembourg. It's a wonderful collection of big fish in small ponds celebrity stories. Don't you want to meet the best heavy metal band in Botswana? Or the most powerful politician on Alderney? I know I do. I'm really looking forward to this book. Then comedian Katy Brand took the stage to read - for the very first time anywhere - an exclusive chapter from her first novel Brenda Monk is Funny. It's clearly semi-autobiographical in nature and the extract we heard gave some idea of the trials and tribulations of being a female stand-up comedian. I'm delighted to reveal that Katy is appearing in the new series of QI that starts recording shortly.

The performances ended with comedian, chef and ranconteur Hardeep Singh Kohli telling us all about his book A Month of Sundays; a celebration (with recipes) of the sadly disappearing tradition of getting the family together on a Sunday to eat, drink and be merry. Here he is - the only man cool enough to wear shades in a darkened underground nightclub - and demonstrating why he's kniown as the Chic Sikh. Or will be from now on.

Hardeep said something quite profound during his talk. Well, he said a number of profound things but, having drunk much of central London's Cornish brewery beer supplies, I can only remember the one that struck the deepest chord with me. It went something like 'Unbound is publishing the books that traditional publishers are too arrogant or too short-sighted to publish. This is the future. We've seen it happen with music, now it's happening with books; it's the consumer who should be making the decisions, not the accountants.' I couldn't agree with him more.

It was a very entertaining evening and it was nice to meet people who, although they weren't speaking, also have some great projects on the go. Joel Meadows was there, whose Tripwire at 20  is a wonderful anniversary book for one of the best - if not the best known - genre magazines on the market. Legendary 80s clubland photographer Graham Smith was there too and I did make off with a signed copy of his We can be Heroes. I also met up with old frends and Twitter chums Mo McFarland, Steve Hills, Terry Bergin, Stuart Witts, Xander Cansell, start up genius Robert Loch and film director Richard Butchins.

A great night out - roll on Unbound Live 4. And if any of the books I've mentioned sound like something you'd want to read, follow the links and pledge!